Sunday, June 29, 2008

confessions from the road

We are at that point.

You know.

The car is FILTH. The children are GRIMY. It is RAINING. We have 127 miles to go before arriving at my father's house and it is DARK.

But, we are pushing on.

There is NO WAY I want to stop and spend another night in a hotel. I don't want to lug our stuff in to a hotel and pray that the elevator works if they put us on anything other than the first floor. And that we are relatively close to where the car is parked. Unlike that time we were in Boulder and the elevator was broken - we were on the opposite side of the hotel - and we were on the THIRD floor.

Have you seen the volume of stuff we need for ONE night??

Portable crib?

Six bags?

Two laptops?

Diaper bag?

FOUR children that are usually too tired to walk?

We just made a quick stop outside of Fort Plain, New York. After a little "conversation" Charlie and I had this afternoon following a brief stop in Buffalo when he ran in to a Target for twenty minutes and came out with only a sleeve of diapers >> and not the cough drops, diaper wipes, snack food and drinks that I had THOUGHT he should also get >> we decided that I would do all the errand running for at least the rest of this leg of our trip. Apparently my husband isn't a very good mind reader which is somewhat of an inconvenience for me.

Turns out, I have inherited some traits from my family that Charlie thinks are questionable.

One of those traits is that when I've got my mind set to something - like work (or the last leg of a 3,000-mile driving adventure, apparently) - I don't stop to eat. Or, if I do eat, it's grazing as I go ... a handful of crackers, a banana, some raisins, a bottle of water.

Charlie, on the other hand, eats three square meals a day. I've often joked that if it wasn't for my husband, I would weigh 50 pounds less. Although it's not much of a joke, because I hardly eat when he isn't around.

Maybe if our children were hungry, I could see stopping to eat. But whenever we've stopped to eat while driving thus far, and I order them a wide assortment of food, they will take a bite of this, a bite of that and be done. Henry, will take a bite of one thing and then throw everything else on the floor and SCREAM. You know, the kind of screaming that conjures visions of duct tape.

Then, because the kids don't eat everything that we order for them, I feel compelled to eat everything that remains on their tray because I cannot see throwing away food that I just paid MONEY for. And with all the eating I've done of their food AND my food, I'm absolutely SICK of road food.

So we just stopped for a quick break.

During the stop, I ran in to the mini-mart and bought cough drops, diaper wipes, snack food (crackers, yogurt, M&M's, canned peaches) and drinks. When I came back out, Charlie looked in the bag and asked "Where's my sandwich? Didn't you at least get me a burger?"

And I responded "What? Are you KIDDING me? Didn't we just eat a HUGE lunch six hours ago?? How many times a day do you need to eat?"

I don't want to stop.

I don't want to have another burger.

I don't want to smell another burger.

I want to push on and get there.

So we start to drive and I'm turned around backwards trying to feed the kids canned peaches from the front seat. There is peach syrup running all over me, all over them. Henry is screaming. I am so sticky my fingers are sticking to the keyboard. If I was left outside for 10-minutes I'd be covered in ants.

Charlie is asking "So, how is eating M&M's better for me than eating a sandwich? Woman, I need a meal! Can I at least have something nutritious? What about some crackers? OH MY GOD, Nutterbutter?! What IS this?! I need some damn food!!"

I respond, "Eat your cookie, Bud. I need a damn shower."

Then, I grasp his hand with my sticky one and sweetly say "Love, you can eat tomorrow."

our amazing trip: day 8 (and 9)

Yesterday we spent much of the day at The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ontario.


Henry spent much of the day nursing.




St. Marys is a beautiful town that boasts the largest outdoor swimming pool in all of Canada. At first glance, it looks like a lake - but the "pool" consists of water filling a massive limestone quarry.



Ontario has some of the most beautiful farmland we've seen on this trip.



I love Canada.


Charlie loves Canada.




The children love Canada (although I think William will appreciate Miss Teen Canada more in 12 years).


They especially love the Canadian Jus.




I suspect even my friend Lorie would love Canada.


We could see living here.



Uncle Pete's induction in to the Hall of Fame and Museum was great. It was such an honor for us to be present and watch Charlie's cousin, Cindy, give a very moving speech on her father's behalf. Her dad would be so proud of all that she and her sister, Stacy, have done.


While we were at the induction, we saw a beautiful Monarch butterfly, circling around the tent where hundreds of people had gathered to celebrate the lifetime achievement of the four inductees. I like to think that the butterfly we saw yesterday, represented the spirit of Uncle Pete.



He was there, a part of everything.



Part of the joyful celebration.



Part of the wind that lifted our kite up in to the sky.



After the induction, we went back to Aunt Betty's house and spent the afternoon swimming in the pool...



... and then the children enjoyed a picnic in Aunt Betty's bedroom on a king-sized sheet with their second cousin, Jack while watching cartoons. (With the fabulous Bill, who is a great chap and fun guy to spend the day with. Come see us in California and let's go to Legoland. Eh?)



It was so awesome to be here, to be a part of the day.

It was so awesome that Elizabeth had the chance to meet one of her namesakes and receive a special locket that Aunt Betty had picked out for her when she was born.



It was so awesome to just spend time with our Canadian family that we haven't seen in several years - and to spend time with our immediate family that hadn't yet had the opportunity to meet baby Henry.



Even if they did get us lost in the Candian country-side, we were glad to see them.


And equally glad that our GPS has Canadian coverage.

Today, we are continuing our drive east to Massachusetts. All that remains is 450 miles before we have crossed the country, from coast to coast.



We just passed by Niagra Falls and in to New York.


We had no problem crossing back in to the United States, because we made some good friends in Canadian Law Enforcement that gave us some pointers for border crossings.


Tonight, we hope to arrive at my father's house in Concord. My mother, who had taken my sister Janet on a cruise to Bermuda for her 50th birthday, is currently staying AT MY FATHER'S HOUSE with her fiance, Jim, and my father's new friend, Mary. I cannot believe that my mother and father are staying under the same roof, in the very house my mother helped to build almost 30 years ago.


That to me, is more impressive than the greatest falls of North America.

Friday, June 27, 2008

our amazing trip: day 7

We are staying in a great hotel in downtown London, Ontario. We are beyond thrilled that we are able to stay in the same location for the next three nights because packing up and moving every day tends to be a bit exhausting. And we were getting some strange looks from our potty seat dangling from a luggage rack.


It is Canada Day this coming Monday, so all the bars around our hotel are completely packed. From my window, I can see people chugging brew, while I sit here wishing that my children who are still on California time would go to sleep before midnight.



O, Canada.

How I wish I was down there drinking a beer to honor honour you instead of sitting in a hotel room listening to my almost one-year old SCREAM while my three-year-olds keep telling each other "SHH! You go SWEEP!" "NO!! YOU go SWEEP!!"

It's been another fun filled day. One of Charlie's brothers and his sister flew in from California and are in town for the induction ceremony tomorrow, and we all met up at Aunt Betty's house this afternoon.


The kids had a great time playing in her swimming pool and an even better time when they were able to have TWO pieces of cake from a party Aunt Betty threw for all the friends and family that are in town for the big event.

The children were so wiped out by this afternoon from all the driving, excitement and time change, that the triplets took a three-hour nap in a twin-sized bed in a strange environment...


... and Henry took an almost three-hour nap in a Rubbermaid storage bin.


This just goes to show ... a tired child really will sleep anywhere.

favorite thing friday

If not for my Digital SD/MMC Reader Writer, I would not be able to post any pictures to my blog during this adventure.




Oh sure, I guess I could if I brought along several cords for uploading photos from my digital camera to my computer ... but I'm using two different digital cameras and I'd really prefer to not lug along more equipment than I absolutely must.

I picked up this gadget last fall, when I was looking for a way to upload pictures to a SD card for a digital photo frame my mother had received as a gift. I couldn't figure out how to put pictures from my computer directly on to the card (so they could be seen in the digital photo frame) so I dropped in to a Radio Shack and was set up with this item for around $12.00.


All you do is plug the Reader Writer in to one of the USB ports on your computer and then, you either put in a blank SD card (if you want to copy pictures from your computer on to the card), or - you put in an SD card that contains pictures that you have just taken. You can copy the photos from the SD card over to your desktop (or hard drive) and have the option of deleting them from your SD card, which I always do to free up space for more photos.

I love this little thing. It has really made uploading the 882 photos I have taken thus far while on this trip considerably easier.

our amazing trip: day 6

We spent the night last night in Joliet, Illinois.

We made the executive decision to stop at 10:00 PM, even though the children were all asleep and we were feeling good and could have driven for another two hours (we're still on Pacific Standard Time), because when we called the Marriott Hotel customer service line and asked if there were any hotels in the Kalamazoo area ... we were told that there were no Marriott hotels for at least 50 miles around St. Joseph, Michigan. The closest hotel, according to the folks on the "help" line were at least four hours north.

After having stayed in Marriott hotels almost the whole way cross-country, we are now partial to the chain. Not just because we get Marriott Reward Points, but because we find the accomodations a lot more pleasing than any of the other chains. Specifically, after Charlie thought he smelled vomit in the sink at a Holiday Inn Express in Green River, Utah and told me about the vision he had of some drunken wanderer barfing in the very sink where our children were now brushing their tiny little teeth. At that moment, my husband decided he didn't want to stay in any other hotels the rest of the trip.

Because surely no drunken wanderer has ever barfed in a Marriott sink.

Besides, the Marriott facilities have really nice pools and when Tina at The Cornhusker Marriot in downtown Lincoln kept the pool opened for 30 minutes after closing time on Tuesday night, just so our kids could go swimming, I swore them my loyalty forever.

We turned around ... headed back the way we had just come on I-80 for 20 miles, north on I-55 for another five miles, and settled in to our hotel. Only to find out today, when we were driving on I-80 through Gary, Indiana that "OH! There's a Marriott Hotel ... actually three of them ... a Courtyard, a Residence Inn and a Faifield." And then when we drove to Kalamazoo we saw more. We counted at least five of them in a span of two hours. So, not only did we lose almost two hours from backtracking and catching up to where we were last night, we could have driven at least another two hours ahead.
That was a little frustrating and will warrant a letter from me to them regarding their quality of "help" offered via their customer service line.

Today, five of six are sick with a cold and I'm fighting it tooth and nail. I've been doing my Sinus Rinse religiously twice a day, and have gone through an entire container of Zicam. Carolyn is complaining that her ears hurt. Two of the kids are on a poop strike and I think that I am going to DIE before I see the end of diapers with the triplets.


Tomorrow, we'll be looking for a pediatrician. And some Miralax.
The good news is we saw more beautiful scenery (and corn) today as we drove through Illinois...

Indiana ...


And Michigan.

The even better news is we crossed in to Canada - where there is even MORE corn.


I don't know what it is about border crossings that make me so anxious (maybe my husband who is a nervous Nellie and convinced we'll get stuck indefinitely or thrown in jail) but as we were preparing to drive up to the Canadian Border, we remembered that we had fruit in the car. From our experience in California, you are not allowed to drive in to the state with fresh fruit.

So, we quickly ate all the fruit that I had just bought at a truck stop outside of Detroit, because it seemed like days since we'd had anything fresh. We were telling the kids "Quick, here, eat this banana!! Eat this apple!! Eat this orange!!"

As we approached the Border Agent, Charlie - from the passenger seat - is whispering "Be calm. Just be calm. If you make any fast moves, they are going to suspect something." I roll down my window and answer all the questions asked as simply as possible. "We are from California. There are six of us. We are visiting family in London. We will be in town for three days."


When the Border Agent asked if we had any weapons, I responded no. But when she queried "Guns? Mace? Pepper Spray?" I hedged.

I cannot tell a lie to a Border Agent. Sure, I could, but I wouldn't want to. What if we got caught? All of my husband's fears about being thrown in to a foreign jail might come to fruition. So, I told her "Actually, I do have pepper spray."

She winced and said "Pepper spray is a weapon and it is illegal in Canada." She then asked why I had it with me, and I told her it was because we were ambushed by pit bulls a few months ago, and I carry it for self defense.

From the passenger seat I heard Charlie give a deep sigh.

Charlie and I had briefly discussed taking the pepper spray with us as we were pulling out of our driveway on this trip and both decided that it would be a good idea because we were driving ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE COUNTY and it seemed like if we ever got stranded somewhere, it might be useful to have, just in case. You never know. There might be vandals. Or highway bandits.
Turns out, pepper spray is illegal in Canada.

But fresh fruit isn't.

What we should have done is discharged our canister of pepper spray and not worried about scarfing down five bananas, two apples and an orange in less than five minutes.


We had to turn around, drive back to the United States ... talk to a U.S. Border Agent that clearly THRIVES on making people as nervous as possible ... find a spot far away from the border to dispose of the pepper spray, and then turn around and drive back across.

All the while Charlie was telling me that I shouldn't have said anything. Which I find hard to believe that he wouldn't have done the exact same, considering he has such a clean conscience he tried to pay a cashier for lemonade that we had accidentally discharged from a soda machine earlier in the day, that we had not purchased.

He would worry about lemonade - but not the repurcussions associated for himself and his family for trying to smuggle a weapon across an International border?

Yeah. I don't think so.

Almost two hours later, during our second attempt at crossing, when the Canadian Border Agent sent us in to Customs because Charlie didn't have his passport (which he couldn't find at home) or any type of documentation showing that he was a U.S. citizen (other than his driver's license), I thought for sure we were doomed.

I'm glad they didn't ask where Charlie was born, because if he had told them Canada, he might have been stuck at the border - and I'd feel bad leaving my husband behind to continue on this magnificent adventure without him.


Not only would the children miss their father, I'm not very good with the metric system.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

my e-mail to the IL DOT

To Whom It May Concern at the Illinois Department of Transportation:

We are driving cross country from San Diego, California to Toronto, Canada with our three-year-old triplets and one-year old baby. We're currently on I-80 east and just crossed over to Gary, Indiana.

My husband, who did not have a sufficient amount of coffee this morning and is suffering the effects of a 2,235-mile road trip with four children under the age of four (and a wife/copilot who was on a conference call), did not realize that he was supposed to be in the right lane to pay a $0.60 toll and was instead, in the far left lane with the cars who have Fast Passes.

If Illinois is anything like California, I suspect that there are cameras to take photos of cars that do not pay tolls - and the drivers will be sent an invoice in the mail to cover the cost of the toll, shipping and handling and postage. Usually the bill for missing a toll is around $40.00.

If you could please respond to this e-mail with an address where I can send $0.60, my husband will be forever grateful.

Sincerely,

Jen

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

our amazing trip: day 5

Yesterday we crossed over from Colorado to Nebraska...


... under the North Platte Interstate Bridge ...


... and today, we crossed over the Missouri River and in to Iowa.


For at least the past 300 miles - probably more like 600 miles - there has been corn and corn and more corn growing alongside the road.


And a few cows.



We made a quick stop at the 20th Century Veterans Memorial in North Platte and the kids had a good time climbing all over the statues of various war heroes ...


And giving their thanks - in the form of hugs -for the service these men and women have provided to our country.

From the desert of Nevada - through the high desert of Utah - and the Rocky Mountains of western Colorado, the plains of eastern Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa, the landscape changes so much. No longer can we see the dramatic geologic outcrops, everything is covered with lush green vegetation. It is so beautiful.


I've never been to Nebraska and Iowa before and I suspected that it would be completely flat. But it isn't. There are rolling hills (covered in corn) and all different types of trees. I told Charlie that I could see living here and he said, "Wait until February." And then when I stepped out of the car and was swarmed with mosquitos, I reconsidered a little bit. But there are lightning bugs here!! I haven't seen those in years!! And there are beautiful blackbirds with bright orange flashes on their wings that help to eat the mosquitos. Right??

Where we live in California, we are surrounded by people. Our next door neighbors are no more than 12 feet away. Yet, you drive through the middle of the country and there are vast expanses of land without a single person for miles and miles and miles. It's refreshing.


WE LOVE IT.

When we had to make an emergency potty stop yesterday, we pulled off the Interstate and stopped along some country road, somewhere between Colorado and Nebraska. What was intended to be a two minute potty break turned in to a forty minute break that included an impromptu reorganization of the vehicle. Because OH MY GOSH our minivan has a bad case of car-trip. It's hard to say whether it is dirtier on the outside or the inside.


During the time that we were pulled off to the side of the road, two gray haired farmers stopped by to make sure that we didn't need any help. Even when we tried to wave them on, they pulled alongside us in their pickup trucks, rolled their windows down, tipped their cowboy hats and said they just wanted to make sure we were OK.

It's not to say that Californians aren't friendly, I just can't see anyone doing that in San Diego. Infact, a week ago - before we left - I was driving in the fast lane in rush hour traffic north, and passed a vehicle that had broken down. There was a man with a baby in his arms, and a woman 10 feet behind him, walking along the shoulder and no one was stopping to help them.

It is still bothering me now, that I didn't stop. But I was four lanes over and to turn around and drive back would have taken me at least 20 minutes with traffic. Maybe more.

Anyway, I just love how friendly the people are here.


I love the old barns.


I love all the wide open space.


I could see living here.


So long as we could have unlimited access to a swimming pool (and bug spray), we'd all be happy.


We just crossed over the Mississippi River from Iowa in to Illinois and hope to be in Chicago by tonight. The total driving distance thus far is 2,044 miles and in that time, we've read "The Cat in the Hat" at least 15 times and watched "Toy Story" about the same.