Monday, July 28, 2008

Road Trip Take 2

Left on Pioneer Day in Utah, 24 July, to get the van out to North Carolina- the move is in process.

This time it was just me and the road. 2,000 miles, 2 days. My ego gets involved and I just have to push as hard as I can. So I go 300 miles at a pop, then stop briefly for fuel, toilet, food at drive-thru and press on. Got to western edge of Missouri on Day One, about 950 miles that day. Learned that the locals call it Missoura. Then did the remainder on Friday.

A few meaningless observations:

a) Nebraska had about 100 miles of interstate at one lane for road work. But no road work was being done. Maybe they were also celebrating Utah's pioneer day. Similarly, everywhere that the interstates went down to one lane for road work, there was no work being done- until I hit North Carolina. That's got to be some kind of record for miles of fake road work.

b) Missouri in my estimation for Friday morning should have been renamed Miserable- just for that day, though. My birth state was being rained on my entire drive. And bless you, Mr. Tractor Trailer Trucker That Stayed in the Passing Lane for 25 Miles in Mid-Missouri Trailing Rain Spray So No One Can See or Pass.

c) On a related note, people still send me crazy political e-mails bashing Obama with all manner of falsehoods. I thought about starting a chain mail reflecting my driving experience:

"Left lane is the passing lane. If you are going slower in the passing lane than people in the right lane, you should pull over. Likewise, if there is someone approaching behind you in the left lane, or has been following you for miles flashing his lights, you should move to the right lane." I'll have it translated into every possible language, then add the disclaimer at the end where you have to forward the e-mail to 20 other people or you'll catch the plague, or at least be stricken by scurvy.

I know this sounds drastic or extreme, but the signs by the side of the road which state "slower traffic stay right" are clearly NOT getting it done. This is exactly what grassroots movements are for, no?

d) Caffeine works.

e) Countryside during the drive was beautiful- everywhere, even though the terrain, flora and fauna varied widely. We live in a great land.

f) Bring large quantities 9 volt batteries for all the fire alarms buzzing "low battery" in your new home, or it will be hard to sleep when you get there, exhausted after your crazy driving.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Dell and Back Again

Day One, shiny happy people at the flag pole. Guy on left, troop friend Jordan, is wearing a Yoda backpack. We thrive on eccentricity in scouts, apparently.

2 weeks ago now, I spent the week at Maple Dell Scout Camp in the mountains near Payson Utah with my son and his scout troop. As I told all the scouts of our troop (and one honorary member from a fellow troop), it was the best scout camp I'd been to in 24 years or so.

The astute scouters among them quickly realized it was the only one I'd been to in that period of time, but it was still a true statement.

Of note during the trip:

The weather was outstanding- did get warm during the days, but the evenings were pleasantly cool, and no rain, so it could not have been any better.

I had some proud "Dad" moments watching my boy overcome some challenges, the biggest being the swim test on the first day. He had to come back later in the day and try it again, and it wore him out, but he did it. I had to take the same test later that day, and was proud of myself- I stink at swimming, and I'm in lousy shape, but I got through it, too. There were a few other moments where I got to see Nathan work his way through difficulties and I was glad that I had that opportunity.

Not really a difficulty here- stringing a bow on his way to the Archery Merit Badge.

We laughed, their expense.

Boys unintentionally and repeatedly swamping their own canoes when they're trying to win a race is funny- even when it is your own son that is part of the unfortunate tandem.

Scout boys, while better than your average bears, aren't quite the disciplined "bivouac" types that I've grown accustomed to with some of my military experiences.
But they aren't bad cooks... just messy.

Among the more negative parts of that lack of discipline, watching them throw trash on the ground, leave trash around, and then have the adults have to browbeat them to clean it up- sheesh- just don't throw stuff on the ground in the first place, and save all the trouble.

Among the more amusing parts of that was related to the bovine camp population. Apparently Maple Dell has an agreement with some cattle ranchers in the area permitting their cows to roam and graze freely through the grounds every 3 years or so. This was one of those years. So along with the frequent deer running through camp, we also had cows. It was a funny sight from time to time to see a cow running down a path with wild-eyed scouts chasing behind it hooting and hollering. The adults also were halfway hoping to see a Pamplona-style reversal of fortune, with the cows in pursuit of scouts, but alas, it was not to be.

A skit! A skit! Its time to watch a skit, hey!

I still think I'm too cool for the silly skits, yells, and other nonsense that goes on at these camps. But I did them all at full voice and energy for a few reasons to include: 1. to work to keep the enthusiasm up of the scouts- they didn't need to see apathetic parents at their camp (even if we were)..2. I had nothing else to do, really... and last but not least, 3. I would have been in serious hot water with my sweetie if she heard I went up there and refused to "play the game". ;-)

I have a newfound appreciation for the work that others have done in scouting to include my old scoutmasters and my MBA buddy Cameron. Service. Not a lot of reward.
Nathan learns to shoot a bow and arrow. So he can improve his "bow hunting skillz". Gosh!

What goes around comes around. Our crew of boys had their share of the types of kids just as we were in my group of friends as we went through scouts oh so many years ago. Our gang of six was notoriously difficult given our beliefs that we knew it all. Here was some of the payback, I guess.
Who are you calling surly? We're tough, not surly!

Lastly, it is hard to get much done back home- like closing on a house purchase in North Carolina- when you don't have access to phone, internet technology, etc. But that's ok- I enjoyed lots of quiet time when the boys were off working on merit badges and the like. Great to read without the interruptions of technology.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sports commentary

Another shout out to an old mission friend, who keeps up an interesting take on sports from an academician's point of view- he shares some of my ambivalence about the roles sports play for us. Good work, Corry!

Also, a couple of other writers/satirists/sports junkies that amuse me no end: Bill Simmons on ESPN's web site (I put his widget on my I-google!), and Pete McEntegart on CNN/Sports Illustrated's.

My favorite sports posting of today was an article about Gilbert Arenas accepting a less than max contract from the Washington Wizards. He may be crazy, but he understands he's an entertainer, and he understands that there's no practical difference between $110 million and $125 million or so in terms of personal income- it is all ego at that point. Kudos to him. Or as he'd say, "HIBACHI!!!!!"

9 days, 1500 miles- Family Road Trip

20 miles to the gallon- 5 bucks a gallon- $1 per 4 miles- $.25 a mile! Woo-hoo!

Research supports the maxim that "Money doesn't buy happiness." (at least once one gets over a minimum poverty threshold- one that I've been blessed never to approach). To the contrary, knowing that in our particularly blessed situation that money is a commodity easily made, won, lost, etc- and a willingness to give it up for the (family) team made things a lot easier during these past 10 days.

First stop, Oceanside, California- a few days at the beach with temperatures in the 70s, fairly pleasant. A movie (our then 2 year old called the movie "Poo Panda"- those of you with kids can figure out which Jack Black animation this is), a few trips to chow at The Souplantation.... and the announcement that will be made frequently in this post... military discounts rock! Feed a family of 6 all you can eat for less than $35 at a good restaurant!

Squirrel-festa-palooza at park by beach at Oceanside- easily 100 squirrels burrowed in the hillside. One or more posts sentry, the others will come down and eat from your hands if there are no dogs around to spook them.

Was interesting to see all the Marines everywhere with the nearby Camp Pendleton. Wondered how many of them have been to Iraq or other combat areas, and what missions they completed. Wondered how they are doing inside themselves- they, much more than the Army guys, remind me of the Spartans of "300". Warriors, what is your profession? Grunt, grunt, grunt. Not to say that I haven't met some tremendous warriors among my comrades in army green, but the Marines seem much more stoic about it all to me.

Our 4 yahoos at the aquarium.

A day at the UCSD/Scripps-La Jolla aquarium with an old friend of Christine's and her children (friendship is old, not the friend!) was also decent despite the inevitable moments of our losing children. Before one judges our lousy parenting, I want to point out that our 2 youngest, being comfortable being ignored by distracted parents, have no fear and wander at will- and there's a lot of will at such an interesting place. And we left the place with as many children as we brought, and as a bonus, they were all the same children. Another place with what I thought were reasonable admission fees, by the way, with or without military discount.

Christine and Michelle at aquarium.

Then up for a few days in La Mirada/Los Angeles area- church at Christine's old ward, they all still love her. A day at Knott's Berry Farm- theme/amusement park near her parents' home there in La Mirada, a day relaxing/recovering from theme park day and celebrating Malia's 3rd birthday in laid back style- frosted cupcakes and a song, woo-hoo!, and then back to Provo.

Knott's Berry Farm gave us a military discount of almost 40% off! So instead of $210 admission for the family, it got down to $130. We ended up spending about 200 with parking, $5 snow cones and whatnot, but that is better than spending $300 or more any day. So again, the military discounts rock!

Camp Snoopy entrance at Knott's Berry Farm

Some other great things about the Knott's visit- weather was not too bad- a bit warm, but not oppressive- and there were not large crowds, so lines at rides were for the most part very short. In fact, late in the evening, you could just stay on rides repeatedly, because there were only 5 of you getting on a ride that could seat 30 or so! Lucas was tall enough to get on most of the crazy rides, which delighted him- I think he was trying to kill me on the Ghost Rider- a wooden roller coaster that rattles and rattles until I felt my bones starting to crack. A 5 year old with a sadistic streak. Probably wasn't great for his little brain either. Bad! Bad parenting!

A little insider knowledge here- Christine grew up going to this place, so she knows the "old school" stuff- like this grave on which, if you stand, you can feel the guy's heart still beating- I'm guessing most visitors to the Knott's park here never find or visit this little cemetery area with a couple of tricks like this.

Excepting Malia's usual "I need a nap" tantrums, the children were pretty well-behaved on the Knott's visit- which is good for someone like me. Let me explain. I'm not a big fan of theme parks- spend lots of money to stand in lines, sweat a lot, have kids complain about what they don't get/like out of it, etc. OK, "not a big fan" is an understatement. I don't like crowds and I hate lines in general, and paying for it, well, that doesn't make much sense to me. In my fantasy world, I should get paid for those things, not give money to others for such privileges. I'm still figuring out how to bill my children. Anyway, getting back to being positive, this ranked up there as one of our top 2 amusement park visits.

The other great visit was the free visit to Busch Gardens (BG) a few years back- as part of their "military heros salute" or something like that label. They've scaled it back- we'll hit BG again next month- but only 4 of our six family members will be free with a military promotion- but still- that's great, and I appreciate it. What made our visit there great beyond the price was that again, the children weren't as challenging as they could have been, and lines were reasonable. We did get hit with an evening ending downpour at BG, but everyone kept their spirits up given how well things had gone, so the downpour was, in a way, part of the fun- a water ride without the lines, if you will, and cooled us down as it was pretty hot during that trip.

Now, I'm not complaining, mind you, but wouldn't it be something if gas stations offered military discounts? That would have been pretty awesome.

A slight tangent on the road trip post, somewhere between Mesquite and Jean, our rear left taillight cover decided it wanted out of the whole road trip experience, and just fell off somewhere. It didn't do us the courtesy of letting us know, so we were surprised to discover its absence at a gas stop in Jean. If you can picture a Grand Caravan taillight, this is not a small cover. We didn't even get to say goodbye, after all we'd been through over 64k miles or so. I hereby declare my resolution to never buy another Dodge vehicle. Our 5 year old Grand Caravan gets less grand with every day we move beyond the "bumper to bumper" warranty period- random things fall off or break with seemingly programmed regularity, even without the help of an active and young family of 6.

This one apparently stuck around long enough for its owner to get a photo....

For comparison, my Subaru Legacy, now 18 years old and exposed to much trauma, has put the Caravan to shame in terms of needing maintenance. In fact, I'm guessing we'll be replacing the soccer mom van before I realize my dream of replacing the Legacy with that sweet WRX that I've been coveting for years. My Legacy just won't die!

So how's that for a post from a military veteran? Have I gotten out of the uniform and back into the everyday life of a civilian yet? Let me know how I'm doing, or if you're picking up PTSD symptoms that I need to talk with the VA about.