Friday, July 22, 2011

Conversation of the Day

And it happened before 10am!

Landlord: Well, I've found someone who can trap the opossum, but he needs to be inside the apartment to set the trap and can't come back for the trap until Monday.

Me: Wait, does that mean the trap will be INSIDE the apartment?

Landlord: I don't know! Find out everything that you can!

Did you know that opossum are apparently some kind of protected animal? Pest people won't touch them, the HVAC people don't mess with them; rather, they all refer you to a certain, specific pest dude, who should be here in the next 10 minutes and, fingers crossed, will be driving a refurbished ice cream truck with an opossum affixed to the roof.

A passel on all your houses!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not A Rat...

A lot goes through your mind when you think you have a rat in your vents. You forget all rational thinking, like the fact that millions of people have rats in their houses or around their mud huts, lean-tos, and other rural abodes. Or that millions of people lived without brick-and-concrete homes for centuries, and they... well, they all died around age 35, but I digress.

Instead, you worry about disease, about their tiny rat skin flakes wafting through your ventilation system (post-filter!) and landing in your food (thank YOU, kitchen vent) or in your bed (don't worry, the vent's on B's side. Sorry B.).

So you're thrilled, thrilled to hear your husband baby talking in the back bedroom. "Hey buddy," he cooed. "He there fella."

I, the still somewhat armed and generally angry lady of the (rat-infested) house, demand, "To WHOM exactly are you speaking?"

B replies, "It's not a rat, it's an opossum!"

Much to my surprise, I actually sighed in relief and got somewhat excited to see the pink little snout sitting contently in our ducts through the vent covering. That was night two. B called me back just now and we managed to get the little guy on camera surrounded by the debris he's kicked up by cleaning out our vents (yeah, thanks for that).

I don't know why opossums bother me less. I mean, they're still mean, hissy little creatures. But you scare them and they play dead. They get great roles, like "Rosebud" in Over the Hedge. And, I nearly adopted a passel of opossum (did you know that's the name for a group of opossum? It is!) when I was three.

My Mom and I were driving to my Dad's office, which held my preschool in the basement (It was a Montessori school, y'all. Settle down) when we saw what looked to be a wiggling mound of roadkill in the middle of the boulevard.
As I recall, my Mom heroically drove our wood-paneled station wagon to my Dad's office a block away, grabbed a printer-paper box, and swung back to the scene of the crime to save (save!) a passel of mini-opossum. That's right, the roadkill, unfortunately, was the mama opossum, and her passel was hitching a ride on her back, leaving them totally clueless why their mama, their ride, was playing, well, opossum in the middle of the road.

I remember Mom driving me straight to the vet (after letting my preschool class look in the box), where we unloaded no fewer than six of the tiny, wiggly, snouted creatures. They didn't make it, I'm told, but there was a valiant effort.

Of course, as I asked Mom about this today, it turns out that's not the whole story.

"You were three," Mom said. "How could I leave those babies in the road after we figured out what they were." She scooped them up and drove them to the vet, leaving them with a hushed exchange, "You realize they're too dumb to drink from a bottle, right?" asked the Vet. "And that they're opossum." Mom's cry remains, "You were three!"

She continued, "We did the same thing when the dog chewed off the leg of that baby bunny. We had to take it to the vet! We couldn't just watch it suffer."

Excuse me? My dog ate a lucky rabbit's foot? Not so lucky for anyone, certainly not Mom, who I'm sure had to pick up the bleeding baby bunny (and the dumb, near-blind opossum), or Dad, who certainly shook his head when the vet's bill arrived, touting formula for the passel of rodent he'd almost adopted.

When I was in sixth grade, I got a golden retriever. Mom wanted a dalmatian, but somehow I won and spent weeks watching the classifieds for a litter of goldens. We had a false alarm at a local farm, where someone tried to sell us a "miniature golden retriever," which sounds a lot like a mutt (not that there's anything wrong with that). But then, Mississippi came a callin'.

We adopted a puppy, who slept all the way home on my lap after crying his way out of the refrigerator box we'd picked up in town. He couldn't sleep in my bed, so that night I slept with an arm and a foot in his laundry basket, hoping to make him feel less alone.

Our beloved dog spent his puppy years bringing home everything from clothing of laundry lines to single running shoes, the origin of which we never did find. Mom dutifully hung the items on the stop sign at the end of our road and, like clockwork, they were always gone the next day, rightfully home with their owners.

Our pup got in his share of tussles. Once with a king snake, which resulted in him being terrified of playing fetch with sticks for over a year, and others after he realized that he was a male dog.

Then, one night our sweet dog limped up to our porch, having lost the use of both back legs.

Sixth grade me (not nearly as cute as three-year-old me, mind you, but still pretty powerful behind those huge glasses) was desperate. "He's dying," I wailed. Mom called the vet, apologizing for the late call, and explained our situation.

"It's just a specific type of tick," he said, calming my Mom. "If you bring him in tomorrow, we'll dip him and he'll be just fine. No permanent damage."

Mom replied, "But what about tonight?"

The vet sighed, "Well, the temporary paralysis will continue until all he can do is wag his tail."

Well, image trying to tell that to a pre-teen. Mom told the vet she'd be dealing with one long night and couldn't we bring him in, which the vet graciously allowed (certainly he'd forgotten about the opossum package we left him years before). Of course, the dog was fine the next day, but I sure as heck became terrified of all ticks.

So I'll leave you tonight, in the warmth of your own home, with the knowledge that B & I currently have a security system in our home. He's nocturnal, pretty quiet, and, if he'd just take a bath, we might just keep him.

When I told Mom it was an opossum, as opposed to a rat, and asked her why she thought I was comforted by this new fact, she replied, "Well, some people eat opossum. Nobody eats rat."

So meet O'Patrick our opossum, and say goodbye to him. I'm ready for him to head on to greener pastures. And I'm pretty sure he's hungry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Note-- If you're a hater of non-PG13 language or a lover of rats, do not read on. Sorry, Mom(s).

In real life, Splinter is not so cute.

Tonight, B & I were awake late, some of us Bar prepping and some of being supportive during the commercial breaks of Teen Mom. We heard a rattling, like pipes expanding in winter, and gave it a pass figuring that our neighbors must be tinkering or moving things around. Clearly we're knee-deep in Bar prep as it didn't occur to us that 1am was a logical time for such type of work.

After a few minutes ("What are they DOING?"), B goes to investigate. Twice. Figure it must be the neighbors, as we can hear them through our guest bath at times. Then I go to investigate, get as far as the end of the table, and make B go again.

Turns out it is coming from our guest bath, but not through the walls. Through the VENT. B points that the vent covering is literally hopping around, shaking and popping up from the floor. He starts to pick up a corner of the covering (PICK UP A CORNER!), and drops it when it moves again.

I close the sliding door so that only an inch shows and peek through as he arms himself with a plunger and tries to see what's going on. In hindsight, what the hell did we think it was? Santa?

I grab a flashlight and squeeze it in to him through the crack in the door. He shines it down through the vent covering and, like a moth to the flame, this HUGE RAT presses itself up against the vent covering, curling its freaky long tail through the vents.

How is it doing that? Is there another rat giving him a leg up? Do we have the world's first planking rat?

B calmly yells, "Holy FUCKtard!" as he peers at the rat, which stretches the full length of the vent, making it at least a foot long, easy, including its tail.

He leaves the plunger there and goes to the weight bench (which I'm suddenly oh-so glad to have in our art deco-style apartment) and proceeds to weigh down each vent covering with a 10 or 15 pounder, which I hope will keep Big Mama at bay overnight.

Let's just say my email to the landlord can best be summed up with "What the HELL are you going to do about this, and WHEN??"

For those of you who don't know me so well, I hate...nature. Ok, that's a stretch. I love beaches (not sand) and swimming (not salt water); I love sunsets (with bug spray) and morning walks (with my sunglasses and visor). I can claim that I camped all through elementary school (what's up, brownies?) and even undertook a week-long camping trip in upstate New York with Princeton's finest ROTC reps, two Eagle Scouts, and several tri-athletes. That's a story for another day, and perhaps why nature and I are on less than super terms these days.

Fact: I once called B, who lived hours (and timezones) away when I found a roach in my Birmingham apartment. The call, and the roach killing, took approximately 45 minutes and consisted of me crying, screaming (intermittently-- I'm no wuss), and almost agreeing with B's suggestion: Call your friend Joanna. Did I mention it, too, was after midnight? Maybe I need to go to bed earlier. But then, I wouldn't have heard the rat, it would've gotten in, and I certainly would've stumbled across it in our recycling after B went to work and spent the rest of my day up on the table cursing myself for not charging my cell phone. As it is, I may go to work with him tomorrow anyway.

"B," I asked, "Am I being too sensitive? Is our landlord going to think I'm crazy and say, 'It's just a rat.'?"

B replies, "Did you see the SIZE of that thing? I know I'm not helping your freakout, but, no, you are NOT overreacting here."

My one positive insect encounter is with Vern, a regular fly who we first noticed on our ceiling the week we moved in. We found it odd that, three days later, he hadn't so much inched from his perch over our couch. As the weeks went by, we realized that Vern had to have had the terrible luck to land on a freshly painted ceiling and, most certainly, starved to death. The only remaining question is whether the landlord painted the ceiling before we moved in. Or, rather, if Vern's been up there for 12 months or four years.

We had pets when I was little. The dogs always fared well, though I somehow convinced a friend of mine that one of our ancient dogs died not from natural canine causes but rather through poison from our (non existent) Chinese neighbors. I begged for a chinchilla but, thankfully, did not get one. "You know people make coats out of those things," my Mom told me.

For the record, it takes between 130 and 200 chinchilla to make a coat, which must mean there are literal farms somewhere of them. It has to be the cutest, saddest place ever.

It was the other pets that didn't do so well. I had a fish from my elementary school carnival that lived for four years (Mom and Dad were thrilled about that, I'm sure), but then I also had hermit crabs, a "must have" after my best friend came home with two from the beach.

Let's just say that the hermit crabs clamped down on my best friend's finger, forcing my Mom to force the pinchers open (and not with dark chocolate or a pint-size chinchilla coat), and then nobody wanted to touch the hermit crabs again.

In fifth grade, we learned about eggs and hatching and... oh who knows, but either way we hatched things in our classroom that year. Ducks, guinea hens, they were all up for grabs. I signed up for a duck and I just know Mom was thrilled when I brought home two, "to keep the first one company!"

The ducks (still cute and tiny) lived in my bathtub for one day, until I realized that they smell and don't take well to soap. We lived on the lake so we moved them out into the large dog pen we had in the back yard by the woods. In hindsight, my parents must have realized that the damn things would take flight soon enough and head for the river.

So I wasn't too shocked when the ducks disappeared. "They must've made a run for the river," my Mom said as we stared at the empty pen.

I was telling B this story in college, trying to explain to him what my life was like growing up. When I got the part of the story where the ducks vanished, he nodded knowingly and said, "Oh right, your dog ate them."

Cue me, wide eyed, "What??? NO! They went to the RIVER! They swam AWAY!"

Realizing that he'd really stepped in it, B started to back pedal, but the damage was done. "Come on," he said, as kindly as he could, "You had a huge dog, the ducks were tiny; what did you really think happened?"

When I called my Mom to accuse her of hiding the cruel world from my fifth grade self, she said, "Oh, the dog. Maybe. We always figured the owls got them." What??? Owls? In my little backyard pen, I'd created, literally, sitting ducks. An owl buffet, if you will.

So, like I said, nature and I? We've had our days. I realize that if B & I ever decide to adopt (or I'm ever questioned for torturing small animals), I will have to burn this post, which I'm told is quite difficult to do. (Technology and I aren't super tight either).

Pray for us, and that rat, who is about to meet his maker, I can assure you that. When you pray for me, make sure to include a note that I won't take a hit for searching "How many chinchillas does it take to make a coat" on a work computer.

PS-- B says that bathroom smells like rat now. Awesome.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rainy Florida Days

...make me think of all the things I don't want to think about.

I need to clean the house (Lordy, do I need to clean the house-- the dust bunnies are going to take over!).

I need to file our papers (random banking papers, insurance papers, and general randomness including receipts, business cards, and mailings).

The Bar starts a week from Monday and continues through that Tuesday. We close on the house the next day.

I need to make a to do list, one for here (transfer utilites, pack, cancel library) and one for there (transfer utilities, finalize insurance...)

And I want to write, really write here. I'll get to that, I promise. :)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just Sayin'

I'm out of sugar. I need sweet tea. Rum has sugar.

Just sayin'.

Knock Knock

If you have a few minutes (and a tolerance for a little cursing and husband irritating), check out this post from The Bloggess.

It's enough to make me wish I was less reverent about life in general, or that my own dear Mother didn't know what an internet was. Of course, then I'd lose one of my most devoted reader and probably still not find such a level or irony in an iron chicken.

Home Office

Our apartment has officially become a home office this week as B has taken a few day to work from home this week as he studied for the Alabama Bar. It's been wonderful! It makes me excited to get be back in my office soon! He works in the back bedrooms (rotating between the rooms depending on which is coolest).

So imagine my excitement when my sister posted on her blog that today is Chick-Fil-A Day! Free Chick-Fil-A to anyone dressed like a cow!

We've done this the past three years and it's always fun. My first experience was in Birmingham, where people came in acting crazy dressed like our bovine friends (you guessed it, "Mad Cows"), as well as super cute sweet babies in tiny spots and ears.

I've tried to talk B into going for lunch so we'll see. Maybe if we hit the drive through...

It is nice having him around, however briefly, especially when I see the delight he takes in seeing a cat stroll across our porch. I watched him go outside, where I heard him meowing to it. When I went to look, he was waving his arms in a welcoming motion with each meow, attempting to usher the cat back on the porch.

The cat, beasts that they are, of course dashed away from him and lazed on our sidewalk, tempting him with her flirting, then darted away.

It's the simple things, folks. Happy Friday (and free Chick-Fil-A!) to all!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

6 Towels

Me: So I was thinking about where we'd stay once we load the rental truck.

B: What?

Me: The rental truck. I mean, will we go all the way to the new house or stop in Atlanta or...

B: Wait, you're already thinking about the details of our move? The one in August?

Me: Well yeah, someone has to.

B: I'm not saying I don't appreciate it, I'm just saying that I didn't realize you were already into the details.

(long pause)

Me: Know what I thought about on my walk this morning?

B: What?

Me: How many towels we'd need between the we moved our stuff and the time we moved out a week later.

B: Seriously?

Me: Yep. I decided on six, by the way.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Typical Conversations

Me: Hon, do you need anything?
(5 second pause)
B: ...Sure.
(10 second pause)
B: Wait, no. I'm ok.

Folks, Bar prep is definitely upon us.

B has been a saint this year. He's working full time, studying at night and in stolen moments during the day, and also trying to maintain a decent workout schedule (for his sanity) and diet (for mine!). He feels better when he works out; I feel better when I know he's eating.

This time last year, B was studying for the Bar in a different state. We were hanging out at a neighbor's, whose home we were house sitting, and the most taxing part of either of our days was taking Marley out for a walk. We miss that pup!

Last summer, I was decidedly in between work. I'd left all my nanny gigs behind when B graduated law school and was primarly just hanging out around his parents home, where we were living. B studied, I did a little freelance, and we kept crazy, Bar-friendly hours including late-night walks, random meal times, and frequent HGTV breaks.

This year, B's more confident. For one, he already passed one Bar (go B!) and, secondly, he knows basically what to expect. Sure, states are different and exam styles can change, but he knows what the feeling is like.

Last summer, the whole experience was surreal. There are no watches or cell phones allowed. All food has to be unwrapped and in clear plastic baggies (think naked protein bars and hard candy) and, if I recall, the only drinks allowed were clear liquids in bottles. Everything, including your laptop and power cords, had to be in clear plastic bags.

When I picked him up on the final day, he walked out like a normal person. The people around him walked out of the over-air conditioned conference center and began to sprint for their cars. For real.

We're finding out that this Bar might be even more strict; from what I can tell, no food or drinks allowed, though they do have a water cooler in the exam room. No word on if the no-flip flop rule is in effect.

This summer, I'm working from home during the day, making dinners at regular human hours, and trying to encourage B on his quest to get out of bed at 6:15 every morning for an hour of exercise. Let's just say I'm terrible at one of those three. My job also includes supplying snacks (tonight's creation was GORP) and keeping the bourbon stocked (we're no saints here).

In truth, for me, it's not bad at all. The nights are quieter as B studies and I try to stay out of his space when he's studying in the bedroom. When he calls bedtime, I head to the back (which is what's happening now) and we snuggle in for some Tosh.O or, if we're lucky, WEEDS.

Last summer I was obsessed with being "perfect"; law spouses had warned me about the crazies that would take over my husband and, in anticipating them, I drove myself crazy instead.

This year, we're old pros. I'm just looking forward to buying the Champagne (with which we'll celebrate the completion of the Bar, not the passing, which we won't hear about until October or so) and looking forward to our post-Bar, pre-work trip this fall.

Did I mention we close on the house the day after B takes the Bar? Nothing like a little tour of the South to round out a stressful two-day exam!

When you pray, if you pray, say one for B, who's studying for a test still three weeks away, and for my brother, who's preparing to take his Boards on Thursday. As we say around our house with some frequency, "Could you imagine if we had kids??"

We love you, T! Good luck on Thursday!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beg, Borrow, Or Steal

Yesterday I went to TJMAXX for two reasons, both of them noble:

1) Purchase regular cotton tank tops for workouts. They have an PC name and, though I say it, actually typing w-i-f-e-b-e-a-t-e-r out makes me realize how horrible it is. Tanks they are!

2) A collared shirt. B and I have been playing more golf and are actually playing a course this weekend that requires collars (stepping up in the world!), so I needed something. I had one once, but I long ago wore it out playing, you guessed it, golf.

Of course, as any logical person knows, TJMAXX is the Sam's of clothing stores; you never get just what you "need" and you never get out for under $50.

In all fairness, I had been looking for a sunhat for our vacation in August (and also everyday use around here-- I'm tan just from morning walks!) and everyone needs at least one maxi dress (I bought two). And a coverup.

The adventure began at hats, which moved quickly enough. Either it looks crazy (and has enough brim to cover myself, B, and any child we choose to adopt while overseas) or it doesn't; fits or it doesn't; cute or it isn't. Five minutes and done.

Tank tops were a bust, as were collared workout shirts for girls. After much browsing in girls, ladies, and activewear, I made my way to mens and, finally, boys, where I purchased a $5 size 16 boys collared shirt. Done!

I found two maxi dresses that were both less than $20, one well under. I grabbed my goodies and headed for the checkout line.

As the lady checked me out, she started talking about her dogs and I noticed that my shoes (did I mention I bought shoes? Wedges. Oh boy...) were still up on the register, which seemed odd. I didn't say anything and, when I got home, sure enough, she hadn't charged me for one of the dresses.

I wasn't going back; we live 20 minutes from the store and the whole point of saving errands to one trip is to preserve my gas tank (and limit driving in general), so I told B and then called the store.

A few years ago, I had a similar experience. I headed to TJMAXX for a yoga mat and a bag to carry it. While I kept shopping (darn sales), I tossed the yoga mat into the carry bag and slung it over my shoulder. When it came time to check out, the lady swiped the bag tag and slid it over.

"Wait," I said, "The yoga mat in there is a separate item."

If looks could kill. She looked at me like I was crazy. She raised an eyebrow and I said, "Look, if I'm going to hell, it's going to be over something way better than a stolen $12 yoga mat." She scanned it, I paid, and off I went.

This time I called and explained my story. I hadn't stolen the dress, but I hadn't been charged for it. Could they add the charge over the phone? I wouldn't be back in for a while.

Long pause. "Well, why don't you just bring it back in when you're back over here."

Once Target neglected to charge me for my mondo-size jug of laundry detergent and every time I used it, I remembered.

This time, I feel better having called, even if she does think I'm crazy.

The best thing is that I wasn't sure I liked the dress, so I figured, well, if it's not on there, I'll take it back anyway and all will be fine (For real, I didn't steal it-- she took the security tags off!), but it turns out that B loves it, as much as he "loves" any dress I own.

So, dear readers, does this happen to you? I'm confident it's happened before, likely all the time at grocery stores, but who notices when there are 30 things in your basket?

By the way, the shoes are adorable.

Actual Conversations

B & I, while having both grown up in the South and attended the same University, are very different. I fret, he just does. I plan and replan, he he just does. I ask and wonder, he just does.

For instance, I finally delegated the task of home and auto insurance to him, something that was proving more difficult than I anticipated. He gladly took up the torch and has been working hard on it all week. Last night I had a nightmare that we'd basically made up our insurance company and were being rejected for a tiny tiny claim.

See also our plans for moving. We're moving out of our apartment and taking a two week trip. We don't want to leave our car at the airport ($8 a day!), but we can't leave it at our apartment unless it's on the street. Last night, after my insurance nightmare, I dreamed that our friends were now living out of their cars but had to move every night and could never. find. a. place. to. park. them.

Like I said, I fret and dream and rework. B simply gets it done.

So it's no surprise that today, when he gchatted me about rates and companies, our conversation went like this:

B: Remind me to do that when I get home. Here's what people think about Travelers (insert link).

Me: Oh. Hm.. that's not great.

B: Here's what they think about State Farm-- much better.

Me: You're right.

B: And here's what they think about USAA.

Me: Wow. We'll compare apples to apples tonight, or at least apples to apple-shaped oranges.

Me: FYI-- Sam's is selling Saturn Peaches. Basically peaches shaped like donuts.

Me: Freaked me out.

B: Ok, back to work for me.

As I always say, I may be crazy, but he married crazy. And that's a choice.

Learning to Crawl

I learned to crawl at 65 miles per hour. Or so I'm told at least.

When I was little, I remember begging Mom to "please please PLEASE" just let me go to Gulf Shores for a week in the summer. Why did we have to go these crazy places, like mission trips to Belize, tours through Europe (seriously), and dude ranches out West.

To Mom's credit, she didn't lock me in my room forever; I think she realized that it wasn't me being spoiled (right, Mom? Mom?), but rather knowing that "allll" my friends would be spending a week in Gulf Shores over the summer, and here I was being shipped off to Space Camp.

Don't worry about me-- years of therapy and the launch of my own foundation have helped me recover from the abuse.

Of course now I realize what a blessing those vacations were. At least twice that I remember, and likely one other time, Mom would rent an RV for a trip across the country. She's pull it into our driveway, where we'd spend a day or so loading it with food, clothes, toys, and general entertainment; after all, who needs suitcases when you're living out of your home?

As anyone with Southern family knows, "Memory" is a generous term to be applied to things in your own history that you experienced, experienced but don't recall, or may have experienced, or in someone else's history that you have unintentionally rewritten to now center around you.

As for me, I "remember" learning to crawl on our trip out West in the motorhome. I remember storing suitcases in the shower while we drove, only to park on unlevel ground and have the entire shower flood ruining, of course, Mom's suitcase first, the lowest on the pile.

I remember the family mutiny when it was pouring at the campground and Mom cooked steaks in the microwave. You try telling the mac 'n cheese generation that gray steak is done.

I remember Mom's panic as we literally had to wiggle around curves in the mountains to make it to the cabin, and when Dad had had enough of road living, and we drove that bad boy straight into downtown Boston to stay at the Charles; the bellboy offered to stay with it all night if he didn't have to crawl on top of the roof to take the bikes off.

Perhaps I should back up. Do you know what an RV looks like? Sure, you've seen them on gameday, tricked out with porches and TVs on the side, but have you ever experienced them? On the inside, they generally have, starting from the back, a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen area (which has a table that converts to a bed), a sitting area (which has a couch that converts to a bed), and two captains chairs with a TV in the middle (which won't work while the RV is in gear), and a sleeping loft above the captains chairs (more beds!). On the outside, they used to be hyped-up version of station wagons: light yellow and loaded with wood paneling.

Now, picture this monster in the lane next to you, neigh-- coming at you on a mountain road. Now imagine it has five bikes on the roof and a Hot Wheels racer strapped to the front, as if this mad machine has already found its morning meal. When it comes into focus, you see that it has Alabama plates. Get the picture?

I remember taking out a tree with those bikes somewhere in South Carolina (at a Holiday Inn, I believe), and Mom having to find an eye doctor for me when I was little in Vermont, pulling up in the gravel parking lot of the rural office in our traveling home.

I remember Dad firmly having had enough, though likely on a car trip later, and bucking Mom's One Suitcase Per Person rule, a rule I now look back enviously since B & I try to back in roll-aboards always, and taking exactly one respectable looking suitcase into the Greenbrier, a place that doesn't allow jeans in the lobby, along with a honest-to-God garbage bag full of other things he wanted to have. "One suitcase," he said.

I remember careening around Philadelphia's only roundabout, heading toward a place where the road would fork. Mom was getting a much-needed break from driving, only to have us wake her up screaming "Mom! East or West?! The road forks!" Mom, who had been blissfully asleep, had no idea what city we were in, what road we were on, or, likely, why she'd ever planned this damned trip, calmly replied, "We're going North to New Hampshire, so go North." This released the chaos in the car-- the road goes East or the road goes West, not North at all. "Yes," she said, struggling to unfold the map (ah, days before GPS), but eventually one side goes up or it doesn't--North is the end goal here!"

Of course, by this time, we'd passed the fork, selecting the wrong exit and prompting us into a Chevy Chase-worthy scene of monument repeats. From the back of the car, my brother piped up, "Look kids: Tower of London! Big Ben!"

We didn't always hit the road on our own. When I was going into second grade, Mom sat me down to explain that I'd miss the first three days of school but that she thought this was a good experience for me and important for us to do. What were we doing? Traveling through Europe for three weeks. I'm sure I cried about having to miss figuring out whose class I was in. Sucker.

Remember your fear of those Alabama plates barreling at you? Let's see if we can do one better: Imagine you're a retiree, or a couple away for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing Europe with the love of your life. Then, the last group boards the bus and your heart sinks; it's a family of six, with kids ages 7, 11, 16, and 19.

Mom herded us to the back, where we sat six-across in the last row of the bus while we rolled through country after country. I'd love to say that I remember being changed forever by the dialect, the people, and the experiences, but what I really remember is limited to four things:

1) A cat on roller skates touched my hair bow when we saw the Midnight Express on stage.

2) A man at a rest stop had a driver's license that had all these weird symbols on it that looked like number signs.

3) I had a Happy Meal in a romantically-lit red velvet booth.

4) Todd figured out how to use the detachable shower arm to soak not only my suitcase from open window to another, but also to saturate some Italian woman's laundry, which was hanging between the buildings.

Mom always told me that she'd rather have memories from vacations than furs and cars and it was her desire to see the world that allowed the rest of us to do so. She used trips to protect us (taking three week trips before and after my Dad's first heart surgery), to heal us (setting up a perfectly-timed, last-minute cruise for my college spring break when I'd just had my heart broken), and to bond us. After all, how many families can sit around grousing over gray steak (Kentucky Campground), purple hamburgers (the coast of Spain), and the time Mom almost starved Todd to death by booking high tea for lunch in Vancouver; I still remember Mom's face when we left this elaborate meal of finger sandwiches and crudites and Dad and Todd both asked where we were headed for lunch. Granted, neither of their knees had even fit under the tiny tables where we'd feasted with stacked finger stackers and tiny cups of tea, for which I'm sure my Dad requested ice and "Sweet n Low, or whatever you have is fine."

It's because of this that we can bond over the low-laying beds in the home we rented in Canada and the time we got snowed on in Candlestick park watching a mid-summer baseball game; well, some of us did anyway. My sister decided to stay back at the hotel and I, desperate to be just like her, did the same. We watched movies on pay per view and got take out. A dream come true!

I'm sure Mom has been tempted, at times, to ditch us all, use those frequent flyer miles she worked so hard to organize and fly to places unknown. Instead, like the time we had a four hour layover from 1am to 5am in Houston, she let the rest of us truck down to the IHOP for pre-dawn pancakes while she slept, alone, in the hotel room she'd booked. I'm sure she thought of leaving us all a few hours later when we finally arrived in Atlanta only to all sleep while she drove the five hours home.

We can laugh about the times we tried to stay in Atlanta hotels after returning from late-night trips, only to find our guaranteed room mysteriously given away while the high school prom partied on in the hotel ballroom.

I now that know, as I look back on how I was raised, I am so thankful that my memories, even the "bad" ones are hilarious and wonderful. I love that I can remember Dad refusing to ski, hating to move hotel rooms every night, and generally just wanting a nice nap and a glass of ice tea when the rest of us were sooo ready to go to the theme parks; yet, he always went and did so happily.

The only time I saw him completely baffled was when he asked for the soup of the day in a restaurant out West, a formality for my Dad because, as my brother-in-law says, whatever they had, Dad would order. However, this waitress told Dad that the soup of the day was Wisconsin Beer & Cheddar. Dad stammered over himself and said, "I believe I'm going to need a minute." She left and he just laughed and laughed.

B & I are starting to plan our own family trips, something that I drive him nuts about on a regular basis. "Where do you think we'll go on our anniversary?" "We should plan to do..." But I know he knows it's from a good place in my heart. The memories that I so cling to from my life are ones I experienced with all my siblings and, due to our age range, that usually meant vacations.

I will say this, I have huge respect for Mom's mad planning skills these days, especially since I have trouble booking a single hotel in a city WITH the help of the internet and reviews. How did she ever find all these places without even seeing so much as a photo?

So, whatever you're doing this July 4th weekend, I hope you're with people you love. And if you are on the road, remember to steer clear of the RVs with Alabama tags.