The travel diaries, Nashville

A couple of years back, Paul and I went to Nashville for a business conference. The cost of airline tickets were insane. If I remember right it was around $1400 to $1500 round trip for 2. Remember that I am a cheapskate?? You should see my office equipment. I have a used printer that is probably older than my teenage kids. I have my Aunt Grace’s old desk which is older than me. I have two office chairs from the 70’s or 80’s. I have art work on the wall that was given to me as a kid painted by another deceased relative. Yes, $1400 is a lot of money for a plane ticket, so we drove instead.

On our way down from WI, we took a pit stop in Chicago to visit with some relatives. We walked along Navy Pier, but it was a cold night so we didn’t stay outside long. It cost $30 to park for one hour, if I remember right, which was way too much. We had Chicago style pizza which was absolutely awesome. It was 2 inches thick! Then we stopped to visit some friends in Kentucky. We finally meandered down to Nashville for the conference. Paul did all of the driving while I worked in the car.

The one thing I really liked about Nashville was that it was a good 10 degrees warmer than WI. We stayed at a hotel downtown that had an outside glass elevator that went really fast. Being afraid of heights, it was rather unnerving to ride in. I also asked for a room on the lowest floor. I got over this fear after several more trips with rooms on high floors. It was on this trip that we met Joe. Joe sat across from me at a table and commented that my eyes were the perfect shade of blue. He asked others if they thought that my eyes were beautiful. Now who doesn’t like a guy like that? He has great people skills and a love for adventure. We hang out with him and his coworkers at every conference. We can count on him to plan crazy and unique adventures. I am not quite sure what it is, Paul and I seem to attract eccentric or adventurous friends more often then not.

That night I checked singing in Nashville off my bucket list. Who cares if it was just karaoke? It was awesome feeling like a star for one night. From what I saw of the city, it looked rather clean. Although Joe said that he went for a walk early one morning and ended up by a deserted warehouse full of people that had him fearing for his life, but I think Joe tends to exaggerate at times.

Soon the conference was over and it was time to head back home. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful until we hit Louisville. While we were on the bridge we blew out our tire. We ended up having to pull into the little median between the highway and off ramp while cars went by us at 75 mph to put on the spare. That and having our GPS navigation go out in the middle of Chicago made for an interesting end to our adventure.


The travel diaries

One of the big items on my bucket list is to visit all of the continents in this world with the exception of Antarctica.  I can see myself taking the road less traveled. I have already started treading off the beaten path armed with nothing more than a camera and a story to tell. I decided to start a travel series this month. Who knows, maybe I will talk about your town as an outsider looking in to your world for a brief moment in time.

I always wanted to travel. Growing up the only “vacations” that we ever took with our whole family was going up north to the cabin. There were 3 trips that we took with the partial family. The first trip we drove down to Texas to take my autistic brother to the hospital. We didn’t stop anywhere along the way (except a hotel) or do anything fun so I am not sure that this counts as a “vacation”. The second trip we went to South Dakota to a conference with Aunt Grace. On our way back to WI, we drove 10 hours out of our way to stop in Canada for 20 minutes to get my aunt some tea. I wrote about this trip in one of my first posts. The third was a bus trip to South Dakota with my aunt and uncle’s church when I was in grade schoool. It was hot and stormy, a severe thunderstorm came up while touring the Badlands which was really awesome if you weren’t afraid of storms. The AC ended up going out on the bus and a lot of people felt sick. A teenage boy got upset and ran away. We saw the outdoor passion play. Just before the crucifixion scene another freak storm came up. Everyone went running as the thunder crashed and I got lost. That is my childhood travel experience in one paragraph.

Paul also wanted to travel. You can imagine how much traveling he did growing up with a poor single teen mom. He was 40 the first time he was on an airplane. Last week he asked me if I would be open to sailing around the world. I said that I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea at this time, but lets do the Great Lakes loop first. We both desire to live a life of adventure.

But how are we going to have this lifestyle living on a variable income? The first thing that we did was buy a modest house. The last thing that we wanted was a high mortgage payment that would trap us. We live cheap. Up until last year, both of our vehicles were over 10 years old. We bought our kitchen table at a rummage sale. Our bedroom set is the same one that I had as a kid complete with broken drawers. A majority of our furniture including a TV, couch, love seat, recliners, deck furniture, end tables, and lamps were inherited from deceased relatives. We bought our hutch at a good price when my aunt got a divorce. We bought our entertainment center used from another relative. Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize what a bunch of cheapskates we really are. Not that I have to justify spending money on a vacation once in awhile to any of you anyway. Geez.

I will be going through one autism diary a month as well. Until then I promise to entertain you with travel stories off the beaten path… 

The cheapskate marathon

I admit, I am a bit of a cheapskate. I signed up for another marathon this week in order to save $10. But I have learned the lesson over time when to be a cheapskate and when not to. So saving $10 forced me to make a decision early, one that I was probably going to make anyway. So I decided to plan my whole race calendar for the year. I am planning on running a marathon in May, a 10k in June, my first tri in July, and ending the season with a half marathon in the fall.

The best thing about running a marathon in May is that I have the whole summer ahead of me to plant my boney carcass on the beach somewhere. Last year I gave up a lot of relaxation time to train for a marathon in the end of August. It will mean more long runs on a treadmill. Maybe I will have to tape pictures of myself bikini clad, beach bound with umbrella drinks to the treadmill for motivation! Hmm. Lol.

Then there was that one time when I learned that being a cheapskate is not the best move. One of the biggest lessons I learned is not to accept items from people who are cheaper than me. Items like an avocado green 1970’s model clothes dryer. When Paul and I got married, we had a little starter house that came without appliances. Paul’s mom and step-dad gave their old gas dryer to us which was very kind of them but didn’t work out too well for us. First of all, we didn’t have the hook ups in the house for a gas dryer. Paul’s step-dad had some old copper pipes that they ended up using to hook up a gas line for the dryer over a weekend.

This is probably the part where you want me to tell you that they screwed up the gas line and blew up that tiny starter house. Sorry, there wasn’t even a gas leak. The dryer itself was not in good working condition. First, I had to put the clothes in the dryer. Then I needed to manually start the dryer by putting my arm inside to get the drum rolling. Some times the process itself would twist my arm. The big kicker was that the darn thing didn’t even dry well. The hardest part of the whole process was that after all of the work that was done to install it, we had to say that we didn’t want it anymore. That was not an easy thing to say to my new in-laws.

So over time, part of the life learning process is when to be cheap and when you have to fork out the dough. I think I made the right decision about the marathon. Bring it on!

A bright light on the darkest day

Almost a century ago, in a very small town, my great-grandparents started a family business. They opened an automotive garage where they sold and fixed cars. They also had one of those old fashioned gas stations with two pumps and a wrecker service. They built a house next door to their business and had 4 children. My great-grandma passed away when I was five and my great-grandpa and great uncle passed away before I was born.

After serving in the military, Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold being single moved back into the family house to help run the family business. Their brother, my grandpa, moved down the road within walking distance. I never remember the siblings ever fighting.

Aunt Grace did all of the finance for the family business with some help from my grandma. Uncle Harold and my grandpa worked as mechanics. Today, on the darkest day of the year, was Uncle Harold’s birthday. But there was nothing dark about Uncle Harold. He was a very quiet, friendly man that loved to laugh.

Every year Aunt Grace would throw Uncle Harold a birthday party. It was always the same year after year. She would set the table with the best fiesta dishware that were stored behind the glass cupboard in the pantry. Everyone had a different colored plate that was used only once a year for this special occasion.  She would serve steak, baked potatoes, and a vegetable with coffee to drink, even for the kids. She had an old fashioned stove that she cooked on. It required her to put little pieces of wood into a fire on the left side of the stove. For dessert, we always had pineapple upside down cake. Afterwards, Aunt Grace made me help her do the dishes and clean up.

I didn’t see Uncle Harold a lot growing up. He was always working in the garage. I wasn’t supposed to go inside the garage much because I liked to wear shorts which Aunt Grace said was not proper attire for a young lady. But sometimes I would sneak in to buy a large glass bottle of soda for a quarter. My aunt and uncle were always up at 6 AM. Uncle Harold would eat breakfast then go to work. He would come in for lunch and they would both take a half an hour nap. Aunt Grace slept on her couch and Uncle Harold slept in his chair. Then Uncle Harold would work until 6 PM which was always the time that supper was ready. Most of the time after supper, Uncle Harold would go out to work until 9 or 10 at night. When he came in, he coughed a lot. Working 13 hour days in an unventilated garage did that to him. He usually worked until noon every Saturday and took Sunday off.

Uncle Harold was a generous man both towards his family and his community. He offered a window washing job to an illiterate man who was having a hard time without job skills providing for his family.  He paid for my college tuition. He never wanted anyone to know the good deeds that he did. Money was a topic that I wasn’t even supposed to talk about.  I don’t think I ever thanked him enough for the sacrifice that he made. He paid for my school from stocks that he inherited from his parents that someone gave them when they couldn’t afford to pay their garage bill.

That year I graduated from college in May, got married in August, and was pregnant in October. I remember driving out that fall Saturday to tell the family our news. I never was able to tell Uncle Harold the news personally as he was with a customer that afternoon. Then a month later, he died unexpectedly.

Every year Uncle Harold would take a week off to go hunting with his friends. It was on that trip that he had a heart attack. When he passed away, there was no one left to carry on the family business. Of the four siblings, my dad was the only child born and he wasn’t interested in continuing the family business. In the meantime, Uncle Harold had listed me as heir of that stock which we cashed in to start yet another family business.

So on the darkest day of the year, I will always remember the bright light that was in Uncle Harold. I am sad that he never met my children. Even now, his memory is starting to dim. I hope that in some way through my thoughts today the memory of him will shine on.

Old school stalking, part 2

After the horrible first date, Mac talked me into going out with him again. The first couple of weeks were great. He became totally obsessed with me. He listened to all of my stories. Laughed at all of my jokes. At first this was all very flattering. He showered me with time and attention making up for several years of being ignored by my dad. He made me feel like I couldn’t live without him. So after a couple of months of being Mr. Wonderful, when he asked me to marry him I said “yes”. It was probably around this time that the problems started. You see, he didn’t have good enough credit to buy me an engagement ring. So I bought my own.

That was not all that I bought. I bought new tires for his car that ended up getting repossessed. He did buy me a nice word processor to type up my college papers on. But he was so jealous that I was in college that he turned it off on me when I was almost finished writing a paper for a 4 credit class. I had to start all over and ended up just turning it in before the class ended that day.

Then there were other things. Like the time I stopped in after work at 7 PM and he had stayed out all night gambling the night before. He woke up at 7 PM thinking that it was 7 AM. He thought I was kidding. He missed work that day. He started taking my prescription drugs.

Then things got really bad. He started to push me around. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the wall. He threw me around enough for me to get pretty bruised up. He lost his temper and punched his fist through the bedroom door. When I threatened to call the cops, he told me that he would accuse me of stealing from him after a couple of times that he had me cash his checks for him.

When I threatened to leave him he got very manipulative. He found my diaries and said that if I left him he would send them to my family members.

The final straw happened about this time of year. Mac was very obsessed with his appearance. He dyed his hair blonde and permed it. He even wore foundation to cover his ruddy complexion. One Thanksgiving, I picked him up to go to my grandma’s house. He forgot to put on his foundation and demanded that I stop at my parent’s house on the way so that he could borrow my mom’s makeup. I was appalled. No fricken way was I going to do that. So he was upset with me and during the prim and proper family meal with all of my extended family, we got into a huge fight. Swear words riccoched across the table. He ended up walking out. I wish I could say that it was the end right then and there.

He relentlessly pursued me over the next couple of months. There were times when I had to hide my car when I was at home. I had to have my friend drop me off at work so he wouldn’t see my car there. When he called, my mom told him that I wasn’t there. Once he left a rose under my windshield in the early morning with a apology note asking to get back together. It freaked me out because I lived an hour away from him.

When I lived with a roommate, he charmed her into thinking he was a great guy. She told him everything that he wanted to know about me. That is how I ended up having my name broadcast over the speakers half the night while I was at the county fair with some friends and another guy. “Alissa, please come to the information desk, Mac is looking for you”. I am so glad that I didn’t marry that guy. Had I known, the first date would’ve been the last.

Sheerly not cut out for it

I really suck at cutting hair. I could use the left handed excuse of having to learn how to cut with my right hand, but I don’t even think that would cut it. I didn’t always think that I sucked at it. As a teen, I got sick of my autistic brother constantly pulling my hair. It hurt. I noticed that my younger brothers didn’t get their hair pulled, probably because it was too short to pull. Just my mom and I got our long hair pulled. I got really sick of it so one day I took a scissors in my right hand and hacked off around 6 inches of long tresses and lot of stress. People commented. They liked my new hair cut. I thought that I wasn’t terribly bad at it.

Then I got married and had kids. My oldest daughter needed her bangs trimmed as a toddler and I was on it. I cut her bangs, but they were crooked. So I kept cutting until they were straight and about a quarter of an inch long. I didn’t really suck. She wasn’t sitting still. People commented. Ah, your daughter decided to cut her own hair. Poor thing. She wasn’t talking too much yet, so I didn’t argue that I was the one who hacked her hair. It wasn’t too long after that when she started to cut her own hair. She was better at it then I was.

Then my husband got the idea of buying a hair cutting kit to shave some money. He liked to cut his hair short so it really wasn’t that complicated. I could almost handle that. I decided to take on bigger things, my dad’s hair. First, let me tell you that he looks exactly like Santa Claus. He has a humongous stomach, everything else is flat. He has long gray hair with an equally long beard that children could try to yank off and find it to be real. He has the glasses that he looks over, worn on the lower part of his nose. He would be a perfect Santa Claus in appearance. He would just have to work on being jolly. He would have to smile and tolerate little children. He would have to give them candy instead of hiding it to eat himself. Darn, it would have been so perfect otherwise.

I made the mistake of offering to cut my dad’s hair. This is a job that my mom always did, but for some reason didn’t have time for. At one point in her life, my mom wanted to be a hairdresser. During her senior year, the high school had a career day. They brought in someone that worked with the disabled doing what she does now. That person probably never knew that by telling high school kids about his career changed my mother’s whole career and life path. I don’t see her being happy as a beautician. She loves her career and finds it very fulfilling.

The day came for my dad’s hair cut. He came over to my house. I realized quickly that I was in a little too deep. My dad’s hair was long. My husband’s hair was short. I decided to buzz my dad’s hair using the longest setting. It really wasn’t going very well. As I was buzzing the back of my dad’s head, the guard came off. I gave him a very noticeable bald spot down the back of his head. Thankfully, he just laughed the whole thing off. After that incident, things such as scissors and hair cutting kits mysteriously vanished from my house. My mom made time to cut my dad’s hair. My husband stopped complaining about $20 hair cuts.

I realized that cutting hair was sheerly not my thing.

My brother’s wedding

I feel like I travelled around the whole world in one week. Technically, I could say that I went from the southern end of our country to the far northern end this week. I am exhausted and feel a cold coming on. 

When I said that I live in rural WI, my brother Mark lives in extreme remote rural WI. An area so remote that sometimes no service appeared on our cell phones, gas stations were at times hard to come by, and the largest of towns consisted of a bar, a church, and 2 houses. A majority of people at the wedding never thought that Mark would marry. He lived as a hermit in this remote area for a long time. But just like the seasons change, sometimes our lives takes us on unexpected paths. 

Yesterday was a perfect day for a wedding. It went without a hitch, figuratively anyway. It was an unseasonably warm day. The leaves were starting to change color. My daughter sang a solo for the wedding. My son was an usher. Mark and Carla did not have any attendants. They just got engaged 4 months ago. Mark took Carla out on the lake, pulled out a ring, and dropped it in the water seemingly accidental. He made it seem like the plan was foiled, then pulled out the real ring. They had a small wedding. Carla bought her wedding dress from Goodwill for $25. It was beautiful. I am glad she is tight with money because Mark sure is. 

The reception was at a saloon. They had a bonfire and their DJ also served as their photographer. I have never seen my brother so happy, or dressed up for that matter. We had a great time and are very happy for them. This morning they drove off in their Jaguar for their honeymoon. I am excited to see what the future holds for them.  

A sailor’s return to health and hearth

Today is the day that my husband comes home. A week ago he went off sailing into the sunset with a bunch of other sailors. I am glad that he sailed away. Since we work together and are practically inseparable, it was good to appreciate him in his absence. With the stresses of running a business and raising teenagers, we both do our part in keeping the antacid pharmaceutical companies afloat. Some time putting stress on the back burner helps keep the burning acid fires at bay. 

I am sure that the men were happy to get away from their wives nagging them about how much they eat, drink, or smoke. I do my fair share of nagging, I know. Paul is 6 years older than me, women live longer than men, plus longevity is on my side not necessarily his. So I figure that statistically speaking I should outlive him by 13 to 20+ years. We have been together 20 years this month, almost half my life. And I almost lost him once about 10 years ago. 

Ten years ago… I was staying at home taking care of our 3 little kids while Paul was building his own business. It was a one man show back then. Paul started having a lot of back pain. Our dr gave him cortisone shots and muscle relaxers, but the pain didn’t go away. After further testing, a cyst was discovered in his kidney area. No problem the dr said and plans were made to have an ultrasound to aid in the removal of the cyst. When we got to the appointment something was wrong. The dr didn’t like what he saw. He feared that the cyst was cancerous and trying to remove it by a simple procedure would tear it open and spread the cancer all over his body. Special tools needed ordering and surgery would be required. 

This all happened right before thanksgiving. Life went on. We had the whole family over for thanksgiving as planned. Paul got up early and cooked the meal in a tremendous amount of pain. We prayed and we worried. Cancer, the thought of forever losing my husband. The procedure required a major surgery that involved removal of a couple ribs, a week in the hospital, and a long recooperation time. Plus it was going to be expensive. Like most small business owners, we had a very high deductible and only went to the dr for catastrophic events. 

I remember the day of surgery quite well. It happened in the afternoon. The pastor and another church member prayed for my husband. Then I was left sitting in the waiting area for hours alone. I brought a book with me that I must have read the same sentence over and over. I looked down at the lonely desolate streets and watched the street lamps come on. I thought of facing life alone as I watched the wind blow the remainders of the late fall leaves swirling away. The dr finally came out and said that everything was ok. Paul had a cyst the size of a football on his adrenal gland, but it was most likely not cancerous. After I saw that he was safe in his room, I headed home. The weather took a turn for the worst. There was black ice everywhere. A car slid off the overpass and lay overturned in the ditch. There were many accidents on the way home that night. But we lived through that day!

Paul lost a lot of weight. He was thin and sickly which says a lot since he was always a big man. He needed help. I had to take him to work. He needed help getting up and down the stairs to his office. One step at a time. This was before Internet allowed him to work remotely. So much for recovery time. It was before I knew how to do the work myself. But he dragged his sore, heavily medicated body in. It was painful to watch. At the time, he was also taking a 4 credit master’s degree accounting class. He spent the weekends, when he should have been resting, working on his accounting spreadsheets and then finals. This is why I love this man, he preserveres. I admire his strength. 

Go ahead, take a week off. 

Back to school 2

Ok, here is the blog you have been waiting for…. As a follow up to an earlier blog, I tallied up the cost to send my 3 kids back to school. I also realized the benefit of sending my kids off to school this morning as they were fighting on their way out the door. Lol. What does an average middle class American family spend to send their kids back to school? I don’t know, but here is what I came up with. I spent a total of $450 on school supplies. The big time expense this year was a calculator that cost over $100. I really was hesitant on this purchase until the teacher said that all math problems will be shown on this specific calculator. If I buy a cheaper model it will be at the expense of my child. What really sold me was that it could be used on the ACT test assuming that my child doesn’t lose it before then. When asked about getting an extra warranty, I said forget about it. I mean, really? I don’t think that my son will be overusing it. The probability is statistically higher that he will lose it. 

I spent another $230 on school fees. This included laptop warranties, marching band uniform, parking permit, and general class fees. Plus I still need to sell 10 magazines or pay $100 so my daughter can graduate. It was hard to send off my daughter on her first day of her last year of high school and my son to his first day of high school. I know how fast the time flies. Almost as fast as this summer went by. 

I spent another $190 per child on clothing which included shoes. Both my son and youngest daughter graduated from kids clothes into adult clothes this year. My son grew a foot since last year and is taller than me now. My 12 year old daughter went from a kids size to an adult size 12. They all have shoe sizes bigger than mine. I found that adult shoes cost a lot more than kids shoes. 

So, I ended up spending a little more than I thought I would….maybe next year I don’t want to know how much it costs to send my kids back to public school. I will focus on the benefits instead. Sounds good to me. 

Back to school stress

I woke up crabby this morning. Irritable. Stressed. My 3 kids have summer school this week sporadically all day between the hours of 8 AM and 8 PM. It really wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that we live 20 miles from the school. I made 2 trips to the school today to pick up and drop off kids, my daughter made one trip to school which equals over 2 hours of combined effort. Plus I fit in a 6 mile run and put in a couple hours at work. I feel downright exhausted. Any stress that was removed over the weekend was put back on the minute I walked back in the door. Mom can I?.. Troubles waking up my son early to go to school. I also faced the prospect of confronting a teacher today as well. I hate confrontation. The teacher was not happy that I was having my teenage kids waiting at school between activities. With drop off times at 8 AM, 9 AM, 11:30 AM, and 4 PM and pick up times at 10 AM, 2:30 PM, and 8 PM I didn’t see how this was going to happen. I was angry and spent some time swearing. I did talk to the teacher and she was understanding. Thank God! I haven’t developed my super mom powers yet of being in 10 places at once. 

I’m also getting the back to school ads in the mail. What a racket that is. When it is all said and done, I will probably spend over a thousand dollars on it. You know what, I am going to keep the receipts this year to tell you how much I spend! Great blog idea. Thanks. The sad part is that I don’t think they need half the crap that I buy on their list. Or they lose it. Or, as was the case last year, some supplies were stolen. Lots of times I just buy the cheap crap. No designer notebooks with puppies, kitties, or football players for my kids. School clothes are a little different, I usually go midline there. Cheap shoes and clothes wear out in a matter of weeks. If I am lucky the shoes and clothes will last long enough for the kids to grow out of them. That is not saying much as my son grew a foot within the last year. 

Talking about supply lists, who creates these things anyway? Your child needs exactly 10 number 2 pencils but 3 need to be yellow, 3 green, and 4 red. Buy dry erase markers, but wait they need to be odor free. Buy 9 glue sticks, but only of a certain brand the others won’t be accepted. Accordion folders only, trapper keepers will be confiscated. Hey, aren’t sciccors considered a weapon now? Paper non perforated made from recycled materials. Highlighters, no fluorescent colors. Permanent markers, non staining narrow tip. Gym shoes, non skid laced only. And the list goes on… I think there is a sadistic teacher out there making these lists because they have to put up with our bratty kids all year. They laugh envisioning us at the 30th store grovelling on the floor because the last pink eraser is sold out. I miss the days when mom sent us off on the first day of school with a couple of folders, pencils, and paper and called it good.