A Road Trip In Isolation

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We have been locked away for a many weeks now. The last day that we did something fun was February 28, when we had lunch with my brothers and sisters-in-law and then attended the Houston Rodeo Barbecue Cook-off with friends that evening. My husband had surgery on March 8, and I had an injection of  Prolia on March 13. After that we have stayed at home. We don’t even go inside grocery stores or sit outside with our neighbors when they regularly gather on the driveway across the street. We don’t trust the frivolity because they don’t wear masks nor do they distance themselves from one another. They are mostly young and healthy so I suppose that they will ultimately be just fine, but I can’t take such risky behavior lightly and so I remain responsible for myself just as our governor and president have suggested we all need to be.

This past weekend Mike and I came up with an idea for a way to have a little outing. We decided to haul our trailer to San Antonio with the proviso that we would keep our contact with other people and crowds to practically zero. We made reservations with an RV park that we often use and packed up all of the food that we would need for the adventure. We had hoped to go to a state park so that we might enjoy a bit of nature but they were all booked up, so we decided that we would make do with any place that had a spot for us to park the trailer.

We would normally stop at Buccee’s in Luling, Texas for a bathroom break, some lunch and to gas up the truck but we had promised ourselves that we were not going to eat out or go where there were lots of people, so instead we found a service station that was all but empty, filled our tank and used the facilities in our trailer for relieving ourselves and preparing lunch.

The experience at the RV park was exceptional. The manager was masked and gloved and insisted that Mike use hand sanitizer after opening the door and passing the credit card. We got a wonderful spot in between two very quiet trailers that did not even appear to be inhabited by anyone. We enjoyed a great dinner and were finally able to try out the new mattress that we had purchased from Costco back in early February. We learned that it was the best investment we have made all year because we slept like babies and I did not wake up with the usual aches and pains that the old mattress always produced.

On Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast, did some reading and then had lunch before setting out on a drive to Inks Lake. Riding through the Texas hill country is always delightful and it felt even more so since we have only seen the view from inside our house for so long. We passed through little towns like Boerne where the streets were filled with people dining and shopping. Sadly I realized that we would not want to stop there because only one person was wearing a mask and the people were literally on top of one another as they walked along the sidewalks.

When we got to Kingsland we knew we were quite close to Inks Lake and our favorite winery, Perissos. We decided to stop there to buy some of the wines that cannot be found in stores, so we donned our masks and made our way inside for a quick purchase. We were the only two people wearing masks and those who were there looked at us as though we were curiosities from another planet. Seeing that nobody was being precautious we made our selections and left as quickly as possible, stunned that the place was filled with people drinking and listening to the live band as though nothing like a pandemic was still happening in the world.

That evening we went to see our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren all of whom have been very guarded in their behavior since schools let out in March. My son-in-law is still working from home and his company, USAA, has urged any employees who can to continue working remotely. My daughter only goes out to pick up groceries and she has been happy to see most of the customers at her HEB wearing masks and keeping their distance. The children have stayed home mostly finishing the school year, gaming and texting friends.

We met on the driveway and sat on chairs that my daughter had carefully placed well over six feet apart. Mike and I sat on one side and everyone else sat on the other. We talked about what we had been doing since we last saw each other and discussed the happenings in the world. Then we played a game of Scattagories at the suggestion of one of my grandsons because the rules allowed us to maintain our distance without physical interaction with one another or the necessity of using game pieces. Of course we had a blast laughing at the answers and just being together

The next day we decided to take a drive through the heart of the hill country. We traveled to Bandera where we once again noted no people wearing masks as they walked along the sidewalks and went in and out of little shops. A bit farther on we saw crowds tubing in the Medina River. Tents were set up side by side and the water was so congested that it appeared to be difficult to even move.

Our route eventually took us to Kerrville where we encountered a very small group of young girls standing along the roadside holding Black Lives Matter posters and waving at passersby. Every one of them was wearing a mask and attempting  to stay safely apart. They were as peaceful and earnest as can be and they made me smile.

Before long we were in Fredericksburg where we found some shade in Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park and ate the lunch I had packed for our long ride. As we later drove down the main thoroughfare  I observed about twenty five percent of the people wearing masks, but it appeared to be nearly impossible to keep a safe distance from others because the sidewalks were jammed with people.

We head back to the RV park using side roads that took us through the loveliest of vistas, including a brief stretch of Luckenbach, Texas.  We listened to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on our radio and felt contentment in just being in such a beautiful place. We even got to pass through Kendalia, the town where my grandson William was able to find a home for his pig Daisy so that he might rescue her from slaughter.

We returned for another visit with my daughter after dinner in our trailer. We played a contrived version of “Hedbanz” which my grandson put together to provide us with hands free, contact free fun. Once again laughter filled the air especially when the next door neighbor drove up and looked a bit askance at the post-it notes on our foreheads.

We gauged our little trip as a success and think we might be able to venture out even further once I have concluded my sessions with the children that I teach. We have learned that with our self contained cocoon we do just fine. We don’t need to eat at restaurants or visit stores or museums or other amusements to have a glorious time.

We still plan to be careful because we know that the dangers of the virus are still with us. Only this past week someone we know attended a family funeral, spent some time with extended family in Galveston and then learned that one of the people in the group had only days later tested positive with Covid-19. So far only one of them has tested positive for the virus but all of them are going into quarantine. They will no doubt have to do some contact tracing to inform anyone with whom they interacted before they knew that the virus had entered their family circle. The extent of people that they have seen is unbelievably large and will affect the lives of countless individuals. That’s why I am still being very precautious. We may be tempted to just wish this virus away but it seems determined to stay. For now I’ll stick to my road trips in isolation. 

Stick With the Plan

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Back when our girls were in middle school and high school we took long car trips each summer with our gear stowed in the back of our truck. We generally made reservations at campgrounds before hitting the road, but sometimes our wanderlust led us to unexpected places where we needed to find a spot to pitch our tent for an evening. On one such occasion we decided to take a little detour to Yellowstone National Park on a return trip from Glacier National Park in Montana. It was a bit of a drive to say the least but we were young and adventurous back then. We assumed that somebody would have a little patch of ground for camping available so we didn’t really think there would be a problem bunking down for the night. We were wrong.

This was the year of the big fires in Yellowstone so many of the usual camping areas were closed down to protect both the wildlife and the tourists. We spent several hours hiking around the parts of the park that were still open and gazing at Old Faithful, then as the sun went down on the horizon we set out in search of a place to stop for the night. To our dismay nothing was available anywhere. As the clock ticked we even tried hotels and motels but there was no room at the inn. In a state of exhaustion we eventually found a spot to park the truck and curled up into uncomfortable balls hoping to get some rest inside the confines of the truck.

I doubt that any of us other than Mike slept much at all. By morning we felt grouchy and unkempt but we suffered silently while Mike searched for a service station where he might fill up the tank with gasoline and rustle up some food for breakfast. When he went inside to get the grub and pay for the gas all hell broke loose inside our vehicle as the girls and I vented our crankiness and frustrations. It was a prize winning bitch fest that ended as suddenly as it had begun as soon as we saw Mike emerge from the convenience store bearing coffee, milk and donuts. With a satisfied grin on his face he passed out the goodies while exclaiming how proud of us he was. “You are really troopers!” We simply sat silently exchanging Cheshire Cat grins with one another while munching on our makeshift breakfast. 

The way many of us are now feeling during our period of isolation reminds me of that time of long ago. We had been cooped inside that truck for long stretches of time during our cross country travels. When we had the luxury of unwinding in the open air and enjoying a warm shower before lying down to sleep we adjusted well, but when the uncertainty of finding a place to rest became real it rocked our sense of security and we lost our decorum. I think that the long stretch of time locked mostly in our homes during the pandemic has frayed our nerves in a similar manner and as a result we are all over the place in our interactions with one another. Our anxieties however they may lead us are making us snap at those who appear to disagree with our way of thinking. Petty fights are breaking out more and more often.

There seem to be three camps right now: those who have decided that the whole situation is an overreaction that must end, those who are so fearful that they will be wary of leaving their homes for an indefinite period of time, and those who believe that if we use data, caution and proper measures for returning to the business of living we should eventually be okay. In the moment our nerves are exacerbating our clashes of opinion. We are sometimes aiming our anger at one another rather than the problems.

This pandemic has created a big gooey ball of difficulties that range from illness to economic loss to psychological concerns. I am by nature a data driven person. Everyone who knows me realizes that I always put people first but sometimes efforts to help individuals require objective analysis and this is true now more than ever. We cannot draw conclusions until we have all of the information that we need. We should not make life threatening decisions without considering all of the pros and cons. Most importantly we need to understand the concerns of all the stakeholders. Rushing forward one way or another may lead to more dire consequences so it is in our best interests to be rational rather than emotional.

Inside my personal memory from our traveling days lies a kind of moral. Each of us indeed feels the brunt of negative emotions when things go awry but in the end the hero of the story is the guy who gases up the car, brings food to everyone and then after eating calls ahead to the next town to find a campsite where we might rest and decide on the next moves. This is exactly how my story reached a happy conclusion. The bickering between me and my daughters was an understandable outcome, but it was Mike with his steadfastness and calm who saved the day.

For as long as I can remember that same Mike has always counseled us to “stick with our carefully thought out plans.” That sage advice has worked out well for our family time and again and it has only been when we deviate that problems have occurred. Perhaps it would be wise for our country to consider the merits of staying the course of rational and data driven decisions even when the road gets a bit rough. If we do this properly and together we will be all the better for our resolve.

Pure Bliss

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The annual RV show hit Houston this week reminding me of the time when we first decided to hit the road each summer to see the USA in our Chevrolet. We had a bright blue Chevy truck, a feeling of wanderlust and the germ of an idea about traveling across the United States smoldering in our minds. The RV show nailed our resolve to take some summer trips when we found a super deal on a camper shell for the back of the truck. Mike worked all spring that year turning the interior of the enclosure into a veritable wonder by installing sets of wooden structures along the front and sides that served the dual purpose of holding our gear and serving as platforms for mattresses that would become our beds. By the time summer vacation came around our truck was a self contained traveling machine.

We got married young and life took over to keep us busy with the art of surviving. Before we had even celebrated our first anniversary my mother became ill with first and most frightening episode of psychosis. I was not even twenty one when I had to swing into action to get her the medical care that she needed and bring my younger brothers to our apartment where they stayed while she was in the hospital. I spent that summer visiting Mama in the hospital, caring for my brothers, and keeping up with the bills that came to my mother’s mailbox.

There was no time for travel that year and the following summer the birth of our first child kept as at home as well. After that there always seemed to be some kind of family emergency or illness that left us busy on the home front, including one year when Mike developed a rare disease and ended up spending three months undergoing chemotherapy four days a week. We were in our early thirties when things finally seemed to settle down and thoughts of summer road trips became our dream.

Our first foray in our rolling conveyance, mobile restaurant and makeshift hotel was to Rocky Mountain National Park. We packed away our cooking gear, food, lanterns, clothing and other necessities and niceties in the wooden boxes along the perimeter of the camper shell and placed almost perfectly fitting mattresses on top of the lids to serve as our sleeping quarters. A fourth mattress on the floor of the truck bed would become Mike’s spot for when we grew weary each evening. With a tape deck playing Willie Nelson crooning On the Road Again and piles of books to keep us entertained during the long drive we were as excited as we might have been if we were traveling first class.

We took our sweet time reaching our destination with a couple of stops at campgrounds along the way. It was then that we developed an elaborate system for keeping things organized. Our youngest daughter entered the camper first and skittered to the far back bunk which was the smallest in total surface area. Next came our first born to claim one of the side beds and then me on the opposite side. Finally Mike crawled into the middle space on the floor and we settled down for a few last minute stories and jokes before we finally fell asleep in what we considered to be our high class quarters. With windows along three sides we were quite comfortable and content and mostly excited about the adventures that lay ahead.

Once we reached Estes Park, Colorado we parked our truck in a spot at Mary’s Lake Campground in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. We set up shop under an awning that Mike created from a gigantic tarp. We had two dish tubs for cleaning our cookware and a propane double burner stove for preparing our food. A plastic tablecloth on our concrete dining table completed the scene of our temporary home along with four folding chairs around the fire ring. We could not have been happier about our vacation heaven under the stars.

We’d travel into the national park each day and spend hours hiking and enjoying the majestic views. At night we’d build a fire and enjoy hot dogs, hamburgers, soup, chile or whatever culinary delight we fancied. We could not have been more comfortable or satisfied with our accommodations and we thought ourselves the luckiest and happiest family on the planet.

We took side trips to see a railroad museum, a few ski towns, a mining town, lakes and other wonderful sights. We had contests to see who could find the best souvenir for five dollars or less. We told spooky stories and read book after book. We gazed at the stars in wonder and marveled at the glory of our world.

Over the years we put thousands of miles on our little vacation conveyance and home. We saw Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, most of Colorado and even the Canadian Rockies. Eventually we outgrew the our sleeping quarters and opted for a gigantic tent for sleeping but we would never forget those glorious summers inside our magical truck when we saw so many wonders of the United States and realized how lucky we were to have each other.

The girls are grown and gone with family’s of their own now. Mike and I have a much fancier travel trailer complete with its own kitchen, bathroom and comfortable bed. Air conditioning and a heater protect us from the elements and we even have a television to entertain us when we wish. It’s perfect for the two of us as we age but on its best day it simply can’t compete with those times when we and our children were young and thinking ourselves so fortunate to have the cramped quarters of that tiny camper on the back of our truck. Those trips were incredible and filled with the most special of memories. I can still hear our laughter as we climbed into our beds after a long day of exploration. It was in those days that we experienced the meaning of pure bliss.   

Travel Trinkets

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I pick up souvenirs whenever I travel. They are generally small things that remind me of the places I have been. Often they are rocks, shells, leaves, pinecones. I like to decorate my home with framed prints of locales I have seen so that I might be reminded of the joy of my vacations for years to come. I have a thing for books that fill the shelves of my bookcases with colorful and informational volumes about the sights that I have been fortunate enough to have seen. When I find special pottery or glass I am almost always tempted to purchase a piece to join the collections that grace my rooms. I almost never buy kitsch unless it somehow seems to signify a very special moment from my trip, like the gigantic chigger from Arkansas that made me laugh instead of cry when I became infected with bites from those pesky insects, Mostly, though, I’m inclined to bring back Christmas ornaments from each of the sites that I have visited. I have so many now that I copied my daughter and purchased a special travel tree to exhibit my finds each December.

It’s amazing how my collection of ornaments from around the world has grown. Their eclectic nature makes for a whimsical display that includes everything from bears to fine crystal. I have a stained glass reproduction of the rose window from Westminster Abbey and a yellow cab from New York City. One of my loveliest items is a set of old fashioned handmade straw snowflakes from Salzburg, Austria. They add a wonderful finishing touch to the design of the tree. I have glass pinecones, gold dipped aspen leaves, and a number of replicas of Spanish missions. There is a ceramic reproduction of Cafe du Monde and another of a little grocery store in Maine where I ate the best lobster sandwich I have ever had. Perhaps one of my favorites is a set of Revolutionary War soldiers from Boston.

I try to find a representative ornament from each place that I go. Then when I set up my Christmas decorations each year I relive the joy of visiting each place. The little trinkets that I hang on the branches never fail to bring back a flood of wonderful memories. Vacations are wonderful for the way that they seem to soothe any anxieties that I might have and they allow me to set aside my type A driven personality in favor of living totally in the moment. They are a panacea that I don’t take for granted because I know all too well how privileged I am to be able to spend money on trips to wonderful places rather than having only enough to live from day to day.

The vast majority of people in the history of the world have not had the luxury of travel for the sake of enjoyment. My grandparents went from one place to another in search of work. Their parents essentially were born, lived and died in the same place without ever leaving. Such is true of most of the world’s people even today. Those of us who ride down highways in our comfortable cars or fly through the skies to distant lands are fortunate indeed. The frivolousness of vacationing was once only the domain of the wealthy few. Today those of us in the middle class enjoy it in ways that our ancestors would never have known.

I appreciate the freedom that allows me to go see the wonders of the world and those in my backyard as well. My father had been determined to see as much as possible in his lifetime and he was on his way to becoming acquainted with most of the United States when his life was cut short. I imagine that he would have ultimately seen it all and added to his journeys with trips across the ocean. Back before he died I already knew that my family was somewhat unusual in the grandeur of our trips. I got to see Disneyland in the first year it opened and I remember sitting with my father on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago while he fished when I was only six.

After my father died our only family trips were to visit my grandparents in Arkansas. We would arise before dawn so that my mother could drive as far as possible before it grew dark. We only stopped for gasoline and to spend one night in a motel before reaching my grandparents’ farm. Only one other time did we take a vacation to San Antonio and Austin. It was a grand adventure that included visits to the Alamo and the state capitol. I vividly recall how fun it was to splurge by going to see The Sound of Music in a lovely indoor theater unlike our usual viewings at the drive in on nights when an entire car of people got in for a greatly reduced price.

Now I am planning a possible jaunt to Colorado in the spring and a gala trip to Scotland at the beginning of summer. I’m still in awe of the good luck that has allowed me to do such things. The worrywart in me sometimes thinks that the time may one day come when it may no longer be possible to go on such extravagant excursions. The world may change in ways that preclude a continuation of the way we have grown accustomed to doing things. My own health may fail as I continue to age in ways that make it difficult for me to travel too far away from home. It’s important that I do my best to see as much as I may for now and while I’m wherever the winds take me I’ll surely be adding to my collection of Christmas ornaments. 

There is little that I would rather do these days than go to new places and revisit my favorite old ones. I never take my good fortune for granted. I have seen gloriously wondrous things that only a few ever get to glimpse. My souvenirs are like a tangible record of my memories. They are wonderful beyond words,

Another Year Has Passed

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2019 was a fairly typical year in that it had both its ups and its downs. We lost some wonderful family members and friends who will be missed for some time to come and yet we celebrate the impact they had on our lives. I suppose that with the passage of time we will eventually consider only the joy that they brought us rather than the pain of their deaths.

Mike and I took a trip of a lifetime with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We saw the sights of London, York, Bath, Cambridge and the Cotswolds. We laughed our way across the English landscape and grew closer to one another than ever. I realized on our journey that I indeed have the sisters that I always dreamed of having. We shared good times that we will never forget and hopefully we will reunite for more travel in the future.

Mike and I enjoyed two semesters of classes at Rice University from our favorite professor, Dr. Newell Boyd. We learned all the dish about the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, reinforcing the idea that history repeats itself again and again. We humans are a quirky bunch indeed. We are on a waitlist for a trip with him to Scotland this June and I have my fingers crossed that we will get an opportunity to actually go.

We were able to watch our grandson, Eli, compete in the Track and Field Junior Olympics in Sacramento over the summer and steal away for some sightseeing in Napa Valley, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. It was an unexpected journey that was great fun.

Speaking of grandchildren, ours continue with their educations and dreams for the future. We are immensely proud of the people they have become. They are thoughtful and concerned about the world’s problems. They give us great hope for the future,

We celebrated the ninetieth birthdays of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. We should all be as healthy and active as they are. They continue to inspire us and with their optimism and wisdom. They never seem to slow down. They have truly found the secret to a good life,.

A dear cousin celebrated her eightieth birthday as well. She seriously doesn’t look a day over fifty. Somehow the beauty of her soul shines forth in her gorgeous countenance. Her special occasion gave us an excuse to have fun with our cousins and to make plans for more meetings in the coming year.

We ended  2019 with a mega party for one of our nieces that was the event to top all events. The theme was Camelot and to say it was a stunning occasion is an understatement. We enjoyed three days of eating and talking and laughing and recognizing how wonderful family truly is.

I had tea time each week with another niece that became a special highlight of the year. We used my various teapots and flavors of tea along with special cookies that a former student brought me as a gift. I enjoyed those weekly gatherings in which I learned just how much my niece and I are kindred spirits.

Some of our friends and relatives had a very difficult year dealing with major illnesses and losses. It was hard to watch them suffering and feel so helpless to do anything that might change their situations. All we have been able to do is pray for them and let them know the we care,

We had many fun times with friends and neighbors throughout the year. Mardi Gras, time at the beach, fun in the backyard, lunches and dinners spiced up the routine or our lives. Those were great moments when I realized how truly blessed we have always been.

We checked a few more things off of our bucket list like seeing the Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler,  a Game of Thrones concert, and Willie Nelson. Now we look forward to watching Elton John this  summer. We also saw our Astros make it into the World Series and up until the last minutes of the final game we thought that perhaps we might win that match one more time. Maybe we will have an even better baseball year in 2020.

We have learned to roll with whatever each year brings and snatch as much happiness as we can. Life roll on with abandon beginning every January 1. Here’s to the coming year. May it bring you many blessings and few sorrows.