How to Get Off to a Flying Start

In the last two and one-half weeks, I’ve gone to three different airports, four times. None of them have been for any adventures penciled into my calendar. I’ve simply gotten to play chauffeur to the accumulation of sky miles for others.

Both happen to be my children.

Neither happens to be aware of a little thing the rest of us cling to—like a clock.

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And although I may occasionally skate into appointments with barely five ticks before classified as officially late, commercial aviation does not provide a slushy window of time for takeoff, and therefore I don’t muck about with where they draw the line. In fact, it is rocking horse manure rare to find an airliner that will keep their engines running on idle for that one desperate passenger who is racing to the gate and will arrive in 8.2 more seconds.

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That’s right. I think we’re all fairly well acquainted with the gate agents that see you barreling toward them, child tucked under one arm, briefcase slung around your neck, one hand thrust out in front of you with boarding pass in full view and your mouth wide open, stretching out the word WAIT and who then quickly shut the mobile hallway just as you skid to a stop in front of them.

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They didn’t hear you screaming wait?

Of course, they didn’t.

You were traveling faster than the speed of sound during that last thirty-yard dash.

Who could blame them?

Therefore, I make sure to leave plenty of time to arrive at an airport so I’ve got extra minutes enough to get to the gate and go to the bathroom. Or back through security and out to the car because I’ve forgotten my phone adapter. Or the 1 ½ hour trip back home because I may or may not have remembered to turn off the sprinkler.

I like to be prepared.

These last few trips to the airport had me rethinking my previous bubble of cushioned clock ticks against the departure hour. On each occasion, we pulled into the airport parking lot and dashed. After thanking any and all deities for allowing my kids to get through the snaking security lines, to their gates and into their assigned seats, I realized I needed to back up our EDT.

The problem was me—not them. They were behaving as teenagers behave. I, on the other hand, was behaving as if I was just me and not transporting teenagers.

Teenagers need extra time to do things like:

– drop off their car at a different airport because they are not flying in and out of the same one, or

– stop at the drugstore on the way because they made a last minute request for much needed refills on prescriptions, or

– squeeze in a quick shower, a meal and a minor outpatient surgery.

It could be any of these things.

Or all of them.

Since I was the driver, I was the one wearing the mantle of responsibility.

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And that is a hefty cloak that refuses to render you invisible when plans go pear-shaped—like in my latest adventure with my son.

“I’ll meet you after school and we’ll go straight to the airport from there.”

No, Mom. I have to drop my car off at the regional airport in town because that’s where my return flight lands.

“Huh. Okay. Well, that adds a few minutes to the trip, but we’ll still be fine. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

(On route, I come across a traffic snarl, backtrack and then phone my son.)

“Hey bud, there appears to be an accident at the intersection of Polo and Branchwater, so don’t take the main thoroughfare. Use the back route.”

Yeah, sure. Where are you?

“I just told you, and now I’m reversing my route because of the accident and will be about three minutes late meeting you. See you in the parking lot.”

(I arrive in the lot and surprise, surprise—no son. So I phone.)

“Where are you, kiddo?”

I’m in a long line of standing traffic, Mom! It looks like there’s been some accident up ahead.

“Where. Are. You.”

Not far from Polo and Branchwater.

“Did you not hear me say there was an accident there just five minutes ago?”

There was an accident? Why didn’t you tell me?

*face palm*

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These precious gems are all tucked away into the of ‘Let’s Laugh About Them Later’ album, but throw two or three of these in succession into the ‘Best Laid Plans of Moms and Managers,’ and you’ve got yourself the makings of minor apoplectic fit.

As I prefer my heartbeat to be one that mostly goes unnoticed, and I’m steadfast in my refusal to support the pharmaceutical industry any further with additional prescriptions meant to alleviate the harrowing conditions brought on by guiding one’s offspring through the last couple of treacherous years up to adulthood, I am girding my loins for the next teen interaction and request for transport before take-off. It will go something like this:

Hey, Mom? Will you drop me off at the airport next week? I’ve got an interview for my summer internship.

“You betcha. Let me just grab my purse and keys. I’ll meet you in the car.”

Mom, the flight doesn’t leave for three days.

“You’re right. We may be cutting it close.”

~Shelley

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEWEST POST!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Falling Off the Map

I am a big fan of maps. I am a big admirer of spontaneity. The two are not usually found holding hands. But recently, I spied them making come hither looks at one another and decided to watch an unlikely romance blossom.

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Being a timely planner, getting my hands on the ultimate map for purposes of accurate and expeditious routing is a must. There is nothing more satisfying than showing up someplace not simply on time, but early. I’m fairly sure this is a byproduct of my childhood, as I was the creation of someone who lived life with an elevated sense of urgency, namely because she was invariably late. For the longest time I thought the proper way to enter a room and greet someone was with a sincere apology.

Eventually I figured out that my mother and clocks were rarely in sync with one another. She was a frenzied woman of four and the fact that we all made it safely into adulthood speaks volumes of her ability to pull it all together at the last minute. It could easily have turned out that the least vocal of her brood would still be outside on someone’s curb waiting to be picked up from piano lessons.

To further embed the trait of timeliness, I studied for a year with a teacher whose motto was:

To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unforgivable.

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She would shut and lock her classroom door one minute before instruction began. Punctuality was not a casual dialogue with her. In fact, dialogue was something she found tedious and rife with excuses, and it was not even a safe bet to make eye contact with the woman. But she did impress upon me the need for speed. And no less than four alarm clocks.

Over the years, I found that knowing where I am going and how long it takes to get there is an essential element to scoring a mental high five with myself. Cue my love for maps. The colors, the words, the numbers, the grids—it all adds to the magic of orienting myself in some vague spot in the universe.

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As a child, I paid a great deal of attention to the sage words of an elderly neighbor who frequently took my brother and me on deep woodland walks, showing us which plants and berries we could safely eat, which would slay us on the spot, and which would provide a magic carpet ride like Walt Disney could never imagine.

On the back of her ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ lectures were the general outlines of her ‘Navigation 101’ classes. Finding north, reading shadows, and leaving a non-edible trail behind you were all necessary skills she felt worthy of passing on to two children who were nearly as intelligent as the psychotropic fungus she made a wide berth of on the trails. We did our best to take her schooling with us, and throughout the years found that some of it actually stuck.

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It’s really nothing more than paying attention to your surroundings and making a mental map. Clues as to your location are around you everywhere. She likened our walks to a giant Candy Land board game. Shake the dice, move your marker, land near the licorice sticks—or in our case, the giant marsh filled with cattails. Easy as pie.

Today, satellite guided imagery squished down to the size of a fingernail on your smart phone nearly takes all the fun out of going on a journey. Some mild-mannered voice is pleased to guide you with well-timed and repetitive instructions if you are hoping to go from point A to point B and not be bothered with the pedantic details of topography and mile markers.

But this is where I get a small hitch in my britches. Having been fooled one too many times with outdated and malevolent automobile equipped GPS systems, I’m not terribly keen to give total control to anything that requires a continual “update” in order to fix the latest “bugs” in its system.

091114goldfish (708x800)But I was assured that this newest directional diva would not only get me where I wanted to go, but would find the path of least resistance as well. That is a tall order to believe when one is determined to head north, but hearing an announcement of interminable congestion yonder down the road, you are encouraged to head south.

I look. And see no congestion.

I eyeball the device and give it a thunk on the dashboard in case there’s a wire loose, but am told by my companion that, no, the information is not only correct, but is being gathered by the bazillion of other cell phone users around you—not satellite. Trust it. Be spontaneous and go for it. Let go of “The Planned Route.”

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I do. And then cheerily wave at those stuck in the hour long delay I am passing via another well-kept secret route. Amazingly, I will still be on time. I lift up my phone and shout to the other cars, “You all should get one of these!”

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Yet as magnificent as modern technology is in assisting folks by guiding us over hill and dale, I slowly realize I am left with an emptiness of accomplishment. Deep down inside I still believe there is something worthy of retaining those rusting aptitudes for course-plotting. And passing that proficiency on to others.

Knowing and identifying where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there are crucial life skills. Ultimately, they might just save you from getting lost or being late, but maybe—just maybe—they will bless you with a blissful magic carpet ride.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Twelve years a slave to satellites.

There are a million things I know with absolute certainty that I have no talent for:

1. Numbers. If there are more than three, and something is required to be done to them, other than the elementary operations one practices in school up to about the age of twelve, then I am the last person you want to consult. Okay, maybe the penultimate person, because kindergarteners are notorious for making up answers where I would at least try to get it right.

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2. Cutting hair. I’ve cut my own, I’ve cut my children’s and I’ve cut my dog’s. It’s amazing how quickly a crowd will scatter if I walk into a room with a pair of scissors.

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3. Squeezing my entire body through the head of a tennis racket. It’s impossible. I’ve tried a million times. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, I’ve just got to study a few more Chinese circus children before I try again.

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But if asked what skill I can claim an aptitude for, I would not hesitate to point out that I possess a great sense of direction.

That is, unless I’ve programmed my car’s satellite with an address, or I’ve handed a map to my mother.

For this particular journey, I mistakenly did both.

As is usual for this time of year, I headed northward toward the big city lights to attend my annual writers’ conference and hoped that I should walk away inspired, incisive, but not in a fog as to how much work I would have in front of me once I got home.

Also, as is usual, I brought my mother along—not only for the company, but because her birthday always falls within this week. And as my father feels that recognizing birthdays is a surefire way to spoil the people you love or live with, leading them into a false sense of security, I’ve taken it on as my duty to make sure my mom gets to have a dinner out once a year that doesn’t get ordered at a counter.

This year, I thought we’d see a film before heading to the restaurant. After listening to nearly a dozen NPR programs, interviewing everyone from the director down to the steadicam operator, I was wholly keyed up to see the film Twelve Years a Slave. I felt it was a hugely important film, and even though I usually lose out during the voting round when suggesting we view a story that could be classified as political, controversial, or requiring the skills of a second language to truly understand its nuance, I thought my mom would find kinship with the hero because he too was a violinist, and string players just understand one another like no one else can. It might have something to do with inhaling too much rosin while preparing your bow hair, but that’s just a stab in the dark.

It’s taken me a while, but I now know better than to program my car’s sat nav because after initially feeling the thrill of having it installed in a car of mine around a dozen years ago, I soon came to realize that it was full of bugs. And I’m not referring to the kind I wrote about two weeks ago.

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These are the wonky bugs that require attention from a team of computer programmers. Surely they’d look at my car’s software—supposedly teamed up with one of our Earth’s satellites—glance at the jumbled stream of letters, numbers and characters within the code, and then sit back to laugh in their chairs because they’d soon recognize what I have: my operating system is overwhelmingly archaic and probably manufactured by Toys R Us. It doesn’t matter what I program into the device at the beginning of the drive, because according to my GPS map, my destination is always in the middle of a lake.

I refuse to trust the voice guidance, who has confidentially admitted to me that regardless of my request for the quickest route, she will direct me through every tiny town, as many intersections as possible, and throw me onto a toll road for a quick drop of a few coins before pulling me off again and back into the thick of traffic. I despise that woman.

Handing my programmed iPhone to mother proves just as pointless. I must confess it’s not entirely her fault. My smart phone has lost several IQ points over the last couple of years and being one of the first models of Apple’s handheld devices, it continues to plummet at a rate of knots.

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Some applications refuse to participate any longer, texts sit there until I’ve pressed ‘send’ the requisite magic number of times, and the maps icon acts like an obnoxious delinquent—a rascally miscreant who takes great pleasure in changing the address of my arrival destination on route when I am not paying attention.

My son calls my phone buggy.

I call my phone … a few other names.

We arrive at the theater only to find out that although technically this theater shows films, it does not show the film we chose to be directed to, and our real destination is on the other side of a ten-lane freeway. I ask my mom to give me a number, from a scale of 1 to 10, as to how athletically agile she is feeling today.

We get back into the car.

My mother redirects me to another theater, which is actually a state park.

Our next, “You have arrived,” moment has us turning onto an old dirt road having passed several police vehicles before I pull off to the side and announce, “Something evil has happened down there, and I’m damn sure they are not selling popcorn to folks who dare to come view the events unfolding.”

It’s now that my mom pulls out her brand-spanking new iPhone and says, “Let’s use Siri.”

I let my head clunk onto the steering wheel.

Finally, we arrive at the correct theater. We watch the film. I gasp, I am struck with horror, I am fixated, I am appalled, I weep. The lights come up and I turn to my mother, my eyes streaked with mascara.

“Well?” I ask hopefully.

She says, “He really wasn’t a very good violinist, was he?”

*sigh*

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~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

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Cash flow

This was a hugely busy week.

We sent our fourteen-year old son off to Ecuador this afternoon to live and work for thirty days in a small village that needs help building a schoolhouse. We had an endless list of things we needed to tell him in order to help make his trip run smoothly.

– We told him how to navigate through the airport.

– We told him how to manage his way through customs and immigration.

– We told him when he’d need to take his typhoid and malaria pills.

But we forgot to tell him he’d be living at the bottom of an active volcano.

Damn.

I knew we’d forgotten something.

Ah well, he’ll figure that one out on his own in double quick time if he needs to.

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This whole shuffling your child from one continent to another seems so much easier on paper than it turned out to be. There was a plethora of little things that kept popping up along the way. Doctor visits, pharmacy pickups, packing lists and forms to fill out. Plane tickets, insurance policies, baggage rules and passports. There were emails and phone calls, interviews and consent forms. I spent more time at our local bank writing my signature in front of notary publics than I spent sitting in my childhood living room learning how to play the piano.

The largest of the pains was renewing an American passport. Just saying the last word makes my teeth itch.

Because my son is fourteen, it is deemed unreasonable by our government that we could renew his previous passport of nine years and a few months via the United States Postal Service, as one can conveniently do as an adult. Procedure for anyone not yet sixteen is to go through the entire passport application process in person.

Easy enough. So we thought.

We had just over three weeks to get it done. I showed up at our local post office, where there is a small passport agency the size of an airline toilet. In front of it is a snaking line that would rival the opening of a new Disney theme park, filled with people expecting to gain entrance into that toilet.

Showing up in person was the alternative to continuing my fruitless efforts at getting a hold of someone via the telephone. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the drill. You phone, an automated voice system answers, you are directed to punch buttons indicating your choice from the options—a lengthy series ranging from, “Press one if you’d like to hear us read the instructions for filing an insurance claim, and understand why we feel it’s pretty pointless on our end,” to, “Press nine to track and confirm a shipment that we’re not entirely positive matches the eleven digit number we gave you to begin with.”

What I was searching for was, “Press eight to hear the committee notes revealing the reason we decided to choose the music icon Johnny Cash as the next face of our Forever Stamps series, and to listen to one of his ninety-six studio albums. And also, wait here if you want to talk to someone about a passport.”

*Cue head falling on desk.*

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After hearing and cataloguing the nearly fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs, I was finally transferred to the passport office where an automated voice told me that if I pressed “one,” I would be treated to a fascinating history of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and if I pressed “two,” I would be connected to an operator in order to schedule an appointment at the passport office. Of course I pressed “two.” And of course I was redirected to the beginning of the Johnny Cash Collection.

In the past, I have waited in that snaking Disneyesque passport office line for hours on end to no avail. As the office is open for a miniscule amount of time—from 10:30 until 2:30—and the one fellow who mans it has a lunch break from noon until one, the window of opportunity to make it to the front of the line only with the intent to make an appointment is slim to *insert maniacal laughter here*.

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The good thing though is the folks in my village really look after one another. Throughout the queue of waiting taxpayers and among the sleeping bags and hot pots, someone is always making a fresh batch of granola and finishing off the month long fermentation process of stewing a gallon of kombucha tea. There’s plenty of sustenance.

As this is an exhaustingly long tale that include chapters about eventually giving up on our local office, traveling to another city, paying vast sums of money to be given the privilege to “track” online our son’s renewing passport as it sat IN TRANSIT for two and a half weeks, only to hear the application is missing information that no one had the authority to relay to us, my husband finally gave up and was about to go postal.

He drove for hours to our nation’s capitol and started offering sacks of gold, the Holy Grail, or every internal organ that was medically extraneous in exchange for an audience with any person who could help.

Apparently, someone was in need of a kidney, and as you can see from the second line of my essay, our teenage son is now up to his kneecaps in adobe bricks (and hopefully not molten lava).

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It’s a frustrating process, having to slog through federally run organizations in order to obtain what you need, and we made it to the other side of this one only by the skin of our teeth. But we sent him on his way with everything ticked off on the packing list.

– Passport

– Sleeping bag

– Bug spray

– A gift for the villagers embodying a hallmark of America

Well, as far as the gift is concerned, I’m imagining that shortly, somewhere in Ecuador you will find a small schoolhouse whose students know all fifteen hundred Johnny Cash songs.

It’s catchy stuff.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Blackboards, flipflops & bedbugs; the quest for knowledge, warmth & clean sheets.

English: The International Space Station as se...

Fifteen hundred miles! That’s the distance I drove—spread out over seven days—in order to fulfill my duty as the parent who drew the short straw and would have to leave home for the Crazy College Road Trip Part II. The other lucky parent had a vacation on Easy Street dealing with the livestock, any ravenous teenage boys who may decided to take up residence during spring break, a planetary-sized snowstorm (dumping a measly two feet of powder), and a few dozen downed trees, power lines and a minor release of radioactive material. At least the generator kicked on for ten minutes a day. And where’s the gratitude?

But let’s go back to me.

Fifteen hundred miles? Do you realize what that distance is equivalent to? If my car had a NASA hand stamp on it and was retro-fitted with a few rocket boosters, I could have taken my daughter back and forth from Earth to the International Space Station three and one half times.

And according to the Worldwatch Institute, that’s the distance an American meal travels to get from farm to table. It’s no wonder I felt like a shriveled peach by the end of the trip.

Regardless, I learned a great many things traveling with my daughter this time around that I was not aware of previously.

1. I should not have allowed her to pack.

Suitcases

Suitcases (Photo credit: masochismtango)

2. Having allowed her to pack, I should not have allowed her to pack five minutes before leaving.

3. Having allowed her to pack and do this five minutes prior to departure, I should not have allowed her to wake up six minutes before leaving and one minute before packing.

There is so much to learn about letting go of the ‘parenting your child’ routine I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 17.5 years. Thinking this was a grand opportunity to let her shine with blooming maturity, I came to the quick realization that I might have handed off the baton to a runner who hadn’t quite made it onto the racetrack.

Observing my daughter exiting the house wearing a pair of shorts, sneakers minus the socks, and no coat should have sent up a warning shot. The rest of her gear didn’t even fill her school book bag, which she slung into the trunk before collapsing into the passenger seat. The fact that it was just beginning to snow outside and that we were heading northward to New England and into the mountains forced me to send her back inside for some proper winter clothes.

She came back with a floppy, cloth hat.

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Fine. Off we go.

The itinerary showed seven days stuffed full of engineering school visits, campus tours, physics labs and info sessions. When we weren’t walking through hallways lined with gold-plated patents, we were peering into glass encased rooms, so precisely sterilized, that all chemical vapors, airborne microbes and any aerosol particles present were required to don white suits. These folks were serious about being clean and I figure there’s a good chance I can encourage my daughter’s development of this skill simply by pasting a sign above her bedroom door that reads Dupont Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It could work.

Some of the schools we visited were clearly her kind of people.

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of them wandered the halls, spines curved and sagging under the weight of backpacks that contained textbooks that eventually, when understood, will reorganize their contents into cures for cancer, blueprints for Mars housing developments and the prototypes for the first antimatter power plants. If you could see into their multitasking brains, there’d be a large bubble above their heads filled with mathematical equations with a tiny asterisk at the bottom and a symbol for “don’t forget food.”

Other campus appointments undoubtedly revealed she did not belong to the institution. It’s very bad form and often frowned upon to snicker through sixty minutes, listening to the school’s admissions officer and two students make known how celebrated they were when viewed wearing the college’s logo. Try not to judge us too harshly. I’m pretty sure that somewhere around the forty-five minute mark we were told that by the end of each student’s third term they were handed a wand and told they could levitate, but only if they repeatedly chanted the university’s Latin motto.

The rest of our time was spent hunting for bedbugs.

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Not all of the public houses I reserved left us well-rested. One was perched atop an Irish pub, and all its occupants were in full swing dress rehearsals for Patty’s big day. Another spot left us doubtful the sheets had ever seen the inside of a washing machine and some of the stains in the bathroom were probably still under “crime scene” investigation. We debated whether or not we’d be better off sleeping in the car. It could be why the hotel was called a “motor lodge.”

But all’s well that ends well. I learned that the man/alien from Men In Black (Edgar the bug, but wearing his human form) actually runs a B&B in New Jersey and that his wife makes nice waffles, my daughter learned that whilst in the navigator’s seat, it is preferred by the driver to have directions given to them that are short, audible and presented before the car passes the off ramp, and we both learned that I packed more than enough clothes for the both of us.

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Next stop: the moon!

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

 

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Planes, trains and Oh my god, I left the stove on.

The holidays of November and December usually bring an overwhelming amount of excitement with their fast-paced, fun-filled, family-crammed events.

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel

Mural in Brown Palace Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also bring an eventual headache that accompanies the ample opportunities for overeating, over drinking and over my dead body arguments.

The least fun out of all the “I’ve Had My Fill” holiday experiences is one that creates such tension in the neck and shoulders, it alone keeps massage therapists flush with cash through somewhere around mid-March. (That’s usually when the last lingering relatives decide to head home and check on the cat.)

Coming in at the number one spot would have to be:

TRAVEL

Do I hear an amen?

Most of us would prefer to apparate a la Harry Potter or be zapped by Willy Wonka’s Wonkavision rather than spend hours, if not days, in our cars, at the train station, or in the airport, where it seems the deck is always stacked against us.

–        Got to the airport on time for once? Doesn’t matter. Your flight will be delayed because the pilot is required to take a 15 minute nap in between two 24 hour shifts. Pansy.

–        Got the kids out of school three days early, packed up the car for the nine hour drive to Granny’s and pulled out of the driveway in the middle of the night to beat the traffic? Tough luck. So did everyone else. You’ll still get there in time, but now you’ll have a few extra days to make new friends on some jam-packed, horn-crazed highway where you’ll continue to bump into one another at the same rest stops and petrol stations.

English: Leavitt's Farmer's Alamanac, 1875, by...

–        Read the farmer’s almanac and decided this was the big drought year with no snow in sight that would finally make it possible for you to make that trip to the Big Apple to see Cats like you’ve been promising your wife for the last two decades? Uh oh. Don’t you remember when the economy tanked and you decided to pare down to the bare essentials, so you canceled all magazine subscriptions? Yep. You read last year’s, which no one bothered to throw away. This year’s almanac had a major spread telling us all how we should have listened to Al Gore. You’re headed toward Superstorm I Told You So.

If there’s one thing I’ve found harder than travel, I’d have to admit it’s the step that comes before it. That would be the one where you’re forced to decide what to bring with you.

Apparently, I cannot travel via Global Van Lines. I’ve been told the furniture must stay put.

Footwear is a nightmare for women. Sure, you may only be planning a casual sightseeing trip or family get together, but it’s likely you’ll need your sprinting shoes for the airport when you transfer from one plane at gate 3A to your connection in the next zip code.

Don’t forget evening shoes. Maître d’s have perfected the up/down glance, followed by a withering glare, if you walk in wearing a party frock and Nike Air Jordans.

I look at my closet and shrink at the task of finding three articles of clothing that can be combined to make thirteen different outfits. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with thirteen different outfits if I were standing in the middle of the Mall of America.

Barn

The real problem is that I only have two sets of wearable options: barn clothes and yoga clothes. And although the sheep could give a flying fig about what I come in wearing–as long as they can suck on it or rub up against it–the folks in my hatha class are looking for some Zen in their day. That requires some deep breathing. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this one. Eau de livestock makes it tricky.

Jewelry is foreign territory as well. I’ve got lots of it, but I never wear it at home. I guilt myself into thinking these special away days are precisely for ‘gettin’ gussied up,’ take it all with me and promptly forget what that heavy velvet miniature treasure chest at the bottom of my suitcase is holding.

It could be the three gallons of perfume I bubble wrapped and boxed. When one is used to getting sideways glances with the telltale sign of an accompanying twitchy nose, one begins to get paranoid. Especially when one usually smells like the remnants of a mucked out sheep stall or the inside of a gym bag. Therefore, I overcompensate.

Sans enfants and before I was married, I would be flabbergasted to discover an aspirin at the bottom of my purse. Now, of course, I must play the role of walking pharmacy. Sir Sackier will likely develop signs for the Ebola virus on an airplane, my daughter will get bitten by a new species of mosquito and blow up like a Macy’s Day Parade balloon float, my son will come down with Alien hand syndrome and I will be the only person in Mexico to become constipated.

Mexican pharmacies do not carry Ex-Lax. 

Keep 'regular'

Keep ‘regular’ (Photo credit: Christian Yates)

Mexican pharmacists advised me, “beber un poco de agua.” I now carry a vial of it slung around my neck like holy water.

Traveling is tricky. Deciding where to go, choosing what to take and forgiving fellow travelers for bringing more bags than brains with them on their journeys requires some devotion and pliability.

Deciding that next year you’ll host … requires only an effective dose of Prozac.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!