A Plan for Spontaneity

My Nana could never keep a surprise. She managed to accidentally slip regarding surprise parties, gifts, events, pretty much anything she was asked to save for later. Most of us inherited her trait, which is why I decided not to say anything to anyone. Then I kept second-guessing myself. Responsible me, who sometimes over-worries, tried to keep it a pure, untainted surprise. Tried being the operative word.

Nosotros

I knew a few weeks ago, Uncle Danny would be visiting Texas. I looked at flights and compared availability with my work schedule. Nothing worked, a given in education. I could get there, but I couldn’t get back home if I flew, the best option compared to an eight hour drive plus pit stops. Three summers have come and gone since we were all together. He’d been back to Texas, but living so far from my hometown, I usually miss out on non-summer visits.

All day Friday, between classes, I mulled around the idea. If I leave right after school-impossible since I had nothing packed-and drive four hours, I can get a hotel and leave early for the second half of the trip. If I go to bed by 9:00-impossible since I decided to make homemade pizza for dinner-I can leave at 4:00 a.m. and still be there at noon-ish. Or maybe I won’t go. I’m accustomed to missing out. This is what I get for choosing to live so far away from family. I’ll catch up with pictures. There’s always Face Time. No big deal.

But it is a big deal. With everything the past year and a half has dumped on us, why not? I decided to go to bed early, despite the tedious dinner I planned on cooking. I wasn’t in bed by 9:00, but I instructed my youngest to pack a bag and get ready for bed. We were on the road by 5:30 the next morning. I turned on my tracking app and kissed the hubster goodbye.

My niece, first place winner in her mountain bike race under 18 age division. 18 miles in the heat!

No one back home knew we were on our way. I got a feel for the family gathering on Saturday after I called my mom. Driving too fast without getting caught and skipping our regular pit stops made the drive seem quicker. Until I was about an hour and a half away, I was doing well with the surprise. However, I wanted to be certain to catch everyone. We have a way of changing plans on whim and I didn’t want to wind up missing them in case they decided to leave early or go visit someone.

One sister, who is always late to everything, (I’m the other one) called me while she was on the road as well. I let her know what we were up to in case anything changed. I tapped into my inner-Nana and “ruined” the surprise. Sensible me said it was for safety purposes. What if something happened on the road?

We arrived at noon-ish, 12:14, actually. I messaged the Keeper of the Secret. The plan was to call, then get on Face Time to say hello to everyone.

I called my mom and without skipping a beat, she said “Where are you? Don’t tell me you’re parked out front.”

What in the world? Did the Keeper of the Secret leak it out?

“Yeah, I wish!” I make small talk and walk towards the entrance to the outdoor patio where everyone has gathered for lunch. Mom shrieks when she sees us and this is the start to one of the most joyful, low-key, family focused weekends since summer. Road trips are standard for summer break, but unplanned weekend road trips are a little extra—everything.

I went outside my comfort zone only to find myself in another one.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge II-Texas Style

Stonehenge II-Ingram, Tx

Father’s Day, 2019. My husband’s “gift” was a weekend trip to Kerrville, Tx. Nostalgic for the hot summers in the Texas Hill Country where he spent some of his summers as a camp counselor, he wanted to share some his favorite places with us.

As our trips tend to go, there was bickering on the way there. I wanted to stop in Fredericksburg to stroll into the shops on the way there. I packed sandwiches and drinks so we’d have a nice picnic lunch at a park. We get there, the kids are hangry, we unpack our lunches, the flies start annoying us and everyone is grumpy. I mange to snap a few selfies because no one wants pictures.

Dooley’s, Fredericksburg, Tx

However, we popped into Dooley’s, a legit five and dime store. I swear I stepped back into my childhood. This is a place where you can still buy polyester day robes, the kind my grandma used to wore way before yoga pants and stretchy bands were a thing. Even the store fixtures time warped to their original tasks. I’m not sure if they were there in the 70s or earlier. My kids found souvenir keychains. And candy cigarettes. The kind I used to “smoke” when I was a kid that didn’t ever turn me into a real smoker. They each got a pack, the grumpy lunch experience soon forgotten. Word of advice if you go: Take cash or write a check. They don’t accept cards.

While on the road, we realized we departed for our weekend adventure on June 21st, the Summer Solstice. We also had no idea Ingram, near Kerrville, housed an art installation perfect for the occasion–Stonehenge II, along with Easter Island statue replicas.

Finding quirky roadside attractions is my favorite part of a road trip. I don’t remember how I found it. I think we were discussing the solstice. I must have searched it on my phone to read about its history and found information about all the people who travel to Stonehenge each year. It popped up on my search results and we added it to our itinerary. We were the only people there that late afternoon and ran into Chet of The Daytripper, who happened to be filming an episode for his PBS show. My son was more interested in the show and the video equipment than the replica of Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. Sigh…

A volunteer community theater performs along the Guadalupe River. That summer they performed Madagascar-A Musical Adventure. The kids enjoyed it more than we expected. Buy the kids popcorn and soft drinks and it elevates their experience. Buy Mamma a mini bottle of wine and everyone’s happy. Like the ups and downs of the hills we travel, such is the way of a road trip. We find gems along the way, forget the grumpy parts, and take the good memories with us.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Road Trip 2020-Corona Style

“Best friends don’t necessarily have to talk every day. They don’t even need to talk for weeks. But when they do, it’s like they never stopped talking.”

Unknown

Last summer, less than a week after visiting family in the Texas Panhandle, my former college roommate called for a chat. We have the sort of friendship where we go long stretches of time without calling each other only to wind up on hours long phone calls to catch up. With social media, we keep up here and there, but it isn’t the same as an actual conversation with periodic interruptions from spouses, kids, or barking dogs.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Michele!” my giddy self shouts.

Laughter follows and we catch up. This is how we always start. On a whim, she needs a break and wants to visit her sister who happens to live in the same town as my parents. With my husband working from home and the kids old enough to need supervision, but independent enough to keep themselves busy, I accept. A birthday gift from me to me, myself, and I. I’d hang out with my parents again, get more time with my sisters, and have much needed bff time.

It’s a good seven to eight hour drive for me. Coming in from the Houston area, it’s a longer drive for her. We agreed she’d make a pit stop here, we’d have a sleepover, and we’d be on our way in the morning. And off we went, in the 111 degree Texas summer heat, perfect for road tripping. Queen blasting on the radio, we reverted back to our college selves.

It’s so hot!

We were finally taking a proper road trip. We had money, actual real money! Our summers in college meant we went back home and worked a fast food stint so our families wouldn’t drive us crazy. Plus, you know, tuition and books. The summer after our freshman year, we both got jobs on campus working the summer camps for the high school kids. We didn’t have a proper summer vacation because we were broke. We didn’t even own cars. So this is how it feels to go on a summer road trip with a bestie.

We only stopped for bathroom breaks and poked around in a Wal-Mart stocking up on hand sanitizer and snacks. No one ever outgrows road trip snacks. We talked non-stop all the way to our destination. Non. Stop. We laughed so hard we cried and re-lived hilarious memories and stopped cold when we understood things we thought we knew but didn’t know at the time, especially the part about understanding how broke we really were. And here we are.

My sisters have adopted her as a sister as well. We learned more about each other on that trip, things we thought we already knew. Deeper insights, but with more maturity. On our way back home, we stopped by our campus. I only spent two years there before transferring to The University of Texas. It looked the same, but different. We pulled into a parking spot in front of Stafford Hall, minus the Stafford Hall. It’s gone now, and in its place is a parking lot. The fine arts building grew. The cafeteria still stands and we reminisced about all those Belgian waffles we ate for dinner, long Saturdays of sleeping in, but setting the alarm so we wouldn’t miss lunch that day.

Life was easier then, but it wasn’t. It’s easier now, but it isn’t. We could’ve gone anywhere, but our time in the car was what counted most. What we needed most. What we still need.

Tuesday, July 19, 2021

They Hate Road Trips-2021

This is the first of my summer road trip musings, in reverse order to my childhood.

Texas-New Mexico state line

I grew up in the Texas panhandle, New Mexico nearby, but we never went there when I was a kid. No snow skiing or summer hikes for us. Our summer vacations, if we had one, were usually to south Texas to visit my dad’s side of the family. If we were lucky, we’d get to visit the beach, but we mostly stayed at my grandma’s and visited family.

The past two years, summer vacation plans fell through. We always go back home to visit our family, but now we travel north. Last week we spent the first half of our vacation with family and then invited my mom to tag along with us for a few days in New Mexico. Six years before, almost to the day, we attended the U.F.O. Festival in Roswell, spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns, slid down the dunes in White Sands, and did a tiny bit of hiking in Ruidoso.

Santa Rosa, NM

Albuquerque and Santa Fe were our destinations this year and I wanted to stop at as many roadside attractions as possible. In reality, we didn’t stop as often as I anticipated. I had a grand plan to map out everything, but the beginning of summer break had us busy with day long projects for two weeks straight. Not much time for planning. As I got lost in the depths of Pinterest and the web, I decided we’d play it by ear. I started my sightseeing list, asked the kids to do their own research and give me suggestions (they didn’t), and quickly realized we’d need more than three days to do everything. Plan B: do what we can with the time we have.

We stayed at a beautiful home in Albuquerque via Vrbo. We bought enough groceries to prepare breakfast and dinner. When we arrived, I almost didn’t want to leave the house. I spent the mornings on the front porch of the courtyard sipping my coffee while watching hummingbirds and other birds I couldn’t identify stop by the fountain for their morning sips of water. My mom joined me and we took our time catching up. It had been almost a year since I’d seen her.

The kiddos, right before they ditched us. I’ll take what I can get.

In Santa Fe, we went to Meow Wolf, the immersive art exhibit in a remodeled bowling alley. The kids ditched us. We went on our own and had a great time anyway. Parents with younger kids wrangled and steered them in the direction they needed to go. Some hollered at them to figure out where they had wandered off–there are lots of nooks, crannies, and secret passages. I don’t miss those days. But here I am, without my own kids. I didn’t experience their wonder or joy, but they did show me their pictures. Sigh…

We headed out for lunch then for some shopping. Even if they’re older, they still get tired. I didn’t get to pop in to as many shops as I would’ve liked. They aren’t much into shopping unless it’s for candy or ice cream. Kids have a way of telling you things without telling you things. It was hot and they were done with the walking even though they’d been fed. It doesn’t stop at toddlerhood.

We spent the following day in Albuquerque. The oldest didn’t want to join us and I didn’t prod. This is probably our last full-family road trip. Heading back to Texas, we stopped at a large souvenir shop I remember from my own last full-family road trip to Las Vegas before my senior year of high school. It’s funny, no matter how old the kids get, there’s still the allure of filling up a little bag of polished rocks. Although they had their own spending money, I bought them both said little bags full of rocks, the youngest correcting me, “They’re crystals, Mom, not rocks.”

As we got back onto the highway, my mom announced she bought me a little something. I turned around and she handed me a small plastic rectangle. I flipped it over and discovered my name printed on it. I squealed like a twelve year old on a road trip. There’s still the allure of getting a little license plate souvenir keychain with your name on it, no matter how old you get.

Souvenirs are my fave!