Road Trips and Road Kill

On one of the rural highways of Northern Alabama, I saw a dead animal on the side of the road. I didn’t get a good look and wasn’t sure that what I thought I saw was really what it was. But within the hour, I saw another one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a live armadillo, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I wouldn’t readily identify a dead one, but that’s definitely what it was. Armadillo road kill.

And I started laughing. Poor thing, really, I don’t normally find dead animals funny. But this dead animal brought back a fourteen year old memory, and I had to resist the urge to call my husband at work and tell him, “I didn’t do it!”

In January of 1993, the end of my winter break during my senior year of college coincided with Bill’s graduation from the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I wanted to go, and since Fort Knox was an hour or so closer to my home in Ohio than my college on the eastern border of Pennsylvania was, my mom drove me and all my luggage down there the day before the ceremony. We would drive to his parents’ house in Pennsylvania afterward, and he would take me back to school in time for the spring session.

Bill had not packed a thing. And he had four or five months worth of stuff in his little Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. And he’s not one noted for his ability to throw things away: junk mail can sit for a year on his desk if he’s left to his own devices. In all fairness, he is much improved over the last decade, and there was very little junk mail here by the time I got home on Tuesday, but at the time, he was awful.

And I wasn’t much better. I had packed “lightly” for my 5 weeks or so at home from college and probably only had 3 or 4 hundred pounds of junk to haul back. It was really only those necessary items a girl can’t be without for a month. I left the other semi-load of stuff in my dorm room.

Oh, Bill drove a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. In dark gray. And the taillights weren’t working. This photo is not Bill’s car. This car is in nice condition, and the owner is asking nearly $20k for it. Six years ago, we sold Bill’s Trans Am for about a tenth of that (maybe).

After his graduation ceremony at something like 6 am, I set to work packing his stuff while he headed to the U-Haul dealer to see about a roof carrier for our luggage. That was our plan, and it would have worked nicely. Except that Trans Ams have a sloping roof and won’t hold a roof luggage carrier. And the frame on a Trans Am is not strong enough to pull even a small trailer. So everything would have to go inside the car.

On his way back to tell me this, some part of the engine cooling system went kablooey. And so I spent the day packing his stuff, while he spent the day fixing the car.

And we had it in our head that he had to clear his quarters by the end of the day. I don’t know if this was true or not. Looking back, it probably wasn’t. But at the time, we really thought that we had to leave.

When Bill finally got back with the repaired car, it was afternoon. We started cramming stuff in the trunk, in the back seat, in the back window. Every nook and cranny was filled. There was no airspace in the car. It was so full, in fact, that the driver could not get out without first handing stuff between the seat and the door over to the passenger. And then the passenger had to wait for the driver to get out in order to dump all of that stuff plus the stuff that rested on top of and around him/her onto the driver’s seat.

And did I mention that the taillights didn’t work?

It was late by the time we left on our 12 hour journey. We ate dinner on post and headed out. We were tired, having been up since the early morning. We drove for many hours, but then exhaustion took over. We began swapping drivers every hour, sometimes every half hour. It was awful.

Why didn’t we stop? We should have pulled into a rest stop for an hour or more, I guess, but we didn’t think it was safe (as if driving while exhausted was!). We should have gone to a Motel 6, but there were two reasons we didn’t. First of all, we were too poor. Secondly, as laughable as it seems now, I would have been mortified to check into a motel with him. We had been dating for three years, but we weren’t married. It was one thing to “crash at his place” for the night before his graduation – a typical college mentality. But to get a room at a motel with him? I naively thought that a motel clerk would be scandalized and might think me a harlot. The shame! The horror!

So, on we drove in the dark with no taillights and little traffic to keep us company in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. Ah, those crazy days of our youth! I honestly don’t know how I survived past my 25th birthday.

It was my turn to drive, and Bill was passed out under a pile of stuff next to me when some thing suddenly appeared on the road. I had never in my life hit an animal with a car, but there was no time to react, and I nailed the poor thing. Bill claims it was the animal’s death shriek that awoke him; I don’t know how he could differentiate between its cry and mine. He asked me what happened.

“I hit an armadillo!” I sobbed. His response:

“How long have I been asleep and what direction are you driving?!?!?”

I had never seen an armadillo, but I had also never seen a possum either. I didn’t know that both these rodents seem to like crossing roads at the same time that cars drive on them. I also didn’t know that possums are rather ubiquitous throughout the U.S., but armadillos are generally only found in the Southeast. Since then, I have seen plenty of dead possums on the roadways and narrowly avoided hitting plenty more. But not until this week had I ever seen an armadillo, dead or alive.

And so, as my kids were asking me why I thought a dead armadillo was so funny, all I could choke out was that it looked an awful lot like a possum.


I knew that it would be tough for me to go 15 hours or so in the car without another driver, so I scheduled a night in Hanceville, Alabama. It was only 3 1/2 hours from my sister’s home, and perhaps it may have been wiser to travel another few hours before stopping, but Hanceville is the home of the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament built by Mother Angelica, and I wanted to see it.

The EWTN website has limited information and only a few small pictures, so I was unprepared for the glorious beauty that awaited me. This photo is from their website and photography is not permitted inside for the average visitor. This morning I found this site with an online tour and great information about the architecture and building of the shrine.

Fortunately for me, The Kitchen Madonna graciously kept an eye on my children as they played in the piazza so that I could have ten minutes of quiet prayer. I glanced at my watch and realized it was just turning 3 pm, so I did the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It was so very peaceful and such a pleasant pause in my wonderful, family-packed vacation. I was completely unaware of the tragedy that had occurred earlier in the day in Blacksburg, Virginia and offer that time of prayer to the victims and their families.

Here, Jenny is walking toward the Castle San Miguel which houses the gift shop.

My time at the shrine was brief due to the age of my travel partners, but I’ve learned over the years not to put my life on hold while I wait for them to grow up. All told, I probably only spent an hour on the shrine’s property, but like a nibble of some delicious new food, I am not left with disappointment but rather with anticipation for some future journey with more time and older people. I recommend a trip to the shrine or at least a detour in your other plans to spend some soul-refreshing moments here.

And when you get here, you will need a place to sleep. I stayed at one of the guest houses recommended by EWTN’s website: the Saint Michael Guesthouse. It would be impossible for me to say enough nice things about this place. I called Jeanette, the manager, to alert her to my imminent arrival (having dropped the dog off at a local vet who boarded her for the night) and to get specific directions, and she informed me the door was open and the key was on the table. Indeed it was, and had she not been getting trash ready for the local pickup the next morning, I would not have met this lovely lady. The invoice on the table instructed me to leave the payment and the key there before checking out.

I have stayed at a wide range of motels, hotels, rented cabins, time share condos, American B&Bs and European pensions in my life, and this house was the most comfortable and pleasant place in which I have spent the night. The generous front porch had two rockers from which you could enjoy the country breezes. In the rear was a deck shaded by trees and glimpses of the shrine farm just beyond. The house is modern with all new appliances and fixtures and is filled with new, comfortable and nice furniture – not bargain basement leftovers or roadside rescues as many rental homes seem to have – and is decorated with plenty of religious art.

The generous, country, eat-in kitchen was fully stocked with utensils for the grill on the back deck, pots, pans, bowls, a full-sized coffee maker (Krups) and more than enough plates, glasses, coffee mugs, and flatware to service a large family. There were even salad dressing and other condiments in refrigerator, coffee, sugar and creamer in the cupboard and a huge, chocolate bar for us to share as our dessert. The bathrooms had shampoo, conditioner and body wash – not trial sizes, but regular sizes left for anyone to use.

They may call themselves a guest “house,” but really this place is a guest “home.” I felt as if someone had said, “Here, stay at my place for the night,” and cleared out their most personal possessions only. It was not impersonal or generic in any way but in all ways was warm, inviting and friendly. Without a doubt, if I ever have an excuse to travel through northern Alabama, I will stay here again.

Belated birthday fun

It’s taken more than a decade for him to figure it out, but finally it seems that my husband understands it takes so very little to make me extra happy with him. A sweet email, an inexpensive bouquet of flowers, an occasional extravagant gift because I “deserve all that and more” and I smile for days (or weeks or more). In fact, the memory of last year’s birthday surprises still makes me all glowy.

This year, not only was my birthday on Holy Saturday but we were also at my parent’s house. Even though there were birthday greetings and cake and singing on Easter Sunday, it’s not the same. I was content, but Bill felt that a bit more hoopla was in order.

Now, normally, my husband is much like Cris‘ husband and is much more comfortable with power tools and lawnmowers than kitchen utensils and mixers. I can not ever imagine him having a conversation with any woman – not even his mother or his sister – about lotion preferences. Nonetheless, there is a softer side to Bill, and he will, on occasion, really impress me with his hidden talents.

And so I returned home after 10 pm last night and on the kitchen table was a wrapped birthday present, a small lily, and a homemade birthday cake which he decorated all by himself. I could not but be amazed at the lengths this guy will still go to make me happy.

Pete saw the cake on the stove this morning. I relocated it to the washing machine for its own safety but put it back on the stove later as I emptied and loaded the machine. The little devil is pretty quick with a chair and was digging in within minutes. The cake went back on the washing machine behind a closed door, but the second I opened it to rotate laundry, he flew to the chair and began hauling it over! Persistence is a family trait.

All morning long, I told myself to take a picture, but the camera was in the car. I eventually did get a picture, but only after Pete had had his way with it.


Safe. Sound.

Buried by laundry, email and voice mail. Must hit the grocery store, unpack the car, and wash the 1.4 million dead bug guts off the windshield and hood.

Had a great trip. Very happy to be home.

Musical Beds

Alas, the cabin in the woods does not have a wireless connection as I had thought. And my cell phone coverage is spotty outside and non-existent inside. I guess they think people want to “get away from it all” or something.


But the cabin is a generous size for the 6 of us (7 if you include the dog). There are two full bathrooms and four bedrooms, each with a double bed. Two bedrooms are on one side of the house, and the other two are separated from them by the living room, dining room and kitchen. I put the older boys in one room and the girls in the room next door. Pete had a double bed to himself, and I took the master bedroom near him. The dog crate was in the living room, and Greta seemed perfectly fine there.

Just in case a double bed was cramped for two squirmy kids, I had put a sleeping bag in each room as an alternative. Sure enough, about ten minutes after saying goodnight to everyone, Billy relocated to the floor.

Later that evening, I did some reading in bed before turning off the light. Two minutes after that, the dog came in from the living room to take her usual spot on the floor next to Bill’s side of the bed (even though Bill wasn’t there).

An hour later, Katie came in suffering with a hurt leg – cramps, maybe? She decided it was best to sleep on my floor and retrieved her pillow.

Another hour or so later, and Petey fell out of the bed. I brought him in to mine. I guess I slept restlessly with him for about another hour before I decided that his empty bed would be more comfortable and went there instead.

At this point, I lost track of time since the only clock in the place was in the master bedroom.

Jenny woke up, crying. I lay down with her for a bit. I couldn’t relax, mainly because I was afraid I wouldn’t hear Pete if he woke up. Jenny seemed asleep, so I went back to Pete’s room (my new room?). Nope, she wasn’t asleep. And she wasn’t interested in being alone in a strange bedroom either. Where’s Katie? she kept asking. I led her across the cabin and showed her Katie’s comatose body on the floor of my bedroom (Pete’s bedroom?). I took her into the other bedroom and had her sleep with me there. Every so often she would roll over and thump me on the back – I think she was checking to make sure I hadn’t gone anywhere.

And the final step in this crazy dance was when the dog left the master bedroom and came and lay down in her usual spot on the floor on Bill’s side of the bed (even though Bill wasn’t there).

I trust that tonight will be a bit better as it will be a slightly less strange place.

A brief note on commments

I do intend to turn the comments back on – I promise. But it will probably be Thursday, after I get settled at a cabin at Lake Tholocco. I’m haven’t yet caught up on blog reading, and I’m still doing the vacation/visiting loved ones thing, so comments would get very little attention, I’m afraid. Bill, though, has returned home and so my nights are now open for late night surfing. As always, there is email.

Running on the Redneck Rivieria

subtitled: Greta, I don’t think we’re in Virginia anymore.

I guess it’s not fair to say that the hazards of running in my parents’ neighborhood are not found in any other part of the country. In fact, I’m sure even northern, urban Virginia has similar problems. But I’ve been spoiled by running on a military post where just about every household boasts one or more avid runners including many marathoners and triathletes, and hence the courtesies extended to those using the roads on foot or on bike are magnanimous and generally go beyond the generous rules mandated by post regulations.

My parents live on the panhandle of Florida. This is not my childhood home; my trip here last summer was my first time ever in this part of the country. I have no fierce loyalty to this area as I might if I had been raised here, and in fact I really don’t quite see the charm of this built up rural town where every country block has it’s own junkyard and half the “houses” look as though they ought to be abandoned but show evidence that they are not. And the “in-law suite” is the trailer parked on the side of the lot.

Please don’t think I’m a snob. My roots are pretty humble, but I think my extended family’s red necks are covered up by blue collars. I can’t think of a single family member, even in the farm country of Ohio, who is growing their own landfill in the front yard. One, maybe even two, rusting cars on the property is understandable, sort of, but after that it becomes a collection, and you just have to ask yourself why? Is oxidized metal really something that makes you happy?

But this is where my parents bought a nice home on a nice street in a small town on the Emerald Coast. They are close to Eglin Air Force Base, but not close enough that people exercising on the roadways are a common sight. No, around here, if someone is traveling by bike or foot, it is because they are too poor to own a car, or their last car just got added to the pile of defunct autos littering their property.

But the dog and I need to run, and so we head out on roads with no shoulder and no sidewalks. Fortunately, the traffic is light enough that cars can usually move over to give me some room. Many do. Amazingly, many do not. I guess they figure that the soft, sandy ground covered with twigs, weeds and underbrush is good enough for me. And I am so accustomed to the polite drivers who wait to see if I’m turning or going straight, that I couldn’t help but glare at the second pickup truck who almost ran me off the road right after his buddy almost took me down – how nice for the guy in the third truck to wait for me to cross the intersection, especially since I had the right of way.

But honestly, I’ll take the human hazards over the canine ones. When we had Greta in dog obedience class, the trainer recommended and sold a dog-repellent spray – kind of like pepper spray for dogs. We bought some and keep it in the doggie backpack we got for her to load her down and help her burn more calories (she’s pretty high-energy). But a week ago, Greta had a hurt leg that needed rest, and I guess I just wasn’t thinking much when I was packing last week. I didn’t bring it, and I’m kicking myself.

I think every house around here has a dog, half of those have more than one. Quite a number of dogs are unfenced and unchained. And they think their territory extends across the road and halfway across the neighbor’s lot too. It’s a crap shoot every time I go out: which dogs will be out, how soon will they detect me, how far down the road will they follow me. In my mind, I’m reminding myself that it is my responsibility as the pack leader to protect my dog, but also reminding myself that if I were to get in the middle of a dog fight, the biggest loser would be ME.

Tonight, again, I don’t know what I was thinking, I wanted to avoid the three dogs that guarded one road, so I thought I’d go a different way, a way I’d never gone before. This was after almost being run over by the three pickup trucks, so you might think I’d not want to push my guardian angel any harder, right? Ha! As I approached one property, I could hear the dogs – three of them – begin their charge. The yard was fenced, and the gates seemed to be secure, thank goodness: each dog was at least 60 to 80 pounds and mean and snarling. Of course, a minute later I understood why the gate here was actually closed. Two houses down were three bigger, meaner, and more snarly dogs. And there, the owner just stood on the porch and watched them scare the pants off that nice lady running by with her trembling pooch. But I guess I couldn’t expect him to call the dogs off. Even if he had thought that their behavior was deplorable (and I’m pretty sure he didn’t), those dogs lacked any amount of discipline that would have enabled him to bring them to heel.

And so, although I am sad to be saying goodbye to my parents tomorrow as I head to my sister’s place, I am very glad that my next run will be at Fort Rucker where dogs must be leashed or fenced at all times and most every household has at least one avid runner. The adrenaline rush has been great, but I’m ready for a more relaxing jog around the block.

Happy Easter

I’m in the Sunshine State, but it’s not sunny. At least it’s not snowing, although there was sleet locally on Easter Sunday morn.

I’m still recovering from the 16 hour road trip on Thursday with 5 kids and a dog, three of whom vomited at some point (or more than one point) in the trip. We survived.

But I have no complaints. I’m here with the people I love the best. I was able to attend Good Friday services for the first time in years. I saw my Dad join the Church at the Easter Vigil. I was able to hug my sister hours after she was confirmed. The dog hasn’t managed to catch the cat, and one of my parent’s neighbors has an unlocked wireless router.

Life is good.

Viruses, prayers and road trips

Is it possible that the same virus Katie had back in February and Pete got about a week later is the same virus that had Jenny throwing up in my car more than a month later? And whether yes or no, is what Jenny had two weeks ago the same virus that had Billy throwing up in my car yesterday? I can’t believe that a virus could move so slowly, but have an equally hard time thinking that we’ve had three separate stomach viruses that have affected four different family members.

We had been on our way to get Bill from work yesterday to have a picnic dinner under the fully blooming cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in DC. This is a sight to behold and would have been our third year doing it. I can not think of a prettier thing that DC has to offer, and I love that the blooming times nicely with my birthday.

But Billy, who had a fever and didn’t want to go (I promised him a ride in the stroller and a low-key event, gave him two Advil and hoped the fever would break long enough for him to not be miserable – and for me to not be miserable…selfish, selfish, selfish), threw up just as we got to Bill’s office. End of adventure.

On the way home, I was following Bill who was following a poking driver with no taillights. He was being extra cautious, but even then was able to test his ABS when the person skittishly decided not to merge into traffic. I didn’t know the person didn’t have taillights. As we came around this looping road that merges into another, a view across the Potomac River of the DC skyline, the Jefferson Memorial, and some of the cherry trees was displayed before me. I was momentarily distracted by the loveliness and when I turned back, I was careening towards the rear of Bill’s car. My ABS employed, I pulled to the left, and I narrowly missed creating (another) rush-hour nightmare. It was several minutes before I stopped hyperventilating.

Years ago, I was involved in a rosary group that met every Thursday. This was back when Thursdays were Joyful Mysteries. We always began by stating our intentions. Nevertheless, there were several women who would remember other special intentions during the rosary and who would interject suddenly with, “Let us offer the next decade for this intention I forgot to mention at the beginning of the rosary,” or “Let us offer this next Hail Mary for this person who really needs our prayers.” I’m sure some people would find this practice to be really annoying. Admittedly, it was a bit jarring to be meditating and to have your thoughts interrupted by these requests, but these quirks only endeared these women to me the more.

Last night and the night before, in the middle of bedtime prayers, Fritz has suddenly interrupted with a special prayer request. “Mom, we need to pray for a safe trip to Florida.” “Mom, we need to thank God for keeping us from hitting Dad’s car.” I happily recognize this advance in his spiritual life from simply saying rote prayers at meals and bedtime as instructed, to an automated and learned response to certain situations (someone is sick – let us pray), and now to prayer requests separated in time from the situation warranting them. And I am amused beyond description at his interjections in the middle of bedtime prayers as I fondly think of good friends who did the same thing many years ago.

In less than 48 hours, we hit the road for Florida. My dad is joining the Church at the Easter Vigil, and my sister is being confirmed at her church’s Easter Vigil in Alabama. I’ll be with my sister in spirit only, but I’ll be there the following weekend when her daughter makes her First Holy Communion. What a trip. But I pray that Billy’s virus is the same one that my three other kids have gotten, and I pray that Fritz, Bill and I avoid it. The car has seen enough vomit.

Proof I’m not crazy…

…at least not in this one instance.

Bill took Fritz shopping for a bigger glove and new cleats for baseball. He also came home with a new bat.

I saw this price sticker on the bat and dropped my jaw in shock that anybody, but most especially my own husband, would pay that much for an aluminum bat for an 8 year old. I was mad. But all I said was, “Did he really need another bat?” “His other bat is a T-ball bat,” he said.
Well, okay then. But $150 for a bat….??????? Even on sale? I wasn’t in the mood to argue.

Last night, I saw the receipt from the sporting goods store on my desk. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The total was well below what I expected. I don’t know what’s up with that price tag, but that SKU scanned at under $30, a reasonable price for a bat. I laughed and confessed to Bill that I had been mad at him for the past 24 hours for apparently no good reason.

I’m happy that he reassured me he would not pay that much for a bat, unless it came with a home run guarantee. And I’m happy to have found this sticker among the shopping debris that had not yet made it to the garbage can. I thought I must have been losing my mind.