Travel by Outline

As a young married couple with three small children under the age of six, vacations were limited to family visits at the major holidays. We settled 500 miles away from the majority of our extended families which limited the time we could spend in person. With finances tight, we often stayed with family and attempted to minimize the intrusion as best we could.

In the teen years, our oldest son played soccer on a travel team and I did a lot of driving. Mostly in the state, but sometimes to other states for tournaments. Practices, games, club activities all drained time and money and family vacations were further restricted by soccer tournaments that intersected with holidays.

We have reached the point where all three children are of adult age and my wife and I are rediscovering the joy of getting away by ourselves. My wife leaves the planning to me. In the younger years she was the one writing lists, packing bags, planning clothes, and snacks for the kids. I packed the car and drove.

Now I do the legwork in advance. We choose a destination. I research the transportation options to get there. Figure out where to stay. Discover activities to do while there. Look up several restaurants as likely eating options for each day. The activity method that works best for us is to budget times for doing nothing.

One major activity per day seems to be just enough. Find it. Get there. Do it. Regroup. Go enjoy a good meal. Relax and discuss options for the next day. Vacation by outline. Fill in the gaps only enough as needed. It removes the pressure of a fully detailed itinerary where you feel rushed to get through everything for fear of missing out on something. Those days are done.

What’s your travel style? Are you itinerary and schedule driven, needing to have every step mapped out in advance or are you content to arrive without a plan and let happenstance be your guide?

Don’t Make Me Angry

I’m a mellow guy. Gentle. Kind. Calm. Even-tempered. There’s not much that gets me angry. Some things that do irritate me include:

  • The incompetence of others
  • Other people’s actions that inconvenience me
  • Other people’s missteps that end up costing me time and money

There’s a theme here, right? Need examples? How about everybody’s favorite blogging platform – WordPress? They pushed automatic updates to their software that deleted my April 25 post and all comments since April 24. It appears no backup was performed before applying the updates.

Three days after an update occurred boosting the operating version, another update happened. Today when I logged in, there is a message prompting me to upgrade to the latest version because the one a few days ago had a security glitch in it. Gee, thanks WP.

They recommend making a backup of your site and files before updating to the latest version. Great advice. Wish they had followed it themselves before boosting my two previous versions this past week.

I now have only snippets of the “Ring of Fire” prompt response and email proof it ever existed. Similar with any comments people posted on my Arkansas trip posts. Sorry that your comments are gone. I didn’t delete them.

When the full moon happens, you turn into a person who’s the opposite of who you normally are. Describe this new you.

More Arkansas Observations

More notes from our recent trip…

  1. The GPS tried to strand us in the Arkansas mountains.
  2. The “shortest route” option should not include an unpaved logging road.
  3. Selecting GPS options to include “Avoid unpaved roads” is meaningless.
  4. A Hyundai Elantra is not an off-road vehicle.
  5. Arkansas red clay stains your clothes and shoes.
  6. The woods are more enjoyable when you are driving through them, not walking out.

Arkansas Observations

The wife and I are just back from a short vacation. We left the adult kids at home and got away for a week. Destination? Arkansas, USA. (Yes, we went there on purpose.)

Almost 30 years ago we were moving from San Diego, California to Norfolk, Virginia. We drove across the country in an overloaded Nissan Sentra without air conditioning across southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and into Arkansas where we stopped to wash our clothes. At the coin-op laundromat in some forgotten little town, a local lady tried to strike up a conversation with us.

“Ya’ll visiting Ken?” she asked in a thick southern accent. 

“Excuse me?” I asked. 

“Are ya’ll visiting Ken?” she repeated. 

“Ken who?” I replied a little confused. 

“Not Ken. Kiiin. You know, kinfolk. Are ya’ll visiting kinfolk around here?” she clarified. 

“Um, no. We’re just passing through. Stopped to wash some clothes.” I answered. 

“Oh. Okay.” she flatly stated. 

We had so much fun stopping there 30 years ago, we decided to try again. Here are some of the memorable points we enjoyed.

  1. Murfreesboro, Arkansas is home to the Crater of Diamonds State Park. It claims to be the 8th largest diamond deposit in the world.
  2. The diamond park is open to the public and what you find, you keep.
  3. Diamonds are found there almost every day.
  4. The diamonds are mostly tiny. (1/4 carat or less)
  5. Most are found by professional diamond hunters. The public website obscures this fact and emphasizes the ones found by tourists.
  6. The local pawn shop buys most from the professionals and resells to the public.
  7. We looked at almost 200 raw, certified diamonds found at the park, in the pawn shop.
  8. There’s not much else to do in Murfreesboro. Population of 1,631 (in 2013) and what appears to be 8 restaurants, a few stores, and 312 churches (estimated by driving past, not an actual count).
  9. The city municipal building is in the center of a rotary traffic circle. It has parking spaces on the inside edge and the circle is wrapped by stores with other parking spaces on the outside edge.
  10. Driving lanes and parking spaces at the city center are in desperate need of repainting for clarity.

Who doesn’t love a list? So write one! Top five slices of pizza in your town, ten reasons disco will never die, the three secrets to happiness — go silly or go deep, just go list-y.

I Want to Speak “Woman”

Men. Gather with me on this. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to understand women? Especially your own spouse? Instant understanding of their true meaning behind the spoken words would enhance marital bliss and potentially reduce the infighting.

Ah, well. It’s only a dream.

If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?

I can do it. I don’t want to.

I can do anything. I choose not to do some things. If I did everything, the economy would suffer more. By selectively avoiding some chores, I grant others the opportunity to make a living.

Plumbing – I intensely dislike doing it. Inevitably, the item I’m trying to repair has reached a fragile state of disintegration. Any attempt on my part to perform a simple fix ends up with larger scale replacement of components.

Carpentry – Can do it, but it doesn’t come out as pretty as it should. The time involved with careful measuring, cutting, fitting, joining, delicate trim work leaves me frustrated. I am further discouraged when watching skilled craftsmen apply their experience and cut, fit, and trim finish an entire room without a tape measure. They glance at the location, eyeball the wood, cut once, and it fits exactly.

Painting – I like it. The actual act of transforming the ugliness to smooth beauty is rewarding. What I dislike is the 90 percent time of preparation and cleanup compared to the 10 percent of actual painting.

Auto repair – Simply not interested. Here is where a judiciously applied paycheck moves from my bank account to a mechanic and I remain happy.

Roofing – No thanks. You can do it. I’ll pay and provide the pizza and beverages.

If you could learn a trade — say carpentry, electrical work, roofing, landscaping, plumbing, flooring, drywall — you name it — what skill(s) would you love to have in your back pocket?

Good News

“Good news, Mr. Pepper, we are expanding our business and now offer water heaters.”

“But you’re my heating and cooling service contractor. The systems are not linked.”

“You are correct. As I said, we are expanding our business. For the low, low price of XXXX we can get a new tankless water heater installed in your home and start saving you money every time you turn on the faucet. You see, a tankless water heater only activates when you need it instead of the traditional method of heating an entire reservoir all the time.”

“Yes. I know. I’ve been using a tankless system for 10 years already.”

“You have? What brand is it? Are you satisfied with it? Any problems at all?”

“Only the fact that I purchased foolishly and didn’t research all the specifications and limitations at the time. It’s fine.”

“What do you mean?”

“The capacity can support two or more outlets at a time, like two faucets, a shower and a sink, the washing machine and a shower, etc.”

“What’s the problem?”

“The flow rate to trigger hot water requires two items running to work properly. It’s a design flaw of this particular model.”

“I see. We can fix that for you. We’ll just swap out the unit for the low, low price of…”

“No, you won’t. It works fine. We’ve adapted. The family knows to run a sink when taking a shower. Sure, it wastes water, but I’m not spending more money on a new unit until this one reaches its end of life.”

“I could take a look at it and adjust it for you.”

“No. You can’t adjust it. We investigated all options after installing it 10 years ago. We’ll just live with it a few more years and be smarter about it next time.”

“But sir, I could tweak some settings and make it better for you. No trouble at all.”

“Leave it alone, Mr. Technician. It’s fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Please proceed with your service call on the air conditioning system. My wife is here if you have any questions. She can call me if needed.”

The next morning….

“Honey, there’s no hot water. Did that technician do anything to our unit?” I asked.

“Um, yes. He said he could make it work better so I let him look at it.” she sheepishly answered.

“If a racehorse with a limp is winning races, do you try to fix him or leave well enough alone?” I asked

You get some incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully fantastic news. What’s the first thing you do?

Camping Scare

Scrape, scrape, scrape.

Sounds were close. Inside a worn tent, we huddled in fear. What could be rubbing against slick fabric to make such sounds?

My brother wanted to sleep under open skies this warm summer night. We chose a high point of a rocky pasture as a prime location. Good view of other fields. No obstructions of an endless sky. I wanted a tent to block potential mosquitoes.

We pitched it before sundown. We brought snacks with us, along with water. Home base only a half mile away if we needed it.

Scrape, scrape, scrape. It continued in a slow, erratic pattern.

My brother gripped a flashlight, switched it on, opened a tent flap cautiously. Large eyes glowed back. A wide slobbery nose pushed in. Stupid cows. They were licking tent fabric to investigate it.

Write an entire post without using any three-letter words.