Pam's Rantings


Last weekend, our family had a light schedule – one track meet and two volunteer hours over two days. For us, that means a free weekend. We decided to take a mini vacation and head up to The Dells for the weekend. (That’s Wisconsin Dells for you out-of-towners.) The Dells are known for their waterparks and over the years, we have visited most of them. This time we decided to try something new. We chose Mt. Olympus because they have both indoor and outdoor waterparks, roller coasters and go karts. Fun for all ages!

I called to confirm that everything was included in the cost of the room and I asked about one room in particular. I wanted to make sure it was attached to the waterpark. I was assured it was. The room had three beds and a separate bedroom – perfect for our family of five. The cost of entertainment for 2 days and 1 night was $320.00.

We were allowed to check in as early as 10:30, although our room would not be ready until 4:00. In the mean time they would give us park passes. When we arrived at noon to check in, the line was to the door. We waited an hour before we got to the front desk. (There were 20 minute parking signs for check-in parking!) To occupy our bored kids, we sent them to the adjacent arcade where they spent $25.00. When it was finally our turn, we were told that our room would not be attached to the waterpark, but was instead “offsite”.

“Are there shuttles?” I asked.

“No.”

“Could we get another room in the hotel?”

“No,” the emotionless employee said. “We are full. I could give you a condo for $599.00.”

No thanks. Offsite will have to do.

With our passes in hand, we headed out to the park. We had to move our car and because the place was so big, we stopped to ask an attendant how to get to the other parking lot.

“Well, you used to go up that way,” he said while pointing at a barricaded road, “but I guess you can’t now.” He offered no other suggestions, but instead just stared at us.

I wanted to say, “Thanks for your help. Don’t strain yourself. We will find it ourselves.” Instead, we just said “Thank you” and drove on.

Finally, we got into the park, but found ourselves on the waterpark side anyway. We would have to walk to the roller coasters. We walked a 1/3 of the way through the park when my husband suggested we get a drink and snack. One drink and one snack for each – $50.00.

My daughter got something in her eye and we went to look for the first aid station that was marked on the map.  When we got there, nothing was marked on the door other than “Employees Only”. I noticed first aid supplies through the window on the door so I assumed it was the right place. However, no one was there. I went next door to one of the booths and asked for them to call someone. When a first responder came to assist us a few minutes later, I told him that my daughter got something in her eye. He opened a cabinet and handed me a bottle of eye wash. I asked him if he could flush her eye. My daughter put her head back and he poured no more than 5 drops in her eye. Annoyed with yet another Mt. Olympus employee, I told him I would take her to the bathroom and flush it myself.

It was now 2:00. We found a small roller coaster and waited in a crazy long line – about 30 minutes. My son wanted to go on the Go Karts next. One hour in line. Another roller coaster – 30 more minutes. It was now 4:00. In four hours we had checked in, gone on three rides and had a snack. They promised us a text that would give us our room number by 4:00. Never came. At 4:30, my husband called the front desk and got the number.

We had to walk all the way back across the 200 acre park to our car. We got the map and drove a mile or so up the road to our hotel. And here it was:

It was a converted Mom and Pop motel from the 50’s. This was not on the website! It was last updated around 1980. Look at the TV and the microwave.  The room had a fire alarm on the wall, but no sprinkler system. How safe!

To say it was a dump is being too kind. The patio floor was gross. (The cup on the table was full of the wine which  I needed to calm my anger.) Look at our view from the patio.

There was a hole in the wall. (Look at the age of that phone!)

There were mystery stains on carpet, holes in screens and condensation trapped between the window panes.

Here is the pool and playground. There was no front desk on site. We were on our own. In a dump. For $320.00.

Our kids changed into their bathing suits and we headed back to use the waterpark. My husband dropped us off and went in to check us out of the motel from Psycho. He brought in my camera, but never had to use it. He simply told the manager where we were staying and that it was a dump. He told them that we were checking out and he wanted our money back. The manager did not argue very much. At first he wanted to give us a discount, but my husband told him that we weren’t staying even if it was free. By some miracle, a room opened up in the hotel onsite and we could have it for the same price. Wow!

My husband went to see the room before agreeing to it and found that although it was nothing special, it was clean, modern and big enough for our family. He then headed back to the Psycho Motel to gather the rest of our things.

When my husband arrived, he found the door to the motel was held open by a rock. Two men in their 20’s had set up shop in the hallway with a truck parked in front of the door. They had their cell phones charging in the wall. Apparently, they planned to be there awhile. I wonder what they were selling. Glad we were out of there!

The icing on the cake was when my husband went back up to the new room with the second round of stuff from the car. His key didn’t work. His phone was locked in the room so he couldn’t call for a new one. He had to trudge down to the front desk again with stuff in tow. After a visit from Maintenance to change the battery in the door, we were back in business.

Mt. Olympus is the only waterpark that allows non-hotel guests to use their facilities, which I did not know before we booked it. The non-hotel guests wear different color wristbands and you could see that the majority of the waterpark/amusement park guests did not stay at the hotel. Mt. Olympus doesn’t seem to observe any occupancy restrictions, which is scary when you are three stories up on a platform with a hundred other people. The lines are long and the employees make it worse by moving in slow motion.

The next day, we headed to the park when they opened at 10:00. It was a much smaller crowd  as we were all hotel guests and everyone got on the rides a lot faster. We enjoyed the waterpark and many of the rides for a couple hours. By 12:00 it was starting to fill up and by 1:30 it was getting ugly. Although we were able to stay until 9:00 pm when it closed, we decided to call it a day and head south.

The weekend proved something that I have always known. It is nice to get away, but even nicer to come home.

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When I wrote this title, I had to laugh.  I have been writing this blog for about 2 years, sharing product and book reviews, recipes and of course, stories of my journey as a mom. Although I am having a good time writing, sharing and learning about myself, I find myself standing at a fork in the road. What is next, I wonder. My kids are getting older and often read my blog on their own Facebook or Twitter accounts. They are good sports about the stuff I share, but I am finding it more difficult to tell a story without sharing too much. It is one thing to tell your friends at Bunco. It is another to share it with the world.

Over the past year, I have taken my experiences and written articles that I sold for online content. Although it wasn’t much, I did get paid for it. When I questioned my success as a writer, I reminded myself of a quote by Stephen King:

If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

In his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he talks of his many rejection letters. After he received the first one, he nailed it to his wall so he could look at it. He continued to submit until he couldn’t fit anymore rejection letters and they had to be stored elsewhere. The rejection letters did not discourage him. He loved writing and he kept submitting until someone bought his work and then he wrote some more.

So I thought I should do the same. I started sending articles to magazines last month. I entered contests. I signed up for a magazine writing class that is taught by an author I have admired for years. And it has kept me busy. I haven’t had too much time to write about my journey as a mom.

The fork in the road comment is funny to me because in an effort to keep writing and blogging and keeping my name out there, I started a food blog. (Get it? Fork in the road – Fork for eating – ha-ha) It gives me a chance to combine three of my hobbies – writing, photography and cooking. The blog, Wine and Dine with Us, is only three weeks old, and as of this morning, I have posted 9 recipes. I have also joined a food blog network and had good feedback. My Pinterest friends may have seen some of the posts as I have promoted my new blog. You can see them below:

Snacking on Crockpot Ribs

Swai Fish with Vegetable Kabobs

It Wasn’t Supposed to be Hot Sausage and White Bean Chili

Easy Homemade Croutons

Pork Tacos with Jicama and Black Bean Salsa

Brownie Muffins with Hershey Kisses

Easy and Delicious Marinara with Meatballs

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Roasted Potatoes and Onions

I have decided to keep writing This Mom’s Journey, although to a lesser extent. It will be my vacation home instead of my main residence. I have also decided to stop posting it to Facebook. I want to start posting my food blog to Facebook and don’t want to be an “over-poster”. You are welcome to follow me via email, Google or just stop by now and then. This is not an end. I just want to take another road for a while and see where it goes.

I always appreciate your comments and hope you will stop by my new home at Wine and Dine with Us.

Pam

I’ve moved into the dining room.

Yes, everything is okay at home. I have been looking for a quiet place in the house to call my own and I have found it in the under-utilized dining room. A year ago, the dining room was updated as part of the kitchen remodel. After extending the common wall between the dining room and kitchen, we needed to repaint and put in new chair rail. It snowballed after that into needing new paint, flooring, furniture and window treatments. The room is functional and attractive.

The dining room used to be the dumping ground for all the kids’ school projects, items that needed to be returned and whatever else we didn’t know what to do with. We cleaned it up when we were having company and only used it for eating on holidays. After the remodel, we swore it would never look like that again. We loved the furniture and new décor. We didn’t want to make it ugly with all our junk again.

The dining room sat for a year looking like a magazine spread. Most days the only light it saw was the sunlight coming through the window. No one went in there. It was used a little more often for dining than it had in the past, but not as much as I thought it should.

A couple weeks ago, my kids were doing their homework at the eating area in the kitchen. I needed to do some computer work, and since my husband had the TV on in the family room, I moved into the dining room. Wow! The dining room chairs are so much nicer than the stools in the kitchen. There is a great window in there that overlooks the backyard. The shelving unit on the opposite wall is filled with candles and wine items and pictures – things I enjoy. The best part is that I can see what goes on in the house, but they can’t see me.

That’s the funniest thing. When one of my kids calls from upstairs, I answer them with the usual “I’m downstairs.” I can see them come down the stairs and walk into the kitchen. They start talking to the empty kitchen, pausing for a second before going into the family room. Confused, they stop in mid-sentence.

“Mom? Where are you?”

I answer them again and they follow my voice into the dining room.

“What are you doing in here?”

“I am enjoying a quiet room that is free of clutter,” I tell them.

“Why don’t you go up to your room?” they ask.

“Why? Dad is in there on a conference call. The bed is not made. Clothes are waiting to be folded in baskets on the floor. The stack of unfinished photo albums stares down at me from the shelving unit. The cat meows for food every time I go in there and I need to vacuum the floor where the dogs lay at night. The room is a creativity killer.”

The kids usually just stare back at me before continuing on with whatever they had to say in the first place. The dining room has no TV so they don’t linger long. I am free to get back to my creativity and peace of mind. I highly recommend it.

Did you ever have one of those weeks where you look at your calendar and wonder how it’s all going to work out? I am having one of those weeks. On Sunday, my husband and I stood in the kitchen and looked at our two work calendars and the family calendar. We took it day by day and tried to figure out who would be there to take the kids to all their activities. Between the two of us and relying on carpools, it is 90% organized. For the other 10% we will have to wing it. What can we do? We are at a crazy time of our lives.

I know the empty nesters are saying, “Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.” I know. It was just yesterday that I was a mom with three kids, 4 and under. As I was stressing over daycare, baths, diapers and the terrible twos, the people with teenagers were saying, “Enjoy this time. It goes so fast.” In the heat of the moment, time moves a lot slower than it does for those with older kids strolling down memory lane. Isn’t it funny how when you see a pregnant friend only a few times during her pregnancy, you think, “This pregnancy is going so fast.” I am sure you will get another perspective from the woman herself.

That’s the problem. In the heat of it, parents are so busy getting from moment to moment that it is long over before they can enjoy it. I try to slow down and live in the moment. When my kids are at a sporting event or concert, I am sitting on the aisle snapping pictures and taking video. (Of course, they are all piling up on my computer now.) We eat dinner together most nights. (So what if it is drive thru food in the car on the way to and from practice.) I always give my kids time to talk to me about their day, (Although everyone is usually talking at once and interrupting each other.)

So it’s not perfect. But you know what? Perfect is boring. What kind of stories are you going to tell your friends at Bunco? Who wants to read a blog that talks about how they figured it all out? That’s just showing off. The good stories and the happy memories are in the chaos. When the next generation is up to bat, you want to be able to make them laugh at your experiences when they really feel like crying. Tell them that you, too, made mistakes and yet, everyone survived. And yes, for a while, it gets worse before it gets better.

As the sun comes up this morning, I am reminded that time moves at the same pace each day. We may be running from sunrise to sunset (and beyond), but we still only get 24 hours in a day. Lao Tzu said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” I wonder if he had any kids.

I love giving and receiving gift cards. My friend, Nancy, calls them “free money”. My kids especially like gift cards because they can get what they want. Gift cards are a great gift for teenagers, for people whose taste you don’t know well (if you think you know it, you are usually wrong) and for the person that has everything.

Some people don’t like gift cards. They think buying them does not put any effort into giving a gift, especially with gift card malls in grocery and drug stores. I disagree. I think that if you pick a place that you know they like, they will appreciate the gift. It is soooooo much better than buying something they don’t like or that doesn’t fit and having them return it. What make matters worse are those that don’t include gift receipts or buy a gift at cute little boutiques that have a 7 day return policy. Ditto for the bargain shoppers that buy items on clearance that can’t be returned. Yes, it’s the thought that counts but when they can’t use your gift, it’s not very thoughtful.

Not all gift cards are good gifts. If you get someone a gift card to a store that you like, but they don’t, it is the same problem. Sadly, you can’t return gift cards, but there is a way to “exchange” the gift card. In the past, I have sold gift cards on eBay. (Is there anything you can’t sell on eBay?) People buy gift cards on eBay because it is like getting a percentage off their future purchase and if they combine it with a store coupon, they are getting an even bigger bargain. Based on my experience, you can get between 75 and 90% of the cards value. Sadly, not every gift card sells.

Yesterday, I read about Plastic Jungle. They will buy back your gift card for a discount and resell them to someone else. Plastic Jungle also accepts merchandise return cards from some retailers. The minimum card value must be at least $25.00 but they do not need to be for the full amount listed on the card – for example, $31.75 on a $50.00 card. The site is very user friendly and I quickly sold two of the three cards I had. (Sadly, the last was only for $10 so they wouldn’t buy it.)

Payment options are check, PayPal deposit or Amazon gift card. The Amazon gift card is a $1 or more extra so I took that as one of my payments as there is a book I want to order for the same amount. You have to ship the card to Plastic Jungle but they provide a postage paid label for you to use. As soon as they get your gift card, they pay you. Very simple!

I have never been successful with my New Year’s Resolutions. I usually start to falter on them by February and by March, I am done. I am much better with giving something up for Lent. Maybe the difference is the time frame – 6 weeks verses 52. To me, a New Year’s Resolution means a permanent change and Lent is for a bad habit that you give up for a short time. I know more people that make a change for the better with Lenten sacrifices than with New Year’s Resolutions.

My failed Resolutions included more exercise, less yelling, less swearing, setting up plans with “Christmas Card friends”, keeping up on paperwork, making meals every night and several other ambitious plans. Last year I planned to read classic novels all year. I love to read so this sounded easy. The problem was, they didn’t interest me and I could not see any results in my efforts. At least if you are exercising, dieting or cleaning out junk, you can see you have accomplished something.

This year was different. I left it sort of vague. My plan was to complete all the projects that I had started and/or projects that I have wanted to complete for a long time. I gave myself the year to get them all done. I did not make a list, which is very unlike me. I felt a list would be overwhelming to look at. I know what needs to be done. I can’t imagine I will ever say, “It’s Saturday and I don’t have a single thing to do. I wish I made a list of projects.” The projects have been staring me in the face for months and sometimes years.

I have been pretty successful. I have cleaned out the crawlspace again. Two years ago, we had it cemented over and were forced to pull everything out of it. We bought Rubbermaid boxes and shelving and put it all away in an organized manner. Sadly, over the past 2 years, it got sort of messy again. I put away the things that got out of hand, bought more storage bins (including those that hold ornaments!) and labeled everything. It looks great!

I also updated my address book. I had so many people that had moved, passed on, etc. and it was a mess. Part of the updating also included getting my Christmas card list in order for next year. Spin off projects that still need to be worked on are updating my cell phone contacts and my email address book.

I ordered all my pictures from 2011 and bought photo albums. (The next project is to put them in the albums.) For you overachievers, I am sure it is no big deal. However, I still have parts of years not printed out. I am up to date on backing up my digital pictures, which includes a second back up that I took to the safe deposit box. Slowly, I am getting everything put away. A project down the road includes finishing scanning the before-digital-pics and backing them up.

The video projects are next. I want to finish copying all the digital video to DVDs and then start with the VHS tapes. I am so behind on that, but by doing a little every day I am at least moving forward. I took a video of the whole house and garage for insurance purposes. It is on DVD and safely filed in the safe deposit box. It was something that I planned on doing for a long time. However, I didn’t want to video a house with unmade beds and dirty dishes, so I had to wait until the whole house was clean. God forbid the insurance people saw our messy house!

I still have plenty of things to finish up before 2013, but I am excited that I am still going strong with my Resolution. My only concern is that maybe I have spoken too soon. Like I said earlier, I did well during Lent because it is only for 6 weeks. Maybe I should see how well I am doing at the end of next month.

I am eligible for a new cell phone next month. Currently, I have a Samsung keyboard slider phone. I like it because it fits in my front pocket and I can easily text with the keyboard. I can check the time. I can receive calls. What else do I need?

My phone does not have internet access and most of the time, I don’t need it anyway. I have a GPS in my car. I have an iPod touch that I carry in my purse for games and music. (If my kids use it for entertainment while we are out, at least they are not wearing down my phone battery!) My current phone has a camera (which I never use) and I carry a small camera in my purse from my Girl Scout Leader days. I don’t keep an electronic calendar. I have to keep track of my work calendar, my husband’s travel plans and a social calendar for five. It is much easier for my family to look at the desk calendar that hangs on the wall instead of invading my phone or computer.

I think my reluctance to get a phone with internet access comes from watching others with Smartphones. These are the people that drive me crazy:
1. Those that have to check in on Facebook every time they get to a restaurant or store.
2. Those that update their virtual friends with a play by play of the concert or party. Live in the moment!
3. The sports obsessed who check scores all night. Maybe they should have stayed home and watched the game.
4. The fact checkers who need to find out how many films Harrison Ford starred in because someone brought it up during dinner. Live with a little mystery in your life!
5. The afterhours business email checkers. What is so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow?

What are the benefits of a Smartphone? It would be nice to be able to have access to my email sometimes. There have been occasions that would have saved me time if I could have looked back at an email and got information. Transferring money at the bank while in mid shopping trip would be a nice feature. Umm, after that, I can’t come up with another reason.

So Smartphone users, please tell me why you love your phone and why you could never go back to a simple keyboard slider phone.
1. Which is better? Droids or iPhones?
2. How do you carry your phone? Pocket? Buried at bottom of purse?
3. Do you have an electronic calendar and if so, how to you sync and not share all the appointments that do not affect the other person (i.e., your work appointments)? How do your teenage kids read the calendar to see if the chauffer is available to drive them?

For all our technical advances, I wonder if cell phones have gone overboard. Do we need to be in touch with the world at large? Are we that important that we can’t wait to get information until we get home or back to the office? Was it so bad to stop and ask for directions? Do we need to entertain ourselves all the time? What is wrong with looking out the window or people watching? Why can’t we live without a Smartphone?

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