Though this time of year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, can be extraordinarily busy, it also offers us a prime opportunity to step back and put our lives into perspective. We contemplate the following questions:

  • What can we and can’t we live without?
  • What are we grateful for?
  • What mistakes have we made this year and how can we do better next year?
  • What are our dreams and ideals?

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more thought I give these questions.  Maybe it’s just my imagination, but the ticking of the clock seems louder and I feel like any minute alarm bells will sound.  The idiom “our days are numbered” resonates more clearly.  No, I don’t believe that I will drop dead anytime in the near future; however, I am aware that is always a possibility.  Therefore, I want to make the most out of life, and I don’t just want to focus on these questions during the holidays.  

When my friend Jennifer passed away last year, my dreams and reality collided.  I began to take stock of my life as I considered all the dreams she and I had discussed over our forty-three year friendship and how few of those dreams we had actually achieved.  I considered the fact that I had worked sixty to eighty hours a week for as long as I could remember and how that impacted not only the quantity of time spent with family and friends but also the quality.  Every year I began to hate my job just a little more, probably because it was all-consuming and extremely exhausting.  When Jen and I would get together to have a drink and complain about work, we would laugh and say we were drinking a glass of “I Quit” with a “You Suck” chaser.  But the reality is, we needed our jobs and the crazy schedules that came with them.  We all need a paycheck, right?  Well, after her death, I re-evaluated things.  I planned for the future and gave myself a deadline.  I buckled down to save some money and last June I left the teaching profession to pursue a career as a freelance editor and everything about my life changed in that instant.

One might think that starting a new business is stressful, but I am more relaxed than I have ever been.  Even though I am currently only making a fraction of what I did before, I am not concerned.  First, I was realistic.  I figured it would take six months to a year to get fully established, and I saved and planned accordingly.  Second, I realized, that though money is certainly important, there are things that are far more valuable.  I now make time for my family, no matter the expense.  I take off Thursdays and Sundays to spend with my mom.  One of the perks of freelancing is the ability to work anywhere there is an internet connection, so my mom and I spent a month driving across country to visit family and friends.  We were able to stay with my brother and help him recover from shoulder surgery.  We were able to spend time with my sister, with Jen’s parents and aunt, and with numerous other family friends.  We spent three days in Georgia participating in wedding festivities and watched my baby girl marry her soulmate.  On the way back home we made a detour and spent a day at Crater of Diamonds State Park.  We made memories!  

Don’t get me wrong!  I am still a perfectionist with a strong work ethic, but I have learned to let go a little.  I may have an occasional day where I panic and wonder when the jobs and money will roll in on a consistent basis, but I believe in myself.  I believe that Jen is guiding me, and she won’t let me fail.  I am determined to live this life for both of us and refuse to miss out on the finer things life has to offer.  I choose to be positive, to recognize that bad things happen, but those things don’t have to hold us back.  Instead, they can propel us forward.  Therefore, I thank God everyday, not just on Thanksgiving, for my many blessings.   I choose to let go of the stress, to embrace the uncertainty, to pursue my dreams, and to firmly clutch hold of my loved ones.  I urge each one of you to do the same.

Daily Post Prompt: Clutch

The Adventures of Thelma and Louise

Mom and I have always been a bit droll.  You might call it a nervous habit or perhaps a morbid fascination, but we see humor in some of the stupidest things.  We have always had the ability to amuse ourselves and each other, so just the thought of driving across country together is enough to make me giggle.

On September 15th we loaded up my car, a Honda Insight, with a few weeks worth of luggage, snacks, gifts for friends and family, my laptop, my 60 pound dog, and all of his food, toys, and bedding and set off for the East Coast. Needless to say, things were a bit snug but no matter.  Who wouldn’t enjoy being squished like sardines in a metal can for days on end? It’s prime family bonding time, right?

Of course, if I wrote about all of our month-long adventures, this would turn into a book rather than a blog, so I’ll just hit the highlights.

Traveling through mountains in a hybrid is not for the faint of heart.  The car simply cannot maintain adequate speed, especially not loaded down as it was.  We stayed in the right-hand lane and sandwiched ourselves between 18-wheelers also struggling to keep up.  Thinking about it now, I get the image of a cartoon or caricature with my tiny little vehicle trapped between such behemoths.  What makes things more interesting is that I suffer from vertigo and do not appreciate heights, so my view is often limited to the taillights directly in front of me.  Mom thinks it is funny to comment on the beauty of the scenery and ask me what I think of the view.  It’s a wonder I didn’t drive off the road!

Speaking of driving off the road, we really and truly did come a hairsbreadth away from pulling Thelma and Louise’s final act.  With my glasses, I see fine during the day, but my night vision sucks.  We intended to stop before dark each day, but the lack of dog-friendly hotels sometimes caused us to forego our own safety.  To make matters worse, there was quite a bit of construction taking place along our route.  We stopped one night just off the interstate to get gas, afraid what we had left wouldn’t get us to the next actual town and hotel.  Because of the construction and near complete darkness, it was difficult to find the entrance ramp.  I turned a few feet from the detour sign and thankfully chickened out and slammed on breaks; directly in front of us was a cliff.  I had overshot the ramp.  Other people might freak out, maybe even scream, but mom and I, once we pulled our hearts out of our lap, could only find it in ourselves to laugh.  For the rest of the trip, we would just tease and say, “Let’s not go over a cliff tonight.” (I’m sure my sister is having her own heart attack reading this because we never thought to mention it when we called to say we had stopped for the night.  Oops!  We didn’t want to worry you.)

This leads me to discuss another night we drove past dark.  We could have stopped earlier, but it was lightly raining and since the dog won’t eat or potty in the rain, we decided to keep going until it stopped.  Maybe that wasn’t the wisest decision on our parts.  When it finally did stop and we reached the next town, it was already around 9pm and we had been driving all day.  We were tired and apparently very desperate.  We saw a Days Inn and knew they accepted pets, so I went in and got us a room.  We won’t be staying there again!  In fact, we not so lovingly renamed it the “Bate’s Motel”.  The room was as hot as an oven when we entered it and the air conditioner had been unplugged.  We simply plugged it back in and figured it would cool down the room by the time we fell asleep.  We were wrong.  As if roasting wasn’t bad enough, it wasn’t our only concern.  The dog found “something”, not sure what, to eat ,which prompted us to inspect the room more closely.  We found pennies, a dead bug, and an empty cracker wrapper on the floor making us well aware that the housekeeping staff left much to be desired.  Our inspection also noted a chunk of the door was missing at the bottom; perhaps Cujo had taken a bite out of it. The room was dark and we could only wonder why.  Believe me, we inspected the sheets looking for bed bugs and even checked under the mattresses for Norman Bates, Jason, or any other serial killer who might be hiding there.  We would have loved to find someplace, pretty much anyplace, else to stay but neither of us wanted to get back in the car and drive who knows how long in the dark with my crappy night vision.  I can’t say we really slept that night.  As soon as the sun came up, we were out of there.  We didn’t even bother with the free breakfast for fear of what we would find.  All we wanted was to get out of Tennessee.  Needless to say that when we stopped for the day, we showered before we even sat down.  We felt filthy!  Maybe things really were crawling all over us, maybe not, but we weren’t taking any chances.  

Thank God for our sense of humor! I’m already looking forward to the next trip!

Daily Post Prompt: Droll

Strut and Stagger


I certainly don’t want to mock those with serious addictions, but this week has led me to confess that I have a gambling problem . . . and that problem is named “Mom”.  My mom is an extremely bad influence on me.  One would think that a 75 year old woman would be easy to control, that she might be frail and feeble.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  My mom is a bulldozer, a good-hearted and optimistic bulldozer.

Let me give a little background.  My mom started vacationing in Las Vegas back in 1978.  She would meet her mom and sister for some family bonding, and they started a trend. I started going with them in 1994.  My brother got married in Vegas.  Then some of my cousins started meeting us.  It became our home away from home.

A few years ago my mom asked me to move with her, so we said goodbye to Virginia and parked ourselves in Sin City. The last year and a half has been fairly uneventful.  We’ve learned our way around and yes, we have found the local casinos.  It’s been great!  We often get free slot play, two-for-one buffet deals, and free gifts.  Seriously, every Thursday, two of the local casinos give out free stuff from bottles of wine to glassware, ceramic fry pans, and steak knives.  I’m not sure who picks out the items given away, but I suspect they might be practicing transference.  Gamble too much?  Go drink your troubles away.  Wine didn’t do the trick? Here, have some knives.

Anyway, I digress.  This week my mom, with her rose-colored glasses, just knew she was going to win a huge jackpot.  Station Casinos has been running a Wheel of Fortune promotion.  Each Station casino has a counter that starts at 10,000.  Sometime before it gets to 20,000 it will hit and one lucky winner gets the dough.  Everyone else playing gets free slot play.  This promotion has been going on for months.  No big deal.

Well, on Tuesday, we had out-of-town company and they wanted us to take them to our local casino.  They could only visit for a few hours, so they followed us there.  We enjoyed a nice lunch and then played the slot machines for a bit.  When they left, my mom wanted to stay.  She was having pretty good luck and noticed that the Wheel of Fortune counter was at 18,000, which is the highest it has been whenever we have been there.

In recent months, we have given our gambling a charitable twist.  We have friends who have had their fair share of financial troubles; this last year has been really rough on them and we try to help them out whenever we can.  Mom and I have both been saying that if we ever win a decent jackpot, we will give 50-70% of it to our friends. So after walking our company to their rental car, mom convinced me to head back inside.  Around 6pm, I reminded her that we have a dog who might like to have his dinner.  We headed home . . . but not to stay.  Like I said, mom is a bad influence, and I am apparently very malleable.

At 7:30pm, my mom strutted back into the casino like a woman on a mission.  Her mission was to win that jackpot.  I normally take a book with me and read in the food court, but even I was suckered in this time.  That darn promotion would surely hit at any time, and I wasn’t going to miss my chance.  I held my own for a while, even doubled my money, and held onto it for hours.  Mom was holding her own.  We were fortunate enough to have found some good machines.  Time passed and before I knew it, it was 3am.  What! I was exhausted and now losing again.  Mom too.  We admitted defeat and dragged our butts home.

I didn’t get much sleep that morning.  I was overtired and kept hearing the tune from the stupid “Willy Wonka” machine.  My alarm got me up at 8:30am and I felt hungover.  Thankfully, I work from home now; I don’t think I would have made it through the day otherwise.  We had scheduled a routine service on our air-conditioner and when the guy showed up in the afternoon, he talked our ears off for hours.  Not good! In addition to feeling hungover, we now both had migraines.  You would think we would go back to bed the second the guy left . . . and we probably would have if it weren’t for that stupid counter.  Contributing to our delinquency is the fact that you can check it online.  Mom made me check it, and it was up to 19,045.  

Lord help me!  Mom convinced me to go back.  Thankfully, I picked a good machine and played for seven hours on just $10 . . . and still no jackpot.  It finally hit just before 5am.  Yes, we were still there and no, that jackpot did not have our names on it.  Mom got $10 in free slot play, and I got $20.  All that time, effort, and money for such a paltry reward.  As we staggered home and crawled into bed, the sun was already up.

I’m not sure how to describe us: dedicated, idiotic, gluttonous, gullible . . . So many words could apply.  Hopefully, we both learned our lesson though.  We have sworn off gambling anything other than free slot play for the remainder of the year, and I’m not sure I even want to do that.  I don’t even want to partake of the two-for-one buffet.  The casinos are masters of trickery.  I’m scared of their bait and switch tactics.  Just in case, I have bookmarked the Gamblers Anonymous website and printed out the twelve steps to recovery.  Now if only I can restrain my mom!

Daily Post Prompt: Strut


My Biggest Influence

Jen and IOver the course of a lifetime, we come in contact with a great number of people.  Some people just pass right on thru without us even noticing, others make a brief yet still significant mark, and others impact our entire being.  They transform us.  Maybe for you the person who made the most difference was a spouse or a child.  Maybe it was a teacher or colleague.  For me, it was a friend, one so close I consider her more of a sister.  There is simply no aspect of my life that she did not influence.

I met Jen when I was only two or three years old and she was just a newborn.  We grew up living just two houses apart in a quiet suburban neighborhood.  As a kid, my family remembers me being an outgoing chatterbox, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I talked their ears off, yes, because they were my safe zone.  In reality, when they weren’t around, I was quite shy . . . except when I was with Jen.  She and her parents introduced me to things I never would have had access to or attempted to do without them.  I have no doubt that without the three of them I would have turned out very differently.

I got my sense of imagination from Jen and her mom, Becky.  Becky could be silly and would use words that even now I associate strictly with her.  She encouraged us to play dress up, have picnics on the porch, and hide away in Jen’s cardboard version of the Mickey Mouse Playhouse.  Jen had a lot of toys, but she didn’t really want to play with most of them.  Instead, she preferred for us to make up our own games and stories, and she was endlessly creative.

Though I may have helped Jen learn to ride a bike, she helped me learn to go off and explore, and that push to explore got more necessary the older I got. I can be reclusive and set in my ways.  I don’t go out of my way to meet new people or try new things.  Jen, however, never seemed to meet a stranger.  She would introduce me to her other friends and try to put me at ease.  Then again, she would embarrass me too!  Many a time, she would be driving us around town with the music blaring, and at stoplights, she would dance and make the car shake violently.  People would stare and I would slide down in the passenger seat not wanting to be noticed.  That was the difference.  Jen didn’t care who stared.  She made it her mission to get me to lighten up and live a little. She would take me to Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion and get me on every single ride.  She would even make me raise my hands over my head, laughing and screaming.  I’ve probably never felt so free as in those moments.

In our twenties, Jen regularly took me clubbing and tried desperately to teach me to dance.  Eventually, she declared it hopeless, saying I just had no rhythm, but she still made me go with her. She was determined that I not spend my evenings at home alone.  She got me to laugh at myself and she taught me that if you look hard enough you can find humor in most anything.  Afterall, sometimes life gets so shitty the only way to stay sane is to laugh it off. She taught me that it’s all about perspective. She could look at a problem and explain it in a way I never would have thought of.  She could calmly explain alternative viewpoints in a way that made you accept them even if you started out staunchly opposed.  She had a sense of logic and persuasion this world desperately needs.

Sadly, a year ago today Jen died, a mere three months after being diagnosed with cancer. She was 43 years old. No matter how afraid she might have been, she was still so brave. The last message she sent me was “my family (and extended family) is the shit! I have the most awesome support system imaginable.  Everyone has been so very kind. I plan to win this fight, the problem is that everyone plans to win and most don’t.  Scary stuff! This is why we have valium.A few weeks before her death, I went back to Virginia to say my goodbyes, and the only fear I saw was that she didn’t want to be left alone.  I spent the few nights I was there sporadically sleeping in a chair beside her hospital bed. Even then, she was much more worried about everyone else. Southern girl that she was, she wanted to make sure every visitor was comfortable and fed.  I don’t know how many times she offered me her Jello or her soup. She was suffering, yet still had a smile for every friend or family member who entered. Late at night, she told me how much she appreciated her parents being there with her every day, but she was concerned about the toll it was taking on them.  I know she worried about me too.  We reminisced about all the good times we had shared and she agreed wholeheartedly that my life certainly would have been dull without her in it.  We planned out all the things we would do and trips we would take when she recovered. I think that was her parting gift to me.  She knew that she wouldn’t leave the hospital, but she left me a “To Do” list.  She knew that I would feel obligated to do all the things we had talked about.  Even now, she is teaching me to face my fears and live courageously and every step I take I know that she is with me.

Daily Prompt: Neighbors

There is Joy in Pet Ownership, but Please Adopt, Don’t Shop

For millions of us, they are part of the family.  They are our babies or our siblings.  We include them in family portraits, post about them on Facebook, sometimes travel with them, and typically spoil them rotten.  Our pets mean so much to us.

If you have never had a pet, you might not understand the fascination.  You have no idea what you are missing.  Our pets reward us with humor, companionship, and unbridled devotion (drool sometimes lovingly included).  Sure, pets are a lot of work and expense, and they require a lengthy time commitment, but they give so much in return.

In my life, I have never been without a pet.  Sometimes I have had up to eight at a time.  I’ve had cats, dogs, bunnies, and horses.  Each one has had a unique personality and brought me tremendous joy.

I swear to their intelligence and know my pets understand everything I say to them.  My dog knows our routine and will come stand by the bed when it is time to get up.  One of my rabbits, Tabitha, also knew what time I needed to get up, only her wake up calls were tinged with a dark humor.  She would hop into my bed and run circles around me; however, if five minutes of that didn’t do the trick, she would pounce on me and pee.  That wasn’t exactly the most desirable wake-up call, but it certainly was effective.  Once up, I was usually then forced to crawl under my bed to retrieve the slippers she had stolen during the night.  If bunnies could laugh, I’m sure she would have been in hysterics as she watched her human do such tricks.  

In addition, my animals have always shown me compassion.  As a kid, I would whisper all of my secrets into the ear of my sister’s horse, Rowdy, while he rested his head on my shoulder.  He would occasionally nod his head or flare his nostrils and breathe into my ear as though he was commiserating with me and giving his own brand of advice.  As an adult, I would often come home from work disgruntled over the workload or the students who refused to participate or a variety of other stresses.  It was mandatory on those days to consult my therapist (my bunny, Adam) the instant I got home.  She would coax me onto the floor and we would lie cheek to cheek while she soothed the wild beast within me.  Five minutes of that and my good mood was restored.  If it wasn’t for my therapy sessions, I would have never survived my teaching career and my family would not have been able to tolerate me during that time.

I won’t go so far as to say that every human should have a pet because some simply aren’t capable of returning such love and devotion.  Sadly, there are some miserable excuses for humanity out there who would (and do) abuse the trust of both humans and animals.  However, I believe that the vast majority of people should have at least one pet, and there are so many animals looking for a home where they can impart all of their wisdom and offer unconditional love.  The trick is to find a good match.  Spend some time with a prospective pet and introduce him or her to all the members of your family (both two and four-legged) to ensure the adjustment will be smooth on all fronts.  If you aren’t 100% sure if you are ready for a long-term commitment, consider fostering before adopting.  Fosters are usually provided with food and supplies, and sometimes rescues will even enroll you and the animal in a training class to aid in the transition. There are many small shelters looking for foster families for a variety of reasons.  Many animals have difficulty adjusting to a shelter environment, some need a quiet place to recover from medical treatment, and some who were once simply yard ornaments need to ease into living in a home environment.  Shelters do a great job of interviewing prospective fosters to learn habits and routines and then place an animal which is a good fit.  You may not know what you are looking for in a pet, but the shelter staff usually knows what they are looking for in a foster and can help you find the perfect match.  This is just one more reason to foster or adopt rather than purchasing from a pet store or breeder.  Where the store/breeder is out to make a quick buck, the shelter or rescue wants to find the right home and family for every pet in its care.

So maybe this blog has turned into a “public service announcement”, but that is simply because I want everyone to find the simple joy I have known all of my life: the unconditional love and affection of a pet.  Take my word for it; there is nothing like it, and I know my life would be incomplete without it.

Man of Steel . . . Nerves, That Is!

We all want a hero, someone with super powers to sweep in and save the day.  The entertainment industry is well aware of the fact based on the number of Spiderman, Superman, and Iron Man movies, just to name a few.  But consider the everyday heroes.  Sure, we have police officers, firefighters, soldiers, teachers, etc.  They are all heroes in my book and deserve all the respect and praise we paltry folk can muster.  Still, they are not the only heroes discreetly aiding us in the challenges of life.  There is the friend who knows exactly when to call and what to say to bring us out of a funk.  There is the family member offering encouragement and pushing us to chase our dreams.  There is even the fast food worker or retail clerk who battles a disgruntled customer and then still turns to the next person in line with a smile.  Yes, the ability to let negative remarks roll off of you and remain friendly and positive is surely a super power.  There are countless more, but if I took the time to list them, then this blog might never end.

In my life, I have been impacted by heroes of all kinds, but one stands out more than all the others.  He is the “Man of Steel” for he certainly has steel nerves.  Nothing seems to shake him and he has always been my rock, my constant in life.  What makes him even more special is that he did not have to be such a huge part of my life, and yet he chose to be my “Father”.  When I was two or three years old, his daughter Jen became my best friend and the rest, as they say, is history.  He might not have been the fun dad who played with and became one of the kids, but I was drawn to his calm and logical demeanor.  I must have known from an early age how important those traits would be later on in my life.  He has certainly rescued me on more than one occasion and he never seems to break a sweat.

To demonstrate just how calm he is in stressful situations, I would like to tell you about my first driving lesson.  Yes, the dreaded driving lesson is something most parents will try to avoid.  Really, how many people willingly entrust their lives to a sixteen year old while trapped in the confines of a hunk of metal?  Why anyone would volunteer to teach a teenager to drive is beyond me.  More than that, why would you use your brand new sports car for the driving lesson?  That defies logic, yet that is exactly what my “Father” did.  He must have had a rare lapse of judgement.  I can only hope he has fully recovered.

As I got behind the wheel of his Toyota Supra, he got into the front passenger seat and Jen hopped into the back (sitting in the middle for a good view of the road).  We all buckled our seatbelts, and I, at least, took a deep breath before starting the engine.  With nervous anticipation, I placed my foot on the gas and we started slowly down the street.  I don’t remember the specific route we took; perhaps I blocked it out.  What I do remember is Father happily telling me to go faster.  It was evening and the roads were clear, so I guess he figured there was no harm in letting me really test out the car.  I remember asking if he was sure before putting more pressure on the gas.  It was exhilarating.  I was driving, and even better, I was driving this beautiful sports car.  I was getting more comfortable, but I was apparently still cautious when making turns.  Here is where the drama unfolds.  Father told me, “Don’t slow down when you make your turns”.  Barely seconds later, he told me to make a right turn at the next corner.  Wanting to please him, I maintained my speed and made the turn.  As I did so, Jen started screaming from the back seat.  Her life had seemingly passed in front of her eyes as she noticed the car coming towards us.  She hollered at me, “Didn’t you see the stop sign?” to which I replied, “No.”  All I knew was I had followed directions: Father told me not to slow when making my turns and then he told me to turn.  There was never any mention of a stop sign.  When Jen finished screaming and I ceased my explanation, Father calmly looked at me and said, “You are so lucky.  There is normally a cop sitting there.”  That was his only reaction.  He must have ice in his veins.

To this day, I have to admit breaking into a smile every time I make a right-hand turn.  I do try my best to adhere to the stop signs though.

Adventure is Calling: Summer Advice to Parents

I am definitely not the most adventurous individual, but sometimes ready or not, adventure taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re up!”  Then again, maybe this is exactly the reason why I don’t seek out adventure.  Sometimes it leaves you a bit traumatized.

A few months before my tenth birthday, my family moved from Virginia to California.  Trust me when I say that my siblings and I were not in favor of the move.  There were tears and tantrums followed by a good deal of sulking.  None of us wanted to leave our friends because surely we would never make new ones. I was the youngest and leaving behind the only home I had ever known.  It might as well have been the end of the world.  Yes, I was a bit of a drama queen; thankfully, I have outgrown that flaw (for the most part).

Anyway, our arrival in California, after a five-day drive across country, coincided with a three-day Valenta family reunion.  I’m not sure what other family reunions are like, but ours are a pretty big deal.  My dad was one of thirteen kids, most of who grew up to have large families of their own.  Now I know I have a vivid imagination and I’ve never truly tried to tally up all of the cousins and second cousins, but I would say there were a few hundred people at the reunion, 95% of whom I had never met before.  It was a bit intimidating to arrive in a strange place and instantly be surrounded by so many strange people (Yes, I did mean to say “strange people” rather than just “strangers”).

One of the activities planned was a cookout and family softball game at the park about three miles from my Uncle Jerry’s house.  You know the saying, “Even the best laid plans go sideways”?  Well, this is where things went wrong . .  . at least for me and my cousin Shawna.  After watching the first few innings of the softball game, we got bored and decided to head to the playground.  We played on the swings and slides for maybe forty-five minutes, and then headed back to see if the game was almost over.  Much to our surprise, not only was the game over, but apparently, all of the festivities were over.   There wasn’t a soul left, aside from the two of us, on the ball field or at the picnic tables.  Yup, the parking lot was empty too.  My dad was military but unfortunately not marine because we had been left behind.  Keep in mind that I was nine and had only been in California for a couple of days.  I had absolutely no idea where we were or where my uncle’s house was in relation to the park.  This was also long before the age of cell phones.

After a moment of stunned silence followed immediately by sheer panic, we calmed down.  Thankfully, Shawna who was actually a few years younger than I was thought she knew the way home.  So here we go, the two of us walking along a main road on our three-mile trek, apparently of no concern to our parents or to those driving past us.  Eventually we made it to the dirt road and cow fields leading to my uncle’s house.  Though the house sat on a hill overlooking said cow fields, still no one seemed to notice us.  It wasn’t until we reached the last curve in the driveway that my mom let out a shriek as realization dawned.

To this day, my mom claims it was an honest mistake.  She had assumed that I was either with my dad or with Shawna’s parents.  Of course, they thought my mom had both of us.  And she wonders why even now, almost forty years later, I stick to her like glue.

So my advice to parents now that summer vacations are in full swing is to take a head count.  Whenever you load up the car, make sure all of your crew is accounted for . . . unless, of course, you secretly like traumatizing your children sending them forever into a panic whenever you leave their side.