Posts Tagged ‘Missouri’

On Persistence and honeybees

Two stories from our weekend in Branson, MO.

Saturday Night

Luke and I ate a so-so dinner on Saturday night at the Grand Country Buffet in Branson, MO. We only picked it because: buffet. Luke liked a large selection, and I knew I could find something for me. But unlike Furr’s, which we were used to, the food seemed tired and oily. It was passable. Luke rated it a 6 out of 10. I liked the dinner roll. It was like eating a buttery pillow. But I wanted a better dessert than what they had there (soft serve and old cookies), so I suggested Cakes & Cream on Route 76 for ice cream. I looked up their website on my iPhone while we finished eating dinner, showing Luke that it served sugar free items that he could eat.

The ice cream shop was supposed to resemble a 1950’s diner, with lots of chrome and neon. We both bravely passed up the funnel cakes for plain ice cream. With sugar free butter pecan in a cup for him and a mint chocolate chip cone for me, we left the restaurant and headed up the steep parking lot to the motorcycle. The lot sloped down from Route 76 to the restaurant, forcing everyone’s parked vehicles to look like they were in a glacially slow landslide. The motorcycle was parked at the top, next to a curb and a small grass hill climbing to meet the sidewalk, making a fairly comfy seat. Here we had a view of the restaurant directly below us, a mini golf course to the right that kept playing a tinkly “You’ve Won!” tune, and a Mexican restaurant to the left that for some reason smelled of grilled steak. The sun was still setting so the sky glowed peach. It was warm enough for us to eat ice cream in our sweatshirts without chill.

A red Impala pulled up to the curb next to the restaurant’s patio. I watched a lady climb out of the driver’s seat while a heavyset older woman struggled to exit uphill from the passenger side. As I was paying attention to her plight, the driver’s side lady and a well-dressed young man in his late teens were unloading a large black case from the trunk.

“Wonder what’s going on there?” I said.

We watched for several minutes like an audience watching a mime. The young man put on a tie to go with his button down white dress shirt and black dress pants, fiddling to get it just right and pressing his black hair into place several times. He chatted with the two women from the car as they stood on the outdoor patio. I took them to be his mother and grandmother.

I was curious the longer I watched. Clearly we were watching a performer set up, and Luke and I agreed to stay. I had questions: What would he perform? Would he be any good?

The young man unrolled a long orange extension cord and dragged it around to the outside of the patio area to plug it in, clearly having done this here before. The big black case held an amp, and he removed an electric guitar from a guitar case that had been lying on the ground behind a table. He set up a small folding table and placed his phone on it, hooking up a silver microphone while his mother fussed over the arrangement of a large plastic tip jar.

After a mic check, he pressed play on his phone. He sang the vocals and played guitar himself, while his phone provided the backup music. We heard “Maybe Baby” and “That’ll Be the Day,” by Buddy Holly, “Bye, Bye Love,” by the Everly Brothers, and “Runaway,” by Del Shannon. It made sense, early 50’s rock-n-roll played at a retro 50’s diner.

He was a decent guitar player and he had a fairly good singing voice, but that’s not what impressed me. There are a thousand other kids his age with better singing voices or a more technically perfect style, but I guarantee they are not performing on a Friday night. This kid had to work his butt off to pursue a dream of singing.

How many places had he called that turned him down? How many hours had he practiced those songs? How many performances had he done for friends and family, or just for exposure or experience?

This kid had something many other “better” singers didn’t have: persistence.

It had taken him time, work, and effort to get here on this Friday night. We took a short video of his performance to show our kids and dropped a $20 into his jar, because we admired and respected his commitment to his dream and what it took for him to get up there and sing.

Later, Luke and I agreed that we preferred that small performance more than any of the professional shows we had discussed attending in Branson. The young man wasn’t a paid professional, or well-known, he was just a kid pursuing his dream the old fashioned way. To me, it sounded like success.

Sunday morning.

We just made it to Starvin Marvin’s for the breakfast buffet. I paid our bill after we ate. An older lady, her short auburn hair and glasses on a chain saying more librarian than restaurant manager, inquired about our trip. I told her we had come to Branson from Arkansas for a weekend getaway. She said she noticed our helmets and my tightly braided hair and mentioned that her husband and herself were frequent bikers. My braid reminded her of a funny story about her daughter, who braided her long thick hair when she rode bike with her husband, the lady’s son-in-law. She said her daughter rode with the son-in-law once and got a bee stuck in her braid, which then proceeded to sting her neck.

The lady said, “Now she swore it stung her 3-4 times, and I had to tell her, no you know a bee can only sting once and it loses its stinger.”

The daughter said, “Well it hurt a lot! It felt like 3-4 stings.”

The lady said the kicker here was that the son-in-law was following behind a bee transport truck, which was clearly leaking some of its cargo, but that he was not a confident rider yet and was trapped in the lane, behind the truck, in busy Washington, DC, with his wife repeatedly punching him in the shoulder because she was getting stung.

I laughed at her story and joking agreed to tell Luke to steer clear of suspicious cargo trucks. As Luke and I walked to our own bike, I started telling him the story until the lady emerged from the restaurant with a pair of sunglasses, asking if they were ours. Luke had left them sitting on the table. Luke thanked her for bringing them out, and I joked that he would have been pretty mad if we drove off without them, considering we were about to be riding for 3 hours and he had just bought them yesterday.

Before the lady turned to go back inside, she leaned over to Luke and said, “Be sure you stay away from any bee trucks!”

She then got to retell her story a little for Luke, who jokingly replied, “And how long after this was the divorce?”

“Oh, no, they didn’t divorce. My daughter passed away seven years ago.”


Luke commented that this must have been a favorite story of theirs when she was alive.

“Oh, yes!”

The lady seemed delighted at the chance to talk about her daughter, Celeste. She and her husband had lived in Annapolis, MD, in an old Victorian they were restoring. She worked for the FBI and the son-in-law was a retired Marine who joined the CIA.

Now life was different, but the son-in-law was trying. He’d dated several women since his wife’s death, the lady told us. None of the relationships went anywhere. He even proposed once, but when he mentioned taking his fiancé to see his other mother, she balked and said, “I am not going to visit HER mother.”

He proceeded to politely ask for the ring back and told her to get her things and get out of his house.

When he told her his tale of woe, Celeste’s mother told him, “When you meet the one, none of that will matter. But . . . whatever you do, make sure you let her pick somewhere else to live. A house, a condo, a tent! Don’t move her into that house.”

She paused.

“Don’t do that to the next girl you love, because Celeste’s ghost lives in every room of that house.”

We parted ways after that, agreeing that life is weird, and funny, and heartbreaking. I never learned that lady’s name, but Celeste’s story stuck with me as we rode out of Branson (with no bees in sight).

I thought about the small glimpse into another life, the truth and the heartbreak of it. Sometimes, no matter how you try to move past them, your ghosts do haunt every room. You just have to accept them and keep on living anyway.


The Tall Tale of Our "Perfect" Family Vacation

The Tall Tale of Our “Perfect” Family Vacation

We took a vacation as a family.

In my head, it was going to be a perfect vacation. You know, those gauzy or bright Pinterest and Instagram photos of people who are lounging by pools, laughing “spontaneously” on white sand beaches, or perched on the top of breathtaking mountains, sweat-free and surrounded by children who aren’t dirty, tired, or complaining?

Those vacations are perfect. People, for some reason, expect perfect vacations. We are taking a break from real life, treating ourselves, and we deserve this, don’t we? Therefore, in our irrational, Hollywood-ized brains, this means we will have the perfect vacation.

I don’t know why I fall for that dumb crap.

After all, I am taking a vacation with my family. These are the same people who can’t find their shoes when they’re standing in front of the shoe shelf. These are the same kids who ask if we’re eating breakfast today. Has there ever been a day when I didn’t feed them breakfast? “No, sorry, no breakfast today, kids. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow, or go get a job and buy your own.”

I willingly signed on to take an eight day long trip with the very same people who have trouble aiming into the toilet while they’re sitting on it.

Before we left, I did have the fantasy of the perfect trip in my head. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. I knew there was another extreme, the National Lampoon’s Vacation version, but surely that couldn’t happen to us.

There were, in fact, no dead relatives strapped to the roof of our vehicle during our vacation, and when we arrived at the amusement park it was open for business, so thank goodness for that. But my visions of beautiful sunny days that were not at all hot or sweaty, well behaved children who listened and did as they were told like little vacation-taking robots, or Luke’s perfect idea that wherever we went, it would magically cost one hundred dollars less than advertised, be completely free, or in his secret, ultimate penny-pinching fantasy, these places would actually pay us to be there . . . well, none of those things came true.

We took a real vacation, with our real family, in real life.

And, it was perfect. The same way life is perfect: weird, and messy, and funny, and interesting.

Six Flags Over St. Louis

We took a trip to St. Louis, Missouri. It’s only about 6 hours from home for us, and was a “budget friendly” option for a year when we were trying to save a bit of money, but still have a fun vacation. Our plan was to camp at a KOA (we have a 40 foot motor home), visit Six Flags Amusement Park, see the Arch, and visit some other St. Louis must-see’s if there was time.

Here are some of the highlights of our “perfect” family vacation.

There was Rain. Lots of Rain.

It rained. And then, it rained. And then Tropical Depression Bill arrived and it rained some more.

We got wet on this vacation. Out of the eight days, I’d say one didn’t have any rain. That day was, of course, the last day. One day, it rained all day and all night. On the other days, storms crept in, cleared away, and then came again an hour or several hours later.

I became a meteorological expert on the weather patterns of the St. Louis area. Me and the local Doppler radar were close, personal friends. I’d squint at my tablet or phone, squint at the sky, and say with authority, “I’d say we have a good 30 minutes of sunshine until this storm hits.” Or, I’d calmly assure my pool-going children that the green mass was heading North of us. No worries.

Because of the rain, I threw in an unplanned outing that became one of the highlights of our trip. Waking up to the grey, cloudy sky and the pitter patter on the roof of our RV, in the early morning on Wednesday, I Googled some of my “vacation ideas” list to see which were the best and cheapest options for a day spent indoors. Voila! The St. Louis City Museum, a place unlike any we’ve ever visited. The kids had a blast, Luke and I had fun, and nobody cared if it rained or not.

Outside the St. Louis City Museum

Outside the St. Louis City Museum

Kids walking like Egyptians

Kids walking like Egyptians

The kids and I climbing through the crazy tunnels at City Museum

The kids and I climbing through the crazy tunnels at City Museum

There Was Vomit.

Of course there was vomit. We were on vacation with five children, how could there not be? The vomit arrived at 3am, in the form of my 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, knocking on our bedroom door. I stumbled out of bed and opened the door, to find her standing there, eyes bright with tears, vomit all down her arm and shirt. (And, as it turned out, on her blanket, pillow, the side of the couch, the pillar near her sleeping mat, the carpet, her stuffed dog, and maybe other places I didn’t know about in the dark, with a flashlight). I pointed her toward the shower, told her to leave her puke stuff in there for me to deal with at a decent hour involving daylight, and after spraying all the aforementioned spots with Windex, the only cleaner I could find, and scrubbing, I found her some clothes, a clean blanket, and a bowl for further throwing up.

Which turned out to be useful about 3 minutes later.

On a side note, diarrhea made a visit to our youngest, AJ, on the night we returned home from our vacation at – you guessed it – 3 am, and again at 4:30 am. It was so awful, I threw her dress away rather than wash it. I’ll happily eat that 20 bucks.

Vacation Photos Where I Photoshopped Out the Giant Red Spot on My Chin.

Jaime at the top of the St. Louis Arch

Jaime at the top of the St. Louis Arch

‘Nuff said.

The Beeping. Oh, the Beeping.

We spent our week at a KOA Campground. Our site was decent, if a little small, but it did have a shade tree and enough room to park our car and keep our trailer attached to the camper. It had a nice pool and good little routes to ride our bikes all around. And it rained, did I mention that?

Anyway, it would have been really good, if it weren’t for the beeping. Here’s what happened:

A couple days into our trip, a newer motor home pulled in to the spot beside us. Their hook up side faced our awning side, which meant when we were outside either grilling or around the fire pit (which turned out to be not a whole lot) their hook up was right there. Right away we noticed their RV beeped. Every thirty seconds, two beeps. Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. (Thirty seconds). Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. All day. They weren’t home, so we couldn’t ask them. All night. In the morning, Luke tried to approach them to ask them to check it, since there seemed to be an SUV belonging to that RV parked out front, but they hopped into it and drove away. (I think tires squealing and a spray of rocks, in Luke’s version).

Luke finally let me approach the KOA staff about it. They sent a staff member on a golf cart to the site, where they stood around near the back of the RV and confirmed, Yup. It’s beeping. But the owners weren’t there, so the staff promised to call them and leave a message. Later that night (Remember, two days now of Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. Thirty seconds. Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep), we watched as the SUV arrived again. I went to the KOA office again and told them the owners had arrived. Golf Cart showed back up and we watched as the Staff and the Owner stood at the back of the RV for approximately two seconds.

All night long, Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep. (Thirty seconds). Beeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

We were starting to get slightly irritated.

I inquired the next day at the KOA office, did the owner know what it was? Because: still beeping.

The Staffer said the owner had come outside, said he couldn’t hear anything, and also said there were no lights on to indicate a problem.


That day, two more sets of Staffers in Golf Carts came to the site to hear the famous beeping, exchanging helpful comments such as, “Oh, there it is, boy that’s loud,” and also, “Wow, that is really annoying.”

Luke had held out as long as possible. KOA wasn’t going to take care of the issue. The owners pretended there wasn’t an issue. Luke was convinced that this was a case of new RV owners who had more money than brains. He was going to find the problem himself. A while later, he told me to come outside. He waved his hand in a sweeping gesture and said, “What do you hear?”


“That’s right!”

“You found the beeping?”

He went on to explain that the beeping came from an after-market device mounted to the back of the RV that was intended to emit a high pitched beeping sound as the driver drove down the road so deer wouldn’t run in front of the RV. It was mounted in the wrong location and was set up wrong, because it was only supposed to activate when the vehicle was in motion.

Oh. My. God.

More money than brains indeed.

Our last day in St Louis: No beeping.

My Favorite Vacation Quotes:

1. By far my fave. Picture the scene: It’s Friday, and it’s raining. Hard. We’re in downtown St. Louis, already late for the times on the tickets I bought for the Arch a month ago, unable to understand at the time the amount of rain and heavy traffic we would be served up. We go the wrong way off the exit and have to turn around on the other side of the Mississippi River to get back to the Arch, which rises mockingly above us in and out of the fog.

Because, like a rainbow, we can’t seem to find the bottom of it.

So we enter a parking garage that seems fairly close to wherever the Arch is, and drive around looking for a spot.

Anxiety and tensions increase. It is a parking garage with no parking spots. I’m trying to helpfully scout out any possible place to leave our vehicle, unsuccessfully.

Luke: “No problem. I will just keep driving around this parking garage until this car runs out of gas.”

Me: “Don’t be an a-hole.”

In the way of things working out, just not exactly as you expected, we did find a spot, and walked several blocks in the pouring rain, and did get to the Arch, which was closed due to flooding, but miraculously opened after we watched the Arch video, and our group of 11 people was the first to ride up in the 5-seater tram. No, we’re not claustrophobic.

2. Is it raining . . . again?

3. Can we go swimming?

4. Scene: At the Zoo. “Daddy, look, we finally found your kind. It’s the Wild Ass!”

In the end, what was my moral to learn from our family vacation? Don’t expect perfection. Do expect to have as much fun as possible, to roll with the punches, and to look back on the time you spent laughing at how absurd it all was.

How to Piss Off a Llama

How to Piss Off a Llama

To me, that’s perfection.

Do you have a funny vacation story? Or a memory of a vacation that didn’t go quite as planned? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!