America the Beautiful…

This is a “muy tarde” blog… We’ve been pretty busy living and not very good at documenting the past few days. Sorry!

The last week in June and the first week in July, our family took part in one of the grand traditions of my childhood – the great American road-trip vacation. 9 people, 1 car, 7 states, 4 capitals (including DC), 15 smashed souvenir pennies, 3,825 miles in 12 days… no problem! We’ve been blessed with the fact that most of our family lives within 60 miles of our house. However, there are three families (two of Beth’s aunt’s and my Uncle’s) that live out of state. The kids needed to meet them, and we needed to attend a memorial service in Pennsylvania for Beth’s paternal grandparents… hence the whirlwind trip. Beth’s mom and dad also joined us as we headed East. Here’s our top ten list:

1. Making good time vs. dry seats… After about two hours of driving, I would hear the thing I knew was coming… “I have to go to the bathroom,” or, in their native tongue, “Tengo chi chi.” Then I was faced with a decision. How far am I willing to push a four-year old bladder. Fortunately, Beth had the bright idea to take our youngest back down to diapers for this trip, so the ten minutes I had went from a hard deadline to a soft one (no pun intended). We drove through the night too, and, with everyone asleep and me taking a sip of Mt. Dew at 15-minute intervals, I’m able to knock out six hours between stops. I did have to stop for the father-in-law twice, but he’s fine with, in his words, a “wide spot in the road.”

Nothing invigorates like a blast of hot air after you've been in the car for 12 hours.

Nothing invigorates like a blast of hot air after you’ve been in the car for 12 hours.

2. Cracker Barrel… like four or five times. Cracker Barrel is like a Beth magnet. They are neat to me, but I don’t have to stop, or push our breakfast out to 10:45 so we can have it at one of these fine establishments. I guess there is something about ladies dressed like pioneer women bringing our biscuits and sawmill gravy that just appeals to the masses, but there was nowhere on our trip that these places were not… truly an American mainstay. Our kids got good at the golf-tee game and checkers.

We haven't killed each other yet!

We haven’t killed each other yet!

It's not exactly the world's largest ball of yarn, but it's an impressive train set and a great roadside stop.

It’s not exactly the world’s largest ball of yarn, but it’s an impressive train set and a great roadside stop.

3. Amish and Mennonite people think Spanish-speakers are weird. Spanish-speakers think Amish and Mennonite people are weird. Between the cosmopolitan sides Pennsylvania with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia lies rural Pennsylvania, home to many Amish and Mennonite communities. I learned that the Amish don’t use machines. I also learned that Mennonites are like, what I will call, Amish-lite. They are OK with machines but definitely like a slower non-flashy life. I think I would make a great Mennonite (I got teased about getting another flip-phone last month from the AT&T guy trying to sell me a phablet). Nonetheless, our children didn’t know how to process these guys using horses and buggies. Also we got some funny looks from them as we started speaking Spanish. Darth, did see a Mennonite woman wearing a long, purple flower-print dress, and got to within two feet of it before we stopped her from petting a lady’s bum with her favorite color. To be fair, this would be awkward, even if she wasn’t Mennonite.

Echo Indian Caverns. Look at all the "minors"... Sorry. That's the best I can do.

Echo Indian Caverns. Look at all the “minors”… Sorry. That’s the best I can do.

The beach, the happiest place on earth for them. One of the scariest for me... The Titanic, Andrea Doria, Bismark, and countless U-Boats are somewhere out there... creepy!

The beach- the happiest place on earth for them, and one of the scariest for me… The Titanic, Andrea Doria, Bismark, and countless U-Boats are somewhere out there… creepy!

4. We went to Philadelphia to see a cool new city, and have some time just as a family. We went to the Franklin Institute and had a great time. We then went to a local restaurant ordered cheese-steaks, and then decided we would walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art… you know… the place that Rocky ran up the steps in his training montage. It didn’t look that far away when we started, but it was definitely about half a mile away in about 90-degree heat. That’s not a big deal for a Texas family, but those darn interactive exhibits at the museum took it all out of us that morning (i.e. Can you power this light bulb by pedaling this bike hooked up to a generator?). With that and a cheese-steak in your stomach a day after a 31-hour drive, it was a perfect storm. By the time we got back to the car, I was carrying two.

This was our Rocky picture. Our lack of enthusiasm might be showing a little.

This was our Rocky picture. Our lack of enthusiasm might be showing a little.

5. Firearms and Fireworks – Our journey was over the Fourth of July, so naturally the family that we stayed with helped us celebrate our nation’s birth by blowing up a small part of it. In Pennsylvania, Uncle George made a nice little show for us in his front parking lot that we enjoyed. In Maryland, Uncle Mark let the kids be a lot more hands-on. He had smoke bombs, bottle rockets, and sparklers, all for the kids to enjoy. He also painstakingly pulled apart a string of Blackcats so that the kids could each enjoy the thrill of setting off a stick of “baby dynamite.” They loved it. I’ve heard of drug addicts always looking for a new high, and it wasn’t long before my little pyros were doing the same- blowing empty cans of tuna into the air or seeing if they could shoot-off two together at the same time. Excitement overtook us, and we had to shut the group down before we lost total control. With great explosives comes great responsibility. I banned my children the next two day from dangerous things. My father-in-law and Uncle Mark bought the kids a BB gun the day before, and were planning to show the kids how to use it. I couldn’t tell who was more upset (the kids or the adults) when I told them it fell under the umbrella term, “dangerous things”.

A four-year old with fire. Note the random explosion going on in the background. This was moments before we had to shut it down.

A four-year old with fire. Note the random explosion going on in the background. This was moments before we had to shut it down.

6. Washington DC – the place they always blow up in movies… Driving out of Maryland and back into Virginia, we decided to pass through Washington DC, and see our nation’s capital, since we probably won’t be that close to it for quite a while. As we drove I would point out famous landmarks. I would say something like “Kids! Look! It’s the Pentagon.” “What?” “It’s the Pentagon, where our armed forces are headquartered.” “What?” “The Pentagon….” “We have no idea what you are talking about, Papi” “Ummmm…. (in a reluctant voice) the place where they kept Magneto in ‘X-Men'” “Oooooo! So cool Papi! Drive slower, please!” Other landmarks included where Captain America jogs every day (AKA the Reflecting Pool), the place where they built the flying aircraft carriers (AKA the Patomic River), and the statue that helps Ben Stiller beat the Egyptian king (AKA the Lincoln Monument).

This is funny. If you don't know why, watch the movie, "Along Came Polly".

This is funny. If you don’t know why, watch the movie, “Along Came Polly”.

The greatest movie theater in America. The leg-rests were motorized!

The greatest movie theater in America. The leg-rests were motorized!

7. While staying with Aunt Suzy in Pennsylvania, she was kind enough to keep a few toys out in the front yard for our kids to play with when we were between visiting friends and family and seeing sights. One of the toys was one of those giant air-filled balls (the kind that you used to see in big PVC towers at Walmart). The kids loved to play with that because even Darth could kick it half a mile before it touched the ground. I reminded them time after time to make sure the ball didn’t hit the house. I was worried we would knock over some garden gnome that had been in the family for centuries or something… If I saw it hit the house, it was worth about 10 minutes in time out. After two or three days, the kids understood this rule and would do their best to avoid the house during outside play time with the ball. I however joined in and, after getting a bad bouncy before my kick, put one right on the railing of the front porch. There was about 10 seconds of silence as all children looked at me wondering what I would do after I just broke my own rule. I thought for a second, and then did the only sensible thing I could think to do… I calmly put myself in time out for 10 minutes. The kids all laughed, and enjoyed heckling me in the time-out chair, but it was the only thing I could do to have consistency with my words and actions.

Feeding lamas.

Feeding lamas.


Imitating lamas on the car-ride the next day.

Imitating lamas on the car-ride the next day.

Our cool new T-Shirts!

Our cool new T-Shirts!

8. We visited two other churches where our out-of-state families attend while on our two week trip. While there, we met a number of people that have heard about us from our family’s stories. One older lady that I met at the Moravian church in Pennsylvania told me that she heard all about us, and prays for us all the time. I am still amazed at the body of Christ and how it works. Here is a lady that I have never met that has been praying for us the past three years that lives over 1,350 miles away. How blessed have I been for this unknown lady to intercede on behalf of me and my family before the Lord, day in and day out? Only God knows.

Why does the newest fighter in our Navy's arsenal look so old and tired?

Why does the newest fighter in our Navy look so old and tired? Can we get some 409 and Armor-All over here?

9. Rolling out of Pennsylvania, we hugged Aunt Suzy and Uncle George, and told them goodbye before we settled in for long drive to Maryland. After about five to ten minutes after pulling out of the driveway, my oldest daughter begins to sob. Beth, riding in the back with her asked what was wrong. She told her that she missed her family and was sad to leave them. This is a child that didn’t have a family two years ago. This happened two more times as we pulled away out of Maryland and Tennessee. Again, I’m so blessed to see how our family (mine and Beth’s) have accepted our kids unconditionally and to see how our kids truly love our family. It isn’t the fun they had, the games they played, the food they ate, or the toys they got. It’s the love.

My grandfather's truck lives in Tennessee, enjoying retirement.

My grandfather’s truck lives in Tennessee, enjoying retirement.

The Science Center in Nashville. It's like a PBS show, a playground at McDonalds, and museum all rolled into one.

The Science Center in Nashville. It’s like a PBS show, a playground at McDonalds, and museum all rolled into one.

10. Uncle Mark is a pilot, and he was kind enough to take the boys for an airplane ride one day while we were staying in Maryland. They loved it! They talked about it the rest of the trip. Since the little Cessna was a four-seater, a few of us had to wait on the ground for the next ride. While waiting, we met a Ukrainian lady who became an American citizen legally about 13 years ago. She was at the airport while her daughter was taking flying lessons. She made the comment that she was an American with an accent, and I jokingly replied that my kids were too. After a little small talk, I definitely asked her how she felt about the current crisis going on in her home country. I could have guessed her response before I asked, but she was outraged that their neighbor to the East could feel justified in taking huge chunks of land from them. Then she said that we as Americans need to treasure what we have, value our liberty, and protect it at all costs. She said, “You have not lived through communism, so you don’t know what it’s like…” While I don’t think we are at the doorsteps of despotism just yet, I do think we need to protect this fragile liberty we have. Her words rang true just a few days before 4th of July.

Her comments reminded me of Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech that he gave in 1964. If you have the time, read the whole thing. It’s amazing, but here’s just a little piece:

Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, “We don’t know how lucky we are.” And the Cuban stopped and said, “How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.” And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth. And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

Liberty is what this country stands for. Liberty is why so many people are trying to come here. Liberty is the fragile principle that so many have fought to protect. Liberty is what makes America the beautiful.

So, after we pulled back into our driveway after a fun and safe trip, one of the boys says, “I’m so glad to be back in the United States!” Yes, indeed. Even though we never left, there is no place like home… USA.

At the dinnermesa,