Fog Of Battle

Yesterday I embarked on the long one-day journey from Russell, Kansas to the Twin Cities. With two kids. It’s a little like running a marathon. No matter how well-conditioned you are, no matter how long you’ve trained, and even if you run a good race, you’re still exhausted at the end, and there are still many times along the way when you want to give up and quit.

The first leg we were on auto-pilot. No adverse events, smooth sailing. I hoped to make it to Liberty, Missouri before stopping, but settled for Kansas City, Kansas when Alex announced he had to go to the bathroom. Now. We stopped in a working-class area of KCK, and planned on just having lunch while we were there. We went into McDonald’s, and it was packed with about 200 uniformed high school Army and Air Force ROTC kids. We used the restroom, but it would have taken an hour to get through the line to order, so after talking Alex off the ledge because he couldn’t get a Happy Meal, we hit the Burger King drive-through.

Cameron, Missouri. With all the lunch drama in Kansas City, I got back onto I-70 without getting gas. So we filled at the Shell station at Cameron. After a bathroom break, I let the kids pick out a snack. Cameron said he didn’t want anything. Next thing I knew he was scrambling out of the back of the van, and throwing up his lunch all over the parking lot. Trust me when I say this was the best of all possible outcomes. We went back inside, splashed some water on his face, bought some peppermints (Alex announced to the cashier, “We’re baaack!”), walked around for some fresh air, got back in and carried on. Cameron is prone to car sickness, so I was hoping that, and some bad Burger King, was all this would turn out to be. He fell asleep right away, and even Alex did, after I threatened to leave him at the next stop if he caused any trouble.

Truro, Iowa. Kids sleeping, we’re cruising along at 79 mph. When I drive, I religiously stay in the right lane, except to pass. Which is what EVERYONE should be doing. I pulled out to go around a semi, and found myself stuck behind some jackass in a rusted out, faded black Suburban that looked more like a hearse. For several miles I was stuck behind him, next to the semi, with several cars behind me also trying to get around. Finally he pulled ahead of the semi, but didn’t move into the right lane. So I pulled into the right lane ahead of the semi. At this point this douchebag, on his phone, in his heap of a vehicle, caked in mud, probably because he recently buried a dead body somewhere, speeds up. Whatever. I just stayed in the right lane. Until I had to go around someone else. At which point this dumbass slows down again. He was intentionally fucking with me. If I slowed down to let him get ahead, he’d slow down too. Ordinarily I would just get off at an exit, wait a few minutes, and get back on. But the last thing I wanted to do was stop and wake two sleeping kids. He kept pulling this shit though. So I called the State Patrol, and gave them a description and license plate number (Missouri PJ1 D5Z). They did nothing. Finally once we got to Des Moines this loser exited on I-235.

I-35 between Story City and Clear Lake, Iowa. For the love of God, what are they feeding the animals on these industrial hog farms? The melted snow and unseasonably warm temps have created a stench that wafts out of feedlots that is not of this earth. It’s like Satan himself spent hours in a lab creating the single most offensive scent to add to his best-selling perfume line. He must bottle it and sell it at the Macy’s in hell right next to Sulphuria, Curdle au Lait, Skonque, and Aqua di Urinal. As God as my witness, I will never eat bacon again.

Clear Lake, Iowa. I need a break. And if I have to set foot in another McDonald’s I’m gonna hurl. Plus I need to just rest my eyes. Pizza Hut seems like an okay change of pace. Until we get inside. Wonder when the last time a health inspector paid a visit? Whatever, I don’t care. We order bread sticks and a pizza. Kids are hungry. We wait, and wait. Alex goes to the bathroom twice. Cameron is obsessed with a stupid prize game by the door. Finally the server comes over, tells us that she accidentally gave our bread sticks to another table. The Windholz Curse. But she gives us free drinks, removes the charge for the bread sticks, and gives us five extra. Not bad. Barry and David score plenty of leftovers.

Southern Minnesota. Dark. Crazy fog. Can’t see much of anything, including the fact that Alex is in the way back covering himself head to toe in Silly Putty.

Faribault, Minnesota. I can’t see a damn thing, but need to stop for gas. Take the exit, realize that this is the fucking exit where you can’t get back on the damn interstate without circling through half the town. I. Am. Pissed. Cursing Faribault. Cursing MNDot. Cursing anyone I can think of for sending me on this haze-filled drive through Podunk, Minnesota. Trying to get Siri to text my brother back because I can’t call him. Stupid bitch doesn’t understand a word I say.

Elko, Minnesota. Alex: “Mom, what are we gonna do about me? I’m a mess.” I’ll say. Didn’t know it at the time, but I’d eventually spend a solid 20 minutes picking Silly Putty out of his eyebrows, hair, fingers, Cameron’s iPod, clothes…

7:45 pm. Eleven and a half hours after we set sail from my parents’ house, we pull into my own garage. Tired, exhausted, stomach starting to hurt from road trip food and stress, I pile into the door. After a hug from my husband, he proceeds to tell me how tired HE is, and what a difficult week HE has had. If I weren’t too exhausted to fight, he would have had a cage match on his hands.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2012


Central Iowa To Southern Minnesota On 169

I’ve driven back and forth from the Twin Cities to either Kansas City or Omaha at least a half dozen times over the past year. Always the same route. The stretch of I-35 from Des Moines to the northern border of Iowa is just miserable. It smells like pig farms. Other than a few wind farms that the kids get excited about, there is nothing to see.

So today after saying goodbyes to the kids who were off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the week, I decided to shake things up a bit on the way back, bypassed Des Moines, and headed north on Highway 169. In terms of miles, this is in fact a shorter route since I live on the southwestern side of the Cities. But the speed limit is lower and there are towns to pass through. And since I goofed around so much taking pictures this afternoon I really don’t know if I made better time or not.

I turned north from I-80 at the exit for Adel, Iowa. Adel (pop. 3,435) is a quiet and pretty little town. And it has a very grand courthouse. This made me think of the courthouse in Colby, Kansas, where I grew up. It had roughly the same layout, other than the rounded corners, and it was built with reddish-brown brick instead of limestone. These used to be buildings with such great character. Now most modern court facilities resemble more of a strip mall. Can you imagine the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when Atticus Finch walks out of the courtroom, and the friends and family of Tom Robinson are respectfully standing in an air-conditioned, carpeted, flourescent-lighted, wood veneer-paneled room? It doesn’t have quite the same dramatic impact.

Dallas County Courthouse

Lots of Iowa corn. Hopefully the farmer near Harcourt won’t miss the few ears I picked.

Miles and miles of corn.

Geology lab was one of my favorite college classes. Geology lecture was not. Probably because my professor always got all bitchy when my friend and I snickered at the way she pronounced pahoehoe and other volcanic terms. I wish I knew what kind of rock these northern Iowa country roads consist of. I’m thinking maybe gypsum or alabastrine. Very similar to the white limestone roads in parts of western Kansas, though much brighter.

Rocky road near Fort Dodge, Iowa.

Wind turbines near Bancroft, Iowa.

Lots of wind farms in Iowa. The difference between seeing them on the interstate versus a back road is that you can get out and reach out and touch them if you want.

Hawk perched near Lakota, Iowa.

Another advantage to going off the beaten path is that when you see a hawk perched just picture perfect on a fencepost, you can turn around right there and check him out.

Vernon Center, Minnesota.

Old water towers like this one in Vernon Center, Minnesota kind of creep me out. They remind me of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s true crime story set in Holcomb, Kansas. This train track is near Mankato, Minnesota. Remember on Little House on the Prairie when Mankato was like the big metropolis? Are you noticing how everything I’m alluding to in this post makes me seem really old and not very hip?

Train tracks near Mankato.





And there are lovely boulevards lined with American flags, like this one in Saint Peter, Minnesota, where a few blocks away you can stop in for a quick trim at the barbershop. Anytown, U.S.A.

Saint Peter, Minnesota.

Nate's is open!










© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

Demented Road Trip Bingo

So I am two hours removed from the end of an eleven and a half hour road trip from the Twin Cities to Russell, Kansas. Remarkably, when it was over, I still liked all three of the kids who were in the van with me. But I’m still tired, and anxious to rest my eyes. Paying attention to anything for that long of a period is exhausting.

I-70 through Eastern Kansas

Since the kids were surprisingly well-behaved, that left a lot more “free” time for me that would ordinarily be spent refereeing fights, retrieving dropped objects, and answering questions. So I had to keep my brain busy. I always note license plates, but that gets tiresome quickly. The kids and I play roadside bingo sometimes, but they were all occupied, so I didn’t want to disturb what was working.

So I started my own demented version of road trip bingo in my head. I think I’m onto something here. The list needs to be expanded and refined, but here’s what I have so far.

  • Road kill. Bonus points if the animal is identifiable. (I scored a deer, raccoon and crow today.)
  • Adult bookstore billboard. (Apparently the Lion’s Den is a franchise. Saw a sign for one near Faribault, Minnesota, and again near Junction City, Kansas.)
  • Car window fashioned out of plastic and duct tape. (Check!)
  • Hitchhiker. (Didn’t see one today, but I’m wondering if there is like a Craig’s List for hitchhiking now. A cardboard sign and a thumb seem so obsolete.)
  • Makeshift roadside memorial. (A concept I’ve never understood. Let’s remember a tragedy by creating a distraction for other drivers? I did see a wreath between mile markers 26 and 27 on I-35 in southern Iowa.)
  • Skunk odor. (A summertime favorite.)
  • Prison. (I know there’s one near Cameron, Missouri, but I’m not sure if it’s visible from the interstate.)
  • La Quinta Inn next to a Denny’s Restaurant. (Inside joke.)
  • State Patrol with someone in handcuffs or conducting a sobriety test. (Not this time, but have definitely seen it on other trips.)
  • Schmuck who won’t move out of the left lane and makes everyone pass him/her on the right. (Pretty much a freebie.)
  • Name of an act on a casino marquee. Bonus if the performer is not a has-been or never-will-be. (David Sanborn is at Terrible’s Casino in Osceola, Iowa.)
  • Mattress on top of a car. Bonus if there are more than two. (Nope. But a friend in Phoenix posted a picture the other day of someone carting FIVE of them.)
  • Livestock being driven to the slaughterhouse. (Your bacon was tooling down I-35 this afternoon.)
  • Place of worship housed in a pre-fab metal building. The name has to include the word “New,” “Life,” or “Word.” (New Life Christian Center in Topeka, Kansas. If traditional isn’t your thing, I guess.)
  • Truck driver weaving an 18-wheeler in and out of traffic. (Dude, seriously? You’re driving a UPS truck with two trailers and you’re bustin’ a move around a Dodge Charger like you’re driving a goddamn Ferrari.)

Anyway, that’s what I have so far. I’m sure the return drive will provide additional inspiration. Feel free to offer suggestions!

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

Road Tripping: I’ve Got Your Apocalypse Right Here

Part 7 of a series. Road Tripping

Destination: Chanhassen, Minnesota (44° 51’ 25” N  93° 33’ 28” W)

Origination: Papillion, Nebraska (41° 9’ 15” N  96° 2’ 32” W)

Traveling Party: Jennifer, Justin (almost 5), Alex (age 3)

Date: September 2010

Now that we know that the rapture did not occur on May 21, 2011, as predicted, I bring you a poor iPhone camera image of what Purgatory looks like. Waiting on two volatile pre-schoolers in a public bathroom. Given the choice, I believe I would take my chances with Judgement Day rather than spend another minute in roadside hell.

I live in the Twin Cities. My parents live in Russell, Kansas. That trip is at least 10-11 hours by car. On a good day. Thankfully my brother lives in the Omaha area and he and his wife don’t mind (or maybe they do, and just can’t tell me because I’m family) if I bring my brand of craziness into their house for an overnight stay on the way.

This year I’ve been happily unemployed (Though that probably needs to come to an end soon…know anyone who’s hiring?), and have had time to travel. I’ve made the trip with just me, Justin, and Alex several times this year. The others couldn’t go because of pesky commitments like work, school, baseball, etc.

Traveling with children is not the all-encompassing, excruciating task it once was. It does get easier every year. When everyone can buckle their own seat belts and wipe their own asses, we’ll be home free. But it still has its more harrowing moments. I took this photo when I nearly lost it at a grungy rest area in Northern Iowa after I’d dragged Alex in kicking and screaming, and then had to go BACK in after Justin decided his “business” was not yet complete. I can’t even remember all the drama that led to this moment, other than Alex kept unbuckling his seat belt as an act of aggression.

Apocalypse? Whatever. Bring it.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011

Road Tripping: Watch The Birdie!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Road Tripping, I’m starting a series of posts about some of the more interesting overland journeys I’ve taken. Today’s was mentally exhausting. The trip from Omaha to the Twin Cities doesn’t seem overly daunting until you factor in two tired and cranky kids. That turns the last 45 minutes into something out of a Stephen King novel.

The day after Thanksgiving last year, I was making the reverse trip. To Omaha, from the Twin Cities, and with all four kids. Barry stayed home to hang out and watch football and set about house training our new puppy.

The ride was relatively uneventful. Of course the minute that thought goes through your head, karma has a way of popping in and saying, “I don’t think so.”

In the western part of Iowa, Interstate 80 veers from due west to southwest as you drive toward Council Bluffs. It was on this particular stretch that I saw what I thought was a hawk, flying low to my left, about to cross the highway. I started to think, “Hey bird, you’d better hurry,” but before I knew it, he came right at my van as I was doing 75 mph. I ducked, and mentally prepared for my windshield to be blown out, but instead I just heard a tremendous thud.

The kids were startled. I immediately saw feathers poking up out of my grille. The vehicle seemed to be in working order, no unusual sounds or lights, so I continued on. I did what any self-respecting girl would do when confronted with emergencies of the animal variety. I called for help. My mistake was calling my husband. He can’t watch Shark Week on The Discovery Channel without getting squeamish. Other than his genuine concern for our safety above all else, he was really no help.

We believe it was a juvenile osprey whose untimely death is documented for posterity.

So I called my dad, who was staying at my brother’s house, our ultimate destination, which was about 25-30 miles away. My dad was otherwise occupied, at the casino. I talked a bit with my mom, but really there is nothing that can be done over the phone about a dead bird festooned to the hood of your car. I decided to pull off at the next exit, thinking maybe some curious hunters or truckers at a gas station would help me out. The exit had no gas station. I surveyed the damage, found that there wasn’t nearly as much gore as I’d expected, and decided to just keep going.

I got more than a couple of looks driving through suburban Omaha with a 15 pound bird sticking out of the hood of my car talons first. Once we arrived at my brother’s house he opened the hood and pried the thing out of my grille with his bare hands, just like any good brother would do. The kids enjoyed the spectacle, and got to keep some feathers as souvenirs.

My osprey, most likely a protected species, was quite the spectacle.

And now every time we travel that road, my two little guys ask if I remember when that big bird “bonked into our car.” Yes, I do.

© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2011