June 29, 2012

RV Adventures, Part 1

This week began a new phase in my life, so to speak. My friend, Laurie, bought an RV this past year, something that I also have always wanted to have. With both of us having grown children and a yearning to travel, we've decided to go through this adventure together. This week we set off on our first "real" RV trip (the only other one having been a 1-night shakedown trip to Gettysburg).

We left Monday morning for Niagara Falls, Canada, with a stop the first night at a sweet little campground in Woodland, PA. I'll get into the details of the trip in a later post. What I want to tell you about today is how friendly, helpful and wonderful the people have been that we've met along the way.

After three nights at a wonderful KOA Kampground in Niagara Falls, ON, we left this morning for Cooperstown, NY (and a stop at the National Baseball Hall of Fame). We're staying at the Cooperstown Family Campground and, honestly, when we finished going down the third country road and turned into a gravel road with a small, unassuming sign, we were a little concerned about this place. Boy, were the first impressions wrong! This turned out to be a beautiful place, quiet and friendly, with nice neighbors and a family running the camp that couldn't be nicer! As I checked us in, Laurie was checking "Rosie" (the name we gave the RV) and discovered one of the dual tires on the driver's side was flat. What to do? Well, before we could even figure it out, the woman in the office had called the owner and asked him to come take a look at it. He did and said he could change it to the spare without too much trouble. He came by our campsite after dinner and, as I write this, Chris (the owner), two of his friends and our camping neighbor are all gathered around Rosie changing her tire. We've become the party site of the campgrounds! LOL!

And while they're visiting and changing the tire, they're all laughing, sharing war stories (literally -- Chris was in the Navy and served in Desert Storm; Laurie was in the Army), and talking car talk....which is why I'm sitting here at my iPad typing and listening to them. I don't know much about machines, so I'm staying out of the conversation!

While we ate dinner, the owner's daughter came by with her dog to say hello and see if we needed anything. She stayed and chatted with us as Phoenix sniffed around.

The point is this: each of the places we've stayed this week has had people who were friendly, helpful (especially to us RV "newbies"), kind, etc. We've had wonderful experiences and have enjoyed every minute, in spite of the flat tire. This is the best part of the adventure and what we've really been looking forward to -- meeting new people with common interests.

The adventure has just begun...but we're planning to have it go on for a long, long time! Next big trip: Grand Canyon this fall. Come back and visit and follow us as we tour the country!

June 16, 2012

There's one more thing I forgot to include in my last post, but was reminded of it when I rode on the Metro Thursday and Friday...

Why is it that so many people totally ignore the rule that says no eating or drinking on the Metro?  (For those of you not in the DC area, that's the name of our subway system.)  This was such a beautiful system when it first opened, but it's been totally trashed by people eating, drinking and chewing gum!  I've seen it all in the past six years of tour guiding -- from people drinking water to those eating an entire meal on the train!  Yes, I actually saw a woman eat her whole dinner while riding the subway.  No wonder the train cars are such a mess!  Yesterday, I was riding up the escalator to the train platform in the morning and a woman ahead of me was carrying a large iced coffee (full) in her hand to consume while riding!  Unbelievable!

Once again, it comes down to that little, but powerful word:  RESPECT!  Respect for the rules.  Respect for other people.  Respect for the trains and the people who have to clean them.  Don't look right at the sign that says "NO FOOD OR DRINKS" and totally ignore it!  ARGH!!!

Here's another one....I took my group yesterday to Arlington National Cemetery.  I spend a lot of time talking to them about this hallowed ground and how we must behave in a respectful manner.  I also tell them there is no food, drink (other than water) or chewing gum allowed.  I remind them again when we've gone through the Visitors Center that they must get rid of gum....and then, again, as we start our walk and pass a trash can.  So why is it that just before we went to the Changing of the Guard Ceremony I found one of the girls chomping on gum right in front of me?  I called her out on it -- you bet I did!  I looked her right in the eye and said "Why are you chewing gum when I've already told you three times to get rid of it?"  She was totally embarrased.  GOOD!  It makes me wonder what she's being taught at home...that rules are for everyone else?  Yes, I know that part of this is just being a teenager, but I don't care how old you are -- if you're told a rule, just follow it.

Well, my frustration should subside for a little while.  I finished my final tour of the season yesterday evening.  It was a great season with lots of wonderful students and adults (and a few clunkers thrown in here and there).  I enjoyed it, but have to admit that I'm glad it's over.  There are so many other things going on in my life that I want to concentrate on.  Come back and visit again and you'll see what I'm talking about! 

June 14, 2012


Let me start by saying this: OMG! Has it really been more than two years since I posted on this blog? Unbelievable! Where does the time go?

Well, I'm still working as a tour guide in DC and I'm wrapping up the 2012 season this week. I have a great group of two middle schools from the Chicago area and have enjoyed the past couple of days with them. It's been a fairly easy schedule, so I've had some time to reflect on this year's groups...and that has me thinking about life and the world in general.

So, here's my question: What ever happened to the concept of "respect"? I'm referring to respect for other people, respect for property, respect for laws and rules, respect for our Nation's Government and leadership...just respect for everything! Have we become such a society of "entitlement" that everyone thinks they are the only person or thing that matters on earth? Do they think the rules only apply to everyone else and not to them?

I know...I'm ranting. Let me give you some specific examples. Let's start with the simplest of issues, but one that I deal with every day that I'm leading a tour.

One of the first things I do with a group is introduce myself and tell them that I have a couple of simple rules that I ask them to follow, the most important of which is that when I'm talking, they not talk. Common courtesy, right? Apparently not! I expect to still have some students whispering while I speak, although I will ask them to stop if the chaperones don't step up and do it. But what am I supposed to do when the adults are the ones who are being rude? Last week I had a group of Girl Scouts here for the "Rock The Mall" celebration on the National Mall. As I was speaking on the bus, two parents who were one row behind me and across the aisle continued to talk at full volume, even as I was asking everyone to be quiet! How do I straighten them out without having them lose face in front of the girls? I put up with it or a while, then finally addressed it in a humorous way, but I shouldn't have had to deal with it at all!

Then there are the students I take to the many memorials and monuments who have no respect for these beautiful structures that are there to thank our heroes, both of war and of peace. Last weekend, it was incredibly hot during Rock The Mall. Following the event, we went to the World War II Memorial, which has a beautiful fountain in the middle of it. There were dozens of people wading in the fountain up to their knees, despite the numerous signs that clearly say "NO WADING". This is a MEMORIAL, for crying out loud! The wall of stars there represents almost 500,000 American casualties of the war! Show some respect for those people who gave THEIR lives for YOUR freedom! Come to the memorial to celebrate, enjoy its beauty, but stay out of the water!!

And I can't tell you how many times I have to tell one of the boys in my group to not jump off the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I'm not talking about him walking down to the last step and jumping; I'm talking about boys (yes, it is always the boys!) running across the plaza in front of the building and taking a flying leap from the top of the 7th step! One fell when he landed and could easily have broken an arm or leg! And stop walking/climbing/siting on every wall/step/rock/ramp you see. The memorials are not your personal playground or jungle gym!

I recently took a group to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. The Archives does not allow photography, so I always tell my students to leave their cameras on the bus. While waiting to get through the security check, an 8th-grader from another group stepped up to the sign that said "NO PHOTOGRAPHY", pulled out her cell phone and took a photo of the sign! I was incensed! I looked at her and said, "Why would you take a photograph of a sign that clearly says 'no photography'?" She actually looked at me and had the gall to respond, "I wasn't taking a picture." What am I, an idiot or something?

Finally, one of my biggest pet peeves: referring to the President of the United States by his first name or without using his title, such as "is Obama at home in the White House today?" I always correct the students and explain that he should be addressed as President Obama (or Bush or Clinton or whomever), Mr. President or the President out of respect for the office. It doesn't matter if you voted for him or not. It doesn't matter if you agree with his policies or like him. The leader of the free world has earned the right to be addressed properly! And what about the adults who do this? What kind of example are they setting for the next generation?

I won't even get started on drivers who have no respect for other drivers! I think you get the point by now.

What's a person to do? I was raised to respect others, respect property, respect and celebrate the history of our glorious country. I have this nagging fear that the next generation isn't going to get it -- they won't know how to behave respectfully in public because they're not being taught by their parents. What kind of a world will we be living in then?

June 2, 2010

Memorial Day Thoughts

The bulk of the tour season is behind me and I actually have a little free time to post something. The last month has been incredibly busy as I've worked several long stretches of tours without a break. Right now, I'm towards the end of a 10-day stretch that included the routine 8th grade tour, a marching band that came to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade, a middle school history club (starting this afternoon), and, most interesting of all, a group of families who have lost loved ones through their military service. They were in Washington for Memorial Day weekend at a conference of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), a non-profit organization that helps these families cope with their loss.

I learned a lot about TAPS while I was with the group on Friday evening. The membership is made up of servicemen/women as well as people who have lost loved ones in the war -- any war -- and are willing to help others going through similar experiences. I can't even begin to tell you how impressed I was with this incredible organization! Not only do they help adults, but they have an outstanding program that matches children who have lost parents or siblings with active duty military members from the same branch of the service who act as their mentors and buddies. They even had a "Good Grief Camp" for children as part of the weekend's activities, a place where kids could express their feelings of loss and learn how to cope with it. The weekend conference had a lot of fun activities, but it also had seminars to help survivors deal with the paperwork and bureaucratic red tape, support group meetings, grief counseling, financial counseling, etc. What a wonderful resource for these families! They had over 1400 people attend!

TAPS had posted a request for tour guides on the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC website a few weeks ago, asking for volunteers to lead tours for the families on Friday evening, and I was quick to jump at the chance. I met the group at their hotel in Crystal City, Virginia and had just a little over two hours to show them around the city. The motor coach was packed, so I had a young man (age 13) sitting next to me, his mom and younger sister across the aisle. His father was killed in action almost two years ago and I could still see the pain in his mother's face. I kept thinking how smart she was to take advantage of this organization to help them get through the difficult times. I was so impressed by all of the people on the tour -- the pride they felt for the loved ones they had lost seemed to far outweigh their feelings of grief. I'm sure they have all had many dark days, with more ahead, but they were all happy to be in Washington to celebrate Memorial Day and honor their fallen heroes. I felt truly honored to be a part of that!

I am fortunate that I have never lost a loved one in a war, and being a part of the Memorial Day activities all weekend reminded me of how lucky I am. It also reminded me of that old, but true saying: "Freedom isn't free!" That's one of the things I try to get across to all of my tour groups, especially the students, as I take them to the various memorials and monuments. I have a tremendous respect for those who serve(d) our country -- past and present -- and do all that I can to honor them. When I see someone in uniform, I thank them for their service. When I see veterans visiting the memorials (especially the World War II), I encourage my students to go up and speak with them and I do the same.

Memorial Day weekend is over, but that doesn't mean we should stop showing respect and honor for our servicemen and women. Just the opposite! It's easy to think about them on a special day, but I encourage you to think of them and pray for their safety every day! I know I do!

May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

It's been a long time since I posted on my blog. The last six weeks have been so busy between tours, chorus competition, scrapbooking, family, etc. The tour season is going pretty well. I've had some great groups and just one that was obnoxious and rude to the point that I'd rather not work with them again. For the most part, it's been great so far.

The diet is going well, too -- I'm down about 19 pounds from when I first started Weight Watchers. It's been slow and mostly steady, with a few detours along the way. All of the walking on my tours is really helping, but sometimes it's hard to stick to the program when I end up eating out so many times in a week. Still, I'm doing the best I can and making good choices most of the time. Yesterday I was even able to wear a pair of denim capris that were too tight last year, so that was encouraging.

So you're probably wondering what has compelled me to write today when I've been "silent" for so long. Easy enough to answer -- it's Mother's Day, a day filled with mixed emotions for me. I have two wonderful, grown sons whom I love dearly and who love me. We have a great relationship, albeit somewhat long distance these days. Dan lives about 3 hours north, so I certainly won't get to see him today, but he's already called this morning and we had a nice, long chat. Paul lives about an hour south of me and I spent most of yesterday with him, so I told him not to make the trip up for a visit today. He just came back from two weeks of training and has a lot of catching up to do before starting work again tomorrow. I completely understand why I won't be with my children today, but that makes it feel like just any other day, not like Mother's Day.

My own mother died in 1978, so it's been over 30 years since I've been able to spend the day with her. I used to go to the cemetery each year on Mother's Day, but stopped doing that a while ago. I was there a few months ago to visit, so that will have to do. I do think about her and wish she were still here, but that's beyond my control.

So why does this day feel so sad rather than happy? It comes down to one simple thing -- my granddaughter, Taryn. If you've read my blog from the beginning, you know I've written about her before. She's Dan's daughter, but without going into a whole, long explanation, let me just say that her mother, Liz, has kept her completely away from our family for almost four years. Yes, there's a custody agreement in place (Liz and Dan were married for only a year), but the two of them agreed that she wouldn't ask him to pay child support if he wouldn't ask to see Taryn. Dan moved away shortly after the divorce was finalized and he has moved on with his life. He is in a wonderful relationship with a lovely woman who has three little girls and I love all of them. I hope someday the two of them will get married, but in the meantime, Dan considers them to be his family. Still, that doesn't heal the aching in my heart or the emptiness I feel because I don't get to see my granddaughter.

The last time I saw Taryn, she was about 10 months old. She was crawling, pulling herself up to a stand and starting to take some steps if you held her hands. Now she's almost five years old! Think about everything I've missed! I think about it every single day of my life. I almost got to see her last June. I was at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life and it turned out that Liz was on a team, along with her mother, and had brought Taryn with her. My sister and friend saw them and tried to talk to them, but as soon as Liz realized I was there, she scooped Taryn up and took her home. How can someone be that cruel? I've never done anything to her or the baby to warrant that kind of treatment. For whatever reasons, Liz may hate my son, but that doesn't give her the right to hate me! All I've ever wanted is to get to know my granddaughter... to get to spend time with her...to have the chance to love her. My friends and family tell me I have to let go and, maybe, when Taryn is 18, she'll come looking for us. Easy for them to say...impossible for me to do. I don't know if I'll even be around when she turns 18, but even if I am, I will have missed the most important years of her life!

What can I do? From the research I've done, I have rights as a grandparent, but the State of Maryland will go along with the custodial parent's decision unless I can prove that Taryn is being abused. I know that's not the case; she's very well loved. Lately, though, I've been thinking about talking to a lawyer to see if anything can be done. What's been stopping me up to now? Liz has threatened to go after Dan for the money he owes if I do this, and I don't want to put him into that position. There's no way he can afford to pay the back child support, even though I doubt she'd win her case. She broke their agreement first by refusing to bring Taryn to our home for visitation. It was after that when she and Dan came to their unofficial agreement. Still, she's mean and vindictive -- as her behavior at Relay last year proved once again -- so I wouldn't put it past her.

So here I am again...another Mother's Day and no granddaughter to visit me. It's the same old story, but there's a little bit of a twist this time. I do have a great-niece, Hannah, who is 9 months old. My niece and sister have been wonderful about allowing me to be a part of her life, but it's just not the same. I love Hannah dearly and have since the day she was born, but now she's crawling and babbling and pulling herself up to a stand...exactly the same things Taryn was doing the last time I saw her. So as much as I love Hannah and the rest of her/my family, it is also very hard for me to be around her because of the memories it brings back. I watch my sister and brother-in-law play with her and the joy they feel as grandparents, and I'm so envious I could just die. I hate feeling this way, but I can't help it. I think that once Hannah gets past the stage that Taryn was at -- once she is walking and talking -- it will be easier. Until then, I'll smile and laugh at her antics and try not to think of the little red-headed girl -- the one who looks so much like my son -- that I can't be with today or any day.

Lest you think I don't appreciate that it's Mother's Day, let me say how thankful I am to have two grown sons who are healthy, happy and gainfully employed...who are living on their own (with only an occasional request for help)...and who worry about me. I love you, Paul and Dan. It's just that I have a lot more love available and wish I could share some of it with my granddaughter.