Afterword: Huzzah! We Made It Through all 40 Days!

One of the houses in Oak Park, Illinois, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo: Jenny Williams

I’m finding it both easy and surreal to resume my life as normal, now that we’re home. I have picked most things back up where I left off, and I have had no trouble readjusting to my manual transmission car. I’ve gotten to see the good friends we left behind when we left in June. But I’m hoping that some of the things that I’ve taken away from the trip will stick and become integrated into my old routine. Here are some of them.

Seen on the sidewalk in Madison, Wisconsin, this symbolizes the geek we experienced and sought out on our trip. Photo: Jenny Williams

One, quality food is important (and delicious). We ate magnificent meats and cheeses on this trip. For some reason I didn’t think I could get such things at home. That holds true for the many fantastic Wisconsin cheese varieties we found in Wisconsin, but for the rest of what we ate, it should be available somewhere in town.

Two, cooking from scratch isn’t that hard and it is usually worth it. (Though handwashing all the dishes afterward is hard, which is usually what keeps me from cooking. We have no dishwasher, see.)

Three, it’s really nice to live in a tidy home. I haven’t lived in my own tidy home since being married. Even if we manage to get our place tidy, it seems impossible to keep it there. Something has to change, for my own sanity and for that of my kids.

The home I lived in as a small child in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Photo: Jenny Williams

Four, and probably most importantly, I learned that whatever it is, I can do it. I’m a capable, responsible person. Being the only adult around for a long period of time is a telling and rewarding experience.

The trip was a marathon, not a sprint. I usually get really sick of traveling after two weeks, and this trip was no exception. But I knew I had four more to go at that point, so I just went with it. The kids were great to travel with, and they actually fought much less on the trip than they do at home. They were willing to put up with a lot before complaining, probably because they were engaged in an activity almost constantly. They took a lot away from the trip that I’m sure will spout from their mouths for some time to come.

The Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin. Notice its resemblance to the United States Capitol. Photo: Jenny Williams

I also learned some lessons for future major road trips. One big lesson I learned the hard way. I wish I’d found a way to have a street GPS or to borrow someone else’s, or to borrow a smart phone, or something. The directions I brought with me failed in a few locations, and I had to scramble. Ed helped me a couple of times by cell phone, with him using Google Maps while I followed his directions. He wasn’t always available, so my mom had to help once, too. I was really wishing I’d gotten the iPad with 3G.

There were many easy lessons, too. I call them easy because they were things I tried that worked really well. Extended portable computing was fantastic. I grew to love being able to pull out my netbook and look things up anywhere in the house/apartment/hotel room. The small screen, underpowered CPU, and limited battery life were the only things that caused me trouble.

The United States Capitol Building. One of my favorite pieces of architecture. Photo: Jenny Williams

Another easy lesson was using IMAP for email, Dropbox for files, and Flickr to share photos. I had IMAP set up some time ago, but it was vital for my purposes on this trip. For those who don’t know, you use IMAP instead of POP to synchronize your email across all of your access points. The email folders I see at home are the same as those I see on my netbook and on my iPad. Dropbox was perfect for my needs for writing and other files. All those files were synchronized among my devices, and I also knew that they were safely backed up on the Dropbox site. Flickr was a great way to share photos with people, though I really don’t know how many people looked at them there.

Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania. Photo: Jenny Williams

A very important easy lesson was nutrition. Experience told me that our usual road trip food of salty and sweet carbohydrate food wasn’t going to cut it for 40 days. I knew we’d have to have plenty of protein, dairy, fruits, and vegetables in addition to a few snacks. In the end, the only place that was a challenge was meat. We managed to eat meat occasionally, especially when staying with people, but on the go, it was harder to work in. We had plenty of cheese and chocolate milk; carrots, bananas, and apple sauce; and various other things with longer shelf lives, though. One of the most useful things to have around was V8 Fusion juice. (Not V8 Splash. For some reason they put artificial sweetener even in the non-Light version! What’s up with that?) V8 Fusion is half vegetable juice, half fruit juice. It tastes great, and each cup is a serving of both vegetables and fruit. And… here is the key… my son loves it! It’s always a challenge to get enough healthy stuff in him, but here he was drinking fruits and vegetables that he wouldn’t go near in regular form. I credit the V8 Fusion (along with taking breaks along the trip as needed) with keeping us from getting the least bit sick on the trip.

NASA Goddard. Awesomeness. Photo: Jenny Williams

Throughout the trip, there were many common threads and themes that kept popping up. Great conversations with friends. Visiting GeekDad and GeekMom writers. Bad directions. Bad or missing signage. Cemeteries. Not finding what we’re looking for in the cemeteries. Frank Lloyd Wright. Museums. Government. History. Board games. People named John or Jonathan. But I loved seeing the landscape slowly change from west to east, north to south, east to west.

The Korean War Memorial. Very moving. Photo: Jenny Williams

While every part of the trip was memorable, and most parts were interesting and enjoyable, there are some moments or days that stand out. I hesitate to list them because so much is and so many people are excluded, but I wanted to share this, so… here they are in the order we did them. I tried to narrow it down to five, but I just couldn’t.

1. My half-brother’s wedding in Wisconsin. We had many days of food, festivity, conversation, and visiting with people we don’t get to see very often. Some I hadn’t seen in 26 years. Some I hadn’t ever met before, and was glad to get the chance. This wedding was the impetus for this trip, and it did not disappoint. And the marching band and the polka were the highlights of the reception.

Picasso from his blue period. The angle of the photo was to prevent glare. Photo: Jenny Williams

2. Conversations with my friend John Booth. Sometimes you just click with people, and conversation never lags. You could spend months in each other’s company and continue to come up with new conversation topics. John is one of those people for me. The board games, shuffleboard, and firefly catching were fun, but were merely a backdrop for more talking. I look forward to many more conversations in the future.

3. Our tour of NASA Goddard in Maryland. My friend Brian McLaughlin works there, and graciously gave us a tour of many interesting locations inside the buildings. I love space and astronomy, so this was particularly special for me. We got to see things that will go up in space! We saw places that are important in regard to Hubble and other space-thing operations. We got to see gigantic machines.

This life-size diorama is from the Milwaukee Public Museum. It's just as dramatic as it was when I was a kid. Photo: Jenny Williams

4. The National Archives. At first I wanted to go here to have the kids see the original documents that shaped our nation: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. Little did I know how much else there would be to see. Among the documents were other (mostly facsimile) papers and letters from the time of the founding of the United States. They helped paint a more complete picture of the time. Those were almost more interesting to me than the “big three” since they were new to me. The Archives also had an exhibit that I hadn’t known about ahead of time, called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” about how the government shaped our diet. It was advertised all over town, on the Metro, and in the stations. That solidified my desire to go to the Archives, and I’m glad we didn’t consider skipping it. I learned much, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

The Printing Press in Colonial Williamsburg. We learned much about many Colonial trades that week. Photo: Jenny Williams

5. The National Gallery of Art, West Building. The West Building of the museum has all the paintings and sculptures you’d expect to find in a classic art museum. But there were so many of them. It was a bit like a sampler platter of western art, but only if the platter itself was as big as a football field. I saw many artists that interest me, such as Vermeer, Picasso, Monet, Cassat, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and even Da Vinci. I think this spot makes the list because the paintings were so breath-taking, beautiful, and old, and because we rushed through it so quickly. We rushed because the kids were obviously not interested, and because we also wanted to see one more museum that day. I wish I’d planned more time for this one.

A painting by friend Jonathan Liu that I like very much. Photo: Jenny Williams

6. Colonial Williamsburg. I’d been excited for our time in Williamsburg for years. I knew we’d be going out east this summer for a long time, so both my daughter and I were anticipating it with great enthusiasm (though originally I thought the trip would be for my high school reunion, now scheduled for Thanksgiving, and not the wedding (who wants to travel away from family at Thanksgiving?)). The incredibly hot and humid weather made the whole thing less enjoyable, unfortunately, but we didn’t let it stop us from doing most of what we wanted to do. We were fairly immersed in Colonial culture for three whole days, and loved it. Colonial Williamsburg remains one of my favorite places in the world. I’d love to come back sometime in the not-too-distant future, but in the fall next time!

Bobby Kennedy's grave, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo: Jenny Williams

7. Time spent with my friend Natania Barron. I could count on one hand the number of women that I connect with that I am not related to. Natania makes that list. She’s the right combination of spunk, geek, and common sense. I really wish we’d had more time together. Fortunately, I know our physical paths will meet again in the future.

All along our trip, we lived each day to the fullest, though sometimes that meant taking time off for resting and relaxation. The time did not fly by. Even when we only spent four to five days in one place, it seemed like a really long visit. Even when we had two days in one spot, it felt much longer than two days does at home.

The National Archives. Since I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, we have to make do with our memories and a photo of the exterior. Photo: Jenny Williams

We stayed in hotels (both the simple and the nice) and the houses of family and friends (from basic conditions to palatial accommodations). We didn’t have any truly bad hotel experiences, though the place in Williamsburg was a bit musty due to no exhaust fans, and the more expensive place in Gettysburg had no included breakfast. And our place in Amarillo was both great (lots of room, a fridge, a pool, a great price) and not so great (missing and dead light bulbs, holes in the sheets, various other broken and worn out things, a disgusting breakfast). Hm.. On second thought, maybe that was a bad hotel experience. Anyway…

Now that we’re home, I’m busy catching up on life: the email I let slide, the writing I put off, the unpacking and dealing with everything we brought home. But at least gas is cheaper in my town than anywhere else on the trip (10-30 cents per gallon cheaper), and I have the upcoming year’s homeschooling to plan for. That’s a task I always enjoy. I also look forward to fall, as I do every year, with the beautiful weather and fun holidays. We’re glad to be home.

This trip would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for the hospitality and great generosity of my friends and family. You know who you are. Thank you!


About Jenny Bristol

Jenny Bristol is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, playing board games, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.
This entry was posted in Driving, Education, Event, Family, Friends, Games, General, Government, Museum, Sightseeing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Afterword: Huzzah! We Made It Through all 40 Days!

  1. Great summary! I concur on IMAP and good nutrition while road tripping. I’m going to share this post on my Facebook page because my friends think I’M crazy for driving 2 days in each direction to go somewhere. My travels don’t hold a candle to yours!

    Thanks for sharing the picture of the Korean War Memorial — it’s my favorite on the entire National Mall. Geeky fact: The one guy without a helmet in the group isn’t Army, he’s Air Force!

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