Crazy Times in the Car


Writing this at 2:24am – Pacific Time – and we started out the day two time zones farther east, so to me it is 4:24am.  This is because we have passed from the realm of “crazy” (a 7600 mile road trip with 6 children 9 and under, right after a Transatlantic flight) into the territory known as “insane.”  Today we are driving 1510 miles in one stretch (of course with pit stops.)  I intended to blog during the drive about our time in Iowa yesterday, but it was more important for me to sleep during the day when John was a safer driver rather than trying to nap later on – like now, for instance 🙂  That’s why I’m writing this late — my computer generates its own light so I don’t need a flashlight as I would for a book, and I am helping to keep John awake by sitting up typing on my MacBook next to him.  I just finished a 90 minute stint myself and was ready for a break.  We didn’t decide to drive straight through until we were already on the road, but I think John had been stewing over the idea for a while.  The trip is from the western edge of Iowa near Omaha, Nebraska, to John’s twin brother’s house about 45 miles in to California in the far north part of the state.  I had planned for us to stop half way in Rock Springs, Wyoming, but the GPS said it was only 20 hours, so we figured we could do it.  John even cleared out the third row seat so the off duty driver could get a more restful break which worked nicely 🙂

Currently, Gaelic Storm is keeping us awake.  It’s ironic, though, because one of the songs says, “Me and the moon stayed up all night – I brought the whiskey, he brought the light,” because WE are staying up all night, and the moon actually tucked himself in hours and hours ago.  Since I’m already talking about the drive so much, I’ll finish filling everyone in about today’s drive, and then I’ll revert to tales of frolicking and fun from Iowa.  So here’s how today went:
I-80 West.  Then some more I-80 West.  After that we kept on I-80 West.  Short detour through Salt Lake City on 210, and back on to I-80 West.  Currently, chugging along on I-80 West.  If you’ve ever driven this route you will remember that the boredom sets in just as you leave Iowa at Mile 0 of I-80 West (I actually saw the “Mile 0” mile marker, which I’ve never seen before on an Interstate.) and is only punctuated by a few moments of interesting sites – like the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Nebraska and a florescent-neon-light-covered giant cactus in a cowboy hat welcoming you to Nevada’s easternmost casino town.  I tried to get a picture of the Archway but didn’t have my camera out fast enough so here are a few from the internet:
I did find it odd that there is a casino RIGHT ON THE BORDERLINE between Utah and Nevada – in a town of which no one has ever heard.  Obviously the town nearest the border of Nevada and California is Reno, and it is well known for s casinos.  This town, however, had about ten casinos in a few square miles and did not seem the least bit famous.  I think it owes its unassuming nature to the fact that it borders Utah rather than California.  For reasons which I will not elaborate on here, I’m pretty sure there just aren’t as many folks from Utah flocking to Nevada in droves to gamble.  You know what I mean?  Something I did manage to capture along the way was one of many, many withered and brown corn fields.  The midwest drought, along with the loss of a vast amount of the corn crops, has been big news lately, and it is striking to see fields of gold that look like wheat from far away but are, in reality, parched corn fields.  Very sad.  We saw them throughout Iowa, Nebraska, and in to Wyoming.
Not much else to report from today since all we did was drive – but we did hit up an Arby’s again, and I thought my pecan chicken salad sandwich with grapes in it was worthy of recognition:
We arrived at the home of our friends around 9:30pm on Tuesday night after having left Michigan at around 8:45am (there was also an hour time change, so it would have been 10:30pm without that.)  We let the kids run circles around the house for a while, rough-house in the basement, and jump on the beds, and then finally put them all to rest around 10:30.  Then the adults were able to enjoy the cool of the evening on their screened-in backyard porch, getting reacquainted after five years.  We know this family – Steve and Alissa Veeneman – from when we lived in Monterey, CA, and attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church together.  They had just moved from Michigan, and we enjoyed their company;  then we moved away to Maine, and three months later they moved to Iowa.  What is interesting about this story is…our OTHER friends, the Warren and Emily Hakes – who live five miles from Alissa and Steve’s house – we knew from our church in Norfolk, Virginia.  Somehow, they both ended up in this town, and now they are in the same church plant together and call each other almost daily, hanging out together as families pretty often.  There is a family we’ll call the M’s, and they used to live in Iowa.  There they knew a family we’ll call the H’s.  Family H was friends with the Alissa and Steve.  Family M was friends with the Warren and Emily and with us, since they also had gone to our church in Virginia for a while.  When family H and family M talked to each other one time they realized that Warren and Emily and Steve and Alissa would be in the same town and that they should be introduced, and that’s how they got to know each other.  Family H (who we had also met once or twice through Family M when Family H also lived in Virginia) had told Steve and Alissa that “a family who knows the Armstrongs (that’s me and John) is moving to your area.”  Family M had told Warren and Emily that there was a family who knew the Armstrongs living in the town where they were moving.  Small world!  Then, it was discovered that Emily had been at Alissa and Steve’s wedding, as the date of Alissa’s brother – BECAUSE THEY BOTH GREW UP NEAR EACH OTHER IN MICHIGAN.
Now – that really is a small world.
The town in Iowa was named for the railroad junction there:
In the morning, I ran the 5.5 miles from the Vennemans to the Hakes, along rocky dirt roads, up hill and down dale.  When I got to the Hakes, Emily drove me (and her four children) over to the Veenemans, and we spent the rest of the morning together (I was showering, though, and didn’t really hang out.  It was still nice, because they watched all the kids — how many, you ask?  There were 15 in the house at this point.  On the drive back from the Hakes’ house, I actually said that I had run a different route because I never came up the big hill we drove down.  I told Emily I had taken Eastman Road.  This IS Eastman Road, she said.  Apparently I had run up a pretty monstrous hill that seemed huge even when driving it.  Here’s some of the scenery from the run – pictures I took a bit later when we all drove over to the Hakes for lunch.
The excitement of I-80 never ends (as John just said to me.)  We almost ran over a fox just now at 80 mph.  (Wait, this isn’t England — maybe it was a coyote??)  It really freaked me out since John tapped the breaks and exclaimed some thing or other in time for me to look up and see the animal STOPPED in front of us momentarily before taking off like a shot to avoid our front bumper.  I guess we’re awake now!!!
Back to Iowa…we went over to the Hakes for lunch in order to visit with Warren who is working the night shift right now and needed to sleep in til lunchtime and would be leaving again before dinner.  Funny story of how we know Warren and Emily Hakes.  Warren went to the Naval Academy with John and me and graduated one year after John.  He went to the church I had gone to in Newport, Rhode Island, but not until several years after I had moved away from Rhode Island.  The Pastor there heard that the Hakes were moving to Norfolk and recommended that they call me to ask about where to live, etc.  We (the Pastor, Warren, and myself) decided through phone/email conversations that of course we must know each other because we knew so many of the same people from University days – we were in the same Christian groups, etc.  I invited the Hakes to stay at my house for a few days while they did their house hunting in the area.  They drove up one day, and when Warren and Emily walked up my front drive we all agreed that we had never seen each other before 🙂  Still, they stayed with me (John was underway at the time), and we ended up being great friends.  They lived with us for a few months while their new condo was being finished, and then we lived at their condo because our lease was up but John still needed to be in Norfolk for a school for a few months. They are the kind of friends that you always feels comfortable with, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them.  We lived in Norfolk for a few years at the same time, and then again later we were up in Maine while they were in Rhode Island and saw each other frequently.  Then John popped in on them when he visited Sasebo, Japan, on his submarine a few years back.

The Hakes’s house

Warren pushing Gabriel on the tire swing at his house

Steve pushing Liesl and Claire


The guys talked and played catch outside before lunch.

Emily and Alissa at lunch – yummy chicken sandwiches and jello-pretzel-whipped cream dessert (so midwest!!)

Some of the kids playing cards before lunch

Emily’s youngest holding Daniel


The kids all played really well together, and we took a few pictures on Wednesday and then Thursday morning before we left.  While we were milling about before lunch, Alissa received a phone call from her Aunt and Uncle whom she had not seen in nine years.  Lo and behold, they were traveling from Washington state to Michigan and wanted to swing through Iowa overnight to visit with her family.  It is her mom’s youngest brother – who happens to be the same age as her husband Steve – so, although they have some older children, they also have several younger ones.  Alissa booked another family of 8 into the “Veeneman Bed & Breakfast” for that night, and we were all excited that our fun would grow when they arrived around dinnertime.

Breakfast the first morning, bright and early

Breakfast moved out to the porch…

From lunch at the Hakes John and I ran over to Target and WalMart with our children to pick up a few things (I needed the produce to make homemade guacamole to go with the fajitas for dinner, and I also finally managed to remember to buy some raisinets.)  Then we returned to the Veenemans, and we all had delicious chicken and beef fajitas — 7 adults and 21 children!!!  It was organized chaos but was a joy to behold.  Alissa’s cousins were aged 18 down to…five maybe? So the older girls and boys were able to help babysit all the little ones so we adults could relax and enjoy each others’ company.

The tent where the boys slept since the house was so full!

The grownups enjoying some great conversation.

Cards again!

Some of the brood (mine are all in orange, except Greer in the pink)

We left early for our drive to California, but not before I was able to escape for another 3-ish mile run while the children played for their last few hours of “new best friend” time.  Everyone was sad to go 😦

Patience saying goodbye to her new best friend

Me with Alissa before leaving


Claire and Liesl with their new little friends

Getting ready to go – we got a picture with all the Veeneman kids and the Armstrongs (minus Daniel)

Gabriel with the boys, saying goodbye after a fun day


Alissa’s kids waving as we drove away

We arrived in California at 6:30am – to 40 degree weather, a far cry from the 96 degrees we saw on the drive somewhere in Nebraska.  The temperature has crept up today, though, and it’s a nice sunny day now – but more about that tomorrow.  Time to get off the computer to go enjoy our short time here!

5 thoughts on “Crazy Times in the Car

  1. Okay I’ve read about half of this so far, and I’m going to comment so I don’t forget these things then finish reading 🙂 That’s so much driving! I’m glad John cleared out the row so you either of you could rest better, and that you helped keep him awake while guys are such an awesome team together with not just raising the kids but in anything you both do really 🙂 And oh how I remember those crazy time zone changes from flying back and forth from New York to Hawaii, though they never really threw me off too much, it was more of the weather that was a surprise, going from bitter cold New York in January to being outside in Phoenix half a day later and it being gorgeous.
    That’s crazy about the dried up corn fields! They do look rather sad. I’m glad you got to reconnect with the family you knew, and that is pretty unbelievable about how all of those families had known each other, and you guys, and mentioned you and everything. It reminds me of how you met David and Janet Barker in England! This world can definitely be very small sometimes. Okay, going to continue reading…
    WOW 15 kids in the house! It reminds me of playdates with the Kims in Hawaii 🙂 That’s so great that there were some older ones who would babysit while the adults visited. Also, sidenote, our Target here recently got the expanded grocery and produce section, and I think it’s pretty decent. Albany also got a Trader Joe’s that opened a few weeks ago, and they have police directing traffic and whatnot in the parking lot for at least a few months they said because it is going to be so crowded. I’ll definitely hold off on checking that out until 2013 hahah. Have you ever been there? I guess it’s supposed to be a less expensive and less pretentious version of Whole Foods. Anyway, I love all the pictures of everyone, it looks like you guys had a wonderful visit, and I bet Gabriel enjoyed playing with some boys for a change 🙂 Hopefully in Charleston the kids will have more slightly permanent best friends 🙂 Can’t wait to hear about CA! Love you and miss you guys 🙂 🙂

  2. OH also, I had wanted to say, Greer looks even more adorable than usual with her hair in those tiny buns on the slide!! Who did it like that? I have to say I like it as much as the fountain top pony tail you do with her that took me a little while to learn with Claire at that age 🙂

  3. Wonderful summary of our much enjoyed visit – Thanks! Brief note to the editor – John and I are actually classmates – 2000, for all those “2000-2” grads.

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