Monday, June 29, 2009

Southern ... Um, Hospitality

On Friday night I found myself in a 7-Eleven buying gummies and a pop. (By the way, I'm a glutton for punishment. I buy gummies for the little kids and inevitably arguments and worse break out, typically over who gets the extra one or two gummies, who gets to pass them out, who gets to open the bag, who gets to carry the bag out to the car, or whatever. That's why Brenton says that gummies are the root of all evil.) So I sidle up to the counter and set my items in front of me. "Okay honey," says the clerk. "Will that be all for you baby doll?"

I kid not. I got called `honey' and `baby doll' in practically the same breath. That was a big adjustment for me when I moved to Virginia to be called these pseudo-terms of affection by people who were neither my wife, nor my ma, nor my grandma, nor any set of kin, relation or even acquaintance. In addition, I've been called "sweetie," "sugar," "love," "hon," and a whole bunch of other affectionate terms. Again, by complete strangers! I don't know these people! Now if you ask me, `baby doll' about takes the cake. That's a new one on me. I mean, baby doll. Maybe if I were a cute little 3-year-old `baby doll' would fly. But I'm a 40-year-old father of 12 who hadn't shaved in a week, was kind of sweaty because it was such a hot stinking walk across the parking lot after I had to push my car through it after it broke down (that's another story) and had four of my little boys with me. Baby doll?

Believe it or not, over the last 9 months when I walked into the Dari-Mart in Corvallis or some other convenience store to feed my addiction to pop, the clerk didn't address me as `sugar,' or `love,' or `honey,' or even `baby doll.' I don't remember being addressed as anything, in fact. Now that I'm back home, I'm sure I'll get used to being called terms of affection by complete strangers and get over it. Maybe it's just the Yankee in me that gets a little riled up. I'll be alright. Until I get called `honey,' or `sugar,' or `love,' or `baby doll,' by the clerk ... who's a man.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Sabo Feedlot

Sometimes I feel like we run a feedlot here at Team Sabo headquarters. I'm not sure why that's the case. I'll have to think about it. I do know that we can put down the grub. Here's a shot from dinnertime tonight. You may notice we're a little short on space, because Julie and that husband of hers aren't even in the photo. We're intending to add another leaf to our dinner table to accommodate the large crowds that seem to congregate at meal time. Hopefully that will be soon. Some of you may be looking at the photo and wondering to yourself, "Do they invite the neighbors?" No, not usually. You'll notice that's Anna, an erstwhile Oregonian there in the green `Sonic' shirt who is living with us and making a great adjustment to life in Virginia in a crowded house. (As I pointed out to my parents the other night, in their house they have one resident per 800 square feet. We have 1 resident per 200 square feet. It ain't exactly inner city Hong Kong, but generally speaking there's bodies everywhere around here.) To Anna's right is the lad known as `Killian,' a real-life native Oregonian and the nephew of the Team Sabo lead dog, aka `Matt.' (Editor's note: `Team Sabo lead dog?' What's that all about? Author's reply: I thought it sounded kind of cool. I want to feel important. Is that okay?)

Dinner tonight was steak. I must say, the barbecue job on the steaks was just tremendous. That guy manning the barbecue, or grill as they say in these here parts, deserves a raise. Then we had a side of spuds with some sour cream, broccoli and cheese all mixed together in some sort of concoction that someone at the grocery store did an extraordinary job of putting together in a microwaveable bag. Oh, and sweet corn on the cob on the side as well. Olivia in particular was a big fan of the corn; I think she put down half an ear herself. It's always easy to judge the quality of a meal in the house o' Sabo. Generally it's directly proportional in this manner: The quieter it is at mealtime, the more tastier are the fixins. People probably get the impression that mealtime is a crazed free-for-all with forks and knives everywhere and a First-Aid kit at the ready and kids with Band-Aids on their arms from when they reached across the table for seconds and ended up with a fork in their arm and maybe some little kid gnawing on their elbow because he was so hungry. Au contraire. Plastic forks don't break the skin. Just kidding! No one has required hospitalization after dinnertime for any unfortunate forkings at our house. On this particular night, you could have had no problem hearing a corn cob drop on the floor. It was so quiet, I actually heard myself think. Which means the tastiness value was off the charts. If I don't say so myself.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is It Somebody's Birthday Today?

A typical morning finds me waking up sometime after 6 a.m. and asking myself, "Do I have a kid who has a birthday today?" Actually, now that I think about it, that's usually the second question. The first question is, "Who's upstairs doing all the hollering?" For some reason, Ezra has taken it upon himself to be our alarm clock. The dude can holler, let me tell you. I comfort myself thinking that his set of lungs may someday carry him to Olympic glory. On that all-too-rare occasion he's actually snoozing up until breakfast, sweet Olivia usually takes over to make sure we see the sunrise.
Today, as you can see, we had a birthday at Team Sabo headquarters. Ezra turned 3. At least I'm pretty sure he turned 3. (Editor's note: That's what it says on the cake. See it there? 3. Author's reply: I have glasses. I can see. Quick, what's his middle name. Editor's answer: Thaniel. Author's retort: I knew that. You know I knew that.) Isn't that a cool cake? Claire, or `Kware' as Ezra says, made it for him. Ezra is a very simple little guy. That's one of the things I appreciate about him. I asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday and he said he wanted to go to the market and get some potato chips. So we trundled off to Rick's Country Store, a Gloucester institution located in metropolitan Sassafras, which is a community of dozens of rural folks living roughly between Ark, Allmondsville and Pinetta. Gloucester's kind of funny that way. The county doesn't have an incorporated city to speak of, but just a collection of areas like Sassafras, Harcum, Cappahosic, Clay Bank and even Ordinary. At Rick's Country Store, a combination gas station, convenience store and deli where you can buy everything from hardware supplies to hand-dipped ice cream cones and shakes, Ezra picked up his 35-cent bag of Utz potato chips, an Airhead and some gummies to boot. Man, he was living large. The king of Sassafras.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Length Of Days

Today is just like yesterday. At least in terms of the length of the day. That means tomorrow will have a little less sunlight. The transfer to shorter days comes way too early in the summer for me. I want the summer evenings to linger, the light to illuminate the Wiffle ball field just an inning or two longer. I'd like to spend just another 15 minutes or so wading in the river and watching the kids build sand castles as dusk settles before sending us home, prematurely if you ask me.

Here in the South we have a little less summer sun than I'm used to. Not in terms of intensity -- on Saturday the heat coupled with the humidity (called the heat index) set us ablaze at 100 degrees by noon -- but in terms of minutes. Today in Gloucester the sun emerged from Chesapeake Bay at 5:46 a.m. It dropped beyond the leafy trees to the west of us at 8:30 p.m. It's different than what I'm used to as a native Oregonian, and something I noticed when we moved here to Virginia. In comparison, today in Corvallis the sun poked above the Cascades Range at 5:28 a.m. and dropped down behind the Coast Range at 9:02 p.m. That's 50 extra minutes of sunshine, including a bonus 32 minutes at the end of the day. When we lived in Ontario, Ore., I marveled at how long it stayed light in the summer; today sunset is scheduled for 9:35 p.m. That's simply by quirk, really. Ontario nearly hugs the imaginary line dividing the Pacific and Mountain time zones. Unity, just on the other side of the line, has sunset fall at 8:41 p.m.

All this to say I love my summer sunlight. Hope you do, too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

`Now Can You See Me?'

We were driving home to Virginia but still in Eastern Oregon, probably west of John Day past Dayville, when Ezra came up with this great game. He would squint his eyes and look at his sister next to him, I think it was Evie, and say, "Can you see me?" She would answer yes. Then he would close his eyes. "Now can you see me?" The answer again was yes. Then he would squeeze his eyes as tightly shut as they could get and say with a higher-pitched, squeaky voice, "Now can you see me?"

I thought of this last night when another thunderstorm rolled through Gloucester. It was our third or fourth in the two weeks we've been home. Some real doozies, too. Ezra made sure all the doors in the house stayed shut to ensure we didn't let any thunder in. I think if he could, he would close his eyes and somehow disappear. The last thunderstorm we had scarred the poor little fellow. For good reason, come to find out. One of the lightning strikes touched down in the back of our neighbors' house across the street from us and three doors down. The tree it struck got an enema and had one of its roots blown out. Then the lightning traveled underground and obliterated a hard foam pad the air conditioner sits on and fried their television and microwave. We had the front door open when that strike hit and the thunderclap shook the house and sent Ezra scurrying for cover. Last night when we started hearing the first faint rumbles of thunder you could see him get that look in his eyes. I asked him if he heard the thunder. "Don't say thunder," he said. I guess he figured if we didn't talk about it then it didn't exist.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Semper Fidelis

Today we have a distinguished visitor offering up a "Day in the life" guest post. We present to you that grizzled Marine, Jere Fullerton. Well, maybe not grizzled. But he is a Marine! Jere's a good friend from here in Gloucester who's pulling a stint (also known as a year-long deployment) in Iraq and is stationed at Al Asad Air Base. Which is in Iraq. I asked him what a day is like for him over there, he sent me a reply and so I thought I'd share it with y'all. Hey Jere, God bless you my friend. And thank you for your service to our country.
"I am truly blessed to be in Iraq. I could be somewhere else. Like Ouagadoogoo, Burkina Faso (formerly known as Upper Volta). No doubt, it's getting hot here. And it isn't cooling down much at night. A couple of nights ago it was 94 degrees F. here at Al Asad at 10:00 PM. And my A/C had conked out the week prior. The Seabees hooked me up with a new one yesterday. Some good ole boys from Tennessee and Alabama. My new best friends. I'm told August is pretty miserable here. That's when it hits 130 or better on a regular basis. I'm looking forward to being in Virginia for half of August with a weekend in Boston to watch the Yankees embarrass themselves again.

A typical day for me starts at about 6:45 AM when my watch alarm sounds. After ignoring that for five minutes my clock alarm sounds. I hit the snooze bar at least once for another ten bonus minutes of sleep. Finally I stumble out of the rack, make my rack, get dressed and trudge off to the shower trailer for a shave. Normally I'll eat some oatmeal at my desk with raisins and coffee. Before I open my e-mail I read "Our Daily Bread" x 2. Then I will unforward my telephone and open my e-mail. I pore over a bunch of morning reports, i.e. previous days ordnance expenditures, personnel reports, etc.

Hang on, I'm playing some air guitar to the new Newsboys album... "...that's the way we roll 'cause we've been set free.."

OK, I'm back. Well, every day presents new challenges. We are moving a lot of ordnance out of here. We are slowly disassembling our maintenance ...


...complex. We (our maintainers) work out of big metal boxes called Mobile Maintenance Facilities (MMFs). They are assembled to each other like dominoes. We are building temporary work spaces to make up for the loss of the MMFs. Everything seems to be accomplished by hook and crook here. We have some Marines here that are very good at it. We still have to support squadrons, both fixed and rotary wing, with ordnance, aircraft guns, crew served weapons (aircraft machine guns), bomb ejector racks, wing/fuselage pylons, missile launchers, gun turrets, Armament Weapons Support Equipment (bomb trailers, adapters, missile trees)... We still have to maintain a pipeline of ordnance and equipment to our more remote Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). A million other details need to be tended to. We get data calls galore. Always producing reports for the chain of command so they can formulate plans of action. Bottom line (if you read the news yesterday) all but a few dozen Marines (16,000 plus) will be out of Iraq by the spring. Hooray! you might say. Not so fast. Don't forget Afghanistan. Fortunately I will not be returning there. Afghanistan makes this place look like Club Med. Other things pop up all the time.

For example:

"ACE Ordnance, Chief Warrant Officer Fullerton, can I help you?"
"Jere, this is the X.O."
"Hey, Sir. What's up?"
"Have you heard about the fire at CMD (our supply warehouse)"
"Yes, Sir I have."
"The C.O. wants a JAG Manual Command Investigation. He wants you to do it."
"Aye, aye Sir. How long do I have, 30 days?"
"Ah, no. You have ten days. Stop by and get your assignment letter."
"On my way, Sir."

Add to my resume - "Fire Investigator, Self-taught."

The is no more oil left to burn at midnight. I plopped my 1 1/2" thick report on his desk yesterday. A day early. Happy to see it removed from my plate. If you haven't studied the JAG Manual you don't know what you're missing. Absolutely riveting.

Thursdays I attend Bible study for a couple of hours. Sunday is church. I try to run but I haven't gone as often as I would like. We have banned PT here between 10 AM and 5 PM. Too hot.

We haven't had a day off since we arrived, but I try to do as little as possible on Sundays.

I've rambled for way too long. I have a tendency to do that. Sorry. My days usually end by 8-10 PM

Later, Jere

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cappahosic, Unplugged

So here you can see what a wonderful place -- state of mind? -- is the area of Gloucester we call `Cappahosic.' By now I hope you are wondering what that middle photo shows. Excellent question. That's Cappahosic at rush hour. As you can see, there's very little traffic. But perhaps you've taken a closer look and said to yourself, "That ain't Cappahosic." You'd be right! It's Wyoming baby! I just threw that in there to keep you honest. What's amazing about that photo of Wyoming, besides the fact it appears there's nary a tree to be had for hundreds of miles around, is that it's a middle o' the day shot of a four-lane freeway and I can see three or maybe four cars if I squint real hard. Is that crazy or what? And no, it's not a freeway to nowhere that gets swallowed up by that enormous sky or those rugged, sagebrush-infested Wyoming canyons. It actually goes to Nebraska. So now that I think about it, maybe I-80 the other side of Green River really is a freeway to nowhere. Whatever it is, it ain't Cappahosic, I'll tell you that. And for that, Eli, Gabe, Abram (hidden behind Gabe), Madeline and Ezra, who is viewing his siblings fishing for shells from the safety of the nearby grass, are very thankful.

A Cappahosic Sunset

We took 50 percent of the Sabo kids down to the York River this evening to a place called Cappahosic. Back in the day, way back before Oregon was a state, it was home to a ferry. Up the road is an estate with a stately brick home that dates to 1712 and is still inhabited. I'll get a picture up of it as well sometime. It was a cool little trip down to the beach. We found a couple of dead baby crabs, which is always exciting. We fought off some aggressive gnats -- not so cool; note to self: next time bring the bug spray -- dipped our toes in the warm water on a still 80-degree night and bumped into some neighbors who agreed to keep our secret little beach hideout to ourselves. Ezra wouldn't go near the water and stayed in the grass up on the road. I'm not sure what his issue is, but he sure dived into the bath when we got home. Maybe the crabs scared him off. His loss.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where's Waldo? Or Something Like That

Today we'll play a little game. We're no mathematics wizard, but it appears as though there may be a Sabo player missing from this photo. We'll give you a lifetime free subscription to the Sabo blog if you can correctly name the missing lad or lass. And we'll give you bonus points for naming the location of this stunning backdrop that captured the essence and even flavor of Sabo members captured in this here photo.

For those trying to figure out where the photo was taken, we'll give you a hint: It wasn't in Kansas! I wanted to get a photo in front of either the Barbed Wire Museum or the Agricultural Hall of Fame, or maybe even the World's Largest Hand-Dug Well, but that would have been a dead giveaway. So good luck! No cheating by looking at vintage Sabo Christmas letter photos! Or Facebook. Stay off Facebook to try and pin this one down.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Historic -- And Stormy -- Gloucester

I just heard Ezra standing at the front door admonishing Eli for opening it and peering out. "Don't let the thunder in," Ezra kept saying as he tried to shut the door. This afternoon we were besieged by a rip roaring thunderstorm. A couple bolts struck so close the thunder was right on top of them and shook the house, once when the front door was wide open. Ezra was none too happy about that.

Tonight Julie and I packed up Eli and Olivia and took a stroller a mile down to the historic Gloucester Courthouse Circle to walk downtown. The brick building you can see in the photo above -- as we launched our ill-fated journey -- dates to just before the Revolutionary War. Virginia Militia troops mustered on the front steps of the courthouse to answer the call of liberty against the dread Redcoats. Pretty cool stuff, especially considering the courthouse is still in use today for county meetings. We were a half-block away from the courthouse when we looked out to the west and saw clouds the color of iron. Trees started bending in the wind and flags started rippling and we turned tail and headed for the van. When we made it home our neighbor came out and said he was sitting on his porch when he noticed the clouds swirling down among the trees across the street. Then the swirl o' wind hit the ground and tossed around a recycling bin and garbage can. Just a little street side entertainment is all that was.

Ezra is a little rattled right now. He's keeping an eye on the front door to make sure no one lets the thunder in.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Settling In

It was good to take a run at 8 a.m. today and feel the humidity and then once I finished my little loop through the 'hood start sweating buckets. Ah, Virginia. And to think it hasn't really gotten hot here yet. I see the overnight low will be 70 degrees tonight. Brrrrr! Might have to put on a long sleeve shirt for that morning jaunt tomorrow!

We're getting things unpacked and we moved 11/12 of our kids into different rooms. That's no small task. Olivia got a room all to herself and before you think she's spoiled, let's just say it was so she wouldn't wake anyone up when she starts her midnight hollering. But either I didn't hear her last night or else she slept through the night. I do believe I was up around 1:40 a.m. to attend to Ezra's squawking. I call it "going on patrol." After quieting young Ezra (Was it a bad dream? Did he have an arm or leg fall asleep? Did he have to go and forget he was in a diaper?) I checked around and to my delight discovered that all other Sabos were in full-blown sleep mode. That's a good thing. It stayed that way until 4:50 a.m., when Mount Ezra erupted again. That kid just does not appreciate the beauty of sleep.

I spent today at work. Quite a novelty for me, after 8 1/2 months of mostly being a student. I'm officially a Daily Press reporter again. I filled out paperwork, including information for health benefits (that's a full day's work right there writing down all the dependents, birth dates, and whatever else for the Sabo Tribe) and got a nifty little laptop that I eventually got to work. It took me an hour to track down a password so I could log in and start working. I called some number for our tech department and someone answered and said they were so busy he was just the guy taking messages for them. He took my name and number and a brief lowdown on the issue I was having and said someone would call back. Believe it or not, I'm still waiting for that call back. But I managed to track down the number of my man "Tech-Man Mike" and he got me squared away. I'm recommending "Tech-Man Mike" get a raise. Though it took me an hour to accomplish a seemingly simple task, things got better after that. I might even file a story or a Daily Press blog entry tomorrow. This afternoon I spent time calling "sources" and getting the lay of the land and catching up on what's going on in Gloucester. I could tell you who these sources are, but then I'd have to kill you. I also spent time nerding out and reacquainting myself with local and state public records I can find online just to see if there's anything out there that needs to make it into print. The life of a newspaper reporter. So glamorous.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Team Sabo March Across America Photos

From the top: Lunchtime at Puckett's in Brentwood, Tenn. Eli enjoying a facial scrub with chocolate ice cream in Denver, Colo. (Thanks Pete for the ice cream!). Devil's Slide along I-80 in eastern Utah.

Team Sabo March Across America Photos

From the top: Evie relaxing on the hood of Grace McKinney's sweet ride in Fruitland, Idaho. Cruising by the Wasatch Mountains near Ogden, Utah. MerriGrace, Ezra, Anna, Madeline, Evie and Claire striking a pose in front of the Confederate Memorial in historic Franklin, Tenn.

Team Sabo March Across America Photos

Here's a shot of Olivia playing in the city park in John Day, Ore. She enjoyed some time in the sprinkler on a hot day. Then we have the Sabo clan, with the exception of Brenton, in front of Grandma & Grandpa Sabo's house in Bend, Ore. And finally we have Julie and Ethan cleaning and packing the Conestoga wagon, er Chevy Express van, at Aunt Jami's & Uncle John's pad in Brentwood, Tenn.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Day 8 -- Gloucester, Virginia

Here's my top 5 stretches of road we encountered on our 3,300-mile odyssey from Corvallis to Gloucester.
5) The entrance way to a rest area near some remote I-80 outpost in Wyoming. I think I had to go since Utah. You try holding it that long.
4) The parking lot of the KFC in Waynesboro, Va. , after something like 520 miles of driving, with another 170 or so to go. I pulled into the KFC and the kids in the van let out a rousing cheer. You should have seen the look on the faces of the gals behind the counter when we rolled in like the incoming tide. "Yes, we are one family," I said. "And hungry. I hope you got some fried chicken ready, because I wouldn't want to be you breaking the news to this crowd that they're going to have to wait a few minutes to eat."
3) The ribbon of highway that cuts through the craggy cliffs and pine forests -- with a Rocky Mountain backdrop -- in Colorado where it drops down into Fort Collins from Laramie, Wyo. Gorgeous. Just plain gorgeous.
2) Highway 26 from Prineville to Unity. Pine forests, mountain streams, lush meadows, gorges, snow-capped peaks, big sky, little cowboy hamlets short on population but long on character ... can't beat it as far as I'm concerned.
1) That stretch of concrete in front of the garage at 7258 Jeanne Drive in Gloucester, Va. Not a prettier sight all trip. And that's saying something.

We arrived home about 8 o'clock Thursday night after 11 1/2 hours of hard riding from Brentwood. We were greeted by a paint-scraping rainstorm. In southwest Virginia we drove through counties that were under a tornado watch. It's good to be home, I tell you and feel like even the elements are out in force to greet us. I can't tell you the last time I drove under a tornado watch in Oregon. (Editor's note: Let me help you out: Never. Author's reply: I knew that.) Within minutes of getting in the house, the little boys' room was covered with toys. I couldn't walk through there without stepping on a light saber, Legos, puzzles or various other toys that just minutes before had been neatly stacked away ... sigh. The girls ran from room to room. I actually saw Evie rub affectionately the cabinets in the kitchen. I think maybe she had plumb lost her mind. She seems OK this morning, though. Julie beamed and walked around and just kept saying how good it was to be home.

God is good to us and watching over us. We drove 3,300 miles without nary a problem with two cars. We had some mild sickness, but nothing serious. We got to see old friends and family all along the way and made new friends practically from shore to shore. What a blessing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 6 & 7 -- Brentwood & Franklin, Tenn.

After traveling 2,600 miles, we rested. Tuesday was a nice relaxing day at the home of Aunt Jami and Uncle John. The little kids pretty much spent the whole sultry, stifling day in the kiddie pool and I lounged around the house reading "1776." Julie got a nap and in the evening we all headed down to the park a couple blocks away. What a fun day.

On Wednesday, I took Anna, Claire, Evie, MerriGrace, Madeline and Ezra (I don't get too far without my sidekick Ezra) and headed to historic Franklin. The downtown dates to 1799 and is cute, quaint and everything else you look for in a downtown. Of course, like any self-respecting Southern locality, Franklin has the obligatory monument to the Confederate men of the area who gave their lives in the War of Northern Aggression that occurred from 1861-65. We took some photos and wandered around the streets and ended up at Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant in the heart of downtown Franklin. I highly recommend Puckett's, which is known locally as a "Meat & Three." For you non-Southerners, this is where you get a main dish and up to three side dishes. At Puckett's for lunch on Wednesday, the choices included turnip greens, squash casserole, macaroni & cheese, potato salad, mashed potatoes and other delights such as green beans. I ordered the pulled pork, as you see in this excellent photo taken by Anna, and had a side of mashed potatoes. Yes, I passed on the turnip greens. My bad. But the pulled pork seasoned with "Louisiana Hot Sauce" was extremely satisfying. Claire and Evie split an order of fried chicken with potato salad, which they said was very tasty.

Waiter Dave provided excellent service and we got to talking and we relayed how we had traveled across this enormous country and had another day's travel left to get home to Virginia. We told him our itinerary and come to find out Waiter Dave is moving to Denver in two months. So he said he would be doing our drive in reverse. "But I've heard Kansas is kind of long," he said. I laughed. I told him I thought he'd find Kansas right pleasant and pointed him to my blog to help acquaint him with what a wonderful state Kansas is for tourists. My guess is that he'll probably get to Kansas, find out there's so much to see and do that he'll just forget about heading all the way to Denver and stop right there to plant roots in Topeka. Or Salina. Or maybe in La Crosse. In Kansas, the options are virtually endless. Well, I'm feeling an outbreak of a nap coming on so I'll bid adios. I've gotta rest up for the 695-mile jaunt from Brentwood to Gloucester tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Day 5 -- Brentwood, Tennessee

Some say ultra marathons test the limits of human endurance. Climbing Mt. Everest is probably fairly taxing. No disrespect, but try driving 11 children across this great country. Kids squawking -- Eli seems to have trouble grasping the notion that I relay to him, which is essentially as follows: "We'll get there when we get there and we're not there now nor will we be there anytime soon." What's so difficult about that? -- and crumbs of chips, crackers and assorted other snacks strewn about the van, so deep in some places that you have to wade through them. Clothes and blankets and pillows are scattered about and crayons are melting on the dashboard and to top it all off we're not even close to being there yet! I believe it was Monday morning when I awoke in Lee's Summit, Mo., and wandered about Grandma Anna's house trying to get my bearings.

We did a load of laundry, changed diapers (Ezra, fortunately, only takes care of his business when we're out of the van. Otherwise we'd really be in trouble and I'm sure our van would replace Jerome, Idaho, as the smelliest place on whatever freeway we were driving.), and basically tried to recover. I took a walk around the block and three people actually waved to me. As far as I'm concerned, that makes Lee's Summit an official "Friendly City." I'll send them a plaque when I get around to it. Anna's Uncle Tom and Aunt Deanna showed up around 9 a.m. and treated us to breakfast at a nearby Perkin's restaurant. I think Uncle Tom had to get a line of credit to spring for breakfast. God bless that man. I'm not sure if he knew what he was getting into when he offered to buy...but man, it was a good breakfast. We basically cleaned the place out -- I don't think I've ever seen my little kids put down pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs and anything else like that before. I moved the salt and pepper shakers away from them out of fear they'd down those in the eating hubbub. We basically had to roll Ethan and Taylor out of the restaurant and I think I saw the restaurant manager hanging the "Closed" sign in the door after we left. Thanks again Uncle Tom and Aunt Deanna. We hope you come see us.

Of course, 15 minutes down the road Eli said he was hungry. I looked at Julie and just shook my head. "I think he's bored," I said. We zipped through Missouri with relative ease, making a stop east of St. Louis to fuel up and score some fries for the little ones. Taylor was riding in Anna's car with Ethan and Evie and her air conditioning is broke. That's not a good thing this time of year. In a word, `sweltering.' So Taylor changed his shirt and of course left his soaked shirt in the van. I guess he figured the ripeness would help keep me awake.

After Missouri comes ... Illinois. That's right. Illinois. How could I forget. Funny, it looks just like Missouri. Lots of farm fields. Lots of trees. Roadkill. The usual. We stopped in Vienna, Illinois, for dinner and let me just set you straight right now. It's not pronounced `Vee-enna' as in Austria. Pronounce it `Vy-enna' like it rhymes with bienna. I'm not clear why this is. The young gal at the counter didn't know the history of the pronunciation, or mispronunciation, however you see it. Moving right along, the proprietors of the Dairy Queen we enriched with our business are as fine as folks as you'd find on either side of the Mississippi. Ann and Chester Lawrence run a good DQ (it doesn't hurt that Chester gave me a free Dilly Bar) and if you find yourself with a hankering for some grub while on I-57 in Illinois, I recommend Dairy Queen in Vienna.

After a relatively short sprint down I-24 through western Kentucky (What's it like there, you ask? Hmmmm. How about this: Think trees, farm fields and roadkill.) we made it to Brentwood, Tennessee, about 9:30 p.m., passing the 2,500-mile mark along the way. We're staying with Aunt Jami and Uncle John (Jami is Julie's oldest sister) and their boy Tommy in Brentwood, which is outside Nashville and home to Dolly Parton. I'll take a photo of her house for y'all. It's so nice to be here and rest. The kids are out back in the sweltering heat cooling off in the kiddie pool and Julie and the girls are going to go shopping at the mall later today. I got the AC fixed in Anna's car today and we're ready for the last leg of the trip. But, uh, maybe we'll stay here another day to rest up properly. Plus, it will give me a whole day to clean the van. I think it might take that long. I'm literally afraid of what I'll find in there.

Day 4 -- Lee's Summit, Missouri

We were on the road Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. The kids seemed to be feeling pretty good -- Evie recovered from her nausea and Abram rebounded from his intestinal issues (thank you, thank you Jesus) -- so we bolted out of Denver, giving a "Mile High Salute" as we roared past Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium. Soon enough, we were carving a path across the Great Plains. We mosied out I-70 and dropped down into Kansas, which hails itself as the "Sunflower State." It's the 13th-biggest state and it takes something like 425 miles of freeway driving to rumble across the midsection of Kansas.

I hereby proclaim a new state motto for Kansas: "If it's weird or random, we'll make a museum or tourist attraction out of it." I mean, every time I looked around there was some sign to some sort of "museum" or "place of interest." For example, down in La Crosse is the Barbed Wire Museum. ("Cows hate us, but you'll love us!") Then outside of Greensburg you have the World's Largest Hand-Dug Well. (Maybe it's just me, but I'd like to meet the guy who, with a straight face, is telling you the facts about this here hand-dug well.) Don't forget up in Cawker City is the World's Largest Ball of Sisal Twine. (How I managed to stay on I-70 without taking a 70-mile detour to see it is known as a `minor miracle.') I'm not even including the Garden of Eden outside of Lucas (And all this time I thought the Garden of Eden was in Iraq or thereabouts. It's in Kansas!), or the Norman No. 1 Oil Well at Neodesha (A must see. That's about all I can say.), or the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum way down in Arkansas City. (I bet they've got a Who's Who of suckers who staked a claim on some Kansas Prairie.) Or the Pony Express Barn and Museum way up in Herkimer (Come see where Trigger, White Lightning and Ol' Red ate oats and pooped!)...and then my personal favorite (drum roll please)...the Agricultural Hall of Fame somewheres just outside metropolitan Kansas City. Yes, it's true. The Agricultural Hall of Fame! (Come see a wax statue of Jimmy Don MacWhorter who, on a dare, hopped on his John Deere windrower in Fargo, North Dakota, and rode it all the way to Topeka -- without stopping! Or lay your eyes on the World Record 1 lb. Sunflower Seed! It's a whole meal! Or come see video of Earl Ray Bledsoe, who planted a row of corn from Wichita to Salina! And he's legally blind!)

But I confess. I'm partial to Kansas. Sunset on the prairie is something to behold. Get out there on that prairie at night and I bet the heavens are ablaze with stars. God's imagination is just wild...I'm always in awe. But I'm still trying to figure out why trees are so allergic to western Kansas. Man, I can't imagine being a dog out there. I guess that's why they say don't stand for too long in western Kansas or you're liable to get mistaken for a tree or a fire hydrant and get marked. I'm actually thinking that if my job with the Daily Press gets put on hold, I'm just going to head back to Kansas and travel around for a few weeks seeing all the sights and write a book about it. Kind of like how Mr. Fodor does his thing, only I'll be doing my thing. In Kansas. I bet there's at least a half-dozen or so folks who I could trick into buying a book about it.

Anyways, somehow we made it out of Kansas without stopping every 10 minutes to see something I have to see before I die. We rolled into Lee's Summit, Missouri, oh, around 9 p.m. and hit the 2,000-mile mark of the Team Sabo March Across America right in town. We stayed at the home of Grandma Anna Mae Taylor (I hope I mentioned that Grandma Anna's granddaughter, Anna Scott, is journeying east with us, trailing in her excellent Ford Taurus), who had passed away recently. But Anna's family graciously let us stay there and for that we are grateful.