Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Road of a Lifetime

August 20, 2005
By: L.A. Kohl
(published in the Wed., Aug. 31 edition of the "Bullseye")
I have one last story about our summer vacation…a story about a road.
It was about 10 pm the evening we left Mt. Rushmore, following their very impressive lighting ceremony. We decided to take this road called “Highway 16A” that headed towards Custer State Park, where we planned to pitch a tent for the night. The road immediately took us into some national forest that I forget the name of, but I’ll never forget that road!

Have you ever handed a pencil and a blank piece of paper to a toddler, and watched them fill the page with lots of curly, spinning scribbles? If so, you know what this road looked like. We began chuckling when we realized as soon as we would drive over a bridge, the road curved around and next thing we knew we were driving under it. After about the third bridge in five minutes that did that, the chuckles turned to outright laughter, and the fun speculations began coming forth:
“The highway engineer who designed this road must have been totally sauced!” was my initial observation.

“No, I think this national forest is really only about five miles square, so they curved the road all around to make it last for at least twenty miles,” was my engineer husband’s first thought.

“Oh – I think I just saw a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore out that way,” someone inserted…but the road curved around so quickly that we didn’t get a chance to verify it.

About that time the highway became one-way, with our side disappearing into the woods, and the opposite side re-appearing on the left.

“Oh no”, someone moaned. “This is a never-ending road, and we’re just going round and round in circles and we’ll never get out of this forest!”

The theories were getting sillier by the minute – as was the highway. “I bet they have forest rangers hiding by all the curve signs, turning them around after we go past so we don’t recognize it when we come back around again!”

“Oh, hey – I know I saw Mt. Rushmore that time!” someone insisted.

But they were interrupted by, “Whoa – look at that tunnel!”

It had the appearance of having been chiseled out by hand – probably decades ago, before big fifteen passenger vans existed. It was undersized, one way, and the sign in front of it advised us to “honk”. Just as Nate was about to lay on the horn, a minivan emerged – driven by Orientals. Oh, and here came another minivan, also driven by Orientals. And another, and another, and another – we lost count. This was beginning to feel like the twilight zone or something – was this the “Orient Express” tunnel?

By now some of us were near hysterics, but as we continued on, a few kept claiming that they had caught a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore. However, the crazy theories and speculations didn’t slow down until we reached the third tunnel…

“Oh wow!” we all exclaimed in unison. There, framed with perfection at the end of a surprisingly straight tunnel, was the illuminated Mt. Rushmore in all its glory.

An awed silence fell over the van, and it was then that Nate came to a more realistic conclusion about the crazy road we had been traveling. “The engineer who created this road was extremely patriotic, and he loved Mt. Rushmore so much, he designed the road to give us as many views as possible of it, even after we were miles away from it.”

I can’t help thinking that there was a lesson in that peculiar road. When the path of life seems to be getting crazier by the minute, and you just don’t get what’s going on – maybe there’s a bigger picture, an all-encompassing “view” just waiting around the corner, if you take the time to slow down and notice it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Traveling West - In a Fishbowl?

August 17, 2005
By: L.A. Kohl
(published in the Wed., Aug. 24 edition of the "Bullseye")
July 29 finally arrived – vacation day! That evening we were on I-70 headed west, with plans of driving all night. When we weren’t even to Kansas City yet, and our four year old asked, “Are we almost there?” we were thankful we had planned to do most of the driving while they would be sleeping.

I feel compelled to explain that our large family sometimes feels like we live life in a “fishbowl” when we go out in public. People often gawk at us like, “Is that all one family?” We had our fair share of those moments while on vacation.

We always cause a commotion on the rare occasion when we go into a restaurant, because they have to rearrange tables to seat us. That Saturday morning when we pulled into a truck stop outside of Cheyenne, WY probably topped them all. You can imagine what we all looked like after riding in a van all night…droopy and sleepy eyed, hair going everywhere, clothes all disheveled. The kids were either cranky, or half delirious from lack of sleep. We provided quite the side-show for the people there that morning.

A few nights later we attended the Bar J Chuck wagon show near Jackson. Every night in the summer they serve 750 people an authentic, chuck wagon style meal and entertain them with a singin’ cowboy show. Our large family trying to fit in our allotted spot at a table and our little ones falling off the bench provided a small diversion for those around us.

Then there was that one memorable night we spent tent camping in Yellowstone. When the lady was trying to decide which camp site to assign us, she wanted to know how many were with us. Nine? Well, they only allow six per site. But we’re all one family! Oh, well, in that case…she gave us one of the biggest sites they had, at the back of a “loop” where we couldn’t bother anyone else. And thankfully, in spite of many signs warning us to beware – no bears bothered us. “Safety in numbers” they say…we probably scared them off.

How about this? Hiking a mile and a half around Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming. We had done some back road hiking on our trip, but this was a big tourist spot. I spent most of the mile and a half trying to keep nine people corralled to one side of the path, so others could get past us. Toddlers don’t want to be corralled, though. They want to hop from rock to rock…to stand in the middle of the path and gawk upwards at this huge rock we’re walking around…and to fight over daddy’s binoculars. (They also scream bloody-murder when they trip and skin their nose on the asphalt path.) It probably took us twice as long to get around as it does most people, but we gave everyone something besides a big rock to look at for awhile!

Let’s not forget Keystone, South Dakota, near Mt. Rushmore. Did you know that motorcyclists have a huge rally every year during the first week of August, and they converge on Sturgis, SD? Approximately 500,000 of them were “rallying," so we now know about it. On our return home, we traveled along with most of them across Wyoming and South Dakota. In Keystone the entire downtown was solid bikers…their bikes were parked one after the other all along the street, and the bikers themselves were crowded on the upper balconies and decks of the shops and bars – celebrating and looking like they were ready to watch a parade. Well, our 15 passenger van driving through downtown amongst all of their motorcycles may not have been parade quality stuff, but it was an attention getter!

Life in a fishbowl can be nerve-racking at times, but when you hear the occasional, “What a neat family!” exclaimed from a complete stranger, it makes it a little more bearable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Thoughts of Vacation

August 14, 2005
By: L.A. Kohl
(published in the Wed., Aug. 17 edition of the "Bullseye")
Summer time is prime vacation time for many Americans. A time-honored tradition for some of us. My father’s parents took him on a month long vacation the summer before he married and left home. My parents took my brother and me on a vacation to Disney World and the beach the summer before I graduated. And as our eldest is graduating this year, we decided this may be our last summer to take our entire family away on a nice vacation.

In about mid-June, when we decided the business had been doing well enough that we could afford an August vacation, the question posed at the breakfast table was this: “Where could we go for a BIG vacation?”

A fun question to consider, but in a family of nine there are sometimes too many opinions!

Immediately, some of the girls suggested the beach. They have very fond memories of a fall vacation we took several years ago, when we rented a duplex on a beautiful Gulf coast beach for a week. But, a few in our family are the adventurous sort, and longed for something new and different. Besides, some expressed disdain at the thought of going further south in the heat of summer.

The Grand Canyon, a couple of others decided, would be an exciting new place to visit. Ah, but someone quickly pointed out, “I thought you said you didn’t want to go SOUTH?!” Back to the drawing board.

I believe it was yours truly who finally blurted out, “What about Yellowstone?” Hmm, lots of thoughtful looks – a few heads nodding – a quick search for the atlas to see just how far away it was. Oh, cool – Grand Teton National Park was right next door. This was looking more and more like the kind of spot we’d like to go, especially in the heat of a mid-Missouri summer!

Unfortunately, after a couple hours researching, it looked like half the country also thought it would be a neat place to visit in the summer. Every lodge and cabin we found that could accommodate our large family was already booked, or was WAY out of our price range. After several attempts, Nate was now on the phone with a broker type of person who had found ONE last option for us. She said it was perfect – right in Jackson Hole, within walking distance of lots of shopping, and close enough to the Tetons and Yellowstone to make day trips convenient. He was interested, but told her to wait a second, as he was looking at me to give him the go ahead.

I don’t “buck” very often, but this time I had trouble agreeing. One – I don’t like making quick decisions. Two – it was a few hundred dollars more than we thought we could afford. And three – when I think of a vacation to the mountains; “within walking distance of shopping” is not what I’m looking for! I asked him to tell her that we needed a little more time to think about it. Of course she said we really shouldn’t put off our decision because it may no longer be available when we called back. As Nate reluctantly hung up the phone, he looked at me like, “I hope we didn’t just blow our last chance.”

We decided to look at the atlas again, and pick somewhere a bit farther out than Jackson Hole. A quick web search immediately turned up a place two hours south of Yellowstone that had a three bedroom, renovated farm house. Their web site used words like “peaceful… private… secluded… in the mountains” instead of words like “within walking distance of shopping!" We got on the phone and booked all four nights that they had remaining during the first week of August.

“Tune in” next week for – the Kohl family heads West (minus the covered wagon, thankfully!)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Does a Large Family = Large Hassles???

July 26, 2005
By: L.A. Kohl
(published in the Wed., Aug. 3 edition of the "Bullseye")
Many people in today’s society question why anyone would want to have a large family. I’ve heard that the average American family has something like 1.7 children, so obviously the majority have decided that there are too many disadvantages to having lots of kids. But you know what? By matter of default, we’ve discovered that there are also several advantages that perhaps many haven’t considered.

Here’s a big plus from my perspective…I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard my children actually say, “I’m bored."

Isn’t that funny? I often hear moms talking about how summertime is so trying, because they have to constantly figure out ways to keep their child entertained and out from underfoot. It is rarely that way around here.

With lots of siblings, all of these creative juices come flowing from lots of different perspectives, and they are always coming up with something fun to try. The other day I caught some of them together brainstorming story ideas. They had notebooks and pencils in hand, and were throwing out ideas. Someone would either nix the idea, or expound on it and then they’d start writing it down. Kind of like a movie studio, story-boarding session; and it occupied them for days.

Speaking of movies…they love making their own. There are enough of them to participate that they can become hobbits, Jedi knights, pirates, or princesses – depending on the mood of the day. One of them runs the video cam and “directs” it, while the others dramatize it all. I love watching their imaginations work, and it seems like the more of them there are, the more freely the ideas flow.

Another advantage that I’m personally enjoying…we’ve had our own built in babysitters for about four years now. Some people may think that’s unfair to the older siblings, making them perform “child care” duties, but we make an effort not to overuse that advantage. Besides, it’s great experience for the older ones, and there are enough of them to share in the duty that I’ve never yet heard one of them complain about having to watch their little brother and sisters. (I think secretly that most of them are still little girls at heart, and they enjoy the excuse to occasionally play dolls with a little sister, or sword fight with the little brother.) And besides, what teenager doesn’t love the excuse to be “in charge” for awhile?!

Another benefit is the fact that they always have a friend around. Now I’d be kidding you to say that they are all “best buds” and they get along marvelously all the time. Hardly! But more often than not, the laughter and “bantering” of friends outweigh the heated words of disagreeing siblings. We often tell them that friends will come and go in life – but sisters will ALWAYS be sisters, so do all you can to maintain relationships that you will cherish for a lifetime.

That’s where I’ll finish up with the advantages…relationship. We are so thankful to have all these individuals, with all their idiosyncrasies and unique personalities, together in our family. We cherish the relationships we have with our children, and can’t imagine how we could ever get along without any one of them. And just think about ten or twenty years down the road, when they all have families of their own – we’ll be filled to overflowing with relationships and relations. How fun!