Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lucky 13?

Since I was born on the thirteenth, I have always considered thirteen my lucky number. It would follow then that 2013 should be my lucky year. Just to make things even clearer to me, the universe has arranged for my birthday this year to fall on a Friday.

"But that's an unlucky day," you claim.

"Oh, phooey!" I reply. "I don't believe in such nonsense."

True, I am not superstitious per se, and I have no solid proof the number thirteen has done anything special for me at all that, say, the number four hasn't. (I choose four because a palm reader once told me four would be an important number in my life. I'm still waiting to find out how.)

"Aha!" you say. "You visit palm readers."

"Only once," I answer. "On a lark."

Nevermind. The point is: I really need a lucky year right about now, and all signs indicate this one could be it. Er, except for the eensy weensy fact that I am already in the hole to the tune of more than $3,000, and January isn't even over yet! (More on that financial sucker punch later.)

Anyway a new year offers the chance for a fresh start, a clean slate, and the hope that one's life will improve in all the various ways that really matter. So I am grabbing onto 2013, particularly the last two digits of the number, and testing my theory about the luckiness of a baker's dozen for me.

If the past is any guide, my results will be mixed. When I turned thirteen on a Friday in 1974, I went on a church-group canoe trip for the day with my mother. As we paddled past a man fishing on the banks of the Housatonic, someone called out to him for the time. A few minutes later, the canoes entered rapids, and our boat capsized. Based on the time given by the man, the incident happened at the exact hour and minute I was born on a Wednesday in 1961. My mother and I were fine, but I lost a sweatshirt. Were we lucky not to have been hurt or worse? Yes. Was I unlucky to lose my warm clothing? Yes.

Verdict: A (river) wash. Score .5 for Lucky 13.

Many years later, in 1996, I threw a Friday the 13th party for my thirty-fifth birthday. I decorated my home with broken mirrors, a ladder, black cat, and other symbols of bad luck. I was trying to thumb my nose at the very unscientific belief that causes office buildings to be labeled as missing thirteenth floors and the Super 8 in Tilton, New Hampshire, to refrain from designating a Room #113. (Thanks, Christopher, for asking me about the latter when we stayed there nearly a month ago.) "Hahaha. You can't get me!" I taunted the God of Superstition. Sure enough, nothing terrible happened at the party.

Verdict: A success. Score 1 for Lucky 13.

My milestone 4-0 fell two days after 9/11. The whole world was in shock. I was heartbroken; likewise, my friends. They forgot about my birthday.

Verdict: Not the time to celebrate anything. Score -1 for Lucky 13.

Three months later, feeling a little gypped, I threw myself a belated party on December 13, my quarter birthday.

Verdict: A success. Score 1 for Lucky 13.

Exactly a month after my first son was born, I started dating a man whose birthday is March 13. Since our birthdays are half a year to the day from one another, I thought we might be a perfect yin/yang match. The relationship lasted three years, yet I wouldn't say it was astrologically destined.

Verdict: Score .75 for Lucky 13.

Last month I almost made a submission to a literary agent on the thirteenth. Actually, the plan had been to send in my Mad Mom memoir material via e-mail the day before, on Lucky 12/12/12. Well, things always take longer than expected, don't they? So December 12th turned into December 13th, yet that was fine with me because thirteen is my lucky number, remember?! I had two propitious days in a row to work with. BUT I hadn't planned on technical difficulties. Actually, if I'd thought about it, I would have recollected that I nearly always have computer problems whenever I am trying to send an all-important e-mail/manuscript submission to a literary agent I want to represent me. Murphy's Law every single time! Sure enough, the glitches carried over to Friday the 14th. So much for my lucky two days! Unfortunately, as we all know, the fourteenth ended up being an absolutely horrible day. After I hit "Send" in the early afternoon -- an invisible formatting kink still frustratingly embedded in the text -- I checked Facebook. Several posts from friends alluded to something tragic that had happened in the morning. Immediately, I called up AOL and was bowled over to learn about the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history: the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, my home state.

Verdict: Score -1 for Lucky 13.

I am trying to maintain high hopes for 2013, but I have gotten off to a mighty rocky start. As the clock struck 12:01 of the new year, I was already $385 in the red for not showing up for a pre-paid New Year's Eve weekend in northern New Hampshire. The issue: dangerous driving conditions due to bad weather. (See "Vacation Box of Chocolates: Franconia Fiasco Edition," 1/6/13.) Since then I have been so bogged down trying to catch up from the holidays that I have not yet been able to launch my appeal seeking a refund. What's more, just yesterday I got slammed with a $2,701.66 bill from the Toyota dealership for work to be done on my eight-year-old 4Runner, including the replacement of a leaking timing-chain cover.

Still, no matter what befalls you, you have to be optimistic in January because the year is just starting. Now is the time to set things on a positive course, even if only as an attitude adjustment.

To that end, I took my sons to Friendly's on the way home from our ill-fated trip to the north country and bought each a Vol-Cone-O. Watching them happily gobble down these unique and gigantic sundaes took me away from the frustration and stress of the weekend and steered me in a much better direction.

Verdict: Thirteen, as in 2013, is still my lucky number.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Taming the Beast

It's a new year. Time to make a resolution. Hopefully, one you and I can keep. Maybe it will be one (or both) of the most popular -- getting more exercise and losing weight -- or maybe it will be something else. Like many middle-aged women, I could stand to focus on those two, but my more critical need BY FAR is to gain control over my home. The state of my home, to be exact.

Being successful at keeping a resolution comes down to a matter of control. Control over finding the time, means, and motivation to work out. Control over what one puts in or doesn't put in one's mouth. Being housekeeping-challenged, as I am, translates into control over one's physical space. For me, that space is not only my living environment but also my workplace.

Unless I have told you, you probably wouldn't guess upon meeting me that a beast has taken over my house. That's because I hold it together pretty well in public, and my boys are the picture of health. They are smart; successful in school, sports, and other activities; and simply beautiful to behold. We have our family issues, naturally. What family doesn't? Ours come mostly from the fact that the boys are polar opposites.

Yet what has eluded me for the better part of the past near-decade since I've been a full-time single mother is the ability to keep my residence in presentable-enough condition that I feel comfortable having people over. Maintaining a home is a common challenge for any parent, but it is compounded for a single mother (especially of multiple children) because a second adult is not around to assist with taming the beast of chaos within. Add on the fact that I have no built-in support network -- family members to call on to pitch in -- and you have a sure-fire recipe for one abode in CERTIFIABLE NEED OF HELP.

Of course, I could hire someone or a team of professionals to pick up the place. I have done so in the past, though very rarely. That method costs money, however, and money for nonessentials is becoming increasingly harder to come by these days. I could ask a friend for an extra set of hands -- and I have one who's offered hers more than once -- but I have a strong sense of pride and a reluctance to ask for, or even accept, most volunteer help. It comes from a feeling of I chose to become a single mother of two children, therefore, I must accept the consequences. Figure it out for myself, in other words.

Don't misunderstand me. The beast hasn't been a constant for the ENTIRE almost-ten years. I had part-time caregivers and a boyfriend coming in the first few years of single motherhood, so I was motivated to keep my place looking halfway decent. Plus, my living quarters were much smaller: a two-bedroom city apartment. Simply put, I didn't have as much space to maintain. In early 2005, I bought a three-level townhouse with significantly more square footage in a Boston suburb. This enabled me to empty my storage unit and bring all my belongings together for the first time in five years, since I lived on the West Coast. But with the arrival the following year of Charlie, all that extra space got taken up by the additional baby equipment and storage-unit contents. (In case you're wondering how much stuff one unmarried woman could possibly accumulate, let me explain that I've singlehandedly cleaned out two houses.) Oh, I should mention that I had a dog at the time as well, so THREE small beings were underfoot.

We moved again a couple of years later. Finally, it seemed, I had enough room, though my house looks much bigger from the outside. My life was in turmoil for many reasons, including Charlie being an incredibly awful nighttime sleeper and downright nap-resistant baby and toddler. He'd sleep in the car and at day care and later preschool JUST FINE but not in my home when I wanted AND NEEDED him to! Several years into chronic fatigue syndrome by this point, I was in NO condition to gain control over my bigger home.

Things weren't always terrible. I managed during the early years of single motherhood to host playdates, occasional parties, and visits from friends. I remember a housewarming shindig and first-birthday celebration for Charlie in the townhouse. I remember a fourth-birthday fete for him in my present home featuring two ponies giving rides to the kids around our backyard. One mother remarked: "Shelby, you've set the bar pretty high for four year olds' birthday parties!" From the time Christopher was in preschool, I hosted numerous playdates. But it was cleaning the house for one that set off a chain of events that brought my ability to invite people over to a complete standstill . . . DEAD IN THE WATER.

I injured myself almost two years ago from overdoing it with the mop and scrubbing brush. Physical therapy to strengthen my back followed as did my then-boyfriend breaking up with me. (I suspect they were related.) Understandably, it was a pretty low period, and I actually became afraid to clean for fear of reinjuring myself.

When it rains, it pours! Three months later my home sustained what I call an "indoor flood" from a freak, once-in-a-lifetime toilet issue. Since it occurred on the upper level, I suffered damage on both floors after the shooting water (clean, thank God!) seeped through the hardwood floors down to my bed, another bathroom, and a third room. A giant floor-to-ceiling cabinet loaded with family stuff was upended by the water-damage cleanup people, meaning that I needed to find another place to store plates, tablecloths, my mother's first cousin's porcelain horse collection, etc. Well, it's not as if I had ANOTHER floor-to-ceiling cabinet just waiting to be stocked! Where was I going to put it all? On chairs, tables, bookshelves, and the floor.

Before long we were reduced to walking in narrow paths through the house. Fine way to live with five- and seven-year-old BOYS! NOT. And forget about indoor playing space.

It was probably several months before I got around to picking everything up off the downstairs carpets so the cleanup people could return to steam them. Yet the damage, both actual and figurative, had long been done: I now had a MUCH BIGGER job on my hands. I was exhausted, and I was defeated.

Even if I could conjure up the strength to deal with it, I wasn't in a position to at this time because I was racing to finish my book-length memoir to schlepp numerous hard copies to Seattle for a writers' conference. I planned to solicit literary agents for representation. I had paid a lot of money to go, and two families would be taking care of my kids during the five days I'd be gone. My focus was elsewhere.

Fast forward nearly a year and a half: the situation is just as bad, if not worse. I came home from Seattle to follow up on agent manuscript requests -- fyi, it's imperative to act quickly as I was vying against other writers to get mine accepted, and agents can only take on so many at a time -- teach memoir-writing for the first time in my life, prepare a workshop with a friend that has yet to find a home, and start blogging every five days beginning the first day of 2012. Keeping all the (mostly unpaid) balls in the air while, oh, yeah, raising two rambunctious young boys has not afforded me the kind of time I need to tame the beast. As months passed, the teaching schedule (and accompanying at-home work) has fluctuated. My friend and I, disappointed but not deterred, are taking a break from submitting applications to adult-ed centers. And I've pushed my blog-post deadline back to every ten days.

Still, that doesn't mean a gap has opened in my schedule to make any noticeable inroads in dealing with the beast! My older son has been given the opportunity to appear in two movies, and I've done a bit of extra work myself. Besides being fun, these pursuits bring in a little money . . . and I need to follow up on any opportunities that do. They, along with all the sports practices and games and other activities in which the boys participate, take me out of the house. I can't clean if I am literally not home, can I?

With the kids out of school in the summer, I had a lot less time to myself to tend to, well, everything! As much as I could, I chose to take the boys away camping. In fact, we doubled the number of nights spent in a tent from nine to eighteen. Don't mistake my reason for heading out of town. It was not to AVOID the beast. It was because we genuinely love sleeping and cooking outside and engaging in healthy activities such as mountain climbing, kayaking, and lake swimming in a new scenic environment. BUT did I also LOOOOVE not living with the beast? As Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!"

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND. Don't underestimate the power of the idiom!

Then there's the issue of drumming up motivation to subjugate said beast. Not being able to invite people over has certainly cost me socially. (I've just had to suck it up.) But I need to take back control before my sons start to pay.

As boys, they are a big reason why the house is in this state to begin with. They leave their dirty clothes around. They break toys and scatter pieces far and wide. They drop food into the couch. They spill drinks on the carpet. One stops up the toilet with too much toilet paper. The other slipped a penny through the keys of my grandmother's overhauled upright Steinway. The same child poked a hole in the dining room wall. And on and on and on. Boys may not mean to cause damage, but they do from time to time.

Well, I am happy to say that my cleanup plan has finally begun . . . but only in fits and starts. Several months ago One Call Junk Haul carted away some of my unwanted or broken stuff. Last month, I gave away numerous boxes full of the boys' old clothes and baby/toddler equipment at my single mothers' meeting. Then I walked into The Container Store, newly opened down at the mall, and I was INSPIRED! Three days in a row I visited the store FOUR times, and I spent a pretty penny on colored boxes, watertight plastic containers for documents, under-the-bed containers to maximize space, a hanging shoe holder, a necklace rack, and much more -- all for the purpose of bringing some sense of order to my home.

Finding The Container Store was an epiphany for me. A Eureka! moment. Seeing all the attractive receptacles for organization helped me get psyched and envision what is possible for my home. Separating my stuff in an eye-pleasing way would keep me going through the drudgery of cleaning; putting away; and putting aside for disposal, donation, or a different outcome.

Unfortunately, the holiday season loomed shortly after I got on a roll. I stopped sorting papers and wading through the boys' schoolwork and artwork and, out of necessity, shifted gears to prepare for Christmas. So the challenge has now become getting back my drive, mustering up the energy to tackle this gargantuan house project, and carving out the time in my schedule to do so.

The calendar says January 2013. Watch out. I'm going after the beast!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Vacation Box of Chocolates: Part I (Franconia Fiasco Edition)

"Life's a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you're gonna get," Mrs. Gump explained to her son in the movie Forrest Gump.

Vacations are certainly like that, even more so if they involve children. Now don't get me wrong. I LOVE chocolate (a little too much, if truth be known), a box of chocolates (preferably multiple boxes), and the variety of flavors within.

As for the sweeping metaphor, yes, I enjoy the unpredictability of life as well. Routine has always seemed rather boring in my book. Vanilla, stagnant, tedious. Since I have a desire to shake things up, I have frequently sought out change -- in jobs, homes, areas of the country where I've lived, etc. Change keeps me engaged, motivated, and on my toes. It's just how I operate.

But there does come a point at which ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Exhibit A: Our holiday vacation.

For the past few years, we have had practically nothing to do over the long Christmas/New Year's break from school. With no family to visit -- parents, siblings, or aunts and uncles -- our calendar has been WIDE open. Most of our cousins who are still living don't reside close by, and they are busy with their own families anyway. Having no family plans is just par for the course for us at any holiday time.

The onus is on me to create plans to fill up the TWELVE AND A HALF DAYS so we don't all go STARK, RAVING CHARLIE SHEEN with nothing to do for such a long stretch. Unlike previous years when I was behind in my scheduling, I had booked a couple of activities this time that would occupy seven consecutive days, a whole week.

I was pretty proud of myself. We were in good shape.

Before Christmas I didn't have to come up with anything really because I had my hands full scrambling to get ready for the holiday: stringing the outdoor lights along the railing in the front, putting up the tree for the boys to decorate, hanging the stockings near the fireplace, and purchasing and wrapping presents for them. Racing against the December 25 deadline, several tasks went unfinished -- taping up Christmas cards arriving in the mail, composing our year-in-review newsletter, and mailing out seventy-five photo cards with the newsletters.

We went to a friend's house Christmas afternoon, and the next day Christopher was scheduled to take a three-day ski racing camp at Bradford Mountain thirty-eight minutes away. Problem was: no snow but some rain. First and second days canceled. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded it at all if the third day, Friday, was also nixed because I needed the time to get us ready for our trip to New Hampshire the following day. But it was cold enough to make snow the night before, so the third day of camp was held. With Charlie in tow, I dropped Chris off at the mountain and returned later to pick him up. Total driving time: 152 minutes.

Now before I launch into the story of the NEW YEAR'S WEEKEND TRIP FROM HELL, let me mention that one other activity involving a part of two days and two more drives of varying length materialized during this period. This was the audio and film recording of the 26 Angels video
dedicated to the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. Created to raise money to build and
beautify a memorial park, it has now been seen by more than 11,000 people on YouTube. I wrote about it in my last post, and it was clearly the high point (VERY HIGH!!!) of our vacation.

Now onto the fiasco.

On Saturday afternoon, we were due in Franconia, NH, at a rustic lodge. (For the uninformed,
 witFranconia is way up there, not far from Vermont -- the northeastern section of the state -- and not such a long way from Canada.) We would stay three nights with an Appalachian Mountain Club family group. The trip cost me $385 for accommodations and meals during that time for the three of us. We would ring in the new year with these people, the rest of whom (or almost all of them anyway) had arrived the previous afternoon. I hadn't wanted to stay four nights due to the higher cost, and that option conflicted with the ski camp anyway. Two nights felt too short for such a long drive, considering that we'd be attempting to fit in skiing, skating, and/or sledding during the days. I was afraid of wearing myself out -- always my primary consideration whenever we go away.

Three nights, on the other hand, felt Goldilocks just right . . . until I saw the weather forecast: a SNOWSTORM! The snow we hadn't gotten in time for the ski camp was coming in time for my THREE-AND-A-HALF-HOUR drive! Just my luck. I would have preferred to have arrived around noon to avoid the afternoon storm, but check-in was at 3 p.m. It looked like we might get caught smack dab in the middle of the swirling white stuff.

And that, of course, is exactly what happened! We hit the storm at the I-93 tolls in Hooksett. No warning flakes, just full-blown snow as I rolled down my window and reached into my purse for $1.00. The driving was slow going until it came to a complete stop just south of Tilton after a pickup truck slid off the road. I was not enjoying this driving, and there would be plenty more of it as I had MILES to go before even REACHING the White Mountain National Forest. (Franconia is just beyond it.)

Did I mention that I've crashed two cars in winter driving? The first: my post-college-graduation Nissan Sentra (totaled on black ice near Killington, Vermont, in a 140-vehicle, four-mile-long chain reaction). And my second -- my brand new Toyota 4Runner (rendered undrivable on New Year's
Day '98 after my then-boyfriend yelled at me to change lanes on a snowy/icy highway in British Columbia). Thanks a lot, E!

So, feeling unsafe, I got off in Tilton and checked into a Super 8. It would have been foolhardy to continue to drive to Franconia in those conditions and downright negligent with my two young sons in the back! In fact, I learned at KFC -- we trudged there through the snow for dinner -- that twenty cars had crashed earlier in the day on the highway in New Hampton just north of where we got off. Twelve in the northbound lanes and eight across from them heading south.

The next day I decided to take the boys to Gunstock Mountain in nearby Gilford. We were too far from Franconia to arrive in time for breakfast at the lodge. Since sandwiches were going to be packed then as well, we would also be missing lunch! My room charge at the motel included breakfast, so we would take advantage of that and grab lunch at Gunstock. We would leave the mountain early to make the Franconia check-in before dark -- twenty-four hours late.

Meanwhile, I had been in sporadic cell-phone contact with the trip leaders and was feeling agitated from discussing the lost night and lost meals (read: LOST MONEY). For example, I had suggested that the group save meals for us. Like leftovers from a restaurant, I could take the food home at the end of the trip. Very simple. But the trip leaders were not amenable to my idea. First it wasn't understood that I was talking about the meals AFTER preparation, not the separate ingredients BEFORE they became various dishes. Then the roadblock shifted to the containers. "We have nothing to put the food in," I was told. So I volunteered to pick up some containers on my way, my head spinning with thoughts of using our KFC trash (and that from breakfast at the Super 8) as containers to avoid spending any MORE extra money. Well, the trip leaders pooh-poohed that suggestion as well, saying they didn't think sending me home with "soggy eggs" was the way to go.

Hey, LISTEN UP! Since I PAID for those soggy eggs, I'LL decide whether I want to keep them or not. News flash: I WANT TO KEEP THEM!!! But no. The trip leaders wanted to send me home with nonperishables. I could just see it now: "Here, Shelby," one of them would chirp as she handed me a giant can of green beans as some kind of supremely lousy $385 consolation prize!

Well, nothin' doin'!

My stress only grew worse at Gunstock. We got a late start to the mountain. (I was enjoying breakfast too much.) The drive over took more time than expected. It was VERY cold and windy, and six-year-old Charlie was unhappy with the long walk from the parking lot. It would be a really short ski day, but after all that effort I couldn't exactly say no to the day's plans. After obtaining Charlie's rentals, a helmet for Christopher, and three tickets, we hiked uphill to the quad chair taking us to the trails named Upper Smith and Smith. Though they are blue squares, I felt confident Charlie could handle them. He'd been on intermediate trails before, and the few inches of fresh powder would make it easier and slower to ski . . . not to mention more fun!

Alas, again things didn't turn out as hoped for or expected. Since it was now afternoon, the snow had been skied off in the middle of the trails, and it was tough moving to the side with the skiers and boarders of all stripes whizzing by at breakneck speed. Charlie grew frustrated fast after taking a number of tumbles and getting snow trapped in his mittens and boots. I've skied the Smiths before but certainly not with a first grader (or third grader). So what I found not steep myself suddenly felt like a double black diamond (expert trail) now that I was responsible for my own young children!

Halfway down, Charlie staged a revolt. He screamed and -- like Bill Murray in Moonrise Kingdom -- threw a mitten at me. (It was a loafer in the movie.) Then he took off his skis and began stomping his way down the mountain. No amount of cajoling could change his mind about skiing, and the fact that the only green circle (beginner trail) was a LOOOOONG walk away certainly didn't help matters. He was done for the day. DONE. I carried his skis the rest of the way then headed for the ticket booth. I got my $108 back for the three lift tickets and $34 for the rentals. We then snagged a quick lunch and ride to our parking lot via a shuttle van.

The driver directed me back to the highway for our second attempt at reaching Franconia. But a lot of time was lost because she sent me THE LONG WAY. In heading west, I was also traveling south back to Tilton instead of north through Weirs Beach! Crap. Why didn't I check the map first instead of blindly taking her word for it?!

In the late afternoon of Sunday, it was very windy on the highway as I raced against daylight. I needed to arrive at our destination as soon as possible because I didn't want to be ALONE WITH TWO CHILDREN on the SNOWY roads in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE searching for the lodge in the DARK. With each passing mile and minute, I was growing increasingly tense and anxious as it looked more and more likely that I would not achieve my goal for the SECOND time this trip.

And then . . . the nail in the proverbial coffin: a neon sign overhead reading BLACK ICE POSSIBLE. Are you $&@?@ kidding me??? No, it was not a joke. Let me tell you: there is nothing that sign could say that would freak me out more. SERIAL KILLER AHEAD? Scary, but I could drive past. TORNADO ZONE? Turn around and drive south. AGENT ORANGE ATTACK? Lock the windows, kids! Okay, exaggeration yet you get my drift. Black ice terrifies me! I totaled a car on it. I will not drive on it, so I got off at the next exit in Lincoln. Comfort Inn: booked full. A hotel/resort whose name I've since forgotten: too expensive, though we could have stayed there for free if I'd been permitted to sit through a two-hour presentation the next day. I would have done it, but I was disqualified because I'm not married. (No comment.) EconoLodge: just right. Feeling like Goldilocks again. (Insert smiley, happy face.)

Let's get real.

I'd found a place for us for the night. However, that meant MORE money escaping my wallet like BP oil out of the Deepwater Horizon and many MORE trips from the car to the room and back transferring all our stuff -- three pairs of skis, three pairs of boots, two pairs of poles, two small backpacks or larger bags per person, snack bags, and extra coats that didn't fit in bags. Bags, bags, bags! It was a nightmare. I really couldn't believe it was happening, not to mention how mortified I was to have to place yet ANOTHER call to the trip leaders. I felt like a big fool, a giant wimp (new title for my blog: Diary of a Wimpy Mom), and a major Loser.

Yes, with a capital "L."

I envisioned the people in Franconia laughing at me. "Who is this bimbo who can't get to the lodge in TWO days from only ONE state away?" Needless to say, I'd lost my motivation to spend New Year's Eve with these "meanies." NYE is a special night -- meant to be shared with a person or people in your life you are close to. I knew one of the trip leaders from my single mother's support group and the AMC of the early '90s when I took courses, got certified to be a hiking/backpacking trip leader (she was one of the instructors who signed my certificate!), and flew out to Wyoming with her and two other hardcore AMC-ers to climb Gannett Peak. But I did not know the rest in Franconia, though I believe the other leader also ran the family camping trip we took to Cape Cod three summers ago. That adventure was noteworthy for Charlie getting lost on crowded Dennis Beach. Yet I do not remember this woman. If anything, she probably had a negative view of me/us from my wild then-preschooler's behavior at that time.

The Franconia Families had been bonding since Friday night. Showing up on Monday for one night only would feel AWKWARD. Temperatures hadn't risen before breakfast to even make me feel confident I wouldn't hit black ice during the remaining twenty minutes of driving. Plus, I was exhausted from all the moving around, lugging of SUV contents, intense road conditions, confrontational conversations with the trip leaders, waiting for callbacks from them for messages I left, and refereeing of my rowdy boys away from home. NO energy remained to accommodations-hop yet again to a lodge even FARTHER from home and where a ONE YEAR OLD (maybe a poor sleeper) was part of the group.

By Day 3, the idea of pushing on to Franconia SHATTERED my cardinal rule of single-mother traveling: Will taking this trip make me more wiped out than before I left? YES!!! It was settled. We stayed NYE as well at the Econolodge, swam in the pool, soaked in the jacuzzi (ahh!), and went to a movie.

Under the heading of ADDING INSULT TO INJURY: the last time I spoke to one of the trip leaders, she informed me that we could have arrived BEFORE the designated 3 p.m. check-in time the first day to avoid the snowstorm that started the chain reaction of problems! Again, I ask, "Are you &@$?! kidding me?!" The e-mail clearly stated the check-in time, and NOWHERE in the information provided did it state anyone would even be at the lodge at other times during the day to let us in! It seemed to me that everyone skedaddled right after breakfast to go skiing, sledding, and skating and didn't return until late afternoon. Well, I was understandably PISSED, and my head was splitting from the most intense headache of my life consuming the entire right side of my skull.

"Happy New Year!" said this trip leader as we concluded our last frustrating conversation.

"Happy New Year," I gritted through my teeth, the angriest new year greeting ever uttered.

I returned to my room and collapsed on my bed. I spent the day under the covers succumbing to my paralyzing headache and worrying that I was having a brain aneurysm like Sharon Stone when she was married to that journalist whose foot was attacked by a Kimodo dragon. My boys, meanwhile, were happy as clams catching a coincidental double dose each of Nanny McPhee (the original and Nanny McPhee Returns) and The Fairly Oddparents (the animated TV show and live-action movie called A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner!) over the course of the ill-fated weekend. Weird. In the afternoon, I felt well enough to take them to Parental Guidance. (Hey, we had to do SOMETHING fun out on NYE!)

It was at the movie theater that I met a couple who had spun out and crashed on the highway black ice just before reaching the neon warning sign and about ninety minutes after I came through that area. "You did the right thing," they assured me about getting off the next exit. The sentiment was repeated by our waiter at dinner. Like the couple, he said the roads were worse that night than he'd ever remembered them in twenty-five years.

I may have been a punchline up in Franconia, but I feel good about the decisions I made under very trying conditions with the information I had at the time. I kept my sons safe, and that's all that really matters.

As I try to recoup $385, let's just hope the top brass at the Appalachian Mountain Club agrees. What a way to start the new year!