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6 Days on the Road

September 20, 2016

At the end of June, I was able to join my boyfriend Thomas for a week on his semi truck.  He does over the road driving and for most of this year he’s been doing a non-dedicated regional loop between Tennessee and Michigan that allows for stop-overs in Gary, Indiana.  The manager of the Petro in Gary said it would be fine for me to leave my van there for a week.

I knew that it was very important that I pack light.  By choice Thomas drives one of the smallest types of semi tractors.  It’s basically two seats, a bunk, and a few storage compartments over the bunk.  I was determined to fit everything in a small cloth backpack/purse that I used to use as a diaper bag.  This saved space in the truck and was easy to carry into truck stop bathrooms.  The only other thing I took was a pillow.

Day 1:  We didn’t know for sure that I’d be able to ride along until the day before; we didn’t want Thomas to use any of his vacation days to get me on and off the truck.  But he got a dispatch to pick-up early that morning about three hours from Gary.  As soon as my kids left with their dad, I was able to drive on over and park my van.

There was a storm getting ready to kick up in Gary, so he decided that we would try to get a little further down I-65 before settling for the night.  Once we got parked we headed into the truck stop and grabbed some gas station food to take back to the truck.  Then we went back in for one last bathroom trip and to brush our teeth before going to bed.

The first big adjustment is that Thomas prefers to start driving by 6 in the morning, and he’s usually ready to go to bed for the night by 7 or 8.  My day usually starts and ends a lot later.  We both worried how I would handle such a different schedule.

We also had to figure out how to fit two adults somewhat comfortably in a bunk that’s not much bigger than a twin bed.  The first night’s sleeping arrangements did not work well at all.  Plus, he is very hot-natured and I am very cold-natured, so one of us was almost always sweating and one of us was almost always freezing.  But we persevered.

It also took me a night to get used to the different sounds.  There would be the pop as trucks were pulling in and putting on their brakes.  The APU that provides electricity to his tractor when the engine is turned off would kick on to work the air conditioner.  Then the reefer (the refrigeration unit) on the trailer would come on from time to time to regulate the temperature of the cargo.  The APU and reefer were right behind the bunk.  On top of that the storm caught us.  Wind shook the truck while the thunder roared and rain pounded.

Day 2:  At some point after midnight I needed to be walked back to the truck stop in order to use the bathroom.  We got up a little after sunrise to start the day.  I grabbed a cup of coffee and a breakfast Tornado before we started on down the road.

We had to stop for fuel just south of Indianapolis.  It worked out for us to meet my mom for lunch just near Louisville, so we took about an hour break there.  Then we headed on down towards Nashville.  It was kind of neat because it had been about 20 years since and I had last traveled that stretch of road together.

The further south we went, though, the more my sinuses started acting up, and I developed a headache.  By the time we got to the receiver, I didn’t feel the best.  So, I laid down in the bunk while he dropped his trailer and picked up another loaded one that needed to go back north.  It was hard to rest the best because of all the jerking around that comes with disconnecting and connecting the trailer, but I did drift off a little bit when we left for the truck stop.

There was a little strip mall next to the truck stop that had a local wing joint.  Thomas had never been before, so we decided to give it a try.  We got some fried pickle chips, and I had some delicious teriyaki wings with a side of ibuprofen.  By the time we finished eating it was time to get ready for bed.

Day 3:  We got up extra early in order to take showers.  I had already learned from him that showers at truck stops are individual rooms.  The ones we were assigned I later learned were the handicap accessible ones.  This means that they were more spacious than the regular ones in addition to certain safety and accommodation features.  Mine had a sink with a mirror, a large bench, and a very roomy shower.  Big, clean fluffy towels and wash cloths were provided.  It was a really nice facility, and I was later told that they’re not all that nice.

Once we got out of Tennessee we were able to meet Thomas’ dad for breakfast at the Petro in Glendale, KY.  Then it was time to really get moving, because it was his long day.  He had to get his load straight from Tennessee to Michigan.  We stopped for fuel once and much later at another truck stop in northern Indiana for me to get some dinner.  Then it was on to the receiver, where we would be staying for the night.  I was excited about going to Michigan for the first time.

The receiver was a cold storage facility that allows drivers to park in the yard.  They had a small lounge with a bathroom and vending machines.  Once the trailer was dropped we were parked bobtail (without a trailer).  Thomas opened a can of ravioli and ate it straight out of the can.  Usually when he delivers at this place he just makes a sandwich or eats something out of can.  He does have an electric kettle that he sometimes uses for noodle cups if he wants something hot.

Then it was time for bed.

Day 4:  Early the next morning we were off again to another part of Michigan.  First Thomas had to connect an empty trailer before we could leave.  I really got to see more of how beautiful Michigan is, and I really liked when we passed through Grand Rapids.

When we got to Reed City a few hours later we stopped at a local truck stop down the road from the shipper and waited to get a dispatch to drop off his empty and pick up a full trailer there (known as a drop-and-hook).  And we waited, and we waited, and we waited.

Then at about 6 pm he got a call and e-mail from dispatch asking him to pick up and deliver a load somewhere else in the middle of the night.  He had to tell them that he couldn’t do it.  Besides the fact that he had been awake since the early hours of the day, it would have messed up any chance of getting me home when I needed to get home.

Day 5:  I knew that there were sometimes hiccups in my boyfriend’s route, and that a hiccup could make it extremely difficult for me to get home.  As a precaution I had scoped out rental car agencies in the Michigan cities on his route.  So, when he finally got a dispatch out of Reed City, I had to decide if I wanted him to take me on back to Gary or if I wanted to keep riding along with him and have to rent a car in two days in order to get back to my van.  It was really a no-brainer for me…I wanted to stay with him.  Off we went down south again, stopping in northern Indiana for the night.

Day 6:  On the way back down we stopped to meet Thomas’ mom and step-dad for lunch.  In Tennessee he had to drop his full trailer at the cold storage facility, but then he had to pick up an empty and drop it off at the factory before we could go to the truck stop.  A loaded trailer would be waiting for pick up the next morning.

The weather was kind of bad, and we were both pretty tired.  So, we just grabbed some gas station food to eat in the truck and then went on to sleep

Day 7:  Once I had made the decision to get a rental car, I realized that waiting until we got to Michigan was not the best option.  I really had to be back in the Chicago area to pick up my kids that night.  So, we arranged for me to be dropped off at a McDonald’s in Louisville where my dad met us.  Then my dad drove me over to a rental car place, and I left from there.  I just had to be at the rental office in Gary before 5 pm which I managed to do.

Here are some more general things from my adventure in truck driving:

*One thing that struck was how much concentration is required to drive one of those big trucks.  Thomas was constantly having to check his multiple mirrors and be on the alert for “four-wheelers” doing stupid stuff like cutting him off or hanging out his in blind spots.  I had a better understanding of the mental wear-and-tear in addition to the physical wear-and-tear of that life.

*It was an amazing view being up high in the semi truck.  I could see over the interstate barriers better and take in the different variations of wildflowers.  I would look down into deep ravines and contemplate how old the trees had to be to still tower so high.  I could see the little rivers and creeks flowing further back.

*There was a lot of bouncing around; you feel every crack and joint in the road in a semi truck.  And due to some problem with my seat that we never got around to figuring out, my seat would actually slide back and forth a bit when we hit really hard bridge joints.

*During my time on the truck, my only responsibilities were to close and open the curtains in the evening and morning.  There was no television and no computer.  I wasn’t even on my phone very much; it spent a lot of time in my travel bag.  It was a really nice getaway from the circus that is my daily life.

*There was downtime (a lot of it in Reed City), but there is not much opportunity for sightseeing.  Semi trucks can only legally park in certain places, and there are all kinds of laws and limits about the driving time per day and week.  Some of the places we spent the night didn’t have much of anything around them.  People think that truck drivers get to stop and see all the sights of the country, but they mostly see highway, truck stops, and shipping/receiving lots.

*When any two people spend too much time together they are bound to eventually bump heads.  We knew going in that we were going to be spending a lot of time together in a very confined space.  But thankfully we didn’t have any issues.  We were both being a little extra considerate (I was very worried about interfering with his job), but we just tend to get a long pretty easily no matter what we’re doing.

I think we were both also just really excited to have a large chunk of time together.  Normally we only get to see each other for two or three days every few months; sometimes there’s a lunch or a dinner in between.  We started to find our rhythms and had plenty of time to relax in each other’s company.

*Our goodbye was a little rushed and awkward considering that I had to be dropped off with my parents in order to get a rental car.  But I knew there was a chance that I could catch up with him at his fuel stop.  I was extremely disappointed when there was no sign of this truck in the fuel lanes when I got there.

I decided to torture myself and call to find out by how much I had missed him.  So, I was shocked when he told me that he was still at his fuel stop, taking a break in the back parking lot.  We both laughed when I pulled my rental car into the space next to his truck, and we were both glad that we got the chance to say a proper goodbye at the end of our adventure.


What I Want

June 18, 2016

In the past year I’ve figured out what I want for my life.  There have been a lot of things that have formed these ideas…from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to the process of trying to put myself and my life together after my divorce to facing the realities of being in a romantic relationship as a single mom.

What I want:

1.  I want less.  I want less stuff that has to be cleaned, maintained, and organized.  I want fewer bills and fewer responsibilities.  With five kids, my life will never be simple, but it could be simpler.

For a multitude of reasons, but also in line with this goal, I am hoping to sell my house and move us into a rental house in the next year.  This means a lot less debt, fewer bills (hopefully some lower utility bills), and less responsibility for upkeep and replacement.

And in preparation for showing the house and moving, I’ve already started boxing things up and massive decluttering.  I’ve become brutal with some of my culling.  And anything that I can’t find a donation spot for within a month of me packing it up goes to the landfill.

2.  I want more flexibility.  When I first got married at the age of 22, I wanted the 40-year mortgage American dream, the white picket fence.  Now at the age of 39, I can’t wait to get rid of my mortgage.  I don’t ever want to feel stuck living in one place again.  I want to be able to downsize living quarters and expenses easily as the kids grow up and move on (refer to #1).  It’s much easier to break a lease than to get out of a mortgage.

3.  I want more independence.  I’ve always been a fairly independent person, but for the majority of my marriage I was a financial dependent.  I honestly probably would have left that unhealthy situation sooner if I hadn’t been afraid of how it would affect the quality of life for my children.  But I am determined to not be in that situation again.  I don’t want a man to financially support me, nor do I want a man who expects me to financially support me.  I’m 95% sure that if I were to ever remarry I would want mostly separate finances.

These are the goals that I am working towards a little bit at a time.  I don’t expect to be where I really want to be with them for at least another two to three years, but to me these goals feel like they will be the difference between truly thriving for the first time in my life as opposed to just merely surviving.

3 Months at a Time

November 7, 2015

The biggest lesson (among many) that I learned over the past summer is that life can turn on a dime in the most unexpected ways.  In the past I used to make all of these grand plans for “next year”, and then when everything would go kabloohey I would get extremely dejected.  I have been learning to live more and more in the moment, learning to let go of the past and accept the future as it comes.

So, I’ve really been trying to focus on no more than 3 months at a time.  With five kids I can’t just throw caution to the wind and not make plans at all.  But a three-month plan seems to work out just about right for doing what I need to do and not getting as freaked out when the unexpected happens to shake things up.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t have ideas percolating in the back of my mind for further out, but I don’t start focusing on those things or getting set on them.  If I do have a long-term goal (such as career plans for next year), then I either add specific tasks towards it that I can work on over the next three months to my master to-do list or I just decide to put it on the back burner for now.  I let it go.

November, December, and January are just about all I can handle right now:  planning my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday party, Christmas shopping, and looking forward to the next time my beau’s job will allow us to spend time together after the New Year.

So, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me again for three months.  Even with only three months of planning, life is pretty full and busy.

New Year, New Blog

January 3, 2015

Seven years ago when I started writing this blog, I was looking for a creative outlet.  I found that writing helped me to process all of the things rattling around in my head.

But I never had any delusions of grandeur, that my blog would make me rich and/or famous.  I’ve always mostly written for myself, and if anything I wrote happened to help others, then that was a bonus.  It’s also been a nice way to share photos and information about life events with friends and family far away.  So, I am totally nonplussed if no one reads my blog.  I can’t even remember the last time I checked my stats.

I decided, though, that I wanted to start a new blog.  I debated about whether or not to just completely start over and leave Box of Chocolates behind, but I couldn’t quite decide what I wanted to do with the new blog.  I just felt compelled to start it.

But I began to realize what I didn’t want the new blog to be.  I don’t really want it to be another “Mommy Blog” if I can help it.  So, I’ll be keeping Box of Chocolates for my “Mommy Blogging” outlet.

However, now I also have crazy but with a good heartNot that I have or will shy away from posting religious content on Box of Chocolates, but crazy but with a good heart is shaping up as a religious travelogue.  I really see it as a journal of what I am learning and discerning spiritually right now, not apologetics or catechesis.  (Although I am sure some of that will come up from time to time.)

I am still writing for me.  And if God uses what I write to help others, then it is still bonus.

A Few More Songs

December 24, 2014

I was going through my unsorted bookmarks and came across another favorite song from this past year.

And my best friend Kelly recommended this song by Alex Boye, with which I totally fell in love.  It just might be my anthem for 2015.

Shake It Off

December 22, 2014

To say that 2014 has been an interesting year would be an understatement.  Going in I did not expect that I would not only be divorced but would also have spent close to $8000 in home repairs by the end of it.

Like many people, music has helped me articulate, contemplate, and just plain deal with they myriad feelings I’ve experienced in the past twelve months.  There are certain songs that held my hand through the different moments.  So, this is just a little recap of what I’ve been listening to this year and how it will be stamped in my memory.

At the beginning of 2014 I was listening to the The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12.  This album of songs inspired by the first Hunger Games movie features a variety of artists and was produced by T-Bone Burnett and reflected not only the melancholy of life in the fictional District 12 but in my life as well.  “Safe and Sound” by Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars is probably the biggest hit from the album, but there were several different songs to which I listened repeatedly:  “Abraham’s Daughter” (Arcade Fire), “Kingdom Come” (The Civil Wars), “Run Daddy Run” (Miranda Lambert), and the two songs by Taylor Swift.

I remember a particularly bad night, though, when I was hitting the worst part of my depression.  My marriage, well, was closer to being over than I really believed.  I was driving around in my car after dark in the cold with tears streaming down my cheeks, listening to this song by The Secret Sisters:

I would normally listen to the same five or six songs over and over again, but as winter passed to spring and then summer and I separated from my husband and started to put myself and my life back together, I gave another song on the album a chance for the first time, “Nothing to Remember” by Neko Case.  It really hit home for me.  For some weird reason, it made me feel strong.

The week that my marriage finally received it’s “kill shot” I packed up the kids and went to stay with my parents in Kentucky for a week.  The kids and I just needed some distance.  That was the week that Frozen was released on DVD.  I grabbed a copy to keep the kids occupied.

We had seen the movie in the theater, and I knew that “Let It Go” was going to be the break out song from the movie.  When the movie came out on DVD, though, is when it seemed to really be everywhere.  Now everyone is sick to death of it, but during that scary, crazy week, it was the song that resonated with me most.  It was my declaration of independence as much as it was Elsa’s.

I discovered Catholic singer/songwriter Marie Miller a few months ago, and fell in love with two of her songs.  The first is “The Shoe Song”, which Marie wrote using text messages between my favorite blogger, Jen Fulwiler, and her husband Joe.  It is a hilarious look at the perils of parenthood.

Before and during my divorce, I discovered for the first time in a long time that I had a circle of friends on whom I could depend.  And for the first time in a long time, I felt in a position where I could reciprocate their friendship.  This was my love song for the wonderful group of gals God brought into my life:

In recent months, on the long drive back from picking up the kids at their dad’s apartment, I’ve been listening to some of the stuff to which they listen.  Most of modern pop is not really my thing.  I think Ariana Grande sounds like a screeching cat half of the time.  But I’ve been finding myself drawn to songs that are just plain fun.

I’ve become a fan of Meghan Trainor.  She’s only 20, and in her own words “she can write a hook”.  I also like how her songs that I have heard so far have positive messages about body image and expecting men to treat her like a lady.  While it hasn’t been officially release yet, my favorite is “Dear Future Husband”.

I also have another guilty pleasure:  Taylor Swift.  She first caught my attention on Songs from District 12, but I’ve really been enjoying the singles off of her latest album.  “Blank Space” reminds me of a few relationships I’ve had in my time.  But “Shake It Off” is just pure fun, and it just makes me want to shake away all of the shadows that have been haunting me for so long and move forward.


What I Learned From Playing Candy Crush

November 4, 2014

After beating 605 levels of Candy Crush Saga, I have decided it is time to retire.  It is time to delete the game from my Facebook, my tablet, and my smart phone.  I’ve had a lot of fun, but now it’s done.

Even though I am hanging up my Lollipop Hammers and letting go of my Color Bombs, I won’t forget how Candy Crush helped me through my depression and my divorce by keeping my mind busy while my body (with the exception of my mouse hand) stayed inert.  I won’t forget the satisfaction of defeating a particularly hard level or the disappointment of only needing one more move to win just as I ran out of moves completely.  But it is a crutch for me that needs to go.

During those 605 levels I learned a lot of lessons and was reminded of many others, too.  Some are applicable to real life, and some may only make sense in the Candy Crush world.

  1. Some situations require a lot of skill, some situations require a lot of luck, and some situations require a little bit of both.  There were some levels that I could breeze through on skill alone.  There were others where I was stuck for days (or even weeks) waiting for the game to churn out the perfect order of colored candies.  Then there were some levels where I had to be smart enough to take advantage of fortuitous circumstances when they arrived.
  2. Sometimes the best tools are the simplest tools.  When Candy Crush Saga first introduced the daily wheel in which I received a free booster every day, for the first week or so I would get disappointed if I won only a Lollipop Hammer or a just a Sticky Hand.  I wanted Swedish Fish or Color Bombs, the more explosive and fancy tools.  It took me a little while to realize that the flashy tools only worked in certain situations, but the little Lollipop Hammers and Sticky Hands were worth their weight in gold due to the small changes you could use them to make on any type of level.  There are times when I would have given half my arsenal for more of those things.
  3. Even if you think you have it figured out, the game can still be a little unpredictable.  Sometimes striped candies that should have been vertical became horizontal.  Sometimes color bombs would explode for no discernible reason.  I don’t know if it was glitches or just part of the game, but just as in real life, the unpredictable can happen.
  4. Some people are more stubborn obsessive persevering than others.   The progress trail is littered with the tack marks of those who petered out slightly before or slightly after the 100th level.  Only one of my friends is ahead of me at this point, and I’ll let her keep her 90-level lead.
  5. The sequels are never as good as the first one.  Did we learn nothing from the Scream movies?  Candy Crush Dreamworld was basically only fun when I was stuck on a regular Candy Crush level for two or three weeks and needed to feel some sense of success.
  6. Life is easier when you have friends to help you along the way.  This is a special shout out to all those people who sent me extra lives, 3 extra moves, and tickets to enter the next episode.