2015.12: Early Christmas Trip

RnB in the minivan, ready to head home, Dec. 14
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

A few days ago, my wife and I — and our offspring — returned safely and happily from a five-day trip to Oklahoma for a bit of an early Christmas celebration with family — and a surprise birthday party for my mother (apologies to several other family members with birthdays during the same week).

A few things I found notable about the trip:

  • At 11 hours and 44 minutes of driving time, it was our fastest-ever round trip to Oklahoma and back with children. (Compare all our trip times.)
  • With four nights spent there, it was our longest stay in Oklahoma since having children.
  • The weather was warmer and less rainy than had been forecast, giving us plenty of perfect outdoor time.
  • I used my phone for more photos than I took with my DSLR. I had decided to do this ahead of time. More on that near the bottom of this entry.
  • Despite ignoring my diet for the duration of the trip, I weighed the same when I returned home as I had when I’d left. Lucky me.

◊ The First Day (Dec. 10)

Our trip north was uneventful — which is a huge success if you’re traveling with children. For the first time, we opted to get our lunch to-go, instead of spending 20 or more minutes sitting in a restaurant trying to convince our kids to eat. We had one unplanned stop in Maud, since my daughter hadn’t used the bathroom at our previous stop. (Trip: 344 miles in 5:56.)

We arrived at Seminole’s Best Western hotel at 15:13. The room they gave us was on the bottom floor right next to the elevator, so we didn’t even go inside it; we requested a different room, which was immediately provided, on the third floor. (I’m fairly certain it’s the only place you can be on the third floor in the city of Seminole.)

Before long, we were out at my parents’ property east of town, where my sister Shari’s children were waiting for us. RnB immediately joined their cousins playing in the dirt. Supper that evening was homemade pizza — those choosing the meal could have had no way of knowing we’d eaten Little Caesar’s pizza the night before at home, and had our own homemade pizza the night before that. It was still tasty and filling, and it wasn’t the first time I’ve eaten pizza three days in a row.

Daniel And The Dump Truck
My nephew Daniel, backlit by the setting sun, Dec. 10
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Benjamin poses as Santa, Dec. 10
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

After supper, the Morrows got in their van and we got in our minivan, and the lot of us drove to Seminole’s Magnolia Park to see the Christmas lights they’d set up along the walking path around the pond. (The pond and walking paths were built before Marline and I moved away from Seminole, but this was our first time seeing the Donald W. Reynolds Wellness Center.) There, we met up with my other sister Heather, her husband, and one of her sons, and all of us rode a “tram” (trailer pulled by a tractor) around the walking path to see the light displays. It was enjoyable, and — I thought — impressive for the city of Seminole, which hadn’t always gone out of its way to impress me while I lived there.

After the tram ride, Heather suggested walking a ways around the pond. Before we could decide, the children were off and running through the dark. We kind of surprised ourselves as a group by going all the way around. At one point, I saw an elderly man trying to set up a tripod to get a photo of himself with a woman on a cute little bridge. I recognized him, but couldn’t remember his name (edit: Pastor Roger Brewer?). He remembered me, and asked me to get the photo, so I did, despite the camera being unfamiliar.

◊ The Second Day (Dec. 11)

With my children at The Seminole Producer, Dec. 11
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

By morning, both children had already figured out how to operate the elevator in the hotel, though BW had to stretch a bit to reach the “3” button. We ate breakfast in the hotel, as we would for the next three days. Even I ate breakfast there, which is kind of a miracle — I never eat breakfast.

Our first stop of the day was The Seminole Producer, the only daily newspaper in Seminole County, Oklahoma, and the place I worked for nearly nine years (2001-09), the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere and the last place I was employed. We met publisher Stu Phillips outside and went in with him. I wasn’t surprised to see the offices hadn’t changed a whole lot in six years, but I was surprised to see so many of my photos hanging on the walls, framed, in large sizes. The fireball. The fire tornado. An aerial photo I made in 2006 from a hot air balloon. Track and field photos. A baseball shot. And more. That was a pretty cool feeling, realizing that I’d left a lasting mark on this business, which has been a recognizable institution in that town for 80 or more years.

BW changing tires in the children’s museum, Dec. 11
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

Besides Mr. Phillips, there were four people inside that I’d previously known — no one in the news room (though the managing editor said he recognized my name from a folder of my old stories that’s still stored on the server). I took my kids into the press room and showed them the old Goss Community Press that was so much a part of my life during my time in Seminole. My wife talked to Mary and Susie in the pagination department. We learned who had been divorced, remarried, had kids or grandkids, died, etc. — quite a bit of local gossip in 15 minutes.

After getting a photo outside the building, we went on to the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum (the website’s quality is not a reflection of how cool the place itself actually is). Of the seven or so children’s museums we’ve visited in at least four states, this one ranks right up near the top. We were nearly alone in the building during our entire stay there. After 90 minutes of play, we left to eat lunch at Braum’s and then returned to the museum for another three hours. BW’s favorite part was the real airplane embedded in the side of the building, which he piloted for at least 30 minutes. RL’s favorite part was the spinning tables of sand, on which she created various works of art.

RL creating sand art, Dec. 11
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

Then we headed to my parents’ again, just in time to see my brother Zane arrive — with wife and child, Violet’s first visit to this property. After playing outside a while (upper 60s), we went inside to have Christmas two weeks early. The kids had drawn names for a gift exchange, and I think all of them but one were happy with their small presents (one gift was supposed to arrive via FedEx that day, but the package never showed up). Then we ate a supper of ham, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, and (can’t remember everything).

Baby Violet
My youngest niece Violet, posing for a Christmas photo, Dec. 11
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

BW fell asleep in the car on the way back to the hotel, and then settled in for a full night’s sleep. RL went to sleep easily enough, but woke up crying several times. We could never figure out why.

◊ The Third Day (Dec. 12)

We spent our morning at Seminole’s Boom Town Playground, which is really quite impressive. I remember when it was built, but never had a reason to go there. I think it’s safe to say that it’s more interesting for children than any playground here in Killeen, which is saying a lot.

RnB playing at the really awesome Boomtown Playground in Seminole, Dec. 12
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Back at the hotel, RnB watched part of “Frozen” on the laptop while we waited for lunch time. (We’d brought the laptop and two DVDs exclusively for killing time if we ran into any. One of the perks of driving is that you can bring extra stuff that’s not really necessary but might come in handy.)

Then we drove east on Strother out of town, including two miles of dirt road, and went to Heather’s house the back way. With 32 people in attendance, no place to do portraits inside, and rain forecast for the afternoon, I suggested doing group photos outside before lunch, so we did. And then we ate wonderful food brought by several aunts and cousins. While several participated in a Dirty Santa gift exchange, I made photos and several children played outside. RL clung to her nine-year-old cousin Ella most of the time, saying they were “best friends forever”. BW spent a little time with the other boys but mostly played in the living room under the supervision of my Dad.

Group Photo (Crop)
The 32 people in attendance at the Hennen house on Dec. 12
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

RL poses at the Hennen pond, Dec. 12
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

We presented Mom with a birthday cake (70th) and a gift of money for a new appliance. I was tasked to give a speech, which I did, and remarkably kept it short.

At one point, I walked to the Hennen pond with RL, which she enjoyed. We sat on the dock there for a few minutes. Eventually she told me she was waiting to see “fly fishes”. When I asked her about it, she said: “I saw on TV one time that there are fly-fishes in ponds in Oklahoma, but not in Texas. I guess they’re not in this pond. That’s okay.” She seemed disappointed. I suppose she must have heard of “fly-fishing” on a TV show, and somehow correlated it with Oklahoma and mixed up the word a bit.

Both children enjoyed Heather’s guinea pig, and BW played with the tiny dogs a bit. RL screamed and ran away when the dogs were eventually let into the house.

Granny Fry with her youngest great-granddaughter, youngest grandson, and youngest great-grandson
Dec. 12
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

Before dark, Zane and I drove our families over to Granny Fry’s house for a short but enjoyable visit. It was Granny’s first time to meet Violet. M and I were impressed that our own children were very well behaved during this visit. I realized that Zane is Granny’s youngest grandson and BW is her youngest great-grandson, so I got a photo of them together.

We ate leftovers at Mom and Dad’s house, and I played a few games of chess with the Morrow boys and Zane. Zane beat me, which is the first time that’s happened — I haven’t played him since he became an adult and haven’t played at all in at least six years.

Again, BW fell asleep on the way back to the hotel and stayed down. RL went to sleep quickly after arriving. In the middle of the night, BW fell off the bed at least twice, waking M and I. After one of the times, the people in the next room 01:30 were talking loudly, slamming their door, and playing music. I wondered whether they’d been awakened by BW’s loud thumps and cries, or whether they’d been awake the whole time and just decided to be loud in the middle of the night. We eventually put BW to sleep in M’s bed and I moved over to RL’s bed, where she battered my face and head several times during the night as she slept.

◊ The Fourth Day (Dec. 13)

Playing chess with my nephews, Dec. 13
(Copyright © 2015 by Marline Fry.)

This time, we went to Mom and Dad’s right after breakfast. While the little kids played upstairs (it was raining outside), I played chess with Azariah, Cedwryck, and William (and once with Elijah, I think), winning about 12 games in a row and teaching them a few tricks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, because he’s always been good with puzzles and critical thinking, William gave me the most trouble and nearly beat me twice. I should note that William is only 8 years old.

The Morrows left right after lunch (fried rice), leaving the house mostly empty and quiet. RL wanted Gram and Gramps to watch “Frozen” with her, so they kindly did.

Then the Hennens came over and most of us played Loaded Questions (a board game) while RnB (surprisingly) kept to themselves in the living room.

After supper, the Hennens returned home and RL performed a “Treasure Hunt” game she had invented and “written” on a notecard. It was entertaining for Marline, my parents, and me. Then we said our goodbyes and returned to the hotel. This night, I think all of us slept through the night, boys in one bed and girls in the other.

◊ The Fifth Day (Dec. 14)

RnB at the I-35 rest stop near Gainesville, Texas, Dec. 14
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry.)

BW woke promptly at 06:00 and shouted “yeah!”, holding his arms aloft in a celebratory fashion. He jumped off the bed and began putting on his shoes, saying he was ready to go downstairs to eat. That got the rest of us up, so we ate early and got our stuff down to the car.

We left at 08:03 and only stopped twice — the rest area at the Texas border and the Burger King at Grandview again — arriving home at 13:51. It was 340 miles in 5:48, only the second time we’ve made the trip home with children in under six hours.

I kind of expected both children to be happy to be home, but neither seemed particularly pleased by it. BW especially was whiny throughout the afternoon and evening. M did loads of laundry while I offloaded photos, paid a few bills online, and caught up a bit on the news of the world.

We had supper at Dickey’s BBQ here in Killeen, which was satisfying, and then returned home once more. Both kids, despite having slept in the car during our southbound trip, fell asleep instantly at (a slightly late) bed time.

◊ Phone Photos

Having recently acquired a new Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which has a very decent camera and plenty of memory, I had decided ahead of time to use it for most of my photos during this trip. I knew I would use the DSLR for family group photos, and for indoor bounce flash photos during gift-opening, etc. (because the low light and quick motions would have caused unacceptable blur in smartphone photos), but I didn’t want to carry the 60D around constantly — as I usually do at these gatherings. And the phone was going to be in my pocket anyway.

I was pretty happy with my results from both cameras, though there were certainly times I wished I’d brought a fast prime for the DSLR (all I brought was the Sigma 70-300mm telephoto lens and the Sigma 10-20mm superwide).

If you can’t tell by looking, the only photos on this page made with a DSLR are the backlit evening shot of Daniel, the Christmas portrait of Violet, and the group photo at the Hennen house.

◊ Fuel Efficiency

Our first tank, which included the entire trip north and some city driving, took us 371.1 miles on 15.777 gallons, or 23.52 miles per gallon.

Our second tank, which included more than 40 miles of local driving and two-thirds of our trip back home, gave us 278.5 miles on 13.019 gallons, or 21.39 miles per gallon. (The trip south required running the air conditioner occasionally, which bit into our mileage.)

◊ Overall Impressions

As always, we enjoyed seeing various family members. My parents seemed healthy and happy. My sister Heather’s boys are nearly grown men — certainly closer to it than I was at their ages. All my nieces and nephews were great with RnB, taking turns playing with them, watching them, teaching them.

Seminole itself looks to be in better shape than it was when my wife and I moved away. Several noticeably junky buildings and houses have been removed, some replaced with businesses or just lawns. The wellness center and several other nice buildings have sprung up since we left, improving the overall look of the town.

One thing that bugged me is that several gas stations have multiple prices for “regular”, because they advertise “100% gas” (as opposed to the 10% ethanol that most of us use), and almost nowhere had “pay at the pump”, including one station with a large “Pay At The Pump” sign. This might be an Oklahoma phenomenon rather than a Seminole one, however.

With both our children behaving so well (two employees at the hotel said RnB were the “most well-behaved children I’ve ever seen”), both M and I were relatively stress-free during this visit, opening our minds to the possibility of more frequent trips in the future — and longer stays, too.

Last Minute Notes
BW makes some notes before going to sleep in the hotel, Dec. 10
(Copyright © 2015 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

(Edit, 2015.12.17: Added compliment from hotel employees about our children.)
(Edit, 2015.12.18: Added that William is eight years old, which is relevant to the chess conversation. Also corrected meal descriptions for Saturday and Sunday.)

  1. Marline says:

    Good writeup. But I see you left out Benjamin falling out of the bed twice. Oh and the hotel ladies saying we had the most well behaved children they had ever seen.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Your reading comprehension is slipping, dear. :-) I did mention Benjamin falling out of the bed. :-)

      (And I’ll edit to add in the hotel ladies’ compliments to our children.)

  2. Shari says:

    The fried rice was Sunday lunch. Saturday night was leftovers. :) Also, it might be interesting to note that William is 8 years old. Today he beat Taryn at chess.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Thanks for the correction on the meals. I’m notoriously bad about forgetting which days I ate which foods. :-)

      Yes! I should definitely note that William is only eight. The kid is quite a thinker. :-)

      Note: Both have been edited above.

  3. Shari says:

    And I should say it was nice that both of our children were able to play more independently, allowing for more adult -type visiting.

    • Wil C. Fry says:

      Yes indeed. This was the first time we were able to allow BW to roam around on his own — which I think he enjoyed too. Other than fiddling with Mom and Dad’s printer a few times, he was pretty good. :-)

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