Amazing Grace (Part 2)

“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.” –Amazing Grace by John Newton (1725-1807)

Patrick and I had an afternoon flight to Mexico with a one-hour drive from the airport to our hotel. Even surrounded by hundreds of travelers, we felt like we were in our own little world—just the two of us. I can honestly say that after twenty years of marriage, Patrick is still my best friend. With this latest challenge, he has become my staunch protector as well: guarding me from the smallest stressors and making sure my needs come before his own.

We arrived at the hotel around 7pm and asked for an upgrade to our basic room. For $300 we could get an oceanfront suite, instead of the smaller room at the back of the property. It was next to a construction site, but all work stopped by 9pm, so it never proved to be an issue. This same upgrade when we booked would have cost us $2000, so this was awesome. When we handed them our Discover card, our concierge shook his head. They only took Mastercard, Visa or American Express. Oops! We only brought our Discover card because 1. We paid for the trip with it and so assumed that they would take it at the hotel and 2. Discover said they would not charge international fees if we used it during said trip. No problem. Mastercard promised to overnight new cards. Problem solved.

It was an incredible trip despite my low energy level. We had excellent weather and outstanding food. They even made special orders to accommodate my food allergies. It was noted in the computer upon check in, so all the restaurants had the information when we signed in. On our anniversary meal, the restaurant manager even came to the table when he saw that I was served regular bread instead of gluten-free. He was very concerned, but I assured him that I was just treating myself for our special celebration.

Our anniversary dinner

Our anniversary dinner

While we were enjoying warm weather and the beach, DFW was hit with the ice storm of the century, blanketing the ground with 6-8 inches of ice and shutting down businesses for over three days. We were scheduled to fly out on Friday and the storm hit on Thursday evening. Our flight was canceled at 11:00 am and we had to check out of our room by noon. Patrick called and got our flight rescheduled for Saturday and then we went to see about staying an extra night. Our room was already booked, but they offered us our original room—for $575!! For one night. We said, “Thanks, but, no thanks.” and proceeded to check out—only our credit card had never made it. It had been in Cancun for two days and we were 40 miles South in Playa del Carmen. I guess “overnight” in international lingo is “cinco dias.” Our concierge could see via internet tracking that the card was in Cancun and since we were stuck, he said we could just keep our bracelets until the credit card arrived without being charged for an extra day. This, my friends, is God’s grace at work. Otherwise, we would have gotten a slip of paper for one more meal and would have to search for food and a hotel. For now, we were just homeless, but still had access to unlimited food and drinks!

Patrick headed into town solo to hunt down a room with a comfortable bed and I stayed in the lobby with my ipad and wifi access. I wish I would have enjoyed that day more, but my body wouldn’t let me. This is how Adrenal Fatigue works: The stress over not knowing what would happen immediately triggers my cortisol to kick in. My body quickly uses up what little cortisol I have and then supplies adrenaline to fill the gap. Now my mind and heart race and I absolutely cannot make a decision if my life depended on it. Every. Little. Thing. is a huge obstacle to overcome. Patrick understands this, so he makes the calls and goes into hunting and gathering mode. I have a phone that works in Mexico. Republic Wireless. $10 per month with unlimited texting, phone calls and wi-fi data. Our resort has wi-fi, so I have a working phone. My husband has a name brand phone with a company that gouges for their service and forces its customers to buy an outrageous data plan. He did not have service in Mexico. In fact, we are still waiting for the bill for that 15 minutes when “airplane mode” turned off on its own and several texts messages came through at that high international rate. But, I digress. So, my hubby is out hunting a room and I am sitting in the lobby for three hours with no way of contacting him when panic sets in. “I can’t call him because he doesn’t have a working phone. What if he is hurt or kidnapped and can’t reach me? If I leave the lobby to enjoy the beach, he might not find me; so, I better just sit in the lobby and worry instead of enjoying this million dollar view that God has blessed me with. I could tell the concierge that I am going to the beach, or to a restaurant and he could tell Patrick, but, what if he takes my bracelet and then I can’t eat. Ever again.” And so went my crazy thoughts until I had worked myself up so much that I had to call a friend to talk me off the edge of a full-flegded panic attack. Then Patrick walked in. We had a room with a comfortable bed for $60 and—wait for it—it was right across the street from the Catholic Church which was having Mass at 8pm! We had time for dinner, to get to our new hotel and go to Mass! And, the credit card just arrived via FedEx, so we were able to get a meal voucher to eat before we head out. God is good I tell you, He is so good; and yet, I continue to doubt. When will I ever learn?

The view I should have continued to enjoy for our extra day in Mexico

The view I should have continued to enjoy for our extra day in Mexico

Anyway, we made it to the airport just fine. We had a few hours delay, but our flight made it out of DFW, so we were certain it would make it back with us on board. Several hours at the airport were made comfortable by a long, drawn-out lunch at Bubba Gumps complete with padded booth seating and the non-stop video of “Forrest Gump” on every screen. Our dear friend and neighbor braved the ice and drove over an hour to pick us up—a trip that would normally take twenty minutes. His incredible wife had dinner for us when we arrived home and we had the house to ourselves for another night together. Okay, if this wasn’t all awesome enough, my friend and Nutritional Therapist, Diane came over while we were gone and wrapped all of my Christmas presents! Yes, I had them all purchased by Thanksgiving because the grace of God had whispered in my soul that I needed to get it done and put it all in an Excel spreadsheet—something I had never done before. When I crashed, I simply printed out the list and Diane knew not only who the gifts belonged to, but how to sort them for each celebration: The Allen’s, The Mach’s, our Family celebration and St. Nick’s Feast Day. So, when we walked in the door on December 7, we discovered that the ice had not stopped St. Nick from fulfilling his duty.

Happy St. Nick Day!

Happy St. Nick Day!

Sunday came and Mass was canceled for most of our diocese. Patrick and I were supposed to go to collect the kids. Allison and the babies were south of us and Joshua and Samuel were an hour to the east. My nerves would not tolerate a trip out in the ice, so Patrick chose to get the babies and Allison, and I would have to wait to see the boys until I returned from the Sisters. Angela and Daniel were still in Nebraska and would come home on the 20th. He made it safely to Burleson and back with a third of our children and I busily unpacked and repacked for my next trip. Would the ice storm cause a delay or cancellation for that flight? Only time would tell.


No Room at the Inn

Do you remember the Gospel stories about Joseph and the very pregnant Mary trying desperately to find a place to stay? Of course you do. Anyway, I can relate. I’m not pregnant and I am not in a strange city ready to give birth with no place to stay, but still I can relate. Maybe a better analogy can be taken from the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” where the wife is out of town and the dad, played by Steve Martin (sorry, Im horrible at names–even characters in my favorite movies), is trying to find a sitter. As soon as he mentions how many children he has the person on the other end of the line hangs up. He becomes so deflated that he calls numbers and then just says, “Nevermind. I’ll just hang up on myself.” Yes. That is a much better fit. Comparing myself to the Virgin Mary probably wasn’t a good place to start.


Anyhoooowww, I love to travel. With my kids. For several years it just wasn’t possible because of babies and complicated pregnancies; but, for the past two years we have traveled to Omaha and Wisconsin and we are ready to hit the road again. So, here’s the glitch. The last couple of trips we’ve just invaded stayed with family or friends. Throw some air mattresses down, a couple of sleeping bags and the pack ‘n play for the babies and we’re there. This year my Nebraska relatives are out of town for the month of August. I know it sounds fishy, right?! I’m certain it has nothing to do with us invading staying with them two years in a row. No, really, because they were perfectly happy with us following them out to Colorado. I have friends there, so I thought we could just stay with them, but they have another family visiting that same week. Go figure. I’m sure that is just a coincidence as well. Anyway, after all these complications I decided that maybe we were supposed to find a different destination. So, Ft. Davis, Texas came to mind. We visited 13 years ago when we started homeschooling and the younger kids haven’t been to the Davis Mountains. I called the lodge where we stayed the last time. Denied. It is owned by the Texas State Parks, but we have to rent two rooms with an adult in each room. So the single mom traveling with seven minor children cannot possibly be accommodated. The girl was very nice and referred me to a neighboring State Park that rents connecting rooms. Denied again. They did say they would accommodate me, but because they do not reserve specific rooms, they could not guarantee that the rooms would be connected or even near one another. Common sense tells me it would not be wise to travel 12 hours across the state and hope that we get connecting rooms when we arrive at 9pm.

I drove 12 hours with 7 kids!   I can't believe you don't have connecting rooms!!

I drove 12 hours with 7 kids! I can’t believe you don’t have connecting rooms!!

This phenomenon is not anything new. Any family with more than three children experiences the no-room-at-the-inn response unless you want to rent two rooms at $100 each and that is at the cheap end. After six kids you are straight out of luck unless you split into three rooms and convince your mother-in-law to join you. Of course, then you don’t have room in the car and two vehicles are required. After the expense and hassle it is no longer a fun get away, but has morphed into a strange form of self-torture and the most expensive vacation that you have ever planned. (Note: This is nothing against my mother-in-law who is one of the sweetest women I have ever known and who has taken many vacations with us before the last three kids squeezed her out of the car) But, I digress. Last summer the kids and I drove all the way to Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was great. We stayed with family and friends in Omaha on the way up and stayed with family in Green Bay as well. Well, nine hours into the twelve-hour drive back to Omaha I knew I was done. Actually, I realized it three hours into the trip and was smart enough to call my husband and have him find a hotel room in Des Moines. We hit Des Moines at 9pm and I was exhausted. My fourteen year-old acting as my own personal cheerleader kept me awake sitting next to me in the front seat. “You can do it, Mom!” Only 10 more minutes. Nine more minutes. Eight more minutes. Each minute seemed to drag on forever until we saw the exit. I went and checked in at the front desk and left the kids in the car. I scoped out the layout of the front desk and elevators. I strategized the best way to get to the second floor with 8 kids unnoticed. Ha! Lucky for me the rolling rack was available. I rolled it out to the car and proceeded to load up the two suitcases, two playpens, eight pillows, blankets and baby dolls. I had the oldest carry the baby and the fourteen year-old carry the toddler. The other four kids were instructed to walk on the right side of the cart and to be quiet. We managed to make it onto the elevator just fine and the kids thought the mission had been accomplished, but I quickly quieted them and said, “No. We have to make it into the room and then we can’t be loud or disturb the others staying at the hotel.” Upon exiting the elevator I noticed the night manager at the other end of the floor. “Quick, kids. Behind the cart.” We quickly opened our door and ushered in and flopped on the bed in laughter. I’m certain no one noticed the overloaded cart, the mom and eight kids in tow. If they did may God bless them for taking pity on us and looking the other way. The room arrangement was an exercise in geometry all on its own. Thank goodness for the oversized window ledge that made a bed for Lauren. Three kids slept sideways on one double bed, Joshua was on the floor between the wall and one bed, Allison and I shared the other double bed and we squeezed one playpen between the beds and one at the foot of my bed. There was little room to spare, but we all had a place to lay our heads, air conditioning and indoor plumbing.

It is sad that it had to come to that. To sneaking into a hotel room like we were thieves in the night. It is a statement of just how anti-family our society has become. Most people would never know how it affects big families. The reservations operators always apologize, but quickly state that their hands are tied by fire safety codes and insurance regulations. I understand the laws are meant to protect us, but sometimes our efforts to avoid any and all suffering really just take the enjoyment out of the simple things in life. My kids would happily sleep on blanket pallets on the floor to expand their horizons and see more of the world, but it is nearly impossible to find a place that allows you to do so without spending hundreds of dollars a night for shelter or being dishonest about how many kids you have and essentially breaking the law by violating codes and ordinances. So, the next time I plan a vacation I will call several hotels and when they answer I may just say, “Never mind. I’ll just hang up on myself.” And then I will take out my list of contacts and start calling friends and family to see if they are up for a visit from their crazy Texas kinfolk. Don’t worry, folks, I’ll bring wine and buy the groceries!