Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Lessons From the Road, or "Making Lemonade"

Many readers have asked about the outcome of our failed RV trip. In the interest of telling the end of the story, I'll give a brief summary here. Then I'm moving on to better things!

We were stranded in Omaha for two nights. When it became clear that Cruise America was not going to help us, we took matters into our own hands. There was no way we were getting back into their unsafe RV, so we rented an SUV to take us and our gear home.

The financial outcome was this: Cruise America refunded the money we spent to rent their unsafe RV but that's it. In order to get our money back, we had to sign a form that said we weren't entitled to any additional money. They didn't pay for the SUV rental, for the hotels we stayed in when we were broken down, for the food that went bad in the RV when we were in hotels, for the restaurants we had to eat in instead of eating our own food, or for the $130.00 in overages we paid on our cell phones to talk to them (My husband was on hold with them for 73 minutes one of the times...).

Most importantly, they didn't really try to make up for how poorly we were treated. The person who finally refunded our money apologized for what happened to our family but her few words hardly make up for days of mistreatment. She was the only person from Cruise America who ever expressed even the tiniest bit of concern for our family.

Yes, we probably could have sued them and won, but that would mean they'd have all of our rental money in their bank account while we fought it. And frankly, we never want to interact with Cruise America again. I stick by my original statement: NEVER Rent an RV from Cruise America. If you haven't read my original post, please do, and spread the word.

And now, here's a photo collection to show how we made lemonade out of the rotten lemons we got. When things get tough in your life, I hope you'll be able to make a little lemonade, too.

My "brother" in Sac City, IA (Filipino host brother)

LEGO Land Discovery Center, Kansas City

National WW1 Museum, Kansas City, MO
Toasting Marshmallows, Horse Cave, KY
Diamond Caverns, Kentucky
More spelunking!
We stayed with two of our favorite people in the world. (MD)
"Fanny" by Chuck Close, National Gallery. Made entirely with fingerprints.
I swear they posed that way all on their own!
We never made it to the southwest and most of these stops were not in our original plan. Despite a very rough beginning, we had fun and made memories during our two week trip home from Omaha.

When have you had to make the best of a bad situation? How did you "make lemonade?"

Friday, July 19, 2013

Teaching Kids About Racism

I choose to stay out of the fray on the internet when it comes to heated, often unproductive "conversations." You know the ones I'm talking about- the ones when people come out of the woodwork to start name-calling and lobbing insults. I want no part of such disrespectful conversations. Different opinions? No problem. In fact, I embrace them, as long as the message is delivered respectfully.

So when George Zimmerman was found "not guilty," I remained quiet on-line. I watched as the internet and the news media exploded as did my Facebook feed. It's not that I don't want to be part of the conversation. I most definitely do. I just want a thoughtful, respectful conversation. I decided to wait until I was home from vacation to write a thoughtful post on the topic.

On this blog, I can control the overall tone. I choose to let all comments (by humans as opposed to "bots") get posted, and delete them if they are offensive, rude, or SPAM. Polliwog is meant to be a safe place with positive suggestions for parents, teachers, and homeschoolers. 
My son and his best friend
Photo by Alison Noyce

On the last day of our vacation, my husband and I sat with our children over breakfast and talked about Trayvon Martin and the events surrounding his murder. We discussed racism and white privilege. We discussed the Florida law called "Stand your ground." The most difficult part of the conversation was helping our son understand that his best friend WILL encounter racism. It already happened in front of him once and he was unprepared for how to respond. We're talking with him about what he'll do the next time.

This was a difficult discussion. How do you explain that a teenager was killed when he went out to buy skittles? How do you help your son understand that his best friend will be seen as a "scary black man" when he gets older? And what do you do to make the world better in the wake of such news?

For starters, you talk about it. If you are a person of color, you don't need to read my post. You know racism exists.  If you aren't a person of color, please open your eyes. Pay attention. Saying you don't see color is disingenuous.  As one African American friend told me, (I'm paraphrasing) "Black people talk about racism every day. We say, "listen to what happened to me today...' " If you have white privilege, you don't live it so you don't have have to talk about it. But not talking to your children about racism is dangerous. It perpetuates racism.

I also encourage you to make your children's lives as diverse as possible. If you live in the suburbs or a rural area like us, that can be a challenge. Trust me, I understand. But you can seek ways to invite a variety of people into your kids' lives. Our kids know and love a variety of people, which, for them, made our conversation all the more painful. When thinking about racism, they had to think about their best friends, their "Aunties and Uncles," and their family friends and imagine what they encounter every day.

On final suggestion is to read books with your children that feature diverse characters. Children learn so much about relationships and problem solving through books. I witness this with my kids all the time. Be careful to choose books that accurately portray people of color (or from other cultures). For help with this, see the resources below. I especially recommend books from Lee and Low, though they are certainly not the only publishers of great books about all kinds of people.

It turns out, in the time I chose to wait to write my post, many other people have written thoughtful posts with suggestions. Some of them are long. I know you may not like reading long posts on a computer screen. (I know I don't. I read some in phases). But please make the time. It's important. Our kids need you to read them and take action. Our world needs you to take action.

On the Lee and Low blog: How to Deal With a Racist Remark

On Rage Against the Minivan: What I Want You to Know About Being a Young Black Man in America. This man's story is not unique. A dear friend told me his mom taught him the same lessons, as did all his friend's moms.

On Under the Acacia TreeI am not Trayvon's Martin's Mom

And here are some sites that offer general information:

Teaching Tolerance: "A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools." My favorite resource for educators on this topic.

RACE-Are We So Different? A new look at race through three lenses: history, human variation, lived experience. (Includes a section for kids aged 10-13).

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture, and Ethnicity

CBC Diversity: "Advocating for an inclusive and representative children’s publishing industry"

Coloring Between the Lines: Reflections on race, culture, and children's books.

I hope you'll add your own suggestions and ideas in the comments. Please do not debate the Trayvon Martin case here. Please stick to helpful comments and suggestions. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: NEVER Rent an RV from Cruise America

 June 24th
If you read my blog regularly, you know I'm all about positive ideas, news, and information. I never bash businesses or books or anything else here. That's not how I operate.

This was a tough decision, but today I'm making an exception because I hope to save others from our horrible experience.

We rented an RV from Cruise America for a 5 week cross country trip with our farthest location being the Grand Canyon. This is the trip of a lifetime that required a significant amount of saving to make it happen. We've had nothing but escalating difficulties since we left just 8 days ago.

We started out on June 23. On June 24th, the RV made a terrifying, loud sound while we were on I-90 west of Syracuse. Horrible sounds continued as we barely managed to get off the highway to a truck stop. We called their "24 hour customer service" line and were told to expect a call back. After 1 hour, there was no call so we called back. We were told someone would call us "some time today." Luckily, my husband was able to locate a campground nearby so we "limped" into that campground for the night.

The next day we spent hours at a truck repair shop waiting for information. They wouldn't return our calls or the calls from the repair place. They wouldn't escalate our calls to a Manager. FINALLY they got us a replacement RV and comped us 1 day, even though we lost 30 hours of irreplaceable time.

June 28
So, back on the road we went. On June 28th the "new" RV overheated and shut down on a bridge over the Mississippi River. There was only one lane and no shoulder because of construction and miles and miles of traffic behind us. After multiple starts and stops, we barely got enough power to crest the bridge and coast down the other side without power steering.

Same deal with customer service except this time the representative argued when we told him that, no, we couldn't just try to drive it 7 miles to a repair shop. When pressed, my husband told the agent that a police officer told us we could not try to drive anywhere else. Agent's response? "Is the cop a mechanic?" No. He's just the guy who's in charge of road safety who forbid us to try driving anywhere else because it was a safety hazard. (Seriously... we blocked multiple intersections, etc. just trying to get safely off the road). What did they do for us? Paid for a hotel up to $120 and comped us 2 days. We were stranded with no vehicle or food so we had to pay for meals even though we had food in the RV.

And finally to today. Yes, a third breakdown. This time on a busy, dangerous highway with massive
July 1
tractor trailers passing inches from our RV. And the RV wouldn't restart, so we couldn't get off the highway.

Cruise America always answers the phone with "Are you in a safe location."  No! Yet, we sat on the highway for more than an hour WITH NO CALLBACK from Cruise America.  The police called a tow. When Arrow Towing arrived, I called Cruise America back and they ARGUED about letting the company tow us. So even though the tow guy had us hooked up, we couldn't leave the unsafe highway.

Luckily, Arrow is a good company and our driver Adam (Thank you, Adam.) agreed to take us to safety and deal with money later. (After he towed the RV, he waited while we gathered enough belongings for the night and then he drove us to a hotel.  Everyone we've interacted with EXCEPT Cruise America has been so helpful to us. Even the lady at the front desk apologized for our misfortune.  Cruise America? Not so much).

So here we are, stranded in a hotel in Omaha, with no vehicle and most of our stuff still in the RV. We told Cruise America we do not want the RV back. We're done. They just need to get us home. Their response... they threatened us with breach of contract. Seriously.

Oh, and did I mention our young kids have been with us through all of this? Cruise America does not care that our children's lives were at risk.

Thank you for reading my rant. I promise you all of this is true. I hope you tell everyone you know to never do business with Cruise America.

As you know, we've traveled pretty widely in the developing world- the Philippines, Niger, India, Ecuador, Morocco, Peru, etc. and also in England and Italy. We have NEVER had this kind of experience. We had a flat tire on a crowded bush taxi in Niger for crying out loud and all we got was good cheer, camaraderie, and combined problem solving. With Cruise America, all we've gotten is people hiding behind a script. It's completely unacceptable.

And now, I have a favor to ask... I know most of my readers don't comment or share my posts (but Google Analytics tells me you're reading...). Will you please share this post via all of your social media networks? I hope to prevent anyone else from our misfortune. BUT... I also hope some pressure will help us.