Wednesday, September 29, 2010

GUEST COLUMN: A mammoth visit to Waco

Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Monday, September 27, 2010
JENNIFER HUFFMAN Guest columnist

What’s a California family of five to do on a road trip between Dallas and San Antonio?

That was my question when we visitors to Texas found ourselves heading between two sets of relatives on a mini-family reunion this past summer.

After spending most of our vacation budget just getting to Texas, we realized it would be faster and cheaper to rent a car and drive.

I got out my AAA map. Look, I told my husband. We can take Interstate 35. It goes right between Dallas and Boerne, our other Texas destination.

Upon sharing our plan with our Texas family, I immediately got an earful.

I hate I- 35, one aunt said. Too many cars.

Watch out for speed traps, wrote a colleague.

But we were on a deadline. We had seven days and six nights to see more than a dozen relatives in four Texas cities.

We’ll need to stop somewhere for lunch and a potty break, I told my husband, as we planned our descent down the middle of the state.


You should stop at the Dr Pepper museum. The girls would love it, Grandma said.

I e-mailed a Waco friend for a second opinion. Try the Waco Mammoth Site, he said.

Mammoths? In Texas?

He wasn’t kidding. As you Wacoans are quite aware, about 68,000 years ago a bunch of Columbian Mammoths died in some kind of flood or other disaster only to be discovered thousands of years later.

Bones? Digging? As the daughter of a science teacher, this got my attention.

This could be good, I said. The girls could check out real bones. This was no Disney version of pre-historic times.

Arriving in Waco, and quickly finding the Mammoth site, I could tell immediately I was going to like this place.

New landscaping surrounded a clean, large parking lot. This was a good sign.

It likely meant everything else is equally clean and large, including bathrooms.

Nothing makes a mom happier than easy parking and plentiful air conditioning.

Indeed, everything at the site looked new.

Besides the bones, I mean.

I discovered that was because it is new.

The mammoth site opened to the public at the end of 2009. Nearby was a visitor’s center, and much-anticipated clean bathrooms.

Friendly staff wearing mammoth T-shirts handed us a map and offered us a free tour. This is a city park? I asked incredulously.

The California state park is an endangered species these days. A number have been closed. Many have reduced or eliminated staff. We do not have fresh sod or clean and sparkling bathrooms. We do not have newly paved walkways and helpful tour guides.

This Waco city park put our California state parks to shame.

Arriving inside the air conditioned building, we gazed down at the large site with excavated bones. There were baby mammoth bones. Mamma mammoth bones. Brother mammoth bones. Even camel bones.

And possibly some kind of ancient tiger tooth.

I could have stayed for another hour or two but after corralling three somewhat uncooperative daughters for a group photo, it was time to hit the infamous I-35 again.

Outside it was a typically hot and humid July day in Texas. The girls might have liked to get a Dr Pepper, but it was too late. We had to hit the road or we’d never make it to Boerne on time. Catch you next time, Dr Pepper.

Jennifer Huffman is a reporter and columnist for the Napa Valley Register in Napa, Calif.

(c) 2010 Robinson Media Co. LLC - Waco Tribune-Herald

Monday, September 27, 2010

The fabulous Lee Herbst Gruhn

All thirteen of my PlanetClaire readers will probably recall the day my friend Peta and I met San Francisco society dame Lee Herbst Gruhn. Last week a reporter from the Chronicle's website, SF Gate, called me to inquire about Lady Lee.

I could have went on and on about Lee and her Pacific Heights mansion. But like all reporters, she was on a deadline. This will have to do.

Lee Herbst Gruhn passed away on June 4, 2010.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Groceries Galore!

I spent nearly all of last week working on a two part series about Target and Walmart getting into the grocery business. I guess it's no surprise that big box stores who sell TVs and TP for less can also sell bananas and cereal for less as well. Here are my stories... including price comparison chart. (Would you believe Whole Foods and Target sell bananas for the same price -- .19 cents each?)

Groceries galore.
(Napa Valley Register, 9/26/10)

Fresh & Easy announces opening date in Napa.
(Napa Valley Register, 9/26/10)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When aliens invade.

Last Sunday after church it was almost as if aliens had invaded our two oldest daughters. While walking to the car Dad bribed them with the promise of a drink at Starbucks if they would walk with their arms around each other. The oldest grabbed her sister in a wrestling clinch and the middle daughter reciprocated with her own WWF moves. The match didn't last long. But it sure was nice. It may be another two or ten years before they touch each other again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The crash column...

Today I had to say goodbye to a dear friend. A friend that’s been there for me, our girls and our family for almost nine years. A friend who’s been dependable, trustworthy and always ready to hit the road at the turn of a key.

I’m talking about my minivan.

I didn’t want to say goodbye. My beloved van was taken away from me, and without any warning.

It’s still hard to write about what happened but here’s the short version: I was driving the girls to school and stopped at a crosswalk. The driver behind me did not.

Now I know why people say, “It all happened so fast.” Because it did. In the split second I saw the driver zooming up behind me, my car exploded from the crash. It was very scary. I almost couldn’t understand what had happened.

Are you OK? I shouted back at the girls. Yes, they said with white faces, already moving out of their seats towards the front of the van.

“Everyone out of the car!” I said.

With trembling fingers, I called my husband. “We’re OK,” I said, “but someone just ran into me.”

I’m on my way, he said.

A few minutes later, he was there, along with the police. I was completely frazzled. Get out your AAA card, my husband said. AAA card? What is that? What does that look like? It was hard to focus.

Luckily the driver of the car that hit me was insured. And more importantly, no one was hurt.

Except my car. The back and sides of the van were crushed and buckled. A tow truck was called to cart away my wounded car. Little did I know it was the last time I would drive her.

Two days later we got the news from our insurance company. The van was officially “totaled.”

What? Totaled?

Yes, they said. It will cost more to fix the car than it’s worth. You won’t get it back.

This isn’t fair, I said.

I wanted to tell them that I didn’t care how much it would cost to fix. My minivan was priceless to me. I loved my van. I babied it almost like a child, getting regular oil changes and checkups. I kept it clean inside. It had low mileage. But best of all — it was paid off.

This was the van that we brought our youngest daughter home in after she was born. The van we drove to Disneyland and Monterey and over the hill and through the woods to grandma’s and grandpa’s and everyone else’s house. I carted the girl scouts all around town in my van. I once shoved a 7-foot Christmas tree inside it. I knew every little detail about my van, like the way the interior light switch had to be turned just so, and the precise angle to turn the rear view mirror to referee shouting matches in the back seats.

This was my first accident, and I had no idea how skittish I would feel after the crash. Now when I drive around town I am convinced everyone is going to crash into me. Something “bad” had happened to us, therefore, something else “bad” could happen to us again. When will I get my confidence as a driver back? It just takes time, people tell me.

Today, we had to visit the van one last time to clean her out and say goodbye. I dreaded that drive to the auto body shop. I almost didn’t want to see her again. It was too sad.

Ron from the shop took us to the back where the other crushed up cars were. It was like visiting an auto body graveyard. I saw my poor car. She looked deflated. I carefully walked around to see where the driver rear-ended me. It was worse than I remembered. The whole back end was crushed inwards. The quarter panels poked outward at odd angles. Even the roof had small dents where the force of the crash compressed the car. Opening the doors, my husband helped me clean out nine year’s worth of kid supplies and stuff. Videotapes, water bottles, blankets, CDs, notepads, pens, bits of candy and broken pencils. We filled five bags.

Ron gave me a sympathetic hug. The car is totaled, but it won’t be crushed, he said. It’ll become a donor car. Someone else driving their own beloved mini van will get a new door, or window or new seats from my car. That made me feel a little bit better. My car will live on.

After the van was all emptied out, I sat in the back seat one last time. I looked out the windows my girls have looked out of a thousand times. Stepping outside, I kissed my fingers and touched the back of the car. Then I wrote a quick note and left it in the glove box.

“Goodbye to our minivan,” it said. “We loved this car.”

Next time in Surrendering to Motherhood: A “new” car.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Reject cupcakes.

Copy chief Michelle left these "reject" cupcakes for us at the newspaper. I think she was going for a red velvet/watermelon theme, probably for some kind of fundraiser for her Breast Cancer walking team "The Boobie Savers." They may not have won any Martha Stewart awards for appearance but oooooohhhh they tasted good! Thanks MC!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"New" car

Having my mini van "totaled" after being rear ended by another driver really stinks. But then we got this new girl. She's a used Volvo V50 wagon with 25,000 miles on it. Isn't she beautiful? Don't you just want to kiss her? I do ;)
She's in great shape and has lots of extras like Sirius radio (paid for by previous owner) and a sunroof and built in Bluetooth phone console.

You can take the mini van from the mom but you can't take the mom from the ... station wagon ;)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Raise the flag.

Ava and Gage from 5th grade were chosen to raise the school flag this morning. I'm not usually still at school during assembly, but today I stayed a little later and then I saw Ava and Gage come out with the flag folded into a triangle. They carefully hooked it to the rope, and tugged until it was raised high. Then we all said the Pledge of Allegiance. Not a bad way to start the morning.
Happy Monday!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Napan helps save friend’s life

Napa Valley Register

When longtime friends Nancy Murchison and Craig Burdsall hit the road for a July 4 weekend getaway, neither had any idea that an ordinary road trip would soon turn into a fight to save a friend’s life.

“We were on our annual trek up to Klamath Falls, and we stopped for breakfast like we always do,” near Woodland, Murchison said. After arriving, Murchison went to find Burdsall, who had stepped away to make a phone call. Spotting him in a nearby booth, Murchison was shocked at her friend’s condition. “He was stiff as a board and he was moaning. I called his name but got no response,” Murchison said.

“I thought he was kidding,” she said. But it was no joke.

After shouting for someone to call 9-1-1, Murchison said she pulled Burdsall to the ground and started doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the 185-pound man.

To read the rest of this story, click here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Bad columnist!

Here is one reader's response to my column about taking a group of girls to Monterey. In my column I admit that I got a "free" breakfast for our girls at our hotel when I told the hostess the girls were 12, instead of 13.

Hi Jennifer,

I wanted to comment on your "Making Waves" column, but didn't want to chance causing you discomfort by writing a public letter to the editor. I was disappointed that in your youth leadership role where you have huge opportunity teach kids to do the right thing and model high ethical standards, you chose to teach them that it is okay to lie to get something for free. And then, with an air of 'look at what I got away with" to share the experience with the entire community. And we wonder why many kids think it is okay to cheat on tests, lie when it is convenient, not consider the impact of their actions on others.

The morals, ethics and daily practices of our youth will be determined by what their adult role models teach them by words and ACTIONS. My suggestion: Take the opportunity to make this a learning experience. Talk about it with the kids, have another fund raiser and send money to cover the meal cost to the restaurant. This is the kind of leadership the kids will remember for a long time.

Lastly, thank you for taking the time to volunteer. It sounds like you have helped those girls have some great experiences.


My fellow columnist Michelle gets cranky letters now and then but this is the first time a reader has voiced so strong an opinion. I kindly thanked her for her comment and agreed that teaching our children to lie is not something I advocate. Bad columnist!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Making waves.

I’ve been a leader of my daughter’s youth group for about a gazillion years now and after all of our fundraising and collecting dues the girls decided it was high time to spend our little nest egg on an overnight trip.

Actually, most have recently hit the magic age of 13, and I know soon they’ll have their eyes on boys and high school and all kinds of other distractions, so I figured now was the time to head off for one last girl bonding weekend. We were headed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For more Surrendering... click here.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


So our minivan is officially considered totalled after another driver crashed into us last week. This means we have lost our wonderful family car which was in great condition, and had lasted us almost 9 years with only 58,000 miles on it.

The initial review from the auto body shop said the damage totalled $8,500. The rear bumper, rear hatch, two rear quarter panels and even the roof all need repair. And because the car is supposedly only worth $5,000.... well, you get the picture.

The only good news here is that no one was hurt and the owner of the other car did have valid insurance. But overall, I am heartbroken. I feel like something has been taken away from me without my permission, and now our family has to take on the extra expense of a car payment right when we are facing high school and college tuition for two of our girls.

This was the first accident I've been involved in, and although everyone, including both insurance companies, agree it was not my fault, my confidence as a driver is shaken. Now when I drive around town I am convinced everyone is going to crash into me or I'm going to crash into someone else. I'm rattled. I feel like anything bad can happen. I know I'll get over it with time but for now, the whole thing stinks.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Our morning drive to school was interrupted when a driver behind me did not notice that I had stopped at a crosswalk and drove right into me going probably 20-25 mph. There was a magnificent BANG and here is the result.

Two of my girls were in the back of the minivan but luckily no one is seriously hurt, except for my sore neck and arm. Ouch!

After realizing the driver did not have a California drivers license, I called the police. Turns out the car belongs to either her sister or an aunt. The driver showed the officer an expired insurance card but assured him the insurance was active. I called her insurance company at lunch and so far it does seem like the car is insured, thank goodness.

It took me all morning to stop shaking. Ugh!