I'm watching this weekend's weather forecast more carefully than usual, as it's about time for a trip to visit one of my sisters and her kids.
This sister lives near Pekin, so it's not just a half-hour jaunt. No worries for my other two sisters and their families -- they're on my to-visit list as well.
Like it or not.
This brings me to a topic I occasionally confront with various friends and family members: Am I a cautious person, or am I a stick-in-the-mud bore? Am I sensible, or just an overly worried nerd?
I prefer to think that I'm careful but not overly so.
On one hand, if I planned travel on Saturday this week, I'd probably already be canceling and ready to stay home. Forecasts as of Wednesday indicate that Saturday will be the worst day in the region, with snow and high winds.
Yet if I wanted to make it to my destination Friday night, it sounds like I'd be good to go, as the snow isn't expected to begin until after midnight. So I might arrive without travel troubles, be snowed in Saturday, and then Sunday ...
Well, I've read forecasts calling for blustery winds Sunday or maybe just partly cloudy conditions. I don't want to get there and not be able to get home safely for work Monday morning.
I've always been cautious, and often been "accused" of being more careful than necessary. When my cousin wanted to jump off the roof of our single story family room when I was a kid, was I a supporter of this wild, exotic behavior?
Nope. I discouraged the plan.
Did I jump? Sure did. And lived to tell about it. But only after she went first.
Then again, there was the time that I jumped from a high-but-not-too-high portion of another cousin's tree house and managed to make a brilliant landing that included the bottom of my chin forcefully hitting the top of my right leg.
It can be painful to be a klutz.
This hit sent my two front teeth almost all the way through my lip, but did I worry about that? Nope. I was scared to death my parents would be mad at me for doing something, well, just plain stupid.
Yet, I lived to tell about that, too.
I'm always the worry wart. My grandma was a worrier, my dad was on the cautious side, and my sisters thought I was so overbearingly worrisome -- or was it bossy? -- that they dubbed me their "third parent."
I play by the rules. I don't typically speed when driving -- well, not enough to count -- and I'm typically tidy -- I try to live up to "a place for everything and everything in its place." I always wear my seat belt. I never put my feet on the couch if I have shoes on. I'm not exactly the "wild" kind ...
... although sometimes I open a candy bar without reading the little directions along the seam, and once in a while I ignore the "suggested serving" on a box of food. Sometimes I'll go outside in winter with my hair still wet after showering, and I might even skip wearing gloves despite cold temperatures.
I think it just makes sense to be careful, especially with something like the weather in wintertime. I remember a few years ago when we had an awful storm that almost closed the interstates, and, despite warnings ahead of time, there were plenty of people out stuck in the snow on I-57 who emergency personnel couldn't even reach because of the treacherous conditions.
A shelter was opened at a church in Mattoon, and yet plenty of people spent the night in their cars in the freezing cold, stuck in the snow on the highway.
And me? I ended up stuck at the JG-TC office after the paper was out, unable to get home through snow drifts. I didn't even try.
But I was ready!
I had extra food in my desk that I keep as backup if I forget my lunch, and I pulled a big heavy coat that I call my "Nanook of the North" coat, plus blankets, out of my truck. I keep all that in the vehicle for winter, naturally, in case I get stranded.
I slept relatively comfortably that night on the floor of my office, cushioned slightly by the heavy coat and covered by a blanket, beneath the air vent in the ceiling that pleasantly offered warm air on a regular basis.
I felt lucky. I wasn't out on the interstate in a cold car all night. No complaints from this department; no, sir.
Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever gotten stranded in a vehicle out on a snowy road in the bad weather and cold. But I've always been prepared in case it happened.
So have I never gotten stuck unprepared because I'm always cautious, or, because I'm overly cautious, have I missed adventures I could have had?
I suppose we'll never know.
I don't want to be one of those ill-prepared and foolish folks who have to have an auto pulled from a snowy ditch somewhere and sometime when they had no earthly business being out in a storm. I don't want an exciting story to tell as much as I want to get home safely and without incident.
Of course, I'm just as much a fool as everyone else.
I've driven through standing water over the roadway. In my defense, I knew the area and was quite sure I knew how deep the water was, and I was in my truck, which sits higher than a car. Still not the cautious thing to do, though.
My parents were always cautious. We were going to my grandma's one time when I was a kid and went through the river bottom near Cowden. There was water over the road. It didn't look bad ...
... but my mom got out and walked the center of the road to make sure before we drove through it, just a couple of inches deep, without incident.
Disclaimer: I still don't recommend this.
I did once step into water along a road surrounded by flooded fields in order to save my dogs -- one of whom was trapped beneath thin ice just beside the blacktop -- but I don't recommend that, either.
Clearly, I lived to tell about it (I've told that story in a column before) despite ending up treading water in a big ditch, but the cold water and the ice leaving cuts on my neck reminded me it was not the cautious thing to do.
I don't mind the snow when I don't have to get out and drive on bad roadways. I guess everyone is like that, perhaps ... unless they hate the cold and snow regardless (you know who you are).
I just prefer to be cautious.
Sure, I've done doughnuts in an icy empty parking lot a time or two in my day ... sad that you can't hardly do that anymore with anti-lock brakes and all ... and I've enjoyed some fishtailing with my rear-wheel-drive truck.
But by golly, I never run with scissors, and I don't go out into the woods without putting on bug spray, and I don't ever ride in a boat or a canoe or a kayak without wearing my life jacket.
I've got a close eye on the forecast for the next few days. If I go anywhere, there'll be an extra blanket, water and food with me in the vehicle. Cellphone charged? Yep. Itinerary and route shared with friends and family? Check. Both hands on the wheel, at 10 and 2? Always.
Hm. Maybe I am a nerd.
Be that as it may, will I, or won't I, travel this weekend?
Stay tuned ...