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COLUMN: These are the times that try driver's souls

When gas was $3.13 per gallon, I drove my four kids on day trips every week during the summer.

When gas was $3.49 per gallon, I would swear under my breath because I didn't fill up my tank the day before when it was 10 cents cheaper.

When gas was $3.79 per gallon, I stopped being Mom Taxi and kicked my kids to the curb. After all, I had to walk to school when I was their age (yes, uphill both ways).

When gas hovered around $4 per gallon, I did something drastic: I downgraded from my new(er) full size van with the leather seats, CD player and automatic windows to my husband's pickup truck. The only two redeeming qualities I can say about it are that it gets way better gas mileage than my van and, since it has only two seats, when I drive it I can pretend I don't have kids.

It was a sacrifice, especially since the truck is a stick shift, has leaks in the topper and roll-down windows -- the lever keeps popping off in my hand. However, it doesn't run into the triple digits to fill up and during the week I usually just have one kid at a time to haul around.

It reminded me of my first car I bought from a dealership (the others were from friends who ceased to be friends shortly afterwards). It was a 1993 Ford Festiva: green, stick shift, gray cloth interior and tape deck radio. The only fancy things on it were two gray "racing stripes" on the side doors.

I loved that car. It was perfect for a single person who could appreciate the $10 tires and 33 miles to the gallon.

Quite a leap to the full size van I drive now -- well, used to drive.

Since I stopped using the van, we've been able to conserve the precious gasoline inside it for weekend excursions with the whole family. Sometimes we've even left the van in the garage and walked to the movie theater or out to lunch -- gasp!

My co-workers and I were joking the other week about the price of gas. Since we have to run all over the area covering stories, we thought about bringing scooters, bicycles or even roller blades to work.

Bicycling is not really out of the question. When my father was in the Air Force he used to bicycle 26 miles to work to help keep his weight down. During a trip to Italy, I saw many townspeople riding bicycles -- and they lived on the bottom slope of the Alps!

However, since I have to cover events in Somerset and Roberts, I can't really stop driving cold turkey and bicycle exclusively. Not unless I give myself a few days headstart (and secure a portable oxygen tank).

So I'm having to deem activities "drive-worthy." Let me give you a few examples.

1. Covering a board meeting 12 miles away for my job? Drive-worthy.

2. Driving to school on a minute's notice because my daughter forgot her homework that I had reminded her to put back in her bag the night before? Not drive-worthy (what a mean mom I am).

3. Getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to drive my husband to the airport so I will have his truck all week? This is a toughie ... OK, drive-worthy.

4. Picking up a kid from school because she "doesn't feel like walking home?" Really, do I even need to answer that one?

I didn't realize how all these gas increases and driving choices were affecting me until the other day. I was buying groceries and my eye fell on a bucket of ice cream. Now, for a family of six, a gallon of ice cream during the warm weather will last about a week (or, if the kids serve themselves, one day).

I always liked having ice cream on hand in the spring -- it makes a quick and simple treat. However, as I reached for the bucket, my eyes blurred and the ice cream changed from a bucket to a gas nozzle; the price tag numbers on the shelf spun like the dials at the pump.

Hmm, a gallon of ice cream and warm family memories or a gallon of gas and be able to drive 12 more miles?

Guess I better break out my bicycle.