Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Cross-Country Road Trip #2 (Mountain High)

The first week of June, Scott and I drove to the far side of Denver to attend four days of the Faith Ministries (FM) Network world conference. This meeting is held every two years, Scott had attended alone in 2018, and this time he asked me to go with him. Although I’m not a major conference-y person, I wanted to support Scott, and besides that, what’s not to like about an opportunity to see the mountains of Colorado? And as a bonus, when Scott and I make a road trip, I get to do most of the driving. This works well for both of us, as he gets to do the computer and/or phone work he needs to do, and I get to be in the driver’s seat, a position which is physically more comfortable and figuratively more powerful (kayak vs. canoe) than the passenger seat.  = )

I have learned that I really enjoy driving, especially the part between major cities. Something about cross-country driving is very relaxing and totally refreshing for me. I like almost everything about it: the peaceful miles of countryside rolling by, the freedom from my normal responsibilities, the beautiful scenery and interesting places we pass through, the sense of accomplishment in moving forward; it’s all very soothing and comforting to me. I like planning the route and then knocking it out over many hours. I think driving feeds my need for control.

But I am an old school driver. I know my phone is smart and can tell me how–albeit sometimes in the most convoluted way!–to get where I’m going, but since I don’t use that feature often enough to remember how to do i, I have to re-learn it each time; a task I don’t usually bother with because I prefer those old-fashioned, large, neatly folded-up pieces of paper called maps. I carry one for each state we’ll pass through, and from time to time I pull one out to get my bearings. Well, actually just to enjoy looking at it. I like maps so much that I have considered putting some under plastic on our dining room table like we used to have when the kids were young.

Having just made Cross-Country Road Trip #1, I was definitely on a roll and ready for #2. I like driving familiar roads, and 65 to 44 to 13 and so on up to Kansas City is familiar. I only have to think a little bit, which gives me enough mental margin to enjoy the scenery and, when appropriate, to commentate. Then once we’re on 70 west, it’s a straight shot to Denver, so again, no particular thinking is required.

Pausing here, and since this is my blog, I will now exercise my right to make a true, but potentially unpopular statement. I LIKE driving I-70 through Kansas and I do not find Kansas boring. I think it’s beautiful. The gently rolling hills are peaceful and soothing to me, and I especially like the long drive through all those fantastic, amazing windmills for so many miles around Ellsworth, looking for limestone fence posts in the post rock country near Dorrance, and breathing in the wide open “big sky” vistas of western Kansas and eastern Colorado.

So, Kansas is fun, and then the mountains; well, what can I say? Seeing that front range rise before me nearly makes me teary every time.

The first meeting of the FM Network conference was held at 7:00 PM on Monday, and having left home at 5:20 AM and what with gaining an hour, we arrived at our Airbnb in Lakewood in time to unload and go in search of a Chick-fil-A before heading to the church. We had a bedroom, bathroom, and living area with mini-fridge and microwave in the “basement” of a split-level home in a nice residential neighborhood. From our arrival Monday evening till our departure Friday morning, we were really only there to sleep – and oh, how well I did sleep on that low, firm queen mattress! – and never even saw the owner. Great digs at a great price.

The drive to the church where we met, Mountain High Chapel (elevation 7,600 feet), was simply glorious every morning. There’s really nothing to compare with a highway that gains 2,100 feet of elevation in just 11 miles, snaking up into evergreen-loaded mountains that are more gorgeous around each succeeding curve. The views were just jaw-dropping, making me want to shiver and shout every time! And when we arrived at the church on Tuesday morning (June 9), they had salted the icy steps out front, and the car of the pastor, who lives six miles farther up the road (elevation 8,400 feet) still had three inches of snow on its roof!!!  = )

The people at this conference were, for the most part, very friendly and welcoming, and I enjoyed getting to talk one-on-one with a number of them. Everything was very casual and comfortable. Three delicious meals plus snacks were prepared and served each day by helpers (mostly church members, I think) who, like virtually all the conference attendees, were almost always smiling. As best I could tell, these folks seemed to be the real deal. We were with them enough for me to see and hear that many of them have numerous heavy challenges in life, but their joy was palpable and contagious. They have something that I want in my life too.

A variety of leaders and “just folks” spoke, and some of the sessions were really good, but by far my favorite part of the week was the worship, especially during the evening services. It was all contemporary music (think Kari Jobe’s The Blessing), which is my favorite, and I was able to focus totally on God and commune with him. Ah, WHAT a refreshing that was! For four whole days, I. Did. Not. Have. To. Think. about anything ministry-related at all. I was not responsible for ANYTHING!!! I could worship God freely without wondering which announcements to make or why those visitors are sitting alone or whether the projector is working correctly or if the ushers noticed that our pastor is about to pray for the sick or whether our elderly email-less members know about the changes for next week’s service or which stalls in the ladies bathroom need to be disinfected or who’s securing the offering. None of that!!! AND the praise team was truly wonderful AND the music was powerful AND instead of feeling that I stuck out when I sang loudly or moved freely to the music, I got to worship God all alone and surrounded by a whole congregation of some 40-50 people who were also all worshiping him wholeheartedly. This was wonderful, and I’d drive back tomorrow if I knew I could be in that environment again.

What I collect

Not much really.

“Childhood of Famous Americans” books, town squares, and on trips, license plates.  = )

On my two recent cross-country road trips, I collected all the states below in bold.


East to Virginia, May 2020               West to Colorado, June 2020

(~ 2200 miles)                                  (~1800 miles)

Alabama                                           Alabama

Alaska                                               Alaska

Arizona                                             Arizona

Arkansas                                           Arkansas

California                                          California

Colorado                                           Colorado

Connecticut                                       Connecticut

Delaware                                           Delaware

Florida                                               Florida

Georgia                                             Georgia

Hawaii                                               Hawaii

Idaho                                                 Idaho

Illinois                                                Illinois

Indiana                                              Indiana

Iowa                                                   Iowa

Kansas                                                Kansas

Kentucky                                            Kentucky

Louisiana                                            Louisiana

Maine                                                 Maine

Maryland                                            Maryland

Massachusetts                                   Massachusetts

Michigan                                            Michigan

Minnesota                                          Minnesota

Mississippi                                          Mississippi

Missouri                                              Missouri

Montana                                             Montana

Nebraska                                             Nebraska

Nevada                                                Nevada

New Hampshire                                  New Hampshire

New Jersey                                          New Jersey

New Mexico                                        New Mexico

New York                                             New York

North Carolina                                     North Carolina

North Dakota                                       North Dakota

Ohio                                                     Ohio

Oklahoma                                            Oklahoma

Oregon                                                 Oregon

Pennsylvania                                         Pennsylvania

Rhode Island                                         Rhode Island

South Carolina                                       South Carolina

South Dakota                                         South Dakota

Tennessee                                              Tennessee

Texas                                                       Texas

Utah                                                        Utah

Vermont                                                  Vermont

Virginia                                                    Virginia

Washington                                             Washington

Washington, D.C.                                     Washington, D.C.

West Virginia                                           West Virginia

Wisconsin                                                 Wisconsin

Wyoming                                                  Wyoming

(Ontario, Canada)                                     (Ontario, Canada)

29 States                                                      37 States

Grand Total: 42 unique states + 1 Canadian province in 4,000 miles on the road!

Two beavers. Alone together. For four days. = )

On Friday, Katie worked from home and explained to me the whole situation with her work, which was at that time super stressful and emotionally draining. I felt sad about all she was going through. While she was in a Zoom meeting for work, I went to Walmart for a while and saw in the grass along the parking lot two Canada geese tending their two fuzzy little goslings! But my emotions were pretty shot, and when I got back to her house, I sat on the gravel road in the horse pasture and talked to God and cried.

During our time together Katie and I talked a lot. So much so that on Friday evening, until one of the members contacted her and said, “Hey, where are you?” we both forgot about her small group’s game night that night. Alarmed that she’d be late, I told her to please go, but she explained that it was–thanks to Covid–a Zoom game night. Ah, no driving required; just step across the room to her computer. Her friends were most gracious to include me even though I think I made the teams uneven, and we played a couple games of online Codenames, which I’m pretty sure our team lost. They are a really nice and quite interesting group of folks.

Saturday we went to Montpelier, which, under the direction of one Anna Roberts had recently reopened its grounds to visitors. Thinking through, planning, organizing, and executing all the many logistical details of that project was a big challenge involving many people, and she had evidently handled it all with her usual skill and aplomb. Everything was running smoothly and guests were enjoying picnics and walks throughout the truly lovely grounds.

The first thing we saw was amazing to me: an old abandoned building that was very long and narrow. It had been built in the DuPont era, and it was a single-lane bowling alley! VERY interesting. I guess that’s what you build when you have so much money you don’t know what to so with it!

We toured the gardens (so impressive), and I took a few pictures of the flowers. One of my goals on this trip was to actually take some pictures with the fancy-schmancy camera I bought some five years ago and have never used. Well, it has been used, just not by me. Andrew took a lot of pictures with it at Yellowstone in the summer of 2018, and last week Scott used it to take pictures at our vacation rental homes, but I’m embarrassed to say that it’s basically been sitting on a shelf in our office because I have always felt intimidated by it.

But, determined to conquer my fear of the unknown, before leaving home I had asked Andrew to give me an introductory lesson on my Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. Armed with knowledge of a few basic things like how to turn it on, how to twist the viewfinder, how to activate or de-activate the flash, and how to review pictures, I took it with me to Montpelier and took a few pictures there. Unfortunately, now I can’t figure out how to put those pictures in this post! I took the SD card out of the camera, but unlike my old computer, my new computer has no slot for an SD card. = {  Maybe Scott will be able to show me how to do it.

While we were in the garden area, I began to feel light-headed, and despite sitting down to rest, the feeling got worse and worse. I’m still not sure what happened, but Katie helped me walk slowly to the visitor center, snuck me in a side door (all buildings were closed to guests), found me a place to sit, and then went and found Julie, the gift shop manager who happened to be working in another capacity that day and is one of the nicest ladies imaginable. She used to work in (maybe as a receptionist?) a hospital E.R., is hypoglycemic, and has some medical knowledge. She suspected my problem was either low blood sugar and/or low blood pressure, so she brought me some Gatorade and pretzels and stayed with us till I felt better. Super nice lady. Once I was okay again, we wandered the rest of the grounds around the main house; very fun.

At Walmart that afternoon, we loaded up on groceries and searched for but did not find the gift Katie wanted to give Ezekiel for his first birthday: a hat for sun protection on bike rides with his mom. That failure began a wild goose hat chase that spanned several days, cities, and counties, but more about that later

We video chatted with Jessica and Ezekiel. WHAT a cute kid! He loves books, and that gave us more gift ideas…

We played a great game of Hail to the Chief, this time using the most difficult questions. Katie won (of course) but not by very much. We were pretty evenly matched, and we do both like that game. We also played a lot of Qwixx (Katie is a vicious strategist on that one), and one gorgeous afternoon we set up on the patio down next to the pond on the far side of the villa and played two wonderful games of Trekking the National Parks. (Note that we prefer requiring a player to claim 7, not 5, park cards to end the game.) The setting was peaceful and beautiful, the weather was absolutely perfect, and the game was interesting and satisfying.

Over our several days together, we rested a lot (ah!), ate whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, whether or not it made a conventional meal (ah!), worked on a puzzle, baked some delicious swirled brownies, walked a bit, had a great take-out brunch from IHOP, and I cleaned her stove. That ended up being a rather significant project that probably hadn’t been done in a while. = ) I very much enjoyed finishing it, and Katie was really thankful.

Two things that Katie and I both really, really like are exploring and conquering. We love making a plan and carrying it out, and we were both very highly motivated to find a hat for her to give Ezekiel. Also, after seeing on our video chat how very much that boy likes books (and as we thought about their home having so little space for toy-ish things) we decided that a few books to go with the hat would also be fun. Well, I think it’s fair to say that we left no central Virginia stone unturned in our quest for Ezekiel’s hat! It’s been a while, and I can’t remember all the details, but we when Walmart failed us, we searched all over the place online, although we both thought it would be important to see and feel the hat in person to confirm size and style. For the record, toddler girls’ hats were plentiful, but toddler boys’ hats very few and far between. We’d find a potential one online, but inevitably it was not in stock at a local store. We finally found one that said it was available in Waynesville, some 45 minutes away. Did we really want to drive an hour-and-a-half round trip to get Ezekiel’s hat? Heck yeah! It would be an adventure! And off we went, stopping to check at other stores on the way. I know we looked at Target, Kohl’s, and at least one other place in person. We had a grand and scenic drive, and we finally found not one but TWO hats, a monkey hat sized for now and a different slightly bigger one that he can grow into.

Not only that, but as we left the store with our precious headgear finally in hand, across the parking lot what did Katie happen to see but a Books-A-Million store that was actually open for browsing!!! (Many stores in that part of Virginia were curbside pick-up only.) A bookstore! Now, that was an irresistible temptation to which we succumbed with joy. We spent quite a while delightfully perusing the many, many, many board book offerings, and with much beavish analysis selected several great ones to accompany Katie’s hat(s). As a bonus, we found a framed Winnie the Pooh print for Katie’s wall at home that made us both so very happy. And I wish you readers had been able to witness the hilarity of the two perfectionists trying to get it hung level on her wall!

Then commenced the wrapping, the packing, and the planning of the shipping of our precious gifts for Ezekiel. And without a postal scale to get an exact weight (necessary to figure out if it would be cheaper to ship it in a flat rate box–board books being rather weighty–or in a regular box by weight; and did we even have a regular box? or could it all fit in a padded mailer? etc.) we used packs of frozen food to estimate the parcel’s weight and ended up nailing it to the ounce!!! With great pleasure we divvied up the cost of the contents and shipping (we really like figuring those kinds of details), and Katie took it to the post office on her way to work on the day I left.

She mailed it on May 26, and due to some various complications, Jessica had it in hand yesterday, June 23. Tonight we were able to watch Ezekiel open his gifts, which was great fun. He’d tear off the paper (with help), Jessica would hand him the book, and he’d sign “please,” wanting her to read it to him. Melt my heart!!! I had waited to write this post because shopping for Ezekiel had been such a fun part of my time with Katie, but I didn’t want Jessica to read about it before opening the package. She just sent us this message: “Just read him his new books. He wanted to read them all multiple times.”  = )

The night before I left her house, Katie did me another great service by plotting out the locations and FM settings of all the K-LOVE radio stations on my way home, so that I could listen to some contemporary Christian music while I drove. That all worked out great and I was so glad.

And I was even more excited about our Monday night conversation about the Enneagram. I’ve been curious about this way of understanding our needs, fears, personalities, and motivations, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Katie knows about the Enneagram. When I asked where she’d recommend I start to learn more about it,  she suggested as an introduction a book that happened to have been written by the same Christian folks whose podcast I had just started listening to. So, small world and I’m eager to learn more.

All in all, my time with Katie was precious. As I told a friend who asked how my trip was, it was totally wonderful and the best thing I’ve done in a while. I surprised Katie on her birthday, and that moment when she opened her door and saw me was a moment I will never forget. I am grateful to Jessica for the crazy idea, to God for his grace and provision, and to Scott for all he did to enable me to go. I’m so excited that I was able to do the thing that was in my heart. I know what I did was important and it really mattered… to Katie and to me.

Cross-Country Road Trip #1 (continued)

As previously mentioned, on Thursday night May 21, I had arrived at Katie’s house uninvited, to surprise her on her birthday. All the planning, packing, and driving had paid off. She had been clueless and was thrilled to see me. = ) Scott had already gently researched her situation, so I knew she would be working on Friday (whether on site or from home, I didn’t know) and then have Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off for the long Memorial Day weekend. However, since Katie is a consummate planner, I figured she might also have other adventures lined up; things she was planning to do without her mom tagging along.

I had assumed I’d be occupying myself on Friday, and while I had brought enough of everything I’d need if I stayed as long as through Monday night, I figured Katie might prefer me to leave sooner. So in our very first conversation Thursday night I told her that although I wouldn’t be able (physically) to turn right around and drive 16 hours back home on Friday, I had already done what I’d come to do and I didn’t want her to feel obligated to host me—on no notice!—any longer than she wanted to. I said I could leave on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, whatever she’d prefer. She said she understood, and then she said something that still makes me tear up even now. “Mom, you can go whenever you want to, but my preference is definitely for you to leave on Tuesday.”

And so, beavers that we are, we made a list of things we might like to do and then very roughly sketched out when we might want to do them. The short version is that I had a grand time with Katie, resting, relaxing, meeting some of her friends, touring, tackling a puzzle, visiting, talking, playing games, shopping, baking, eating whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, and generally enjoying life together.

Yet to come in another post is the longer version, the list I made of specifics I want to remember, but here are a few notes about things that happened on my way to Hawkwood, including things* that made me cry happy tears.

  • passing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis (affectionately referred to as “The March” in our family)*
  • crossing the Ohio River at Louisville*
  • all those pipes and chimneys going into West Virginia, and the flames
  • Even in the misty rain, West Virginia was deeply, almost painfully beautiful. Following so many gorgeous gorges, crossing innumerable rushing mountain streams, lots of shades of green, amazing vistas, small towns along the river and road, all long and narrow, quaint churches, some little mansions. It just kept being amazing and beautiful hour after hour after hour.
  • the first sign for Staunton*
  • entering Virginia at last!*
  • I had terribly difficult driving in heavy rain the last couple hours, = { couldn’t see the white line, following trucks, SO desperate to get there before dark.
  • the wreck at the I-81/I-64 “Y.” Andrew researched it for me and talked with me for much of the 40 minutes I sat there, needing to pee.
  • Louisa County!* SO eager to surprise her.
  • exiting at Hwy. 15 and right then, SCC’s “Be Still” coming on my shuffle play Spotify (of my 100+ songs in that playlist). “Be Still” is the song I always listen to right before a counseling session because it calms me and helps me focus. Only God could arrange that song at that precise moment. He is SO good and kind and gracious to me.
  • waiting in the dark for her friend to leave, and then that glorious moment when she opened the door. I still cry remembering it!

To be continued…

Cross-Country Road Trip #1 was AWESOME! (a.k.a. Celebrating with Katie)

When various shutdowns related to COVID-19 forced Katie and me to cancel (but hopefully re-schedule) our glorious nine-day birthday celebration trip to Maine, and when I mentioned to Jessica that that very sad turn of affairs had left me feeling helpless to do anything really special for Katie’s birthday, she said cheerfully, “Road trip?!?” Hmm… I gave that a lot of thought for a couple days and then spent the better part of three weeks planning how to make it happen.

It’s a long story that really deserves a full play-by-play blog post, but despite my very best intentions, I just haven’t carved out time to do that. I’ve learned that if I don’t blog about an event within the first week or two of its occurrence, I generally never do, and since I’m now in the middle of Cross-Country Road Trip #2 (of three such journeys in four weeks!!!), I want to at least record the high points of #1. There were a lot of high points!  = )

NOTE: Although I am publishing it nearly a month after the fact, most of this post was written in the middle of Cross-Country Road Trip #2, just 12 days after Cross-Country Road Trip #1. At that time, Cross-Country Road Trip #3 was indeed in the works, but due to a set of very sad unforeseen circumstances which may eventually make good blog fodder, that third trip did not happen.

I drove 16 ¾ hours from Walnut Shade to Hawkwood, and I was so excited about surprising Katie that—if you don’t count the 40 minutes I sat on the freeway waiting for a wreck up ahead to be cleared and that final scary hour-and-a-half of white-knuckle driving in nearly torrential rain and deepening darkness—I loved every minute of it!

At 9:15 PM, I parked around the “corner” from her rural one-room cottage, and with pounding heart and shaking hands, called her.

Katie: Hi, Mom.

Me: Hi, Katie. How’s your birthday been?

Katie: It’s good!

Me: You were having some friends over tonight, right?

Katie: Yes. One of them’s still here.

Me: Great. Hey, just give me a call after your friend leaves.

Katie: OK, I will.

So, I pulled the cheesecake out of the cooler and sat in the dark in the Durango and waited for the friend to leave, wondering if I’d wait ten minutes or two hours.

About 9:45, I watched the headlights of the friend’s car leaving, and a few minutes later, Katie called back. She was pretty chatty, telling me about her party, which, to maintain social distancing, had been held out on the porch of the villa next door, and while we talked, I turned and drove up Katie’s driveway. After Y-ing to the left, it’s just a grassy path with tire tracks; here’s how it looked on a cloudy day, as opposed to the rainy night I arrived.

I parked next to her car, stepped out into the misty rain, shut the door as gently and quietly as I could, and walked in the dark up to and around the corner of her house. You park behind the house and walk around the left side of it to her front (only) door.

I stood there in the rain–cheesecake in one hand, phone in the other–and made small talk for a couple minutes, but Katie and I can have some pretty long phone conversations, and when I realized that I might be standing there till I was thoroughly soaked, I decided it was time to take action. I held the phone away from my face, and trying hard not to cry in my state of almost unbearably intensely nervous excitement, called out my classic “loud-enough-to-be-heard-in-the-attic-when-supper’s-ready” call, “Kaaaaaay-teeee!” I paused. No response. I called again, and then Katie opened her front door. She looked at me in disbelief, and I think for a moment she was speechless. Then she said, “MOM!” and after a long pause during which I think we both started crying, “You’re here! Well… come in!”

And thus began a very wonderful five nights and four days together.

To be continued…

Omission apology

I was reviewing my anniversary and birthday getaway posts and the pictures I had included in them. I will spare you the absolute insanity induced by repeatedly uploading pictures to WordPress, only to find them lying on their right side when they get there – and then rotating them 90 degrees to the left, and uploading them again, only to find them lying on their left side the second time. Sometime the third time was a charm; sometimes not. Anyway, in looking back through things, it seemed like the sequence of pictures of courthouses somehow didn’t line up. I found a picture of the Baxter County courthouse, but I couldn’t remember the deal about it… Well, it dawned on me this morning. VERY early this morning, but that would be a whole ‘nother story.

Evidently I had totally forgotten Mountain Home! On our Sunday rainy drive home, after leaving the Calico Rock jail and before eating our gazebo-on-the-courthouse-grounds lunch in Gainesville, we made a significant stop in Mountain Home, Arkansas, the seat of Baxter County. Of course, we first drove around the (rather three-sided) town square and saw the courthouse,

but we had another more important stop to make in Mountain Home (and no, it wasn’t for a bathroom!). You see, for a few years as a teenager, Scott used to live in Mountain Home. His dad was a civil engineer, and their family moved their for Dad to build two highway bridges over Norfork Lake. BTW, Norfork Lake is so named it was formed by damming the 109 mile-long north fork of the White River. Scott graduated from Mountain Home High School, class of 1982. We drove by the (formerly Methodist, now non-denominational) church he attended, the ball field where he coached his sisters’ softball team, and with effort, we finally found the house he’d lived in. It’s a nice house and other folks live in it now.

It’s located on Live Oak Drive and backs up to a large neighborhood pond called Gardner Lake.

Our little stop in Mountain Home was a walk down memory lane for Scott, and I enjoyed seeing some places that had been significant in his life before we met. Scott has now spent more than half of his life married to me, and as far as I can tell, he’s quite happy about that.  = )

To Calico Rock and beyond

Highway 5 runs north from Allison roughly paralleling the White River on its western side. The road is one to ten miles from the river, so a lot of the time we couldn’t see the water, but the drive was pleasant.

In that part of the country, we’d seen a number of black and white informative signs, all of the same style, akin to this,

and if you’ve ever driven with me on a rural road, you know that it’s as hard for me to pass a historical sign as a good bathroom.

So Calico Rock. Even among folks who’ve heard of Calico Rock, AR, who really knows much of anything about it? Well, Scott and I now know quite a bit about it! As we came into “town” (and it’s not much of a town), we turned right and drove across an old one-lane bridge. That was fun, and at the far end of the bridge on the left side, facing the direction we’d just come from, was another one of those black and white historical information signs. We stopped to read it and learned that having just crossed Calico Creek slightly above where it enters the White River, we were now technically in East Calico, which back in its heyday was evidently a thriving little community and the true heart of Calico Rock. Not only that, there was a WALKING TOUR of East Calico! This brought back our old days of doing the walking tour of Eureka Springs on our seventh anniversary getaway and pushing seven month-old Josiah in his well-worn umbrella stroller up and done innumerable stone stairs and over many uneven stone sidewalks while reading a brochure about all those fascinating Victorian houses.

Standing there in “downtown” East Calico, we heard a train go past somewhere very close by. We heard it but couldn’t see it, and in looking for it we drove down a short dead-end street and found a section of overgrown railroad siding and an abandoned railroad bridge over the creek.

Hmm… Very odd, and we were quite keen to do the walking tour, but first, I needed a bathroom. 

Subway to the rescue, and in getting there we ended up driving through a different part of town and passing a log cabin with yet another one of those classic black and white historical signs. Turns out it was the Trimble House, a pre-Civil War log cabin, which was not open to the public, but into which we could look through the windows.

According to posted information (and wikipedia), it’s “one of very few pre-Civil War log buildings still standing in Arkansas.” We also read aloud the extensive and very informative verbiage on a series of signs on the cabin’s grounds, and learned that the land on which the cabin now sits is owned by the large stone church across the street.

We were doing all this cabin scoping shortly before 11:00 AM on a Sunday, and people in Sunday dress were walking into the church as a bell rang the call to worship. How neat! And would you care to guess the name of that particular church? It’s the Calico Rock Cumberland Presbyterian Church! Attentive readers of my post “Our A and B getaway, continued” will recall that the Calico Rock Cumberland Presbyterian Church (at which we were now looking from across the road at the Trimble House) had been planted by the Mount Olive Cumberland Presbyterian Church (which we’d seen the day before, three miles off the beaten path during our drive home from Melbourne, of yard sale fame). And this very Calico Rock Cumberland Presbyterian Church had subsequently planted the Fifty-Six Missionary Baptist Church of which our good friend Don Thomas (the wonderful Stone County museum volunteer whose great-grandfather was the first official resident of Branson) was a member!

Really small world, huh?!?

I was thrilled to actually see how all these pieces of local history fit together. Wow!

Well, we were still anticipating our walking tour of East Calico, so we returned to that part of town, again crossing the Calico Creek bridge. The tour covered a deserted several-block area of town, and all the shops were empty and long-abandoned. In some places only foundations remained, but other buildings were partially or mostly intact, and from the signs we could usually figure out what businesses had occupied them. We saw remnants of two different car dealerships, a funeral home, a garage, a grocery, a boarding house, a movie theater, a flooring supply, and a feed store, among others.

Back in the day, wholesale supplies were delivered to the various businesses and manufactured goods were shipped out from them along that railroad siding and bridge we’d seen across the way. Not only that, back before there were any dams on the White River, heavy rains would cause it to rise and the backwash would come up Calico Creek and flood East Calico. Some of the signs on the walking tour told of people being rescued by boat from second floor windows of buildings that were standing in front of us today. Walking down the street we could visualize what that volume of water must’ve been like in that town. Almost unbelievable!

The final stop on the walking tour was the Calico Rock jail.


The blurb on that sign is interesting, and below are a couple pictures of the hole referenced in the final sentence above.


Yikes! But I do like an old-timey jail, so here are a couple more pictures.


Continuing north on Highway 5 through a drizzly rain, we located the Ozark County, Missouri courthouse – our fourth on this trip! – in Gainesville. With no offense to anyone from Ozark County, we weren’t terribly impressed with the town of Gainesville, but since we were hungry, we opted for “dinner on the courthouse grounds.”

This consisted of pulling our wheeled cooler of leftover groceries into that nice gazebo on the left, sitting on the benches within, making sandwiches (with our handy-dandy hot pink glove compartment knife) and rounding out our luncheon with grapes and Gardetto’s while trying to stay warm in the cool, rainy breeze. We succeeded! And from there it was a straight  shot (well, actually a fairly curvy shot) “home again, home again, jiggety-jig,”which My Hero drove while I lazily napped.

And thus ended our wonderful 32nd anniversary and 59th birthday getaway!

Driving me crazy

We drove out to the Ozark Folk Center, but it was closed and although I vaguely remember going there once as a kid with my family, I didn’t recall any details, and we drove away thinking (maybe totally incorrectly) that it didn’t look like much of anything. I think we were both still wanting to actually do something fun before calling it a day when we zipped past a place we’d already passed several times in the past couple days – an old, old-fashioned go-cart track. Country version. Not much to look at, but Scott said, “We could ride go-carts…?”

I thought sure he was kidding. This big girl? In a go-cart? I’d never been in a go-cart in my life! But although everything in me said, “No way, José!” on a wild whim I said, “Well, maybe.” And the man who, before marriage NEVER turned around to go back, turned around and drove a half-mile back to Mountain View Go-Carts, a small, family-owned operation that’s probably been in business for thirty years. There were a few people around, but no one said a word to us, and while we sat at a rickety picnic table and waited, I watched the three drivers who were on the course and wondered if I’d even be able to do it. I was heartened to see that one lady who seemed to be doing fine was significantly larger than me. When her ride was over, she came off the track smiling and saying that she’d never driven a go-cart before, her arms were still shaking, and it was fun. I was cautiously optimistic.

They had six cars, and this family of four potential drivers (mom, dad, teen girl, and grandma, plus a little kid) had been waiting before we got there. We’d all waited for what seemed like half an hour but probably wasn’t while the three on the course zinged around. The man told us they had five good machines, but that the green one had issues and because it wouldn’t go very fast, they only used it for kids or people who were doing it for the first time. I said that would be just the car for me! I didn’t want to go fast; in fact, my biggest concern was that the other drivers would get mad at me because I’d be going so slowly. Between tobacco spits, the man told me that the green car was 13 years old (I said that was fine), that I’d have to keep the pedal all the way down all the time (no way was I about to do that!), and that I wouldn’t be able to race (my kind of go-cart, for sure). So I clambered/dropped down very ungracefully into the driver’s seat and put on my shoulder belt. Scott called my name and when I looked back, he took this picture.

A hand-painted sign on a pole said the pedal on the right was gas and the one on the left was brake. Pretty simple; evidently go-cart driving didn’t require rocket science. The man filled my gas tank and I sat at the front of the line, waiting for everybody to be ready to go. We hadn’t read anything, signed anything, been told anything, or paid anything. The information board that said “Go-cart rides $5” was the sum total of what we knew.

The man said, “Go!” and I pushed my gas pedal. Nothing happened. I pushed harder, all the way down, and v-e-r-y slowly I began to creep forward. The pit stop area was on a slight uphill, and my ancient car couldn’t even make it out onto the track. I just knew everybody was getting mad at me. (Actually they weren’t, but they were all behind me, so I couldn’t tell.) The man came and gave me a shove to get up to the “top” of the slight incline, and finally I was going. Downhill. Toward a tight curve at the bottom.

My brain was racing through five thoughts in a split-second: I was going faster. Would I make the curve? How tightly could I turn? Would someone behind me hit me? Would I flip over? At the risk of angering the other drivers, I decided to slow down a bit.

I pressed on the brake pedal, but my car didn’t slow down. At all. Uh-oh. I pressed harder on the brake and kept coasting faster. I shoved that brake pedal all the way to the floor and basically stood on it with all my weight. It seemed that Green 07 had no brakes at all! This was very unsettling as the first curve (to the right) was right in front of me. Panic! I leaned hard right and turned as tightly as I could while other cars zinged past my right shoulder. Whew! I’d made it. Now full throttle to go back up the hill and into a curve to the left. Would this be endless anxiety? Sheesh! When I got to the pit area, I pulled off and told the man that something was clearly wrong; my car’s brakes didn’t work. He said yeah, that that green car didn’t have any brakes, that they needed to put brakes on it, and that I was fine. Then he gave me another shove to get me going uphill, and away I went. What a crazy thing.

After a few laps, I got into a working pattern of when to turn, how hard to turn, which way to lean, when to mash the gas, and when to let it off completely (this car was all or nothing; either max gas or no gas), and although I never really relaxed completely, it was actually was a lot of fun, and I’m so glad we did it.  = )

After our ride, Scott paid the man our fee of $5 each, and an older man who also worked there (maybe the original owner?) came up to me and said that if I hadn’t enjoyed my ride there’d be no charge. I assured him that it had been fun, and as we left, I wondered aloud what go-cart rides cost in Branson. At Mountain View Go-Carts, we got 15 minutes for $5 and both thought that was a steal of a deal. I guessed that Branson would charge $15 for five minutes!

As per the forecast, Sunday morning looked tuttish for sure, but we were able to load everything up in the dry. Actually, Scott did all the loading, heavy and otherwise, while I washed dishes, collected dirty towels, and gathered all our stuff. Scott had decided he’d like to go home via Highway 5 up to Gainesville, MO, which was a county seat, and our drive from Allison to Gainesville took us through an interesting town full unexpected surprises.

To be continued…

Our A and B getaway, continued

I’m so determined to get this written relatively quickly because I’ve learned that if I don’t write about a trip within about a week, the chances of me remembering what I wanted to say and making time to say it just get slimmer and slimmer.

We knew rain was expected on Sunday when we’d be leaving Gracie’s Place Cottage and driving home. The idea of driving some two and-a-half to three hours on curvy country roads in the rain didn’t sound all that fun, so we were strongly motivated to enjoy as much other outdoor stuff as we could on Saturday.

We’d conquered two town squares so far, and Scott – Scott?!?! – suggested that since we were already in Izard County, well, at least 1/4 mile into it, we could drive over to the county seat of Melbourne and snag another one while we were in the area. I’m always game for a scenic rural drive that might involve a town square, so we did it. Now, I must warn my fellow travelers that there is truly nothing on the stretch of Highway 9 between Allison and Melbourne. No towns, no traffic, no billboards, and almost no houses; just a winding, scenic, two-lane road that can’t be traversed at an average speed above 40 mph. In fact, there was literally only one section of about half a mile that had a dotted yellow line. ALL the rest was double-lined, and the 19.6-mile drive to Melbourne took the better part of an hour.

As we finally came out of the woods and approached the town, we saw a yard sale.

Since I began intentionally decluttering my life a few years ago, I have been practicing avoiding yard sales (book sales are another matter), and I believe I have mastered the skill. There was a day, especially when the kids were young, that I would occasionally stop at one and  actually find good deals on things we really needed and used – along with an array of junk – but I am not in that season of life now. Now my goal is to get rid of something every day, not to bring more in! So the yard sale on the edge of town did not tempt me at all. We saw another one less than a mile farther along; it was obviously a clear, sunny, Saturday morning in Small Town, RA (Rural America).

As we drove around looking for the center of town, we came to a stoplight, and at that intersection there happened to be two yard sales in the parking lots of two businesses on diagonal corners. Melbourne-ites clearly had their pick of yard sales that day! But little did I know.

Thanks to my diuretic, I needed to go to the bathroom, and as My Faithful Chauffeur tooled along the main drag, I was looking for anything akin to a McDonald’s (they always have great bathrooms, but unfortunately Melbourne is McD-less) or even a gas station with a convenience store. We did see one of those, but it looked pretty seedy, so we continued on, and as we did, amazingly, it seemed like there were yard sales in EVERY parking lot in town! I mean on every corner and in between every corner! In steadily increasing urinary desperation, I told Scott to pull into Dollar General; at that point, any bathroom would do. Several people were waiting in line at the check-out counter, and when I asked the lone and very busy clerk if they had a public restroom, he just nodded, pointed, and quickly handed me a purple plastic ruler with a key on it. I found the restroom and when leaving it, as instructed, re-locked the door. As I returned the key to the clerk, I thanked him and then commented in general to the folks still in line, “There sure are a lot of yard sales in this town. Do y’all do this all the time?”

One lady said, “Yep. Every year. The first weekend in October and the first weekend in April.”

“Wow!” I replied. “We’ve never seen anything like it!”

And as we continued our search for Ozarka College (quite small but seemingly adequate) and the town square (here’s the Izard County courthouse)…

…we counted yard sales. Get this: we verified – in this small, remote town of 1813 people – at least 32 (thirty-two!) yard sales on one Saturday morning. That was truly amazing, and I’m guessing that since the total population of Izard County is only 13,686, with Melbourne being the largest city in the county, the whole county must come in to Melbourne twice a year for its yard sales.

As we drove back “home” to Allison along Highway 9, looking for a nice spot to stop and have lunch, we pulled off at a sign for a historical marker and started down a nice paved road. I will say that Izard County is not known for its abundant signage. We stopped briefly at Devil’s Shoulder and surveyed the Devil’s Gap trailhead, but decided that for several reasons we really weren’t up for a hike. At my urging, we continued down that road (I later learned that it was Mt. Olive road) despite Scott’s repeated comments that we must’ve passed the historical marker or maybe there wasn’t a historical marker and we probably ought to turn around. Some three miles on, we turned a corner and saw the white frame Mount Olive Cumberland Presbyterian Church, organized in – can you believe it? – 1826(!!!) with a historical marker in its side yard. So there! I felt vindicated. As the crow flies, that church building is only a quarter-mile from the White River, where we saw a number of folks fishing for trout.

There being absolutely no bathrooms – or woodsy areas far enough off the road(s) to provide any privacy – at Mt. Olive or anywhere between Melbourne and Allison, we hurried on home, ate lunch, and rested a while. But by 3:00, I was itching to try the Stone County museum again. Assuming its volunteer showed up, it would be open 1:00-4:00 that Saturday, and that would be our last opportunity to see it. Scott is always kind and and accommodating to me, but on this trip he really outdid himself; we drove back into Mountain View to the Stone County museum, and, lo and behold, it was open!

We wandered around the interesting displays for a few minutes until the volunteer docent, Don Thomas, a wonderful elderly longtime Stone County resident, greeted us and asked where we were from. “Near Branson” launched him into a series of stories about Stone County, Arkansas history in general and his own family history in particular. It was fascinating to hear newsy historical details from someone who had experienced them personally.

Don comes from a family of missions-minded Ozarkian Christians who, way back when, had had the goal of establishing and growing a rural church that would thrive to the point that it could send out people to other rural areas of Stone County and to plant a like-minded congregation. And it just so happens that a Flatwoods, a substantial church there in Mountain View had been planted by the Missionary Baptist church he currently attends out in Fifty-Six near Blanchard Springs Caverns. Way back in the day, it seems that believers in that area were more concerned about congregations of growing Christians than about denominational labels, and it turns out that the Fifty-Six Missionary Baptist Church had been planted by a group of folks sent out from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Calico Rock. And the Calico Rock Cumberland Presbyterian Church had been established by a handful of people who went out from the Mount Olive Cumberland Presbyterian Church which we’d been standing in front of just a couple hours earlier!!!

Not only that, it turns out that Don’s great-great grandfather (born in 1822), was the man who in pre-Civil War days had owned the land on which the city of Branson (founded in 1882, incorporated in 1912) now sits. Calvin Gayler is listed as the first permanent resident of Branson and is buried in the Branson City Cemetery down by the railroad tracks. I haven’t scoped out his grave yet, but I thought that connection between our Stone County, (AR) museum guide, Don Thomas, and our own fair tourist town was very interesting.

It was still a warm and wonderful afternoon, so we returned to the lovely Mountain View City Park and enjoyed three games of cuppers (yes, we were traveling with both cuppers and cornhole boards; Scott in particular likes to have options), the final one of which I won decisively – cupping with the VERY last washer of the game! Nice and satisfying.

And as we left town for the final time, we noticed quite a crowd on the courthouse lawn. It looked like a small stage was set up and maybe they were having a concert or something. Hey, a free concert on the grounds? Maybe we’d get to hear some pickin’ and grinnin’. It sounded fun, so we parked and pulled out our bag chairs. Yes, we had those with us too. No, we never travel light. We also had a flip-top box of games packed below our dry food… Anyway, the folks on stage were singing some country-sounding song about love. Some guy was holding a boom mic that was as fuzzy as a sheep, another couple guys were holding up a reflector, and somebody had a professional-looking TV camera on his shoulder. I figured this must be a big deal concert, and maybe some local TV station was getting footage of it for the evening news. But then, IS there really any TV station local to Mountain View Arkansas? Well, when the song ended, some stocky smiling guy with long hair and a beard said, laughing, “So we record it and then we do it thirty more times.” Now, that sounded odd. Who ever heard of a concert where they did the same song 30 times?!? The singers wandered away from the stage, and the guys who’d been holding the reflector traded it for a huge translucent thing on a hinged frame, which they moved to different locations, I think in an effort to focus onto the stage sunlight with no shadows. Then some lady behind us struck up a conversation with me, and I asked her what was going on and she said they were recording a movie! We sat around for about 30 minutes while nothing was happening and then left.

[Update: I later corresponded with someone from the Stone County Leader newspaper in Mountain View. She told me that she thinks the movie they were recording is called “Falling In Love In Mountain View,” which hopefully some television network will buy and show somewhere at some time.]

What we found between the courthouse and our cabin was really something else!

To be continued…

Over the river and through the woods

In honor of our 32nd anniversary last month and my 59th birthday this month (and let me just say that both of those numbers are, in the literal sense of the word, incredible to me!), Scott and I are taking a few days off and away in the general vicinity of Mountain View, Arkansas. We hit the road yesterday on my actual birthday, and it was an extremely delightful day.

We had a wonderful lunch in Harrison at Neighbor’s Mill. Although we’ve driven past it dozens of times, we’d never been there, and we’re so glad we stopped. I’d told Scott I wanted to eat my birthday meal at “some place different. I don’t want a heavy meal that puts met to sleep. If we could find a place kind of like Panera, maybe a neat little sandwich shop or something, that would be great.” Neighbor’s Mill was perfect – a soup, salad, sandwichy place that just happens to be run by Christians, and which serves up an amazing array of baked goods. We ate out on the porch, and my potato soup and Scott’s tomato basil soup were both quite tasty. We enjoyed our salads and left satisfied and not stuffed – just want I wanted. Well, before we left we actually made a couple more purchases.

On our getaways, we usually bring some food from home and then enjoy shopping at some local grocery to get the rest of what we’ll need for our meals at the cabin and picnic lunches. We often splurge on deli meat and smoked cheddar cheese, and we like to find some kind of special sandwich bread that’s more exciting than what we normally get at Walmart. Well, let me tell you that Neighbor’s Mill was the place to get bread! We picked out a Garlic Triple Cheese loaf that right now, at 9:00 AM, makes me think about lunch, just typing about it. And then, since it was my birthday we also picked out a slice of Italian Cream Cake to share last night after supper. It was amazingly rich and DELICIOUS.

I also collect town squares – the old-fashioned kind, county seats with courthouses in the middle – and we hit two without even planning to. First we found Yellville, the seat of Marion County.

Marion County Courthouse in Yellville, AR


The lighting is bad, but it does say “Marion County Courthouse.”

I was especially pleased to see that this courthouse is surrounded by a square full of real businesses with real live customers. In many towns, the “downtowns” and the “squares” are dead or dying, boarded up, vacant, and depressing, but not so Yellville! If we’d had time, I would have walked the square and checked out a lot of the little shops. = )  But get this: a sign in front of the courthouse advertised a book sale at the Marion County Library.

WOW! A book sale? In a library? In a small town? On my birthday?!? How great is THAT?!? So I climbed the courthouse steps – I do love an old courthouse, what with its worn steps and 1950s wooden office doors and a feel that reminds me of the Andy Griffith show – and walked into the county collector’s office (just because that was the first office I saw) and asked the friendly lady there where the library was, and she gave me directions.

Although I didn’t fully peruse the Marion County Library, like any small library it did make me sigh deeply and smile inwardly. Probably outwardly too. I have no idea how they made any money on their book sale. Maybe it’s like me decluttering my stuff at home; if a bit of money can be made, that’s great, but my main goal is for the stuff to just leave the premises and never come back. Anyway, they were charging $2.00 a bag. Not $2.00 a book, which would’ve been a bit steep but which I still would’ve paid, but $2.00 for a Walmart bag of how ever many books you could put in it! And if you wanted to a get a lot of books, they provided boxes – those big produce boxes that grocery stockers use when they’re setting out bananas or apples – and the books were $3.00 a box!

Scott is not an avid reader, so while I was leafing through the stacks, I was really surprised to see that he was too. I picked out two: a kid’s book that I thought was neat (but it’s out in the car and I can’t remember the title now) and The Summons by John Grisham. I’m trying to branch out into a bit of fiction, and this one sounded like I’d enjoy it. Scott, meanwhile had picked out several. I was initially shocked and slightly embarrassed, but he said he was getting them for the houses. Oh, the houses, our vacation rental houses! Well yes. So I picked out several more kids books for the houses that I recognized as good, while wondering aloud, “Do kids even read books anymore?” So we got a whole bag of books for a total of $2.00. Amazing.

We were headed to the general area of Blanchard Springs Caverns. I especially wanted to go back there to see the camp site of our very first family camping trip, the one where Jessica made her very loud middle-of-the-night “It’s a BIBLE, Mommy!” proclamation, and where Scott shoved a video camera in my face as I crawled out of the tent at dawn. We weren’t planning to tour the cave, but I will note here that it’s located at Fifty-Six, Arkansas, the naming of which we later learned “primary source” from a an elderly local volunteer historian, but that’s another story. Can you imagine living in a town called Fifty-Six? Its population was 173 in 2010, but had increased to 177 in 2017; the nearest post office is 13 miles away in the unincorporated community of Timbo.

Fifty-Six aside, our drive from Yellville to Mountain View involved about a hour and fifteen minutes on a very scenic (and we do like scenic) and very curvy stretch of Highway 14 that could legitimately be described as a throw-up road. Scott was driving while I commentated, and a good time was had by all. On that section of our drive we did have one experience that we had never had before. We were traveling roughly southeast from Yellville toward Mountain View, and at one point we passed a green highway sign that said, “Mountain View 20 (implied ‘miles’).” As we continued along Highway 14, about five minutes later we passed another such sign that said, “Mountain View 22.” Go figure!

Mountain View also has a town square around the Stone County courthouse. The courthouse was closed when we arrived, but I did document its existence.

Our cabin is up a very steep dirt road in the woods on the Izard County side of the White River. It is all wood inside and out,



and has both a great back porch with porch swing and a king bed that has so little clearance space around it (small bedroom) that I have to turn sideways to walk around it and is so high that I need a stool (provided) to vault into it!

Being vacation rental home owners, we tend to note either interesting features and great ideas that we might want to incorporate at Roberts Vacation Rentals or omissions and problems that strike us as funny. We’ve had a couple of the latter today. Now, we don’t care about these things; they are just funny to us. And while RVR rents out fairly upscale “luxury” vacation homes, this cabin is (like all the places we typically choose to stay in), by definition, rustic, woodsy, and not necessarily immaculate. But we found a half-full water bottle behind a potted plant on the bathroom counter,

and when Scott opened the freezer to get some ice, he found an open box of (originally 12) Great Value ice cream sandwiches. Six were missing (no problem) and five intact were in the box, along with one half-eaten ice cream sandwich. We ditched the half, grinned, and mentally noted the water bottle and ice cream offering as housekeeping “oopses.” Most cleaners make them from time to time, but RVR cleaners only very rarely. And we tell our cleaners to either ditch all food left by guests or take it home and enjoy it! And they do. Our guess is that “Ms. Lola” wasn’t going straight home and so couldn’t take the ice cream sandwiches with her. Or maybe she’s diabetic. She did leave us this note next to a bottle of bleach on the kitchen counter.

We are enjoying our time here and expect the next few days to be packed full of rest, relaxation, and no responsibilities!


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