One of my favorite things to do in all the world is to plan a trip or a vacation – and there is a difference! Since it’s vacation time for families and teachers as the school year ends and summer break begins, I’m devoting my month of blog posts to the planning and the journey down half of Route 66, from Chicago to Aubuquerque. I kicked off the month introducing the Roadtrippers app as a great trip planning tool for trips that involve driving.
So if the first thing to do when planning any trip is downloading the Roadtrippers Plus app, the second thing is purchasing the Roadtrippers book featuring the chosen travel destination. I’ve purchased plenty of travel guides over the years, and my gold medal guides for international and large city travel are the Eyewitness Travel series of books published by Dorling-Kindersley because of the photography and organization of the layout. The Roadtrippers books, published by Roadtrippers LLC, have become my gold medal guides for driving destinations in the United States. For our trip, I like that the book and the app work together to provide a more technologically-enhanced global glimpse of the journey.
The Route 66 edition that I purchased came with a scratch-off code in the front cover of the book, activating a free month of the Roadtrippers Plus app. The organization of the book gives a simplified view of a long road trip, organized into six legs of the overall trip. One thing I particularly love is the playlists for each leg, featuring songs of those national regions. I have discovered, too, that there is a Pandora station entitled Route 66, which will make it fun to enjoy ahead of time and along the route.
And what song would be more fitting to begin a trip down Route 66 than Chuck Berry’s Route 66?
This month marks vacation month once my 210-day contract ends for this school year, a few short weeks from when my next one is set to begin. We’ll fly out on June 24 from our home an hour south of Atlanta, Georgia to Chicago, Illinois to drive a little more than half of the east-to-west direction of Route 66, ending in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ve had a long-time dream of traveling the roadways to see a cross-section of The Mother Road just as Steinbeck and others with relentless resfeber have been enjoying in truck campers named Rocinante and other less-famous vehicles since it came into being.
I’ve downloaded Roadtrippers to map our journey, and I’ll be blogging and photographing it every step of the way. This month, every day (except June 17-21 when I write with Open Write) will be devoted to the planning process and the way we decided on this travel plan as our vacation for this year. The last week of the month will be the actual journey from Chicago to New Mexico following Route 66.
My first step in vacation planning: downloading Roadtrippers, experimenting with it, and deciding to upgrade to Roadtrippers Plus. I have created an account, and I’m ready to begin planning. The app will map my distance each day and actually calculate my mileage and projected gasoline costs based on the rental car for the miles per gallon and the cost of gasoline. I can’t recommend this app highly enough after using it for several “test drive” road trips with the free version. I have even shared the very beginning of the itinerary with those who’ll be traveling with me through the share feature in the app.
Any good goal system has to be periodically updated, which is why I revisit my goals at the end of each month. Sometimes I feel myself slipping, and sometimes I reach goals and then move away from them and have to re-establish them and strive to reach them again. Keeping them in my sight throughout the year is a dance – – whether two steps forward and one step back or one step forward and two steps back, I keep the momentum when I devote some time each month to thinking about making things happen. Because a goal without a plan, as they say, is just a dream.
Here’s what is happening this month:
Shift from Read Around the USA to reading with Sarah Donovan’s Ethicalela book group, which begins in August – My goal is to co-host April with Fran Haley and host next July alone, unless someone wants to join in and be a partner.
Continue to Blog Daily – I’m considering moving to a weekly blog, but I’m undecided as yet.
Signed up to host the book groups – Ada Limon’s The Hurting Kind poetry for April 2024and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart for July 2024.
Ordered the first two books in the yearly reading series.
I have blogged daily this month.
Improve blog photos
Indulge in photo excursions
I’ve been reading tips on improving photography from websites like Audubon, and using the tips to apply to my photos.
I’ve been taking my camera on my outings, and I always keep it handy on the way up or down the driveway, since so much wildlife lives right there.
Tune in to church Pray! Keep OLW priority
We have tuned in to the First Baptist Church of YouTube through the month and listened to Dad as he has preached in different locations as pulpit supply.
I’ve prayed my way to work most days, and I’m keeping prayer as my priority – we have so many blessings that can never be thanked for enough.
Write family stories Spend time tracking goals each month
I haven’t been writing as many family stories as I should be writing. I have been tracking my goals, though.
Reach top of weight range
I reached the top of my goal weight range and tried maintaining, but I failed to maintain. Now I’m back to needing to lose 10 pounds, and I’m going to try it with Weight Watchers instead of Optavia this time, since I find it more sustainable. Plus, I need a banana every day of my life for potassium – – not allowed on Optavia. Thankfully, a lot of weight has not been gained. I just need to reel it in. Maintenance is the harder goal of losing and keeping it off.
Devote blog days to counting blessings
I still devote blog days to counting my blessings. It helps to look ahead on the calendar and anticipate days like birthdays and other celebrations, like Marshall and Selena’s anniversary at the end of May and Beckham’s birthday at the beginning.
Embrace Slow Travel
Focus on the Outdoors
Add birding in at least three new counties for June – I currently have official counts for four Georgia counties.
We are indeed embracing slow travel as we take more camper trips. Instead of planning a cruise or a trip overseas this summer, we are opting to drive Route 66 (half of it) at an enjoyable pace, stopping to see the sights. We leave at the end of June for this with Briar’s brother and his wife, so we can share the driving and go at our own pace.
We’ve been spending more time outdoors at home and away – spiffing up the yard, savoring campsites. Spring is the ultimate time to get outdoors! I’m even trying a few new plants to see if I can keep them alive.
I have officially posted birding counts for Pike, Harris, Washington, and Cherokee counties in Georgia. My goal is to stop along the way home when we are at campsites and get at least three new counties by the end of June.
Two of my goals this year are spending more time in nature and taking my camera along more to be intentional about observations as I work to improve my photography. Sunday at Hamburg State Park turned out to be a gorgeous day, and I wanted to take my camera back to the mill we’d toured the previous day to look around the dam outside and see what all was in the area of the bridge and the creek. We drove the short distance from our campsite to go exploring, but we decided to leave the dogs in their soft-sided kennel in the car with the windows cracked since the temperatures were cool. In areas like these, you never know what might be lurking under a log or near the water, so we left them in the truck to nap as we kept an eye on them from the bottom of the ramp near the water.
There are birdhouses all around Hamburg State Park, and as I checked information on my eBird account and Merlin app, I discovered that this was a birding hotspot. Just a few seconds of sound recording proved that there were many different species singing from the tops of the trees. Swallows, bluebirds, a variety of warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and cardinals topped the lists in a few spots, along with vireos and wrens. I saw an Eastern Kingbird, too.
But swooping down first on one side of the dam and then the other was a Great Egret with a wide wingspan, its legs looking as skinny as those wire marshmallow roasters we hold over the fire, trailing in flight behind him.
I dashed across the road to get a glimpse from the bridge, clicking away all the while, as he led me straight to his friend – – a Great Blue Heron. They waded in the water on their thin backward-scissoring legs, scanning for birds, their necks craning up, down, and sideways with an odd humor, much like a dog that cocks his head back and forth when he strains to understand. Watching these birds was a highlight of my entire weekend!
I heard my husband calling my name, trying to get my attention from afar and be quiet all at the same time. He was standing frozen still, telling me to have my camera ready. I headed in his direction as he urged me to come quickly but approach slowly.
There. Do you see on that tree stump?
He pointed at the base of the stump just across the water, a few feet away.
I was looking for a bird.
I wasn’t expecting a snake.
But there it was, a venomous Cottonmouth, as big around as a giant summer sausage with its Zorro mask and owl eye patterns down its sides, looking a lot like an ellipsis inside parentheses to an English teacher. It had been approaching the top of the tree stump and turned around to seek shelter in the hole at the base when it saw my husband. It stopped briefly to flick its forked tongue at us for interrupting its plans, took us in for just a moment eye to eye, then continued on its way to shelter beneath the ground.
I felt blessed to have seen this snake in the wild (happy, of course, that it was on the other side of the water), and even more glad we’d left the dogs in the car. I was also counting my blessings that I could positively identify the snake. You see, a year ago, I joined two Georgia snake groups that are monitored by expert herpetologists who identify any snake posted on the page with a quick turnaround time. I’ve learned how to tell commonly mistaken species apart and gained an appreciation for the extensive role of snakes in our ecosystem. The groups are What Kind of Snake is This? Georgia and Georgia Snake Identification and Education, both on Facebook. As soon as I posted the photo and location, the response from the expert confirmed what I had learned from repeated similar sightings posted by others.
Venomous Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus. Keep a safe distance to watch this one!
I’m grateful today for fascinating moments like these. I’m abundantly grateful for the men and women who fought bravely defending this nation and its places that I love and who ultimately gave their lives for the peace I enjoy today in these state parks full of quirky, underappreciated, and often misunderstood wildlife. I’m praying for the families whose hearts are heavy with remembering the joy their fallen loved ones brought, missing all the memories they sacrificed so that I could enjoy making these memories today. For us, this day is not about a day off from work grilling hot dogs in merriment, but one of taking time to realize that the rights and freedoms we have today have come only because those before us fought for them – and died for them.
And that is how we are keeping Memorial Day a sacred time of remembering and appreciating.
On Friday evening as we checked in to Hamburg State Park in Mitchell, Georgia to camp for the weekend, we noticed an event flyer for a tour of the old gristmill here at the park. We’d admired it the first time we camped here in 2022 and had been disappointed that we couldn’t see inside. Here was our chance!
So we bought 2 tour tickets for the 2:00 tour and joined the local historian guiding this tour.
We weren’t disappointed!
We learned that the Gilmore brothers built this mill in 1921, and that it is owned today by the State of Georgia – and is still a working mill. On the tour, we learned that the dam powers the mill, and we saw diagrams and each section of the way the mill works. I had no idea that grits and cornmeal are the exact same thing; the only difference is the size of the grounds of corn. The powdery grind is cornmeal, while the thick, gritty grind is what we call grits. And oh, with butter and salt, they are simply divine.
I also didn’t know that “milling about” came from the 1920s and 30s when farmers would socialize while waiting their turn to have their dried corn or wheat milled into meal or flour. Apparently this was the “market” of the day, where coming wasn’t just about bringing crops but also about keeping in touch with others in the community.
What I did already know was that when people said they would be somewhere, “if the Good Lord’s willing and the Creek don’t rise,” this was in reference to the relationship between the Native American tribe of Creek and the white settlers encroaching on property that was not originally theirs during colonial times.
I’m including some of the photos I took on the tour so that you can see the inside of the mill. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, it’s well worth the $2.00 for the tour (or check this one out on Youtube)!
I visited a garden yesterday for the second time in a week, and my soul is thanking me.
I made the decision as I was leaving work and saw a Facebook post from a friend who’d visited earlier in the day and encouraged everyone to go see the gorgeous daylilies in bloom at The Country Estate in Williamson, Georgia, just a few miles from my home. I had no idea that this garden even existed, yet it is a historical garden and an official American Daylily Society Display.
I darted home, let the boys out for a few minutes, and grabbed a pair of sneakers in case of mud. When I arrived, I met the owner and his partner, who showed me around and told me about all of the different daylilies that they grow and hybridize. One of them had officially registered two new hybrid daylily varieties last week, and the other had officially registered a new hybrid variety the previous evening.
As tempted as I was to give in and buy some foolproof flowering nectar plants for the butterfly garden and the many hummingbirds that come to feast at the Johnson Funny Farm all-you-can-eat buffet, my eyes landed on the birdhouses – specifically, the wren houses.
I didn’t have any wren houses, and these were the kind made of sturdy wood with the extended screw to clean out the house each season. Plus the cute little perching peg that sits beneath the front door hole like a welcome mat, which I later learned should be removed to deter predators from gaining easier access to the box. I made a note to clip these off.
“These are hard to find,” the owner told me. I nodded in agreement. Other than ordering from Amazon, I couldn’t think of a time I’d seen any wren houses in the places I buy my birdseed. The owner also told me that between Halloween and Thanksgiving, The Country Estate turned into the Hallmark Christmas Movie atmosphere, with different tours and events during that month, encouraging me to add that to my calendar and return. And, he added, they were offering a fairy garden building workshop on Friday and I should come to that also. I looked over and saw a little assortment of gnomes, fairies, mushrooms and fairy signs ready to enchant the creative energies of those who’d have time on a Friday to participate. Unfortunately, I would not be able to be among them with my work schedule.
We settled on three, and I brought them home and found just the right trees to hang them facing east and south, away from the northerly and westerly winds. Since wrens apparently like their homes to rest beneath the branches of shade trees or at least be close to shrubs, we picked three different trees so that each family could have its privacy and avoid confusion over whose house was whose, since they’re all the same model home.
The fate of a recent wren who’d built a nest in our garage had ended tragically when we’d arrived home and one of our dogs discovered her dead body by the window. The babies had already flown, but I still can’t bear to look in the nest resting on the garage door apparatus to see if she had laid more eggs. I’d like to think that a few wren houses will turn their attention away from the garage, over to the trees with the free housing units that are turn-key ready.
Sunday was nothing short of fabulous! I’d visited Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia with my sister-in-law in April 2022 on our way to Asheville, North Carolina for a girls’ trip over Spring Break. The daffodil hills and the flowering cherry trees, at that time, were in full bloom. The thing about Gibbs Gardens is that no matter when you go, there’s something different on the blooming menu. Even their website tells you what is currently in bloom and lets you scroll pictures taken the previous week or so.
So I texted my driver early Sunday morning from my side of the bed: Want to go to Gibbs Gardens and stroll through the wildflowers and poppies?
Sure, he texted back across the dogs snoozing between us.
I can be ready in 15 minutes, I replied, prompting a mad dash race to be the first one dressed.
We tied for the win. Jeans, shoes to climb the hills, sunglasses. We set out on the one hour and 45 minute drive north as I bought tickets en route online just in case they were nearing garden capacity. During peak season, I didn’t want to take any chances.
We took in the sights – the Manor House, the Japanese Gardens, the poppies and wildflowers, and the rose garden. The highlight of the day was a hummingbird’s appearance in the wildflower garden, where I was able to capture a few seconds of video before it flew off to another section. The butterflies were flitting about in rich abundance as we strolled the gardens, and the dragonflies darted around shimmering their wings faster than twinkle fairies.
After our visit to the gardens, we drove into Historic Ball Ground for a visit to Feather’s Edge Vineyard where they were having live music as we rested and cooled off with fresh mint mojito wine slushies, and then on to The Ball Ground Burger Bus, a hamburger joint made from an actual bus that ran its last route in Atlanta, Georgia in 1965. We saved room for ice cream after dinner, since our indulgences had already left no room for any more guilt.
Come stroll along with us as we show you the sights on a photo tour.
I’ll be re-living these moments jam-packed with memories for a long, long time! We’ll return in the fall when the bloom list offers a whole new lineup of sights to enjoy.
I came across a fascinating Facebook post this week on one of my camping groups. A Girl Camper member stated she needed a rainy day hobby and invited others to share what they enjoyed doing. There are currently 687 responses, but for a rainy day wish, the feedback was phenomenal. I wanted to share the ideas that were posted as a list post today. I won’t name people, since the group is private, but these ideas are completely credited to the girl campers of the world, who are a creative and adventurous bunch!
plan the next camping trip
listen to the wind
listen to music
listen to audiobooks
make leather items
play video games
adult coloring books
play the ukelele
color with gel pens
paint rocks to leave for the next camper
dot painting on rocks
color by number
paint by number
watch old movies
plastic canvas stitching
make knit hats to sell
write your life story
make wind/sun catchers
sew towel golf cart seat covers
Play Yahtzee, Uno, Scrabble Go
drink and collect wine corks
Chuzzle on my phone
bedazzle my clothes
paint scenes where we are camped
Bead Christmas ornaments
make car air fresheners
make cups, tshirts, wooden signs
study bird identification books
study flower identification books
study foreign language on Duolingo
reorganize the camper, clean cabinets
make mosaics with old costume jewelry
listen to podcasts
work on Lego sets
watch a Netflix series
make a camper or log cabin from wine corks
shop at local thrift stores
try new makeupn techniques
plein air painting
cook something new
walk in the rain
fire writing (pyrography)
go out to eat
make knee blankets to donate to the nursing home
neurographic art to destress from andrea.nelson.art on TikTok
play indoor bowling
write letters to friends
organize digital photos
spinning wheels (wool) with travel spinner
train the dog
paper crafts (origami)
make gel prints from leaves and flowers
go to a local winery
make cotton loop pot holders to give away to fellow campers
catch up on work
geocaching in the drizzle
wire wrap stones
make tinctures with essential oils
surf the web
work on Geneaolgy
look for a dog to rescue
English Paper Piecing
make doll clothes
clean a cupboard
brush the cat or dog
make tags with rubber stamps
mandala painting on garden bricks
update your blog
visit a museum
listen to the rain
look at magazines
crochet a temperature blanket
make paper beads
punch needle rugs
put a wood model together
brew a big pot of coffee and drink it
art abandonment – something for the next camper left behind
make decals on the Silhouette machine
call someone to talk
text people to say you’re thinking of them
There’s simply no way to be bored when you’re camping in the rain!
A few years ago, a childhood friend on St. Simons Island gave me a hydrangea she’d propagated from her own plant in her yard. I was home visiting, so I brought it home to middle Georgia and nurtured here on the farm until it took solid root. I put up some hideous plastic fencing around it to keep it safe until it got past its first year, and for the past couple of years it has bloomed magically in shades of brilliant purple, violet, and blue.
I clipped it back earlier this spring and stuck the clippings in a large pickle jar to see if I could create several smaller plants from these prunings. I think it has finally taken root, since I see new growth on the leaves.
Today, I’ll try my hand at transplanting these rooted stems into their own containers with fresh potting soil. I’m hoping to plant some more of these on the farm in other locations – namely, out in the butterfly garden. Butterflies are attracted to hydrangeas as nectar plants, and hydrangeas are a great choice because unlike annuals, they live for years and are fairly low-maintenance plants. I found a helpful resource, and can’t wait to get started with my hydrangea expansion project. I plan to leave them in containers until late summer or early fall and see how they are doing before making the decision to put them in the ground.
I’m learning new things about plants all the time, and I’m particularly excited about propagating this hydrangea that was a gift from a childhood friend.
I thought I’d share a few photos of wildlife on the Funny Farm I’ve seen throughout the week. This week has been stressful, finishing testing and analyzing data, along with the other general parts of wrapping up a school year. It’s nice to come home and walk the dogs and breathe fresh air and forget about the demands and deadlines, if only for a few minutes.
Carolina Wren on the front porch, gathering nesting materials
Carolina Wren, singing, singing, singing
Funny Farm Bunny – there is a colony of them that lives down at the end of the driveway.
Funny Farm Finch
Deer (picture taken through a screen)
Hawk in a tree (just left of center) – funniest thing: I said a quick prayer, “Lord, I would love to see a hawk today.” I always feel my mother’s presence when I see one. I did what I always do: I pulled into the driveway, turned off the air, put the windows down so I could drive slowly, hearing the gritty crunch of gravel under my tires, and began inching up the driveway. I first saw a tufted titmouse, then a robin. As I approached the top of the hill, I caught a glimpse of a large upward wingspan swooping up off to the left. I grabbed my camera, and for one moment the hawk took it all in and the next swooped off back into the deeper woods. I caught one photo, here, and one of just his tail as he flew away. What a beautiful moment – a prayer for a hawk sighting, a hawk, and the feeling of the presence of my mother. No prayer is ever too big – or ever too small!