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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading choices these past few weeks. I started the year with the goal of reading around the USA with The Book Girls, and I made it three and a half months before rethinking my commitment to reading books that I thought might be more about particular places. I’ve never had trouble abandoning a book, and I’ve never had trouble rereading one again and again and again.
Reading Around the USA seemed fun – like it was going to be an adventure – but in many cases, I found that the recommended books hardly mentioned place, and when I read to learn about a place, I thrive on rich descriptions that take me to settings that appeal to all five senses like I felt when I was walking the streets of Mitford Village with Jan Karon. What others find to be amazing bestsellers not to be missed, I often find blah at best, reading the obscure books on the shelf and finding that they outshine the popular books where my taste is concerned.
I’m looking forward to a book club coming this summer through Ethicalela.com, which will feature a variety of professional books, poetry, and fiction. My reading goal will shift toward reading books with the people I connect with and write with each month. We’ll gather by Zoom and discuss our reading. The hosts and monthly books will be announced in June.
I thought back this week over the books I enjoyed as a young child, and these were the top ten as I remember them, in no particular order beyond 1-4, but 1-4 are solidly in order of preference. These are the books that shaped me as I became a reader, the ones that had me wanting to write so much that I began writing the names of the color crayons in the covers of my books by looking at the letters on the crayon wrapper. Perhaps you also loved some of these.
10. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
9. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
8. A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith
7. Queenie Peavy by Robert Burch
6. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
5. Happiness Is by Charles M. Schultz
4. Childcraft Volume 2: Stories and Fables
3. Tibor Gergely’s Great Big Book of Bedtime Stories
2. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
Childcraft Volume 1: Poems and Rhymes
Please share your favorite childhood books and a book you’d recommend that you’ve read recently in the comments. Currently, I’m reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart.
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)!
We arrived on site 29 at Hamburg State Park in Mitchell, Georgia in time for an all-beef hotdog on the electric grill last night, both looking forward to a long weekend of camping and spending time reflecting on those who made our freedom possible at the ultimate cost. As we drove here to this beautiful place to enjoy the peace, I couldn’t help wondering if those we are pausing to remember would be pleased if they were granted a visitor’s pass to come back and see how we’ve managed what they gave their own lives protecting.
I write this on the heels of a letter our district received from a concerned citizen about having school-related events in religious buildings. Because our auditorium is under construction, our small rural school district has had to reach out to churches for space this year; otherwise, students would not have had opportunities to celebrate their accomplishments with families there to share meals with them. The parent was upset because a Christian prayer was offered by a parent before a meal in a fellowship hall for a banquet that was not mandatory for students to attend.
Earlier this year, we had a county commissioner who wanted to go through every book on our library shelves because a child had checked out a book that had a character with two mothers – – our PUBLIC library shelves – – to remove a book not in keeping with his own opinions and values, for a book that was not mandatory for any child to read.
As I thought about choice and freedom as I grilled these wieners, I heard the familiar sound that told me my mother was nearby – – and sending a message, as she still does in relation to my thoughts.
Beating its head against a tree.
I looked up to see a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, thinking almost aloud, Thanks, Mom. Are you sure you didn’t mean to send a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker instead?
And then these wieners began sizzling on the grill.
And somewhere in all of this head-banging and sizzling, it caused me to stop and wonder whether we can even handle the precious freedoms we have been given when we can’t all respect the freedoms of others. Some folks think that their freedoms include limiting the choices and freedoms that we all should have, and yet even hundreds of thousands of graves with American flags whipping in the breeze can’t even get our attention long enough to stop and consider the state of our nation.
So the woodpecker will forever chip away, and the wieners will continue sizzling, as Mom still prompts thinking from the other side, where all things in her world are now perfect.
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.
It hardly seems possible that this sweet couple has been married for a whole decade. They work together as a team to raise their growing family, and they make us so proud. We love Marshall and Selena and wish them a Happy Anniversary!
Many moons ago, I taught with a colleague who drank coffee from the most unique mug I’d ever seen. Aside from her coffee mug in the shape of a Zoom lens that proclaimed her love of photography and led to conversations about her sideline photography business, she had one even more intriguing, but she only drank from it during the winter time.
The mug had no handle. Instead, it had a nestled crook, much like a ceramic mitten. It was made of pottery, and she called it her handwarmer mug. My English classroom at the high school had erratic heating and cooling. I’d sweat and shiver in the same class period all year long, so I made a mental note to pick up a handwarmer mug the next time I saw one.
Trouble is, I never saw one.
I forgot to share it as a gift idea for all those Christmases that have come and gone.
Imagine my surprise when we stopped in to have a glass of wine in Ball Ground, Georgia at the Feather’s Edge Winery, where there is an art gallery connected to the tasting room. There on a display shelf was a sign proclaiming The Original Hand-Warmer Mug, and several variations of pottery mugs to choose from – and there were mugs for right hand mug holders and left-hand mug holders. You slip your hand into the crook of the mug on the side of your handedness and nestle your other hand around the mug on the opposite side. These are made by Clay in Motion Pottery Studio.
Instant warmth! Rustic beauty! Inviting aromas, inspiring the desire to put on a sweatshirt and sit by the fire in a pair of woolen socks, watching snowflakes pile up on the windowsill of a woodland cabin.
Oh, yes. Winter has just finally finished all its antics, but already there is the promise of the next one waiting in these spectacular mugs, where visions of campfires outside the Little Guy Max are also taking center stage in my daydreams.