Baton Rouge, Louisiana- The Great American Road Trip

Atchafalaya Basin

The last wilderness swamp tour through the Atchafalaya Basin

Louisiana has a special place in my heart. It is where I was born. More importantly, it is where my brothers and I spent time every year as children during summer vacation. We stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and played with our cousins making the best of memories. In all of the years we visited, we never made it to southern Louisiana. In the past few years, I have made it a priority to visit that area. It has become one of my favorite places in this part of the country. My cousin and her family moved there in the past few years and they welcomed us into their home in Baton Rouge.

Briefly here are a few highlights of the trip:

Atchafalaya Basin

No swamp monsters on this tour.

The swamp tour: It was a beautiful day when we went to the Atchafalya basin to take our boat trip into the swamp. We were met by a young tour guide from www.lastwildernesstours.com and the other passengers, who also happened to be on a road trip. With the weather being so warm, the only thing I feared was being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I made sure that Bean and I were covered head to toe in our homemade mosquito repellent. We put on life jackets and we were ready. The guide told us to count to 3 and then he revved the engine and took off. I think I screamed! I didn’t expect a speed boat ride through the swamp! Once I got used to the speed, which really wasn’t that fast, I was able to relax and enjoy all of the wildlife that he pointed out. We saw so many varieties of birds, invasive plants and a few alligators. The most amazing site of all were the cypress trees. Adam explained that even the ones that we could see that may look only a hundred or so years old could be as many as five hundred or more years. They were so majestic and beautiful. I highly recommend a tour with this family owned tour company as they are genuine and care about the land and the area around it. They are involved in a project called the Atchafalaya Basin Keepers. It is much needed, especially when you realize the beauty of the area on one hand and the greed of the oil companies on the other…but that is another story.

Avery Island

Just one beautiful part of Avery Island Louisiana

Avery Island: Aunt Verna took us to Avery Island before we left the southern Louisiana area. She told us how my grandfather took all of the family down there from Shreveport so that they could see the natural science and history of Louisiana. He was a natural history teacher with six kids, I can only imagine what an adventure that turned out to be. What a beautiful magical place! Avery Island is the place where Tabasco sauce began. If you are a fan of Tabasco sauce, I would highly recommend a tour of this place. The original owner crafted the island into a place of great beauty. Of course there were alligators, which I never saw, but also an aviary, a Buddha on a hill in the Japanese garden, picnic areas, and acres of regal oak trees. It was an experience worth going back to Louisiana to see.

Shreveport Boardwalk

Bean’s favorite ride with her favorite cousin.

On the weekend we traveled up to Shreveport to see another cousin and her family. Bean had such a great time. She planted flowers, which Maria is still waiting to see bloom. She played with the super friendly Poodle puppy that followed Marie around like he was afraid to lose her. Maria and Bean blew bubbles, colored and road the carousel together. Bean had a blast. My favorite part of this leg of the trip was the food. We were headed out of the Real South and for some reason, something clicked inside of me, reminding me that I would not have this food for a long time. I started eating everything that was offered to me: Popeye’s chicken and biscuits, Southern Maid Donuts, red beans and rice, greens and hot water corn bread, grits and eggs and biscuits and gravy, peach cobbler, and more that I can’t even remember. I know that even though I was there a short time, I ate like I was there for months. It was so good and I have no regrets! It was finger lickin’ good!

The only occasion in Louisiana that caused me some concern was when we were travelling through the Baton Rouge area. It was at the same time as the gunman killed the three policemen. As my cousin Lauren and I were driving down the road, we notice the policemen had pulled over and surrounded two young African American males. While it isn’t unusual to see this, it was rather alarming that there were only 2 young men and maybe twenty police officers. It didn’t look good so we decided to lend our support to the young men by just being there and taking pictures, which we did. We didn’t stay that long as the cops started dispersing shortly thereafter. Once we got home, we turned on the television and discovered they were “persons of interest” in the shooting in Baton Rouge. They actually just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both were calm and behaving in a non threatening manner. It actually touched me how one young man was standing there, rocking from side to side and singing a song while he was in handcuffs. It would have broken my heart if I had heard he was shot When he clearly was behaving appropriately.

That was the one dark spot on our time in Louisiana. As I travel, I travel as an individual, a human, a single parent looking after her child. I don’t go outside thinking that I am a person of color who has to watch what I am doing so that I am not shot down. Unfortunately, while in Louisiana, all I could think of was that I was a female with brown skin and would I be treated differently even though I was just traveling through. It did weigh heavy on me, but over all, we had a lovely time in the South.

If you have been to Avery Island, on a swamp tour, tried Southern Maid Donuts or just enjoyed a drive through Louisiana, let me know about it in the comments below!

The Great American Road Trip- In Pictures

We have been extremely busy the last few weeks trying to tie up a few remaining loose ends and make sure that we are ready for the end of our road trip. I told you I was behind on posting our adventures, and that will be the case for about two more weeks. This week I wanted to share with you some of my favorite pictures from our trip so far. If you don’t remember reading about a location mentioned, don’t worry, I will get to it! Enjoy!

Chinatown Chicago

Hanging in Chinatown with our good friend Sharon!

Greyhound to Miami

Riding Greyhound, on the road to Miami!

Miami road trip

Iguana going for a swim in Miami

Tampa Aquarium

Jasmin and ‘Ka’ at the Tampa, Florida Aquarium

Atchafalaya Basin

Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana on a swamp tour.

Dallas World Aquarium

Dallas World Aquarium

Minnesota

Headed to Paisley Park in Minnesota

The DIA

Thinking about Detroit

Where do you think we are now?

Huntsville, Alabama- The Great American Road Trip

Huntsville

Alabama farmland

Honestly, I have never heard of a good story coming out of Alabama. I believe it has to do with the past: slavery, Civil Right and the following era. I know that good things happen in Alabama. I know nice people live there. I am only stating my experience and limited knowledge. As we exited the highway and began to drive the country road into Huntsville, my mind opened. Alabama is beautiful!

I had the music turned up, my hands keeping time to the rhythm as I sang along to my favorite songs. I started paying attention to the scenery around me and I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the GPS and thought, this isn’t Alabama. No one told me that Alabama is so scenic. No one EVER mentioned it. There were beautiful rolling green hills, wide open green pastures and the sky was an amazing blue.

When I was a teenager, I went to a church camp every year. My friends and I would drive 24 hours straight from Texas to Florida. We passed through Alabama every year. We met people from Alabama. All the trips I have made through Alabama, I am baffled that I never noticed the beauty of this state. I suppose we were more focused on jokes, music and food.

We made it to my aunt’s house and I immediately let her know how impressed I was. She, my dad and their family grew up in St. Louis. She moved south twenty years ago for a job and decided to stay for her retirement. Knowing I had never been to her home, she was kind enough to offer an invitation. The first thing that excited Bean was the animals because she loves them. Aunt Lo had two cats and a dog as the official pets. She also keeps the neighborhood birds fed and watered. They spend time every morning and afternoon amusing themselves in the bird bath, much to the delight of my aunt and Bean and to the chagrin of the cats, especially Peabody.

I have never met a cat similar to Peabody. I have seen cats interact with humans, but Peabody was special. This cat is big, fat, black and white and has ATTITUDE. He doesn’t like anyone. When I first arrived, he greeted me with a meow and came up to me and sniffed my legs. I thought I would be the first person that Peabody would tolerate. He let me know quickly that was not going to happen. He hissed and snarled. I have never seen cats snarl like that. He was like something out of a horror movie the way he hissed; the demon cat. He also took swipes at people if they came to close. I made sure to let Bean know that if she wanted to stay safe, she needed to stay away from Peabody, no matter how much she likes cats. Thankfully, we made it through our stay with no injuries.

Not knowing what there was to do in Huntsville, we went to the visitor’s center. The women there were very kind and welcoming. They gave us a list of places to visit along with coupons to help with the cost. Since we went in the afternoon, we only had time to take a walk downtown. Bean enjoys going downtown, however, she thinks they are all like Chicago. What a surprise she experienced. We parked downtown on a quiet, tree-lined street and took off walking.

Big Spring Park Huntsville Alabama

Big Spring Park

Big Spring Park

Big Spring Park

I am not sure if it was the heat, the time of day, or just the location, but there wasn’t much going on or many people out and about. There were many quaint old buildings, a few shops and restaurants. Just when I was getting discouraged about the area, we decided to walk one more block and turn around. Through the trees, we heard the sound of running water, people and birds. Bean and I took off to explore and we found Big Spring Park! Big Spring Park was beautiful! It was the original site of the water source that Huntsville was built around. There was a great big waterfall, a stream filled with goldfish and people lounging on the stairs enjoying the beauty of it all. It was a lucky find on our part. Big Spring Park seems like the place to be for the residents of Huntsville.

U. S. Space and Rocket Center

U, S. Space and Rocket Center

Our favorite attraction by far, was the U. S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Bean convinced Aunt Lo to join us for the morning at the Center and off we went. It was a bright and clear day when we arrived. The rockets were enormous and that thrilled Bean (and me too if I am honest). We participated in everything that we found. We tried out the earthquake simulator, the storm shelter, the rocket landing simulator and more. We were given a tour of the mock space station. I loved it. There are space camps year round at the Center and I imagined coming back and participating in the future. I could imagine floating around in the zero gravity room pretending I was in outer space, eating space food. Alas, Bean was not as impressed as I was. We took pictures, Bean road her first amusement park ride and we learned more about space and the space program than I will ever be able to remember. It was a blast!

I love Korea restaurant

I enjoyed my bi bim bap!

As we travel from place to place, I try to arrive with no expectations. I like to go as a blank slate, ready for the experiences to write themselves on our memories. Huntsville was a pleasant experience. As my aunt and her friends said, most people moved there from somewhere else. This added much more cultural diversity than I previously imagined. For example, I had a delicious Bi Bim Bap from I Love Korea restaurant. The clay pot, the sizzle of the hot food, Bean trying to use chopsticks, the Korean language being spoken at the next table was surreal. I enjoy surprises and Huntsville was a good one.

Have you traveled through Alabama and discovered a place that just made your trip worthwhile? Share it in the comments! Next stop, Baton Rouge.

Atlanta 2- The Great American Road Trip

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One of the things that I like the most about Atlanta is the proximity of other beautiful southern cities. Savannah is not far away, as well as Chattanooga and Charleston. I remember my favorable impression of these cities from our visits years ago. The one that impressed me the most was Charleston. Aunt Margaret and I decided that we would take a weekend trip up to see this lovely city.

Even though we knew that we would be visiting Charleston, we kinda waited until the last minute to make any plans. We got in the car, let the windows down and turned up the music. This was a different experience for Bean who is usually takes turn with me in choosing the songs we want to listen to, the games we will play and if she is able to watch a movie or not. Bean was so tired from the heat of summer and the busyness of our days that she decided to take a nap till we arrived. It always helps for her to hear that if she takes a nap, she will get there quicker.

Once we arrived in Charleston, we headed straight for the water. The visitor’s center was closed so there was no point in going there until the following morning. The tide was coming in and there was a great breeze coming in off of the ocean. Bean and I went across the street so she could climb the cannons and pose for pictures. Aunt Margaret soaked up the view, smell and feel of the water. It was all lovely and just what I remembered.

We headed into town to find hotel rooms and as a result of waiting until the last minute, we had trouble finding one right away. We finally found a room at a hotel. I went inside and there was a line of people waiting for a room. Some people left and the night attendant noticed me. She told me there wasn’t anything. I went outside to break the news to the others. I am so thankful we sat there a minute waiting for an idea because a few minutes later the same woman came outside and said someone had just cancelled a reservation and we could have it if we wanted it! That was exciting. We were able enjoy a great nights sleep in a comfortable bed. That is all we were asking for.

The next morning we stopped by the visitor’s center and noted a few places that we wanted to see, and then we took off walking. If you didn’t believe before that I like to walk, maybe you get the picture by now. I feel that it is one of the best ways to discover a place. Charleston is just too beautiful to spend the day in the car going from place to place. We walked some portions of the downtown historic area, we walked through neighborhoods, we walked along the waterfront, we walked everywhere. When we were tired of walking, we stopped in the park so that Aunt Margaret could soak up the beautiful waterfront views and Bean could play. She had a blast jumping on the cannons and the statues and making up stories. We walked so much that we decided it was necessary to find the free trolley and take it wherever it was going.

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We stopped and played at the Charleston Waterfront Park while we waited for the trolley to arrive. Once it did, it was a race to get on. Everyone seemed to have the same idea and one group was huge. Thankfully there was enough room for us all. We road around the city, past the Straw Market, the downtown shops, over by the visitor’s center and back to the water park area where we originally got on the trolley. We were starving! I mean, this was a hunger so big that the only thing on our mind was getting off of the trolley and getting food immediately. As we went around the city earlier, we noticed a quiet, clean-looking building that served Mediterranean food. It was right within a few feet of the trolley stop and with visions of baba ganoush, falafel and tziki the only thing on our minds, we practically ran down the street, oblivious to anything but getting to the restaurant.

Aunt Margaret got to the hostess before me, I was looking around in bewilderment because this unassuming place was blaring pop music at full blast. Where we at the right place? I tried to open the door to the building, but this was indeed the entrance. The hostess asked if we would like a place in the front or the back. In puzzlement, Thinking we would get away from the blaring music, I mouthed ‘the back please’. She didn’t ask any questions and led us the back of the restaurant. Little did we know, we were in for an even bigger shock. There was a big fountain in the back, a wet and wild bikini hoola hoop contest, and a bachelor party taking place in the back…and the music was still outrageously loud because they had a live DJ.

Once we got seated, the waitress came over an asked if we would like to have cocktails and a hookah. Huh? What was this place? We were starving, we just wanted some food. What happened? Bean was getting an eyeful. She was really checking out the models in their bikinis and their speedos. Inside I was mortified, but outside I acted as if I was the single parent who brought her six-year-old to places like this all the time. There was a couple at the next table and they mentioned how they were also surprised with the atmosphere. They came out for a bike ride and just wanted a bite to eat before going too far to find food. They came too far to turn around by the time they made it inside the restaurant.

We finally placed our order and asked the waitress what was going on. She told us that every Sunday they had a hoola hoop contest along with the hookahs and drinks. It was Tabbuli’s version of a Sunday brunch. I swear, I did not see anything advertising that on the signage on our way into the place. We got our food and it was pretty good. I stopped worrying about what my child was learning when she bent over and whispered into my ear “Mom, don’t tell Aunt Margaret, but I like the naked people”. Whew, she was taking it all with a grain of salt and seeing the humor of the situation. It was definitely one of those times when you know you will laugh later on.

When we left Tabbuli’s we walked back up the street in the direction of the straw market. Imagine our amazement to see that we had passed many restaurants on our way to the Mediterranean joint. We truly had a single-minded focus getting off of the trolley: food!

The rest of our visit to Charleston passed with nothing of particular note. We did more tourist things like visit the Straw Market, local shops and museums. Getting back to the Atlanta area, Bean and I made sure to go to a few more community events like the French bakery and café to eat quiche and tarts, one dollar movie day to see Annie,
the local ice cream and candy shop, and the historic houses in Roswell. I would rate them in order of what was our favorite, but for Bean, it was all her favorite. She even loved going into the attic at the Bulloch House, the former home of Theodore Roosevelt’s mother.

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Our time spent in Atlanta with Aunt Margaret was truly special and the hospitality that she showed us, we will treasure forever. Early on Monday morning, before the traffic truly began, we got in the car to visit our family one state over, Alabama.

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Minimalism and Road Trips

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I have been on the road for the last 10 weeks or so and I have written so much about what we are doing and what we are seeing. I must tell you about how minimalism has affected my trip thus far. Next week I promise to continue with our journey. This has been on my mind and in my heart for so many weeks, I just want to get it out of my brain.

When I first left Chicago, I was absolutely ready to begin this life on the road for the summer. That nagging negative voice in the back of my head did start talking a little and trying to make me feel uncomfortable and unsure of my decisions. It said things like, “what if you don’t have enough money?” “what if people think you are a poor single mother because you don’t work a regular job?” “what if Bean wants to go back to Chicago because she hates being on the road?” “what if this is the worse decision you have ever made in your whole life?”

As I do whenever that ugly negative voice starts talking, I acknowledge the thought and either address it or dismiss it. This time I decided to set it straight and shut it up! We have a long way to go. I can’t have that noise as an ongoing companion. I told it, “I have enough money for the journey. I am working online and I am receiving great ideas every day. If people think I am poor, then it is their problem and not mine. If Bean wants to go back to Chicago because she hates being on the road, it would be difficult. However, I let Bean know at the beginning that our house was no longer our house. Our time was up in living there and now it was someone else’s turn and someone else’s house. If this was the worse decision in my life, I am willing to learn from it and start over. I adamantly believe that if we are given another day to live, we are given another opportunity to make our lives exactly how we want to live.” The noise stopped.

Being a practicing minimalist helps in many ways to alleviate that negative self talk in many ways.

1. Minimalists identify their life’s purpose– Minimalism is a journey, not a destination. I constantly look at the life I have, the things I have and the people around me and ask yourself if this is enriching my life. I ask myself if this is truly what I want to be doing in the this moment in time. I am able to say no to anything that isn’t getting me closer to the life that I choose to live. It is easier to do, I feel, because I have already done the hardest part of getting rid of all of the physical things that do not serve me.

2. Having fewer things brings greater freedom of mind– The items that we own end up owning us in so many ways. Whether it is the time it will take to keep them in good condition, the self-worth that we attribute to owning certain items or the thoughts we spend on what to do with our stuff, they take up a lot of space in our brain. The moment I was able to put all of my earthly possessions into a suitcase, I felt so light I could fly away. No negative voice in my brain could tell me that I had not done the right thing. While it may not be the right decisions for everyone, it was completely right for me. No one and nothing could tell me differently because I know how free I feel. It is a feeling that I have been seeking for years and one that I want others to experience. I could never feel poor when I feel so rich in freedom.

3. Minimalism opens the door to life’s possibilities– Because less time is spent trying to attain, pay for and take care of things, minimalists seek to interact on a greater level with people, nature, and the current situation. Once I focused on having better interactions with people, gaining beautiful stories to share, and exploring what is around me, my mood continues to improve, my dreams get bigger, and anything great seems possible. How could that be the worse decision of my life?!

Please understand these were not thoughts that plagued my mind, just thoughts that passed through. To keep them from returning, I felt I needed to address them. In case you listen to your negative self talk, address it. It is probably wrong! I remember one thought I had earlier this year, “How will I feel if I am in someone’s great big house or very nice car when I own nothing but what is in my bag?” I have faced that and I can say that I feel secure in my decision. They have their life, and if they are happy with it, truly happy with it and are not just existing, then I am too! I want the best for people. For me, the best is not in attaining material possessions, but in relishing experiences in my life. I know it is my path as a minimimalist single parent. Other’s may or may not see the beauty in it. Until they do, I will be happy with what they feel they have accomplished. I will ride in their big beautiful cars and spend the night in their houses. I will be thankful they have it so that I can share the experience with them. I have not felt envious or jealous or even slightly wistful of the possessions of others. I have felt gratitude. I pray that I will continue to feel gratitude and show Bean how to express gratitude for all that we have and are able to do and for what others have that makes them proud. I want to inspire others to try our way too. When and if they do, I will continue to express gratitude. This is minimalism on the road!

If you have a story to share about how minimalism has brought change to your life, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. If you are not someone who considers yourself a minimalist, but you have decluttered or downsized at some point in your life, please let me know. I enjoy hearing how getting rid of stuff makes others feel.

Atlanta- Great American Road Trip

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When we were teenagers, my family did a road trip through the South. We stopped in many places along the way like Birmingham, Hattisburg and Atlanta. At that time, we had no family living in Atlanta, so it was just a big dirty city to us. We disliked it so much that we left a few days early to go and visit Savannah. Years later, my Aunt Margaret moved there and our idea of the place changed.

Aunt Margaret and I are much alike. We are middle children, strong willed and independent thinkers. She works hard, but likes to get out and discover the place where she is living. I stayed with her in Atlanta for six weeks when I graduated high school and she showed me all of the cool places where she liked to eat, drink and shop. In the back of my mind, I suppose I have always wanted to be hip and cool like Aunt Margaret, so I was thrilled when she said that Bean and I could stay with her for two weeks or more if we liked.

When we visited back in March, Bean and I spent time with friends in downtown Atlanta. This time, I wanted to discover a new area, Roswell. Roswell is a cute little historic town right outside of Atlanta, with many interesting sites for it to be such a small community. Right near the place where we would be staying was the library, which Bean and I love, the community center, a plantation home and more. With all of the those things nearby, it was comical that the number one place Bean wanted to visit was the onsite gym. She begged to go almost every day the first week we were there.

Knowing we had an extended period of time to get out and visit everything allowed me to slow down and process what it was that we really wanted to do. Bean and I spent the first few days walking around the community exploring. I got into the habit of cooking in the evening to lighten the load for Aunt Margaret since she was working long hours. I actually had fun and was able to practice a few recipes that have been in the back of my mind begging me to try them. The best part of it all was when my aunt would compliment the taste and presentation! Who doesn’t want to hear that? And to think, I got much of my inspiration from her those six weeks I stayed with her all those years ago.

I am very glad that I told Bean at the beginning of our trip that it is summertime and summer is hot. I believe it has been the one thing that has kept us up and moving when everyone else is hiding in their houses soaking up the air conditioner. She is a trooper, that one. We would get out of the house around 9:30-10:00 right when things were heating up outside. Most days we would take a short walk to get to our destination for the morning. Often it was right down the street: the boutique store; to buy a shirt because I realized I only had two and I really didn’t want to wear them every day, the discount store; to buy flip flops because Bean is so active hers are wearing out after little more than a week, the library; which was small but hosted some amazing programs a couple of times a week or the community arts center; that presented a puppet show series for the summer with different groups performing weekly.

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One day early in our stay, I struck out to find the visitors center. I have no clue how long that walk was. I didn’t realize it was quite so far away since I took the back roads to get there. When I had the opportunity to ride in the car going in the same direction, I felt a little sorry for Bean because I made her walk all that way. But, I guarantee you, she had a good nap that afternoon! At the visitors center, we were told about the Old Mill bridge and park, Bulloch Hall, Barrington Hall and other sites of interest. We spent that morning at the Old Mill Park. The bridge was lovely, scenic and had excellent hiking trails alongside that we would have loved to climb but didn’t have the appropriate footware. I made it up to Bean for the long walk by making a stop at a gluten free bakery. She quickly forgot about her tired body and thought only of the cookies!

A few mornings we went over to the library and saw some excellent presentations. We were able to see and learn more about owls and falcons from a demonstration given by the Chattahoochee Nature Center. We were not able to touch the birds, but the children were close enough to see them in detail. Bean even went up to the front to demonstrate the differences in wing span between different types of birds. Another day there was a presentation given by an Ecuadorian storytelling team…in Spanish! I didn’t leave, as some people did, because I wanted to see if my limited Spanish was good enough to understand the stories. While I did not understand every word, I am happy to say that I understood enough to be able to give Bean some very bad translations. She accepted them enough to sit there for the duration of the program. My favorite program was the All Hands Productions puppet show. “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I am the gingerbread man,” was our favorite phrase for the next few days. The gentleman who produced and performed that show was truly talented. He had the attention of adults and children alike. He must have acted the part of at least 10 different puppets. He didn’t drop any. His voices were not mixed up. His puppets were amusing and the story was entertaining. I bet you didn’t know that the old witch in Hansel and Gretel was only looking for someone to clean her house. Hansel volunteered because he LOVED to clean houses and wash dishes. They made a great team!

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The cultural center was just a little further than the library and they also had puppet shows. They were very well produced. Bean can be vocal about the type of entertainment that she enjoys watching. She does tend to like live theater, but I wasn’t too sure about the puppets. She hasn’t seen many of them outside of Sunday School. She loved it! A troupe from Kansas performed their version of The Little Red Hen. She planted a garden and though the animals didn’t help her, in the end they promised to do better the next year and so she shared with them her goods. Our favorite part was getting up and dancing the Chicken Dance! We also saw another local artist, That Puppet Guy, perform stories from around the world. He used an assortment of puppets. We enjoyed the show and I only wish our pictures with him turned out better.

One of the best things we did this trip was get away for the weekend and go up to Charleston, South Carolina.
I would love to tell you about it in this post, but I don’t want to make it too long. Check back in a few days and I will finish the story. Thank you for letting us share our Great American Road Trip with you! Feel free to let me know how you like it in the comments.

Tampa- Great American Road Trip

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Every Friday night that we can, Bean and I have a movie night. We get a pizza, or whatever food she wants,
snacks and a couple of kid movies, as she calls it, and we have a great time. Bean prefers to watch animated cartoons, and not “people movies”. One people movie that we have seen is Dolphin Tale; Bean loved it. Imagine my surprise and delight to find out when we decided to come to Tampa that the Clearwater Aquarium was not far from where we would be staying.

Driving up I-75N from Miami to Tampa was scenic and quite pleasant. We drove through portions of the Everglades Wildlife Management Area. Seeing how the scenery changed, noticing the differences in the palm trees, and also the differences in temperature and the humidity was remarkable. Honestly, the heat was exhausting. I was so tired I had to pull over for a nap and sleep in the shade of a big tree.

When we arrived at my cousin’s, unfortunately her children were on their own vacation in Texas, so Bean did not have any children to play with. We were given a great project to work on… organize the house! She had just moved into the house two weeks earlier and needed help to get the girl’s room organized and the kitchen. I love to organize. It may be a bizarre passion, but it is something I was born enjoying. I was ready to get to work immediately.

Bean was ready to see what there was to see in town. She wanted to go downtown immediately; she is definitely a city girl. We compromised and headed out to see the area. It was lovely. There was a mango tree and a lemon tree growing in my cousin’s yard. Bean and I brought some mangoes up from Miami and decided to see which ones were the best. We toured the city and enjoyed seeing how a city was laid out before we actually get out and visit it. Our cousin thought that we may like to see the aquarium so she made reservations over the phone.

The next morning we showed up at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium only to find out that we were not at the place where we reserved our tickets. We said “No problem, let’s do this!” It isn’t often that we have found ourselves somewhere a movie we really like has been made. And on top of that, it was a movie that we liked!

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Bean was so happy. She could hardly wait to see Winter and Hope, the dolphins from the movies. The place wasn’t as big as some of the other aquariums that we have visited, but the staff and the volunteers make it clear that they believe in what they are doing: rescuing, raising and releasing aquatic animals. I was happy to spend my money on something that was making a difference.

We saw some dolphin training, a film about the work that they do, and we went to the newer location where it detailed everything about the movies Dolphin Tale 1 and 2. Finally, we saw the movie stars themselves, Hope and Winter. They were in a tank and though they were swimming quite a bit, they did not pass by the observation window very often. We were happy with a glimpse of them. We also saw Ricky the pelican. He had his own pad near the dolphins tanks. Bean had so much fun that she requested to see the movies again when we have another movie night.

In order to make sure our tickets and money did not go to waste, later in the week we made it to the Florida Aquarium. It was large and offered glimpses of outdoor Florida habitats right in the open in many of the exhibits. I was impressed to see the wildlife not being hidden behind glass.

They had some of the most beautiful jellyfish that I have ever seen. Bean loved it so much, she was running from one exhibit to the next trying to look at everything at one time. We had to get outside for our dolphin viewing boat ride. It was so hot outside, but the breeze on the boat made everything so much better. We had an excellent guide who explained everything that we were seeing. The water was calm enough, but the dolphins did not feel like interacting with the tourist. Off in the distance, we spotted them swimming peacefully. Our captain stopped the boat to see if they would approach, but they didn’t come any closer.

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We passed the rest of our days taking walks, organizing the house and getting to know family a little better. I am happy to report that though we did not have an extreme home makeover moment, we were able to get the house somewhat organized for when the children returned. Tampa was a great experience. Though I hadn’t been in Florida in ages, our time there was much enjoyed and well spent. Next time, I may not stay away for quite so long. What is your best Florida memory? I would love to hear your story, please leave it in the comments below!

Miami- Great American Road Trip

 I got my coconut!

I got my coconut!

I haven’t been to Florida in many years. In fact, it is somewhat surprising given the fact that I used to visit Florida twice a year in my teens and early twenties. I remembered rain at least once a day for very short periods of time, mosquitoes, humidity and of course blue skies and sand. When we arrived in Miami, my memory did not fail me, but I received so much more than what the weather had to give.

Bean and I were picked up from the bus station by a cousin and we went straight to the house that had been rented for the week in order to hold the yearly King family reunion. My, my, what a house. It was the John Wesley Young house, built, lived in and inhabited by the founder of Hollywood, Florida. Yes, you read that right, inhabited, this house is considered haunted; something we were going to find out about later in our stay. It was magnificent. I never could get an accurate count of the rooms in the house, but there was enough room for around twenty five people to stay and for everyone to have a decent place to sleep.

I love to fully embrace things when I am discovering something new and out of my norm. Touching the stucco, feeling the warm tile and grass beneath my feet, climbing the cold wrought iron staircase all helped me to feel as if I was really on vacation. Eating the good southern food prepared by many members of my family: fried fish and corn muffins, barbecued chicken and all the sides, cheese grits, eggs, and bacon and so much more, made me determined to get out in the neighborhood take my daily walks. I even took over breakfast one day and made the most perfect omelets I have ever prepared.

Bean was not always willing to leave the house and take a walk with me, but I made a game of it to convince her it was worth it. The first day we were there, we met a neighbor who had been living in Florida for 18 years. He had moved there from the same neighborhood we lived in when in Chicago! Bean and I counted how many geckos or lizards that we saw every day. The number went from 5 to 25 after an evening of rain. We noted the coconuts growing on the trees. We found the waterway and the walking path. Bean still preferred to play at the house and get into the pool to play with cousins she did not know existed.

Bean's favorite Miami activity

Bean’s favorite Miami activity

Every morning I got up before the others in the house and took off for the beach in order to see the sunrise. For me, there is just something hopeful and optimistic about watching another day arrive. Every chance I get, I like to watch the sun come over the horizon. I am glad that I did forgo sleeping in because I met some very nice people beginning the first time that I sat on the beach to watch the beginning of a new day.

Michael happened to be sitting close to me. He turned around and began to share with me some of his spiritual insights in regards to the new day. He was going through a difficult life event and was finding his way through. As he talked, others were walking, running or biking along the path. A couple walked by and said “Hello”. Bill and Patty were recently acquainted with Michael the short time he had been living in the area. They have lived in Florida their whole life. Bill worked to help the homeless and vagrants that made the beach their home. He offered them guidance, food and shared what good news with them that he could. It was invigorating for me to sit and connect with local people and hear their stories.

Back at the house, we reconnected with family we haven’t seen in years. I am pleased with how welcoming everyone was. I know family is supposed to be welcoming, but when you have always been with your parents during family reunions, it is different to show up as the only member of your branch of the family. It was great to see that everyone was well, hear the opinions of others, and speak of shared interests.

There were a few days when we went out to Miami Beach. While I feel that most beach towns and ocean fronts are basically the same, the company isn’t. That changes and adds a different perspective to the experience. I was expecting the beach to be like what you see on TV and in the movies, but it wasn’t. I had expected so many crowds. I don’t know if it was the time of day, the week or too early in the tourist season yet, but we had plenty of space to walk around and do as we pleased. The people were pretty tame too, with the exception of the young woman who walked in front of us in the sting bikini and sheer cover-up. It isn’t that her attire was unexpected, but the fact that she walked into a restaurant and got seated that caused us realize how different things are on South Beach compared to other places.

I must tell you about the ghost. As we all sat around and talked, different people began to bring up the fact that the house was supposed to be haunted. A few days into the trip and there was no evidence that this was true. Someone described what he was suppose to look like and what the websites said about his spirit. They stated that he was a gentle ghost and could be a babysitter. We were there almost a week before he made his appearance. Well, he didn’t actually appear, but he made his presence known.

The Haunted John Wesley Young House

The Haunted John Wesley Young House

I went out for my morning walk to the beach and to gather coconuts. When I walked back into the house, I went in the door and noted that the house was still quiet and everyone still seemed to be sleeping. I walked into the kitchen and every door in the kitchen was open. Every cabinet, every drawer, every door to every shelf was open. It just didn’t look right and didn’t feel right. I pulled out my camera and took a video to record it. After that, I just knew I needed to find someone to tell.

Walking into the living room, I found a couple of people awake and I asked them if they had been up long and if they had been in the kitchen. They said no and asked what happened. I told them to walk with me. When we reached the kitchen, they were in shock. The night before, the very same thing happened. One of the teenagers came across the exact same thing and it scared her so bad she ran up the stairs to call her grandmother.

By the time the whole house was up, everyone knew. Some people couldn’t talk of anything else the rest of the day. We decided that Mr. John Wesley Young had enough of us. He was telling us it was time to go. One of the men suggested we have a seance that night. A few of us showed up and mostly we sat around the table and laughed at our ridiculous antics. It was truly hilarious. I laughed so much that my stomach hurt.

It was a great time, however the ghost of Mr. Young was right, it was time for us to go. Bean and I had a marvelous time. We were invited to visit a couple of other relatives along the way during our Road Trip. The additional places fit perfectly into the route, so we will have more adventures to share.

I know everyone doesn’t believe in the paranormal, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the Miami trip. If you have ghost story, would you share it in the comments? I would enjoy reading about it!

Miami Part 2- Our Great American Road Trip

Florida 2016

Florida 2016

Continuing our Road trip…
We got off of the bus first thing in the morning in Atlanta. Bean slept well in the night. I was rested enough to go and look for breakfast. Asking around, we found out that a place to eat was not too far away. We took our two bags and walked down the street, where Bean immediately remarked that this city was dirty and she was ready to leave. I have to admit, Atlanta could do a better job with that area of town. Because I have been to Atlanta many times, I was able to get my bearings enough to know where we were…calling my Aunt Margaret helped too.

After a short time, Bean and I found the Waffle House right near Underground Atlanta, where we visited back in March. For whatever reason, eating grits, eggs and pancakes in the middle of a long road trip was just what we needed. It seemed to be the perfect beginning to the end of long journey. Little did I know what was in store.

We got to the bus terminal about twenty minutes before our bus took off so it was not possible to choose our seats. Bean sat across the aisle from me and I sat up close to the driver. He was so different than the driver we had up to that point. He was a talker and like interacting with his passengers. He chose me to pick on and interact with. It made for an interesting ride.

About one hour out of Atlanta, the bus began to get really hot. I didn’t notice until the last minute. People suddenly started complaining and calling out “Bus driver, turn up the air”. He asked me what I was feeling and I let him know that the air definitely was not working. In looking at the controls, he discovered that the bus was quickly losing power. We were close to the next stop at a little town in Georgia, so he pulled off, told everyone to take a break and get dinner and come back for news about what was next.

As per routine, Bean and I took off walking. We walked around the parking lot, down the block and down the street. There was a great little Sonic like drive in restaurant. In contrast to Atlanta, this place was really clean. I find that many small towns do a very good job with keeping their towns clean. Bean and I chose to eat outside at the little picnic tables and just enjoy our Sunday afternoon. When we began walking again, we met a few of the other townspeople on the road and said hello. A clean and friendly small town.

Making it back to the bus stop, we found out that Greyhound had not made a decision what to do with the bus. Our driver took a poll and asked who wanted to stay and who wanted to continue on to Orlando, the last stop for the route. Everyone, even the very angry man who threatened to call the police because the bus was so hot and the driver didn’t stop and let him out, agreed to continue on to Orlando…and we almost made it.

The bus was so hot. In spite of that, I was going with the flow. I mean, who has never ridden in a car with no air conditioning. I feel when I travel, it is important for me to take conditions as they are because in the future I may be in a part of the world where this is normal. If I can’t deal with it in the United States where it is abnormal, how can I expect to deal with it when I am in say South America where buses with no air conditioning is normal. I know, most people don’t think like me, but I feel that in spite of the rough conditions, the passengers were very understanding

The driver started shaking his head and when I asked him how much power did the bus have, he would not tell me. He pulled off at the next exit and right there at a red light in Gainesville, the bus died. We did not even have enough power to get out of the street and into a parking lot so that the passengers could sit on the ground. Everyone still kept it together as he got on the phone with the company, out of the bus and tried to see if he could get us out of the street.

Try as he might, there was nothing he could do. Our driver had to call the police to escort all the passengers off of the bus and across the street to an Applebee’s. Being myself, I am looking for an adventure. Bean and I take off walking to see what we could see. There wasn’t much. It was after nine o’clock at night. We got word that another driver was finally going to be coming from Orlando, but that would take until after midnight. Bean handled the situation well. She found things to play with…sticks, rocks, and grass. She found another six-year-old to play with. They had a blast coloring together and playing tag.

Many passengers began calling their family and friends to come and pick them up. I was beginning to wonder if I was doing the right thing by waiting out the situation to see what would happen next. It was close to one in the morning when the new bus finally showed up. There may have been 30 people left to go all the way to Orlando. Only myself and one other woman needed to go as far as Miami. She had to get to the Consulate for the Dominican Republic by eight o’clock that morning and she was anxious.

Thankfully, we were all able to rest, our driver and the remaining passengers. We got a short nap and then we were in Orlando for a transfer. Once the new bus showed up, the rest of the trip was smooth. We made all the connections without a hitch. The young woman made it to Ft. Lauderdale in time for her appointment at the consulate. Though we were very tired, we made it to Miami seven hours later than planned, in good health and great spirits. Another day, a new adventure.

Imagining this trip earlier this year, I had no idea that so many things would be happening in the United States. I was thinking of an old-fashioned road trip like the ones we used to take with our parents. As time passes on our journey, I find it a little disconcerting that many of the places we have remaining on our route have experienced unrest in the last few weeks. We are going to keep on traveling, seeing friends and family and believing that our time on the road will be safe and happy. Thank you for all the kind thoughts you send our way.

Miami Part 1- Our Great American Road Trip

Miami Florida

Miami Florida

When I told my family that I was planning a road trip for the summer, they were all very receptive. My dad mentioned that his family was having a reunion in Miami around the time that we would begin our journey. I initially tried to think of excuses because I haven’t seen anyone from my dad’s side of the family in so long, I can’t remember when. However, I looked at the calendar and Miami not only fit perfectly on our route, it also fit perfectly into the calendar. I said to myself, “OK, I am doing this for my dad”. I decided to have no expectations or hopes as to the outcome of the visit. I am glad I made that decision.

We left St. Charles and took the Greyhound bus from downtown Chicago. The most amazing thing was going back to Chicago and feeling like a visitor…after one week. It was as if the skyscrapers were new, riding the El was a new experience, going into our old neighborhood, it was all as if I was doing it after many, many years.

We asked a stationmaster for directions to the bus station from the train station. He was so kind, he led us from where we were standing to the door we needed to leave from. No matter how much I protested it was too much, he insisted. Interactions like that just prove to me that there are always nice people around, whether it be a big or a small city. Bean was convinced that he was a police officer though, no matter how much he told her otherwise.

The walk was short to the train station and we found our bus right away. Just like travel on a plane, Bean and I were able to board first. That made me so happy. We didn’t need to sit in the back by the toilets! In choosing to travel by bus, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

In case you are wondering why I chose to take the bus, there were many reasons. The first was, in the spirit of road trip, I didn’t think I should start off by flying. Bean loves to fly and the tickets were the same price, but I really wanted to take the scenic route. I have taken Greyhound before, and besides way too many stops at McDonald’s to pick up other passengers, I could not find anything to complain about. The conductors always make it clear that if you curse, drink, talk loudly on your phone or listen to your electronic devices too loudly, you will be standing on the side of the road looking for another ride. That is better than public transportation in the city. The second reason was that in looking for a rental car, I may have waited too late for a good deal. For the price of a ticket to Europe, I could rent a car for three days going one way from Chicago to Miami. Of course I would rather use that money for a ticket to Europe. The bus was the best choice.

Our bus made many stops and we did not need to make a transfer until Memphis, Tennessee. At every stop, Bean and I would get out and go for a walk. I was surprised at the people who chose to sit for hours on the bus and then sit some more at a rest stop. Traveling long distances with a young child, I have always found it helpful to get out and walk. Even for myself, I feel better if I get some fresh air. We discovered many things in a few minutes off of the bus at every stop. We found the Subway in Indianapolis. We discovered 4th Street Live in Louisville. We saw a real, live Judy Hops police car (you will understand if you have seen Zootopia). All in all, it was an uneventful trip until we got to Atlanta.

I would love to tell you the rest of the story in this post, but there is so much more to write. Stay tuned and in a few days, you will get to hear what happened when the fun began. I would like to know, has anyone ever taken Greyhound or another bus service to get to a destination. What was your overall trip experience? Did you choose the bus for fun or out of necessity?