Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 31 – “Day Fourteen: Sluggers and Fire Trucks”

Great day yesterday.  It was the climax point of our trip, the goal to which Chris had been working for two weeks (and I of course went along with it because I love her and it is our 40th anniversary).  We went to the Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat Museum and Factory.  That’s right, folks, the place where the pros have their bats made.  In fact we got to watch as they were making some bats.  The guide asked if there was anyone in the crowd who was a Texas Rangers fan.  Chris’ was the only hand that went up.  Why such a question, you may ask?  Because the machine was in the process of making bats for none other than Josh Hamilton, who just recently returned to the Texas Rangers.  It’s a fascinating process each bat goes through to become usable.  Used to take 30 minutes for one bat to be carved on a mechanical lathe.  Now it takes a machine about 30 seconds.  I know.  I timed it.  The museum part of the tour was pretty interesting, too, if you’re a baseball fan.  I got to hold bats that were used in a game by Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench.  Babe Ruth had some bats there, as did quite a few of the old timers in the Hall of Fame.  And Astro Craig Biggio had his own special place as the newest inductee.  Their special exhibit was from the Topps baseball card company.  They showed an early Mantle card as well as a lot of the non-baseball cards they have produced.  And along with the cards came a special exhibit: TV Batman’s costume.  Christopher Reeve’s Superman costume.  Lieutenant U’Hura’s costume.  Will Robinson’s costume.  Indiana Jones’ whip.  Luke Skywalker’s action double light saber.  Ringo Starr’s drumsticks.  Elvis’ scarf.  A bat signed by The Fonz.  Wolverine’s dogtags (and undershirt).  Princess Leia’s blaster gun.  Even Sven and Olaf beanie babies.   Exciting stuff for all interests.  And while we were taking it all in, our guide from the factory tour approached us and greeted us as “The Texas Rangers fans.”  Great to be recognized.  I did confess to being a die-hard Astros fan from near-birth, though.  “That’s OK,” he countered.  “I’m a true-blue Yankees fan.”  Poor guy.

After the Slugger Museum we drove all the way into Indiana (Well, it was just across a bridge, but I am from Galveston, and a bridge can be a psychologically insurmountable obstacle, you know.  It is tough for us to drive all the way over that Galveston bridge into Texas.  So, I didn’t know the Ohio River was the boundary.  I noticed on the map that Kentucky claims the whole river, though.  They do leave Indiana a little bit of water to play in around their beaches though.  Just none of this boundary in the middle of the river stuff up here, I guess).  Way over there in Indiana we went to the Vintage Fire Museum.  We were the only ones there, so we had some real personal touches.  Our tour guide showed us fire trucks from 1796 up through the 1960’s.  And the amazing thing was, they all worked.  Even that 1796 one.  The trucks have been refurbished and restored to their original operating condition.  Some are used in parades, other just stay in the museum.  And they had lots of fire fighting paraphernalia as well.  My favorite was the early breathing mask.  The guys would be attached to an air pump (looked like a bicycle tire pump) with a really strong air hose.  A notice on the exhibit instructed the fire fighters that one tug would mean “More air.”  Two tugs would mean “Less air.”  And three tugs would mean, “Help Me Out.”  I also got to sit in the driver’s seat of one of the old engines.  Watch out, you GFD drivers.  I’m coming for you. 

Speaking of driving, our afternoon was spent driving around Louisville.  We went just shy of 100 miles.  That included a scenic trail through a place called Cherokee Park where the only thing we knew for sure was that Jimmy was having a birthday party.  Signs everywhere.  Once we escaped from the park we decided to find the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I almost went there after college, but I decided to wait around for a really cute blonde to marry me, and we ended up in Fort Worth instead.  We found a seminary all right, but it was a Presbyterian one.  We weren’t far wrong, though, and a slight recalculation by Google Siri and we were on the Southern Seminary grounds.  Really beautiful place.

After the seminary drive-through we decided to look for some antique stores.  Took us a while but we finally scored.  Crazy Daisy’s Antique Mall.  Can’t get any better name than that.  The place was two stories of booth after booth of totally random stuff.  Just the kind of place we like to walk through.  We stayed there the better part of an hour before heading for some supper at … Cracker Barrel.  We were hoping for some more soup, but ended up splitting a meatloaf dinner instead. 

Final hotel rating: Uh-oh.  That breakfast was not very good.  Oh, the waffle is hard to mess up, but Chris doesn’t eat the waffles.  The eggs were cold.  So were the sausage links.  And the biscuits.  Not good.  Not good at all.  I was so hoping to give out a four starfish rating, the only one even close to the Huntley Bed n Breakfast’s five.  But alas, it simply was not to be.  I can go as high a three starfish with no problem.  Maybe squeeze out another half.  Let’s leave it at that.

Where to next?  Great question.  It’ll depend on how well Chris and Google Siri get along when we get in the car. 

Psalms 33:8 says, Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.”

Father, be with the folks leading worship today, at Seaside as well as all over the country.  Send your Spirit in a mighty way.  Amen.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30 – “Day Thirteen: Baby Abe to Louisville”

Cailyn called us two nights ago after we were in bed (so was she).  She told us she had cried a few times because she missed us. (I know … aww).  Problem?  All of a sudden Chris was ready to go home.  “At least by Wednesday or Thursday.”  She even quoted our friend Diane: “I miss my babies.”  Oh, boy. 

Oh, I forgot to mention that we were mistaken for Civil War re-enactors when we stopped at the visitor’s center in Elizabethtown the other day.  Guess we really look the part.  Or perhaps in my case, I look like I might have lived through it the first time.

Yesterday was Abe Lincoln day.  Well, at least our day to visit his birthplace.  How’s this for a random comment?  On our way to see the birthplace, Chris remarked, “So, wasn’t Abraham Lincoln quite the werewolf slayer in his younger years?  Maybe that happened around here.”  Werewolves, zombies, in any case, we were indeed traveling through what was likely prime territory for such creatures.  I’m pretty sure as awesome as he was, even Abe didn’t get to all of them.  Best be on our toes.  Maybe some garlic for lunch …

The focal point of the grounds was a huge mausoleum … for a log cabin.  Around 1911, when this thing was built, they thought it was the actual cabin Abe was born in.  Some guy had been hauling it around with him all over the place claiming it was the actual one (How?  No idea.  This was the early 1900’s).  They finally appropriated it from him in Buffalo, New York, and moved it back to Hodgenville, Kentucky “where it all” began.  They discovered some years later that it wasn’t old enough to be the actual cabin, but by then it was already enshrined.  Honestly, it reminded me of the churches and shrines built over the sites involving Jesus in the Holy Land. 

Speaking of Jesus, our next stop was the Abbe of Gethsemani, a home for Trappist monks.  No speaking allowed.  We didn’t stay long.

Next stop was one of the myriad of distilleries in the area.  Apparently Kentucky is the hotbed for making bourbon.  This one was Maker’s Mark (Is that supposed to be a good one?  All of their bottles have some kind of red wax covering up the top.  They said every single bottle was hand-dipped into the wax.  Why?  Quality control, I guess).  As we shuffled around in an old house for the tour to begin, the pictures on the wall started talking … to each other.  And their eyes and mouths moved.  Two of them even raised a glass of bourbon in salute to each other.  I think the saying was, “May your horse always run almost as good as mine.”  Very strange.  Felt like I was at Hogwarts.  Never saw Nearly Headless Nick, though.  Phew.  The tour was educational, if nothing else, since we knew absolutely nothing about moonshine –making it or drinking it.  Our tour guide would have hated that comment, for instance.  “Kentucky bourbon is not like moonshine.  The people you hear of that die from drinking moonshine, it’s because of all the impurities.  We take all of those out, and the result is a fine, front of the palate sweetness that rolls across your tongue.”  (Whatever that means).  We found out that the buildings are painted black to hold in the heat (There were huge black buildings dotting the landscape all over the place around there).  And it works.  The rooms inside were stifling.  We had a chance to dip our finger into a huge vat of what he called “the mash pit” for a taste.  Nasty.  Tasted kind of like weak, sick beer smells.  Chris said it smelled like yeast.  She wouldn’t touch it.  We also learned the “proper” way to sniff bourbon.  Shake the glass around a little, twirling the stuff inside, turn the glass on a 45 degree angle, stick your nose in the glass, and breathe in through your mouth.  Weird.

From there we headed toward Louisville.  We had to pass by a frightening little hill, though.  It was out in the middle of nowhere, and it was full of little angel statues.  I’m pretty sure they were the kind that you have to keep looking at or they will get closer and closer to you until … well, needless to say, we took a few pictures and got out of there. 

We stopped for lunch in Bardstown.  It is obviously someplace special to Stephen Foster.  They have a whole park dedicated to “My Old Kentucky Home.”  Didn’t sing that one to Chris.  I don’t know it.  We did eat some buffet at Stephen Foster’s Buffet cafeteria.  Local fare.  Not bad food, and by the time we were leaving, lots of folks were piling in. 

In between Bardsville and Louisville, we were on a special mission: to discover and photograph as many Barn Quilts as possible.  Yep.  People paint quilts on their barns.  Seems like they have a lot of extra time on their hands.  Interesting patterns, though.  And so random as to be kind of fun.  Not quite as fun as seeing wacky signs like “The Coon Hunters Club” just outside of Louisville, but fun.

Once we got checked in at the hotel we made our way through rush hour traffic to check out Chris’ family burial plot at the local cemetery.  Seems Zachary Taylor is buried at the National Cemetery here.  And so are a lot of folks named Taylor, some of which are undoubtedly Chris’s relatives.  Finally, a cemetery with a personal touch.  We also drove by a place called Locust Grove.  It’s a local mansion that has been around for a few centuries.  It was closed so we just took some pictures. 

And then it was time to head back to the hotel.  I was driving, so I pointed out some alternate routes for Chris to navigate me through.  Nope.  Not having that.  She refused to drive on the freeways, and she has come to trust Google Siri less and less.  Those two just don’t get along.  So that meant I was relegated to navigator and she took over as driver.  As she told me, “I’m reading Psalms, and a daily scripture reading, and My Utmost for His Highest every day.  I still get lost.  Not spiritually.  On the road, I mean.”  I for one am glad she likes to drive.  And I enjoy finding weird paths to simple destinations.  Perfect match, if you ask me.

Hotel Rating: Now we’re talking.  We shot right past two starfish just by walking into this room.  King bed.  Big room.  Front and back door.  Indoor pool.  Free breakfast.  Real soap.  Definitely past three starfish.  We’ll be here two nights, so the final tally is still out.  Gotta try the breakfast.

Psalms 33:6 says, By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”

Father, thank you for the way Chris and I complement each other.  That’s no accident.  You did some great work.  Amen.

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 29 – “Day Twelve: Knoxville to Elizabethtown, Kentucky”

Started the day with a WalMart fix.  Actually we didn’t really intend to do that.  We pulled off the freeway on our way north toward Kentucky because we saw a sign advertising an Appalachian Museum.  A WalMart parking lot happened to be handy, so we went there to check out the museum’s website.  They were quite proud of their museum.  Exorbitantly so.  And it didn’t open for another hour.  So we did what any other somewhat abnormal human would have done in that circumstance.  We went to WalMart.  While there we picked up some little scissors in the sewing department so I could trim my moustache (got the job done, but definitely not the right appliance. Ouch) and some bandaids for my ruptured waterfall-hike foot blister.  Ahh.  WalMart.  Just the same wherever you are in the world.  That’s a bit scary.

We passed through the town of Rocky Top just outside of Knoxville.  Actually its name used to be Lake City.  They changed it in 2014 after a lengthy court battle went against the owners of the copyright to the song.  To honor the occasion I serenaded Chris with the portion of the song that I could remember.  Loudly.  Just keeping her awake, you know.

Our first “real” stop (other than Cracker Barrel for lunch again) was the Perryville Battlefield near … well, Perryville, Kentucky.  It was the only one so far that attempted to present the Confederate cause in a somewhat positive light.  That may have been because it was a state park and not a national one.  That may also be why it was the hardest one so far to get around in.  The museum was tiny, but the film was actually really good.  If we hadn’t seen that I don’t think we would have gotten anything out of the experience at all.  However, the maps they handed out were just not helpful.  Very confusing, in fact.  As we were getting into the car, we were invited to join a private tour but politely refused.  Mistake.  Oh, we drove all around the place, and we found some of the markers with details of the battle.  But we did get lost, even with their map.  I finally figured out where we were and got us back to the entrance, but we were about battlefielded out.  Chris even told me that she was ready to start thinking about baseball instead of battlefields.

Next on the list was the Abraham Lincoln Trail just south of Louisville.  We bypassed Springfield because all the key sights referenced Abe’s Dad … or his step-mother … or his aunt.  Gotta love all that detail on the internet.  By the time we got to Bardstown (It’s claim to fame was four, count ‘em, four distilleries.  Had to be 21 to even go on the tours.  Probably because there was a tasting room at the end) we realized that most of the places we might be interested in seeing (the Lincoln sites and the abbe) were closing in the next twenty minutes.  So we made an executive decision to head straight for Elizabethtown (it seemed to be the biggest one in the area, and it had a tourist information center.  A pink tourist information center) and a hotel.  Tomorrow’s another day and all that.  We did get some supper after we checked in.  Tried four different local places recommended by the lady at the pink information center.  The first was closed.  The second was open, but we couldn’t locate any place to park.  The third appeared to be open, but we couldn’t find the front door.  Really.  We finally scored at the fourth local place.  You’ll never believe the name, though.  Texas Outlaw.  Steaks and barbecue ribs.  The owner is a Texas transplant.  A little taste of home.  After supper we took a driving tour of Elizabethtown following a pamphlet we got at the tourist information center.  At the pink tourist information center.  It did stand out.  Lots of old houses, as you might imagine.  You’ll never guess where it ended up.  The local cemetery.  Confederate soldiers buried there, you know. 

Hotel Rating: We are back in the two starfish and under realm again. The room was clean enough.  Soap in the bathroom.  Free breakfast.  Nothing terrible.  Nothing outstanding.  It just felt … two starfish-ish.

Psalms 33:5 says, The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

Father, thank you for getting us to Kentucky, finally.  I’m getting excited about Louisville.  I think Chris is, too.  Or else she is just tired of wars and cemeteries. Amen.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 28 – “Day Eleven: The Terrible Teva 2.5 and on to Knoxville”

How’s this for a word of wisdom we heard on the TV early yesterday morning?  “Did you know that fleas’ babies eat their mom’s poop?”  Great way to start the day.

We left early for our highly recommended (by Larry and Diane) excursion to Cades Cove.  Never so glad to get out of a hotel.  We arrived with no problem, only to be stuck in a bottleneck the entrance.  Wednesday is bicycles only day until 10 a.m.  We killed some time roaming around at the campground store until time came for the trail to open up.  And finally we were off.  Or so we thought.  We weren’t prepared for the massive amount of cars that were backed up to join us on for the next eleven miles.  And what I assumed was going to be a leisurely drive looking for critters quickly became one big Teva hiking trip.  Around the very first bend, Chris saw an opportunity to stop and explore.  We pulled over and walked a quarter of a mile to see some guy’s restored log cabin.  The car was so far away I couldn’t even see it.  And then we had to walk back.  Hike number one.  But the worst was yet to come. 

We soon saw a sign for a place called Abram’s Falls.  Hey, you gotta do the waterfalls, right?  So we turned off the main road and made our way to the trail head.  Yep.  Trail head.  That means you have to walk – no, hike - to reach your objective.  But we did that quarter mile hike already.  How hard could it be?  And what did it matter that we were both wearing sandals?  We are from Galveston.  We wear sandals everywhere.  And thus began the Terrible Teva 2.5.  That would be 2.5 miles.  One way.  Up hill.  And 2.5 miles back.  Up hill (Still haven’t figured out how they did that).  Over rocky, tree-root studded terrain.  To see a waterfall.  The trek was actually kind of fun when we weren’t thinking about our pain.  We saw a little snake eating his lunch.  Reminded me that we hadn’t eaten yet.  And we didn’t have a water bottle either.  We met some folks from Texas.  All they could talk about was the flooding.  We met an older couple from North Carolina who became our inspiration.  At least until she put her hand on a stone face for support and realized she was just inches from a snake about five feet long.  She wanted to jump up and down and run away.  But where would she go?  She could barely stand up as it was.  And the path was only about five feet wide.  So she screamed.  She scared the poor snake half to death.  We did complete the “little hike.”  We forgot to time our walk up to the Falls, but it took us an hour and twenty minutes to get out.  To quote my Mom, “Oh, my aching back.”

A big highlight of the day came when we saw Mrs. Yogi Bear.  Ranger Rick told us she was trying to lead everyone away from little BooBoo.  Never saw the youngster.  Later on we saw Daddy Yogi himself.  He was one huge black bear strolling through the Cove.  Along with the human critters and the Yogi family we saw a squirrel, bumblebees, birds, a blue butterfly, a stink bug, a centipede, a Buddy-dog (someone will know what that means, won’t you, Jennifer?), another little dog wearing a diaper (I was quite embarrassed for it), and no fish in the stream.  Oh, and we also saw a fully operational, antique, water-driven mill.  It was grinding corn into meal.  Chris bought some corn meal.  One word for how we felt at the time about our trip to the Cove?  Exhausted. 

We made it as far as Knoxville, Tennessee.  That’s not very far, but all we both wanted a shower and a clean bed.  We grabbed some supper at Cracker Barrel and while Chris washed some clothes, I spent some time talking with the fire fighters at the station next door to the hotel.  They were out on a really nice patio they had built in the back yard of the station.  They hadn’t been able to get approval to install a hot tub yet.  I suggested they present it as a water rescue training module.  Good luck with that one, guys.  They seemed particularly interested in the fast water rescue stuff Galveston does, especially in light of all the flooding.  Oh, and they told me Knoxville had a minor league baseball team.  I let them know that if I suggested to Chris that we go to a baseball game, they would likely see me fly from a third story window.  Their retort to that?  “If we get a 9 -1-1 from the hotel, we’ll look for you.”  Thank you so much for that encouragement.  I had a great time with them.  It was good to see the fire fighter family carry over the miles.

Hotel Rating: I’m not sure if it is because the last one was so bad, but this Comfort Suites is really nice.  The front desk lady set me up on their frequent flyer plan, and it looks like we’ll get a $50 gift card when we get home.  Woohoo.  The room is really nice.  AC works.  Couch in the room.  Real soap in the bathroom.  Free breakfast.  It’s no Huntley Bed and Breakfast five Star Dream, but so far it is doing well.  Probably three and a half starfish anyway.

Psalms 32:10 says, Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.”

Father, watch over the fire fighters in Knoxville.  And keep their brothers in Galveston safe as well.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

May 27 – “Day Ten: Slaying the Dragon … and the dolls”

Well, we left Chattanooga without riding the famous choo choo.  Or eating at the fabulous restaurants recommended to us downtown.  We left Chattanooga just ahead of the coming storm.  There.  That still sounds like the first few lines of a country western song, doesn’t it?  It was time to leave town before 900 more bicycles closed the road to the freeway and we would be stuck in choo choo town forever.

Our next leg took us onto the Trail of Tears for a while, then onto the Appalachian Foothills Parkway, where we got stuck behind a tractor.  One lane.  He was hitting his max speed of 20 mph max, so I’ll give him that.  He finally turned off in time for us to see a beaver walking on the side of the road.  He looked a little drunk, though.  Think he might have been chewing on somebody’s still.  We missed Burt’s Farm.  It was closed for the season.  Not sure which season.  But just down the road we saw a sign for Amicalola Falls, so we stopped.  The view of the Falls was well worth the $5 entry fee.  We walked down and stood on a bridge that spanned the Falls about halfway down.  Got some amazing pictures.  Even took a selfie (Wait.  Is it still considered a selfie of there are two of you in the picture?  I can’t get a handle on this lingo).  Then we went on to the top and took a few more photos there.  We had lunch at the lodge restaurant.  Very swank.  I even tried to get Chris to stay there for the night.  OK, OK, I confess it was a thinly veiled attempt to remain outside the magnetic tug of the evil doll hospital that awaited around the next bend.  She wouldn’t go for it, though.  On we go.

Soon we entered the Chattahooche-koochie National Forest.  (Sorry, I get carried away with those names).  In the little town of Dahlonega there were flags and crosses literally lining the roads in and out of the city.  Each cross bore the name of a vet and the war or wars he fought in.  Quite the undertaking for the town and quite a moving experience for the traveler. 

And finally we had “IT” in our sights.  Babyland Hospital.  No amount of coaxing could keep Chris away now.  (She even pulled out the “We went to the tow truck museum, so ….” line.  I knew that one was coming).  On the front porch of the veritable mansion we were met with a strange song playing some Country Western song about a guy named Xavier.  Found out later he was the one who started the place.  Autographed pics of celebrities who have been there or who have supported “the cause” lined the walls.  The clerks wore nurse scrubs.  A few of the older ladies wore full nurse uniforms.  We stumbled upon one of these nurse-adorned ladies rocking one of the dolls in a room set up to look like a nursery.  She told us that particular doll was always getting into trouble, so it stayed in time out all the time.  I told her I could relate.  Weird.  Masterful marketing scheme though.

We saw a “birth” take place.  They made an impassioned announcement over the loudspeaker to meet over at the huge tree that was the birthing station.  Two “LPN’s” (Licensed Patch Nurses) delivered the dolls, following procedures that were eerily similar to a real birth.  Twins.  The kids in the crowd got to name them.  Lemon Cheeks Arnold and his sister Isabella Zoe.  No, seriously.  I videoed the whole thing.  Couldn’t believe it myself.  It took every ounce of restraint I could muster (plus I was still in a state of shock at actually being there), but I never once uttered the taboo word “doll.”  I love my wife.  Perhaps because of that sacrifice, I finally made it out without too much permanent damage to my soul.

Next we followed the Chattahoochi-koochie River Scenic route, then the Unicoi Turnpike, which became the North Carolina scenic byway.  Phew.  Great names.  Oh, and we even saw a “See Ruby Falls” sign in the middle of nowhere. 

Before you read the next sequence, read about “The Dragon’s Tail” (Come on, you have internet or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Oh, all right.  Here’s a synopsis).  It’s a treacherous, eleven mile stretch of road through the Great Smoky Mountains.  In those 11 miles, the road curves, sometimes drastically, 139 times.  It is a favorite of motorcyclists from all over the world.  And we chose to enter it in the late evening.  During a light rain …

And then we grabbed the Dragon’s Tail, and the fight of our lives began.  He ripped out all cell service reception for the duration of the battle.  I sent out a call for assistance from some faithful knights in faraway Waco and LaMarque, but alas, the message never made it through.  The dragon gobbled up the pigeon before it could even get airborne.  It was the fair maiden Chris who managed to slay the foul beast.  (Read here, Chris had altogether too much fun at my expense driving on this treacherous roadway.  Way too fast.  I had to constantly remind her to slow down and obey the traffic signs.  Shame on her, right?).  The odd thing was, somehow our friend Google Siri managed to keep track of us the entire way. We finally conquered the Dragon and made our way into Townsend, Tennessee, for the night. 

After we checked into the hotel we backtracked just a bit to get a picture of a barn quilt that Chris spotted.  First one.  It’s just a huge picture of a quilt painted on the side of a barn.  Eccentric artistry.  From there we stopped in at the Beef Barn for some supper.  The waiter informed us that they had new owners – cattle ranchers – so everything was fresh off the hoof.  We ordered pork.  Truth is stranger than fiction, folks.  We did get a docent’s-eye view of some underground ocean about an hour and a half away from here in the town of Sweetwater.  We’ll see.  For now, tomorrow we face yet another beast named Cade’s Cove. 

Hotel Rating: At this point the Best Western we are staying in owes me a few starfish. 
1.      The room we were given was not cleaned yet.  One of the beds had no sheets and the blankets were still piled on the bed.  They gave us a different room. 
2.      That new room didn’t have any in room coffee.  I took the coffee maker to the front desk so she would have a visual aid. 
3.      She brought it back and explained to me how it only made one cup at a time.  I told her that was fine, so where was the coffee?  I had to go with her back to the front desk to get some. 
4.      The sink had nifty little built-in dispensers for soap and aloe vera lotion.  The bathtub had separate ones for body wash, shampoo, and conditioner.  The body wash in the bathtub was empty.  Totally dry.  No hand soap available.  Thank goodness Chris anticipates such faux pas and packed some soap of our own.
They do have two cool rocking chairs outside by every room.  And we met some folks from Texas (That was providence, not the hotel).  I still count negative three at least, and I haven’t even been to breakfast.  They owe me three starfish.

Psalms 31:19 says, How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.

Father, thank you for safety through the mountain pass.  And Texas still needs your help.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 26 – “Day Nine: Holy Galveston, Batman”

Our first breakfast in Chattanooga began by facing a room completely full.  No seats available at any table.  We went ahead with gathering our food.  Chris got her eggs and I put my waffle on to cook.  By the time we were ready a family left and we were able to grab their table.  But we also invited another couple to join us that was obviously scanning the room.  They were on their way home to Florida after a visit to some grandkids.  They had never stopped in Chattanooga before, so this was the day.  Bad choice. 

After breakfast we headed out to our first Memorial Day stop on this Tennessee tour, The International Tow Truck Museum.  No, I am not kidding.  An entire museum dedicated to tow trucks.  Out from there was a wall about a city block long dedicated to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the performance of their duty as tow truck drivers.  There was a huge sculpture of a tow truck driver reaching down to rescue someone from an invisible abyss.  He holds the victim with one hand and grips that hook on the end of his tow truck cable with the other.  And in his case, the cable is attached to an invisible tow truck somewhere in a different dimension.  How could we not stop?

Inside, there was a sample of just about every type of tow truck that has ever been put together.  Not on a table somewhere, either.  A full-sized, totally operational, vehicle-hauling tow truck.  Give you an idea now of how big this building was?  There was a Model-T tow truck (or whatever those letters were early on) and a 1930’s tow truck and a 1950’s tow truck.  There was the fastest tow truck in the world.  There was an army tow truck.  There was a tow truck that could tow the empire state building.  One whole wall was dedicated to toy tow trucks.  Big Bird towing Bert.  A troll tow truck (say that one three times really fast).  Tow truck stamps.  Tow truck belt buckles.  Tow truck caps.  Trucks made of plastic and metal and wood.  The experience was topped off by two long hallways of photographs of people who have made it to the pinnacle of success in their profession … The Tow Truck Hall of Fame.  Of course they had a full blown gift shop.  Along with the caps and t-shirts and toys of all kinds, there was an operational, mini-tow truck that kids could play on and operate, preparing themselves for a chance at a career in the future.  But none of that holds a candle to my absolute favorite part of the show.  Kelly, the clerk at the gift shop.  By far the best ever.  She actually kept a straight face the entire time she was talking to us.  She really did like that fastest tow truck in the world.  Kelly, you are either one fabulous actor or you have drunk the koolaide.  Keep up the good work.  And folks … an absolute must for your bucket list.

Hard for anything to follow that, but we wanted to go into downtown Chattanooga next.   All of the recommendations we received for things to see and do were located there.  Unfortunately … Holy Galveston, Batman!  This also just happened to be the national championship bicycling race.  And they, too, were located downtown.  And on up onto Lookout Mountain where we visited the day before.  Roads were blocked off.  Police cars and traffic cones everywhere.  We began having horror flashbacks to a typical Sunday trying to get to church on triathalon weekend.  No way we wanted to deal with that, so instead we went South a few miles into Georgia to the Chickamauga Battleground instead.  It was clearly set up the same way as Vicksburg and Shiloh, but on a smaller scale.  We stopped at the visitor’s center, of course, but we opted out of the 26 minute informational video, grabbed a self-guided tour map, and made our way back to the car for our own driving tour.  We did find the Texas monument and took a picture there.  The highlight of this tour, though was a giant tower in the middle of one of the fields.  I don’t remember who it honored, but you could climb to the top and pretend to be Rapunzel.  136 steps.  And Chris made it all the way, even with her gimpy hip.  Pretty impressive woman. 

Next we returned the mile or two back into Tennessee (that would get really confusing for me if we lived here), and managed to locate one of those antique mall-type stores over one the “other side of the river.”  All these bridges are confusing, too.  I’ll stick to the two we have in Galveston.  Keep it simple.  Get on a bridge and you’re headed into Texas.  We browsed through that place for about an hour.  Not too impressed.  No baseball or fire fighter paraphernalia at all.  And very few antique toys.  Chris did enjoy looking at the dishes.  This counts as one for her.  Check.

By the time we finished up with the older-than-us stuff, we decided to try those downtown spots again.  It was supper time.  Maybe the race was over and everything was cleared out.  Right.  And maybe it hasn’t been raining in Texas all week.  Streets were blocked at every turn.  Couldn’t get there from here.  We tried going around.  Still blocked.  We drove through the projects (nice projects, I might add).  Still blocked.  Google Siri was having a heart attack trying to help us.  We could even read the frustration in her voice.  I finally had to send her to her room without supper and do the navigating on my own.  Oh, and to top it off, some of the rain that has been inundating Texas all week showed up here.  With my amazing navigation skills and Chris’ driving prowess, we finally managed to get onto a freeway and make our way back to the hotel.  How does Hardees sound for supper?  At least it’s in the hotel parking lot. 

Final hotel rating for Comfort Inn, Chattanooga: Can’t go beyond the two starfish.  We never got in to try out the pool.  Too much walking exercise instead.  Waiting for a seat at breakfast was not fun.  Overall, though, the service was adequate.  Just not outstanding. 

Psalms 31:14 says, But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’”

Father, take care of Texas.  Don’t you think they have enough water by now?  It would sure help if you breathed a bit on that jet stream.  You know, move it over and give them some relief.  Amen.

Monday, May 25, 2015

May 25 – “Day Eight: Huntsville to Chattanooga”

Actually that should read something like “Alabama to Tennessee to Georgia to Tennessee to Georgia to Tennessee.”  I don’t know how the people who live on a border like this keep track of where they are.  And add to that the time change factor and the confusion heightens to a fever pitch. 

Before the new leg of our journey began, we went to church with Larry and Diane.  Really big church.  Really big.  How could I tell?  They bought every house (except for one holdout) on the entire block next to them so they could have more places for offices and Bible Study classes.  They have at least three worship services on Sunday mornings and one more at a different location.  And the most significant tell of all … their children’s department has a bog slide from one floor to the next.  I’ve only seen that one other time at a big church in Texas.  That church wouldn’t let me go down the slide either.  Bummer.  The worship was good, though, and they love Jesus.  Check.

After church we went to a seafood place for lunch.  From the outside it looked like a simple fast food typo place.  But inside it was waiters and full service all the way.  We even had a waiter in training.  Our hosts talked me into trying something new, not a common experience for me.  I ate some coconut shrimp.  Strange combination.  And mix in whatever batter that was that made it taste sweet as well and you have something similar to that Chinese food stuff I tried once named after some general or corporal or something.  Not too bad.  We also had shrimp tacos that didn’t taste like tacos.  They were just served on a tortilla.  They were really good.  The time with friends was awesome, but it was time to move on.  As we left Larry handed me an envelope and said to open it later on after we got on the road.  Inside was a challenge he had given to the Sunday School class he taught.  It was the same as a challenge I have given to classes as well.  Included was some money and the charge to use it to bless someone as you go about your daily life.  This is gonna be fun.

Enough about food.  From there we hit the road again.  Our next destination was just over an hour away, and the whole way we saw signs advertising it.  Billboards.  Small roadside signs.  Barn roofs.  Come to find out, they are famous for that particular kind of advertising.  In fact they sell birdhouse and Christmas tree ornament replicas of barns with the sign painted on them.  Chris bought a souvenir little barn with “See Rock City” on top.  Oh, did I fail to mention Rock City was what was being advertised? 

But before Rock City we were determined to go see Ruby Falls, the other big tourist attraction on Lookout Mountain.  Well, we did go there.  Even parked.  But when we made our way over to the line to get in, we quickly adjusted our plans.  I haven’t seen a line that long since the Batman ride at Astroworld.  No, this was longer.  Much longer.  No one would even attempt to estimate the wait time.  And then I heard what proved to be the final blow to our experience of this particular waterfall.  A lady we passed was explaining to her friends that “they pack you into an elevator like this to get you down into the …”  And as she talked she pressed her arms tightly to her side and stood straight as a board.  When I reported to Chris what I heard she was more than ready to move on to the next stop.  Chris has moderate to severe claustrophobia.

The decision proved to be a good one.  We continued further up Lookout Mountain and found ourselves at Rock City.  The warnings there were all about the walking involved, but we figured we could handle it, especially after being in the car for a few hours.  It appeared to be just as much a tourist trap as Ruby Falls, but it was much better run than its mountain counterpart.  We parked and were inside in a matter of minutes.  And no elevator.  The experience was well worth the work, too.  Some of the passageways reminded us of Colorado and the Ravencrest camp we went to there.  Shall we say, tight squeezes between huge walls of rock?  They even had cute names for the passes: Needle’s Eye (nice Biblical reference there) and my favorite, Fat Man Squeeze.  There were a few times when Chris was reluctant to continue.  Once a little girl behind her reassured her that she had already been through there.  What’s a Grandma to say when a youngster gives that kind of encouragement?  Chris made it through.  We saw the view from Lover’s Leap.  Decided not to jump, though.  After 40 years together we figured we could at least pass on that one.  We finally reach the point where we could see seven states from one vantage point.  Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  I guess we saw all seven of them.  I couldn’t tell much difference in the scenery, myself.  I would have to say that the high point of the day for me was sitting in a rocking chair at the top of that mountain and enjoying a frozen lemonade cup.  Couldn’t get any better that that.  Unless, of course the rocking chair was at an Astros’ game, the only other place I have been able to find frozen lemonade cups.  Found out when we crashed at our hotel that the Astros won.  Sigh.  

Hotel rating: We’ll be here for two nights, so I’ll give it some more time, but so far only two tiny starfish have peeked up at me.  A long black hair in the bathtub and some internet connection problems don’t make for a good start.  We’ll see.

Psalms 31:3 says, Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.”

Father, thank you again for our friends and their generosity.  Keep on blessing them.  Give us your wisdom and your eyes to see who we can bless with the challenge money.  Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24 – “Day Seven: Up, Up, and Away”

Well, the temperature was way up to 57 degrees.  A veritable heat wave.  I was glad it warmed up, though, because the plan was to go on a plane ride with Larry as our pilot and tour guide.  On a sad note before we ever got started, though … Creepy the turtle’s GPS led him out of the yard and into traffic.  He became a speed bump while we were at the ball game.  Didn’t notice it until we left in the morning.  Sad.

So for the plane ride we headed out to the Hooterville Airport (actually it was named Moontown, but it sure had that small, small town feel), where the night watchman greets folks with a howdy from his miniature Harley.  Larry had us strapped in and in the air in no time, but not long after we took to the air we heard the one sound you never want to hear from your surgeon or your airplane pilot: “Uh-oh.”  Immediately he instituted emergency landing procedures, notified the airport of our predicament, and turned around.  We thought maybe the fire department and EMS might have been waiting for us, but then we remembered … this was Hooterville, er, Moontown airport.  Larry got us down with a perfect landing and there was … no one to greet us.  They had faith in him, I suppose.  Chris texted all our kids, I guess with her goodbyes.  Zakary and Caleb wanted to know if the emergency was that DadDad had to go to the bathroom.  Ouch.  Micah and Josiah had already expressed concern that we might get shot down.  Noa just wanted to “come in dere” with us.  Actually, the engine cover latch had come loose and the cover had begun to fold over.  Larry made it back before any crises occurred.  We were OK.  And no, I didn’t have to go to the bathroom.  Yet.

He had us back in the sky in no time, and we headed for Tennessee.  I have to say, that was the most relaxing experience I have had in a long time.  The soft roar of the engines from behind the ear phones made it almost impossible for me to stay awake.  We made it into Shelbyville airport in plenty of time to join a group of other small plane pilots for their weekly Saturday breakfast.  Great food.  And we heard some horror stories about some other near misses and almost freeway landings.

On the way home I actually got to take the reins.  Larry gave me about a twenty second lesson and said, “You got it.”  I at least kept us in the air for a few miles.  Josh is in no danger of my encroaching upon his air flight dream.  Once we returned to the hanger we met Larry’s mechanic.  He was in the military, involved in bombing the coast to prepare the way for an infantry attack.  Not in Iraq, though, or Afghanistan.  It was another battle you might have heard of … D-Day.  Wow.

In the afternoon we took a road trip to Noccalula Falls in Gadsden, Alabama.  They were named after an Indian princess who jumped off a cliff rather than marry someone she didn’t love.  Romantic.  There was not a lot of water, but it really was a beautiful sight.  As we left the parking lot we noticed Paul’s Mountain Meats, a very interesting looking store.  Larry turned around and we went inside to investigate.  It was just a simple little Mom and Pop place with some local flair and some antiques along the walls.  But I noticed a tiny little kids’ size Houston Astros jacket, so I had to ask the clerk about it.  Turns out he was a huge Astros fan.  He was also the faith and religion reporter for Fox news.  It was his Pop’s store and he was just minding it for his Mom.  Classic.

We stopped for supper at Larry and Diane’s favorite catfish place right on one of the little lakes in these mountains.  Very pretty spot.  Not bad food, for catfish, either.  Cornbread and cole slaw came with every meal, and even though the place was packed, we only had to wait fifteen minutes to be seated.  After the meal Larry took us on a winding road up and back down one of the mountains.  Lots of fun checking out the views and trying once again … unsuccessfully … to locate some critters.  All in all, I would call this quite the bonus day for Alabama.

Psalms 30:1 says, “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.”

Father, thank you for flying with us yesterday.  You sure did some lifting of a different sort.  It was really reassuring when Larry prayed every time before we began.  Keep him safe on his future flights.  And please send your Holy Spirit to Seaside today.  We will miss the family.  Amen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23 – “Day Six: Relaxin’ in Huntsville”

Wait a minute.  Didn’t I just write that it was the end of May?  Then what is the temperature doing hovering at 46 degrees?  Alabama is cold.  At least the hospitality remains warm.  Breakfast was bacon and sausage omelets with a side of bacon.  Can’t beat bacon.

We did a bit of relaxing around the house after breakfast.  Discussed our options for the day, one of which was “shoot some guns.”  Hey … we ARE in Alabama.  We settled for watching a video of a comedian named Tim Hawkins.  Very funny guy.  I also walked on the treadmill for a while.  I must have been doing something wrong, though.  I could only get about two steps in before I had to turn around and go the other direction.  Just made me really dizzy.  And the posture director worked OK, but it reminded me a lot of a really long level.  Guess it’s the same principle.  Or maybe it was just a really long level.

After the comedian and the indoor workout we took the exercise outside.  We got the nickel tour of Huntsville, Alabama.  The driving part was pretty interesting.  There are lots of really old houses and buildings to look at.  We even stopped for a walking tour of downtown.  Werner von Braun apparently made his home in the area, and he was a big benefactor.  Nice park with fountains and a stream was the focal point of the city center.  That’s when we went into one of the oldest drugstores on the planet.  Still had a lot of its inventory from 1888 on the shelves.  Smelled kind of funny, but I bought a t-shirt anyway.  Chris got an angel made out of a cotton boll.  The rest of the morning we drove around the mountain looking for cool views. 

Finally we headed back to the house for some lunch.  The day turned off beautiful, so lunch was served on the back porch.  And that’s when we met Creepy the Turtle (or did she say Speedy?  I’m not sure).  When Larry opened the back door he had made his way to the welcome mat, so Larry invited Diane to come see.  By the time she arrived at the back door, Speedy’s Creepy head was forlornly gazing upward into Diane’s eyes.  Diane’s response was … less than welcoming.  We did give him some broccoli and redirect his momentum to the bushes (except for the brief moment after Diane went inside to get dessert, and I helped him return to his gazing position at the back door.  She wasn’t particularly amused).

The evening was certainly a highlight for me.  We went to a minor league baseball game.  The Buloxi Shuckers (formerly the Huntsville Stars), a class AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, played the Birmingham Barons.  S stop in the team store before the game got me a new cap and all of us a quick overview of the team.  The Shuckers’ mascot is an oyster.  Strange, but perhaps a step up from the Stars’ old mascot … a skunk.  Why, you may ask?  Because from the time the team was founded until sometime last year, a family of skunks had made its home out near center field.  The oysters won the game.  I love minor league baseball.

On our way home we took a quick critter-hunting detour to look for some deer in the dark.  We saw some lightning bugs, but the only critters we saw looked a lot like fire hydrants.  Sigh. 

Psalms 29:11 says, The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

Father, thank you for times of relaxing and for critters of all shapes and sizes.  Amen.

Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22 – “Day Five: Florence to Huntsville (Alabama, not Texas)”

We started our day by seeking out the childhood home of Helen Keller.  Gotta maintain the historical integrity of our tour, after all.  We were there pretty early, so we got the grand private tour of the house.  In one room the lady even let Chris go behind the gate.  She asked if Chris had ever heard the name of the style of homemade quilt on the bed.  Of course Chris knew.  Who wouldn’t?  Called it a “crazy quilt.”  Chris knew all about them.  I just knew a crazy quilt lady.  Married her.  They had restored the inside of the home and even had 85% of the original furniture and other furnishings.  Made it really easy to recall ZPatty Duke playing Helen Keller in that movie, The Miracle Worker.  The Lion’s Club adopted the grounds and added a garden and educational center.  A video was playing on a constant loop of Helen giving a speech.  That was fascinating.

Next we made an on-purpose swing back into the downtown area of the little town we had been lost in the night before, Sheffield.  They had one significant draw that I just could bear to pass up without so much as a picture.  The giant Aluminum Rock and Roll Guy.  We checked him out on line.  He wasn’t supposed to be Elvis after all.  Just a random guy singing rock and roll.  Why erect a giant aluminum statue in the middle of downtown?  To draw a few random tourists, I guess.  Was it worth the stop?  Absolutely.

Next we found a place called Pope’s Tavern Museum.  It served as an inn on a stagecoach run, and then as a hospital for both Confederate and Yankee forces during the Civil War.  We shared the museum curator with a class full of third graders from a local Catholic school.  In one room the guy asked if anyone knew what one particular object was.  He said it was out of place and didn’t really belong.  Once I finagled myself into a position to see it I knew the answer right away.  It was a small baptismal font.  Very strange.  I whispered the answer to one of the chaperones, but I don’t think she believed me.  I won that one, though.  The kids weren’t really interested in the font, though.  All they wanted to see was “the creepy thing” they had been told about.  Once I heard the youngsters buzzing, I for sure wanted to see creepy as well.  It seemed simple enough.  One of those shadow boxes hung on the wall with a design of flowers in it.  What’s so creepy about that, right?  Well, one of the ladies who had lived in the house never cut her hair from the time she was born.  After her death her children cut all of her hair off and turned it into the art project so they could hang it on the wall.  They also made some lapel flowers that they could wear to the funeral.  OK.  I’ll give you creepy.  The huge iron vat outside in the yard made up for it, though.  It was used exclusively to boil up hog carcasses after a “hog-killin.” 

A quick lunch at Shoney’s was next.  It was a local landmark in and of itself.  A sign on the bathroom door apologized that all patrons were having to use the same bathroom since “The Accident.”  I thought maybe it was because the bathroom itself was so … pink.  But a little exploration outside revealed that a car had obviously crashed into the wall.  No repairs had been made as of yet.  Hence … pink.

As we approached Huntsville, we called the Huntley House Bed and Breakfast.  (Now, don’t go looking for that one online just yet.  The Huntley’s are some good friends of ours from back in our South Oaks Baptist Church days).  The hostess answered and gave us some great directions: turn right, then left, then left.  Of course we got the embellished version filled with family updates and local color, so it took ten minutes or so.  I sure have missed Diane.  We discovered on our drive across town that Alabama has a mountain.  And we had to get to the other side of it.  Not exactly Colorado, but pretty nonetheless.  They had something called a Burritt up there, too.  Still not sure what that is.  Following Diane’s directions, we found the house with no trouble at all.  Everything was just as she had said, down to the Lowes, WalMart and road construction.  We spent the evening catching up with old friends.

Hotel rating thus far?  The house is beautiful.  HGTV would be proud.  Not only did we get a home-cooked meal (roast) for supper and our own bedroom, we also have a private bathroom with double sinks (although I think we only have clearance to use one of them).  And how’s this for a topper?  Not one, but a whole dish of candy mints on our pillow.  Eat your heart out, Holiday Inn.  A new bar has been set.  Can it get any better than this?  First night … five starfish.

Hebrews 13:1-2 says, Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Father, I’m sure not claiming angelhood by any means, but thank you for good friends and shared memories.  Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21 – “Day Four: Tupelo to Florence, AL”

We started out our day sharing some time with fifteen or twenty other gray hairs who really seemed excited about where they were.  After some excavating, we managed to find the actual birthplace of none other than (drumroll here) … Elvis.  I mean literally, the actual birthplace.  They have enshrined the house he was born in.  Oh, and the church where he used to sing special songs from the time he was knee high to a grasshopper … that’s right there as well.  All within easy walking distance for the folks on a pilgrimage to pay homage.  There is a circle of history chronicling his life in a concrete path.  A fountain of youth (yep, they really called it that).  You could even pay $12 (special rate for old folks, children and vets) to go inside his house and see if he was at home.  And that ticket also gained entrance to the museum where some of his belongings are on display.  We didn’t pay the twelve bucks.  Not very dedicated pilgrims.  We did browse around the gift shop checking out the Elvis-laced scarves and lip gloss and my personal favorite … an Elvis wall clock.  His legs were the pendulum, and as it ticked, they rocked from side to side.  Kind of makes you want to hum about a hound dog just thinking about it, doesn’t it?  And all this for just the mini-shrine.  I understand the mega-shrine is at Graceland over in Tennessee, right? 

After our Elvis interlude we dove back into Civil War history.  I read Chris a history lesson about the battles of Shiloh and Corinth on the way to Corinth.  A walking tour of the historic downtown area was first on the agenda.  Had to get the lay of the land.  Then came a driving tour of the Civil War sites around town.  We had lunch at Borroum’s Drug Store, the oldest soda fountain in Mississippi that has been continuously operated by the same family.  Great burger made just like your Granma used to make.  They squished the patty out by hand.  Greased and toasted the bun, too. 
The Corinth museum had an interesting pathway from the parking lot to the front door.  If it hadn’t been raining we would have enjoyed it more.  Recreations of artifacts that were found in the battlefield were molded into the concrete sidewalk.  We saw hats, bullets, shoes, letters, guns, bayonet, glasses, canteen, shovel, pocket knife, a cannon plunger … all now permanently embedded in the sidewalk.  Interesting.  The museum innards included artifacts and wall hangings about the area telling the story of the Civil War in general and Corinth/Shiloh in particular. 

Then came the drive on up the road a piece into Tennessee to see the Shiloh National Military Park.  In the spirit of cemetery-based National Parks, it was, like Vicksburg, kind of a Gettysburg Jr., Jr.  Except we did like the fact that they have tried to recreate the layout of the land as much as possible to the way it was during the battle.  Again, lots of trees.  But the open fields had brush about knee high just like the soldiers would have seen.  It was really easy to imagine sneaking through the tree cover and stumbling out into the open to a barrage of enemy fire from the next bank of trees.  Well done, Shiloh folks.  Oh, and another plus.  It was right on the Tennessee River.  Always good to see water.  Miss it.

We left Shiloh and headed roughly south and east.  Before we knew it we had slipped out of Tennessee, through Mississippi again and into Alabama.  And almost immediately we were inexplicably drawn off the main highway onto a rough back road leading twelve or more miles in the opposite direction.  Yep.  We had seen one of those signs.  An attraction that was just too good to pass up.  We made our way past the homes of Billy Jim Joe and Sammy Jack and a Bubba or two, way back into the woods in the middle of nowhere.  No cell service.  Not even much light making its way between the trees.  And to top it off, it started thunderstorming.  But we continued on, determined to reach our destination no matter what.  Finally, our perseverance paid off.  We finally pulled into … the Corn Dog … wait, no.  The Coon Dog Cemetery.  Yes.  There is really such a place.  And yes, the place was full of graves of dogs.  Each one had to be specially approved to get in.  I assume each one had to be dead as well.  Put this one on your bucket list, folks.  You will see my name in guest register. 

After that out of control side trip we made our way into a place called Muscle Shoals looking for a hotel.  Just as I realized from the position of the sun that we were heading south instead of north, a huge flash blinded us.  There reflecting the late-afternoon sun was a massively huge, somewhat modern-artsy style, sterling-silver looking statue of … who could it be?  A quick glance back as we drove past confirmed it … Giant Silver Elvis and his giant silver guitar and his giant silver microphone stood right there on the front lawn of the city center building.  Took us a while to figure out that we were actually in a place called Sheffield, not anywhere near where we expected to be.  Someone made a wrong turn somewhere.  I won’t mention the name of the guy who was driving, but to his credit, he doesn’t do much of that any more.  Google Maps Siri finally took over and led us to a Quality Inn in Florence where we claimed the last available room.  Seems they are having a huge fishing tournament and all the rooms are taken … and all the parking places are full of boats.  We walked over for a supper at the Logan’s Roadhouse on the premises.  And who should be our server but Alabama’s version of our good friend, Lindsey Dammeyer.  We both did major doubletakes.  Looked like her.  Same mannerisms.  Can’t say Lindsey has the Alabama drawl down pat, but it was eerie. 

Hotel rating alert: For finding us a room where there was none, a starfish in and of itself.  The bed was comfortable.  Free breakfast.  Didn’t ask about the pool.  Let’s keep this one in the three starfish range as well.

Psalms 28:7 says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.  My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”

Father, thank you for random discoveries and for people who really, really love their pets and for waitresses who remind us of good friends.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 20 – “Day Three: Vicksburg to Tupelo(???)”

After that great breakfast we started this leg of the journey at the logical place – a tourist welcome center.  The lady there walked us through a map of the area and highlighted some key stuff for us to see as we trekked around town.  First stop, of course, was the Vicksburg Battlefield National Park, which was, coincidentally, right across the street. 

The tourist info center for the park was quite well done.  A twenty minute video about the battle gave us an overview that I sure needed, since I didn’t brush up on my Civil War history before we left Galveston.  There were also lots and lots of souvenirs.  Oh, and we met a new friend there.  His name was Douglas Dromedary.  THE Douglas Dromedary.  Very friendly guy.  And the consummate Confederate, I might add.  Seems he had been the actual camel who was known to have walked with the rebels throughout the battle, giving them encouragement and moral support.  Camels live a long time.  Yes, I said camel.  Watch out, now.  Don’t look down on him just because he’s a different species.  And don’t believe everything you hear, either.  Reports of his demise during the battle were greatly exaggerated.  He managed to smuggle himself through the Union lines and onto a heavily armed gunboat on the Mississippi River.  It was a Yankee gunboat, but Douglas was such a smooth talker, no one thought twice about welcoming him aboard.  He did his best throughout the rest of the war to secret information to the South command, but sadly it was to no avail.  He has been stuck at this Yankee-commandeered visitors’ center for years.  He convinced us to let him lead our self-guided tour of the grounds.  How could I turn him down?  He proved to be an invaluable resource.  See, I was not allowed to climb on or in the cannons.  Having been an original participant of the battle, he was exempt from such silly rules and regulations.  We have some wonderful pictures.  And after the tour he asked if he could come home with us.  He’s never been to Galveston.  Never been allowed outside that barricaded visitors’ center.  We now have a new member of the family. 

The park itself was a lot like Gettysburg … big.  But instead of lots and lots of grass, this one had trees.  Lots of trees.  And hills.  Actually the terrain was beautiful.  And there were plenty of the obelisks honoring the different regiments involved in the battle.  We found the Texas one.  Actually, Douglas did.  Huge thing.  Had to go up eleven steps to reach the actual monument – one for every state that seceded from the Union.  Impressive.  Some of the monuments had people’s names on them, too.  My favorite name of the trip so far?  Andrew Hickenlooper.  Douglas didn’t know him.  He was a Yankee. 

The absolute highlight of the park was the restoration project of the USS Cairo.  It was one of the seven ironclad ships patrolling the Mississippi during the war.  It was sunk and finally salvaged in the 1960’s.  They have put back together the wood and iron they have salvaged, and filled in some structural gaps like a big, life-sized jigsaw puzzle.  Quite a feat.  And quite impressive.  And across the street from the ship was the national cemetery for all the Union soldiers killed.  Also similar to the one at Gettysburg.  The Rebs were all buried in town. 

Speaking of in town, that’s where we headed next.  Old buildings and some cobbled streets.  Confederate General Pemberton’s headquarters was a huge house.  One of many in the town.  We saw the National Biscuit Company.  First corporation to use the moniker, NBC.  They have a sea wall next to the river.  They call it a levee, though.  Somebody painted on theirs, too.  We went into a museum in town hoping to see the battle from the Rebel perspective.  It was hard to remember that the National Park was, after all, a national park.  This museum had a diorama of the battlefield that would have been perfect had we seen it before our tour or the park.  It was awesome.  Tiny little blue and gray clad soldiers everywhere.  But I guess the guy who built it was more amenable to the losing cause.  Had to keep it on the Rebel side.

Perhaps the most horrifying experience of my life came when we entered the Antique Doll Museum.  It was everything you might have imagined and more.  The place was small.  Hot.  Cramped.  Very old dolls lined the walls from floor to ceiling.  Dolls in cribs.  Dolls staring at you from above.  Dolls standing up.  Dolls sitting down.  Boy dolls.  Girl dolls.  Wedding dress clad dolls.  Chatty Cathy dolls.  Every Barbie and Ken and Midge doll ever made.  Even a My Buddy was trapped in there.  And the worst part of it all?  The hundred year old man who operated the place was crafty.  He added a second line to the sign indicating that he also had boys’ toys.  Sneaky.  He even admitted to us that it was his way of tricking the men into coming into the room and not waiting outside.  That’s just … evil.  Chris asked how he got started collecting.  His answer?  “I collected the collector.”  Now that’s rather frightening. 

Before leaving town we made a quick run over to the cemetery where the Confederate soldiers were buried.  Very impressive.  It did seem kind of strange that they were flying two Confederate flags over the area and no American flag.  We were truly ensconced in Rebel territory.  We found the Texas guys.  One of them was named Hamelton.  Chris wasn’t sure if he was a relative or not.

From there we stopped by the state welcome center.  We had heard that it was the prime spot for taking a picture of the Mississippi River and two different bridges that span it.  Something literary about a guy named Flat Stanley?  So we took pictures of the Mississippi River.  Then we left town.

It took us a while but we finally relocated the Natchez Trace Parkway.  Problem was we need some food first (we just had crackers and water for lunch.  No, as far as we know neither of us is pregnant.  Just focused in seeing the sights).  We finally found a McAlister’s Deli.  Had to drive right through the middle of the Mississippi College campus.  We finally got on the Parkway, though.  We took some pictures of a reservoir (gotta love large bodies of water, right?).  Then we took a through a swamp.  Literally.  We had to walk on a bridge they had made.  Also had to watch out for alligators.  That’s where I learned about the word “tupelo.”  Tupelo is a tree.  And a city.  And a football game we used to play … what?  Oh.  That was “Two below.”  Sorry about that.

We finally left the parkway.  The 50 mph speed limit was just too slow for Chris.  Besides it would have taken us forever to get to a city with some hotels.  We cut through the hometown of Mississippi State University.  Any more college visits?  We only made it as far as Tupelo, Mississippi.  The city, not the tree.  Too tired to complete the journey to Corinth.  But we did hear that someone famous was born here.  Guess we’ll try to find out who.

Hotel rating: Quality Inn.  About 3 starfish.  Nice but not outstanding.  AC was on and the room was nice and cold.  And there was a hot breakfast … waffles.

Psalms 27:14 says, Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Father, thank you for tupelos and pines and whatever other foliage we passed on our way here.  Beautiful stuff.  You do good work.  Amen.