Tag Archives: Vacation

The Inn at Mallard Cove

Because Dean had a meeting in Seattle earlier this month and I had some vacation time left, we decided to spend some time with Clare who recently moved to Olympia, Washington. We knew it would not make sense to try to stay with Clare and Bennett so I was tasked with finding a place to stay in the area. At first I thought we’d simply stay at a local motel (although not this one).

Then I got the idea to make it even more special and thought we should stay in a bed and breakfast. It had been a while since we’d done that, not counting the pre-hurricane stay in Cape May last autumn.

Olympia doesn’t have a huge amount of bed and breakfast establishments, but it as a few. I first considered staying at the Swantown Inn which is  5 minute drive from Clare’s house. It had many great reviews on Trip Advisor and is located in a beautiful colorful Victorian mansion. I nearly made reservations there, but I ended up clicking on a link to the Washington Bed and Breakfast Web site and found that there was another B&B a little further away, but right on Puget Sound. According to Google Maps it was only a 20 minute drive from the Inn to Clare’s house and Dean said that was an okay distance to travel. I called the second inn to check if they had room for us and was treated to a delightful conversation with Don, one of the hosts of the Inn at Mallard Cove. As we talked he mentioned that an eagle just flew by. He also brought up the subject of kayaks and said that we could use his kayaks — even in winter. That settled it. I made reservations there because Dean loves to kayak and I love birds.

I spent much of my free between making the reservation and the actual visit to Olympia reading many of the reviews on Trip Advisor. Of the 139 reviews, 134 are 5 star reviews, 4 are 4 star reviews and only one is a negative review by someone that didn’t even stay there — she just complained about their two-day minimum stay in peak season.

Even prepared with the glowing reviews, I was astonished by the beauty of the house (and its location), the hospitality of the hosts, the awesomeness of the breakfasts and the attention do detail in every single thing about the Inn at Mallard Cove.

Don and Linda are simply wonderful hosts. Don is vivaciously friendly and is knowledgeable about almost anything you ask him — especially if it involves the inn or the area. Linda is more reserved, but also very friendly. She, as Don put it several times, is the “brains” behind the operation and it is her attention to detail that makes your stay go smoothly. She is also an amazing cook. Our breakfasts were so delicious and filling that I could have easily waited for dinner before I ate anything more.

On Friday Don took Clare and Dean kayaking on Puget Sound into the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve never kayaked and didn’t want to start kayaking in 30-something degree weather. They had a wonderful time and claim they didn’t even notice the cold.

I have stayed at dozens of bed and breakfasts in the US and in Europe, but I must say that the Inn at Mallard Cove may very well be the best B&B at which I have had the pleasure to stay.

What we did on our summer vacation — Days 5 and 6


After the busy weekend we took a bit of a break from activities on Monday. We were scheduled to get our photographs taken Monday evening by a professional photographer I’d gotten to know via his blog a few years ago, so we didn’t want to do too much during the day. We had lunch at Portillos where Jill* works because I’d heard that their Italian beef was better than Beef Villa. It was very good, but there is something about Beef Villa I prefer.

Then we drove to Sycamore to go to Farm and Fleet (a friend of ours once called it “Farmer’s Feet”, so that’s what we usually call it too). Bought some stuff we didn’t need (including a colorful pair of gardening clogs that I will wear the .001% of the time I actually garden).

We stopped by and said hi to my dad and grandparents on the way back to Elgin, then headed to the kitty farm** for our photo shoot.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate that day and we had to reschedule the photo shoot for the next morning — early the next morning since we had plans to visit Chicago later that morning.


Bright and early Tuesday morning we headed back to the kitty farm and met up with James Jordan who made us look fabulous with an old barn as and equally fabulous backdrop. What you don’t see in the photos below are the occasional dead critters in the straw. Dean’s brothers (The Twins) stopped by for a visit and got in on the photography fun.

After the photo shoot we picked up my mom and Brandon and headed to Chicago where we first visited Millennium Park and photographed the “Bean”, then visited the Art Institute. Unfortunately a considerable amount of time was spent waiting to be seated for lunch in the Art Institute’s courtyard cafe, waiting to be waited upon, and waiting for our bill.

Oh yeah, it was Dean’s birthday.

Dean modeling his new t-shirt from his robot-making buddy, Tal.

That evening we celebrated June Birthdays in the Follmann family at Sue and Dennis’ house in Sycamore. Then we went home on Wednesday.

The end.


*Jill is my ex sister-in-law who lives with my mom
**The kitty farm is the farm where Dean spent his formative years and where his brother, Danny and his family lived for many years. They always had dozens of cats running around — and that is where we got Joe and Halloween.

What we did on our summer vacation — Day 4

I need to finish this before I blog about other things…

Sunday morning I went to church with Mom and afterward I enjoyed the wildflowers on the church property while Mom attended a meeting.

That afternoon we had a cookout with my brother and his family at my Mom’s house. Not knowing what to cook for dinner, Kevin, Brandon and I went to a local Italian grocery store for inspiration. We found it in the meat department in the form of amazing store-made sausages and the produce department in the form of vegetables to grill. And in the wine department where I saw the bottle of wine that I was hiding from Tony Soprano in my dream about him a week before the untimely death of the actor who portrayed him. We decided our meal would be a tribute to James Ganolfini and Tony Soprano.

We ate well that night thanks to Kevin’s skill with the grill. We also had fun with Preston.


What we did on our summer vacation: Day 3

Not mentioned in the previous post is that Clare was scheduled to arrive while we were at the rehearsal dinner. Mom and her friend Richard were scheduled to pick her up at 7:30 on Friday night. She called at 3 or so to tell us she’d missed her flight and would not fly in until around 5 am the following day. Dean, great dad that he is, volunteered to wake up before dawn to drive to the airport to pick up his daughter.

I was able to sleep until 7 or so when Clare, after eating a Dad-made breakfast, climbed into bed next to me. We chatted a while, but I knew she was sleepy so I left her to sleep while I started my day.

We (except for Dean) again lazed around the house until it was time to get ready for the wedding. No one was completely satisfied with what they’d brought to wear to the wedding (except for Dean — but I was not satisfied with what he brought) so some grumpiness ensued during the getting ready part of the day.

ready for the weddingFinally we were ready(ish) and we asked Jill (ex-sister-in-law who lives with my mom) to take our photo.

When we arrived at the church in Burlington we were dismayed to realize we were about a half-hour late. I’d forgotten to bring the invitation and we were given the wrong time (but we forgive you D.). We watched the end of the ceremony in the back room with Sheri and Jude, Dean’s nephew’s wife and son.

We had time to spare between the wedding and reception so drove around the countryside for a while. It always reminds me of Sunday afternoons in my youth when we’d drive my Grandma Patrick around and she’d exclaim at the state of a chicken coop or the new paint job of a barn on farms on which she used to live.

dean and donaThe reception was held at Randall Oaks Country Club. We sat with Diane, Dean’s sister, Mert, Dean’s cousin and her husband Tom. Also at our table were the pastor and the organist of the church where the wedding took place. The pastor had been pastor at the church we’d spent many Christmas Eves, so we had things to talk about.

Oh — I forgot to mention that the wedding was held on Dean and my 28th wedding anniversary. We were honored with our own dance — to the Anniversary Waltz.

My favorite part of the reception was watching the flower girls and their cousins dancing as you will see in the photos below.

Here are some photos from the evening.


What we did on our summer vacation: Days 1 & 2

Andrew and HalloweenWhen we drive a long distance we usually get a very early start — 5:00 am when we drive to Illinois. This time, however, we had other things to do in the morning and didn’t leave Bethesda until just after 2:00 pm. Oddly, Dean drove the whole way. Usually I drive for a while after lunch so he can take a nap. We brought our aged cat along — we had a pretty bad health scare a week or so ago (she has/had pancreatitis, it turns out) and I wanted to keep an eye on her. She’s a good traveler — she loves being petted and with 12 straight hours of attention, she was very happy indeed.

We arrived in Elgin around 2:00 am and didn’t get to bed until at least 3 but were rudely awakened by the trash collectors at 7:30 am.

We lazed around the house (well, the kids and I did — Dean visited his brother who lives in a nursing home a block or so from my mom’s house) for most of the day — Andrew had fun looking through Mom’s garage that is full of such exciting things as a CB radio, several toolboxes of varying shapes and sizes, and even a vintage hand-held massager.

That evening we headed to the “Big House” (Dean’s other brother’s house) in Hampshire for the rehearsal dinner for Dean’s youngest nephew, Nate and Marissa, his bride-to-be. It was fun catching up with all the family news and meeting Marissa’s family. Marissa’s grandparents told me I have a doppelganger in Arizona who works in a coffee shop they frequent.


Up North: The Series::Two Rivers::The End

City of Two Rivers
City of Two Rivers

A little over two and a half years ago I began my Wisconsin Series of blog posts with a small post about Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the hometown of my Grandma Green. In that post I declared my plan to someday visit Two Rivers. Last September I finally did visit Two Rivers and it is fitting that I end my series with a post about that visit.

We drove from Elgin via Madison where we dropped off my son’s friend’s bike and guitar at his dorm at UW-Madison. I hoped to visit with a distant cousin with whom I’ve gotten close to via e-mail, but we wanted to get to Two Rivers and do some sight-seeing before dark. After Madison we stopped at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge — a place I’d heard about from a couple of birding blogs I follow. It did not disappoint — but I’ll talk about that in a different post.

The town of Two Rivers, on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of Door County, was settled by Germans, Norwegians, British, Irish, and French Canadians. Early industries were fishing and lumber. I think ships may also have been built there. Many other ships were shipwrecked off the coast. My Two Rivers ancestors were mainly German and I know that some were fishermen and some others worked in sawmills. Some might also have been farmers.

We entered Two Rivers through the much larger city of Manitowoc where we were going to have to find a place to stay because I waited too long to find somewhere in Two Rivers. To say I was excited about this leg of the journey is an understatement. I was buzzing. I was delirious. I was about to see the town where my grandmother grew up and where she and my grandfather met [1].

It was a foggy day, so the drive up Memorial Drive, along the shore of Lake Michigan, was not exactly scenic. I’d read online that this was the weekend of the annual Kites over Lake Michigan festival and wondered how the festival was faring in the mist.

The first thing I wanted to do in town was visit the museum to see if there was any mention of the Koeser family. Using my phone’s navigation application and the website for Two Rivers, we were able to find “The Washington House” which housed the historical museum as well as the replica of the ice cream parlor that apparently invented the ice cream sundae. We found no mention of the Koeser family at the museum, but I did speak to two friendly docents who were able to tell me where the house in which my great-great grandparents lived was located. The back of the photo I borrowed stole from my mom mentioned “The Mexico House” which I’d already discovered was a tavern. The women assured me that it was still standing, although the name was changed. They thought the house was still standing as well, so I was excited to head over there right away.

It took a bit of driving around to find the street, but eventually we found a seedy looking building with a name that Dean thought sounded like a strip club. I sort of wanted to go inside, but Dean was wise to discourage me. It was really a dive. We parked and walked up and down the streets trying to find the house in the photo and then I remembered the description of the back of the photo which claimed the house was “two doors west of The Mexico House”. We walked back to the seedy bar and saw that two doors west of it was part of the concrete parking lot for the bar. Ok, progress. The house would have been pretty old anyway — and judging by some of the other homes in the area, might have been in disrepair.

Seedy bar formally known as The Mexico House
Seedy bar in Two Rivers formally known as The Mexico House

After that minor disappointment we thought a walk in a cemetery would be fun on this misty day. Somehow I had it in my head that my ancestors were buried in the Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery so we headed there. I was not as prepared as I should have been because I was unable to find any names I recognized. Months later I did find a website that told where everyone was buried. I was in the correct cemetery but wrong part of it. I could have walked around there much longer, but Dean was getting antsy and it was beginning to sprinkle. I snapped a few shots of some interesting headstones and we left.

Angel in Pioneer Rest Cemetery
Angel in Pioneer Rest Cemetery
Child's Headstone
Child's Headstone
Celtic Cross, German name
Celtic Cross, German name

Dean wanted to visit the Kites over Michigan festival so we headed towards the lake again and easily found Neshotah Beach. Now this was fun! It was damp and foggy and there was little wind, but a beach filled with colorful and whimsical kites is always fun. We walked around for a while and watched a synchronized kite show, then headed back to Manitowoc to find a place to rest our heads for the night.

The next morning we visited the Wisconsin Maritime Museum which was located across the street from our hotel. We took a tour of the submarine which, while entertaining and interesting, was long. I tend to have minor claustrophobia so I kept to the end of the line so I could make my escape quickly if I needed to.


Inside the submarine
Inside the submarine

The day was lovely and sunny so we headed over to the Kites over Lake Michigan festival again and watched more kite action while enjoying cheese curds and brats.

Dragon Kite
Dragon Kite

On the final trek out of town I wanted to see if I could find the house in which my grandmother grew up. I had the address so we drove to Thirteenth street and looked for 2300. We found it and I snapped a photo and wondered aloud how that small house could have held nine children. Later, back in Bethesda, I found a photo of some of my grandmother’s family in front of the house.

Grandma's childhood home now
Grandma's childhood home now
Grandma's Childhood home, then
Grandma's Childhood home, then

Even though I had a couple of disappointments while visiting Two Rivers, it was a wonderful trip. I hope to go back again someday, but if I don’t, just having walked the streets where my grandmother walked makes me happy.

  1. The story about my grandparent’s meeting goes something like this: My grandfather was a traveling salesman — he sold thread for a company in Elgin — and was in Two Rivers on a sales trip. He took a date to a dance –maybe at the Washington House? My grandmother also went to that dance with a date. My grandparents met at the dance and left together. Their dates left together too. And the rest is history. []

Our Blue Ridge Vacation — The Drive

Our plans, this summer, were to spend about 10 days in the Midwest. A few in Illinois and the majority of the time in Hazelhurst, Wisconsin. However, neither of our teenage offspring wanted to spend that much time (and that far away) from home. Dean suggested a beach house — we used to spend a week or so each summer in Chincoteague, but since Andrew just returned from a trip to the beach with a friend and Clare doesn’t much care for the beach, we looked to the mountains for our 2010 summer family vacation.

I did a search on cabins in the Blue Ridge mountains, and I think the one we ended up staying at was one of the first I saw. I sent Dean a link, he liked it and suggested we talk about it with the kids that night. We didn’t talk that night but within a couple of weeks did decided to try to rent that house — although I was pretty sure it would have already been rented for the week we wanted to go.

I was partially right — the owner of the house said that it was available for some of the week we wanted to visit, but not for most of it, but he had other cabins available to rent — furnished nearly identically. I talked to Dean and he said that would be fine, and emailed the owner again. He replied that the guests who were going to stay in the original cabin didn’t mind moving to another — we could have the one we wanted, so we booked A Blue Ridge Haven for a week.

Once I had the address of the cabin (after sending my payment to the owner), I did some Internet searching and discovered that it was in a resort, owned by a former motivational speaker who was at one time, according to Wikipedia, involved in a pyramid scheme along with Ben Gay and Jerry Booz. On the Web site of the resort is a sort of weird mission statement:

[Our] mission…is to have at the core of every endeavor that is instituted on or through our facilities a family oriented emphasis bringing families closer and protraying Peace, Tranquility, and Love to all who come to know us.

The cabins were also much closer together than I expected. I was beginning to have some reservations about staying there, but it was too late for a full refund. Our cabin was the closest to the river, so I figured we could spend a lot of time on the front porch and not look behind us. I also found a newspaper article about the resort that poked fun at the owner and his big ideas.

We took two cars so we could do separate things if we wanted to (or if someone needed a quick escape back to Bethesda). The drive was quite pretty — we’d planned on stopping at the Walton Mountain Museum because, as a child, I was a fan of The Waltons and Earl Hamner‘s books, but we were hungry by the time we got close to the museum and there was no hope of food in the town where the museum is located, so we drove on and stopped for lunch. After lunch the GPS told us to go west on a narrow country road for quite some time. We ended up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was slower than the route we’d been on before our Walton Mountain detour, but at spots, breathtakingly scenic. About 20 miles after our lunch break Clare and I spotted a bear cub running towards the road. It stopped and turned back into the woods — probably because its mom was calling it. It was my first bear sighting.

Closer to the Meadows of Dan, where the cabin was located, we drove through dense fog. We could barely see the lights on the rear of Dean’s car much of the time. Clare loved it though — she said, once when we slowed down so we couldn’t see Dean’s car ahead of us, “This is what nothing looks like.”

Photo of A Blue Ridge Haven
A Blue Ridge Haven

We finally made it to the Meadows of Dan — a tiny town off the Blue Ridge Parkway and home to Nancy’s Candy Company. The resort is a few miles out of the Meadows of Dan — and hard to miss with its large sign, carousel and noticeable white buildings. The house looks just like advertised — and was spotless. We took the main floor bedroom and the kids took the loft. The rest of the cabin was a “great room” with connected kitchen and a bathroom. Quite cozy, but also big enough for the four of us.

I’ll write about the week later — it turned out to be quite idyllic, if you ignore the fact that I worked for 3 days. Everyone got along well and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Up North: the series ::Kitsch & Scenery:: Wisconsin Dells

A series about Wisconsin is not complete without a post about Wisconsin Dells. On our excursions to Chetek I vividly remember seeing signs, possibly starting south of Beloit, declaring the wonders of Wisconsin Dells — Tommy Bartlett Water Show, Noah’s Ark, Fort Dells, & The Wonder Spot. I remember longing to visit the Dells because of those signs, but it wasn’t until I was at least 10 years old that we actually did visit the Dells for a day.

I’m guessing we stopped there either on the way to Chetek or on the way back from Chetek, but I can’t be certain — maybe we drove there and back in one day — I know we did not stay overnight though, at least not in a motel. I do know, however, that we visited it with the Pasholks and the reason was mostly for my dad and Jack to meet with a mutual friend of theirs. I remember sitting in the friend’s house while the grownups drank beers and thinking, Get on with it already — I want to have some fun. Did we come all the way to Wisconsin Dells so we could be bored watching you drink beer and visit with your friend?

The grownups finally did say goodbye to their friends and took us kids to an attraction: Fort Dells.  I remember quite a bit about the day at Fort Dells. We saw a Wild West show, drove a model T car around a track and went to a haunted house. I remember being very scared of the haunted house and burying my face in my hands for most of the ride, much to Marcia’s amusement. I think we might have stopped in a Paul Bunyan’s for lunch or dinner, but that might be another memory. I wanted to visit The Wonder Spot but we didn’t — possibly because we ran out of time, or because it was too expensive.

At the time of that visit I was young enough to not be embarrassed by kitsch — something that the Dells excels at. As I grew older and until somewhat recently, I avoided anything that might be considered kitschy.

I think my mom and dad took my brother and me to the Dells one other time — on a trip that also involved a visit to the Baraboo Circus World Museum. I remember very little of the Dells on that trip except maybe seeing The Wonder Spot. I sort of remember someone sitting on a levitating chair. However maybe I just saw a brochure for it.

Dad at The Wonder Spot
Dad at The Wonder Spot

My only other visit to the Dells was as memorable as the first, but I think I liked it less. This visit was on our first honeymoon — the one with Neal & Marie and Paul. Neal and Marie were from New England and Paul was from England, so they’d probably not even heard of Wisconsin Dells and might not have chosen to go had we not suggested it. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the Dells was because my mom and dad went there on their honeymoon in 1954. They went The Wonder Spot.

This time we didn’t go to Fort Dells —  because we were too old and also because it wasn’t there anymore. We did ride The Ducks though. That was interesting and it was nice to see the real reason for Wisconsin Dells — not the tourist traps that were advertised on the signs, but the natural sandstone formations on the Wisconsin River. I don’t think that I knew anything about the actual Dells until this trip. It was a little scary, though, when the driver of the vehicle stopped in the woods and asked for tips.

I was hoping to take my kids to the Dells, but it never happened, and now they’re really too old to want to go with their parents, if at all. Clare likes kitsch, but I think it embarrasses Andrew. I’m not sure I’ll ever go again. The places that I’d remembered from my childhood are gone and I’ve already seen the Dells. I’m pretty sure that if I went I’d be disappointed.


I’m not a dog person. I don’t dislike dogs, I just prefer cats. Well, there are some dogs I dislike. I don’t like dalmatians because every dalmatian I’ve ever encountered has bared its teeth at me. I’m afraid of dobermans. My Uncle Don raised Dobermans and one bit me when I was 3. I don’t really remember it, but I was told about it enough to make me wary of them. I also don’t like pit bulls purely because of their reputation. I’ve heard too many stories about people being maimed or pets being killed by pit bulls that, even though — until recently — I wouldn’t have known a pit bull if one was attacking me, I didn’t like them.

The not-very-scary pit bull, PD
The not-very-scary pit bull, PD

So when my Aunt Ginny gave me instructions on what to do when I arrived at her house and it involved being friendly to a pit bull, I was more than a little worried. She said that the dog that showed up pregnant on their doorstep and subsequently gave birth under the neighbor’s playhouse was really very friendly though and I should have nothing to worry about.

When I did arrive at my aunt and uncle’s house in Northeastern Mississippi I thought that no one was home. I saw the dog almost as soon as I got out of the car and talked to it as friendly as I could. “Hi there dog. How are you? I understand you are a friendly pit bull, right? Don’t bite my leg, ok?” Then I saw my uncle and was relieved. I’d spilled a nearly full box of Annie’s Goldfish crackers on the floor of the passenger’s side of the car and my uncle said it was ok to give it to the dog. She was friendly — and liked to be petted. Each time I went outside she was right there, ready for some attention.

Ever since reading Lali’s post about puppy-sitting her friend’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and remembering when our neighbor’s dog had puppies when I was a child and how much fun it was to be surrounded by several tiny biting beings with breath that smelled of coffee grounds I wanted to hang around some puppies too. I knew I had a chance to do so the weekend I was in Mississippi. The first two days I was there I was too busy to suggest a visit to the puppies. I considered walking over myself on Saturday evening, but didn’t want to be mistaken for a trespasser in case the neighbor or her son were at the house. I did spend some time outside on Saturday evening, looking at the water, watching birds and petting the dog (whose name I’d been told was PD — for “Pregnant Dog”). She seemed to not want me to go into the house — she seemed to want some company and when I did try to head towards the house she pushed me away from it. I thought maybe she was pushing me towards her puppies, but didn’t really think that was possible (although I had recently finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which was rife with stories about Very Intelligent Dogs to whom pushing a human to check on puppies would be a piece of cake) so I waited until the next morning.

On Sunday morning my uncle received a phone call from the neighbor whose playhouse the PD had chosen to give birth under. The neighbor was spending a while with her ailing mother, so was unable to check on the dogs. Her son was stopping by occasionally to check on the puppies and when he was there last saw that the puppies were gone. The neighbor wanted to know if Uncle Jack would check to see if PD had moved them or if they were really gone. I was a little worried — having been looking forward to seeing the puppies. Uncle Jack grabbed a flashlight and we walked over, accompanied by PD and, sure enough, the puppies were not under the playhouse. We looked around a little more, wondering what could have happened to them (I suspected coyotes) but we didn’t see any blood that would indicate that there had been foul play. Then we saw that there was a small shed that I’d mistaken for an outhouse that had a gnome sized hole cut out of the bottom of the door. We walked to it, Uncle Jack shone the flashlight through the opening and saw movement. Then a small parade of brown and black puppies trotted out to greet us.

Delighted, I dropped to the ground to get closer to the puppies. All but one climbed on my lap and nipped at my clothes and shoes. PD chose to become part of the chaos and joined in on the fun. She would not stay still to nurse the puppies, even though they seemed to want some breakfast. Then, since most of her puppies were in my lap, she decided that she wanted to be there too. So I sat there, cross-legged  in the Mississippi dust with a full-grown pit bull on my lap while she nursed four of her five 4-and-a-half-week-old puppies. Oh to have gotten a photo of that! It was certainly a moment to remember. (And I actually thought about Lali and her Cavalier experience as I sat there)

After a few moments, just about when I thought my ankles couldn’t stand the pain of being pressed into the hard ground PD got up and went back to my aunt and uncle’s house. The puppies still wanted to play a little, but eventually they went back into the shed with their less curious sibling.

I went back one more time, this time on my own, to get some photos of the puppies. I tried to get a video, but operating a camera and being a climbing toy for 5 puppies is a little difficult. If these guys had been old enough to leave their mother, I might have been tempted to take one home with me. They were really that adorable.

[Update: PD was euthanized on October 14th for complications due to heartworm & scabies. May she rest in peace.]

[svgallery name=”puppies”]


[svgallery name=”mississippi”]
Mississippi stopped being on my list of places to visit after I got over the thrill of being able to spell it. Even when my Aunt Nancy and her family moved there in the 1970’s it held no appeal to me. I had no desire to ever visit to a state whose reputation for racism was so pronounced. In fact, I pretty much avoided all Southern states until we actually moved to one, but since Alexandria it was the Northern part of Virginia I didn’t think much of it.

This is not to say that I had lots of opportunities to visit the South. Sure, I could visit my relatives in Mississippi, but I chose not to. While I remembered them from my childhood, I didn’t feel the closeness with them that I had with, say my Aunt Ginny. I had mostly vague memories of my mom’s sister, Nancy and her family at family events. Then they moved to Mississippi and we’d occasionally see a few of them at a time when they went north to visit.

When my Aunt Ginny moved to Mississippi a few years ago, I knew that a visit there was in my future. She talked of how nice people were there and how much they liked living there instead of living in Illinois. We planned to visit them as a family for spring break, 2007, but Aunt Ginny wasn’t feeling well so we went to Savannah instead.

My Aunt Nancy was diagnosed with lung cancer a while back and went through chemotherapy which left her weak and feeling bad most of the time. When the doctors told her the cancer was back and suggested chemotherapy again, she said she’d had enough and wanted to live what she had left of her life without feeling sick all of the time. I knew that this was a good time to visit — to see my Aunt Nancy again while she still felt OK and to see Aunt Ginny again. I was also looking forward to seeing all of my cousins again.

So I made plans to drive to Mississippi the week Andrew went back to school and before Labor Day weekend. I also thought it would take my mind off the trauma of dropping Clare off at college. I eventually decided I’d spend Labor Day weekend in Mississippi — drive down on Thursday and drive back on Tuesday — hopefully that way avoiding any holiday traffic.

The trip to Mississippi was very smooth. I felt great as I drove down Interstate 80 and looked forward to driving through Tennessee and seeing the mountains. I also was excited about adding two states to my list of states I’d visited: Alabama and Mississippi. I spent the night in Chattanooga, Tennessee, knowing that showing up around midnight at my aunt and uncle’s house would not be appreciated — besides, I was a little tired and hungry.

I rely heavily on my GPS to get me around, even in my town, so was happy to have the familiar voice instructing me where to turn. I was a little worried when the voice instructed me to exit before the town my aunt and uncle call home, but followed his directions and after a slight scare on a gravel road, found a main road and eventually my aunt and uncle’s home.

Wounded armadillo
Wounded armadillo

The day before I left for Mississippi my Aunt Ginny called and said that she was in the hospital. I took a few hours do decide if I was still going to go to Mississippi, but decided to go ahead with the plan. I’d still get to see both my aunts and perhaps could help out somehow. When I got to my aunt and uncle’s house I pulled up near the boathouse and was excited to see an armadillo having a drink of water from the waterway on which my aunt and uncle live. I’d never seen an armadillo before, so didn’t know they usually don’t come out in the daytime nor are they usually surrounded by a horde of flies. When Uncle Jack saw it he figured it was doomed — the flies were probably attracted to a wound on its side.

The not-very-scary pit bull, PD
The not-very-scary pit bull, PD

After taking some photos of the armadillo I called my aunt in the hospital, thinking that my uncle was there too. I was in the middle of telling Aunt Ginny how lovely I thought her view was when Uncle Jack came outside to welcome me to their home. Along with Uncle Jack was a noticeably lactating white dog with a large head and strong jaws that I’d been warned about. Never having seen a pit bull before, I would not have worried when I saw her, but knowing her breed, I was a little wary. I didn’t have anything to worry about, however, she was a real sweetheart and liked the treat of organic goldfish crackers I gave her (they’d fallen on the floor of my car as I turned the corner onto the street where my aunt and uncle live).

After settling in a little, Uncle Jack and I drove to Tupelo where the hospital my aunt was staying was located. Her doctor said she could go home with us, so we visited a while until she was discharged and went back to their house.

Monogram, not mammogram
Monogram, not mammogram

That afternoon Uncle Jack and I drove to a town south of their house to pick up something at their pharmacy. I wondered why they drove there when they could have gone to a closer town, but when I saw the pharmacy I understood, immediately! It was a small drug store that I would not be remiss in calling an apothecary. When we pulled up I saw a bright sign in the window. “Mammogram Magic”. I was slightly shocked, then impressed that the store was being so forward in making sure they got the word out that mammograms save lives. I didn’t say anything to Uncle Jack, but later, as I took photos of the building, noticed the sign again — this time on top of a marquee that gave the time and temperature. Only then did I realize that it said Monogram Magic and not Mammogram magic. I took a picture anyway — and told my uncle my mistake. He thought it was funny.

A Mayfly

My aunt and uncle live on what is called the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway or Tenn-Tom for short. It connects the Tennessee and the Tombigbee Rivers and is about as wide as a medium sized river. Quite a bit of boat traffic, from individually owned recreational boats to fancy yachts to huge barges, goes up and down the waterway daily. There is also quite a bit of bird traffic. As soon as I got out of the car the first day I heard a belted kingfisher’s rattle. Later in the visit I saw geese, cormorants, an osprey, herons and egrets on the water. It is really lovely there — even during a mayfly swarm. Never had I seen so many mayflies as the first day I was there, if I’d ever seen one at all.

The second day, Saturday, my uncle and I drove to Etta, Mississippi to visit my Aunt Nancy and her family. When we got there, Don came out and greeted us. It had been such a long time, I had to ask him who he was. After that people told me their names (whew!). So during my visit I saw all of my Aunt Nancy’s children except for my cousin Ron, who doesn’t live nearby. I had a great talk with my Aunt Nancy — she seems the same as she was the last time I saw her. I always wished she’d written down her life-story. She is a wonderful writer and I used to love to get letters from her.

On the way back to Aunt Ginny and Uncle Jack’s house Uncle Jack and I stopped to pick up a pizza at a newly opened Italian restaurant in Tupelo. Uncle Jack said that he and Aunt Ginny had talked about getting a pizza from there someday — that it looked good (they said that pizza in Mississippi was usually a disappointment). This restaurant had the neatest thing I’d seen in a restaurant — a wine-dispensing carousel that doled out small portions of wine if you inserted a smart-card into a slot.

Jack's Squirrel Friend
Jack's Squirrel Friend

The rest of my stay was wonderfully relaxing and pretty much uneventful. It was so nice to spend some quality time with my Aunt Ginny — she and I have always been quite close. I also saw a part of my Uncle Jack that I’d missed before because I wasn’t looking or perhaps he’d hidden it in the past. He’s a gentle, kind and loving person. He took care of Aunt Ginny when she needed it. He cooked all of the meals (and seemed to enjoy doing it) and has taken over the laundry duties. He’s also feeds a squirrel who sits on the railing and waits for him to notice her.

I’m so glad I went to Mississippi. The people I met were all very nice. I learned that not all pit bulls are scary. I got to see some relatives I had not seen in years and I spent some time with one of my favorite people in the world.