Monthly Archives: October 2017

Day 50 – Returning

One of the most rewarding byproducts of going on a long and exciting journey is the joyous feeling of returning home. We left Spokane amid morning fog and 41 degrees with the relief of knowing tonight we would be sleeping in our own bed.

As we reached the Columbia River, just past George, we could see Mount Rainier rising over the landscape. The city looked wonderful as we came over the mountains. All the trees were beautiful reds, yellows and oranges, like we rarely see this late in October.

There was a feeling of comfort and familiarity as we pulled up in front of our little home. Filled with memories, stories, mementos and files and files of pictures, we ended our 9,559 mile trip by opening the doors and windows of the house to let in the unseasonably warm afternoon. It was a bright, sunny and 64 in Seattle. Now begins the work of unpacking, washing, and getting back into a routine.

Yes, the trip was wonderful in every way, and all of it was worth more than can be expressed, especially the part where we return safely to our comfortable little home.

Day 49 – Reflection Driving

The penultimate day of our epic journey started early with a beautiful Montana morning. It was chilly, but somehow it didn’t feel quite as cold as yesterday morning. The entire day was nothing but driving and beautiful scenery. Eventually, we left the open range; saw the Rockies in the distance; approached the Rockies; crossed the Rockies; and came down the other side to find ourselves in Washington State once again.

As we reached the mountains, the Western Larch (or Tamarack) trees were in their golden splendor. I had never seen a larch tree in the Fall before, and they are stunning.

We finished listening to “Truman,” and in the aftermath, we did a lot of reflecting – about this trip; our lives; the choices we’ve made; the opportunities we’ve had; the struggles we’ve overcome, etc. etc.

When we reached Missoula, MT about 2:00 p.m. we knew we should find some sustenance or we might be sorry. Right along the interstate we stumbled upon “Sean Kelly’s Stone of Accord.” It was an Irish pub, with traditional Irish fare. My driver ordered “Stovie” which is like a dish familiar in our family as “roadkill,” a stir fry of just about everything in the kitchen. He loved it. I ordered “Beef pasties with champs,” a kind of hand-held pot pie with Irish mashed potatoes and chives; Guinness gravy on the side. Both were delicious and a very memorable lunch for our second-last day of travel. We love finding the local color and experimenting with tasting new and different menu items. This one will be memorable.

Back to driving and reflecting. After seeing so many new places and visiting with family from several branches of our family trees along this journey, we could not help but be self-reflective. We thought a lot about how a journey of this magnitude takes us away from all that is familiar and helps us to appreciate what we know and recognize as “home;” where we’ve come from and who we’ve become; who has loved and encouraged us in the process; and who we have given life to and loved along the way.

Engaging with and visiting with so many different people in so many different places throughout the country (and Canada) has given us a new appreciation for the wonderful, thoughtful, kind, and considerate men our children have become. We are proud of the choices they have made; the gifts they have fostered and honed; the sensibilities they profess; the values they uphold; and the commitments they have made. Every single person is unique and each a miracle of wonder, but we are especially proud and love the wonder that each of our sons has become. There is no greater grace in this world than seeing our sons be thoughtful, creative, energetic, productive and loving young men.

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember, but a journey like this helps us recall that every moment of every experience has influenced us in one way or another. Yet, we can never deny where we have come from. We can, however, grow and change because of what we have seen, learned, and experienced. Using what we have known and where we have come from as a foundation of strength to build on, we can use new information to make sound and loving choices for the future. Nothing is insignificant. There is grace in every detail.

So, embrace the journey; whether it be a single step, or 49 days of wandering the country. Be observant; be compassionate; be loving; be open to new and unusual experiences. Never be afraid to be exactly who you are; and never be afraid to change and grow as a result of all you have seen and experienced.

Day 48 – Tumbling Tumbleweed

This morning it was partly sunny and a brisk 36 degrees – definitely winter, I think. We had the car packed and were on the road by 8:45. Pretty good after having a play day yesterday.

The Black Hills of South Dakota gave way to the open ranch lands of Wyoming which slowly wrinkled into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. We could see snow covered peaks in the distance. The winds were gusty and at times a little frightening. Tumbleweeds were blowing with abandon. Just east of Billings, MT, the gusts were mighty and one very large tumbleweed blew up across the interstate, swirled and turned to almost hit our windshield. Instead, it tumbled some to the right and, woody stem forward, hit with force against the passenger side mirror. It was frightening, but thankfully it missed the windshield and the passenger window. The clouds gave up their moisture periodically, but the scattered rain was never heavy.

At Billings we pulled off for a comfort stop and decided on a late afternoon Sunday dinner. A Texas Roadhouse sounded the best of the lot there was to choose from and we enjoyed the brake from driving as well as the meal.

Along the way we finished listening to “No Ordinary Time” and switched to “Harry Truman” by David McCullough. Might as well continue on with the story as history wrote it, we thought. We enjoyed Doris Kerns Goodwin so much we thought we might be disappointed with another author. But, McCullough can hold his own. The two are in a comparable league. And, he skillfully writes about Harry Truman; his family; his personality; his times; and his accomplishments in a way that is both informative and engaging. I knew next to nothing about the man before we visited his home in Independence, Missouri two short weeks ago.

Amid the sun and rain, range and mountains, we listened and stopped the narrative to discuss whenever the story warranted, or the spirit moved us.

The miles tumbled away behind us and despite the tumbleweed incident, we made good time, arriving in Livingston, MT by 6:30 p.m. When we finally remembered to inspect the car, we found the force of the tumble weed’s impact had broken the side mirror cover. Thankfully, there was no more extensive damage.

So, just another day of driving; listening; talking; and enjoying each other and the beauty of America’s landscape. What could possibly be more grace-filled than that?

Day 47 – Playing in Place

Today was a designated “play day” and we set out to see the Black Hills and poke around the area. It was crispy cold this morning and required my new down jacket . . . for the first time on the trip. Only yesterday it was 86. But this morning it was 39. That’s like summer to winter overnight.

But no matter, we would have fun anyway. The tiny town of Keystone was our first stop. Main street is about two blocks long with tourist shopping on both sides of the street. Because of the time of year, most businesses were closed or “going out of business.” The most interesting vendor was the chainsaw artist who had a whole corner lot full of figures of every size, shape and description. Most notably were bear and buffalo. It was just fun to see the work he could accomplish with a chainsaw.

A return trip to Mount Rushmore required the use of our valuable parking ticket (that’s good for a YEAR!) because we wanted to see the sculptures in the morning light. They seemed so different from yesterday at the end of the day. Still inspiring; still stunning; still magnificent; only today they were mostly in full sun and very cold. The wind ripped through the mountains and felt like it cut right through us. Trees that still had leaves yesterday at 7 p.m. were almost bare this morning; the wind taking them away with every gust.

We were glad we returned as we were able to go into the museum that was closed last night when we were there. We learned more about why these four presidents were chosen by the artist and how he managed to make the pupils of their eyes look so life-like. It was astounding. A small display in the museum showed how he carved different depths of stone to reflect the light differently so each eye would have a look of reality.

Our next stop was Wind Cave where we visited the museum and watched the film because all the tickets to go on cave tours had already been distributed for today. It is a very interesting National Park because it is located at the point where East meets West; where prairie meets mountains. As we drove through the park we could see this was so clearly the case. The mountains of the Black Hills suddenly bowed down to spread out to the prairie. We saw buffalo and hundreds and hundreds of prairie dogs. The prairie dogs are just about the cutest thing around. They beat the buffalo on my charts. As we watched them they skirted around and barked at each other, putting on a show for us.

While talking with several sales people today they all recommended we should go to the Alpine Inn for dinner. So, we drove back to Hill City to check it out. The Alpine Inn opened at 5:00 and everyone said we should get there by 4:30 if we wanted to get in on the first seating. We learned they are a very unique establishment. They take no reservations, so one must wait in the lounge for up to an hour if one wants to get a seat when they open. Only two items are on the menu: a filet steak with baked potato and salad wedge with ranch dressing, or spaetzle with veggies – as a vegetarian option. The only decision a customer is allowed is how they like their steak cooked. It sounded good to us.

We arrived in Hill City at 3:00 and walked the tiny Main Street, looking in some of the art shops filled with Native crafts. At one, my driver found a family of beavers to add to my collection, and at another I could not pass up a pair of boots going for a deeply slashed price. As 4:15 arrived, we walked over to the Alpine Inn and found the lounge almost full. We took one of the last tables. Over the next 45 minutes what seemed like hundreds of people packed into the lounge. Those who were not sitting at the six available tables were standing shoulder to shoulder. It got very hot and loud. I couldn’t believe this could possibly be the most efficient way to manage the guests at a restaurant. We almost got up and left . . . but after waiting for 35 minutes, what was 10 more?

The magic hour arrived and the entire lounge moved toward the one door into the dinning room. No one was rude, but it definitely felt like being swept into a cattle chute. We were escorted to our table and immediately someone came to bring water and ask us if we wanted steak or veggies; and if steak, how we wanted that cooked. She was gone in a flash and the wedge of iceberg lettuce arrived, smothered with their signature Ranch dressing. The steaks followed not long after.

They may not have had the greatest design for reservations, but they did know how to do steak. It was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

As we left, the lounge was completely packed again with patrons waiting for their seating. We were amazed at the number of folks willing to wait for such a limited menu. But, it was absolutely worth it. And, given the options in town there may not have been a lot of choice in that matter, either.

We stopped along the way back to our room to run the car through a car wash; fill up with gas; and stop at a grocery for some more sparkling water and Pepsi. I spent some time repacking the car and making preparations for the next two days of freeway driving. It was a fun, fun day of playing in place. Tomorrow we make our way in a Bee line to Seattle.

Day 46 – Adventures Abound

We left the sugar beet aroma of Scottsbluff, NE in the morning sun and headed West and North. Agate Fossil Bed was only about an hour’s drive away. The landscape was dotted with small farms and even smaller towns. The land grew small rolling hills and eventually large rocky crags poked up to our right and left at various points along the drive.

We turned into Agate Fossil Beds and intended to stay for the movie, take a few pictures and move on. Only, the Visitor Center was filled with so many artifacts and information we stayed almost an hour. After learning about the fossils and formations in the rock; the geological layers of sediment and the eras of prehistoric wildlife; as well as the Native Americans who once lived on these lands, we had to go out and take a hike.

The hiking path was nicely maintained and there were warnings to stay on it due to rattle snakes in the vicinity. Thankful we did not see any snakes, we made note of other wildlife, including numerous red ant hills and several black centipedes. At one point along the trail I could hear crickets in stereo. But, one of the most amazing experiences of the hike was the intense silence. Out in the wilds of Nebraska it is quiet like we never hear quiet. We could almost hear our own hearts beating. If breezes blew, we could hear them. If the prairie grasses danced along with the breeze, we could almost hear them. The crickets made the loudest sounds for miles and miles. At one point I stood still for several minutes just absorbing the complete and utter silence. I wish there could have been some way of recording it. But, instead, I can only remember the experience and try to describe it.

When we reached the top of one of the rock formations we could see for miles and miles. And, surprisingly, at the top our cell phones started to bing, informing us that we now had some reception. My driver quickly put in our destination for our next stop so we would have some directions when we got back to the car.

But, most amazing of all, along the hike we saw fossils of where ancient ancestors of the modern beaver had made their homes down into the soil of 19 million years ago. Here we were on this trip, making all these stops to find ancestors of ours, and along the way in Nebraska we also find traces of ancestors of the beaver. These ancient creatures, intent on building homes, burrowed down in a cork screw fashion until they reached an acceptable depth, then spread out to make rooms for their living space. To this day, the “cork screws” of some of their burrowing is fossilized and remains visible.

We marveled at how life changes through the ages and how adaptable we have to be in order to allow life to advance and change into the future. And, not just life, but thought as well. If we can not accept an evolution of thoughts and ideas, how will we ever be able to make the adaptations necessary for life itself to evolve and change? Thrilling conversation occupied us for many miles as we traveled on.

Following our Gypsy (or GPS) we made the appropriate turns and suddenly we had a choice of three possible routes. The one she suggested; one that was eight minutes slower; and one that was 15 minutes slower. We chose the fastest one, because after all, we had places to go and sights to see. We were taken down a beautiful “canyon road” with cotton wood trees in firey yellow along the road. Then suddenly we were on a gravel road. We continued on. What choice did we have now? Not much, as the landscape was dry and barren grazing lands as far as the eye could see. Well, at least it was only eight miles until a turn onto the next road . . . which was also gravel. As was the next . . . and the next. We traveled on 35 miles of Nebraska gravel roads and only met two cars the entire way. But, we did see a lot of cattle, especially these lovely girls with their new earrings shinning in the sun. My driver thought they were wondering if they were going to be in my “mooovie.”

Eventually we found civilization again and were ready to stop at the first possible place for comfort and some food. Reaching the town of Custer, South Dakota didn’t seem to help much. Almost every establishment was “Closed for the Season.” One lonely bar and grill was open, so we gave in and ordered a sandwich simply because we didn’t know what else to do. It was filling, but that was about all. It probably should have been closed as well.

Now, with our brains off our stomachs we could think about Mount Rushmore and visiting the monument in the setting sun. It’s a long and twisty drive to the top, but very beautiful, too. We paid our $10.00 for the privilege of parking (for an entire YEAR) in the parking garage, and walked into the monument.

There are so many, many pictures of this rock with four faces we all recognize, that it seems like it would be passe. But, quite the contrary, we found it stunning and inspiring. We walked out along the “old view point” and remembered when we had first visited as newly weds; when we had brought our children in the ’80’s; and the last time we were here about 10 years ago. Like the evolution of thought, if we are open and supple, there is also an evolution of appreciation and wonder. Today we felt an ever deeper sense of respect for these four great leaders of our country. We stayed until darkness fell and giant flood lights illuminated their faces. It was impressive, even in the darkness.

We found our Comfort Inn on the North side of town and brought our “cup of soups” up to the room for a late night meal. It was perfect dinning after such an adventurous day. From 19 million year old fossils; to Nebraska gravel roads through the free range; to stunning likenesses of four impressive leaders; and spirited conversation; there was enough abounding grace to fill us for days and months to come.

Day 45 – More Nebraska

After a good night’s sleep (we even missed breakfast) the day looked bright and felt warm and inviting. It would reach 86 degrees, according to the bank in Gering, NE.

Setting out for Chimney Rock and Scottsbluff, we continued on Highway 20 and, once again listened to “No Ordinary Time.” Along the way we watched the brilliant golden leaves fall from their trees in the gusts of wind. The landscape grew flatter and drier with each passing mile.

Finally the town of Gordon appeared and it was just in time. We needed a comfort stop. There was also a Subway there, so we shared a ham sandwich. When people started flocking into the Subway as we ate, I noticed the clock on the wall said 11:30. By my watch it was 12:30. We had passed a significant marker on the way home: Mountain Time.

Nearing the next sizable town of Alliance, we noticed off the side of the road some strange pile of something. Then we saw the sign: “Carhenge.” My driver pulled into the parking lot and laughing said, “People drive miles and miles just to see this. We have to stop.” And, so we did. It was old cars all arranged to look like Stonehenge.  Someone had a lot of time on their hands and more old cars than they knew what to do with! Hilarious, really!

At 2:30 (DMT) my driver announced we have now officially driven 8,000 miles so far on this trip. Our little Prius has logged 123,134 miles all together. Today her gas mileage went down from 50.1 to 45.8, but we figure she’s still doing pretty good and we can’t complain.

We stopped at Chimney Rock, the pinnacle that excited travelers along the Oregon Trail. The interpretive film said it was the most amazing formation many people going West had ever seen. Little did they know there was more to come.

Scottsbluff would be the next geological formation that would mark their journey. It became known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. There are still wagon tracks visible at the base of the bluffs – almost two centuries later. It’s hard to imagine what the people who traveled West had to endure. I knew most of them walked as the wagons carried all their provisions, but having just come from St. Louis, there is no way I could have WALKED that distance. We learned today that over the 20 to 30 years that this trail out West was traveled, over 20,000 people died before they reached their destinations. It’s sobering to think that someone’s ancestors are buried on the prairie, without so much as a small marker to identify their graves. How will their descendants ever find the site where they are buried?

Grateful for our car, and not a covered wagon, we went into town in search of something hot and satisfying for dinner. One person we asked said “There’s an Applebee’s by the highway.” I requested he advise us on some “local color” and that seemed to stump him for a moment. “Well, there is a Mexican place north of town.” We thanked him and went on.

My driver was feeling like Italian food tonight, so he resorted to his phone to search for the possibility. Finding “Sam and Louie’s” just seemed to fit the bill. We angled our way through town until we arrived at a little store front that seemed almost abandoned. Still, there was no where else in town that looked more appealing. So, we took the risk.

Inside, there was not another person in sight, but we waited by the sign that asked us to “Wait to be Seated.” A young man came out of the kitchen and asked if we’d like dinner. “Is it good?” my driver asked. “Well, yeah. I think it’s the best place in town.” Wanting to trust him, we followed him to a booth.

Antipasta salad and a small specialty New York style pizza sounded just about right. When the salad came, we were delighted. It was the best salad we’ve had for 8,000 miles! And, the pizza wasn’t bad either; in fact it was quite delicious. The waitress was cheerful and engaging and I imagined she probably had moved here from New York. We left them a nice tip and complimented them on their fine restaurant, agreeing it probably was the best place in town.

Just a short drive out to the highway and we found our motel. We checked into room 202 and started to relax. Just as I was pulling off my shoes, our door opened and a woman with a shocked look on her face said “Oh! I was just given this room.”

Needless to say, just another chapter in the Nebraska experience. She and my driver went back to the front desk and sorted things out. Seems the desk clerk didn’t remember she had JUST checked us into room 202. The other woman got another room.

Continuing to unwind for the evening, my driver wanted to go back to the car and get some Pepsi to bring up to the room. As he came back he couldn’t get into the room with his key card. Thankfully, I was in the room and let him in; but then I thought: I wonder if my card works. Of course, it didn’t. So, back to the front desk again. The woman didn’t seem to be flustered at all. “Oh, I probably cancelled it out,” she explained. Interesting place, Nebraska.

It was a blessing to have a shorter day of driving after a good night’s sleep; to see the historic spots where over 300,00 to 500,000 pioneers passed on their way toward Westward migration; and to have a delightfully delicious pizza with a truly fresh and crunchy salad for dinner. Sometimes grace is found in the smallest things.

Day 44 – A Day of Nebraska Driving

We woke early so we could pick up my Aunt and go to breakfast together before packing the car. That was necessary because once the car was packed there was no room to pick up anything! She was waiting for us and we went to the Hy Vee lunch counter where they make a hot breakfast to order. We all had pancakes and bacon and sat together for one last eucharist before we had to move on along the trail.

Back at her apartment we said our good byes and hugged, knowing it might be a few years before we would see each other again.

We put gas in the car and left Sioux City, crossing over the Missouri River into Nebraska. We got on Highway 20 and didn’t take a turn until we reached our destination in Valentine and the Niobrara River National Park Visitor Center.

It was nothing all day but driving through Nebraska, yet we marveled at the golden and scarlet leaves adorning the trees along the landscape. Since it was just a driving day, we started listening to “No Ordinary Time” by Doris Kerns Goodwin and we are hooked already. She is an excellent writer and helps pass the time.

We arrived at our destination just as it was about to close for the day. Strangely, we felt a little road weary, but soon realized it was not necessarily from the road, but from all the early mornings we had set trying to make room for all our reunions and gatherings with friends and family over the last week.

We quickly looked through the tiny museum at Niobrara and watched their film about the river region and then went directly to our motel. We were checked into a room only to find out it was still being cleaned. My driver went back to the front desk while I waited in the hall with the luggage. He came back with another room assignment only to realize that room was not yet cleaned at all! One more trip to the front desk.

The manager arrived on the floor to determine the problem. She had a few words with the cleaning staff and then informed me, “I’m going to assign you this room again because she’ll be done cleaning in about ten minutes.”

I stood there wondering what I was supposed to do . . . wait here in the hall for ten minutes? My driver came back and said, “I guess we have this room and she’ll be done soon.” It was the oddest experience we’ve ever had at a motel. It was well past 5:30 and they were still cleaning rooms . . . and actually cleaning the room we had just been assigned!

My driver offered to stay with the luggage and suggested I go out for a walk. I needed a walk! So, I went down the main street of Valentine, Nebraska – “The Town with a Heart” – only to find most of the small businesses closing up for the day. With the room finished, my driver joined me on my walk of Main Street and we decided we would just find a place to eat without getting back in the car.

Well, that didn’t happen. We got back in the car and went back to the highway to The Pepper Mill Grill, because as the one person we asked said, “We do beef here.” The Pepper Mill Grill was spacious with lots of tables open and we were shown a booth and given menus.

Before we could even open them the waitress was back to take our order. We conversed a little with her to try and determine what might be best to order. She wasn’t very conversational. “Most people come for the steaks,” she told us matter-of-factly.  Well, ok, since that’s just about all you have on the menu, that would certainly make sense.

We ordered steaks and baked potatoes. After a short wait our plates arrived and we settled in to enjoy our meals. I had just picked up my knife to cut off my first bite of steak when the waitress was back asking “How is everything?” I wanted to say “Hard to tell, since I haven’t even taken a bite yet,” but I refrained. Working as hard as I could I somehow could not cut a piece of my steak. It seemed tougher than it should have been. I finally realized it was the knife that wasn’t working. So, I shared my driver’s knife as his seemed to be working fine.

About five minutes later the waitress was back asking if we wanted dessert. “Well, maybe when we finish dinner,” we answered. She came back shortly with our check and said, “No rush, just whenever you’re ready.” My driver looked up as she walked away and said, “What if I wanted dessert?” We exchanged glances and realized this was seeming a bit like a comedy routine.

After we had leisurely finished our dinner, we decided to share a piece of their signature lemon cake. It sounded so good in the menu description. Finally, the waitress came by and we asked for a piece of cake. She scooped up our check and trotted off. It was becoming very clear “The Town with a Heart” needed a new ad campaign. Our lemon cake came, along with a revised check and we were happy we would be moving on as soon as the morning dawned.

Now, maybe we were just tired and not very receptive. In addition, I was itching all over (and looked like I had chicken pox) due to the tiny stinging beetles that attacked us during our cemetery walk yesterday.  So, we decided we needed to just pack it in and spend some “down time” in our very clean room this evening. That’s what we needed after a day of driving through Nebraska.

Day 43 – Blessed in Every Way

What makes a day blessed in every way?

  1. Notice the day is bright and sunny and see on the weather app it will reach 75 degrees.
  2. Pick up your favorite Aunt at her apartment at 9:30.
  3. Take a drive down to the Missouri River and visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center that tells the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in this area. It was here that the only member of their retinue, Sgt. Floyd, got sick and died. Walk the trail down to the river and see the beauty of the turning leaves in the morning sunlight.
  4. Drive down to the Southern Hills Mall and visit with your cousin, who is also your goddaughter, during her morning break at work.
  5. Have lunch together at the “Iron Hill Bar and Grill” in the Mall and enjoy a soup, salad and half a sandwich combo as you talk over “old times” and memories of the days when you lived in the area.
  6. Drive through the glorious Fall afternoon and the fields of NW Iowa to the town where your Father and Aunt grew up. Drive past the old farm place and marvel how much it has changed in the 59 years since you can remember visiting there.
  7. Take a swing past the “old place” where you lived with your Mom and brothers while your Dad was stationed in Vietnam. It’s all farmland now, but allow the memories to come flooding back as you see the place where the lane had been and remember the mornings you walked that lane – through sun, rain, or snow – to catch the school bus into town.
  8.  Take a trip through the cemetery in town and find all the relatives graves. Say a prayer of gratitude for these ancestors who gave you a part of who you are today.
  9. Drive past the site where the the old school building stood where your Father went to High School and where you went to Middle School for one year when he was in Vietnam. Allow for the sadness that comes with knowing all things change with time.
  10. Drive down to the corner by the park where the town is working to make a Veterans Memorial for all those who have served our country.
  11. Stop at your cousin’s house, which was also the site of your Aunt’s house, and where you remember many happy gatherings when you lived in the area.
  12. Take a side trip to a neighboring town to visit another Aunt who is in an elder care facility. Share stories; laugh and cry together as you remember your Uncle playing his guitar and singing.
  13. Rush on to the next town where you meet two more cousins at the “Pizza Ranch” for a buffet dinner. Laugh a lot; tell stories; jokes; and reminiscence about playing together when you were kids and you were visiting them when they lived in Minnesota. Share about your kids and hear about theirs; and their grand kids; share pictures and hear about projects they are working on.
  14. Eat too much, but enjoy every bite – not only because it is delicious, but because you have lively and engaging dinner partners with whom you are connected on this branch of the family tree.
  15. Drive back to your Aunt’s apartment and your motel in the dark.
  16. Say a prayer of gratitude for the blessings of beauty; perfect weather; family; memories; old towns; old farms; history; good food and good fun.

Follow this recipe adding your own visits and relatives and your day will come out blessed in every way! Pack it in memories to enjoy all over again.

Day 42 – Don’t Just Travel to Get There

We packed out of our lovely Council Bluffs suite where we stayed over the past four days and hit the road. On the docket today was to get to Sioux City to visit my favorite Aunt. The skies were sunny and warming up as we loaded the car. It would eventually get to 75 by the end of the day.

So, along the way, following the Missouri River north, I couldn’t help but notice all the leaves were turning – brilliant yellows and reds. It was beautiful. We saw the bluffs where the Native Americans once met for their councils, hence the name “Council Bluffs.” I guess I had never noticed the bluffs before.We stopped at a rest stop for a comfort stop and saw on the map a sign that advised: “Don’t Just Travel to Get There, Enjoy the Drive.” That’s exactly what we are doing, I thought. My driver agreed. We are enjoying each moment; each landscape; each historical marker; each stop along the way.

Realizing we would get to Sioux City earlier than we had originally planned (since we made some last minute adjustments and skipped a couple of stops) my driver called ahead and changed our Toyota appointment from tomorrow morning to this afternoon. They were happy to accommodate us.

We found a “Chick Fil-A” and grabbed a quick sandwich and cup of soup before dropping the car off for it’s regular service appointment. I walked over to a nearby Wallmart while my driver waited in the customer lobby at Toyota.

With a fresh oil change, new spark plugs and a tune up we pulled out of Toyota just in time to make our scheduled meeting at my Aunt’s apartment complex. She was sitting by the phone waiting for us to call and was surprised we were already there. Her directions were to go to the “back door” where she would meet us and show us in.

It was so good to see her and hear all about her family and what my cousins are doing. We went to “Culvers,” for dinner (a new place we had never before been to) and I was delighted to find their menu had one of those essential Midwest sandwiches – the pork tenderloin. It was delicious. Can’t get enough of them. Soon we’ll be home and there will be no pork tenderloins in Seattle. We all had ice cream for desert and enjoyed each others company. Since my Aunt no longer drives, we offered to take her anywhere she might want to go. She requested “Dollar Tree” – since everything there is only a dollar – and she wanted to pick up a few items.  I had no problem accompanying her into “Dollar Tree” as I love that place, too.

Back at her apartment we made plans for tomorrow and called a cousin and another Aunt to arrange for possible visits. We shared some pictures and laughed about the last time she had been at our house when she remembered I had made Ruben sandwiches which we took on a picnic to the park by our house.

We parted with plans set to pick her up in the morning at 9:30 to go visit the town where she and my father were born and grew up. We will not just be traveling to get there, but will be enjoying the entire drive; the visit; and the memories we will make together.

Day 41 – And Another Reunion

We awoke to chilly temps but bright sunshine and leaves turning on the trees as we watched. It was as if Fall had suddenly arrived.  A significant number of the cousins on the Goeser side of the family gathered at cousin L’s house and enjoyed a casual, happy and prolonged reunion. A buffet was spread that would be the envy of any famous brunch establishment. As expected, everything was extraordinarily delicious – and didn’t last long. We ate and talked and laughed and shared our stories about what we were doing and what we planned to do. There was such a comfort to be in the midst of the cousins enjoying themselves. Truly, one of the joys of this trip has been to see everyone again and get reacquainted after the passage of time. Three years have passed since we had seen everyone.About mid afternoon we said our good byes and set out across Western Iowa’s ready to be harvested fields to find DeSoto Bend along the Missouri River. DeSoto Bend is a wildlife refuge and is a major place where migrating birds stop on their travels both North and South. Since it’s not quite the right time of year for migrations, there were only a few Canadian geese along the river today. But, the sun shining, the leaves turning, and the river reflecting the deep blue of the sky, made it a perfect picture post card day. I photographed to my heart’s content.

As the sun began to set we made our way over to Omaha and planned to catch a small bite to eat before visiting cousin PS one last time. We ended up in “Little Italy” and scoped out a tiny place that smelled wonderful, but we rejected because it was “carry out only.” Too bad, as I’m sure it would have been better than what we actually settled on. We found a place in the Old Market area called Chicago Pizza that didn’t seem too crowded and after we began our meal we could understand why. Pasta and salad sounded so good, but was oh, so ordinary and barely lukewarm! Very disappointed, we realized that sometimes we need to acknowledge there are substandard establishments so we can revel when we find an outstanding one.

Back at the assisted living home, we said our farewells to cousin P and made our way back to our Comfort Suites under a clear, chilly, starry sky. I did some sorting of the contents of the car; put in a load of wash; and did a little repacking. We are off to Northwest Iowa tomorrow to see some relatives on my side of the family.

Along the way today we both commented how enjoyable, enlightening, and essential this trip has been for us experiencing it together. So many people have asked us how we can stand each other in the car all day when we travel. Our answer is, “How can we not?” None of this exploring, visiting, or traveling would be worth anything if we could not share it with each other. We love to be together – through thick and thin; through long hours in the car and through new and different places; through family gatherings and old high school reunions; through outstanding dinning experiences and those that seem sub-par; in short, through it all! And that, my friends, is nothing but grace.