Saturday, April 11, 2009

Day 35 - Our Final Blog - We're on the road to home!

All the years of saying, “let’s do this again,” “let’s keep in touch,” “we should meet at a time other than weddings and funerals,” and “we’ll come visit” all finally became realized during this road trip. This trip brought us from Iowa, northeast to Vermont, south to Florida, west to Texas and then north to home. 6875 miles, driving through 25 states, making 34 stops and visiting 85 people in 15 of those states in 5 full weeks. A visit was generally one night, once as short as a half hour, and once for four nights while visiting with 4 sets of people.

Joe grew up in Chicago and Sandy was born in Vermont and grew up in Connecticut. Relatives are all over the country and some friends that we met in Iowa had moved away. A whole tapestry of people that encompassed our whole life: friends, neighbors, co-workers, people we knew from church, nieces and nephews who have grown up and moved on and cousins, lots and lots of cousins. We had always talked about a trip like this.
We called this trip the “Family and Friends Tour (East)” and it was just what the name implies. We planned the trip while spending a bit of time in Mexico (a retirement gift to ourselves). We brought a map of the United States, our Christmas card list and those tiny post-its with the arrows, writing every stop on a post it and plotting them on the map. Then it was a Mapquest to see the distance and time between each stop. We then put them on a big calendar and began the task of contacting everyone to see if they would be available on the date penciled in. We had a few time constraints: we wanted to be home by Easter, our daughter could only see us on a Friday, and we were coordinating a 4 day get together with 4 of Sandy’s high school classmates. Enough that we weren’t able to see all our family and friends in the eastern USA. And the friends in the western USA will have to wait for another trip, probably in the fall when we finish Route 66.

Although at times we were anxious to get home, we never got bored. Every day was a new and fresh adventure, new people, new food and new conversations. Without exception we were welcomed and made to feel at home wherever we went. It’s quite a humbling experience. Thank you so very much everyone! We are looking forward to returning the kindness you showed us.

Day 34 - Jim Brown, Joplin, Missouri

We find it ironic that the last stop on this trip is to visit one of the people who was present as we started our life together as husband and wife. Jim Brown stood up for Joe as his best man at our wedding. He was a room-mate of Joe’s way back when Joe had just finished his service as a VISTA volunteer and he was struggling to establish a career. As Jim said, “Sandy hung around quite a bit!”

Since we last saw Jim, he went on to continue his education at the University of Iowa, where he received his PhD in English. He taught for a while at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa and now is a tenured professor at Missouri Southern State University. He has been here in Joplin for about 25 years now. Jim gave us a tour of Joplin, including where he is teaching writing classes (and we hope he is not grading these blogs!) and has presented several classes consistent with the international mission of the University.

Our tour included, in addition to MSSU, what Jim referred to as Joplin’s “moon scape”, which is actually the remains of the zinc mining that went on in the area. We also got a tour of the Joplin section of Route 66 – including a couple of things we didn’t see when we came through before: an old bridge and railway station, and some old giraffe houses. We also drove around where Langston Hughes lived.

We got to meet his 15 year old daughter for a brief time as Jim shuttled her from the mall to a movie to see what was playing and then to a friend’s house where she was spending the night. She is a beautiful young woman!

We worked together on supper: hamburgers, salad and beans – but Jim made us pay for it by bringing us to the YMCA to walk for a half hour. He didn’t really drag us, it felt good to get a real walk in. This is something we need to get back to doing when we get home. But most of our time was spent remembering old times and catching up on the past 36 years.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day 32 & 33 - Ann and Ken Watson, Forsythe (Branson), Missouri

Today we arrived at the home of Ken and Ann Watson. Sandy worked with Ann – they were both Postmasters in Iowa, and Ken was in High Society Big Band with Joe. They moved to the Branson area about 2-3ish years ago. We can see what drew them here – beautiful mountains – their home is nestled in them, much entertainment, great restaurants. Ken is a dispatcher with the Branson police and Ann found a Postmaster position in a small town near their home.

We picked up lunch at Ken and Ann’s favorite fast food place (Backyard Burgers) and made our winding way to their house. After lunch we took a driving tour around the area, including a stop at Ann’s Post Office in Powersite. We went back home where they grilled steaks, potatoes and salad – another case of we ate too much! That evening we went to our first Branson show which just happened to be the Branson’s original show on the strip – the Presley’s Country Jubilee. What a fun show – it was a solid 2 hours of music and slapstick comedy. The Presley’s covered 4 generations of talent. After the show they made themselves available to the audience. Joe was pleased to talk to84 year old Lloyd Presley, the family founder and the person that opened the first musical theater in Branson. More food: after the show we stopped at Andy’s Frozen Custard – yummie! It reminded us a lot of Drew’s Frozen Custard that that we visited while on Route 66 in St. Louis.

Now we need to backtrack a little: let us tell you about the trip from Arkansas to Branson. Bridget (our GPS, we finally named it), took us on the “Scenic 7 Byway”. It was a beautiful route, but Sandy was terrified most of the way. This was through the mountains, up and down, hairpin curves with no guard rails and 2000 foot drops off the side of the road. We went much slower than the posted speed limits. With all that said, it was beautiful. We took a break about half way through. We stopped at the Rotary Ann roadside rest area, the first rest area ever in Arkansas. This site provided an excellent observation deck with a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains and the Ozark National Forest. We were all alone so Joe pulled out his pocket trumpet and played as loud as he could. Even with his best efforts he could not play anything as majestic as what we were seeing.

The next day Ann fixed a breakfast casserole – a great way to start a day of shopping in Branson. We started with Dick’s 5 & 10 – an old variety store that brought us back to our childhood. You could find most anything you wanted in this store, not to mention the stuff that you didn’t know you wanted! LOL! We had lots of fun taking our time going up and down the aisles. It took us most of the morning, so we went for lunch at Danna’s where we split a baked potato that was topped with butter, sour cream, coleslaw, beans and pulled pork. We can’t believe that Ann ate a whole one all by herself! We were full splitting one!

From Danna’s we toured Table Rock Lake and took a look inside the Chateau at Table Rock, the showcase of the John Q. Hammon hotels. We would LOVE to stay at this place someday – it was a cross between the Embassy Suites and the Hotel Patee if both of those were on steroids! Stunning! We finished the afternoon shopping at an Amish Sore, the Mountain Man Food and Nuts shop, and the Branson Mill Craft Store. And then returned home for a supper of a chicken casserole. It was outstanding!

That evening we took in another show: The Dutton Family show—an “America’s Got Talent” top 10 finalist. We had seen them on TV and really enjoyed them, so we were pleased to be able to see them in person. Tonight's show proved to us why they got has far as they did -they are a very talented family – 3 generations of them. They had the youngest generation singing a song from the Wizard of Oz and it was way too cute. They commented that these young upstarts were their retirement plan and we don’t think they need to worry! After the show we again went out for dessert, to a place called Cakes n Creams. We were served by waitresses in pony tails and poodle skirts. Joe had pecan pie and Sandy had the peach cobbler (warm with ice cream).

We had such a nice time – but it was once again time to hit the road. One more stop before home. What a fantastic five weeks!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Day 31 - Janet and Duane Smith, Russellville, Arkansas

Janet and Duane Smith are friends of ours from Des Moines. When our kids were young, and we were living in our first owned home, the Smith’s were raising their young family just around the corner. We went to the same church, partied with the neighbors and laid down a good foundation of friendship. As life goes, we moved out of the neighborhood, the Smith’s moved and eventually most of the other neighbors moved on also. Our kids grew up, we grew older. We’ve been through the major events of life: baptisms, graduations, weddings. Now grandchildren are coming into the picture. And even though we seldom see each other, those bonds remain.

Janet and Duane now live in Russellville, in a beautiful brick home nestled into the tall pines of Arkansas. We’d like to say they’re a stone’s throw from Lake Dardanelle, and they are – if you are David and the Lake is Goliath. They say Arkansas is a tourist/sportsman’s paradise, and we’d have to agree. It is stunningly beautiful here.

The brought us to the Catfish N for dinner – a local favorite of theirs. It was a mostly catfish and shrimp buffet, with a couple of new twists for us: our first taste of frog legs and then there were hush puppies with jalapenos in them. Frog legs taste remarkably like chicken, but it’s a “lighter” meat if that makes sense. We also knew were still in the south as okra was in the salad bar and it was also a fried appetizer.

The Smith’s recently adopted two dogs , they were the cutest things. Both are small dogs, one white, one black. The white one is about 4 years old, had had several litters as a breeder in a puppy mill. She was very loveable, but also very timid. The black one was only 2 years old and was found on the streets, so was very “street-wise” and a bundle of energy. Boy could he jump! They got both dogs at the same time from Animal Resuce, which does things a little differently here: they “foster parent” all their dogs out and you go on line to find what you want. These two were at the same foster home and had grown attached to each other, so the Smith’s took them both. They’ve only had them for about a month and are in the process of teaching them the rules of the Smith household!

We talked a lot about Arkansas politics, our children and their grandchildren (their daughter Kathy’s art work was prominent around the house, she is VERY talented!), our retirements (they had a little head start on us) and their major trip to Italy. A member of their family (Janet’s nephew?) was ordained as a priest in Italy and several members of their family went. They got tours and saw things that most tourists to Italy don’t see, including having mass in the Catcombs and also at St. Peter’s in the basement under St. Peter’s altar (if you’ve been there, you’ll know what I’m talking about – between St. Peter’s tomb and Pope John Paul II’s tomb). Awesome!

We left after a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and homemade bread. It doesn’t get any better that that. Duane suggested the scenic route, which we are on now. So, it’s time to take in the scenery and stop writing! LOL!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Day 30 - Kathy Mahler, El Salvador (via Arlington, Texas)

Who would have thought it? We just love modern technology! While visiting with Sandy's sister Shelley, we figured out how to do a web cam on Shelley's computer and were able to talk to our sister Kathy who is working as a Mission Co-Worker in El Salvador, Central America. What a hoot! We had so much fun and talked for about 45 minutes.

Kathy is now officially part of our trip. She even picked up her computer and carried it around from room to room to show us where she lives. She is living in Berlin, El Salvador. She is the liaison between churches in the Central Iowa area and their mission projects in the Berlin area. There are several kinds of projects - fair traded coffee that is sold in the states, water filter projects, building projects (churches, community buildings, schools), and educational projects. If you're interested go to Here you can read Kathy's blogs and even order coffee if you so desire.
Sandy has had the opportunity to see and talk to Kathy at a friends house before, but this was so special to be able to do it with all three sisters together.

Day 30 - Shelley Bernd, Arlington, Texas

Because we knew we had some time before Shelley got home from work, we were able to make a couple of stops on the way north. (We’re on the homeward trail!) The first stop was in the town of West, Texas. We had been told that this would be a good stop for Czech pastries. We found this true – and bought a dozen Czech Kolaches to bring to Shelley’s place.

Our second stop was for a haircut – after 4+ weeks on the road, we were looking pretty shabby. Eventually you need a hair cut! We stopped in a place called Hair Biz, and fortunately for us they were open on a Monday and were even able to take us. The employees working were even the first team – the owner cut Sandy’s hair. We feel 10 pounds lighter and well manicured. And looking our best for Easter which is rapidly approaching.

We got to Shelley’s about 15 minutes before she got home from work as a Paralegal with a local law firm. Not enough time for us to cause any damage. Shelley is Sandy’s middle sister. She lives with her husband Mac and their dog BoBo in Arlington Texas. Mac was out of town, so we were disappointed to miss him. Shelley had a fabulous supper all planned out – shrimp cocktail as an appetizer to go with the wine that we had already started (this was only a 3 cork stop! LOL!), rib eye steaks, salad, baked potatoes and the two “s’s” in dessert for dessert (duh – strawberry shortcake! LOL!) It was a long leisurely dinner. Good food, good family, good conversation.

After dinner Sandy and Shelley decided to see if sister Kathy was at her computer so we could Instant Message. It turned out even better than we imagined so we are writing a separate blog about that.

During pauses in our visiting, we walked around the house and saw their successes. There are many framed articles that Shelley has had published in Hot Rod magazines, pictures of Mac with Presidents and Governors, and Mac’s certificates of accomplishments(Mac just retired as Superintendent of the Arlington School District – one of the largest school districts in the nation). There were many pictures of their cars and hot rods and displays of their trophies. They even have a Harley Davidson motorcycle in their front foyer. Ok you may think that sounds a little strange, but it really works! It’s like a piece of sculpture. Shelley also has a hot rod website that she has created and it is doing quite well. You can visit it at:

After a little more visiting, it was time for bed. Another wonderful visit under our belt.

Day 30 - Adam McKenna, Houston, Texas

On our way to Houston, we were reminded that the son of friends Bill and Rita McKenna now lives in Houston, so on our way to Arlington to see Sandy’s sister, we detoured into Houston proper to visit Adam at his place of employment: Chastang’s Bayou City Ford. Adam is definitely a chip off the old block: he seems to be following his dad into the truck business. Our visit was very short: only about a half hour, and during that time he was also busy with a customer. We were happy to hear that even though he’s far from home, he still keeps in close touch with friends (and a special friend) back in Iowa. Then he had a sales meeting, so we headed out. We’ve known Adam since he was around 5 or 6 years old, and we’ve watched him grow up into a fine young man. This was the shortest visit of our journey, but it was good to see Adam, if only for a brief time. We know his parents would be proud to see him in action.