Friday, July 29, 2011

Geocaching – Summer Trip Part 4

I can’t finish the recap of our summer trip without mentioning the geocaching adventures we had. Don’t know what geocaching is? Go check here.

Dan bought a smart phone app for geocaching, and it has totally changed our ability to geocache. While we were on our summer road trip, we stopped in every state and found a cache. We started the trip with only two states under our geocaching belt. We finished with twelve!

Our first cache of the trip was in Metropolis, Illinois. Katie found this one after we searched around and around City Hall.1

Our second cache was in a parking lot outside a Toys R Us store in Kentucky. We were stumped, until Katie had the brilliant idea to look under a piece of the light pole. Aha!2

The third find was at a rest stop in Tennessee.3

The fourth cache was a doozie. It was hidden extremely well in a parking lot near Stone Mountain, Georgia, and our entire family searched for a good 25 minutes in the heat. Three of us gave up, but Dan was determined to find it and went back armed with two extra GPSs, plus his smart phone app. He finally found it when a nice man nearby helped him see “the light.” (Pun intended.)4

Dan found our fifth cache of the trip near a Starbucks in Marietta, Georgia. Katie put it back in its secret hiding spot.5

All four of us found this sixth cache in the woods near a South Carolina rest stop.6

Unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of the seventh cache that Dan and Katie found in North Carolina. (They were out hunting without me and Jackson!)

The eighth cache was Just Off the Exit of Interstate 77 in Chiswell, Virginia.7

For the ninth cache, Dan gave me the smart phone compass and told me to find it. I am really bad at orienteering, so I dragged Katie down a muddy hill before he course-corrected me and led us to the cache. It was buried in leaves in West Virginia.8

We should have stopped with nine caches, but decided to cross into Ohio for what we thought would be a quick stop to get our Ohio geocache badge. Uh, WRONG! We went a little too far out of the way and ended up selecting a cache that was hidden near some poison ivy. I think we avoided the poison ivy pretty well, but ended up adding at least an hour to our already LONG drive home from North Carolina. But, hey! We EARNED that badge and found the darn thing in a cemetery in Coal Grove, Ohio.9

Whew. And THAT is our summer trip, geocache style!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Family Reunion – Summer Trip Part 3

"With a holy host of others standing 'round me… I'm going to Carolina in my mind." (James Taylor, "Carolina in My Mind")

After we left my hometown in Georgia, we drove on to my sister’s house in North Carolina to attend the reunion of my father’s side of my family. (The same people who skydived at our reunion two years ago.) We are all descendents of my paternal grandmother, who would have turned 97 this weekend. Besides the reunion and Grandmother’s birthday, we gathered to have a surprise party for my Uncle John’s 70th birthday. He’s the oldest surviving child of my grandmother, so he is now the patriarch of our clan.

We lined the road in front of my sister’s house to welcome his arrival._MDS3509

He pulled up, accepted hugs and a beer, then flashed his Sheriff’s badge. He elected himself sheriff of our family two years ago, and he loves to walk around and remind everyone that he’s “da Sheriff!”_MDS3529

My sister and my aunt planned quite the party. My sister had a tent installed and rented tables and chairs._MDS4088

She put together cute centerpieces highlighting the birthday boy’s life._MDS3591

She ordered the cutest Sheriff cake…_MDS4107

…and had the baker make adorable jeweled cupcakes to represent Grandmother’s jewelry that we all “cherished” after her funeral. (*Ahem.* Loooong story there…)_MDS3671

She brought in a bounce house and all kinds of yard games._MDS3627

She lives on a small lake, so there were canoes to paddle…IMGP3252

…and fish to tease, snakes to shoot, and docks to sit on and ponder life._MDS3999 (2)

As if that weren’t enough, my sister Mary had 20 people spend the night in her four-bedroom home, three people in a tour bus in the front yard, and set sixteen other people up at nearby condos. We had people coming out of the woodwork!_MDS3877-

We had amazing food, including hand-picked peaches that tasted like what I *hope* heaven smells like._MDS3575

I found a new favorite drink. It’s sweet-tea-flavored vodka mixed with lemonade. Yum! (Yes, this photo is out of focus. Which is what happens when you drink sweet-tea flavored-vodka!)_MDS3542

We watched while some family members performed amazing party tricks._MDS3611

We toasted each other and “the perfect woman…” (“How could I ask for more?”)_MDS3682

I took over 700 photos. My uncle also schooled me on the multiple exposure feature on my camera. (Cool!)IMGP3299

We laughed. A lot!_MDS3687

Someone (I’m not mentioning names!) hit someone else’s car. Oops!_MDS4145

I met a few relatives for the first time._MDS3800

And I got to watch one of the newest relatives start to explore the world._MDS3739

I walked away with a sense of belonging and gratitude for the family who came before me and who created this nest of people I love. (Yes, EVEN the crazy ones. Ha!) We had a fantastic summer trip, great visit home, and family reunion!_MDS3936-

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Home Sweet Home – Summer Trip Part 2

"In Carolina or in Georgia open arms are waiting for you./Carry on, carry on, sweet southern comfort, carry on." (Buddy Jewell, "Sweet Southern Comfort")

After our big day at Stone Mountain, we spent Tuesday in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia.

We started the day by visiting a landmark I’ve told my kids about and shown them photos of; we even have a bird house in our back yard in the shape of this landmark: the Big Chicken!IMGP2981

It’s actually a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in the shape of a triangular chicken. We went inside, bought souvenirs, and took photos.IMGP2987

After the Big Chicken, we headed to my old high school. It is an old building in dire need of updates, and it’s actually being torn down this summer. We walked through the halls where my sister, brother and I spent our formative years. It was such a mix of emotions for me: it made me homesick, made me feel old, and watching my children walk the hallways made me feel like two halves of my life were colliding. Since I live an eight-hours’-drive from my hometown and no immediate family living there, my children have never been to my hometown. The mother part of my life has been separated from my earlier years.IMGP2995

It’s odd to be in a place where ghosts of the past walk with my present and future.IMGP3013

As if that wasn’t weird enough, I watched my son run all over the football field where his namesake spent his glory days. Wow.IMGP3040

Before we left my high school, we stopped at the cafeteria and I signed my name to the wall where other alumni have left their mark. Remember, it’ll all be torn down – but it was fun to leave graffiti!IMGP3074

We moved on to the REAL walk down memory lane: visiting the house where I grew up. And THIS is when the tears finally welled up in my eyes. I pushed my daughter in a swing in my former front yard, thinking of all the things that have changed since I last peeked out my bedroom window and wished my life would just hurry up and start already! (I never realized it already had…)IMGP3123

The kids and I posed for a photo on the front steps. (One day I’ll scan the photo of me and my siblings on those same steps and compare the two here.)IMGP3148

Our last stop was at my hometown church. Dan and I took the kids into the tiny chapel where we were married, and Katie took our photo while we reenacted our first married kiss.IMGP3175

Who would have thought empty buildings could hold so much emotion for me?

It was time for us to head back to our hotel for the fun to begin. We invited some old friends to swim at the hotel pool and visit with us for a while. I especially loved my childhood friends’ kids playing with my kids. So cool!IMGP3223

It was so good to see the faces of those who have known and loved me and my family for so many years.IMGP3194 IMGP3208 IMGP3209 (2) IMGP3227 IMGP3231

I loved showing my Home Sweet Home to my kids.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stone Mountain, GA – Summer Trip Part 1

Dan, the kids and I left Missouri ten days ago and headed south. We drove all day, stopping a few times for fuel, geocaches (more on that later), Superman…IMGP2679

…and the kids’ current favorite restaurant (there are plenty of these in the South).IMGP2715

We arrived at Stone Mountain, Georgia that evening. We checked in to the Stone Mountain Inn and unloaded our bags quickly so we could make it to the Laser Show on time. Whew… we made it!IMGP2730

I grew up in Marietta, Georgia – not far from Stone Mountain. I can remember going to the Laser Show MANY times as I was growing up. This year’s show is similar to those I remember from my past, with a new “MountainVision” feature, which is basically a video projected on the mountain along with the lasers. My Southern heart stirred as I watched the Civil War heroes march off the mountain to the tune of Elvis’ “American Medley.” It was surreal to do something with my kids that I remember doing as a kid myself.IMGP2794

We spent the night at the hotel then woke up Monday to spend the day at Stone Mountain. Our first activity was to ride a tram up the mountain (1,683 feet above sea level) and get a view of downtown Atlanta.IMGP2820

We started to search for a geocache on top of the mountain, then quickly realized it was a multi-cache (more than one stop on the “tour”) and the kids wouldn’t last long enough to complete it. So we headed down the mountain and went to the Sky Hike, an outdoor ropes course. Dan and Katie got in line while Jackson and I went next door and did the toddler version of the ropes course, called Camp Highland Outpost.IMGP2874

Dan and Katie’s line was really long, so Jackson and I headed to the Great Barn for some air conditioned indoor play.IMGP2891

We had some lunch and went back to watch Dan and Katie work their way through the ropes course. It was really cool. The climbers put on a harness that’s attached with a rope to a metal track that runs the entire length of the three-story structure. The climbers thread their rope through the track and confront obstacles like a balance beam, tightrope, or rope rungs.IMGP2906

Since the course was so high up, I thought Katie would have to fight through some big fears. She surprised me and was a champ! I  loved watching her brave the obstacles with nonchalance and confidence.IMGP2921

We ate a little more then took the kids to a short 4D Yogi Bear movie, which was fun and wet! The kids were tired after such an active day, so we finished up at Stone Mountain and skipped some of the other activities (the rock climbing wall, the Scenic Railroad, mini golf, the museum and the antebellum plantation). But before we left, we checked off another geocache in the parking lot. This one was HARD!IMGP2949

We drove back east a few miles to a hotel closer to my hometown, and checked in for the night. Since we were about 15 miles from one of my *favorite* restaurants (BEST. WINGS. EVER.), we drove a bit to Buffalo’s Cafe. OH BABY! It was worth every mile we drove to get there.IMGP2967

I ended the night with a full belly and a heart happy to be back in Georgia.


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