In-Laws and Courthouses – Thomaston, GA

Q -What do old courthouses and in-laws have in common?

A – The best ones are in Georgia.

After spending several days with Rob and Betsy and “The Weekend” with all the kids, I packed up the boys, left the dog and took off for Georgia. It was a ten-and-a-half hour drive, but what is that compared to 44? Long, that’s what. It was worth it though. Charlotte and Barney spoil me in so many little ways. I didn’t spend enough time with them early in our marriage to fully appreciate their personalities, but when Charlotte came to nurse me back to health and take care of the family after my near-death run in with MRSA in Germany I finally got to really know her and I will always be thankful for that. This summer I arrived at their house bone weary and ready to power down. They were very understanding and we spent several mellow days doing very little.

I ate a lot of peaches and even wrote about them on The Kitchen Catwalk.

The boys spent several afternoons swimming at Barney’s brother’s house which is a beautiful oasis on a country road.

I dread the day when they decide they’re too old for this sort of shot.

For extra excitement one afternoon, I locked the keys in the van while the boys were in the pool. Not a proud moment, but Charlotte called the police department to see if anything could be done and a kindly Sherriff’s deputy showed up within half an hour to pick the lock. You know you’re in a friendly place when the law-enforcement is happily helping you break into your car.

Ric’s niece brought her adorable son over for a visit during our stay. Josh and Si introduced him to wielding a light saber in the backyard heat.

One evening, the boys got to go see Cars 2 at the little movie theatre there in town – all by themselves. The Ritz is a cute little place run by a couple that Charlotte and Barney know from church and the lobby hosts a wonderful painting by the couple’s son. Who knows how many undiscovered treasures the small towns of America contain?

While the boys were watching the movie Charlotte and I took a stroll around the courthouse square. The layout is particularly striking and the town does a nice job of keeping things looking tidy around the edges in spite of the fact that small business of yesteryear are struggling to stay afloat.

The courthouse itself presents an identical façade from every direction, so there is no backside.

I think it’s a charming old building in an age when most county business can be conducted from a laptop.

Its crowning clock testifies to the fact that time marches on, past the days of such grand architectural detail in small towns.

Enormous flags were rippling in the breeze on each face of the building. At first I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a picture of the bare columns, but upon reflection I’m quite content with the photos as they are. A city that hangs such flags proclaims hope in the ongoing triumph of all that is good and glorious in America and I applaud.

Several monuments adorn the surrounding lawns. There is one dedicated to fallen men of each war to touch this place.

This one reminds me that I am in the Deep South, and makes me so thankful for the flags of fifty stars snapping in the background. As an outsider I cringe a bit at the rebel flag, especially when it’s displayed behind a gun rack in a pickup truck, but I marvel and rejoice that patriotism for our United States runs so deeply in a region where secessionism once ruled and that a monument like this can stand in peace after the outcome of such a brutal war. Only in America.

Amidst the other war monuments, one finds a unique artifact. Here is the inscription:

I patted a hand against this iron ball and found myself a bit in awe of the explosive power it must have taken to hurl such an object through the air. When I asked Charlotte for more details about how it came to sit on the Upson County Courthouse square she simply shrugged. I was hoping for a romantic local legend.

But, there it is.

And, time marches on.

As I retraced my steps from Georgia to Virginia on the next leg of my summer wanderings I stopped to photograph two other small-town courthouses that I passed on my way back to the interstate. These are the ones that just happened to be along my path, and I submit them to you now as evidence that Georgia really does have a corner on this particular brand of rural grandeur.

This is the Monroe County Courthouse in Forsyth, Georgia – simply gorgeous.

Can you picture the architect’s sketches of this clock tower? Maybe his daughter was looking over his shoulder, imagining herself on that balcony?

And, here you have the Jasper County Courthouse in Monticello, Georgia where there isn’t much of a square but the building is still impressive.

And, last but not least there was one more in Eatonton, the Putnam County Courthouse that I saw on the way in but missed on the way out thanks to a GPS which has no appreciation for scenic detours. Here is the photo from the Magistrate Court’s website though. I’m sure they won’t mind the positive publicity.

Now, I rest my case on courthouses and offer a hearty thanks to my mother and father in-law for the spot of tranquility in my summer travels!

Pullman to West Point 2011 (Part 2) – 8 Kids, 2 Dogs…

The next chapter of the moving adventure takes place at my brother’s house in Virginia and today happens to be his birthday, so I’ll set the stage by telling you a little bit about him.

He is a very gifted Senior Submarine Radio Chief, which means that he can execute and troubleshoot communications from beneath the ocean while my cell phone service is sketchy 30 miles north of New York City. If you met him you might think he can be heard from underwater because he never picked up on the concept of an “indoor voice” but in reality it’s because he is seriously smart and very good at what he does. In fact, he is like a Submarine Whisperer. He helps little attack vessels to express themselves from deep, dark depths.

Okay, maybe his job isn’t quite so touchy feely and if he ever reads this he will be shouting “Oh, my….…!” in his outdoor voice at about this point, so I’ll stop bragging on him and get back to what is relevant to my summer itinerary regarding my brother, and that is that he is a great guy, a great dad and….

…he has F-I-V-E children. The oldest is E-I-G-H-T. 8, 6, identical twin two-year olds, a 5 month-old and a dachshund named – get this – Sampson!

I love every one of them to pieces! They are seriously adorable, but when you add my three boys, my dog and factor in Rob’s version of an indoor voice, you get a lot of kids, a lot of noise and, not very many adults.

I would stop here and simply tell you which days I was at their house, but some of you have been asking to hear about “The Weekend” for which many titles have been suggested, to include “Lisa Plus Eight”, “Super N-Auntie” and “Adventures in Babysitting”. So here goes….

I am a master of bright ideas (my husband sometimes calls me a GFI Fairy), so it occurred to me before I even left Washington that Rob and Betsy might need a break – some couple time. So, I offered to watch all of the kids while they went away for a weekend. I even kind of hounded his wife, Betsy, whom I also love dearly, about my idea. I may have even said it would be a piece of cake because, although Ric would be long gone to West Point, my 13 and 11 and 9 year-olds would be a great help.

And, they were a great big help, but I ate the “piece of cake” part cold for dinner less than two hours after I saw Rob and Betsy out the door. The twins and the baby all did their big diaper jobs at the same time just as the enchiladas that my sweet little niece (the only girl in the bunch) had requested were coming out of the oven. Thankfully, JP is competent with oven mitts! I worked my way through about 82 baby wipes while he distributed enchiladas to the hungry throngs around the dining room table. It was kind of like the opening volley of a fireworks display though. After the initial burst, the explosions settled into a steady, pleasant rhythm and we actually had a very enjoyable weekend.

If you’re noticing the lack of pictures: it’s because all electronic devices were stowed in the overhead bins for this flight.

I think Rob and Betsy had a good time and I would happily do it again. Really. No shower all weekend, but my niece and I did manage to bake cookies so it was great.

Lest you start thinking I’m some sort of great unselfish person you should know that I am NOT, as evidenced by the fact that I took off for Georgia two days later and left my big hulking dog with them as if Betsy didn’t already have enough kid and dog to worry about. Then I came back, stayed a few more days and left him again to join Ric for 10 days in the Army lodge in New York where we’re still waiting on our Quarters. Apparently he’s been stealing waffles from toddlers while I’ve been away and surely he’s been finding terrifically inconvenient places to take his long naps. But, I am finally getting ready to drive back to Virginia this morning to pick him up and if all goes according to plan I will once again be captain of the Dog Breath Mobile on Thursday to get him back here and spend a night with him in our empty quarters before the movers bring our furniture on Friday morning.

I also want to say how much I truly enjoyed the few days I got to share with my sister-in-law. Of course the uninterrupted talks of days gone by were impossible in the midst of Todderdom, but I really enjoy her personality and company so even if we did just put out fires together is was a treasured part of this whole adventure. One night we even threw caution to the wind while Rob was underwater and stayed up until about 10:45 talking on the front porch with only mosquitoes and fireflies to eavesdrop! Heady stuff when there is such great potential for wee ones waking you in the middle of the night, but Ahhh, the joys of summer!

Here are all the kids.

Here’s why the big ones were holding the little ones!

Here they are in the water park they built in the back yard, which the younger ones were calling a “casino” after one too many commercials about all the fun to be had in casinos! We cleared up the vocabulary confusion pretty quickly but it was cute.

And, last but not least, a little bit of girl time with Pepto-Bismol pink polish and flower decals!

Pullman to West Point – 2011 (Stage 1)

Instead of heading directly to West Point this time, we started the move to New York with a straight shot to Virginia Beach, VA to see my brother’s family for a couple of days before Ric had to report.

The moving process started on June 6th which happened to be our twentieth wedding anniversary. The boys had gone to Spokane the prior evening so they wouldn’t have to sit in a house being packed and we started the day waiting for the packers to show up. We waited and waited. Finally Ric called the moving company, and to make a long story short – we had our anniversary to ourselves. A different team showed up the next day to get the job done. They packed on the 7th, loaded on the 8th and we left Pullman for Mom and Dad’s house so that we could pick up the boys and start our drive from “The Kan” the next morning.

Day One – June 9th – Spokane, WA to Gillette, WY

By 9:00am the state of Washington was behind us. Our first rest stop was in Idaho at an exit without facilities, which was fine for the boys and the dog. I enjoyed the fact that it was next to the river we’d been following.

Sure beats a truck stop!

Before lunch we had cleared the very pretty panhandle of Idaho. I especially like the town of Kellogg which is nestled into a valley at the base of the mountains just like a story book.

Then we began climbing the real mountains which are gorgeous, but when the speed limit set by reasonable people (not Oregonians) on an interstate highway drops to fifty-five in the middle of nowhere, you know you’re in for some curves. Montana lasts for a long time via I-90. Here are a couple of the highlights: In Butte there is clearly a Butte, and near Bozeman one learns that the naming of the Rocky Mountains was not based on poetic inspiration. It was very literal. The scenery made up for the fact that it was my turn to drive The Dog-Breath Mobile through the best of it. We arrived in Gillette with 11 hours down and 33 to go. Our arrival at The Settle Inn (which was very nice in spite of the corny name), was punctuated by a whopper of a thunderstorm.

Day 2 – June 10th – Gillette, WY to Council Bluffs, IA

Tourist activities are very limited with a 100-pound golden retriever in tow, but Mt. Rushmore seemed like a good idea in spite of my bad memories of the same scene with a freak cat ten years earlier. The day was beautiful.

You pass through this little tunnel on the way up to Mt. Rushmore. Very cool.

The dog couldn’t have cared less about Presidents. He wanted to keep track of his people and make sure he didn’t get left with the wrong set.

Yes – We took the obligatory picture! Surrounded by miles of incredible beauty we flocked like everyone else to the spot where men have made their mark on the landscape.

This is one of many views from the Mt. Rushmore parking area. There are layers and layer of ridges that make up the stunning Black Hills scenery, but there are probably a million more photos of those presidents than there are of the hills. I guess we have a hard time wrapping our minds around seeking out this kind of beauty without a reference point carved out by men as an anchor, and admittedly the presidents are much easier to capture in photos. Panoramas like this make me wish I was a better photographer and cause me to think that photography is absolutely pointless at the same time.

Most of the day was spent working our way through the rest of South Dakota, which was shockingly green. I had never seen it green before, it’s always been beige for me in the past, but this year has been weird for weather. What I did NOT enjoy in South Dakota were the billboards especially for Wall Drug. I refuse to ever stop at there. It is a matter of principal. I feel the same way about South of the Border on I-95 after you cross from North to South Carolina.

Late in the afternoon we turned south on I-29 headed for Council Bluffs which had an Inn that would take big dogs. The landscape had flattened and we had thunderheads to the east the whole way, which made the lighting of barns and fields to the west quite spectacular. Tidy rows of vegetation flashed by like machinery; so different from the fields I’d been swooning over for the last three years but very dramatic. Quaint farm houses and silos dotted our path and it’s a wonder I stayed on the road for gawking at them. In a hundred different places I had that same desire to be a great photographer yet a sense of futility about capturing anything so immense in two dimensions. That’s my fancy but very sincere way of saying: no good pictures of that stretch.

I tried a few from the car at 75 miles-per-hour with my phone but I was apparently holding it at an angle so the flatness of the land failed to come across.

The view straight out the windshield probably communicates that more appropriately in spite of the bugs.

Day 3 – June 11th – Council Bluff, IA to Mt. Vernon, IL

Ric and I got up the third morning feeling our age after two eleven-hour days of driving.

We continued down I-29 and witnessed the corresponding consequences of all the late-season green in South Dakota. Water was much higher everywhere than it should have been, especially along the river. Trees that looked pretty tall were half submerged and sections of interstate were diverted in several places. I had been puzzling the prior day over how water can find its way to where it needs to go when land is so flat. Apparently every depression in the landscape is fair game.

We passed by one of our old homes – Fort Leavenworth, KS from the other side of the Platte River and enjoyed a stretch of fairly familiar highway until we passed Kansas City.

The boys thought it was fun to see the arch in St. Louis and Ric and I were just glad to make it through that city’s seemingly eternal road construction gauntlet without any major delays.

Our major delay was yet to come, in the form of dog drama.

We stopped for our evening meal at a very clean diner with rows of gas pumps out front. The food was uninspired but passable and Jackson waited patiently in the shaded car. When we got ready to leave, we gave him his food and water and he seemed fine. However, when Ric shut the door and stepped over to say something to me in the other car, he panicked. He had panicked once before in his life – when his collar got caught on the dishwasher rack while he was trying to lick silverware as I loaded dishes. That time, he ran headlong for the door in terror with the rack still attached to his collar and dishes flying every direction. He also initiated a “fight or flight” response that is thankfully very rare. In clinical terms he “expressed his anal glands”. Cats can do this too. It is a spray of scented fluid designed to repel an attacker and although it didn’t phase the dishwasher rack, it sure repelled us. The smell is one you never forget. It was bad in our kitchen, very bad, but it was even worse in the confines of a vehicle. Thankfully, his own bed took the brunt of the outburst. We begged a black trash bag from that sterile diner to stuff the bed cover into and I stood in front of a rapt audience of fueling drivers wiping down Golden Retriever “tail feathers” with facial cleansing wipes from my cosmetics bag. Then it occurred to me to use some of my hair finishing spray to further mask the odor. It smells good and comes in a bright pink can which undoubtedly helped make it an entertaining encore for the facial wipes. Ric drove the next thirty miles of Interstate with the windows down while poor Josh and Si suffered in the back with the panting beast. Hopefully they aren’t scarred for life.

Scotts Bluff came at last and I gave the discombobulated dog got a bath in the hotel room tub – just what I wanted to do after a day of driving! Ric went to a nearby super store, bought pet odor remover and hosed down the inside of the van. That evening we lived with wet dog smell which is not fun, but it was better than the alternative.

Clean dog – still feeling a bit out of sorts, but he wasn’t alone!

Day 4 – June 11 –Mt. Vernon, IL to Charleston, WV

Driving was getting really old so we were open to diversions when we realized that we were passing close by Fort Boonsboro, KY! A Daniel Boone craze had swept through our house early in the homeschooling year as we were studying the settlement of the west. Our boys and the Sears kids were watching episodes of the old TV series as fast as they could devour them. We decided to stop and check it out.

Our boys, thinking how fun it would be to have J.T and Charley along to take the fort.

Inside workers were dressed in period costumes demonstrating what life might have been like back when…

The boys were especially taken with the blacksmith who using his time to make some sort of weapon for a friend of his. They probably wanted to make friends with him themselves when they heard that.

Of course the Wild West is now so settled that a dog can’t set foot where mountain men once ruled, and we weren’t taking any chances with leaving him alone. Therefore, I had to stay in the parking area with Jackson who was distraught over the disappearance of 80% of our party but mercifully not “panicked”.

Our hotel room that evening was a designated pet room as all of them had been, but the others had been very nice and clean smelling. This one wasn’t so I was very thankful that it was the last and I had no guilt about washing the dog bed cover in one of their washers. I have now vowed that if I can help it I will never have my hotel choices dictated by a dog again. I love my dog very much, but I have my limits.

Day 5 – June 13 – Charleston, WV – Virginia Beach, VA

Our final day of driving was blessedly uneventful. The morning stretch through West Virginia and the Virginia Highlands was beautiful with deciduous forests and bachelor buttons growing in the medians. Afternoon brought us into the flatness of the Virginia tidelands and eventually to my brother’s house….the next adventure!

I actually arrived in New York on July 1st after some further wanderings, so stay tuned for a the rest of the traveling story.

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