The Last Leg

In A Few Birds, Brews, and Friendly Visits, we traveled from Iowa, through Illinois, to Indiana. From Indiana, we entered Ohio.

Columbus, OH, was our target destination — the home of Hoof Hearted (say that out loud a few times) Brewery & Kitchen. Mark had been there before. This time, he sampled Permanent Marker Pen Disguises and Steel Toed Aqua Socks. Yes, those are actual beer names. And he bought a four pack of the Steel Toed Aqua Socks for his sister.

That night, we stayed at the Logan/ Hocking Hills KOA in Logan, OH. The owners were super nice and even upgraded our site to one with a patio. 🙂 Beautiful view of the hills. And we had a surprise visitor: a cedar waxwing in the tree above our patio.

Jamie and Andy recommended that we visit Hocking Hills State Park. A few of our fellow KOA campers also mentioned Old Man’s Cave to us, so we checked it out (in the rain).

We couldn’t find an available campground or Harvest Hosts site that night, so we stayed in a cheap (somewhat sketchy) hotel in Altoona, PA. The next day we were off to Equilibrium Brewery and Tap Room in Middletown, NY.

Our Harvest Hosts site, The Castle Fun Center in Chester, NY, that evening proved to be less fun by night with the constant highway traffic, poor wi-fi, and gently sloping parking lot. However, I did find a family of geese for entertainment.

The next morning felt less like a cross-country road trip and more like just driving home. We headed up the Taconic Highway in NY, then hooked up with Interstate 90 East. Before we knew it, we were back in Massachusetts!

Back in MA, we pulled off the Pike and travelled north to Holyoke for a hike at Mount Tom State Park. Not too many birds to see, but a beautiful butterfly greeted us. And the view wasn’t bad either. We could actually hear cows mooing down below as we took in the view.

We took a detour to Tree House Brewing Company in Deerfield that night where Mark enjoyed some of his favorite brews, while I enjoyed the decor.

We treated ourselves to a nice hotel room in Northampton, MA, and in the morning, dropped by our youngest daughter’s place around the corner to say hi!

Back on the Mass Pike (90 East), we stopped at Tree House Brewing Company’s Charlton location to pick up a beer order for Mark’s siblings who own Knotty Pine Design & Consignment in Hudson, MA. We delivered the beer to Hudson and headed for home.

In case anyone thinks this road trip sounded ideal, please know that I neglected to mention the struggle to regulate the temperature in the van overnight, the frequent Walmart visits for all the things we realized we needed along the way, the oatmeal that boiled over on the induction cooktop right down the front of the fridge to the floor, the prescription driving glasses resting comfortably at the bottom of a marsh somewhere, and the overhead van cabinet that’s coming loose from the wall, among other things. Just thought it appropriate to interject a dose of reality.

All in all, we had quite the adventure. And can’t wait to do it again!

P.S. The line from one of my favorite John Denver songs played in my head. (Ok, I sang it out loud.) Hey, it’s good to be back home again…

A Few Birds, Brews, and Friendly Visits

In Mountain Views, I mentioned that one of our plans for this van trip was to do some birding. But the weather and our daily routine of driving to the next destination left us less time than anticipated. The day we left Pulpit Rock campground in Decorah, IA, we decided to remedy that.

First, breakfast at Magpie Coffeehouse in downtown Decorah. Apparently, penny mosaics is a thing out here.

We left Decorah and crossed the Mississippi River before noon.

A search for local birding sites brought us to Nahant Marsh Education Center. FYI, it’s pronounced Nay-hant (rhymes with ant), unlike the New England location of the same name.

I pulled my new camera with its new lens out of the travel bubblewrap to try it out. Unfortunately, much more practice and time to adjust the shooting menu are needed. But we saw many red-winged blackbirds there, as we’d already seen just about every day along our route. Plenty of other wildlife, as well. There was even a pair of baby screech owls being rehabbed inside the facility.

That night we camped at Rock Island/ Quad Cities KOA in Rock Island, Illinois. Nice waterfront site.

We got on the road by late morning the next day and stopped for lunch at The Lone Buffalo by Tangled Roots Brewing Company in Ottawa, IL. The food was good, but not much to say about the beer.

After lunch, we crossed into Indiana and headed to a friend’s house in Valpraiso. Chuck and Tiffany and their two boys were perfect hosts. (Thanks for the use of your laundry facilities, Chuck & Tiff.) The boys were coming and going with youth baseball, so we only managed a photo with one of them.

The next day, we landed in Muncie, IN, to visit more cousins. It was great to see Jamie and Andy again and to meet their kids who, by way of their natural curiosity, taught us a few new things about our van.

We brunched with Jamie and family the next morning. My Aunt Janet stopped by, too. Then, we were off again, heading toward Ohio and the next brewery. Hit a bit of traffic on the way.

Little House In South Dakota

If you’re just joining us, you may want to start at the beginning of our adventures with Maiden Voyage and Whirlwind Visits. When we last checked in, we’d spent a rainy day driving through Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore. Sesame Street’s It’s A Rainy Day played in my head. If you don’t know it, look it up. You’re welcome, in advance, for the earworm.

After Mount Rushmore, we headed for Rapid City, South Dakota, to dine at Firehouse Brewing Company. The food was very good but the beer was nothing to write home about. We bought a much needed warm blanket at Walmart and settled in for the cold, rainy night at a KOA campground in Rapid City.

The next morning, we got on the road early and headed east on Interstate 90. The flat land and endless views offered another song for my internal play list: I Can See For Miles and Miles by The Who. We crossed the imaginary line into Central Time and crossed the Missouri River. There wasn’t much else to see until an Ingalls Homestead sign popped up near De Smet. I was so excited! Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were some of my favorites growing up. We had to stop.

The buildings on the homestead were all replicas, but the land itself is the land Charles Ingalls homesteaded. The Surveyor’s House and the First School are actual buildings from Laura Ingalls’ childhood. So cool!

We treated ourselves to a hotel room in Sioux Falls, SD, that night with dinner at the local Red Robin. And the next morning we were off again, headed toward Forager Brewery in Rochester, Minnesota. The sun came out! So, of course, the Sesame Street theme song seemed appropriate. Yes, I sang a couple of lines. Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away

At Forager, Mark enjoyed a couple of beers: Antiquated Methodology and Kaleidoscope Kookaburra. He bought two crowlers of the latter on the way out, which he subsequently shared with friends along our route. Sorry, none left to sample when we get home.

We left Forager, aiming for Decorah, Iowa, and another brewery called Toppling Goliath. But guess what popped up before Decorah — another Laura Ingalls Wilder sign! We had to stop. Again. We pulled into Burr Oak, IA, and found the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

Decorah and Toppling Goliath were not far Burr Oak. There we touched base with Eric, one of the brewers, whom Mark had met in 2018 on a previous brewery road trip. We ate dinner and Mark ordered a beer flight: DDH Pseudo Sue, King Sue, Scorpious Morchella, and Term Oil S’mores. No favorites among them ’cause they’re all good! He followed that with an Assassin 2022. After dinner, we sat outdoors for well over an hour listening to seventeen-year-old Carter Guse play his guitar and foot tambourine while singing songs from the fifties to the present. He even took requests. Very entertaining!

We tore ourselves away from the music and checked in at Pulpit Rock Campground in Decorah for the night. More adventures in Iowa and beyond coming soon…

More Mountain Views

Since picking up our new van in Colorado, we’ve been on the road back to New England. To read about the beginning of our journey, check out Maiden Voyage and Whirlwind Visits and Mountain Views.

After leaving Rocky Mountain National Park, we stayed overnight in the parking lot of a small pottery shop in Loveland, CO. The next day we drove from Colorado, through Wyoming and Nebraska, all the way to Hot Springs, South Dakota. The mountains gave way to flat land stretching all around us for miles. The crosswinds tried to shove us off the road a few times, but we prevailed. Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces played in my head. I may have sung a line or two. 😉 Grazing cows and baby calves dotted acres and acres along the highway. Life Is A Highway by Rascal Flats joined my internal playlist, followed closely by Woody Guthrie’s This Land, when we saw what could only be described as a “ribbon of highway” in front of us.

We set up camp in Hot Springs, at the first of many KOAs. By “set up camp” I mean we replenished our water supply, did laundry, and figured out how to open our awning. Right before it started raining.

The rain would stick around all the next day. We started at The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD, in the morning. It’s the site of an actual archaeological dig uncovering piles of Woolly and Columbian Mammoth bones. Fascinating!

It continued to rain as we drove north to Custer State Park through the Black Hills of South Dakota. From Custer State Park, we took highway 16A up around steep curves, hairpin turns, switchbacks, pigtails, and tunnels to Mount Rushmore. Not a drive I’m eager to repeat. Eeek!

Mount Rushmore was impressive, even in the drizzling rain.

That night we stayed in another KOA in Rapid City, South Dakota. Another adventurous day on the road. And more to come…

Mountain Views

One plan on this cross-country trip of ours is to visit National and State Parks to do some hiking and birding. Sometimes plans have a mind of their own.

When we left our friends and family in the Denver/ Boulder areas, we headed north toward Rocky Mountain National Park. John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High played in my head. That would be the first song in a trip playlist that spontaneously compiled itself in my head.

Our entrance reservation for RMNP was for 4pm-6pm, the only time slot available. We sat in line for at least 45 minutes waiting to get in.

Here are some images as we waited to get in. The native inhabitants entertained us along the way:

Then, we drove toward Bear Lake, stopped at a park-and-ride lot, and hiked for about a mile and a half. Being unused to the altitude and the climbing, it took us over an hour.

We left after that hike, not wanting to get caught traveling back to our new Harvest Hosts spot in the dark. Turns out, a blizzard and an avalanche hit the western part of the park the next day. Yikes!

More later on our very first campsite eva…back to the road! 🙂

Maiden Voyage and Whirlwind Visits

My husband, Mark, and I flew to Denver last week to pick up our newly converted Sprinter van from Titan Vans in Boulder, CO. I was immediately reminded of the day we drove our firstborn baby home from the hospital thirty five years ago. As we pulled away from the curb way back then, my first thought was They’re just letting us leave?!

It took several minutes to figure out how to put the new van in drive, so the mild panic was justified. Neither of us have ever driven a Mercedes, so it’s a bit like learning to maneuver a spaceship. We’re also complete camping novices, so we’re very much out of our element. Other than that, we’re good.

Using our Harvest Hosts membership, we headed for Lawson’s Adventure Park in Dumont, CO, to spend the night camping in their parking lot. Dinner at Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub in Idaho Springs hit the spot. Mark enjoyed their Juicy Blood Orange double IPA. He also picked up an assorted six-pack of the Juicy, the regular Blood Orange IPA, and their Sour Peach.

The first night in our van is a story we may laugh about someday. I’ll save the details ’til then. The next day, we took ourselves straight to the Mercedes dealership for the inside scoop on hidden compartments and useful information.

We spent the rest of that day visiting family in the Denver area. It was so great to meet up with cousins who’d moved across the country when we were young.

First, cousin Michael and his girls explored the van.
The girls were celebrating their last day of school, so we had a quick visit.
We stopped at cousin Donna’s house, then headed to cousin Barbara’s for dinner.

My Uncle Donald and Valois graciously invited us to spend the night at their house. We appreciated the warm bed, the hot showers, and their generous hospitality.

The following day, on the recommendation of my cousins, we drove to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. What a fascinating place!

Thanks, Mary & Ruth!

After Red Rocks, we set out for Thornton, CO, to visit some friends. Mary and Ruth used to sing in the same chorus I belong to. It was great to see them and catch up. They took us out for Mexican food and invited us to stay overnight. Another opportunity for a warm bed and hot showers. Score!

That’s all for now. So many more adventures and so little time to stop and write…

Timing Is Everything

I’ve said it before (ask my kids) and I’ll say it again (and again): timing is everything!

My husband is retiring — gradually. He plans to work one less day per week in each quarter of 2022. By the end of this year, he should only be working one day a week. But you know how plans go. Work has been crazy and his stress level is rising.

Our retirement plan is to travel around the country in a converted van, visiting National Parks, breweries, wild life sanctuaries, and (if my husband has his way) a few Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives. We bit the bullet at the end of last year and bought a Mercedes Sprinter. Titan Vans in Colorado has been hard at work fitting it with a bed and other amenities. It was supposed to be finished at the end of April. But, since nothing is safe from supply chain woes these days, they’ve been waiting for a single part of a suspension upgrade kit to come in.

Meanwhile, my chorus spent the last few months preparing for our annual regional competition. I say “annual”, but the event was unfortunately cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID concerns. It’s back on this year. But many choruses, including the one I belong to, voted to compete virtually. We planned to record and submit a video package. We set the recording date for May 5. Because of the supply chain issue with the van part, I was able to participate in the video. Timing.

On top of this, one of our adult children is experiencing one of those major life-events that makes you feel like the world is tipping sideways and out of control. This is the second such event in their life in the past six months. I’m glad my husband and I aren’t on the road just yet. Timing.

On another front, my mother has been settling — very slowly — into her new assisted living situation since February. I check on her several times a week to make sure the staff is really doing all that we agreed they’d do. Let’s just say it’s been a learning experience for all involved. My father should be returning from his Florida living at the end of May to join her and also to keep an eye on all the assistance she’s supposed to be getting. That’ll make it easier for me to step back a bit as my husband and I set out on our adventures. Timing.

Spring is in the air and that means gardening and yard work. The strawberries, peas, potatoes, beets, spinach, kale, and lettuce are all coming up already. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to plant them before we head out to pick up our van. Now to get some netting around the blueberry bushes.Timing.

And we just got word from Titan Vans. The part came in. Timing!


I’ve been remiss in my blogging. In considering the reason for this, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is NOT because I’ve had nothing to say. Quite the opposite. There’s TOO MUCH to say. Family stuff, community stuff, and global stuff bombard me and I struggle to keep up. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Life is messy — like the spent sunflower seeds in this photo. Everyone’s “mess” is a bit different. My mother, who is declining into dementia, has been the greatest focus of my time and energy for the last few years. My own involvement in social activities, like church and chorus, has taken a turn during the pandemic and I’m reassessing my priorities and assessing my own needs. Too many details to mention or even fully grasp are whirling inside my brain. Messy.

Some days, all I can do is focus on the simple things — the things that bring a sense of momentary peace and beauty — like the crocuses in this photo. Today, my “crocus” will be venturing outside in the retreating drizzle to start turning over the dirt in my garden beds. That’s all. The mess of life will still be here when I’m done, but that’s okay. Maybe it’ll feel a little less daunting. I encourage you to do the same if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself permission to focus on the crocuses. And have a blessed day. 🙂

The Advent of Advent

I can’t believe it’s December already!

The gardens have been cleaned out (mostly) and the last of my butternut squashes are sitting in a sunny living room window. The temperatures have recently dipped below the freezing mark and we’ve even had a dusting of snow here in southern New England. Halloween and Thanksgiving Day have given way to the mad rush of Christmas preparations.

In the midst of making plans and checking lists, the season of Advent tends to slip by unnoticed. Not because it’s not important. But because our sights are set beyond it. Let’s pause and take one season at a time. It’s really worth it to slow down and appreciate the present, even as Advent celebrates the hope of things to come. One thing that’s helping me focus on Advent is a series of videos arriving daily in my inbox. They’re from Dynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever program.

A few days ago, one message really hit home for me. In it, Matthew Kelly talks about how life doesn’t usually turn out the way we expect. He calls it the unexpected life. (Watch it here.) For some reason, we judge our days based on how closely they adhere to our expectations. We make plans, write lists, schedule our time, and relax into a general sense of control over our lives. And we get frustrated, disappointed, or even irate, when things go sideways. What if we started each day instead with the notion that the unexpected is the rule, rather than the exception, of daily existence? Would that change our reactions? I think so.

The very day I saw that particular video was a day I needed its message. I emerged from a funeral mass for a friend’s mother only to find several text messages from my mother’s caregiver. I needed to take my mother to the doctor asap. Her doctor couldn’t see her and so instructed me to take her to Urgent Care. And that’s where I spent my entire afternoon, waiting for my mother to be seen, answering her repetitive question “Why are we here?” every twenty minutes or so. I found a new source of patience in the acceptance of the truth that anything can happen on any given day.

So, while Advent is about the coming of Christmas, it’s also about taking one day at a time. It’s about being present in the moments and appreciating the wonder and messiness and unexpected nature of life. And whether Advent and Christmas are faith celebrations for you or not, everyone could benefit from the messages they embody. So, happy December! And may you find peace in your unexpected life. 🙂

Garden Project: Finished. . . And Lessons Learned

It’s finished!

If you haven’t seen the beginning of this project, check out the first three posts: New Beginnings, Getting There, and So Close.

After installing all the cages on the garden beds, I took a trip to The Herb Farmacy in Salisbury, MA. It’s always fun and interesting to browse the selections in their greenhouses. They’re the gardner’s version of a candy store! I chose some tomato, cuke, zucchini, and butternut squash plants. I also picked up a couple of nasturtiums and basil.

The zucchini and cuke plants now share space in one of the tall-caged beds, beside the peas, along with one of the nasturtiums.

In the other tall-caged bed, I put the two tomato plants and the basil. It’s hard to imagine these small seedlings will fill the space I’ve given them. It’s tempting to put too much, too close together. In the past, I’ve done just that and ended up with a garden jungle! This year, I’m trusting the process. 🙂

The butternut squash and the 2nd nasturtium went into one of the low-caged beds in front of the strawberries.

Meanwhile, the spinach, kale, lettuce, beets and carrots are getting bigger, although recently assaulted by a blizzard of helicopter seeds.

Finally, it was time for the finishing touches. I planted marigolds in the cinder blocks outside the beds, then laid landscape paper and spread mulch around and in-between the beds. I splurged on the final embellishments: lovely potted pink geraniums placed on paving squares at a few outside corners.

The end result is just what I envisioned (well, pretty darn close, at least) and I’m looking forward to an easier, more productive gardening season this summer. I’ll leave you with a random list of things I learned during my garden-bed-building adventure:

  1. It takes hard work to bring a plan to fruition. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s just hard.
  2. When you go to the local home improvement store to find nails similar to the ones you had on hand, but used up, be prepared to encounter a few well-meaning males who want to explain to you that a two-by-four is really only 1 1/2″ thick. (Thank you so much. <eye roll>)
  3. If you don’t buy all the nice cedar boards that you need in one trip, they may very well be gone next time you go looking for them. (sigh)
  4. You can’t construct a perfectly square corner with two bowed boards.
  5. Hardware cloth is not cloth at all.
  6. Your math-brain may see half-inch hardware cloth as a beautifully squared grid, like graph paper, but it’s not.
  7. If the website doesn’t say SCREENED loam, it’s not.
  8. Close is good enough sometimes.
  9. There’s no shame in asking for help.
  10. It takes hard work to bring a plan to fruition… but it’s so worth it in the end. 🙂