Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

(Mostly a repost from 2014. Sorry. Lazy.)

She was, after the Blessed Virgin herself, the most widely-venerated saint of the Medieval period, and July 22 is her feast day.

As Pope St. Gregory the Great said of her (as is quoted in the Office of Readings today)

 We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
  At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.
  Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.
  Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher,because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.
I wrote a book about St. Mary Magdalene, rather horrendously titled De-Coding Mary Magdalene (an allusion to the previous DVC-related book…I argued against it, but…lost)…but I did enjoy researching and writing the book – the history of MM’s cultus is quite revealing about both Western and Eastern Christianity. The Da Vinci Code moment has mercifully past, but I hope St. Mary Magdalene’s hasn’t.

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One of the many things I learned on this trip was that if you are really in the know, you leave out the “the” – which makes sense, you know, since it’s called “Grand” not because it’s big, but because the Colorado River used to be called the Grand River.  And you don’t say “The Bryce Canyon” or “The Cloudland Canyon.”

So we’re all cool now, because we say “Yes, we went to Grand Canyon.”

(Not really)

As I think I said before, it really is Grand, no matter why it’s named.  All of my anticipatory cynicism was blown away by the real thing.  But because this series has gone on just too ridiculously long, I’m going to finish up the Grand Canyon portion – Sunday, May 24 to the morning of Tuesday, May 26 – as succinctly as I can.

Bullet points!

  • Our Sunday route, as I explained before, was a rather convoluted one from our AirBnB near Fredonia, Arizona, back up to Kanab, Utah for Mass, and then back down to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, which has a famous bakery, bought some baked goods, saw snow (the North Rim Lodge had opened on the 15th..in the midst of snowfall)  and at that point, it was still a little early.  As I recall, it was before noon, and we couldn’t count on getting in our rooms until four, and we would have a full day tomorrow and as much time as we wanted on Tuesday for the Canyon, I decided to take a little detour – to the Vermillion Cliffs.
  • All we did was drive (I had bought the boys sandwiched at the Jacob Lake Bakery, so they had sustenance..after having risen at, um, 6:30 AM or whatever it was. But it was a stunning drive.  There’s a point at which you pull around a curve on 89A, having just driven through woods – you see an overlook, and beyond you, to the north, you see them. 
  • We drove down and around a bit, but there was really nothing to “do” in the area in which we drove except be amazed, and I’m the only one who can sustain that for longer periods of time, so early afternoon, we turned around and headed back.
  • Remember, we were at the North Rim. The entrance to the park is about 12 miles or so from the Lodge. You drive and drive – hoping to see the famed bison and deer in the meadows (we didn’t – they are probably active at night) – and finally you’re there.
  • We checked in, got into our room even though it was a little early, took in that first amazing view from the lounge in the Lodge, and then got into our cabin, which I liked a lot. (See this entry for more on the accomodations a lot )
  • Then our first “hike” – the ritual Bright Angel Trail hike. This begins at the Lodge, is paved, and follows a short portion of the rim out to Bright Angel Point, which juts into the Canyon.  Along the way are various other jutting points, unguarded, on which people like to stand and do daring things.  I was nervous just watching people I didn’t know pull these stunts.

  • After a dinner of pretty good pizza from the café, we settled in for the night. I went to do laundry at the campsite, the boys took a screen break.
  • The next day, we drove and walked. You can see a lot of the North Rim via driving to various points, and considering the North Rim is less visited, and it was quite early in the season, it was very easy to do – efficient!
  • We first drove down the Cape Royal Road – this is a great outline of the drive, giving you all the stopping points. When we stopped at the Cape Final parking lot, I’d thought we might do that hike, which is pretty long – but then my 14-year old said, “Why don’t we just walk up that hill over there?”

So we did:

They spent a lot of time searching the rocks.  The older boy found a geode early on, so the competition was on….

This was also the parking lot where I backed into a small pine tree that jump behind my car. I took a bit of paint off and left some tar.  I worked hard to get that tar off before I dropped car off and waited for several weeks for some demand for restitution, but apparently either there were enough other scratches on the bumper or those car rental agencies in Las Vegas are used to cars being returned in much, much worse shape than with a quarter-sized patch of paint missing….

  • It’s a great drive, and the odd thing is that even though you think, “Why do I want to stop and see the Grand Canyon from different viewpoints? I mean…is it really that different every time?” Answer: yes.
  • As I recall, after all of that, we returned to the Lodge for lunch. Sandwiches, which were good and not outrageously priced.  After that, a bit of a rest, then back on the road.  We drove to the parking lot for the North Kaibab Trailhead – this is one of the trails that goes into the canyon and by gosh, we were going to do it!  We wouldn’t, of course, go all the way to the canyon bottom, but I wanted to attempt to get to the Supai Tunnel (are you laughing yet?) – four mile round trip.  It would be our only activity for the rest of the day…..
  • I’ll add at this point that I was annoyed that the visitor information in the Ranger station didn’t tell us much about this trail. The information was certainly there for the asking, but it wasn’t being suggested – but why? Why were they holding back? What did they think we were? Wimps from East of the Mississippi?
  • It didn’t take long for me to figure out why, in fact, this trail wasn’t pushed on the casual hiker. It’s hard for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s really hard coming back up. Because, of course, you’re coming up the canyon walls. As it turned out, we got to Coconino Overlook (.7 mile down) and that was enough. We all agreed that the hike back up was going to be challenging enough at that point, and we had no need to triple the distance. We couldn’t even.
  • The second reason is that this trail is also used by the mules. You also share trails with mules and horses at Bryce, but there’s a difference:  Bryce is dry and deserty, and the trails are wider, sandy and gravel-y.  The North Kaibab trail is narrow, is in forest and is mostly dirt, which means in the spring it is muddy and also that the animals have no room to do their business (which they do frequently on the trail rides) except on the trail.  It was kind of a mess. It was a pretty gross mess at times, with no way to avoid it all except by stepping into Grand Canyon.
  • Despite the relative difficulty and the mess, I’m glad we did what we did – I would hate to have gone without hiked even just a bit down into the canyon.
  • Finally, we headed up to Imperial point. You could see so much of the canyon, plus so much of what lay to the north, including the Vermillion Cliffs.

And that was it….you can see that even if you’re not a big hiker, you can easily see what the North Rim has to offer in a (long) day.  I suppose it’s a copout for the backcountry folks, but that’s not us, and I although I harbor thoughts of someday, if I stay healthy and in shape, attempting a Rim-to-Rim, I was very satisfied with what we experienced in a day and a half.

Next up: Ranger Jake!

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Here’s some fun news!  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!


We’ll be talking about traveling with children/family travel, etc….the show begins on August 3, so be sure to tune in – we’ve recorded our first segment already and it was a lot of fun.  I’m really looking forward to working with Diana on this project. 

— 2 —

Speaking of travel….(you knew this was coming)….

We had a great day visiting Warm Springs, Georgia. 

Warm Springs, of course, is the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House.

It’s in east-central Georgia, and we’re in centralish Alabama, so you’d think we’d have visited sooner.  Well, it’s not that quick of a trip from Birmingham, really.  It took a little over 2 ½ hours to get there, on a path that took us on I-20, then down exit 205 through all kinds of nice places – and I mean that.  Take a look at this lovely Art Deco theater in Manchester, Georgia.

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When I had envisioned this trip, uh, two days ago, I had thought we would be able to cram a lot more in that we did.   And perhaps if we’d left at 7 am rather than 8, we would have, but darn that  change to the Eastern Time Zone.  I’d thought we might run through Columbus and hit the Infantry Museum, or maybe get to Albany’s Chehaw Park Zoo (small, it says, but free w/our Birmingham Zoo membership, so why not) or their little river-themed aquarium but because we got a later start and because Warm Springs took longer – in a good way – than I’d anticipated – all that will have to wait.

(Also in later trips to the area will be Andersonville, although that will be tough – I’ve been there, and it’s so very sad and awful…so maybe in a couple of years – and in a more hopeful theme, the Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Americus. )

And the Jimmy Carter stuff?


SO…what did we see.

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Here’s the basics:  FDR heard about the perhaps healing properties of the springs in 1924.  He visited, fell in love with the area, began coming regularly, and soon after used a big chunk of his own fortune to purchase a by then-dilapidated resort hotel and 1200 acres around the springs, with the intention of building a rehabilitation facility.  It grew into a large, wonderful institution, which, even more wonderfully, outlived its usefulness for polio patients with the advent of the polio vaccine in 1955.  At the point it transitioned into offering services for people with a wide range of disabilities, which it still does today.  It seemed pretty busy on our visit. 

FDR had a small (6-room) house built nearby, which is of course, where he died on April 12, 1945 after suffering a stroke while having his portrait painted.  The famous photograph of the man with a tear-streaked face playing the accordion as FDR’s body passed by? That happened in front of Georgia Hall, the main building at the Warm Springs center.

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We began there, at Georgia Hall, and took a brief, self guided walking tour of the quadrangle.  Most of the original buildings are not used for their original purposes, since, of course, there are no more polio patients, and I am not even sure if they have long-term residential patients.

(Forgive the quality of some of these photographs.  I got increasingly irritated with my camera because it seemed as if the lens were dirty.  I kept wiping it clean, but the pictures still looked fuzzy.  WHY?  Maybe because you had inadvertently pushed the scene selector to “soft” – that’s why.)

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In the quadrangle.  What you see is an area with stairs, and ground composed of various materials to give patients practice in walking on different surfaces. 

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This was the children’s solarium.  When it was in use, it had a ceiling-high birdcage in the center. 

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“Polio Hall of Fame” – busts of researchers and others instrumental in the fight against the disease. 

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The chapel was locked, but I got this shot through a window.  There is extra space in the front for room for wheelchairs and gurneys. FDR last attend a service here on Easter Sunday a couple of weeks before he died. 

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Again, through a window.  This is an indoor pool that was constructed for patients for whom transportation down the hill to the outdoor pools was too difficult.  

— 4 —

The historic pools:

(In addition to the actual pools, there is a small exhibit in the building.  The admission to the Little White House includes admission to the pools. There is no cost to tour the rehabilitation facility.)

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The pools are empty, of course, but spring water comes up in a fountain on one end.  Forgive the soft focus!!!

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The Little White House...first a small, very good museum that gave a good overview of FDR’s life in general and in relation to Warm Springs.  Many personal artifacts on display including a couple of wheelchairs and braces.

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People sent FDR canes as gifts…

FDR last portrait

That final portrait…fuzzy.

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The dining area – it is really one big space with the living room below.  It’s a dogtrot design, with the path between these two spaces extending between a back patio and the front foyer and front door. That’s the easel on which the portrait was sitting. 

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Afterwards, we headed about 7 miles out of town, up Pine Mountain to Dowdell Knob – a wonderful overlook where FDR enjoyed coming and even hosting barbecues.  (That stone structure is the grill, filled in so people won’t mess with it. The placard said that the “picnics” were served on cloth-covered tablecloths with china and glassware.)

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There’s also a statue of FDR there, which you can see at the link.

— 7 —

Not done yet!  Also in Warm Springs is a National Fish Hatchery.  There’s a teeny-tiny aquarium with some gar and bass and such and an explanation of the Hatchery’s purpose and work.  There are display pools with fish you can feed, and one with an alligator….

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Then down to Albany where we saw the Ray Charles Memorial…very musical! Also very, very buggy – I was going to try to go to Radium Springs – it sounded interesting – but at 96 degrees,  I scratched the prospect of exploring more bug-infested waters and we moved on….

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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This past weekend, I passed through Lilburn, Georgia on the way back from visiting a blogger friend who’s out, in turn, visiting family  – the boys were otherwise occupied.

I had a hitchhiker for part of the journey.

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This is the reason I went through Lilburn (which is really a northeastern suburb of Atlanta):

It is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – one of the largest Hindu temples outside of India.

It’s across the street from a Publix grocery store. And behind a Walgreen’s.

Swaminarayan is one of many expressions of Hinduism. A bit more, from the inside perspective here. 

As you enter, you give your name to a person in the gatehouse.  There’s a big plaza in front of the mandir, with a large pool of water.

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You aren’t allowed to take photos inside.  This is as close as you can get.

But you can enter, however.  You must have your knees and shoulders covered – I thought I was okay on the knees, but apparently not, for I was given a wrap – a large sheet of thin black fabric – to cover up.

Shoes are removed and placed in a cubby.  I confess that the experience of walking around on the cool temple floors barefoot was intriguing.  I experienced it as a leveler of sorts, a sign of the universal human position in relationship to the transcendent.

What I presume was the primary interior space wasn’t huge.  As I said, no photos allowed, but I will try to describe it – it was a large space, ornately decorated with stone carvings, lined with niches in which were positioned statues of various deities.  You can see photos here.  I find them fairly creepy, especially those of the more modern figures. 

With recorded music faintly heard in the background, worshippers made their way around the niches and prayed.  Men, women and children – sometimes the children being pushed along by their parents (a universal occurrence). Hands joined in front, some stood, some knelt and prostrated.  It was all silent praying, but for occasional light clapping.  As I said the prayer was silent, but there was also continual quiet conversation happening and children flopping on the ground.  It was a purposeful, yet informal mood. I guess what I was watching was Darshan.

The only other room I saw open was one in which worshippers were (for a donation, it looked to me) pouring water over a gold statue – they closed up before I could go in and read about what was going on, though.

A quick stop in the gift shop before I headed home.

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I was one of a few visitors during that thirty minutes, include a Japanese mother and daughter and a couple of young African-American women with four young children between them.

People say…this is in ATLANTA?  Well, yes.  There are many Indians in Atlanta. It’s a big city, folks!  I was telling my friend that a few years ago when we went to the north Georgia mountain resort town of Helen, it was a bizarre evening of walking around this Georgia town built in a faux-Alpine style, in the midst of a crowd that seemed to be about a third either south Asian or Middle Eastern.

In visiting this place, you can’t help but reflect on the unapologetic celebration of the visible, highly decorated sacred space of the mandir. There was a  clear-headed explanation of its value that was posted in a small exhibit in the basement (obeying the rules, I didn’t take photos, but I wish I could have, just for my own reference – I can’t find those quotes anywhere on the website).  It was simply taken for granted that this type of exterior space is important, that it nurtures interior life and that this structure and interior reality reflect back on one another.

It was  intriguing, partly because the existence of Hinduism in the modern world, affirmed by very modern people intrigues me, period.  It also offers me food for thought regarding evangelization, as well. I watch and I listen and I ponder, “What would be difficult for these people to leave behind if they were to embrace Christ?”

A good question.

For any of us.

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Is it strange that the real purpose of this trip was to do the Jack Daniel Distillery Tour? 

Especially since I don’t even drink it or anything like it?

Well, see, I find the production of any kind of alcohol – fermentation, distillation, viticulture, what have you – so fascinating from both a chemical and historical perspective.  I can’t help but wonder how people stumbled upon and then developed these processes, and the great care and precision that goes into making any of it on a high level.

It’s such a contrast to my slovenly, “that’ll do” way of life, I suppose…it’s like visiting another country for me…

(I read good things about the George Dickel tour as well, but I didn’t really want to take that extra jog up  to Tullahoma, so Jack it was).

It’s a very good tour.  I’ve done a few of these factory-type tours – Golden Flake here in town, Blue Bell down in Sylacauga, etc.. – and this one ranks.  The guide we got was an older guy, confident, at ease, knowledgeable and there was a refreshing paucity of awkward jokes. The history was thorough, the chemistry was clearly explained – those big bubbling vats of fermenting mash won’t be forgotten, the hard sell was at a minimum, and limited to the unattainable “single barrel” club.

The tour is free (there’s another two-hour tasting tour that costs $10), and today, a summer weekday, we were able to get on a tour that left within 10 minutes of our arrival, no problem.  You ride a bus up to the  charcoal-burning yard, and then walk back down, going into the original offices, the fermentation building and the distillation building on the way, as well as the cave spring, of course.  It was really interesting to see the mash bubbling away – not the greatest scent, but interesting to have the kids pick out the yeast smell…

A few images (no photos allowed indoors)

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Vintage Texaco in Cowan, TN.  We went to Lynchburg via Sewanee.  (“Mom, what does that mean?”  “What?” “What you just said…’pretentious.'”  “Oh….that….”)

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Back roads

Jack Daniels Distillery

Charcoal being made from sugar maple. Very hot!

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The way home took us through Huntsville, so I thought about stopping for the “Robot Zoo” exhibit at the Space Center (free admission because of membership in our science museum), but time got away from us, we had to be back in town for a meeting tonight, so not this time.  I did, however, take a 10-mile detour off the interstate to visit the Mennonite-run bakery.  Very good! With chickens out front who got away before I could dig my camera out of my purse.


Close up of the Scripture text on the wrapper:

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…is our land.

Day trip…well, overnight.  More to come.  But so far:

Cloudland Canyon State Park in west Georgia:

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee/Georgia.

High Point Climbing, Chattanooga. Again.  This time with the brother who missed it last time.

high point climbing Chattanooga

One of the riverside parks in Chattanooga.  Pedestrian bridge in background.  Every time I come to Chattanooga and experience what they have accomplished with their downtown, I think, Poor Birmingham.  I mean…without that cooling, ever-moving water, it’s so hard to create this kind of space:

Get. Out. Of. The House. 


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…just returned from a few days in Charleston. I’m going to throw this post up as a warm-up for finishing  the Living Faith devotions I have due…soon.  Ahem.

Beach days every day.  Just as in Florida, it’s wise to go in the morning, because you can predict that rain is probably going to fall in the afternoon, and indeed, on two of our three days it did. Babysitting for my grandson every afternoon and evening.  A good visit!

But first, on the way down…I had thought we would stop at Mepkin Abbey, but once Friday morning came around (we stayed Thursday night in Santee…cheap Best Western hotel, thanks to our many nights in Best Westerns…out West), I decided that a visit to a swamp would get people up and going with more enthusiasm than a visit to a Trappist monastery.

Next time….

It was the Four Holes Swamp in the Beidler Forest.  It’s just a quick jot off of I-26.  Very easy to get to, and a good walk to see many cypress, birds, lizards (my son caught one and was…er..privileged to have it reach around and bite its own tail off as an escape route while in his hand) and this fellow, whom we watched swim and hunt for quite a while…from a safe distance on a wooden walkway.

Didn’t see any gators this time, although they told me inside there were a couple in the lake.

Two mornings at Isle of Palms.  It’s a pretty crowded beach, but clean, with good showers, changing rooms and so on. Good surf. (That’s it, above)

The third morning, we went to Sullivan’s Island, which is a much nicer beach – a bit more isolated and not as crowded.  It doesn’t have facilities, though, but since the surf was calm that day, no one got super sandy, and the ride back in the car to the hotel was quick enough so no one got uncomfortable and the car didn’t get filthy (-er).

Sullivan’s Island is right across the bay from Charleston.  You can see Fort Sumter and Charleston when you walk to the end of this stretch of beach.  And of course, this is also a regular sight…..

Many deceased jellyfish on this stretch.

Metal-hunter wading in the water behind my son. 

A live sand dollar, burrowing into the sand.

Our other good wildlife sighting was a glass, or legless lizard.  It was in the middle of the road as we walked to Sullivan’s Island, and at first glance, we thought it was a snake, but my Herpetologist took a closer look and pronounced in a legless lizard, and when we returned and compared a photo to our memory of what we’d seen…yup, that’s what it was.

(Edgar Allen Poe spent a little more than a year of his life on Sullivan’s Island.  Read why here.)

Last night, I went out and walked part of the way over the Ravenal Bridge.  I intended to go out this morning and walk the whole thing, but didn’t get up early enough.  Next time, along with the Abbey.

Mass at the Cathedral Sunday morning.  I had wanted to go by the Emanuel AME Church and pay our respects, but of course it would have been impossible to go down there on Friday, and there were funerals through the weekend, so that’s another next time, for certain.

On the way back, we made a quick stop and visited the ever-gracious Rachel Balducci – the boys took a basketball break with her boys and since part of our conversation involved the number that social media has done on our writing brains, it’s appropriate that there’s no Bloggish, Instagrammic, Twitterish or Facebook evidence of the meeting, but trust me…it happened.  Even if the Internet Forest isn’t listening, a tree does fall….

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