There is an Irish proverb that states: “Bricks and mortar make a house, but the laughter of children makes a home.” I could not agree more. Children fill my heart and are a source of unbridled joy. They make me feel as if I have come home.
It was painful when our dream of building a new house, on a lake, fell through due to material costs, supply chain issues and all of the other nonsense that we are confronting in today’s economy. We were feeling defeated, deflated, and directionless. Our trip North took us through Lee State Park (SC), Medoc Mountain State Park (NC), James River State Park (VA) and finally, to Patapsco State Park in our “home” state of Maryland. We were home, but without a home, and with no concrete plans for how to obtain a home.
We had already had an RV site, reserved at Lake Anna State Park, for two weeks in April. Presumably we would be checking on the progress of our new abode. In spite of the angst over our housing dilemma we decided to make the most of it and take the grandkids on a camping trip anyway. No new house to get excited about, but at least we could create memories and heap affection on our favorite progeny.
We had loads of fun, playing games, hiking, making new friends, visiting Civil War battle sites, and traipsing around our empty lot.
Surrounded by love, and feeling very much at home, we decided to try our luck with another builder. It is a work in progress, but it now appears that sometime in 2023, we will have a new house, on our lot, at Lake Anna. The contract is not yet finalized, but we are on the home stretch (pun intended).
This, of course, means another YEAR in Big Bertha as the permitting and building begin. The Journey Continues.
As I child I could barely wait to pick up the morning newspaper to check the MLB standings and box scores. The Sunday paper had complete statistics. I committed the ERAs, batting averages and slugging percentages of the Pittsburgh Pirates to memory. My mom and her entire family were huge fans of the Bucco’s. She taught me the finer points of the game. It was a passion we shared. After attending Towson University, and moving to the Baltimore area, I began to follow the Orioles, and was soon chanting “Let’s go O’s”, and singing Thank God I’m a Country Boy during the seventh inning stretch. It’s okay to back one National League team and one American League team. I said so.
I was a city kid with no real hopes of ever getting to Florida. It was not on my family’s radar. So, I would go to sleep at night, praying for a trip to Bradenton, when I was supposed to be praying for all of those poor souls in purgatory. It took several decades, but my prayers were finally answered. Well, I mean, I made it to Lecom Park. I can only hope that those poor souls have also made it to their desired destination.
Now, having said all of that, those MLB Bums nearly ruined my miracle because of yet, another labor dispute between players and team owners. For the love of Pete, these guys all make enough money! The owners and the players have all turned into a bunch of fat cats who don’t give a hoot about their fan base. It’s sad, really sad. I remember, as a kid, taking a train to Philadelphia to watch the Pirates and the Phillies play daytime double headers. Yes, real double headers; not the watered-down, shortened inning type. We would sit in The Vet stadium all day, eating affordable hot dogs and popcorn. We brought our own coolers full of beverages. My dad could drink his own beer without paying the price of a case for a single can of lager. Now it appears that even 7-inning double headers are going to be a thing of the past.
In the 80’s, in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, you could pack your own container, filled with icy cold Natty Boh’s (National Bohemian Beer) and go swill suds with Wild Bill Hagy in section 34. The stadium was filled with fans. Blue collar Baltimore could afford seats. It was not all about corporate suites and who could carry the heaviest money bag.
I’m shamefully guilty of throwing greenbacks at the greedy, baseball barons. I am, however, for the record, disgruntled and disgusted at the present state of a sport I once had a genuine fervor for.
“When the Sun of compassion arises darkness evaporates and the singing birds come from nowhere.” – Amit Ray
Rant over. Time to move on to the type of bird that does not feather its nest with dollar bills.
While in the land of the Grapefruit League, we wandered away from the manicured fields and onto the prairie lands of Myakka State Park. We took an 11-mile hike that took us through grass, saw palmetto, live oak and palm hammocks. Myakka is enormous, covering 58 square miles. The scenery is breathtaking and there is plenty to do.
A few more days in Florida, then we make our turn North. I am VERY eager to see familiar faces.
I’ve never been a motorhead. I danced ballet, sang in a madrigal group, read classic novels and did lots of other nerdy things. I like to hike in remote areas and use pedal power to bike down long trails. Let’s just say I’m relatively low-key. However, after our recent golf outing, and Googling “must do in Adel, GA”, we came to the realization that there was only one thing left to do. So, we headed to the South Georgia Motorsports Park.
When we arrived, the drag strip was being prepared for a night of racing but the afternoon was dedicated to something called autocross. Stock cars navigated through a maze of orange cones in a race against the clock. There was plenty of loud, engine revving, squealing wheels, and blue smoke that reeked of burning rubber. I was a novice. All of this was new to me. I was hoping to see a drag race, but time (and a dog left in the RV) would not allow us to stay for the main event.
Apparently, though, motorsports is a true passion in the Deep South. From our next campsite, at Lake Manatee State Park, we could hear the unmistakable sound of speed demons putting pedal to the metal. So, on a chilly, sunny, Sunday we trekked the two miles to Bradenton Motorsports Park and finally got to see dragsters, souped-up hot rods, and motorbikes fly down the dragstrip.
I was grateful for the experience, and can see why car enthusiasts are so passionate about it. I’ll probably go back to nature, novels and nerdy endeavors but am delighted to cross one more item off of my to do list.
Most days have been beautiful and warm. Hiking has given me much needed contemplative time during which I digest the fact that our dream of a lake house is an aspiration that will not be coming to fruition. Due to supply and material issues, the cost to build on our lake lot became prohibitive. I’m not always frugal but I am practical. A price tag exceeding a million bucks for a three-bedroom house with an unfinished basement is ludicrous; laughable.
Lake Anna Lot for Sale.
Time to “pick myself up by my bootstraps” as my dad would say, and move on. Reassess. Regroup. Remind myself that there is a reason for everything. Despite the disappointment life will move on.
We are looking forward to catching a couple of Spring Training games before heading back North.
Yes, that’s me, golfing in sneakers and ill-fitting batting gloves, with a driver that is taller than I am. My dad is chuckling in heaven. He is either mortified or amused. He was a real golfer, one with trophies, and eagles and birdies to his credit. He had golf shoes, clubs that fit, and an actual golf glove (complete with ball marker.) He tried to get me interested in the sport. He wanted to teach me the beauty of medal play but I scoffed at his attempts, telling him that it was “an old man’s game” and that I would rather be grounded for a week than to spend time on a golf course. It would be an understatement to say that I am filled with regret.
“Golf, like measles, should be caught young.” ― Wodehouse
We are just biding our time in Adel, Georgia. We have been camped here a while, and although beautiful, there is not too much to do for entertainment after walking all of the trails and biking around the park. There are times that retirement can be too relaxing.
Fortunately, we stumbled upon Circlestone Country Club, and decided to break out the woods, irons and the wedges. Why not give it a whirl? They allowed public play, and were very accommodating about allowing a “twosome”. Although we rarely (nearly never) play, we brought our clubs on our journey, hoping we would find some time to play nine holes, maybe even 18-holes, if Geoff’s back, and my temperament, would hold out. I’m the type of golfer who is inclined to throw a three-wood into a lake after multiple miss-swings and mulligans.
“It took me seventeen years to get three thousand hits in baseball. It took one afternoon on the golf course.” ― Hank Aaron
So, why was I wearing baseball gloves? Well, if you have not even touched your clubs for six years, and they were collecting cobwebs in the shed, the grips were also slowly dry-rotting away.
On our first day out, the clubs seemed to be melting in my hands. My palms were black. My fingers were black. The seat in the golf cart was turning black. Clearly this was going to be a 9-hole day. We headed to the club house, but they only had men’s gloves, all of which were too large. We got a voucher for another 9-hole day, and headed to Walmart in search of ladies golf gloves.
Hmmm…. no ladies golf gloves at Walmart, and no sporting goods stores nearby. Batting gloves were the next best option. They were a little large, but at least I would not have to wash my hands with acetone.
I am a duffer, a hacker, the kind of golfer that you do not want in your foursome. People draw straws to see who has to take me. I like to envision my tee shots with lots of loft and distance, but most of mine are ‘worm-burners’. Thankfully, the grass was so dry that the ball seemed to roll forever. Yes, sadly, I had plenty of 9-stroke holes, but I did manage a legitimate 4, and enough solid shots to keep me coming back for more torture.
Where do you get new grips when you are rolling around in an RV?
In other news, it took Gypsy exactly three days to completely gut “Bun-Bun”, her (Ha! Ha!) indestructible, tough toy that she received for her recent birthday.
The weather has been warm and wonderful, AND today we are headed to the South Georgia Motorsports Park to check out some Autocross and Drag Racing….. I see another blog coming.
I’ve been friends with Lynn for decades and her enthusiasm for horses has never waned. I tagged along with her when she rode in various horse shows during our high school years. I had to keep my green-eyed-monster in check as I watched her perform; desperately wishing to be in the saddle, too. I was better suited for a hobby horse, but a girl can dream, right?
We were recently honored and delighted to join her, and her husband, in Thomson, Georgia for the Advanced-Pine-Top-Horse-Trials, in which her 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood was competing.
Kaballero (‘Kipper’ to his friends) is an exceedingly handsome horse with a white blaze, long neck, powerful hindquarters and a winning spirit. He is young, enthusiastic, vigorous and just recently began competing at the Preliminary Level. His spunkiness paid off during Cross Country and Show Jumping, where he had ample opportunity to showcase his desire to be airborne. He is a natural acrobat who prefers hurdles to ballroom dancing. His dressage score suffered a bit because of his reluctance to methodically tap dance for the judges. He sees himself as Edwin Moses, not as Fred Astaire. “I don’t want to do the Too-Slow-Two Step“, he whinnied in protestation a few too many times. It’s all a learning experience, and I have little doubt, that his very capable trainer, Fylicia Barr will have him doing a more peaceful polka in the dressage ring in no time.
Even when he is naughty, he is a noble beast.
Pine Top offered an amazing setting. It is a spacious and beautiful farm. The cross country course was huge, challenging, and well laid out. There were plentiful barns, fields and relief stations. The concession stand, run for the benefit of the local high school band, offered a few chortles of comic relief. A very nice, but exceedingly OCD supervisor was giving precise instruction for food preparation to high school volunteers. The ‘Sandwich-Czar’ made sure that each PB&J sandwich was made in the exact same way; a certain, measured amount of peanut butter on one side, spread with a particular knife, then jelly was to be spread only on the clean piece of bread, never on top of the peanut butter. Each sandwich took 10 minutes to make. It turns out that I’ve been doing it all wrong for the past half-century, but I can whip up a PB&J less than a minute. When it comes to peanut butter, it is function over form for me.
Because our RV (Big Bertha) was hooked up and level, 225 miles South of the horse trial venue, we opted to stay one night at the same pet-friendly hotel/motel at which our friends had made a reservation. They warned us, after their arrival, that it was a far cry from a 5-star hotel. In fact, they cautioned us that if we chose to proceed, we would be doing so at our own risk. We make some crazy sacrifices for our pets, and this was one of them. It was the sole establishment in the area that would allow for our furry friends. The hotel was worn and dated, and falling apart at the seams. There were cracked floors, missing lightbulbs, threadbare carpeting, a broken phone and even a water outage. Still, it takes more than a seedy motel to keep us from enjoying time spent with good friends.
“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Thank goodness for Hogie Joe’s Grill. We were able to avoid our rooms and spend the evening with comfortable outdoor seating, a cold beer and a tasty meal. Good company + Good food = Good times
It seems impossible, but our faithful companion has just observed her 1st Birthday. Her celebration was held at General Coffee State Park in Nicholls, GA. After an 8-mile, morning hike, she enjoyed a doggy cupcake, a bully stick, and some tug-of-war with “Bun-Bun”, her new toy, which will inevitably be gutted by the end of the week. At her tender age, this meandering mutt has been in 25 different States and has hiked hundreds of miles. There is little doubt that Gypsy is appropriately named. She is a tried and true traveler.
There is a replica of a 19th century farm at General Coffee SP that is complete with barnyard animals, so Gypsy had many furry friends to share her birthday with.
There were goats, and mules, and roosters, and wild boar. My favorite, however, were the newborn lambs that were bleating in soft, soprano voices and joyously springing about on their brand, new legs.
Georgia State Parks offer amazing trails that wind through a myriad of habitats. I have grown to truly appreciate the swamps. Once upon a time, I thought that swampland was unattractive but now, I find such beauty in these forested wetlands.
Aside from the unique farm display, there is also an interesting archery range. The campsites are large and wooded, and there are multiple playgrounds and picnic shelters throughout the park. General Coffee is well attended by families enjoying the great outdoors. It is springtime in this neck of the woods. The nights and early mornings are quite chilly but the morning sun warms the air quickly. Ahh, baby lambs and budding azaleas give me hope for an earth awaking from its silent slumber.
“Fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it.”
– Harry Middleton.
We were blessed to happen upon this young man who was smiling from ear-to-ear after reeling in his first fish ever! His happiness was so contagious that I felt elated for him and with him. He was so proud to eagerly pose with his prized catch. These are the moments that create memories.
Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.
-Jennifer Pharr Davis
Our Birthday girl would rather be out hiking than anywhere else. It is where she belongs and I am blessed to join her on her journeys (when she is not bounding forward, trying to rip my arm off…)
Back to Reed-Bingham State Park tomorrow where we have a busy week planned. Golf, a winery excursion, and a horse show are on the agenda.
A drive through the South Georgia countryside led us to Andersonville, an American Civil War prison site where nearly 13, 000 soldiers died. It is now a National Park that serves as a memorial dedicated to all American soldiers held captive during any war. Casualties are expected on the battlefield but why did so many perish at Andersonville?
When you walk the grounds, you can see the perimeter of the stockade. The area that had been fenced was approximately 25 acres, with a low-lying, marshy area that served as both a source of drinking water and as a latrine. Although originally intended to imprison 10,000 POWs, the number quickly expanded to 32,000. The area was a mass of lice-covered, skeletal humans who developed dysentery. Death due to the unthinkable number of microbes in the drinking water was commonplace.
Deep in the heart of the Confederacy you are bound to find reminders of a bloody war fought between brothers. There are so many relics of an era of disgust, division and disunion. While rambling about and probing our past, it is difficult to digest the reality of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man.
In total contrast, a short drive down the road took us to Plains, GA, the home of our 39th President. Regardless of political leanings, Jimmy Carter is inarguably a stellar example of kindness and humility.
“I had this beer brewed up just for me. I think it’s the best I ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a lot. I think you’ll like it, too.” ~ Billy Carter
Those of us who are of an age to recall the Carter Presidency, cannot forget Jimmy’s colorful brother, Billy. Billy drank beer for breakfast, and was involved in ‘Billygate’ a scandal involving becoming an agent for, and borrowing money from, Libya.
Despite the headaches and public embarrassment, when asked about Billy’s shenanigans, President Carter replied “I love him.”
Plains High School, from which both Jimmy and Roslyn Carter graduated, now serves as a National Historic Site and Museum. Although their personal home is blocked off from public view, the Carters continue to live in the same, modest, ranch-style house they built in 1961.
History lesson is over, class. Sorry to be so boring. The next post is bound to be less cerebral. I wonder if you can still find Billy Beer? It’s going to be near 80F today. I may need to grab a six-pack and a kayak….
There are well over 50 songs written about Georgia. It is not surprising that lyricists and poets have been inspired to capture the emotions associated with this area. Originally founded as a penal colony, the youngest of the 13 original states, Georgia has both enormous beauty and a checkered past. I love to take long, contemplative walks but can’t seem to manage even a few steps without having thoughts of the devil going down to Georgia, rainy nights in Georgia, or midnight trains to Georgia. Basically, I cannot get Georgia off my mind.
Reed Bingham State Park is situated on the Coastal Plains near Adel, GA. It is a well used recreation area with a fishing lake, a dam, ball fields, picnic areas and some truly amazing trails. I expected sandy paths through the wiregrass but was pleasantly surprised to find miles of boardwalk that twisted through Cyprus swamp, yucca fields, live oak and pine forest. The sun has been shining through, allowing for plentiful outdoor activities on warm February days.
There is also a very weathered mini-golf course on the park grounds. You can pay $5 per person to play. Or, if you are notoriously cheap, as we are, you can pull putters and balls from your own bags, jump the fence and play.
With so much to explore, I am certainly getting my steps in. As the temperatures approach 80F later this week, I hope to explore some waterways via kayak.
In the meantime, Gypsy is convinced that all of the GO DAWGS excitement is about her. She likes it here.
Well, we finally did it. We finally made it to Hook’s Bar-B-Q. Our meals were packaged in the finest quality Styrofoam, and we were awarded bonus portions of white bread and pound cake. Yes, white bread, the type with absolutely no nutritional value; the type you can roll into cohesive, little balls for use as bait or ammo. I got two slices of white bread. My husband got three. Either he looked really hungry, or the slices were all stuck together, as is the tendency of overly processed white bread.
I got the chicken, cole slaw, and fried Okra. My husband got the pulled pork, rice, and baked beans. The barbeque sauce was served on the side. It was spicy and hot and flavorful. Now, I know that there are some Okra haters out there but I actually enjoyed mine. It was not slimy or stringy. It was crisp and tasty, but as my friend John suggested, you could batter and fry a boll weevil and it would probably be palatable. The meal was savory and satisfying, and the pound cake was fresh and buttery. It was not the best barbeque I have ever had (that was at The Salt Lick near Austin, TX) but it was full-flavored and worth the wait.
Comedienne Paula Poundstone once said,” I was born in Alabama, but I only lived there for a month before I’d done everything there was to do.” I am beginning to feel Paula’s pain. We were looking for something to do and wound up driving to Panama City, Florida to check out a (dog friendly) food truck and craft beer festival.
It was good to be outside, but winter wear was essential. It was too cold to hold a craft beer without gloves, so we did not sample as many as we would have liked to. I wanted to try something from the Curry-In-A-Hurry, Indian fare food truck. I sent my husband to make a selection while I held on to Gypsy. I was envisioning spicy, Saag Paneer. Instead, we wound up with Tandoori chicken tacos, which were interesting, but not exactly my idea of Indian cuisine.
“…climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
On good days we continue to hike and explore the Conecuh National Forest. There are no scenic vistas like there are farther north. There are no real elevation changes, other than a small hill or two, and yet there are switchbacks carved into the trails, which gives us great amusement.
The impressive thing about this forest is the number of biome changes within a small area. One minute you can be traipsing through a coniferous forest, lined with long leaf pine needles, and the next minute you are knee deep in Cyprus swamp, or trekking through hardwood forest, carpeted in the decaying leaves of deciduous trees.
Sadly, there have been too many inclement days during this stay. Creative thinking is required to keep the boredom at bay. At times like this I turn to the electrifying excitement of Olympic curling or cookie baking (the cheating kind, with refrigerated dough) to stay sane. I can enjoy being curled up with a good book, but Gyspy has not yet learned to read. She insists on playtime and interaction, which requires more space than we have. My rain gear has come in handy.
Like Paula Poundstone, I think I have done everything that there is to do in Opp, but clearly, I have picked the wrong month to be here. Neither the start up of the South Alabama Speedway, nor the Rattlesnake Rodeo (it’s a real thing) are scheduled until March. In fairness, we have not been to the Honky Tonk Bar or to the Wheelhouse because of Covid, and the anti-masking sentiment that prevails in the area.
We are here at beautiful Frank Jackson State Park for another three days, but I already have Georgia on my mind.
Now, some of you may not know, but a boll weevil is an insect
And he’s found mostly where cotton grows…
…But this is the way the story goes
Brook Benton, 1961 R & B Hit
We love exploring the small towns that are in the general vicinity of our campsites. Enterprise, AL is roughly 25 miles from Opp, so we decided to jump in the truck and check it out.
It is almost ‘Un-Boll-Weevible’ but in Enterprise, Alabama, there is a monument in the center square that pays homage to the boll weevil, a bug that decimated Alabama’s cotton crops in the early 1900’s. Why venerate an insect that destroyed the agricultural economy? I was perplexed. As it turns out, the beetle forced farmers to heed the advice of George Washington Carver; to diversify, plant peanuts, soy beans and sweet potatoes, which caused a marked upswing in the economy of Enterprise. Thus, the beloved bug.
Enterprise seems to be enjoying the novelty of erecting the only monument dedicated to a beetle. The stores capitalize on the uniqueness and the quaint downtown is full of fun shops, restaurants and a brewery, most of which draw attention to the idolized insect. Had it been later in the day, perhaps we would have stopped to sample a ‘Buggy’ Bourbon Barrel Stout.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ― John Muir
Small towns are great fun to explore, but my heart lies in the forest. It is a quick, half-hour drive to the Conecuh National Forest. With 83,000 acres, there are multiple hiking opportunities within this Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem. There are natural springs, with water so clear that it is transparent.
Our 8-mile hike took us to ponds, coniferous forests, and areas still ravaged from Hurricane Sally. We had to do a little bushwhacking to circumvent some trail sections that were closed due to downed trees and washed out footpaths.
After our hike, it became even more apparent that Gypsy’s incessant pulling at the leash was ruining her collar. Plus, her collar was red and her leash was purple. The clashing color scheme had always offended my style sense, so this was an opportunity to buy her a coordinated set. However, in order to find a store that sold such luxuries as leashes, we had to drive to the neighboring town of Andalusia, which I felt compelled to further scrutinize.
Although not as vibrant as Enterprise, Andalusia IS the home of the World Championship Domino Tournament. There is also a cute, little train museum and the First National Building is wrapped up with an enormous, red bow. Most importantly, however, Andalusia has a dog park. A tired Gypsy is a good Gypsy.
Despite my inclination to always be on the go, we do have some restful days. We have days to read by the lake, to search for interesting wildlife, and to cook some Maryland-style chicken wings on the grill. The aroma of Old Bay makes me a bit hungry for home.
We have not made it to Hook’s Bar-B-Q. They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I guess if you work the weekends, you have to make sure that you still have two consecutive days off. I won’t stop trying until I can critique their fried Okra.