So, I am writing this on our last night of the trip. It feels so weird. Is this what an expatriate feels when they come home to the mother country? We drove past a Meijers tonight, and it just felt strange to see it. This has been the trip of a lifetime and one that won’t be repeated, so perhaps just knowing that this is the end is a bit overwhelming. Hard to explain.
Harvey officially went on sale today via RV Trader. He has served us very well these past eleven weeks. He has been our home. We’ve called him “our home”, out loud! I almost feel like I don’t want to sell him to just anybody. They need to still call him “Harvey”. They need to take him on family trips and see amazing things. They need to pull a “Toad”. They need to be terrified before they leave and sad when they come home. Should have put all this in the listing. I’m guessing though that I’ll get over it.
We’re still undecided on what to do with Toad. The original plan was to sell him at the end of the summer, but we’re kind of attached to him. Yes, he’s been a royal pain, is very noisy and the backseat barely fits the kids, but when you take the windows and top off, he’s very awesome. Still, not the most practical car for Team Woods, considering we already own two vehicles. So, we’ll see. Perhaps Jason can be convinced to sell it if the right price comes along. Any takers?
I think I left off in Dallas, so our next stop was Houston. Just a day stop this time, as we wanted to visit the Johnson Space Center. I’ll admit we’ve become tour/museum snobs - it takes a lot to impress us now - but the Space Center wasn’t our favorite. Jason and Katie had attended Space Camp together last summer in Huntsville, so there wasn’t much there that they didn’t already know. More than a few of the exhibits were either broken or simply not there. We were excited to see the Mission Control Room that was used during the Apollo program - but the guide just said “This is the Mission Control Room. Any questions?” Seriously, that was about it. Thankfully, we were able to see one of the Saturn rockets - enormous!
We’ve been missing the water a lot, so we decided to drive the extra hour and stay on Galveston Island. Our campsite overlooked a bayou and we enjoyed watching these little fish jump high up in the air. Hilarious! The next morning, we toured a retired oil rig that was turned into a museum. A little technical for my taste, but interesting to learn about the drilling process in general. Perhaps a Ph.D. in Chemistry might have helped me understand things more. That afternoon, we headed to Stewart Beach to swim in our second ocean of the trip. How many people can say they visited TWO oceans in one vacation? No lie, the water temperature was 86 degrees. In Michigan, we celebrate when the water hits 70! That area has been having issues with an overabundance of seaweed coming on shore, and we definitely experienced that. We all headed for the showers when we got home and our swimsuits may never come clean.
Next up was New Orleans, the city that I was the most excited about visiting. Our list of things to see was long and the restaurants we wanted to eat at was even longer. The weather was pretty much what we expected - hot and humid. Our first morning was pretty rainy, but it was nice to cool off a bit. We toured the St. Louis Cemetery #1. So interesting! We saw the future “home” of Nicholas Cage and also the grave of Mr. Plessy, as in “Plessy v. Ferguson”, the case which supported the “Separate But Equal” philosophy. This case was later overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. Thankfully. All of the grave sites are above ground, and as family members pass, they are “bagged up”, the tomb is opened, and the body is pushed in along with the previously deceased family members. Hmmm, interesting. And we thought ten weeks in a tin can was a lot of family togetherness!
The World War II museum was next on the agenda and we spent quite a bit of time there. So well done! They enormity and horror of the war, specifically D-Day, were overwhelming to contemplate and there wasn’t a lot left to the imagination. Our conversation that night was about freedom, being grateful and thankful, and the importance of working towards peace. An eye-opener for the kiddos even though they had already visited Pearl Harbor. We spent a bit of time wandering around the French Quarter admiring the gorgeous architecture and shops. We made the mistake of deciding to show the kids just one block of Bourbon Street. Turned out that that particular block was full of strip clubs and had quite a distinct smell - something between vomit and stale beer. Yet ANOTHER conversation to have with the kids. Parents of the Year, right here! We sampled all the good local food that NOLA has to offer, and even had beignets two mornings in a row! Good thing we walked off all those calories! We also decided that we didn’t give New Orleans enough time, so someday, Jason and I will head back for a long weekend, minus the kids.
With school starting soon, we’ve been on the kids to do some lessons in their summer workbooks. I brought several with us on the trip, but they mysteriously weren’t getting done. Jason decided that since we had a long drive to Memphis, they each had to complete 20 pages. You would have thought we’d have chopped off their arms! Someday they’ll thank us, right?
Surprise, surprise! We had a full day planned for Memphis, too. First, Graceland. I can’t say that any of us were ever big Elvis fans, but we all enjoyed seeing the mansion and the grounds. Made us wonder what his life would have been like had he lived another 42 years. What would he say about hip-hop music? Or pop music in general? Since we were there just a few days after the anniversary of his death, there were still dozens of floral arrangements and displays out. It seemed like every Elvis Fan Club out there had sent something there to commemorate the day. It really felt like a living memorial.
Next stop on the agenda was the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel. Since we had to cut out the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama, I really wanted the kids to take their time in this museum. And we did. This museum should be required for every American to visit. Perhaps if I do get around to writing a book about this trip, I should include a chapter called “Places you must go to retain your American citizenship”. Powerful. Emotional. I was choked up and had chills. They don’t just share information about Martin Luther King’s assassination. They start at slavery. They go into detail about the struggles and it’s no holds barred. I found myself getting angry almost when I read about the challenges African-Americans faced when trying to vote. How hard they had to work to get recognition and the right to vote and still, how some states made it virtually impossible for them to exercise that right. And then it hit me - this struggle is not over. There are states RIGHT NOW that are making it harder for minorities to vote and the Supreme Court in 2013 made it legal for states to change their voter registration laws without federal oversight. Jason and I have been saying this quote for the entire trip, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Yes, I’m a little fired up about this one. Ok. I’m off my soapbox. Fortunately, some pretty awesome fried chicken from Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken restaurant allowed us some time to process what we had just seen and allow the kids to ask questions.
During this planning process for this trip, we mounted a huge map of the U.S. onto some foam board and put sticky notes and arrows all over it. We brought this map along with us, sticky notes and all. When we had talked about St. Louis, I always felt like “Ah, we’ll never make it that far. No way. How on earth are we honestly going to last eleven weeks?” St. Louis was the last sticky arrow on our map and suddenly, there we were.
St. Louis was our last national park stop. Our last boat ride. Our last night of sampling local cuisine. Our last museum. I honestly floated through our day there in a bit of a fog. Perhaps it was the heat and humidity? The surreal feeling that our trip was almost over? Or was I just trying to take it all in and was feeling overwhelmed. Either way, we did enjoy our day there. We took the tram up to the top of the Gateway Arch and saw for miles in both directions. Our riverboat tour on the Mississippi was enjoyable, mostly because we brought snacks with us - it was ungodly hot! The Old Courthouse brought our civil rights conversations full circle as it was the site of the Dred Scott case, a major factor in the events leading up to the civil war.
We were feeling like we had laid some pretty heavy stuff on the kids, so our last stop of the day was the City Museum. What a misnomer! This place was nuts!! A sculptor had taken everyday found objects and created new, crazy, bizarre and HUGE pieces of sculpture designed for kids (and adults) to climb on, crawl over and just have a ball! There are enchanted caves inside the building. Ponds. Loud fun music. Wire tunnels that you crawl through. Indoor slides. Mosaics everywhere. Oh, and on the roof of the building? A ferris wheel. A huge slide that you have to walk up first. A school bus that hangs halfway off the roof. And another slide that takes you down ten floors back to the entrance. Ball pits. Rope swings. A bug collection. And finally, a full service cocktail bar. Yup. Not joking. We had a blast and walked out of there dripping wet with sweat and big smiles on our faces. We were done and the trek home was the next thing on our to do list.
Which, leads me to today. We drove halfway home and my sister, brother-in-law and two nieces came and visited us for the evening. We were beyond excited to see them and when they drove up, all four us ran out of Harvey and just hugged and hugged and hugged. They welcomed us “Almost Home” and despite the rain, we had a super fun night together. Our niece Lily found our aliens Fart and Paul and played with them for a good long time. I hope she doesn’t learn the word “Fart” from us.
Tomorrow, we will drive the last three hours of our trip and arrive home to be greeted by friends and family. We’re already trying to come up with answers to the questions we’re sure to get, like “What was your favorite place? What park did you like the most? What was the best thing you did?” I’m sure I’ll come up with answers by then, but my favorite part of the trip was the journey itself. The time with my family. The time seeing our country. The time we spent laughing. The time we spent frustrated. The time we didn’t want to be around the rest of us. The time we spent learning about each other. The time we spent learning about ourselves.
I’m sure we’ll do another post or two next week. I have a funny one planned in my head already. Plus, we’d like to share a bit about how our transition back to reality went. I just hope that you’ve enjoyed our journey too. We thank you for your love and support during this trip and we hope that we’ve inspired you. You only get one life, folks. So, go out there and live it already. Sit down with your family and plan a trip. Or better yet, email me and I’ll help you. Don’t let your life stand in the way of LIVING your life. You live in a beautiful and amazing country. Take advantage of it.