Week 17-  January 1-8 Week: Back in the Saddle

Our Christmas break was packed with activity from the minute we arrived home after several days of driving from Texas in the van.  We wanted to keep as many of our normal traditions for the kids as we could so we compressed a normal Christmas season into our ten days back in Minnesota! 

We got back into town early enough so the kids could visit Chapel Hill Academy for the last day of school chapel.  Between the school visit, sleepovers, a pool party and other one-on-one visits, the kids got a chance to enjoy most of their friends.  Brenda and I also got some opportunity to reconnect, but it was limited because of all of the things to be done during our break. 

After our Minnesota traditions were complete, we headed to Michigan for the annual Kirkwood celebrations.  Besides the usual Christmas festivities, the men have a tradition of making a special gourmet dinner for the women.  This year we developed a multi-course menu that included foods from the different areas we have visited on our adventure and it turned out fabulously. 

Tuesday January 4 was our day to say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and head back toward Dallas.  While we all felt like staying a few more days, twelve inches of snow was forecast for the Battle Creek area the following day so we high-tailed it out of the state first thing in the morning.   

It was good to leave from Michigan rather than a potentially more painful goodbye from home.  It also helped us ease back into the travel routine.  I am sure there will again be some adjustment period, but this time we know what to expect and have so many wonderful memories of the western loop already pocketed.   

Also, with perfect timing to re-energize the family to get back at our adventure, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article on our adventure the evening we were packing to head south.  The day the print article appeared, our website was hit over thirty thousand times! 

Our first travel day would get us to Hannibal, Missouri the hometown of Mark Twain.  On the trip down, we read Huckleberry Finn to the kids as we drove.  It turned out to be a great thread as the story prepared us for our Mark Twain museum visit and our continuing route through Missouri and Arkansas which would follow much of Huck’s travels and brought the pages alive! 

The museum included exhibits of Twain’s life, his different writings, and Mississippi river-life history.  It also displayed the original Norman Rockwell paintings that were developed for special editions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  

A reassuring highlight for me was reading the fact that Mark Twain’s formal education ended after 5th grade.  A continuing stress for us on the trip has been a concern that missing a year of formal education will somehow hurt the kids even as we are in the process of providing them with experiences and education that will most assuredly impact their lives in ways we’ll never know.  We are so conditioned to follow society’s formula for education that it affects our confidence when we do our own thing.  Twain’s success and broad view of the world was an encouragement. 

We stayed Tuesday night with Darren and Kristin Smith, good friends from GMI with whom I have worked for many years.  Darren now manages the plant in Hannibal.  The weather kept us on the move as in this area the system was now an ice storm.  Once again we felt God’s protection as five miles after we left Hannibal, the ice disappeared and we only had to contend with rain on the drive.   

The rain continued all day except for the period when we stopped in St. Louis to check out the Arch and the National Monument’s Museum of Westward Expansion at its base.  The museum tied together a lot of what we had learned in the West during our first loop.  It is physically laid out in concentric arcs, each representing a decade.  Radially, the exhibits focus on different types of people through the decades:  explorers, mountain men, native tribes, colonists, farmers, etc.  It is literally a walk-through timeline.  And, yes, being a National Monument, we got back into the swing of the Junior Ranger program! 

As we moved south from St Louis parallel to the Mississippi, Huck’s travels in our reading were following right along with us.  We made it to Little Rock late that evening tired of driving in the rain all day. 

On Thursday, we woke up to clear skies and made the final leg of our journey to Dallas.  We made one stop in Murfreesboro (we needed at least one photo splash in Arkansas…) and checked out Diamond Crater State Park.  I never knew that Arkansas has such a significant reserve of diamonds!  A volcano brought diamond bearing magma surface-ward forming a pipe, that in later eruptions left a field of diamond bearing peridotite.  Part of the area has been churned up and visitors can look for diamonds right at the surface of what now looks like a farm field!

We picked up Harvey after arriving in Dallas Thursday evening and returned to a favorite campground where we had stayed before Christmas break.  It was very good to return to a familiar place to move back into the RV and start the re-entry process.  Friday was devoted to repacking, organizing, laundry, schooling, and preparing for travel to San Antonio the next day.  The sunny warm weather was invigorating and helped get us back into the RV living mode. 

We’re officially back in the saddle.