Archive for the ‘Travels With Rosie’ Category

Home Stretch

Friday, March 12th, 2010

After Fort Myers Beach, we had several interesting days. On Saturday, we went nature-exploring in the Lake Placid (Florida, not New York) area, and then worked our way up to Jacksonville, which is a fun town. We then split up, with Gibson and me going to Boston for medical appointments, and Elizabeth and Sterling driving north through Charleston, South Carolina. We re-joined each other in Richmond, and the four of us joined forces for the home stretch back to Charlottesville. Along the way, we managed to give our pig Rosie a bath in a hotel bathtub, which we caught on video.

Many would think our family is peculiar, but we love nature and wildlife — all kinds of wildlife. Our kids in particular love herps — reptiles and amphibians — and we’re very happy chasing them down.  Our son has his own website devoted mostly to nature — http://www.gibsonswildlife.com.  We were joined on Saturday by a nature expert from South Florida, Josh Holbrook, and his wife, and got in some great discoveries. One highlight was the gopher tortoise, which is a good-sized land tortoise. We all saw a Brahminy Blind Snake, a Southeastern five-lined skink, a blue-tailed mole skink, and a Florida Scrub Jay (a bird). It was a gorgeous sunny day, with temperatures in the 70′s, so everything conspired for a great day.

One thing we learned from Josh is to look for exotic creatures near decrepit billboards. If the old board has fallen off, it’s completely in disrepair, if it’s a big dangerous to walk around . . . well, you’re at the right place. All those boards on the ground make for great hiding places. We turned over lots of boards, and our efforts were rewarded with some nice finds.

After an uneventful overnight in Orlando, we motored up to Jacksonville, Florida. None of us had ever been there, and we were pleasantly surprised by this community. We started by taking in a baseball practice with the varsity team from St. Anne’s-Belfield, where our kids will be going come Monday. The team goes to Florida each spring for a set of games, and traditionally has had some great teams.

After some online research, we found a really fun “Bark in the Park” event in downtown Jacksonville, and had a blast walking around all the different dogs (and owners!) there. We were very tempted to try to enter our little pig in some of the contests, and claim she’s a new breed of dog, but we were worried that one or more of the dogs would be in the mood for bacon sushi. So Rosie hunkered down in the car, while we walked around the bark event.

We took in a nice little museum in Jacksonville, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. The museum had some nice pieces, and the grounds were spectacular, looking out on the St. John’s River. This is exactly the kind of discovery we love to make in a new city.

The next morning, with very mixed feelings, we split up. The boys went to Boston, where Gibson had an MRI and doctor’s appointment about a knee/bone issue he’s been dealing with. The girls went to Charleston, SC, and caught up with many of our great friends there, including joining a big gathering that went to see the Moscow Ballet.

Elizabeth then did a power drive from Charleston, SC, to Richmond, VA, in one day, while Gibson and I flew down from Boston, and we met at a great hotel there, the Jefferson. The hotel is an old-school Richmond hotel that allows pet pigs (great!) and has statues of alligators all over it. Apparently, a guest years ago arrived at the hotel with pet alligators and left them in the fountain, where they lived for years. Well, to be sure, the thought crossed my mind that we should take steps to ensure that the Jefferson is full of statues of pigs in future years by leaving our pet there as a thank you gift, but I’m sure the rest of my family wouldn’t go along with that!

We took in a couple of Civil War Museums in Richmond on the last day of our trip, but by then all of us were thinking about getting home in Charlottesville, so our heart wasn’t totally into these visits. Nevertheless, the American Civil War Center did a great job of explaining the causes of the Civil War. For our family, the Civil War was a theme to our trip, so this museum made for a fitting conclusion to the trip.

 


Fort Myers Beach(ed)

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

We ended up spending six days in Fort Myers, renting an apartment on Fort Myers Beach. For years, I’ve dreamt of spending time in this location in March — great weather, beautiful seaside, and Red Sox spring training. My net on the experience, though, is that it’s not a repeat, and the area has more challenges than attractions.

Now it’s possible we stayed in the wrong place. Well, let’s upgrade that to “nearly certain.” Fort Myers Beach is a mess. It’s an island right on the gulf (good), but you have to get to it by bridge. The traffic there is horrendous. It would routinely take us 30 minutes or more to drive a few miles to get on/off the island. That got old in a hurry. And Fort Myers Beach wasn’t exactly a charming community, including having a Hooter’s on the main drag :-( .

We did manage to take in the opening game of the Red Sox exhibition season, with Beckett on the mound. It was a close game, and, for the record, the Red Sox won, 2-1. But it was sooooo cold. The scoreboard said it was 62 degrees, but most in the audience felt they were missing a minus sign.

When we packed up and said good-bye to Fort Myers Beach, I was a happy man. Our family has gotten good at finding ways to have a great time, even in less than ideal circumstances. The good news about our stay here is that we didn’t get evicted from where we were staying, the kids had a great time, and it was fun to have done this once. But I don’t think I’ll be crossing that bridge into Fort Myers Beach anytime soon.


The Naples Tomato

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Our trip to Florida wound its way down to Naples for a day, and it will be the highlight of our time in this state. We visited Corkscrew Audubon Sanctuary, caught up with long-time friends, and went to an amazing restaurant, the Naples Tomato. If you’re within fifty miles of Naples, Florida, it’s worth the drive to come to this great restaurant!

We started the day with a visit to Corkscrew Audubon Sanctuary, a gorgeous spot not too far out of Naples. There’s a short (2.25 mile) boardwalk hike, with lots of opportunities for viewing wildlife. iPerhaps it was the time of day (noon-ish) or the weather (still chilly, a recurring theme for us in Florida), but we didn’t see a lot of wildlife during our two hours there. But it was definitely worth the visit, and a place we’d come back to.

A long-time professional colleague (first) and personal friend (second), Jack Serfass, moved to Naples over seven years ago. A repeat software entrepreneur that I had backed, Jack and his wife Nadine started a restaurant in Naples called the Naples Tomato. Our families have spent time together on multiple occasions, so we were excited to see them again. And my wife and I have followed the progress of their restaurant, with all the accolades it’s received, and had a life goal of eating there. Boy, were we not disappointed!

I’m not a foodie (my wife is), so I’d be smart to let her provide the restaurant commentary. All I can say is that it’s the best dinner I’ve ever had out. Unless you absolutely hate great Italian food, you just have to go to this restaurant. All courses were superb, with so many very different offerings. Jack and Nadine arranged for us to get our courses with samples of a half-dozen items off the menu. If I went back, I’d be hard-pressed to pick what I liked best, although the lasagna is a signature, the tilapia was my favorite, and you could readily gain ten pounds just eating the desserts. The key lime pie is outstanding, and they offer a Krispy Kreme bread pudding.

We drove around Naples a bit and it’s a charming town. If we were to plan this trip over, we’d blow off Fort Myers Beach (charming is not a word I’d ever use to describe FMB) and stay a week in Naples. It looked too hard to get to spring training, but it’s taking us 30-60 minutes to get on/off the island here, so Naples couldn’t be much worse, and is a heckuva a lot more appealing than Ft. Myers.

Oh, and our pig update. Not too much to talk about today. She couldn’t get out of the car for Corkscrew or the Naples Tomato, so she was largely out of sight today. Sterling, as is her custom for the day, spent some time reading with Rosie beside her, and the two are getting more alike by the day, for better or worse :-) .

Tomorrow, we’ll take in the opening game of the Red Sox 2010 Exhibition season, and otherwise hang out in chilly Fort Myers. Our trip is coming to an end, and seems much longer than three weeks. More later on why.


The Color Red

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Our trip to Florida has taken on a vivid shade of red.

We’re in Fort Myers now, and one of our priorities has been to visit the Red Sox spring training site. Exhibition games haven’t started yet, so here’s what happens when you go to their City of Palms Stadium. Arrive. Get on a bus to go about a mile to their practice fields. Watch the players stretch for 30 minutes. Watch the pitchers throw some balls, and run through some practice drills (e.g., fielding bunts). Watch the hitters take batting practice. Watch the players leave the field to go to the shower room, doing their best to avoid autograph seekers.

The highlight for me was a sunny spring day (unusual for us on this trip), and all the joy I associate with the sounds and sights of baseball. I don’t put a big premium on seeing famous baseball players close-up, which seems to be the principal appeal for many attendees (maybe 2,000 in total). But just being here, with my thirteen-year-old son who loves baseball and the Red Sox, was a real treat.

Until a month ago, I had never given much (dare I say, any) thought to the texture and nature of a pig’s skin. But with a pet pig, it’s become very tangible. They don’t have fur, and they have a very thin covering of hair. I sure didn’t realize a pig could get badly sunburned. But we took Rosie for a walk on the beach here, and after an hour or so in the sun, her skin turned quite red — downright rosy. Our lesson learned — our pig needs sunblock before going outside.

Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” took on new meaning for me over the past week. I am almost always the first one up in the morning for our family, and love the early hours of the day. But the normal calm I experience these days has been shattered by the sounds of pig squeals. My complaints to my daughter, though, were met with her claim that the sound of my alarm was causing Rosie to speak out.

Well, last night, I lowered the volume of the alarm, and buried it under some clothes. Better yet, I awoke quite early this morning before the alarm went off, and disabled the alarm. Best (or worst, depending) of all, I already heard the loud squeals of our pig. I’ve got a video here of a perfectly boring door, but it gives you an idea of what she sounds like. Eventually, our eleven-year-old daughter was awakened by her pig, stormed out of her room, opened the bathroom door where we keep the pig, shouted, “Rosie, shut up!”, and went back to bed. I can see our enlightened parenting skills are rubbing off :-) .

But Rosie hadn’t quite got her full measure of revenge. A bit later in the morning, I was lying in bed reading when our little pigger walked in to our bedroom. I thought, “Gee, how nice that she’s coming for a visit.” She walked up to the edge of the bed, did a 180, squatted, and peed all over our floor. I suppose the positive interpretation of this is that she’s clearly learning some basics of communication.

Even though it’s been a bit chilly, we’ve had some great walks on the beach here. The apartment we’re renting has a short path to a wide and beautiful beach. We go out for walks frequently, and really enjoy the beauty of the ocean — even when you can’t swim in it.

We’ve also had our share of cold, rainy weather on this trip. Local residents are telling me that they have been shocked at how much colder it’s been this year than any in recent memory. The rain has given us a good opportunity for reading and home-schooling. But we’re ready for some warm sunshine, that’s for sure.

Today, off to Naples for the day, which should be fabulous.


Rosie Meets the Yankees, Sort Of

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

We spent a day in Tampa earlier this week, and did our best to find Tampa’s hidden gems. Almost every place we go has a few, although some are harder to find than others. I must admit, though, that 24 hours wasn’t enough for us to crack the code in Tampa.

We started our stay in Tampa by tracking down the Museum of Science and Industry. They had a fun exhibit outside that let you go in a wind chamber and experience the sensation of ever-escalating wind force, topping out at 75 mph (the bottom end of the range for category one). Given I’m reading a book on Katrina’s impact, that was an interesting experience.

This museum had one other interesting exhibit. It would take a digital photo of you, and then show what you’d look like at a much more advanced age. I didn’t do it, since I’m already at that advanced age! But Gibson and Sterling did. I told them both they’d better get married young, because they won’t be much of a catch by the time they’re 70 years old, if this museum’s software is at all predictive.

We then went to a restaurant (Guppy’s on the Beach) in Clearwater that I picked on the basis of strong reviews in Yelp. Not a winner. First, it’s not on the beach. Second, they promised us a table after an hour wait, and then gave it away. The best they could do was a table outside without space heaters, on a night when the temperature was in the low 40′s. The food could have been fabulous and we would have still been bummed. But we had to send two of the entrees back. Ouch!

To cap the evening, we swung by a Coldstone for ice cream, and brought our pig in (who is very fond of strawberry). Much to our surprise, even the people behind the counter were glad to meet her. When she ordered, though, she was disappointed they didn’t offer old discarded corn cobs as a mix-in.

We then returned to our elegant accommodations for the evening — A very basic La Quinta with the sole redeeming feature of accepting pigs as overnight guests. Thank you, Rosie. I couldn’t quite tell what the room smelled like, but haven’t quite been assaulted by such smells since using public restrooms in Beijing. One thing about traveling with a pig that’s a plus is the amount of money we’ve saved on hotel rooms. Since no place that charges over $79 per night will accept pigs, we’ve economized significantly on this trip.

On Sunday morning, we went to see the Yankees spring training workout. As passionate fans of the Red Sox, it’s a legitimate question as to why we’d purposely go to see the Yankees work out. And by the end of the day, I was asking myself the same thing. One highlight, though, was seeing Yogi Berra (left), famous for so many great quotes (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” “It’s not over til it’s over.”)

As the to overall experience? Well, what could we expect from a franchise that charges its fans $2,500 for a regular season ticket? We arrived with signs everywhere saying “Gates Open at 10:00 a.m.” And security guards confirmed that gates would open then. So we, stupidly, believed them. And we waited in line, and waited, and waited. Well, they finally opened the gates at 11:00 a.m. I can’t tell you how painful that wait was. First, it’s a drag waiting in any line for well over an hour. But to be sandwiched in between a bunch of repulsive fans in the universe. Ugh! By the end of the day, the photo on the right best captures the way I feel about this baseball franchise.

We tried to give our pig a chance to take in the ambience. Everywhere we’ve gone on this trip, people have stopped and asked questions about her. Not with Yankees fans. They just ignored her, as though they are perfectly used to beong around pigs. Come to think of it . . .


Idling In Orlando

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Our family loves to travel, but we have a certain type of travel we love. We’re in our element when the travel has an educational or nature component to it, the more the better. But, after four days in Orlando, I find myself wondering why the heck we stayed here this long. We did get a needed rest, and actually stayed put for a bit. But it’s been dull, dull, dull, and I struggle to point to highlights.

We spent a half-day at Disney, and our kids had a blast. Elizabeth and I asked ourselves if this might be the last time our kids are still young enough to find Disney World exciting. For now, though, they wanted to go down Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain multiple times, and we all had a great time, although none of us put on the mouse ears.

Sterling and Elizabeth made a drive up to a store Sterling has long wanted to visit — the Hermit Crab Patch. The store was originally called the Crabbage Patch, but a threatened lawsuit from the Cabbage Patch doll owners made them switch names. Rosie came along for the visit, and Sterling was excited to see a store with hundreds of hermit crabs in it, and an owner as passionate about hermit crabs as Sterling is. (When we left on our trip, Sterling had seven pet hermit crabs — we’ll see how many survive our three-week absence).

Gibson and I have spent lots of time (emphasis on LOTS) at spring training sites, watching the players work out. And Gibson has been chasing down autographs from players, with a fair amount of success. For those curious as to what it’s like to go to a spring training practice, I can report that it’s surprisingly dull. The players mostly stand around, and you might have 40 over-paid players on the field, one taking batting practice, a few shagging fly balls, and maybe a couple of infielders working on double play mechanics. I love baseball, but watching these practices doesn’t do it for me.

A big part of what’s going on at a spring training site is the hunt for autographs. There are some young kids, some older fans, and a whole bevy of creepy adults who sell stuff on ebay — all jockeying to get players to sign. Occasionally, players will come to the sidelines and sign autographs for a few, or even many, fans. Most of the signing occurs at the beginning or end of the practice. And after the practice, there are particular locations where autograph seekers camp out, hoping to intercept players walking to their cars or, believe it or not, leaving the grounds in their cars. I was surprised to see several players pull over, roll down their windows, and sign autographs.

At spring training sites, you do get a feel though for which players are reasonably-nice human beings, and which will blow off young kids hoping for autographs. When we were at the Atlanta Braves site, Chipper Jones (right, a likely future Hall of Famer) signed autographs for every single fan there who wanted one. I’ll be a Chipper Jones fan from now on.

We ran into some pretty chilly weather here — on one day, the high was in the 40′s with a stiff wind. We did manage to get in some family golf lessons, and found a pro who was willing to put up with the four of us. I can only imagine what he’d say to the other pros after spending an hour trying to help the four of us with our golf struggles.

Fortunately, Rosie didn’t get us evicted from our place here. We stayed in a condo, and Elizabeth was careful to request an end unit. And Sterling has found that it’s best to leave a radio on for the pig if we leave her alone in a room. When we leave her, we know there’s a real risk that she’ll have another squeal meltdown — ouch!

Elizabeth has been spending lots of time on the phone trying to line up places to stay for the remainder of our trip, and it’s been a lot of work to find someplace reasonable that will let us have a pig. Elizabeth has gotten good at explaining to the reservation person exactly what kind of pet we have — “Well, we have a very cute, very cuddly, and extremely well-behaved miniature pot-bellied pig. She’s tea-cup size, really. Our little Rosie is litter box trained, and very smart, much smarter than a dog or a cat. Everyone just loves her. She really won’t be a problem, and you ‘ll be seeing many more of these fabulous pets in the future.”

We’re off in the morning to Tampa/St. Pete, and I for one am hoping our trip gets its momentum back. We’re undoubtedly an outlier, but we are a family that can have a great time driving across Mississippi or Peru, but don’t find places like Hawaii or Orlando to be all that compelling.


Day 8: Katrina’s Toll

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

We spent most of the day today touring New Orleans, and seeing first hand the community four and one-half years after Hurricane Katrina ripped this great city apart. The topic of Katrina, and its impact on this great American city, is a serious one, and I’ll be putting together a longer blog on the topic in the next few days. For now, though, it’s safe to say that we really were moved by seeing first-hand how many communities in New Orleans are still digging out from the devastation, and how much of New Orleans will never be the same.

After leaving New Orleans, we had a leisurely drive east along the Gulf Coast, stopping for an hour to play on the beach. The weather was still a bit brisk, but the sun felt great, and the sand along the Gulf of Mexico is so soft and white.

We’re staying tonight in Mobile, Alabama, and will explore here tomorrow. We did have one hilarious experience, though. On our drive east, Elizabeth was calling hotels to make a reservation for us, trying to find something reasonably nice that is pet (and, even harder, pig) friendly. Well, she found someplace that sounded good in the guide book, and tried to make the booking. The reservation person, when told we are traveling with a pet pig, declined to accept us, but Elizabeth got the manager on the phone and convinced her that we were a safe guest. For the time being, we thought we were in great shape.

Well, when we got to Mobile, our GPS system took us to the location of the hotel, which was in an area with several hotels. But we drove around the block three times, trying to find our hotel, and the only other place we could find that seemed to match the address was the Mobile Bay Adventure Inn. I jokingly said, “Well, the only thing we know for sure is that this isn’t the place we’re staying.” Elizabeth re-dialed the reservation number, and found that, in fact, we were booked at the Adventure Inn, which would have been a new personal low for level of accommodation that any of us has EVER experienced. Fortunately, despite the hugely crowded parking lot (:-) ), we were able to cancel the reservation and land on our feet. We then went to a great restaurant (NoJa) in Mobile, and retired for the evening — thankful for many things.


Day 7: Pigsh@t Hitting the Proverbial Fan

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

On a day when the pigsh@t hit the proverbial fan, we had remarkable highs and lows in New Orleans. This city is arguably the most beautiful in America, with architectural gems galore. Even the parts that aren’t gorgeous are worth looking at. It’s funky, fun, and exciting. But not all was well in NOLA.

We spent the morning walking the French Quarter. Our plan, though, had a flaw the size of a pot-bellied pig. We left Rosie in our hotel room, figuring not much could go wrong. And, in our rush to get out the door, we forgot to take her for her morning walk, giving her a chance to relieve herself. Well, when we returned to the hotel, a perfect stranger was standing on our floor, pointing to the door and saying, “There’s some very strange things happening in this room.” Apparently, the sounds of a squealing pig (one desperate to poop, since to her credit she held it in!) can be confused with all sorts of horrid activities behind a locked hotel door.

We couldn’t get into our room, since the locks to our room had been changed. Our return to the front desk did not go well. After investigating the room, the manager decided that eviction is the only just reward for humans leaving an unattended pig in a hotel that doesn’t allow pets. OUCH!!! In all our travels, we’ve never sunk so low.

We then spent the afternoon, pig in tow, exploring the city, while calling hotels to find one with available rooms and a pig-tolerant attitude. We did squeeze in a visit to the New Orleans Museum of Art, and saw an interesting Disney exhibit. And we switched hotels to the pet-friendly La Quinta, our new hotel favorite.

Despite the challenges with our pet pig, the day had plenty to savor. There are so many stunning houses here. A few years ago, we were fortunate to live in Charleston, South Carolina, a beautiful city. But New Orleans outdoes Charleston when it comes to the number of striking antique houses.

It’s a hoot to walk around the French Quarter, with surprising and bizarre encounters coming fast and furious. Had we been walking with our pet pig, we would have fit right in, but regrettably we were out looking very ordinary while the pig was back in the hotel room breaking the sound barrier. Not our best decision, to be sure.

We ended the day by taking in some of the season opener for Tulane’s baseball team, and somehow managed to win a promotion contest. It was great to see baseball live. We then had dinner at a restaurant here called Luke’s, owned by one of New Orlean’s top chefs, John Besh. Got back to the hotel, Gibson did some physical therapy for his leg, watched some Olympics (curling between Denmark and Canada?!?!), and called it a bizarre day.

Tomorrow, we tour the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, then we plan on visiting a nearby wildlife refuge. After that, we’re heading east. Next stop, Alabama.


Day 5: Mississippi Meanderings

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Today we started in Vicksburg, site of a crucial Civil War encounter, and then headed south on the Natchez Trace, arriving tonight in Natchez. Not a lot of driving today, which was great, and lots of fun exploring. Mississippi has its appeal. And we got some great videos during the course of the day.

I’ll start with the videos, since they do a good job of capturing some of our fun today. We caught sight of an armadillo on the side of the road, and got a great video of this bizarre creature foraging. The armadillo is truly one of nature’s oddities, although when you travel with a pet pig, you’re hardly in a position to throw stones.

While in Vicksburg, we needed to pick out new sneakers for our kids, who seem to go through a new pair every three months. We thought it might be fun to take our pet pig Rosie into the store and see how the clerk responded to our request to fit her for a new pair of shoes as well. The clerk either believed we were serious, or was an incredibly good sport (or both), but we put together a fun video of Rosie’s trip to the shoe store.

Finally, in Natchez, we came across a restaurant called the Pig Out Inn, and just had to bring Rosie in, and inquired as to what their pig menu looked like. They offered to seat the five of us, but didn’t have much in the way of food for pigs. If Rosie knew the role of pigs in the Pig Out Inn, she would have high-tailed it out of there. We had fun making a video of this trip to the Pig Out Inn.

In Vicksburg, we spent the morning at the Vicksburg National Military Park, site of the long seige that General Ulysses S. Grant waged on the Confederate Army, which was a major triumph for the north and catapulted Grant to head the entire Union forces and, ultimately, become President. We drove through the park, checking out a series of monuments that states had built to honor their dead in the exchange.

We then went to the Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg, which was a so-so destination at best. Overall, I’d say I found Vicksburg a lot less interesting than I hoped. Other than the Military Park, there’s not a lot to be seen, and the town is more run-down than I expected.

We then had a wonderful drive down the Natchez Trace, which is a lovely road running from Nashville to Natchez, although we only took the last forty miles of it. It’s largely deserted, runs through gorgeous southern forest, and was a great way to spend the afternoon. We stopped for an hour or so, and Sterling played with Rosie while Gibson and I played baseball. During an hour, less than a dozen cars passed by. This would make a fabulous location for a bike ride in spring or fall, and is someplace we’d love to return to.

Tomorrow, we’ll check out Natchez, which sits right on the Mississippi River, and should have some interesting older houses.


Day 4, Hello, Vicksburg!

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

For those willing to put the effort into a family driving trip, there will be rewards. Today was one of those spectacular days. We covered Birmingham and Tuscalossa, Alabama, and Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Despite a fair amount of driving, we had one great family experience after another.

But first, some comic relief. Tonight, we gave our pet pig Rosie a bath here at the hotel. This short video may well be the first time you’ve seen a miniature pot-bellied pig getting scrubbed up.

Now, back to our trip. We started the day at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which was a powerful experience at a wonderful museum. Our family has been focused on the Civil War in recent months, so it was interesting to try to explain to our children how it was that almost a full hundred years after the end of the Civil War, black Americans were still fighting for some semblance of equality. And while we were there, we coincided with three buses full of young school kids from Birmingham, and not one was Caucasian, which caused our kids to ask, “So, are the schools here integrated?”

We then hit the road west, and peeled off the highway into Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama. We stopped at the Jemison home, where Robert Jemison Van Der Graaff (inventor of the Van Der Graaff generator) grew up, then went on to explore the campus. It’s a wonder anyone can find their way around the town, since every other street is called “Paul Bryant Drive” or some variant thereof.

During lunch, we were tempted to play the “catch a live lobster and we’ll cook it for you” game (only in Alabama!). Then, as we continued west, we stopped briefly in Jackson, the capital of the state. When we lived in South Carolina, we thought of Mississippi often. South Carolina, over and over again, ranked #49 in the U.S. (in jobs, education, income), with Mississippi keeping SC from being rock bottom. I often thought South Carolina’s state motto should be, “At least we’re not Mississippi.”

We stopped at the state Capitol, and our pig got out to check out the grounds. She seems to be very anti-government (or at least, objects to the Mississippi state government), and made a strong statement by leaving her mark here. Perhaps she objects to all of the pork getting tossed around these days.

During the day’s drive, Elizabeth was reading a guide book (Off the Beaten Path in Mississippi), and the author talked about the impact his pet dog had on his travel experience. He said people were so drawn to his dog, and then immediately were warm and open to him. Well, he should try traveling with a pig for his next book!

While we’re on the topic of driving, we have found our rhythm while on the road. I usually do the driving, while the kids focus on their home-schooling. Elizabeth will occasionally get some company in the front seat (see right), and otherwise works with the kids on school topics. And I’ve gotten pretty good at multi-plexing between driving and teaching algebra.

We arrived for the night in Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. We don’t know if we’ll stay one night or two, but are excited to check out this town tomorrow. Best of all, the temperature here is finally starting to feel spring-like, and we love the feel of a warm sun and temperature above 50 degrees.