"Since no one is perfect, it follows that all great deeds have been accomplished out of imperfection. Yet they were accomplished, somehow, all the same."
– Lois McMaster Bujold
Alright, let me start out with an apology for my laziness. We have just been so busy (yeah, I know, hard to imagine for two people who are on perpetual vacation).
So the last time you heard from me, we were finishing up in Hattiesburg and heading north for our journey home. Our first stop on that journey was Little Rock, Arkansas. Let me say this out loud for those of you who have never been to Little Rock - - WE LOVE THAT CITY.. Holy Cow what a surprise. This town is about the size of Toledo, Ohio but very young and very vibrant and very clean. The city itself is right on the Arkansas River (as was our campground) and makes use of that river extensively. People boating up and down that river all day long and, in addition to that, there is a 17-mile paved path from the downtown area to the The Big Dam Bridge. This bridge is pedestrian only and was built over a locking system that allows commercial traffic to travel safely down the Arkansas River to the Mississippi which is at a much lower elevation. Like this walkway, many of the bridges that cross the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock are pedestrian only. This is an indication of just how outdoorsy this city is. Everyone is out and about during the day walking around. If you are ever in the area, please stop and partake of this lovely little city. You will be very surprised at what it has to offer you.
One of our first stops was to Little Rock Central High School, the first school to re-integrate African American students into the "whites only" school system. September 25, 1957 was a supremely important day in the history of the United States and its fight to overcome racial inequality. The "Little Rock 9" as these students were called, took their lives in their hands by being the banner carriers for desegregation. Their names are Terrence Roberts, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray and Melba Pattillo. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, the city of Little Rock, as well as the governor, were vehemently opposed to what was about to happen and the situation became extremely violent. Nonetheless, 8 of the 9 finished their high school careers at the school as life in this country slowly began to accept that all people are equal and should be treated accordingly. I am sure that the 1957 citizens of Little Rock would be hard-pressed to believe that 50 years into the future, this school would go on to become one of the finest high schools in the country with a racial mix that makes it look more like the United Nations.
Our next visit was to an old grist mill that looks more like a fairy-tale site than a working grist mill. This little park is now right in the middle of a subdivision on the Arkansas River and difficult to find, but once you do get to it, you are well rewarded for the effort. The entire scene is absolutely breathtaking and apparently, David O. Selznick thought so too because this grist mill is in the opening scenes from Gone with the Wind. The mill is not actually real and was never in operation. The artist designed it to look as though it was very old and abandoned. The entire park is concrete construction but made to look like wood, iron and stone. The landscaping is nicely done and the little pond even sports a swan. I can only imagine how many brides have their wedding photos taken there because honestly, it is just so beautiful and something you have to see in person to really appreciate its beauty.
Next, we visited the Clinton Presidential Library. WOW was that interesting. It houses the books and records of his entire 8 years as President. You begin your tour with a tribute to his and Hillary's mothers, which was very sweet. You go on to a replica of what his cabinet room looked like and then tour through various displays of his accomplishments as President of the United States. My favorite part of the tour was passing by the display of all the magnificent gifts he received from other foreign dignitaries. Very cool. The final stop was his oval office, duplicated down to the most minute of details. That room is not as large as you would think, but I can see why it would be intimidating to enter. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by what we saw there. We have not visited any other Presidential Libraries on our trip but we intend to do so going forward.
We spent a day in Hot Springs and the National Park there. Oddly, they are situated on either side of the main street which we found amusing. As far back as the 1700's, the American Indians were traveling to this area to enjoy the healing qualities of these springs. The water is 143 degrees when it hits the surface and contains several minerals which some believe accounts for the therapeutic nature of the baths. Speaking of which, there are several spas that were developed to cater to the needs of the rich and famous back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These spas are still in existence today, but now offer much more modern techniques for relaxation. Hot Springs is the birthplace of Bill Clinton but it is also a National Park which boasts several nice hiking trails and a tower that rises 216 feet above the high point of the park. We had lunch at a place called "The Ohio Club" which was the hang-out for the gangster element that came to Hot Springs for vacation. It was almost like a museum with all the memorabilia from the time in this country when the gangster element was very prevalent. The food was awesome and we highly recommend a stop there for lunch if you are in Hot Springs.
The coolest place we visited in Little Rock was an organization called Heifer International. The following is an excerpt from their website that explains their history and mission: (http://heifer.org/)
Heifer International was founded in 1944 by Church of the Brethren educator Dan West. His vision of a worldwide program to end hunger and poverty was born of his Christian faith. From the beginning, the vision has encompassed all spiritual paths and all people who understood that to serve God, we serve our brothers and sisters. Today, Heifer comprises people of faith working together around the world to realize its vision.
By giving families a hand-up, not just a handout, we empower them to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity, but our approach is more than that. By bringing communities together and linking them with markets in their area, we help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.
I urge you to take a moment and look through their website because this organization is just so impressive. They are an organization that is not interested in taking care of people by providing for their every need. They believe in the Biblical principal of "teaching a man to fish" and providing the infrastructure and tools that will allow him to take care of himself. There is so much going on in Heifer International that the website is the best place to tell you all about it, so please do peruse it. You can participate in their mission by giving a donation or buying a goat or a flock of geese or even a heifer. We are so blessed in this country and quite honestly take our blessings for granted. It is incumbent upon us to consider the less fortunate. We spent a good deal of money on Christmas presents in their gift shop which sells a number of items that are produced by the people that this organization supports. Baskets, jewelry, jams and jellies, etc. are all available and made by the people all over the world. It was an absolute delight to visit this organization and we highly recommend a visit if you are in the Little Rock area.
This was our last adventure in Little Rock. From there we ventured north to Branson, Missouri where we stayed for three very rainy days. We honestly did not enjoy our time in Branson. It poured constantly and Steve came down with a very bad cold. We attempted to go out and explore the town but the traffic was so bad that we couldn't get anywhere. It took us 30 minutes to go 2 miles down the road. UGH!!!!! We absolutely hate that and I can only imagine how bad it would be if it wasn't pouring rain.
From there, we went further north in Missouri to Sedalia where we spent 5 days at an RV Rally. Steve and I are members of an RV club called Escapees, which we highly recommend if you are thinking about traveling by RV in the future. This club not only offers camaraderie with other like-minded travelers, but also provides a significant amount of education for RVers. We spent our time in educational sessions dedicated to RV safety, photography, using Facebook effectively, how to earn money on the road, cooking in an RV, getting the most from your GPS, and fun things like geocaching. We absolutely loved our time at this rally and can't wait for the next one which takes place in Gillette, Wyoming next June.
Once the rally was over, we headed further north for an overnight stop in Amana, Iowa. What a find this place was. It is the German equivalent of Shipshewana and the Amish. We did some Christmas shopping here too and enjoyed a nice German dinner - - Bratwurst, Knackwurst, spaetzle, chicken schnitzel, etc. MMMMM MMMMM.
Lastly, we had a stop in Illinois on our way east and back home. This stop was for a graduate retreat for Seminary students at Moody (like me). We had a wonderful time touring the farm which hosted the retreat. We were sad to learn that the drought has caused farmers in the Midwest to lose more than half of their crop this year. We saw evidence of this dramatic water shortage as we moved from Mississippi through Missouri and Iowa. Rivers that were once raging waters are now nothing more than little streams making their way around sand bars. Bridge after bridge crossed over these sad remnants of what I am sure were important bodies of water to the communities through which they traveled. It is hard to believe that just a couple of years ago this region was so overwhelmed with water that the Mississippi was flooding communities left and right. Nature has amazing powers, don't you think?
So, after a stop in Syracuse, Indiana to drop off our home (Big Red), we headed back to the Detroit area where we will be for a couple of days. From there we head to Toledo and a visit with our friends, family, and kids and an update to our family portrait. After that, we head south for Miami and our trip to Haiti.
Take care and stay warm. For goodness sake, you people in the north are getting some cold weather. No me gusta!!!!! (That means "I don't like it" in Spanish).