Road Trippin’: Itinerary & Photo Journal

Bags are unpacked, laundry is caught up, our young Marine has arrived in Cali, Madeline is back in school, and we are rested after a whirlwind seven day road trip through eight states last week!

Bradley graduated his MOS training and is now a Marine MP. We drove out to Ft Leonard Wood to enjoy time with him before he headed off to his PDS.

The boy did not have as many days off as we did, so we arranged a little mini-vacation around Madeline’s spring break and our travels. I love planning road trips, and this one was no different!

I have never let others plan for us; the goal is always to try to pick activities that fit our interests, see as much as we can to get a feel for so many fabulous things our beautiful nation offers, and we leave plenty of time to be spontaneous.

To begin planning I always put our destination into the GPS and look at all our routes; this time we were shown two distinct ways to travel to Ft Leonard Wood. Our entire little family has a goal of visiting all fifty states (hubby has visited 49 of them; I’m at 29 & it’s become quite a contest between our 4 kiddos), and airports don’t count. With two routes showing Madeline pointed out she could add two new states to her list so we decided to loop this trip.

We would leave Atlanta and head west through Alabama, Mississippi, skirt Tennessee with a pass through Memphis into Arkansas and head up into Missouri as we drove out to see Bradley. Coming home we would go through St Louis into Illinois, Kentucky, back through Nashville, Tennessee and back into Georgia.

With our route chosen we had an idea of places we wanted to see along the way and we set out to see what we could see! I thought our itinerary was a lot of fun, and had a couple of requests from social media to share it, so here we go!  Of course some of this was tailored to visiting Bradley, but you should find plenty of ideas for planning your own trip!

Day one we left about four in the afternoon after Audley had gotten off work. We love driving backroads, especially during rush hour, so we when we left on Thursday afternoon we took 2- lane roads from Cartersville, Georgia into Gadsden, Alabama before hitting I-59 into Birmingham. With spring really starting to show up it was a beautiful drive past farms and flowing rivers and creeks as we’ve been blessed with a lot of rain this year.

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Our first stop was for supper just outside Birmingham. We chose a quirky little sushi restaurant called Rock-N-Roll Sushi. We absolutely loved the classic rock theme of both the decor & sushi rolls!

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Madonna & Tommy Lee Rolls

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Journey & Motely Crue Roll

With our bellies full we drove through downtown Birmingham and headed west on I-22 into Mississippi.  Once in Tupelo we stopped for the night at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Day two began nice and early (7:15 am) as we wanted to make a stop by Elvis Presley’s birthplace (we were in Tupelo after all), which has been made into a public park as well as museum. We stopped by before they opened for a morning stroll through the park. While we didn’t get to see the inside of the home, no crowds and the peacefulness of the early morning was worth the stop. It’s a park that’s been tastefully created and quite lovely.

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We left Tupelo and passed through Memphis where we stopped at Elvis’s Graceland, a last minute decision since we had visited the birthplace early that morning.

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Graceland has changed a whole lot since I visited 24 years ago which meant we only viewed the house from a distance. We didn’t want extra museums and planes, we only wanted to walk the grounds; see the memorials and the gravesite. We were not paying $70/each to do so!

We paid $10 to park; Madeline bought a T-shirt, we walked to the wall by the gates (that looks so trashy since they allow people to draw graffiti all over it), took a few photos and was back on the road in 45 mins. I’m not a tourist trap/circus fan when it comes to historic or cultural locations.

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We crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas where we hit backroads through the Ozark Mountains into Missouri to Mansfield.

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Y’all, it’s a stunningly beautiful drive, and you never know what unique towns you might pass through.

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Mansfield was the final home of Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was so excited for this planned stop! It’s not a huge tourist trap like Graceland was (thank goodness), but a tastefully done memorial to recall a fascinating life! Admission was $12/each for both the Rock House their daughter designed and had built for them and the Rocky Ridge House, Almanzo constructed. We spent a couple of hours here, and made it our last stop of the day.

Everyone was so knowledgeable, friendly and just lovely to be around!

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despite the rain, this was such a memorable destination!

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I’ll share more of this beautiful and historic location in another post!

At the recommendation of one of the girls at the Wilder Museum, we hit the backroads (make sure your gas tank is topped off) out of Mansfield and stopped in a little Amish community for an all-you-can-eat Friday night fried fish and chicken supper.

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Y’all.

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Amish peanut butter …. you MUST try it!

It was amazing.

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And we didn’t eat again until around 1:00pm on day three.

We rolled into St Robert, Missouri around 8:00 and checked into the Hampton Inn on historic Route 66.

Day three allowed us to enjoy a little extra sleep as our Marine and adopted Marine were sleeping in themselves. We picked the boys up from the base and headed west again towards Branson; an hour and a half drive. Lunch at Steak and Shake, shopping at the Tanger outlets was the perfect way to spend an afternoon with teenagers. Branson has so many shows and activities to choose from, We wanted something where we could have fun interacting and savoring time together, so the Branson Murder Mystery dinner theater was definitely the best choice!

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Our kids volunteered for the roles of the James brothers and Kay Marte (the local town gossip). With dinner and an interactive show we had a crazy fun evening filled with a lot of laughs!

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Day four we worshiped with a little congregation just off of base in Waynesville. Everyone there was so welcoming, sweet and friendly. We won’t forget our visit anytime soon.

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After lunch, Bradley let us know he had to return to base earlier since it was Sunday, so he suggested we make a stop at Uranus Fudge Factory, a quirky little tourist stop on Historic Route 66.

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And if the truth be known I probably was not mature enough for this general store and fudge factory, especially when the guy behind the counter at Uranus asked how I wanted my “fudge packed”.

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Y’all all I have to say is you have to have a warped sense of humor to make this stop which is why Bradley wanted to stop I’m sure.

After we dropped Bradley back off at the base we had plenty of daylight left so we ventured out to drive a little of Route 66. We drove over to Devil’s Elbow Bridge, and stopped by the George M Reed roadside park. Roadside parks were common back when people traveled Route 66 as they made great places for picnics and stretching your legs while on your road trip!

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Roadside parks would be fabulous now as we travel, but unfortunately we live in a society where people would rather abuse and destroy than appreciate and preserve.

Day five was partially spent on the military base for Family Day as we were given insight to our Marine’s career path and an opportunity to see the kinds of equipment he’s been trained to use.

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After the ceremonies we took our adopted Marines out for the afternoon for an entertaining lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings and an adventure at Ft Wood Escape Room. Thank goodness for my Submariner, because the Marines really struggled with this one!

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We also went bowling. 🎳 Thats all I have to say about that one adventure.

It was bad.

The boys had to be back in the barracks by 1730, so Audley, Madeline and I hit Route 66 a different direction for some colorfully fun backroad highlights.

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Once back in St. Robert we stopped in at the Route 66 Diner for burgers and fries. Service was phenomenal, and the food, although simple was delicious!

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Day Six started off with MOS graduation. Followed by a tearful goodbye, our Marine boarded a bus headed to the airport.

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After he left Audley, Madeline and I hit Route 66 towards St. Louis. We passed through Cuba where we had a fabulous lunch at The FOURWAY Diner and drove through this historic little town.

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Cuba, Missouri is known as Mural City

We arrived in St Louis in time to take the last car up to the top of the Gateway Arch. It was the perfect way to end our Route 66 travels.

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After supper, and moving on down the interstate we stopped in Mt. Vernon, Illinois for the night at the Doubletree. There we caught the end of my Alma Mater’s basketball game that put them in the NIT finals.

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Day seven we finally made it back home, but not before stopping at at a fantastic little western store in Marion, Illinois (McKinney’s) for some boot and hat shopping.

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We also made a swing by Lipscomb University (my alma mater) in Nashville to catch a little basketball fever. So much has changed in that part of the city ( in a positive way), and I enjoyed the pass through off of the interstate. Lipscomb holds a lot of precious memories for me!

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My old dorm

 

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The tradition of the painted mascot continues on…

While this was a lengthy post, I hope you found some inspiration for your own vacation plans as summer is right around the corner! I plan to detail our visit to Mansfield, St. Louis and a little glimpse of our short drive on Route 66! Hope you’ll stop back by!

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Georgia Backroads: BJ Reece Orchard

After a long, hot summer, autumn is the perfect opportunity to venture outdoors and enjoy the cooler temperatures.  Of course here in the South it just means it’s 90 degrees instead of 98, but we still look forward to the seasons change.  Throughout our marriage Audley and I have found many things to do to enjoy the fall and relish a little us time.  From hayrides and pumpkin patches to NASCAR races, the fall is our favorite season to venture out for time outdoors.  We hit the road this last weekend with a road trip on some of Georgia’s backroads into the North Georgia mountians and an apple orchard for a little apple picking!

While we’ve visited apple orchards over the years, this was the first time either of us had ever actually picked apples!  We couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful day, and to top it off, Granny Smith apples are in season!

BJ Reece Apple House & Orchards are located off of Hwy 52 in Elijay, just a two hour drive from Atlanta.

Little did we know apple picking was such a popular activity as the orchard was very busy.  Since I’m planning several things to do with my apples, we paid our $5 admission and then paid for the large bags for apple picking where most everyone else seemed to be there for the novelty and the extra activities around the orchard for the family…. not that there is anything wrong with that!

Finding the best apples was a challenge and like an egg hunt as we are a month into apple season, so many of the trees have been picked over!  Using the map of the orchard, we found a group of Granny Smith trees that had not been hit as hard, and loaded our first bag.  Besides snacking, I love to cook with these tart apples.  We also gathered Golden Delcious apples and Rome Beauties.  Using a variety of apple flavors (tart, sweet, etc,,,) makes cooking with them so delicious.

Strolling through the maze of apple trees, guessing varieties while we walked along was really enjoyable as we were able to talk and take pleasure in each other’s company without the interruptions of work and home. Cell service is spotty, so there were no interruptions from our grown kids either!  It’s outage season in the power plant construction industry, so any time we have to ourselves is treasured and very valuable.  Audley was able to leave work behind as we laughed and even acted silly as we picked apples. These are the moments we value and have helped keep our marriage of 23 years strong.

There were several family related activities around the farm from a zipline over the apple orchard to pig racing, but since we were on a date, we chose to skip those things.

Before you plan a trip to an orchard in the fall, remember a coupe of things:

{There were quite a few things I observed}

**Prepare for it to be busy and be patient,  Apple picking is a novelity and many parents bring their kids out to participate which can make for a little chaos.  There will be a line to get into the orchard as well as to check out in the Apple House.  Be kind and patient; it’ll make the day go so much more smoothly.

**Pick only the apples that are in season.  You can always call ahead to make sure your favorite apples are ready so that you don;t arrive and find yourself disappointed at the selection.

**Don’t take a bite off of an apple and then throw it down; this goes for your children as well.  I was truly disappointed in the amount of waste we saw. Juicy apples on the ground are a welcome mat for yellow jackets.  They will rot quickly and stink badly.

**Also remember to throw your trash away in the waste receptacles.  No one wants to walk through your mess.  Leave the orchards well kept for people to enjoy for years to come.

**I’ve never been a perfect parent, but there is a certain level of respect you should have for others around you when you are out with your children.  Please keep your kiddos under control as you spend the day at the orchard.  It’s not your personal backyard, a playground in a park, or even a zoo.  Children running wide open can cause calamity as older people also visit the orchard; it would be horrible for someone to fall because your kids are fighting or running willy nilly!

**Oh yeah, one last thing…. if there is a sign that says don’t use any ladders you might find in the orchard, it might be a good idea to keep that in mind, especially if you are wearing white jeans.

{Not that I would ever break a rule!}

While Audley and I really had fun together, if you are wanting a date without squealing, screaming and even crying children, a weekend date at the orchard may not be for you.  But, if you are pretty good at savoring any and all any activities as a couple, you’ll enjoy the orchard as much as we did!

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Take A Backroad

Audley had a Saturday off work this past weekend, so we tossed some water bottles (and the camera) in our vehicle and hit the backroads through North Georgia for a little autumn adventure. Driving up through Dawsonville and into Ellijay we discovered fall in Georgia, even if it is still 90° outside!!

Take A Backroad /

Y’all, driving the backroads takes an open mind and clear eyes or you will miss so much!

Fausett Farms Sunflower Field / Fiddle Dee Dee

Just outside of Dawsonville, on the Elliott Family Parkway, was nestled a little sunflower farm. If you are cruising along with only one destination on your mind you’ll miss this sweet little stop, but if you’re savoring the beautiful drive towards the mountains you can’t miss it!

Audley pulled off into the small parking lot (paid $10 for our car) and off we strolled through the Fausett Farms Sunflower field.

Fausett Farms Sunflowers / Fiddle Dee Dee

Saturday was just gorgeous, with all the sunflowers opened and turned to worship the sun. We strolled through the readymade trails of the field holding hands and just taking time to enjoy this simple moment. It really was nice to be away from the city and slow down!

Fausett Farms Autumn Sunflowers / Fiddle Dee DeeSunflower Farm /Fiddle Dee Dee

We were not alone, but it seemed that all who were strolling through the field except for the one family with screaming kids who had zero desire to pose for pictures were enjoying the laid back country atmosphere.

Autumn Scenes / Fiddle Dee Deedate day fausett farms / fiddle dee dee

Next to the huge sunflower field was a pole barn where we discovered delicious BBQ sandwiches, homemade ice cream, yummy boiled peanuts and fresh local honey.

Georgia Local Honey / Fiddle Dee Dee

{I’m totally a sucker for local honey}

Now THAT’S a pot of boiled peanuts!!

Fausett Farms isn’t a carnival or a huge tourist attraction, it’s a simple little homegrown sunflower field on a Georgia backroad that begs you to slow down and stop to smell the sunflowers.

Dawsonville Georgia Fausett Farms Sunflowers / Fiddle Dee Dee

Just think, if we drove the backroads like we drive 285 around Atlanta we would have missed all of this beauty and peacefulness.

So often in life we tend to stay on the main roads because it’s easier. We miss so much when we take the easy route. Hitting the backroads reminds us to slow down and take in the heart of our country, and in the process slow down and savor the little moments in our own personal relationships.

Happy Fall Y’all! Slow down and take the time to savor every moment.

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Late Summer at Pollo Tropical

It seems more and more families are looking for healthier options when dinning out while traveling or after a late day of sports. I know when we chose to dine out I really research healthier options because that is super important to my own family!

Fortunately we live in an area where several healthier options are available, including the inconspicuous Pollo Tropical; an upscale fast food option.

Last week I was invited to try a few new menu options as well as taste some of their original eats from this unique brand.

What makes Pollo Tropical different from other fast food restaurants?

** How about no freezers in the restaurant?! Everything is brought in fresh; prepped and prepared fresh in house daily.

**Pollo Tropical serves chicken that is natural; in other words, no hormones or antibiotics have been injected into their chicken as it was raised.

**The chicken is marinated in their special citrus marinade overnight and grilled fresh (never frozen) & right where you can watch.

** Recipes are traditional made with fresh ingredients daily, including the sauces on the sauce bar.

**Pollo Tropical prides itself in not using trans fats in their foods, and because everything is prepared fresh in-house there are a lot less unnatural preservatives in your food!

While known for their citrus marinated grilled chicken, Pollo Tropical has added Pollo Bites; fresh marinated chicken, dipped and battered in-house then fried in canola oil. These for perfect for those kiddos that love their chicken nuggets!

Also new to the menu are a couple of different chicken sandwiches. The chicken BLT with spicy chipotle ranch is so delicious!

For lighter fare, the bacon-shrimp salad served with dressing hits the spot. The shrimp is also marinated in the citrus marinade and then boiled.

The pulled pork sandwich with guava bbq sauce is such a treat. And I learned that in the Miami area this sandwich is served with a Cuban bbq sauce.

Originally founded in 1988 the Pollo Tropical chain has grown to 140 restaurants throughout Florida and up into the metro Atlanta area. This makes it really convenient for my southeastern friends when they hit the road for vacation!!

Check it out!