Monday, November 28, 2011

A Lucky Feeling

The last 2 days of The Great American Field Trip was like the last day of school carnival, graduation and rainy day recess all rolled into one.  I half heartedly suggested Helen Keller’s autobiography on CD.  And by the reaction of everyone, I realized it was like a teacher assigning homework the day before break.  I suggested hiking in Arizona, but there was only one thing on everyone’s mind – we were 10 hours from home, and excitement was mounting. 

I tried to gather some enthusiasm for the desert scenery.  As a last ditch effort I attempted to make the tumbleweed that rolled by an educational moment but I had already lost them.  In many ways,  I knew the trip was already over. The mental energy had already shifted. 
A small tumbleweed rolls by.  Santa Rosa, New Mexico

 I knew my audience well and it was time to let go.  I broke all the rules. The kids watched Jimmy Neutron and Tom and Jerry DVDs we bought at Walmart.  I let Janey buy some teeny bopper magazines.  We ate at MacDonald’s.   

For three months every day offered a new perspective, a new adventure. But these last couple days were about driving towards the familiar. 

My kids had never been gone long enough to miss home.  It's a lucky feeling. We are so fortunate to have been able to take this trip and luckier still to have a home to come back to. Home is more than our house. In a larger sense it is belonging to a community. The familiar grocery store, and favorite restaurants, parks and beaches. Knowing how to get places. And most of all  home is the group of friends and family we were eager to hug. 

The emptiness that homeless people feel began to take on even sadder implications in stark contrast to what awaited us with each passing mile. 

Janey had a plan and prepped everyone for it – when we turned on our street, we would all say in unison, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home” until we pulled into our driveway. It was the best way to finish.    Pulling into our driveway was a  triumphant feeling wrapped in a bit of disbelief. Screams. Hollers. Car doors flying open. Legs running to the front door.
All the planning and research and dreaming and was now replaced with memories.

Now that we are home, many have asked me “How was your trip?”  or “How does it feel to be home?”  “What was your favorite place?”  

I can only imagine the strange look on my face as I hesitate to string together a coherent sentence. My mind races through the explosion of mental pictures, memories, and emotions that stir behind my tired eyes.
Stretches of roads: flat roads, windy roads, hilly roads, farm roads, two lane roads, toll roads, and city roads. 
Flashes of corn fields, redwood trees, monuments, bison, rivers, museums.  Rocket ships, covered wagons, cannons, cotton fields, sand dunes.

Faces and voices.

Fried Chicken and macaroni and cheese in Georgia and Alabama, she crab soup in Virginia, bison burgers in South Dakota.

Conversations, observations, realizations, adaptations, ruminations, and navigations.

Closeness, togetherness, waywardness, happiness. 
I loved it all.

A few of my favorite things from the Great American Field Trip:









The Great American Field Trip has been one wild ride!

This field trip has ended but our path is still unfolding.  
Please don't be a stranger
and stay tuned for the new year for the unveiling of my new website!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homecoming - But First...

We are home! 
I have showered in my shower and slept in my bed.  I want to write about that and it will be my next post. But I would be remiss if I didn't first write about our last major stop on the Civil Rights section of our field trip  - Little Rock, Arkansas. 

The U.S. Supreme Court found segregation in schools unconstitutional in 1954. Three years later in 1957, the vast majority of schools were still segregated.  In September, 1957, nine black teenagers risked their lives as they became the first to desegregate the enormous Central High School in Little Rock.  These nine were carefully selected from a group of students who volunteered and were carefully screened. Initially there were close to 20, but the number dwindled as families received threatening phone calls and students knew they would not be allowed to play sports or participate in extracurriular activities.

They became known as the Little Rock Nine.  They endured physical, emotional, and verbal abuse from students on a daily basis throughout the year.   They were pushed down staircases, tripped, kicked, and shoved. They had feces and urine thrown on their lockers and had rocks hurled at them during P.E. 

The rest of the students who did not participate in these hateful ignorant acts, dare not be risked being called a "nigger lover" and although they wanted to show support, they felt they could do nothing and  feared for their own safety if they did. 

 The administration did nothing.  These nine were completely isolated and many of the teachers offered little support as many were staunch segregationist and didn't believe they should be there. 

The visitor's center run by the National Park Service was directly across the street diagonally from the enormous high school. Click here to find out more We saw photographs and watched videos of the Little Rock Nine and other former students sharing their memories. 

One display that really got me was a pair of saddle shoes with the quote from one of the brave nine "Everyday, I would wake up, polish my shoes and go off to war."

It was one of the first news stories that the nation could watch live.  The country watched in disbelief when President Eisenhower called in the 101st Airborne and instructed the National Guard be under federal orders to escort the students into the school. The first two attempts concluded with a closing of the school.  The country watched reporters being victims of the viscous mob, many of whom did not have a student at the school. 

L Alex Wilson black journalist from the Tri-State Defender Memphis Tenn. was there that day covering the story.  He had a 5 month old daughter at home. He was kicked, pushed and even had a brick thrown at his head. He never fully recovered from the brain injuries, developed Parkinsons and died three years later. Here is a photo of the mob attacking Mr. Wilson. Notice the brick in the guy's hand who is kicking him.

 I read in a book that he held on to his hat, and although it was knocked off several times, he kept putting it on his head because he was a gentleman. He never ran because he said the students didn't. And he never fought back.  I bought some great books there, let me know if you want to borrow them!
Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school at Central High.  
With a Park Ranger, on the second morning we visited the center, we were able to go into the high school and see parts of it. It was weird because school was in session and we saw students. My imagination almost hurt from being right where so much hatred and pain took place.  (I have photos of our visit but in the unpacking chaos, don't know where I set my camera down. )

Little Rock shook me up quite a bit.  Payton will be starting high school in less than a year and many of his friends are in high school. It hit very close to home.  I should certainly hope that when he does start high school he be an ambassador of justice and compassion and never be a silent witness to any bullying or mistreatment of a fellow student.  

For that matter, none of my kids may plead ignorance now.  These road school lessons will be tested again and again, in and out of school.How they perform on these tests mean far more to me than any grade they earn on paper pencil graded test they will be given in school.   If we see an injustice happening against another person. We must speak out and reach out.  This is easier said than done, especially if you risk your or your family’s personal safety to do the right thing. 

In addition, I will try to regularly remind them of the privilege it is to attend school without any roadblocks and to take that opportunity lightly will not be tolerated.  

I was grateful for the long drive to Oklahoma City that followed Little Rock. It was necessary to have time to think, grieve and process.  Had I been at home, and not on Interstate 40, I may have been too easily distracted afterward.

Oklahoma gets a bad wrap. I found the gently rolling hills and farmland that make up the eastern part of the state a welcome tranquil. I liked Oklahoma City's simpleness and desire to offer cultural, culinary, sports, natural attractions.
Oklahoma City is the kind of town you can do in a day, and I was able to check off the 3 main things I wanted us to learn about: 
1. The Trail of Tears - the relocation of Native Americans from the southeastern United States after the passage of the 1830 "Indian Removal Act"  (as unbelievable as it is, that is what it was called)
2. The Dustbowl
3.  The 1996 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City - and visiting the memorial. 

Thankfully there was an awesome museum in Oklahoma which covered all of this and more. 

From there, Alburquerque New Mexico, was our next stop.  Suddenly, we found ourselves, only 11 hours from home.
Like horses who speed up when they know they are near their barn, My kids wanted to hit the road and get back to their barn.  
Selling Arizona to them was like selling an Eskimo snow.   Even the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world was nothing compared to the wonder of home. 
And that is another story, which I will save for tomorrow...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Asking for Your Help

 I just found out this morning that my essay was chosen as a finalist on Sonia Marsh's "Gutsy Living" contest. She is a mother, author, blogger, and has definitely done some Gutsy Living. It is an honor to be selected an one essay for this month will be chosen as the winning essay. Much of it will depend on how many comments each essay gets.

Please click here to be directed to the Gutsy Living blog read my essay. At the bottom, you can leave your comment. While there, you will learn more about Sonia and her upcoming book.

Thank you very much for your help!


Sunday, November 20, 2011


When the brand new Greenville Bridge opened to traffic last year, it replaced an old two lane bridge built in 1940. The new bridge is the longest cable-stayed span on the Mississippi River and its 4 lanes of traffic carries passengers across a two and a half mile stretch of river connecting Mississippi to Arkansas. 

The first time we crossed the Mississippi, we were heading west and visited Hannibal Missouri, hometown of Mark Twain. The town is situated right on the Mississippi and its influence on Twain’s life could not be overemphasized. 

I was a little hard on myself because in my mind we were behind the reading schedule. The kids and I had completed Tom Sawyer just in time for our arrival in the small town along the mighty river, but had not even started Huckleberry Finn.  I was excited to be there, but there were also small pangs of guilt.  It  was my fault we had not finished both books.  If I had only been  more insistent that we listen to the audio book for longer periods on our drive.  Often, days would go by that we would not listen at all.  

We started the audio version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn just as we left Hannibal and just as our trip “East of the Mississippi” began.  Maybe, I reasoned, that after visiting Hannibal,  Huck Finn would mean even more.  

 It is a long book, and, just as with Tom Sawyer, we had several starts and stops. There were times we weren’t in the car very much like when were with cousins in Ohio or the week we were in D.C.  
Also, when we did listen to the book, I would routinely pause the story to check for understanding and discuss what was happening. We touched on the themes about questioning societal norms, grappling with one’s conscience, and the true meaning of friendship.  Additionally, there are several different southern dialects in the book, plus it was written in the 1880’s. Rushing through, we would miss too much and I didn’t want the kids to miss Twain’s brilliant humor. 

Needless to say, the book took longer than I thought to get through and I felt the pressure of the long list of books I wanted to read with them.
I vocalized my feelings on several occasions, “Come on, you guys, we are going to get home from this trip and I am not going to let anyone out of the car, because we are going to be sitting on our driveway finishing Huckleberry Finn.

Then the single most magical moment of our trip happened.  There is no way I can think of that we could have planned it better. 

We did finish Huckleberry Finn – literally on top of the Mississippi River!  We were on the last chapter as we found ourselves approaching the Greenville Bridge by complete chance.  I slowed my car down as much as possible to savor the odds defying occasion. 

As the final words of the book were read, we looked out on the darkening river, the trees covered islands, and the orange sky. It was effortless to imagine Huckleberry Finn and Jim on the raft somewhere out there.   

“We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”   
 Chapter 18

"It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened."   
Chapter 19

We were about midway over the bridge as the last words of the book came through the speakers of my car.
We erupted in cheers and high fives.  “We did it!”  “Yes!”   “Whoo Hoo!”

We marveled at how we could have finished that book anywhere; in a city, along a stretch of freeway or a country road in any of the many states we had been listening to it.  But what better place to finish than on the Mississippi itself. 

We crossed the Mississippi River two times on our trip. Both times with Mark Twain 

And look at that. I was so worried about finishing Huckleberry Finn, when really, it all worked out in its own time and in its own way.  Way better than I ever could have imagined.

As I think of the moments suspended above the river now, I think of the flood of emotion that came with the crossing.  

As the trip is coming to a close, I asked Payton if he feels he has changed.  “No”, he answered.  And then upon brief reflection said, “I feel more aware” 

The Great American Field Trip has been a bridge between before and after.     A crossing which has change each of us forever more. 

Below is the only photo I have of us crossing the Greenville Bridge. I grabbed my phone and shot this throught the windshield.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Being Green in Leland Mississipppi

The Great American Field Trip would not be complete without a stop in Leland, Mississippi. Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, and voice of Kermit the Frog, spent his childhood in Leland. His genius, creativity, and unique, lovable puppets, taught a generation of kids everything from letters and numbers to feelings and life lessons like sharing and cooperation.

As a child, I was obsessed with the muppets. I had all of the stuffed animals which lived on my bed, had books and records, a subscription to Sesame Street magazine. I watched Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and of course the different Muppet movies.

Kermit the Frog was always my all time favorite.  One year, my mom let me have a birthday party for Kermit the Frog. Kermit's birthday included green paper plates and frog cupcakes.

While I did not have had the words then to describe what it was about Kermit that spoke to me,  I think I can put it into words now. Kermit was kind, he was fair, he was humble. He also was a bit of an underdog with unwavering optimism. You couldn't help root for him.

As a news reporter, on Sesame Street, he interviewed storybook characters such as Little Miss Muffet or Jack an the Beanstalk. Here he is interviewing Humpty Dumpty. 

Kermit was a natural born leader, physically, he was small and perhaps lacked brawn, but his influence on the other Muppets was huge. His distinct nasaly voice made him all the more lovable. His vulnerability made it so that you realized, you weren't the only one who dropped things, made mistakes, or misunderstood stuff sometimes. 

In Washington D.C. we saw the very first Kermit the Frog in the Smithsonian. Jim Henson made this puppet from his mother's old wool coat and two ping pong balls for the eyes.  The Smithsonian is a long way from the rural Mississippi town where Jim Henson spent his childhood.

The museum was small but Dorothy, a native a Leland was a wealth of knowledge. She was a few years ahead of Jim in school. (Henson would be 75 this year) 

Here are photos from the museum:

The museum is a reflection of the man Jim Henson was. The beauty lies in making everyone feel welcome.


 When you leave the museum, you follow the green frogprints along the road to the Rainbow Connection Bridge in Honor of Jim Henson.

 The rails of the bridge are painted green!

 View from the bridge... I have expected to see Kermit on a log with his banjo.

 Click here to see the opening scene of the original Muppet Movie when Kermit is playing is banjo in the swamp singing the Rainbow Connection.

"The Rainbow Connection"
Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they're wrong wait and see.

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
Who said that wishes would be heard and answered when wished on the morningstar?

Someone thought of that and someone believed it.
Look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing and what do we think we might see?

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
All of us under its spell.
We know that it's probably magic.
Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices?
I've heard them calling my name.

Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors.
The voice might be one and the same.

I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

Hoping the new Muppet Movie will stay true to Jim Henson's simple genius. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

100% Cotton

So we’re driving down the road in rural Mississippi and I am seeing this stuff looking like cotton balls littering the sides of the road. 

Then I realized, “Oh my gosh! That is cotton!” I remembered the fields in South Carolina looking like expanses of snowy fields. We were told by locals cotton harvest would soon begin.

These cotton fields in Mississippi had just been harvested. The fields were nothing but small nubs and dirt now. I know that today harvest is done by machine, but I could vividly imagine the slaves bent over for hours in those same fields. Their ghosts seem to still hover in a landscape which has changed little in the last 150 years. I imagined the songs they sung as their calloused and cut hands moved with dexterity around the prickly plants, removing the cotton. Some of the farms houses may have been built pre Civil War, by the looks of how weathered and worn they were.

The cotton we saw were the little bits that did not make it into the huge freight car sized piles neatly stacked and waiting to be picked up and delivered to world markets any day. We pulled over and the kids picked up the cotton. 

"Are these things inside the seeds, Mom?" Sally asked.

Although on some level I know cotton is a plant, I never give it much thought. Well over 90% of my wardrobe is cotton, but when was the last time I gave thought to the plant that gave birth to my favorite sweatshirt, t-shirt, or pajamas? We all know that removing nail polish with anything other than a cotton ball is a joke. 

Before this trip, none of us had ever actually seen cotton growing.  

In school I remember learning about Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin. But until Sally asked me the question about the seeds and I looked back to see her futzing around with the cotton, I had never given Eli and his invention much thought.  Seeing Sally struggle to get to the seeds and remove them from the cotton seemed a harder task than completing a Rubic's cube. When I was a kid and again in high school, I learned about this part of history the way I learned my spelling words. Just rattled them off, unmoved emotionally. It suddenly hit me, Eli Whitney's invention was world transforming! A machine could do the laborious task of removing the seeds at speeds that could only be imagined. I had to go online and google "Eli Whitney and the cotton gin."

The Chinese proverb "Tell me and I forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I understand" was illuminated by our little encounter with cotton.

I wondered why not one teacher had ever passed around freshly harvested cotton to the class and timed us in our attempts to get the seeds out of cotton. This simple hands on activity would have really drove the point home.  I am assuming it could not be that difficult to get a hold of some.  Or, taken one step further, I began to woder how hard would it be to grow cotton with the kiddos when we got home.
I found some information on

From the website:
Would you like to see the progress of this amazing plant in your own home? Plant seeds indoors in 3" peat pots. Keep in a warm, sunny place, turning the pot a little each day. Best to start your plants indoors about 4 weeks prior to putting them outside. Transplant directly into the ground or a large outdoor pot when all danger of frost is over. To transplant, tear off the bottom of the peat pot. Water the plant well for the first few days. Keep in a sunny spot and away from a lot of wind. Make sure the ground is warmed above 60 degrees and put in well tilled loose sandy loamed soil. "
I like to plant cotton into a large pot so I can move it indoors during the winter and put the plant out again next spring. It will last several years if it does not get frost bitten. 

Driving through the South, it was apparent just how much cotton is still such a vital part of the economy and culture of this "land of Dixie" My kids had no idea why I kept singing, "I wish I was in the land of cotton..." and I had to hum the rest because I never learned that song all the way.

Wyatt holding his cotton that he picked up on the side of edge of the field.

Sally in the car with her cotton.

Is my next t-shirt in there?

Cotton on the side of the road for miles.