Driving Miss Gracie

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for another road trip. This week we are Driving Miss Gracie to Estes Park, CO for a 75th anniversary reunion of World Venture, the mission agency that my parents served with in Pakistan. Not only that, her father was one of the founders as well.

We are taking our sweet time meandering across the Great Plains, minimizing our time on the interstate highways this time. We love driving the back roads.

Yesterday we swung through Badlands National Park. It did not disappoint!

Today we are Driving Miss Gracie through the Black Hills and on to Cheyenne, WY.

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Road Trip | Interstate 35

Scenes from a Western Road Trip

Western Road Trip


Road Trip Reading

Long hours spent in the car means long hours spent reading. Here is a list of the books that the five of us read on this year’s road trip:

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Vergese

Cutting for Stone

Guadal-canal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis and Mark Bowden

Guadalcanal Diary (Modern Library War)

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Walls, Jeannette (2009) Hardcover, by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Walls, Jeannette (2009) Hardcover

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service

Mexico Set, by Len Deighton

Mexico Set

Midnight in the Pacific: Guadalcanal–The World War II Battle That Turned the Tide of War, by Joseph Wheelan

Midnight in the Pacific: Guadalcanal--The World War II Battle That Turned the Tide of War

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Bachman and Henning Koch

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

On China, by Henry Kissinger

On China

Sipping Saltwater: How to find lasting satisfaction in a world of thirst, by Steve Hoppe

Sipping Saltwater: How to find lasting satisfaction in a world of thirst

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2), by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2)

We’re on the home stretch today: home in time for supper! Thanks for tagging along! I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip!

Road Trip Eating

One of the fun things about a road trip is the food. While we are not averse to grabbing a cup of coffee or a coke at MacDonald’s on driving days for the sake of convenience, we are trying to mix up our culinary experiences. This means trying to hit some of the local favorites wherever we are. Here are some of the highlights so far….

In Austin, the order of the day, of course was barbecue, at Blacks BBQ. As I mentioned in a previous post, perhaps the best brisket I’ve ever eaten.

Believe it or not, one of my brother-in-law’s favorite eateries is Waffle House.  They are ubiquitous in the South, but he often laments that the closest one to The Cities is in Kansas City! On our drive from Austin to New Orleans, we stopped in for a pecan waffle! He was one happy camper!

A great resource we use in trying to decide where to eat is the website Roadfood.com. Hosted by Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the book Roadfood, 10th Edition: An Eater’s Guide to More Than 1,000 of the Best Local Hot Spots and Hidden Gems Across America, it has information on their favorite local eateries in every state. The book and/or access to the site is a must-have for any American road trip.

After consulting the site for off-beat places to eat in New Orleans, last night we settled on a place called Rocky and Carlo’s a non-descript little place across the street from an oil refinery.

It’s claim to fame, as noted on a local website, is “fabulously oversized portions of Sicilian dishes and New Orleans classics including veal parmesean and the most popular item on the menu, baked macaroni & cheese, served with brown or red gravy.”

In this case “red gravy” is marinara sauce!

I have never in my life seen such a large portion of food for a single order. That’s THREE pieces of veal parmesan, which in our case fed three people!

My brother-in-law and niece, who have a more adventurous culinary spirit, opted for shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys respectively.

After touring a plantation house in St. Rose on Thursday, we stopped in at the Port Side Restaurant and Bar. Some in our party had deep fried soft-shell crabs; others had meat loaf!

And then there is breakfast. Forget cereal and toast! We are in New Orleans, which means beignets, those deep-fried squares of yummy goodness!

The first morning, thanks to a tip from Roadfood.com, we hit up the Morning Call Cafe in the New Orleans City Park. Oh my!

The second morning we went to the famous Cafe DuMonde, on the edge of the French Quarter. It did not disappoint!

On Friday, we roll out of town for Panama City Beach, Fl.

And I mean roll!

Oh, and today, my sister gets to choose where we eat because it is her birthday!

All the Tea in Austin

Our main reason for going to Austin on this trip was to visit my niece, who has fled the Minnesota winter for warmer climes. When not working at her day job teaching ESL, she and her boyfriend spend all their time on a business they started called Lost Pines Yaupon Tea.

Yaupon tea

Made from the Yaupon tree, a member of the holly family, it is the only caffinated plant/tea native to the U.S.

Here’s how the tea is described on their site:

Yaupon (YO-pawn) is naturally caffeinated. It’s also rich in the related stimulant theobromine (from Greek “food of the gods”), the pleasure molecule familiar to lovers of dark chocolate. While yaupon contains less caffeine than coffee or tea, it contains more theobromine. This more balanced ratio gives yaupon its focused, jitter-free buzz.

Here’s what the Austin Chronicle has to say about them and their tea:

Former coffee drinkers Jason Ellis, Heidi Wachter, and John Seibold launched Lost Pines Yaupon Tea earlier this year. Ellis had been experimenting with and enjoying the naturally sweet beverage for several years, but it wasn’t until the other partners tasted it for themselves that the group realized they were on to something. North America’s only caffeinated plant, yaupon (pronounced YO-pawn) is a cousin to South America’s guayusa and yerba maté. Known as “black drink” to Native Americans, yaupon tea was brewed strong and consumed on a daily basis for centuries. But with the end of the Civil War, and lifting of naval blockades, imported Chinese teas and coffee resumed their status as the beverages of choice.

If you’re in the Austin area, you can find them at local farmers markets on the weekends. You can also purchase the tea online from their website.

It’s delicious!

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Image credit: Lost Pines Yaupon Tea


Road Trip | Interstate 35

After three “shorter” road trips this year (Oregon in April, Kansas in July, and Montana in August), we’re finally getting around to our annual epic road trip. Being that it is November, we decided to make a swing south, with stops in Austin, New Orleans, Panama City Beach, and Memphis, visiting relatives and taking in some of the sights.

The first leg of our journey was a 2-day drive on Interstate 35 (I-35). We got on the freeway in Roseville, MN, and got off 1200 miles later in Austin. Just one highway (except for a detour to avoid a crash in a construction zone between Waco and Austin).

I-35 cuts through the heart of the country, from Duluth, MN to the Mexican border in Laredo , TX, traversing 6 states along the way. (Note: most descriptions of the highway have it starting in Laredo and going north; I, obviously, think it’s the other way around.)

Along the way we stopped to have lunch with my cousins at a BJ’s Restaurant and Brew House in Dallas and in Waco to visit Magnolia Markets.  If you are a fan of the HGTV show “Fixer Upper”, then you’ll know why we stood in line for 20 minutes to buy cupcakes!

While there is, to be honest, a certain monotany in driving 1200 miles along one highway, it is an interesting way to watch and experience the variations in geography, climate, and language as you make your way south. We left behind corn fields being harvested in Minnesota for the “home on the range” terrain of central Texas, with a few cotton fields thrown in for fun. Bare trees in Minnesota slowly gave way to ones that were still colorful to the still-fully green trees of Austin.

And somewhere along the way the accent of American English shifted from the nasal whine of “Minnesotan” to “southern.” Based on my numerous trips up and down the interstate I would say that  the shift begins to take place at about the Iowa-Missouri border. What I’d love to do sometime is stop at every truck stop along the way and ask a clerk to read a short sentence to see if I can plot the shifting of the vowels as I move south. Another time.

I-35 is an important part of life in the Twin Cities with 35W going through Minneapolis, and 35E going through St. Paul, so it’s easy to forget that it is not “our highway.” This also means that it is strange to go to other cities that give pride of place to the highway. I find myself wanting to say, “hey, that’s OUR highway, not YOURS.”

But maybe that’s the point; it doesn’t belong to Minnesota, or Texas, or any of the other states along the way. It’s Middle America’s Main Street!

If you’re into American road trips, or just find yourself traveling on freeways and wonder how they got built, then you might enjoy this book: The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways

Image credit: KSAT.com

Road Trip Reading List

Many of you have written asking for a list of the 11 books I mentioned in the last post, that the four of us knocked off on our road trip. Here it is. I will leave it to you to figure out who read what!

A Man Called Ove: A Novel, by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove: A Novel

A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow: Book 3 Part 1 of a Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords: Steel and Snow: Book 3 Part 1 of a Song of Ice and Fire

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, by Michael Meyer

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China

Myself a Mandarin (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks), by Austin Coates

Myself a Mandarin (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks)

Of Earth and Sea: Laughter and Tears, by Roy Dwyer


OLD HARBOURS: A Fisherman’s Legacy, by Roy Dwyer

OLD HARBOURS: A Fisherman's Legacy

Old Harbors: The Turn of the Tide, by Roy Dwyer


The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments, by Andy Bannister

The Atheist Who Didn't Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel, by Wayne Johnston

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale

Orphan Train, by Kristina Baker Kline

Orphan Train

Happy Reading!

Newfoundland Road Trip by the Numbers

We returned safe and sound from our annual epic road trip on Monday. Here is how the trip unfolded, by the numbers….

Miles driven: 5390.7. We thought about driving around for 10 more miles, but that would have been cheating.


States/provinces traversed: 8.  In case you’re wondering which ones: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland.

Beds slept in: 13. Hotel beds, blow-up mattresses, sofa beds, and ferry bunk beds. You name it, I slept on it!


Ferry crossings: 4. We were on a huge ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland (16 hours), and a smaller one between Newfoundland mainland and Fogo Island (45 minutes).



Hikes on Fogo Island: 5


Stuffed animal trip mascots that my mom bought: 3.  2 puffins she named “Chip” and “Dip,” and Sable, a Newfoundland dog.


Books read (by all of us): 11.

Stops at Tim Hortons for coffee and donuts: no comment.

Fish and chips meals consumed: no comment.

Fleece jackets purchased: no comment.

Photos taken: thousands.

Fun memories: countless! (I broke my selfie ban to take this one.)


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Sunrise and Ferries

A Pittman Drinking Song

Newfoundland Names

Halfway to Ireland

A Night Crossing

Got Chips?

Road Trip! Back to Newfoundland

It’s time for another epic road trip! Having been so captivated by Newfoundland last summer, we decided to make a return visit, this time to the eastern side of the island.

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 10.13.03 PM

Some people say we are nuts.

I say “guilty as charged.”

Another photo from last year’s trip for inspiration:

rose blanche lighthouse

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Who is St. Louis and Why is He Laughing?

Road Trip Reading

A Former Fjord

Breaking Bread

The Newfoundland Pittmans

Newfoundland and 9/11

Farewell Newfoundland