Tag Archives: road trips

Chicago to Savannah: Family Road Trip Recap

My mom turned 60 the week of Thanksgiving, and so my brother, Kevin, and I decided that we would plan a family vacation — something we really hadn’t done in the better part of a decade — to celebrate. I love to give people experiences instead of stuff. This vacation was a chance to be in the moment (I barely glanced at e-mail all week), give back as adults and create some great memories with the fam. It was awesome to include Joe in a family event less emotionally fraught than wedding planning, too. Grab a mug of tea for a recap with all the details!


We chose Savannah because we were interested in going somewhere that would be warmish in late fall, that had sightseeing potential (but wasn’t super cheesy touristy) and since my mom had always talked of visiting neighboring Hilton Head and Savannah is the birthplace of Girl Scouts, it felt like the right fit. I’m so glad we made this our destination! We had just the right amount of time to explore, and the city was super easy to navigate. And Spanish moss. Everywhere.

Kevin and I wanted to cover most of the trip expenses because, let’s be real – it’s not much of a present if you’re like “Yay! We’re taking you on a vacation! Now buy your $500 plane ticket!” but we’re on a budget and so we started to look into driving the nearly 1,000 miles there. I got a pretty sweet deal on a Ford Escape by calling and pre-paying with Avis (unlimited miles) and we listed all four adults as drivers for the 14+ hour trek. Kevin is a consultant who has a ridiculous stash of Marriott points and gets government hotel rates, so he hooked us up with lodging. Of course, we downloaded Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil audiobook and listened to part of it on the way there.

Day 1: Chicago to Asheville, NC. With a spontaneous pit stop at a fried chicken place worthy of a historical marker.

We decided to get the long drive out of the way first, stopping at a rest area for a picnic lunch and then making a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the original KFC/Colonel Sanders Cafe in Kentucky, which was just goofy and random enough to make us feel like we were on a genuine road trip.


We stayed at the Grand Bohemian in Asheville, which was pretty luxe (thanks, Kev!) and right outside the Biltmore Estate. The hotel sent up champagne and snacks to help toast my mom, since we’d set out on her actual birthday, and we were able to get a late dinner of awesome burgers at the Village Wayside, a short walk down the street. (It was tempting to go to the fanciest McDonalds and Hardees we’d ever seen, but I’m glad we stuck to local flavor!)


We got up early and headed to the Biltmore for a tour of one of the country’s oldest and most opulent privately owned residences. I assumed it was owned by a nonprofit Foundation, a la Des Moines’ Salisbury House, but not so. Tickets are pricey, plus you could pay an extra $10-20 for an audio or guided tour. But the grounds and home are a marvel and my mom really wanted to go. We started in the gardens and then wound our way through the two-hour self-guided house tour. We scoped out downtown Asheville quickly, “fueling up” at Asheville Brewing Co. before we hit the road. Note: Planning a trip through Asheville and Savannah while pregnant and unable to partake in the alcoholic beverages is a mild form of torture.

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True/False film fest recap

The True/False Film Fest in Columbia is like homecoming weekend for liberal arts and journalism majors. Instead of tailgating and a football game, it’s all about buskers and documentaries. I’d never turn down a crisp fall afternoon at my alma mater, but the spring film fest crowd is more my scene.

photo from Bully Q&A via Lucy Hewitt

We got down to Columbia on Friday night and in the span of less than 48 hours, we saw eight films. This is by no means a comprehensive recap, but I’ll let you know what we saw in case you’re looking to spice up the documentary section of your Netflix queue:

Queen of Versailles — From the description, I was worried this would be a vapid portrayal of the super rich. The filmmaker set out to chronicle the construction of the country’s largest private residence, but the 2009 financial crisis added unexpected depth to the storyline. The film does show some pretty ridiculous consumerism, but it also gets down to the truth of money’s inability to buy happiness (or good taste!), the psychology of greed and how not even the 1% came out unscathed.

Gypsy Davy — This movie chronicles the filmmaker’s deeply personal quest to understand who her father was and why he abandoned his family (families, really) for Flamenco music. How much of ourselves do we owe our children after we bring them into the world? How do our parent’s paths help us make sense of ourselves? Also, after watching this movie, I will never hear the Counting Crows song Mr. Jones in the same way again.

<Title redacted> There were a number of “Secret Screenings” of documentaries that haven’t yet had their official premiere. The T/F fest organizers asked everyone to abide by a code of silence as to what the films were, and I’ll honor that. In short, it was like this trip, but seen through the eyes of a boy under the age of 10.

¡Vivan las Antipodas! — If human beings packed a satellite with information about Earth and shipped it off in the hopes it would be picked up by some other intelligent life, this is the movie they should include. The documentary felt like being inside of a National Geographic magazine, with breathtaking visuals of four antipodes (places diametrically opposite each other on the planet.) The cinematography was unbelievable, and there were moments of quiet humor and heartbreak, too. The oppositeness of some of these parallel places was striking, but the strange similarities were more so. Joe and I both would have awarded this movie the best of the fest (that we saw), even though it was so hard to compare them, since everything was very different. Filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky won the “True Vision” award at T/F this year, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to track this film down because it’s not on DVD or anything.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope — This was by far the most lighthearted of the films we saw. Directed by Morgan Spurlock (although this movie doesn’t feature him at all), it follows some pretty likable geeks through the annual Comic-Con excitement. The tension comes from how genuinely these people want to be a bigger part of this fantasy/sci-fi world, and how the convention is evolving into more of a pop culture phenom than simply a celebration of comics. The crowd was super into this one, especially since a local guy is featured as one of the main characters and a few scenes were shot in Columbia.

Detropia– Go inside the crumbling walls of a city and see for yourself the challenges that globalization, race relations and sprawl have heaped upon Detroit. The retired schoolteacher/ nightclub owner in this movie was one of the smartest and most entertaining characters in any of the films we watched.

The Island President — Will climate change submerge the Maldives? This movie follows Mohamed Nasheed, the island nation’s president (who was recently deposed) in his brave attempt to bring about real change at the Copenhagen summit. Nasheed is a political prisoner turned president turned global gadfly whose compassion and tireless work for his people is admirable, even against insurmountable odds.

Bully — Kids cruelty to other kids, up close and personal. Hardly an eye in the packed house was dry after this movie, which hit home a lot more than many of the other issues. Families (one of them in Sioux City, Iowa), grapple with how to protect their kids, and with suicides prompted by the torment of their peers. This is a must-see for educators, parents and anyone who works with kids. Currently, it’s rated R, due to foul language and violence (coming from the mouths and at the hands of pre-teens), but this movie would be a great conversation starter for families. You can sign an online petition to get the rating reduced to PG-13.

We didn’t see everything (full list here), but that’s my recap from the eight we did get to watch!

What’s your favorite documentary?

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True/False tuneage

My brain is still reeling from the EIGHT documentary films I saw at the True/False Film Festival this weekend in Columbia, MO. The films create this mind-boggling yo-yo effect, the way they take you on a journey through macro issues in broad scope and compelling personal narratives that will bring tears to your eyes. It’s too much for me to type now, but I’ll share in a post tomorrow!

But first, a tiny taste of True/False busker awesomeness. I fell in love with Pearl and the Beard, a Brooklyn band that played before a few of the movies this weekend.

All three of the band members have spine tinglingly amazing voices, and their songs range from rollicking to almost ethereal. This latest music video doesn’t show the band, and it’s not at all what I pictured when they played this song live, but it’s gorgeous and makes me want to give hot pink yarn to all of the little girls I know.

Check them out!

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Picture this: American Gothic

Very near the top of the living in Iowa bucket list — probably right after sweetcorn stands and the I-80 truck stop (ha) — would have the be a visit to the American Gothic House. You know, the one in the background of the second most famous painting on the planet (behind the Mona Lisa):

Well, Joe and I drove through Eldon on a camping trip (more about that in another post) and on the return route we stopped at the house, which is by far the biggest attraction in town. There’s a lovely little visitor center/museum, where the mayor of the town was doing a Sunday volunteer shift. She helped us into one of the dozens of pairs of costumes provided for visitors to re-create the iconic image — complete with pitchfork and glasses!

The grounds to the house/museum include a cement staging area that marks exactly where you should stand to get the photo framed properly. We relied on some kind strangers to take ours. Then I lent Joe out to be a stand-in male for a girl who had visited by herself. The randomly cool thing about the American Gothic House Center is that the little park next door to the museum is a small disc golf course! Iowa is such a funny state sometimes. They were even selling souvenir disc golf discs in the gift shop. (We opted for a Christmas ornament.)

The American Gothic House visit was definitely a fun little stop after camping. The only downside is now my iconic photo is of me after having not showered for about 72 hours. Gross! We’ll have to send our photo in for their wall, although I doubt we’d replace the Klingon couple:

(Fun fact: My co-worker showed me a painting Grant Wood did of her grandfather! Apparently the work is up at the Muscatine Art Center.)


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Garage sale crawl

Does the thought of rifling through strangers’ things on a misty morning in the rural outskirts of Des Moines sound good to you?

Then we would probably be friends.

Last Saturday, I got up early, mad a trip to La Mie for coffee and perfectly flaky French pastries and joined my friend Gretchen and new garage-saleing friend Marcie for the Highway 141 sale, which is essentially a neighborhood garage sale on crack. Towns all along this ribbon of road are dotted with sales in garages, yards, alleys, barns, etc.

We learned that those who took Friday off to treasure hunt probably took most of the stuff that was worthwhile, but we had fun exploring and chatting and got a few nifty things out of the deal. (Note: Neon signs that advertise a “HUGE/AWESOME/WON’T BELIEVE IT” sale are not as good as the small white ones with old person handwriting.)

Some of the stops were busts, but the joy of the even for me was the chase.

I got some decent items for not spending more than $10 on a morning worth of entertainment (Madeline books via a “Mrs. Anderson” not pictured, nor is the guy who asked us if we wanted to make some money after telling us the banjo he had for sale was $450.)

If we come back next year, we’re going to create a garage sale bingo card to add to the fun. On it will have to be: creepy clown figurines, baked goods, T-shirt or sweatshirt with the name of the town and that town’s festival on it, things people got as freebies that they’re selling for a dime, etc.

(This weekend involved a bachelorette celebration, so no photos of THAT!)

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