Sunday, July 7, 2019

Healing Georgia (Part 6)

(This is a continuing story about a recent trip I took with my dear friend, Peggy, to Georgia. You can start at the beginning of our adventure at this blog post, and continue to read one after another.) 

Oh, my friends. When last together, I had just finished my 5th blog post about my "Year of Healing" road trip to Plains and Americus, Georgia. With one last post to write . . . I lost my way for a bit.   

It turns out in the middle of healing, sometimes your creative voice stalls.

And if there is one thing I have learned in the past 6 months, it is the importance of listening to yourself and allowing yourself the time it needs - when it needs it. I thank you for your patience and understanding. Because, my friends, this trip has had a lasting effect on me. Allow me, if you will, to bring us back to Americus, Georgia and share my final post about a trip that helped me beyond words. 

Wednesday, April 3rd, our second day in Americus. We had already done some amazing things in both Plains and Americus (just the day before we were at the Rylander, Wolf Creek Plantation Vineyard and Winery, Gladys' Kitchen, Pat's Place, AND the Hotel Windsor. Yes . . . all in ONE DAY!), but there still was much to see and do! 

We woke early and got a fantastic start by visiting the Habitat for Humanity Global Village & Discovery Center, which was really cool. There we met with Jennifer Harris, who took us on a tour of the global village - where you can see life-size Habitat houses that are built in countries around the world. It was a extremely moving and special place to see and I felt so very grateful to learn more about the work Habitat for Humanity does. 

A beautiful quilt in the Habitat for Humanity building. 

It is easy to get caught up in our own lives, you know? Of course it is. It is what we do day to day and what we know. But walking through the Global Village reminded me of how big the world is, and helped me recognize the blessings I have in my life. I feel grateful to live in a world where organizations like Habitat for Humanity exist and do so much for others. It was really amazing to see, my friends, and I am so glad that we took some time here. 

After Habitat for Humanity, we went over to the Café  Campesino Roastery for a tour and Latte Art Class. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Latte Art.

If EVER there was something created for me, this was it, friends. And whoever originated "Latte Art", I thank you - because you are brilliant, as this is a marriage of my two very favorite things. Coffee + Art = LOVE!!

Truly coolest sign ever! 
Hannah Mercer was the Coffee Expert Extraordinaire (the title given to her by me, not her formal title), and she was every bit of extraordinary as could be. Hannah's knowledge of the coffee, along with Café Campesino's mission and story, was exemplary.  She walked us through the roastery and shared some great stories of how Café Campesino began. This awesome company brings 100% Fair Trade coffee from all over the world back to all over our country. 

If I could have . . . I might have dove right in there with those coffee beans!

After the tour of the Roastery, Hannah taught us the fine art of Latte Art . . . and that was . . . awesome!  With food coloring, brushes, and some awesome just poured lattes, we painted away some really fantastic LATTE ART!! (I mean, HOW COOL IS THIS?!?) 

Hannah . . . the Coffee Expert Extraordinaire . . . doing her thing!
Talking with Hannah during the art portion of the visit, we revisited the idea of what this trip of healing was all about. I truly found myself lost in our "cups of art" and created with tear filled eyes as we shared stories of healing with each other. Once again, I was touched with the compassion received from the people of Georgia. 

Voila - our Masterpieces! 

Oh, and I MADE FRIDA KAHLO ON A LATTE!! (Pinch me, now!!!) YAY! 

It's hard to top that, friends! 

I kid. ;) 

Still, we weren't done - with much to do! We said our good-byes to Hannah and Café Campesino, and went on to the Koinonia Farm for lunch. The Koinonia Farm is a Christian Farming Community founded in 1942 as a fellowship for members who commit to the teaching and principles of their group. Each day, members of the Koinonia Farm community gather for lunch at Noon - and open their doors to members of the outlying communities to join them in prayer and in food. There is prayer before lunch is served, then they ask visitors to introduce themselves and share where they are from and what brings them there, then invite visitors to fill their plates first, before community members.

The sense of community is strong at Koinonia, of course. I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed learning about its history and seeing the people who still follow its beliefs. During lunch, we sat with a lovely young man who shared his personal story with us and talked about how he ended up in Koinonia. He had such a sense of peace as he talked about what his day to day life is like. I loved that . . . peace.

Koinonia was a HUGE part in the history of civil rights in the south. I had no idea. You can learn more about Koinonia by watching a documentary called "Briars in the Cotton Patch" - look for it on Amazon Prime. If you are so inclined, I recommend you watch it. 

Lunch at Koinonia Farm in Sumter County, Georgia. 
We picked up pecans at their gift shop after lunch . . . and they were SO fresh and delicious. Bought a whole bunch of them, actually. And most made their way home . . . except for those that we snacked on along the way.

Still, we weren't done. So, off to Mobile Glassblowing Studio for a private glass blowing class with owner Philip Vinson we go! And friends . . . it was the COOLEST! I have never done glass blowing before, and it didn't take long to realize during my session why . . . it is HARD! Philip was the best - so patient and kind - and didn't say, "I told you so" when I accidentally touched a part of the metal that he told me would be hot. (Note to self: when he says, It's HOT! It IS HOT!)


Peggy was great and really did a fantastic job. I won't share any photos of me blowing the glass (they are not pretty). But it was absolutely thrilling . . . what an incredible experience. I can't wait to try glassblowing again! 

I said I wouldn't share any photos of me blowing glass, but didn't say I wouldn't show Peggy! ;) 
She was a powerhouse, I'll tell you! LOVE our finished pieces, too! I tried to find a photo on my phone of our finished pieces and can't . . . but trust me, they are Tiffany Glass worthy. ;) What an awesome awesome time. 

We left Mobile Glassblowing and went back over to the Americus Visitor Center and had an enjoyable and so entertaining sit-down Ghost Tour of the Americus downtown area with Steve Short, Administrative Assistant and Ghost Teller Extraordinaire! His passion for storytelling was evident in his awesome stories of Americus . . . I am glad he told us these on our last day in town and not our first! (lol). 

Off to our rooms at the Windsor Hotel, with just enough time to freshen up. We met Nicole and her husband, Tim, for a lovely and exceptional farewell dinner at Rosemary & Thyme, a beautiful restaurant in the hotel. 

Dinner was just wonderful. The food, delicious. The company, superb. The memories, more than I could ask for.

It was a perfect ending to a beautiful trip, friends.

Just perfect.

After dinner, Tim took a photo of us . . . three blog friends, and the soul of another, who through the years have formed a special bond of love and friendship across the Internet. We said our good-byes to Nicole and Tim, with a faithful promise to meet again soon (either in Chicago, or back in Georgia.) 

And there is no doubt in my mind we will do it, too. 

And off they went . . . Nicole and Tim. Two wonderful people. 

Peggy and I turned around and stood along the second floor balcony of the hotel for a while.

Looking at the beautiful building before us, we held on to each other tight.

"We did it. We did it. We did it for her, Peg," I said.

"I know, honey. We did it," Peggy agreed.

We stood in silence for a bit longer, and let the tears flow.

We did it.

She should have been there. My sister. She should have met Nicole, just as Peggy and I had. She should have had these days of amazing southern adventures just as we did. She should have felt the sun on her face, felt the breeze along her skin, eaten the butter roll, met the people, stood on the stage, drank the wine, tasted the pecans, seen the school, heard the stories, laughed the laughs and cried the tears. 

She should have done it all.

Now, 6 months from her passing . . .  I like to think that she was there, right along our sides, during all of it.

I will forever consider Georgia a most sacred and special place during this time in my life. The opportunity that Nicole provided - the hospitality that she showed - the warmth from the people, from strangers - the experiences we had while there - every single part of it felt like a giant hug, all day long. Every single person we talked to, every thing that we did, it felt as if I was being gently cared for and loved in a way I had never expected. And I am changed because of it.

Grief is hard (there . . . that is my expert opinion on the subject . . . ;) . . . .) But in all honesty, the loss of my sister has been the most difficult thing I have experienced in my life. It takes a long time to heal. I am still healing, and expect I will be for quite a while. And I am changed. But a huge part of this healing, took place in Georgia. And I am so blessed to have done it.

We have already planned a return trip - Peggy and I - for next spring. And we hope to bring a few friends with us. We might not do all that we did during our this trip (that Nicole - she ran us RAGGED!), but I cannot wait to return. My soul aches for it. And that is a pretty amazing thing, my friends.

Wishing you all wonderful, soul-filled adventures dear friends.

Today, and every day.


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Americus - here we come! (Part 5)

(This is a continuing story about a recent trip I took with my dear friend, Peggy, to Georgia. You can start at the beginning of our adventure at this blog post, and continue to read one after another.) 

Tuesday, April 2nd: We woke to another gorgeous morning at the Plains Historic Inn, and took a couple extra hours resting before starting on the next adventure in Americus. That last morning at the Inn was a lovely one, and while we were sad to leave these beautiful accommodations, we knew we were moving on to equally as awesome places. 

Plains, you did our heart some good. 

And I thank you. 

We checked out of the Inn, and took the short car ride to Americus, where we met our dear friend Nicole at her office, and toured the Americus Visitor Center. Nicole is the  Director of Tourism for the City of Americus. (If you don't already know Nicole . . . YOU WANT TO!) She is so knowledgeable about the area and knows all the best places to go . . . truly, she was the best tour guide during our trip and we were so blessed to spend these days with her. The Americus Visitor Center is a great place to stop to get some pointers on "All the Things to Do" in Sumter County. Not only do they have lots of brochures covering just about everything in Georgia, but they also sell great little souvenirs from tons of  businesses, have information on and provide tours, coordinate lots of local special events, and have multiple selfie opportunities with the Carters (which, we HAD to take advantage of.) 

Have camera . . . will selfie! 

After a great exploration of the Americus Visitor Center, we decided it was time to get some good Southern Cuisine in our systems. Nicole took us for lunch to a place I am still drooling over . . . . GLADYS' KITCHEN.  Oh, friends . . . what can I possibly say about Gladys' Kitchen that would make you get up and go? Well, how about absolute delicious home cooking through and through, affordable prices, and the best butter rolls I have ever had in my life? Yes, that is what I can I say. What are butter rolls, you ask? I have absolutely no idea . . . but I didn't know what I was missing in my life until I had a butter roll from Gladys'. And now that I have had one, I only wish I lived closer so I could get one right now (but that drive from Chicago might be a little long for me this afternoon.) 

I had the smothered pork chops with rice, broccoli cheese casserole, and fried okra. SOOOOO GOOOOOOD!!!

Gladys' Kitchen Butter Rolls . . . I couldn't even take a picture before I dove in.
What is it? A bread pudding? A sweet roll in a pan? I have no idea. But dear Lord . . . it is heaven on earth!

Oh, Gladys. You shouldn't have. But if you had to . . . why couldn't you have closer to Chicago? 

Peggy and me, with our Butter Rolls . . . sigh.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Kirksey. 

With happy smiles on our faces, we left Gladys' Kitchen and decided to top off our delicious lunch with some equally delicious wine! (Yes, so far day 2 is all about pleasing the appetite! And I feel only slightly guilty about it.)  So off we went, to Wolf Creek Plantation Vineyards and Winery for a wine tasting with Marketing Director, Hannah Cannon! With a really lovely tasting room (elegant and comfortable), we indulged in a small sampling of a number of their wines . . . and I will tell you, they were delicious! 

I am pretty sure Number 9 White was my favorite. Or was it Number 9 Red? Wait . . . the Mapmaker Red was it, I am sure. I think . . . ;)  . . . . Whatever it was, I was (once again) thrilled that we drove to Georgia, because I brought a whole bunch of these bottles home to enjoy. And since I can't have a Gladys' Butter Roll right about now, I think I will pour myself a glass of Wolf Creek Plantation wine! Special thanks to Hannah, who explained the fine art of Wolf Creek wines and educated this non-wine connoisseur on the great offerings they have. She was delightful!

We plan on coming back to Georgia next spring with a group of friends, and will definitely be back for a tasting.  

Yes, the Mapmakers RED must have been my favorite - because I took a photo of it (AND came home with two bottles of this one!) Thanks to Hannah for helping us make some great selections of wines to bring home. 

When we finished at Wolf Creek, it was time to return to the history, so we went back to downtown Americus and stopped by the amazing RYLANDER THEATER

And my friends . . . this visit changed me. 

For the better. 

In so many ways. 

I am a theater nerd, born and raised. I did a lot of plays in my lifetime (I think upwards of 30). I deeply admire, enjoy and respect anyone who does anything in theater. And still feel it in my soul, even though it has been over 20 years since I did anything on stage. Walking into the Rylander . . . I felt like I was coming home . . . to a person long forgotten. 

Nicole introduced us to the wonderful Heather Stanley (Rylander Managing Director) and Will Dozier (Rylander Administrator) who were kind enough to take us on a little tour of the theater - telling us all about the history of the building, the renovations of the space, and talking a little about what brought us to Americus. Do you know that feeling when you just meet someone, but you swear you have known them your whole entire life? Or at least, for a good portion of it? That is how it felt with Heather and Will. I think I could have spent ALL DAY talking with them . . . they truly were my kind of people. And the theater . . . what an amazing gem of a place! Heather and Will . . . if you are reading this . . . I ADORE YOU!!! 😘

The 600 seat theater originated in 1921, and is chock-full of all the gorgeous charm you'd expect from a theater of that time. Although it was closed for more than 40 years, an extensive $4.8 millions dollar restoration process brought the theater back to it's original splendor, and it reopened in 1999. 

The lobby is full of the most gorgeous paintings done by artist Jeff Williams. His work is stunning and I found myself mesmerized by the style, texture and design of these 1920s women. I love this time period, and his work is just perfect for the Rylander. Here are just three of the paintings hanging in the lobby of the Rylander. I can't remember how many more are there, but there are quite a few. Each as awesome as the next: 

Once inside the theater, Heather and Will shared more great stories of the history and restoration, and Peggy and I soaked it up. The restoration, now completed 20 years ago, was really well done . . . beautiful murals were recovered, tile work, lighting, everything. So lovely.  



It took me all of two seconds to run up on stage when they asked, "Would you like to go on stage?"

I thought they'd never ask. 

"All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players." Thanks, Shakespeare. 
And yes, that's me! 
Oh, my friends. The stage. Any stage. It still carries my soul.

Of course, when there is an audience, one must perform . . . 

Even an audience of one. (Thanks, Peggy.) 

I could have easily monopolized Heather and Will for hours longer, especially while standing on stage, so we bid farewell to the Rylander and our wonderful hosts, and went on our next location. 

But I will remember this place for a long time. Thank you, Rylander. For helping me find a bit of my old self. 

After the Rylander, we stopped in a couple shops in downtown Americus (LOVELY SHOPPING, FRIENDS!) and walked over to Cafe Campesino Coffeehouse for a coffee to go (Cafe Campesino . . . I will tell you more about this wonderful company and wonderful place tomorrow). 

Then we walked across the street and checked into our rooms at the Hotel Windsor.   Oh, my friends . . . the Hotel Windsor . . . . beautiful!!! 

After leaving our bags in our rooms, we leisurely found ourselves sitting out on the veranda of the hotel, enjoying our coffee beverages from Cafe Campasino. This being our first true moment of rest since we arrived, looking at the beautiful southern sky and feeling the cool breeze across the balcony, my mind paused long enough for thoughts of my sister to surface. 

And for a short time, some tears fell.  

Not because I was sad (well, maybe a little because I was sad.) But, the tears fell . . . because I felt her there. Sitting with us. Right where she should have been. 

She would have loved this trip. 

She would have loved just sitting on that veranda. 

She would have loved Nicole. 

She would have loved Georgia. 

She would have loved the sunshine, the breeze, the history. 

She would have loved all of it.  

So we sat. And talked. And cried. 

Just then, Vic Patel (General Manager of Hotel Windsor) walked up to us. What a kind, compassionate gentleman. I would think it is not very often when he walks up to visitors of his hotel and finds them crying . . . but his compassion will never be forgotten.  He asked if he could give me a hug when he learned this trip was in honor of my sister, who passed last December. And there, in that moment - I realized once again how amazingly good this trip was for my soul. And what good there is in the world. 

A hug. From a stranger. 

So thank you, Vic. Your few moments with us meant the world to me. And I appreciate it. 

We dried our tears, bid farewell to Vic, and Nicole took us for a little driving tour of Americus (oh, the gorgeous old homes - how I love it there!). We ended the evening at a local place it seems EVERYONE knows - for some good music and a whole bunch of fun.

Tuesday night is bluegrass music night at Pat's, and I have to tell you, it was a blast! We arrived early to make sure we had a great table (we had prime seating, my friends!) and we enjoyed some good food until the live music began. And when it did . . . oh, it was awesome!! 

We stayed long enough to get a great feel for the bluegrass of Pat's, and found ourselves with just enough energy to get back to the Hotel Windsor and get ourselves to sleep. What a great day in Americus, my friends! Absolutely awesome! 

And, we weren't done yet! Stay tuned . . . for the next day, we made latte art, blew some glass and did even MORE!  

Be back in a couple days with my final (I think) post about this incredible visit to Plains & Americus, Georgia! Thanks for being here, friends. I am so grateful to share this story with you. 

As always, peace. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Half-way Monday! (Part 4)

(This is a continuing story about a recent trip I took with my dear friend, Peggy, to Georgia. You can start at the beginning of our adventure at this blog post, and continue to read one after another.) 

When I last left you, we had just finished our walk through THE haunted house in Plains, Georgia. Truth be told, we were absolutely fine during that quick look at the house, and how I would have just been GIDDY had a door closed on its own, or something strange took place while we were there - but I am happy to report that other than an eerie feeling, we did just fine. 

So, we moved on . . . and our next destination was The Boyhood Farm of President Carter. 

Carter Family Farm 

Can you believe that I took about 10 pictures of the dining room table (full of "fake" food), and the kitchen and bathroom . . . but failed to take a picture of the actual exterior of the house? I guess that is what happens when there is food around (fake or not!)! 

Actually - I think it was such a beautiful day, we loved taking a few minutes on the porch of his boyhood home . . . feeling the lovely breeze as we enjoyed the scenery. 


Peggy: "I reckon we should get a move on." 
Leanne: "Let's just sit here and rest a little minute more, Margaret." 

Here are some of the photos I did take of the house . . . restored beautifully to a simpler time (when President Carter was a young boy and lived here). 

There's all that darn food I was talking about. 

The Carter Store - located on their property - set up as it would have been back in the day. 
The Carter Boyhood Farm was really fun to see after learning so much about President Carter earlier in the day. I am so glad we were able to stop here along our travels. 

And we learned that Nicole IS a GIFTED Chicken Whisperer . . . who would have thought? 
Here, chickie chickie!
After we left the Carter Farm, we had a few extra minutes in our schedule - just long enough for Nicole to share a bit of her personal history with us. Nicole's husband and his family own a timber farm in nearby Preston, Georgia. When Nicole and Tim were in the process of building their home in Plains, they lived in their family cabin on the Timber farm property. We have seen photos of this cabin for years, and being able to visit in person was so wonderful. We are so grateful she showed us this special place in her life. 

The view from the cabin . . . just beautiful.  You take just about 10 steps down from the house on a little deck, and this is what you see . . . 

Quiet. Peaceful. Serene. I could get lost on this little pier. (And then, I would probably see something out in the water and get totally scared and run back inside . . . but I would have enjoyed it for a short while, first.) 

After the visit at the cabin . . . we ventured over to Richland Rum distillery, and had a great tour of how they make RUM (which included a tasting . . . yum!) I may or may not have bought a bottle, or two. I mean, I am not sure if I can buy Richland Rum up here in Chicago - so it's best to get it from the source, don't you think? Here are some great photos of our adventure at the distillery: 

They couldn't have been more hospitable at the distillery, and we couldn't have been more grateful (hiccup!).  Truly - it was a lovely end to a long day of adventures. 

Well . . . almost the end. 

After returning to Plains Inn, we freshened up a bit and had a lovely dinner with Nicole and her dear husband, Tim, at 1800 Mexican Restaurant in downtown Americus. This was our very first time meeting Tim . . . and it didn't take us long to completely adore him and think that he was just fantastic! 

Dinner was lovely - the conversation was fun and interesting, the food was delicious - and overall, it was a perfect way to end our first FULL DAY in Georgia. 

Oh, I can't wait to share our adventures from day 2!

Be back in a few days with that story. 


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