Monday, April 14, 2014


Alabama was a key state in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Many events that are now written into our history books occurred in this state, including Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus in 1954 and the resulting Montgomery bus boycott that lasted more than a year and led to the desegregation of the city's buses.  It was in Montgomery that Martin Luther King, Jr., a young minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement. It was from a jail in Alabama that King, who had been arrested during anti-segregation protests, wrote his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which defended non-violent resistance to unjust laws and racism and became a key document in the movement. A few months later, police used fire hoses and dogs to control demonstrators in Birmingham, and the images spread rapidly around the world, garnering much sympathy and respect for the civil rights protesters. Later that year, a bomb exploded in a Birmingham church, killing four girls attending Sunday School. In March 1965, protesters on a march from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights were stopped by police using tear gas, whips, and clubs, resulting in 50 people being hospitalized and spurring on the enactment of the Voting Rights Act a few months later. A third attempt at a Selma to Montgomery March was successful, ending on March 25, 1965, with 25,000 protestors at the base of the capitol steps.

Knowing these facts makes a visit to the state's beautiful Greek-revival capitol building even more interesting.
Jefferson Davis stood under the front portico of this building on February 18, 1861, and took the Oath of Office of the President of the Confederate States of America.
Most of the capitol buildings we've visited have statues honoring famous people. I liked this one in Montgomery honoring law enforcement officers:

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, and with a population of just over 200,000 it is the state's second-largest city, just behind Birmingham. In spite of its population, it has a very small-town feel.

It was rainy when we were there, so very few people were out and about as we took a nice stroll downtown next to the Alabama River. One of the things I really enjoyed was a series of murals on the buildings. I come from a city filled with public art like this, so I'm always on the lookout for it when we travel. These are especially fun paintings:
This giant fish looks like he about to swallow not just Jonah, but the entire Garden of Eden and the stable with Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ALABAMA'S HIGHEST POINT: CHEAHA STATE PARK (With a side order of Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles)

Bob and I had plans to climb to the highest point in Alabama, and we knew we needed to fuel up before leaving Atlanta, so we stopped for lunch at Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles Restaurant: 
I like Gladys Knight a lot, and I like her even more now that I've seen the rules she has posted in the window of her restaurant:

I've never thought to combine chicken and waffles on the same plate, and I can't say that I plan on doing it for our next dinner party, but it was pretty fun to try it in Atlanta. In fact, it's a common combination all over the South.
Bob's Southern-fried chicken
My waffle--moist and soft with a slight sweetness
Our sides were the best part of the meal: corn, cheese and grits,
black-eyed peas, and collard greens

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


We love Presidential Libraries/Birthplaces/Museums. Looking at history in the context of one individual's contributions is enlightening. This was particularly true of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, which happens to be next door to but run separately from the Carter Center, a non-profit human rights agency founded by Jimmy and Rosalyn in 1982.
The approach to the Library and Museum includes a roundabout lined with state flags.
 The library is built on the spot where Union General William T. Sherman orchestrated the Battle of Atlanta in 1864
Carter took office in January 1977, the middle of my senior year of high school. His was the first presidency that meant something to me on a political level. I remember that my mother, usually a Republican, voted for him because of his stance on human rights. I still find him to be one of our most interesting Presidents, partly because of his farm boy roots, something I can identify with.

Friday, March 28, 2014


I grew up in a small town and went to a small high school. Although we had a smattering of Mexicon students, there really wasn't much diversity. In my three years of high school, there was only one African-American student, and he was from a local boys' ranch.

However, then I married and moved to California and got a job teaching at an inner-city community college. I've mentioned before how we buy Christmas tree ornaments as we travel as mementos of different places and different cultures. Well, the year I started teaching, I bought an African-American angel ornament. It's a little embarrassing to admit that, but to me it represented a shift in attitude and a new appreciation for a culture I had previously had little exposure to.  About one-third to one-half of my students were African-American, and I read their stories for thirteen years until I moved to a college closer to home that draws from a much more upscale population.

I've always wondered if that was the right move. It saves me a lot of time and gas, but I loved teaching at that inner-city college. I loved those stories of hardship and defeat and struggle and grit. Most of my students were not just the first person in their family to go to college, but they were the first to graduate from high school. I developed a respect for what it means to beat the odds.

Traveling in the South and visiting Civil Rights sites is a similar, if not even more intense, educational experience. On our recent trip to Atlanta, we spent several hours at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, a complex that includes a museum, a Walk of Fame, some significant statues, the MLK birthplace, the tombs of Martin and his wife Coretta, and an important Southern Baptist church.
Knowing that this is a popular destination for school groups, we got an early start. Our first visit was to the founder of King's nonviolence movement: Mahatma Gandhi.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


My husband had plans to attend a seminar in Orlando a few months ago, so we tacked on a pre-seminar trip to Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. We figured it was a good time to travel in the South--warm but not too warm.


The day we arrived in Atlanta had a high of 25°, and we froze. However, we were very lucky because just a few weeks later, Mother Nature gifted Atlanta and other parts of the South with highly unusual snowstorms. But I digress.

The only places we had ever been in Atlanta were the airport and Olympic Park. We went to the latter when we had a four-hour layover on a trip to London in 1999. We had just enough time to catch the lightrail into town, take a quick look at the park, and return to the airport. We knew we needed to go back some day.

This time we started our visit at the Immaculate Conception Church. Originally a simple wood frame structure built in 1848, it was the first Catholic Church in Atlanta. Because of the pleadings of Father Thomas O'Reilly, the church, four other churches, and the City Hall-Court House were saved from destruction when Atlanta was burned during the Civil War. (Ironically, the church was almost burned down in a fire in 1982.) The Northern Army did, however, occupy the building and use it as a military hospital. After the war was over, the parish built this bigger and better church on the same site, and in 1954 it was declared a shrine.

Because of its location in tight city streets, it was hard to get a good photo:

. . . but when we turned around, there it was, perfectly reflected in the windows across the street:

Thursday, March 20, 2014


I've always been a big reader. My mother, a first grade teacher and a reading specialist, encouraged my siblings and me to use our library cards frequently. The library was on the corner of State Street and Main in the small town where I grew up, about ten minutes from home by bicycle. The adult section was on the main and second floors, and the children's library was downstairs. As if the library were not a big enough draw, next door was Roe's Bakery, home of the world's best freshly-baked goodies. We could grab a load of books and a giant sugar cookie in a single trip downtown.
The library still stands, although the books have been moved to a more modern facility, and the bakery is long gone.
My sister and I would come home with six or seven books at a time, and we'd devour them in a week before going back to the library for a new fix. By the time I was in sixth grade, the librarian in the "Junior" section was letting me read new books before they went on the shelves. (I distinctly remember reading The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton before anyone else had even heard of it.) I became a substitute librarian in the downstairs room during high school, a job I loved. It was a no-brainer for me to become an English major in college.

I still love to read, and I have found that reading can substantially enhance what I get out of a trip. When we used to travel with our children, I learned that reading out loud and books-on-tape made the long drives much shorter. Later, when we started to travel sans children, I would bring along a good novel and relish the extra time I had to read on the plane or in the car. A few years ago I started to try to tie in my reading to our travel destinations. It was so much fun that I wondered what had taken me so long to figure out how much that could add to my experience.

I've added a section to this blog entitled "Books I've Read."  It's a tab at the top of the blog, just under the photo and title.  Click on it and see the books I've included in some of my posts. A brief blurb about the book is usually found at the very end of the post. I am gradually adding more place-related books to past posts.

In the April 2014 edition of National Geographic Traveler, Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows writes, "When I travel, I look for a novel that evokes the destination I'm visiting, with a strong sense of place and insights beyond those offered by a guidebook." Travel guides are great for background and history, but there is nothing like a good book to get to the soul of a place. I've included non-fiction, usually history and biographies, along with novels.

The point of this post is that I would like some more suggestions of good place-related reading. If you know of a good book that ties into one of my blog posts, please mention it and give a brief description in the comments section for that post.  You can click on the tab "Places I've Been" to see my posts sorted by country. Then all you have to do is click on the appropriate post and add your suggestions.

I'm looking forward to some new ideas!