We ended our journey spending two nights in a cabin on Fish River in Summerdale, AL. We didn’t have a plan as to what we were going to do there as it was out in the middle of nowhere. We had one full day to explore. The cabin had a boathouse on stilts over the water. There was a pontoon boat inside which we didn’t have access to. There were multiple lounge chairs and the upstairs area had a full bar with a big screen TV.
Here was our view from the long dock next to the boathouse.
The Airbnb had kayaks we could use so we just decided to spend the day there. It wasn’t terribly warm in the morning so I pulled out a lounge chair trying to find a piece of sun. I sat outside wrapped in a blanket reading a book. Paul went into town and bought a fishing pole which kept him pretty happy all day.
The high temp that day was in the mid-60’s with a really strong wind. Paul and I went kayaking in the afternoon. I’m not going to lie, we were a little cold since we got wet getting the kayaks in and out of the water. But I couldn’t complain too much because it was a lot colder at home with our rivers and lakes frozen. The brisk winds made it really hard to control where we were going at times and I wondered if we might tip.
There weren’t a lot of people out in boats and if they were, they were bundled up. I supposed we were an unusual sight because people asked if we were from around there. The locals were probably huddled inside with the heat on but to us it felt like late spring. They told us sometimes dolphins swim up the river in the evening but we didn’t see any. There was a lot of garbage and trees down from a hurricane that went through in September. The locals apologized for the mess (as if it was their fault!) because I’m sure it was pristine, beautiful, and well-kept before the storm. They obviously took great pride in their state and wanted it to look better for outsiders on their first trip to their state.
I did get close to shore by a wooded area on the way back. I heard a rumbling in the woods coming closer to me that made me nervous. Was it an alligator? Or a crocodile? Do they even have crocodiles there? What is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Would I get eaten? I am ignorant of these things because I am a northerner exploring Alabama for the first time. All I can say is that the animal that emerged looked like a beaver. I wish I took my phone for pictures, but we left our phones behind in case we tipped the kayaks.
One thing that really stuck out to me in Alabama was that they were not strict about mask wearing. We went out to eat on a Friday night and could barely find a free table. After we were sitting down, I noticed that none of the tables were blocked off for social distancing. About half the employees and patrons wore a mask. This happened at several restaurants. In some ways it was nice because we had a hard time understanding people with thick southern accents with masks on. I just wanted to make note of that because everywhere else we visited and at home we have strict mask mandates. What pandemic? Things almost felt normal in Alabama.
We really liked our stay in Alabama. I think it would’ve been the perfect place to stay a few extra days if it was a little warmer. There really wasn’t a lot to see and do. But we could’ve kept ourselves busy swimming, fishing, kayaking, lounging in the boathouse, grilling, and having a campfire reminiscent of the best days of a Wisconsin summer. It was a relaxing getaway compared to the busyness of NOLA. I would recommend it if you are a country mouse like me if you like being on water.
We drove across a bridge for a half an hour and entered a whole new world called New Orleans. We saw many different things we don’t see at home like houses on stilts, moss covered trees, and interesting looking boats. I remember feeling a certain kind of melancholy, a homesickness of sorts, that happens when I’ve reached a place far from home. It’s hard to believe that I never left my country.
The city of New Orleans itself was bustling, busy, and congested loop of bridges and old style European houses. To be honest, the city made me feel rather trapped. All the houses were so close together. Plus there were so many people. (Although everyone was saying how dead the city was because of COVID). We stayed at an AirBnB in the French Quarter. It was a good place for adventure. The place we stayed was over a hundred years old.
We unlocked the gated door after parking in the fenced in driveway. I’m not used to gates for doors.
The yard also hosted a grapefruit tree which Paul and I went round and round upon. Was it an orange tree? Or a lemon? Paul finally asked the owners and they told him to help himself. He said it was the best grapefruit he ever ate.
The city was also very pet friendly. A lot of people walked with dogs and there were cats everywhere. Several people had signs to not feed the animals. One of those signs was at our AirBnB.
We even got a wake up call from a cat in the morning which was the only thing that reminded me of home.
When we arrived in the city, we had our hottest day of the trip which was 75 degrees. It was incredibly humid but felt different than our high humidity days at home which doesn’t even make sense. By the time we left the high temps were in the mid 50’s.
We spent a lot of time walking around the French Quarter. We checked out quite a few shops and bought souvenirs for the kids. We even checked out a shop that sold Mardi Gras type costumes. I would’ve loved to have bought one, but they were quite expensive and people would look at me as if I totally lost my mind if I dressed that way at home. I did buy some beads with rubber duckies on them which were super cute. People in New Orleans dressed with such flair.
We spent a good chunk of time walking on Bourbon St. Since we were one of the few tourists, we got targeted more often by beggars and scam artists. We had about 3 people ask us a day where we got our shoes. They bet if they guess right, you have to give them money and they get mad if you don’t. Then they tell you that you got your shoes on Bourbon St. Thankfully I heard about the scam online before we left.
I did have a guy put beads around my neck and ask for money. We did give him a couple bucks and I also gave him my leftover food which was appreciated.
Bourbon St. was creepy at night. But it was the most happening street with restaurants and live music outside. What really really bothered me is that we got approached at night by young kids asking for money. We were approached first by two pre-teen girls, then a little later by little boys alone. They had to be anywhere between 8 to 10 years old. I couldn’t imagine the life of those children or the things that probably do or could happen to them out in the streets. Personally I would not feel safe alone there at night.
Paul really loved the food in New Orleans. Almost every night he ate raw oysters. We tried different Cajun and Creole dishes and ate po’ boys and gumbo. I liked the fried alligator. It tasted like chicken.
One of the major problems of the city was that bathrooms were hard to come by. I saw several people unzip and pull up to the wall in broad daylight. The city has serious drug and alcohol problems which I guess probably isn’t unusual for a big city. We got offered edibles countless times. We saw a man having an angry conversation with himself. We saw another too drunk to stand although he was trying. We came across a scene where someone on a bike had a close call with a car. The lady was screaming expletives at the man holding up traffic. It was a great place to visit, but I would never want to live there.
We walked around Jackson Square and walked inside of the oldest continuous Catholic church in the USA. It was very beautiful and ornate as expected. One thing I wasn’t expecting was that there were fortune tellers right outside of the church. I didn’t understand it because in my mind they blatantly didn’t belong there. It was like accepting a one way ticket straight to hell and I’m not even Catholic.
We were hoping to take a paddle wheeler ride but the day we were hoping to go it was very windy with a high of 55. For some reason they cancelled the tours for that day so we went to the aquarium instead.
By far our favorite thing to do near New Orleans was to go on the Airboat Adventures tour in Lafitte. Thankfully we were able to see some alligators in the wild. Apparently the tour the day before did not have any alligator sightings.
One of the other things we enjoyed was visiting the Oak Alley Plantation. This was a sugar cane plantation with hundreds of slaves. We saw the slave quarters. It’s really hard to think that people were forced to do such brutal work in the heat with inadequate food and housing. We got a tour of the plantation house which was rather awkward. The tour guide was a black man and three other black people were on the tour with Paul and I. I felt horrible sadness for the way black people were treated as slaves. There even was a job for a child slave to pull a rope for the fan over the massive table. I couldn’t imagine a child having to do that. Sometimes history isn’t pretty.
The trees in front of the plantation house are several hundred years old and were planted when they were adult trees to show off the wealth of the owners. The trees created good air flow in the summer for the huge house.
One of the other things I really enjoyed doing in NOLA was taking a cemetery walk. Unfortunately I didn’t realize the cemetery was closed for renovations before I bought the tickets. I was hoping to spend all of our time in the cemetery on the tour because it was so fascinating. Instead we walked outside the closed gates and spent the rest of the tour looking at mansions of the rich and famous in the Garden District.
All of the cemeteries we saw in New Orleans and surrounding areas had raised tombs because of hurricanes and flooding. I wondered how it all worked because there seemed to be a lot more people that lived in the city than tombs. What I found out was that more than one person can be buried in the tomb. When someone dies they put the body in a casket in the tomb. After a year or two the bones are removed, placed in the back, and it is ready for the next person. Hopefully there is not a plague or pandemic where multiple people need to use the tomb at once. The tomb can be used for multiple generations of family or sometimes clubs get together and purchase a tomb for burial of its members.
Sometimes the tombs are abandoned or fall into disrepair. We purchased the tour through Save Our Cemeteries which uses most of the money from tours to upkeep tombs. They go through great lengths to try to find the owners of the tombs, but if it is found to be abandoned the tombs can be sold. From what I gather, a lot of people choose cremation.
I wasn’t planning on ending this post with death and despair, but here we are. New Orleans is a great city to visit, but again I wouldn’t want to live there.
When we got off the plane in Little Rock, we didn’t feel like we were far from home. The airport was rather small much like our own. It was a dreary cool winter day. The trees were without leaves but there wasn’t snow on the ground. It took about an hour to drive from Little Rock to Hot Springs. One thing we noticed was there were a lot of semis on the highway we took the first half of our journey. There were signs stating that no semis should be in the left lane. There were some periods of construction and at times I felt we were rather close to hitting a semi in the rental car that Paul never drove before.
We arrived at our destination the 1890 Williams House Inn at suppertime. Joe, the owner, gave us a tour of the inn which was beautifully decorated in the time period of the house. He said that although the house was owned by a doctor, he never practiced there which pretty much meant that no patients died there and the house wasn’t haunted. The breakfasts were amazing and there was always homemade food to snack on like cake.
We decided to walk the first evening to dine at Steinhaus Keller, a fabulous German restaurant that looked like it was in a renovated stable. I have to say that this was my favorite restaurant on our trip. Hot Springs was also my favorite location along with the B&B.
I did find Hot Springs to be a rather interesting town. There were plenty of immaculately restored Victorian mansions a couple of blocks away from run down places with graffiti on the walls, broken glass, and a filthy mattress in a vacant lot. There was a great divide how neighbors lived sometimes a block away from each other which I found to be unusual.
The following day we shopped along the Main St. and finished the afternoon with a soak and spa treatment at the Quapaw Bathhouse. Paul and I had our own private jacuzzi spa in the healing waters. Afterward we had a cool down period where they brought us cool washcloths with peppermint oil. Then we had a massage which was excellent. The masseuse seemed to find all of my trouble spots. They seemed to blend a mixture of hot and cold both to the baths and massage which was different than anything I’ve experienced with a spa service. Later we walked through the public bath area. It was just like being at a public pool except the water was presumably hot.
The Quapaw Bathhouse building itself was almost 100 years old. That just added to the experience. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we couldn’t tour the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. We did watch a little online before we went and the history of bathhouses and health practices in the early 1900’s was downright fascinating.
While we were in Hot Springs, we checked out the gangster museum. It was well worth the $15 it cost to go inside. Back in the day, Hot Springs was a resort town for gangsters like the notorious Al Capone. There was gambling, prostitution, and liquor during the prohibition. The gangsters spent a lot of money there. Now I didn’t see any gangsters while I was there, but as we entered town we saw multiple police officers surround an apartment building. For as small of a town as it was, there seemed to be a large police presence there.
While we were there, the temps hovered between 45 and 55 degrees. On the coolest day, we hiked at Hot Springs National Park. It was rather hilly so it was a good workout. There weren’t really springs on the hiking trails that I saw. The town itself had water fountains but the water was cold. There was a place people could go to fill up water jugs from the springs. I’m not sure if that water was hot. There were a few steamy spots right around the park entrance area in town.
I would highly recommend visiting Hot Springs. Maybe not in January when it is rather cool. There were plenty of fun things to do. I really enjoyed the town. The people were laid back and really friendly. It seemed to be a very dog friendly town. It was also the childhood home of our previous president Bill Clinton.
I’m back!! Seriously, I’m grateful that Paul and I made it home without getting stuck somewhere on the day we were scheduled to be back home. Our original flight ended up being cancelled so instead of two flights we ended up with three flights with two less than an hour layovers. Oh, and one of the flights was to Chicago during a winter storm warning. Fun times! Despite emails suggesting cancelling my route to Chicago then home the airline told me my only way to my home airport was through Chicago.
I’m grateful that despite the storms we flew over the flights home were really smooth.
I checked Louisiana off my bucket list.
I also checked Alabama off my bucket list.
The kids and pets are still alive and the house is still standing. Unfortunately, however, it is not a good idea to have two adult children manage the house while we were gone as there is currently a war going on between them that is still waging.
My husband has the goal to quit drinking for a year. He struggled with that goal while we visited Bourbon St. in New Orleans. It was always in his face. Sometimes we had to sit at the bar because there was no where else to sit. Even a wine truck parked in front of the place we were staying as we were enjoying some time on the porch. I know it wasn’t easy but I’m really grateful he was able to stick to his goal on vacation.
I’m thankful that January is over. I find it to be the most difficult month to live through in our climate. It’s the letdown month after the excitement and joy of the holidays. We usually have the coldest temperatures of the year along with a lot of snow.
I’m grateful to be able to travel and experience new things even though it was not what I originally planned before COVID.
I’m grateful that my parents and brother Matt received the COVID vaccine without any issues.
I feel really grateful for the gift of writing and being able to share my story. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I’ve had a break from blogging. I feel like writing is the creative masterpiece of my life. I’m not the most vocal person. I don’t create beautiful portraits. But I create with words and am happy to discover how important it is to me.
1. I’m grateful that we were able to go on our vacation.
2. I’m grateful that so far things are going pretty good at home.
3. I checked visiting Arkansas off my bucket list.
4. I’m grateful I planned ahead and was able to get an appointment for a couples massage and healing soak at the Quapaw Bathhouse.
5. I just crossed Mississippi off my bucket list. We are driving through it now.
6. I’m grateful that I was able to find the Packers playoff game on the radio so I can go back home still married.
7. It’s awesome to be able to write a post on my phone during a long car ride.
8. Tomorrow my mom is getting her COVID shot. Maybe we’ll get to see more of her now. I’m hoping that this will ease her extreme anxiety.
9. I’m grateful to be heading towards warmer weather.
10. I’m grateful for a husband that not only loves to travel but is also athletic with me. We hiked all day yesterday at Hot Springs National Park. The high temp was 44, but it was still 40 degrees warmer there than at home.
Although this was something I was initially upset about, I’m grateful that I made a wasted trip to the psychiatrist with my daughter a week earlier due to a scheduling error. Arabella was not doing well the day of her rescheduled appointment which lead the psychiatrist take my concerns seriously. He thinks she has more serious mental health issues then he initially thought. Then he told us he was retiring and couldn’t help anymore. The appointment was devastating on many levels, but at least we are closer to getting answers.
I got a hair cut and my nails done today. I feel like a new person.
My husband and I are still planning on taking the vacation I planned several months back. We are flying out this week to Arkansas and spending a few days in Hot Springs then traveling on to New Orleans. From there we will be staying on the Alabama coast and flying out of Florida. I have been conflicted about this trip. I booked it before I knew how serious things were with my daughter. As of now we are going. We have been pretty burnt out and could really use a break.
I’m grateful we have trustworthy and reliable people in place to take care of things at home while we are gone.
I’m grateful I finished the series about my dad. It was one of the hardest things I had to write about. So much so that I considered not even doing it. But as it is a personal blog, I am hoping to write about the good and the bad things in my life. After we get back from our trip I am going to lighten things up a bit and write about our travels. Then I am going to dive into another deep topic, having a child develop severe mental health issues during a pandemic. I’m hoping to post one more time this week. So don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for awhile!
I’m grateful that my best friend picked me up and took me out to brunch over the weekend.
I’m grateful for a good conversation with my mom yesterday.
I’m grateful to realize that I need to take care of myself once in awhile too.
I’m grateful to be travelling with Paul and for the adventures we will have. We’ve had a lot of stress and so many plans fall through this past year.
I’m grateful to have had some tests done today to continue on my path to seek health. I’m hoping with this trip it won’t feel so long before I get the results back.
Just like our greatest strengths can be weaknesses, some benefits of working were the same as the downfalls. Working for the census was adventurous and exciting yet at the same time anxiety producing. I had fears yet at the same time I had the joy of confronting my fears. I had to go to dangerous neighborhoods, yet at the same time it was sobering to see how other people lived.
There were some things I really liked about working. Working allowed me to get out of the problems of my own life and throw myself into something productive. I got paid well. I was able to contribute a paycheck to help support my family. I was able to set my own hours. I believed in the importance of the work I was doing.
I got some exercise because I did a lot of walking. I explored parts of my state that I’ve never seen before. I became familiar with the neighborhood around me.
As crazy as it sounds, this job also pulled me out of my shell especially in the time of COVID when I had every excuse not to interact with people. I met some really awesome people that I probably would hang out with as friends if we met under different circumstances.
I felt respected by the community in general. People thanked me for my service in counting the people. Other people respected me simply because it was something they could never do.
There were fun times that I just had to laugh at myself like the time I almost got into someone else’s car because I wasn’t paying attention. Then there was the time I came home from work and realized I must’ve stepped in dog crap somewhere along the way.
I met up with a lot of different families. I listened and learned about other people’s lives. I watched and observed how other people lived without judgment. People are very interesting. It was a job I could combine facts with people.
Thankfully the whole time I worked I was able to stay healthy and safe. I think the experience was worthwhile.
Working for the census was downright difficult at times. It wasn’t just the cases themselves. Although I will not downplay the fear of dealing with my anxiety. I did find myself in some really dangerous situations at times. Just doing the job during COVID was scary enough. I had to face the fear of things I could and couldn’t see such as the risk of getting sick. The uncertainty was difficult. I never knew what I was going to be dealing with on a day to day basis.
While I was working, my mom didn’t really want anything to do with me. She viewed me as high risk to getting her sick. My mom is a hypochondriac. Not that I didn’t understand her concerns. But it was still difficult and painful. She is living her last years in utter terror of leaving her house. She will stop by with her mask and sunglasses on wearing gloves or with hands full of handwipes. She won’t even pet my dog because someone infected might have touched him. She is battling crippling anxiety and insomnia. It is difficult.
The night before I had my census training, my husband and I admitted our daughter to the psychiatric hospital for the first time. It was stressful because I knew I couldn’t be there when she got home because I had to work. That is really when I let things start to slide. I allowed Arabella to stay at her friend’s house more than I would’ve liked because I felt she was safer there than home alone.
My husband was working his seasonal business that he started. At times he was gone for several days in a row. We couldn’t deal with a suicidal child at home when we were both working. Then later we struggled to get her back home.
I felt like I needed to work because the investments we were banking on to start our new business didn’t come through with COVID. We were planning on taking a small trip for our anniversary in the middle of summer, but I had to choose between the trip or doing the training for the job. Plus with our daughter, a week of sailing turned to a day or two on the boat. It was just another thing cancelled because of COVID.
I had to deal with a lot of things I was afraid of. I had to interview people in dangerous neighborhoods. Then there were dogs. Some days I had to drive for several hours. I’ve always been a nervous driver and had to face that fear. Again, not to mention COVID when I could hear people coughing. At times I felt like I was putting my life on the line.
As a census worker dealing with colitis, I was fearful when I couldn’t find a bathroom. When I was out in the middle of nowhere a lot of park or public restrooms were closed due to COVID. It was a real nightmare at times.
I had to get over the anxiety of talking to people I didn’t know. I had to overcome this fear of being out of my comfort zone by myself. It was also very intimidating doing things I’ve never done before such as purchasing a ticket for the car ferry. With every adventure comes a little apprehension.
In all of that, I still had to find the energy to go to the grocery store, cook, clean the house, and get the laundry done. It’s a big adjustment to go from not working to working 40+ hours a week.
I have to say though that it was a wonderful experience. I did earn a fair wage for the work I did. My supervisor was awesome along with all the other census workers I ran into along the way. I’m sad I didn’t have the time to write about this while it was happening, but I knew there would be later. Now.
By far my longest, yet favorite, day as a census employee was spent on Washington Island in beautiful Door County. Door County is located on the thumb of Wisconsin. It is a peninsula surrounded by Lake Michigan on the east and the bay of Green Bay on the west. Washington Island is located at the top tip of Door County where the bay and the lake collide commonly known as Death’s Door for the rough waters and the shipwrecks below.
In the summer, Door County is the boater’s delight. We’ve spent many hours sailing this area and even renewed our vows on the uninhabited carless Rock Island which is on the tip of Washington Island. Door County is a top tourist destination in the summer. Along with the majestic waters and lighthouses, Door County also has excellent soil for cherry trees unlike the rest of our state. The waters, wineries, fish fries, and specialty gifts makes this spot a vacation paradise in summer. However, the winters are especially harsh making this the perfect location for a seasonal summer home.
I left home very early on the Friday of Labor Day weekend to drive up the door and catch the car ferry to Washington Island. I was hoping to beat the crowds and I did. A lot of houses in Door County are seasonal and we were hard pressed to close out as many cases as we could before the door closed. I saw two other census employees on the island that day.
I decided my favorite mode of census transportation was the car ferry. It was the only way to get my car there. It was a windy day and the water was rough. Waves splashed over the ferry to give us a free car wash. Sprays of water sprinkled onto the upper ferry’s outer deck feeling remarkably fresh. It was wonderful being on the water with the wind blowing through my hair. I felt adventurous.
The island had the regular island vibe as I drove off the ferry until I got to the inner paths which were rather desolate for a holiday weekend. At times I drove on a one lane dirt path which I was questioning if it would even be passable. Once I drove on the regular road again I had to pull over because I had sticks wedged into the undercarriage of my car that rattled annoyingly as I drove. A passerby stopped to ask if I was alright.
At times I totally lost my map and all cell service. That was problematic because we did all of the census interviews via cell phone. On the way to the island another census worker offered me paper interview forms. I brushed it off saying I was fine and later was upset with myself for not having any extra paper just in case. I had to rely heavily on the map they gave me on the car ferry. It was hard not to get turned around.
I saw a lot of wildlife on the island. As I was approaching someone’s house, I thought I saw several cats. But as I got closer, I noticed they were foxes. I never got as close to a fox in the wild as I did on that day. All the islanders were nice, but I heard rumors of recluses that didn’t like outsiders. But they never answered the door when I knocked.
I talked to one man who had a seasonal property. He said his wife was having problems with the census at home. She filled it out multiple times but they kept coming back. Then we found them while they were on vacation. I thought it was rather funny.
Labor Day weekend is the last unofficial weekend of summer for the seasonals. I did make my way back to Door County after the holiday weekend and didn’t have much luck. My guess is that a lot of seasonal people will be finding census notices in their doors come spring.
It became harder to close out cases when everything was closed down and no one was around. I had to be creative. I noticed that several places had pesticide application lawn care signs. I decided to call the company and was able to close out a lot of my remaining files because they had a database of seasonal properties. I knew most of the properties were seasonal already, but I needed more than just a thought to close them out.
Seasonal properties were problematic. The census did not allow you to put more than one property address. If you filled it out on one property, it wouldn’t be completed on the other property. Then you would get a visit from us. This was an issue for snowbirds too. Then throw in COVID and it was a big mess. But I liked those interviews a lot more than the dangerous addresses.
Sometimes when feeling down I found myself teetering on the fence between life and death. Will I choose hope or despair? There is a reckless courage when you find yourself in that place.
But when pressed, when my life was in danger, it showed me how much I wanted to live. I had to continue on the path to hope, healing, and growth even during the moments I wanted to say screw it all.
As my time with the census came to an end, they were looking for people willing to travel. I said I would be willing to go to the furthest north woods of Wisconsin. Yes, it could be very dangerous. It was very remote with limited cell phone coverage. Heroin is a big problem in some dead end towns. Wandering into a property illegally growing marijuana. Dangerous. Wild animals. Finding bathrooms. It was an adventure I was up for.
I awaited my instructions to travel, but they never came. Instead, I got a call about travelling to Milwaukee. Now that is a different kind of dangerous. This year alone Milwaukee surpassed the highest annual homicide rate ever recorded. Unfortunately, this year isn’t even over yet.
I turned it down.
My supervisor said that another employee went, an African American woman. She was sent to such a horrible neighborhood that she was utterly terrified and asked if she could come back home. I think I made the right call.
They were looking for census employees to go to Detroit, Kenosha, and Atlanta as well. It takes a special (or should I say crazy) person to do the census especially in dangerous unfamiliar places.
If I had the chance, would I choose to do it all over again? Absolutely! Will I work the 2030 census? Probably not.