Summer Road Trip Series Part III: “Get Your Kicks on Route 66”

By Marianna Boyce 

After driving almost seventeen hours, we made our first stop on Route 66 in Amarillo at a humongous Texas-sized wheat field. We parked alongside the road running parallel to I-40 with other weary travelers. We all had the same plan…I just hoped they brought their own spray paint.

pic 2Wind was gusting to about 30 mph, so before getting out of the car at Cadillac Ranch, I put my hair in a messy bun. I was wearing the same blue and white Ralph Lauren dress and cute little white sandals from the day before. My husband Gerry, and son Cody, were also sporting the same clothes from the previous day, but no one cared. We were all having a blast.

I released the trunk to retrieve the lime green spray paint packed before leaving South Carolina. There were some old cars we wanted to leave our mark on before heading further west.

pic 1Cadillac Ranch is a roadside attraction showing the evolution of tail fins on ten, older model Cadillacs. They are artistically displayed about 200 yards off the road, all upright, in a row, with their noses half-buried in the ground. For those that haven’t heard of this quirky little dot on the map, we were not “Breakin’ the Law.” Graffiti is actually encouraged here.

Leaving our mark on this popular landmark proved difficult on such a breezy day, but it was exactly what we needed to break the monotony of driving. After exhibiting our artistic interpretations on several cars, we shared our can of paint with travelers who didn’t come prepared. This attraction is free of charge and open 24/7/365.

Since we skipped lunch, we stopped for an early supper at the Big Texan Steakhouse a few miles down the road. At this bright yellow restaurant with a gigantic, long-horned, bull statue in the parking lot, you can order a seventy-two ounce steak cooked to perfection, free of charge. That’s four and a half pounds, y’all. Oh wait! There is a stipulation. No sharing is allowed, and it must be eaten within one hour. This includes their salad, baked potato, shrimp cocktail, and roll; otherwise, your meal isn’t free. It will cost $72. I wisely chose their six ounce filet, and after our delicious meal, we “Hit the Road Jack.” It was my husband’s turn to take the wheel…

*****

We left the tall green trees behind. They were morphing into smaller bushes. The vast landscape was dramatically changing with nothing obstructing that enormous blue sky. Texas gives an interesting 360 degree perspective. In certain areas, if you concentrate on the horizon, you can see the curvature of the earth. “I Can See For Miles and Miles…” It’s simply amazing!

In this beautiful, strange land, the billowing white clouds not only seem to dip below the horizon, they also stretch far into the heavens. There are no limits to the imagery that unveils like an artistic masterpiece. I love the enormity of Texas with all of God’s glory brilliantly on display, but we kept pushing forward.

*****

pic 3We crossed into New Mexico and made it to our next destination about an hour before sunset. The timing was perfect. Cody wanted to see the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa. This mystical Blue Hole is a natural geological formation created by a network of underground lakes in the middle of nowhere. With a constant inflow of 3,000 gallons of water per minute, it’s an incredible sight to see.

pic 4The surface diameter measures eighty feet, but increases to 130 feet at the bottom, making it a bell-shaped gem. There’s a rock ledge just underneath the water, but it dramatically drops off eighty feet into a mesmerizing, brilliant, blue void.pic 5

There is no lifeguard on duty, but if you’re adventurous, feel free to take a surface dive in the crystal-clear water. Even in their hot summers, this beautiful artesian well is a constant sixty-one degrees.

pic 6Cody was able to take two quick dives. The shock of the cold water instinctively pushed him up in milliseconds. My husband and I weren’t quite as bold. I only dipped my big toe and Gerry chose to merely observe. He’s not keen on anything cold, except for his chocolate cherry ice cream, and southern sweet iced tea. A visit to this interesting oasis is also free of charge and open 24/7/365.

pic 7As we watched the beautiful New Mexico sun setting behind the mountains in the distance, we drove a few miles down the road and found a room for the night. We were all exhausted, so we looked forward to a good night’s sleep before the adventures we’d lined up the following day. We all showered, crashed, and burned. Our plan was to rise early the next morning to see something grand. If we timed this one right, we’d be there a little before sunset as well…

We had an amazing twenty-four hours driving from South Carolina to New Mexico—and all still on speaking terms. Miracle? Not really…just “Love the One You’re With,” and don’t sweat the small stuff. Hopefully, you picked out the song references easily. We sang them all.

Arizona, here we come…pic 8

My DNA Story

By Janet Prince

DNAI know you have all seen the ads on TV for the Ancestry.com and 23&Me DNA kits, especially over the holidays.  In 2017, I had some family members receive an Ancestry.com kit for Christmas. They took the test and sent off the vials in January 2018 hoping to learn more about their ancestry, where they came from, and when. When they received the results, they were surprised!  A first cousin we had no idea about was a very strong match above all others throughout our family.

This is where my DNA story began, but before I go in to what we found, I want to share how I feel about DNA testing and why I feel that way.  Keep in mind that everyone has their own opinion, and that must be respected.

As most of you know, I am a 16-year breast cancer survivor, and I lost my mother to ovarian cancer.  Both of us were diagnosed in 2003 just five months apart.  We met with a genetics counselor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in November 2003 and began building a genetic tree of our family members that had any type of cancer.  We were able to determine that the cancer line came from my grandmother’s family where we found breast, brain, lung, cervical, and ovarian cancer.  Taking this test was very important to both of us because of my two daughters.  I have always been a believer in knowing your health history, and I especially wanted my girls to know theirs as they became young women.  Since we did our testing, many new breast cancer genes have been identified, so I will be having an updated DNA test this spring.

 

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My belief in DNA testing is very strong.  By taking this DNA test, I was able to rest at ease knowing that neither my mother nor I carried the breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2.  In addition, the results were something that my family members could use.  They learned the history of aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, and children that had all been diagnosed with a type of cancer.  Everyone accepted the results of this test and never questioned if they were true.

Now knowing how I feel about DNA testing, I want to share the story of finding our new first cousin.  When my family members received their results, someone was at the top of the list (meaning they are your strongest match) who they didn’t know and had never heard of.  This person reached out to my family to see how they were related, and at first, my family members seemed thrilled to have a new cousin. When they called me with the news, they were excited to learn more and to hopefully meet her because as luck would have it, she has a step-sister who lives in the Upstate of South Carolina, and she was planning a trip there later in the spring. Since my mother died, I have been the keeper of the trunks that belonged to my uncle as well as one that belonged to my grandparents. Both trunks were filled with letters, postcards, and my uncle’s US Marine uniforms with all his medals.  My family asked if they could go through the trunks to verify the connection between my uncle and her mother.  I was more than happy to do this because I was curious to know the connection myself.

Last spring, our new cousin, Linda, traveled to South Carolina from Nevada, and I was so excited to meet her.  Linda came and spent an afternoon with me, and we went through the trunks.  We were elated when we found a note with her mother’s name and telephone number on it!  It was the confirmation she had been looking for all her life trying to find out where she came from.  She had found “home.”  I knew when I opened the front door that Linda was a part of my family.  We have the same cheeks, her mannerisms are much like my mother’s, and when I hugged her, it was like hugging my mother again.  She is definitely a member of my family.  After looking through the trunks, I took Linda to visit her father’s grave and was honored to share this moment with her.

While she was here, Gary and I had a cookout for my other family members to come and meet Linda and her “sister” Kathy (Linda has four step or half-sisters, but they only call themselves sisters not anything else).  We had a wonderful time and even FaceTimed with another sister of hers who lives in Texas and loves genealogy.  She started asking about other names on Linda’s tree that they didn’t know, and when she started calling out names of my great-aunts and second and third cousins in Alabama, it sealed in my heart that Linda was a member of my family.  We hugged, cried, and laughed with joy.  I look at Linda as a gift and another connection to my mother.

Unfortunately, only one of my cousins came to meet Linda that night, which broke my heart for her.  Their once excitement had turned into not believing in the validity of the testing, and therefore not accepting Linda as part of the family.

UncleLinda, who is my first cousin, was the daughter of an uncle I had who was killed in the Korean War in 1950 at the age of 21. Linda was born five months after his death.  Because my family members chose not to believe the results, I took the Ancestry.com test in June.  When my results came in, my family member who had originally taken the test were first, and Linda came up next followed by both of her children who are my second cousins.  I was so excited to verify that Linda is a part of us.

Linda and I have hours-long phone conversations sharing what our lives have been like.  Like me, Linda is a cancer survivor having been diagnosed with multiple-myeloma in November 2013.  Linda’s mother was killed in a car accident when she was only 9 years old, and I have told her that I believe with all my heart that if my mother and father had known about her, they would have brought her here and raised her as their own.

I don’t know why God brought Linda into my life at this stage in my life, but I am just so Familythankful that He did.  I was so happy to have Linda and Kathy attend Ashlan’s wedding, and seating them with the family was a great joy.  This was the first big “family” event Linda had been able to be a part of, and I wanted her to know how special she was to me and my family.  Knowing she was there brought much comfort to me, and I look forward to spending more time with her and getting to know all her sisters.

DNA matches can either bring big surprises or things you already knew about but with the deeper story.  I encourage everyone to take the DNA test of their choice if nothing more than to know their family health history.  Remember, this is information that can be passed down through the generations. Be prepared for secrets the test may uncover, and remember the person on the paper who you didn’t know about has feelings and deserves to be acknowledged.  Whether you want to build a personal relationship with that person is up to you, but be mindful of your actions because they can hurt someone.

Ultimate Mother of All Bonding Experiences

By Stacy Thompson

So I’m sitting in a hotel room near Lake Bled, Slovenia (more on that later), getting ready to begin another awesome hike with Mom.  Whenever I start one of these, I always spend a little time reminiscing about past hikes and some of the incredible experiences we’ve had—one stands out, and fortunately I have the video journal to give you some of the high points of the journey.

As with many of the crazy, challenging things I’ve attempted in life, the Ultimate Hike was Mom’s idea.  It is a solid enough premise—raise money to help fund children’s cancer research—with an unbelievable physical challenge—27.3 miles on the Foothills Trail in one day.  Yes, 27.3 miles. In. One. Day.  Though I thought my mother had truly lost her mind, I once again reminded her of my words to live by “I will never say no” to any experience she offers up.

So we began months of hiking with our Midlands SC team at Harbison State Park—our hikes became longer and longer as the day of the CureSearch Ultimate Hike drew near.  The night before the Hike we were in bed by 7 a.m. for our 2 a.m. wake-up call (to be safe, I called in a wake-up call, set the alarm in the room as well as alarms on my phone,  Mom’s phone and my iPad—sounded like a maniacal clock factory explosion the next morning).  We were on the trail by 4:45 a.m.–hiking in the dark for the first leg and then continuing on through until around 7 p.m. that evening—and here, for your amusement, are three excerpts from our video journal:

Part I

Part II

Part III

In all, an exhausting but exhilarating day—and one we plan to repeat in the future for sure!

December Wish List

By Ashley Whisonant

December is a month my family and I wait for all year long. I especially love the excitement it brings to my little ones, not just on Christmas morning. I am making an effort this December to focus more on family time together and not get wrapped up in having a “perfect” Christmas.

Here is my top ten list for things to do together as a family:

  1. Bake Christmas cookieschristmas-cookies-553457_1280
  2. Watch at least one Christmas movie a weekend
  3. Visit Santa as often as possible
  4. See the lights at Riverbanks Zoo
  5. Volunteer twice before Christmas
  6. Surprise Elf one of our neighbors
  7. Stroll through Saluda Shoals Park
  8. Decorate an ornament
  9. Send a surprise package to a friend
  10. Attend Christmas Eve mass

I hope this list is just the tip of the iceberg for my family this holiday season. I want us to focus on the times together and not the things we receive.

Happy Holidays, friends!

Spring Must Do List

By: Ashley Whisonant

With Spring officially here, I have been dreaming of flowers blooming, warmer temperatures, and outside fun with my boys and friends. In honor of my favorite season, I have created a short to-do list to help keep my priorities in check!

Spring Must Do List

  • Set up a mini Easter Egg Hunt in our backyard. Fill up eggs with little treats, stickers, and Lego people.
  • Clear out a small patch of grass for a *few* veggies to grow
  • Sit on the back porch, reading a book and watching my boys play
  • Walk the neighborhood after dinner three times a week
  • Clean out the playroom
  • Visit Saluda Shoals Park to bike or trail walk
  • Make a day trip to Charleston to walk The Battery and Rainbow Row
  • Have a picnic lunch at Virginia Hylton Park
  • Meet girlfriends for Happy Hour at a restaurant with an outside patio
  • Drive home with the windows down
  • Walk Lake Murray Dam during my lunch break
  • Attend an event at Icehouse Amphitheater

What am I missing?! Post your suggestions for spring below!

Hometown Tourists

By: Ashley Whisonant

congaree park

This past weekend, my boys and I had absolutely no plans. This is a very rare occasion. Between soccer games, play dates, vacations, and birthdays our weekends have been jam packed. My husband and I wanted to spend the free day as a family, outside enjoying the beautiful fall weather, but we didn’t want to drive too terribly far.

Enter Congaree National Park!

Just a 50 minute drive from Lexington, we packed the car and headed down to arrive at nine. With lunches in book bags, we first stopped at the Visitor’s Center. They had tons of displays for the kids to look at and learn from. We also picked up two scavenger hunts for them to complete as we “hiked.”

congaree parkThe trails were perfect for my two and five year old. There was tons to observe and only a small amount of mosquitos! The trails did have some roadblocks because of trees falling, but the boardwalk was amazing. It stretched close to a mile over some swamp areas. That area was my favorite!

After two hours of hiking around, we stopped at the picnic tables to have lunch before heading home. It was the perfect morning! Don’t miss out on this amazing park in our backyard!

EdVenture Excitement

By: Shannon Shull

Those of us who live in South Carolina are incredibly lucky to have a wonderful local children’s museum. Back in the late 90s, before I had moved to California, I worked in public relations for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. While there, I was present when EdVenture was proposed to the leaders of the city. To see this great vision become a reality is truly spectacular!  EdVenture’s mission is to inspire children, youth and the adults who care about them to experience the joy of learning. Their vision is to create new generations of lifelong learners. For every child who visits EdVenture, seeing will be believing and doing will mean remembering. All exhibits at EdVenture are hands-on and experiential. Being a supporter and teacher of arts integration, I personally love this form of hands-on education and love to see children of all ages interacting with the exhibits.

My Aunt Susan recently treated my kids and me to a fun visit to this impressive place. I thought I’d share some of the fun from our recent visit! If you have not yet checked out the excitement of Edventure, I encourage you to take advantage of this interactive, educational adventure.

Me & My Aunt Susie feeling like kids again! 

Our visit to the North Pole

Inside the Arctic Blizzard!

Running around Eddie, the World's Largest Child!

My girl Mina grocery shopping at the Edventure Grocery Store