A Potterer's Patch, Peppermint Coffees, and a plate piled with Pig's Ears...

The open road, the lovely Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas, and a lone motorcyclist

We had a few weeks to recharge our batteries after a wonderful and surreal experience in France this summer.  It already seems like ages since we glided along the tiny country roads of the Loire Valley, breathing in the cool May air, shopping at local farmer's markets, and listening to the gurgles of the river that ran near our little white french rental.  

Once home, we unpacked and then packed up again to drive from Texas to the southwestern corner of Missouri for our Kenney family reunion in August.  

The plans involved lake time, boating time, shopping time, and time visiting some of the small towns in that part of the Midwest.

Being a person of bouts of flight and fancy, people would certainly describe me as a dreamer.  I've always been a dreamer.  "Dream big or go home" is a motto that would fit me nicely.  

Spending time drinking in the beauty of the french countryside in one month and then rolling over the gentle Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas in the next month doesn't help my over active imagination conjure up big dreams that include the possibility of changes to our world.  

Early morning road trips, dark roads and hot creamy coffee

Waking up in the early hours of the morning to leave for long road trips always fills me with such anticipation and thoughts of possibilities.  Drinking in the pastoral scenes of the open road, discussing for hours on end life situations happening to the four of us, and slowly sipping my hot coffee, strongly brewed but with a touch of cream and peppermint, is one of my favorite drives of the year.

As a family, we had much to discuss on the drive this summer.  The winds feel like they have shifted around us and the planets must have slightly realigned.  Our family, sometimes known as the rolling stones, is feeling a tremor of movement as those rocks, that have sat heavy and solid in Houston for the past four years are starting to tremble slightly.

We have Madeleine who is moving into the final years of college.  We also have Riley who is about to embark on his college experience next fall.  

Patrick and I have been looking at one another in the past year with a bit of a twinkle in the eyes.  We've been looking at each other as if seeing each other more clearly than in the last 20 years.  For 20 years now our roles have been defined by the title "parents". 

Our little birds are about to truly fly out of the nest.  Patrick and I had children young (early '20's for goodness sake! What were we thinking?!)  Truth be told, we have these moments of giddiness where we look at one another and see a glimpse of the former couple that we once were...carefree, silly, adventurous, and dreaming...always dreaming.

The front gardens of Joanne, my mother-in-law

As a foursome, we talked for hours on this road trip...more like adults instead of parents and children.  Hours spent laying out life ambitions as we headed towards Missouri. And more hours of discussing life plans and ambitions were had as we returned back to Texas.  

We are a very tight knit family of four.  We've moved seven times as a family so far.  When one is friendless in a new location, it is comforting to cling to one another in order to adapt to a new location.  That has helped us find comradeship with one another.  We've handled the constant tumult to our kids' lives by doing combinations of homeschooling, private schooling, online schooling, and Jr. college schooling.

But, when you are a family of four and you all want to stay together as parents and grown children, it does take some coordination to meet everyone's dreams.  We've never set down roots in one location.  I don't know that we ever will or even want to set down roots at this point.  We're not sure.  We're talking. And talking. Perhaps we'll just keep nudging those stones along and see where they land next.

Being back in Missouri, among the lush green rolling hills, reminds us how fond we have become of rural beauty.  Living in NYC years ago, I thought I was the ultimate urban girl.  Perhaps I was back then, but the lure of country roads, old barns, and thoughts of peace and quiet are pushing to the forefront of our thoughts as we imagine where we might land if we leave the urban sprawl that is Houston.

I think perhaps because of my newfound hobby of photography, I see the light in different places like I have never seen it before.  Patrick, a country boy at heart, has no problems with considering a lifestyle that wouldn't require highway commutes, blaring horns from cranky drivers, and most particularly hot sticky humid runs late at night trying to avoid the worst of the heat.

So we gathered all our thoughts while we relaxed up in Missouri this summer.  We spent time at the family's country cabin.  We boated along the web of water that makes up Table Rock Lakes.  We walked along forested paths watching the squirrels scramble to collect acorns.  We tried to catch the occasional glimpse of the crimson red cardinals that flutter from tree to tree.  Every now and then, we spotted the deer that warily cross the back woods of Patrick's parent's family home.

We listened to all of the sounds around us in the woods, on the water, and among the hills.  We questioned if we could we simplify our lifestyle and let go of some of the urban amenities that we have become used to in this restaurant saturated city of Houston and accustom ourselves to a more rural lifestyle?

On this trip, we discovered there is a town in Arkansas that seems to have found the perfect blend of urban style and country comforts.  We spent a day in Bentonville, Arkansas in order to check out the new museum that has been built there in the last few years. 

The new museum there is called Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  No, the location doesn't have anything to do with a crystal bridge. It is named that because on the site is  a natural spring, called Crystal Spring. 

Not only was the museum an absolute delight, but the town of Bentonville was charming, quaint, hip and cool, and filled with one delicious restaurant after another.

My Steak Salad with Slivers of Pigs Ear (think...pork belly fried or cracklings)

Before exploring the museum, we decided to lunch at a new brasserie called "Tusk and Trotters".  The restaurant is just a stone's throw off the town square.  The menu was filled with descriptions of dishes whose ingredients are sourced from local produce and alter as the seasons change.  

Tusk and Trotters in downtown Bentonville

It was a super fun spot for lunch and we all enjoyed the casual atmosphere, the delicious food, and the combination of local folk dishes combined with current food trends.

City Sidewalk Murals

I decided to be daring and order the Crispy Pig's Ear Salad.  I was torn between trying that or the Crispy Pig's Ear Nachos.  As an appetizer, we had the deliciously crispy on the outside and creamy in the inside Risotto Balls.  These golden balls were deep-fried Arborio rice with ground beef, housemade sausage, fresh herbs, roasted garlic, parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes & roasted garlic-basil aioli.  I could have eaten the entire order as my meal.

Artwork in the Crystal Bridges American Art Museum

Other fun menu items included Pork Belly Cheese Stix, a wild boar patty burger called the Hogzilla, and the Ozarkcuban, a play on the Cuban sandwich.  Tummys full and happy, we were ready to spend the afternoon getting lost in a collection of 5 centuries of American masterworks.

The museum grounds are buried with a lush wooded forest that is both calming but seemingly vast. 

Included within the collection are iconic images such as Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, and Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton, each reflecting a distinct moment in American artistic evolution.

Smoked Salmon and Broccoli Quiche

The entire museum flowed seamlessly into a deep valley filled with thick woods and natural materials.  At times, I felt like I was in a treehouse at the top of the Amazon forest and at other times I felt like I was at the very bottom of a tropical jungle looking up at a canopy of trees.

We spent a wonderful afternoon at this fabulous museum lost in the canvases of American artists.  It was a perfect day for putting aside mulling over our life decisions. We had fun exploring a budding section of Arkansas that offers a blend of midwestern comfort and hip urban fun.

Later that week, Kenneys from all over were gathering to the lake house down on the Table Rock Lakes in the Ozark Mountains.

Big fat tubes, with names like "Big Bertha" were blown up and strung up to the back of lake boats with long ropes. Water skiis were readied for those that dared to zig zag on the surface of the water at top speeds.  Bbq grills were fired up for grilling everything from sausages to steaks. 

Chester, who presents his canine self as the ultimate froo-froo pooch most of the time, tries hard to "rough it".  After getting dunked a few times in the lake, he looks pretty ragged-for-wear, his dignity exposed until he finally collapses, of course on a nice soft towel (or someone's lap).

A decades old tradition...Pop's Dari Dell for ice cream!

I scored big on this trip with a fabulous pottery shop find.  We were taking the back roads to the lake one morning.  I saw this teensy pottery shop sign just barely sticking out among the bushes.  

I convinced my crew to please PLEASE let me stop to see what was inside that nearly hidden shop.  Score!  It was a fabulous shop with a quirky and amusing potterer who delighted us with local stories from his childhood.

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As my eyes wandered over his array of pottery selections, they landed on a rickety shelf of mismatched coffee mugs.  I loved them...all.  Not very often can I commit to coffee mugs but soon I was caressing them and carrying them over to the wooden counter to claim as mine, as a squirrel would carefully arrange his prized nuts in his nest.

Scenes along the drive

So at the end of a wonderful reunion, we all packed up again...ready for the trek back home to collect another year of events to chat about at next year's gathering.

Conversation in the car, with more hot coffee in hand,  flowed again to life goals, ambitions, and dreams.  Could the Kenneys be on the move again. Is it time to wave bye to Houston?  Where to next?  How, as a foursome do we decide where we would like to launch our lives together, but, in reality apart, as my babies grow into adults?

Meals have been simple, rustic, and quick this summer.  Patrick has brand new job frontiers to explore.  We're feeling the frenzy of an impending move but have so many large and small decisions to ponder.  Fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market and quiches assembled with all assortment of leftover whatnots from the week become easy no fuss dinners on week nights.

Quiet Serene Sunrise of Table Rock Lakes in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri

One morning, I woke up before anyone else was stirring.  I carefully stepped over sleeping bags and make shift beds on the floor and made my way to the deck to wait for the sunrise.

The sky was already starting to glow with faint pinks and yellows along the horizon.  The sun edged its way up over the Ozark hills readying the day for boats to zip up and down along the lakes,  boats to relax and tie up in the many hidden quiet coves, and the happy but hungry boaters that will be ready for another sunset of grilling, laughing, and enjoying life. 

This is the country road that leads to the cabin.  I gaze at this photo and try to see if some sort of answer appears that might give insight as to what our path might be this year of 2014.  I do love to ponder the mysteries down those long windy roads that have unknown endings.  

Is it the destination that matters?  Is it the journey that should be savored?  Or is it the allure of dreaming big that is essential to this collection of life's footsteps we are fortunate to be enjoying?  Unsurprisingly, this quote is swirling through our hearts and minds...

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth...

- Robert Frost

(Quiche Recipe coming soon)

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