It doesn't feel like home, really, without the pooches, and yet at the same time, it's kind of nice to be able to unpack without having to rescue things from small teeth and claws…and bladders. Still Monday morning cannot come soon enough. I want my entire 'family' back together.

We left Branson this morning, even though we could have stayed til tomorrow, because we were both tired, and there was really no point in lingering. The fact that we didn't have to rush meant that we took 71 all the way to 40 (in Arkansas) instead of taking the 540 route that is faster, but not as cute. We stopped to take pictures at a place called “Artist's Point” where they have the most amazing view of their valley, as well as a mom-n-pop roadside stand with homemade candy and preserves, popcorn, free coffee, and some very pretty crafty things that are NOT as kitchy as those we saw in Branson. Really. Along with honey and jam and cinnamon apple butter, they also offered jars of sorghum molasses, which I'd never tried, and so, after asking the shop-owner to promise not to laugh, I asked exactly what sorghum IS, and then bought some (I like molasses) to take home.

In the last 36 hours, I've seen a professional production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that was entertaining, but barely beyond the level of a good college show. Fortunately, we managed to get 2-for-1 tickets WITHOUT a timeshare sales pitch/tour, and really $15/each for center orchestra isn't bad. We had fun, anyway, and the music was good. A nice touch was that the actor playing Jacob also acted as our host, and worked his way through the entire orchestra section asking people where they were from, and offering personal welcomes to the show. The cast also comes out for autographs, after, but while there were a couple performances that were worth mentioning, I'm beyond the need for autographs. (Book signings don't count.) Truly, I've never much seen the point.

The fourteen members of Fuzzy's immediate family (me, his parents, his sister and brother, and their spouses and children) had dinner at a buffet place called Sadie's last night. Not a great fan of buffets, I expected it to be carb-laden and scary, but it was actually pretty good. The ribs were excellent, they offered chicken livers and meatloaf as options (guess what Fuzzy had), and I tasted okra for the first time ever (it was batter-fried, and actually, I quite liked it, for it tasted sort of like a cross between celery and eggplant).

The rest of the evening involved a long game of Scotland Yard with Fuzzy, his brother-in-law, two of our nephews, who, at 14 and 17 years old have become kind of cool to hang out with, and Flavia, a foreign exchange student whom Fuzzy's sister's family is hosting. (She's from Switzerland, speaks German and a little Italian, but no French, and turns 21 in two weeks – we had offered her the sofa-bed in the rented condo where we were staying so she could have a break from the chaos of family, and it's made me want to host a student of our own.)

This morning, we packed early, drove Flavia to the other condo so the others could leave, and then realized we hadn't returned our own keys. We trekked back across Branson to do that, and finally left town at around eleven. After stopping once for lunch, once to play tourist, and once for gas (everything here is @ $2.03/gallon, and the CitGo in Checotah, OK was only charging $1.88, so it's fortunate that that junction was our half-way point) we arrived home around 7:30, and have since hit the grocery store for enough food to last til I do a big shopping on payday and watched an episode of LOST that was waiting for us on the TiVo.

I still haven't finished my NaNovel, though I'm close. I didn't write anything while away, but have scenes in my head that I just need to put on paper. I also didn't make any audio posts – meant to, but never got the chance – so if you didn't see any, it's not that you missed them.

I hope all of you in the states had happy Thanksgivings and those of you elsewhere had good weekends.

Bed now.

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Greetings from Branson, MO (Written 11/25/05 at 10:30 or so in the morning)

We didn't leave home at 6:00 AM on Tuesday, but we were on the road (as in, finished with the Starbucks run) by 6:45, so we were happy. I slept, for the most part, until we hit the Oklahoma state line, at which point I had to laugh. As I told Fuzzy, “I don't know if the phrase 'praise God and pass the ammunition' was invented in Oklahoma or not, but if it wasn't it should have been'.” Why? Because apparently the catch-phrase, at least on businesses off 75, is “Y'all want ammo with that?”

Seriously, every business we passed (with the possible exception of McDonald's) was offering ammunition. We passed roadstands labelled, “Fruit & Ammo,” “Used Cadillacs & Ammo,” “Antiques & Ammo” & (my favorite) “Christian Books & Ammo.” It was at once entertaining, and a bit disturbing, and was not at all aided by the atmosphere of economic depression that seemed to loom – the front page of the local paper read “Sun Sets on GM Plant.”

Crossing into Arkansas the ambience changed, as did the landscape. Suddenly we were driving through lush greenery, and then climbing into the mountains. While the Ozarks are nothing like the Rockies or Sierras (the ranges I consider 'home' ), they are beautiful, especially when adorned in fall colors. I'd love to spend a weekend in a quiet B&B in these mountains.

Branson itself is not my cup of tea. It really is a Christian version of the Borscht Belt, and commercialized religion really bothers me. It is in no way a sincere mission when shows are making money singing praise music, just a way of making money. On the one hand, I appreciate the marketing, but mostly, I find myself wanting to flee as quickly as possible to someplace free of kitsch and smarm.

And yet, we're managing to have fun. My mother-in-law's gift to the entire family was a day at Silver Dollar City, which is sort of like Concentrated Branson, with a Dickens Faire flair. We saw a musical version of A Christmas Carol that was reasonably well done, and the sing-along train ride through the lights was pleasant, as were the tree-lighting and light show in the main square, and the food stands actually offered some really delicious skillet/stir-fry concoctions of red and sweet potatoes, green beans, onions, and yes, okra (well, it IS the Ozarks).

Yesterday was devoted entirely to family – Fuzzy's aunt had organized an incredible amount of food (turkey, ham, and several casseroles, fruit salads and regular salads, pecan-crusted yams, and more desserts than anyone really needs to know about) – these midwestern women really know how to host a buffet. The afternoon was spent in game-playing and picture viewing, and then at five pm we switched into Christmas mode, with all the kids getting stockings, and the adults engaging in a gift swap that was hilarious. (A pizza cutter and a quilted apron were the hot items, while Flavia, my sister-in-law's foreign exchange student has become addicted to one of those maze-games where the ball bearings release a money sleeve.) We scored a copy of Dead Poet's Society and a Christmas table-runner and matching placemats in exchange for a lavender bath kit and two pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate squares.

After the gift exchange, Fuzzy's immediate family congregated in their cabin and we spent a few hours just talking and catching up, while the kids watched endless episodes of “That's So Raven.” Today, I'm writing this from Panera, the only place in town with free wifi, or any wifi, with Fuzzy and his brother Bill also fulfilling their geek quotient (everyone else is off shopping). This afternoon, we're seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and tonight there's the Trail of Lights. Tomorrow, everyone leaves, and Fuzzy and I are debating staying through til Sunday morning, or leaving tomorrow also, and taking a leisurely drive through Arkansas before heading home.