Heading east on I-10, a bathroom break for our finally potty-trained (yes!) 3-year-old turned into a destination at the Mississippi Welcome Center. The NASA shuttle stop first caught my attention, where buses were whisking families away to a tour of the nearby Stennis Space Center. Tugging August out of his carseat, I turned and caught a glimpse of the spider-shaped Lunar Lander hoisted in the air behind us. I just knew this was going to fascinate Charles as much as me, and I was giddy when I spun around to point it out to him.

He was nowhere in sight, and I had a moment of panic until I heard a familiar clacking noise. There he was, halfway across the well-manicured lawn, pushing his bubble-blowing lawnmower his cousin had given him for his birthday. I couldn’t believe the attention he was getting. At least seven people shouted comments his way, most asking him to come mow their yard next. He was oblivious to his audience, fully intent on his mission at hand. I sighed as I jogged over to redirect him to the original reason we stopped, while my husband Paul went inside the main lobby to add to our extensive collection of travel brochures.

Charles, August and the lawnmower

Back outside, I managed to convince the family to cross the street and view the Apollo-era Lunar Lander, but I never seemed to garner the awe and amazement I was shooting for. That lawnmower was just too much competition. Oh, well. At least I was impressed.

Beyond the Welcome Center, we had traveled that day to Mississippi to visit Pass Christian, a coastal town that was having their annual “Art in the Pass” festival. Nestled up snug against the Gulf Coast, the town was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and remnants of its damage could still be seen in the barren pillars marking the spots of past homes. But much of the town had returned, and the festival took place in a lovely park complete with a bandstand, playground and Marvin Miller’s oversized wooden sculptures carved into the remains of once mighty oak trees.

Art booths at Art in the Pass

Nearly 100 artists exhibited their works in booths, while local vendors offered up various options for lunch. We racked up in the children’s tent, leaving with a bag full of crayons, environmental coloring books and a stuffed sandhill crane. The event was typical of most other art festivals–except for the view. A quick run across Highway 90 and we were shoeless and walking across a sandy beach toward the water. It took the kids some time to get used to the squishy feeling between their toes, but soon Charles abandoned all reservations and was squealing with delight while chasing seagulls across the beach.

After a monumental effort to drag the kids back to the car, we headed off in search of coffee. Our quest led us along 90 over an impressive new bridge to Bay St. Louis. I was pleasantly surprised by the “downtown” area that ranked high on my list of best small towns. There wasn’t much time left in the day for a thorough investigation, but the drive by St. Stanislaus College Prep and our quick cruise up Main Street left me wondering why I had never been here before.

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