Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now we're in Philly with family and friends coming in from every direction. Great times, too much good food, lots of talk, and late nights. Tina and Anton came in from near Redding for the last night of Passover (and dinner with 12), and shared this YouTube of Joe Pa playing guitar. He's nearly three, but his favorite movie is School of Rock, and he has the genes. Check it out to appreciate kids and music.

This film clip makes me laugh and also makes me think about creativity and how we nurture it. Joe Pa is a very interesting kid, capable of great concentration, and he's very sweet.

I don't expect to keep up the blog every day while we're in Philly. It's lovely to be in one spot, but life seems more ordinary, if that doesn't sound too strange. There's a house to care for, errands to run. Today we go to the library (more stuff on the 1840s) and to the AAA office for maps back to the Pacific Northwest.

I'm reading The Nun's Tale by Candace Robb; she writes a mystery series set in Scotland and 14th Century York. I like how she delves into characters and writes about her time period authentically. And she provides a neat bibliography for the medieval period as part of her website. So my writing continues, quilting is good, and yesterday we had our first cheese steak.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today was a travel day, up from Charlotte to Aberdeen, Maryland, just 82 miles outside of Philadelphia. We stopped in Madison, Virginia, at That Little Quilt Shop in a restored Presbyterian church. Richly detailed quilts hung from every open space. My wanderings through this beautiful shop inspired today's poem "For Rachel". My favorite quilt was the Broken Star pattern, perhaps adapted from the difficult Texas star wheel pattern. Maybe someday.

Just now I'm hand piecing from a older quilt book Allen found, Joyce M. Schlotzhauer’s The Curved Two Patch System (EPM Publications 1982), withdrawn from the New Orleans Public Library. She teaches how to use the simple square and block to create flowers, so I’m using batik fabric to build something, I’m not sure yet what, but I’m working square by square to master this. Today’s picture shows one block completed. Don’t look at the wrinkles; I’m traveling without an iron!

And we’re truly tired tonight, not just from watching the returns from Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary (and hoping for good news for Clinton), but also from driving through Washington suburbs at 70 plus miles per hour, with drivers talking on cell phones and not using turn signals (how much can one do, after all), and trucks barreling right along with the rest of us, 70 plus even in a 55-mph zone. I’m shocked, shocked to find speeders on these freeways. Tomorrow, home to Philadelphia!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Today we drove to just outside Charlottesville, here in Virginia, to visit Mitchie Tavern, built sometime in the 1730s to serve people coming down from Philadelphia, through the Carolinas, and moving out along the Appalachian Valley to the frontiers in the West and the South. We were entranced by so many details of colonial life covered in this hour-long tour. Like other colonial enacters, all guides were in period costumes, but the quality of the information and the warm Southern charm made for a lovely day, despite the heavy rains.

Mr. Mitchie began his life in the colonies as an indentured servant; there’s a hint that his family back in Scotland sent money so he could buy his freedom. He quickly purchased land and established a tavern, mill and general store. At the tavern, customers could expect food, drink, and a bed (all for a price), as well as the chance to catch up on gossip, a more reliable source than rare newspapers.

Travelers could refresh themselves by drinking hard cider or beer on the front porch from an outside bar, or they could step inside, into the gentlemen’s parlor. In reality, Mr. Mitchie would lock a slave into a box-shaped room, where that person would be responsible for serving drinks until the tavern closed. Perhaps locking the person into this small workroom/bar was a way of protecting the inventory, but to 21st Century ears, it sounds another reason to dislike slavery.

If travelers preferred punch, they could sip from a large common bowl, passed hand to hand, much like a pipe would be shared.
Bread, meat, and cheese were commonly served on plates that were ceramic on one side and tin on the other, made something like a flask so that hot water could be poured inside the “plate”, keeping the bread and meat warm. Women retired to a parlor specifically for them, though they could join those in the common rooms if they wished, to warm their tired feet by the fire.

Where did they sleep? Most slept on the floor, wrapped in their own bedding, propped up on a side bed (and sharing the space with two or three others), or in an upstairs room where beds were commonly shared with strangers. I’m thinking not much privacy here. If people were traveling in a larger party, they would simply camp out in the woods, perhaps only taking a meal. A fine room (the owner’s room) was maintained upstairs, and could be rented out for a price to the wealthy.

The tavern was a center for religious, political and social gatherings, with dances and music a highlight. We danced a Virginia reel. I curtsied and Allen bowed. Apparently the ladies were quite taken by a man’s calf as the men wore pantaloons, so here’s where “put your best foot forward” came from, as the men “made a leg” at the beginning of the dance.

We heard harpsichord music and played a number game popular with sailors of the time called “Shut the Box” (Allen won), which consisted of rolling dice and matching numbered tiles until they were all used up. Our lunch was delicious: Just a little fried chicken, barbeque, chilled beets, coleslaw, stewed tomatoes Southern style, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, and hot biscuits with honey. No room for peach cobbler!

The tea intrigued me. Apparently Chinese tea became moldy in the long journey to the Americas. To solve this problem, the tea was pressed until all moisture was removed (see the picture above). To make tea, you simply scraped off some tea from this cake. The pressed cake above had about 40 sections; each section could make over 80 cups of tea. In fact, at the famous Boston Tea Party, these were the cakes of tea tossed over the side, left to slowly disintegrate in Boston Harbor.

We ended the day at the Kluge-Ruhe Museum of Aboriginal Art at the University of Virginia. No photography was allowed of the artwork. These paintings by Australian aborigines near Alice Station in the 1970s, were complex “dream” paintings of beliefs and stories, so very different from Western or Native American art. Similar to African culture, these aboriginal people had male and female secret societies, each with their own stories and symbols. Beautiful stuff and the topic of today's poem.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The sweet strains of "Clementine" echoed through this small blacksmith's cottage at the Frontier Culture Museum, here in Charlottesville, Virginia. We spent three hours touring four working farms set in Germany (1710), Northern Ireland (130), England (1690), and the colony of Virginia (1773). Each one featured one or two "re-enacters" who eagerly showed their crafts and answered our many questions. We smelled home-made cheese three months old (kind of like Parmesean), watched a couple eat lunch while chickens hopped around at their feet, and then this blacksmith played his violin for us.

While I took many pictures and will struggle to remember all the details of this daily life, what I'll most remember, other than the love for the past and the enthusiasm of all, was how work percolated through every aspect of life and how everyone was needed for a farm to be successful, regardless of the level of technology or skill. The period furniture was also especially well carved and/or painted with the tulip motif (then immensely popular). In most houses, the smoke hung in the kitchen as women cooked over fires atop a stove or in an open fireplace. These carefully reconstructed houses include much original framing, including in the English house, original daub and wattle construction (a kind of stick-woven-with-mud) for the walls. Most families kept their animals (pigs, chickens, cows) close, even bringing them right inside the house during cold weather or at night, if times were uncertain.

Because I've been reading of crofter life during the 1840s, these farms felt very wealthy to me, though each family seemed to feel they were just getting by. I suppose that's what we all feel, that we take our comfort for granted and forget that for most of the world dirt floors are more common than stone, or brick or carpet over wood. But the quality of life is not measured by these comforts alone, for in every historical period, people dance and dream.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Today we drove from Hillville to Staunton, Virginia, up the Blue Ridge Parkway and into the famed Shenandoah Valley. We saw flowering pink dogwood and blossoming cherry trees everywhere. Here in this great valley, European settlers traveled south and west from Pennsylvania, gradually displacing native Americans between 1700-1750.

We drove along the ridges of the Appalachians, a narrow but beautiful parkway with great sweeping vistas, stopping at Mowbry’s Mill to see restored buildings from the 1840s and catching glimpses of what life was once like. I feel much more aware of our history here in the eastern half of the US. Everyone worked to the bone to survive. I cannot imagine the tremendous hope and energy that went into moving into frontier lands.

During yesterday’s visit to the Moravian community in Old Salem, we visited (among 15 other buildings) a tavern (more a way station in a long journey) to find a very well organized kitchen. A typical meal of the 1830s might include chicken with herbs, fresh baked bread, meat pasties, boiled cabbage and gingersnaps (very dark because of the sorghum molasses).

Rain and more rain for the next several days will have us mostly driving north and east. Gas has now topped $120 a barrel, bringing, Allen says, the retail base price over $3. This does not promise any financial dips in the heavy travel season this summer. But the economy and the war seem lost in the current sniping between the two Democratic candidates in the lead up to the Pennsylvania primary. Obama seems more ephemeral than ever, and Clinton (sans Bill) seems every day more shrill. Only Indecision 2008 makes fun of all and helps me remember that the real contest is not now but in the fall.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Somehow now it’s already evening. This morning, we walked to Mingo Falls, up a very steep flight of wooden stairs, some stairs muddy from the recent snow, our hearts thudding with exertion. The sound of the falls was a constant, rhododendron everywhere, large tree-sized shrubs not yet budding, yet the promise of spring everywhere in the palest of green leaves shimmering in a hardwood forest.

Yet the sound of the falls pulled us forward into warm morning. Ahead we could see the wooden bridge and a trail’s end. Above, the falls maybe 50 feet high (the stairs were higher), but we saw several lovely connected cascades, mossy rocks, a few fallen logs, not as majestic as those we have seen in our own Pacific Northwest or along the Columbia Gorge, but still a respite.

Then we drove out of the Great Smoky National Park, along curving roads, past very isolated farms and houses, the road so curving I couldn’t watch the landscape change from forest to fields to towns, but dodged trucks and slowed for two accidents. No one follows the speed limit here of 70.

We only drove about 200 miles and then here to a Quality Inn near Winston-Salem. We settled into our room, double bed, cable tv, fridge, a room with a view of a field and a swimming pool covered up as it’s not the season, and yet we heard the sweetest bird song we cannot name.

We laughed through a barbeque dinner at the nearby Sagebrush restaurant, a cowboy theme everywhere, including a fancy tooled saddle somewhat like Grandad kept in his office, though his was weather beaten and plain leather, well worn. This country reminds me of why my family moved west, west to Oklahoma and Missouri, then west to California. All this finally led me to write today's poem about my grandfather. Whew!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

‘T’was a sunny day and altogether lovely. Today we hiked to Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains, some 6,643 feet high, visiting the Mountain Farm Museum on our way to Cherokee, a small town on the edge of the Cherokee Reservation, here in North Carolina.

Everywhere we saw the palest of early spring leaves and wildflowers, including the very tiny Spring Beauty that carpeted the hardwood forest dry floor. We met hikers headed for Maine along the Appalachian Trail; Allen was ready to go.

I was entranced by the layers of blue mountains in every direction. The Cherokee story of dancing bears I turned into a poem, in memory of my grandmother who (family rumor says) was part Cherokee. She never spoke of her history, but this is the country of the Trail of Tears in 1838 which moved hundreds of Cherokees to western territories. My grandmother grew up in Fort Reno, Oklahoma. One day I’ll be able to do more research.

The Mountain Farm Museum near Cherokee was fascinating for the glimpse we gained of olden ways of farming and later logging in these Appalachian hills between 1830 until the park was established in 1934, displacing some 1,200 families.

Buildings from these old communities were moved to the Mountain Farm Museum, some as old as 1899, and including a house, woodshed, meat house, apple house, chicken house, cane mill and molasses shed, corn crib, blacksmith, springhouse, pig sty, and barn. Old photographs and wandering around this afternoon helped me visualize how much work these people did to survive and how dependent they were on their own skills. Yet these traditional ways (including quilting) are nearly gone. So we wander down paved trails and catch glimpses of a way of life that was once common. Tomorrow we'll visit Mingo Falls and head east. May the sun shine where you are.

We're at Pigeon River Inn, right by a small creek. Outside, I can see the first leaves on willow trees, with apple and cherry trees in full bloom. I think it's spring. We've stopped for 3 days here in Pigeon Cove, just outside the Great Smokey National Park for the weather is just still too cold to camp, dipping down to the 30s every night, with threats of snow. Yesterday we hiked 2.5 miles along Laurel Falls trail to see our first waterfall since Arizona. We then drove through these beautiful foothills to the Appalachians.

The town itself is considered a vacation resort, with 11 million people visiting every year. Dolly Parton's early efforts have brought many businesses here, with musical shows (including Cirque de Chine) for nearly every taste, NASCAR rides, and Dollywood. We've mostly hung out in our lovely hotel, off season rates at $29.95 before tax. But I think we're headed for Philadelphia sooner with stops in Winston-Salem and Roanoke.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dogwood flowers here seem to float among the trees along the Natchez Trace, just before we arrived in Tennessee. It was lovely to spend time with Aunt Bobbi and Starla in their homes perched on a tree-covered ridge and down in a hollow, way out in the country, well past any town larger than a gathering of 5 or 10 houses. Yesterday I heard five different kinds of bird calls and woke to a sunny morning. No time for writing today. We sat around the round oak kitchen table and talked and talked.

By afternoon, it was a different story. We all gathered in one house to watch the Storm Tracker on television, with alerts listing the precise times the storm would pass each tiny community. The voiceover said, "Take cover. This is serious."

So we watched the maps shift and change, the storm highlighted in green and red and yellow, with the announcer pointing out the cup-shaped indentation that indicates a possible tornado. The storm seemed to move in a trajectory right for us. Starla said last year, a mobile home had been hit just three miles away. So at the proper time, with hailstones falling around her double-wide mobile home, we stood in a tiny hallway, making jokes and petting Rosie, a white Llasa Apso, and the devil-dog, a little mean chihuahua, two tiny dogs who stayed quiet and close.

Then the storm passed, and it was over. I made Happy Family stir fry for dinner, and all was well. This morning, we're back in the world in Knoxville and headed to Gaitlinburg. Snow's coming tonight.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We traveled up the Natchez Parkway, an amazing stretch of 440 miles, not freeway, but undeveloped land on either side of this winding road that follows the original Natchez Trace that hunters, traders, explorers, and finally settlers followed from the Tennessee Valley down to the Mississippi. Spring is the best time for this journey, as we saw flowering dogwood, the famed Southern redbud, and the palest green of new leaves.

We're most likely going to be out of the range of internet for the next several days as we visit Tennessee cousins, so we took advantage of our new webcam and Skype to catch up with friends all over the country. Whew! It's so good to actually SEE these dear friends after so long.

Some of you know that for April, National Poet's Month, I'm trying to write a poem a day. If you'd like to read the poems, go to Beth and Writing or click the link to Beth's poems on the right. Otherwise, all goes well. Allen enjoyed the final four in men and women's basketball, and I'm plugging along with the writing.

Every so once in a while, I meeet someone online or here in the world who's traveling much as we are, nomadic, and I'm thinking there is one skill to develop and that is the ability to live with a great deal of ambiguity about the future. Even with a very structured life, we can't know the future, but we can know our innermost dreams.

As we travel around the country, so many people do say they wish they could simply let go and travel as we are doing. Some say they couldn't give up their homes, their friends, their "things," their routines, their way of life, so carefully constructed after years of effort. This may sound morbid, but what is death but such a giving up? If living in the same way year after year is your heart's dream, so be it. I hope to return to the west coast as, yes, I want to be close to family and friends, but the world beckons.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Driving up along the Mississippi River, we stopped over one day in Natchez (over 500 ante-bellum houses, their gardens full of azaleas, flowering dogwood trees, and wisteria), and then two days in Vicksburg visiting family we haven’t seen in far too long.

Today, we spent the morning at the National Military Park that memorializes the Civil War battle of Vicksburg. The sun shone beautifully today, after two days of intense rain and the Mississippi River running at flood stage.

Unlike most Civil War battles, the Seige of Vicksburg seems almost modern. Its trench warfare over hilly terrain ended in a six-week siege and the Northern forces gaining control over the critical Mississippi River, cutting off supplies to the Confederacy. Union forces dug trenches and repeatedly attempted to take Vicksburg by direct assault. We could see Confederate and Union cannons still facing each other and drove along a 16-mile parkway filled with stone memorials and gun emplacements. One Union attempt to dynamite Confederate fortifications resulted in several Confederate slave workers being blown up; one man survived. He said he was “blown to freedom”.

We walked through the recently reconstructed U.S.S. Cairo, an early ironclad that was torpedoed (actually by an underwater bomb, what we would call a mine today). Only the top part of the ship was fitted with iron plating; under the water line, the wooden ship was entirely vulnerable.

The Cairo sank in under 12 minutes, but no one was lost. The Cairo lay in the mud of the Yazoo River for 100 years and was salvaged in 1960. Interestingly, the original crew was international, including men from everywhere, even Sweden, with ages ranging from 14 to 60. I'd always thought that shortages of troops was a problem more for the Confederacy, but in reality, both sides were desperate for troops.

I found a lovely classic book, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. People along the underground railroad used patterns in quilts to show runaway slaves how to get safely to Canada. So those well known patterns (shoofly, log cabin, bear’s paw, bow tie, flying geese, drunkard’s path and stars), all had a hidden meaning during the Civil War era.

I also learned that more than one woman disguised herself as a man and served in Union forces. You might be amused by this picture that shows how tiny the women were (the men were rather short as well, with the average height of men being about 5’4”).

Tomorrow we’ll drive up toward Tennessee along the Natchez Trace, an old trade route from the Tennessee Valley to the Mississippi and New Orleans, heading north again. May you have a good week!
Sorry for the delay in updating posts, but we've been on the edge of that storm system that went right through Mississippi, putting power out for thousands. We saw downed trees everywhere, and our little hotel lost cable and internet services, though we still (thankfully) had lights, power, and air conditioning. We're now north of Vicksburg and Jackson (and have internet access and TV, yipee), and spent a sunny day at the Vicksburg National Military Park, which commemorates the battle for Vicksburg during the Civil War. So more later . . . and I hope it's not raining where you are! Beth

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Laura Plantation is an authentically restored Creole sugar cane plantation, originally built in 1805 by a Frenchman for his bride. The marriage was not made in heaven; he wanted her to live on the plantation; she wanted to stay in New Orleans for parties. But the Laura plantation is unique for it is one of the few plantations that encourages visitors to reflect on the reality of slavery.

Creole tradition has the family business passing to the smartest child, male or female, even in the 19th Century. In two generations' time, Laura was that child. When Laura was a young girl, she asked one of the slaves, "Why are your cheeks marked up?" He answered, "Because I ran away, I was branded." This was the beginning of Laura's rebellion. At 16, she refused to become the president of the family company, and she sold her share of the company business. She refused to remain in the south, instead falling in love with a young man in St. Louis, marrying and living there, and later writing her memoirs.

At Oak Alley Plantation (we had visited earlier), the houses where slaves once lived had not been restored, though a plaque memorialized how many slaves had once lived and worked there. At the Laura Plantation, every effort was made to restore buildings and artifacts to show how the plantation owners and the slaves once lived. I found it moving that many implements had been donated by families of former slaves to be a part of the treasures and history of the Laura Plantation. Laura's memoir, Memories of the Old Plantation Home, is available on and tells why she gave up her ante-bellum home.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In the spirit of April Fool's Day, I wanted to post this photo. No, I'm not a crab! Yesterday we left New Orleans and visited the Laura Plantation. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at C&B Seafood, highly recommended. Here's the sign we saw for the ladies' room (above), and here's what greeted me when I opened the door!

I hope you laughed out loud (LOL)! April is National Poetry Month, so I've taken on the challenge of writing a poem a day. Click on Beth and Writing (also on the left under links) if you want to follow along. I can't promise anything as I haven't written poetry for a long, long, long time. Happy April. Beth