July 8, 2018


So, today I was clearing my desk of some of the things that have accumulated over the last couple months and I found all my "paperwork" from my Road Scholar Trip in May to Arkansas.

It was such a nice trip that I took with my friend, Alice... I thought it deserved to be preserved on my blog.

We flew from Asheville to Little Rock, arriving early enough in the day to have lunch at the historic Capitol Grill and do a little exploring on our own. Our room was overlooking the Arkansas River and had this spectacular view.
After lunch we walked to the Market Square and then through the sculpture garden that decorates the riverside park on the Little Rock side of the river. Here's a postcard photoshoot of another bridge:
During the first full day of the program, we stayed in Little Rock and visited the Clinton Library. Adjacent to the Library is the headquarters for Heifer International and the campus includes their urban farm. This llama seemed to want to have his/her photo taken.
We also visited the historic first capitol building, which is now an eclectic museum of all things Arkansan and not. Coincidently there was a nice display of some of the museum's collection of quilts crafted by black Arkansans. Since the docent was not too knowledgeable about quilt construction, Alice pointed out interesting aspects of the quilts on display. She did a good job!

On the second day, we visited Little Rock Central High School which is a national historic site as well as continuing to be an operating high school. We had an excellent ranger led tour giving us the background of "the Little Rock Nine," the first black students to attempt to desegregate the all white school in 1957 and the explosive political and social aftermath. TV cameras made this local issue an international news item. It was a very moving presentation.
Our travels took us to northwestern Arkansas, with several interesting stops along the way, and we had an evening in Bentonville, home of the original Walmart 5&10 store. The next day we walked through the Compton Gardens to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which was the highlight of this trip for most participants, us included.
The three bears accompanying me was one of the first sculptures we encountered.

Crystal Bridges has an impressive collection, including a Buckminster Fuller dome and a Frank Lloyd Wright house, but the architecture of the space was also amazing. The museum is nestled in a ravine and the galleries are literally bridges spanning the Crystal stream that the Walton children played in as children. Sam Walton's daughter started collecting American art and it seems as though she is the driving force behind the Walton Foundation which operates this facility free to the public.

This photo was taken of the architectural model on display in the lower lobby and was the starting point of our architectural tour.
It gives you an idea of how the structures span the creek and float above it. 
Here is a ground level photo of an actual part of the museum.
It was an amazing day. We were literally on the museum property from 10 AM to 9 PM.

We meandered back to Little Rock via the Ozark Craft Center where we had some time in the craft village, were treated to a wonderful evening concert, and spent the night in a very comfortable cabin. After a hearty breakfast, we were entertained by an Ozark storyteller.

We returned to Little Rock and had a tour of the current state house, as well as a docent led tour of preserved historic neighborhoods.

Our final day consisted of a stop at Garvan Woodland Gardens as well as lunch and an afternoon at Hot Springs National Park. Here is a view of bath house row.
The RS program ran from Monday afternoon through Monday morning, a full and busy week. In addition to the things I've highlighted in this blog post, there were many other places that we stopped at or learned about. Our guides were native Arkansans and were very knowledgeable about their home state, it's resources, history, politics and they had good suggestions for restaurants to eat at on the few times we were on our own for meals.

It is a popular RS program, running several times throughout the year, and it has been fine tuned. There is very little I would suggest to change and, as usual, I continue to be a fan of RS travels.

Who knew Arkansas was so interesting???

April 13, 2018

Orchids for your pleasure!

One of the annual events at the North Carolin Arboretum that I never tire of is the orchid show and sale. Of course, if you follow my blog, you have seen photos posted just about every year. Well, I took photos again, and so I'll share a few. I'm always amazed at the different colors, shapes, sizes and arrangements. They are certainly varied and it's hard to pick a favorite. 

And there were many vendors there selling all of these different varieties. Interestingly, after looking over all of the choices, I brought home a Macodes Petola, which has a very unremarkable flower stalk if I can get it to bloom. I was attracted by it's petite size and it's magnificent reticulated leaves.
Here it is!

April 11, 2018

It was a great vacation!

When Maggie asked if we wanted to go to Puerto Rico with them in mid March, I have to admit we were a bit hesitant. We already had some travel plans at the end of February and quite frankly by mid-March we are likely to have some nice spring weather here at home to enjoy. We also didn't know if Puerto Rico would be ready for visitors yet.

But then we quickly realized that sharing vacation time with family is such a special treat... how could we even think of saying "no?"

As it turned out, winter storms delayed Maggie's family's arrival by a couple of days, but that gave Russ and I time to get acclimated, fill the refrigerator, and enjoy a lovely "adult" dinner by the beach.

 As we hydrated ourselves and filled our bellies with delicious food, we were able to enjoy the beautiful sunset from our table.
Our rental  hacienda was in Rincon on the western side of the island. It was a property that we had stayed in a year and a half ago, so we were familiar with the amenities and location. It seemed to have survived quite well through Hurricane Maria and was equipped with a generator in case of power failure. We did see downed power lines and unusually leaning power poles, evidence of tree loss, and blown down signs, but in general Rincon was up and running and looking good. Everything was lush and green. In this climate, the flora regenerates quickly.
Once the twins arrived, many hours were spent in the pool and we even had a swim up bar!
Seriously, days here are very relaxing. We do expend some effort keeping well hydrated and submerged in pool water or relaxing at the beach.
There is a fair amount of nonsense with 4 year olds and we played a lot of UNO.
 One of our favorite beaches is called Steps Beach. I wonder why they call it that?
Besides the beautiful ocean, there are lots of shade trees to relax under or to climb.
 Though we do eat many meals "at home," we did also try to support the local economy by eating out often, too.
Palm trees abound, though there were more of them before the hurricane.
 Sunsets were lovely.
 And the local fauna included this iguana who regularly visited our pool.
Good bye to a wonderful vacation!
Rise up, Puerto Rico!

March 1, 2018

Ruins, ruins, and more ruins

We have just returned from almost two weeks in southern GA and northern FL. 
Our first stop was Kings Bay, GA, where we enjoyed a nice round of golf at Trident Lakes, an 18 hole course that is located on the US Navy base, a trident submarine base on the St. Mary's River inlet.
After leaving the golf course, we made a brief stop at The Tabby Sugar Works ruin. The ruin was located just a short walk, through a canopy of live oaks and Spanish moss which are both prominent in this part of the country.
The interpretive sign informed us that the Tabby Sugar Works were built in 1825 and it was the first horizontal cane mill worked by cattle power.
The ruins were quite extensive and composed of many large rooms. I imagine that there were areas of the mill used to not only store sugar cane, but possibly to house some of the cattle power.
We were intrigued by the building material which appeared to be a cement that made use of the abundant sand and shells in this area.
On the first full day of our Road Scholar Program based on Amelia Island, FL, we returned to southern GA to take a ferry to Cumberland Island. We spent the day doing a hike which took us to Dungeness, the ruins of an estate owned by the Carnegie family. Like many of the islands off the coast of GA, wealthy families owned huge tracts of land and built their winter homes here in the late 1800's. (This is similar to the tale of Asheville's Biltmore Estate which served as a year-round playground for George Vanderbilt and his family and guests.)
Unfortunately Dungeness burned leaving behind an impressive ruin. One can imagine the massive size of the home which rose four stories and looked over the mouth of the St. Mary's River as it enters the Atlantic. 
While viewing the ruins, our guide pointed out that much of the structure was made out of "tabby." The light bulb moment! When we had been at Tabby Sugar House Ruins, it had not occurred to me that that was the material that the structure was made of. She went on to say that the shells used were taken from huge deposits of shells that the native Americans from hundreds of years ago left behind, and indeed it was a type of cement made from sand and crushed shells.
Most of the large island of Cumberland (it's 18 miles long) is part of the National Park Service, though there are about a dozen private residents still on the island. Only a limited number of people are allowed to visit the island each day. There is another Carnegie home on the island that has been turned into an inn, and we were told that a developer recently purchased one of the few remaining privately owned tracts and plans to build some sort of resort property. That has been met with a lot of local opposition from groups and individuals who feel that the island should remain as natural as possible.
One fascinating but sad fact is that when the Dungeness estate was no longer functional the last owner released the polo ponies to fend for themselves. As a result, the island has a huge herd of malnourished feral horses. The horses are a tourist draw, but many environmentalists feel that the horses are damaging the natural landscape and that it is cruel to keep the horses there. It is a controversial issue we discussed as we walked.
Our nearly 6 mile hike took us to the Atlantic beach side which is a great place to hunt for shells. We had only a brief time at the beach and it was late in the day, so we did not find many shells of interest. We didn't see any whole sand dollars, but there were lots of "quarters."
We visited our last set of ruins on the third afternoon of our RS Program when we had some "free" time. We decided to drive about 15 or 20 miles south of our hotel to visit the Kingsley Plantation.
Though the plantation house was modest by plantation standards, it had an interesting story in that the owner of the plantation married a black woman from the West Indies, so the slaves on the plantation actually had a black mistress. It was a rice plantation and was situated on a beautiful piece of property along the river. 
The tabby ruins there were the slave houses; tiny tabby structures, perhaps 12 feet square, with two small rooms arranged in a semi circle a distance from the main house.
While we were at the ruins, a peacock joined us to show off and distract us from thinking too much about what kind of life these slaves endured.

I would highly recommend this RS Program #11603. We were kept delightfully busy and entertained, the accommodations were excellent, the food was great, the coordinator knew her stuff. Besides Cumberland, we spent a day at Okefenokee Swamp, had a wonderful narrated river cruise from the Amelia Island marina, we did an entertaining historic Fernandina Beach tour, we had musical entertainment, learned about the local paper and shrimping industries, had a presentation by a naturalist, and of course, enjoyed perfect weather!

December 10, 2017

Biltmore in the snow

It's rare to see the Biltmore Estate blanketed in significant snowfall, so when the skies turned blue yesterday afternoon we headed to see it for ourselves.

 Someone built a snowman on this cherub's head!
It used to be prohibited to take photos in the house, but now it's allowed. I suppose people were surreptitiously using their phones anyway and, after all, it's good publicity. 
The artifacts in the house are breathtaking enough, but they have some magnificent holiday decorations and Christmas trees this time of year. 
So here are some photos for you to enjoy.

The conservatory is festooned with greenery and poinsettias.

The tree in the dining room is too big to capture in a single photo. It is a "real" tree and actually gets swapped out once during the holiday season. 
As lovely as it is, I think I was especially taken by the three massive fireplaces at the other end of the room. You seldom see them ablaze.

And now some other pretty trees...

And a final photo of some lovely yellow begonias in the display on the hallway table.
A treasure to visit any time of the year, the house always looks especially ready for entertaining during the holiday season!