Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 8

The hotel is left at 9:30 a.m. for the day’s adventure at Magnolia Gardens and Plantation. This plantation is known for having the first public gardens in the U.S. The day is overcast with the temperature at 42 degrees. The wind makes it feel much colder. 

Gas is purchased at a Kangaroo station at $1.89 gallon and Rte. 61 continues on towards Summerville. The busyness, businesses, and stores eventually give way to a more rural section and the highway narrows to two lanes (my kind of driving). The trip from the hotel is only half an hour.  

This was my favorite place from the 2013 trip. That time was cold, too, but the wind this time has me donning heavy winter coat and gloves. I don’t want to do every tour again and choose the general admission, tram ride, and swamp walk. The tram isn’t until 11, so I wander through the petting zoo until a deer tries to eat the feathers on my walking stick. “Hey, let go!” It is cool to actually pat a deer and have her not be afraid.  

I sit in the front seat of the tram. There’d been a sign stating that people with bad backs shouldn’t ride the tram, but I am willing to risk it. Patrick, the driver, gives me a blanket and it is definitely needed. Any attempts at note taking are a lost cause. I do find out my favorite flower, camellia, is pronounced with a long e and is actually called camellia japonica (also known as the rose of winter). Patrick explains it blooms November to April. Blossoms drop when there’s a frost and new buds will bloom. Unfortunately, there was a frost last week and most the flowers had dropped. I am very disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing these beautiful flowers. 

We drive some of the old dikes between what had been rice fields. Duck weed fills the pond each summer attracting thousands of birds migrating for the winter. There are a few full-timers here. In a few months, the birds eat most of the duck weed. Coots, rails, teal, ducks, Canada geese, and more have easy pickings… when the alligators are dormant and don’t pick them off.  

Only two alligators are seen because it’s an overcast, cold day. Patrick says they mostly hibernate these winter months, though a few will put in an appearance on warm, sunny days. He points out troughs where the ‘gators have moved from one pond to another or from the Ashley River to a pond. We see great blue herons nesting in trees and I also take photos of white ones. 

I head out on the trails after the tram ride. I love the little bridges that cross wet areas and ponds. A path along the river is followed. There are daffodils in bloom and pansies have been planted. I miss the camellia. The river is beautiful with huge live oaks bending over the water with long strands of Spanish moss drooping from the branches. 

The boat ride area is at a crossroads. There are no boat rides in the winter, but the trail looks interesting. A great heron is near the shore and as I’m taking pictures of it, two women coming from the other direction are taking photos of a great blue heron. We stop and chat. They are both transplants from the north and love living in South Carolina. They have a membership here and come once a week to walk. Wow, I’d do that! 

They tell me the trail past the boats is a long way around – a very long way. I decide not to go in that direction and continue on the previous path. I take lots pictures and cross other bridges. The paths wind in and around and along the river, ponds, and various gardens. It’s easy to get turned around.  

Suddenly my back goes into spasm. Owww! What’s with that? And it’s not the side that I pulled the other day. Nor did I make any odd movement. I am just walking. I push on and my back periodically does one of those spasms. An observation tower is reached, but I am hurting too bad to even think about climbing all those stairs. I turn back taking another path and by the time I reach the bamboo garden, it hurts to even walk. I pass many benches pushing myself forward.

I make it back to the ticket booth. There is no way I can do the swamp walk. I have been here four hours. The attendant says I can come back tomorrow to do the swamp walk and I head back to Charleston. The sun had come out and it is warmer.

Rte. 61 is followed back to the city. I took Rte. 61 to Magnolia and figure it would be a straight return. However, when Rte. 171 veers to the left and I stay on 61, I see a sign that says 17N and as 61 goes up and over, I see the hotel off to the left. Uh oh, the directions didn’t say to take 171 on the way back, so when I get to the next set of lights, I pull in to change directions. The bridge is re-crossed, but there’s no access to 17N. Crap, a little further to a set of lights to pull in and turn back around. Hey, this turn comes out on 17 at a set of lights so a left can be taken.

I’m back at the hotel within a few minutes. I hurt, can hardly walk, and am not feeling so well. I hobble inside and take the elevator to the room. There’s not water in the taps. The front desk said there’s a plumbing problem and would be fixed in a couple hours. After a short rest and work on the laptop, it’s time for happy hour and I head for the lounge for more comfy chairs, gorgeous views, and a mai tai which doesn’t need water to make.

Later I have the chicken parmesan with string beans and linguini. I’m stuffed and can’t eat any more half way through. What a waste. I’m sorry.

I can’t wait until morning to import the photos and see how they came out! Some day I want to visit Charleston and the plantations in the spring when more flowers are in bloom. They say March and April are good months... but with the choice between getting out of snowy, cold New Hampshire or waiting until spring is coming...
I'm sure glad I'm not home now!





Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Travels with Sasha end of Day 7

The day starts with less pain than Sunday morning. I spend time on the laptop before heading up to breakfast. The waiter of the morning, Shane, talks with me about the ferret, animals getting into homes, and haunted places. Charleston is one of the top haunted cities of the country. There is heavy cloud cover over the city while the sky is clearer higher up. It sun is bright and blinding by the time it tops the dark cloud. Shane goes around pulling down the shades. 

The blog is written after I return to my room and 83 photos are imported into the computer. It takes some time to figure out how to get them to import into the Dropbox cloud and not onto the hard drive, but I think the photos ended up in both. It’s slowing this computer down. I edit a few of the photos and put them on Facebook, respond to a couple of emails then it is time to head off to an adventure.  

Josh is at the front desk. I remember him from the 2013 trip. He remembers me from my walking stick and says he’s the driver today and says it’ll be about 15 minutes and he’ll come get me in the waiting area of the lobby. There I talk with an elderly woman on her way to the hospital. 

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is a huge place and people come from miles around. The VA Hospital is also nearby. Many people needing outpatient care and families of those with serious issues often stay at the hotel and make use of the free shuttle service. 

The first stop is the hospital where the older lady gets out. Another lady is picked up. At the next stop, the other passengers get out. Josh talks to everyone by first name. This southern hospitality is refreshing and after a short ride, strangers have learned something of one another and we depart with a feeling of camaraderie. 

Josh drops me off at a stop and points out land marks so I can find my way back to the pick-up place. I head off down the street toward the carriage vendors. Almost everyone passing smiles and says hello. I approach the Palmetto Tours ticket booth as Josh had given me a discount coupon. The guy says the next tour is at 1 p.m. It’s just before noon. I don’t want to wait an hour and I certainly don’t want to shop and have to be carrying anything on the tour. 

I cross the street and seek out the carriage company I traveled with in 2013. There are a few people waiting and I recognize the driver from before, Janice. They honor the competitor’s discount coupon. I chat with the ticket lady and Janice and take pictures. I take the front seat and a woman with a 3-year-old daughter sit behind me. (Oh, great, now I have to listen to a kid!) 

Soon we are off. Janet stands up and alternates between guiding Ralph, the big French Percheron, and facing the passengers to explain how the tours work. The horses wear special rubber shoes while working. They also have normal shoes, but the rubber shoes, which look to be an inch thick, help protect the “boys’ ” (this company only has male horses) hooves and joints from the hard surface of the streets. The rubber shoes are removed when the horse is off duty. All the horses get breaks between tours. 

There are five carriage tour companies and the city devised a plan to regulate the tours so there isn’t overcrowding of any particular area or route. Most of these streets also get heavy vehicle traffic and everyone needs to work together.  

So, around the corner, at another corner, is a little ticket house with a bingo machine. The ball that pops up designates the route for that carriage. There are no choices. You get what comes up. That means, should you take another carriage ride, it is possible to get the same route. This system divides the city into three zones, keeps the carriage companies from bunching up in one area, and only 20 carriages are allowed out at a time. Each driver must provide their name and license number, the tour company, and horse’s name to the attendant every time they go out. The carriages also carry little weighted flags and although the horse wears a diaper, if he urinates, the driver drops a flag and calls in “Radiator leak on” such and such a street and a cleanup company goes out to take care of it. 

I couldn’t remember the 2013 route, but not long into this trip, I realize that it is the same. No big deal because it is still enjoyable. Janice explains the old city layout and her stories often have a humorous side. I alternate between taking notes and snapping photos. Sometimes I just hold the camera up and snap away. It’s not easy to manipulate camera, notebook, and pen as the carriage jerks along. 

There are aspects of the city that are beautiful. The little courtyards between homes, some with fancy gates and fences and various vegetation, are gorgeous. Many of the homes look skinny. They are called a Charleston Single House which means they are one room across with porches on either side depending on which way the wind blows. (Allowing the breezes to cool the porches and flow through the house through open windows and doors are important during the hot summers.) The first floor is usually two windows and a door across and three windows across on the upper floors. Some are painted pretty colors, but all must follow particular guidelines. 

This has to do with the 75 Year Rule which dictates that any place 75 years or older cannot be taken down or changed on the outside and nothing can be built higher than the church steeples. Of course, there have been exceptions here and there. Anything can be done on the inside, however. 

A favorite sign read: Please block driveway. Tow truck drivers like your business. 

The tour was enjoyable and for a bit, we followed the Ashley River which is beautiful. By the end of the tour, the sun had gone behind heavy clouds and it was cold. I was glad I’d worn a sweater and coat and had a blanket over my lap. Janice chatted about writing with me for a few minutes after everyone else left then I headed off to check out the market. 

The market is a row of long brick building open on both ends where artisans set up to sell their wares. Some are regulars with the same spots and others are come as they may. I pick up a couple of things for Karen and Evan as a thank you for taking care of Pele and watching the house for me. For myself, I buy a pair of purple leather with fur trim fingerless gloves. (I couldn’t resist the purple.) Many of the vendors are sweet grass basket weavers, but there are also jewelry counters, scarves and fiber arts, food, photos, wood turning, and more. 

I arrive at the pick-up point at 1:50 p.m. I couldn’t quite remember when Josh said he’d be back. I must have just missed him. I don’t dare leave in case he comes. I stand there well over an hour as people come and go on school buses and trolleys. My back and feet hurt so horribly! 

 The shuttle finally shows up at 3:45 and the driver isn’t Josh. The woman is at first grumpy due to her other clients making her late. After awhile she warms up to me and we have a nice chat. We stop at the MUSC and pick up the woman whom I’d talked to earlier. 

I am hungry and quickly drop coat and sweater in the room and head up to happy hour. I get out notebook and pens. Derek brings over a mai tai and I get out notebook and pens. Soon two elderly gents arrive and sit at the table behind me. The clouds over the city are amazing and I take quite a few pictures. Comments are made about where it might be raining. 

 “Look at the rainbow!” Meckie comes running over. I grab the camera again and get up to get different angles.  

“It’s a double rainbow on the left,” someone else calls out. The rainbows disappear into the cloud cover, but what we can see of them is beautiful and they stretch from near the southern tip of the peninsula to past the bridge over the Ashley River. 

I end up turning around and chatting with the two older gentlemen behind me. They tell me about the city and point out landmarks. We have the best conversation! 

It’s time for dinner so I move a few tables down to the restaurant side. Nicole is the waitress. I order the special of roast beef, garlic mashed potato and green beans. It’s delicious. She also works the front desk in the lobby. I’m her only customer so we chat for quite awhile. She explains that although this is a Holiday Inn, it is independently owned and not part of the chain. It’s interesting hearing about the hotel industry and how they have a lot of guests who have appointments at the MUSC or VA Hospitals or have family hospitalized there. 

It’s surprising to hear that many of the guests never venture up to the restaurant. What a shame. Even if someone doesn’t want to enjoy a meal, the views are so amazing and can lend some comfort for those going through a stressful time. 

The evening was so enjoyable. This was the happiest day of travel, yet! The people on this journey have been so friendly and I couldn’t be happier. 

The meal finished, I head back to the room. My back is aching. I check in back home and watch a couple of home shows on TV before crawling into bed.





Monday, January 26, 2015

Travels with Sasha morning Day 7

It just dawned on me that I’m doing this backwards. I’ve been blogging in the morning which means I’m actually writing about the day before which is day six when today is day seven. And I’ve been journaling in the afternoon. Backwards, yes, but it’s because I can bring the notebook easier to the lounge/restaurant than the laptop.

When I work on writing the actual book, I’ll have to fix all this. For now, I’ll continue on with yesterday’s doings: 

Yesterday started off rough when I could hardly get out of bed. The pain in my back was excruciating which was surprising as I was comfortable lying down. Sitting up brought a gasp of pain. I could hardly walk and needed the walking stick and putting the other hand out to bed, suitcase, wall, door, etc. I was bent over like a 100-year-old lady. There was something about shifting my weight from lying on my side to being upright with the weight centered.  

But I knew from the past experience that once I was upright for awhile the muscles would relax and settle in to being vertical – the four ibuprofen helped, too. Still, it took awhile (and quite a few tears) before I could get cleaned up and dressed then even consider leaving the room. 

I did make it up to breakfast and a fabulous sunrise where I had some great conversation with staff and other customers. One woman was so impressed when I mentioned I was editor of a local newspaper back home and that I wrote a book. A little later she came up to my table and said she ordered the book from Amazon and asked to have a picture taken with me. Wow! I felt like a celebrity. (Don’t worry, the self-doubts won’t let it go to my head, ha ha.) 

I then went to their table to get photos of them and information. She and her fiancé were visiting her parents who live in Charleston. (I am getting better at talking to people and getting their pictures. Thank you, Gayle Hedrington, for pushing me to be brave and to Annette Vogel, who is helping me be better at writing and interviews.) 

Back in my room it took until noon to finish my weekly newspaper work. By then I needed to move and was able to get my big suitcase down to the laundry room. All the clothes fit into one washer and while that machine was running, I went outside for a walk around the parking lot. 

This hotel sits on the banks of the Ashley River between the north and south bound lanes of Rte. 17. I hobbled to the end of the parking lot to get photos of the bridge crossing the Ashley. Here was a case where there is one angle as seen from the top floor of the hotel, but at ground level, there are scrubby bushes that do not give a clear view.  

This happens often during driving when a nice view is seen, but when I stop and get out of the vehicle, the height difference doesn’t’ give a clear view. There are also times when an even lower view is needed and because of age and body condition, I am no longer able to scooch down, lie down, or get down embankments to get an angle I’d prefer for the photographs. 

I wandered to the left walking along a dirt lane where vehicles sometimes drive and there is some construction debris. What’s that beyond that big puddle? It looks like some kind of animal. I cautiously approached. Did it get hit by a car?  

It had dark brown with a darker face; looked like a ferret or ermine, about 18 inches long. She was curled in a ball. I spoke. “Hey, baby, are you OK?” She just barely opened her eyes. She didn’t pull back or act scared. “You poor thing,” I crooned. I touched her with my stick and she rolled back and I could see her belly. She looked OK. Her breathing was regular. I ran the stick lightly down her back in a pat. She turned around and curled back up in a ball and tucked her head down. Was she just taking a nap in the warm sun? I was concerned that someone might drive over her. Yes, this was at the far end of the parking lot and dirt, so people shouldn’t drive here.  

I continued on my walk and checked the bridge of the south bound lane. The angle was wrong for pictures. Oh, if I could just walk out into the middle of the four lanes, but traffic was heavy. I headed back. The little ermine was still sleeping. I patted her again with my stick and she stretched. I talked to her. I wanted to cry. She seemed OK, but why was she just lying here? I kept talking and watching and patting her a couple times. If my back wasn’t sore, I would have bent over to pat her. She again turned around and curled up for more snoozing. If she was dying, I didn’t want to watch. I walked away with tears in my eyes.

Someone else was using the dryer when I got back inside. A nice young man apologized and said he had to put the machine back on for a longer time. I sat at a computer in the lobby and played spider solitaire until the man told me he was done. I loaded the dryer and figured I had just enough time for the lunch buffet which closed at 2. (Staying at this hotel is not only costly to my budget, but with this restaurant, I tend to eat more.)

A lunch of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and peas and carrots filled me. The clothes weren’t dry when I got back to the laundry room. I hung out waiting. They were still a touch damp so back in my room, I spread things out on the beds and chairs to fully dry. My back was again hurting and I needed to sit. 

I went up to the lounge at 4 p.m. Aaron, the bartender, remembered me and immediately asked if I wanted a mai tai. Yes! I spent the next hour sipping, writing in my journal, and listening to conversations. There was a dark spot near that outhouse where I’d seen the ermine. I focused the camera. It wasn’t moving. I told Aaron about the encounter and he said how he was a softie where animals are concerned.  

A little later I looked and it was moving around. I called Aaron over to see. Others wanted to know what we were looking at and soon there were eight people looking out the windows. The creature wandered in circles like it was looking for something. She eventually moved out of sight as the shadows of evening descended. I can’t stop thinking about that poor little thing. To have her hang around like that… is she somebody’s lost pet? Did someone just leave her? Aaron said he wanted to rescue her. I hope he does. 

(I’m afraid to look this morning.)

I wasn’t really hungry, but when I saw that potato skins were on the happy hour menu, I couldn’t resist. They went well with a second mai tai and glass of water.  

I booked to stay another day here at the Holiday Inn Riverview.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 6

Good Morning! I got so involved in work yesterday that I forgot to blog. I put in a long day from 8:30 a.m. to just after 6 p.m. I spent that entire time in the restaurant on the 15th floor with fantastic views (except for the one time I went back to my room for the bottle of ibuprofen). 

Unfortunately, I started off the day by pulling my back getting out of the shower. I have short legs and stepping over the tub wall is an effort especially as the floor of the tub is higher than the bathroom floor. I heard and felt something snap in my back. It happened a few years back and it took over a week before I could drive and more weeks before I was without pain. 

This time wasn’t as bad, thank God, and I managed to get dressed. I immediately took ibuprofen. I wanted to catch the sunrise from the top floor, but first went out to the parking lot to get my walking stick. That is a life saver. The elevator took me up to the 15th floor where the doors opened to a foggy, overcast view. The gray clouds were spectacular. 

I was shown a table. I remembered the waiter from the 2013 trip. Fresh fruit (strawberries, cantaloupe, pineapple, and peaches) and one biscuit and a little gravy made my breakfast. They told me I could bring my laptop up there to work, so after eating, I went back to my room for the necessary equipment. 

Thus I was ensconced at a bigger table and more comfortable chair than in my room, and with the most breath-taking views. The lights of the city went out as daylight progressed. The city lightened and as the fog lifted, buildings became more defined. Throughout the day I watched dolphins playing in the river, the storm clouds lighten and patches of blue poke through and even, eventually, the sun. Like back home, every time I looked up from the computer, there was a different look to the scenery. 

Then there were the occasional conversations with a staff member or other customers. Some people come up just to see the view. Dimitrios told me about busloads of tour people who come in from all over the world. Raiquetta talked about her other job at Disney in Orlando where she is an escort for the characters. Susan showed photos of her horses. A woman from Orlando talked about the cold (60 degrees is cold to her) and we commented on the dolphins as she’d call out every time she saw one. Everyone is so friendly! How very different when I’m home alone working.

Penne with chicken and a Caesar salad was ordered for lunch and I kept working while eating (usually my lunch break includes playing Spider Solitaire at home), but there was much to do. I plugged away. Did I say how much I love my job? To be able to continue doing the job while traveling is the cat’s meow. 

Speaking about cat, I do miss my baby fluff ball. Karen is good about giving me daily updates. Happy hour brought in more customers. I was assured I was fine and kept working. I never want to be in anyone’s way. Dinner time came. I wasn’t hungry, but felt as I’d sat there all day and they were so accommodating, something needed to be ordered. Key lime pie and a mai tai were perfect.
I watched the setting sun highlight the high-rises of Charleston and disappear. The sky darkened and lights began to dot the city. Lights dotted the bridges and moving vehicles looked like lighted ants all in a row. Night came to Charleston and by 7 p.m., I was back in my room. 

And now it’s time to get upstairs to catch this morning’s sunrise.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 4

 Jonesville, North Carolina is left at 7:45 a.m. The temperature is 41 degrees and the skies gray. Gas cost $2.17 gallon; prices were below $2 at places passed yesterday, but I don’t want to search further.

Traffic moves right along at 70 mph on I-81. One goal for today is not to be tense while driving. My spirits about the trip are picking up when it starts to rain. And here I was thinking that the sun hadn’t risen yet! Visibility diminishes, but the vehicles don’t slow. There are more trees along the highway which block the view of the farmlands – not that I can look around in this traffic.

A ways before Charlotte, the speed limit drops to 60 mph. Traffic bunches, becomes stop and go, bumper to bumper for miles. There goes reaching Charleston by noon and being relaxed while driving. Fifteen minutes later, three cars on the left side of the road are passed and there are a couple of pieces of debris in the road. Traffic picks back up.

Was this it! This caused the slow down? Humph! On and on with the traffic ebbing and flowing, sometimes I’m passing and other times I’m being passed. Charlotte is scary to drive through. I concentrate on the vehicle in front of me. A stretch of road is reached that is cement and the spray coming off all the vehicles creates a fog, which add to the nervousness.

South Carolina is reached at 9:45 a.m. and I pull into the VIC. The lady says it’s four hours to Charleston. She calls the Holiday Inn Riverview and books me in for three nights and I’m again on the road. There are 13 exits for Columbia and I’m through the city and begin to think I missed the exit for I-26. Then I remember the lady said that I-77 ends at I-26.

I-26 is a rougher surfaced road. For entertainment, I try to calculate the distance to Charleston with the speed I’m traveling. Most of the time, it’s 70 mph, but sometimes drops to 60; not that many people do.

At one point, there’s a whole section (miles) where they’ve cut down all the trees in the meridian. (The meridian here is at least four lanes wide.) All the trees are piled like a row of pointy mountains. It’s ugly. Those poor trees; why have they done that? The meridian with trees was nice. Maybe they will be widening the highway.

I reach the hotel at 12:37 and I’m assigned room 1106. There’s a beautiful view of the Ashley River. The luggage is hauled in, the trolley returned to the lobby, and it’s time for lunch. I take the elevator to the 15th floor and enjoy a nice buffet, a delicious mai tai, and enjoy a most spectacular view looking towards Charleston Harbor.

Tomorrow I might bring my laptop up there to work.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 3

The Comfort Inn in Martinsburg is left at 8:30 a.m. after first scraping the windows of ice. The sky is still cloudy and the temperature 33 degrees. I am having dilemma about taking Rte. 66 to 17 to I-95 or staying on I-81S to I-77S. Google maps said the latter route was quicker to Charleston, S.C. and could take only eight hours if traffic conditions are good. The question is taking the same route as before or doing something new. And if I do the new, would that area be more mountainous and perhaps icy? 

The Virginia border is crossed at 8:45 and I stop at the VIC. The temperature is 39 degrees. I chat with the guy inside, but he isn’t very helpful. Then again, he couldn’t be. This is my decision to make. Do I play it safe?

However, this trip isn’t a repeat of the one in 2013. Yes, I may revisit my favorite places, but this trip needs its own adventures. I think about those bridges I want to see again… but is it necessary? The exit for Rte. 66E is bypassed as I stay on I-81S.

The landscape is often those rolling hills and open farmland that I find so intriguing. I hold the camera up and take photos hoping they’ll come out. Virginia speed limit is 70 mph. The drive goes on and on. Two hours later, I see interesting fencing, an old farm, and a sign for the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. A break is needed and the next exit taken. 

The road to the museum parallels the highway. There is a huge round building which I find out is a theater. I don’t want to spend a lot of time here, so I only purchase a grounds pass and back outside, I take photos of the scenery. Then I drive to the old farm which has been preserved. The fields are rolling with an apple orchard, barns, and views to the mountains. I read about the family that lived here and between the self-guided tour of the house and outbuildings, and driving further along where there were graves (there were graves all over this property), tears fill my eyes. 

Imagine building a home, raising a family; then have some war come over the top of you. Many, young confederate men were killed here. One of the story boards had the last words of some of these men. How sad. Killing is so horrible. I look over this beautiful piece of land and find it hard to imagine the horror that went on here during battle. (I will do more story when I write the book.) 

Back on the highway, the driving goes on and on. I try to get a few pictures, but after awhile, I’m just so tired. A stop is made at a rest stop, but I don’t get out. I push to make I-77S and North Carolina. It isn’t easy. There are moments of beauty. Oh, I so want pictures of the farmlands. There are moments when I wonder if I’ll have to stop for a nap or call it an early night. 

At the VIC in North Carolina, I am told of a Comfort Inn in Jonesville and I’m checking in by 2:05 p.m. The lobby here is gorgeous. The room is just OK, not as nice as last night, but I have internet access and that’s important.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Travels with Sasha Day 2

Place: Comfort Inn, Martinsburg, W. Va.   (Highly recommended)
Restaurant: Hoss's Family Steak and Sea   (Highly recommended)

Miles driven today: 256.7 

Trip total: 527.9

The Days Inn is left just before 9 a.m. after wolfing down a waffle for breakfast and a small orange juice. The sky is overcast and the temperature is 19 degrees. I-84 crosses the Neversink River and passes through Metamoras, Pa. and begins climbing. It’s great having compass and thermometer in the truck, but an altimeter would be nice, too. I’d love to know the elevation of many places.

The scenery is mostly bland because of the season and lack of snow and color. Still, the farm lands and open rolling hills are beautiful. Rte. 380N is taken for a bit to connect with I-81 in Scranton. Here the traffic is much heavier with the average speed just under 10 mph over the limit. It’s hard to look around because focus needs to be on the driving. I-81N is stop and go all the way to Wilkes-Barre. I wonder if I should find another way home. Is this an ongoing issue or is it just something today.

The drive is tedious. I do enjoy the scenery through the mountains, but it’s hazy in the distance. There’s no picture taking to be done in this traffic, either. The highway winds up, around, and down. There are more mountain areas and it goes on. In the lower elevations are the open farms which are beautiful. It would be nice to explore this area sometime without hurrying to another place, but why is it foggy in the distance?

That answer comes just before Harrisburg as it begins to snow. Soon the visibility lessens substantially. I concentrate on the big rig in front of me. Warning signs mention reducing speed and using caution, but the traffic hardly slows. Dirty ice forms at the edge of the windshield. The drive becomes more tedious and the tension causes head and back aches. For some reason, my feet hurt, too, and I can’t figure that out.

I do get glimpses of farmlands and trees that would make beautiful photographs, but that cannot happen. I forget about making it to Virginia and just hope Martinsburg can be reached. The Maryland line is crossed at 12:30 p.m. and West Virginia 10 minutes later. I pull into the visitors center. No good photographs here either.

There are two buildings. A small one and a larger one with most people going towards the bigger. I decide to see what’s in the small one and it’s this that’s actually the VIC.

“Why are there two buildings?” I ask the clerk.

“The other houses the bathrooms,” she replies and explains that during busy seasons they can see 60,000 people a month come through here.

We talk about the storm and she says that it’s at least two hours south and east. She agreed that stopping for the night in Martinsburg would be the safer option. She booked me into the Comfort Inn off Exit 16E. A man from Vermont comes in commenting on snow and she tells us that West Virginia has four ski resorts. This type of weather is not unusual.

A short time later, I am checking into the Comfort Inn. Barbara assigns room 128 and I check it out before bringing in any luggage. The room is lovely, spacious, and clean – and the next to the last room on the end. This corridor isn’t as long as the other, though, and even the hallway has a nicer feel.

I bring in what is needed for the night and head back out. Barbara says there’s a restaurant (and she points and explains I don’t even have to go out on the street) called Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea. It’s across the parking lot on the other side of a bank and I drive over because of the weather.

The entrée is ordered at the hostess desk then she escorts me to a booth. There’s a huge salad bar in the middle. On one wall are breads and butters, five different kinds of soups, mac and cheese and some other items. On the opposite wall are all kinds of desserts. And all this comes with the entrée.

I help myself to a nice salad with all kinds of toppings. Then go back for a couple of rolls and put on the side of the plate a dollop of regular butter and one of cinnamon butter. The cinnamon is really good. Who knew? My entrée is burgundy steak tips with peppers and gravy and a baked potato. Wow, is it good!

After eating, I go across the street (only because there’s a set of lights allowing the crossing of four lanes of traffic) to a Sheets gas station. The tank is filled at $2.35/gl. I go inside and purchase a bottle of wine and two bottles of water.

Exhaustion hits back at the hotel. I finally take some ibuprofen for the headache and settle to work at the computer. I pour a cup of wine, but cannot hold my eyes open to drink much. I opt for a nap. It helps. I’m hungry again and I’m tempted to call for takeout. The waitress had said they deliver to the hotel all the time and guests get a discount.

But I won’t. I’ll settle for a snack of mixed almonds, Craisins, and cashews.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Travels with Sasha: End of Day 1

End of Day 1, Jan. 20, 2015 

Place: Days Inn, Port Jervis, N.Y.

Miles driven today: 271.2 

I leave Bradford at 9 a.m. under sunny skies and the temperature at 27 degrees. After a quick stop in Henniker at the bank, I am soon on Rte. 9W. Scenery is a bit blah. What there is of snow is dirty and colors dull. A part of me doesn’t to go. The Vermont border is crossed at 10:30. Interstate 91S is picked up for a couple miles before Rte. 9 continues west across the state. It’s 40 miles to Bennington. 

West Brattleboro is interesting and a place for possible photographs on another day. This is an enjoyable drive passing old New England businesses, homes, and farms. Sometimes another vehicle will be seen, but often I’m alone on the road; just the way I like it. The road narrows and meanders along winding upwards. A couple of hairpin turns are navigated and Hogback Mountain is crossed. The views are dull and I don’t stop.  

I start noticing mountains in the distance are white and soon the road is passing through areas where snow lies heavy on tree limbs and power lines. This is the winter wonderland. It’s beautiful… but treacherous. There is ice on the road in places and I catch up to slower moving traffic. We pass through these beautiful mountains and begin the long, slow descent towards Bennington. I am still not feeling the excitement and I’m so tempted to turn around and go home.

The windshield fills with salt and dirt… and I cleaned all the windows before I left. 

Wilmington is a cute little Vermont town and another area that would be interesting to explore sometime. There are quaint shops, old mill-type buildings, and art galleries. Soon Rte. 279 is taken towards Troy and the Walloomsic River is crossed a couple times as the highways swings around Bennington and turns into Rte. 7 when the New York border is crossed at 11:30. 

Hoosick, N.Y. is rolling hills, open farm land. Snow is spotty, the ground mostly bare and dull of color. Traffic is light and as I pass an old abandoned gas station surrounded by old equipment, I can’t help but stop for a few photographs. Luckily, there’s room to pull off the road and by the time the vehicle comes to a stop (speed limit is 55), I am past the building. I walk back taking picture of all the old rusty vehicles and other equipment along with the building. 

A stop is made at the Country View Diner in Brunswick. The waitress is nice, but not overly friendly. She tries to take my order before I’ve even had a chance to look at the menu. Then she doesn’t come back for a long time and it takes even longer for the burger and fries. The fries are those frozen, soggy crinkle cut ones.  

I left the diner at 1 p.m. continuing on Rte. 7 down into Troy. I-787 is a right to swing out around Troy to head south towards Albany and where the N.Y. Thruway is picked up. That’s a long drive to I-84W in Newburgh. The Days Inn in Port Jervis was reached at 3:11.  

I wait for assistance. The desk clerk is new and having trouble with the system. Room 142 is assigned and she says to park halfway down the building to enter the side door. The room is halfway down the corridor. It’s a fight to get the door open, but the room looks nice.

It’s a long walk to the lobby to get the luggage trolley. They only have one? There is ice on the ground in front of the door near the truck and there’s not a little ramp for the trolley. I pull items needed for the night and haul them to the sidewalk and onto the trolley. It’s not an easy chore, but eventually everything is in the room and I make the long journey back to the lobby with the trolley. I am limping on the return to the room. This is not good customer service!

The coffee pot is on the work table and is plugged into the only outlet on that wall along with the mini fridge. There is no light in that corner. The coffee pot is moved to the luggage table and the table to the corner with the lamp. This room may be a bit dark, but it looks clean. 

I forgot to bring a surge protector for the laptop and plug it into a regular outlet. As I’m checking in back home, I realize I also forgot the battery charger for my camera. Noooo! Now what? If I make the six hour drive home to get it, I will not leave again. Is it still in that cabinet? Why do I think I might have moved it? Could Karen Fed X overnight it to me in Charleston where I’ll be spending a couple days? We’ll see. There is a spare battery, but would it be enough?
Hey, there always has to be challenges. I’ll just have to see what tomorrow will bring.

Travels with Sasha: Day 1, the leaving

The leaving is hard. There’s always the worry that something will be forgotten. Is everything packed? Were items unplugged that needed to be?
The car windows need to be washed and probably should have been done yesterday while it was warmer outside. The rest of the items need to be put in the vehicle and I need to decide which coats and jackets to bring.
Pele was being lovable and extra attentive this morning until she was distracted by a gray squirrel. Hopefully, she will be napping when I leave because if she watches me go out the door, I will cry. The big white puff ball will be missed even though my clothes get covered with white fur.
This morning it dawned on me that I don’t want to be comparing this trip with the one in 2013. Yes, the route will be the same – unless something catches my attention and I take a detour – but there will be differences. My writing style will be much improved. More attention will be paid to people met along the way.
My entire emotional-ness is different this time. There’s a part of me that would like to say forget it and stay home. The excitement isn’t here. Then again, once I get on the road, it’ll become so.
So, it’s time to finish what is needed and get on the road. I will check in when I get to a hotel tonight… probably in Port Jervis, N.Y., but you never know.              

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Travels with Sasha

The countdown is on! Well, it should have been on, but my emotions about going to Florida have been up and down. There’s the excitement about the traveling, revisiting some places from the 2013 trip, seeing new places, and spending time in Citrus Springs with friends. 

The other side is the amount of work there is to do… or I feel I have to/want to do. I’m in the middle of revamping my accounting and inventory keeping for better organization. There are drawings to do, stories and a book not yet finished, photographs, editing, finding a new smaller house… Oh, there are a myriad of excuses to not go.

But I have to go; for sanity, mental well-being, and to get renewed. A fresh outlook is needed as these past six months have been incredibly busy. I am not complaining. My current job, editor of the InterTown Record, is the best job ever and I work for the most amazing woman! However, between editing, reporting, photography, doing interviews, covering stories, and keeping up with the artist side of my life has energy and creativity levels at a low. 

The newspaper work comes with me and I will always be taking photographs and writing. The change of scenery is what will bring on new inspiration. It’s amazing to be able to travel and still do the job. That, in itself, is exciting and the new book is already started. This one will be much improved over “Too Cold for Alligators” although that book was a great accomplishment. (I’m considering “Not Too Cold for Alligators” for the title as it will be a sequel to the other.) 

So today, Sunday, laundry is being done and as clothes are folded, some will go into suitcases. Other items will be added as a mixture of cold and warm weather pieces will be needed. One of the joys about driving is to be able to bring extra. Portable easel and drawing supplies are already packed and I’m hoping to do some en plein air work. Most everything will be made ready today. 

Tomorrow will be about cleaning the house. It will be nice to come home knowing that. Neighbors will be watching the house and Karen will be coming over once or twice a day to check on things and take care of Pele. Yes, it will be hard to say goodbye to my precious puss, but I’ll be back.  

Leaving day will be Tuesday or Wednesday. Right now I’m leaning towards Tuesday, but we’ll see how tomorrow goes.

Be sure to follow my blog as I’ll be writing daily as I travel. Enjoy!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Remembering to have fun with what we love to do

Happy New Year, Everyone! 

The start of the new year is always a time to reflect on the past one and contemplate the current. A lot of artists especially often spend much soul searching in deciding how to revamp or re-inspire their careers. Because art isn’t a need, purchasing art work isn’t a priority to many people. So, what can we do to make sales? 

It’s great to have artist friends to talk over these issues. We support each other and make suggestions; get ideas for trying new projects. Nan McCarthy and I email almost every day and we have great discussions. One of the topics we discussed this week was how it is easy to get so involved in creating work to sell, that we forget to have fun. Yes, we love what we do, but sometimes that goal to “make a living” turns our love of creativity into a “job.”  

Deadlines to exhibits or supplying inventory to a gallery can put added stress on our love of creativity. We can get so mired into producing the next painting that we sometimes forget to experiment and find excitement in the project. We worry if a customer will purchase this picture. We try to find scenes or objects that we think a customer will like. Next thing we know, we are so focused on trying to please someone else that we forget we do this work because we love it.  

There isn’t always a consistent market for artists. Yes, there are those who have a niche doing popular items that sell well, but for most, it’s an upward battle. We may do many exhibits and shows. We may have our work in galleries, but that doesn’t mean there are a lot of sales. 

There is a mental battle, too. We often question ourselves. Is our work good enough? Yes! And yet, we drive ourselves crazy wondering why one month will have good sales and then the next two months will be lousy. We can analyze and beat ourselves up over it, but the bottom line is that it is what it is. It’s being an artist. 

My goal for this year is to improve (as always,) but I also want to make sure to have more fun. I want to go on more adventures. Go out taking photographs just to be out and enjoying the countryside. I want to get away from feeling the stress of what I HAVE to do. Yes, there will still be the jobs, the commissions, the shows and exhibits, but I want to let go of the disappointments when things don’t sell… they don’t always sell… and totally be excited when they do!