Living in a Fairy Tale

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Although this blog is intended to be related to my writing, in the end, everything that happens in my life is related to my writing.  That couldn’t be more true than this weekend. It was a fabulous weekend, almost like a fairy tale.

Summer is waning and there is the nip of autumn in the air. I love this time of year. Autumn is especially nice in the country. It draws up images of pumpkins and scare crows, hay bales and country barns framed in russet leaves.

I grew up in the city, and although my husband and I have spent all our child raising years in the suburbs, pretty far out in the suburbs, I wouldn’t say we lived in the country. This weekend, we got a real taste of country life.

On Friday, we went to an estate sale at a 171 year old house, which is unquestionably out in the country.  Where as I’ve had a variety of stores within a short distance of anywhere I’ve lived, this township has no store. The nearest one is in a neighboring town almost ten miles away along a winding country road.

Despite the previous chilly night, the sun came out and the day was warm. The estate sale was incredible. There were tents covering tables of smaller items, and a barn full of furniture. There were people everywhere. It almost seemed like a competition, people racing to tag something before anyone else did. The items for sale were of high quality, and priced to sell. We had to take two trips to bring home all our purchases, even though we drive an SUV.

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Among our treasures is an 1800’s Chippendale highboy dresser, a wicker chair, a fireplace screen, an antique folk art table, a huge oriental rug, an antique handwoven wool rug and a 3 quart Le Crueset Gratin that was priced at only $5.00.  For those who don’t cook, or don’t know Le Crueset – trust me, that was the deal of a lifetime. For those of you who do understand –  take some slow, deep breaths –  and please don’t hate me.

Saturday morning, the sun returned, chasing away the morning chill. I started my day by hitting the local farmer’s market. There was everything from brightly colored vegetables, to fresh baked bread, to golden honey from local bees, and buckets overflowing with sunflowers. From there I went to a house just out of town from where I live. The woman who lives there raises chickens, and I was hoping for some fresh eggs for breakfast. Luckily she had just collected a dozen. You can’t get any fresher than that.

My husband and I were going to be having dinner at another couple’s home that night, and I still needed to make a dessert.  My “egg” lady also happens to have several apple trees. I asked her if she ever sells her apples. She said she just didn’t have the time to bag them and sell them. Then she said, if I  wanted some, I could pick as many as I’d like, no charge. She also pointed out which tree had the best apples and assured me that she didn’t use any pesticides, but I wouldn’t find any worms in her apples – she  sprays them with mineral oil. She also said that the apple tree I was picking from was called a Wolf River apple, and that the semi-dwarf variety isn’t available anymore, so if I wanted to, I could save some seeds and plant trees of my own. I took a grocery bag, and picked enough apples to fill it.

I made it home just as my family was waking up. I whipped together a breakfast of fluffy ham and cheese omelettes, bacon, toast with jam, coffee and orange juice. Then I went to work on my dessert. My egg (and now apple) lady was right, the apples were huge –  almost a pound each, and not a bug or worm in sight.

 

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I threw together an apple crisp – nothing is easier than apple crisp. I didn’t even follow a recipe, but I can share my non-recipe with you.

 

Apple Crisp

4-5 lbs. of apples,peeled, cored, and  cut into chunks (this is a guess, I just filed the pan – the $5.00 Le Crueset one.)

juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

Toss together and place in ungreased 9 x 13 pan or 3 quart casserole .

In another bowl mix together:

2 cups old fashioned oats

1 1/2  cup flour

1 1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

2 sticks butter, melted

Spread over the top of the apples.

Bake at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit) for one hour.

Serve warm with ice cream.

 

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While my crisp was baking, my husband and I went back to the estate sale, this time joined by our best friends. By this time the family running the sale knew us. They shared the stories behind each item we picked out. They told us how the antique chamber pot I purchased was used by their grandmother, when she was a little girl, and how their mother hand painted the folk design in  a wooden bowl that will be displayed with honor in my home. To those items we added an antique candle stand, a lamp, two ladder back chairs, a federal style mirror, a Victorian boot jack, and a shabby chic metal menu board.

Before we left, our attention was drawn to the water’s edge where a man in a pumpkin boat was making his way down the river. I don’t mean a boat that looked like a pumpkin. He was sitting in a ginormous carved out pumpkin, with a trolling motor mounted on the back. He was also paddling. I can’t imagine a pumpkin is very easy to steer.  The bridge over the river was crowded with people, cheering the pumpkin captain along. Then, like something out of a movie,we heard the clip clop of horses hooves. Along came a carriage full of people, lead by two beautiful black horses.

 

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It seemed like the tiny township was putting on a show, just for us.

We finally said goodbye to our friends, both old and new, and tore ourselves away. We had to get ready to go to dinner with our other friends.

 

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Drinks on the patio, a delicious dinner of prime rib, and relaxed conversation made for a very enjoyable evening and a great end to the day. The dessert was a hit, and the crisp looked so pretty in my $5.00 Le Crueset pan. Yes, I’m gloating!

 

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Sunday morning  was cold and rainy, but we didn’t let that dampen our weekend. I made a large batch of Tex Mex chili topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and onions. We drank apple cider, and made a second batch of that yummy apple crisp – and yes, I did save the seeds. I just might plant myself an apple tree or two. Maybe this “country” weekend is the start of something. I kind of like this country girl thing. I do believe that this fairy tale  isn’t over yet. It’s very much a case of –

to be continued…

 

 

Have you seen the Muffin Man?

 

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The number one rule of writing is, write what you know. Since the first novella I published is told from the point of view of a male retired cop, I guess I must be a rule breaker. I’m a curious person by nature, which is probably why I love the research that goes with writing something I don’t know. It makes telling the story more interesting when I can share some little nugget I learn with my readers.

I’m so curious that any mundane activity has the ability to get me to run to my computer to look something up. I do love the internet.

One morning I was making myself breakfast. I was just popping an English muffin into the toaster, when I started to wonder about the hole-filled breakfast food. Is the English muffin really English? Is it related to the crumpet? How did it come about? As soon as I could lick my fingers clean, I was on my laptop giving Google a work out.

The first article I found said the English muffin was indeed English. In Victorian times it was a food created from leftover bread and biscuit dough scraps along with mashed potatoes. The batter was poured on a hot griddle, creating light, crusty muffins for the servants. When the well-to-do upstairs discovered the tasty treat, it became a popular pastry, especially during tea time. It became so popular, that English muffin factories began to pop-up and men carrying the baked good to sell on wooden trays could be seen walking the streets. This is what the song “Do you know the muffin man…” refers to.

So I was slightly confused when the next link I clicked on claimed that the English muffin was not English, but an American invention. It turns out that the credit is given to Samuel Bath Thomas who immigrated from England in 1874. Thomas, who worked in a bread bakery, opened his own bakery in 1880, It was there that he took his knowledge and created the modern day, Americanized English muffin. It is a Thomas brand English muffin that started me on this quest. Thomas English muffins have since made their way back across the pond to Britain. Talk about full circle!

So, although the English muffin you buy in the store today was technically invented in America, it was done so by an Englishman who brought with him the knowledge and history of the muffin of Victorian England as well as the crumpet.

As for the crumpet, it is a very similar type biscuit credited to the Anglo Saxons, only it’s holes are on the outside, not the inside, so a crumpet is not split. Both are a griddle cake but unlike the English muffin the crumpet holes come from adding baking soda. Crumpets are made with milk, English muffins are not. The texture of a crumpet is spongier than the English muffin.

So here’s my conclusions based on what I learned. Crumpets were around forever. The British upper class favored them. The poor servants were hungry and invented their own version out of the bread dough scraps they could get from the kitchen. The aristocrats, not wanting the servants to have something they didn’t, started eating their “muffins.” Mr. Thomas, a baker from England, came over to America. He saw that we didn’t have anything similar, so he decided to take what he knew about making crumpets and muffins and invented the modern day English muffin that can be heated in a toaster.

I say the English muffin is indeed English. Just because I may put slightly different ingredients in my version of spaghetti sauce doesn’t mean that spaghetti sauce is American and not Italian. When we say a food is Italian, or Mexican, or English, we are talking about it’s origin, not just of a particular recipe, but of the food itself. It seems to me that what we call an English muffin today is just the progression any recipe goes through. Thomas did name his product an English muffin for a reason after all. Regardless of how it came to be, I can’t deny that those crags and crevices filled with melted butter and jam taste terrific!

Now for the french fry…not French at all. The french fry originated in Belgium, but that’s for another day.

 

Having a Drink with Hemingway

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Last night I went to Shaker’s Cigar Bar in Milwaukee. The bar, once a speakeasy and brothel, built over the site of a cemetery, is said to be haunted. They have discovered quite a few spirits. There is eleven year old Elizabeth, thought to be pictured below, who broke her neck in a fall from a tree when it was a cemetery in the 1800’s  (ladies, be careful – she’s known to haunt the woman’s restroom).

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There are two ghosts of unnamed women who worked the brothel and committed suicide on the property, and one of Molly Brennan, a woman of the night who was murdered by her lover. With two murder victims buried in the basement, and an unknown number of bodies that were not moved when the building was constructed over the cemetery, there are plenty of restless spirits roaming the property.

The building was also once owned by Al Capone. He even left behind a safe. The current owner has elected not to break into said safe. Probably a good idea, just ask Geraldo Rivera.

 

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Any of you who know me, know this is right up my alley. Just check out my other blog posts “Spiritual Journey” and “Life Imitates Art, Art Imitates Life, Life After Death“. I am not a skeptic when it comes to ghosts and the spirit world. Despite my desire to meet someone from the other side, we did not have any supernatural experiences while on the tour. As the tour guide will tell you, ghosts don’t perform on command. The history and architecture alone were interesting and worth the ticket price.

Another attraction of the bar are their cocktails featuring, the once illegal, absinthe.  For those of you who don’t know what absinthe is, it’s a liquor made from anise, fennel, and wormwood. Once called the “Green Fairy,” it was first produced in Switzerland in the late 18th century.  It became very popular in Switzerland, France and the United States, especially in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately for absinthe, it got a bad rap. There is a chemical in wormwood called thujone, that is not only poisonous, but thought (at the time) to be a hallucinogen. It’s no wonder that J.K. Rowling made one of the main ingredients in her Draught of the Living Death potion.

Of course, serving hallucinogenic alcohol to the customers, has nothing to do with anyone possibly seeing ghosts on the tour!

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During it’s heyday, absinthe became the drink of the creative crowd; the writers and the artists. French poets Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud were absinthe drinkers. So were artists  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent Van Gogh. The authors that favored the licorice flavored beverage included Oscar Wilde, Alfred Jarry, and Ernest Hemingway. These are just a few of the artistic minded that preferred to partake in absinthe.

Hemingway loved absinthe and even created his own cocktail. He mixed absinthe with champagne and called it “Death in the Afternoon” after his book of the same name.

I have to admit, I have yet to  read Hemingway. I know…  his books are Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning classics, but I was initially turned off by the idea of over 100 pages of an old man sitting in a boat. That being said, his books are on my list of books to read, but I have a lot on that list, and I’m still in the midst of the entire works of Charles Dickens. Sometimes I feel like Henry Bemis in the Twilight Episode Time Enough at Last.”

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock”

I can understand Mr. Bemis – so many books, so little time! So Hemingway, along with many other greats, are on the ever increasing, impossible to complete, “to read” list.

Regardless of the fact that I cannot call myself a fan of Hemingway, as an author, the man is an icon. So I raised a silent toast to his creativity and success (and secretly hoped his spirit would bestow just a bit of it on me) as I sipped on a glass of the cocktail he created. I do hope I enjoy his books more than I did his cocktail.  Just a note, I did try a sip of absinthe served the more traditional way, with water and a sugar cube. I found that to be much more palatable than Hemingway’s drink.

Unfortunately Hemingway, along with absinthe, met a tragic demise. Hemingway committed suicide, and absinthe was made illegal. It was blamed for crimes, immoral behavior, and murder.

Here is a quote from Oscar Wilde on the effects of absinthe.

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust.The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe. “Don’t you see them?” I said to him. “Mais non, monsieur, il n’y a rien.”

Now absinthe is back. Yes, thujone is poisonous, but you cannot consume enough absinthe to reach toxic levels without first dying of alcohol poisoning and the new liquor contains less thujone than the early versions. As to it’s hallucinogenic properties –  despite Van Gogh and Hemingway’s known mental instability, and regardless of Oscar Wilde’s tulips, it is not proven that it has any hallucinogenic effects at all.  I certainly didn’t see any ghosts after imbibing  my “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail.

Absinthe is not all innocent though. It has a very high alcohol content (110 to 144 proof) which may have enhanced  the genius and creativity of those who used it , but also, most certainly, aided in their eventual deaths.  Besides Hemingway and Van Gogh’s suicides; Wilde, Lautrec, and the other artists I listed, (with the exception of  Rimbaud who died fairly young of bone cancer) all suffered from poor health that was attributed at least in part, if not completely, on drug and alcohol addiction. So although absinthe is  not the creator of visions that drove men to kill, it still had the ability to kill. To be honest it still does, but only as much as any other alcoholic beverage. One only needs to practice moderation, as with anything else to avoid it’s curse. At Shaker’s there is a three absinthe drink limit for any customer on any given evening.

As for me, I’m glad I tried it, but I think I’ll just have to find my creativity on my own. I may not win a Pulitzer, or recreate the magic of a starry night, but I may live long enough to enjoy the things I do create.

Besides, I want to remember, in vivid detail, any ghost sightings I may have, and not wonder if it was just a hallucination! And if the ghost of Hemingway himself ever visits me? I will thank him for a pleasant evening, sharing his drink, even if it wasn’t to my taste.

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip – Dickens Across America Wrapped Up

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We are safely back  in Wisconsin and, as enjoyable as the trip was for everyone, we are all  happy to be out of a car and back in the comfort of our own homes.

I had great fun taking Mr. Dickens along on our journey. He gave me the chance to meet people along the way who were curious about the picture I was carrying around.  I was also able to connect with people on the internet who share my enthusiasm for Charles Dickens and his works.

A special thank you to the Charles Dickens Museum in London for sharing our journey with their fans. If I ever achieve the dream of taking a trip across the pond, the museum is on my “must see” list. It was the museum that launched Dickens On Tour, which just happened to coincide with our road trip, and provided me with this fantastic opportunity. I even learned more about Charles Dickens as I looked for links between the places and sites we were seeing and the two trips Mr. Dickens had made to America.

So to wrap it all up. we took Mr. Dickens to many places far and wide. We went through small towns and big cities. We visited every environment possible. We saw the ocean, rivers, lakes, mountains, canyons, hills, valleys, plains, desert, even a salt lake and salt desert.

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We experienced temperatures from the 40’s all the way up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

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We traveled through 16 states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi. That is one third of all the continental U.S. states! Some states we went through more than once.

Along the way we saw some wildlife…

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…and some not so “wild” life.

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We saw architectural marvels, some modern, some old, and some ancient. Some were visitor sites, some were just huddled by the side of the road like these adobe ruins, almost invisible, camouflaged against the side of the rocky hills above.

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We visited 24 tourist sites.  We saw memorials to the celebration of life, and death.  The Gateway Arch in St. Louis celebrates the bravery of the men who explored the west, the Donner Memorial is dedicated to the people who lost their lives on their westward journey. We saw where history was made, and where guitars were made. We were spectators at a funeral on Beale Street, and saw the final resting place of the King.

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We visited natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, and man-made wonders like Alcatraz. We even got a feel for another country when we visited the London Bridge.

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We followed or crossed the paths of the Continental Divide, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Blue Star Memorial Highway, the Lincoln Highway, Donner Pass, and Historic Route 66.

We saw the settings and inspiration for quite a few movies, books and songs – many of which brought forth memorable quotes or poorly sung lyrics (good thing the video camera didn’t come out).

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We ate steaks in Nebraska and Texas,  seafood and sourdough in San Francisco, and BBQ in Memphis. We ate some delicious spicy food in Albuquerque, but don’t call it Tex Mex – locals will take offence. It’s their own Albuquerque cuisine.  Whatever it’s called, it was fantastic, even if we were still feeling it’s effects 48 hours later.

I even learned how to spell Albuquerque!

We stayed overnight in 9 cities: Cheyenne (Wyoming), Reno (Nevada), San Francisco (California), Barstow (California), Laughlin (Nevada), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Amarillo (Texas), Tunica (Missouri), and Collins (Illinois).

I personally took 537 pictures. I’m not sure how many our friends took. There were times when I refrained with the knowledge that they were getting the perfect shot and would share with me.  We have yet to get together for our post-trip debriefing. Some pictures turned out spectacular, almost artistic, like the sunset over the Grand Canyon (see Road Trip Day 7) or this shot of the Bay Bridge with a sailboat seen through ruins of the warden’s house on Alcatraz.

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And now for the biggest total of all! Yes we did 16 states in 14 days – but how far is that? The picture tells all – 5,555 miles! I do believe that is only slightly shorter than Mr. Dickens traveled by ship –  round trip –  to America, and that’s saying something!

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I hope you (and Mr. Dickens) enjoyed going along on the trip with us!

 

 

Road Trip Day 12 and 13

This is the last leg of our journey across the U.S.  We left Tunica, Mississippi, drove back through Tennessee, and north into Missouri. We only had one stop planned for this state – The Gateway Arch which is the centerpiece to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

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I had a feeling of nostalgia when we arrived. I’d been here once before. I was only two years old, but I have a distinct memory of my father holding me in his arms and showing me the newly built arch. I also remember that we couldn’t go up in the arch because it wasn’t actually finished. I was interested to find out if this memory was correct. It turned out it was. The arch was completed in 1965, but  was not open to the public until the tram that takes visitors up the arch was installed in 1967. I would have visited in 1966.

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I wasn’t the only one who had been here before. Charles Dickens  visited St. Louis in 1842. The Gateway Arch a memorial to the westward expansion of our nation. It’s where Lewis and Clark started their expedition in 1804 to explore and map the west. To Mr. Dickens, St. Louis was the west.

Here are some of Dickens’ own words about St. Louis.

“In the old French portion of the town the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very quaint and picturesque: being built of wood, with tumble-down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs, or rather ladders, from the street. There are queer little barbers’ shops, and drinking-houses too, in this quarter; and abundance of crazy old tenements with blinking casements, such as may be seen in Flanders. Some of these ancient habitations, with high garret gable windows perking into the roofs, have a kind of French shrug about them; and, being lop-sided with age, appear to hold their heads askew besides, as if they were grimacing in astonishment at the American Improvements.”

During his stay, Mr. Dickens went on a jaunt to see the prairie (Looking Glass Prairie in Illinois, but in the end was anything but impressed.

“It would be difficult to say why, or how—though it was possibly from having heard and read so much about it—but the effect on me was disappointment.  Looking towards the setting sun, there lay, stretched out before my view, a vast expanse of level ground; unbroken, save by one thin line of trees, which scarcely amounted to a scratch upon the great blank; until it met the glowing sky, wherein it seemed to dip: mingling with its rich colours, and mellowing in its distant blue.  There it lay, a tranquil sea or lake without water, if such a simile be admissible, with the day going down upon it: a few birds wheeling here and there: and solitude and silence reigning paramount around.  But the grass was not yet high; there were bare black patches on the ground; and the few wild flowers that the eye could see, were poor and scanty.  Great as the picture was, its very flatness and extent, which left nothing to the imagination, tamed it down and cramped its interest.  I felt little of that sense of freedom and exhilaration which a Scottish heath inspires, or even our English downs awaken.  It was lonely and wild, but oppressive in its barren monotony.  I felt that in traversing the Prairies, I could never abandon myself to the scene, forgetful of all else; as I should do instinctively, were the heather underneath my feet, or an iron-bound coast beyond; but should often glance towards the distant and frequently-receding line of the horizon, and wish it gained and passed.  It is not a scene to be forgotten, but it is scarcely one, I think (at all events, as I saw it), to remember with much pleasure, or to covet the looking-on again, in after-life.”

Despite his disappointment in the area, Mr. Dickens had planned on visiting St. Louis again during his second trip to America in 1867/68, but poor health and weather prevented the excursion.

 

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So, I’ve brought Mr. Dickens to St. Louis now, and I have to wonder about how the area, that seemed rustic and uninspiring then. would amaze him now.

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Back to the Arch. It is a feat of engineering, and amazing to visit. The tram system is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia, and remind me of Star Trek style escape pods. The ride up is jerky as the pods need to travel in a stair step fashion to make it up the curve of the arch. Once at the top, the view is amazing.

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In lieu of the recent tornadoes in the area, we asked one of the guides about storms and how they affect visitors to the Arch. The gentleman told us that they only close the Arch if there is a tornado warning, although the streamline aerodynamics of the Arch means it really isn’t affected by them. Only steady, sustained winds affect the Arch giving it a sway of nine inches in either direction.  He told us that thunderstorms were fun to watch from up top and he had been up in the Arch during a lightning strike. Where as my friend was adamantly shaking her head no at that idea, I was thinking – cool! I just may have to plan a trip down there when thunderstorms are expected!

We were able to get a good look at the Mississippi River, now flooding it’s banks. At the bottom of the stairs there is a tree-lined sidewalk that is completely under water.

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The white rectangle in the center of the picture is actually the top of a tent that normally overlooks the river.

 

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After coming back down, we checked out the Lewis and Clark museum, and did some shopping. There is one store called the Levee Merchantile that features items that would be available circa 1870. I’m sure Mr. Dickens felt more comfortable here. I couldn’t resist picking up this feather quill. I also bought this Christmas cookbook – not for the vintage recipes, but because the cover looks so much like the cover of my book, Christmas Carole.

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Did I tell you it looked just like my book cover?

How crazy is that? Not only does it look similar but there’s a quill on my cover and Charles Dickens within my pages!

Tomorrow we’re homeward bound.

Road Trip Day 10 and 11

Day 10 was a all day driving day. From Albuquerque we had driven to Amarillo, Texas for the night. From there we drove through the rest of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, finally spending the night in Tunica, Mississippi. Although we thought that this long leg across the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma were going to be flat and boring, it turned out it was hilly and tree-lined. We could have been convinced we were back in Wisconsin.

Our only order of business once we arrived was to eat, maybe do a little gambling, and get some sleep. We ate at Paula Deen’s Buffet at Harrah’s Casino. We all agree it had to be the best buffet any of us have ever eaten at. But after eating grilled oysters, fried chicken, fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, cheesy grits, cheesy biscuits, and hoe cakes (just to name a few of the selections) I had worse indigestion than when I ate the spicy food in Albuquerque! It was worth it though.

We gambled a little (and actually won a little) then crashed for the night.

 

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Day 11 started with breakfast and a drive across the river into Memphis, Tennessee. Our first stop –  Graceland.

It’s funny how one can have false perceptions of the places they have never been. First, Graceland is tucked tightly into a pretty depressed neighborhood. In fact, if it weren’t for the iconic gates, and 101 large signs, you could drive right past it. It does have over 13 acres, but from the front entrance, that’s not obvious.

The Graceland Mansion, is certainly large, but by today’s standards, the rooms are small. One must also remember that Elvis lived in this home from 1957 until 1977, which leaves the decorating … let’s just say, if it wasn’t the home of the King, and it was just a house, almost any new owner would start gutting and updating the interior. But it IS the home of Elvis, so it’s unusual, outdated decor takes on a whole new meaning, and we couldn’t help but wander through it with a sense of awe.

 

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I think Charles Dickens would have liked Elvis. In a way they had quite a few similarities.

Elvis, like Charles, came from poor beginnings. Vernon Presley, like John Dickens, wandered from job to job, without ambition. Both fathers spent time in jail.

This affected both Elvis and Charles Dickens, compelling them to do better. Both men were quirky and enjoyed music and entertaining. Both were driven in their careers. Mr. Dickens and Elvis  were both a bit obsessive compulsive, and both would rearrange hotel rooms to suit their obsessive needs.

Both worried about the success of their careers, pushing themselves to the point of poor health.

Although cast in singing roles in movies, Elvis, like Charles Dickens wanted to be taken seriously as an actor.

Just like Mr. Dickens, when sales started to fall,  Elvis  decided to do something to boost his career. In Dickens case it was a Christmas book, for Elvis it was a Christmas television special.

Finally, despite failing health, and those around them imploring that they take a break, both men insisted on pushing themselves to embark on a tour of live performances, which inevitably added to the stresses that eventually ended their lives.

So, although time and culture made them very different people (I can’t imagine how Elvis’ gyrating hips would have caused an uproar in Victorian England) in essence they were in many ways the same.

Back to Graceland. Here are a few pictures from inside the mansion.

 

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This first picture is the living room.

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This is the kitchen, as I mentioned, not overly large by today’s standards of enormous granite-covered islands and restaurant sized stoves.

 

 

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The ever famous “Jungle Room.”

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This is the last piano that Elvis ever played. He performed “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for his cousin, Billy Smith and Billy’s wife, Jo just hours before his death.

 

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The resting place of “The King” is in his meditation garden, alongside his mother, father, and grandmother. There is also a memorial plaque for his twin brother, Jesse, who was stillborn. I’ve since found out that just one week before our visit, Sir Paul McCartney was here and left a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave.

 

After departing Graceland, we made another pilgrimage of sorts. We live in the Waukesha, Wisconsin area and are very proud to be the home of Les Paul, as well as the site of Gibson Guitar Town for the second year running (only Waukesha and Los Angeles have ever had that privilege). So we couldn’t go to Memphis and not stop in at the Gibson factory.

 

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Although this plant is not the one that produces the Les Paul guitar, it was fascinating to see how each guitar is made individually, by hand. There are no stencils used –  all paint jobs are done free hand which means there are no two alike.

Also, they do not mass produce any guitars. They don’t start building a guitar until there is an order placed. Each guitar is meticulously inspected. If there is any flaw, even if it’s undetectable to the average person, the flaw is either repaired, or the guitar (even if it’s complete) is cut up on the band saw. There are no seconds.

 

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Our last stop of the day was Beale Street. On the way, we drove past the famous Sun Records, where Elvis got his start.

 

Beale Street, for those who don’t know, is a street that is known as the home of the Memphis Blues. It has been frequented by blues legends such as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, and Roscoe Gordon, to name a few.

It  now has the distinction of having another famous visitor! I have to believe that Mr. Dickens would have enjoyed the intensity of the place and the liveliness of the people here.

 

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We arrived just as a parade, or so we thought, was making it’s way down the street. A gentleman, overhearing us wonder out loud as to what the occasion was, told us it was the funeral procession for Silky O’Sullivan, a well loved and respected club owner. We just happened to be standing next to his club.

 

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When Beale Street says farewell to one of it’s own, it’s anything but a somber affair. What we were lucky enough to stumble upon was a celebration of  life – Mardi Gras style!

Beale Street is filled with music, food, and an energy that is tangible.

The smell of BBQ is enough to make your nose twitch and your mouth water. The soul-filled riffs of street musicians fill your ears. The spirit and vitality of the people and the place fill your soul. Beale Street was  not created by someone to be a tourist attraction. As my husband said – what’s so great, and feels so special about Beale Street is that this place is real.

Of course we had to sample the flavors of Beale Street and sat down to eat  a platter filled with barbecue ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and onion rings at “The Pig”. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we sat outside where we could hear live blues being played right across the street. DSC00355a

After stuffing ourselves, we wandered up and down the street, browsing the shops. Of course we had to stop in at Schwab’s which is a Beale Street mainstay. The general store is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.

Established in 1876, the store has never lost it’s charm. We strolled the creaky wood floors and stairs to check out all of it’s quirky merchandise. I purchased two small charm bags, one for creativity, and one for success, from the Hoodoo section of the store. When on Beale Street, it can’t be wrong to buy myself some good juju!

Our last stop, was to get some fresh beignets . When I say fresh, I mean fresh! We watched as just enough dough for our order was made from scratch. Skilled fingers mixed, then kneaded the dough. Hot from the fryer and dusted in powdered sugar, they were the perfect finish to our visit to Beale Street!

 

Road Trip Day 9

On to Albuquerque. I must confess, this trip has been immensely educational. Not only am I learning about the history and stories of the places we visit, but I now can spell Albuquerque!

We arrived in Albuquerque late in the day, tired and hungry. Of many of the places we’d planned to stop along the way, we hadn’t done much research on what there was to see, and really only thought of it as a stopping point to spend the night. Sometimes it’s nothing more than how tired we are and how many miles before the next hotel – and in the western plains, it can be MANY miles before the next town, much less one that has a hotel.

We’d found a hotel on the iPad while in the car, and called to book a couple of rooms. We asked the person on the phone for a good place to eat. We always ask for a restaurant that will provide an authentic taste of the region. We were given three recommendations, and decided to stop at Church Street Cafe. We were so happy we went there. The atmosphere was fantastic. as was the food.

The restaurant is in Casa de Ruiz. The house was built during the founding of Albuquerque in the early 1700’s, which makes Casa de Ruiz the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico.

Unfortunately, I took some pictures of the courtyard we dined in, but I used my phone and had obviously (by the resulting blurry pictures) touched the lens with my enchilada covered fingers. Here is a link to their website: Church Street Cafe.

This is a picture which I found online. I’d give credit to the photographer, but it only came up as “unknown Google User.” This picture looks like it was taken from the table in which we were seated.

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We arrived just as the sun was setting, and day was giving way to night. The courtyard was just the right size to feel cozy, and there was a comfortable breeze.  The building and courtyard had adobe walls, with a rustic timber pergola over a portion. Plants and southwest antiques were perched here and there. As the daylight dimmed, strings of lights overhead gave just the right glow. The sound of water tumbling gently over a stone waterfall eased our road-weary minds. A mariachi band strolled between the tables.

The food was spicy, and the cause for many a pit stop for the next few days on our road trip, but it was delicious! I had a combination platter which had a chicken enchilada,  a tamale, and a chili releno. I chose the squash (sauteed zucchini and corn) to accompany it. The meal was finished off with warm sopaipillas with honey. Although the food sounds like any Mexican fare,  the dishes of New Mexico have a slightly different flavor, and a different type of spiciness to it.

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After spending that little time in Old Town. We decided to shift our plans a bit. Instead of leaving first thing in the morning. We decided to hang around a bit and check out the many shops.

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Old Town, is exactly what it says. It is the old town of what now is Albuquerque. It is comprised of historic adobe buildings that were built when Albuquerque was founded in the early 1700s. The buildings have been converted to restaurants and shops and surround a main central plaza.  The oldest building is San Felipe de Neri Church. We spent half a day wandering through the shops before it was time to get back on the road.

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On the way out of town we found a great roadside store. My husband and I had been looking for the perfect chiminea for our patio. We found a New Mexico version of Pots ‘R Us. Not only did we find the perfect chiminea, but we also picked up some beautiful Talavera pots.

We were all pleasantly surprised with Albuquerque, and glad we stayed, even if it was only for a little while.

Road Trip Day 8

Today we left Flagstaff Arizona, and went retro. Back on Historic Route 66, we saw all the kitschy fun sites. Our first stop was Meteor Crater which is in the middle of nowhere, Arizona.  That would be about 35 miles west of Flagstaff. About 50,000 years ago, a piece of an asteroid, traveling at about 26,000 miles per hour, struck the desert floor. The result is a crater 2.4 miles in diameter, a mile across, and 550 feet deep.DSC00256a

 

Although it’s not quite as big as the “hole in the ground” we saw yesterday, this “hole in the ground” was impressive in it’s own right. There are guided tours, and a museum. It does have that kitsch factor, from the alien footprints painted on the ground to lead you from the parking lot to the crater, to the signs along the way and a radio broadcast as you drive up the road telling you to EXPERIENCE THE IMPACT!DSC00251a

 

We were actually glad we were listening to the radio broadcast, because they told us to stop in Winslow, Arizona, where we can stand on the corner next to a flat bed Ford.  There was no question we had to take advantage of that photo op! If you don’t know the reference – it’s the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.”  The lyric goes like this … “I’m standing on the corner, in Winslow, Arizona, she’s such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, My Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowing down to look at me.  Click here for a video of the Eagles.

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It was pure Route 66 kitsch!

From Winslow, we came to another Route 66 staple -the Wigwam Motel. We had hoped to stay there, however our timing didn’t work out. We couldn’t resist stopping to check it out though!

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Next, we made our way to the Petrified Forest.

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You may hear the word forest and think trees, but what you really see , are what look like logs made of stone scattered all around the desert floor. The logs are from trees that were knocked down by a volcanic eruption. The trees were buried by mud and ash, sealing them off from oxygen, thereby preventing them from decaying. Minerals from the soil replaced the cells of the tree, turning them to stone. The different minerals create different colors. Quartz is the most common.DSC00265a

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The next thing we saw was the painted desert. The layers of sedimentary rock showcase many different colors, making it look like someone spray painted the buttes.DSC00296a

 

I’m sure this Raven, who certainly didn’t seem fearful of us, reminded Mr. Dickens of his beloved pet, Grip.

DSC00297aFrom there we visited Puerco Pueblo. A site of ruins from farming homesteaders. The pueblo was inhabited between 1250 AD to the late 1300’s. The above picture is of the Keva. This served several purposes. One was as a general meeting place. Another function the structure had was as a way to settle disagreements. If two tribe members had a disagreement, a relative of each would go into the Kiva together, and couldn’t come out until they reached a settlement. It was like a time-out by proxy!

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The main structure had many small rooms. Twenty people stayed in each room. I have to believe these people were tiny in stature.

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There are also quite a few petroglyphs still clearly seen on the rocks. There is one rock face that was used as a calendar. The sun creates a line when it shines between two other rocks. When the line of light reaches a symbol they carved in the rock face, it was time to plant.

 

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From here we will make our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico!

A special congratulations to Julie Westphal. She will be receiving an autographed copy of “Christmas Carole” for giving the correct answer to the trivia question in my last post!

 

Road Trip Day 7

Day 7 entails only one stop, but it was a biggie. We left early from Laughlin, Nevada and drove straight to the Grand Canyon.  We spent all day there, because … well … it really is … grand.  This post will have less talk and more pictures.

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Scale is a difficult thing in pictures, but to help you with the one below – there are people standing on the outcropping. See those tiny little people? Now you may get a better sense of just how big this “hole in the ground” is.

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They’re there,  just left of center. On top of that flat rock. Do you see them? If you click on the pictures, you can make them bigger. Try that, then maybe you’ll see them!

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Mr. Dickens was duly impressed!

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Above is a picture of the fireplace in the cabin at Hermit’s Rest at the far west end of the south rim.

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Above: Pretty picture!

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Above: Another pretty picture!

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We had some wildlife sightings including this elk.

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The Desert View Watchtower is another structure in the park, both it. and Hermit’s Rest, as well as many other structures. were all designed by the same Architect.  Mary Jane Coulter was one of a few female architects of her time. In the early 1900’s she came to the area and worked for Fred Harvey.  For more information on Mary Jane Coulter: click here.

Fred Harvey was an entrepreneur who started out working for the railroad. With westward expansion, he saw a need for quality lodging and restaurants near the rail lines in the west. After being turned down by his own employer, he convinced another railroad of the potential of having clean accommodations for their passengers. Harvey House was born, and is considered to be the  first chain restaurant in the country. Mr. Harvey soon found that the men he hired were not keeping his establishments up to the standard he desired, so he decided to hire women instead, which was quite controversial for the times. These women were called the Harvey Girls.

For more information on Fred Harvey:  click here.

For more information on the Harvey Girls : click here.

OK, so I lied a little. I’m a writer and lover of history, I couldn’t really just post pictures without a little back story. Now back to the pretty pictures!

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We stayed for a spectacular sunset over the canyon. It doesn’t get better than this!

Since I’m behind a day in posts, I can tell you what’s coming up next.  Mr. Dickens gets to visit Meteor Crater,  the Petrified Forest, and the Painted Desert!  And we get to stand on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona next to a flat bed Ford. If anyone can tell me what that means, you get a free copy of Christmas Carole, starring Mr. Dickens, himself. So stay tuned!

Road Trip Day 5 and 6

The reason I’m combining these two days is not because I was too busy to post, or I forgot – day 5 of our road trip was nothing but road. Well –  road and sand and dust and wind and sand and cacti and sand and … you get the idea. We left San Francisco and drove through the Mojave Desert to Barstow, CA. What’s in Barstow, you ask? Dust and sand and wind and sand and … yeah, not much. It had a hotel to sleep in and a Walmart where we could pick up supplies.

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Day 6 was much more interesting. Not that we weren’t still traveling in the desert, but we actually had some points of interest along the way. Our first stop was Lake Havasu City, Arizona. There was a time when Lake Havasu had only one thing more than sand and dust and cacti, and that was water (Lake Havasu is a reservoir on the Colorado River).

Once owned by the government, the abandoned air strip was given to Robert P. McCullough at no charge, with his promise to develop it.  McCullough, a wealthy oil magnate, was looking for a retirement spot and decided to develop the piece of land into a retirement village. One problem – it was in the middle of nowhere, and he couldn’t sell the real estate. So in 1967, with the encouragement of his real estate agent and partner, McCullough bought London Bridge.  The hope was that it would become an attraction and would bring in buyers, and it worked. McCullough bought the bridge, had it dismantled and shipped at a reduced cost by a shipping company that needed to get a new vessel over and would have made the trip empty. He then had a concrete bridge built, and the London Bridge granite slabs which had been numbered, applied as facing to the new bridge. The reason London sold the bridge was because the 1831 structure was no longer sound to hold modern traffic and it had begun to sink. London Bridge really was falling down! Today the bridge does not span the Colorado River or Lake Havasu, rather McCullough put the bridge on a point, then dredged under the bridge creating a channel and an island. Despite spending $2,460,000 on the bridge itself, plus $240,000 to ship, plus another couple of million to rebuild, McCullough made back all his money and then some.

One fun fact – There were heavy import tariffs on materials like manufactured granite. To avoid adding to the enormous cost of the bridge, Customs declared that the 137 year-old London Bridge was not slabs of granite and iron lamp posts, but an antique, and therefore duty free. This decision set the standard that anything historic over one hundred years old is classified as an antique This standard is still recognized internationally. At the time, the bridge made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest antique ever sold.

Although the dry heat was something Mr. Dickens was not accustomed to, Charles seemed to enjoy the stroll we took across the bridge. He had been feeling a little homesick and seeing the bridge he’d been so fond of made him feel right at home. For those of you who didn’t know this, Mr. Dickens not only liked to frequent the bridge himself, but it was the setting in several of his stories. In Oliver Twist, Nancy met with Rose and Mr. Brownlow on the steps of London Bridge to pass on information. She was seen by Noah Claypole which led to her grisly murder. David Copperfield, like Dickens, liked to sit on London Bridge and watch the people go by. Gabriel Varden, the locksmith, crossed London Bridge to visit Mrs. Rudge in the book Barnaby Rudge. We were honored to bring Mr. Dickens back to visit this familiar and beloved structure.

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From Lake Havasu, we got off of the Interstate and onto historic Route 66. It was more desert, but somehow driving on such a historic road made it more interesting. I will say, I’m glad we didn’t break down anywhere along the way. Other than the occasional Road Runner zipping across our path, there was nothing or no one out there, as far as the eye can see.IMG_2176

Then we came to Oatman. Arizona. Oatman is a former mining town. It is named after Olive Oatman, an Illinois girl, who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe, made to work as a slave, and eventually traded to the Mohave Indian tribe, who adopted her as a daughter. She was eventually released near the site of the town. During the Gold Rush, Oatman was a thriving community. The town survived after mining operations ceased because of it’s location on U.S. Route 66, however in 1953 the Interstate was built to bypass the area. By the 1960’s Oatman had become a ghost town and it’s surviving buildings were all but abandoned.

Recently, new interest in the old Route 66 has brought Oatman back to life. Quaint old west buildings including the haunted 1902 Oatman Hotel, the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mohave County, and wild burros  roaming the streets, bring in tourists from all over.IMG_2189

The burros are descended from pack animals let loose by early prospectors. Luckily the burros are gentle, albeit insistent,  as long as you feed them. They even let Mr. Dickens take a short ride.

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From Oatman we made our way to Laughlin, Nevada. There we had a steak dinner, did some gambling, then settled in for the night. We need our rest as there are more adventures on our agenda!

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