Slave Market and Angel Tree - Charleston in a day

We stayed in an RV park a few miles south of Charleston and drove into the city for the afternoon.  Someone had suggested we see the Old Slave Market Museum, so that’s where we went. 

Inside are two floors filled with big placards with facts about slavery.  There is no dispute that slavery was horrible, but the display has no real relationship to the building.  I thought this would be a more personal exhibit, telling stories that happened here.  There has to be records about this place, and history is always more impactful when it is about specific people.

Well, they didn't ask my opinion.  Next we walked around the neighborhood a bit.  Beautiful fences protected massive houses, with exotic fence-line greenery, like these bananas at a house gate.
And I loved this pink church with black lace ironwork.
The cobbled roads are picturesque, although they are alway tough to drive on.   We walked through a small marketplace where we learned that hand-made baskets are really expensive - around $50 for a very small one.  I am not disputing the quality but I did not feel the need get a hand-made basket for the RV.

We left Charleston the next morning but not before visiting one more local landmark.  In the nearby town of Johns Island is the Angel Oak Tree.  To get there we drove out to Johns Island, the last few miles on a gravel road, to a very rustic gift shop/tourist center.
Behind this humble building is an amazing tree.  In the picture below two people are standing to the left of the trunk, giving an indication of how big the tree really is, and the picture edges are blurred to highlight the shape of the tree. 
This beautiful tree is a Live Oak and is named after the previous land-owners, Justin and Martha Angel.  It's a sweet-sounding name, and it fits just right.  They say the tree is about 400 years old and 25.5 feet around;  I think 25.5 feet is an underestimation.

There is no Spanish Mass on this tree; apparently while the Angel Oak was growing wide, nearby trees were growing high and eventually blocked the sunlight that Spanish Moss needs.  It's true that the Angel Oak is not leaf-heavy, but this tree is so large that it creates its own space.
And in that space it feels sort of other-worldly, where a tree can twist itself along and into the ground.

Augusta, GA and Myrtle Beach, SC

For some reason I just couldn’t get into Augusta, Georgia.  No particular reason, and if we come back sometime I might love it, but this time I just wasn’t interested.  Nevertheless, we needed to spend our time there doing something, so we walked along the Riverwalk .  This Riverwalk is exactly what the name says - a walkway along the river.  Most of the buildings along the river are built of brick, with a liberal use of white grout which kept reminding me of New England buildings.  We did find something interesting there - in the walkway they have an Analemmactic Sundial for the Eastern Daylight Time.  You stand on the current month, and your shadow falls across the numbers to indicate what time it is.  It seemed to work, too.  

And along the walk they have a history of the Georgia flags.  They are flying the current Flag of Georgia, but their plaque is a bit out of date . . . like 12 years.  
In 2001 they replaced the Confederate flag version with a kinder, gentler design. 

The next day we drove to Myrtle Beach.  The beach there is white sand, with not very many shells.  There was a good surf rolling in and small schools of fish were jumping out of the water while we were there.  The water was a little too cool for comfort, so we laid out on the beach; nothing relaxes like sun and sand and surf.   
We also went down to the Boardwalk area and walked around there.  The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk area is full of arcades, souvenir shops and several Ripley Believe it or Not shows.  We didn’t go into any of those but we did go on the SkyWheel, for a bird’s eye view of the beach and boardwalk.  We snacked on mediocre coney dogs and fries, then went to The Gay Dolphin Gift Shop, which seems to be the best gift shop there, although all the beautiful stuff is downstairs.  

And we went to Dick’s Last Resort for a meal.  The server was just the right amount of rude and he took backtalk as good as he got.  And the food was good.  My pulled pork with Carolina sauce and slaw was just right.  

It seemed that besides the beach, most of Myrtle Beach was souvenir shops, Pancake restaurants, Miniature GolfPirate Adventure Shows and Medieval Times dinner shows.  We've already done all that elsewhere, so we were ready to leave Myrtle Beach after a couple of days.  On to Charleston.

Birmingham Goodies

We left Memphis and headed towards the east coast.  We broke our trip in Birmingham, staying one night at the Carson Village Mobile Home.  While we were there we ate at Saw's Soul Kitchen.  It's a tiny building in a poor-looking neighborhood; it has six little tables inside and two tiny tables outside.  Like Marshside Mama's, it only has just one menu, and Saw's menu is even bigger than Marshside's!
We ordered the Saw Burger with sweet potato fries.  This was the point where I realized I now like sweet potato fries better than regular fries.  These were lightly seasoned and may be the best sweet tater fries I've ever had.
We also ordered the house speciality, Pork and Greens.  This isn't a bad photo, it really looked like this.  
But it doesn't matter what it looked like because it tasted great!  This dish consisted of pulled pork on cooked greens, with onion rings on top and grits on the bottom.  We ate everything.

And the next morning for breakfast Randy got cookin' - coddled eggs, bacon, toast and Marks and Spencer tea.  It was picture-perfect but I didn't take a photo because I was too busy eating!

Walking in Memphis

We have been to Memphis several times but never had the inclination or time to see Graceland.  This time we got the inclination and decided to take the time.  We stayed at the Graceland RV Park, just across the street from Graceland.  The $35 tour includes the Graceland tour, the Car Museum, two Airplanes, plus three small museums:  Sincerely Elvis, ’68 Special and Elvis’ Hawaii.


Graceland was surprisingly nice.  The living room is light and open with white furniture and white carpet (!) but the highlight is the beautiful wall of glass panels decorated with peacocks.  There are a lot of mirrors in this room; mirrors are a consistent feature throughout the house.   

Across the hall is a formal dining room and a nice-sized kitchen.  The famous “Jungle Room” is also on the first floor, and it’s not what I thought.  The decor is a little over the top but it's not freaky.  There is a waterfall against one wall, several plants around the room, and the furniture carvings have an animal theme.  I guess back in those days nothing like it had ever been seen.  To me the most unusual feature is the abundant use of shag carpet.  Not only is the floor carpeted, but so is the ceiling!  And the nearby hallway has the same shag green carpet on the walls, too.  Apparently they did some recording in this room and carpet helped control the sound . . . or maybe he just liked it that way.  
The stairway to downstairs has mirrors on the walls and ceiling, which is really disorienting.  The stairwell opens to what is known as the TV Room, which is done entirely in yellow and purple, with more mirrors on the walls and ceilings - also disorienting.  This room probably is the most dated-looking because of the three old-style TVs and the collection of 45 records.There is also a really interesting pool room downstairs.  The walls and ceiling are completely covered with pleated fabric, which is cool, as well as a bit claustrophobic.

A building next to Graceland holds Elvis' zillion gold and platinum records.  Seriously, a zillion.  There are rows and rows of record awards . . .

and then you turn a corner and are in another big room filled top to bottom with more awards, plus some of his many stage outfits.And at the end of all these awards and luxury are the graves.  So sad, he just wasn’t that old.  These graves belong to Elvis, his parents and his grandmother, plus a plaque commemorating his twin brother.

The Elvis Car Museum was also interesting.  That man did love cars!  The ones they have here include a 1966 white Rolls Royce Silver Cloud with blue leather seats, a purple 1956 Cadillac Eldorado, a couple of Stutz Blackhawks, a 1962 Lincoln Continental with a gold alligator top, and my favorite, a fabulous 1955 pink Cadillac Fleetwood.Next we walked over to see the Jet Star and Lisa Marie airplanes.  I like it that Elvis used his planes for spur-of-the-moment trips; once he took his daughter on a quick trip to Colorado just so she could play in the snow for a couple of hours.  I don’t know much about airplanes but looking at the Lisa Marie cockpit, I’m amazed they were able to fly it at all!Whether at home or on a plane, Elvis enjoyed his little luxuries.  On the plane that meant gold-covered seatbelt buckles and gold-plated wash basins. 

The other museums were interesting, too, and of course every single one ended in a Gift Shop.

Since we were in Memphis we decided to go to Dyers for lunch.  They are famous deep-frying their burgers in the same grease for 90 years.  

Nobody's died yet and they are reported to be very good, so we tried them.  Nice hamburgers, but not as remarkable as you might think, what with 90 years of seasoning.  Randy has a more complete review in the The RV Chef blog.

We also took a walk down Beale Street, which is not much to talk about during the day; it gets livelier at night.  We stopped at Schwab's, a dry goods store which opened in 1876 with the motto "if you can't get it at Schwab's, you're probably better off without it".  However, now it's mostly a souvenir store, 
full of Memphis trinkets and old-fashioned candies.  I found out later it was was sold out of the family in 2011, which probably accounts for that.  But where else can you find candy cigarettes?

Upstairs they have a little museum, including something I've read about but never seen - paper collars.  These were used in the mid-1800's and I read about them in "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn", but this is the first place I've seen them.

One thing we must do whenever we are in Memphis - eat dry-rub ribs at Corkys!  In fact, we ate there twice.  Plus got some to go.  Normally we are too full of ribs to even think about desert, but this time we were swayed by the pecan pie with French vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and caramel sauce.  And although we really should have stopped after the ribs, it was very good.

Two years ago: Tuscaloosa after the tornado
Three years ago: Ferry to Haines, Alaska

A wonderful week with Mom

I just got back from a wonderful week visiting my Mom.  It’s been a long time since we spent that much time together and I am very, very grateful for this opportunity.  Of course I also spent the week “unplugged” - no smart phone, no computer, no internet.  It was just me and Mom, and we came up with our own amusements.  She is 87 now so we scheduled one or two outings each day and spent the rest of the time at home.  Randy had the GPS  with him in St. Louis but that didn’t matter because we weren’t going anywhere we hadn’t been before.  We started at The Busy Corner in Goodfield, where they are justifiably famous for their pie.  We shopped at Goodwill in Washington and Ecetera in Eureka, plus several yard sales and the St. Patrick’s rummage sale.  We did go to Walmart but just once, which is a record low for us.  Plus we got to visit family - Theresa, Kathy and Ruth. 

At home we worked a little in her garden where I discovered a thriving colony of Japanese Beetles, so I set up a Japanese Beetle trap.  The bait for Japanese Beetle traps is called a “sex lure”, so I informed my sister that in the future she will need to take care of the sex trap in Mom's backyard.

Every afternoon Mom takes a 2-3 hour break, sometimes napping but usually just resting.  During this time I read everything on Mom’s bookshelves, most of which were published before I was born.  So I read The Old Grey Homestead (published in 1919), Children of the Covered Wagon (1934), The Long Winter (1940), Mrs. Mike (1945) and The Egg and I (1945) - and they are all pretty good books.  

Some evenings we played Rummy, using Mom’s rules; you don’t count points so the first one who goes out, wins.  Other nights we watched movies.  Mom’s hearing aids don’t quite do the job for TV, so she only watches shows or DVDs with closed captions.  This week we watched the complete Thin Man series (made from 1934 through 1947), Random Harvest (1942) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).

Mom loves to cook; my tastes have changed in the 38 years I've been married to Randy so we looked for some common culinary ground.  This included biscuits and gravy, omelets, mac and cheese, baloney, chicken fingers and pineapple cream pie.  Plus we went to her favorite restaurant - DQ.  

Mom is a very modest lady.  I discovered that when a magazine includes ads to "enhance your sex life”, Mom tears out the page so her granddaughter won’t see it.  I mentioned that her granddaughter is 30 years old and completing her nursing degree, but that doesn’t really matter; Mom does not want her to see “that sort of thing” in her home.  And yet she has accepted, with surprising grace, the fact that her youngest daughter will wander around the house in her underwear, moaning about how hot it is.  That occurred either because said daughter has hot flashes or perhaps because Mom sets her air conditioning at 80 ยบ.

We had such a wonderful time together and it was hard to leave.  Mom’s hearing aids give a little feedback so when I hug her, it is a sweet memory that includes a little high-pitched squeal that is uniquely hers.

My beautiful Mom, circa 1944:

Visiting Doggie Cousins

I spent last week with Mom, while Randy split the time between Pekin and St. Louis.  While he was in St. Louis, Theresa and Tomm kept our dogs.  Shorty and Julienne love it at their place;  there are doggy cousins to play with, a big fenced yard to run in, and Aunt Theresa and Uncle Tomm to love and cuddle them.  And Tomm holds a special place in Julienne’s heart; she has been in love with him since they first met.  She shows her devotion in an unusual way - she pees when she greets him the first time during a visit.  It's her special way of getting noticed; she peed for Randy every day for 2 years.  So we just make sure she greets Tomm outside.  

Theresa and Tomm's dogs are Gizmo (Sugarbaby's daddy) and Tika, a small bundle of endless energy.  They have a lot of toys which they share with our dogs.  I always said dogs are about as smart as a two-year old, but now Shorty has adapted a 3 year old's attitude of “Mine! Mine!”  When Julienne has a toy, any toy, Shorty wants it.  He stands in front of her and barks.  If she doesn’t instantly give it to him, he barks again, throwing his little head back as he does his best coyote howl.  Eventually Julienne walks away and Shorty joyously snatches the toy - his life is now complete!  She picks up another toy, and immediately Shorty drops his toy and plays the whole scene over again.  He will do this over and over and over and over . . . no toy can hold his attention when Julienne has a different one.  

Three years ago:  Parade in Skagway

Bread Pudding, Horseshoes and cat poo

After we got our licenses renewed in Sioux Falls we came back to Pekin, where we had left the RV with Theresa and Tomm.  Saturday Tomm drove us to visit with another one of Randy's siblings, Lonnie and his wife Chris.  They recently moved from their country home into the small town of Andover.  Their country home was custom-built for their antiques and unusual finds, and I was wondering how they would adjust to another, smaller house.  No problem - they have made this one uniquely theirs, with some of their wonderful collections.  Their Florida room includes skulls, shells, wooden sculptures, antiques, one-of-a-kind artifacts and art projects.  Outside one of Lonnie's hand-made weather vanes sits proudly by the backyard.
It was good to see Lonnie and Chris again; we last saw them in Texas on the beach at Gilchrist, where Shorty made a good friend of their little dog Pita.  Since then their beloved Fanny has passed on, so it's a blessing they have Pita.  Pita has gotten taller but not much bigger, so she has long legs like a tiny deer.  But she runs like a Greyhound!  She and Shorty immediately picked up where they left off, chasing each other.  
But now Pita can out-last Shorty; he has to take a break while she stands by, impatiently waiting until he starts chasing her again.  
Julienne still stays on the border of the action, doing her own thing.Theresa and Tom brought their little dog Tika along, too; she, like Julienee, preferred to sit on a lap instead of running around like a maniac in the sun.

Lonnie and Chris live near Bishop Hill so we went there for lunch.  I don't recall when we were at Bishop Hill last - it would have be over 20 years ago.  And yet we still talk about the Bread Pudding there.  So of course we had to try it again.  In 20-plus years a lot can change and I honestly expected to find a very good but not great Bread Pudding.  I was wrong.  It's really great!  It's the lightest bread pudding ever, with a sweet, crumbly topping and thick caramel sauce.  Worth the trip!
Bishop Hill was originally founded by Swedish settlers in the mid 1800s.  They had a rough time but created some beautiful buildings that remain, along with a surprising number of portrait of the original inhabitants, painted by Olof Krans.  I didn't stop at the museum this time but I can recommend it to anyone.  Their culture created living spaces full of austere, clean lines, light colors and simple designs.
Afterwards we headed back to Andover for more talking, and eventually back to Pekin.  It had been a wonderful, relaxing day but all that changed when I let the dogs into the RV.  Quick as a flash Shorty found something on the floor to eat.  I grabbed him and realized that he had gotten a piece of cat poop with some litter attached.  I can only assume that Missy got out of the litter box before she finished the job, which is pretty awful.  But worse was my fear of what it might do to Shorty.  Back in 2010 we almost lost Julienne to a similar bout with cat litter.  We wrapped Shorty in a blanket and gave him some diluted food-grade hydrogen peroxide.  It may have been diluted too much or perhaps he just doesn't vomit easily, because other than getting us all wet, nothing happened.  Theresa called her vet who felt that since Shorty was acting fine and he could not have eaten much litter, he would probably be OK.  And he was, although he was real unhappy about having water poured down his throat several times.  He shook it off and went to bed, all tired out from a day of playing with his doggy cousins.  He didn't sleep well, though.  I kept getting a flashlight and checking on him, up until 2:30 in the morning when I finally decided we had both had enough.

Today I will be visiting my Mom for a few days while Randy continues to stay with Theresa and Tomm.  Later I'll meet him in St. Louis.  Until then I won't be able to blog, so I'll have to remember my vacation the old-fashioned way.  But before I log off, a quick nod to Perdue's Grill in Tremont, Illinois.  I had given up trying Horseshoes because of soggy fries and cheap cheese sauces.  Theresa convinced me to try them at Perdue's grill and I will always be grateful to her!  The fries are perfect - slender, crispy and seasoned - and the cheese sauce is a smooth, white, creamy sauce with just a touch of spice.  EXCELLENT Horseshoe!

One year ago: Horse Rescue
Two years ago: Dreamland BBQ
Three years ago: The Golden North Hotel

The Good, the Bad and the Government

We drove the Jeep from Pekin, Illinois, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to renew our driver licenses.  It's 552 miles each way, and right after we got on the road we discovered the cruise control did not work.  Great - over 1,100 miles with no cruise control.   Well, there was nothing we could do about it at that point.

The drive was long and boring, but sometimes boring is better than eventful.  We checked into the hotel before 5 pm so we decided to see a little of our adopted hometown.  We discovered that Scheels is the big sporting goods store in town, with a ton of hunting and sports equipment.  And we had time to visit the falls that Sioux Falls is named for.  It’s in a big green park, right in town.  This park is similar to Forrest Park in St. Louis, with walking paths, benches, and a big tower for a birds-eye view.  The falls are really pretty - a multi-level falls that flows down big red rocks, then becomes the quiet Big Sioux River that goes out of town.
The surrounding landscape is full of red rocks, broken into geometric shapes.  It almost looks like someone has carved blocks from the rocks, and perhaps they have. 
The town of Sioux Falls has a nice tradition; every year they showcase a couple dozen sculptures by local artists and the public votes on which one the city will buy.  They are on display now along Phillips street which runs right by our hotel, so we got to see them all.  The little “Burrito” by the hotel was really cute, and a small bear sculpture was adorable.  I also liked this bird of prey - it has a steam-punk flavor, which I always like.
For dinner we went to the Phillips Avenue Diner.  A full review will be available in our other blog, but suffice to say I really liked the waffles with bacon and glazed nuts!  Details available at The RV Chef Blog.

The next morning we went to the License Department to get our driver licenses renewed.  There is a whole list of items needed for this, so we came prepared...we thought.

(1) Something that proves your identity.  Passport or Birth Certificate will work; we took both.

(2) Social Security card or a tax form.  I have my old, frayed paper SS card and Randy has the SS card attachment which includes his SS number.

(3) Two documents to prove you have South Dakota as an address.  Credit card statements are accepted so we had printed recent statements.  For RVers the second document can be a receipt from the place you stayed - hotel or RV park.  Since we stayed one night in Sioux Falls, we asked the hotel for a receipt.  That turned out to be tricky; since we booked the hotel through Hotwire we didn’t actually pay the hotel and the lady at the desk didn’t know how to give us a receipt.  Another lady showed her how to print a blank receipt; it had Randy’s name (since the credit card that paid for the room is in his name) and the dates, but no amount.  So at 7 am we left the hotel to get our licenses.

  • At the License Bureau the lady behind the desk looked at our papers and said, no, we didn’t have what we needed.  The hotel receipt was no good because it didn’t have our address on it.  But the big problem was although Randy’s SS document was original, they could not accept the portion of the SS card that he retained.  She told us to go to the SS office and ask for a 1099, which would fix everything right up.  OK….no way the SS office opens before 9 am, so we went back to the hotel first.  

  • Back at the hotel the first shift was working, and that lady understood exactly what we needed, she said they did the same thing for someone else a week ago.  She added my name and our address to the top of the blank receipt and printed 2 copies for us.  Time for breakfast before the SS office opens, so we went to Fryn’ Pan Family Restaurant.  Pretty good.  By then it was 9 am so we drove to the SS office.  

  • At the SS office we immediately ran into red tape.  Line up, sign in on a computer, take the generated number and sit down.  They were having trouble with the computer but it did give us a number, so we got in pretty soon and met with a young woman who does not appear to enjoy her job, or anything else.   Randy explained he needed a 1099 to renew his driver license.  She said she could not give us a 1099 because we were not getting SS, but she could give him a new SS card.  She asked for his driver license and then said she could not accept it because it was expired, even though he had a legal extension.  No license, no SS card; no SS card, no license.  She was cut-and-dried, no options to offer, just “no”.  I had all our other papers so I asked if she could use his Birth Certificate.  “No, that just proves he was born.”  (brilliant!)  I asked if she could use his Passport and surprise, surprise, she said yes.  So she ordered a new card and told us it would be ready in 2 weeks.  No other options, just wait 2 weeks.  She gave us a form saying we ordered a replacement card but assured us that the License Bureau would not accept it in lieu a SS card, and we were sure that was true.  

  • We had to come up with another federal document to prove Randy’s SS number is really his.  Pay-stubs only shows the last 4 digits and we didn’t bring any tax records.  We call Lucinda back at Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort who came to our rescue and generated a W-2 for us, ready to be faxed where needed.  

  • Back to the License Bureau again with our new hotel receipt and Lucinda’s phone number.  The lady behind the counter kept saying they could not accept a fax, but the woman working beside her understood we wanted to fax a W2, not a SS card, which is OK.  Eventually our lady got a fax number for us and Lucinda sent it over.   Now we have all our documents!  I got through my process smoothly, and even got a decent picture.  Randy’s process was taking longer; eventually the person working with him asked me who completed my process.  She was concerned that the hotel receipt did not have an amount paid.  She disappeared in the back for awhile; I was thinking that I already have my license and if they thought I was giving it back, they were WRONG.  But eventually she came back out and finished Randy’s process.

Took 3 hours.  Ridiculous.

One year ago:  Free Speech

Two years ago: Hot days in Kissimmee
Three years ago: Skagway Bears

Clothing Optional?

We have left Hilton Head Island for a few weeks, to visit Mom in Illinois and renew our driver licenses in South Dakota.  It’s a long trip and we decided to break it up by stopping at an RV park in Cleveland, Georgia. I don’t have any pictures to post from our stay there and the reason is simple: it’s a clothing-optional camp.  They don’t allow pictures and frankly, from what I saw, I wouldn’t have taken any anyway.  

Going to a clothing-optional park was kind of a whim - we’d never been, and we probably look as good now as we ever will.  The grounds of the park are full of steep hills with little bitty houses and trailers in a such bad state that they give the term “redneck” a bad name.  To check in, you drive down one of those steep hills that wasn’t really meant for big RVs, but we made it down safely.  The office is by the pool and the pool is strictly no-clothing, so we got quite a “view” of the place right away.  At the office a nice lady checked us in.  She was dressed . . . sort of.  Her pool-coverup was open to her navel but she was covered.  She was also very sweet and welcoming. 

There was no TV, no wifi, no phone service, so we spent a lot of time outside.  I decided to wear a wrap that covered me from my armpits to my knees, and Randy bought a short terrycloth wrap.  I was never comfortable being naked outside but almost everyone around us was.  A couple staying in a nearby converted van were nude 100% of the time.  They cooked outside on a small grill and chatted with us when we walked by.  She had such a lovely tan.   

The focal point of the park is a great salt-water pool.  I tried sunbathing but the only sunscreen I brought with me was 100 SPF which kind of defeated the purpose, so eventually I got in the pool.  Salt water is wonderful; it doesn’t stink of chlorine and it feels like silk.  Some of the other guests were our age and a few were younger, but most were older than us.  Carol, a nice grand-motherly lady who smiled all the time, told me about the kittens she and her husband rescued a few months ago.  She was so friendly and relaxed that I was able to relax, too.  A water volleyball game was going on and I decided to join because (a) I was bored and (b) they were just as bad at volleyball as I was!  If they had been good I couldn’t have joined, no matter what the dress code was.  

On our second day the park hosted a BBQ potluck dinner.  It was a perfectly normal pot-luck except that some of the women and most of the men in line were naked.  Most women put on something when they were not in the pool, but the guys here like to be naked all the time.

We left the next morning and got back on the road; another experience under our belts and who knows what lies ahead!  And here’s something I learned:  always wear a bra because gravity is not kind to the unsupported.

Three years ago:  Our own Pizza Party in Skagway!