Friday, December 8, 2017

Way Back in October

I wrote this one after our annual family reunion and just haven't published it until now. Here it is:

LAKE HOPE CHRONICLES 2017

The weather in Nelsonville, Ohio  couldn't have been more cooperative for our annual family reunion at Lake Hope State Park this year. It was sunny, with high temperatures in the 70s each day and lows at night that were cool enough to be comfortable around the roaring campfire. Rich and I arrived Thursday afternoon with our pup, DeeDee, and a truck load of necessary gear and firewood. Pam and Jim were there to greet us, having arrived earlier in the day. Amy had only just pulled in ahead of us with Barbie and Riley  in tow. Anne, Drew and Laurie were there sporting their Florida tans, along with Steve Schieser who rode up from Columbus with them.
Thursday evening we enjoyed catching up over tapas and wine at Amy's cabin where she was assisted by Olivia and Laurie presenting us with a tasty spread. After tapas, Rich and Steve started the campfire that was to last all weekend. The early bird group sat around chatting and waiting to greet Matt and Jen who brought along niece, Addie, and nephew, Jackson. They were a late arrival because they had stayed to watch Mason's football game. Mason and Emmy, who is away at college, were unable to attend this year and we missed them. Olivia had to drive back to Ohio University late that evening because she had a morning class on Friday, after which she would be rejoining us at Lake Hope. Yay!
Early in the day on Friday, a couple of Jim's bike riding friends came up and went on an extended bike ride with Jim.  Friday afternoon after classes at Ohio State University, Kammie and one of her roommates, Lina, joined us for the rest of the weekend. It was great to see Kammie and be witness to all of the teasing that her dad was able to heap on her to make up for lost time. Matt is an expert at getting her goat and Kammie is such a cutie in her responses. I'm afraid that poor Lina has never seen quite as crazy a family as ours.
Amy made a short trip to the Lodge in the morning to try to get on their  wi-fi to do a little business. Later in the day, Laurie drove Amy, Jen,  Kammi,  Lina,  Riley and Barbie down to the Lodge just to look around in the gift shop and use the wi-fi  once more.  It seems that it is a bit of a tradition just to check out the lodge and see if anything has changed in our absence. The old lodge was destroyed by fire a few years ago and the one rebuilt in its place is beautifully rustic, reflecting the environment of the Zaleski national forest area.
Also arriving Friday was Ian and his long time buddy, Jesse. Although low key, Ian is always fun to have around the campfire. If you listen carefully, taciturn Ian has some great one-liners to add to the conversation and Jesse is the kind of guy who has never met a stranger. He can hold his own in our crowd! Once Drew and Rich get started with their "voices" we laugh until our sides hurt, or groan in disgust depending upon the nature of their comments!
Friday night was the annual food preparation competition; this year the category appetizers. Those of us who wished could prepare something to be judged by impartial judges. I forgot my elaborate puff pastry appetizer  and so had to compete with an improvised loaded tater-tot recipe. Amy had a great loaded baked potato dish. Ian and Drew each had a differently delicious Buffalo Chicken dip preparation. Jen made sausage pinwheels and Laurie entered a mini taco dish. Rich had a scrumptious, bacon wrapped spam chunks with honey-mustard drizzle recipe. Jen won with her pinwheels and Amy came in second with the potato skins. Rich got honorable mention with the bacon wrapped spam. Jim's friends were the impartial judges and did a great job. After the competition we celebrated Barbie's 40th birthday in our cabin where Annie and I had done a stealth job of decorating and Laurie had herded people one-by-one into the cabin evading Barbie's notice. We were able to surprise her with music and a huge chocolate cake! Afterward we all returned to the fire where we laughed heartily until late in the evening.
On Saturday morning, Ian and Jesse wandered off down to the lake to go kyaking and hiking for a couple of hours. Drew took a group down to the iron furnace area for the annual Lake Hope Fall Nature walk and bean soup lunch. Amy, Olivia, Jen and a few others that I can't remember took the dogs down to the lake for a swim. (the dogs, not the people!) Jen took Tybee, Amy walked Chili. Olivia took our DeeDee and she had the opportunity for her first ever swim. Olivia has the cutest videos of Dee leaping like one of our alpacas in the shallow water. Rich and I are going to have to take her down to our friend's house often for a swim in their pond. Before this weekend, DeeDee had suffering doggy anxiety since she had witnessed Callie being killed by a car. The vet had prescribed more socialization for her - with both people and other dogs. I think that the running and romping with her buddy, Chili, and the other dogs this weekend has been a great cure for her. Just about everyone in our group is a dog lover and so Dee got a lot of positive attention from humans and dogs alike. After we stopped in Nelsonville for breakfast, where we gave her a birthday sausage patty, (today is her first birthday) she slept all the way home. After running around and sniffing the grounds to make sure that nothing had changed in her absence, she  came inside and curled up on her pillow in the living room where she is still snoozing almost four hours later!
While everyone was strung out in different directions, Rich and I went into Nelsonville to check out the annual Smoked Meat Festival and Steve stayed behind to tend the fire. Intoxicated by the smell of smoking pork, beef and chicken, we strolled through town stopping only at the Nelsonville Emporium where they sell products from local artisans. I purchased another handmade mug to match the one I got last year. It's by a local artist named Dale who does lovely work. I like these mugs because they keep my coffee and tea hot and fit comfortably into my hands, warming them on cold winter mornings.
When we returned from Nelsonville, Rich prepped the pork loin and put it on the tri-pod over the open fire where he tended it the rest of the afternoon.  Amy had gone back to the Columbus area to Max's cross country meet and brought him back with her. He's sporting a knee high boot on his right food as he recovers from a stress fracture. He didn't run but went to the meet on the team bus to support his team mates. I was lucky to be able to sit between Olivia and Max at the fireside that evening. Since Amy's cabin was packed, Max spent the night in our extra room. Rich and I always enjoy spending time with our grandchildren.
This year Rich experimented with an apple upside-down cake cooked in a skillet over the open fire, along with his pork, potatoes and corn spoon bread. There were several positive comments on his experimental dessert but on the way home he was already revising the recipe for next year! Once again, on Saturday night we all gathered around the campfire to imbibe in our favorite beverages and politely converse. We never exactly solve the problem of world peace; ok, maybe we don't even try, but we do have fun.
True to form, Rich and I were the first to pack up and leave this morning. We awoke later than usual, around 7:30, because DeeDee was so tired from running with the pack this weekend, that she slept in, too! We tried to quietly take down all of the Halloween decoration and pack up our food leftovers and the assorted "comfort items" that I bring along, so that we wouldn't wake Max. I think he barely noticed when I knocked gently on his door and kissed him goodbye on his cheek.
Brother Jim heard us and came out to assist in the loading up. Matt  joined us shortly as did Amy who had to take Chili out for his morning constitutional. Chili and DeeDee had one last tussle before we left. Annie and Drew came out at the last minute to send us off and say good bye until Christmas when we will see them in Florida.

By nine o'clock the truck pulled out, fully loaded, Dee in the back seat, Rich at the wheel and me as the navigator (Who am I kidding? After I had my coffee I slept most of the way home). The ride home was uneventful. We unloaded and I've been doing laundry all afternoon. Rich went out to pick up a pizza for Sunday dinner to close out the weekend, and that's the end of another successful family reunion at Lake Hope State Park. Until next year, au revoir!

DeeDee and her buddy, Chili
Sorry for the long dry spell. Writer's block. I'll try to do better.




Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Return to Serenity

For the past several days the pipeline crews have been preparing the soil over the lines for replacement of the topsoil that had been removed at the beginning of the project last spring. Each day a different machine was out there going up and down the easement performing a different step of the operation. Each evening over the dinner table I would describe the machine and what it seemed to be doing and Rich would give the machines  names and explain their functions. There were huge machines running on caterpillar tracks, pushing soil back and forth on large shovels. Other days there would be different huge machines with large barrel like structures rotating in front, using spiky prongs to break up the soil.

I have been  snapping pictures with my phone each time something new is happening so that I can both keep a record and show Rich what I was trying to explain. I'm a city girl after all and he's a farm boy who knows about soil moving and conditioning. I have often wondered if the pipeline workers think I am some sort of environmentalist spy as I peer at them through my binoculars and snap pictures from our deck!

This morning there is no mistaking what they are doing now. The machines that appear to be what an urban girl would call bulldozers and diggers, are incrementally pushing the topsoil piles back into place over the work surface of the past summer. It looks like the frenzy of activity in our back field will soon be coming to an end and with the onset of fall we will begin to experience the natural serenity of our country life again. 



All morning long the crews have been bringing in more and bigger machines. Diggers, pushers, things that I will have to ask Rich about this evening. In early spring when the work was just beginning I used to text pictures of the equipment and process to Rich and ask for him to clarify. After a while I felt guilty taking up so much of his time, although he was very patient. Now, said machines have become dinner table conversation. This morning they have already removed a large portion of the topsoil hills out back. If the rain holds off, the area should be smooth by evening and we will be able to see the woods and fields beyond. 



The alpacas have been curious at times about what was going on back there. Mostly they are unconcerned with anything going on outside of their pasture as they peacefully graze or lay around in the sunshine. They do, however, screech out a warning in their unique style, if they spot the deer coming out of the woods. With the topsoil hills obscuring the view of the woods we didn't hear that warning much since the deer didn't often venture over to our side of the "mountains." I expect that to change with the improved view and the increased deer activity with the onset of fall.

With autumn coming we are gearing up for our annual open house the third weekend of September. The shop will have a new look after this weekend. We have purchased some new display fixtures to better showcase our yarn and will be installing them this Saturday. The shop will be open as usual we just ask that people be prepared to wend their way around obstructions in the shop. The weather is predicted to be perfect for this sort of endeavor since we will have to move much of our more solid merchandise out onto the lawn.

Open house will be held as usual during the National Alpaca Farm Days on Saturday, September 23rd and Sunday, September 24th. We will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. both days and this year we hope to have as least one baby. The Wurm family's Dora is expecting our Mocha's first little offspring sometime within the first couple of weeks in September. We are as excited as they are for this event.
Lisa and I figure this makes our families in-laws somehow!



I recently completed this pair of fingerless mitt out of our brown Leezza's 3-ply DK weight yarn. Her fleece is so fine and soft. I made these for display in the store to show how defined the stitches are with this yarn, and how soft and warm alpaca feels against the skin. I'd like to get a few more pieces done before open house and am trying to enlist some of my knitter friends to help. We also have a yarn sale going on right now on the Etsy store. We are offering 10% off on yarn sales over $50. It's a test run by Etsy and is available to a limited number of shoppers, however we will offer the same sale to in-store shoppers until the end of August. If you shop on Buckeye Star Alpacas, Etsy store, the coupon code is YARN10.



I have started to carry a limited number of finished alpaca items in the store, too. I have commercially produced socks and some handmade (by me) hats for sale now. There will be more items discounted during the open house, too.



More good news! I have contacted Carrie at America's Natural Fiberworks and she has promised to have our 2017 fleece processed and ready to ship before the open house. That means that I will have all of that lovely new yarn for sale in the shop, too!



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

There Are Machines, and Then There Are MACHINES

Machines. From the wheel, to the axle to the cog. The early invention of machines and the evolution and development of more sophisticated machines has both made our lives easier and more complicated.

The second row of pipes have been set on the timbers awaiting the welding and burying process for about a week now. Yesterday there was a very large machine digging on the pipeline site in our back field. This indicates to me that the final step in the pipeline building process is imminent and that the natural gas will be flowing under high pressure very soon. Not sure how all of this will impact life here on the farm when the construction equipment and workers are gone.


A couple of weeks ago I received a much smaller machine that has brought so much fun into my own life and sparked my creative juices. I ordered this little piece of German precision engineering to try my hand at making hats  from our alpaca yarns to sell in our store.




I have been using up project leftovers from my stash basket as practice and the results have been pretty good. The hat knitting machine is also capable of knitting flat panels, something I am also going to experiment with. I'm enjoying this little  machine so much that I may just order the smaller, baby, version just to see what I can do with it!



I have also been experimenting with some different dyeing techniques lately and have gotten such good results that I have plans to do some more yarns. I made a bold, multi-colored blue, green, yellow yarn that has garnered some very positive comments.


My favorite technique is the confetti yarn, produced using eco-friendly dyes, Glad Wrap, plastic forks and the electric turkey roaster. I have two skeins for sale in the store and I am planning on making two more in a different colorway for myself. This yarn is calling to me and is saying, "Linda, you need to knit something with me!"


Right now, my husband is calling to me so I'll need to discuss dyeing techniques another day. Rich has a couple of the alpaca boys harnessed up and is ready to walk them around the lawn on this lovely, sunny, July 4th morning. Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fleece Processing and Pipelines

The Rover pipeline, an interstate natural gas pipeline which will transport "3.25 billion cubic feet per day of domestically produced natural gas to markets in the Midwest, Northeast, East Coast, Gulf Coast, and Canada" (quoted phrase from their website) is virtually going through our back yard. For the past few months I have been observing the progress of its installation. After the company settled on a price for the right-of-way, all done through a Columbus law firm that specializes in representation of property owners in pipeline cases, Rover began the survey process. It seemed like only a matter of minutes after my father-in-law, who owns the fields, received the settlement check before the top soil was pushed aside into a series of mounds alongside the route.

Notice the mounds of topsoil in the background. Young boys and moms are unconcerned.
 Just a quick note here, it's pretty much inevitable that once the pipeline people decide on a route  and get the approval from FERC the landowners have almost no chance of blocking it. Remember the Dakota Access pipeline that is going through the Native American burial grounds and the long drawn out protest through a very cold winter?  So, although I personally am very uneasy with two 42" natural gas pipelines laying side by side just four feet below the surface of the field behind us, we have no choice but to accept it. The deliberations between the lawyers on our behalf and the Rover people went on for almost two years until they threatened to invoke eminent domain. Landowners who hadn't accepted previous offers were advised to sign the final best offer.

Giant electromagnets lifting pipe segments off of the truck beds.
After the topsoil was cleared off the heavy grading equipment smoothed out the access area and very soon the semis brought the segments of pipe through and laid them out on timbers. It was interesting to see the giant electromagnetic cranes effortlessly lifting the pipe and laying it in place. One truck after another, each one carrying two pipe segments, drove through the field. Because of the recent rains there was one section of field out by the electrical towers where the trucks got bogged down and stuck. One driver tried to power through it before he finally gave up. A bulldozer came in from the opposite road, hooked up to and pulled the truck out. At one point the dozer pulled three trucks at once. Amazing!

Waiting for the third empty semi.
All the while, the alpacas grazed peacefully, only looking up occasionally in curiosity. It seems that as long as they have a fence between them and the noise they feel protected.


Each day, even through light rain, there was some action going on out there. Then one Saturday when I had been in Columbus most of the day, I returned to find a series of white boxes surrounding some of the joined sections of pipe. Rich and I could only assume that there were welders working on the permanent joining of the pipe and the boxes were there to protect things until it was set. The pipeline workers keep strictly to themselves so there is little opportunity to ask questions of them. I have noticed that most of the workers arrive from the south somewhere and I have seen them on the road that leads up from Rt. 23 and Marion. Also, most of the license plates on the personal trucks parked on the corner construction site are from states very far west and south of here: Texas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc. So much for the local unions claiming that the pipeline would provide local jobs!

The hole was finally dug and the pipes sunk into the ground in the past week. The ground has been smoothed over and much of the work has moved on to the northwest of us. This process will be repeated one more time for the second pipeline that is to lay beside this one. I'm not sure yet what the completion date will be. In the meantime, life goes on.


Last Friday, my friend, Liz, came out and we worked all afternoon dying four color batches of yarn. It was an experiment that produced some lovely spring like colors.


We have a shamrock green that my friend Gabi named "Bit 'O Luck,'"


a lovely soft lavender named "Lilac Clouds,"



a vibrant orangy-pink called "Sea Coral" by my friend, Marilyn,


and, finally, a variegated yarn that I call "Sonoran Sunset."


Yesterday I did a day trip with my friend, Lisa, and her son, Darren. We drove down to Somerville to deliver our fleece to America's Natural Fiberworks and pick out the blends and weights for this year's shearing. More about this in another post. Rich and I bought strawberries on Monday so today is jam day. One of my favorite times of the year.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Shearing 2017

Callie and DeeDee are exhausted!

You would think that Callie and DeeDee were the ones who did the shearing or got shorn yesterday. Both of them got up early as usual this morning, went outside briefly, came inside and ate their breakfast then went back to sleep and have been like this ever since. It's now 11 a.m.! I wish I had that luxury and I'm sure Rich does, too. He had to go to work today as did all of the other actual shearing hands. The two dogs just ran around enjoying all of the company and attention.

The actual shearing began at two on Saturday, after lunch. Our shearer, Mary Jane, had to finish up at another farm an hour southeast of us first. Meanwhile, the Wurm family and Rich and I used the time to set up our potluck lunch and transport their animals from their farm down the road so that we would be ready to begin as soon as everyone ate.

As I mentioned earlier, we had so many wonderful workers helping out this year. Lisa, Brian and Darren Wurm brought their animals down along with two of their older sons, Evan and Jerrod, to help out. It was great to have three young men with brains and muscles to help out. Lisa's mom, Chris, came along, too, so we put her to work writing down animal weights as we called them out. Our good friend, Rhonda, from Grass Run Alpaca farm came up from Bucyrus. She wields a mean broom and helps Lisa and I bag up the freshly sheared fleece and label bags. Everyone worked like a well oiled machine to assist Mary Jane.

Evan, Lisa and Chris. The dusty process induces sneezes!

The week before shearing, Rich removes any winter bedding from the barn and pasture condos (three-sided shelters) so there is a minimum of straw residue in the fleece. We also release them to the lush, green pastures to graze. This gives them a chance to roll in the grass which also removes straw and  other "vegetation" that might have become entangled in their winter coats. We try to have the animals as clean and dry as possible to ease the process. Then the night before shearing day (or sooner if rain is scheduled) we lock the animals inside. Rich tries to keep this lock-in time as short as possible because the alpacas clearly prefer to be outside in most weather.

Mango, Aristotle and his mom, Leezza look into the rain until it's their turn.

If by chance, as happened this year, it rains on shearing day and some of the animals get a bit wet, we have a holding pen inside the large storage section of Rich's wood shop. It's almost inevitable that a few will get a bit wet when they have to be moved from barn to trailer to transport to the shearing site. We put the damp animals in the pen with large fans blowing on them to dry them out. 

Addie, her mom, Dora, and Demitrirus (a gelding) relax in the holding pen.

Mary Jane is quite impressive as she wrestles the 70-180 lb. animals onto her specially designed and constructed shearing table with very little assistance from her muscled assistants. After bungee-ing the animals legs to each end of the table, the first part of the actual shearing process is to vacuum any remaining dust and debris from the fleece. Brian, Evan, Darren and Rich took turns with this step throughout the two day operation. Mary Jane insists on this step and, in fact, brings along her own powerful shop vac as a component of her shearing kit. Not every shearer does this step, but it's very much worth the extra time when I take the fleece to the mill to be processed into the final products.

While the vacuuming is going on, Mary Jane trims toenails, files down uneven teeth and removes the males' fighting teeth if necessary.

Brian vacuums while Rich picks out debris.


Mary Jane begins shearing the animal on the back to neck area first. This is the precious blanket of fleece that is used to make knitting yarn. The area across the back from the base of the neck to the tail is where the longest and softest staple fiber grows. While the shearer does her job, Lisa and I "noodle" the fiber as it comes off of the animal. This entails two people holding a plastic painting tarp under the opposite side of the alpaca from neck to tail, and gently catching the fleece in an unbroken sheet as it comes off.

The left side of Dio sheared of blanket fleece.

After both side of the fleece are gathered in the same tarp, Lisa and I take it to a bare spot on the floor where we fold the long sides of the plastic in an overlapping manner across the fleece and then roll it like a sleeping bag from end to end. We tape it shut, label it, and go back to bag the second shears in trash bags. The seconds are used to make items that don't require prime fleece. I have this made into rug yarn, felt sheets and alpaca insoles.

Daren stabilizes the alpaca's head.
After removing the blanket and usable seconds, Mary Jane shears the legs and other really dirty fleece. Not much fleece is wasted. Some people save these dirty thirds for compost.  Darren saves this to use as nesting box material for his hens and winter insulation for his bee hives. He is one talented high school junior and has a natural ability to handle the alpacas.

The final part of the alpaca spa day process is when Mary Jane holds the head and carefully trims the fleece around the eyes and ears. Each animal leaves the shearing barn with a very individual and well coiffed hairdo!

Each alpaca gets walked to the livestock scale for a weight check. Lisa and I keep accurate records of the animals' weights and the weight of the fleece removed from them. We check the strength and condition of the fleece and record these stats for each animal. These are important indicators of animal health and well being.

Apollo gets a weight check before returning to the pasture.
In two half-days' time Mary Jane sheared eleven animals. Each one was inoculated with a CDT booster vaccine and checked for weight and general health. We went through approximately five pounds of cheesy potatoes, three pounds of sloppy joe, four pounds of sloppy chicken, deviled eggs, one large bowl of fluffy fruit salad,  breakfast casserole (a dozen eggs), three different types of cookies, two boxes of breakfast bars, one case of bottled water, dips and chips, chips, chips! This is the only time all year that I can eat like this for a whole weekend and experience a weight loss when I step on the scales!




At the end of the day after Mary Jane hit the road for home and before sending the last of the Wurm alpacas home, we attempted to set up a "date" with their two-year-old Artie, and our more experienced Leezza. Unfortunately they didn't hit it off this time. Artie's indifference indicated that he was clearly not interested. Maybe it was the trauma of the shearing experience, or the strange surroundings or maybe he needs to mature a bit. We'll try again later.

Artie in the foreground as Leezza looks on expectantly.
I'll end my tale with a picture of our little Apollo before the weigh in at the end of his shearing. It's amazing how much of the animal is actually fleece.

Apollo weighed in at just 80 lbs. after shearing.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunny Savannah, Georgia

Imagine the shock when we returned Friday from a week in Savannah, Georgia where it was 70 to 80 degrees each day! Northern Ohio still had traces of the snow that fell the day before and Rich and I had only taken light spring jackets on vacation. Our daffodils, which had bloomed while we were in the south, were drooping their blossoms in defeat from the cold.

Now, two days later, springtime is returning and  it is sunny and supposed to rise to a warm 72 degrees. This morning the ever-hardy daffodils are perking up. The mere sight of these golden yellow beauties makes me smile each year when they bloom in the fence garden out in front of the house.

I transferred my vacation pictures from my cell phone this morning (does anyone use cameras much anymore?) and organized them on my computer. As I labeled each picture I was able to finally reflect on our vacation. Savannah is surely an example of how the modern age meets the "old" south. It is home to one of the largest art schools in the nation, Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD, and many other industries. SCAD even has a well respected degree in urban restoration and it's students have restored many of the historic buildings in Savannah. SCAD students can be seen everywhere around town working in restaurants and toting their portfolios through the many squares.

 The beautiful architecture throughout the historic district lives up to Savannah's reputation for being one of the most beautiful cities in America. It's easy to see why General Sherman, after conquering Savannah, spared it the destruction he wrought on Atlanta and other southern cities and presented it as a Christmas gift in his telegram to President Lincoln. "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with its 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton," Sherman wrote on December 22, 1864. Sherman himself chose one of the most beautiful homes as his headquarters, the Green-Meldrim House.

Rich at the Green-Meldrim House
We traveled by car to Savannah along with Rich's brother, Tom, and his wife, Julie, clowning around along the way at the visitor's center in West Virginia where they had the following picture board:


We arrived in Savannah midday last Sunday and drove around to get our bearings before checking into our B&B. After finding a parking spot on Bay street we stopped at the Moon River Brewery where I had a wonderful fried green tomato open faced sandwich smothered in melted cheese. Thus began a week of very fine eating. I will pay for my many indulgences now that I am back home! The brewery is named for one of the songs of Savannah's favorite son, Johnny Mercer. More about him later. After dining we strolled along Bay street and took the elevator down to River Street where we witnessed a couple of freighters and a river boat cruise leaving the harbor. As we strolled along River Street and its myriad of souvenir shops and dining establishments, I couldn't resist snapping a picture outside of one of the seedier establishments and sending it as a joke to my friend, Nancy, who had recommended a place to eat.


Our party strolled back up to Bay Street on one of the cobble stoned ramps that were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries out of the ballast stones from the ships of the era. The old River Street Inn  and other river front buildings have  very solid bases of combined bricks and ballast stones. Using the ballast stones as building materials prevented them from being dumped into the harbor or piling up along the shore.

A few weeks before leaving for Savannah, I re-read John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the tale involving real life characters from Savannah's more recent history. In it, the Mercer-Williams house features prominently, so of course, we had to take the tour. This lovely home situated on the west side of Monterey Square was built for the Civil War General Hugh Mercer. The composer of Moon River and other famous songs, Johnny Mercer, never actually lived there. Nor did anyone from the Mercer family since it wasn't completed until 1869. After the war General Mercer was tried (and acquitted) for the murder of two deserters. The General decided that he didn't want to live in Savannah and decided to sell the house.

In 1961, Jim Williams, antique dealer and old home restorer, purchased the Mercer house where he lived until his death. In 1981, Danny Hansford, a restorer employed by Jim Williams was shot and killed by Williams in the house. Self defense or murder? Williams underwent four trials for murder before his fortunes were drained and he was finally acquitted. He died nearly penniless but left behind this beautiful home filled with priceless works of art and antiques which his sister occupies today. Berendt's Midnight,  just called by Savannahans "the Book," is the fictionalized story of these events. There are so many beautiful paintings, statues and artifacts that the 30 minute tour was not nearly long enough to see them all.

We drove out to the Bonaventure Cemetery on the one steamy morning of our trip. It was too early in the day for a guided tour so we just drove slowly through the cemetery stopping wherever we saw something interesting. I found it interesting that about one-fourth of the cemetery was devoted to Jewish graves and was even marked by its own entrance flanked with stone pillars, each topped with a carved Star of David. We drove around this side first and then over to the other side. So many of the really old graves were marked by lovely statue type monuments and surrounded by iron fencing. Apparently in the 1800s one showed their wealth by the liberal use of iron in their decoration of earthly homes and final resting places. One of the most captivating monuments is of little six-year-old Gracie who died of pneumonia. The grave is surrounded by a lovely intricate ironwork fence and gate. I took this picture between the bars. You can find her sad story on the internet.


We dined elegantly one evening at the historic Pink House Restaurant. History says that the building was a white stucco over red brick home and that during one of Savannah's several fires, the red brick bled through the stucco turning the house pink. I had pan seared sea scallops and cheesy grits in the most elegant ballroom with Swarovski crystal chandeliers overhead softly lighting our table. Very romantic.


St. John the Baptist Cathedral was one of my favorite spots in Savannah. The Cathedral itself was impressive with the hand-carved Stations of the Cross running along each side of the sanctuary and the lofty ceilings overhead. I almost missed the mosaic interior of the baptismal font until I leaned over and peered into its depths as I was about to leave the church. The gilded Celtic knot in the bottom glowed out from the holy water as if it was lit by the holy spirit. Maybe my most favorite sight of the entire trip. My photo doesn't do it justice.



Our last evening meal was at the Six Pence Pub made famous in the Julia Roberts movie, Something to Talk About. It's in the scene where Julia Roberts peers into the window only to see her cheating husband with another woman. However, it is a charming place to dine in the traditional English pub atmosphere. I had crab,scallop and shrimp stuffed flounder and Rich had a Guinness braised pot roast. Both yummy.



Our party decided by mutual agreement to fore go breakfast at the B&B on our last morning. We had passed a charming looking little cafe around the corner several times during the week. Clary's was the type of place that looked like it was frequented mostly by local people. Rich decided to have dessert for breakfast when he saw the description of something called the Peach Blossom. We hadn't had anything with the traditional Georgia peaches on our trip so Tom ordered one, too. By the ornery look on our waitress's face we should have known that something was up. When the dish arrived at our table even Rich, who has a voracious appetite for sweets, was taken aback by the size of it. The waitress asked Tom, who was already tucking into the breakfast in front of him, if he still wanted his peach blossom. He didn't back down. After delivering a second dessert to our table the cook had to come out from the kitchen to see if the crazy tourists were actually finishing the food. The four of us couldn't finish the two desserts but it made for great conversation with all of the Clary staff!


A short walk back to our townhouse and we packed up and headed north for an uneventful but gradually colder ride home. Rich and I dropped Tom and Julie off in Dublin and sped up Rt. 23 towards home. Although I love traveling I always enjoy arriving back home. Our puppies are glad to be sleeping back in the house again instead of outside where they reside sometimes when we're gone. They missed us, can't you tell?


Friday, March 17, 2017

Older on St. Patrick's Day

A conversation with a dear friend yesterday left me reflecting on the many concepts of aging; getting older if you will. She was telling me about hearing a news report about an "elderly" woman's home being broken into and she was severely beaten. At the end of the story the reporter mentioned the fact that the woman was 70 years old. My friend, who is turning 70 this year was taken aback. "Elderly!  Seventy is not elderly," she thought. I am turning 69 next month. My eldest daughter, Amy, turns 46 today and I definitely don't feel all that much older than she is, (Happy Birthday, Amy!) and I'm sure that Amy doesn't feel "middle aged," whatever that means.
Amy, Olivia, Me


I will agree to getting old and being old. In fact, I want to keep getting older for as long as I can. But aged, or elderly are descriptions that I will vehemently disagree with. I think it's maybe a state of mind or maybe it's a "Boomer" generation thing. I have a friend who is 80 and after five minutes speaking with her I defy anyone to describe her as elderly. She is the most forward thinking and open minded person I know of; more so than many young people I know. So elderly she is definitely not.

Sure, my friends and I all have days where our bodies remind us that we are getting older, but we are not going to let that stop us from staying current on social and cultural issues. I am experiencing life in a much less superficial way than when I was a younger woman. I am finding deeper meaning in my travels, movies, theater performances, new books, etc. For example, instead of just sight seeing and appreciating the landscapes, I am asking "why and how." Why does a certain group of people behave the way they do. How did the mountain come to be. I am finding beauty in the differences of people of other cultures rather than the similarities to myself.

I am of the Dylan Thomas school of aging. "Do not go gentle into that good night," where he implores his dying father to reclaim some of the "fire of his youth." It's that burning fire, energy, desire to learn and have new experiences in life that prevent us from becoming elderly. So I'll keep getting older. I'm OK with old. I just refuse to become elderly.

On a lighter note, Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Our "little one," DeeDee, is getting bigger each day!