Welcome to Nenana

“Let’s go, let’s go.” Those were the words I heard the morning of the 6th, the same words I’d heard every morning of our Alaskan adventure. Here’s something you need to know should you decide to go on a Princess cruise, part land/part sea: while on land, there’ll be places to go and things to do and see every day. And while that’s a good thing, some people can find it a bit tiring. Fortunately, bus and train rides offer opportunity to doze.

Back to the morning of the 6th. It was the day we were heading to Denali, and the very word conjured up cultural connotations. I was used to towns like Kershaw, Camden, and Sumter, and although they too have histories, I was so accustomed to their sounds and origins of these Southern places that I didn’t find them odd or novel.

Before day’s end, we get a peek of Mt. Denali, spend a sliver of time in a tiny town called Nenana, watch a film at a wilderness access center, listen to a park ranger talk about life in the wild as we stood outside the Savage Cabin, and meet Carol Reid on Primrose Ridge. Late in the day, we’d pull into the small town of Denali for an overnighter.

On the evening of the 5th, Thomas said he wanted to visit an Alaskan village, someplace where people really lived, someplace where there was no McDonald’s—just people living off the grid in “real life.” As he talked, I thought, “Me too.”

I wanted to see women strolling down a narrow street, a child or two in two, with a beautiful backdrop of taiga forest on an incline behind them. I wanted to see old cars and NO tour buses. I wanted to see a collection of buildings that would stay seared in my memory forever, a place where people lived and dreamed and loved and ached with desire and wonder.

There were no towns along the road to Denali, at least none that I could see, just miles and miles of breathtakingly beautiful scenery—a landscape “as old as the hills” (literally) and most of it untouched and unseen by human eyes. This was territory for the moose, the caribou, and the grizzly. At moments, I’d find myself becoming inured to the loveliness, and in then in an instant, I’d catch sight of a certain stand of trees or rock formation that would force a “Look at that!” from me.

On the morning of the 6th, Thomas got his wish. At some point, the driver pulled off the highway and drove down a narrow road lined with small homes. I gawked and then gulped. So this is what it’s like to live in a small Alaskan village away from Wal-Mart and The Fresh Market. Was there a school here? Where was it?

We were in Nenana, the first Iditarod checkpoint in 2003 and 2015.

We lumbered down off the bus and split up in different directions to take pictures, visit the gift shop, purchase snacks, and stretch our legs. I was captivated by the bridges, the railroad tracks that led out of town (a sure sign that there was life down the tracks), the gorgeous orange and yellow trees, a cemetery high on a hill, and the overall feel of the place. While Nenana was but a stopping point on the way to Denali, it was a welcome one, and I savored our half hour there.

Little did I know that the day would get better and better as it progressed.

Have you ever been to Nenana? Has there ever been a spot that cast a spell on you?

Striking It Rich at Gold Dredge 8

I’m wearing my gold-filled pendant on its delicate silver chain today. Yes, you read correctly—gold-filled pendant. There are flecks, not nuggets, in the tiny round pendant, but still, the jewelry is special because of the memories it conjures up, memories of a cool, overcast afternoon in the 49th state.

We’d spent the morning on the Chena River, and lunch behind us, we clambered aboard the tour bus to head towards our next excursion. Before the afternoon ended, we’d have walked beneath the Alaska Pipeline, also referred to as TAPS (Trans Alaska Pipeline System), and panned for gold. The girls would be taking home some gold-filled treasures. When I say “girls,” I’m referring to pretty much every female on the excursion.

As soon as we disembarked and headed towards the Pipeline, we could see that the people already assembled were paying rapt attention to the speaker. Dressed in black from his hat to his boots, the presenter shared a number of facts with his listeners, including the tidbit that the Pipeline provides revenue to help operate schools and that Alaska citizens receive a check from its profits each year. Designed to move oil from Alaska’s north slope to Valdez, the 800-mile Pipeline is a marvel of construction.

Next we got on an open-sided train that was a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad. While we waited for the train to get going, a musician entertained us by playing the guitar and playing “Ring of Fire.” Within a few moments, the train rolled down the tracks to Gold Dredge 8, a popular and historical attraction, where we learned how the dredge worked the gold fields. According to the literature, Gold Dredge 8 extracted millions of ounces of gold from the frozen Alaskan ground and today serves as a monument to the miners who built Fairbanks.

After a presentation on the history of Gold Dredge 8, we piled off the train and were handed small bags of what appeared to be dirt. Little did we know there would be actually smithereens of gold hidden in the dirt. Friendly employees clad in plaid shirts gave the gold diggers (us) a demonstration of exactly how to pan for gold by using the warm water in the troughs in front of us. After striking it rich, we deposited our tiny nuggets into a plastic receptacle and headed to the huge rustic building close by.

The building contained a number of gift shops and a jewelry kiosk (?) set up to measure our gold. Delighted to learn that we had enough specks to preserve in a pendant, most of the women walked over to one of the gift shops to check out our options. Choices included pendants and earrings of various sizes and designs. I chose a “plain Jane” version, but my traveling buddies got something a little more embellished.

While wandering in and out of the various shops, most people sipped on complimentary hot chocolate, coffee, or water as they munched on delicious freshly baked cookies. My personal favorite was chocolate oatmeal raisin.

Fortified by our snacks, we boarded the railway car and listened to a gentleman play the fiddle and sing “You Are My Sunshine.” Many of us joined in the singing, and I knew that I’d always recall that beautiful afternoon just “a singing” beside Gold Dredge 8. Seeing the staff lined up with smiles and goodbye waves added the perfect ending to the afternoon.

Back at the lodge, eight of us later met for salmon chowder, cheeseburgers, and meatloaf. To be honest, the food was mediocre to be so expensive. My chowder was thick, muddy, and lukewarm (even after it was reheated). My husband still talks about his $4.50 scoop of chocolate ice cream and is planning a trip to Cold Stone Creamery in Myrtle Beach ASAP.

Everyone hit the sack early that night, excited with the knowledge that we’d be heading to Denali the next morning.

Along the Chena

On the second day in Fairbanks, it was up at at ’em pretty early. Our bus driver, Benjamin, was outside waiting to take us to our first destination, a port a few miles away where we ‘d board a riverboat and cruise down the Chena River. It was cold for those of us with Southern blood, so Jeanita and I found it necessary to shop for some warm clothing in a gigantic gift shop. We each bought olive green vests with AK written on the front left. Call us Plain Janes; we didn’t want bears or moose emblazoned on our clothing–not that day, not yet.

The “All Aboard” summons came all too quickly, and we queued up to board the Coral Princess steamboat. Once on board, some of us climbed to the top deck for a better look at everything. It was chilly, yes, but some of the cold was assuaged by the free hot beverages and donuts served at the prow of the ship.

The scenery on both sides was breathtaking, and I was again reminded of how many ways there are to live our time on Earth. Some people live in high rise apartments and rarely see a single tree. Others live in dense rain forests and have never tasted a Coke or heard of a vest. Along the Chena, inhabitants live in all types of structures, some elaborate and others rustic and suited to the surrounding taiga forest, riverfront, and brutal winters. Anticipating tourist questions about the varying architectural styles, the captain remarked that as long as a house met code, the owners could build whatever style or shape of house they wanted.

We soaked it all in. There was so much to savor and absorb that I almost missed the demonstration of a small floatplane! While all was grand, There are three specific river memories that will stick with me: Susan Butcher’s husband training dogs, the scenic nature at the turnaround point, and the visit to a fishing village.

Remember Susan Butcher? She was an American dog musher, “noteworthy as the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second four-time winner in 1990, and the first to win four out of five sequential years.” (Wikipedia) Unfortunately, Susan died of breast cancer in 2006, but her husband, also a musher, continues to operate Trail Breaker Kennel along the Chena, and he treated the boat folks to comments and a demonstration of the dogs on a training run around the lake.

Not long after enjoying the energetic and noisy dogs, we reached a turnaround point  where the captain took a slow turn, allowing the passengers to take sone gorgeous shots. Although I took several, the deck was too crowded with avid photographers to capture as many views as I wanted.

On the return trip, the captain slowed down a few moments so that we could listen to a lecture and demonstration by a young Alaskan woman about catching and processing fish. A few minutes later, we disembarked at the Chena Fishing village and were privileged to see caribou, learn how to treat furs, and watch some huskies being “put through the paces.” It was a magical morning that ended all too soon but not before we had someone snap our photograph beside the Chena.

Back on the boat, we headed to the port for a hearty lunch and more shopping. Everyone gathered in a huge dining hall to savor beef stew, salad, bread, potatoes, and chocolate cake.the efficiency and quality of the entire experience was amazing!

Lunch behind us, we browsed through the gift shop, and my husband found a few treasures. Since ours was the last tour of the season, prices were reasonable.

With memories of a beautiful morning along the Chena and a fortifying lunch, we once again climbed aboard the tour bus, this time headed for gold. Stay tuned to learn of our gold panning experience and the treasures we brought home.

Afternoon in Fairbanks

Should I start with a favorite memory and work backwards to the beginning of our trip to Alaska? Should I just highlight a few of our favorite sights in no particular order? I think I’ll take Lewis Carroll’s advice and begin at the beginning and go on until I reach the end.

We began our adventure in Charlotte with stops in Minnesota and Seattle. From Seattle, we flew into Fairbanks where a shuttle was waiting to take us to the Princess lodge. On the shuttle ride, the driver kept talking about the Northern lights and reported several sightings that evening, and when we arrived at our destination, there they were—green and ethereal moving clouds on the horizon.

To make sure we got the full effect, the driver steered the van around back and insisted that everyone pile out to take a better look. That, my friends, was my introduction to Alaska, and I knew I was going to love every moment of my stay there. Nearly every person we met was just as friendly and accommodating as this driver.

Too excited to sleep in, we awoke early the next morning to check out our environment. It was beautiful, especially the river walk behind the lodge. Around noon, we took a bus into Fairbanks and walked up and down some of the streets in the center of town.

One stop we particularly enjoyed was a park with a walkway along the Chena River. There was a unique “antler arch” leading to the walkway, and naturally we all took turns posing beneath it. We moseyed along enjoying the breeze, the yellow willow trees, and the gently flowing river. As we stood admiring a huge statue entitled “First Family,” I became aware of a woman in distress, alternately sobbing and shouting, sitting several yards away from us.

As I wondered what to do (if anything) to help her, music began wafting through the park, and nearby church bells began to peal. It was a memorable moment, especially when the limbs and leaves of the willow tree began to sway in the breeze. When I glanced at the suffering woman to see whether she had been affected by the sounds and sights, I saw that someone had joined her and was hugging her and speaking soothing words. My friend Deborah would call it a “God wink.”

We left the park and sauntered around going in and out of various shops. Spotting some huskies outside of a building, we began listening to their trainer and learned we were at the headquarters for the Yukon Quest, a 1,000 mile dog race between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. Until that afternoon, I didn’t even know what a musher was. Soon I learned that many of them will begin this race, said to be the toughest dog sled race in the world, on February 6. Musher—now that’s a word.

Hungry from our sight-seeing, we stopped for some refreshment at the Fudge Pot, a downtown eatery recommended by a friend who had dined there many times. We loved it! The smell of delicious chocolate greeted our senses as we pushed open the door. We settled on dark chocolate walnut, but before we allowed ourselves even one sliver, we recharged our batteries with fish chowder and sandwiches.

With 45 minutes to spare before the bus arrived, we visited the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center. In a word: awesome. All of us especially enjoyed the museum aspects of the facility and came away with a renewed interest in the culture and people of the 48th state.

Politics, Travel, and Family

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to something that more aptly describes its purpose and focus. When I started it a decade or so ago, my primary role was that of a mom. While it’s still the one that I hold most dear, my life and the lives of my children have changed greatly. They’re all responsible adults who left the nest many years ago. Some of them have children of their own, so grandmother is a role I’ve acquired too.

Should the blog’s title be Grandma Jayne’s Musings? No, I think it’s time to come up with something that describes my life as a wife, mother, grandmother, writer, retired educator, truth seeker, traveler, and child of the universe. Musings of a Matriarch? No, that’s not it either.

Today, my thoughts are about the crazy political scene and a recent trip to Alaska. Never far from my mind are thoughts of the children and grandchildren, so they’ll likely get more than a nod in this post.

First, I think I’ll be glad when the election is behind us. I say “think” because it all depends on who wins. Which way will he or she lead this great nation? How will the next administration’s policies affect the average American’s life, livelihood, and pursuit of happiness?

Today I’m disturbed by the prancing about, the finger pointing, and well, just the ugliness of not just the folks who are vying for the title, but also of the news people who are supposed (or so I thought) to tell us the truth. It’s becoming increasingly hard to distinguish fact from fiction. And don’t even get me started on the average Joe or Jane who wastes no opportunity to “slash and burn” every contender with whom they disagree. I refuse to become contentious about this (at least today) and will leave the hate mongering to those who are better at it than I.

Next topic: recent trip to the 49th state of this great union. It’s always good to see something a little different from one’s regular surroundings, and as Mark Twain famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

There are so many ways to live and love and greet and meet, and we (I) tend to forget about that as we move about in narrow, but safe, spheres. At the moment, I’m recalling the dignity and sheer joie de vivre of an Athabascan woman who won the hearts of all who heard her words on a September afternoon on Primrose Ridge in Denali National Park. Her life, though different from yours and mine, has meaning and integrity.

I can’t end this post without mentioning my three children, especially since they’re the impetus behind Mom’s Musings. Their father and I are in awe of the adults they’ve become, and although this might seem strange to say, I feel confident in the knowledge that after their parents have left this life for the next one, these children will continue to find their way(s).

Topic for the next several days: Alaska! And by the way, I hope to find inspiration for a blog name change through my writing this week. Maybe you’ll offer suggestions.

Museums, Diners, and Santas

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I’m not a travel writer. I don’t know what kind of writer I am. I just know that some friends and I went to New York City last weekend, and every day that passes is another day that the events that happened go further and deeper into my memory bank.

So I’m going to write a little bit about those two days this morning.

When we told people about our trip, all of us heard remarks like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to New York City.” Our joint question is, “Then what are you waiting for?” As humans, we postpone. “I’ll go next year,” you think but next year never comes. You get busy. You have obligations. You need the money for something else. You develop health challenges and can’t walk.

We also heard, “It must be nice to have so much extra money,” and “I wish I had the money to go to New York.” We aren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, I realize that’s a much-overused expression. It’s probably earned cliché status by now, but I’m not trying to win “blog of the year” with this post. I’m just trying to urge you to wake up and live.

If we can afford it, so can you. BUT, you’re going to have to give up something to get there. Some of us have already committed to going again next year, and we’re staying two nights instead of one. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve agreed to put away $50 a month. I just need to stay out of Target and stop eating out so much.

We also heard, “I’d love to go, but I don’t have anyone to go with. My significant other, friend, fill-in-the-blank doesn’t like to travel.” Don’t use that as an excuse. There are dozens of people you can go with. My husband has been once and plans never ever to go again. That’s unfortunate, but there are so many people who do want to go, and all you have to do is ask around.

There are museums and stores and restaurants and lights and libraries and parks and diversity in the Big Apple. And the Rockettes are there. And ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. Oh, and there’s this great little diner, Westway, that’s become a favorite of mine. The service, food, and ambience are all outstanding, and besides, my husband and I spied Brooke Shields there one late afternoon.

Here I am nearing the end of my 500-word limit (I’ve been told that blogs should be no longer than this), and I haven’t even mentioned any of our goings-on. I must admit that Sunday was my favorite day, but Saturday had its redeeming qualities too. For example, it was the weekend when young people all over town donned Santa outfits and participated in a bar crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. At least that was their original purpose. I’m not sure why they do it now, but I must admit that I enjoyed seeing guys and gals dressed up like Santa, elves, and even trees as they walked up and down the avenues.

Quick recap of Saturday: lunch at Westway, afternoon in Museum of Natural History, and late dinner at Juniors in Times Square. So much detail could fit into and between these events. For example, the chicken-cranberry wrap at Westway is to die for, and the native New Yorkers who dine there make the experience more memorable. I sincerely think that we were the only tourists there.

The Museum of Natural History is a must-see, and just so you’ll know, you can actually make a “donation” from one cent to one million dollars for a ticket. Most people, however, pay the regular ticket price because they don’t know about the donation aspect. I know because of being tipped off by a tour bus guide.

Did we pay one cent? No, the younger set paid full price, and Jeanita and I paid ten dollars each for our admission tickets. And Folks, it was worth much more than that. We walked and gawked for nearly three hours and hardly “put a dent in it.” (Must stop with those clichés.) One final plus to visiting this particular museum is that it’s across the street from Central Park so we got to kill two birds with one stone…er, taxi ride.

Three clichés and you’re out. I’ll pick up with the rest of the story later.

 

Mountain Getaway

It’s hard to believe that  it’s already been a week since my sister and our daughters pulled out of Camden and headed for the hills on a girls’ trip. Gatlnburg was our ultimate destination, but we enjoyed the some sights along the way too. This morning I’m remembering our daughters’ disappointment that the bears in downtown Hendersonville weren’t as”lively” as they imagined they would be. In raving about this delightful mountain community, my sister and I had both mentioned bears being up and down Main Street. Little did we know that our daughters thought they were real, so real in fact that they wondered how we’d possibly be able to dine outside.

I should have told the younger set about Bearfootin’, a project created to raise money for local charities by displaying colorful artwork along the downtown sidewalks. The hand painted fiberglass bears are created and painted by local artists, and every spring there are new bears. I love them! Evidently, so do a lot of other folks because everywhere I turned, people were posing for pictures with their favorite bear.

Recalling their surprise and relief about the bears still brings a smile to my face. So does thinking about our delicious lunch at the Mountain Deli, a place where tourists and locals alike gather for good food and friendly service. Housed in what appears to be an old drug store, the atmosphere is charming, especially with that great view right overlooking Main Street.

Appetites satisfied, we sauntered down to Mast General Store, a favorite shopping site in mountain towns. After browsing at Mast, we strolled in and out of various shops including Kilwin’s Chocolates. Yum. What a sweet array of tempting candy! We stopped to take several pictures of bears, all attired in different types of clothing, and then jumped in the car to continue our trip to Tennessee.

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We came into Gatlinburg on the scenic route, complete with a tunnel and some fabulous overlooks. At first we were frustrated by the long and seemingly interminable winding road, but within a few minutes we all succumbed to its beauty. As my daughter Elizabeth said, “If we’d come another way, we wouldn’t have seen these beautiful sights.” And she was right. With several  gorgeous vistas,  this road afforded the first glimpses of breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery. The above picture was taken by a friendly stranger at one of the overlooks.

 

We finally arrived at our destination, Oak Leaf at Gatlinburg Chateaus, and checked in. The check in process went smoothly, and the staff was helpful and accommodating. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our condo looked just like the photographs. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room, the set-up was perfect for the four of us. There was even a balcony for early morning reading, journal writing, and conversing. I found this fabulous deal on flipkey.com in case anyone is considering a mountain getaway.

We freshened up, and within 20 minutes we were heading towards downtown Gatlinburg (two blocks away). What a feast for our eyes. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, appearance,  and dress were thronging the streets, and I could readily understand why. There were attractions and restaurants galore, and we gleefully made plans for the next two days. That evening, however, we sailed right through and headed to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Since some of our bucket list items were in these areas, we wanted to check out the lay of the land.

We soon spotted the Tanger Outlets and the Titanic Museum, and satisfied that we could find our way back the next day, the tired but happy foursome dined at the Texas Roadhouse in Sevierville. Eating at a locally owned and operated restaurant would have been nice, but at this point, we decided to settle for something familiar to all of us. The service and food were great, but the show going on outside of the window was even more enjoyable. We got the giggles watching a woman pick her nose, a little boy killing flies, and a man who kept putting his hands down the back of his britches. Word to the wise: People inside restaurants can see you!

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Stay tuned for more details!

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

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Leaving Beaufort after a few hours of browsing and sightseeing, Martha suggested that we look for the signs to Old Sheldon Church.

“What’s that? Something historic?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s an historic site, ruins of an old church actually. People have ceremonies there,” she answered.

“Ceremonies?”

“You know, like weddings,” she said.

“Oh, I see.” But I really didn’t. Nothing Martha had said prepared me for the sights and sounds of this sacred place. When we came upon the site, I was so immediately spellbound that I pulled up just beyond the gate and turned off the ignition. I didn’t even see the nice parking lot across the tree-lined low country road.

Once inside the gate, Martha and I went our separate ways, each of us snapping pictures of the beauty around us. Aren’t iPhones amazing? The church remains are what loom majestically in the large space, so naturally we walked through, behind, and around them. Then there were the graves, big and small, old and somewhat recent. Who were these people? Why was this land important to them? What was their history?

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It had been raining on and off most of the day, and no matter where I stood on the grounds, I heard frequent splats of raindrops falling from the huge oak trees. Cleansing and refreshing. The air was cool, adding to the magical ambience of the place.

As I walked within the remains of the old church, I wondered about the congregations who had met there witnessing weddings, funerals, baptisms, and other rites of passage. They had listened to words of encouragement and guidance from the pulpit, sang hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and perhaps felt a calm respite from the world during their moments inside the sanctuary. How do I know that? I felt it.

The sense of peace and refuge was almost palpable. But there was a disturbing presence beneath those huge trees too, one of fear and desecration. We walked about almost reverently, each of us with our individual thoughts and feelings, only speaking occasionally in low tones. As we left the grounds, I read a sign and realized the source of my unease. Twice built and twice burned, Old Sheldon Church and its people had suffered much loss.

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As we headed back to Edisto, I found myself marveling at the richness of South Carolina’s low country. It’s lovely. And so full of history. After the touristy aspects of Beaufort (not a complaint, just an impression), a visit to quiet Old Sheldon was the perfect topper for the day. We both felt better for our presence there, and I hope Old Sheldon felt better for ours.

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Macy’s, Journey, and Westway

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Two months ago, I had the pleasure of taking a whirlwind trip to the Big Apple with four of my favorite people. From this experience, I was reminded that it’s not possible to do even a tenth of what you want to do in an overnight trip. I also learned that talk is cheap. Some people yak and yak and then yak some more about how they want to travel and that they’d LOVE to go to New York at Christmas to see the huge tree in Rockefeller Center, and the next year finds them saying the same thing. And the next year too. You just have to DO IT and stop talking about doing it. Here’s hoping that if I write some of my memories, you’ll be encouraged to “go for it” next year.

On the plane ride home from NYC that Sunday night, I re-read parts of a book entitled The Writer’s Book of Days by Judith Reeves. Towards the end of the book, she urges her readers to use “I remember” as writing prompt. While this is a simple idea, and certainly not a new one, it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. It’s easier to say, “Hey, I remember the summer morning when my oldest child was born” than to actually write about the event itself.

That night after reading Ms. Reeves’ suggestion, I challenged my sister travelers to go home and jot down some of the things they remembered. Although they looked at me as though I’d had too much eggnog or something, I hope that they followed through. I did.

I remember:

  • Watching the cab dispatcher at LaGuardia and admiring his ability to keep everything moving. I also remember seeing a yellow Highlander and wondering if we’d get to ride in it. We didn’t.
  • The wild taxi ride into the city. We were so close to other vehicles that, to Katherine’s delight, we could see their lunch and the books they were reading. When one person gets excited and happy about something, it’s contagious, and before we arrived at our hotel, we were all laughing.
  • Dancing to Christmas music in the lobby with Charles, a bellman at the Hilton Garden Inn, and knowing that this was going to be a wonderful trip. He later danced with Katherine and tried his best to get her to sing.
  • Eating lunch at the Westway Diner, something that’s become a tradition ever since the day Otis and I spied Brooke Shields in a booth there one May day. On the Saturday in December, we had sandwiches and fries, and Elizabeth and I pronounced the fries to be the best we’ve ever tasted.
  • Not being able to locate the Gray Line tour bus and settling for “the other one.” It was okay, but the plastic cover on the top of the bus was old and opaque. We couldn’t see the sights clearly; nor could we hear our tour guide unless we used ear buds. Using ear buds, however, cut out the city noises. It was a trade-off: savoring the sounds of the city or listening to the tour guide’s spiel. I did a little of both.
  • The hundreds and hundreds of Santas and elves doing a pub crawl. I’m still not certain about how and why this event was taking place, but wherever we went, we saw Santas and elves merrily walking up and down the streets and in an out of pubs and restaurants. We were told that they were taking part in an official pub crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. I just know it was huge fun to watch them.
  • Katherine and Jeanita wheeling and dealing over scarves and pocketbooks in China Town. Elizabeth later got into the act and bought scarves for the Core 4, a group of work friends.
  • Dinner at La Mela in Little Italy, a high energy establishment with an “interesting” ceiling decoration. We all dined on something different, but I can remember only my choice, clam linguine with clams still in the shells.
  • Joining thousands of other people in Time’s Square after getting back to the city that night. We visited the Hershey store, gawked at the billboards, and bought scarves from what looked like a festive downtown city market, complete with Christmas lights outlining the red roofs.
  • Enjoying a scrumptious breakfast with Elizabeth in the hotel dining room the next morning as we watched the gray and overcast city come alive.
  • Walking briskly to Radio City Music Hall in the misting rain. Drinking in the sights along the way, especially the gigantic red balls and lights.
  • Standing in line at Radio City and enjoying the sights, including a man wearing a red corduroy hat and lots of little girls wearing their winter coats.
  • The moment when Ann realized that our Rockettes tickets were for the 23rd instead of the 16th. No problem. The staff arranged for other seats, even better than the ones we had purchased.
  • The Rockettes and Santa! Marvelous show! Later I told Elizabeth that witnessing such remarkable talent was almost a spiritual experience and that I thought I was going to cry. Trying to hide a smile, she said, “Mom, you did cry.”
  • Touring Rockefeller Plaza and having our picture made in front of the Christmas tree. I also offered to take pictures of other people, something I often do when walking on the beach. We oohed and ahed over the ice skaters and then hustled towards the M & M store. Loved it! Three stories high and fun.
  • Subway ride to and from Macy’s. A nice experience that made me feel that we were in a movie. The next time I go to New York, I’m going to learn how to navigate this system because it’s so much less expensive than paying for a taxi or riding a tour bus. However, I highly recommend the latter for people who are visiting for the first time. If it weren’t for the things I’ve learned on busses, I’d think Battery Park was in Times Square!
  • Buying a chicken shish kabob and roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Yummy! We had seen the roasted chestnut signs from the taxi on our way into the city, and I remarked that I wanted to sample this treat that I’d sung about for decades—“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”
  • Doing the Macy’s thing. Jeanita and I have this landmark on our Must-Do List every year, but this is the first time we had ever visited the shoe floor. We asked about Uggs and were directed to the second (if I recall correctly) floor. It was amazing! Shoes, shoes everywhere and not an Ugg in sight. No problem. We were sent to a store called Journey on the corner of 34th and Broadway where we were assisted by a peppy young man. Unfortunately, we spent so much time deliberating over shoes that we didn’t have time to visit the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite museum. Alas.
  • Eating at Z Deli across from the hotel after realizing it was too late to go to the MoMA. Great (tasty and substantive) pizza and interesting ambience. There were a couple of picnic tables in the front of the market/deli, and that’s where we ate as we watched the drizzling rain and enjoyed being together.
  • Riding back to airport through Queens and thinking of how dismal the sky was, yet how the little trees and lighted decorations glimpsed inside of apartment windows gave pause for thought.
  • Enjoying airport snacks while waiting at the gate. The Dunkin Donuts flatbread sandwiches taste better there than anywhere else.

In about an hour and 20 minutes, we landed in Myrtle Beach with memories of street vendors and China Town and Rocketttes and little girls in their winter coats. From start to finish, our adventure lasted less than 36 hours, but the time together and the experiences we shared will last a lifetime.

Okay, Ladies, what do you remember? And what about someone else who went to New York during the holiday season? Do you have a special memory to share?

Day in Hendersonville.

Has it already been a week since my sister and I spent the day in Hendersonville?

Overdue for a “sister day,” Ann and I headed north to Hendersonville Friday morning. The day was filled with sights and experiences that we’d have surely missed had we stayed home. Even before we arrived at our destination, we had one such memorable experience as we watched and listened to a woman give her little white poodle a sponge bath in a rest area bathroom. Apparently the woman’s husband had allowed the pretty pooch to get in the mud, and he (or she?) looked at us as if to ask, “See what I have to put up with?”

Back in the car, we started looking for the exit with a TJ Maxx that our sister-in-law Lisa had told us about. Although we got a little turned around and off track, we saw some areas of Spartanburg that we’d never seen before. We also met some nice folks ambling along sipping their Starbucks who gave us directions. Ah, the kindness of strangers. We found TJ a couple of miles down the road, and while Ann was the one who was looking for something specific, I’m the one who found some deals, particularly some  caramel colored shoes with pointy toes

Onward and upward, we soon came to that stretch of the road that I love, the one that lets you know you’re about to enter mountain territory. I always get a little thrill from that. We popped some Orbit gum in our mouths to ease that weird feeling in our ears as the air pressure changed, and then we commenced to oohing and ahing over the trees and hills and rocks and rills.

Upon arrival in Hendersonville, we parked in the Maple Parking Lot and headed to the Mountain Deli for lunch. One of the many things I enjoy about this deli is that they’ll make your sandwich just like you like it. If you don’t want mayo, just say so. If you don’t like tomatoes, that’s fine too. Our sandwiches, turkey and BLT, were delicious, and sitting outside while eating added to the dining pleasure.

The ambience of Main Street was marvelous, and the culture and feel of the area enhanced our already upbeat moods. A couple of women and small children sat next to us, and I enjoyed listening and watching the little boys play with each other, probably because they reminded Ann and me of  our sweet boys, now adult men. A policeman walked up, squatted down,  and began talking to the little fellows, and I could tell that they were a bit awed.

Hunger satisfied, we strolled up the street in the  September sunshine and soon arrived at the Mast General Store where we browsed for an hour or so. Upstairs we registered for a door prize and sipped some delicious hot apple cider. We also sampled some Burt’s Bees hand lotion, and I bought some BB’s hibiscus lip balm. Outside of the store, we watched someone taking pictures of dogs, five of them all lined up eying the photographer.  The way the dogs’ heads all turned in synchrony to  owner’s commands was pretty amusing.

Leaving Mast, we sauntered up one side of Main Street and down the other, loving the freedom of being outside and of having a day away from the regular routine. Everyone needs an occasional day out of Dodge.  Main Street has bears, artsy ones, and we had fun reading about their origins. My favorite was Juliette Bear Lowe who looked like a male bear and yet was the founder of Girl Scouts. We went in and out of too many eclectic shops to recount, ll unique and inviting. Before leaving the downtown area, we shopped in Kilwigs where Ann got some ice cream and I purchased two huge chocolate and caramel covered apples. How could I not? I was in Apple Country after all.

Back in the car, we eased out of town towards  Sky Top Mountain Orchard. Every time I visit this orchard , it’s an even better experience than the time before. There are now more kiddie diversions like pumpkin and apple playhouses, and children were climbing and scampering all over the place, their parents happily watching nearby. I was a little concerned that Ann and I might be among a handful of people there, but wowza, the mountaintop was covered with folks just like us, people eager to get out on a fine fall day and gather some apples.

While we spied many people gathering apples and loading them into wagons, Ann and I took the easy way out and bought some already picked. One of the neat things about this orchard is that there are always apple slices to sample for those who are confused about which ones to buy. This day, however, they were swarming with wasps, so we based our choices, Cameo and Gals, based on written descriptions. I also bought an apple pie and an Asian pear, and we both purchased some sugar-free apple butter.

Before leaving the area, we stopped at a The Wrinkled Egg, a unique  little shop with a wide variety of items. After the woman manning the store informed us that she’d be closing shop in five minutes, we quickly settled on some inexpensive bracelets as mementoes of the day. If you want to shop at the Wrinkled Egg, be sure to go early enough to avoid being shooed away promptly at 5. There’s also bakery with all manner of sweet delights on the premises; it stays open until 7, and the cookies and muffins are delicious!

We savored our bakery delights as we talked and talked and talked all the way home. Most of our chatter involved family events, memories, and issues. While it was just the two of us, our conversations throughout the day reminded us of the web of connections of which we’re a part. Ann and I are back in our separate worlds today, but for a few hours on Friday, past, present and future collided in a lovely mountain setting, and I’m looking at our getaway as a precursor to a fabulous fall.