A cherry blossom adventure in Conyers

March, for the most part, was cold and miserable, with occasional freak snow flurries in the mornings. Trees only haltingly started blooming toward the end of the month.

I had known for some time that Macon had a Cherry Blossom Festival, and I’d made tentative plans to go…but the forecast for my intended weekend, March 23 and 24, was horrendous, chilly and rainy. Given the weather of the previous few weeks, I estimated that the cherry trees wouldn’t even have been in bloom anyway.

The next weekend, though, felt just right for cherry blossoms. While I didn’t quite have time for a road trip to Macon, I figured I could find some trees closer to home. A bit of googling turned up the fact that there had been a cherry blossom festival in nearby Conyers, Georgia, the same weekend as Macon’s. According to the website, that city has plenty of cherry trees to enjoy. I was busy with chores on Saturday, so on Sunday, March 31, which happened to be Easter, I headed east on I-20 to the town I always pass going to and from Augusta.

I’d read that both downtown Conyers and the nearby Georgia International Horse Park had lots of cherry trees. I decided to hit downtown first, as I love exploring small towns. Conyers did not disappoint! Not only did I find the cherry blossoms I was after, but I saw a cute and vibrant downtown and plenty of other flowering trees and plants.

Cherry blossoms in downtown Conyers, Georgia

Evans Pharmacy, Conyers, Georgia

Fallen blossoms, Conyers, Georgia

Downtown Conyers even has its own miniature botanical garden.

Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, Conyers, Georgia

Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, Conyers, Georgia

By the time I’d explored Main Street and the Lewis Vaughn Botanical Garden, I was pretty tired and thirsty, so I stopped at Creamberry’s Ice Cream–the only open store I saw downtown–and got a sundae and a bottled water.

Creamberry's Ice Cream, Conyers, Georgia

Sundae and water at Creamberry's Ice Cream, Conyers, Georgia

After that it was back to exploring. I found a few interesting buildings as I approached the train tracks, and when I actually got to the tracks, I discovered the cherry blossom mother lode.

The Pointe Tavern, Conyers, Georgia

Cherry blossoms along train tracks in Conyers, Georgia

The overcast sky started to clear up just then, so I was able to get some reasonably good shots.

Cherry blossom, Conyers, Georgia

Colorful buildings, downtown Conyers, Georgia

Cherry blossoms, Conyers, Georgia

When I reached the end of the long line of cherry trees, I turned back in toward downtown Conyers, passing the Welcome Center and cutting through to the public parking lot where I’d left my car.

This probably would have been enough, but I still felt like exploring, so I charted the way to the Georgia International Horse Park with my phone. After all, if the cherry blossom festival was held there, there had to be more cherry blossoms, right?

At first I was disappointed, though. Road construction detoured me away from the main entrance, and I ended up driving onto the horse park through a side gate. There were barely any trees at all around the stables and tracks, let alone cherry trees. I drove around the perimeter and didn’t see anything worth stopping for beyond a creek I’d noticed upon arrival. Disheartened, I took the first exit I came across back to the road…and across the street I spotted a nature preserve. I hopped across the road into the parking lot, parked my car, and marched down the hiking trail without a second thought.

Big Haynes Creek Nature Center is nestled along the creek I’d seen from the horse park. The trail led me back through the woods to an absolutely gorgeous wetland area.

Big Haynes Creek Nature Center

The trail winds along a large body of water, upon which I saw Canada geese, a heron, and a surging splash in the distance that may have been a beaver or muskrat (or an alligator). I spent considerable time sitting at the boardwalk area, basking in the beauty I’d found.Boardwalk at Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, GeorgiaHeron, Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, GeorgiaBig Haynes Creek Nature Center, Conyers, GeorgiaBeyond the boardwalk, the trail curves into the forest alongside the creek, past a water purification plant and eventually back to the parking area. Along the way, educational signs and activities share information about local plants and wildlife and the water purification process. I even saw more flowers. It’s a really nice little nature center.

Flowering vine along Big Haynes Creek, Conyers, Georgia

At this point, I was fully satisfied with my Conyers adventure. I got back on the road expecting that to be it. But I ended up leaving the Georgia International Horse Park property a different way than I’d come in, and that meant I finally found the main entrance–and its stands and stands of cherry trees.

Cherry trees at Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers

The cherry blossom-lined road out of the horse park was the perfect endcap to an amazing adventure in Conyers.

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Adventure at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Today I spent five hours exploring Sweetwater Creek State Park, a conservation area to the west of Atlanta. I walked, I hiked, and at times I even climbed, wandering around four marked trails and covering nearly nine miles. I saw beautiful forest, plenty of squirrels and bugs, a couple of deer, two tiny frogs, a long expanse of creek churning through white and gray stone, and the beautiful brick ruins of a mill.

Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company millI got out of bed this morning determined to do something with my day off other than clean, cook, sit at my computer, and watch TV. I’ve gotten into a decent rhythm of late with chores and meals, and this has helped us to save money by not going out to eat, but I’ve been going stir crazy in the apartment. I needed to get out and do something fun and productive and healthy. So I decided to find a park to explore.

Atlanta has no shortage of parks, as I discovered when I started googling. This list is huge, and it isn’t even conclusive. I scanned down the page for anything with a good deal of acreage, then started checking for websites or community information. A number of interesting sites cropped up, including Grant Park, Freedom Park, and Chastain Park. (I’ve been to Piedmont Park before and wanted to find something new.) At some point my searching led me to the PATH website. The PATH Foundation builds walking and cycling trails across Atlanta. I was intrigued by several of the projects, including the Silver Comet Trail. I realized I had already seen part of the South Peachtree Creek Trail when Charles and Heidi took me to Mason Mill Park years back.

Ultimately, though, I decided I wanted to rough it a little more, and Sweetwater Creek, a conservation area, started to stand out. I noticed that it’s relatively close to where we live, and from the description it sounded like it would be really fun to explore:

Sweetwater Creek State Park is a peaceful tract of wilderness only minutes from downtown Atlanta. A wooded trail follows the stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. Beyond the mill, the trail climbs rocky bluffs to provide views of the beautiful rapids below. Additional trails wind through fields and forest, showcasing ferns, magnolias, wild azaleas and hardwoods.

My destination decided, I set about preparing. Obviously my Nikon was going. I shifted my wallet and little Canon into the bag. I’d also need provisions. I packed a bag of almonds, an Atkins bar, and some snack crackers, then made some tuna fish salad to carry in a cooler with an extra bottle of water. I also fried some bacon, and despite the fact that I left it too long and it got crunchy, I bagged it up as well.

Then I realized that I should probably charge my Nikon’s battery.

As I sat watching the blinking light on the charger, waiting for it to stop its strobing, I realized I would go nuts if I sat around waiting any longer. It was past noon, which meant the Marietta Square Farmers Market was open; I went to an ATM to pull a $20 and then headed up there to buy peaches, tomatoes, and potatoes. (I also bought a small lemon-chess pie for $3 from a vendor whose sweet potato pie is apparently beloved by President Bill Clinton.)

This little excursion gave the battery plenty of time to charge. However, by the time I got home, I was hungry, and Sean needed lunch too. So I boiled some hot dogs and made macaroni and cheese and sat down and ate. Time ticked by as I waited for the food to settle.

And then, finally, I was ready.

Everything was all packed, so I snagged the cold items from the fridge and put them in a cooler with some ice, grabbed the camera bag and my Camelbak water bottle with purse strap addition, and I was on my way.

The drive wasn’t bad and the website’s directions were pretty clear, so I found the park without incident. Upon arriving I discovered there was a $5 parking fee; I hadn’t thought of this, so it was fortunate that I had change from the farmers market. “Enjoy the park!” the man at the booth said cheerfully, and I drove back on the winding road through the trees to the parking lot at the very end, near the Visitors Center.

I’d read up on the trails online before heading out, and I intended to simply take the red trail; it was short and sweet and led to the main attraction, the mill. However, there were people everywhere. A group of kids, one a teen, one possibly a tween, and one who looked maybe 7 were goofing around and talking loudly. Huge families and throngs of friends loped by with baby carriers and walking sticks. I felt that to avoid them–to keep them out of my personal space and my photos–I would have to keep hurrying up and then stopping and waiting, and that didn’t seem enjoyable. So when an unmarked side trail branched away from the red trail, running down along the creek, I took it, and was instantly comforted by solitude.

Side trail along Sweetwater CreekEventually the side trail I was on led me to a bridge that spanned the creek; I saw that the yellow trail also led here. I remembered vaguely from my reading that this trail was longer than the red trail. More importantly to me, it was deserted. Everyone seemed to be fixated on the red trail. Without a second thought I crossed the bridge.

Yellow trail bridge across Sweetwater CreekI got turned around at first, heading down what I thought was a trail but what was actually apparently a service road. RunKeeper’s GPS helped me see that I was going nowhere; I turned back and found the yellow markers leading off away from the bridge, along the creek the way I’d come on the other side. I followed them, and eventually a left fork in the trail guided me away from the creek and into the forest.

I hiked uphill. It was a long climb, but I felt good. It was only when I’d reached what seemed to be the highest point of the trail (though it was hard to tell with all the trees) that I saw any other people. Two men walked by together, and then a third came up behind them moments later. I greeted them all cheerfully.

Yellow trail, Sweetwater Creek State ParkAs I wound my way back down and around, I remembered that the yellow trail was a loop, and the fork in the trail must have defined its start. Sure enough, I found myself walking back along the banks of the creek, and eventually I passed the point where I had set off into the woods. I retraced my steps to the bridge, crossed back over, and this time followed the yellow trail back to the parking area.

I could have called it quits then and headed to the car. It had been a good hike, with lots of uphill climbs. But I had plenty of water left, and I wanted to see the mill. So I turned back to the red trail, which by this time was thankfully less populated. One of the first things I saw was a beautiful butterfly atop a mound of dog doo. Of course I got a picture.

A gorgeous butterfly atop a turd.I found the beginning of the red trail to be far less strenuous than the yellow trail had been. It was mostly flat and very wide. Occasionally there would be an area off to the left where I could climb down to the rocky shore. The red trail also offered some lovely views of Sweetwater Creek.

View from the boardwalk alongside the ruined millIt wasn’t long before I reached the ruined mill. I was overjoyed to discover plenty of great angles for photography, from the trail and from down along the creek. The mill is inaccessible thanks to chain link fencing, but the views are still spectacular. The crumbled brick and empty windows reminded me of the old Sheldon Church ruins near Beaufort, the ruined abbey in Whitby, and Roche Abbey. And the wooden steps down to the mill reminded me of the forest jaunts my classmates and I took during our 2001 trip to Japan. Meanwhile, the water lapping and sometimes surging through the smooth rocks of the creek took me back to my childhood exploring of creeks and rivers in Kentucky. I was enchanted.

Mill stairs creek and rocks
Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company mill Ruin of new Manchester Manufacturing Company mill

Once I’d had my fill of the mill, I decided to keep going on the red trail; a sign indicated that “Sweetwater Falls Overlook” lay ahead just half a mile. I didn’t remember from my morning reading that this part of the red trail was difficult, and so I was surprised when soon I was having to climb over rocks and fallen trees and watch my footing across narrow passages. It took much longer to navigate this part of the trail.

Small, rusty slide, red trailEventually I came across a large family I’d seen earlier; they were out on the rocks looking at and playing in the water. “She caught up with us!” yelled the father, as though this was a horrible thing to have happen. “Everybody back on the trail!”

“What, are we racing?” I mumbled to myself, annoyed, and continued on. I found a set of metal stairs, easily traversed, and shortly thereafter a long passage of railroad ties that might have been meant as stairs but which were far too steep to walk up. I used my hands and climbed, eventually finding myself on a boardwalk. I could still hear the loud family below me, but they seemed to be growing distant. I wondered if they would attempt the climb; it seemed a bit much for the littler ones.

Looking down from the boardwalk, I saw the creek cascading a few feet down some rocks, and I took a picture.

Sweetwater Falls?It never crossed my mind that this could be “Sweetwater Falls”. When I hear “falls”, I expect a waterfall–something tall. So I kept walking, wondering when exactly I would find the falls.

I knew that the red trail had ended and that I was now on the white trail; when I’d climbed up the hillside, I’d been met by a sign indicating that the blue trail was to the right and the white trail was to the left. I’d gone left, thinking the right would just go back to the parking lot (which, as I discovered much later, was correct). I didn’t remember that the falls were supposed to be at the end of the red trail. So I kept walking and walking and walking. And of course, I never found any “falls”, though I did enjoy the views of the creek to my left and the rocky cliff face to my right.rocky cliff faceflowersEventually the trail headed away from the creek and into the woods, and I knew I’d missed the falls somehow. “If I hadn’t seen the mill, I’d be pretty disappointed right now!” I said aloud. I decided to see where the trail went rather than turning around. I didn’t remember anything about the white trail; I was assuming it was one-way and that I would eventually have to go back, and I decided that when I did, I would take the blue trail to avoid having to climb down the side of the hill.

But the white trail kept going, eventually coming to a bridge and some very helpful signage. The bridge, apparently, led to a residential area; I was at the very edge of the park. The white trail continued in a loop that would eventually end back up near where I parked. It was quite a distance, but so was the way I’d come…not to mention that the way I’d come was rough, while the white trail seemed smoother. I continued forward.

White trailAfter a time, the white trail stopped being as obvious. Occasionally the forest cover would break and I’d emerge into a meadow; sometimes white strips were affixed to various plants along the way, and sometimes there was no sign of which way to go. I find it easy to follow established forest trails, whether marked or not, but I wanted to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Sometimes different trails would intersect with the one I was walking, and I was never quite sure if I should take them. I consulted RunKeeper’s continually-updating map to help me decide; somehow the GPS kept working even when I was out of my service area.

Moon visible from clearingFor the most part I made the correct decisions, but at one point I was flustered by the fact that the sun was going down and I needed to get north as soon as possible, so I followed an unmarked trail that seemed to be going in the right direction. At first everything seemed fine; it was a wide, clear path. My first indication that something was amiss was when I came upon a house. I was still within the boundary of the park, so I assume it was the home of a caretaker; there were two trucks in the yard, and one of them was marked “Georgia Department of Natural Resources”. I probably should have just turned around then, headed back to where the trail split and taken a different branch…but instead I kept going.

The path turned into what was obviously a service road, and that turned into a wild mess of rutted dirt and fallen trees. As I tramped through, a deer looked up, startled, and before I could raise my camera, it bounded away. Another one disappeared into a stand of trees just beyond it. I was a little unsettled, but continued walking; GPS informed me that I was at least heading in the right direction, so I hoped I would come upon one of the marked trails shortly.

deer footprintAfter awhile, the service road seemed to die out, and I was again walking a forest trail. This trail, though, was unmarked, and often unclear; it may not have been a human trail at all. I was having no trouble following it, though, and it was still going in the right direction, and the day was growing ever darker. I couldn’t see turning around at this point, not if I wanted to get to my car before the sun was completely gone.

For the last stretch of woods, there was hardly a trail at all. At one point, a thorny branch seemed to wrap around me, hooking itself to my clothes, and I had to wrestle myself free. The leaves crunching under my feet made me paranoid about snakes; I watched every step like a hawk.

And then, finally, blissfully, I spotted a clear trail running directly perpendicular to my current vector. I plunged out of the wilds and back into human space.

It was the blue trail. I turned left, and it guided me back towards the park entrance.

The trail was simple and mostly flat. I walked briskly, not daring to run in the dying light but knowing I needed to get out of the woods fast. At one point I stopped for a photo; the flash went off and two deer I hadn’t even noticed bounded away, perhaps the same pair I’d seen earlier.

As the trail wound around, I groused at it inwardly for not leading straight back to the parking lot. But finally the trees opened onto the back of a building I recognized as the Visitors Center, and the trail guided me up past it to a gently curving sidewalk. At the very end of that sidewalk was the parking lot, and directly across from it sat my car…the only vehicle left in the lot.

my lone carI had made it!

I slid into my Yaris and turned up the A/C. Taking deep drags from the spare water I’d left in the cooler, I drove my winding way out of the park and back to I-20.

In all, the hike lasted five hours. Here’s the RunKeeper map. Towards the end I could tell my legs were tired, but at the same time I felt like if I’d only had more water and sunlight, I could have kept going forever. When I got home and started cleaning up, I discovered thick rings of dirt around both ankles, evidence of my day of hard fun. I also discovered I’d taken a whopping 408 photos, which I later culled down to 377. Click here see them all.

This amazing adventure was just what I needed. It left me so energized and happy. I’ll definitely have to remember to go hiking the next time despondency tries to set in!

me

Thoughts of Birmingham

A few weeks ago, Sean and I went to Birmingham, Alabama for his work. I took two days to explore some of the city’s attractions and had a really good time, despite the cold, rainy weather.

Last night, I had a dream that I was in Birmingham looking into some fictional university. The place was huge and architecturally impressive, and I also found it to be forward-thinking. For some reason Willow, the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was there with me. It started snowing. (These two parts of the dream may be related to my watching several episodes from Buffy season three before bed.)

Then a tornado siren started going off. Thinking back to my time living in Huntsville, I wondered whether Birmingham was also within Tornado Alley, and whether frequent storms were something I’d have to get used to. Willow and I checked out the sky looking for funnel clouds, but my good sense prevailed and we holed up in the basement of a building on campus.

In the dream, I remember being really excited to move to Birmingham. Indeed, I enjoyed visiting, and there were many places I could see myself returning to again and again, like the Botanical Gardens or the Museum of Art. And really, I am the type of person who craves change and enjoys the challenge of getting to know a new place. For a laugh, I checked Google Maps to see how far Birmingham is from my family in Kentucky compared to where we live now, and it’s not that different. Plus, the route would be new and interesting: instead of old, familiar I-75, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, I’d take I-65 through Nashville. The thought of all these new adventures is actually pretty exciting.

But realistically, I can’t say I want to move right now. For one thing, there’s no reason to, beyond my illogical wanderlust. I can’t say that I saw enough of Birmingham in the two days I spent exploring it to know that I would be happy there. I don’t know what the job market is like. Birmingham is slightly farther from my family and double the distance from Sean’s. And the base for Sean’s work is here. He may get dispatched to Birmingham and other locations occasionally, but being here is the most economical.

Still, it’s fun to have these flights of fancy from time to time. At the very least, I know that if I want to, I can visit Birmingham as easily as I can visit Augusta. And I still have plenty more to learn about Atlanta. I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

There are plenty of adventures to be had without moving somewhere new.

(That sounded convincing, right?)

NY Trip Day 4: Poughkeepsie and an Epiphany

This post covers the fourth day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. The events occurred July 17, but it took me two days, July 18 and 19, to write about them.

This was a highly satisfying day. I was out later than usual and didn’t end up writing a thing when I got back, so I started this update the next morning.

I had a plan for this day: Samuel Morse historic site, Culinary Institute of America, FDR site, Vanderbilt mansion. The first wrench in the works came when I realized the Culinary Institute was closed for the summer. There would be no tours or meals at the campus restaurants. So I had to cross that one off my list.

I got started early enough to catch the 10am opening of the Samuel Morse historic site, located on the south side of Poughkeepsie. When I arrived, I discovered there was a car show going on all over the grounds! I wasn’t sure where to park, so I pulled right into the main entrance. “If you’re showing the car, pull up and around to the left,” a guy directing traffic said.

“Actually I just wanted to see the museum…where can I park?”

“You’ll need to go back out down the street to Merrill Lynch and walk back through the woods.”

This wasn’t difficult, and soon I was at an entrance table where I paid $6 for the car show (why not? I could simply pay an additional $4 for the house tour, which was normally $10 anyway) and then meandered on into the grounds. I took some time strolling around all the cars, snapping plenty of photos. Finally I headed to the visitor’s center and bought a ticket for the tour of Samuel Morse’s house, Locust Grove. (As is typical of these older homes, photography was not allowed inside.)

Locust GroveIt turned out the house had had several owners, and it currently exists as its last owners, the Youngs, had it set up. Samuel Morse did own the home and make some amazing additions to it, but the home is also notable just for showing how people lived. The most impressive room to me was the billiard room with its rounded, vaulted ceiling. The room was huge, with walls curving around a pool table in the middle, and the extraordinarily high ceiling is capped off by what used to be a skylight–it leaked, so it was closed off. Closets with curved doors to the left and right of the entry served to store ball gowns, so there was no smoking in the billiard room. There was a music player that played wax rolls.

I also loved the add-on back room, with its huge windows and French doors. It was like a giant sunroom, with access to the veranda and backyard. The room originally boasted a beautiful view of the Hudson, but trees have since grown up to block that view.

Every room in the house was filled with collectible items. Some were antiques or valuable and others were knockoffs. The Youngs apparently didn’t throw anything away. But I found the eclectic collection quite charming. One lady of the house collected teapots, and it was neat to see them all around.

The dining room had, I believe, been added on by the owners previous to Morse. The butler’s pantry off that room features a mirror that allowed the lady of the house to signal the butler without it being obvious to the rest of the table. There was also a nice dumbwaiter leading down to the kitchen and a safe hidden behind a painting.

This home was a neat contrast to Boscobel. Boscobel is Colonial era; this house, Locust Grove, had been lived in and updated until 1975, and after that was restored to turn-of-the-century. So you see things like electricity and real bathrooms with tubs, sinks, and toilets. The hearth area where cooking would have been done over the coals in colonial times now boasts a gorgeous black gas stove.

After I was done in the house, I went back to the welcome center and looked at the Samuel Morse exhibit, which shows off many of his portraits (I’d had no idea he was a painter), other paintings, and a sculpture. It also, of course, detailed the creation of Morse Code. Reading it all was really exciting. To think that before the telegraph, instant communication simply wasn’t possible…this breakthrough summoned forth our current age.

I also liked seeing the books and toys that taught children Morse Code, making it fun to learn the tools they’d need for work in the future. It reminded me of mail-order science kits or those build-it-yourself radios you could get at Radio Shack when I was a kid.

Finally I headed back outside and looked at more cars on my way back to the Camaro. The gentleman who’d waved me out when I arrived recognized me and was stunned to discover that the car was a rental.

I hadn’t had breakfast, and by now it was time for lunch, so I searched Yelp! on my phone for a nearby restaurant and ended up at the Derby on Main Street in Poughkeepsie. It’s right up the street from the water and pretty easy to find. When I walked in, the place was dead…probably due to the fact that the air conditioning wasn’t working in the bar or in the first dining room. The second dining room had window units, though, so I was good to go. I sat down and snapped some pictures and looked at the menu.

The Derbyme at the DerbyIt seems to me like pulled pork is becoming a thing up here. Or maybe it has been for awhile. Coming from the South, I kind of wanted to try something different, something more local. Many of the menu items sounded like stuff I could get at downtown Augusta restaurants. Finally, with the help of the waiter, I settled on their Derby Summer salad, which includes strawberries, nuts, and Brie. I asked to have salmon added.

I waited for a very long time, drinking two or three refills of water in the interim. Finally the waiter came back, looking embarrassed, and told me that they actually had no salmon. Somewhere the lines of communication had completely broken down. He gave me the salad without the salmon and said it was on the house.

Derby summer saladThe salad was amazing. It might have been the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Plus, I really didn’t care about having to wait, or having no salmon. I can be pretty easygoing when I’m by myself and don’t really have a deadline. I left a $10 on the table, which now that I think about it wasn’t enough to cover the food, tax, and tip, but since they were giving it to me for free hopefully they can work something out so that the waiter gets a fair share.

I thought about walking down to the river from there, but the parking was only for restaurant customers and I didn’t want to risk being towed. I decided against driving around looking for a riverfront parking area and continued on Highway 9 to the north.  I passed the Culinary Institute of America, to my left as I was leaving Poughkeepsie, but as I mentioned before, it was closed, so I just drove straight past. By the way, for those of you who don’t watch Law & Order, Poughkeepsie is pronounced “puh-KIP-see”. ;)

The next place on my list was the Franklin D. Roosevelt historic site in Hyde Park. But I somehow wound up in the wrong lane and had to make a right turn off of the road I was supposed to be on. I was going to just turn around and go back, but then I saw a sign pointing the way to Eleanor Roosevelt’s house. Purely on a whim, I followed the signs and ended up at Val-Kill.

Val-KillThe grounds are lovely. I drove in and parked, then purchased a tour ticket at the welcome center. The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is maintained by the National Park Service, so everyone, tour guides and ticket sales alike, was in uniform. The tour began with a video about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life.

Watching that video, and then listening to the tour guide as she showed my large group through the house, I had a revelation. You see, I had never really known much about Eleanor Roosevelt before. I had a vague understanding that she was a first lady who championed causes, but I never realized what those causes were or why she did it. She didn’t do what she did because she was expected to; she did what she felt was right. In fact, what she did often clashed with the majority opinion of what she should be doing…but she didn’t care.

She wanted to help, to take care of people, to ensure that everyone was treated equally. She cared about people. She wrote and wrote and wrote. And her home was a simple, comfortable one where she could entertain family and friends with dinners and potlucks and swimming.

She started out shy but madly curious, uninterested in “girly” stuff such as her “coming out” and eager to learn all she could about everything. She met and married a kindred spirit and together they achieved greatness, despite his infidelity.

At one time the Ku Klux Klan put a bounty on her head, and she drove winding country roads in the black of night to get past them so she could attend an important meeting.

The reality, the power, of believing in people and oneself and actually doing something about injustice thrummed through me to the bone. Here was a woman who didn’t, say, get a job in TV news and then censor her own opinions for five years, crippling her writing and miring herself in fear of what current or future employers might think. Here was a woman who simply did what she believed was right. All in. All the time. She wrote every day and she pulled no punches.

I was profoundly affected by learning the story of Eleanor Roosevelt. I think I will finally be able to get myself back on track now.

I took a short walk around the grounds and got some photos, then headed back to the car. As I was messing with the GPS, two older ladies tapped on the window and asked if I was going to the FDR library, and if so, could they get a ride? Yes, and yes! We fumbled around and figured out how to move the passenger seat so one of them, Ann, could get in the back, then the other, Elaine, sat up front. We chatted about how it was really too hot to walk all that way; they thanked me profusely and I said it was no problem. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen the FDR site yet, and I wondered if I had enough time to do it all. They recommended the library over the house, and I took that recommendation.

The FDR site is much larger than Eleanor’s. The sprawling estate includes the house, the library/museum, a large visitors center, and various gardens. The Roosevelts are buried there. After parking, you go through the visitors center, get your ticket, and then exit a different door onto the grounds.

statue of the RooseveltsIt was indeed a very hot day, I thought as I marched up the gravel path to the library. The site is currently being renovated and restored for the first time since it opened–construction started this year and there’s taped off areas and construction equipment and dirt and concrete all around. It gave the area a starker feeling than I think it would normally have; I can imagine the site being much more pastoral and beautiful.

At the library I learned about FDR’s life and presidency and about the reasoning behind social security. A lot of the opposition back then used the same arguments we’re hearing today. The exhibit included a place for people to write their own thoughts as to whether or not social security is the right choice moving forward. I was also interested in the sections concerning FDR’s role in the atomic bomb and Japanese-American internment camps.

However, I had been so wowed by my epiphany at the Eleanor Roosevelt site that I didn’t pay as close attention to the FDR site as I might have otherwise. I looked at everything–one nice touch was that photography was allowed–but I didn’t feel the same connection. There was a room dedicated to Eleanor in the museum, but it was small and I felt I had already gotten to know her at Val-Kill.

Finally I went outside and walked the grounds a bit. I checked out Springwood, FDR’s house, the main house used by the couple. (Val-Kill was originally a furniture factory and then a summer home before Eleanor moved there after FDR’s death.) I was too late for a tour but I got some exterior shots. I also saw Franklin and Eleanor’s grave.

SpringwoodGrave of FDR and ERI headed back to the car through a field filled with leaping insects, long waving grasses, and clover. All I could think was how happy I was to have gone to Eleanor’s site. How there was no one saying I couldn’t write anymore–I was the only one blocking myself. I felt a new hope and optimism that had been missing for a long time.

Why should I be afraid to write what I’m thinking, and how I came to think it? Is the alternative, writing nothing, really better? No. It’s worse. I’ve always known it was worse. But I was afraid. And I’m tired of fear.

My last stop was the Vanderbilt mansion. Again, I was too late for a tour. I’ve toured the Biltmore, and it felt like a very “look how rich they were!” tour, which is completely unappealing to me. But I’ve heard that this mansion tour focuses more on how people lived, and I’ve also heard that the Vanderbilts were extremely generous with all that wealth. So I do want to go on the Vanderbilt mansion tour someday.

Vanderbilt mansionWhen the grounds are open–they’re free to the public from dawn until dusk–you can just drive on in and park. I saw lots of people walking, running, and bicycling, and even one woman laying out getting a tan. The grounds are extensive, covered with trees, and well-maintained. This open, public, comfortable atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the theme park feel of the Biltmore. There, you pay an admission fee of $44 to $59 for access to the house and grounds (which includes a self-guided audio tour of the house), and there’s more driving around on all the winding roads than there is walking or bicycling. But of course, the Biltmore is not a public park; it’s owned by a Vanderbilt descendant.

I walked past the visitors center and around the house, which is lovely, then followed a path far back into the woods until it ended at a large Italian-style flower garden. Maintained by volunteers, the garden has several levels filled with blooms. There’s a small fountain at the top, and below, just above the lowest-level rose garden, there’s a pool filled with lily pads and watched over by a pale statue. There are some arbors, but most of the garden is in direct sunlight, making for a steamy meander. I strolled through most of the levels but left the sparse rose garden unexplored.

Vanderbilt gardensflowersgardensEvery now and then at these sites I’ve seen a sign indicating a private residence. A house alongside the garden is one such property. I wonder what it’s like to live in the middle of a public park?

I walked back to the mansion, this time taking a moment to walk around back. I was glad I did, because the Hudson River was visible. The back of the home was lovely as well. I took more pictures and then headed back to the car.

Hudson River viewrear of Vanderbilt mansionWith this, my mission for the day was complete. I knew, though, that if I went back to the hotel now, I’d be stuck shivering in the air conditioning for hours doing nothing interesting. So on my way back south on highway 9, I took an exit in Poughkeepsie called “Water St”. The sign was huge, so I figured this was the best way to get to the riverfront.

And it would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for all the construction! Not long after I got onto the ramp, it turned into gravel, with traffic cones demarcating a rough lane. I was unsure I wanted to go this route, but there was no way back, so I plunged forward, following construction cones and detour signs until I was back on regular roads and the river was before me. Ah! The riverfront! I drove straight down into a cul-de-sac and found a park area. Perfect. After a little confusion about where to park the car, I finally found a four-hour public parking space on a side street.

As I was walking back to the park, I saw a restaurant called Captain Cliffy’s River Station. Seafood. Awesome! I headed on in for an early dinner. They seated me near the back window so I could see out to the park and the Hudson River beyond without missing out on the air conditioning.

Captain Cliffy'sThe place has your normal bar and grill on the coast sort of feel. Comfortable, a little loud, great view. I had the swordfish and it was wonderful.

Once I was fed and watered, I headed down to the riverfront park and walked its length, first right, then left. There was music playing at a picnic shelter near the park entrance, and lots of people were dancing or sitting and listening. There was a skate park and a playground further down the path. Up ahead was what I thought was a working train bridge, but then I came across an informational sign that let me know it was a former train bridge that had been converted to a walking and bicycling path. The thing is really long. I wanted to find where it started and cross it, but there was no way I had time. A little further up the path is one of those binocular machines–free–and I was able to see the people walking along the bridge.

Poughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontPoughkeepsie riverfrontbinocular view of converted train bridgeThe path ended with a large covered area suitable for small concerts and gatherings; a young couple was walking around inside. The riverfront park really isn’t all that big, and Augusta’s Riverwalk, it could be argued, is far more elaborate in terms of landscaping, gardening, and walkway design, but there were all kinds of people there, from the nearby apartment building or restaurant patrons or visitors, and it all felt very friendly and nice.

Back the other way from the entrance, there’s a three-piece whale-serpent statue lying across the grass such that it appears to be swimming, with only its tail, midsection, and head visible. Each piece has beautiful decorative tiles embedded along the top like scales. Beyond that, the trail meanders down to a pier that extends out into the Hudson, affording lovely views. There’s no railing at the end, so I assume boats can dock there briefly to let people on or off. To the right of the pier, down the river, is the train bridge walkway; to the left, almost immediately, is a highway bridge, light blue.

whale serpentwhale serpent's headdockPoughkeepsie riverfrontAs I walked back to the car, I just drank in the happy view of a Sunday evening at the river, families and couples and individuals all out having a nice time.

When I got back to Fishkill, I rode with Sean to get his dinner (Wendy’s) and then up to Friendly’s for some ice cream. This time I had a strawberry shortcake sundae, and it was yum. And that concluded my fourth day in New York State. I went to bed as early as possible to prepare for Day 5: New York City!

NY Trip Day 3: Fishkill and Beacon

This post covers the third day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 16.

Today was a slow day. I didn’t get up until 12:30pm; guess I was tired! I spent a few hours searching online for historic or interesting sites to visit and eating a sandwich and some blueberries. Finally at around 3 I decided to head out.

My first stop was the ATM in Fishkill to grab some cash, because I don’t want to run into the cash-only entrance fee problem unprepared again. Then I headed back up the road to the Van Wyck Homestead, which is right at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Highway 9. It was 3:50 when I arrived…and the house closed at 4!

Van Wyck HomesteadI managed to catch the tail end of a tour. The house isn’t that big, and it hasn’t been perfectly restored, so really the main interesting things were who had stayed at the house and how people had lived there. I saw the kitchen and heard how people cooked, and the guide talked about how people made soap from animal fat and had to import sugar in cones from the Caribbean Islands–where Alexander Hamilton was born, something I had never heard before. Hamilton, along with Lafayette, von Steubing, and Washington himself are said to have stayed at the Van Wyck house when it was used as a headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

After a quick look through the gift shop–which included a cabinet said to have originally housed a Murphy-style fold-down bed used by Gen. Washington–I headed outside to allow the poor proprietors to close the house up. I didn’t leave right away, though; instead I circled the home taking pictures, getting some decent shots of the building as well as some interesting stone structures, a garden, and a well. There’s more information about the house here.

Also on the property is a historic marker for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path. I was excited to see this since there is also a marker for for path at Riverwalk in Augusta! (Click here for more information about the Path.) Needless to say, I got a few pictures.

When I was done poking around the Van Wyck Homestead property, I went back to the car and wondered what to do next. The obvious option was to head up the street into Fishkill and walk around, but I’d already sort of done that, so the idea didn’t excite me. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and searched Maps for “historic”. Many of the sites that came up were some distance away. I avoided those because I’d noticed many of the smaller historic sites had early closing times, like Van Wyck. But I did see a point nearby: the Madam Brett Homestead on Teller Street in Beacon, Fishkill’s neighbor to the immediate southwest. (Interestingly, the Van Wyck house was built on land purchased from Catheryna Rombout Brett, the lady who lived there. I didn’t discover that fact until I started writing this post.)

Madam Brett HomesteadI put the address into the Garmin and headed off to Beacon. It was a short and simple drive. When I got to the house, there was a big sign for it, but no parking area other than a normal-looking half-circle driveway, and no one was parked there. I saw a bunch of people walking around, and I wasn’t sure I felt comfortable getting out there. So I drove past and parked along the water on Main Street, where I saw some shops and cool murals.

muralschurchAs I walked back up I took pictures of a neat church, and I saw a building just beyond it that looked really awesome, but I figured I’d come back around in a loop and get pictures of that one later. I saw plenty of other interesting things on my way back to the Madam Brett house, and I took pictures all along the way.

The house sits on a wide lot behind a firehouse. The land and home are well-maintained. I walked up to the front door and created the spot on Gowalla and checked in, then got plenty of pictures around the site. I saw no information for visitors, so I’m not sure the house is actually open to the public, but it was still neat to see. I finished up by photographing the big sign at the corner, then walked back up to Main Street.

Madam Brett Homestead signAt that point I could have walked back to the car and left, but I saw that I had come out on a lively shopping and restaurant district. I turned left instead and headed further up Main, taking pictures of all the cool signage and architecture. I walked and walked until I got to the end of the street and saw signs for the Beacon/Newburgh Bridge. Then I crossed and headed back down the other side of Main Street. I got photos of an awesome church with a “fallout shelter” sign, the fire station in front of the Madam Brett house which was built in 1901 and is still in operation, and many small shops and restaurants with cool signs, including an authentic old-school diner called Yankee Clipper. I passed a place that made real fruit popsicles on my way up the street, and I so meant to stop and get one on my way back, but somehow I missed the place and didn’t want to try to go back up and find it.

downtown Beaconfallout shelter churchunisex salon signlive bait and deli signfire station signOn my way down, I gave $1 to a guy who said, “Could you spare a dollar?” Normally I don’t give to panhandlers, but this is because normally I feel accosted by them. I found the honest, direct question refreshing compared to Augusta panhandlers, who tell you their entire life story and how they believe in Jesus and whatnot before they get down to implying you should give them money. I also chipped in to a couple of guys playing a guitar and a banjo on the street outside a restaurant.

street performersThe cool-looking building next to the church did not disappoint when I finally worked my way back to it. I wish I knew more about architectural styles so I could describe it properly, but to do it justice, you have to see it. It’s dark brick with wooden features, including two small panels with cutout shapes. The place turned out to be the Howland Cultural Center. It didn’t appear to be open at the time, but I was happy enough taking photos of its dramatic, gorgeous exterior. Go here for information about the building, including its history and architecture.

Howland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterHowland Cultural CenterI stayed at the center for a long time, then started walking back down where Main Street curves along the river, toward the car. I was fully prepared to leave at this point–it had been a good walk, and I was thirsty–but I decided to meander a little further down Main to see if there was anything of interest. Almost immediately I came upon some wonderful street art (starting here) along a windowless wall–I’m not sure if it was graffiti or “authorized”, but it was very striking.

street artGoing further, I suddenly realized I was hearing rushing water. I looked across the street and saw a waterfall. It was Beacon Falls: a man-made lock, like Savannah Rapids in Columbia County, Georgia, though not nearly as wide. Water gushed down into a beautiful shallow river charging across an endless field of jutting rock.

Beacon FallsComing at it from this angle, I saw a lot of “NO TRESPASSING” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs, but as I approached the lock itself I realized the waterfall was at the end of a public trail, and it was the waterway and land beyond the trail that were private. My guess is they belong to whoever’s restoring the large round building overlooking the churning water.

Beacon FallsBeacon FallsBeacon FallsI took many pictures, probably too many, of the waterfall, then walked down the path a bit. It’s very short, leading through some trees to a small parking lot. I thought about going to the end, but even that seemed a bit much with how thirsty I’d become, so I turned around and went straight back to the car.

GPS led me back to the hotel a different way, through Beacon and downtown Fishkill, and I enjoyed the scenery and the views of local businesses as I swallowed against my dry throat and pondered stopping for a drink. But it wasn’t long before I got back to the room. I immediately downed about four glasses of water :)

Day three: Success!

NY Trip Day 2: West Point and Washington’s Headquarters

This post covers the second day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 15.

After we arrived in Highland Falls and Sean went to work, I took a little walk around the village and snapped some photos of the intriguing architecture.

house

Cool house on Main Street in Highland Falls, NY

red church door

Church with red door in Highland Falls, NY

When I was satisfied with my walk around the block, I had breakfast at Andy’s Restaurant, the place I found yesterday after I’d already eaten at the Dunkin Donuts. I had a lox omelet and it was quite good. The home fries were amazing.

andys restaurant

Andy's Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

lox omelet with home fries

Lox omelet with home fries, Andy's Restaurant.

After I ate I did a little more walking, then headed to the US Military Academy Visitors Center. I knew from yesterday that it opened at 9, so I was just in time. I wondered what exactly it would have, since there is a separate building for the West Point Museum. I was thinking maybe it just had information on the West Point tour. It turns out there is a whole information center there about training at the US Military Academy. The place seems to be geared towards potential cadets and their parents, but has useful information for anyone. I was most intrigued by the cadet quarters on the upper level, seeing what the beds and desks are like. There’s a room off to the left of that showing all the different uniforms cadets wear, and a theater off to the right showing a twelve-minute introductory video.

cadet quarters

Cadet quarters example, US Military Academy, NY

There was a booth where you could sign up for a tour of West Point, but you could only pay cash and it cost $12, which was more than I had. I left the display area, walking through the entry hall in which a plastic soldier is parachuting from the ceiling, and crossed over to the Visitors Center Gift Shop. This was a disappointment…mostly clothing, and high prices. I didn’t buy anything.

parachuting puppet

Plastic parachutist, West Point Visitors Center

As I was finishing up, many tour groups started arriving. I walked over to the museum, walked back, and walked over to it again, wasting time until it opened at 10:30. After seeing the visitors center I wondered what the museum would house. It turned out to have several displays on multiple floors: history of the Academy, history of warfare, small arms, large arms. There was another display upstairs but I didn’t have time to look at it.

West Point Museum

West Point Museum

I noticed that the Civil War was completely omitted from the history of the Academy exhibit. Gen. Robert E. Lee was one of the Academy’s superintendents, so I was interested to read about any issues that might have come up over that…but it was all blithely and neatly ignored. After I got out of the history of warfare exhibit, I discovered a small alcove that did address the Civil War, though not in the detail I might have wanted. I did appreciate the information right at the mouth of the alcove about causes of the Civil War and the way the two sides basically tried to ignore the slavery issue afterward; the South by claiming the war was really about states’ rights, and the North by just refusing to talk about it anymore. (This is one reason I like modern society and the internet. There is always a place for this sort of discussion.) The introductory text made the point that for the North, it was not about ending slavery, because most Northerners had the same wrong-headed views as the rest of the “civilized” world. For the North, it was about keeping the country whole. The introduction argued, though, that there had been plenty of strife between North and South before that had been resolved, and the only reason the South went so far as to try and secede was because of the Abolitionist movement. This jives with what I learned at the Abraham Lincoln exhibit I saw at the Atlanta History Museum; Lincoln’s equality views were not popular and he basically had to force the issue. Thank goodness he did.

Anyway, after those exhibits I walked through the small and large arms displays. In history of warfare there was a 1/10th scale copy of Fat Man (the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki), but there is a full-size version down in large arms. Having been to Hiroshima’s museum, I was a little underwhelmed by the lack of attention to the effects of the atomic bombs in both exhibits.

There was a Japanese tour group there–I passed them as they were going into the visitors center. I was sort of morbidly curious as to what the tourists’ reactions would be to the atomic bomb displays, but I didn’t see them in the museum.

When I came back out of the sub-basement galleries, I went into the gift shop, where I found a great Academy refrigerator magnet. Yay! While checking out I had to listen to this really obnoxious man discussing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with the shop employees. He kept using the phrase “Guess what?” I wanted to say, “Guess what? You’re really annoying!” but I contented myself with a massive eyeroll on my way out the door.

Sean texted me as I stepped outside; he only had to work a half day and was done. We met up in the parking lot, then walked up the street to Park Restaurant and had some great salads for lunch. Seriously, that fruit and grilled chicken salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. Park Restaurant’s whole menu sounded divine!

fruit and grilled chicken salad

Fruit and grilled chicken salad, Park Restaurant, Highland Falls, NY

After that, we drove through town and the mountains with the top down. I can’t recall if I’d ever ridden in a convertible with the top down before. If I have, it was a very long time ago. I did have the foresight to tie back my hair before we got going. It was a neat experience–I could see a lot more, and I liked all the light. But the sun was beating down on us and it was also too noisy to talk much of the time.

Our hotel is in Fishkill, New York, near Beacon, across the Hudson River from Newburgh. We stopped in Newburgh to take a look at a home that served as Gen. George Washington’s headquarters for a little under a year during the Revolutionary War. The buildings are undergoing renovation, but the grounds are nice, and there is an extraordinary memorial set up to look like a guardhouse/watch tower overlooking the Hudson. It’s huge, made of stone, with four copper gates intricately wrought into patterns with state names and seals. Inside is a larger-than-life statue of Washington, looking out to the river and standing ready to draw his sword. One of the gates is open so you can go in and see him. As you walk away from the stone citadel and turn back, you see Washington’s silhouette standing guard through the open area above the gate.

monument to Washington

bronze

Washington statue

Washington statue

Washington's silhouette

Washington's silhouette

Unfortunately we weren’t able to enter either of the houses on the property; one’s under intense restoration and the other required a cash-only tour. What is with cash-only tours? It’s 2011! But we walked all around them and noted their interesting architectural features and spotted a gravestone, what appeared to be a filled-in well, and a monument to the Minutemen. The grounds are nice, a long field of green grass. The view of the Hudson can be lovely in places, but it’s slightly marred by the telephone wires and metal buildings running along the industrial section of Newburgh’s waterfront.

Washington's headquarters

A last look at Washington's Headquarters.

When we were done there we continued on back to Fishkill, where we made a pit stop at the hotel and then headed out to Friendly’s for ice cream and the bank for quarters to do Sean’s laundry. I wanted to go to the Van Wyck Homestead, which we passed coming back into town, but Sean was all tuckered out and is in fact now curled up on the bed fast asleep, poor thing.

It was a nice day :) What will the weekend bring…?

NY Trip Day 1: Highland Falls and Boscobel

This post covers the first day of my trip to downstate New York with Sean in July of 2011. It was written July 14.

My first full day in New York was pretty fun. Sean and I drove to West Point, then he went to work and I took over the car. 25 cents bought me an hour on a parking meter, and I used that time to walk around historic downtown Highland Falls and look at the cute storefronts. I love how all the signs have old-time charm. One interesting feature is the way they decorate their fire hydrants; here’s one example:

fire hydrant

Fire hydrant in Highland Falls, NY

I also liked the small park with white gazebo I found. It looked like a cozy place for a picnic.

gazebo in park

Gazebo, Highland Falls, NY

I snagged breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts–I’d wanted to find a locally-owned diner or something, but had had no luck and was really hungry. It was only after I’d already eaten that I happened across a place that would have been perfect. Alas!

When my meter ran out I drove around trying to find some riverfront access, and I ended up accidentally going through the gate at West Point. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to come in here!” I told the guard. “Can I just turn around?” He was nice and waved me back out. I drove around that area a little more, then started heading back the way Sean and I had come in, deciding to check out one of the many things I’d seen on the drive that had interested me.

It took awhile, especially since I was too snobby to use the GPS, but I finally ended up on the correct road out of the area. The first sign I saw and decided to check out was in Garrison, NY, for “Historic Garrison Landing”. A skinny road twisted back and down and around, past the most adorable train station (wish I’d gotten some pictures!) and finally to Garrison Landing, which seemed to be a very small community–like two houses, two storefronts, a couple of art and theater arts buildings, and then a pier. It all sits just below the train station and there are signs everywhere saying “TENANT PARKING ONLY – NO COMMUTERS”. I finally found a space without a tenant-only sign and parked in it, then got out and looked around and took some photos. The boat launch appeared to be private, and the rest of the area was filled with children, there for an arts camp. After awhile I wondered why there were signs pointing here if there was nothing for tourists to see, and I got back in the Camaro and headed back out.

Garrison Art Center

Garrison Art Center, Garrison Landing, NY

When I got to Cold Spring, I decided to stop at Boscobel, because I’d noticed the historic site sign on the drive in and thought the name was funny. It turned out to be an historic home, originally built several miles further down the Hudson but moved to its current location after the local government sold the land it was sitting on for $35 and the house was in danger of being bulldozed. Volunteers dismantled the house and stored pieces of it in their basements until suitable land was found and it could be rebuilt and restored. I took a private tour and thoroughly enjoyed learning the history of the house. (The man who had it built originally was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War; he was a farmer who ended up making a lot of money working for Britain, and used that to finance the home’s construction. Unfortunately for him, it took a long time to get to that point, and he suffered a carriage injury and other problems…so he only saw the foundation laid before he died, and his wife, 20 years his junior, saw to the completion of the house.)

Boscobel House

Boscobel House from the back

Boscobel House

Boscobel House from the front

Photos aren’t allowed inside the house, which is pretty standard in historic homes, but I was able to get lots of exterior shots. The rear is the most lovely, likely because it boasts the view of the Hudson.

Hudson River

Hudson River and US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

US Military Academy

US Military Academy as seen from Boscobel

Before taking the above photos of the river view, I went downstairs and enjoyed the house’s current art exhibit, interpretations of the Hudson River area. I also went on a walk through the Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail, which features a waterfall, creeks and streams, wooden bridges and benches, and of course a wonderful winding trail through the trees. The Hudson River and the marshland just below Boscobel are visible from certain points on the trail, as is the US Military Academy; it was all very lovely.

trail

Frances Stevens Reese Woodland Trail

US Military Academy

US Military Academy as seen from forest trail

After my adventure at Boscobel, I came back to the hotel to charge my nearly-dead iPhone and ended up websurfing for awhile. I was planning to go wander around a park up the street from Boscobel before picking Sean up, but I ran out of time. Sean and I finished our day messing around online at our hotel in Fishkill, only venturing out to try a Japanese restaurant that unfortunately didn’t turn out to be very good. Still, it was a full day of fun and I got lots of great pictures–an auspicious start to a wonderful trip.

So long, 2011. You were pretty awesome.

As the new year approached, I saw more and more of my friends posting status updates about how they were ready to see 2011 go. In many ways, I guess it has been a rough year. But I can’t help but think back on it fondly, despite the bad things that happened–the desperate situation our country is in, the hate and pain and suffering and disasters breaking out across the world. For me, 2011 was a year of growth and change and renewal and family and generosity. It was a year filled with love and hope. I want to take the power of what 2011 ignited in me and go out and share it with everyone.

I feel refreshed. I feel empowered. I feel ready.

We started the year embroiled in change. Sean had accepted a new job, and we were in the middle of a long period in which he commuted to Atlanta from Augusta for a week or two at a time. In February I hit the five-year mark at my own job, and wrote about it here. We moved to the Atlanta area at the beginning of March. I took a week off from work to coordinate the move, then went back to Augusta for a week to wrap up loose ends before beginning an approximately three-month-long period of telecommuting. I got a red velvet See You Soon cake :)

red velvet cake
After that week was over, it was back to the new apartment, which I had spent several weeks towards the end of 2010 selecting from the plethora of choices near Sean’s workplace. I wanted new or renovated apartments, nice facilities, a good location, and access to nature. I found everything I wanted, and we’ve been very happy with our new home this past year. Here’s a little something I wrote about it at the end of March.

We slowly started exploring our side of town and discovering new haunts. One of our first discoveries, Hashiguchi, ended up closing, much to our dismay. There are several other Japanese places in the area, but none have the same feel. We also discovered an Italian place, though, Scalini’s, which quickly became a favorite. And at our friend Will’s recommendation we checked out J. Christopher’s, a breakfast and brunch place, and fell in love. It’s currently my go-to restaurant (assuming I break for lunch early enough), just as the Boll Weevil was my go-to restaurant in Augusta. (They even have a door that creaks the same way!)

There’s a lot of shopping in our area as well, and as time went on I started to explore more and more of Vinings, Smyrna, and Marietta. One of my favorite landmarks is the infamous Big Chicken. Sean loves the Micro Center, which is kind of reminiscent of CompUSA. They pricematch, so he can get his quick technology fix.

Of course, there’s plenty to do in the rest of the Atlanta area. We’ve been to a comic book store in Buckhead; a Japanese restaurant, Korean barbecue, and Fry’s in Duluth; Super H-Mart, which is like Walmart for Asian food, off Peachtree Industrial; charming downtown Decatur; the aquarium and the World of Coke; the Atlanta History Center; and more. One day I drove around looking at all the furniture stores I could find, including IKEA…that was an adventure! And still so much more awaits us.

One great thing about living in Atlanta has been seeing our friends Charles and Heidi so much. I had taken several road trips from Augusta to Atlanta to visit them in the past, but now we’re free to do stuff together whenever we want! We have lots of dinners out, and we love going hiking and to cultural or interesting Atlanta destinations as well.

Heidi and Charles
For the next few months, my life consisted of telecommuting, trying to get the apartment in order, and exploring Atlanta. In May, since I was telecommuting anyway, I headed up to Kentucky and surprised Mom for Mother’s Day.

Then, around the middle of June, the station hired my replacement, so I went back to Augusta for my last two weeks to train her. On my way, I took a detour for a weekend in Savannah and had myself a nice little mini-adventure.

It was wonderful to see everyone in Augusta again. I stayed with Sean’s parents, which was really nice. I tried to get together with as many friends as possible. Brandon even managed to pull together some of the old lunch crew from years and years ago…it was awesome.

the old lunch crew
I spent some time on my last day running around getting pictures with everyone. Then, for my last night in Augusta, I spent the night at Brooke and David’s, and had breakfast with them at Cracker Barrel the next morning before heading home to Marietta.

Brooke and David
It was a wonderful last two weeks of work and a wonderful two weeks in Augusta.

Sean’s friend Adam came to visit while I was still out of town, and when I got back we took him around the neighborhood and out for sushi and frozen custard.

After that, I went back to Kentucky for the 4th of July. The fact that I was able to see my family so much was a big part of why last year was so amazing. On this visit I went swimming; I helped my brother with some sod on an area he’d leveled around a tree for seating; I spent lots of time with my nephews, including an awesome camping trip to Natural Bridge with their family; I ate ribs and fried chicken and corn on the cob and watched fireworks; I took a zillion pictures of my niece; I went shopping and out to eat with Mom; I went up to the farm and took awful pictures of the moon…basically, I had the best time ever.

And then I went to New York!

Sean’s job sent him up to the West Point area, and I got to tag along. I spent a week exploring the towns and villages along the Hudson River, including Highland Falls, Newburgh, Fishkill, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie. In Fishkill, I found a sign for the Great Indian Warrior Trading Path, which ends in Augusta. Here’s the sign and its Augusta counterpart:

Fishkill signAugusta sign
I have a few detailed summaries of my adventures around “downstate New York” that I wrote back in July. I will be posting them here shortly. In brief, my first day was spent exploring Highland Falls and Boscobel House; my second day, I went to the West Point Visitors Center and Museum, then Sean and I checked out Washington’s Headquarters. The third day was quite busy. First I went to the Van Wyck Homestead, where the above Warrior Path sign stands, then explored the lovely city of Beacon. After that I headed over to the Samuel Morse house and museum, where I also took in a car show. After that I had the singular moment of the whole New York trip, an unplanned visit to the Eleanor Roosevelt home, Val-Kill. I’ve written much more on that experience in the upcoming post; suffice it to say I’m not the same person I was before I went. I also checked out the FDR Presidential Library and the Vanderbilt Mansion grounds, then finished up my day on the Poughkeepsie riverfront. This day might possibly be the best day I spent in New York state; it is rivaled only by the next glorious day, when I took the train down to New York City.

At Grand Central Terminal, I met up with my friend Matt, who I hadn’t seen since our very first (and my last) Governor’s Scholars Program reunion, a zillion years ago. (Here we are on a boat.)

Matt and me
Matt was an amazing tour guide. I got to see so much. Since we only had one day, we concentrated on Manhattan. Matt’s recommended three-hour boat tour showed us many of the sights with views we couldn’t have gotten up close. The angles we saw of the Statue of Liberty (starting here) were spectacular.

Statue of Liberty
After the boat tour, Matt and I walked and rode the subway to a few places I was interested in seeing. This included…the apartment building used as the exterior shot for Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends!

Friends apartment
We also went to Times Square and Central Park, then walked up 5th Avenue to get back to Grand Central Terminal and head off our separate ways.

I hope to write in much more detail about this part of the trip later. It was a long, wonderful day, and an excellent endcap to my time in New York state. I spent the next day relaxing and recovering from two whirlwind days of awesome, then had one more mini-adventure in Cornwall-on-Hudson before Sean and I headed home.

After we got back from New York, Sean’s parents came to visit us for the first time in our new apartment. It was great to show them our place and give them a feel for our neighborhood. We took them around to our favorite haunts, and the next day we did some touristy things. It was a good visit.

Finally, there was a lull in the whirlwind of travel and visits, and I took that time to resume looking into weight loss surgery. The original plan had been to do the surgery once we lived in Atlanta, after all, and various health issues were making it obvious that the time to act was now (if it hadn’t already passed). Unfortunately, just as I started doing the paperwork for a local surgeon, we ran into some difficulties that meant it was impossible to have the surgery done here. This culminated in a trip to San Francisco as soon as I got all my medical clearances out of the way, which ended up being the end of September.

I was blessed to stay with family and thrilled to get to see much of San Francisco before my surgery date. I had never been there before–until then, the furthest west I’d traveled in the United States had been Texas–and I was excited to see everything I could. I was awed by the natural beauty of the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods and the sculpted elegance of Golden Gate Park. My uncle even took Mom and me on a drive down the famous Lombard Street on our way to an open-top bus tour which later offered us an excellent view of same.

One great thing about being in San Francisco was that I got to see my friend Hai again.

Me and Hai
We hadn’t seen each other since our first in-person meeting in Cincinnati back in April of 2008, though we’ve known each other for far longer than that thanks to the AMRN. We met up at Hog Island Oyster Company for lunch, and it was awesome. Hai is a fellow foodie, so he and Mom and I tried oysters, lobster, and a grilled cheese sandwich–an excellent last big meal before weight loss surgery ;)

The next few days were taken up with surgery prep, the surgery itself, and in-hospital recovery. I was eager to go back to my relatives’ house, so I pushed myself to walk as much as I could as soon as possible. The surgery was September 26, and I was released on the 29th.

I wrote a little about what I expected the surgery to be like here. I may write what it was actually like someday, or I may not. I never really have been one to dwell on that sort of thing. I don’t care to write about all my experiences when I had leukemia, either. Frankly, I don’t fully remember them, and I don’t really want to. Yes, I’ve had cancer, heart problems, sleep apnea, obesity, weight loss surgery–but these things don’t define me. They’re just things I’ve gone through. They are a part of what has made me what I am, but what I am has also been a part of what defeated them. Their role in my life is (or will soon be) over.

However, I will probably write about how weight loss surgery has changed me, because my approach to food is completely different now. I have a tiny stomach. I don’t absorb nutrients well, so I need to focus on getting as much protein as possible. Sugar and carbohydrates can shoot my weight loss in the foot. And white bread, white rice, and artificial sweeteners other than sucralose cause unpleasant gastic side effects for me.

These factors mean I don’t eat at all like I did before. Now I go for the meat first. I don’t eat much bread, and when I do it’s whole wheat. I don’t typically have, or even want, dessert, because by the time I’m done eating my few bites of dinner, I’m full. But I’ll get hungry again in a few hours, so I’ve started trying to keep higher-protein snacks around, like nuts and edamame. I also rely on Atkins shakes and bars for the times when I need protein fast. Since an all-protein diet can cause hard stools, I’m working to incorporate fiber when I can. I also have to make sure to drink a lot of water, not only because my new gastrointestinal configuration leeches it away, but because I’m taking a diuretic to treat my pseudotumor cerebri until I’ve lost enough weight to “cure” it permanently.

I also take a lot of supplements to get vitamins and minerals. I have to take a particular kind that my intestines are able to absorb. This will continue for the rest of my life.

Despite these constraints, you have no idea how freeing it is to not be a slave to food. I had no idea how much control food had over me. I thought I did…but I didn’t. I knew I was miserable. I knew I felt trapped. I knew I ate emotionally, or out of habit, or whenever someone else was eating, or because something looked delicious. But it never sank in just how addicted I was to food until, suddenly, I wasn’t anymore.

I told Sean, “I wish there was a surgery to help people stop smoking.”

This is not to say that going through weight loss surgery and recovery is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work, and you have to have the right attitude going in–the attitude that you are going to kick ass and take names because you are awesome. You have to know your stuff. And there will be times, many times, when you don’t want to eat, and you will have to force yourself to do so.

This concept is so alien to the former me that I don’t think I could even begin to explain it to her.

No, it’s not easy, but it works. If you know what you’re doing, if you have the right attitude, if you follow the steps you need to follow…you will lose weight. And you’ll keep losing weight. You’ll feel better than you have in years. The fact that it actually works will keep you positive, and you’ll keep going, and you’ll keep losing weight, until you hit your healthy balance and stop. I’m not there yet, but as of today I’ve lost 64 pounds…more than I’ve ever been able to lose trying to diet on my own. On my own, I had to battle my food addiction every day. Now, with this surgery, that enormous factor is simply gone. I still enjoy food…but I don’t have to have it, and I often don’t even want it.

I’m free.

Immediately after my surgery, I had to rest and recover, but also keep myself moving so I wouldn’t lose muscle strength. I felt good the majority of the time and it wasn’t long before I was off painkillers–a benefit of laparoscopic surgery is that fewer nerves get distressed. Of course, this can also be a con, if you feel so “normal” that you try to do too much too soon and end up injuring yourself. Since I’m the go-getter type, I was in danger of just that. The day after I was released from surgery, I went on a shopping trip with my mom and aunt! It was brief enough, but I tired out extremely quickly. Thankfully I hadn’t messed anything up, but looking back on it now, I’m sort of surprised at myself. I took a weekend off and relaxed with family, but then I went crazy again and accompanied my mom and aunt to Costco! Actually, I did far better than you might expect, and only felt like falling over and dying towards the end of the excursion. We sat down at the little cafe to give me time to recover, then headed back to the house.

After a checkup the next morning, my mom and aunt and I finally got the weather we were after for some Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline shots.

Golden Gate Bridge
After that we sort of just drove around looking at things. We had lunch in Sausalito, which is awesome because I’ve always wanted to say I’ve been to Sausalito (the name is cool!), and then we did a tiny bit of grocery shopping. I was getting stronger and stronger. Still, the next two days were spent relaxing and recovering from all that wandering around. Then my aunt’s dear friend came up for a visit–I’d previously met her on my first trip to Savannah–and we had a lot of fun going around the area with her. (Enjoy this nasty picture of my lunch from our day shopping in Mill Valley…I was still getting the hang of ordering protein-rich food.)

Thus ended my first-ever visit to San Francisco. So much more happened, and there was so much more that I wanted to see. Hopefully someday I will write in more detail about the trip, and I definitely plan to go back!

Obviously, after having surgery, I wasn’t really up to my usual sort of self-reliant behavior. I had to lean on Sean a lot for help with the most simple of tasks, like getting the laundry out of the washer and dryer, putting away the dishes, bringing in the groceries, moving things, etc. It was a little frustrating not being able to just do everything myself, but I persevered. While I wasn’t supposed to carry much weight or reach over my head, I was allowed and encouraged to go up and down stairs, which was good, since we live on the “garden level” (below the first floor). While I recovered I focused on walking for exercise. I did a lot of reading, breaking into the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin for the first time. I also did a little more writing in November than usual.

I did leave the apartment for one event while I was still in the recovery and adjustment period, and that was A Web Afternoon on October 22. I saw my friends Chris and Will, and organizer J. Cornelius apparently recognized me from when I attended the Webmaster Jam Session back in 2008, which is pretty cool of him. The event was really inspiring and interesting; the speakers had somewhat diverse messages and delivery methods, but they were all very enthusiastic about the web.

The end of November heralded a weeks-long flurry of travel for Sean and me. First, on November 22, we headed to Augusta for an early Thanksgiving with Cheryl and Reid, plus Cheryl’s brother Michael and his girlfriend Michelle. I made corn casserole, and I swear Michael ate about half the pan! Michelle is from China, and I got to hear a lot of interesting stories from her past–how she was sent to work on a farm by the government as a child, and how she worked hard to help her family. It was a nice visit, and the food was great. Cheryl really pulled out all the stops.

Sean, me, Reid, Cheryl, and Michael
After a brief stop in Brooke and David’s driveway to say hello, we headed back to the ATL. But I turned around the very next day and drove to Kentucky!

One of the highlights of the visit was seeing my beautiful niece, who turned 1 on November 5. She’s grown so much!

Daphne and Ben

Daphne and Ben

Given my new post-weight loss surgery reality, I wasn’t able to eat much at Thanksgiving dinner–here’s my plate. I ate all the turkey, and maybe half of everything else. It was great to just be there with my family though…I love seeing everyone!

Uncle Steve stopped by during my Thanksgiving visit home, which was great; he’s always a trip.

The day after I got back from Kentucky, I jumped into the car again for a quick weekend in Augusta. I’d been wanting to visit Brooke and hang out with people for awhile, and this was the only weekend left in the year that would work for both of us. It may have been a mistake to try to squeeze it in there–I ended up exhausted and unable to do nearly as much with Brooke as I’d hoped–but I was at least glad to see her, and to visit my friends at the station and have Teresa’s with Brandon, Ed, and Arturo. Brooke and I had dinner with Mari at Kinja, too, which was great.

Mari and Brooke

Mari and Brooke

I squeezed in a quick breakfast with Chris and Kenny and a stopover at the in-laws’ before heading back to Atlanta on Saturday. My biggest regret from the trip is not spending more time with Brooke…that will be rectified next time.

After the Augusta trip, I mercifully had two weeks in which to relax…theoretically. In reality, I had to decorate the apartment, wrap Christmas presents and prepare holiday cards. Yes, even though we were going out of town for Christmas, I still put up our tree. It was beautiful, so I think it was totally worth it! (Technically it still is beautiful…I need to take it down…) These activities brought me much more joy than annoyance. I was thrilled that I could finally give decent Christmas presents to family members; it had really been too long. I had a lot of fun selecting everyone’s gifts.

Sean and I also went to his work Christmas party the weekend of December 10. It was held at Stone Mountain Park, and we decided to spend the night at the hotel and go see the sights the next day. It was an utterly romantic weekend. I’d lost enough weight that I needed to buy a new dress, which I did. I also wore a new perfume, Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Nude, which is now my fragrance–we both love it. The party was elegant enough, and the hotel common areas were beautifully appointed, but my favorite times were when Sean and I were alone–in our room, or out exploring the park. We went down to the village after the party and wandered around looking at all the Christmas lights. The next morning we had room service in bed and a bath in our in-suite jacuzzi. We rode the skyride to the top of Stone Mountain and I got amazing views of the huge carving in the face of the rock. After we’d explored to our hearts’ content, we descended and found hot cocoa for Sean inside an exhibit hall and way too much lunch for us to ever eat at Miss Katie’s.

A particular highlight of our trip was watching a glassblowing demonstration. We saw an artisan create a decorative flower and a very unique vase. We’d already explored the shop, and nothing had quite struck our fancy there. The vase we’d just seen created was unlike anything in the store. Sean asked if we could buy it then and there. It was finished and delivered to us three days later!

After that, we had a snack and then got onto the little train that circles the mountain, watching the lights come on and listening to Christmas carols as the sun went down. When we got back, it was dark and Christmas-y in the village once again. Sean pulled me under a huge ball of mistletoe for a kiss–the perfect end to our romantic weekend away.

The week before Christmas, we headed off to Kentucky. I guess my crazy holiday running around, plus the fact that I was still recovering from surgery, caught up to me, because I felt like I got worn out pretty quickly. Still, I was able to do a lot with my nephews, including getting some one-on-one time with each of them, which I think is important. I also spent a lot of time with Mom and Dad. I didn’t get a chance to go to the farm, but fortunately Ben and Manda and Daphne came down twice while we were there.

I had a wonderful Christmas. I loved seeing everyone open their presents. I think I did well with what I picked for everyone. I had trouble coming up with ideas for a couple of people, but it all seemed to work out in the end.

I love gift-giving. I love how personal it is, how it shows what you feel for the other person. I’m so glad we were able to give gifts this year.

Before everyone dispersed on Christmas Eve, Dan was kind enough to snap some photos of the family for us. It’s hard to get this many people into a picture, but I think it worked out okay :)

my family
Would you believe even that isn’t the end of 2011? After we got home from Kentucky, Sean had his friend William over for a few days of gaming and fun.

William and Sean
William is a charming guest and a funny guy, and it was great to have him around. We’re looking forward to meeting his fiancée when they both come to visit us sometime this year.

After William headed home on the afternoon of December 31, Sean and I quietly rang in the New Year watching Smallville season 10. (I belatedly noticed the clock had ticked over and mentioned something on Twitter; I have no idea if Sean was even paying attention. Similarly, I just realized we both forgot our ninth wedding anniversary, which was yesterday.)

And that was 2011. It was a big year in so many ways, full of friends, fun, travel, and change. I loved it.

Here’s to more of the same in 2012!

A glorious morning on the trails

This morning I took a very long walk–more than two hours, anyway–through the woods and alongside the Chattahoochee River. I took a trail I hadn’t explored before and ended up coming out near a distant apartment complex. There was a map there so I was able to tell that if I walked some more, I would find the abandoned mill I’ve been interested in seeing…but by that point I was pretty tired and I knew I needed to get water soon. So I ended up turning around and heading back the way I came.

The walk back was strangely energizing. It was as if, knowing there was a finite distance left, my body decided to push out a lasting burst of energy. Soon I found myself jogging the forest trail, weaving through the trees, barreling down little creek-cut valleys and back out of them, leaping side to side to avoid obstacles like rocks, roots, and other hikers.

Finally, elated and covered with sweat, I emerged from the pines and took a quick left back to the nearest parking area, where I availed myself of the water fountain with measured abandon.

The walk back from there was a nice cool-down. I stuck to the river path to keep out of the sun, smiling at all the walkers, runners, bikers, and dog walkers who were out enjoying this hot, beautiful day with me. And then, finally, I was done, ready to relax in the air conditioning with a tall glass of water.

Bliss.

A new adventure

As you may have gathered from my previous post, Sean and I have made the move to Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta in Cobb County. Sean found a job here last fall; I’m telecommuting to my job back in Augusta for the time being.

We’ve mostly settled in to our new apartment–the furniture’s arranged, the kitchen’s functional, and we just have a few boxes left to unpack. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind, dealing with moving and adjusting to our new place. I think we’re finally getting comfortable and falling into a good routine.

One of the nice things about working remotely is that my commute time is zero. Another nice thing is that I’m able to do things around the house on my lunchbreak. What makes it especially nice in our particular location is that I chose an apartment complex nestled in the woods, a cluster of cozy buildings scattered across hillsides carved out by streams leading down to a river, walking distance from a nature preserve.

I’ve walked down to the river and through forest trails twice now, once alone and once with our friends Charles and Heidi. Yesterday, I decided to explore the apartment grounds themselves.

The complex boasts the standard luxury apartment amenities, including a gorgeous clubhouse. It’s on the far side of the property from our apartment, and uphill to boot, so I got a good workout strolling over there on my break.I took my time, stopping for pictures everywhere, and I wandered off on side trips, enjoying the lovely landscaping and exploring what amenities the grounds have to offer. It almost felt like being up in the mountains, but warmer and busier what with the traffic from residents and the relative closeness of the buildings.

When I got to the clubhouse, I found most of the rooms manually locked–my key card worked, but the doors still wouldn’t open. The fitness center was available, and that was about it. I went up to the lounge and tried my key and was met with the same frustration.

“Do you have a key card?” asked a voice behind me. I turned; it was a cleaning lady.

“I tried it already,” I said, but dutifully pulled it out and tried again.

The lady tried the door too, using her own card. “It’s locked from the inside,” she said. “I don’t know why someone would do that.”

We walked to a different door, and she managed somehow to get that one open. “There you go.”

“Thanks!” I said, and went in.

The room’s very nice. Cozy isn’t the word, since it’s so big, but it’s comfortable. My attention was immediately drawn to the pool table in the back, and after a bit of looking around, I played a very weak, but fun, game of 8-ball with myself.

As I was racking the balls for a second game, the girl I’d passed at the desk on my way in opened the door.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“I was just playing some pool,” I said.

“This room actually isn’t open right now.”

“…oh,” I said. “Well, I’ll just rack them back and be on my way!”

I wasn’t particularly embarrassed, which is impressive for me. I tidied up the pool table and hung the rounded triangle back on the accessories rack, then followed the girl back out of the room and downstairs. She let me know the hours the room is actually open (too few, really), and I thanked her and went on my way.

As I was strolling back towards my apartment, taking in the warm sun and tall trees, a silver car pulled up and honked lightly. I glanced over as the window rolled down.

“I’m so sorry!” the cleaning lady said. “I didn’t know it wasn’t open! I’m just the cleaning lady.”

“It’s okay,” I told her cheerfully. “At least I got one game in.”

She laughed, and I smiled and waved, and we both continued on our separate ways.

Adventure at Aqueduct Park

I didn’t set out to endanger my own life today, but that’s what ended up happening.

Some time back, Augusta cleaned up the aqueduct between the Augusta Canal and Lake Olmstead and dubbed the area Aqueduct Park. Whitewater rapids spill down a long stretch from the canal into a swimming area that’s also fed by a trickling waterfall on the other side. That pool drains off towards Lake Olmstead, a body of water the size of a pond that sits near the Augusta GreenJackets’ minor league baseball stadium. To get to the park, you either have to travel the Augusta Canal trail by foot or bike, or drive in along a gravel and dirt road from Sibley Mill.

Rushing flume of water at Aqueduct Park

I’d ridden past the area many times on my bike, and even taken a few pictures of the waterfalls and swimmers from up top, but I’d never climbed down to the pool. After the park was established, some trees were cleared, making the climb more inviting. This morning, desperately wanting to swim after my run and having few options–the Family Y doesn’t open until 1 o’clock–I clambered down rocks and dirt to get to the inviting waters below.

Aqueduct Park swimming hole

I’d cooled off considerably thanks to the air conditioning in my car, so to get back in the mood for swimming I hiked around the aqueduct area and took pictures. I tried to capture the beauty of the place–the rushing waters feeding in from the canal, the old brick tunnels now closed off at the end, the blocks and sheets of slate over which trickling waterfalls painted smooth, wet paths. By the time I was satisfied, I’d warmed back up and was quite ready for a good swim.

rushing waters brick tunnels rocks reflective pools reflective pool tiny waterfalls

Stripping down to my swimsuit and exchanging my tennis shoes for flip-flops, I carried my towel over to where the rocks gradually descended into the pool, laid the towel where I thought it would be most convenient, and then started to step down the rocks to the water.

This was my first mistake.

slippery rocks

The rocks were smooth, wet, and covered with slime. As I felt myself slipping, two thoughts occurred to me: one, that the water was very cold, and two, that flip-flops didn’t provide very much traction. I scooted down onto my bottom to try and slide into the water without falling.

It was then that I recognized my second mistake.

Filled with enthusiasm, and perhaps overconfident after successfully climbing all over rocks and waterfalls, I’d chosen to enter the water right next to the canal ingress. Right next to where the barreling flume of water was churning into the pool.

My ingress point

As I sat slipping on the rock, trying to pull off one of my flip-flops, the surging water caught me, thrusting me out and down into the pool. My flip-flop was instantly sucked away. As I struggled to keep my head above water, arms pumping downward to thrust my face out of the rapids, I thought, “If I drown here, like this, I am going to be pissed.”

My efforts were not in vain. I was never completely submerged. At first there was no ground beneath me, and I thrashed in terror to stay afloat, but then, suddenly, I found myself dashed upon the not-at-all smooth array of rocks that makes up the bed of the aqueduct pool.

“Ow,” I said. And then, “Well, I’m stupid.”

As the water continued to push me, gentler now that I was out of the direct path of the flume, I pulled off the other flip-flop for no logical reason, and, holding it, fought my way around the pond. The flume sent water churning in two directions: to the left, off towards Lake Olmstead, and to the right, forming a clockwise eddy circumscribed by the pool. I was caught going right, thankfully. The flume’s strength decreased little by little as I was pushed further and further away; I braced myself on rocks to keep myself steadily on my bottom.

The pool

Eventually the water no longer had the strength to push me, and I maneuvered myself to shore–to the spot where I should have entered the pool to begin with. There, the water merely lapped at the rocks and dirt as its final whirlwind strength was sapped away.

“I survived,” I said.

I took a barefoot walk back around the shore of the pool, hoping my flip-flop had washed up somewhere, but it was nowhere to be found. I resigned myself to throwing the other one away…but first I would wash the mud off my feet, clean out the shallow open scrape the rocks had left on my right knee, and get back into my sneakers. I was moving my shoes over to the rocks–the calm area–when I saw it. My flip-flop had somehow been deposited on the rocks right next to the flume. Perhaps during my flailing, I’d actually flung it backwards.

I laughed; somehow finding the other flip-flop was more of a relief than scrambling to shore. Maybe my brain took it as a metaphor of getting out of the situation in one piece.

the pool

I washed and dried my feet, tied on my sneakers, retrieved my wayward flip-flop, and began the hike back up and out of the aqueduct.

As I was leaving, a man walking his dog came down the pass. “Wow, I haven’t seen it rushing like this in a long time,” he said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “It’s crazy!”

“It used to be like this all the time when I was a kid,” the man said.

“Really?”

“Oh, yeah.” He gestured back up to the top of the flume. “We used to slide down the rocks.”

Wow,” I said. If that was the case, then kids have been doing essentially what I did today for decades.

the flume

Maybe my life wasn’t really in danger. I hope that is of some comfort to my mother, who is probably horrified that this happened. Sorry, Mom.

I’ve learned some good lessons. Don’t walk down slippery rocks, especially in flip-flops. Don’t enter a pool fed by rushing water right next to that rushing water. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a good idea of the depth of a body of water before swimming in it.

All that said…I did have fun, and I’ll probably swim there again. :)

me in front of the little waterfalls

View the complete photo gallery here.

Summerville Tour of Homes

As planned, Brooke and I met up today to attend the Summerville 28th Annual Tour of Homes. I’m sure you could predict the fact that there are pictures. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the houses, which means you don’t get to see the stuff we were drooling over all day.

After eating far too much at Theresa’s Mexican Restaurant downtown (roughly across the street from Outspokin’), we headed down to the ASU campus, where the tour was to begin. After getting our bearings, we walked to the first historic site, ASU’s Bellevue Hall.

Bellevue Hall

The building has been completely restored and now houses offices for University staff. It looked like a very pleasant place to work :)

We wandered back towards the main entrance where the tour buses would take us to the next site. On our way we stopped and looked at a strange vine maze that I think Connor would love.

vine maze - I wanted to go in!

Then we hopped on the bus and were off to the first house.

Actually, the bus took us to the last house on the tour first. They’d changed the order of the tour, I’m guessing due to traffic considerations. And so the first house we saw was 2532 Henry Street.

I was pleasantly reminded of the older houses in downtown Lexington, like the one owned by my former linguistics professor, Dr. Bosch, or the one owned by my cousin’s son’s dead father’s mother and her lesbian life partner. (Okay, that was difficult to describe…) I thought it was perfectly charming. Brooke’s reaction was something like: “It’s small! It’s so small! I mean, it’s really small!”

We waited for the bus for quite some time, then got tired of waiting and walked back to ASU. We’d planned to take Brooke’s car to the next house, but the funny tour guide lady and driver guy talked us into trying the bus again, so we did.

The next house was 705 Gary Street. Gary Street is probably a block and a half long, and runs between Battle Row and Gardner, near Milledge. The house was built sideways on the lot, allowing the front porch a beautiful view of a line of tall pine trees. As the bus tour guide said, from the front of the house it looks like they’re out in the middle of the woods. This house retained quite a few of its original features, including dark wooden doors with glass knobs and yellow hardwood floors. It had a fantastic wraparound porch that overlooked the backyard.

705 Gary Street

After touring the house, we sat around outside waiting for the bus for a long time. We were far enough from everything that we couldn’t really walk to the next one. Well, maybe we could have, but we didn’t. Both of us were a little disgruntled when the bus finally arrived.

This bus, not the one we’d ridden before but the only other one being used for the tour, took us to 1338 Wingfield Street, of which I did not get a picture. Just so you know, it’s a “classic Augusta bungalow”, made of “stucco, brick, and wood trim”, according to the guidebook. I wish I could actually remember something about the inside of the house. I think this was the one with the cute baby’s room done up in green, but I’m not sure. [Edit: I was wrong! See the comments.] Fun fact: the woman who lives here is named “Cheri”. (Cheri-sama!)

The next two houses were within very easy walking distance, so we strolled over. First was 1447 Winter Street, and next was its “sister”, 1453 Winter Street, right next door. “Their architecture is a Southern version of the American foursquare house in the Prairie style, a predecessor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s revolutionary residential style of the early 1900’s,” says the guidebook. Both of these houses were updated beautifully and were quite luxurious. 1447 had perhaps the largest master bathroom in the free world, and 1453 had a fantastic kitchen.

Next up: 1434 Heath Street. Fun fact! Brooke lives on Heath Street, but by virtue of being on the other side of Wrightsboro Road, does not live in Summerville. This means she pays lower taxes!

1434 Heath Street

Brooke was perplexed by the peak in the porch gable. The guidebook says this style emulates “Oriental” temple roofs and was popular on the west coast. I’m not sure how it got out here.

The final house, 2341 McDowell Street, was Brooke’s favorite. It’s a modified Tudor design with lots of rooms and a two-car garage in the back. Most striking was an upstairs bedroom, quite narrow but with walls almost entirely made of windows looking out on the trees. It was so cozy and open to nature that Brooke and I both decided we’d be perfectly happy living there.

2341 McDowell Street

And there you have it. I hope I got all those details right; trying to remember everything without having photographic evidence is kind of a pain. Brooke, feel free to correct me.

I had a really good time at the Summerville Tour of Homes. I would definitely like to go again next year…assuming I can once again score free tickets ;>

Savannah once again

As you may have surmised from the comments two posts ago, I took David to Savannah on Wednesday–almost exactly a year after my trip with Dawn and Sam. I have now been to that city three times, each time within the span of a day. Someday I’d like to go back and spend more time, with at least one night’s stay in a bed and breakfast or luxury hotel, and just explore and enjoy the sights and shopping and other experiences in relaxation instead of a hurry.

As always, there are pictures.

ah, Spanish moss

I’m getting the impression that Savannah is a “girly town”, because David really got bored on River Street. (Sam? Care to venture an opinion?)

tugboat?

Regardless, we both enjoyed visiting my favorite candy shop and sampling the praline candy. Mmm-mmm-mmm. I remembered how last year we bought a huge box of the stuff and had it all gone by the next day…but this time money was a little tight, so I didn’t buy anything.

River Streetdown a River Street back alley

After spending far less time than I’d expected in historic downtown Savannah, and then walking the length of River Street, David was ready to head out to try and find a beach. We drove off in the wrong direction, then turned around and miraculously found our way to the beautiful Tybee Island. After a brief stop to admire a lighthouse, we picked our way down onto the beach.

seagulls and waves

I was wearing shorts, and I’d already taken my sneakers and socks off to walk in the sand barefoot, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to run gleefully out into the water. My pants got thoroughly soaked. The water was warm and foamy and beautiful. You can’t help but feel as if you’re part of something when you’re standing there, rushing tide pounding your legs and sucking the sand out from under your feet, bright sun shining overhead and sky clear and stretching out forever. I wanted to swim…but unfortunately I’d worn a rather nice shirt that I didn’t want to ruin, so I had to content myself with wading.

Between jaunts, I convinced David to throw off his shoes, roll up his jeans, and do some splashing around of his own.

He too got soaked, and his jeans took quite a bit longer than my khaki shorts to dry.

I am so glad that we went to the ocean. If I ever plan my days-long excursion to Savannah, I will seriously consider staying on Tybee Island.

Cumberland Falls

On my way here, I stopped for gas for the last time and noticed that I was at the exit for Cumberland Falls. Why not? I thought. I followed the signs away from I-75, and drove for a long time on twisting mountain roads. Eventually I came to a beautiful stone overlook, so I stopped to get some pictures.

After that, I went on. By the time I finally got to the falls, I was twelve miles away from I-75. I drove past various entrances to restaurants and waterfront homes until finally I came to the park.

First I wandered around the area above the falls, looking at the rocky bed, the surrounding forest, and the beautiful bridge over the water.

Soon I reached a sign that said “DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT”, so I headed off to the right and passed through between the gift shop and the snack bar to the main park area.

And finally, there was the first falls viewing site:

I moved along from there and found several other great angles.

Someday I’ll be as famous as James Archambault ;>

After a little more exploring, I was hot and tired and ready to drive the last 100 miles. I bought myself a souvenir, one of those neat paper storage boxes. My cousin Gabrielle gave me two hat boxes when I was in the hospital (which, of course, were destroyed in the fire); this box is made of the same kind of stuff, except it’s a cube. It’s beige with blue flowers. I also bought some homemade fudge. Then I headed home, fully satisfied with my little detour.

I arrived safely

Hours and hours ago, as it happens. I did take a slight detour–I stopped for gas at the exit for Cumberland Falls, and decided to go to the park and get photos. This took me about twelve miles away from I-75. After I hiked all over the falls area, took pictures, reminisced about going there in my early teens with a friend, and basically satisfied my need to reintroduce beauty into my life, I decided to finish the trip on backroads, which took forever. But at least it was different.

I have a splitting headache and I’m very tired. More details and the photos will come tomorrow.

Night!