Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
January 17, 2017 - Florida Keys

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter

Kevin and I wish you a Blessed Easter Day. We made it to Lincoln, Nebraska on April 5th after a few longer than normal driving days for us. We like to keep our driving days to about 200 miles. In order to have more time in Lincoln to help Korey and Cathryn, we did some 300 mile days. Not a big deal.

Both kids had off on April 6th, so they took us over to see the new home. It's a great house and I'm sure it will serve them well for many years. It's about 20 years old and in very good condition.

Since this is their first home, they don't have some of the tools needed to be homeowners. We headed to Home Depot to pick up painting supplies and some paint color samples. Back at the house Cathryn painted sample colors on the walls. Korey and Kevin had a lesson on how to replace a light fixture and a faucet, and I began stripping the wallpaper in the foyer. Luckily, that was the only room with wallpaper.

I had prepared taco meat and fixings ahead of time, so we went back to their apartment and had a last meal together there. It was a nice apartment, but they are so happy to have their own home now with much more storage space.

Both of them had to work on Friday and Saturday, so Kevin and I spent those two days painting. We've painted our fair share in our years, and have a good routine for us. I do the cutting in and Kevin does the rollering. We ended up painting the family room, master bedroom, dinette and kitchen. Here are some before and afters of the family room and bedroom.

They chose colors in the gray tones. The woodwork is a medium oak, and the gray walls help tone down the wood color. It turned out very nice.

They were both off work on Sunday, so that was moving day. Kevin had emptied out the back of our truck, and we were able to move all of their large items using just our truck. No need to rent a moving truck. Their apartment was on the second floor and the bedrooms in the house are on the second floor. We were sure tired, but we got all of the big items moved. Their lease on the apartment doesn't end until early May, so they have lots of time to move the rest of the smaller items and get everything cleaned up. Nice not to have to do all of the moving in one day.

All of the climbing up and down stepladders doing the cutting in for the painting, as well as up and down stairs for the moving did a number on my knees. About eight years ago, I tore the ACL in my right knee and had surgery. It's never been right since then. I also have arthritis in both knees, so they were not happy with me. Icing and ibuprofen helped, and they will be fine after a little rest. Just a reminder that our bodies are not as young as they used to be.

We spent two more days painting while the kids were at work and finished all the projects we had planned to do. Maybe next year we'll go back and paint some more, but this was enough for one trip. Kevin was also able to help with a few other projects; installing a new light fixture, caulking, a new motion sensor light switch, new thermostat, caulking and cabinet adjustment. A very fruitful week.

Anyone who full times in an RV knows that things break. It's probably the thing that is most frustrating as RVs are known for not having the best construction. Also, it is hard to find quality repair facilities, and where do you go if it needs to be in the shop.  We had a few problems over the winter. It sure helps that Kevin is pretty handy.

On one of our trips, I came inside to find glass all over the counter. One of the pendant lights had loosened and crashed into the other one, causing it to break. It makes no sense to have lights that can swing in an RV. We're thinking that the motion of traveling loosened the screw, and we didn't notice.

At one of the stops in Florida, our automatic leveling jacks weren't working. One of them was making a terrible ratcheting sound. I did some online searching for Lippert jacks, and found a troubleshooting guide. As I read the steps, Kevin was able to do everything needed to reset the jacks. Success! They have been working great since.

We also had trouble with our Schwintek slides in the kitchen and bedroom. We were able to reset the control panel and get them working. On our last night in Iowa before getting back to Wisconsin, the kitchen slide would not go out no matter how much resetting we did. One side was not working. We were able to get into our refrigerator, so had sandwiches and called it a night. Thank goodness it didn't stop working while it was out. The sunrise in Iowa was beautiful!

We were fortunate to find Complete RV Repair in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin last fall when our refrigerator stopped working. Mark came out to the campground on Good Friday and determined the motor on one side of the slide was broken. He said that these Schwintek slides are terrible, and he doesn't feel they are made for bouncing down the road. Once he got the motor out, he and Kevin were able to pull the slide out on that side while I pushed the button to get it moving on the other side. He will order a new motor and install it when he has some time. No hurry; we're here for six months.

It's great to be back in Wisconsin. Today we're going to my mother's for Easter. I can't wait to see our son Eric and my mom as we haven't seen them since Christmas. Also, it will be good to be back to work for the summer as Florida was pretty expensive, and it's time to replenish the bank account.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Biltmore Estate - Asheville, North Carolina

We stopped in Asheville, North Carolina on our way back north because I really wanted to visit the Biltmore Estate. It is the largest privately owned home in the country with 250 rooms, including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. In the 1880s George Vanderbilt visited Asheville with his mother and fell in love with the area. He purchased 125,000 acres of land overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and had a mansion built. It took six years to complete, and he moved in on Christmas Eve in 1895 as a 33 year old bachelor. He named it Biltmore from "Bildt", Vanderbilt's ancestors' place of origin in Holland and "more", for open, rolling land.

 This is one of the more expensive tourist attractions we've visited. Regular admission is $65 per person, then you can pay more for special tours, audio tour, and lots of other options. They were running a special in March for a $10 discount if you wore your favorite team's apparel, which we did. Also, if you order your tickets online at least 7 days in advance, you also save $10. We purchased one 90 minute audio tour for an extra $11 which I listened to and filled Kevin in on the highlights. They give you a very nice booklet which explains much of what the audio tour covered.

I'm not one to usually spend this much on a tour, but I couldn't resist this place. I'm not alone as over 1 million visitors come each year; that averages out to over 2,700 per day. If you go, arrive early. We went at a slower time of year, and it was plenty crowded.

Upon entering, you see the winter garden room. There were lots of orchids growing in there, which I know are a hard flower to grow. Lots of gardeners working at the estate.

Next was the Banquet Hall. The room is so large, it's impossible to take a picture depicting the entire space. There are three fireplaces at one end, and an enormous pipe organ in the loft on the opposite side. Currently, the estate has costumes from recent period movies on display, so those are the mannequins you will see in some of the pictures. George Vanderbilt married Edith in 1898. They had one daughter, Cornelia born in 1900. Dinner usually took about two hours.

The Music Room was never completed in George's lifetime. It was a hidden room and was used by the US Government during WWII to hide treasures from museums in Washington DC. It was completed by the family in 1976. The detail in all of these rooms is amazing, from the ceilings, wall coverings, fireplaces, furnishings, window treatments and art objects.

This portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt is on display in the Breakfast Room. He was George's grandfather who borrowed $100 to buy a ferry boat and built his shipping and railroad empire into $100 million dollars upon his death.

The library is a testament to George's passion for books with half of his 22,000 volume collection. The painting on the ceiling is The Chariot of Aurora, painted in the 1720s by Italian artist Giovanni Pellegrini, originally in a palace in Venice. Flash photography was not allowed, so the pictures are not the greatest.

Of course, every home needs a Tapestry Gallery. This one entitled Faith is from the 1530s, and is part of a set called The Triumph of the Seven Virtues. Tapestries of this magnitude took five years to plan and design and another five years to weave. There were many tapestries throughout the entire house.

Edith Vanderbilt had a beautiful bedroom. Rich couples in their time period always had separate bedrooms with a sitting room between them. This was because both the men and women changed clothes up to six times a day with a servant helping them. The servants could not see the spouse undressed, so separate bedrooms.

The second and third floors had many bedrooms and living rooms for guests. This bedroom called the Louis XV room was where Edith chose to give birth to their daughter. In their time, women were frequently confined for weeks before and after a birth. This room was very elegant and had beautiful views of the estate. Not a bad place to spend a few weeks. The daughter Cornelia also gave birth to her two sons in this same room.

The basement level housed the three massive kitchens and some of the servants bedrooms, as well as a bowling alley, swimming pool and workout gym.

The swimming pool still has the original underwater lights, but is no longer filled with water as it leaks. Water was brought in from a nearby reservoir and heated before guests went swimming. There were no pool chemicals or filtration systems in those days, so after about three days, the water was emptied and then refilled for the next pool party. There were changing rooms for both men and women next to the pool, as it was inappropriate to walk through the house in your bathing suit.

This is the main kitchen where a dozen servants were working all day to feed the family and their guests. The copper pots are original. The Vanderbilts treated their servants very well. Each had their own bedroom and were paid a good wage for the time. The estate reminded me very much of Downton Abbey. The Biltmore Estate had many modern conveniences at the cutting edge of its time such as electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating and electric drying racks.

Vanderbilt hired landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design his gardens. Olmsted also designed Central Park and the US Capitol grounds. The walled garden has beds of tulips and daffodils. There is also an azalea garden, but they were just starting to bloom.  There is a massive conservatory with all kinds of plants growing in the multiple greenhouses.

The red buds were blooming. They are one of my favorite trees. I love their lacy and delicate look. I've really enjoyed seeing all the red buds in bloom as we're heading north.

The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the terraces of the estate are breathtaking. I'm sure it is even more beautiful in summer and fall. If I lived near here, I would buy an annual pass to come see the gardens during the different season, and to see the house decorated for Christmas.

It took us over two hours to tour the house and gardens. Then we drove about 2.5 miles to Antler Hill Village and Winery on the other side of the estate. We went for a free wine tasting at America's most visited winery, The winery was established in 1985 and inspired by George Vanderbilt's passion for fine wines. The original estate was a working farm and dairy, which is how money was raised to support the estate.

There is a farm area with displays of vintage farming equipment, as well as demonstrations. We also visited The Biltmore Legacy exhibit where wedding displays showed the weddings of George and Edith and some of their heirs. Jackie Kennedy's wedding veil is on display here. It turns out Jackie wore her grandmother's veil for her wedding. A few years later, Jackie's first cousin married a Vanderbilt and wore the same veil. All of these rich families are somehow related.

George Vanderbilt died at the age of 51 from complications of appendicitis. Edith lived on the estate for a few years, but moved away after she remarried. She sold off the majority of the land to the US government to become part of a national forest. Cornelia and her husband opened the estate to the public in 1930, responding to requests to increase tourism during the Depression and to generate income to preserve the estate.

Upon Cornelia's death, the estate was divided between her two sons. One inherited the house and 8,000 acres; the other inherited the dairy and 7,000 acres. The dairy has since been sold and the estate now covers 8,000 acres with two hotels and employs 2,000 people. The estate belongs to fourth and fifth generations heirs of George and Edith. They have certainly found a way to fund the enormous cost of keeping up such a massive property, and to share it with the public.

After leaving the estate, we made a quick stop at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. The parkway runs for 469 miles between The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Roadway construction began in 1935 as a public works project to bring jobs and tourism to rural Appalachia. We watched a very informative movie about the construction of the parkway and all that can be seen along the way.

The Asheville area has beautiful scenery, and we could easily have spent a few more days exploring. However, we are on a mission to get to Lincoln, Nebraska on a roundabout trek back to Wisconsin. Our kids Korey and Cathryn have bought a home, and we are going to spend a week helping them move, paint and strip some wallpaper. Can't wait to see it.

We're spending the weekend at the East Nashville/Lebanon KOA on our way west. When we arrived, we were greeted by these residents. The rooster was doing a lot of crowing. Fortunately, he has been quiet this morning.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Charleston, South Carolina Walking Tour

I found a Groupon for a walking tour with a company called Ashley on the Cooper Walking Tours, a clever name as Charleston is located between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. On Monday we took their two hour 1 pm tour with Kathy.  She was a fantastic guide, teaching us the history of Charleston in a fun and educational way.

We started near the Circular Church which has been on the site since the late 1600s, but has been rebuilt several times due to fires. There are many old grave markers and vaults dating back to the earliest days of the church.

Charleston has many historic churches. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built in 1890 using sandstone from the northeast similar to brownstone homes. It is beautiful from afar, but even more impressive up close. Each block has hand chiseled stars representing the Bible story where God promises Abraham as many children as there are stars in the sky. The stained glass came from Germany.

 St. Michael's Anglican Church was built around 1752 and is the oldest church in the city. In historic times, families purchased their pew boxes. George Washington and Robert E. Lee both worshiped here (not at the same time, of course). The pulpit is the original. The gold chandelier was originally lit with candles. During the Civil War they painted it black to keep it from being stolen, and it worked.

 In addition to many beautiful churches, we also saw blocks and blocks of the most amazing historic homes. I think Charleston is the most beautifully historic restored city I've ever seen. Many other historic cities have some great historic homes mixed in with newer construction, or the homes are in disrepair. Charleston has done am amazing job of keeping the hold homes in excellent condition.

This is due in great part to a fantastic lady named Susan Pringle Frost who founded the preservation society in Charleston in the 1920s. She and her rich lady friends were instrumental in having many homes restored, maybe the original flippers. She was responsible for the famous Rainbow Row on Bay Street where the homes are painted in vibrant pastel colors. She was also the first president of the Equal Suffrage League.

 This blue frame house is supposedly the oldest home in Charleston from 1691 having survived many fires, hurricanes, floods and anything else Mother Nature could throw at it.

 This bed and breakfast is the John Rutledge House who was a governor of South Carolina and a signer of the Constitution.

 Many of the houses have beautiful flower boxes under the windows and amazing gardens behind their fenced yards.

 I loved this blooming tree with red and white blossoms. Our guide said it was a non fruit bearing peach tree.

 After our tour we walked down to Waterfront Park where there is an amazing pineapple fountain. Pineapples were used as a sign of hospitality and are seen all over the city on wrought iron fences and concrete walls.

We continued to Battery Park where there is this statue to honor Confederate defenders of Charleston. There are many cannons on display all around the park.

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Federal Union on December 20, 1860. The vote was held on this site which is now a bank (on the left). There is a plaque on the wall. The adjoining buildings are much older, both occupied by law firms. Lawyers are second largest industry in Charleston. Tourism is number one.

We've toured several cities on trolley tours which are fun and informative. If we can find a walking tour, we prefer it because there is more time for the guide to give you in-depth information. Charleston does not have trolley tours. Instead, they use horse drawn carriage tours which are much quieter and cause less traffic problems. The horses wear bags to catch their poop. If the horse pees on the street, the driver drops a marker and street cleaners with a water tank spray it down at night so the streets don't small like a stable.

We stopped at the Fort Sumter Visitor Center on the mainland. The fort is actually on an island quite a ways out into the harbor. Ferry rides are available, but at $21 per person, we just weren't that interested. We've been to quite a few old forts in our travels. Fort Sumter is famous for the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired  on April 12, 1961 by Confederates onto the fort which was occupied by the North. The fort fell quickly to the south giving the Confederates a strategic port. It stayed in southern control until 1865 despite repeated attempts by the north to take siege. It was severely damaged by over 20 months of bombardment.

George Washington visited Charleston in 1791 for a few weeks. He was treated as a hero with many balls given in his honor. Washington Park has a statue of him and a 1/30 scale reproduction of the Washington Monument.

One story is that he so much admired the Charleston County Courthouse, that he asked the architect James Hoban to design the White House.

I took many more pictures, but I'll stop here. I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Charleston, and would highly recommend it as a place for everyone to visit. We just scratched the surface of what there is to do.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Savannah, Georgia Walking Tour

We arrived at Camp Lake Jasper RV Park in Hardeeville, South Carolina on Thursday afternoon. This is another great RV park with huge sites. It looks fairly new and is clean and beautifully maintained. I chose this location because it is conveniently located off I-95, and we can visit Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina from here.

I found a great deal on Groupon for a walking tour with Savannah Belle Tours, so we headed out on Friday morning for a 10:30 am tour. The guide Michelle was very knowledgeable, and we learned many interesting facts about the history of Savannah and Georgia. Georgia was the 13th original colony founded in 1732, and was populated with the poor and prisoners from England. Many of them were in debtor's prison in England, yet they were skilled craftsmen. They were promised a paradise in Georgia. The northern colonies were willing to have Georgia as a new colony to act as a buffer between them and Florida, which was still under Spanish rule.

The city of Savannah was laid out in a grid pattern with squares in the center of neighborhoods. Originally, all homes were built using pine, and the squares were meant to protect the homes from fire. Unfortunately, the squares didn't prevent fires from burning homes, and Savannah had several major fires which wiped out most pine homes. Eventually, in the 1800s, those with the money began building their homes with stone and bricks.

Most squares had a church on one of the corners, so there are many churches in the historic district. The squares are named after political leaders or generals in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. Many of them have monuments in the center. They have beautiful live oaks growing in them, which is the state tree of Georgia. The squares provide peaceful places for people in this very busy city to come and relax. This is Lafayette Square with a fountain in the center.

This is the Lutheran church in the historic district. They just celebrated their 275th anniversary last year.

The historic district of Savannah is a mix of beautiful old historic homes and newer construction hotels and businesses.  City Hall was built in 1905 and has a 70 foot gold leaf dome.

This house is known as Sherman's Headquarters. It was built in 1854 for Charles Green at a cost of $93,000 which was a small fortune in those days. Green offered the house to Sherman to use as headquarters when Sherman's army conquered Savannah on December 22, 1864. Residents of the city begged Sherman not to burn their city. He wrote a letter to Lincoln offering Savannah as a Christmas gift with its many bales of cotton and location as a port with a railroad.

In January, 1865 Sherman met with leaders of the black churches in Savannah. That meeting resulted in Sherman issuing Special Field Orders No. 15 which encouraged enlistment of freedmen and also gave each freed family 40 acres of coastal land. After Lincoln's death, President Andrew Jackson revoked the order, making it difficult for freed slaves to gain independence.

The founder of the Girl Scouts Juliette Gordon Low was born in Savannah in 1860 and founded the group in 1912. This house is the first headquarters and has a museum. There is also a museum at her birth house where you can buy girl scout cookies all year long.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist was built in 1873. It is beautiful inside and out.

Even the police station is historic. We got a kick out of seeing the old police cars parked in front of the station.

Spring arrived early in this part of the country this year. Tulips and daffodils bloomed a month early in February. There were some trees blooming.

Johnny Mercer is a native of Savannah. He penned 1,400 songs, the most famous being Moon River. He was co-founder of Capitol Records and founding president of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was nominated for 18 Academy Awards for best song and won 4 Oscars.

We had lunch at Moon River Brewing Company. The food was good and Kevin enjoyed a flight with nine samples.

Savannah is a beautiful, historic city along the Savannah River. We walked along River Street with its many shops and restaurants. Tourism is actually the sixth biggest industry. Savannah is the fourth busiest port city in the country and the port is the number one business in the city. Michelle told us that South Carolina has overtaken Georgia as the peach capitol of the country. Free range chickens and pecans are now Georgia's biggest agricultural products.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!