DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

A Vacation of Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson


This vacation is one I touched on while reviewing Primarily Presidential Destinations four years ago.  FOUR YEARS AGO!  I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for that long, but there you have it.  While traveling we saw Lincoln historical sites, Mount Vernon, Monticello and Arlington National Cemetery.  If you want to read about those destinations, then you should follow those links.  In this blog I’ll chat about some of the things which happened in-between these historic landmarks.

Looking at Different Parts of the Menu

Sometimes I feel like an exotic bird among birds of a different feather. It’s like someone dropped my egg into a nest of another species.  We’re all birds, but we’re not alike.  At first no one noticed and they were always good to me even when it was obvious I didn’t quite fit in.  Some of the differences were apparent on this wonderful trip my Mom had carefully planned.

Along with the attractions listed above, we visited places like the Smithsonian Institute and drove all over D.C. , but I didn’t want to just visit museums and drive around.  I felt like there was more to this travel thing than that.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, because this was the most sight-seeing we’d ever done, but everything felt canned.  To an extent I still feel the same way.  I have a great time on vacation and I explore things other people never find, but the real excitement seems just out of my reach.

Take the night we went out for an elegant dinner in D.C.  I have no idea exactly what the restaurant was, but we were very dressed up and the menus were ginormous.  Within moments after opening the menu my Dad announced we’d all have the ground round.  Our usual dining experience was either the local cafeteria, Shoney’s Big Boy or a BBQ joint, so I was thrilled to be in this place with linen tablecloths and candles.  However, I wondered how my dad could know what I wanted before I even finished reading the menu.

I suspect my dad looked at the right side of the menu before he checked out the descriptions on the left.  We sat by quietly while my dad ordered our dinners and obediently ate what was served, but I’d seen the word “lobster” before they took away my menu.  I didn’t know what lobster was and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of it, even after I’d been served my ground round.

I Finally Got My Lobster 

I can only guess what it must have been like to be my parents over the next two or three days.  I probably asked 3,297,000 questions about lobsters.  Somewhere around question number three million I was able to ascertain the undesirability of lobster at a meal was not related to the crustacean itself, but actually to something called “market price.”

When I figured that out I must have posed a question like this, “So, if I found lobster on a menu and it had a price listed instead of just market price, could I order it?”  “Theoretically,” my father replied.  I probably didn’t understand exactly what “theoretically” meant, but I realized it wasn’t a no.

To my parent’s dismay, it wasn’t long until lobster salad showed up on a lunch menu.  I was old enough to understand less than and greater than.  The price of the lobster salad wasn’t the cheapest thing on the menu, but it was in line with the other items, something else my parents must have discussed with me during the lobster conversation.  I confidently informed my family I would be having the lobster salad for lunch.

Oddly, it was my mother who started making a case against the lobster.  She warned me it would not be a whole lobster, but pieces of lobster in a salad and it might give me the wrong idea about lobster.  I imagine I had a look on my face my husband is familiar with. They’d laid down the circumstances in which I could have lobster and I was going to have it.

Dad certainly recognized the look on my face, so he announced I would be having the lobster salad – and that was that.  The lobster salad was good.  It would be years before I’d dip a lobster claw into drawn butter, but for the time being, my parents could talk about something other than crustaceans.

Come back next week and we’ll go to Historic Williamsburg.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Nashville to Fairborn

Deb pulls into her hometown.
Deb pulls into her hometown.


Driving past the exit for The Hermitage was hard.  Before I left Dallas, I knew the first few days of our trip weren’t about tourist attractions, but I particularly love to visit presidential destinations.  I couldn’t help but have regrets as we passed the exit for President Andrew Jackson’s home.  Oh well, onward and northward.  It wasn’t going to be my last regret of the day.  We were passing through Kentucky and for some reason, every time I go to Kentucky I’m just passing through.  Note to self – go to Kentucky!

On Down the Road

Because we changed time zones, we lost an hour before we’d even had lunch.  It was a shorter drive, so we didn’t make as many potty stops or driver changes.  We rolled into Dayton around two and were in sore need of sustenance.  We found a Chili’s and tucked into some nachos and margaritas.  I kept trying to think of something clever to say about two Dallas dames having nachos and margaritas in Dayton, but mostly I just missed the original Chili’s at Greenville and Meadow.  Do you remember when the whole menu fit on a half sheet of paper and focused on hamburgers? I do!

An Adequate Accomodation
An Adequate Accomodation

The next thing we did was get lost.  You’ve heard that you can’t go home again?  Well, Deb was home, but she didn’t know her way around.  We did eventually find the Ramada and it was adequate, but nothing to waste blog-space over.

Deb’s Home Twon

Fairborn is an interesting town.  There’s a huge airbase there, so parts of Fairborn are booming. Deb was amazed.  One of the roads she usually took to get from one place to another has been completely taken over by the base.  However, the Fairborn she grew up in isn’t there anymore.  Oh, it’s there in the form of a shuttered downtown and an empty movie theater, but the town she knew doesn’t exist.

Our first job was to find a florist.  With Dayton right around the corner, all the local florist Deb knew had closed down.  The only one left in the small town was Hollon Flowers – but what a florist.  If you EVER need to order flowers in the Dayton area PLEASE call them.

The shop was charming.  For many years, she’d had another shop out from town in a suburban setting, but had recently moved in town.  The shop is behind her very pretty Victorian home, just around the corner from a downtown that is striving very hard to come back. (Travel note – Fairborn is full of lovely Victorians!) The shop has more than flowers.  I saw many cute gift items and longed to linger in her garden, but we had things to do.

When we told her what we needed, she was dismayed.  Expecting a truck in the morning, she’d cleaned out her flower inventory of any iffy items, but we needed our arrangement before the truck would get there. She took us back into the refrigerator to see what she had.  We found some pretty purple roses and some white snapdragons.  That inspired her and she found some lovely spider mums and reached for some dark purple flowers to fill in the blanks.  She sent us on our way and told us we’d have something pretty the next morning.  She kept her promise, too.

Memory Lane

Who lives here now?
Who lives here now?

Then Deb made sure she remembered how to get to the cemetery and where her parent’s headstone was.  That out of the way, she wanted to travel down memory lane.  It was a bittersweet drive through her small town.  The new owners weren’t keeping up her old homes the way she wished they would.  The high school was a nursing home.  Nothing was quite what she wanted it to be.

After a while, we had to end the tour.  Deb had contacted an old friend and we were having dinner with her in Yellow Spring.  I can’t wait to tell you about the charming little town and the great restaurant we found there, but you’ll have to wait until next week!

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Beautiful Belle Grove Plantation

Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, Virgina
Arriving at Belle Grove


I’m excited to welcome a guest to my blog today, Michelle Darnell.  She and her husband are starting a Bed and Breakfast Inn on a very lovely plantation in Virginia.  Not just any old plantation, but Belle Grove, the birthplace President James Madison.  Please enjoy the lovely images Michelle has provided and read what she has to say about Belle Grove and several other historic Virginia sites.  Then look at your calendar and set aside some days to visit her when the inn opens in May:

Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, Virgina
Almost there!

Entering the Property

“As you approach the entrance, you see before you a long drive lined with ancient trees of old. Birds fly in and out of the Red Cedars singing their tunes as a quiet alarm of an approaching visitor. Warm summer breezes sweep through the trees as the sun shines down on the fields in the distance. Just ahead you see the gate posts worn from time that have stood as sentinels against those who would come to disturb the peace of this plantation.

Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, Virgina
The Bowling Green

Your sight takes in the carpet of green grass of the bowling green that leads you up to the grand old mansion. Trees that have stood before the time of this plantation still stand guard over it, witnesses of the history that passed just below their out stretched arms. The laughter of children, the tears of families and haunting silence of years of lonely abandon echoes in their branches as the wind whispers through their leaves.

Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, Virgina
Eagles wheeling in the sky above Belle Grove

Over head you hear the call of a majestic eagle as he sweeps through the high currents of the clear blue sky as clouds drift back as if only to admire the beauty this land has to offer. As you step out into the sun light, peace seems to pull you in close, cradling you in its loving arms.

Beautiful Virginia

This sight is just a taste of what lays within the border of our beautiful state of Virginia. With first permanent colony settled was settled in Jamestown in 1607, Virginia has witness the birth of a nation from the very start. As our great country grew, so did the homes and plantations of Virginia.

The Plantations and Historic Homes of Virginia are among the oldest homes in America. They have witnessed more than four centuries of American history. From these grand homes and plantation, many influential people have called Virginia home. Known as the “Mother of Presidents” eight American Presidents have called Virginia home.

In 2012, the Governor of Virginia, Bob McDowell, declared the year 2013 the “Year of the Virginia Historic Homes”. This celebration coincides with the 200th birthday of the Virginia Executive Mansion. Just like the Virginia Executive Mansion, Virginia’s Plantation and Historic Homes have been part of a rich history.

Homes such as Monticello, Mount Vernon and Montpelier are very well known and often visited locations in Virginia. But do you know places such as Westover, Berry Hill, Bacon’s Castle or Kenmore? With several hundred locations in almost every region of Virginia, you can’t turn without being within a few miles of one of these hidden gems.

James Madison's Montpelier, Virginia
James Madison’s Montpelier
Westover Plantation, Virginia
Westover Plantation
Kenmore Plantation, Virginia
Kenmore Plantation
Bacon's Castle, Virginia
Bacon’s Castle
Berry Hill, Virginia
Berry Hill

Belle Grove Plantation is Real

While the above description brings thoughts of “Gone with the Wind”, this location unlike Tara does exist here in Virginia. Located just south of Fredericksburg, sitting on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River, stands a Plantation Mansion called Belle Grove.

Belle Grove Plantation Bed & Breakfast, VirginiaBelle Grove Plantation was established in 1670 and was the held by the Conway Family for 120 years. From this family came a young girl who would met and marry a plantation owner from Orange County. It was here that she would return to give birth to the 4th American President and Father of the Constitution, James Madison.

Ext Back View from slope at sunset, Belle Grove, Virginia
Belle Grove from the riverside

Just minutes from his childhood home, Lawrence Washington, Great Grandfather of George Washington would play on this plantation as a child and George would be a frequent visitor in later years.
The Mansion that currently stands was built in 1791 and expanded in 1839. It is believed that the basement is the foundation of a previous home of the Conway family and possibly the home where James Madison was born.

Belle Grove has seen every American War, but the Civil War would come the closest. With the battle line drawn down the river of the Rappahannock, Belle Grove is believed to have serviced as a Union Headquarters towards the end of the war. After the assassination of President Lincoln, Belle Grove would once again play a part in history. John Wilkes Booth with his companion, David Harold would use the ferry location now found on this plantation to cross the Rappahannock River. They would later end up just three miles away at Garrett’s Farm. The Union Soldiers pursuing them would stop at Belle Grove to rest with one of the soldiers, Lt. Everton Congar, sleeping in the front hallway.

Sunset along the Rappahannock, Belle Grove, Virginia
Sunset along the Rappahannock

Now, opening to the public for the first time in its long history, Belle Grove Plantation of Port Conway, Virginia will open its doors May 2013 as historic Bed and Breakfast. Come surround yourself with the history of America while enjoying the peace of a Southern Plantation!

We invite you to visit our blog,,  and learn more about the history of Belle Grove Plantation and of many other of the Historic Homes of Virginia.”

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Libraries, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL

The Bush Library in Dallas TX


Welcome to my series on Presidential Destinations. The series was supposed to stop with Number 14, Mount Vernon, but even though I live in Dallas, I forgot that it actually has a presidential destination. If you read Number 15, you know that I’m not fond of Dallas’ association with Kennedy’s assassination, but there will soon be a presidential destination here that I’ll be proud to take visitors to: The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

I Love My Local President

I know GWB’s name is a lightning rod.  People either love him or they hate him.  Here’s your warning:  I’m on the loving team.  I’ll readily admit that, like most human beings, he made mistakes, but I think history will be a lot kinder to him than our modern day talking heads have been.  He’ll be the guy that carried us through the aftermath of 9/11, focused on critical National Security issues and, if our sense of fairness ever returns, his policies will be credited for the capture of Bin Laden.  Many people see him from a completely different point of view.  I acknowledge that and respect it, but this is my blog.

I’m a fan of GWB, but not exactly a groupie.  I remember the excitement created when Laura picked out the Preston Hollow estate for their Dallas home and I was aware that SMU would be the site of his library, but I was in the middle of completing my degree when all the fuss was going on and I really didn’t pay much attention to it.  When you offset your mid-life crisis by returning to school, your brain doesn’t have much room for anything else, but the local papers and evening news were full of it.

I still haven’t driven by their home, but I’m very familiar with the site of the library, thanks to my mom’s CPA.  He’s one of those liberals.  He knows I’m a conservative, but he baits me with liberal propaganda the whole time he’s preparing my parents’ return.  Without the political commentary, it would only take about fifteen minutes for him to plug in the few numbers necessary to complete my parents’ tax return, but we never get out of there in less than an hour.

A few years ago, in an effort to avoid the usual liberal harangue, I glanced out of his high rise office onto a baseball diamond across the highway.  “What a great view,” I said, thinking I’d hit upon a neutral subject – WRONG!  I wasn’t aware that the baseball diamond would soon be a building site for GWB’s library.  It was like Pavlov’s Dogs.  The subject of George W. Bush came up and the liberal in the room started salivating.

If you’re a fan of our forty-third president, you may already be planning a visit to Dallas next year, so you can see the largest presidential library and museum built to date.  If you aren’t a fan, maybe you should plan a visit so you’ll have a chance to hear the other side of the story.  One thing I know for sure, once the library opens my mom’s accountant will have plenty to bend my ear with.

ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL

JFK in Dallas


Welcome to the fifteenth  installment of Primarily Presidential Destinations. We’ve covered almost all of the Presidential destinations that I’ve visited, but we haven’t talked about Dallas.  I live in Dallas now, but my family lived in Georgia when Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza.  Like most Dallasites I try to disassociate my city from the assassination, but we can’t quite shake it.

Love Field

Love Field no longer looks anything like it did when the dazzling Kennedys stepped onto the tarmac.  When I think of Love Field, my mind is more likely to run to hot pants by Pucci than a First Lady in a pink suit.  Sure I remember the black and white photos, but Braniff landed there a lot more times than Airforce One.  I never greeted a president at Love Field, but I welcomed the Dallas Cowboys outside the Braniff terminal after many an away game- whether we had won or lost.

The JFK Sites

If you live here, visitors are going to ask about Dealey Plaza, the Texas School Book Depository and Parkland Hospital, but I always discourage them.  From Dealy Plaza you can gaze at the infamous grassy knoll, but you can’t drive the route JFK did, because traffic in front of the old courthouse flows one way in the wrong direction.  You can find Parkland Hospital, but you’d never find anything in the huge complex, remodeled several times over, that even remotely reminded you of the hospital in those old news clips.

There’s an old building across from Dealey Plaza that was the Texas School Book Depository.  It’s been through several incarnations, but the infamous window is still there.  Inside there’s something called The Sixth Floor Museum.  Some guy bought up some of the contents of the Depository and several people went broke trying to make money off of them.   Apparently the current manifestation of the museum is the most successful, but it’s a good thing they have tourists to depend on, because even Dallas school teachers don’t want to take their students.


A block or so away from Dealey Plaza is a big square piece of concrete that is a memorial to the assassinated president.  It embarrasses me a little bit.  If a guest does insist that they must see where Kennedy was shot, I will drive them by Dealey Plaza and the Book Depository, but I never allow enough time to see the Sixth Floor Museum and I never point out the memorial.  It looks like an abandoned building project – blank walls and no ceiling.  If we were going to have a memorial to him, it should have looked more like Dealey Plaza – columns, a statue, lots of grass.  Maybe a waterfall or something, but not the empty concrete walls on a slab of concrete behind a red brick courthouse.

There’s so much more to see and do in Dallas.  Dallas didn’t kill John F. Kennedy.  Maybe it was Lee Harvey Oswald.  Maybe it was the Mafia.  Maybe it was aliens.  But it wasn’t Dallas.  For that matter, we didn’t shoot JR either, but I’ll save that for another day.

Come to Dallas to shop.  Redecorate your digs in the Design District.  Eat at our restaurants.  See the Dallas Museum of Art, The Meadows Museum, The Crow Collection of Asian Art, The Nasher  or any number of museums besides the Sixth Floor.  Catch an opera, symphony or show in the Arts District.  There a lot to do, but don’t waste time on an event we’re working so hard to ignore.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL

George Washington’s Mount Vernon


Welcome to the final stop in our series about travel destinations related to American presidents.  Now we’ll visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon.  It’s an amazing place to visit and everyone should go there, but rather than tell you a lot of historical information you can get for yourself from other sources -which I hope my other blogs in this series inspire you to do – I’m going to tell you the thing I remember most about my visit to Mount Vernon.

Where’s Susan?

On the day in 1969 when we visited Mount Vernon, we were up early and were among the first to tour the house – but the house was not all there was to see.  When they ushered us out the back door, they invited us to inspect the grounds.  Behind the house were a series of small wooden structures with a variety of uses.  My dad stuck his head inside a cookhouse and then turned around and said, “Where’s Susan?”

Every parent in the world knows that feeling.  They were right next to you, clinging to the seam of your pant or skirt one minute and the next they were gone.  I’m sure when my dad first inquired about Susan’s whereabouts I rolled my eyes and said to myself, “It’s always about Susan,” but that was merely my teen-aged angst.  Fact is, I absolutely adored that little mite and felt more than a little responsibility towards her.

When we couldn’t locate Susan after a few minutes, we began to panic and ask for help.  An hour later, my parents were talking with the security staff in low voices and Susan’s inability to swim was discussed.  Pretty much everyone from fellow tourists to the Mount Vernon security staff was involved in the search for Susan.  From the first moment, I’d wanted to set out on my own to find her, but that was the one thing no one was going to let me do.  I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I could help best by not getting lost myself and the best way for me to avoid that was to stay right there.

I was more than frustrated.  My parents were frantic and the concern of everyone else was obvious.  They’d chatted on their walkie talkies.  They’d searched the property several times in their golf carts and on foot.  They hadn’t found her and I wasn’t buying the Potomac theory.  But the grow-ups didn’t know what to suggest next, short of searching the river.

God and I have always been close, but at the age of fourteen I still thought of my parents as the first line of inquiry.  They provided food, shelter and new packages of notebook paper.  In this strange place, Susan had been their responsibility, but they hadn’t been able to produce her since Dad visited the cookhouse.  So finally, I contacted God.  He gave me the message that she was OK and told me to open my eyes and look for her.  That sort of ticked me off, because my eyes were almost raw from the way I’d been peering around trying to locate her.

I took a deep breath and began to scan the horizon once again.  My eyes ran from the corner of the house across the lawn to a small white foot bridge.  Before my brain even registered what I saw, I yelled, “There she is.”  My parents glanced toward where I was pointing, but their expressions told me they couldn’t see what I did.  I’d had enough.  I broke into a run.  Then I heard my dad yell, “It is Susan!”  My parents were not far behind me as I ran across the immaculate lawn.

We all fell to our knees and hugged the tiny redhead we loved so much.  Susan was glad to see us, but was a little bemused at the attention.  She didn’t realize she had been lost.  The couple who had found her hadn’t wanted to upset her by asking a lot of questions and because Susan was with the couple, the security staff didn’t think she was the child they were looking for.  All’s well that ends well, but it was pretty dicey there for a while.

Traveling is an adventure.  Some of the adventures are grand and others you would choose to live without if you could.  To escape the hour of trauma for my family, I’d gladly have missed the opportunity to see Mount Vernon, but you never know ahead of time what will be trouble and what will be the most fun you ever had.  You’ve got to get out there and risk losing your little sister.  In most cases, the missing siblings turn up and you go have lunch somewhere.  I don’t remember where we had lunch that day, but you can bet your bottom dollar no one got lost for the rest of the trip.

Did you ever lose your sibling at a major tourist attraction?  Or were you the one that wandered over the bridge?  We’d all like to hear about it.

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Jame Munroe’s Ash Lawn Highland


Welcome to number thirteen in this series about presidential destinations for your vacations. The list of presidential destinations I’ve actually visited only has two more names on it, James Munroe’s Ash Lawn Highland and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. I’m sure I’ve had more fun writing this series than anyone will have reading it, but I hope that through reading these blogs you’ve found some presidential destinations you want to visit.

Neighbor of Thomas Jefferson

Since we went to Monticello last week, let’s go visit Jefferson’s neighbor, just down the hill at Ash Lawn Highland, James Munroe.  Presidents Jefferson and Munroe were of similar mind.  In fact, according this brochure, Jefferson picked out Munroe’s property for him to “create a society to our taste.”  Gardeners from Monticello started Munroe’s orchards.  The two were very much in one another’s company.

President James Monroe

Besides being the fifth president of the US, Munroe was a Senator, Minister to France, England and Spain, Governor of Virginia and Secretary of State and of War.  He negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe doctrine was the basis of our foreign policy for many decades.  His presidency was “The Era of Good Feeling.”

His home, Ash Lawn Highland is a pastoral gem.  It’s not as grand as Monticello and won’t take long to visit, but you should see it.  In fact, when you get in that part of the world there’s a lot to see and none of it is too far away.  You could visit Monticello and Ash Lawn Highland, see Mount Vernon the next day and then go to Colonial Williamsburg.  A drive of just over two hundred miles connects them all.

Other Attractions in the Area

Ash Lawn Highland wasn’t available to the public the first time I saw Monticello in 1969.  Before his death Munroe, health and financial challenges forced him to sell the property, but on that trip I did visit Lincoln’s Birthplace, Stephen Foster’s Old Kentucky Home, Washington D.C., Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello and Myrtle Beach – all on the same vacation.

On returning to the area in the nineties with my husband, Ash Lawn Highland had been bequeathed in 1974 to the College of William and Mary “for the education of the general public.”  Along with Monticello and Ash Lawn Highland we enjoyed the scenery along Skyline Drive.  I’m trying to think of a way to describe Shenandoah to you without employing any of the over-used superlatives which crowd the usual travel brochure, but it’s difficult.  The scenery is beautiful, breath-taking and gorgeous.  After a day of driving we were worn out – not because the drive had been difficult, but because the scenery had been so overwhelming.  As we pulled into Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park my husband saw the most exciting thing he’d seen all day: a doe and her fawn feeding in a clearing by the side of the road completely unfazed by the human population across the street from them.

We loved Shenandoah and Skyline Drive.  Driving through Virginia you can understand the extreme devotion men like Jefferson, Munroe and Washington had for this nation.  Their dreams were big and they were willing to sacrifice their lives for our young nation.  Jefferson and Munroe brought us the Louisiana Purchase.  Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark.  These men laid the groundwork for manifest destiny, but they built their homes in Virginia.  I’m thinking it was about more than proximity to the White House.  What do you think?

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Libraries, Museums, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Monticello – Jefferson’s Legacy

The official postcard version


Welcome to the eleventh installment in a series about travel destinations related to our presidents. We’ve been to the Texas White House, The Western White House, The Summer White House and The Little White House. We’ve visited cemeteries, ranches, libraries, museums and even  residence of the Confederate President. Now we’ll visit one of my favorite homes in the United States and it just so happens to be presidential – that’s Monticello, Thomas Jefferson‘s home.

My Visits to Monticello

I’ve visited Monticello twice.  The first time I was a captive in the back seat of my parents’ car.  Their attitude seemed to be, “This is your heritage, gosh darn it, and you better appreciate it.”  Let me be honest with you.  Given my druthers back then, I might just have traded two weeks of American History in for a day at Disneyland.  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my parents were doing me a great service.

In the years after that trip, Thomas Jefferson was not just some guy in a history book.  He was the guy who invented some very cool stuff I’d seen when I visited his house.  Washington was the guy who had that pretty blue and white china in his dining room (Wedgewood).  Lincoln was born in a tiny log cabin and I knew it wasn’t as big as my parents’ living room, because I saw the facsimile they’d built at his birthplace.  The dry history on the pages of the textbook assigned to me for a semester became something real.

My first visit to Monticello

Chances are, if you took your kids on a family vacation, like the one my parents took me on in 1969, you’d get the same sort of heavy sighs and reluctant cooperation that my parents put up with.  I urge you to take the kids anyway – and don’t let them watch movies in the back seat.  Make them sit up straight, look out the window and talk about what they’re looking at.  Quiz them about what they see, what impresses them and what disappoints them.  The video games are not going anywhere, but the empty spaces in your kid’s heads are filling up fast.  Best to put some stuff up there that you want them to have.

Monticello 1999

I returned to Monticello in 1999, thirty years after my first visit.  The first thing I noticed was that it had shrunk.  In my memory the house outstripped anything on Lives of the Rich and Famous.  Sure, it has about 11,000 square feet of living area, but back in 1969 I hadn’t been to Europe.  Those guys get the whole idea of a country estate.  They call them castles.

Being dragged to Monticello by your parents is also quite different than traveling with your husband.  Bill indulges me, trailing through all the museums I find, but he wouldn’t fuss if I didn’t need to visit so many.  Monticello, on the other hand, completely captured his imagination.

By occupation, Bill is a very successful options trader.  But that doesn’t keep him from an interest in everything from architecture to zoology and all subjects in between.  He and old Tom Jefferson would have been fast friends.  As we wandered from room to room, Bill was enchanted with the design and execution of the house.  He loved Mr. Jefferson’s taste in decor.  Mr. Jefferson’s inventions like mechanical doors, great clock and reading lamp stirred Bill’s imagination.  Then we walked outside.  Bill’s interest in the man multiplied geometrically.  In fact, even though that was twelve years ago, merely the mention of Monticello or Thomas Jefferson will send Bill off into the stratosphere.

Bill contemplates the ingenuity and productivity of Jefferson

Monticello should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Kids should be taken as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the magnitude of what they are seeing and not so late that they will ignore it simply because their parents took them.  Then, we should all return as adults to appreciate what we couldn’t comprehend as kids.  And no – you can’t take Bill with you unless you take me, too.

References for this blog picked up at Monticello in 1999
Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Presidential, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Andrew Johnson Historic Sites


Welcome to number eleven in a series about travel destinations associated with the Presidents of the United States. Last week, while discussing Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, I mentioned the Post Civil War Restoration and the negative impact it had on the South. Today we’re visiting with Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, to explore that further.

Andrew Johnson’s History

I’m not alone in my opinion that the Restoration of the South by the post-Civil War Congress was too harsh.  Andrew Johnson believed the same thing and he was impeached for it.  He’s the only president, except Bill Clinton, to go through that dishonor.

If the Bushes and the Roosevelts represent the one-per-centers, then Lincoln and Johnson would definitely represent the ninety-nine.  We all know about Lincoln’s humble birth, but at least his dad was a land owner.  Johnson’s dad was a hotel porter and little Andrew was apprenticed to a tailor.  But I doubt Johnson would have signed up for food stamps, even if they were available.  His story is that of a entrepreneur of the first degree.

Though born in Raleigh, North Carolina, he made his home in Tennessee.  In spite of running away from the tailor he was apprenticed to, tailoring remained his trade, until he got into politics.  He was a senator when Tennessee seceded from the Union, but Union-loyalist Johnson reported to Congress for duty nonetheless.  When the Union regained control of Tennessee, Lincoln named Johnson as military governor of the state.  Johnson’s work  in that office recommended him to Lincoln as running mate for the second term, because both men thought reconciliation was the right tone to take with the South.  Their opponents were out for revenge and repression.

In spite of his soft-handed opinion about how to deal with Johnny Reb after the Civil War, Johnson’s personal business philosophy had a lot in common with the Trump.  He’s been quoted as having told his son, “There is no use in buying property, unless there is a bargain in it.”  I guess Trump’s buddy, Romney, would agree with that, too.

Mock tickets to Johnson’s Impeachment were used as tickets to his home by the National Park Service.

Other Things to see in the Area

Visiting the Andrew Johnson Historic Sites in Greeneville, Tennessee is not a day long prospect, like some of the presidential destinations.  Bill and I squeezed it in during a Tennessee/North Carolina ramble through the Smoky Mountains and Appalachia.

We started in Chattanooga and loved their fresh water aquarium.  Bluff View was a delightful little Arts District with a number of bed and breakfast inns, but we stayed at Lookout Lake which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We also enjoyed the kitschy Rock City. If you’re in Chattanooga don’t miss The Hunter Museum of American Art which uniquely meshes a contemporary museum with a historic home.  Around the corner was the Houston Museum which housed one of the most interesting collection of Decorative Arts that I’ve ever seen.  Chattanooga wasn’t all museums and aquariums.  Bill spent part of each day hang-gliding.

Then we took the Cherohola Skyway through the Cherokee National Forest over to Asheville, where we visited the Biltmore Estate. ( Talk about one-percenters.)  Then we hooked around the Appalachians through Johnson City on our way to Pigeon Forge.  That’s when we squeezed in Andrew Johnson and the Davy Crockett Tavern, for good measure.  We still got into Pigeon Ford early enough to visit The Incredible Christmas Place.  We stayed in a little cabin up in the hills, visited Dollywood, Gatlinburg and Smoky Mountain National Park.

Some of the memorabilia from my scrapbook

One of the reasons I can recall all of this information so clearly is because I am such a devoted scrapbooker.  I not only save all the photos I take on a trip, but I keep all the memorabilia.  A National Parks Service publication on Andrew Johnson provided his history and his advice to his son.  Tickets from the attractions keep me straight on dates.  I could even tell you the restaurants I enjoyed and the movie we went to see, because I kept menus and ticket stubs.  I didn’t even tell you about Chimney Rock Park, The Grove Park Inn or the Louise Mandrell Theater, but I can later, because I’ve kept everything together in my Creative Memories scrapbook.

Are you a scrapbooker?  Do you look back at your scrapbooks frequently or are they forgotten once they are on the shelf.  If you’d like to start scrapbooking a good  place to start is a Creative Memories consultant.  Mine is Denise Overton.  Give her shout if you’d like to get started.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

My Old Brownie Hawkeye



2008 was a pivotal year in my life.  Yes, that’s the year I finally earned my BA after a three decade educational hiatus, and that was important, but it was also the year digital won.  Our vacation that summer was a cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula.  There are two distinct types of photos in my scrapbook.  Some are those rich gorgeous shots you get with 35mm.  The rest are not – and therein lies the problem.

Digitally Challenged

See, I didn’t quite get the whole digital concept.  I hooked the camera up to my computer and told the computer that I wanted to print the photos.  I had a color printer and I’d invested in some expensive photo paper.  I saw the pictures coming out of the printer and unhooked my camera.  The problem was that I didn’t look closely at the pictures and they hadn’t printed right.  That just happened to be the day my printer decided to go on the fritz.  Each photo was overlaid with multicolored vertical lines and the printer liked the look so well that it would never print any other way.

Disgruntled, I moved on to more pressing matters.  I researched printing photos a little more and decided to try a different method.  But the pictures were gone.  They weren’t on the camera and they weren’t saved to my computer.  Thankfully I still had the rainbow striped prints.  I was almost able to convince myself I liked the effect.  Anyway, they were all the shots I had of most of our shore excursions, so they were going into the scrapbook.

I was pretty upset and made it my business to get more digital.  I let my husband explain the camera to me and I figured out the whole production process.  I was never going to create online albums, because I already spend too much time at the computer.  So I learned to download the images to the computer first, then upload them to a print site and then wait for the prints to come in the mail.  I have to do it that way, because my husband won’t let me have a color printer anymore.  I know you can take the memory card to the photo shop or download them to a cd, but if I’m doing all the downloading stuff anyway, why not go ahead and upload, too.

I Miss Pre-Digital

I learned to adapt, but I missed the old photo processing days.  I’d scurry to the store with my rolls of film, fill out the envelopes and come back in an hour or so to pictures.  It was great.  Some of the pictures were good, others were not so good, but my scrapbooks always looked wonderful when I was through.

But photo processing wasn’t the only thing I liked about film.  I liked the cameras better, also.  I’d rest the camera up against my face, squint a little bit, maybe step forward or backward and then snap the picture.  More often than not, I got just what I wanted and often enough I was brilliant.  Not so with digital.

First of all I have to hold the camera away from my face to see the display.  That means 97% of my pictures are just a little bit fuzzy.  Without the camera held firmly in place by my nose, the camera just floats around taking rotten pictures.But that’s not even the worst bit.

My real problem is that I can’t see the display.  Of course, part of that is age.  Maturity means you can’t see anything that you can hold in your hand.  When I looked through a real viewfinder, I could see what I was taking a picture of.  With the screen, I can only see a vague estimation of what might be in the picture – and that’s when I can see anything at all.

I take most of my pictures outside in bright sunshine.  I’ve invested in prescription sunglasses to overcome the far-sighted issue, but thanks to my friend the sun, I still can’t see the screen.  If the light is good enough to want a picture, then the light’s too bright for the screen.  I don’t even want to talk about when the light isn’t so good.  I can see better but not enough.

Time for a New Camera

So about a year ago I started lobbying for a new camera.  I confessed to my husband that I had stubbornly refused to embrace digital for too long and even though I was late to the party, I appreciated all of its benefits.  However, I wanted a new camera.  I knew that there were digital cameras with old fashioned viewfinders and I wanted something faster.  That lag between one click and the next drove me to distraction.

My husband’s first recommendation was to get an i-phone.  I’m not sure why he thought that was a good idea.  I’d still be waving the camera in thin air and wouldn’t be able to see the screen in bright sunlight.  Heck, he didn’t want to  pay for the phone to have internet capabilities, either.  I know about boys and toys, but this still didn’t make sense to me.  I pressed on for a month or two more.

Then one day in one of the big box stores he wandered over to the camera department.  YES!!  I was on my way to a new camera.  That’s when we discovered the gap.  You know that gap between all those cute little digital cameras priced on either side of $100 and the real cameras.  Bill recoiled from the display with a chronic case of sticker shock.  I had to wait another month.

Last Sunday we went to the camera store.  An hour later we knew more about digital cameras than we even knew that there was to know.  My love of the viewfinder?  I’d ignorantly stumbled upon the greatest shortcoming of the digital age.  And what’s more – the younger generation is having to be taught the superiority of viewfinders one youngster at a time!  I tell you, we were ready to invest in a digital camera with a real viewfinder just like I wanted.  There’s just this one teeny tiny little problem – that three hundred dollar gap between the hot pink pocket camera and the real camera.

Vacation is coming.  We know that we don’t want to risk rotten pictures of the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Crater Lake, the Rogue River and the Oregon Coast with that little hot pink number.  We know the old digital camera we’ve had for the last few years isn’t going to cut it either.  I will have a real camera soon.  We just have to get over that sticker shock thing.