Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sweet Springs

We arrived at our destination, Sweet Springs, after a pleasant drive along the West Virginia Roads. Sweet Springs originally opened as a health resort in 1833. It has an interesting history prior to that date that you can read more on by clicking on this link. The Sweet Springs Resort was later known as a sanatorium, hospital, and towards the end of its active life, a nursing home and drug treatment center.

When we arrived at the complex the first thing we noticed were No Trespassing signs everywhere. Luckily for us there was a fellow on the grounds loading fallen tree branches onto his pick-up truck. We thought we would go over to him and ask if it would be all right if we walked around to take a couple of photos. I suggested my friends do all the talking so my Yankee accent wouldn't get in our way. He was quite a nice guy and said sure, but warned us not to go into any of the buildings as they were in disrepair and dangerous.

After he gave us the okay I was able to open my mouth so I asked what had happened to the property. In a's in foreclosure. I asked how much was owed on it and he said millions of tax dollars, was it 20? I don't remember exactly, but it was out of our league. He said the current property owner had big plans to restore the deteriorated resort, but had made a major mistake of having the property re-zoned from agriculture, which had little taxes associated with it, to commercial which increased the tax burden enormously. Apparently the new owner, who did not come from these parts also did not realize that in West Virginia the two zoning tax rates were miles apart. In fact, he said most folks want their property designated agriculture, and all it takes is one chicken on the property to decrease the tax burden.

The fellow said he lived in the area and felt a bond to the property and that's why he takes it upon himself to keep the grounds as clean as possible, without getting paid. We thanked him and bade him farewell and set off to explore. After a couple of shots my camera battery died, as did my digital recorder. Well, the digital recorder was dead when I turned it on, yet when I was home it informed me "battery is high." One of my friends had a digital recorder going as we walked around, just in case.

Sweet Springs must have been quite remarkable at one time...such a shame it's gotten to this point.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day Trip -- Paint Bank, VA & Gap Mills, WV

Today's not so nice, but yesterday was the perfect day for a mini road trip through the mountains of Virginia and around the mountains of West Virginia. Although our main "goal" was to see if we could get onto Sweet Springs, an abandoned property in West Virginia, we planned a couple of detours along the way.

After zig-zagging up 311, up and down, round and round the mountains, I started to feel nauseous so was glad our first stop was a country store/restaurant in Paint Bank, VA.

The grounds were lovely...

The restaurant's claim to fame is a hanging bridge across the top of it that you can walk across.

They have a year-round Christmas gift shop and other country style crap. I didn't like the feel of the bridge...sorta made me feel like I was walking on a dock floating on the water.

While we waited for our lunch -- I highly recommend the lemonade -- I noticed a place mat in front of me that had "mountain expressions" and their meanings.

 I whipped out my notebook and copied them all thinking I will be able to use some of them sprinkled into dialogue from my characters. Once again, I found myself in a place I "needed to be" without even knowing it.

Which came first...the cow, or the egg?

After lunch we got back on the one-lane highway to hell where we immediately was behind a huge construction truck which was driving in reverse on the curvy road. Since our next stop was to be in Gap Mills, VA this could take hours! Luckily my friend does not fear driving mountainous roads so when the driver of the truck waved us to pass him, she did. I could barely look out my window as guard rails were few and far between even though there was a drop to the right of us of about 3,000 feet. I couldn't imagine living in these dar hills, or having to drive them at night, in the rain, in the winter, anytime!

We finally hit the bottom and proceeded into West Virginia to a place called Gap Mills. I had read some posts on-line how a visit to that town was a must-do and what a great trip from Roanoke it was. The poster pointed to the Cheese N More Shop and said there were a few other places nearby to visit. Hey, I love cheese and it got rave reviews so I was happy to check it out.

We found it pretty easily as it was on Route 3. Run by Amish or Mennonites, it was like going to Jamison's Orchards which is right down the block from me. It was larger than Jamison's and had a couple more varieties of products. When I had read it had a wide selection of meats and cheeses I don't know why I would assume they were talking about Italian cheeses and meats. A picture of provolone wheels hanging alongside hard salamis from the ceiling had popped into my head. What we found was a case that had cold cuts and a couple of Amish cheeses. Actually there was one triangled slab of hard Parmesan cheese in the fridge so I did buy that.

There were shelves of candies, jams, jellies, spices, flour, etc. Besides the cheese I bought a bag of chocolate covered almonds, maple walnut fudge, sesame crunch candies, hot pepper jelly and fresh dill weed. The fudge was amazing and I wish I had tried it before leaving as I would have bought other flavors. So creamy and fresh, it was almost worth the drive...almost.

Next we went across the road to a furniture store. They had the same religious music station playing, and it gave me the creeps. They were pretty expensive and there was nothing in there that I really liked, although they did have an antique Singer sewing machine like I have that they made into a lamp. Odd. I asked the person who also was Amish or Mennonite where Main Street was and she looked at me perplexed. So I elaborated and asked where the shopping was in Gap Mills and she said this was it. She pointed to a block building outside and said there was a bakery but it's closed on Mondays. That was disappointing news, so we headed back from whence we came and sought out Sweet Springs, WV.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shirley Plantation

I'm a last minute kinda gal. I like to make plans ahead of time, but I don't believe in firming anything up because at the last minute plans most likely will change. Instead I spread my options out, knowing if plan A fails, there's still plan B & C left. In this case Plan A involved using a coupon for a hotel in Hopewell. Even though my first choice, Comfort Inn Plus, which was determined after reading reviews on-line, said they had no rooms available when I checked on-line, I thought we should still give it a shot as a walk-in. My senses proved correct and we had a really nice King room for two nights. My only complaint were the wee little pillows on the bed. Shouldn't a king sized bed have king sized pillows? These were softer than marshmallows and about the same size. I don't think I got two straight hours sleep, so I wasn't in the best physical and mental frame before heading out to the plantations.

We figured we'd go to the furthest ones first so opted to leave Weston Plantation in Hopewell for the end of the day. First up was Shirley. Ms. Garmin took us on a pebbled dirt road up to the Great House.

It was a perfect spring day and the crowd was very light so that was cool. Our tour began as soon as we got our tickets. No photos were allowed in the inside of the home. Our guide was knowledgeable, but based most of her tour on the portraits on all of the walls. I couldn't keep up with the names. I was more interested in their daily way of life, but that wasn't in the script. No mention of what was grown on the plantation, or what a typical day entailed. Neither was the mention of any slaves. I remembered what Bulletproof had said about the surrounding plantations and how hundreds of them fled to the Union Army to escape to freedom, but if I didn't know any better, and just based my knowledge on the scripted tour, it was like this plantation never had slaves.

The Great House is a lovely home, and the family still lives on the top floor, but my goal was to learn a slave's daily routine, what they wore, what they ate, or, at the very least, see slave quarters. I asked the guide if there were any on the plantation and she said no. There was one building off to the right of the Great House which had a replica kitchen on one side...

 and had information about the slaves on the other.

There were binders of photos and info that I so wanted to read thoroughly, however it was impossible. There must have been a wasp nest in that room because it was crawling and buzzing with nose-diving wasps, yellowjacks & bees. I was waiting for scorpions or snakes to join the fray! My husband offered to run in and grab the book but I could only see him getting stung and told him to forget it. It wasn't worth it.

We were able to take pics of the grounds, where there wasn't a rope cordoning off an area. I would have liked to get closer to the James River but access is denied. Here are some shots...

Trellis of grapes to be

A dovecote. Never heard of one before.

Here's the inside. Are those dove wings from the sun's rays?

Why are bricks in this tree? It was hit by lightning in the 1960's and it was thought tree wouldn't die if bricks were put inside. According to the lady in the gift shop it still produces walnuts.


Next up...Berkely Plantation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bulletproof at Appomatox Manor

Since we were heading to Richmond to drop my daughter at a friend's house my husband and I decided we could use a couple of days to ourselves. Unfortunately for him I saw the long weekend as an opportunity to conduct some more research for my upcoming book which would entail visiting plantations. I was able to convince him this was a good idea by promising him if I "learned" enough from Virginia plantations we could forgo the plan to head to South Carolina, and instead take a mini vacation later on someplace that had casinos and room service. He was all for that so off we went.

After careful research I narrowed down the plantation visits to four which were all along the James River about a half hour away from Richmond. Since there were no rooms in Charles Ciy, I thought we would stay in Hopewell which seemed to be a good location for our journey. Here's a shot of the James River in Hopewell.

The lady at the visitor center was very helpful and she handed us a map of local historical sites. General Grant's Headquarters at City Point sounded interesting, and since it was open until 5 we figured we could do that one before dinner. I had never heard of City Point and it wasn't on my original agenda, but I am so glad we sought it out.

Appomatox Manor at City Point

It was the least fanciest of all the sites we visited that weekend, but it was the cheapest, free, and most informative. Robert, a park employee was our guide and he ruined it for all the other guides we came in contact with.

After showing a brief film which explained the significance of City Point...the Union army captured it, and pretty much strangled the Confederate's supplies and reinforced the Union's when they took control of the James River.

Robert then proceeded to speak with the six of us present starting by saying "If you're looking for someone who is reading from a script, I'm not it. I'm going to tell it like it really is." And he did. He didn't sugar coat anything, and it was clear he was not a fan of the south seceding using a "patriot" banner. He told us for too long people have been taught about the Civil War by people using blinders, and we all should take our blinders off. He also said he wasn't afraid of speaking out as he was "Bulletproof." He had done his 30 years at Phillip Morris and for the last decade has been doing what he loves, talking history.

Apparently in the past he wound up on the front cover of a magazine after giving a tour of the house we were in, Appomatox Manor, and the powers that be didn't appreciate it, especially taking folks to the second floor. But he said he didn't care because we the people, we the taxpayers, "owned" this house and were entitled to visit the second floor, and anywhere else in the national park. After speaking with us a good half hour, well after the 5:00pm "closing time," he invited us upstairs to see "our" house. Here's a couple of shots...

I think Bulletproof's talk might have made one of the couples uncomfortable as they didn't wait around to see the house and grounds, but I really enjoyed his spiel. He was so real, and I think he knew I was interested in what he was saying as he seemed to be talking directly to me the entire time. Maybe it was because I was the only one who answered his questions. Afterwards he asked what part of New York I came from, and then told me he had relatives in Harlem and how he enjoyed his visits there, even riding the subway after midnight. Brave man!

For dinner we went to a place that was on the James River and specialized in seafood. After we had passed a couple of chemical plans lined along the James River whose smokestacks could be seen spewing clouds of whatever, I told my husband not to order the raw oysters, and boy was glad he listened to me. We both had stuffed flounder and it was too fishy, and just didn't taste fresh. The rest of the meal was terrible too, and I could only imagine what could have happened had we eaten raw oysters. The best part of the restaurant was the parking lot view...

Ms. Garmin brought us back to the hotel room, taking the ghetto route as she usually does. I couldn't explain why, but I felt such a heaviness to Hopewell that it made me sad when I was lying in bed. For a town with such a positive name, the vibe it emitted was anything but hope.

The next day I got into a conversation with someone at the hotel and they told me that Hopewell was wiped out by Indians back in the day. I wondered if that was the heaviness I felt. When we got home I Googled Hopewell, and between bus tragedies, chemical explosions and spills, and the highest rate of crime per capita in the state, plus a couple of other not so nice events, it's no wonder I felt the way I did about the town.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Spring

This is what early last week looked like here in Roanoke, Virginia...

Gray, gloomy & dreary...

Then I blinked and up shot the daffodil...

I turned around and the redbuds began to blossom...

I went to the backyard and noticed the dogwoods have started their glory...

It's raining today, but it won't be much longer before I can lie in the hammock in my secret garden...

During spring, just one week can make all the difference.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A NY Apartment Story - Part 1

This is a true starts here..

It was his grandmother's apartment, but he lived there most of his life. When Granny left, he laid her out in the living room. She might have been gone, but the plastic wrapped furniture and knick-knicks lived on. He was an artist who had the good fortune of having an apartment in the Lower East side handed down to him, and considering what the price of rentals in Stuyvesant Town had become in the 40 years they've lived in their apartment, a pretty decent rent. Still, even a "decent" rent in Manhattan can easily become unaffordable when one loses their full-time employment, a harsh reality to face after a decade of walking the court halls.

In his 50's, locating employment was not an easy task. With no job to be found, he took the suit off, put on his bowler hat, and got back to his easel. It was no longer the 80's or 90's when local artists had galleries in their grasp and at their disposal. Along with many neighborhood haunts demolished to make way for expensive condos and co-ops, the familiar galleries are long gone, gone, gone. Based on rents, sales, and the over all cost of living, New York has become a city for the rich. He was far from rich.

Sales proved to be slow, but he felt blessed his wife's career was secure. Having the choice of living with his wife in her small in size, but huge in character co-op and garden, or, alone with paint and memories, was not a hard choice to make. Even though his apartment was used primarily as his studio, giving it up could never be an option.

He didn't keep it pristine like she did, but remnants of Granny remained throughout. Sometimes when he did sleep there he swore he could almost hear her rustling in the kitchen. Besides, how could he give it up when there's no way all of his art stuff could ever fit in his wife's compact apartment. If he had anything to do with it, divorce would also never be an option, so he had to think up a way to make his rent. He thought a roommate would be the answer. So he wrote an ad on Craigslist, and shortly thereafter he got a response... be continued

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frontier Women and Depression

What was once a short story planted in my mind has evolved into a novel on index cards planted all over my house. Scribbles on rectangular cards can be found in every compartment of my pocketbook, bedside table, coffee table, end table, kitchen counter, bedroom dressers, office desk, on the walls and closet door of my office, and on the cork board.

Many contain notes from: books and magazines I've read, on-line classes I've taken, movies and documentaries I've watched, exhibits and museums I've visited, personal appearances I've attended, libraries and court houses I've scoured. Most contain scenes from the novel playing in my head.

Wherever I wind up, and there are some days I'm just "led" to places, I feel as if I am spiritually directed to include whatever tidbit I observe when it flashes a light and whispers a sound, "this is why you're here today." The direction may have started one way, but over the years, yes, years of research I've undertaken, I no longer see a straight line from here to there. Rather, I see a huge oak tree with it's gnarly branches each telling a story. The vines wrap around the trunk, reaching and tangling itself through the branches. The strongest part of the tree, the strongest part of my novel, will be the women.

It wasn't going to be this way in the beginning. It just evolved into their stories. Isn't it way past due for the women who never had the opportunity to speak to tell their stories?

The other night I had the opportunity to attend a program at the Roanoke County library entitled, "In the Footsteps of Their Men. Women's Lives in Augusta County, VA 1738-1770." Augusta was a huge county which eventually split to form Botetout County in 1770, another huge county until it was divied up later on. Roanoke County, where I live and where my story takes place, has been part of both of those counties. So when I heard the lecture was to be given by former Explore Park re-enactor and historian, Ms. Bowers, I made my way there.

The early settlers to this region were German, English, Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Swiss. They may have come from different places for different reasons, but they all shared the same experience of leaving behind their friends and family. I believe the women had it much harder than the men. Besides having more rights than women, men found it easier to bond with other men, and forge friendships. They could go to a tavern and drink. They could hunt together, or, be part of a militia. If there were business or legal dealings, if would be the men who handled it. The women's "place" was at home. If there were children, they were her company. If she needed help with them, the support staff she might have had in Europe had disappeared. If she needed a friendly ear to hear her woes and worries, few were to be found. I wasn't surprised to hear many of the women suffered from depression. It was much harder for the women to make friends in their new land. How sad it must have been to those who had a full social life to find themselves in a valley of rocks and trees who couldn't speak back.

Even as the years passed by and more settlers came into the area moving closer to each other, there was still a barrier put up between the nationalities. The Germans might have had it a little easier because they settled in larger groups whereas a Scottish or English settler might have had just their immediate family. Over the years, that family may grow large enough to fill their lonely void, but then they put up a fence around their family, and newcomers are locked out. Her husband may get the opportunity to meet men, but often times the wife remains hidden in the home and fields. Sometimes they die before they even get to remember what it was like not to be lonely.

As a transplanted New Yorker who has had her own share of being unable to find friends here as easily as I can up in New York, I can sympathize with these early frontier women. I always have said that we were pioneers for uprooting away from all our loved ones, and I can't help but see the similarity to those women and myself. My husband has a slew of friends. It was very easy for him to bond, the same way the early settlers did -- over beer, in a shop, on a range, etc. For me, not so much. Even though I am a business owner, the few functions I have attended in a business capacity were fraught with segregation between the genders. That is something I could never tolerate, and had never experienced before moving to Southwest Virginia, but it's alive and well, right here, in this age. There are many other factors which exclude me from "fitting in" but that's irrelevant right now. My point is...I may get depressed once in a while, but at least in this time period there are social & technological options I have to alleviate my loneliness.

Think of those early frontier women and what options they had to alleviate, not only their loneliness, but their boredom...not many. If they were lucky, they had a spinning wheel or could quilt, but those are lonely hobbies, and actually in that era, necessities. And although their daily acitivies probably took up most of their hours, I'm sure the women wouldn't have minded a personal distraction/interaction once in a while.

Woman doing laundry

Cooking, sewing, cleaning, child care, do the laundry, baking, spinning, soap making, candle making, gardening, preserving, processing fibers, caring for livestock, all without modern conveniences and without having a social outlet I imagine would make any woman depressed.