Monthly Archives: July 2013

We Should Have Stayed at Home

In a change to our regularly scheduled program . . . . .

We were frightened witless last night. Well I was. Himself was stoic. We picked the wrong day to take the travel trailer out of storage and head in any direction from Phoenix. Thunderstorms, high winds, flash floods, hail and wild fires abound in the rest of the state.

Sheet lightning lit the distant mountains we could see from our apartment balcony and had provided entertainment every night for a week. But there had been no rain, no thunder and only a light wind.

Just seven miles up the road from our built up town we towed the trailer into the county park with panoramic desert and mountain views in every direction. A coyote greeted us as we drove around the campground, indicated which site he thought best, then gathered his mates in the dense scrub and sang a welcome chorus.

Shortly after we unhitched and shut ourselves into the air-conditioned trailer for the evening the lightning started. I opened all the blinds to watch. Black skies advanced and forked lightning flashed to the east. The sunset, to the west of course, was glorious with bold stripes of gold, pink and white and it lit half the cloudy evening sky in a seductive dusky pink.

The wind suddenly picked up and gave us a little shake. Jimmy and I glanced at each other but didn’t speak. The looks said uh-oh.

The sunset disappeared under impenetrable black clouds. Forked and sheet lightning flashed in every direction, rain battered down and we were thrust violently side to side by the wind. Thunder began to rumble and then hail crashed down on our poor little box home.

“Did you wind the steadies tight?”

“Of course,” said himself, slightly offended. Corner jacks in England are called steadies. They’re called that for a reason. “I think I’ll go and tighten them again if this ever stops.”

We sat, away from the windows – all of three feet, and stared at each other not voicing our thoughts. I wondered if we could blow over. Should we have stayed hitched up to the truck for extra stability? Could a gust blow the truck and trailer both over? The gas was on low under our gently thawing dinner. Should I turn it off? Would it blow up if we blew over?

Rain pounded us and created leaks we’d never had in three-and-a-half years on the road.

“I wonder how long the electricity will stay on? That,” said Jimmy, mopping water off the floor in front of the fridge, “is coming right through the fuse box.” He could have kept that thought to himself. If we lived through the storm we’d gently steam, like our dinner, all night without the benefit of air conditioning. The desert can be cold at night, but not here. Not in August. “Maybe we should go home.”

“I don’t like to leave the trailer with all our things in it.” After last-minute trailer repairs in the morning, we’d spent all afternoon packing up, carting stuff and loading the trailer in 100+º heat. There was no question of hitching up in wild weather and if we did, nowhere to park the trailer at our apartment complex. We could only sprint to the truck and abandon the trailer to the storm.

In my tired and fractured state of mind it seemed better to sit tight with my things and get blown over with them than to sleep safely in our apartment. Just seven miles down the road.

The wind and rain, lightning and thunder raged on. The sudden buffeting gusts were the most unnerving. Our whole tiny world was shaking as though we were in an earthquake. I tried not to think about a lightning strike. The high ground site the coyote chose for us had afforded good views, but apart from two saguaros and one twiggy tree our roof was the highest point for some considerable distance.

We did the only sensible thing given our vulnerable position. We closed the blinds and opened a bottle of wine.

I’m sensing some judgment. So what would you have done?

Please click to enlarge pictures.

The next morning I read an email from a friend in England asking how we got on as we’d been messaging the day before. My reply:

Exciting evening. Terrific thunderstorm. Trailer shook till our teeth rattled. Lightning in every direction. Battering rain, then hail. Thought we were going to blow over. Other than that, ok.
P.S. Sign on ladies loo, “Please keep door closed. Snakes are out.”

McDowellMtnPk 010

You may recall that what seems moments ago we were on the east coast in the last post in a place with a remarkable lack of saguaro cactuses. (If you are still judging me, the plural in Latin is cacti. Cactuses is ,are?, acceptable in English.)

That was then. This is now. All was revealed in The Confession. We will return to our regularly scheduled program on the east coast. Unless something else hair-raising happens out west in the meantime.

Did You Say 70 Teeth?

We set off on foot on the nature trail at Magnolia Plantation to hunt ‘gators after a wasted boat trip where the captain/guide nudged all the alligators into the water rather than slowing down for a viewing. “Do you think we’ll see any alligators this early in the day? It isn’t very hot yet.” Alligators, being cold-blooded, don’t hibernate but aestivate, or lie in a state of torpor during extreme heat. Jimmy and I aestivate after lunch most days.

“Do you really think this is safe?” The impatient tour guide had informed us that alligators can swim at 15 mph, run on their little stumpy legs at 35 mph and using their tails, jump up to five feet. So once you’ve upset them . . . hmmm . . . rip and swallow, rip and swallow we’d been told. If a turtle can satisfy them for a month, a human “bean” must be good tucker for at least six months. “I wonder how recently they’ve eaten?”

The day before, I had seen a man gamely striding around the Plantation on two artificial legs. The image of him and the size of the alligators’ toothy, bone-crushing jaws played on my mind. Being one of the oldest reptiles on the planet, alligators are certainly survivors and I didn’t fancy my chances in a face off. “Do you think we’ll see ‘Big Red October’?” He’s the 50 year old resident of the estate measuring 14 feet long and weighing 800 pounds. “They told us there’s never been an alligator fatality in South Carolina.”

Beginning to jabber with nerves, I distracted myself by photographing egrets, herons, turtles, coots and moorhens, having completely forgotten that snakes were known to nest in logs near the trail – some of them, like the cottonmouth, being poisonous – until Jimmy reminded me. I then tiptoed prissily down the center of the wide, well-trodden path.

As we walked the nature trail alongside the pond, all the strategically placed basking planks in the pond were empty except for the tantalizing snacks of turtle perched on the ends. Having taken a particularly pleasing photo of a cormorant with his wings outstretched, drying them ready for his next fishing expedition, I began telling myself that all was not lost; it was a lovely day for a walk and I had some good photos to show for it.

I was just beginning to stroll as we rounded the bend onto the straight piece of trail where the camera battery had died. This, it suddenly occurred to me, was where we had seen most of the alligators the day before. The basking planks, like little ski jumps, were aimed towards us so we were unable to see anything until we walked further and alongside them.

“LOOK!” and I throttled Jimmy as I grabbed the binoculars hanging around his neck. The telltale triangular ridges of the ‘gator’s back were just discernable to the naked eye, but I wanted to be sure so squinted through the binocs. “There’s one! There’s one!” but Jimmy was snugged up too close to me, tethered as he was by the binoculars’ strap, to see anything but my ear.

As we hustled along the path, two alligators were clearly visible on planks erected 30 to 40 yards out in the pond. “The light’s wrong. The sun is shining into my lens. I need to walk further down and shoot back at them.” But I fired off a couple of “rounds” at them anyway in my excitement.

081107Ch'ston 170

Jimmy paused while I took the photos and then began to stride off when I snagged his arm and sank my fingernails into it. “Lo-o-ok,” I barely said on a breath, and Jimmy followed my gaze with his eyes. No more than three paces ahead lay a 10 foot alligator dozing happily in the mud beside the path. Had Jimmy walked on, she (well she reposed in a languidly female way) could have taken his leg off at the knee with hardly a twitch.

Jimmy reviewed the situation while I snapped a few more pics using my zoom lens. My feet were rooted to the spot. Caution held me back but stupidity kept me there. “We can get back to the plantation house this way can’t we?” asked Jimmy, indicating the path past Ms. Jaws.

“I’m not walking past her.”

“She’s asleep. She won’t bother you.”

081107Ch'ston 172“Nope. I’m not getting any closer.” After a close encounter with a buffalo at Yellowstone, I’d become a little more wary, although at 35 mph neither of us had a chance even now if Ms. J. had decided it was lunch time. She was sleeping prettily with her mouth closed but I knew 70 some teeth lurked inside her enormous head so I zoomed in on it for one last shot, then backed prudently away and Jimmy followed suit.

What she would have looked like if we woke her up!!
What she would have looked like if we woke her up!!

As we retreated, we passed several smiling hikers, cameras in hand, striking out on the nature trail. I had thought to warn them of the alligators but then thought heck, let them make their own fun!

National Geographic won’t be breaking down my door with a contract to be their intrepid new nature photographer but I do have a rather splendid photo of a cormorant doing his batman impression.081107Ch'ston 141

‘Gators and Civil War Antagonism

081107Ch'ston 127 After ascertaining that it would be safe to walk back to the ‘gator pond  at Magnolia Plantation (it was a designated wildlife trail after all) we fixed on a nine o’clock start for the morning so that we could snap the alligators (snap, ha!) and then “do” Charleston in the afternoon. Finally getting away at 10:15, we turned up at the boat dock, last to board and huffing and puffing, to be greeted with “You English?”

“Yes.” Puff. Puff.

“Well this is what you would have had,” the tour guide said with a grand sweep of his arm, “if you hadn’t been so greedy.” Jimmy and I exchanged puzzled looks and didn’t put our minds to his comment until much later when we realized that he had been talking about British taxation in the 1700’s and the American War of Independence. Charming man! Jimmy muttered to me, “Nothing’s changed then,” referring to current exorbitant taxation in Britain.

Grumpy at the helm.
Grumpy at the helm.

Memories are long in the South. The not-very-civil American Civil War is still referred to as “the recent unpleasantness” and the British are obviously still a target of derision for some people nearly 250 years after the Revolution.

Prince Not-So-Charming seemed to be having an off day as he puttered his passengers around a pond that had been “built” by erecting dykes filled with “sweet” or fresh water. Sweet water is siphoned off the top of the high tide when the salt water sinks to the bottom as the river ebbs. Used originally for hunting and fishing on the estate, the pond is now serves as a conservation area. Duckweed formed an unbroken surface on the water which looked like a bilious green carpet sturdy enough to walk on, but we easily cut a swathe through it leaving a wake of clear dark water behind us.

A tail!
A tail!

Ms. Excitable here sat front and center pointing out all the wildlife as Prince N-S-C had informed us, “You do the lookin’. I’ll do the talkin’.” True to his word, he cruised quickly past several basking alligators on the outbound trip, not even giving us a chance to lift our cameras, while he droned on and on. Then he nipped so close to the ‘gators on the way back to the dock, he startled them into the water so none of the passengers got much of a look – just heard the plop.

Okay, guys. Here's some lunch for you. Show yourselves.
Okay, guys. Here’s some lunch for you. Show yourselves.

We arrived back at the dock after half an hour of a supposedly 45 minute trip. My photos were few and out of focus, out of frame or just plain boring. We saved ourselves the expense of a tip for the indifferent tour guide, but we would have to hunt ‘gators on foot.

Lots of water and duckweed - not much else to see. That tiny white dot is an egret fishing in our wake but you'll have to take my word for that.
Lots of water and duckweed – not much else to see. That tiny white dot is an egret fishing in our wake but you’ll have to take my word for that.

Could this be my most dimwitted plan yet?

Posted this at 6 am then hit my own like button. Speak of dimwitted!

Look! Alligators!

“On your left, ladies and gentlemen, is the Ashley River. We often have dolphins come up from the river mouth in Charleston and put on a display for us. On the right side of the dyke is fresh water. I’ve seen several alligators already today in this pond and if we’re lucky they’ll still be there dozing in the sun. Please don’t stand up now or point or shout. You’ll startle them.”

081107Ch'ston 014We were at Magnolia Plantation and Swamp Garden and had been expecting a colorless, autumn garden with a few tired buildings. What we got was a spectacular water landscape reflecting golden foliage, artfully constructed bridges and wildlife. The autumn flowering camellia was in bloom as well as many azaleas. There were thousands of autumn and winter flowering camellias, twenty thousand, in fact. I was entranced.

Click on pic to enlarge.

Spanish moss hung dreamily from live oaks, sweet bay magnolias and bald cypresses – the latter with its knees, or breathing roots, poking up from its base like little gopher statues. Great blue herons, large and little egrets, lizards and turtles posed for my camera.

We were on a “train” trip – a tractor pulling two open carriages with canopies – around the Swamp Garden. Jimmy had been enjoying a cup of tea whilst sitting on a swing seat in dappled shade under a wisteria-covered trellis. When the “train” pulled up I rushed him so that we could have the first choice of seats. We sat next to a loose strut that banged every time the wheel under us hit a rut. Of course we only realized this after the train had filled up and moved off.

But right now the train was creeping quietly up to an alligator.

“My camera’s just died,” I whispered to Jimmy.


“The battery is dead.”

“You’re kidding!!”


“I can’t believe you!” he hissed at me. “How many pictures of flowers have you taken?”

I hung my head in answer and in doing so saw down on the bank, just beside the train, no more than ten feet away, an eight foot ‘gator.

Seeing it too and thinking on his feet, Jimmy whipped his phone out of his pocket and started clicking away. As I did the same we looked like a couple of accidental tourists, phones on outstretched arms, taking poor quality photos on our must-have technology instead of using a decent camera like seasoned travelers. All I have to show for this exciting brush with the wild is new wallpaper on my cell phone.

We saw baby ‘gators, big “Bubba” and all sizes in between sunning themselves on planks in the pond put there for that purpose. They dosed next to turtles that were apparently unaware that if chomped for dinner (alligators don’t chew – they rip and swallow we learned) they could satisfy an alligator’s appetite for an entire month.

The whole wildlife encounter left us so ridiculously pleased with ourselves that the dead battery incident, though not quite forgotten, was not the major irritant that it might have been. Better still, Jimmy had noticed earlier in the day on our entrance ticket that we could come back to the plantation for free once within a week.

“We could come back tomorrow!” I suddenly realized. “I’ll charge the battery tonight, we’ll come back, take the boat ride and then if we don’t see any alligators from the boat, we could walk back along the train trail and see them. It’s not far if we walk from the wildlife observation tower.” Jimmy gave me one of his looks. How shall I describe it? Pained and dubious. “I’ll pay for the boat ride,” I enthused and settled the deal.

If you live in Florida you’ll think me silly, but I could hardly sleep for excitement.

Liar! Liar!

We put our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Jimmy felt quite pleased with his achievement after driving 8,000 miles to get there from Washington State (although it is only about 3,000 miles in a straight line. Ho hum). “Not so much of an achievement for you,” he said. “You knew where you were going.” You might dispute that if you’d seen us driving up and down the coast at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, doing U-turns and snarling up the heavy traffic towing our ponderous trailer looking for State Park signs. All my fault.

Days earlier, Jimmy had been reading the guide book and asked, “Have you heard of Myrtle Beach?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well it says here it’s a really tacky seaside town.”

“We’ve got to go there, don’t you think?”

Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I'm claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.
Not actually Myrtle Beach boardwalk. I’m claiming artistic license. This is Destin FL but you get the idea.

So there we were, happily camped at the Myrtle Beach State Park, an unadulterated two mile stretch of sandy beach and dunes, with towering hotels visible to the north and south. “Our” beach was interrupted only by the narrow boardwalk which snakes through the dunes, put there to stop us trampling the natural habitat.

As we walked along the surf, a snowman appeared in the distance. People gathered around it, obviously posing for pictures. I thought I saw the snowman move and then spotted Dracula. Well it was nearly Halloween. As we got nearer, we could see the group was a wedding party. The snowman was a beaming bride in a flowing white dress and shimmery shawl and Dracula turned out to be the vicar. It must be time to get my eyes tested.

You can see a snowman can't you? Dracula is to the left.
You can see a snowman can’t you? Dracula is to the left.

As we strolled along we stopped to read the nature information boards placed along the walkways. Sea turtles somehow find their way to this small piece of tranquil beach, sandwiched as it is between resorts, to clamber out at night and lay their eggs. Dolphins are visible along this stretch of coast in October and November making their migration to warmer waters. “Look! There’s one now,” I said as I caught a splash out of the corner of my eye and conjuring up a sighting.

Anyone can see that is a dolphin!
Anyone can see that is a dolphin!

“Oh, sure.” We tell each other so many tall tales that it is now difficult for either of us to know when the other is telling the truth. It is particularly difficult to convince the other if the truth is a little too convenient.

We made our way out onto the fishing pier. A fishing pier in a conservation area – a bit of an oxymoron? But this is America, and huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ is part of the culture of this young nation which not so long ago was a wilderness. Several fishermen, survival coded into their DNA, lined the pier dressed in camouflage gear in order to hide from the fish. I’d been scanning the ocean eagerly looking for dolphins, ever hopeful. “There’s another one!”


“I’m not kidding!” I said rushing up to the rail to get two feet closer to my sighting which was at least half a mile out at sea.


Well it is my fault. I’ve pointed out too many “bears” to Jimmy over the last few months, turning every shadow into a creature. He has long since learned to ignore my wildlife sightings.

“I’m serious,” I shrieked, my voice rising an octave. “Just look out there,” and I stood at point like a hunting dog. Something about my tone or posture made Jimmy deign to look in the direction I was pointing.

There! See?
There! See?

“I see it!!” he yelled, joining in my exhilaration at last. The dolphins were indeed swimming south to warmer waters as they disappeared behind the end of the pier. We rushed along to see them come around the pier and proceed to feed right in front of us in ones and twos, some pairs being mother and calf. “See?”

Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.
Mother and baby. I was vindicated for now.


“I told you so.”


“You never believe me.”

“Yes I do.”

“One of these days you’ll miss the sight of your life.”

“Oh, shut up and watch.”

The dolphins’ characteristic arcing, with dorsal fin appearing and disappearing, was mesmerizing and we would occasionally see a spout of water from their blowhole or a tail fluke. One energetic fellow leapt out of the water completely and slapped himself broadside into the sea three times creating a show and eliciting shrieks from his audience on the pier.

We really had seen a bear some months previously. He had to run out in the road in front of our car for us to spot him. It was hardly a PBS “Nature” moment, but exciting nonetheless, just as our dolphin watch was.

P.S. We missed hearing our freight trains in Myrtle Beach as we have come to expect them right next to the campsite and feel comforted by them chugging past, but we’ve gone one better. As we sat round the campfire, our singsong was interrupted every five minutes by a jet screaming directly overhead. We were right next to an international airport.081102MyrtleBch 137

An apology to the residents of Myrtle Beach:

We liked Myrtle Beach. Jimmy had been reading out of a snobby guide book that really only praises the National Parks. If you want to visit a tacky seaside town, England has quite a good selection.

Sat Nav to the Rescue

Map of Interstate 40

We realize now that all the exits off the scenic parkway have similar looking, unobtrusive tourist signs, not INTERSTATE 40 LEADING BACK TO YOUR TRAILER signs, so we didn’t think too much of it when at the bottom of the (wrong) exit ramp it looked a little different than we remembered and we couldn’t turn left as we both thought we should. Jimmy simply turned right and then executed one of his customary U-turns (first perfected over solid lines on a bridge in Toulouse, France where he was stopped by two scarily-clad-in-black-leather French motorcycle cops). After ten minutes of suburban touring along a five lane road with big chain stores looming over us, he finally said, “This doesn’t look familiar, does it?”

Compass (Photo credit: Roland Urbanek)

No, it didn’t look familiar and a quick glance at the compass prompted me to say, “We’re going south-west. I would have thought we should be going north-east.” I might just as well have spoken Japanese to him. For a man with a good sense of direction and the ability to find places by following his nose, he has never gotten his head ‘round the points of the compass. And we needed a town plan, not the state map that I clutched on my lap as a security blanket.

After shooting me a look of incomprehension, Jimmy suggested trying the sat nav. We pulled off the road into a strip mall parking lot, fumbled around under the seats, in the door pockets and finally in the glove compartment for the sat nav disk, dusted it off for its first outing in two years and popped it into the radio. The only instruction on the screen was to read the manual . . . which was in French. (Ha, ha, ha. So Teddy, the car salesman, had the last laugh. When we bought the car, he had tried to sell us the disk “at a really good price” but we had refused to pay for it as the car had been advertised with a sat nav and we contended that it wasn’t much good without a disk. Teddy magicked the disk out of the used car lot and the manual came from . . . . France?)

This is not our sat nav. We'd never get there using this method.

At a loss as to what to do next, we did what anyone in a similar situation would do and started jabbing the sat nav screen and swearing.

“What’s the ****** address where we are staying?”

“I don’t know. The zip code is 28778.” But of course that would be too easy. We couldn’t find anywhere to enter a simple five digit code. “Try Swannanoa, the suburb of Asheville where the campsite is.” The computer screen wouldn’t accept the second  “n” in Swannanoa. It blanked it out.  “Try Patton Cove Road. That’s near enough.” After the first few letters the computer suggested Patton Camp, Patton Hill, Patton Hollow and Patton School but wouldn’t allow Patton Cove as an entry. Jimmy jabbed back, back, back.

Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina.
Swannanoa River at Asheville, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There. Look. Phone number. Try that,” I blurted, my desire to articulate now gone. The sat nav wouldn’t accept the 800 free phone number I had looked up in the camping directory which came as no surprise as we were trying to pinpoint a location with it.

“Put the interstate in.” After much heated discussion as to whether it was I40, I-40 or I_40, the in-car computer refused to accept any variation of Interstate 40, faltering at the “0”.

“Here’s a phone number for the RV dealer next door to us! Try that!” I exclaimed triumphantly. The area code and first five digits of the phone number went in a treat but the contrary computer refused the last two digits. After three aborted tries, I snapped at Jimmy, “Oh put anything in for the last two digits. See what it comes up with.” We then had directions to First Presbyterian Church.

From memory of the directions we’d followed originally to the campsite the church was near where we wanted to go. Guidance Gertie now helpfully instructed us in her slow parlance for lost dummies, “Move out onto the indicated highway and verbal instructions will begin.” (Kind of sad and a little creepy that I’ve named the sat nav.)

“Well if we knew which highway to get on and in which direction, we wouldn’t be asking you, would we?” I yelled at Gert. Somehow it seemed slightly less

We weren't this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.
We weren’t this far off course. it just seemed like it at the time.

deranged to bellow at a talking computer that couldn’t hear me, than my usual state of affairs – at a silent computer that couldn’t hear me.

As Jimmy pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway in the opposite direction to which we had been traveling, I glanced at the compass. It said NW.  “Yes!” and I punched the air gleefully.

“Proceed along the indicated road for five miles,” Gertie told us.

“Let’s see if she takes us to the church, shall we?” I suggested.

“I was intending to,” said a newly confident Jimmy. And she did. And she took us to Swannanoa with two n’s along I-40 with a zero and straight down Patton Cove Road past our campsite.

Can you find your way around with technology or is there some IT disconnect in just our brains?

html, url, http, php, widgets and all of that

In an attempt to improve the look of my blog, I decided to put a map on the sidebar. That should be easy, right?

Many thanks to Steve and Mona Liza for allowing me to pinch the idea, a photo of the map on the side of the RV, off their most excellent site The Lowe’s RV Adventures.

I’ve got a map too, I thought. I can do that. Several aborted attempts with the gallery widget and image widget produced nothing.

Mona Liza offered her help but not wanting to look the complete IT dunce, I thought I would try Googling how do I put a photo on the sidebar of my wordpress blog.

Well thanks to the helpful bods in the support forum for this but for the sake of your sanity please don’t bother to read any of the following in red. Skip to black.

Basically, in your functions.php file put in this:

function postimage() {
 // get the post meta info
  $key = "postimage";
  $id = get_the_ID();
  $custom = get_post_meta($id, $key, true);
  echo $custom;

Then in your sidebar.php file (or within a widget that you can enter in PHP code), put in:

$image = new WP_query ('showposts=1');
if(have_posts()) : while($image->have_posts()) : $image->the_post; ?>

<a href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to <?php the_title_attribute(); ?>"><?php postimage(); ?></a>

<?php endwhile; endif; rewind_posts; ?>

where you want the image to appear.

There is absolutely no chance of me following any of that. Could you?

Then some clever lateral thinker called hhsleep, who is perhaps as programming-code-challenged as I am,  posted this easy solution:

“I figured it out.  Pretend you are doing a post.  Upload the image you want.  Then insert it in your post.  Copy the code and insert it in your text widget.”

Well thanks a bunch hh. That didn’t work either.

Then vtxyzzy posted:

First go to Admin->Media->Add New and upload the image you want. Once it is uploaded, click in the File URL box, hit CTRL-A CTRL-C to select and copy the URL.

Then go to Appearance->Widgets and drag the text widget into the sidebar.  In the text area, enter ‘<img src=”‘, then CTRL-V to paste in the URL of your picture. Type ‘” />’ to close the img tag. Click Save.

Sounded doable. Not too much code. Didn’t work. Not for me anyway.

Every post suggested using the text widget. Why would you do that when there is an image widget? C’mon. Tell me.

I had tried the image widget but discovered I was using the wrong url after having put the correct url in the text widget and just getting text.

Eventually I put the correct url in the image widget having spent HOURS on it. Or maybe many, many, many more minutes than I wanted to trying to put this map on the sidebar:

How did we miss that one?!!!
How did we miss that one?!!!

And who is going to appreciate all that effort? Nobody but me, but I think it looks amazing. Thank you again Mona Liza. I should have come to you first.

Bugs and Trees

During a recent trip to England, a plague of ladybugs in Tennessee had taken up residence in our trailer and accompanied us to North Carolina, reminiscent of our flies encounter in Washington. Taking it in turns (which we argued about naturally, “There’s one.” “I got the last one.” “I only just sat down! You get it”) we scooped them off windows, walls and ceiling and carried them to the door.

As they were launched into their new state, some did a swan dive and arced gracefully into flight while others took a nose dive and concussed their little heads on the pavement. After placing the next dozen or so ladybugs carefully on the step, I took a hard stance and launched them all, no longer suffering angst over their fly or dive abilities.

102208Smokies 017
The Smoky Mountains living up to their name.

A day trip to the Smoky Mountains had been disappointing for the autumn color but in the Blue Ridge Mountains the trees were just about a week away from bursting into glorious Technicolor. We noticed daily changes in the intensity of color and I was waiting anxiously for Jimmy to experience his first full-blown encounter with an American autumn.

Whole mountainsides would be ablaze with flame yellows, ember oranges and dots of hot reds – a sight which is possibly taken for granted by the Americans who see it every year and perhaps think oh, that’s nice but in the words of the mum in the changing room in England with her daughter who was trying on a prom dress, “it’s stunnin’ innit!!”

Looking for  “stunnin’-innit” views we set off full of anticipation for the Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding road that makes its way along the ridges of the mountain range. Gasping with appropriate tourist awe at the trees that were dressed in their seasonal best we had relaxed into our glazed but happy mode saved for when we think we know what we are doing.

So Grassy Knob Tunnel came as a bit of a surprise when the automatic headlights on our car did not automatically come on. Lack of headlights combined with wearing sunglasses meant we were plunged into complete blackness and as Jimmy’s are his prescription glasses, taking them off was not a helpful option. He said . . . well I can’t tell you exactly what he said, but the gist of it was, “I can’t see anything at all.” As he stomped on the brakes and fumbled for the light switch, we heard the impatient blast of a car horn behind us. We told ourselves self-righteously that the car was traveling far too quickly but the fact is the driver was probably quite startled to come up behind a car all in darkness tooling along at 10 mph on a blind bend in a tunnel.

As we approached Pine Mountain Tunnel, I saw Jimmy’s hand snaking discreetly towards the light switch in readiness. He wasn’t about to make another daft-old-man blunder.

102608BlueRidge 036
Close up photos show color
102608BlueRidge 045
Distance shots, well, maybe we should have given it another week.

It was a perfectly glorious day; Jimmy was delighted (not!) to stop for me every half a mile, at every overlook, along the 40 or so miles we cruised of the three-state-long Parkway so I could take 116 photos of breathtaking views across the valleys, many of which in the photo folder on my computer now look dull, flat and exactly the same. We drove until the sun started to dip in the sky and then turned ‘round to retrace our steps so we could view it all again in the soft afternoon light and return to our trailer. Easy, yes?

You probably know the answer to that by now.

Don’t like to drone on too long. To be continued. And you may wonder why it is suddenly autumn. See The Confession.

Snakes in her Hair

Ooo! Pretty!

“Ooo! I’ve got to stop here. Turn around. Turn around,” I said like an overexcited eight year old.  “Just five minutes. I’m not going to buy anything.” Who would believe that? Not Jimmy, obviously as a huge sigh escaped from him, but he did turn around and pull up to The Largest Gift Shop in Kentucky.

“Don’t leave me out here too long to sweat to death in the car,” he ordered.

“You could come in.”

“No,” he said emphatically. I knew he’d say that.

On entering the shop a disembodied voice asked, “Do I know you?” There didn’t seem to be anyone there and I made the mistake of turning around to try to make eye contact through heavily stocked glass shelves of rocks, gems and jewellery.

“No-o-o-o,” I said to the shelves.

“Have I seen you before?” was her ploy. I peered to see her, surrounded as she was by trinkets stacked high. Although she was seated naturally enough behind the counter, it was as though she had positioned herself at a secret vantage point hidden from the door. As I homed in on the voice I could see long grey hair tightly coiled and pinned flat to her head, an intricate hairdo that said I’m unconventional.

“No,” I answered when I’d given her a good look.

“Have you been here before?” she asked with a quizzical look on her face.


“Have you been to Kentucky before?” she persevered, perplexed that she couldn’t place me.

Was I really in Kentucky?
Was I really in Kentucky?

“No,” I said emphatically, but thinking I’d take part in her game.

“Where are you from?”

“Baltimore.” I said in my best clipped English accent, to throw her off the scent, not sure I should be telling her anything.

She was persistent. “Have you or any member of your family worked for the government?”

“No. Well, yes. The military. Not me, but my family.” Accurate I thought, but brief, wondering where this was going.

“I knew it! That’s the connection! I knew that!” What connection? At this point I didn’t know whether to continue or start backing away, but I stood my ground, smiling tightly at her.

She was well practiced at her art. “Are you a spiritual person?”

Umm. Dunno. I guess so.  “Yes.”

“Do you believe in The Lord?” There it is! She had me hook, line and sinker. The hook was the government employee question. They’re the largest employer in the country so between myself and my family I was bound to say yes, but she made herself sound intuitive. The line was the spiritual question. She’d piqued my interest and could see she’d started to reel me in. The sinker was The Lord but as her tiny eyes beamed fervently at me from her sweet, pudgy face I didn’t have the heart to cut and run.


“Were you brought up Catholic?”

Wrong step. One in three people in the United States were brought up Catholic but she came up empty with this bit of fishing. “No.” Economical answer again. Not giving anything away. Go fish.

“What religion were you brought up with?”

Baptist, but I’m not telling you that.  “Protestant.”

Now sensing my reluctance she said, “I’m a spiritual person but I don’t believe in any one religion. Religions have caused a lot of problems. And because of the sins of the flesh, God made childbirth ten times more painful and gave the desire to men. Look at all the problems that has caused.

Where did that come from?

“Have you felt since you were a little girl that you are here for a purpose?” I’d taken a step back at this point, uncomfortable with the whole encounter. Goose bumps popped up on my arms and  in my mind she morphed into Medusa,

Medusa's Head, a Flemish painter, ca. 1600, Uf...

her coiled hair turning into snakes. “The Lord has a very special purpose for you. You need to communicate with The Lord and He will reveal his purpose to you. I don‘t want you telling me what I need to do. “I knew you were a spiritual person. I could see it in your face, in your eyes. Well, just behind your eyes.”

I‘m trying to picture what is behind my eyes and it is my brain saying get me out of here. “You are a spiritual and very open-minded person. As long as you are open-minded you will learn.” I can go along with that but I’m not going to discuss it with you.

Had I stepped into a time machine?
Had I stepped into a time machine?

Hearing a slight finality to her comment I rushed in with, “It’s been nice to talk to you,” and retreated. I don’t know why I felt the need to stop, listen and be polite. Perhaps I had been drawn into her spiritual world as her eyes locked onto mine and with mesmeric guile she had rooted my feet to the ground. Had she looked into my eyes and hypnotized me? I couldn’t recall anything of my surroundings after she started to speak except for staring intently at her moist, doughy face, piggy eyes and serpentine hairdo. It was quite a surreal experience – a little spooky and a little comical; I was truly wanting to step away and yet leaning forward the whole time.

“Have a look around. If you see anything you like, I’ll work with you on the price.” I won’t be buying anything. I just wanted to leave and once the spell was broken I took a cursory look round the shop and left. As I stepped over the threshold I pictured the serpents on her head coming alive, her eyes rolling back and sinking into their sockets, her tongue extruding in a black twist to reach across the room and snare me. I only dared say goodbye when one foot was firmly outside and I was pulling the door behind me. I did not break stride. The “connection” wasn’t completely severed until I closed the door and stepped into the sunlight of a balmy Kentucky afternoon. I will only discuss religion on my own terms. And I won’t go back to that shop.

Later in a post office, in a conversation with the clerk about our accents and origins and Jimmy felt he could ask her if there was anywhere nearby we could buy wine. She had just started to shake her head no when Jimmy said, “It’s just beer or whisky here, isn’t it?”

She continued to shake her head no and laughed, “Moonshine!” and we joined in her laughter.

English: Moonshine still at the McCreary Count...
English: Moonshine still at the McCreary County Museum in Stearns, Kentucky, USA. The still (mash pot, arm, and thump keg) was provided by the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department. Locals provided the barrel, jugs, and setting to simulate a typical still site appearance. The sign atop the wooden barrell is a recipe for moonshine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Call me shallow. I’m more comfortable with that kind of casual conversation.

Have you ever had a spell put on you?

And can you read the moonshine recipe on that barrel?