can't you see the sunshine….

How does the deck look?

Oh, thanks for asking. It looks so good, I think. I am so glad it does since we are using more than before.

This is how it looked in early June.

Taken 7/20. Look how the elephant ears have taken off.

Doing the jungle thing….

Starting this week, our building is going to be pressured washed. Hopefully, I will be able to cover the plants that can’t be moved and they won’t be sprayed with some toxic wash.

Leave a comment »

Entertaining in the time of the virus

We have always regularly had folks over to share a meal. And when we moved back to North Carolina that became even more important. I will admit, my invitations come with a small handiman event. In other words…”Oh, I’m so glad you are here. You know since you are here, could you tighten up this door?” Or help me get this down. Or ….

Now, all that has stopped! Only our HVAC guy has been in the house for routine maintenance since March. Ben sat in the parking lot when the repair guy was here. I really missed seeing folks and chatting in person. Finally, I worked out that we could sit on the deck and guests could sit in the courtyard. We could have a drink and a chat. Works well.

These are our friends, Roy and Marcia. They live nearby. Until it got so hot, they have been coming over on Sunday night for a couple hours. It is good for all of us.

And then we had surprise visitors, Jim and Carol, friends from Maryland who were passing through. And their dog to visit with Guppy. She was so excited!

I don’t think I would go that far, but everyone is told before arriving “You are not getting in the house to use the bathroom. I suggest the nearby Harris-Teeter grocery.” You know what this means though…..I don’t have to clean before folks come over!!!!!!!

Leave a comment »

Travels in France with Jim and BK, Part 4

Make sure to read parts 1, 2 and 3 first.

After we dropped off our wonderful barge,

We stopped by the great, weekly local market. Couldn’t buy much. No more kitchen but I did get this great shot.

You have to just love a man who loves his work.

We rented a car. Over the course of the next few days we crammed in a lot. Some of these things may be out of order.

The bright spot is reflection off the glass not the sun doing something funky.

We visited the sea. At some point we stopped by Beziers. Let Wikipedia tell you about it

Massacre at Béziers

The Crusaders captured the small village of Servian and then headed for Béziers, arriving on July 21, 1209. Under the command of the papal legate, Arnaud Amalric,[61] they started to besiege the city, calling on the Catholics within to come out and demanding that the Cathars surrender.[62] Neither group did as commanded. The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates.[63] The entire population waslaughtered, and the city burned to the ground. It was reported that Amalric, when asked how to distinguish Cathars from Catholics, responded, “Kill them all! God will know his own.” Historian Joseph Strayer doubts that Amalric actually said that but maintains that the statement captures the “spirit” of the Crusaders, who killed nearly every man, woman and child in the town.[64]

Amalric and Milo, a fellow legate, in a letter to the Pope, claimed that the Crusaders “put to the sword almost 20,000 people”.[65] Strayer considers that estimate is too high but notes that in his letter “the legate expressed no regret about the massacre, not even a word of condolence for the clergy of the cathedral who were killed in front of their own altar”.[66] News of the disaster quickly spread, and many settlements later surrendered without a fight.


Late one afternoon we stopped by Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Yes, where the cheese is from.

Of course we had to see the caves……

Eventually, we ended up in Nimes so that we could see the Pont du Gard.

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD to carry water over 50 km (31 mi) to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes).[4] It crosses the river Gardon near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in southern France. The Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges, and one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance. (Thanks Wikipedia)

On our last day in the area, we turned in the rental car at the train station so that we could catch the fast train back to Paris. Ben, Jim and BK remained with the luggage while I went to find the car rental place and drop off the keys. I found the rental office. Closed. Firmly locked. A man walked up, also with keys. He and I puzzled over this, chatting IN FRENCH for about 5 minutes before we figured out that we were both Americans. Then he said “Look, my train is leaving. My wife is already on it. Here are my keys. When you figure it out just give them to someone. Okay? Thanks! Bye!” I’m standing there, saying “WHAT?????” So with 2 sets of keys, I somehow worked out that there was a bar where I could drop off the keys. Wisely, I turned in our keys. Got us all squared away. And then I plopped his keys on the counter. Explaining that these were from some stranger who could not find the office either and just gave me his keys. (Mind you, this is all being done in some combination of French and English.) You know, I’m being Italian, waving my arms. Trying my best to explain. Then the questions start.

Who is he?

Where is the car?

What color is the car?

Where is he now?

After about 10 “JE NE SAIS PAS” (I don’t know) I just gave up and left too. I have often wondered, Did the man even tell his wife? How horrified was she? Did the rental car company charge him for a car? What exactly happened?

Anyway, we made it to Paris and then finally back to the US. So this is the end of our wonderful trip with Jim and BK to France.

Leave a comment »

Travels in France with BK and Jim, Part 3

Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first.

I want to explain about the locks and how to go through them. Just in case, from reading these canal barge posts, someone decides to go rent a canal brage and go cruising.

As canals (and rivers too) meander through the countryside there are hills and valleys. A lock is on the body of water and raises/lowers a boat from one height to another to get it through the hills and valleys.

This is a lock that is not yet full. The green fence like things at front and back of picture are the gates of the lock. Which are either opened or shut depending on what you want the lock to do….fill or drain. For the part of the canal that we were on there were lock keepers who moved these gates. Not all canals have lock keepers so the boater has to crank the gate too.

Here’s the boat gradually rising. See the rope tied to the shore. It helps to stablize the boat as the water fills the lock.

When a boat enters a lock that needs to fill, the boat is sometimes 10 or 15 feet below the level of the ground surrounding the lock. That means that someone on the boat has to throw the line up to someone on shore so they can tie the boat off. Ben was always driving. Jim was always on shore. Line throwing was up BK and me.

Here’s Jim giving me a lesson about how to gather the rope up so that I can throw it up in the air 10 or 15 feet to him. Note my deluxe turquoise gloves.

Here’s BK pulling the rope tight as the boat gradually raises. Note her purple gloves.

Lock filled. Ready to go. Note there are other boats in the lock.

Ben driving. Ben seemed to mistake leaving the locks as the start of the INDY 500 and would gun it out of the lock! I was at the back, eating diesel fumes and using a mop to push us off from other boats and the lock walls that Ben’s surge of power would sashay the boat into. There were over 30 locks. That’s one reason you don’t go far each day.

Each day we would reach a point where clambering on and off the boat, throwing ropes, tugging and ‘mopping up’ Ben’s power surges was just too much. So we would stop. Note my deluxe green hands. The gloves bled when they got wet!

That’s the story about locks.

Leave a comment »

Travels in France with Jim and BK, Part 2

Make sure to read part 1 first.

We had an afternoon, night and morning in Carcassonne. It is a walled French city. It dates from before 100 BC. They do a big sound and light show just outside the city walls in the summer. The famous dish in the area is cassoulet. Duck, pork, beans……It is a heavy dish. Ben and Jim both enjoyed it. The next morning after a visit to a lively, local street market we were off to find our barge.

Some how, some where, I must have read an article about taking a barge through the Canal du Midi.

The canal connects the Garonne to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 km (120 mi) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean.

Strictly speaking, “Canal du Midi” refers to the portion initially constructed from Toulouse to the Mediterranean – the Deux-Mers canal project aimed to link together several sections of navigable waterways to join the Mediterranean and the Atlantic: first the Canal du Midi, then the Garonne which was more or less navigable between Toulouse and Bordeaux, then the Garonne Lateral Canal built later, and finally the Gironde estuary after Bordeaux. (Thanks Wikipedia)

So, yes indeedy, I signed us up to rent a barge and spend a week on the canal. And I know that each of us would say that was the best vacation that we have ever taken. We rented from Le Boat Of course BK and I looked at boat plans and discussed sizes and rooms and manuverabilty and on and on for weeks ahead of time. We finally decided on a 3 bedroom barge. Two bedrooms with a sink in each one (This will be important later) and bath were in the back, a living area that could be opened like a convertable car in the middle and one bedroom and bath in the front.

Jim on the left, Le Boat guy in the middle and Ben on the right. Getting the scoop on the boat. Kitchen is behind them with the bikes above. Steering from that chair. The sliding cover is open.

We loaded up with groceries and maybe, some wine. Got our “driving lesson” and were walked through the first lock and then we were off.

We covered 30 miles in a week. That was all we expected to do. Taking a barge is Slow Travel at it’s best. (Look for another post about canal locks)

We had wonderful meals, either on board or at a local place.

We stopped here on Sunday. It was French Mother’s Day. BK and I were given flowers. We had a great meal. They told me what to do with the fava beans.

Our days were determined by the rules of the canal. Boat movement had to stop by a certain time. Locks closed for lunch or the day in the late afternoon and that was it. The boat could go no further until the lock opened. We did have a guide for the canal to let us know where towns were easy to access by bike, restaurants, locks. That sort of thing. Oh, and I almost forget, where the local bakery truck would come down to the canal with fresh croissants and bread. Just in case you needed it.

There were signs along the canal. “Vin du vente”. “Wine for sale” Of course, there was much screaming and arm flapping…”PULL OVER! PULL OVER! There is wine for sale!” My intrepid friend BK visited all those winerys with me. HMMMMM

Our days were spent leisurely, cruising the calm, green canal. Rarely seeing another boat.

Remember this was late May, before Americans invade and way before Europeans start to vacation. I would not want to take a cruise like this in the early spring when it can be rainy and cold. And not in late June, July or August when it could be hot as the dickens. Late spring, early fall, the time to take this sort of cruise.

Ben mostly steered. Jim handled the ropes for the locks (more in part 3 about locks) BK and I handled the ropes for the locks in the boat. All of us just completly relaxed and had great fun.

Sometimes we would stop and pull to the side of the canal for lunch. This was after one of those times.

When we got home and had the film developed and printed, BK sent me her copies with a note that said “I am never handing you my camera AGAIN! There were 20 pictures out of 24 of just this!” Seems it was a very senstitive shutter button. Or perhaps my shutter pushing finger had been sampling local wine……

In the late afternoon, we would pull to the side. Stake the barge and start to cook dinner or walk/bike to a nearby local place.

Note the laundry flapping on the left

After an evening or so I noticed that every night when we stopped BK had laundry to hang out to dry. I really didn’t think this was odd. BK and Jim are very good at minimal packing. So, she needed to wash some things…..Cleverly, she had figured out that in the morning if she put clothes in the back bedroom sink with some soap, as we swished down the canal the clothes would gently wash. At lunch, she would move these to the middle bedroom sink with rinse water. So by the time we stopped it was a quick wring out and on the line to dry. I was impressed.

Our last night on the barge and I hear BK exchanging harsh words with Jim! This is very rare. She emerges from the back of the boat, ranting “LOOK at this! Every day I have had to wash while he had CLEAN clothes in his suitcase that he didn’t even unpack!!!!!!” Other than that, it was a wonderful time, spent together and one that we all cherish especially now. So very glad we did these trips while we still were able.

Leave a comment »

France with Jim and BK, Part 1

I did not travel outside the country until I was 30. On that first trip to England with my first husband, we saw an older gentleman who had obviously saved for his wonderful trip. He was in tears because he could not manage the long, small stepped entrance way to Westminister Abbey. Right there, on the spot, we both decided that we would not wait to travel. Traveling outside the US was physically demanding. Waiting until we had more resources or time and hoping that we would still be in good enough shape to travel was a risk. One that we decided not to take.

I acknowledge that trips anywhere and especially out of the US are a position of privilege. However, let it be noted that we lived very frugally the other 50 weeks of the year. Rarely eating out, going to movies or having cable TV or new clothes every season. It was a trade off that we choose to make.

Now after that long ramble, let’s start our story about our France trip with Jim and BK in May and June of 1997. Some of these pictures were taken by BK and some by me. We lived in northern Virginia and Jim and BK lived in North Carolina. They drove up the night before we left. So on my birthday, we were off to Dulles airport. That was a different time wasn’t it? We sat waiting for our plane, celebrating my birthday with champagne and lobster canapes. The British couple across from us was appalled.

We flew into Paris and had 3 very full days and two nights there.

Jim discovered that sometimes European bathrooms were very compact!

View from our hotel window

Well, of course we had to visit the tower.

We crammed in a lot in those three days.

After, yet another 2 hour dinner, on the third night we boarded a sleeper train for the south of France. France, like much of Europe, has a very good train system. My preference would have been to have taken a day train to see all the wonderful countryside. Alas, time constraints forced us to travel at night and to spend one night in a sleeper cabin. All 4 of us.

They are both too polite to say what they were thinking….”All 4 of us are sleeping in here……”
Yeah, she told me that it was small. I guess I didn’t beleive her.
I don’t want to hear any crap! I told you people about this…..

All the more reason to travel while you are still able. I could possibly climb up into that bunk today….it won’t be pretty.

We made it through the night to our early morning stop in Albi. There Jim, BK and I toured the Toulouse-Lautrec house and museum. (no luggage lockers at train station so Ben remained there with our luggage. A year or two before we had been through the house together) (This was my summer of Toulouse-Lautrec. Earlier in May I had to the Art Institute of Chicago and seen a visiting exhibit of his work. In Paris we had been to Musee d’Orsay and seen his works there. I wrapped up the month with a tour through his house in Albi.) From Albi we took a local train to Carcassonne. I’ll stop here. Look for part 2.

1 Comment »

More Travels with Jim and BK

I had such fun looking at pictures from our trip to Hong Kong with Jim and BK that I pulled out some other albums of trips with them. Since many of us are staying home this summer I thought I would just keep sharing these trips.

I have always taken lots of pictures. Always had them printed. (That is what you had to do if you wanted to see pictures that are taken with film. Look it up, if you don’t know what film is) I didn’t always make albums. BK makes beautifully documented albums and showed me hers from Hong Kong. That is when I realized that I should at least throw my pictures in an album and make a few notes. And BK and I realized that we should also not take pictures of the exact same thing. And after the trip we should have a set printed for each other too and then trade. So, some of these pictures I took and some she took. Sorry for the quality of some of these. I didn’t want to dig them out of their plastic sleeves to take a picture of them so I could post it.

In the late 90s Ben and I lived in northern Virginia and Jim and BK lived in North Carolina. In 1998, Ben was working in Salt Lake City, Utah. The company he was working for would fly him home or me out there a couple times a month. That worked out pretty well. Except I got sick EVERY time I went out to visit. Ben thought it was the altitude. I thought it was the lack of humidity. (I’m a delicate Southern Flower and need moisture in my air) So that year, Jim, BK and I flew out to Salt Lake for Ben’s birthday and 4th of July. It was summer. It was hot!

We traveled out from Salt Lake to see all the usual tourist stops.

Don’t ask what this is or where.

Included was a trip to some deserty area. Don’t ask me where. It was HOT!!!! Anyway, we stopped at a bar/resturant for a meal. We all still talk about this place. We ordered draft beers. They came out. Frosted mugs. Those beers were so cold and so good. And they stayed cold. That was a good place.

The bread from the fondly remembered cold beer place.

Of course BK and I were hell bent on swiming in the great Salt Lake. So out Jim, BK and I went. It must have been a weekday. Ben must have been working so he didn’t come along. I am sure we stopped at a public park or swimming area. I can remember a longish walk to the lake.

I have a collection of pictures of myself by various bodies of water.

The Great Salt Lake is not this pristine clean body of water. There was all this plant life in it. And it is relatively shallow. BK and I start to wade out. It is at this point that she says “Stay close to me now. You know I can’t swim.” Oh, GREAT! I thought. Now she tells me! Oh well, it is very high salinity. Everything floats. Nothing will happen. We wade further out. At this point we are probably up to our lower hips. I decide to crouch down and see if I can float. Sure enough, in a sitting position I am just happily floating. BK decides she will try that. “NOW HOLD ON TO ME!” She commands as she crouches in front of me. So I grab her elbows and we happily float for a bit. Then I go to adjust my sunglasses or something, letting go of one elbow. BOOM! She is over on one side. Flailing around! Screaming! “YOU LET GO OF ME!” So I grab her and right her again. Screaming at her “JUST PUT YOUR FEET DOWN! WE ARE IN LESS THAN 3 FEET OF WATER!” All I can think of is, how will I explain to her Momma that BK drowned in the shallows of the Great Salt Lake because she wouldn’t stand up!

BK bravely standing in the Great Salt Lake

Anyway, we all survived.

Edititor’s note: After reading this BK added some info from her album.

The Brine Flies are the sanitarians for the G S Lake. If not for them, it would resemble a stinky thick green pea soup. Even with their help, it didn’t look too good.

Ah, Ben’s birthday at Log Haven.

Diablo was the restaurant with the cold beer and pitch- forked monogrammed bread.

Both the rock pics are in Arches National Park (I think,)which we visited Mon July 6.

And yes it was Hot!.


My Vivian Howard Tale

Vivian Howard is a chef living in the eastern North Carolina town of Kinston. She and her husband, Ben, were living and working in New York City when her parents offered to help them open a restaurant “as long as it was in Kinston” where Vivian “swore she would never go back to.” They came back, opened several successful restaurants. One of them, The Chef and The Farmer is a farm to table restaurant using year round products from local farms. She also developed and starred in two PBS series, “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South”.

When we were living in Italy, somehow, through some magic, I was able to watch the first PBS series “A Chef’s Life” on the TV in my kitchen. Watching that brought back to me the North Carolina that I realized I missed. It was easy to fall in love with and admire Vivian. She is bright, smart, ambitious, great in the kitchen and very human on camera. And she has this great laugh. She just enjoys herself.

Lately, we have been watching reruns of “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South”. And I have been thinking about Vivian. Before the library closed I was able to check out her giant cookbook Deep Run Roots. It has been very handy.

Truly, I have been thinking about her. By watching her shows we got to know her family, the farmers she works with, her restaurant family. And I worry about them. Her Momma, Miss Scarlet is a delicate little bird. I would hate for her to get sick. And who is buying all those tomatoes that she got Warren to plant? And she probably had to lay staff off. Has she been able to film new episodes of “Somewhere South”?

So I guess Vivian has been with us the whole time. But now the library is asking us to return books. And I know there is a waiting list for her book so I have given it back.

But look, I was able to preorder and pick up a book. We’ll miss you Vivian but I have something else to read now…….

Leave a comment »

The last of the Hong Kong tales

At the time of our trip in 1996 to Hong Kong with Jim and BK, we were living in northern Virginia while Jim and BK were still in Raleigh. The night before we were to leave, Ben flew back to the DC area from New York city. (This is important. Remember that) The next day, he and I caught a flight to some California city where we met Jim and BK and the four of us boarded the flight for Hong Kong. They were sitting several rows behind us.

On these trips abroad, Ben always insisted on ordering a ‘special meal’. Low salt or diabetic….some such. So we are on the plane to Hong Kong, Ben eats his ‘special meal’ and then pulls from his backpack a ham sub! I am horrified! Where in the dickens did that come from? I have been with him since picking him up at the airport yesterday afternoon. Where did this come from? “Oh” he casually says, “I bought it before leaving New York,” To my knowledge this sub has not been refridgerated. I can see the e coli and thousands of other bacteria crawling on it. He starts to eat it.

Just to our left and behind us, another passenger wakes up and askes the flight attendant for something to eat. He wants a ham sub like Ben is having. I can hear all of this and glance back as the attendant explains that Ben has brought it on the plane himself. So that is not a choice. The disappointment on that man’s face was priceless.

Fast forward a few days into our trip and Ben is insisting that when we are in the part of Hong Kong where the airline office is we need to stop and make sure his ‘special meal’ is ordered for the return trip. With some grumbling we agree. Ben goes to stand in line to wait to chat with an agent. BK goes to look at brochures. Jim and I sit down. Jim askes why we are here. I explain how dumb this is because he eats the ‘special meal’ and then auguments that with some treat that he has picked up somewhere. Then I go on to tell him the story about the ham sub. I might have embellished a little bit. Especially about the other passengers’ face and disappointment. Well Jim and I get tickled. We start laughing. We are really laughing. Ben is ignoring us. BK has distanced herself from us and snaps this shot. Others are staring at us. We are still laughing.

That is without a doubt one of my favorite travel pictures and never fails to make me smile.

This is the last of the Hong Kong travel tales. Maybe I’ll find some pics from other trips with Jim and BK and write about those.

Leave a comment »

My Michael Jordan Story

I lived in Wilmington, North Carolina when Michael Jordan was in high school and at UNC-Chapel Hill. At the time I was a sales rep and called at a business where Michael’s father worked. I met him. Several years later, in 1996, when Michael was a pro basketball star, Ben and I were visiting in Hong Kong with our friends Jim and BK.

Hong Kong is a peninsula and islands. Lots of water. There is a wide walk along the bay. One of the recommendations to combat jet lag, when you travel cross several time zones, is to get out for a walk in the daylight. So the four of us were out for a walk.

I am thinking it was probably a Saturday or a Sunday. There were families taking walks too. BK and I were approached by three junior high age students. The two boys reading from a script explained that for their English class they needed to interview English speaking folks. BK and I, being dyed in the wool teachers, happily agreed. We answered the questions. As they were walking off, I commented on the “number 23” basketball jersey that one of the boys was wearing. Saying “I know Michael Jordan’s father.” They scampered off anyway. BK and I continued our walk, catching up with Ben and Jim.

Several blocks away, we heard “Miss! Miss!”. We turned to see our three students coming towards us. The two boys romping like puppies towards us while the girl calmly followed with that too old for her years attitude of males-who-don’t-listen-have-finally-caught-on look. She explained “They want to know all about Michael Jordan.” I carefully explained that I knew HIS FATHER! Oh…….

So that is my Michael Jordan story. And another bit of our trip to Hong Kong with Jim and BK.

Leave a comment »