As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Labor Day Trip, Day 2

Okay, Sarah's a bit wild right now so the blogging may be brief. Second day of the Labor Day weekend we began by going to the cute (slightly overcute) old town of Shepherdstown, WV visiting some boutiques and a farmer's market, deciding not to eat at the rather fancy places there. Instead we headed across the Potomac, through Sharpsburg (site of the Antietam Battlefield, and on to the good-ol'country Red Byrd Restaurant in Keedysville, MD. I was actually surprised to find the Red Byrd had a website. I've known it since I started tramping battlefields back in the 80s. Then we went to the Antietam Battlefield, and visited the visitor center, where after viewing the battlefield from the viewing area and discussing with her Dad the beauty of the scene where the largest number of Americans to die in a single day, ever, gave their lives, we visited the bookstore where Sarah bought a plastic toy version of the Burnside Bridge. Then we went to see the real Burnside Bridge, pet two dachsunds, look at some other sites (the Dunker Church, Bloody Lane, the Cornfield), and then proceeded on our way.

We then drove up through the old river town of Williamsport (best known to those who follow the retreat from Gettysburg) and on by back roads to Fort Frederick State Park, where one of the few French and Indian War frontier forts built of stone still stands (sort of). The stone walls have been heavily reconstructed and the barracks rebuilt by the CCC in the 30s, and since, but it's still a good historical site and Sarah is starting to understand the links between Fort Frederick (18th century), Fort McHenry in Baltimore (early 19th century, of Star Spangled Banner Fame) and Fort Washington south of DC (mid-19th century).

By this time the day was hot, everyone had had enough for today, and we hopped on the Interstates (so far mostly avoided) to return to Martinsburg and a stop at the Martinsburg Mall where Tam found some pants she needed, Sarah some fancy fake jewelry, and Daddy, well, Daddy looked around. Then back after a brief grocery stop to the hotel, then dinner at a Texas steakhouse, just a chain place but next to the hotel. And so, after Sarah bouncing about for a bit, to bed.

I'll add more later or in subsequent days. Right now I think I'm keeping Sarah awake.


Labor Day Weekend, Day 1

Day 1 of our road trip; blogging after midnight without lights other than the screen, so Tam and Sarah can sleep. We're in Martinsburg, West Virginia, sort of midway among a variety of places we plan to visit, staying as we usually do at a Hampton Inn, as we usually do if one's available, after spending the day in Harper's Ferry, where we had lunch, looked around, managed to convey at least some of the history to Sarah, and then came on to our hotel. We've been to Harper's Ferry a number of times with her but she's starting to appreciate the surroundings (Jefferson says in his Notes on the State of Virginia that the view is worth a trip across the Atlantic to see, but then he was writing as a Virginia booster and they named the point from which he described the view Jefferson's Rock, so what do you expect? Worth driving from Washington to see, though.) For dinner, we ate at a fine little local Italian place, La Trattoria, where Sarah had spaghetti and kept saying, "Mamma Mia, this place is awesome!"

Tomorrow we hope to do a lot. More then.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Road Trip!

I've been busy. But we learned one thing from our vacation: we need to get away, we need hills, we need breaks. This weekend being Labor Day weekend, even though I'll have some work to do over it, we've decided to head to the eastern Panhandle of West Virginia (West Virginia being the only state with two panhandles, one on the east and one on the north), staying in Martinsburg, up between Harper's Ferry, Shepherdstown, Berkeley Springs etc. and near the Antietam Battlefield and old Fort Frederick in Maryland. More to come.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Still Here

I know. I haven't posted in almost a week, and here I am writing this at 1 am when I need to go to bed. I'll write more eventually. I'm back into the letting-work-get-to-me mode but I'll get over it. There's still much to say about the vacation -- the south, the mountains, the return to the real world instead of the Beltway -- but it'll come in time. I'll probably romanticize it more.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Looking Back on a Good Vacation

After a day back at work I'm still fairly mellow. I think this was one of our better vacations, certainly one of the best limited to a single week. I know I've said that in several postings.

At some point I plan to blog a bit more about the various ancestors whose histories first drew us to the mountain country. Maybe not just yet though. That is too much like work, and I've more than enough work to go around right now.

Perhaps I should say something about how we travel. I've become utterly dependent on the Internet. I always travel with a laptop, though my laptop, bought before we went to China to adopt Sarah in 2001, is on its last legs. We also have learned the value of a little $100 portable DVD player in the car, which allows Sarah to watch video while we drive. And we always carry snacks, extremely detailed maps (I am a map freak of the first order), a camera, etc.

Pre-Sarah, Tam and I traveled lighter. Now we travel heavy. But we are able, as we did again this time, to blog regularly, upload photos, etc. I'll be preparing a video of all our vacation photos and video for YouTube soon, perhaps tonight.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Some Summing Up

As I already noted, last year's vacation was not so great. We were sick, had traffic issues, money issues (the hotel posted the amount twice, effectively blocking a bunch of the bank account for a couple of days), weather issues (hot and humid: the tidewater in August). This year was the polar opposite.

I've already commented on this but I'll say it again: I need mountains. Maybe it's in my Scotch-Irish genes, or just my personality makeup, but the blues and greens and soft contours of mountains make me relax, lower my blood pressure. The gentler speeds and cadences of the mountain south awaken old echoes in me, Ozark echoes, and maybe something that's in the DNA, going back to the mountains of North Georgia, of North Carolina, of Virginia, of Pennsylvania, of Ulster, of some ancient place. The highland south is a special place. Down in Staunton, VA, where we spend a bit of time each year, are two hills dominating the town called Betsy Bell and Mary Gray. As the link notes, there are two hills of the same name in County Tyrone, Ireland, and two others in Perthshire, Scotland, as Scots and Ulstermen have carried the names across the seas.

Anyway the mountains remind me of my upbringing, even though I was brought up on the edges of the Ozarks, and the Ozarks are never as big as the Smokies. But the cadences are the same, the people are the same (literally: the Ozarks were settled from the southern Appalachians), and with comfort food like barbecue and greens and pepper vinegar on the table and folks asking how you are even if they don't know you, it's home.

It is real easy for those of us Inside the Beltway to forget Who We Are and confuse it with What We Do. Getting back to country, getting back to the mountains, getting back to roots, is important.

We're mellowed now. I really don't care about a lot of things. I want to go back, but I also want to see mountains every month: the Blue Ridge, West Virginia, even the close-in Catoctins or Bull Runs. I need hills.

Roanoke is going to play a role. It's a city -- and Sarah likes cities -- in the mountains -- and Tam and I like mountains -- with museums and such. Of course it's a lot farther than Baltimore, but one can picture a three-day weekend with a stop in Charlottesville, two nights in Roanoke (day two spent entirely exploring), and day three coming back through the mountains. A quick dip into mountains, but with a bit of urban fun too.

Let's do it.


Vacation 2008: The Final Day

Roanoke to home is Known Space, and so the last day of the trip could have been very routine. But I remembered that long ago, in the pre-Sarah era, Tam and I had visited the Science Museum of Western Virginia, in Roanoke's Center in the Square, and thought it would be a great place to bring a kid someday. Roanoke is a great place, a city of about 100,000 which, with its neighbors Salem and Vinton, has a metropolitan area of close to 300,000. But unlike the other major urban areas of Virginia -- Richmond and the agglomerations of Northern Virginia (where we live) and Hampton Roads (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth and Chesapeake) -- it's surrounded by mountains. Its City Market, right in the center of town, is a great farmer's market, and adjacent is the aforementioned Center in the Square, which in addition to the Science Museum of Western Virginia also has a Historical Museum, an Art Museum, and a Theater. It's an arts center with added stuff right off a great street market. And on the day we were there, they were having a 25th anniversary celebration and all the museums were free.

Sarah loved the Science Museum. We stopped for a while and ate at the food court in the old market building, then went back for more. Weather exhibits, neon exhibits, touch tanks of water animals, snakes she could touch, all sorts of good stuff. And even if the museums haven't been free that day, because we're members of the Maryland Museum of Science in Baltimore, we get free admission to other member museums of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), as long as they're 90 miles or more from Baltimore, which has gotten us into the Franklin Institute in Philly, several museums in Hampton Roads and other parts of Virginia, and even works for a few overseas sites. It makes joining one science museum an economic boon. Suggested for other parents reading this.

After spending nearly all day in the Science Museum and nearby sites, we had chili dogs at the Roanoke Weiner Stand. It's now in the Center in the Square Building, though I think Tam and I may have eaten at the original 1920s style place on our first trip to Roanoke long pre-Sarah. A classic. Sarah declared the chili dog better than any others other than the Snow White Grill in Winchester, on which I've previously blogged. We'd also tried a hot dog stand in Franklin, but Sarah didn't like the chili there.

We avoided Interstates coming home, coming up Route 11 as far as Greenville, VA, then 340 through Waynesboro, Elkton, and Shenandoah and then 211 through Luray to Warrenton, where we picked up 29 on home. Didn't get home till 9 or so, but that had allowed us to stay in Roanoke till past 3, which gave us, in effect, another whole day.

Last night we were exhausted, hence my laconic post. Today we're getting ready to plunge back into work, cleaning out the car, restocking the larder, napping, doing laundry, etc. We're home, rested, relaxed, and I hope ready for work.

Unlike last year's vacation, which suffered from the beginning (we all had pinkeye setting out) and had its problems, this one was a gem. More as I can.


The Trip Home: Friday

The vacation has ended. Tomorrow morning is work; Sarah will be with me and Tam this week, alternating probably, and school starts a week from tomorrow. I have a huge amount of work on a project I must finish by the end of August at work, and also a chapter deadline for a book to work on in the evenings, so blogging may be sparse. Tonight I'm going to try to finish out the story of our vacation and some broader reflections and thoughts, as best I can.

As Tam and I came to realize how much we needed mountains, original plans to go through the North Carolina Piedmont and do Lexington, NC barbecue, the North Carolina Zoo near Asheboro, and the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, either coming or going, were scrapped. The Piedmont is nice, but you can reach it in a day from DC, and we needed all the mountains we can get. (I will note as an aside, for those who know bluegrass/old time music, that the museum in Spencer is at the old Spencer Shops railroad center, known from "The Wreck of the Old 97": "you must get her into Spencer on time.")

So we decided to come down by taking Route 29 to Charlottesville and then getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Though we didn't take the Parkway the whole way (it's a 45-mile-an-hour limit and very twisty and turny) we did take the mountains all the way. So too on our return. We came back by the route I mentioned in an earlier post, via I-26 from Asheville to Johnson City, then I-81 to Roanoke, violating our boycott of the Interstates but still keeping mountains around us most of the way.

Though it was a long day's drive, some 300 miles (not long when you're 25 with a young bladder, but long when you've got an eight-year-old and you're 60), it was relaxing. Tam, who always disliked the long haul down 81 from Roanoke to Knoxville -- Roanoke is, for northern Virginians, in the southwest of the state, but it's still a couple of hours' drive from Tennssee because of that long southwestern tail that pokes in under Kentucky -- was full of praise for I-26, a pretty road that goes practically straight north from Asheville to Johnson City.

Asheville has always seemed to me the least mountain-y of the North Carolina mountain towns, maybe because of its literary connections and size; I've never read either of Thomas Wolfe's novels, Look Homeward, Angel or You Can't Go Home Again, but they still shape my image of Asheville, as does Carl Sandburg's hanging out in the area. Still, as we were passing through Asheville, we decided to look for someplace to eat, rather than wait for Johnson City. Tam deserves credit for spotting Barbecue Inn, which a) had decent barbecue, and the eastern North Carolina type at that, not the molasses-y sauces and slabs you sometimes find in the mountains; b) had an ice cream bar that came with the meal, which suited Sarah just fine; and c) the kid's meal came free with a paying adult, and Sarah had spaghetti while sampling our food. A satisfying and very down-home place. We saw both NC highway patrolmen and Buncombe County sheriff's officers there, and the sheriff's deputies gave Sarah a Buncombe County sheriff's badge sticker. (Which also gave me the chance to tell the perhaps apocryphal folk etymology that an early western NC Congressman, when making a stemwinder speech on the floor of the House just to please his constituents back home, used to tell his fellow Congressmen to ignore it because, "Boys, this one's for Buncombe." This allegedly gives rise to both "bunkum" and "bunk".)

On over the mountains. Lovely country, great views, a pleasant road even if it was an Interstate. Down through Erwin, Tennessee, famous to all and sundry in those parts as the place where they hanged an elephant. If you are a Yankee or a Westerner and have never met anyone from eastern Tennessee, you may not have heard of the hanging of Murderous Mary the Circus Elephant. The story can be found here, complete with the famous photograph. But to save clicking I'll post the photo anyway (Caution: Members of PETA or those without an appreciation of weird, baroque, Southern human behavior may be offended.). Mary the elephant had trampled somebody to death in Kingsport, and popular opinion demanded that Mary pay for her crime. By the time the circus reached Erwin, the problem had become obvious: neither shooting nor electrocution would do the job. (Giving Mary the elephant equivalent of the electric chair allegedly just made her dance around a bit, if you believe all the stories that this event has generated.) So they got a railroad crane and hanged her high. It's that kind of place. And the photo is a major piece of southern Americana. Click the link above for more on the story. We didn't go through Erwin proper this time, just by it on the Interstate, though we've been there before and I did stop for a bathroom at the Wal-Mart on the Interstate. That 60 year old bladder I mentioned earlier.

Passing through Johnson City brought back memories of our first major trip with Sarah after the adoption. In early summer 2002, Tam and I were missing our usual annual jaunts southward, and after a successful weekend stay at a hotel in the Shenandoah Valley decided Sarah was up for it. (We'd stayed in hotels with her after the adoption in China of course, but she wasn't walking and talking then, and was by the 2002 trip.) This blog didn't exist then but I posted a lengthy description on our family website, which is still there. Sarah has changed so much that the photos of her at two (including the ones in the Davy Crockett hat) don't really invade her privacy. So please visit the link if you want to read about it. Even just passing through Johnson City six years later brought back those memories of Sarah's first American vacation (and I don't think the orphanage took her on any in China). She of course doesn't remember any of it.

We had had really great weather throughout our trip. Lovely sunny but not overly hot days with no humidity and good mountain breezes. Only an occasional droplet or two theatening rain, but never a fully-fledged drizzle. Some churches we passed had prayers for rain on their marquees. But we passed through some showers in southwestern Virginia, and just three miles or so before our exit at Roanoke, an enormous cloudburst that passed quickly but rendered visibility about nil for a few minutes. And that was pretty much all the rain for the entire trip.

That got us to Roanoke Friday night, and we ate once again at the Pizza Inn, where we had eaten on the first night out of the trip. And so to bed. No Santa questions this time.


The Santa Question

So on Thursday night in Franklin, NC, after I'd done my blog post, Sarah, who of course did not want to fall asleep, was talking to me while Tam dozed: often Tam was out before Sarah on the vacation. She starts complaining about some of her friends who don't believe in Santa.

Now in the past year we've had the revelation that the tooth fairy is not real, that the money (both US and Chinese currency) that turns up under the pillow comes from us. (This helps: we were running out of yuan.) We had skirted the Easter Bunny issue though I thought she had that one figured out. This time she hits me straight on: is Santa real. I do the usual: Santa is the spirit of Christmas, he represents the reality of how we celebrate the birth of Christ through giving, and he represents the spirit of the real Saint Nicholas. But is he physically real? Well, no. She's eight. It's about the right time. She has a moment of "so you've been lying to me?" but, after I again say that he is symbolic of the spirit of Christmas and that stuff will still turn up under the tree, she doesn't seem too surprised. I think she already had it fairly figured out. Tam concurs but is half asleep.

I say that Santa is a symbol of Christmas, a tradition of parents telling their children, like the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny -- "Wait a minute! The Easter Bunny isn't real either?" -- I thought I'd had that conversation but perhaps I was a little too vague in my answers. "Did you really believe a giant rabbit brought eggs?" Anyway, no great disillusionment ensued. The moment had to come, I know. And earlier that evening when she visited a cosmetics store with her mom (who was looking for hair detangler) Tam bought her an "age-appropriate" nail polish. They do grow up fast.

I guess I was most taken aback by it coming up in August in North Carolina, not at home at Christmastime. And as I pointed out to her, a fat man with a white beard does provide Christmas presents, it's just that the fat man with the white beard is me.


Home: More to Come

We're home. The past two days have been busy, everything from getting home to dealing with the Santa Claus Realization. We're exhausted and it's past one am, so more another time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Last Day in Franklin

When we went to bed last night, we were planning to spend the day in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, which we've barely touched on this trip, despite our telling many people that we were vacationing in the "Smokies", since it's the most recognizable name in the area. But when we woke up -- or perhaps more accurately, when we didn't want to wake up, we decided to have a crash day in Franklin, letting Sarah have fun and us recharge our batteries for the two days of hard driving home.

So we began with lunch, at Willy's Barbecue just down the hill from our hotel, then went to Fun Factory in the Smokies, where Sarah played laser tag, rode bumper cars and spent most of the afternoon at one single arcade game throwing balls into targets. Sort of a Chuck E. Cheese on steroids, and my first exposure to laser tag (Tam had taken her to a laser tag place before at home). She got the usual cheap junk as prizes and declared it "awesome." (An aside: I noticed that the link I just posted to their website had a .bz extension. I didn't recognize this, wondered if the Byzantine Empire had a country code extension, but learned on googling that it's Belize. Since I'm pretty sure the Fun Factory in the Smokies is not in Belize, I googled some more, and I guess somebody was making money selling Belize domain names on the claim that .bz could stand for "business," much the way Tuvalu was marketing its .tv extension for televsion shows etc. (Though probably a few more people could tell you where Belize is than Tuvalu.) Anyway on reflection I had to feel sorry for the folks in Bermuda and the Bahamas, who despite their tourist attractions will find it much harder to sell domains ending in .bm and .bs.)

After that we went to beautiful downtown Franklin -- and I do mean beautiful, the end of the short stretch of Main Street that can be called "downtown" is on a hilltop looking out over spectacular mountain scenery -- where I visited the nice local bookstore, Tam visited a kitchen supply store (buying stuff in fact that she claims she can't find in Washington), and Sarah and I visited Ruby City Gems, where Sarah added to her rock collection. As I've already noted, Franklin is a center for gem mining.

Then, being nearly a week into the vacation, we had to go to a laundromat to wash a launcry so we'd have clean clothes, and while the laundry was washing, we went to a Wal-Mart and bought some new DVDs for the ride back. We plan to go back via the Tri-Cities of NE Tennessee to Roanoke, using Interstate 26 which we haven't used before. The rough map is here. We usually foreswear Interstates but need to get to Roanoke tomorrow night so will have to use some. Maybe from Roanoke we can go back older roads. Anyway it seemed like a good idea to have some new DVDs to give Sarah a distraction for long drives; the ones we brought with us were entirely used on the way down. Sarah also went with Tam to a cosmetic store, her idea of fun. Once the laundry was done we had a last ice cream at Sprinkles, down the hill from our hotel, went to dinner and are now getting ready for bed on our last night here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rabun County, Georgia

Today we were in Rabun County, Georgia. Rabun County is known for three things: 1) my ancestors came from there; but for those not familiar with my ancestors, it's also known for 2) the Foxfire books, which were originated from and published from there, and are based on interviews with Rabun locals, and Foxfire still retains a museum there; and 3) Deliverance, since both the book and the movie were inspired by the whitewater rivers of Rabun County (especially the Chatooga) and the movie I believe was filmed there, at least in part. [Update: Indeed it was filmed on the Chatooga, and the results did not sit well with many of the locals who had appeared in bit parts in the movie. So Rabun County's other reason for fame, Foxfire, interviewed many of the locals for posterity. This I learn from a book bought today at the Foxfire Museum, called Hillbillyland: What the Movies did to the Mountains and the Mountains did to the Movies, and which devotes a whole section, naturally enough, to Deliverance.]

It's high country; in fact three different watersheds originate in those mountains: the Little Tennessee, part of the Mississippi basin, rises there; so do the headwaters of the Savannah, which flows into the Atlantic, and the Chattahoochee, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. It's lovely mountain country with gorges, waterfalls, and cool weather. One of their mottoes is "where spring spends the summer," meaning you don't get the usual southern heat. (Kind of cutesy, but I guess it is better, anyway, than "Welcome to Deliverance country." Or worse, "Come enjoy the Deliverance experience!") Bear in mind I'm not making fun of Rabun here. It's where my roots lie, or at least one stage along the migration. It's also spectacularly beautiful country, like the Great Smokies without the traffic and crowds.

After brief stops here in Franklin, NC at the Nikwasi Mound, and then the Macon County Historical Society, and then we were off to Georgia. Outside Mountain City we visited the Foxfire Museum, which is hidden up winding and only partially-paved roads in the mountains, and consists of a bookstore and numerous reconstructed or moved cabins and outbuildings. Sarah tired of the cabins but fell madly in love with a 10-week-old Westin terrier named Artie, a cute little white pup. Sarah has been working on us for some time for a dog, and this one and his family walked along with us for a while and at one point I thought she was going to get in their van instead of ours. For the rest of the day, it was a constant chorus of how much she wants a dog. We have made clear we need to make some infrastructure changes, including fencing, cleaning the mess around the house, etc. before we are dog capable.

Next stop was Tallulah Gorge State Park, where several successive waterfalls pass through a deep gorge; this was once a favorite summer vacation spot reached by a railroad from Atlanta; today it's a Georgia state park. It was a bit hot, everybody was a bit down, and by about the third overlook Sarah started pouting, then I got mad, and we had a little blowup. We finally got over it, but we were all too tired to do more of the park after the first overlooks from the visitor center.

To make peace, on the way back we stopped at Goats on the Roof, a touristy store mostly noted for having, well, goats on the roof. I'm convinced I'm still compensating for all the reptile farms and tourist traps my Dad wouldn't stop at when I was a kid. Anyway, the website I just linked to is a little confusing and may not tell you much, but there are goats on the roof and a bicycle-powered Rube Goldberg contraption to raise food up a conveyor to them. You buy the Goat Chow or whatever and pedal the bike to get the food to the goats. I assume they designed the gadget themselves, or do you just go to Home Depot and ask for a bicycle-powered dervice to feed the goats on your roof?

We then drove east from Clayton Georgia along Warwoman Road (I love that name, referring to a Cherokee female leader, which precisely being discussed a bit here), to show Sarah where some of my ancestral connections had lived when the Cherokee town of Tuckaleechee still stood. Then we crossed the Chatooga to look at it, putting us in South Carolina, turned around and in about 15 miles were in three states: from South Carolina to North Carolina on highway 28, via the pointy northeastern part of Georgia where it sticks in between the Carolinas. Here's a Google Maps explanation of what I just said. OCTOBER UPDATE: Google maps has changed the route I originally put in, for some reason, so clicking won't shed any light.]

Then on to Highlands, NC, a chi-chi mountain resort town where I assume businessmen ftrom Atlanta and bankers from Charlotte summer; gated communities, fancy restaurants, etc. Then, after stopping for a late afternoon taco at a burrito shop, we took a wrong turn and almost ended up in Cashiers, NC instead of where we wanted to go, the Cullasaja Gorge.We'd done this a couple of times before, but Sarah was too young to remember the last time we were here. There are three great waterfalls between Highlands and Franklin on this 20 mile stretch of road. This time was a disappointment: the first, Bridal Veil Falls, normally has a stretch of road where you can drive under the falls, but this year it was nearly dry, just a few trickles of water coming down the rock face. Obviously they've had a dry summer down here: we saw churches with their signs praying for rain.

The second waterfall, Dry Falls, is fun because you can walk behind the falls and look out through the water. But this time the parking lot was torn up and blocked off and there was no access to the waterfall. Only the third waterfall, Cullasaja Falls, was more or less itself, and it's one you can't really stop at because of the dangers of the mountain road: you just look quickly.

We got back to Franklin about 7:30. On day one, Sarah had discovered the Sprinkles Ice Cream Parlor behind our hotel, even before we checked in. She's been every day. We feared it would be closed as we were so late, but it's open till 8, and so she got a cone. We went to the grocery nearby to get some staples and while discussing dinner decided that -- given the fact that many southern restaurants close early by Washington standards -- we were all tired and had both a refirgerator and microwave in the room. Sarah thought microwaving frozen dinners would be the greatest fun imaginable, so we ate in the room.

Yesterday's Sights

That's today. Yesterday, foreshortened in blogging by the then-stuck "s" key, was largely spent around Cherokee, NC. We'd intended to be in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but hadn't packed a picnic lunch and there are no dining places in the park so we came out to Cherokee for lunch and never went back. Instead Sarah spent time waiting at Oconaluftee Islands Park in the Oconaluftee River, having fun till Dad was getting the worse of the heat, mosquitoes, and gnats and persuaded her to leave. Also in Cheroke let me recommend the Talking Leaves Bookstore, for Cherokee and other native books, including some even the National Museum of the American Indian bookstore doesn't stock. Talking Leaves doesn't seem to have its own website.

Then we made one of the few indulgences to Dad, visiting the Judaculla Rock, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. Last time we were here we couldn't find it, but that was before GoogleEarth. Its a soapstone boulder covered with now-faded petroglyphs. Googling it will find you plenty of crank interpretations from UFOs to weird decipherments, but it's presumably paleo-Indian. It was sacred to the Cherokee. It is in the middle of nowhere at all (but nice mountains) and hard to find. And when you get there, your daughter says "Is that it. We came all this way to see a rock?" I hear my Dad's voice in her, from all those times I dragged him down twisty mountain roads to see some obscure site.

That was yesterday, anyway. I may blog more later on these two days, but wanted to get this down while I can remember.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Stuck "s" key

I've been having trouble with a stuck "s" key on the laptop keyboard since earlier this evening when there was a minor spill. I'm holding off blogging about today till it's dried out better and hopefully won't give you too sibilant a read. Cherokee again today, and the entrance to the Great Smokies, and Judaculla Rock. More to come. Tomorrow: Georgia. Will watch out for Russian bombers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day Four: Putting the Boy Back in the Hills

You probably know the old saying that you can take the boy out of the hills, but you can never take the hills out of the boy. Of course if you're a flatlander (like Tam, who's from Nebraska) you may not fully understand that. The other question is what happens when you put the boy back in the hills.

I've been back in the hills for several days now, since we ascended the Blue Ridge Parkway on Friday; today, several days of the Great Smokies and their outliers, receding in wave after wave like a sea of mountains, has brought it really home. My blood pressure must be better than ever.

In Washington, it's easy to confuse what you do with who you are. I have been the editor of the Middle East Journal for nearly ten years, and whatever my future in that position, I've had the second longest editorial tenure in its 62 year history. Sometimes in Washington it's easy to think I am the Editor of the Middle East Journal. That's how we think in Washington. But that's what I do, not who I am. Sure, it's part of who I am, being my professional identity for the last ten years, out of my 60, a major piece of my life. But it's only eight or sometimes fewer hours of my day. It's too easy to forget that.

Who I am is another matter entirely. I'm Tam's husband, I'm Abu Sarah as the Arabs would name me, and I'm an Ozark boy who still feels at home in the hills.

Woodrow Wilson is actually not one of my heroes. His famous idealism and democratic views do not sit well with the fact that he introduced segregation to the federal government and was personally profoundly bigoted on race. Nor do his 14 points seem to have accomplished very much except to guarantee the failure of the Peace of Paris and Treaty of Versailles, and his strict Presbyterian uprightness kept the Senate from ratifying the treaty or joining the League of Nations, dooming the league. Nor can I refrain from quoting Clemenceau's famous alleged quote when told of the fourteen points: "Quatorze points, mais cela est un peu fort. Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix." (roughly: "Fourteen points, but that's a bit much. The Good Lord himself only had ten.").

By now you're wondering, if you're actually reading this, why I dropped a paragraph about Woodrow Wilson into my musings about the mountains. Because I'm fond of a quote Wilson used somewhere in the South during the 1912 campaign. I've google-failed in finding it so I'm probably remembering it wrong, but Wilson, born in Staunton, Virginia and raised in Augusta, Georgia was the first southern President since Andrew Johnson, though his being President of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey has muddied that in the historical memory. Somewhere in his campaign he said something along these lines while campaigning in the South: "When I'm in the South, it's the only place I don't have to have to have things explained to me."

I don't feel that way about the entire South certainly -- the baroque weird cities like New Orleans, Savannah and Memphis are wonderfully enjoyable but I'd never claim I don't need explanations -- but the upland, mountain south, the Scotch-Irish highlands, is the place I know, the place I come from. The Ozarks may or may not be the South, but they are culturally so close to the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, that I know where I am. Carl Bridenbaugh, the great colonial historian, once called the whole southern backcountry "Greater Pennsylvania" because it was settled down the Great Valley system by Scotch-Irish and Germans from Pennsylvania, and I've driven around in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania and felt that I was in north Georgia or the Ozarks, even to the names on the mailboxes. Do a geographical distribution of the surname "Chastain" sometime. And that's just an example.

Oh, you may wonder what we did today. Let me try to summarize quickly. This was our day in Franklin. We started downtown, given Sarah's interest in gems and gem mining. Our intent was to start with the local gem museum but that not opening till noon, we started first at a great local bookstore (bought too much as usual) and then went on to Ruby City Gems where Sarah picked up a few things for her rock collection. By then the more official Franklin Gem and Mineral Museum, which we'd visited before and expected only information and a few exhibits, ended up spending nearly an hour talking to an elderly volunteer (Jan something) who not only bonded great with Sarah but helped her and Tam pick out some great bracelets and necklaces (Jan's own handiwork as it turned out) and gave us lots of other advice and at least some New Agey-lectures about the power of crystals.

We ate at a hot dog joint -- not in retrospect the best choice since Tam had had diarrhea the night before. Then on to do some gem mining. Franklin calls itself the "Gem Capital of the World" and its various ruby mines (though their "rubies" are purple, lavender and such, neither red rubies nor blue sapphires) are a major attraction: here's the Chamber of Commerce's introduction. We had gone four years ago to the Sheffield Mine and went there agian today. Serious gem hunters use the "native" buckets, but those with kids use the "rainbow" buckets which have been salted with semi-precious pretties like quartz and such, and in our case one or two arrowheads.

Sarah loved it again: a chance to get muddy and find pretty stuff for her rock collection. The downside was that by the time we finished, Tam was feeling rather poorly. Either from the diarrhea the night before, the heat of working in the open sun for the gem dig, or something else, we got her back to the hotel. She's still a bit under the weather tonight, and I hope this doesn't augur a problem like last year when we all had pinkeye and other stuff during our Hampton Roads vacation. We scrapped a few possible plans, let Tam rest while Sarah and I made a grocery run, got ice cream (and a smoothie for Tam), and I took Sarah to the pool but she declared it too cold. (This one is an outdoor pool and the mountain air can cool it down.) Then we ate at Lucio's, the best and/or only decent Italian place in Franklin, and came home.

Because Tam was still feeling poorly I read Sarah a story while she took a bath -- haven't done that in some years as she'd demanded Mom normally -- and I read her a kid's book on the Trail of Tears. (Really cheering, I know, but she really got engaged with it.) As we put her to bed I explained our own personal family connections to the trail of tears, including the fact that she had cousins on it, and I think got her even more engaged. Let's say she's ready to take Andy Jackson off the $20 bill, and leave it at that. She's the only rising third grader in Washington with a firm personal opinon on the Ross-Ridge political feud over Cherokee leadership.

Okay, I weighted the story a bit.

There's much more to say, but it's late, and we all have been short of sleep for one reason or another despite this beinhg our vacation.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Day Three: Arrival at Base Camp

Okay, third day, and we're finally at the hotel where we'll be staying for five nights, the Hampton Inn in Franklin, NC. It's on a hill outside of town, with a tremendous view from the parking lot of the mountains (the view from our room isn't so good). But it's centrally located for Cherokee, the Great Smokies, northeast Georgia, and other places we're interested in, as well as the location of gem mining that Sarah loved at four and wants to do again at eight. (More on that anon: don't expect major finds.) It will be out base camp for things 20 to 50 miles in each direction over the next five days.

Today we drove down from Asheville, stopping at Granny's Chicken Palace in Lake Junaluska for lunch and to introduce Sarah to down-home family style southern cooking; then on to Cherokee where we introduced her to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to make sure she understood real Cherokees before seeing the tourist traps with Plains teepees and Northwest totem poles, neither of which the Cherokee ever saw. We have some Cherokee kin (you can read an introduction to them here), and I wanted her to understand the real story. We also visited the Qualla Arts and Crafts store across the street. Then on to Franklin after looking at one of the cheap souvenir stores. We'll be back to Cherokee for other sights and events; it's on the edge of the Great
. Smoky Mountains National Park. Besides the gem mining attractions, which are mostly an excuse for kids to cover themselves in mud, Franklin is also the old Cherokee Middle Towns center of Nikwasi. Nikwasi is the site of one of the few surviving Indian mounds in these parts, which sits right downtown. Stay tuned.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vacation 2008: Day 2

Long day. We're in Asheville, NC for one night, before heading on down to Franklin via Cherokee and the Great Smokies. The day started late: Sarah slept in, then we stopped at a Kroger's for provisions for a picnic, and by the time we got on the road from Roanoke it was past 11. We'd intended to take back roads and some of the Blue Ridge Parkway leisurely south, but the late start doomed the plan. We picnicked near Hillsville, VA, and though the park had a playground we didn't let Sarah play because we were hoping to reach the North Carolina Museum of Minerals, Sarah being a rockhound. But taking mountain roads slowed us down (I swear, Jefferson, North Carolina is the longest 30 miles I've ever driven), and by the time we got near Boone it was clear we couldn't get there before their five o'clock closing, so we retooled, shot down to I-40, and headed into Asheville to give Sarah some pool time. We had made reservations at the only Asheville Hampton Inn we could find available for an affordable price, though it was half again what we paid last night in Roanoke (being, ahem, the Hampton Inn Asheville Biltmore).. Turns out that not only does it have an indoor pool with whirlpool and sauna, but that the room we complained about being so expensive opens directly onto the pool. Sarah was overjoyed. Tam did much of the driving -- of 240 miles I might have driven 60 or 70, but no more -- because I'm the better map reader and today's route was complicated with lots of back roads. So it was good for her to sit in the whirlpool and Sarah to play in the pool, as they're doing just outside the room door while I blog this. We still have to eat and it's 8 p;m, but it's also Saturday night in Asheville, so that should pose no problems. It's not the sort of small southern town where everything rolls up at 9. My feet are hurting, and I may give them a soak in the whirlpool yet. If anything happens over dinner, I'll write about it later.

Okay, a quick plug for our dinner place: the Apollo Flame Bistro just down the road from our hotel (see earlier link). A classic little Greek/Italian place, where Tam and I ate Greek and Sarah ate spaghetti and meatballs and we all indulged in highly fattening cake for dessert. With far more food than we could eat, beer, and cake all around, the bill was $41 and the food was fantastic. Whoa.

More tomorrow.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Vacation 2008: Day One

At last we're on vacation. Blogging tonight from Roanoke, VA on the first day out. Already we are gradually shedding our work stress and starting to feel relaxed and on vacation. Heading south helps, even for a Yankee like Tam (Sarah is, after all, southern Chinese).

So far our only concession to Interstates was to take I-66 from Falls Church to Gainesville, VA, to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Then we took 29 down to Charlottesville, forswore I-64 of US 250 over to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and took our easy (45 mile an hour limit) ride through spectacular views. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Pig 'n' Steak in Madison, VA, Tam and I have stopped there when going down route 29 for many years, long before we were married in fact; it's very good southern barbecue with enormous baskets of fries and other concentrated cholesterol, but of course there is no cholesterol when you're on vacation. (I was a little surprised, just now, to discover they have a website, but not so surprised that it doesn't seem to ever mention what town they're in or give their phone number. The "contact us" page just asks you for your contact information. I guess you just have to know.)

When the barbecue (the real stuff, not the Yankee stuff) finally starts to kick in and the accents get more southern, you know you're out of Washington. I have always liked observing that, when you enter Virginia from the south, on I-85 or I-95 from North Carolina, the Virginia welcome center is right at the border. When you enter from the north, the welcome center on I-66 is at Bull Run and the one on I-95 at the Occoquan. It seems they're saying you aren't really in Virginia if you're in Alexandria, Arlington, or Fairfax County. Kind of like France in 1940-42, there's an occupied zone and an unoccupied zone. Yankee occupied, in this case.

Anyhow once we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we stopped at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and Mountain Farm, where Sarah had a good time looking at a cabin, examining some chickens, playing with a frontier style wooden toy, and so on, despite subsequently insisting she was bored. (I asked her whether it was the fourth or the fifth time she played with the toy that it became boring.) We continued on, stopped for another snack late in the afternoon, left the parkway at The Peaks of Otter, and headed on into Roanoke on Route 11, the old Valley Pike. Sarah swam in the pool a long time -- she's already a better swimmer than I am -- and we ate dinner at a pizza restaurant she had liked at ages 2 and 4, and it's still great. (The Pizza Den not far from Hollins University, though we got there too late for the all-you-can-eat buffet due to Sarah's long stay in the pool.) (We're staying at the Hampton Inn Roanoke/Hollins, number three on the map at the link just provided.)

That's the quick version. Above a shot of Sarah's DVD player in place; if you've got access to our Flickr family-only account you can also see her stuffed animals (Beary Bear and Squishy, who's a ladybug), Sarah herself, and other travel appurtenances. When I was her age we were lucky to have something to read.

More as we go along and shed the stresses of Washington work and school. Tomorrow it's on to Asheville, and after that several days in Franklin, NC. Tomorrow is a longish day but the others will not have so much driving in them, at least till the return trip next week.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Trials and Tribulations

On top of the usual problems associated with preparing for vacation -- mostly having to do two weeks' work in one -- the laptop crashed tonight. After working most of the evening, I think it's working okay now and I'll be able to blog on the trip. Keep fingers (and toes and other crossable items) crossed.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two plus days and counting

I'm not blogging because I'm working hard day and night to clear the decks for next
week's vacation. And planning it. Friday morning we hit the road again. (Family ritual is to play Willie Nelson singing "On the Road Again" as we pull out of the driveway.) So stand by for better blogging, and more relaxing.