Category Archives: Uncategorized

Guest Post: Art-at-Work

I have crossed paths with so many amazing parents who have, in one way or another, been mentors who helped me to see possibilities for my life as a mother beyond the traditional model.  Poet and performer Tamara Madison is one of those people.  Many moons ago and shortly after moving to Atlanta, a mutual friend introduced me to Tamara. Probably because of the fact that this first meeting happened at the reception after one of Tamara’s plays at a local community theatre where her first-born son and daughter romped about as comfortably as they might in their own living room and because she is always (always) busy creating something, I will forever see art and motherhood as an inseparable pair in Tamara’s life. Please enjoy “Art-at-Work,” her guest post below.  ~Brown Girl

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At age 4, my oldest son was a fan of Batman and Bruce Lee. He smeared his face with lines of peanut butter pretending it was war paint keeping stashes of sticks, stones, and ribbons as weaponry. By fourth grade, Oldest Son had Tamara's Twobecome class comedian and had taught himself how to steal the show from his teacher. Ironically during high school, this tall, handsome, caramel-skinned son of mine was in continual conflict with his drama teacher. Why? Because he was his own person and according to reports “not well disciplined.” Now, at the age of twenty-four, he prefers books on mind science and quantum theory to club hopping. He is a scribe and filmmaker who, as a side hustle, helps his peers master the art of essay writing. No matter the place or occasion, Oldest Son brings life and energy to any space he occupies.

My daughter has always been the reigning princess of the family. Having watched me perform poetry and act in theatre
productions since she was a toddler, her home stage was the cobblestone porch of the two-building apartment complex where we once lived in southwest Atlanta. Adorned with wigs, feathered boa and with the help of assorted household props, Baby Girl would put on solo shows to the delight of our family and close-as-kin neighbors. Shortly after her toddler years, she began reading voraciously and making up her own adventurous stories, too. By high school, she became a JROTC cadet and proudly sported their uniform. A little while later, she turned in her garrison hat in favor of a more creative way of expressing her fashion taste. Her regalia began to include mini-skirts and thigh high boots as well as hair that she might dye jet black one week and shocking red the next. Yet by the time her senior prom came around, Baby Girl was the picture of elegance. My daughter is twenty now. While many of her friends are obsessed with relationships and the latest happenings on the block, she works two jobs, saves her money, and keeps her mind trained with laser-like precision on becoming a high school English teacher and entrepreneur.

Tamara's AfrielMy last-born son is a builder. He is learning Chinese, sketches, draws, is a fan of rock music, Japanese anime, and Legos. His room is filled with intricately-designed cardboard mansions– many of them two and three stories tall and outfitted with landscapes, waterfalls, and secret passageways for his “action people.” He has taken time to document his architectural masterpieces in the form of still photography. And like his older brother, Last Born has captured various episodes of their adventures on video. This is all at the tender age of 11, so who knows what he will be up to by the age of 21.

I am a writer, poet, performing artist, whose life journey with my children has been everything but traditional. Art and the people who make it were cornerstones that played a critical role in our development. For about ten years, First Born, Baby Girl and I were a single parent family. Art was our therapy, personal development, entertainment, and fulfillment on those days when no other support was offered. The art in our lives challenged us to be creative in other areas whether it was in our interactions with family, school or community. Through art we have always bonded, built, experimented and crafted something meaningful, functional, and beautiful with whatever and whoever we had at the time and in the moment.

When I remarried, our family instantly expanded. My husband had children from his prior relationship, and after we married, Last Born Son came along. With six children to care for, things like summer camp became an extravagance that we could not afford. One of our creative solutions was to organize neighborhood talent shows complete with dance and music performances, comedy sketches. Between rigorous rehearsals, sibling squabbles, and adolescent angst, our first summer as a blended family was one of the hardest and best ever. The neighborhood had never seen anything like our show, and many still talk about it. We even created a family newsletter that remains a permanent part of our family scrapbook.

While there were many successes like our family talent show, often my children and I did not fit in. For instance, we did not have cable or satellite television in our home until the oldest was about ten years old. Prior to that, it had always been PBS and independent films on VHS with in-depth discussions and bowls of popcorn between scenes. When holidays like Halloween came around, my squad of kids dressed up in DIY costumes and makeup from my cosmetic case instead of from Party City. And on top of that, I insisted that they share their candy with the adults who lived in the other units of the brown stone apartment we lived in in New Jersey. (They still complain to this day about having to give candy away to adults, of all things, while “normal” children were free to binge on it!)

Tamara's SquadEarning my living as a teaching artist has meant moving from place to place, school to school. Sometimes, I took my children out of school and out of state for weeks at a time to travel along with me. There were also times where I left the country and worked and the children were in someone else’s care. Whose mom does that? Whose mom speaks French to strange people from strange places and rehearses poems and plays in the middle of the living room floor? Whose mom hosts family parties with storytelling and card games and dominoes and three aunties simultaneously cooking in the kitchen while live sax and congas play on the front porch and…

tamara and childrenYes. That was and is our life. And even though there were more aggravating calls from teachers and awkward conferences with school principals than I prefer to remember, the payoff of living artfully was and remains worth every challenge and sacrifice. For me, the glory is in watching my children all grow into becoming their own individual, compassionate, expressive people. More than anything, it amazes me what critical thinkers they are, whether it is discussing the after-dinner movie or a crucial family issue. I live among a bunch of “tribal chiefs.” No one is a follower at all. They have interesting ways of yielding to one another, but no one does things simply to please or be accepted by peers. In this world-wide-web age that has taken “keeping up with the Jones’” to astonishing new levels, I take satisfaction in having raised young people who honor and value themselves while compassionately respecting the differences in others. It is a real accomplishment.

Even with most of the children now living on their own, the ripple effect that art has had in their lives is endless. I no longer have to lead. I watch as they build their own independent relationships, shape their careers, and build their homes. I see them argue over the latest movie and discuss what the director could have done better, huddle over the recipe book to make homemade banana pudding from scratch, gather together for a dance recital, stage play, or a Scrabble championship. I see my older children encourage Last Born to be himself, use his mind, and be fearless. I see them and delight in knowing that far beyond their poems, paintings and dances, they are making their lives their finest compositions.

tamara's photoTamara Madison is a poet, performer and instructor.  Visit her blog here and purchase her work on Amazon here

Making Time for Art

One day last week, after dropping Big Man off at school and before I went in to work, I took myself on a “date” to a local library and museum.  It was an exhibit of Brazilian popular and folk art and happened to be on the campus of Clark Atlanta University, the place where I earned my librarianship degree.  From the front door to the top floor gallery, was a gorgeous collection of photos, paintings and sculptures made by contemporary African American artists whose work left me nearly breathless with excitement.

Like most kids, Big Man is a fairly avid inventor/writer/artist.  I dabbled in sketching and drawing as a kid but like many people became intimidated and all but abandoned any type of art making until undergraduate school when I took art appreciation class and got re-acquainted with my creative self thanks to the encouragement of writers like Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg and SARK.  I still struggle with giving my right brain more space and time to do its thing, but do enjoy the time I spend in its company.   And making collages is one of my favorite ways to engage it, because everyone from master artists to novices like myself can have a go at it and come out with something beautiful.  Here are a few that I’ve made over the years.

Me and GrandpaAdding a few coats of Modge Podge to Our Jewel

A Blessed CallingA Blessed Calling

Our JewelOur Jewel (Collage for Grandpa)

OxumOxum

But enough about me! Here are a few book titles to collage-themed kid book titles as well as a link to a hands-on activity on Deep Space Sparkle’s cool website to inspire grown-ups and kids alike:

Kid Made Modern

Uncle Romie

colorful dreamer matisse

deep-space-sparkle
Click here for the Bearden project

He’s a Maker

Maker Faire 2014 (PicMonkey Collage)

Yes.  It’s been a while.  Many things going on, but I’ll spare you the details and jump right in with this Flashback Friday collage of snaps from the Mini Maker Fair which we went to back in October of last year. It was a a free event that I happened to find out about through Atlanta PlanIt.

I was happy to see that artists, craftspeople and techies came together to bridge the a divide that usually stands between the arts and “hard” science. The result of this integration is an educational approach called STE(A)M.  Science.  Technology.  Engineering.  Arts (!). Mathematics.  So, alongside the robots and other electronic contraptions were things like glass ware, metal and wood work, paper crafts mostly made using traditional hand-powered devices.  Some had even found cool ways to integrate new technology with the old.   Nice.   And being that Big Man is as “into” nature and art as he is into the built environment, the whole affair was right up his alley.

A similar but much more commercial event that we attended was the Lego Fair, which happened earlier in the summer.  Big Man got to put his builder instincts to use by constructing cars and team-built bridges, doing his best not to go bananas when grown-ups destroyed it tested its weight with dumbbells.  I also couldn’t resist throwing in a few pics of one of his paintings and a necklace hand strung by Big Man especially for his proud Mama :).

Jared's Starry Night and Cranberry Bead Necklace (PicMonkey Collage)

Lego Fair 2014

 

And here’s a link to a Maker Camp video that give a glimpse of some of what we experienced at the Faire.

Girly-Girl Book Picks

Jene Photo Collage
Counter clockwise from top: Me in my parents’ book and music library, c. 1976; Gulf Coast ‘tween with a flower in her hair, c. 1982; on Galveston’s Jamaica Beach, c. 1986

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I started collecting kids’ books many years before I became a parent.  Picture books, picture-story books, Ladybird Sunstart easy readers, beginning chapter books, YA novels– I love them all.  And while most of the book and film suggestions that I post on My Sunlit Path are multicultural finds that feature boys from around the world as protagonists, I come across many that don’t fit into that category, ones that I buy or borrow as a treat for the youngster in me.

Growing up,  I was an introverted girly-girl who saw books as a way to travel across time and geography.  The freedom they made me feel was second only to that which I got from listening to music.   I wasn’t a fan of the TV version of Little House on the Prairie, I did love the book version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods as well as the Encyclopedia Brown series and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins.     Archie, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes comics were other favorites, and I later became engrossed the Sweet Valley High literary soap opera.

Though my parents divorced and my father spent several of the later years of his life in Japan, Daddy opened a window onto the world for me when he sent me a box filled with (then) rare Hello Kitty stationery as well as a paper parasol, painted paddle fan made of silk and bamboo, tunic and pants in traditional Asian style.  Alongside this, the neighborhoods in which Mama chose to raise my brother and me were rich with the speech and manners of home-grown browngirls and brownboys like us as well as friends who began helping me expand my mind beyond Texas, beyond the South.  Kids like my bestie Patty Alvarez, a black-haired, blue-eyed mexicana who inspired my interest in folk art when she would bring me back wooden crafts from her visits further South.  Or Jenny Lee who taught me about kimchi as well as how to write my name in Korean.  Marivel Navarro whose mom would sometimes treat us to her fluffy handmade flour tortillas.  The brothers Jung and Stanford Ha with whom my brother and I would watch Go Speed Racer, Go.  But being that this was East Texas of the late ’70s and early ’80s and not some culturally hip place like New York, D.C. or Atlanta, any regular access to literature where a broad spectrum of cultures and cultural interaction was pretty limited. I knew of only one Virginia Hamilton title– Zeely– a story that I found both eerie and magical.  And I was lucky enough to stumble upon the work of the gifted Newberry Award winning writer Mildred D. Taylor, whose Let the Circle Be Unbroken about the bonds of family and community is one I still adore.

That stroll down memory lane is my way of introducing the books below, a sampling of treasures  that I’ve bought or borrowed to delight the little person who still romps around in the back rooms of my mind.  Buy them, borrow them, or give them as gifts.  No doubt you’ll find each to be a treat.

Pre-school through 1st Grade 

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Viva Frida  Collage

Spare bi-lingual text and vivid color celebrate the creative spirit of the fierce and fabulous Frida Kahlo

3rd through 5th Grade

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Anna Hibiscus  CollageA series of middle-grade Chapter books about a bi-racial child who lives with her twin siblings, parents and father’s extended family in “Africa, amazing Africa.”

6th through 8th Grade 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

where the mountain meets the moonA fantasy about a Chinese girl who uses her father’s nightly folktales as a map that guides her quest to change her family’s fortune.  Text is accented with beautiful, full-page and spot illustrations.

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One Crazy Summer and P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

Rita Williams Garcia Collage

Gorgeous duo of stories about three sisters estranged from their mother and being raised in a loving home by their father and southern-bred grandmother in Black Power-era New York.

High School (and beyond)  

Aya by Marguerite Abouet

Aya  Collage
Graphic novel series (and film!) set in Abidjan, Ivory Coast of the 1970’s. Main character is a young, aspiring doctor who supports her friends through their amourous escapades.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Guest Post: Globetrekking with Youth

Among the many purposes that I want My Sunlit Path to serve is for it to be a means of connecting, sharing, informing and occasionally inspiring.  That said, I am so excited to welcome Echo, the first in a series of guest bloggers that I plan to feature here on my modest corner of the blogspere.

Echo (her pseudonym) is nothing if she’s not inspiring!  She’s a mother, teacher and world traveler, who in her own words, “has enough travel love to share” with everyone.   Just say Echo’s name and any who know her automatically think of energy, enthusiasm and adventure.   Below, she tells a little bit about what first inspired her to set out and explore the world as well and how and why she takes her children along on her sojourns across the country and around the globe.    Enjoy!

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 erica near volcano

When I was a little girl growing up in the Bronx, New York each time I heard a new language being spoken it was like music to my soul. This was so much true that after graduation from high school, there was only one thing I wanted to be: a linguist. My choice to enter university as a Spanish major confused a lot of people, especially given that I knew no more than ten words of the language.

Them: “Why would you major in Spanish without already speaking the language?”

Me: “Surgeons don’t go into medical school knowing how to operate. Their professors teach them. Mine will teach me to speak Spanish.”

For me, it was as simple as that.

One requirement for earning my foreign language degree was to study abroad and live with non-English-speaking families in a variety of countries while taking courses at local universities. My first study abroad opportunity came in 1996, and it was as if the Universe heard my linguistic wishes because I found myself in Guayaquil, Ecuador in the care of the most loving, giving host family I could hope for.  After visiting Ecuador and earning my Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Literature and Education, I was addicted and in love with the world. From then on, each time a new travel opportunity arose, my brain stood at full attention ready for the challenge. I reenacted this scenario in many different countries over the next four years, eventually becoming fluent in French.

Airplane

Nearly twenty years after my decision to pursue my passion, I am a Spanish teacher at an Atlanta-area high school in what many would label “the hood.” I am also married to a man who stole my heart while I was visiting his small Caribbean island and am mother to our two very creative, intelligent and energetic bilingual boys aged 10 and 5 ½ .  In the beginning of this new chapter in my life, many people again tried to convince me that my wanderlust would have to be set aside because I’d said yes to wifedom and motherhood. Fortunately for me, the “call of the wild” was not silenced by my job, marriage, or children and never will be. In fact, those things have made the call louder and more urgent, and as soon as my sons could sit up straight enough to take their passport pictures, we were on the move. Often we three travel alone, but it’s even better when my husband is able to get off of work long enough to join us.   In the last three years my sons and I have visited the  memorials to Lincoln, Washington and King in D.C, felt the mists of Niagara Falls on our faces and watched live professional sumo matches in Tokyo. We’ve snapped pictures of a herd of elephants strolling by on safari in South Africa. They’ve laughed hysterically at me when an iguana perched himself on top of my head in Belize. And while having children has not eliminated travel from my life, it has definitely changed how I travel. Now, I move much more slowly and take time to soak in the environment by doing things like sitting in parks to feel the breeze. I also take time to explain the history of all the countries we’ve visited in simple terms that children can understand. In traveling as a family, we learn, solve problems and make memories together.

Photo Collage for Sunlit

To most people, our trips sound lavish and exotic, but the truth is that we do them on a shoe string budget. There is a financial art funding our travels that I have managed to master over the years. For instance, you will never find us in a fancy hotel.  When it comes to lodging, we either couch surf, seek out rentals through Airbnb, stay with host families, our own family or in hostels. As for transportation, we take buses across country or take the subway or other types of public transport through big cities.

Before I began my career as a Spanish teacher, I noticed that African-American men were vastly under-represented in the international travel circles I encountered. To be more accurate, their presence was almost non-existent. I decided to do something about it by leading study tours to various international destinations.  I also organize these tours because I believe that travel is a part of a quality education that should be open to not only my own children but others’ children as well.  In past years I’ve led my student groups on explorations of Panamá, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. While abroad, my students divide their time between language study and volunteerism. We all live with host families with two students assigned to each family, and we take tours on the evenings and weekends. For my students, international travel is a life-changing experience that inspires not only them but also their families and community.

When I first started the program, many doubted that it would be possible.  Again came a litany of reasons why I should abandon my vision.  Those who thought that low-income students were not the best prospect for global travel made comments that went along the lines of: “Doesn’t she know that parents in this neighborhood don’t have the disposable income to pay for a two-week trip to another country? And even if they did, they’d probably spend it on a pair of sneakers!” and “Isn’t it a war zone over there? They’ll be kidnapped!” As usual the naysayers were wrong! Without exception, all of the parents of my students want opportunities for their children that they may not have had themselves and are willing to sacrifice to make the “impossible” a reality. When money needs to be raised, they share funds and support each other. And on the day that passports and visas come in the mail, parents often call me overcome with pride and joy and sometimes offering thanks through tears. It is truly a village effort where loving elders use their energy and resources to create opportunity for the future generation. It is gratifying to me as an educator to see that after having experiences like touring the Panama Canal, volcano boarding in Nicaragua, and visiting Tikal Mayan Pyramids in Guatemala, the parents and students feel that the world is theirs for the taking. This year, our eyes are set on making a journey to Machu Picchu, Perú. I trust that just as the universe conspired to make my travel dreams reality twenty years ago, that the same grace will allow this group of amazing young young people to see more of the world.

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Travel is for me a lifestyle, a vital part of who I am. It has shaped my world view and allowed me to turn my gaze inward to see some of the deepest parts of myself in the clearest of light. At times it feeds my brain with heavy doses of adrenalin that help me learn to survive, communicate and bend to the new rules of my host country. In my role as a travel ambassador, I have encouraged my children and the students I teach to take their place in the global community and see themselves as valued citizens. I challenge all of my students to see past race, comprehend beyond the barriers of language, taste new foods, and feel full of the spirit of humanity that lives within us all. Our travels have given the world a chance to see a fuller and more complex view of black America, one that rarely comes their way.   In having the courage to pursue our dreams we allow the world to see us for who we are. Intelligent. Ambitious. Aware. Afroed and dreadlocked. All shades of black, brown and beige.  Descendants of warriors who built and governed nations, fought the injustices of slavery and brought segregation to an end. Ones who never accepted and continue to work to correct ill-informed notions of our inferiority, wherever they may appear. We stand humble yet proud as we extend our hearts and hands to the world and invite them to do the same with us.

Photo Collage 2 for Sunlit

Learn more about our guest blogger’s adventures by visiting Echo’s Travelogue.

Oops!

oops1

Here on our end, there’s been job transition drama, house flooding and homeowners’ insurance drama, not to mention my having minor surgery (which went off quite smoothly after clearing all the red tape, thank goodness).  Nevertheless, it’s been over a month since I’ve posted.  My bad. So, what better title to write about than Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet’s Oops!  about a French family encountering a bunch of bizarre obstacles as they hustle across Paris trying to catch their plane before it takes off for the Tunisian island of Djerba.

I’m a sucker for beautiful and unique books.  If it’s oversize, very small, oddly shaped or otherwise novel, bring it and let me see.  Last week, when I saw this one fairly hulking over the others in the Publix bargain book bin when I went to pick up a few groceries on Day One of my recuperation from back surgery, I took the bait.  What really dazzled me was the interior artwork– the perspective of the buildings and what looked to me like a mash-up of millennial, Toulouse-Lautrec and 1960s graphic design.

When I gave it to Big Man, he didn’t seem overly intrigued.  That is until he spotted the animal antics laced throughout the book:  zoo bears on the lam, a battalion of bees ready to strike, falling circus elephants, clueless pigs that luckily evade slaughter.  All of these made him hoot with uncontrollable laughter.  Later he took notice of the architectural and public works stuff that I thought would catch his eye.

oops

oop

At this writing, he’s read the book straight through at least three times, sometimes takes it with him in the car and often keeps it open-faced on his bed so that he can see his favorite pages while getting dressed for bed.  He even convinced his teacher that it would be a good supplement to the class’ study of cause and effect writing and because of that took it along with him to school today.

What are some of the nonsensical books that you or your kids like to read?

Climbing Stone Mountain

mr. ali and us

It’s Throwback Thursday, and I thought I’d share these photos from June of last year when Big Man and I climbed Stone Mountain.  Our guide was a former colleague of mine whom I’ve adopted as a kind of surrogate grandfather to Big Man.   We’ll call him Go-Pa.  Go-Pa used to teach Math, build houses and did a stint in the Army back in the ’60s.   Now retired, he is an avid nature and still-life photographer who regularly swims, bikes, travels and climbs. 

Though I like to consider myself a bit of a “nature girl” and was actually the one who asked to tag along on Go-Pa’s hike, there were times during our adventure that I silently (and Big Man quite audibly) wanted to retreat to the cabana-covered picnic tables that we saw on our way up.  Pretty sad since the hike took only about an hour.  Yet my elder friend’s experience and patience (he didn’t seem to mind that our joining him doubled the time it would have taken him to climb solo) helped see us all through patches of woods, up slippery slopes and to the summit where we were able to see treetops and vistas of Atlanta. 

One of the reasons I wanted to go on the climb was to teach Big Man a lesson– one that he’d feel in his muscles and bones– about endurance and pacing.   I also wanted him to have a solid image in his memory bank of an active, intelligent and creative elder so that he knows that in time he can be that, too. 

That said, below are a few of the other photos that we took during our climb and our grubbing on pizza at Fellini’s afterward. 

mr. ali and us 3

 

mr. ali and us 2

climbing stone mountain

mr. ali and us 4

 

mr. ali and us 5

Easy Rice and Peas

rice and peas

 

Recently, we visited Togolese friends  for a day at their pool followed by (what Big Man called) a “family feast” of simple but delicious food:   herbed chicken, black eyed peas, brown rice, salad and a typical West African sauce made of pureed ginger, onions and tomatoes.  Instead of sauteeing the puree in palm oil, our host, Mimi, used coconut oil which  gave the sauce a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.  Others at the table immediately commented on the taste which was a apparently familiar.  Mimi confirmed that coconut oil is, in fact, a traditional cooking fat in West Africa. Our  Interestingly enough, a few days before this visit, we had taken our weekly cruise through Trader Joe’s and sampled Asian dumplings that had also been sauteed in coconut oil with equally-delicious results.

Both of these culinary encounters encouraged me to  try coconut oil for more than an ingredient to mix with melted shea butter to make it more smooth when I put it on my and Big Man’s skin and hair.  I think that adding it to the mix  is the secret to making a yummy, flavorful pot of rice and peas, a dish I’ve made for years but that never tasted quite like I wanted.  Try this easy recipe, and if you’re feeling kind, tell me how it turned out :).

Ingredients:

  

Rice of choice
I used basmati for us.  I love the smell and also that it’s said to have low glycemic index.

Red beans
I used a can of dark red kidney beans.  Some people use pigeon peas.  Proportion is approximately half the quantity of rice.

Spices of choice
I used powdered garlic and onion and chicken flavored bouillon.

Scotch bonnet/habanero pepper (optional)–
Watch out.  This one is super hot.  If you want some of the spice, DO NOT cut or puncture the pepper.  Simply let the whole pepper cook with the other ingredients and carefully remove before serving.

Wash, rinse and drain rice and set aside.  Sauté the chopped onion and bell pepper in the coconut oil on medium heat.  Add rice and sauté.  Add two parts water to one part rice.  Add all remaining ingredients, stir well, cover and reduce heat.  Cook on low heat for about twenty-five minutes or until rice is desired tenderness.

Rice and peas image from http://www.health.com

Destination: Asheville (Part Two)

asheville_1-1280x651

Our visit to Asheville was very brief.   After Big Man’s dad picked us up from Greenville, we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express that I found on Trip Advisor.   All I’ll say about our lodging is that it should have been better for what we paid, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

We slept for about 8 hours, showered, ate in the hotel’s dining room, stocked up on fruit and yogurt and hit the road.   We ended up taking a back road from South Carolina into North Carolina–US 25, I think.  We wound our way through the dense green of the Blue Ridge Parkway and eventually found our way to their visitor’s center.  Incidentally, this was not where we needed to be.  Once we finally figured that out, it was easy enough to correct our course and find our way to the Asheville Visitor’s Center where we joined one of their hop on/hop off trolley tours.    (I’m now completely sold on city tours after the amazing time that we had last year in Chattanooga after taking Tennessee Riverboat and Lookout Mountain tours).

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Big Man was excited to ride on the trolley bus and impressed by the amount of trivia and historical info that the guides had committed to memory. “How do they know all of that stuff?,” he whispered in wide-eyed wonder. (It turned out that one of the guides was actually a history teacher.) Some interesting tidbits that we learned:

* Asheville is jokingly referred to as the city built by TB.  The wealthy visited the city as a place to partake of pristine quality of air rumored to be found in that part of the Blue Ridge mountains.  Many would have their beds placed out on the verandas of their homes so that they could essentially be bathed in its purity.

* The Blue Ridge mountains are a sub-range of the Appalachian trail.  The Rockies and the Poconos are part of the same family of mountains.

* Many of the city’s architects were either from places further up the Eastern Seaboard or as far away as England.  Two of the architects were Richard Sharp Smith and Frederick Law Olmsted.

* Dogs are like honored citizens in Asheville and are welcomed in many public places, including upscale businesses like Battery Park Book Exchange, much to Big Man’s delight.

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We hopped off the tour to visit the exquisitely-preserved vehicles at the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum, cruised through of the River Arts District  and Biltmore Village (which appealed to me more than I thought it would) and ended our day trip with a meal at a Cuban restaurant in Battery Park and locally-grown blackberries that we bought from a small market in the elegant Grove Arcade and took along on as dessert on our drive home to Atlanta.

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I must say that I saw few families with school-aged children walking about and even fewer people of color in Asheville.     Still, I would like to go back to stay for maybe a weekend to visit a spa, sample more of their farm-to-table cuisine and do a walking tour to get a better feel for the place.  Surely there’s far more to it than we could see in a day.

All in all, I think our Amtrak adventure was a good one and  may also  look into this Christmas Special Dinner Train run by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum later this year.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, here is a sampling of books that relate to folk arts and crafts and culinary traditions, especially those of the Carolinas.

dave-the-potter

amtrak blog post (4)

splash of red

splash of red 2

philip simmons

amtrak blog post (5)

 

Asheville skyline image from www.reserveatlakekeowee.com .