Gibsonville, N.C. Oct 14 & 15, 2011

I’ve had a couple of readers wonder what happened to my daily posts.  Well for one thing we’ve had two late nights but the real challenge has been to find the words to describe the wonderful time and experiences we’ve had these past two days.

It took two phone calls and finally a rescue mission by Joy before we got the the Isley home.  We ( and everyone who comes) received a warm welcome from “Annie” as shown in this photo. She’s a bit of a ham….as I swear she posed for this photo.  Now Annie is a wonderful dog but perhaps a bit forgetful.  After greeting us as we arrived…every time we came out of the house, she greeted us again as if she’d never met us.  She also reminds me of our dog Molly. She loves attention.  When you pet her, she leans into you and I swear she’s trying to wrap herself around you.  She loves to play and steals your heart as soon as you meet her.

In addition to Annie, Joy and Ronnie made us feel so welcome in their home and quickly introduced us to the rest of their 4 legged friends. To see those, go to www.isleyquarterhorses.com.  We spent our first day tagging along with Joy, meeting her coworkers at the bank, getting the car washed, and an oil change and then grocery shopping for the party on Saturday.  I rather think Joy knows everyone in and around the area as we couldn’t go anywhere without meeting more friends and acquaintances.  Everyone we met was so warm and welcoming. That evening we took the Isley family out for dinner and again everyone knew them….and the watiress knew what Ronnie wanted before he asked!  We had a lovely dinner.  I had Charleston Shrimp and Grits.  It was wonderful and I wish I had room to eat it all. This was my first time eating grits and so far…I like them.

We arrived about 10 a.m. saturday morning to help getting things ready for the party…although it was a fight to be allowed to assist.  Ronnie was way ahead of us as he had the BBQ going for hours.  The amount of food being prepared was enormous and we knew we were going to be in for a treat.  In additional to all this BBQ pork, there was BBQ chicken, low country boil, potatoe salad, cole slaw, baked salmon, baked beans as well a wide array of desserts. For those of you who don’t know, low country boil consists of potatoes with their skin, 1/2 cobs of corn and a spice bag put into a large cauldron.  As the veggies approach being cooked, in went the kolbasa sausage chunks and later followed by a large amount of shrimp. When cooked, it’s strained and placed in a large pan, butter poured over and served.  Unfortunately the chicken never made it to the dinner…we are it at lunch!  It was so good.

Ronnie’s good friend Jerrith kept asking when the Jalapeno Poppers were coming.  Their neighbour Christie was to bring them, but she was over with her horse grooming and then riding.  Jerrith definately was having issues with that.  Jerrith is a fine young lad but he sure knew how to make me feel old.  When I’d talk to him and ask him anything…he’d always respond with “yes maam!’  Jerrith has some pretty colorful expressions and when describing someone with different character traits, referred to that person as “writing on a different peice of paper”.  I wish my memory was better because I heard of variety of expressions, most of which left me howling with laugther.  The more alcohol consumed…the better they got.

The friends started to arrive around 4 pm.and dinner was served shortly. With the sun setting quickly, Ronnie lit up the fire and at first I thought he was going to burn the place down.  As the evening cooled, our chairs got closer and closer to the fire.  We came back to the hotel stinking of smoke and covered in ash.

 

The Isleys have many friends and we were pleased to meet so many of them and had just a wonderful evening of food and fun. Things really heat up when the proverbial jug or should I say “jar” came out.  I couldn’t beleive it when they told me they had peach “moonshine.” I was afraid “the law” might show up. Ronnie kept insisting I try some and those who know me, know I drink only foo foo drinks. Well I didn’t want to be a poor sport so I took a little sip. I love the taste of peaches and this tasted like a smooth peach syrup.  I thought I would just keep that jar for awhile longer but Ronnie wan’t going to have any part of that!  I think this was happening about the same time Susan decided to paint Ronnie with lipstick. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t have any more!

I have to say I don’t know when I had more fun and more laughs…and the food was excellent. Some things just end too soon.

 

Time with the Isley’s Oct 16,2011

Today we joined Ronnie and my neice Joy for the annual Isley family reunion in Gibsonville.  We got to meet Ronnie’s parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Ronnie was bragging his Mom made the best chicken pie in the south.  The pot luck lunch was delicious and Mrs. Isley’s chicken pie lived up to it’s reputation.  The photo on the right is Ronnie and Joy.  They are fabulous hosts and have made our stay very special.

Ronnie’s Mom is shown right here in the blue dress, across from her is Ronnie’s Daddy. Ronnie’s aunt is sitting beside his Dad and Brian ( my hubby) is on her left.  We were welcomed warmly by the Isley family and enjoyed some great food. Ronnie’s Aunt and Brian shared recipes over lunch and I think Brian has a new recipe for bean salad.

 

 

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Joy’s daughter Emily.  She is an extremely nice and attractive girl.  She reminds me of my grand daugther Naida.  Too bad they didn’t live closer together.  Here is Emily and myself. 

 After lunch we returned to Ronnie and Joy’s.  Joy had to run to town so Brian, Ronnie and I took full advantage of the sunny warm afternoon by sitting out under the shade tree.

We left early as we were all feeling the effects ( some more than others) of the previous night’s adventures.  We will be up early tomorrow as the five of us are heading to the North Carolina state fair.  I’ve been told they have several unusual “fried” items.  I think I’ll sample the “fried pickles.”  What the heck, you only go around this life once, so live dangerously!

 

 

North Carolina State Fair Oct 17,2011

Today is our last day in the area.  We picked up Ronnie, Joy and Emily and head off to the state fair. Once we arrived it was hard to know where to start, but every lane led us past food and food I’m not sure humans are supposed to eat. Please note the signs in the photo. You can get deep fried twinkies, deep fried mac & cheese, deep fried Kool Aid and the cut off sign is for deep fried pecan pie.  Emily was brave and tried chocolate coated bacon (she said it was gross).  I tried boiled peanuts and to me, taste like over cooked mashed potatoes – definately a pass. However I did try deep fried dill pickle chips(slices) served with of course dill pickle dip.  Now those I would eat again.  Some places the deep fried dill pickles were whole pickles….I think the slices would be better.

We toured the barns and the “Oreo” cows were a hit with everyone stopping to take photos of them. They are actually “Belted Galloway” cattle….as you can see they have a white “belt” around the middle but the term “Oreo” cows suits them.

We toured other barns and saw chickens with what looked like “fur” and rabbits and didn’t look like rabbits.  There is such a thing as over breeding and these poor creatures look like designer animals and the next thing you know, you’ll see humans carrying them in a purse. We went looking for the hog barns but the closest thing we could find was the “Harley Davidson” display.

This little fella to the right is supposed to be a rabbit. After leaving the barns we went touring the displays and exhibits.  We saw old farm equipment, an old John Deere ice creamer maker and several almost obsolete crafts, like basket weaving, broom making.  It was quite interesting.  There was a display showing how tobacco was grown, harvested and dried.  It was very interesting and may soon be gone.  Many of the old tobacco fields have been turned into fields of soybeans, corn or in some cases vineyards.  

 

Finally after touring the exhibits the very patient Emily went on the rides.  By 3 p.m. the grown ups were pretty much done so we head home to Gibsonville.

The weatherman has been very cooperative and today’s high was in the 80s. Once at the Isley home, we sat out on the chairs in the shade.  It was a lovely day and will be hard to leave.  The five of us had dinner together and bid a fond farewell with plans to see each again soon. I’m trying to strong arm them into coming to the Calgary Stampede where we can return the hospitality. Thanks to Ronnie, Joy and Emily for a wonderful time.  I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much, so often.

Gibsonville to Charleston South Carolina Oct 18,2011

We didn’t take one photo today.  We got up late and took our time getting ready and packing.  I think it was about 10 a.m. when we finally hit the road. We decided not to go straight east to the coast, instead we hit the interstate and drove to Charleston. The interstate is tree lined and you rarely get a glimpse of the countryside.  I guess they do that intentionally so the driver doesn’t get distracted but it makes for a boring drive.

When we were at Joy’s I noticed they mulched their flower beds with large pine needles. Driving on the Interstate today I saw the large pines that must produce the large needles.

We stopped along the way at a place called “Steak & Shake”.  In our past both of us have been associated with restaurants…Brian as a Manager and I as a waitress.  It appeared the manager was assisting his staff but from I could see, he was not a happy man and had no clue about customer service and running a place efficiently.  They had at least half the tables set and empty.  Instead of seating people at an empty table, they waited for a table to empty, then would clean it off, then set people at those tables.  We were there at lunch…why not let the dirty tables pile up, instead of leaving people waiting? When they did seat people they gave them a place mat and a menu…but had to come back…in our case they didn’t..with cutlery. The manager spent time cleaning tables, seating people and generally buggering off…..allowing people to wait at the till to wait.  In one case, the cook came out to cash out customers.  I doubt she washed her hands after handling the cash.  Ugh!  I had a bowl of chile so no hands would have touched that….accept to pour it out of a can.

About an hour our of Charleston we ran into torrential rain.  When we left this morning the forecast was for a sunny warm day with highs in the low 80s F but becoming cloudy in the evening and rain.  We ran into a wall of rain.  The traffic slowed to 40 KM ( our car is from Canada) and you could hardly see anything.  A little white knuckle driving until it let up.  This time our nav system got us right to the hotel’s doorstep!  We’ve got a city tour booked for tomorrow. 

I had to put in at least one photo.  I found this exhibit of hand made brooms at the State Fair yesterday.  The seller said this broom was for a witch in training. You have no idea how hard it was not to buy it.  We simply have no room for anything else in the car.  That may crimp my style on “Black Friday.”

Charleston South Carolina Oct 19,2011

After the usual Best Western complimentary breakfast we caught the tour bus to tour historic Charleston and Magnolia Plantation. After pouring rain most of the night, the skies starting clearing and the weather warmed to mid seventies. A great day for sightseeing.

We saw many homes like this one on the right.  The “fake” door opens onto a veranda with stairs leading to the second floor.  If the door was open it meant, people were accepting visitors.  The guests would go up the stairs and people would entertain on the upper veranda and the living room(parlour) on the upper level.  Now the stairs would lead to a second apartment as most homes are so expensive, they divide them into multi family units.  Most homes are narrow and long with virtually no backyard.  The homes are one room wide and hence the reason they are long.  Take note of the photo on the left.  You will see round black circles on the houses.  These are actually bolts that run the length and breathe of the home.  Charleston is on the Woodstock fault which runs north to New York city.  Charleston has experienced an earthquake in the magnitude of 8, so these bolts are to try to secure the homes from damage in the event of a large earthquake.  We saw several wooden homes which had a definate lean or tilt, from previous earth shaking experiences. The wooden homes are made from cypress. Cypress wood is long lasting and is not subject to water or termite damage, in fact the logs for many homes were harvested from the bottom of a swamp.  They do create a problem however….they don’t like paint and generally homes require repainting every couple of years. Sounds like a great place to come if you are an unemployed house painter!

 If you look closely( you may have to double click to enlarge) you will notice the road is made of stones.  This is a “ballast” rock road. Charleston was a very busy port, exporting vast amounts of goods.  The ships would come empty…or almost…from Europe, so to give the ships “ballast” they filled their hulls with these rocks.  Upon arriving in Charleston, the stones would be off loaded and cargo loaded.  They don’t have local access to rock, so they used the “ballast” rock to create the roadways.

For lunch we stopped at Virginia’s on King. This is a family owned restaurant serving traditional southern cooking.  We had ” She Crab” soup and split a fried green tomatoe and bacon sandwich. The lunch was yummy. Check out more at www.virginiasonking.com

After lunch we boarded the bus for the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens tour. This plantation was formed in 1676 and witnessed the American Revolution and the Civil War. It is the oldest tourist destination in the U.S. as it opened it’s doors in 1870.

The scenery was spectacular and I know I took close to 50 photos. It has the oldest gardens in North America and the original plantings are still there.  The oak trees were jaw dropping as some were over 400 years old with branches sprawling here and there and covered with spanish moss.  The bright white in this photo is a white bridge and for those who have seen the movie…”The Notebook” the house and ponds may look familiar.

We took the nature train tour.  It took us through the plantation and past the slave houses.  Quite a difference from the big house…..which by the way wasn’t that big…the third floor is fake and built only to give the appearance of a much larger house.

The tour took us out to various ponds and swamps.  Before we departed on this part of the afternoon, we were told not to get off for any reason.  They have many alligators on the property and they can be anywhere.  In addition they have several kinds of poisonous snakes and fire ants.  We found this fella sunning himself.  The guide figured he weighed in at 800 lbs. Obviously this photo was taken from quite a distance which was just fine with me.

Following the “nature” tour we toured the house.  Photography was not allowed in the house so I can only include one taken from the outside and remember the third floor (the level with the dormers) is just a fake.

Our tour guide Bob was a wealth of information. The Ashley river is just beyond this home.  The river rises  and falls with the tides and has “brackish” water.  However the fresh water sits above the salt water from the ocean, so the farmers built levees and flooded their fields with fresh water allowing for growing of rice.  For years Carolina Gold Rice was the most desirable rice in the world.  A large hurricane caused the sea water to flood the fields in the early 1900s and the land is no longer suitable for rice growing. 

This photo shows the historic rice fields across the Ashley River.  There is so much more I could put in here but I will direct you to their website.  Check out www.magnoliaplantation.com

Tomorrow we are heading to St Augustine Florida via Highway 1A along the coast.  The weather this evening has turned cold and windy.  They are blaming a cold front from Canada.  What’s with that?

Charleston S.C. to St Augustine Fl Oct 20,2011

We left Charleston at 9 a.m.  The directions to drive to St Augustine were to turn right out of the hotel parking lot and stay on the same road. No need for the nav system however we wanted to get off the interstate and travel Hwy A1A along the coast as much as possible so we did use it. We were glad we had the guided tour yesterday as it helped us understand some of the countryside we travelled through today.  We saw a sign “Tea  Farm Creek” which reminded us that tea was grown in the area years ago…according to our tour guide Bob.  We saw areas previously used to grow rice as well.

As we travel the road, we occasionally see some interesting signs.  We saw one today that said ” Fireworks For Sale    25 cents and up….mostly up.”  The other thing we have sadly noticed the the amount of malls which are emtpy and closed.  It’s one thing to see a store closed but entire malls……it’s a reminder of some of the grim financial hardships people are experiencing.

Once we got onto the coastal highway we were able to get some scenery to view.  Many of the homes are lavious and gated, so you only get a glimpse of them. Further down the coast we saw more modest homes and the ability to get to the beach.  We saw several people fishing and generally enjoying themelves despite the cold temperature and blustery wind.

We arrived early afternoon and checked into the hotel which is located in the historic part of St Augustine.  I knew it would happen eventually and today it did….we have a very scuzzy hotel room.  It’s tiny, stinky, not too clean, no working phone, a bathroom fan that sounds like a jet engine…..and cheap(not the room rate)…they don’t supply kleenex and charge for parking!  Stay away from the “Spanish Quarter Best Western Inn” in St Augustine.

After our grim finding, we head out to catch to the Old Town Trolley Tour.  We spent two hours on the tour checking out the spots we may want to see tomorrow.    They have a beautiful harbour and the old city is charming with many interesting buildings.  St Augustine is the oldest settlement in the U.S. …..the Spanish were here long before Plymouth Rock was founded.

We plan to do the hop on hop off thing tomorrow, then leave town around 2 pm.  We have arranged a reward for staying in this place…we’re booked into a Marriott tomorrow in Daytona for a ridiculously low cost.  We’ll stay two nights.  We are hoping to tour the Speedway on Saturday…finally something for Brian!