Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Escape: A Tale of Two Cities

Here’s my little history lesson from last week—what I gleaned from our trip and have learned since.

Charleston was founded in 1670.  The first city was on the Ashley River and called Charles Town.  They settled on the Ashley (on the southern side of the modern city) because it was a shallow river and the settlers thought that Spanish warships wouldn’t be able to get at them there.  Ten years later they relocated the city to the peninsula where it is today, between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers.  The Cooper River is very deep and the port at Charleston is the 5th busiest port in the US. 

It’s obvious as you walk around historic Charleston that there was a LOT of money there.  Much of this money came from three commodities—cotton, rice, and slaves.  Many wealthy plantation owners built lavish town homes in Charleston and we had a great time looking at them.





Charleston was affected by both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  In 1776 Charleston was attacked by the British but the British were unable to take the city.  Four years later the British attacked again and Charleston was under siege for 6 weeks before being defeated.  It was considered one of the greatest American defeats of the Revolutionary War.

In April of 1861 the Civil War was started with the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  In 1863 the Union attacked a nearby fort and shelled Charleston regularly for the next 545 days.  (And nights.)  We were interested to learn that the cannon balls did more damage because of their size and weight than their explosive capability.  Many unexploded shells have been found over the years, including one in a church steeple and one under the foundation of an elementary school!

In 1886 Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake that is estimated to have been about 7.5 on the richter scale.  (The earthquake was felt in Chicago, Boston, and Cuba!)  It damaged 2000 buildings in Charleston.  Buildings that could be salvaged were repaired using long iron rods.  The iron rods were run through the walls and anchored on the outside with things that look like huge washers & bolts.  You can see them here on the side of this building.


(Do you see the blue sky in that picture?  Something tells me we’re not going to experience many January days that look like that in Oregon…)

Savannah has also had a long and colorful history.  It was colonized in 1733 to offer a new start for England’s working poor.  The colony of Georgia was also supposed to act as a buffer zone for South Carolina, protecting it from the Spanish living in Florida. 

Savannah originally had several prohibitions—rum, lawyers, and slavery.

General Oglethorpe planned the city as a series of grids containing blocks for residences, blocks for business, and public squares or parks.   Quite progressive of him, I’d say!

The British captured Savannah during the Revolutionary war and held it for four years.  After the war farmers discovered that the climate was great for growing cotton and rice, so Georgia legalized slavery.  Many slaves were brought in through Savannah’s port as well.  The cotton gin was actually invented in Savannah by Eli Whitney, a local tutor. 

As I mentioned before, Savannah had several terrible fires and in 1820 ten percent of the population died from yellow fever.  

During the civil war there were sea blockades that were so effective that they destroyed the economy in Savannah.  The city itself didn’t fall until Sherman entered in mid-December of 1864.  The Confederate forces had escaped on pontoon bridges the night before, so Sherman entered the city without any fighting.  He was so impressed with the beauty of the city that he decided not to destroy it.  (Clearly he had not seen the Thunderbird Inn!) Instead he sent a telegram to President Lincoln on December 22nd, offering the city to him as a Christmas present. 

I wonder if the tree lined streets had as much Spanish Moss then as they do now?


And just for your information, spanish moss is neither spanish nor moss.  Instead it is an “air plant” related to pineapples!

The port of Savannah is the 4th busiest port in the US now, and we were lucky enough to see a container ship coming up the Savannah river.  The size was staggering—I counted 8 flights of stairs above the level of the deck.  It was so long that it had to get quite a ways past us before I could fit it all in one picture.  [I just read that some of the container ships are as long as 75 story buildings!]


It was followed by a couple of tug boats, though we weren’t sure if they were there as a precaution or if they were actually going to help.


We loved watching the ship go towards the Savannah River Bridge—the perspective was very entertaining.



Parking Problems

Yesterday Jared and I were out running errands after his orthodontist appointment.  It was just after noon when pulled into the parking lot at Whole Foods and it was chaotic.  I’d forgotten that they have just expanded their prepared food area into the next storefront, and I think that we definitely hit the lunchtime crowd.

As we drove up and down the parking lot looking for a parking space, we saw something interesting.  A large Cadillac SUV had apparently pulled into (or tried to pull into) one of the spaces along the main road that are (clearly) marked for compact cars.  I’m not sure how she ever got into the space, but she was having a terrible time getting out of it.  A passing stranger had stopped to give her help, and he stood behind her car motioning to her to pull back, to turn a little, or to pull forward again.

To make a hard situation even worse, her car was almost too long to get out of the space without hitting the car behind her.  It was the kind of parking mess that I try to stay far away from, and I’m still not sure how she eventually got out, though I know she did.
I realized as I was walking through Whole Foods that her situation feels like a metaphor for my life right now.  I thought that when Russ got a job the stress would be over, but instead it feels like it has been doubled or even tripled.  He leaves next week—and while I can handle an occasional separate vacation, the thought of months apart is terrible.  The house needs to be ready to go on the market by the end of February, and that brings boatloads of stress.  I feel like that great big suv, trying to get out of a too-small spot and not entirely sure that I will be able to succeed without smashing something around me.

I know that everything will work out, I really do.  This is just one of those moments where I really can’t see how we’re going to manage to get from point A to point B, even though I have total confidence that we will. 

In the meantime, I will just have to pray harder.  And pack more boxes. 

And this is how I dealt with my stress this morning.
The last bit of Russ’s birthday cake—the tall chocolate cake from Costco. It seemed a better option than yelling…or crying…

Monday, January 30, 2012

Escape: Historic Churches and an interesting historical observation

So it turns out that the historic districts of both Charleston and Savannah are both filled with beautiful churches.  As I started reading the tourist information I noticed that there was frequently a mention of the original church building burning down. This distinction is important in the dating of the church building, which then may not be as old as the church congregation.  It was also enormously entertaining to me (have I mentioned that I am easily entertained???) to begin to realize that with only a few exceptions, every single church had burned down.

(When I asked our tour guide in Charleston he reminded me that at that time in history, people were burning stuff all the time.  Burning to heat, burning to cook, and that the introduction of gas lights only intensified the fire problems.  Lots of buildings burned down.  In fact Savannah had 3 major fires that over the course of a century burned down half of the city. But back to the pretty pictures.)

Here were some of the beautiful churches we saw:

Circular Congregational Church in Charleston—destroyed by fire at beginning of Civil War, rebuilt by 1890.



The previously mentioned St. Michaels, burned in 1835.


St. Philips Episcopal Church, oldest congregation in SC.  Almost burned in early 18th century, completely burned down in 1835, rebuilt by 1838.  St. Philip’s bells were melted down to be used in the civil war, and weren’t replaced until July 4th, 1976.


Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Burned in 1861, in a fire that ravaged much of Charleston. A new cathedral was built on the same site starting in1890. It opened in 1907 and was completed in 2010.  (That’s quite a span of time!)


This is the church where this happily Mormon girl considered trading in her previously saticfactory religious life for the opportunity to worship weekly in a beautiful building.


(Not really, but it was breathtakingly beautiful…)

I did read that there was one church in Charleston that had never burned, but didn’t get a picture of that one.


In Savannah we saw the Universal Unitarian church.  It is rumored (including on a big sign outside the church) that the brother of the original minister is the author of the song “Jingle Bells.”  Further interesting information about this church building:

After the Civil War, freed slaves bought the Gothic style church designed by John Norris, partially dismantled it, and rolled it through the streets of the city to its present site in Troup Square. Renamed St. Stephen Episcopal Church, for the next 80 years it was home to the first African Episcopal parish in Georgia. As fate would have it, the Unitarians reclaimed the church in 1997.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the building burned during the civil war when it was used as a guard house.


St. John’s Episcopal Church: incredibly I was not able to find any suggestion that this church was destroyed by fire. 


And the synagogue Mikve Israel, the only gothic synagogue in the US.  It is rumored that they have a gift shop in which you can buy a tshirt that says “Shalom Ya’ll.”  A fire destroyed the first building in 1829, but they did save the Torah scrolls.


It was interesting to see that there was also a Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, and it was also incredibly beautiful.  It was nearly destroyed by fire in 1898, and was immediately rebuilt using the same plans.  The fire would not have caused as much destruction if the entire cotton district hadn’t been on fire at the same time—which meant that there wasn’t enough water pressure to fight the Cathedral fire.



We knew after seeing the Cathedral in Charleston that we wanted to go in this one as well.  It was even more ornate.  In addition to the beautiful stained glass there were equally amazing paintings everywhere.


And there you have it.  A quick survey of some of the beautiful churches we saw in Charleston and Savannah, along with a smattering of fire history.

Shalom, ya’ll!

Someone out there knows me…

Do you ever see an ad and think to yourself,
           “this product/service is meant exactly for me!”

Well, here’s mine…



Every day in my email I get a few predictable things.  The 5 day weather forecast, an ad from Aeropostale telling me that although their clothes for girls are on sale, their clothes for my 16 year old son never will be, (at least that’s what it feels like!) and then an assortment of offers from woot, groupon, living social, and the oddly named moolala.

Here is an offer that came recently from moolala.  I am still perplexed.


Really?  I thought it was enough to do emotional self-discovery.  Now we’re supposed to do DNA self-discovery as well???

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Escape: Twilight Walk

We started our adventuring in Charleston with a late afternoon walk that soon morphed into a twilight walk that soon morphed into a walk in the dark. 

Our posh Charleston hotel was only 1 block up from St. Michael’s Episcopal Church with one of the most beautiful church steeples I’ve ever seen.  Day or night, the thing was worth taking pictures of! 


We noticed how close together many of the historic houses were, and consoled ourselves with the the thought that even the closest houses in Oregon aren’t that close.


We turned a corner and this is what we saw. 


A beautiful fountain against the night sky—just begging me to take pictures of it!  After I was done taking pictures we walked farther into Waterfront Park.  We could see the Yorktown battleship across the Cooper River. 


I loved being able to look at the beautiful Cooper River bridge.


I had to take a few more pictures of the fountain from other angles. 


And then I noticed this most awesome sign.  Seriously the best sign I think I’ve ever seen…you have to at least read the first half…


As we continued on our walk we passed the US Customs House. 
We don’t know what they do there, but what a beautiful building they do it in!


I had made a resolution to branch out and eat new things at new places on this trip. 
We decided to have dinner at this fine establishment.


I am not a huge fan of Carolina vinegar based barbeque, but I was a total fan of everything this place had to offer.  It was finger-licking good, they gave us free peach cobbler (the good old fashioned kind) and Russ had to practically roll me back to the hotel. 

We took a short detour on our way back to the hotel.  We had been talking to one of the many tour salespeople, and he told us about the Old City Jail.  Apparently it had just been featured (maybe on the history channel?) as one of the “most terrible” jails in the United States.  Over a period of about a hundred and fifty years (ending in the early 1900’s) over 14,000 people were executed there!  He was sure that if we walked by we’d see something scary.  So of course I wanted to give it a try.

We didn’t see anything scary, but knowing just that bit of the history of the jail definitely made it creepy.  Sadly none of the pictures I tried to take turned out.  It was really foggy, and there was so much water vapor in the air that if the flash went off that was all you saw.


I did think this sign was interesting…One of America’s Treasures, huh?!?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Escape: Accommodations

I’m a fan of hotwire.com—I use them for most of my vacation hotels and have rarely had a problem.  (And the one time I had a significant problem they made up for it in every way possible.)  Earlier this month I went online to hotwire to book one night in Charleston and two in Savannah.

When I did a search for Charleston, a 4 star hotel in the historic district came up for only $80.  I decided to through financial caution to the winds and I booked it.  When the info came to my email it read “Holiday Inn—Mills House, Charleston, SC.”  I was kind of disappointed—I figured how nice could a Holiday Inn actually be?

Well…that was the last time I saw the words “Holiday Inn.”

We arrived at the hotel, which was right in the middle of the historic district in downtown Charleston, and our first decision was whether or not to let the valet park the car for us.  (Of course not—we’re far too cheap for that, or to let him help us with the luggage either!)  We were very impressed with the outside of the hotel, and noticed that they weren’t claiming at all to be associated with Holiday Inn.


Our bedroom was definitely posh—complete with chocolates on the bed.


From our window we could see several upscale restaurants in beautiful old homes.


I happened to notice this sign on the back of the door, and I can’t imagine anyone would actually ever pay this much!


There was a very fancy restaurant in the hotel, complete with a lovely courtyard.  I think this must be just heavenly in the spring. They also had a really elegant pool (all red brick and tile and bright blue water) on a 2nd story patio area above the restaurant, but I never remembered to take a picture.


We couldn’t decide what to do for breakfast on Tuesday, since we were told that not many restaurants in downtown Charleston open before 11.  We eventually ordered room service and it was fast and delicious.  We were especially charmed by the miniature salt and pepper shakers and the midget catsup bottle!


We loved the Mills House hotel, and would stay there again in a heartbeat.  At $80, though…not at $699!


I may have splurged in Charleston, but I chose the cheapest option available for our two nights in the historic district of Savannah.  Hey, it had 2 1/2 stars (which is what I usually book) and it said it offered breakfast.  And—it was only $30/night!

Here is what we saw when we arrived.


Not that I’m a motel snob, or anything, but let’s just say I was still high off the “upscale hotel” buzz and this was definitely a sharp jerk back to totally different reality.


Fortunately the room was spotlessly clean, the bed was comfortable, (though the pillows were truly the heaviest I’ve ever seen), and we had this little message on a notepad and on all of the shampoo/lotion bottles.



It actually turned out to be an ok place to stay.  It was on a really REALLY noisy street (turns out that Savannah is really a busy seaport, and this translates into serious commercial traffic practically day & night, including in front of nicer hotels than this one) but my earplugs worked well.  The breakfast was only donuts & oatmeal, but they were krispy kreme so we ate those first and then headed out in search of protein every morning.  And the price was definitely right—allowed me to enjoy my shopping a little more!


Escape /es-KAH-pay/

In view of the fact that Russ & I are scheduled to spend a great deal of time on opposite sides of the country starting in just two weeks, and taking into consideration that our 25th anniversary (can you believe that???) will occur during that separation, I decided that we should run away together for a couple of days.

Now as you well know my normal M.O. would have been to find a nice place by the ocean. But these are not normal times. I’ve had a little mental list growing of things that I need/want to do before I move to the other side of the world country. It includes things like visiting my sister in upstate NY and while we’re there seeing Palmyra, the Sacred Grove, and Niagara Falls. Yesterday I was trying to decide if I should try to take the little kids to the reenactment of the Battle of Bentonville, but it turns out it’s not being reenacted this year so I don’t have to add that to my plate.

One thing I realized I felt some serious sadness about having missed out on was never having toured the historic areas of either Charleston or Savannah. I drove through downtown Charleston 2 years ago when we were on our spring break, what I glimpsed was fascinating. The kids, however, were having none of it.

When I decided that we needed to get away together I immediately decided that we were going to go to both Charleston & Savannah. We went and cleaned the temple together Monday morning, and then left from there for Charleston. We ended up getting not quite a day and a half in Charleston, and a little more than a day and a half in Savannah. We had SUCH a great time together—it was really fabulous. We walked everywhere we could and saw everything I wanted to see and ate everything we saw as well.

I’d hoped to pull the pictures into some kind of blog-friendly organization last night as we drove home but I was just too exhausted. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some pictures up in the next few days so that we’ll have a record of our last great east coast escape. (Which, for the purposes of this trip, we pronounced es-KAH-pay. Just for fun.)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How much harder could things be?

If I start complaining about my life, please remind me about this woman and her life.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pictures You’ve Been Waiting For…

I know, I know.  It’s been a Long Time Coming.  But we got a bit distracted.  First there was Thanksgiving and all of the pie cooking and Harry Potter watching.  Then there was the decision to retrofit the doors with hidden hinges and the returning of the exterior hinges and re-ordering of the new hinges.  (Brilliant decision, btw, and we owe it all to my dear friend Nancy.)  Then there was the Christmas decorating and cookie making and tree trimming and present wrapping and candy eating and game playing and song singing and LotR watching and water sliding and job interviewing and…

You get my point.

But last week Russ did all of the hard work to put the new hinges into the old doors, and then the next day he woke up at 4:30 in the morning and couldn’t sleep because he couldn’t stop thinking about moving to Oregon, so he got up and put the doors on and installed the new knobs.

And all I can say is


Let me repeat that.


(And—I wish I could stay and live in this kitchen!!!)

Just to refresh your memory, here is the kitchen I’ve lived with for 10 years.


And then the kitchen the way it’s looked for the last two months.


And now, finally…..<drum roll, please!>


Let’s look at those more closely, shall we?!?  Please notice the beautiful cabinet above the fridge!  It looks so great!


(Please excuse the fact that the counters are never all the way clean.  If I had waited until I could get them cleaned off, you wouldn’t get pictures for a few more weeks!)

I can’t believe how great it looks!!!  And I’m so surprised that I don’t hate the wood floor anymore, now that the cabinets aren’t the same orangey color.  I still have quite a bit of touching up to do, and we’re going to make one last major change.  As much as I personally love the dark green counter tops (I did, after all, pick them) we’re going to change them to something neutral.  I’m actually really excited about it—we brought home a sample the other day and it was lovely.  That will be Russ’s last big project before he leaves, and then the kitchen will be DONE! 

Yes, I wish I could live with this beautiful kitchen. And I wish I had done this earlier.  But we didn’t have the paint sprayer until 2009, and I didn’t think about doing the cabinets, and I’m really just glad they turned out so well so that hopefully they will help our house to sell more quickly.


PS…did I mention how much I miss my yellow walls?