Mountains and So Much More

A person can travel far and wide but to see sheer geographical beauty and awesome sites, it’s hard to beat the good ol’ USA. I’ve just returned from a week-long swing through parts of South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah–with a corner of Iowa thrown in–and I’m still gushing.

My husband and I signed on for Caravan’s bus tour called “Mount Rushmore, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.” On the first day then, no surprise, I checked off Mount Rushmore, an item on my travel bucket list. The sculptured faces of Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln are absolutely magnificent, indeed, an engineering and artistic feat.

My husband, always the official trip photographer, took a ton of pictures during our visit to Mount Rushmore. But here’s one I snapped of our view as we ate a bison burger lunch there. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an extraordinary background for a meal.

lunch view

After touring Mount Rushmore, our group stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial. Once it’s completed, this sculpture will be a match for Mount Rushmore. Right now, all that’s discernible is the famous warrior’s face.

crazy horse

Get this: The memorial, a monument to the great Sioux Lakota Indian leader Crazy Horse–the one who wiped out Custer and his men at the battle of Little Big Horn–is the world’s largest sculpture in progress. The carving was started over 50 years ago by  Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. He’s now deceased, but his children and grandchildren are carrying on the work.

Below is a model of what the completed monument will look like. As you can see, Crazy Horse is on a steed, his left arm outstretched, pointing. At what? Maybe the future, a sad one for Native Americans as they eventually surrendered a way of life they’d known for centuries.

crazy horse model

Yellowstone National Park was another highlight of this trip. Old Faithful, the geyser that erupts approximately every 90 minutes, is probably the most recognized feature of this first national park, established in 1872.

But there are other fascinating elements as well. My husband and I had our picture taken at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, location of Yellowstone Falls, which is twice the height of Niagara Falls. The scenery here is so perfect it almost looks like one of those cheesy backdrops sometimes used in photography studios, doesn’t it?


We saw beautiful mountains in South Dakota and Montana, but the third headliner of this trip, Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, was the most majestic. Oh my word. Snow-capped, jagged, soaring: adjectives fail me. I promise you the picture below is one I took; again it looks too pristine to be real.


The tour ended in Salt Lake City, where the main attraction was Temple Square, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka the Mormons. The temple there is lovely, but I was equally amazed by the beautiful grounds.

Flowers galore! The bed below is just one of many. I was especially jealous of the luscious petunias; mine at home died of thirst when I was away one weekend while temperatures soared to the 90s.

Mormon flowers

There’s so much natural beauty in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah. Even the view at the gas station was worth photographing!

Gas station view

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The Blooms of June

I love my backyard this June. With the recent rain and milder temps, the grass is green, the flowers are blooming, and the “garden” is growing. I enjoy the view as I sit on my back porch with my early morning coffee and listen to the birds sing. Come along with me for a virtual tour.

view from the back porchI see cardinals, wrens, and doves, but my favorite to watch are the tiny hummingbirds. They’re attracted not only to a feeder I fill with sugar water but also to the blooms of the blue and black salvia (pictured in the bottom left corner above) and the flowers of the larger hosta.

hostasThis year my hosta on the left in front of the gazebo is so much bigger than the other one in front of the gazebo on the right. I don’t think the smaller one intends to bloom either. Last year, both were about the same size, and both had flowers. Mother Nature can be moody.

But I can’t complain. The hydrangea that always has lovely foliage but never has flowers? Drum roll, please: It’s blooming!!

True, these flowers aren’t huge and there aren’t tons of them, but to finally see some color on this hydrangea that I’ve had for more than a decade is a triumph. Until this year, I’d had one, yes, just one bloom. I feel like celebrating!

hydrangea blooms As I mentioned, the garden, if I may call it that, is growing. I have four hills of cucumbers and four of squash, planted along the edge of the shrubbery. I don’t think the landscaping looks bad with the addition of the vegetables, do you? I’ve already picked my first cucumber. Sooo much tastier than what’s in the grocery store.

the cropsThe rest of the garden is behind a wire fence to prevent the resident rascally rabbit from helping himself (or herself?). For some reason, this critter doesn’t eat squash and cucumbers, but I have to protect my okra, tomatoes, and the couple of zinnas I throw in for fun.

rabbit proofI also try to deter my rabbit by providing it with scattered bird seed. It’s quite entertaining watching the bunny eat. It’s pretty brave and doesn’t hop away as long as I stay on my porch.

rabbit eatingI’m not sure where the rabbit lives–maybe in this bed of liriope (monkey grass) that’s growing like crazy. Yes, those are deer antlers (I’m married to a hunter) gracing my planters. I also went wild this year with a can of bright pink spray paint, adding color to a pair of rusty yard-art birds.

monkey grassI used the same paint on a brown decorative bird cage that had seen better days. The pillows on the bench and the blue chair pads were bought last summer at Walmart for only $5.00 each. They spent the winter in the garage and are now good for a second season.

pink birdcageMost of the time, I’m not sitting on my back porch looking at the yard by myself. My husband of 42 years is there as well. I was thinking of him the other year when I bought this plaque in a garden shop in Wilmington, NC.

grow old

The next two lines are nice, too: “The last of life, for which the first was made.” Pleasant thoughts as we look out over a June backyard. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking too.

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Cuba: Part Two, the Expected and the Unexpected

Cigars, classic cars, and mojitos? I went to Cuba expecting to find these, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In fact, I was quite impressed at the production I saw in an un-air-conditioned cigar factory where workers sat rolling cigars by hand. They worked with leaves of dried tobacco quickly but methodically, aiming to meet a daily quota.

We people-to-people visitors weren’t allowed to take photos inside the factory, so I had to settle instead for a picture of the finished products for sale in a nearby cigar shop.


I’m not a smoker and Cuban cigars aren’t cheap (unlike a lot of things such as restaurant meals and souvenirs), so I didn’t purchase any cigars to take home. I was given a couple, however, by the young man who taxied my husband and me to dinner in a 1954 Dodge convertible the last night we were in Havana.

Classic 1940s and 50s cars are everywhere in Cuba, but especially in the larger cities such as Havana. Here’s a fleet of brightly painted convertibles, waiting, I suspect, for tourists interested in tooling around in retro-style.

cuban cars

Cuba produces a lot of rum–and a lot of rum drinks. At almost every lunch and dinner sponsored by our tour group, we were greeted with a virgin mojito. A waiter came around with rum for those who wanted the alcohol added. Make mine a double!

mint drink

Along with cigars, classic cars, and rum drinks, I saw famous sites such as Hemingway’s Cuban home, Finca Vigia (Lookout House) outside of Havana. The official line is that Hemingway donated the house and its contents to Cuba when he was urged by the American government to return to the United States after the revolution.

According to Mary Welsh, Hemingway’s wife at the time, the Cuban socialist government confiscated the property. Looking at the fully furnished rooms filled with personal items, I tend to believe Hemingway left quickly, perhaps believing he would be able to return to Finca Vigia. He never did, committing suicide in Idaho in 1961.

Hemingway houseAnother famous landmark I visited in Cuba doesn’t look like anything special, just an expanse of sandy beach on the south coast. It was here, however, at the Playa Giron that the Bay of Pigs invasion took place. Nearby is a museum, which, as you can imagine, gives a definite pro-Castro slant to the events surrounding the CIA-backed, failed military invasion to oust the new communist government.

Bay of pigsSpeaking of Castro, I expected to see his picture in government buildings and perhaps on billboards. In fact, he was all over the place along with his buddy Che Guevara. It was a little unexpected, though, to find his picture nestled with the pottery at the King Ranch, a 35,000-acre cattle spread seized by the government in 1959 in the Camaguey Province.

CastroAt the ranch, our American group was invited to see a few rodeo acts, where I encountered another surprise: the display of the American flag alongside the Cuban flag before the show began.


Since 1959 Cuba has been a socialist country which, under Castro, declared itself an atheist state. But all which hearkens back to a Catholic past has not been lost. I was surprised to find a church as magnificent as the Cathedral of San Cristobal with its baroque façade in Havana’s Cathedral Square.

An interesting fact I learned: the cathedral held the remains of Christopher Columbus from 1796 until 1898, when they were taken to Seville Cathedral in Spain.

cathedral square

Cuba, a country of contradictions, where I saw the expected and the unexpected.

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Cuba: Part One, The Contradiction

I’m home from Cuba and people are asking, “What was it like?”

I hardly know where to begin. I found Cuba backward but lively, poor but happy, decaying but beautiful. It’s a country of contrasts.

Cuba still struggles under a socialist government. Even our Cuban tour guide, whose company is government-affiliated, admitted the flaws in state-run establishments. For example, he pointed out this sleeping employee in an empty government-owned bar.

sleeping girl bar

Wouldn’t anyone rather have a cocktail in the lounge of this privately-owned restaurant (called a paladar)? I was told the bar has been restored to look as it did in pre-Castro days.

fully stocked bar

Incidentally, my husband and I, along with our travel buddies, ate dinner at this establishment, called Restaurante 1800, in Camaguey. We enjoyed excellent paella, shrimp pasta, and lobster entrees, which ranged in price from only six to eight dollars. I kid you not.

Even with generous wine drinking and tip, our bill was less than thirty dollars per couple, probably a third of what we’d pay for that kind of restaurant meal at home.

Paladars are not the only sign of private industry trying to make a go of it in socialist Cuba. This flea market in Havana had plenty of trinkets and vendors who were just as eager to sell as any I’ve seen in the Caribbean.

flea market

A potter in Camaguey showed us his technique before we visited his salesroom. (To his left is our Cuban guide for the duration of our people-to-people trip.) I couldn’t resist buying some of this beautiful handmade earthenware, especially when it was so reasonably priced. I paid only two and three dollars for a couple of nice pots.


Life appears hard for many in Cuba, a country that seems to have missed the progress and prosperity of modern times. For instance, horse-drawn transportation was common everywhere. In cities, horse and buggy outfits were used as taxis. This fellow here seems to be a farmer.

horse and buggy

Another sign that Cuba lives in the past is the method of drying rice–spreading it on the highway. Yes, that’s rice in the picture, not sand. Our tour bus stopped so we could get out for a closer look. I would think the rice would get dirty from traffic rolling over it but evidently not.

rice on the road

The average Cuban makes about thirty pesos a month, which translates into thirty American dollars. Of course, many supplement their paltry salaries by working in the tourist industry, picking up tips as waiters in paladars or employees in hotels. Some Cubans have relatives living abroad (think Florida), who send money.

It sounds like a hard life to me, yet the Cubans I saw in various cities as well as the countryside seem like a happy lot for the most part. They’ll certainly burst into song or dance in restaurants, on the streets, or anywhere they think a tourist may tip.


For more about the contrast that is Cuba, check out my column in the Rocky Mount Telegram:

Stay tuned for the next blog, Cuba, Part II, where I’ll share more photos of this fascinating country.

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In A Whirl

One of the many good things about being in the Rocky Mount Garden Club here in my hometown is that every April we go on some sort of field trip.

This year we visited the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, a nearby city here in eastern North Carolina. I’d heard of this place for quite a while but had never taken the time to drive over and check it out.

whirligig park sign

What a sight! I didn’t count, but the Whirligig Park website says there are thirty giant metal whirligigs–the largest collection in the world–twirling here, all created by farm-machinery repairman turned folk artist Vollis Simpson.

park overview

Mr. Simpson began making whirligigs at his farm in Wilson County when he was near retirement age and kept at it until a few months before he died in 2013 at age 94. Before his death, a plan had been hatched to preserve his work by moving it to downtown Wilson.

whirligig creator

The visitors that once flocked to Mr. Simpson’s farm to view the whirligigs now come to Wilson, helping to revitalize downtown.

The day of my visit, I wandered for quite a while in the whirligig park under an almost-hot April sun, taking picture after picture. Beneath each windmill-like sculpture, a title is posted, related no doubt to features of the whirligig. Do you think these whirligigs are aptly named?

Reflector Box

christmas tree

Christmas Tree

dive bomber duck

Dive Bomber Duck

tricycle globe

Tricycle Globe

Somehow I missed the name of one of my favorites. I’ll call it Sawing Logs. A lady in our group said she’d seen this whirligig in a stiff breeze with the crosscut saw moving briskly back and forth and the dog’s tail wagging.


There’s an interesting urban legend connected to the whirligigs. When my daughters were in high school, I’d hear them talk about visiting a place called Acid Park. They were cruising over to Wilson to view the whirligigs, which at the time were at the Simpson Farm.

They thought the whirligigs had been created to honor a daughter who’d died in a car wreck after having done LSD. The story was that Mr. Simpson had dreams of what his drugged daughter had seen on the night she died and set about creating these images. In reality, Vollis Simpson did have a daughter, but fortunately she is alive.

The truth is the whirligigs were created by a man who had a lot of spare parts left over from his days as a farm machinery repairman combined with a lot of spare time when he retired. Add to that a whopping talent for creating fascinating, gigantic, outdoor folk art.

The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park is definitely worth a trip to Wilson.


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This Old House: Final Installment

Five historic districts visited with two to go, Villa Place and Lincoln Park. I was already familiar with Villa Place, but I had to use MapQuest to locate Lincoln Park.

Villa Place was featured on a walking tour I took a while back, so I knew right where to find this lovely historic neighborhood tucked away near villa place historic signdowntown Rocky Mount. Developed from about 1900 to 1949, many Villa Place homes are on the well-known streets of Pearl, Nash, and Grace.

Probably the most impressive and recognizable home in Villa Place is Machaven, a National Registry Property built in 1907-1908 in the 300 block of South Grace Street.

I remember my young nephew falling in the goldfish pond on the front lawn of this house at a wedding reception years ago. The house has been idle for some years now but is currently being renovated and supposedly will be open to the public again for various functions. I certainly hope so. I’ve missed Machaven.


Another landmark in Villa Place is the James Craig Braswell School. According to the Rocky Mount Historic District website, the 1940 two-story brick structure was designed by Rocky Mount architect Harry J. Hades and built by contractor D.J. Rose. Do you know anyone who attended or taught at Braswell School? I do.

braswell school Just look at these colorful homes in Villa Place. I almost feel like I’m on Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina. I love, love, love the gingerbread trim on the porches of these Victorian-style houses.

rainbow road

Here’s another street view a couple of blocks away. The colors are more subdued on these large bungalows. There’s something for everyone in Villa Place!

villa place street

I gushed over this house at 304 Pearl Street in a column I wrote for the Rocky Mount Telegram a few years ago. I now know it’s called the Mary Thomas Bullock House and is considered to be a wonderful example of early twentieth century Queen Anne style. In another life, I can picture myself sitting on that wraparound porch with a glass of lemonade, chatting with neighbors walking by on the sidewalk.

304 pearl

Of all the historic districts I visited, Lincoln Park was the only one I was totally unfamiliar with. Why did I not know the story of this area?

Located off Leggett Road near two public parks, Stith-Talbert and Martin Luther King Jr, the historic-designated part of Lincoln Park consists of homes mostly on the Ellison Drive loop.

The historic marker tells how the neighborhood came to be developed.

lincoln park sign

Yes, to quote the sign, “The neighborhood was the first housing district designed in Rocky Mount to cater towards middle class African-Americans seeking opportunities to become homeowners.”

The houses are mostly modest affairs, built between 1948 and 1953 during the post World War II boom years. The Rocky Mount Historic Districts website describes the style as Minimal Traditional.

800 ellison drive

Fancy awnings make the home pictured below stand out. And what an inviting front stoop. It’s also interesting that this front stoop doesn’t face the street; rather, those ornate awnings do.

fancy awnings

This home uses partial brick for siding. With the Tar River behind it, the house sits on a slight incline. I imagine the backyard slopes down to the river.

brick house with siding

As with almost all the historic neighborhoods I visited, Lincoln Park had a few abandoned houses. Is that a central chimney I see in this house? Wouldn’t it make a cute home for a young couple or a retiree?

better days

Speaking of abandoned, the Lincoln Park Motel and Restaurant are but faded reminders of former glory. Built in 1953 during the days of segregation, this landmark motel and restaurant did a booming business in their heyday catering to traveling African Americans.

The restaurant was known far and wide for its barbecue and also featured professional entertainers such as Mahalia Jackson and B.B. King. Wow.

800 carver place

I’ve had a great time exploring the seven historic neighborhoods of Rocky Mount: Edgemont, West Haven, Falls Road, the Mill Village, Central City, Villa Place, and finally, Lincoln Park.

If you live in the area, I hope I’ve inspired you to get in your car and drive around Rocky Mount. Find a historic district, park, and get out. Walk up and down the sidewalks. Get a feel for the history of Rocky Mount.

My blogs have been photo heavy and detail short, so if you’re wanting more specific information, google Rocky Mount Historic Districts. Also check out postings on Stepheny Houghtlin’s blog, Main Street Rocky Mount.


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This Old House/ This Old Town: Part 3

My third visit to Rocky Mount’s historic districts took me downtown or uptown, whichever term you use. The Historic District crowd calls it Central City.

Main Street is a main attraction here, or was in its heyday, but there’s a lot more to Central City, so much that I’m not doubling up neighborhoods today, but giving downtown/uptown its own entry. Also, most of what caught my eye wasn’t residential, hence the slash in the blog title to include “This Old Town.”

I began my tour at the north end of this district, where I took a picture of the historic Church of the Good Shepherd. This beautiful Episcopal church dates from 1877. Simple and classic, as many old Episcopal churches are.

church of good shepherd

From there, I drove south following Main Street to the Helen P. Gay Historic Train Station. When I traveled by rail the other year from Charlotte to Rocky Mount, this circa 1930 renovated railroad depot was one of the most impressive on the route.

train station

Not too far from the train station is historic Fire Station No. 2, built on Church Street by D.J. Rose in 1924. I’ve read the style is Mediterranean Revival. What an elegant public building.

fire station 2

Located beside the fire station at 416 South Church Street is the circa 1895 Summerlin House. According to the Rocky Mount Historic Districts website, this “two-story Queen Anne-style house is the only surviving dwelling constructed during Rocky Mount’s 1890s boom period on Church Street….” As you can see from the boarded-up windows, it needs a loving owner to restore its former glory.

summerlin house

Speaking of renovation, I’d love for the old Masonic Temple, circa 1927, to be turned into a theater or dinner club, maybe a musical venue. I’ve always been fascinated by this building, partly because the Masons themselves seem so mysterious to me. The Egyptian Revival architecture of the building also adds to its allure.

masonic temple

The old Central City post office is another imposing structure. Located across the street from the downtown campus of Edgecombe Community College, this beautiful limestone structure no longer deals in mail. Instead, there’s a sign in front that sounds like an invitation to developers.

post office


sign at post office

No trip to Central City would be complete without mentioning the railroad track that acts as the dividing line between Nash and Edgecombe counties. Coming back from the Edgecombe side, I got caught by a passing train, as has happened to me many times over the years.

Oh well, sometimes it’s good to sit still on a Saturday afternoon and watch box cars slowly passing by.

train track

I’ve heard people say they don’t feel safe in downtown Rocky Mount. I parked my car in several locations, got out, and walked around to take the pictures above. I never felt any sense of danger. Just a feeling of being one of the few people hanging out in an area that I’d love to see as alive as it once was.

Coming soon: the final installment to This Old House, the historic neighborhoods of Villa Place and Lincoln Park.









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