The end of the road.

I am an incurable romantic and quite capable of being brought to tears by the most improbable of situations.  Today was one of those days where I have been reduced to a melancholy and teary reflection based on a decision that had to be made.  Today,  I parted company with Big Red, my well traveled, reliable suitcase.  Big Red was huge and clunky compared to the standards of today’s suitcases with over 6,400 cubic inches of carrying space.  His wheels were worn out, his retractable handle long ago succumbed to the indignity of duct tape and his zipper, twice replaced, had seen better days.   His ballistic nylon fabric, once deep red, had faded and he had actually suffered a mysterious burn somewhere and his sides were deeply worn along the edges.  After one long flight, he limped off the baggage carousel with a puncture and tear caused by some errant fork lift.  It couldn’t be repaired.

London was Big Red’s first trip in 1998 and one of the last in 2014.

Big Red had the good genes that came from the original line of Tumi Luggage.  He was built for the long haul with an internal frame that was sturdy and still light in weight.  That suitcase logged thousands and thousands of miles with me.  From the first transatlantic trip to London in 1998 when my son was spending his junior year abroad in college, to his last stint as a modest storage space for smaller bags and briefcases in the rented storage area of our current life, Big Red was serviceable.

If he could tell stories, one of his most interesting was likely to be the time he traveled on a misdirected itinerary all the way to the west coast, without me.  Carrying my business attire and presentation materials, the airline sent him to California where he spent a full three days, presumably bumming around the baggage areas of San Diego and Los Angeles before being returned to me at my hotel in Chicago.  As a result of the mistake, Big Red earned me a generous settlement from the airline when I was able to show that I needed new business attire for the meetings and two new St. John suits and a new pair of Ferragamo shoes came home with us from that stint.  As of today, Big Red joins the suits and the shoes in the “liberated stuff” department.

Rocamadour, France with Big Red.

For nearly two decades, London and Paris and Munich would have appeared on Big Red’s itinerary along with the annual vacations to Wyoming.  Big Red saw the beaches of Maui, the wild beauty of Nova Scotia, the rainforests of Washington, the cherry blossoms of the nation’s capitol, the redwoods, and the red rocks of Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon.  Big Red carried clothing for vacations and business trips and weddings, and anniversaries, and funerals and graduations.

Among our friends, Big Red had earned quite a reputation.  When fully loaded, he would have been over the weight limits for checked bags today.  It wasn’t unusual for me to ask for help from travel companions to get him into and out of the trunk of a rental car, or up the stairs to a second floor walk up, or across the gravel walk ways to our cabin at the Triangle X.  Big Red began airline travel before 9/11 when his wheels were new and shiny and getting through airports was a breeze.

Triangle X and the Tetons made easier with Big Red.

Later he suffered multiple examinations after being pulled out of line by zealous TSA inspectors at baggage check points who found his dozens of pockets and inside zippers and garment carrying compartments the potential mother lode of secrets.  Aside from one unfortunate example of poor decision-making on my part when packing in Key West, he was rarely hassled for more than a minute or two.  But that’s a story for another time.

Big Red was preceded in my life by a hard-sided, yellow Samsonite suitcase that also served me for 20 years.  He was considered high tech and flashy when new and worth every bit of what he cost.  He was retired from airline travel when we took to the road in 2014 and by that time, he had little stamina left in him.  He spent the last 4 years in the climate controlled environment of the storage facility here in New Hampshire and this was the year of further cleaning out and letting go as the momentum of change continues in our lives.  Big Red is a wonderful metaphor for what is new in our lives on the road.  It used to be he would transport our personal necessities from our bricks and mortar abode to the temporary domicile of a hotel or friend’s place and then back, always.  Now, both our personal necessities and our abode are with us always.  We aren’t leaving with the former to a distant location and then circling back to the latter.  It is all one and the same on this pilgrimage.

And so today, I released him, so grateful for his companionship and service over the decades.  After all, the one thing we can all count on in life is change.

 

 

 

Advertisements

New England around the 4th of July.

The Ashuelot River runs along the border of our campsite in Swanzey, New Hampshire. The summer season is an especially glorious time to be here.

When it comes to the most beautiful places we have seen in our travels, there is little that can compare to an early July morning in verdant New Hampshire.  It was one of the things I loved most about my decades living in the Granite State and it is shear indulgence to be able to selectively return when the climate here outdoes itself feeding the soul.  We had booked a full four weeks at Ashuelot River Campground for our summer address and under the caring attention of Chuck and Laura, we are thoroughly enjoying our seasonal home. Continue reading

Eating our way through the South.

The happy epicure, here in Savannah awaiting biscuits at Back in the Day Bakery.

One of the delights of our travels is we occasionally treat ourselves to eating out and sampling the local cuisine.  We are pretty picky in our choices and since Peter is such a wonderful cook, our standards are high.  Last fall, we sampled perhaps the best of Southern fried chicken in a funky place called the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi where the proprietor, Mr. D, comes by occasionally to serenade his stuffed and very happy customers.   What made it special?  The sheer lightness and crispiness of the batter, which served to lock in the tender and flavorful chicken which was fried hot in a cast iron skillet. This place does chicken right.  Our time in Abbeville, Louisiana included some étouffée that was ethereal, so rather than try to compare those highlights, we opened the horizons to new experiences of some traditional dishes with new flair. Here is an eclectic mix of some of the highlights from Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina.

At Belfords, Peter prepares to indulge in one crab cake Benedict, and. half a fried oyster po’boy. We shared!

First in Savannah, the crab cakes Benedict were amazing at a place called Belfords on Franklin Square.  The crab cakes were moist, perfectly flavored and rich with tender crab meat (very little breading).  They were topped with a perfectly poached egg and Cajun remoulade sauce with just a touch of heat.  Peter ordered a fried oyster po’ boy, just because, and loved every decadent bite.

I’ve been researching the best buttermilk biscuits, one of the traditional of Southern foods that are hard to get right and easy to mess up.  In Savannah, we headed to a beautiful little bakery called Back in the Day.  It came highly recommended and so we wandered over one Sunday morning.  One of their specialities is buttermilk biscuit breakfast sandwiches and they did not disappoint. The biscuits are perfectly made and light and flavorful.  The compact egg frittata, with cheddar cheese, was flavored with a touch of thyme.

Lemon scone, glaze, and pistachios from Back in the Day Bakery.

Later, I found out that the owner-baker was nominated for the James Beard Outstanding Baker award.  In addition to the buttermilk biscuit, the lemon scone topped with pistachios is beyond belief.  This place is worth the stop.

As New Englanders, we know a lot about ice cream and Peter will happily remind folks that we native Yankees are known to consume more of the delectable dessert than those in any other part of the country.  So when my well-traveled sister (a resident of Connecticut, one of the original thirteen colonies) recommended the ice cream at Leopold’s in Savannah, we paid attention.  The ice cream parlor is great fun with movie posters and kitschy decor, including a telephone booth, and the first time we went by on a Sunday, the line was a half a block long and we decided this is why we were staying for four days.  We returned on Monday and with no wait.

Enjoying the Lemon custard ice cream at Leopold’s.

One of their hallmark flavors is called Lemon Custard, which is rich lemon ice cream with fresh lemon zest and subtle lemon flavor.   The winning recipe is unchanged since 1919 and I can see why.

So while we are on ice cream, let me share the experience of the amazing Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Charleston, South Carolina.  Located in the hip neighborhood of King Street the store is filled with display cases of the fabulous and very unusual flavors of Jeni Britton Bauer who started making ice cream in Columbus, Ohio in 2002.  What distinguishes her ice cream is the unusual combination of flavors, the delectable nature of the ingredients, high in butterfat and low in air, which are creamy and rich and not filled with sugar or thickeners.  The flavors change with the seasons as fresh fruits change.

Half-scoop samples of coffee chocolate chip, lavender berry, and Savannah buttercream mint at Jeni’s.

On our first trip (yes, we made two distinct visits!), it was brambleberry crisp which is made with brambleberry jam laced with tasted oat streusel in rich vanilla ice cream.  Then it was a smooth lemony, rich cream laced with what I remember as after dinner mints. Oh my.  Jeni’s has begun packaging these dreams from heaven in pints which are now available through the country, but I’m not sure if that is good news, or not!

Peter’s quest around the South was for fried oysters and after the po’ boy, it was lunch at Amen Street Fish and Raw Bar in downtown Charleston.  These fried oysters were light and tender and there was nothing left over. On a gorgeous, spring day, we walked from the restaurant to the lovely Waterfront Park and its iconic Pineapple Fountain which apparently doubles as a wading pool for residents during the heat of summer.

Grilled shrimp in butter and garlic on fried grouper at Seewee’s Restaurant.

The fried oyster sampling culminated (at least to date!) at a funky roadhouse called SeeWee Restaurant north the city in Awendaw.  The decor alone in this restaurant that’s been serving southern home cooking for decades is worth the trip.  The food was up to the locals’ recommendation.  The fried oysters were great and my grilled local shrimp on top of fried local grouper was equally tops.  So much food was served that we took it home and re-heated for lunch the next day and it was just as tasty.

We headed up next to Wilmington, North Carolina and decided to tour the riverfront downtown along the Peace River.  In the process we tripped upon a place called The Peppered Cupcake, which apparently is known for its remarkable tiny cakes.  We have a world class pastry chef in the family (one of my sisters) so we are accustomed to some of the best in buttercreams, ganache, and light cakes.

Rose water buttercream raspberry cupcake from The Peppered Cupcake.

Let me say that this place is amazing.  First of all, the little restaurant is comfortably air-conditioned and that is a first clue as to the attention of the owner-baker.  Climate control makes for superb buttercream chemistry and texture. Second, the little cakes are gorgeous to look at, each one a tiny masterpiece that one hesitates (but only briefly) to destroy.  And third, the taste which is often an unusual combination of ingredients. It’s called The Peppered Cupcake because of the addition of peppers and chilis that are used in some of the recipes.  In addition to that, the offerings include coconut buttercreams, and brownie chocolate ganache and the devine rose water raspberry.  We fully intended to eat one in the sweet little Victorian shop and take the other two home but the poor dears never had a chance to make the trip after we tasted the first morsels.  Besides, it was too warm a day and the buttercream would have been stressed out.  Really.

Ending this Mother’s Day post with a variety of chocolate offerings including mocha, peppered mango, and coffee buttercream from The Peppered Cupcake.

 

Peter and Liz continue their gastronomic sampling through North Carolina and Virginia as they work their way around the South in their Airstream.

 

 

 

(Savannah) Georgia on my mind.

Our home in Savannah was the spectacular Skidaway Island State Park with long leaf pine and towering oaks.

We both needed the four days of delectable sleep and complete rest that we experienced outside of Gainesville, Florida at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. As when waking from a long night’s deep sleep we moved slowly and intentionally, first sitting symbolically upright and then consciously putting our feet firmly on the ground, exhilarated to find all our parts still in working order. Continue reading

Spring cleaning before heading north.

The tools from the spring cleaning tool belt. All that is missing is the baking soda, already in the frig.

Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning.  It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting.  Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to  the no-turning-back process.  The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of  baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.

Continue reading

Collecting pottery shards of our pilgrim life.

Pottery shards in situ. Photo credits: oldpueblo.org.

A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico.  These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park.  Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.

 

Continue reading

Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading

The Steinway piano of Estero, Florida.

The 1885 Steinway concert piano, with 85 keys, on the stage of the Art Hall.  Thank you Ann Mangan for the photograph.

On Friday, February 23, something grace-filled occurred at the Art Hall at the Koreshan Unity Settlement. A little after 2:00 pm, concert pianist Bella Gutshtein, sat down to play the 1885 Steinway piano. Before she put her hands on the keys of this concert piano, she urged her small audience to remember that in the face of whatever darkness we may have in our lives, music and beauty can offer light. Then, she breathed life into a few movements of a Brahm’s piano concerto, and I was aware of the extraordinary gift of grace that I had received. Continue reading

Heading toward the sunrise from Utah to Florida.

Our campsite in Estero, FL with new Christmas plantings and flamingos in festive attire.

Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season. Continue reading

Across Nevada to Escalante and Boulder, Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Rabbit bush in full fall colors in Nevada.

In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery. Continue reading