Amana, Nauvoo and then Paris (Tennessee)

Our lucky charm, handmade with love by a dear friend, continues to grace T2.

Life on the road is full of unexpected occurrences.  There are the happy ones, like discovering the creamiest and richest peanut butter ice cream we’ve ever had (more on that later), or the warm hospitality of strangers (we’ll cover this below), to the stamina-building mechanical breakdowns like the one we experienced upon pulling into Paris, Tennessee.  Yes, gentle readers, we had an “event” and we continue to see how blessed we are.

In the way of background, since Wyoming at the end of September, we were making great progress on our Florida-bound journey zipping through Nebraska and Iowa, spending a few days visiting the Amana Colonies on our extended research into religious-utopian communities. The Amana Colonies definitely fit the former category.  The religious community was founded in Germany in 1714 when the leaders objected to the influence of the Lutheran church and advocated faith renewal through reflection, prayer and Bible study. Their belief, one shared by many other Pietists, was that God, through the Holy Spirit, inspired individuals to speak. This gift of inspiration was the basis for this religious group that became known as the Community of True Inspiration.

In the Amana Colonies, this building once served as a communal dormitory for women and now houses the Amana Historical Museum.

After years of religious persecution in Germany, they came to the United States in 1840s first going to Buffalo, New York and then headed west looking for more great agricultural land.  In 1855 they bought twenty-six thousand acres of rich bottom land along the Cedar River in southeastern Iowa. Over the century, they built a total six villages with over 1,500 church members. They initially lived communally, running their income-generating saw mills, textile mills, clockmaking and breweries. Children attended school six days a week, and fifty communal kitchens provided three meals daily to all the Colonists.  By 1932, the communal way of life was seen as a barrier to achieving individual goals, so rather than leave or watch their children leave, they changed. They established the Amana Society Inc., a profit-sharing corporation to manage the farmland, the mills and the larger enterprises including Amana Refrigeration (originally owned by the Amana Society now owned by Dakin Industries). Private enterprise was encouraged. The Amana Church was maintained and today claims 1,200 members, holding two services on Sundays, the first in German and the second in English.

The Church of Latter Day Saints, built this Temple, completed in 1846, and it faces directly west to the Temple built in Salt Lake City in 1893. The sculpture in front is of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyram Smith commemorating their final trip to Carthage, Illinois where they were murdered by vigilantes while in jail.

From there we headed to Nauvoo, Illinois the town most famous as the first major settlement of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  Nauvoo is a fascinating place in so many ways and the rich and controversial history of the town is well preserved by two religious groups, the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church) two denominations that share a common heritage in the Church of Christ founded by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830. Putting aside the sometimes dizzying complexities of which historical interpretation we were reading, the commonly held facts are these: Joseph Smith arrived in the sleepy town of Nauvoo, Illinois on the Mississippi River in 1839 after being driven out of both Ohio and Missouri.

Peter discovered on this trip to Nauvoo that Brigham Young’s mother, Abigail Howe from Shrewsbury, MA, and Peter have a common ancestor in John Howe, eight generations back. Here is Peter paying a visit to his cousin’s house in Nauvoo.

In a very intense seven years, the town of Nauvoo was built and prospered under its leaders.  In 1841, they began building the first temple on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River.  Unfortunately, relations between the newcomers with their puzzling religious beliefs and some residents in surrounding towns was filled with strife, suspicion and animosity. In 1844, it led to charges against Joseph Smith and his brother Hyram, some political (Smith was the mayor of Nauvoo), others theological, or social, and religious.  The two went to nearby Carthage where Smith faced charges for inciting a riot and after paying bail, he was then charged with treason, presumably so that he would be not permitted to leave.  Held in jail and with no protection, the prisoners were overcome by an angry mob, shot, and killed.   Smith had planned to move his followers into unsettled territory in Utah’s Great Basin where he hoped to be insulated from further harassment.  After Smith’s death, under the leadership of Brigham Young, the first 143 people left Nauvoo in February 1846 to blaze a 1,300 mile trail west, arriving in Utah in July 1847.  Over the next twenty years, 70,000 Mormons made the overland journey to their new Zion.

From Nauvoo we had planned to spend one night each in Illinois, Tennessee, and northern Alabama on our way to Montgomery, Alabama where we were looking forward to three nights at Gunter Hill, one of the Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds that we really like before entering Florida.  All of that changed (as things occasionally do living on the road) when we backed into our site at Paris Landing State Park.

A bad wheel bearing on the rear axle of T2 was the cause of our breakdown at a campground in Paris. The distinctive grinding sound is one we’ll never forget. Oh yes, and it was still under warranty. Thank you, Dexter Axle.

It was a paved site that required backing in uphill and to the right, not impossible but challenging enough after a long day on the road.  On the second attempt uphill, Peter cut the wheel to change the direction of the Airstream and I heard a peculiar sound, like rocks rattling around inside a hub cap.  We didn’t think much of it, neophytes that we are, until the next morning when we got up to head down the road to Alabama.  The “rocks rattling around” continued and as we pulled in to the dump station, one of the neighbors came over and said something like, “Well that don’t sound good!”.  Peter cringed and somewhat hesitatingly said he thought it might be a bad bearing and the guy nodded in agreement that it sure sounded like it.

Sunday morning in Tennessee there is no one around to talk to about a bad bearing.  We eventually found a mobile RV service but we were out of his service area and the people who covered us were off until Monday morning.  And so it began – the long wait for some expert help.  There was lots of good news.  We were able to pull T2 back onto the same site since no one had reserved it.  We decided to be as positive as possible since this was way out of our field of knowledge and we couldn’t even get in touch with our Airstream gurus on a Sunday.

Paris, Tennessee has built itself its own version of the Eiffel Tower, one of the many local sites we had the opportunity to visit in our extended time in the area.

By Monday when the RV mobile service came by he confirmed it was the bearing and in fact, it had actually chewed up the axle pretty seriously.  Airstream told us the axle was still under warranty (100,000 miles) but we would have to deal with the manufacturer directly and they pointed us in the right direction.  The folks at Dexter Axle Company were very helpful, that was the good news.  The bad news was they did not have an axle in stock for our 2015 model Airstream and they would have to make one.  The soonest it could ship would be Thursday, in other words three days from the time we called.  The RV repair service was just 1.5 miles down the road and they had a really nice repair facility and allowed us to have the axle shipped to them since they could do the replacement.

One full day to Nashville featured a visit to the brand new Tennessee State History Museum.

Crating up an axle results in a piece of freight that weights over 300 pounds and expedited shipment was going to be FedEX freight with delivery on the following Monday.  So in a situation reminiscent of our 2016 unanticipated long visit to Amarillo, Texas (we had a problem with the braking mechanism on the truck) we were going to be in this place for seven more nights.  We had to figure things out and spent the time doing some interesting things in the area.  Peter toured a Civil War Battlefield one day, we took advantage of one day in seven without rain to drive up to Nashville for lunch and a visit to the brand new Tennessee State History Museum.  The state-of-the-art gallery design, information, and technology was so impressive.  It was possible to walk through the museum and experience videos (all with closed captioning) that ran on a continuous loop in small galleries that were separated enough from one another that one could hear and not be overwhelmed by ambient noise.  Well done.

This buttercream-topped tres leches coconut cake didn’t last long with the two of us.

The visit to Nashville included brunch at a wonderful local farm-to-table restaurant called Marche Artisan Cafe.  The food was incredibly tasty.  Peter ordered a buttery Croque Madame and my omelette packed with fresh veggies was a winner.  We treated ourselves to a slice of coconut tres leches cake.  Wow.

We made a visit to a living history museum from 1850, called The Homeplace.   Situated in Land Between The Lakes, a National Recreation Area formed by reservoirs created by dams constructed on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.  The mixed-use region includes, in addition to the farm, the ruins of a blast furnace operation from the mid-1800s, and healthy-looking bison and elk herds.

At The Homeplace farmhouse we discovered these curiosities, carved turnips. Long before pumpkin carving became popular, Celtic people were carving turnips and lighting them with embers, to ward off evil spirits. Who knew?

Traveling through downtown Paris to do shopping one morning we came upon Sweet Jordan’s, a local favorite spot for yummy peanut butter ice cream and baked goods. We made a return trip just before we left town to taste their mint chocolate chip. Oh yeah.  One of the most memorable events of our time in Paris included spending a rainy Sunday morning in the gracious company of the folks at Grace Episcopal Church.  It turns out that this particular Sunday marked the farewell visit of the retiring bishop of West Tennessee, the Rt. Rev. Don Johnson, and the congregation was holding a potluck brunch honoring him.  We were warmly invited, and welcomed to the event and appreciated the open hearts and warm hospitality of these kind people.

After three and a half years on the road, our inaugural experience in parking lot boondocking occurred in Huntsville, Alabama at Cracker Barrell.

On Monday, October 15, after nine nights in Paris, and more pouring rain, the axle arrived. The good people at Little Eagle RV replaced our worn one with the new one.  We left the garage at 4:30pm and headed for the Alabama border in a very rare commitment to covering territory late in the day.  We pulled into Huntsville, Alabama, four hours later, found a Cracker Barrel and for the first time after 200 different campgrounds, we boondocked in the parking lot (having gotten permission from the manager).  What a way to end our unexpected adventure in The Volunteer State.  We are winding up this long post with this delightful urban sculpture (actually a bike rack) at the Nashville Farmer’s Market.  Now on the road to Florida.

Peter and Liz are heading to Florida and their winter volunteering at Koreshan State Park, as the pilgrimage to here continues. 

 

 

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Long gazing through Wyoming.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park was a welcoming and restful stop in Colorado Springs.

The morning of September 6 broke hard, clear, and cold as we headed north from Colorado Springs on the final leg of our trip to Wyoming.  Pikes Peak was dusted in snow from a brief encounter with winter, a prelude of things  to come.  At Fort Collins, we were at 5,000′ elevation but our ascent would continue as we headed north.  As I learned from John McPhee’s Rising from the Plains, southeast Wyoming is a tipping point of geological wonder, higher in elevation than the plains of Colorado to the immediate south and higher than the northern part of Wyoming. Continue reading

Enchanting New Mexico

We have had a love affair with New Mexico since we first came here thirty years ago, and crossing the border this time felt just as remarkable.  There were specific things we had on our itinerary and first was a trip to the town of Las Vegas, in the northeastern corner of the state where we were in search of a very special building.

The original “Big Cowgirl”oil painting  lived in our home in Keene for many years.

The story is that years ago, in our life back in New Hampshire, we had purchased a large oil painting by a Massachusetts realist painter named Randall Deihl.  For a decade, “Big Cowgirl” hung on the wall of our high-ceilinged condominium in Keene, reminding us of all things about the west that we loved.  There were lots of stories about the painting that had developed over time, but what we did know is that it was painted when the artist lived in Santa Fe in the 1990s, because he was inspired by a mural on a building in Las Vegas, New Mexico and we were on a quest to see if we could locate it. Continue reading

Adventures in paradise and various utopias. Part 1.

A visit to our friend Mark’s tiki bar which he constructed completely of repurposed materials. Wonderful!

On Sunday, we spent a glorious, lazy summer day with our friend Mark at his tiki bar, The Sunset Grill, on the shore of a lovely little lake in Brown County, Indiana.  The tiki bar is dedicated to a sense of escape from the ordinary and humdrum into a paradise that those of us of a certain age have populated with common, even if distinct, memories.  The tiki bars of our younger days often included a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet songs, and a kitschy decor of fishnets and buoys and mermaids and drinks with paper parasols.  The paradise of the tiki bar is unrelated to anything historically accurate and more like an island nirvana straight out of the imagination. Continue reading

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

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

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