#87: New England Clam Chowder

Bowl of ChowderI love clam chowder. I live in South Carolina. Therefore, I made it a goal to order clam chowder at least once while in Massachusetts.

[Side note: I also ate lobster for the first time that I can remember while there. I ordered a lobster sandwich from Panera. It was divine. And special that I ate lobster for the first time in Massachusetts.]

Back to clam chowder. I managed to enjoy a cup of chowder three times: once in Salem at a restaurant called The Lobster Shanty, once in Concord at Walden Grille, and once in Cambridge at Legal Sea Foods, which Dr. Sepko recommended. Her husband Ken declares that Legal makes the best chowder ever.

I agree. It was superb! So good that I almost had a quart shipped home to Dad in South Carolina. So good that I’m demanding that my family go to Atlanta soon, since that’s the closest Legal Sea Foods to where we live.

While the chowder in Salem and Concord was delicious, they were still no match for the chowder at Legal. That combined with the amazing fish and chips I ordered made that meal the best one we had the whole week. I heartily recommend that if you’re ever in a town where there’s a Legal Sea Foods, GO! It may be the best meal you’ve ever had. 🙂

#45: Boston

Although Harvin, Ticcoa, and I said for weeks that we were “going to Boston,” in reality, we only spent one full day in the city. But what a day it was!

Our activities in Boston included walking the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile long walk that connects 16 stops important in the founding of our nation. We didn’t go to every stop, but there were some cool ones:

1. The trail starts at Boston Common, America’s oldest public park. It’s big and beautiful and right in the heart of Boston. Lots of green grass, the Frog Pond, and expensive parking. We wandered through the park, took a few pictures, and moved on to the first big stop.

revere's tomb2. Granary Burying Ground. Paul Revere is burried here. John Hancock. Samuel Adams. Ben Franklin’s parents. The five victims of the Boston Massacre. It’s really an impressive place, just a few blocks away from Boston Common. Old, crumbling tombstones; dirt paths; steeped in history. I love graveyards, especially when cool people are buried there.

3. Next was King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground. The graveyard actually came first, and the church was built later. In literary history, King’s Chapel is important because it’s where Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale were buried in The Scarlet Letter. Sadly, they’re not real, but it’s another great little, old cemetery.

boston massacre4. We also saw the site of the Boston Massacre, just outside the Old State House. A ring of bricks marks the spot where the five men died.

Near the massacre site is also the visitors’ center for the Boston National Historic Site, which encompasses most of the spots on the Freedom Trail. I bought cool postcards there. 🙂

cheers5. Fanueil Hall was an awesome place, if only for the marketplace near the old building. A replica of the Cheers bar is there; Chris demanded that I stop in and buy him a t-shirt. My dad also appreciated my stopping in, as well.

Fanueil Hall Marketplace is an impressive building. Food vendors sell all sorts of international cuisine. I ate Thai food–delicious! Coa enjoyed a lobster roll and Harvin a seafood wrap. Good, inexpensive food.

paul revere house6. We visited the Paul Revere House, too–the only house museum on the Freedom Trail. It wasn’t that great, really. Just four rooms housing some artifacts from Revere’s life. But it was a self-guided tour with little signs and descriptions on everything. Not the best museum we’ve been to, by far.

north church7. The best stop on the trail, and one of our best of the week, was the Old North Church, where the lanterns were hung to warn the colonists about how the Patriots would be entering Boston: “one if by land, two if by sea.” We arrived at the church in time to hear a great tour guide give a talk about the real history of the hanging of the lanterns. Revere was the one to give the order to hang the lanterns, but he never actually hung them–he headed off in the direction of Lexington and Concord to warn those residents.

newman windowA young man named Robert Newman was one of the two men to hang the lanterns in the church. They climbed up to the belfry to get the lights as high as possible, and when they emerged at the bottom after taking the lamps down, the British had already entered the church. Newman and the other man leaped out of the windows to escape. A replica lantern now hangs in the window known as the “Newman window.” One of the actual lanterns is housed in the Concord Museum, which we saw later in the week, and we also visited the site where Paul Revere was captured just outside of Boston. More about that later, though.

poe birthplacePoe, darling Poe, was also born in Boston. The boardinghouse where he was born is now a coffeeshop or something similar. There is a plaque on the building, though. We stopped to take a picture.

Boston is really a spectacular city. So much history, surrounded by so much urban development. It’s a pedestrian’s city, too–they’re fearless! They’ll just walk out in front of traffic, knowing that they’ll stop. I had to work up the courage to cross, even when the don’t walk sign was lit.

It’s a city I’d very much enjoy living near, but living in the city would be a nightmare, I think. I don’t have the courage–big cities still frighten me a bit. 🙂

There’s one other part of Boston I saw, that I’ll talk about later, since it was a special item on my list. I stood outside Fenway Park. It was a beautiful thing. 🙂

New England Trip Day 3: Salem, Massachusetts

Our first full day in New England, we headed to the great little seaside town of Salem, which is, of course, most famous for the Witch Trials that took place there in 1692. And, boy, do they play it up. There are so many museums dedicated to witch history, but we only visited one–supposedly the best and most visited–the Salem Witch Museum. It was fun, for the most part–not as kitschy as I expected. The first part was a dramatic reading, of sorts, of the history of the witch trials, and then we walked through a section of the museum detailing the portrayal of witches throughout history.

After leaving that museum, we wandered through Salem Common, played on the swingset a bit, and then headed to the Engine House Restaurant for what promised to be the best pizza in Salem. We were not disappointed.

derby street booksThe best part of the day came after lunch. First we visited a half-priced bookstore with books stacked to the ceiling! It was surprisingly well-organized for a store with almost no shelves. And it’s certainly an adventure shopping for books when you’re a clutz maneuvering through narrow aisles with the constant threat of books falling on your head. It was here, however, that I found my copy of The Road, and it’s awesome to have such an adventurous story of buying what’s now one of my favorite books.

After leaving the bookstore, we drove to The House of the Seven Gables, which was one of our best visits of the entire week. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin once lived here, and while he was visiting the house (which only had 3 gables at that point) one day, she told him, “This was once a house of seven gables.” With that remark, his story of the curse of the Pyncheon family was born.

seven gables gardenSeven Gables is a beautiful place. The gardens are marvelous, and it sits right on the Salem waterfront, so one may sit in the garden and look out at the boats in the harbor. Ah…I wish I were there right now. Here we are in the Seven Gables garden, before the tour even started.

And, oh, the tour! The house has a lot of stuff original to the families that lived there. But perhaps the coolest part is that, a hundred or so years ago, when the house was first transformed into a museum, the owners added elements of the fictional Seven Gables in order to attract more guests. So, readers of the novel will note the room where Hepzibah Pyncheon would have sold her baked goods. While not original to the house, it’s still been there about a century, which is seriously cool. But the best part about the whole tour was the tiny, narrow, hidden staircase that was added behind a chimney. In the novel, Clifford maneuvers around the house and appears in the dining room from the story above, seemingly like a ghost. The owners added the staircase to show how Clifford could have been so stealthy. And we got to climb that staircase! It’s steep, dark, narrow, and a little scary. All of that equals awesome, though. Because I was standing closest to the chimney, I got to be the first to climb it, and when I arrived at the top, I burst out of the staircase gasping for breath. It’s confining, but the coolest part was just that I got to climb Clifford’s staircase. Yes, I’m a literary dork. 🙂

nathaniel_hawthorneAlso at Seven Gables is the Hawthorne House, the house where little Nathaniel was born in 1804. He only lived there a few years, but it was just the first of several houses that we got to tour that darling Hawthorne had lived in. Also, in the gift shop, I bought a poster-sized print of the Osgood portrait of the angelic, handsome Hawthorne. Soon, he will grace the walls of my room. Indeed.

custom house stepsBecause Seven Gables is so near Derby Wharf, we walked there after touring the house. First, we stopped by the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked and wrote much of The Scarlet Letter. I sat on the steps of the Custom House. Perhaps in the very spot where Hawthorne’s foot once touched as he walked into work one day.

derby wharfIf one sits on the steps of the Custom House, one will look straight down Derby Wharf, to the adorable lighthouse there. It was my first lighthouse outside of South Carolina or Georgia! So exciting! It’s an adorable little 25-foot-tall lighthouse, one of three small ones used to guide ships into Salem Harbor. Off in the distance, we could see one of the other two. Two lighthouses in Massachusetts in one day. Very awesome.

Salem really is a great little town. I thought it would be much more involved in the witch history, and while they definitely embrace it, the tourist aspect of it doesn’t take over the whole time. Salem is worthy of visiting on its own merit, beyond just its history. It really is a great New England, seaside village where people live everyday lives. However, I would definitely love to see it in October. I hear it transforms into a spooky little place then.

Salem also embraces its literary history. They seem quite proud of their most famous literary icon, Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are two roads there that can be confusing if one knows the history of the name–Hathorne St. and Hawthorne Blvd. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name in order to remove himself from the stigma of the Hathorne name–his great-times-something-grandfather was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials, and Nathaniel wanted to dissociate himself from the name.

Finally, at least, I’ll show you the massive Hawthorne statue on Hawthorne Blvd. It isn’t representative of the young, angelic, heartbreaker Hawthorne, but older Hawthorne was a distinguished-looking fellow.

(We really love Hawthorne, by the way. I love his work, particularly his short stories, but he seemed to be the author that evoked the most giddiness in all of us, as you’ll see in later posts. We even ran into a mother and daughter in Concord on our second day–we had all toured the Wayside together the day before–and she referred to us as the “Hawthorne girls.” I like that title.)

hawthorne statue salem

#78: Quote poetry at Poe’s grave in Baltimore.

poe portraitBesides reaching Maryland, a state that I had never before visited, which put me that much closer to reaching #41: visit all 50 states, visiting Poe’s grave in Baltimore was the first item I was able to mark off my list on this trip.

poe monumentOn Saturday, August 1, the second day of our New England Writers trip, we left Annapolis and stopped in Baltimore at Westminster Burying Ground, where Poe; his wife ,Virginia Clemm Poe; and his mother-in-law, Maria Poe Clemm, are burried.

Edgar A. Poe is one of my favorite authors–he has been since I first read “The Raven” in middle school. To see his grave in such an awesome cemetery was really an exceptional thing for me. The cemetery has this great brick walkways throughout, and the church that’s there was actually built after the burying ground, so a lot of the gravestones are sitting right next to the building, or even beneath the porch of the building. It’s a strange thing to find this, too, in the middle of Baltimore, with huge buildings so nearby.

The goal of this visit to Westminster wasn’t just to visit Poe’s grave, however. I had to quote something, too. And while I have significant portions of “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” and even “The Bells” memorized, the one poem that is my favorite is “El Dorado“–and at four stanzas, it’s a short one that I’ve had memorized for years.

I do have video evidence of this–the first time I have video proof of accomplishing something from my list. However, it’s stored on my brother’s camera’s memory card, and I won’t be able to access it for awhile. When I do, I’ll try to post it here.  It’s fun.

I’ll leave you with more pictures of Poe’s grave at Westminster, but if you’re a fan of Poe, be sure to check out the Edgar A. Poe Calendar, an incredible blog with great posts about important events in Poe’s life and literary history. It’s fabulous!

poe's grave

Harvin, me, and Ticcoa sitting at the monument. Note our two Poe dolls, given to us by Becky, and my Threadless shirt, Poetic Irony, which I bought specifically for this trip. 🙂

poe

Poe’s side of the monument. His wife and mother-in-law are on either side, and his image and name are on the front of the monument.

westminster

Westminster Hall

Additionally, on the trip back home, we stopped in Baltimore on Saturday, August 8, for dinner at Annabel Lee Tavern, one of the best restaurants I’ve ever dined at, and entirely Poe-themed. I had bison sliders (delicious!), with their fantastic sweet potato fries and bleu cheese cole slaw. Additionally, if you drink, they have cocktails named for Poe stories and poems–Harvin enjoyed the Annabel Lee.

annabel lee

The entrance to Annabel Lee Tavern in Baltimore.

#85: The Georgia Guidestones

georgia_guidestonesYesterday, Harvin, Ticcoa, Jess, and I took a relatively short trip to Georgia to see the Georgia Guidestones. A few weeks ago, I read an article in The Week about the Guidestones, and we decided to celebrate the 4th of July by learning how to survive the apocalypse. 🙂

A mystery surrounds the identity of the man who commissioned the building of the guidestones. The article in The Week is a very well-written, informative article outlining the history of the monument, so you should read that if you want more background.Essentially, this sixteen-foot-tall monument was erected in order to guide any survivors of the apocalpyse as to how to rebuild society. There are ten (very vague) guidelines etched in granite in 8 modern languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, and Swahili.

The guidelines:

GeorgiaGuidestones-407x699.jpe1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature. (For this to happen, at least 9 out of 10 people would have had to die in the apocalypse.)

2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity. (Goes hand-in-hand with #1? And “improve fitness and diversity”…are we controlling genetic factors now?)

3. Unite humanity with a living new language. (I’ve studied HEL…this will be almost impossible unless the only survivors speak one language. And this seemingly contradicts the 8 modern languages and 4 ancient one etched into the guidestones.)

4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason. (Head vs. heart? Ethan Brand, did you visit the guidestones?)

5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts. (Evidently, the creators of the guidestones believed in some higher power guiding justice and morality.)

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court. (World court? That’s sort of a scary idea. But I suppose if people manage to survive the apocalypse, anything is possible.)

7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials. (Who exactly decides what is petty and useless?)

8. Balance personal rights with social duties. (Okay. How?)

9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite. (The infinite what precisely? Still, I think this is my favorite of the guidelines.)

10. Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature. (So important, they had to say it twice.)

It was, of course, a fun trip. The Guidestones are only about an hour and a half away, in the middle of freakin’ nowhere Georgia. (Really, south of Hartwell, north of Elberton…lots of long country roads and farmland.) We listened to Muse’s Absolution album (really, is there another soundtrack more perfect? The first song is called “Apocolaypse Please”!). Jess regaled us with conspiracy theories about the impending apocalypse on Dec. 21, 2012, and encouraged us to join her on the floating island that will somehow survive. We got lost, but Harvin with her impressive directional skills managed to find her way back to civilization. And we followed the trip up with lunch at Applebee’s, where we requested to sit in the back corner of the restaurant, next to a big picture of Harry and Ron, and next to the kitchen, where we heard all the waiters talking and laughing; we also watched (and laughed hysterically at) a hot dog eating contest on ESPN while we waited for our food. Happy Independence Day, indeed!

We’re Off to Massachusetts!

In Spring 2008, I took a class at NGU called New England Writers. My roommate/BFF Harvin did, as well, and there we met Ticcoa, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We all took the class in anticipation of discussing great literature with one of our favorite professors (Yay, Dr. Thompson!) and then embarking on a ten-day road trip to visit the Mecca of the literary world, Boston, Massachusetts.

We planned. We researched. We dreamed. We devoured literature from New England. And then the trip was canceled due to a TON of different reasons.

But Ticcoa, Harvin, and I refused to believe that we would never make it to Boston. We kept dreaming and discussing. And we decided we’d go this summer. The trip-planning hasn’t been without it’s nail-biting moments, however. We moved the date back when I was potentially offered the chance to teach a summer school class (which eventually fell through). We’ve saved and searched for the best deals, wondering if it was possible to do this on our limited budgets.

Yesterday, I booked a hotel about 15 miles outside of Boston. We leave four weeks from today. And it finally feels real…my best friends and I will spend ten days on the road, exploring New England, stepping on hallowed ground where such writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Edgar Allan Poe lived and breathed, died and were buried, changed the world! For months, I’ve wanted this more than anything else. I’ve spent hours daydreaming about walking around Walden Pond, wearing my Threadless “Poetic Irony” shirt at Poe’s grave, taking photographs of the houses where some of my favorite writers lived.  For an English major, this will be heaven. And I’m going with two of my best friends. 🙂

What exactly will we be doing?, you may be asking yourself. Or, you know, perhaps not. I’ll tell you anyway.

At some point, on the trip up or back, we’ll be stopping off in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Poe Museum, and in Baltimore, Maryland, to visit Poe’s grave. POE’S GRAVE!!!!! One of my very favorite writers and a cemetery? Good grief, it will be spectacular!

On the way back, we’re also swinging through Hartford, Connecticut, to visit the Mark Twain House and the first school for the deaf (Coa’s passionate about the deaf community and American Sign Language).

During the six days we’ll actually be in Massachusetts, we have plans to visit Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Salem, and Amherst:

Boston is, of course, one of the most historic cities in America. We’ll walk the Freedom Trail and see where many of the event’s of our country’s history played out. The site of the Boston Massacre; Boston Common, America’s oldest public park; the site of the Old Corner Bookstore, where The Scarlet Letter and Walden were first published; Paul Revere’s House; the Old North Church, inspiration for Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And maybe I can sneak a glimpse of Fenway Park? (My fellow travelers HATE sports, so this might be difficult.)

Cambridge is home of the Longfellow National Historic Site, and we’ll probably take a walking tour of the town and spot the homes where famous writers (including Eliot!) at some point lived or visited.

Concord is pretty much the birthplace of American literature, and we’ll spend two days exploring that town. Emerson’s house; Orchard House, home of the Alcotts; the Old Manse, where Emerson, Hawthorne, and others lived at different points in time; the Concord Museum; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts are all buried; and, of course, Walden Pond.

Salem is, of course, most famous for the Salem Witch Trials, so we’ll visit the kitschy Salem Witch Museum. We’ll also tour the House of the Seven Gables, which includes the Hawthorne House and some other historical locations. And perhaps we’ll catch a meal at the Witches Brew Cafe? 🙂

Amherst is a few hours from Boston, but how can we go to Massachusetts without visiting the Emily Dickinson Homestead? The answer is, we can’t, so that will be our last day in Massachusetts before we head to Hartford. There’s also an Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books that we may visit if we have enough time.

That’s at least seven author homes, two cemeteries (and probably more), and one grand adventure. It’ll be an incredibly busy, hectic ten days. But I feel like ten days feeding our passion for literature and history will not be a problem at all.

I will, of course, be blogging as much as possible. And if you follow me on Twitter (or we’re friends on Facebook), expect me to be tweeting from every location. It will probably overwhelm your feed. You’re welcome. 🙂 But don’t worry, that’s still a month away.

This trip will be epic in so many ways–my first time leaving the Southeastern United States, my farthest road trip and longest vacation, and a chance to mark a number of items off my List. Boston is technically #45 on the List, but for months, it’s been the unofficial #1. Massachusetts, here we come!

#64: Biltmore

A few weeks ago, one of the English teachers and I were chatting at work, and she asked if I’d ever been to the Biltmore. I hadn’t, but it’s on The List, and she was shocked that I’d never been. Turns out she’s a passholder and had a few free passes to the Biltmore, which she gave to me. So Harvin and I went yesterday.

I really enjoyed it (of course!). It’s labeled “America’s Largest Home,” and it was built by one of America’s richest men during the Gilded Age. I expected it to be an ostentious display of wealth that would annoy me, but it was so beautiful and classy that I was mostly just mesmerized.

biltmore-libraryMy favorite room by far was the library. I actually did tear up when I walked in. It’s everything I could ever dream of in a home library–a huge globe, a spiral staircase, a massive fireplace, comfy chairs, and, best of all, two levels containing thousands of books!

Harvin and I also decided that we want to live in round tower bedrooms. Round rooms are just so much more fun than the square ones we live in now. And we’re going to ask Clint, our apartment’s maintenance man, if he’ll build us some gargoyles outside the apartment building. 🙂

After we toured the house, we ate lunch in the Stable Cafe, which has the best cornbread I’ve ever eaten. They also gave us eco-friendly paper straws, which I’ve never had before. It’s a lot different to drink water through a paper straw than a plastic one. So different that it’s worth mentioning in my blog about Biltmore.

We browsed the gift shops, too. I bought a lot of postcards in the Book Bindery, which also features books from tons of Appalachian writers–Thomas Wolfe and Joel Chandler Harris were, of course, the most interesting for us, since we visited both of their houses recently.

All in all, it was a really awesome day. I hung out with my best friend, exploring an amazing house and gardens. And I marked yet another item off The List.

Now it’s time to decide which one to tackle next…

#77: Thomas Wolfe

Yesterday had the potential to be just another boring rainy day. But we had plans. And while we considered letting the rain ruin those plans, we didn’t. I figure we’re not the kind of people to let a little water get in the way. And besides, rain can make things more fun, right? 🙂

Chris is reading Look Homeward, Angel for his Appalachian literature class. It was a perfect reason for us to do something we’d mentioned a few times: visit the boarding house in Asheville where Thomas Wolfe grew up.

old-kentucky-homeSo Harvin, Ticcoa, Chris, and I headed to Asheville yesterday afternoon in the foggy, dreary rain. We first went to “Old Kentucky Home,” the boarding house run by Wolfe’s mother.

Things I learned:

1. Wolfe had a terribly dysfunctional family–evidently, the kind that makes for good literature. I kinda want to read Look Homeward, Angel now after seeing the place and hearing some of the stories. Maybe this summer, when I’m not overwhelmed with other 20th-century American fiction to read.

2. Women are more morally upright than men. We never contemplate stealing things from a museum. And we never reach across exhibit displays and set the alarm off (even if we think about it). 🙂

3. Author home tour guides are generally very good. Our tour guide at the Wolfe Memorial, Patrick, was very professional and informative. He didn’t give us the quirky little stories that Nannie at The Wren’s Nest did, but that’s fine. He gave us a very good picture of Wolfe and his life at the boarding house and how that life influenced his literature.

After we left the boarding house, we headed out in search of Riverside Cemetery, where Wolfe is buried. The place is wolfe-gravemassive and wonderful! Things I learned there:

1. I was right–cemeteries are more fun in the rain. I got wet and slipped in the mud a few times, but the rain makes it more mysterious (in my opinion). Sure, maybe it wasn’t 80 degrees and sunny, but it was still tons of fun. [Note: This isn’t a photo from yesterday–it’s a lot gloomier in the rain.]

2. I’d like to be buried in a cool crypt when I die. One where innocent youth can climb on the roof, and the door can be left unlocked so they can explore. I mean, why else would anyone want to break into a crypt?

3. Make sure your friends know that O. Henry is a pen name. Sorry, Harvin. We spent a long time prowling a large section of the cemetery, only to discover that Harvin had been standing right near it, but because the stone said “William Sydney Porter,” Harvin didn’t realize it was the right one. But we finally found it. I sat on his grave. It was neat.

4. Gophers are scared of cars and people. They like to live in cemeteries and run into holes in the ground when they see a car speeding toward them.

5. There was a governor of NC named Zebulon Vance. Harvin thinks he looks like a cross-breed of a human and Chewbacca. And the name Zebulon? I can’t decide if I think it’s awesome or just weird.

So we finally left Asheville after that and went toward what we thought was Hendersonville. Things I learned during the rest of the trip:

1. Don’t trust Google maps. Always pull out my trusty N.C. map (or whatever state I happen to be in at the time) and double-check. It doesn’t take an hour to get to Hendersonville from Asheville. Chimney Rock is not on the way. But you know what? It was still fun. It’s a great drive through the mountains. And we listened to the entire Manchester Orchestra album while we drove, so that was awesome, too.

2. Thai food and sushi at a restaurant on Main Street in Hendersonville was a great idea! They had a Boston roll (avocado and shrimp)! But convincing Coa to try sushi wasn’t the best idea. While I’m thrilled Coa was adventurous enough (and trusted us enough) to try sushi for the first time, I’m very sad that Jess got mad because we were able to convince Coa to do something she could never do. I’m sorry, Leisters. Let’s have a re-do, shall we?

3. I need a GPS. Or a chauffeur. I’m directionally hopeless, but I’m glad you guys still let me drive often. When will we learn? 😀

Another adventure marked off the list. Another afternoon with great friends. Life is pretty great.

#76: The Wren’s Nest

It’s spring break at NGU, and for the first time, I have the entire week off. When I found out, Ticcoa and I started planning all these potential daytrips for this week, and she and I, as well as Harvin and Jess took one of them yesterday to Atlanta, GA.

wrens-nestThis beautiful home in Atlanta was the home of Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus tales (Brer Rabbit, the Tar Baby, etc.). Visiting this place was absolutely fantastic. Our tour guide was a 78-year-old woman, Nannie, who’s worked there for 13 years. She was funny, engaging, overflowing with Southern hospitality, and generally just a delight to be around. She gave us anecdotes from tours she’s given for school children; she also talked up the current executive director (who is 25 and a descendant of both J.C. Harris and Shakespeare) and strongly stressed his young age and English degree to us four girls :).

Seriously, the experience was fantastic. Nannie knows her stuff. We learned so much about Harris’ life from birth to death and about his writing (both journalistic and Uncle Remus). I won’t hesitate in saying that it’s the best author house/museum tour I’ve ever been on (including the one with the delightful Louise at Connemara last year!). I heartily recommend it, and I feel sure I’ll visit again (soon, hopefully…Nannie plans on retiring when she turns 80!).

After leaving the Wren’s Nest, we headed downtown to the Varsity drive-in for lunch. Delightfully retro. And they have great fries.

Next, we got lost with all the freakin’ roads named Peachtree in Atlanta! (And yes, I was driving. I knew we’d get lost…I can’t go someplace without getting lost, it seems.) But finally, we found the right one and headed to the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Midtown Atlanta.

Let me sum it up for you: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME! margaret-mitchell-house

After the fabulous tour at The Wren’s Nest, we hoped for an equally enjoyable experience at the Margaret Mitchell House. We didn’t get it. Our tour guide was, as Ticcoa lovingly dubbed her, an “off-putting cynic.” She preached about the younger generation’s rudeness with cell phones (when we made up half her tour group and had done nothing to provoke the lecture). She tried to be “hip” and use slang that would appeal to the younger generation. She gave more history about Atlanta itself than about Mitchell’s life and writing; in fact, about half the museum was devoted to Atlanta’s most famous native son, Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom I deeply admire…but I’ve seen his house…I was there for Mitchell!). We learned very little from the 50 minute tour, actually. I learned more from reading the displays inside the lobby than from touring the apartment where Gone with the Wind was penned. And, in fact, the apartment contains absolutely no authentic artifacts from Mitchell’s life. It’s an “interpretive museum” with furniture and such from the 20s and 30s when Mitchell and her husband lived there. And after awhile, our tour guide’s attitude and abrasive voice were exhausting. We left pretty disappointed in the whole Margaret Mitchell experience.

But despite that, I had a great time with my best friends. Any day where we can be nerdy English dorks and get excited about literature is a fantastic day. If that day involves miles of driving and a superior photographer, then it’s even better. And I got to mark off my 11th item from The List. Swell. 🙂

Never Say Never, and Don’t Wait Forever.

I, like so many other people, I’m sure, have this List. The List of Things to Do Before I Die. So important that I even think of it in capital letters. It’s not an uncommon concept, I’ve found. Mandy Moore’s character in A Walk to Remember had one. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in a movie entirely devoted to the concept.

I’ve had The List for years, saved in various Word documents or written on scraps of paper tucked in the back of old journals. But at the beginning of July, I made The List official. I compiled all the items onto one handwritten List that I’ve tucked in my current journal…one that’s devoted to the fulfillment of those dreams.

Six months later, that List has become almost mythical. It’s a guiding force in my life. When The List began, the 50 items that it contained were HUGE. All the big things I want to do in life–mostly travelling–a road trip down all of Route 66, a trip to the Outer Banks, living for a year in Hawaii. Other things like getting my Ph.D. and becoming a foster parent.

Since I first wrote the list, I’ve added 25 more items. It can no longer be contained on one single sheet of paper. And I’ve added more attainable things. I’ve found that if I really want to do something, but I worry that I’ll lack the motivation or that I’ll just get too busy, I’ll add it to the list. And then I’ll think, “If it’s on The List, I have to do it.” Things like going to a minor league baseball game or going to Chimney Rock. Both are small adventures that are easily accomplished. Both are included in the 9 items I’ve marked off since July. Would I have done them without The List? Maybe. Maybe not.

The List allows me to have a bit more planned spontaneity. For example, when I drove home for Christmas just last week, I stopped at Musgrove Mill Historic Site outside of Clinton. I’ve driven past the signs on I-26 for five and a half years and always wondered what it was. I looked it up online a few weeks ago and discovered that it was the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield. I wandered around the site for a little while, looked at some of the displays in the visitors’ center, and then drove a few more miles to hike several hundred years into the woods to a waterfall on the property, in the middle of nowhere. In the hour or so that I delayed my trip home, I marked two things off The List: Musgrove Mill and visiting a waterfall that requires slightly more effort than walking through downtown Greenville or driving onto the campus of NGU. 🙂

Even more than adding adventure to my life, The List has done something else. Having The List has taught me about myself. The things that are important. The things that aren’t. For example, just six months ago, my #1 was to live in Hawaii for at least a year. My goal was to save as much money as possible in order to move to Maui after getting my Master’s. Now, my future seems less focused. I’m back to seeing life in terms of semesters, and I’m not sure where I’ll end up after graduation. Here in Greenville, maybe. Maybe Maui. Maybe somewhere completely unexpected. I have no major plans beyond this next year, even. And my #1 goal from just a few months ago has been starred on the list, relegated to the status of “Things to Do If I Have Enough Time.” If I never move to Hawaii, I don’t think I’ll be heartbroken. I still have every intention of visiting, though. But having The List has shown me how priorities can change vastly in just a short period of time. Life happens.

The List has given me courage, too. Some of the items scare me. Things I want to do, and things I should do, but things that make me afraid. Having The List gives me, in a weird way, a sort of external self-motivation. I’m accountable to myself, in the form of The List. I think about the regrets I would have if I didn’t accomplish certain items. Even if they’re difficult or risky, most often, they’re worth it. It’s empowering and euphoric to do something that I never thought myself capable of.

In terms of My List, a milestone approaches. The Leisters, Harvin, and I have tentative plans to go to Stumphouse Tunnel in Walhalla sometime this week. When that happens, I’ll have marked my tenth item off the list. Very exciting. And I finally have a design in mind for a tattoo; I’m going to think on it for a little while longer, and then hopefully, that will be another item that will require a certain amount of courage. I’m a little worried about the pain, but I think it could be worth it, too. At the very least, it’ll certainly be an adventure. 🙂