Tag Archive | North Carolina

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Can you enjoy a book and still find it incredibly flawed?

Kya Clark is a young woman who grows up alone in a swamp on the coast of North Carolina.  Over time in her early childhood, one by one, her mother, four siblings and father all leave until, at the age of 7, she finds herself utterly alone in a cabin without electricity or running water, fending for herself.  The truant officer makes a halfhearted attempt to bring her to school, and a few strangers become friends and teach her what’s necessary to survive in the world.  Against all odds, she finds love, and establishes a successful career as a wildlife/naturalist author.  It’s all romantic, and beautiful, with just enough tragic heartbreak to draw the reader in.

Where the Crawdads Sing

The problem is, none of it could possibly be real.  There’s just too much suspension of disbelief required to truly immerse yourself in the story.  Her mother and older siblings all walked away from their abusive husband/father, and not one of them thought to take the 5 year old with them?  The truant officer and whatever city/county government she worked for, didn’t think it was important enough to find and place a 7 year old living alone in a swamp into foster care?  A 14 year old could learn how to read using complex textbooks and almanacs with only a rudimentary amount of tutoring from another, slightly older, child?

And perhaps the biggest one…  Not one, but two men, from privileged upbringings in town, ignore the peer pressure from their family and friends and fall in love with Kya on her turf, out in the swamp.  Admittedly, she is a side dish for one of them, which is certainly the more believable, but seriously?  Life doesn’t happen that way…  Don’t even get me started on how an unknown in the publishing world happens to miraculously get Kya a multi-book deal that yields enough of an income to sustain her for the remainder of her life.

That said, the author’s descriptions of nature and Kya’s response to her surroundings are superb.  And the story moves quickly through.  In fact, perhaps the plot twist at the end move through a bit too quickly, but I won’t give it away…

3 stars. 

The Grand Tour – Day 2 – Downtown Asheville!

After leaving the Biltmore Estate, we went into downtown Asheville to check out the local flavor. It was actually a lot like home, certainly a bit different than other Southern cities I have visited. I hadn’t heard much about Asheville except that is was a cool city, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  There were lots of hippies and tattooed, pierced people with dyed black and pink hair, and several crystal (the spiritual stones, not meth) and head shops.

Downtown Asheville

Asheville Side Street – So Quaint!

We wandered around for awhile and looked in the galleries and bookshops and eventually settled down for dinner at a restaurant called The Market Place. Our meal was amazing! Chef William Dissen’s goal is to make healthful food that is locally sourced, and he succeeds! If you ever have an opportunity, GO TO THIS RESTAURANT! I had the wood grilled coulotte steak, duck fat fingerling potato hash, local farm egg, and house made thyme ketchup. My steak was so wonderfully tender! Jon had the Wreckfish, with caramelized mushrooms on a bed of Swiss chard.  Wreckfish is so named because they are frequently found in and around shipwrecks – I had never heard of this fish before – but they are apparently also known as Stone Bass.  I paired my meal with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called The Seeker. It was so fantastic that Jon tried to trade his Chardonnay with me. I said no, so he had to order his own glass. We sat outside at our table near the sidewalk where it was warm but not hot, and enjoyed our meal. We felt a couple of raindrops, but it didn’t rain!  You can find The Market Place website here, if you want to drool over the other meals you can find there.

The Market Place Restaurant – Amazing Food!

Waiting for Dinner at The Market Place

Jon’s Wreckfish Meal

My Grilled Steak – YUM!

After dinner, we did some more wandering and then went back to our home for the night and had a swim in the pool. We horsed around like kids and swam laps, and watched some cable TV before bed. That’s a real luxury for us, since we only get limited cable at home!

The Grand Tour – Day 1 – Etowah to Asheville

When we last left off, we had just gotten to the Etowah Indian Mounds, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  Etowah was a native American village site as far back as 900 AD, which was used by the Mississippian culture (it got the name Mississippian culture because the first village sites they found from this culture of Native Americans were in the Mississippi River Valley). The culture built mounds for the village leaders to live on top of, and they erected structures of ceremonial significance on top of the mounds. The Etowah site has 3 mounds, and the rest of the site is the village site, where their daily living would take place. Excavations show several structures were on top of the two larger mounds. The smallest mound was a burial mound where they excavated and removed 330 graves. A lot of the artifacts that are on display in the museum are grave goods that they found during the excavation of Mound C. The state of Georgia has built staircases up the mounds so you can climb (or crawl, depending on your fitness level) to the top. The three mounds range in height from 63 feet (135 steps), 25 feet (46 steps) and 10 feet (34 steps – not sure why this one needed quite so many steps!). I counted the number of steps on the two smaller mounds, but I trusted the little boy who told me he had counted the steps on the largest mound.

Mound A at Etowah Indian Mounds

Me on the Steps of Mound A

Looking at Mound B from the Top of Mound A

The Etowah site also had a community square area at the base of the largest mound where people traded goods and played chunkey, which was a game played with carved stones that had ceremonial significance to the tribe. Players rolled disc shaped stones along the ground and then tried to throw a spear as close as possible to where the stone would stop.  Games of chunkey were played by warriors, and doing well elevated their status in the community.

The Mississippian culture is a bit of a mystery to archaeologists.  They know that the culture are ancestors of the Muscogee (Creek) Native Americans, and that the Creek consider Etowah to be on of their most important ancestral sites.  Trading occurred regularly here, and trade items as far away as California have been found at the site.  The culture is believed to have been a warring tribe and the site was set up with several defensive mechanisms – an orchard was planted in staggered rows to prevent enemies from shooting flaming arrows into the village, and a fortification wall was built around the village as well.


Two Marble Statues that were Found in Mound C

Two Marble Statues that were Found in Mound C

It was a hot and muggy day and it was a pleasant relief to head down to the river and into some shade. There we saw where the Indians had created a fish trap – a V-shaped line of rocks in the river. They would put baskets or nets at the point of the V to catch the fish (I will remember this strategy if I am ever stranded in the wilderness or marooned on a desert island – with a river of course!). The fish trap that we saw is a re-creation made like the ones that were found by the hundreds at various parts of the river, and it was neat to see, but it is only visible when the water level is low.

Recreation of the Fish Traps Used at Etowah

After leaving Etowah, we got back on the road to head to Asheville, NC. I thought that since we had been heading north, we could just continue on our way north to Asheville. Not so. We had to backtrack south and east through northern Atlanta to get to Asheville. And we hit rush hour traffic. So, at this point, almost no sleep was catching up with us, and we got into an argument… That was kind of a low point… Fortunately it didn’t last too long… (the argument… the traffic lasted FOREVER!) Once we were out of Atlanta well out of the traffic, we stopped along the way at the Jaemor Farm Market, where we split a BBQ pork sandwich and got some Hot Peach sauce and some Peach flavored licorice. Even though the licorice wasn’t local (it was made in Ohio) it was delicious. I figured it still counted as something I tried that I couldn’t get at home too!

Jaemor Farm Market – Home of a Great BBQ Pork Sandwich!

We headed into the mountains and saw all sorts of neat places – antique shops and little stores and things. Of course, they were closed by that point, so that will have to be another trip!  You could go camping and fishing and hiking…  It really seemed like a great area for a summer vacation, and one that we will certainly have to visit again.  Plus, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is in this area, and we eventually want to visit all of the 47 National Parks in the US.

By the time we got to Asheville, we were both exhausted zombies. We checked into our Best Western and went to the ingles grocery store (yes, I didn’t capitalize the i on purpose! – they didn’t either) and got deli salads for dinner.  We went back to the room, had our meal and some wine, watched a little TV and hit the sack, for a very good night’s sleep.

Planning for the Grand Tour of the South – 2012

Jon suggested that I include a post on the planning process for our vacation, so here I go…

We made the decision to visit the South because I wanted the opportunity to get back to see some of the more historical areas of our country. When you live in the Northwest, history is either the history of Native American settlements (which tend to be rather sparsely documented, due to the transitory nature of a lot of these settlements, and the fact that the tribes did not have a written language), or history of European settlement in this area that goes back at the very most about 150 years. In our city, the oldest building we have was built by George Pickett (of later Civil War fame) in 1856.  After that, there really aren’t any other homes until the 1880s. The Pickett House has been extensively remodeled/updated (although many years ago, and now it seems very dated – think flowery wall paper and old carpeting), and the Northwest weather has taken its toll, causing the home to smell significantly of mold. Oh my, I’ve already gotten off topic!

The George Pickett House – 1856

Interior of the Pickett House – Note the Floral Wallpaper

Jon, without my intervention, would plan every vacation to California, so I put my foot down several months ago and said that our next trip would be to Civil War Battlefields! Jon, although he loves history, wasn’t all that excited about a trip of exclusively Civil War battlefields (I’ll keep working on that though), so there had to be other historical interest in the places we picked. That wouldn’t be difficult, considering anyplace with Civil War battlefields will have other historical sites too. We settled on seeing Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. I had been to Savannah before, and loved it, and had been to Charleston for one afternoon, but have always wanted to see more. We originally planned to fly into Charleston, but plane tickets there were running about $650 per person! Savannah was about $100 less per person, but still pretty pricey! So, we settled on Atlanta, where we could save almost $300 per ticket and rent a car for $240 for nine days.

As for the rest of the itinerary… We pondered the Biltmore Estate for awhile before we decided to drive out of our way to see it. Asheville isn’t really on the way to anything from Atlanta (unless maybe you are heading to Knoxville, Tennessee), but the Biltmore is one of those ‘bucket list’ places for tourists, especially history nerds like me. Plus my mom was enthusiastically encouraging the Biltmore detour, since she has always wanted to see it too!  And Andersonville National Historic Site. I know many of you will find that morbid, but you can’t be a Civil War buff without having an appreciation for all aspects of the war, and certainly the Civil War was bloody and gruesome even without POW camps. I had an interest in seeing it when my mom and I visited Georgia in 2004 and didn’t, so I figured I shouldn’t pass it by again.  I knew that would be a lot of driving, but Jon says he likes to drive!  And I’m always willing to drive too, although he rarely lets me.  So with those being the four corners of our exploration route, we were set!

As for lodging – obviously, I would love to do a trip where I stay in all historic hotels in the historic areas of all the cities I visit. Spa massages and gourmet meals would be on the wish list too… But until I get that anonymous benefactor, we’ll have to continue to compromise. We decided we would stay just outside downtown Charleston, and in the historic district in Savannah. While researching hotel options, I also found a neat historic hotel that was reasonably priced in Americus, Georgia too, so that went on the list too.

Jon isn’t that great about deciding what he wants to visit, but I knew that if I did too much of one thing, he would start to rebel. I could do every historic home tour I come across, but for Jon, he gets trompe l’oeil and antique furniture burnout. So I tried to find a mix of different things along the way. Native American history sites, Civil War stuff, and some nice antebellum architecture thrown in too.  And National Parks.  With some good food and wine. And some ghosts. So I researched, and gave Jon some options, and he said he didn’t care, so I picked! For the most part, we stuck with the original plan even! Except I planned to go swimming more (but it was the rain that changed my plans)! So stay tuned for future installments of the 2012 Grand Tour of the South!

The Hiatus…

Don’t worry, loyal blog readers… (all half dozen of you!)  I have not abandoned you!  Jon and I took the last 9 days to do a “Grand Tour” of the South, with visits to the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. I had intended to do some mini blogs along the way, and get some comprehensive posts ready for when I got home, but karma had its own plan.  Jon’s laptop bit the dust on the first day of the trip!  And since it is pretty tough to type much on my Kindle, we ended up with a rather low-tech vacation!  I had brought a paper (paper of all things – CRAZY!) journal with me, so I took notes and started devising my blog posts to share all of our adventures!

So bear with me as I sort dirty laundry and try to get the spray on sunscreen stains out of my ivory sweater (yes, that was another minor mishap…) and I promise I will transcribe and photo-accessorize our entire eclectic vacation itinerary to share with you.  Lots of history, dead people (ghosts and otherwise) great food, long drives, full memory cards (and a bit of a panic when the new one didn’t work!), thunder and lightning storms, and sore feet but no sunburns!  Small towns, big cities, merchants, slaves, soldiers, and some Native Americans!  We had it all!  I just need to do a lot of typing and uploading of photos.

Just let me unpeel this cat from my lap so I can start another load of laundry first…