Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Fleurs: Rain

We had the best rain last night. It rained all night long and it was so wonderful to fall asleep with the windows open and the sound of rain. This morning the sun is out, but I had to go out and look at my happy plants still soaking up those raindrops.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Newlyweds

I finally read this book which came out last year to great fanfare, and I really enjoyed it. It's about a young girl from Bangladesh, Amina, who has studied English and who has dreamed of living somewhere else. George is a lonely electrical engineer from Rochester, NY, who wants to buy a house and have a family. Amina and George meet on an online dating site, and soon they are emailing each other exclusively. When George flies to Bangladesh to finally meet Amina and her parents, it only takes a few days for them to decide to marry, with her parents blessing (who are also looking to emigrate to the United States).

The first part of the book takes place in Rochester, with Amina adjusting to life in the U.S. and marriage, and learning what it's like to be an immigrant. She gets a job at Starbucks, takes classes at the community college,  tries to fit in with George's family, and thinks about having a child.  But Amina can't imagine having a child without her parents nearby, so she starts planning and saving for their move to America, and trying to convince George that this is a good idea.

In the second half of the book, Amina has gotten her green card and she goes back to Bangladesh by herself to help her parents navigate the process of obtaining visas and emigrating to the United States. We see Amina in both worlds and see how hard it is for her to live between two cultures. Her nostalgia for her homeland and seeing old friends confuses her and a little bit of suspense is introduced here.

I found the book all the more interesting when I read that the author had gotten the idea for the novel after sitting next to a young Bangladeshi woman on a flight to Rochester. The two women kept in touch and eventually became friends, even traveling together to Bangladesh.

The author has a lovely style of writing, and I was pulled into the story easily.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Osage Oranges

Gillian brought me a bag of osage oranges yesterday that she scooped up by the dozens at Morven Park in Leesburg. I love their bumpy texture, and most of all, that color! By the way, I found out by looking online that the largest osage orange tree in the U.S. is right here in Virginia, at River Farm in Alexandria. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall Zinnias

My zinnia plants are looking a little tired, but there are still plenty of cheerful blooms. I'll keep picking as long as they let me. What a great flower, tried and true. I have been cutting zinnias every week since early June. My favorite.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Travel Notebooks

Mom and Dad in Florida, 1979

When my mom died in June 2008, our whole family gathered at my sister's house after church. It was raining outside, so we were all sitting around the family room when someone brought out a box containing some of the notebooks my mom had kept of their travels. Since my parents retired, my mom would keep a record of all their travels, neatly typed up and placed in those 3-ring report binders.  She would take a little spiral notebook with her on trips and keep track of details in that, and then when she got home she would type them up on the old typewriter in the spare bedroom. She liked to include all the little things, what time they left in the morning, where they stopped for lunch, what they had for lunch,  how much gas cost, which hotels they stayed in,  friends they stopped to see on the way, and then once they got to their destination, what they did each day. She loved to play tennis, and she would write about who she played tennis with in Florida (and who won).  They liked to travel, went to Florida every winter (usually with my brother and his family), to Canada for many years, and visits to see us in Virginia. Before they retired, they also traveled to Hawaii and Turkey and many other places, but I don't think she kept journals of those trips. It was only after she retired that she had the time to write about their travels.

We had such a good time on that sad June day. Many of us had a part in some of those trips, so it was fun to read about some of the details of a trip that we didn't remember. My kids loved hearing about their grandparents coming to see them when they were little (often on the way home from Florida). I liked hearing how my mom loved my flower gardens. My nieces and nephews got to hear how much fun she had spending vacations with them.  I think it had an effect on us, because now several of us write about our travels in online blogs, and I think we all realize we got this from Mom. I carry a little notebook with me now when I travel, just one more thing I find myself doing as I get older that is just like my mom.  I think my mom would be so happy that she got us started on this, and she would be reading every word.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Blowing Rock, NC, and Home

Foggy view from Blowing Rock

We left Asheville and got on the Blue Ridge Parkway, hoping to take the scenic route through North Carolina and into Virginia. I wanted to stop in Blowing Rock, NC, because I have a friend who absolutely loves that town, and also because it is the town the author Jan Karon lived in when she wrote her Mitford series of books, and her fictional town of Mitford is supposedly based on Blowing Rock. So of course as we were driving into town,  I was looking for  Lord's Chapel, where Father Tim was the pastor, and Lilac Road, where Cynthia lived in her little yellow house.  I didn't see them, but Blowing Rock is a really sweet little town. I was surprised how upscale it is, the homes we saw were just beautiful, lush gardens, lots of stone walls,  and it seemed like a thriving little town.

And yes, there really is a Blowing Rock, a rocky cliff, which is open every day of the year, weather permitting. Well guess what, the weather wasn't permitting this day, so we weren't able to see the blowing rock, but we did see some pretty views. I can imagine in nice weather the views are breathtaking as you are really up high in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Nice homage to the Blowing Rock Garden Club

Blowing Rock Library

We walked around the town for awhile (thankfully it had stopped raining), stopped in a cafe to have some French onion soup and a sandwich, and then were on our way. We continued on the Blue Ridge Parkway until we got into Virginia, but then because the weather was so bad and we couldn't see much of the scenery, we hopped on 81 and took that miserable highway home. Of course there was an accident on 81, so we had to detour for awhile. We finally got back on 81 and continued on home in heavy rain. We were happy to be home.

Scenery along Blue Ridge Parkway

Foggy Blue Ridge Parkway

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thomas Wolfe House, Asheville

The weather was pretty terrible when we were in Asheville, not exactly great weather to be out walking around that cute little town. What we did see looked fun,  tons of funky shops and interesting restaurants. There were a few places driving around where Walt would stop the car and I would run in and check something out, but for the most part we didn't do too much walking, as it was really pouring rain. We did have dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe, which had been recommended to us by several people, and I had my first shrimp and goat cheese grits there. They were spicy and good!  Walt had the Greatful Dead Black Bean burger, which he said was delicious (and he is the expert on black bean burgers). We walked around in the rain for awhile after dinner, but most everything was closed down by then.

Wolfe's typewriter and desk
The next morning we woke up to more rain. I wanted to see Thomas Wolfe's house in Asheville, as he was a favorite author of mine back in the day. This is the boardinghouse that his mother ran, called The Old Kentucky Home, and where he lived during his childhood. It was funny, all of the other people on the tour (there were five of us) were about our age, or older, and the tour guide asked us if we had all read Thomas Wolfe. We all had read him back when we were in our 20s, in college. The tour guide was a young guy, maybe grad school, who knew alot about Wolfe. He said Wolfe isn't so popular anymore, especially with college students,  because people want shorter books, not so much description. He also told us that Look Homeward Angel, Wolfe's first novel, has never been out of print, so somebody must still be reading him. Seeing the house and all of Wolfe's things made me want to read him again. The tour guy said he reads him a chapter at a time. That will take me a long time, but I think I might try. He really had an impact on me when I read him.

There is also a Visitors Center, where you can see a video and exhibits about Thomas Wolfe's life,  and you can see his typewriter and desk, his books, and belongings from his apartment in Manhattan, where he lived after he left Asheville. Wolfe was never very happy in Asheville, but it was a major influence and inspiration for his writing.

Signed first edition of Look Homeward Angel

After getting our fill of Thomas Wolfe, we drove around town a little more, stopped at City Bakery for some lattes and pastries, and then headed out of that rainy town towards the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One of many chocolate shops/cafes in Asheville

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Biltmore Estate, Asheville

After we left Julia and Chapel Hill, we headed to Asheville, NC, for a few days. We spent most of one day at the Biltmore Estate, an amazing property built by George Washington Vanderbilt in 1895. The weather was not great, pouring rain, so it was a good day to spend several hours inside this amazing French-style house and imagine what it was like to live such an opulent life in the early 20th century. You were not allowed to take pictures inside, which was disappointing, but I took plenty outside.  I think there are more than 250 rooms--the one I liked the most was Vanderbilt's library, which held about half of his 23,000 volume collection of books. Apparently he was quite the reader. The wood paneled walls are lined with two floors of books and while large, it seemed like a comfortable room. The ceiling was covered with a painted mural that came from a palace in Venice. Oh, and the chess set in the library was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte!

I also loved the Winter Garden, a circular conservatory room at the center of the house,  with a glass roof and filled with all kinds of plants. Big, sumptuous floral arrangements were everywhere--I guess you kind of need overscaled arrangements in a big place like this.  On the big porch at the back of the house were gorgeous baskets of orchids and begonias.

Orchids on the porch

It was fun touring the four floors of the house, and seeing the kitchens and servants quarters, and even an indoor swimming pool. Almost all the furnishings are original to the house. We had lunch in a cafe that is in the old stable of the house--really cool.  Luckily, by the time we finished the house, and lunch,  there was a break in the rain so we were able to tour the most important part of Biltmore--the gardens!

I was kind of obsessed with these moss-covered Italian busts

View from the gardens
This blog should be called the "Bench Blog"

Most of the landscaped beds are enclosed in this Walled Garden. There is a White Garden, rose gardens, and much more. They were in the process of planting thousands of mums.
Walled Garden

At the far end of the Walled Garden is the Conservatory, a grand old wooden and glass structure.

I loved this big old broken terra cotta pot that is reinvented as a garden feature.

Inside the conservatory

And I loved this scene as we were driving out, the reflection in the pond was just so pretty and serene.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham

Walt and Julia
Whenever we travel, I like to scope out some of the gardens in the area, and we have been very lucky to be able to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens when we have been in Chapel Hill. We have been there in the spring and I wanted to see it in the fall too. I had also hoped to visit Montrose Gardens, Nancy Goodwin's garden in Hillsborough, NC, but it is only open by appointment and it just didn't work out this time. Anne Raver had a great article about Montrose in the New York Times last spring, which really made me want to visit.  Maybe next time! North Carolina has a lot of good gardens, I would also like to see Elizabeth Lawrence's garden in Charlotte.

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are named after the wife of Benjamin Duke, one of Duke University's founders, and were designed by Ellen Shipman, a pioneer in American landscape design. There are more than 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas and five miles of pathways, allees, and walkways. The gardens are divided into four areas, the Historic Core and Terraces, the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, the William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum,  and the Doris Duke Center Gardens (including the Page-Rollins White Garden). We were there in late afternoon/early evening and there were a lot of people walking around, picnicking, and playing on the grassy areas. It is so nice to see beautiful gardens being used.

Beautiful fall color

These are truly beautiful gardens and well worth a visit. It's interesting to see it in different seasons. In the spring the colors were all pinks and purples and whites--gorgeous foxgloves, hydrangeas, roses,  and iris. This time the color were all oranges and reds, the colors of fall.

I would like this bench please

Vine covered gazebo