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Monday, July 28, 2014

This Feels Like Camp for Adults

It's the middle of July and the temperature at Banning Mills near Whitesburg, Georgia is barely scraping 80-degrees. My husband and I have been assigned to a sweet little cabin - Cabin 49 - overlooking the Snake Creek Gorge.

I want to nail a sign to it with a name like the cabins at summer camp always had. Something like Weekaokee. But I won't because I don't hand out my creativity for free. If these folks want me to name their cabins, we're going to have to negotiate a price for that. Part of the fee will include toilet paper, since that was the only amenity missing from our comfortable accommodations. Nonetheless, it's a critical little something.

Banning Mills holds the Gunniess Book World Record for the tallest freestanding rock wall, and it's home to the workd's longest and largest eco-canopy tour. But non-adventurists enjoy the pool and day spa. There's also kayaking, horseback riding, skeet shooting and a pistol range.

Though people retreat to Historic Banning Mills from the modern grind, the modern south began on this property. The water power supplied by Snake Creek turned this middle-of-nowhere place into one of the first industrial parks in the south. The town of Banning, all but gone save for a few ruins still visible, had a cotton mill, a paper mill, two wood pulp mills, two saw mills, three flour mills, two cotton gins, a shingle mill and a tannery. The industrialization of Georgia traces roots to here.

We hiked out to the abandoned paper mill today. It wasn't a stroll. Don't attempt the trip unless you're okay with trekking rocky outcrops, climbing over and under fallen trees, and continuing even when the path doesn't. From experience, I can tell you that the water bottle you're carrying in your right hand will become a despised hindrance. If you make it, however, you'll be treated to this:

In 1889, this paper mill developed a process for making paper from ground pine pulpwood. The technological advance made the mill so successful that it was the first paper mill to install electricity. In 1890, the mill began operating day and night. Folks from the surrounding area would arrive at dusk to see the miracle of the lights turning on.

And now it sits in a forest, forgotten. The trees and vines have sealed the fates of the school, church, store, and other buildings.

And they are swallowing me, too, as I escape the modern grind.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Be My Guest - Paige Adams

My guest author for July is Paige Adams. She's unique, as she's a teen author who started her debut novel as a class assignment. She enjoyed the process of writing so much that she followed through with editing and brought it to publication.

Instead of inviting Paige to share her thoughts about the book, I'm changing things up. I let my 13 year-old daughter, who read Red Velvet and loved it, write the post. The book engrossed her. Of course, she's a horsewoman who loves horses and anything ever written or said or sold about horses, but she promises the book isn't just for fanatical equine enthusiasts.

My darling daughter writes:
Red Velvet was written by my cousin, Paige Adams. It's a book about a girl who blames the death of her sister on on herself. She is depressed and has no friends. She does everything she can to be part of the snobby group of girls. But Delilah cannot find the love she is missing since her sister's death, until she meets Beau. Beau saves her life, but then nobody knows if Delilah will survive.

What I like best about Red Velvet is that it is about horses, and it has romance and drama and action. I loved this book so much that I finished it in less than a week, and I really don't like to read. This book is perfect for people ages 10-20. This is a well-written book. I hope Paige Adams writes a sequel.

If you have a teenage daughter, buy Red Velvet, available in paperback or Kindle, for her. You'll be giving your child a good read and supporting a teen author, too. That makes for a double feel-good day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My Nerdical Diagnosis

I've struggled for years with eyes that each have a will of their own. They're like warring twins. Doctor after doctor looked and confirmed it and put a patch on the problem: thicker and thicker glasses.

It's like when the bathroom faucet is leaking. I go in and confirm that indeed it's dripping. But, instead of fixing the faucet, I close the bathroom door so I don't have to hear it drip anymore. (For those not good at analogies the door is to the drip as the glasses are to my crazy eyes.)

Now, however, I have a doctor who has examined my eyes, confirmed that they're like warring twins (not in those exact medical terms) and provided a diagnosis. Finally a diagnosis. I should be thrilled, but I'm not.

I didn't get anything exotic, like Alice in Wonderland Syndrome or Naegleria fowleri, written in my medical record. My paper was stamped with big, black, block letters: NERD.

Duane's (pronounced Dwayne's for those of you living in the South) Syndrome, that's what I've got. As far as ailments go, it's benign. No one dies from eyes that resemble warring twins. But I like to died when he told me the name of my condition: Duane's Syndrome. No doubt, many a physician has lost a patient to the secondary condition of embarrassment.

And I'm happy to report that, fingers crossed, my June 23rd surgery repaired most of my problem. At least it repaired the worst parts. My eyes, for now, seem to be getting along nicely. I do, however, worry about what mischief they're getting into when I'm not looking. Somehow, it's sure to get me in trouble.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Travel Tip #1: Don't Fear the Bull

While at the Yale Writers' Conference in New Haven, CT, I took every opportunity to slip away and see my surroundings. One of the first places I click-clacked down the sidewalk to was the Yale Museum of Art. I rode the elevator straight to the third floor to see the modern art collection. As soon as I stepped off, a waiting official in a blue suit inquired, "Are you the lady here to see the Salvador Dali?"

In my brief moment of pause, I flashed back to another occasion when I found myself in unfamiliar territory:

Gravel crunched under the tires of our rental car as it eased onto the narrow Shetland lane. "This is where the directions said to turn," I said from the back seat, "but where is it?" We peered out the windows that buffered us from the gusts rocking the car. Down the lane to the right, smoked spiraled from the chimney of an inhabited croft house. To the left, a stone wall patched in places by sagging barbed wire fenced off the slope of a hill.

"I think we're gonna have to get out and walk," I said, prompting the pulling on of heavy coats, gloves and hats. In Scotland, there's no such thing as trespassing. A soul can wander anywhere she likes, whether it's fenced or not. 

We marched up to the red gate. A chain looped through it and hung flaccid around a post. It feigned securing the premises. Metal clanked when I pulled it link-by-link from its position. When I swung the gate open, my brother read a sign we'd overlooked in our survey of the land. "Beware of the bull," he said. We all looked up to spot the bull charging us, its nostrils flared. 

Nothing approached but the wind.

"Y'all do what you want," my dad said. "I'll wait in the car." 

The rest of us - two of my brothers, my mother, me - entered the pasture, my mother in the lead. I glanced about, planning my escape route should the bull show. My brain was adrift in calculations when my mother shouted, "There it is!" I followed her finger point with my eyes. At the end stood Wind House - the most haunted house in Shetland - on the crest of the hill, overlooking the neighboring voe. 

 We toured ourselves in, out and around the abandoned property, ghosts and bull be damned.

Travel is about going places, seeing things, meeting locals, getting into the grit of a locale, taking in landmarks of history and pop culture. Travel requires courage. It requires steadfastness. It requires curiosity.

My number one rule of travel is Don't Fear the Bull. Folks who fear the bull only go on half the adventure. They miss the climactic a-ha moment, the pay-off part of the trip.

So when the security guard asked, "Are you the lady here to see the Salvador Dali?" I replied, "Why yes I am," and followed his lead.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Pistol for the Asking

Since I returned from the Yale Writers' Conference in New Haven, CT, where an Italian man tried to whisk me away to be his lover, my husband has been trying to explain men to me. The tall Italian proposed we meet for pizza or coffee. I never suspected that the gentleman with the thick accent who said he was a writer, too, intended anything other than enthusiastic exchange about the publishing industry. It would have been rude not to share my email address when he asked. Besides, he said I have the perfect name for a writer and a beautiful complexion.

"He was just being friendly," I said to my beloved.

"No," said my spouse. "You don't understand men. He didn't want to talk to you about writing."

My husband provided a simplified overview of men: If an old man helps me change my flat tire then offers to buy me a co-cola, the old man is just being friendly. If a man whose age falls within a 30-year range of mine helps me change my tire and offers to buy me a co-cola, he's not actually helping me change my tire. Nor is he just buying me a co-cola. Nor is he just being friendly. 

I can't pinpoint what any of this has to with my Italian lover. He never offered to help me change a flat tire and I doubt he knows what a co-cola is.

Nonetheless, I soaked up every minute of the Yale Writer's Conference and explored almost every square inch of Yale University, from the Cathedral of Sweat
to the Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

 to the Yale Museum of Art.
I resided in the Berkeley College dorms. I went to the bookstore and bought the t-shirt!

A note about the dorm: the shared bathroom facilities located in the hall were designated unisex. I was simply beside myself. College has changed since I was an undergrad. Men and women sharing the same restroom and showers? I once drove all the way from Oklahoma City to Atlanta without using the bathroom because I didn't want to go in a gas station stall. But I doubted I could "hold it" for five days at Yale. And I certainly wouldn't be able to think straight if I did.

So any time I was in the bathroom, I made crying noises. No man will enter a room where he thinks a woman might be crying. 

Throughout my participation in the conference, I absorbed the nuggets of wisdom shared by Colin McEnroe, the facilitator of the humor group. I sat through a public reading of explicit material couched in the framework of literature while an 88-year-old lady, whom I'd assured she was attending readings by the humor group, glared in my direction. I workshopped the manuscripts of highly talented writers. I found the indoor practice polo pony at the Payne Whitney Gym and informed the front desk attendant of its exact location should a visitor ever ask him such a strange question again.

And I do understand the difference between a man who is just being friendly and a man who is not. Saturday afternoon before I was to depart New Haven on Sunday, I went to Sterling Library to print out my boarding passes. The young man behind the desk did everything he could to thwart my effort and he roundly succeeded, sliding across the counter and leaving posthaste as soon as I asked the location of the printer.

On my way out of the library without my boarding passes, the security guard asked me if I had found everything I needed. He had no idea the rant he was bringing on as I berated "that rude young man." After enduring my tirade, he apologized on behalf of the library staff. "Thank you," I said and strode away quickly because I could feel the hot, angry tears welling in my eyes.

"But ma'am! Ma'am!" he called after me. "I still have to check your bag." He sorely regretted beckoning me back when he saw the tears trickling down my cheek. At that point, I could've walked out of there with his pistol for the asking and used the unisex bathroom in complete privacy.

Wow! Was it ever an incredible experience! Yes, I'd love to do it again.