Table Rock Photowalk

On St. Patrick’s Day, I convinced McB to go out for a little ride. He loves adventures but prefers them to be carefully planned while I’m a fan of occasionally just getting in the car and seeing where the road takes you. On this day, our road took us to Table Rock State Park in Pickens, SC.

Table Rock
The Native Americans believed that the flat mountaintop was in fact a table for a race of giants. The small mound on the right is his/her stool.

After stopping at the view point, we made our way to the lake and took off on the Carrick Creek trail. This is a 1.9 mile loop and is rated to be a “moderate” hike. I must admit that we were a bit unprepared as we had no water and I was wearing flipflops but these weren’t major problems so we took off anyway.

The first part of the trail runs along the water. There are many lovely shots for photographers and a few streams to ford. While the flipflops were a great hazard with the exposed tree branches, I enjoyed the freedom of just pulling off my shoes and crossing the water in my bare feet.

Notice the rain drops falling in the calm water.

There are a few hills on the “dry” part of the trail. Most of them are pretty minor; but, one was particularly steep and cemented the notion that we needed to buy nice hiking sticks.

As a photographer who enjoys capturing details, this plant caught my eye and my lens.

After the hike, we crossed over to the lake that is outside the main ranger station. As luck would have it, we were there for a glorious sunset.

It was the kind of day that makes my job search and all the other “new kid” craziness all worth it. I wouldn’t trade this and my life for anything.

Traveling Thursday – State Department Resources

Most of us do a great deal of research before traveling, especially when international destinations are involved. The State Department’s website offers useful resources to aid those traveling abroad.

You can find fact sheets on every country in the world on the State Department’s site. These pages offer valuable information about destinations including brief descriptions of the country, consulate locations, entry requirements for US citizens, safety tips, accessibility guides for disabled travelers, health information and even information on how the FAA views the country’s aviation safety. Whether you are still deciding on your destination or studying up before you leave, these pages are very helpful for travelers. In addition, there is information concerning current travel warnings.

In another section, the State Department seeks to answer all of the gnawing, negative “what if’s” in this section about emergencies abroad. It’s great to know that there is help if you lose your passport, fall victim to a crime, get arrested or face another crisis. While it’s not necessary to memorize all of this information, it’s not a bad idea to take down the emergency numbers that are listed on the page. For assistance for US Citizens traveling abroad, dial 1-888-407-4747 (from within the US) or 1202-501-4444 (from outside the US).

There are also general tips for staying safe and healthy during your travels and even a specific section for those making the Hajj.

Finally, the best resource on this site is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is the system that allows you to register details about your international travels with the government. Why would you want to do that? In the event of a natural disaster or uprising, you want the U.S. embassy/consulate to have your information so they can help you and/or communicate with your loved ones. This is a great service and one that everyone should take advantage of. If you are traveling on a group tour, ask your operator if they have already registered you for STEP or if you should do it on your own.

I hope you’ll take advantage of the State Department’s site before planning your next international journey.

Papas & Beer

Last Saturday, Mr. McB and I hit Papas & Beer (317 Haywood Road, Greenville) for a late lunch. We have heard good things about Papas and their large menu meant we could both sate our cravings.

We arrived at the restaurant and were promptly seated.There was a crowd but the place was not packed. I assume there was an additional seating area since the noise level, which was high enough for McB to comment on, didn’t match the number of folks in our dining room.

Our server took our drink order and quickly returned with our chips, bean dip, and sodas. He then walked away before taking our order. His departure gave me time to consider the full menu so I didn’t mind.

McB and I continued to munch on our chips and take in the atmosphere for the next 20 minutes and still not a single server stopped by our table. I tried making eye contact. I tried pushing the menus to the extreme outer edge of the table but none of the servers even slowed down enough to notice us. We did get a quick notice as we left a few bucks on the table and walked out the door.

Normally, this kind of thing would make me mad but this time I just felt disappointed. I was hoping we’d find a delicious local Mexican restaurant. I’m sure we will find a great place one day but it won’t be Papas & Beer.

Traveling Thursday – Rental Car Insurance

Even before my time as a travel professional, I loved taking trips. Traveling is the perfect passion for someone who loves learning and exploration along with planning and organization. I’ve learned some lessons during my adventures and I’ve decided to start a series of travel posts so I can share them with you.

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I do have some good information that I look forward to sharing.

I’m starting things off with a post about rental car insurance and why you should think twice about turning it down.

For years, Mr. McB and I always took insurance directly from the rental car company. While this insurance was expensive, it always made us feel better. That changed after I attended a travel conference in 2010 and sat in on a session about travel costs. The speaker went on a tirade about rental car insurance. He explained that those drivers with good insurance coverage would be covered by their own private insurer; he shared stats about the amount of money we spend on rental car insurance annually. I decided that we were never buying rental car insurance again.

Flash forward a month to a trip to visit family in Virginia. We did not take the insurance from our rental car company. I did have a momentary panic and bought the cheap coverage that was mentioned on the third-party site that I used to book the car. I’m so thankful I made that choice.

After always buying the expensive insurance and never having a problem with the car, we had a mishap. While we were enjoying an afternoon in Yorktown, someone broke the window out in our car. While nothing was taken, we had a car that was full of glass and missing the all important passenger-side window.

We called the cops and filed a report. This is a very important step – no matter where your insurance comes from. If the car is damaged, even in something other than a wreck, you really need to file a police report.

I contacted State Farm, our wonderful insurer. They told me that our coverage would pick up everything but fees and “loss of use” charges assessed by the rental car company. The representative explained the fees are charged by many car rental companies for each day they can’t rent the car and for their employee’s work on the paperwork related to the repair.  I saw dollar signs and started to get a sick feeling.

I then remembered the other coverage. After a few calls, I learned that the other company (called Access America at that time) would pick up the fees and charges levied for “loss of use.” I felt so relieved. They also acted as the primary insurance so other than doing a lot of legwork and coordination, State Farm didn’t have to worry with the claim.

We did have a few more hoops to jump through including getting a copy of the police report for the insurance company. You see, since we didn’t own the car, we weren’t the injured party so we had to wait for the car rental company to agree to release the report to us. After a few weeks the whole thing was settled and we didn’t pay a cent of the $142 fees. I was so thankful that we had the $28 coverage on the car.

Before you turn down the insurance, think about all the possible charges and talk to your own insurer about what they cover. According to this article, some states require your insurer to cover loss of use. It’s still worth a call to confirm even if you live in one of the state’s mentioned. If you have a credit card that offers free rental insurance, ask them about “loss of use” fees. The article mentioned above indicates that this varies by company.

It’s a gamble with any kind of insurance is but before you place your bet, consider what fees you might be responsible for if your rental car is out of commission for a few days. Our clown car Accent was out of service for one day and the fees were $142. Imagine if the SVU you’ve rented has to be out of service for a few days and consider the costs. Most of all, just think about the possible risks and be comfortable with the gamble you’re taking, or not.

Please note that the insurers mentioned in this post have not provided any services in exchange for the mention. These companies simply came through for us in the past.

Operation Biscuit – Week Four

I’ve fallen behind in my pursuit of the perfect biscuit recipe. McB was sick and it felt wrong to subject him to biscuit experimentation during his illness.

Pretty tops and bottomsThis morning, I got us back on track with Plain Chicken’s 7Up Biscuits. Even before I tasted these little bits of heaven, I loved that these biscuits take so few ingredients – just Bisquick, 7Up, sour cream, and butter. The flavor is amazing and the biscuits are so tender and moist. These are definitely the best biscuits that have ever come out of my kitchen.

Of course it can’t all be rosy, the actual preparation is just a bit tricky because the dough is so soft/moist. I had to add about 1/4 cup of Bisquick so I could make it stiff enough to pat out and then cut the biscuits. I had to use a spatula to lift the biscuits from my board and into the pan because they fell apart when I tried to use my hand. All the little headaches of dealing with this dough are worth it because moist dough makes for melt-in-your-mouth biscuits.

Now for the other cloud in this otherwise sunny experiment, McB said that the biscuits were “very good” and then added “for biscuits.”  He went on to say that he would have preferred a piece of toast. Who in their right mind would want a dry piece of toast instead of this moist, buttery biscuit? Only my sweet husband.

So the search continues…

Gorgeous day at Paris Mountain

I turned 35 a few weeks ago. For many years I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by friends on my birthday; I’ve enjoyed lots of lunches and special outings to celebrate the occasion. It’s a little different when you’re in a new place where you don’t know many people. I know this will change but for this particular birthday, I was a little blue.

The good Lord knew I needed something special for my day so he came up with a sunny, warm Thursday. I didn’t want to waste this gift so I set out for Paris Mountain State Park with my good tennis shoes and camera. I’d like to say that I climbed a mountain the day I turned 35 but in the interest of full disclosure, I walked a lot at the bottom and the top but the actual climbing between the two came courtesy of my Subaru.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Paris Mountain, it’s a gorgeous state park just a few miles for Greenville. You can picnic, hike, fish, swim*, paddleboat* or bike. Again in the interest of full disclosure, George Hincapie bikes here so while it’s not the Alps, it is a bit of a challenge.

I enjoyed my time at the park. I’ve forgotten how much I like just being out in nature. There is something about a nice brisk walk in the woods that helps me organize my mind. I look forward to going back to the park. It’s got great picnic potential and I can’t wait to cruise Lake Placid on one of those paddle boats.

It’s a cool angle. I feel like I could just slide into the water.

This bridge was built after the Great Depression as part of the Works Progress Administration.

This is part of the lake trail.

These gents seemed to be having a good time fishing. I happened across a dad and his preschooler on the other side of the lake. They were picnicking (pizza) and fishing. The little boy had caught his first bass earlier that day and instead of becoming addicted to the thrill of the catch, he was done with fishing. He met his objective (catching the fish) and now other things (a cool tree stump) had his attention.

Lake Placid dam

another shot of the dam

Those are busy beavers.

Outcropping on the Sulfur Springs Loop at the top of the mountain

*Seasonally available

Memories over material goods

I received 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People for my birthday. It’s a great book with lots of fantastic information about our thought patterns and behaviors and there are many tips for using this to your advantage when trying to sell a product, tell a story, or just create good design. The author, Susan Weinschenk, has a great site that also tackles this subject.

A recent post deals with a study that shows that we’re happier with experiences than possessions. It’s a great post that talks about the importance of finding ways to sell your product as an experience and talk about what your company does, not just what it makes.

I was really intrigued by the research and wanted to read more about the findings. I ran across a bit more on the study here. I was particularly interested in the fact that we become less satisfied with our stuff when comparing it with others, but comparing experiences doesn’t create the same response. So if the Jones’ have a bigger TV, you’re depressed about the one you have but if they had a great vacation, even if it was better than yours, the effect isn’t the same. This means you don’t have to have the penthouse suite to enjoy yourself and create lasting memories that will continue to bring you joy.

In all honesty, I’m not particularly surprised by these findings. When I was packing up our in house in preparation for the move to South Carolina, I couldn’t believe how much junk we accumulated over the years. I was faced with boxes of lovely things, some that I had saved for and others that were purchased on a whim, but all were things that I *had* to own. The joy I felt from possessing these objects was fleeting. When faced with the prospect of paying to have these forgotten items moved to the new house, I sent most of them to Goodwill.

It wasn’t hard to get rid of these things. For several years I have felt myself moving away from buying things and toward buying experiences – travel, events, attractions, dining…. I began to realize that our zoo or conservatory membership brought me more happiness than a piece of glassware or new gizmo.

Now, I can’t tell you that I still don’t love buying shoes or that I don’t want a new camera. Of course if you think about it, even these items are more related to experiences (dressing up for a night out, enjoying my photo walks) than to simply possessing something. I’m just interested, and a bit encouraged, by the fact that we’re starting to realize that things can’t make us happy.


“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” Robert C. Gallagher

I don’t feel like I’m particularly afraid of change. I think it’s one of the many benefits of moving as much as we did when I was growing up. That willingness to embrace change is coming in handy as we have yet another change in our lives- Mr. McB has accepted a fantastic new position as a trainer.

I’m just so darn proud and happy that he is going to be taking on new responsibilities that really fit his skills and passion. He always wants me to do work that makes me happy and now, it’s his turn to find his professional bliss. This job is a wonderful blessing and he deserves it.

Selfishly, I’m thrilled that we don’t have to move and that he will be on a normal schedule again. I won’t know what to do with myself when my husband is done at 5 p.m. eastern, not Pacific. I’m already looking forward to taking advantage of the free concerts and other activities that were off-limits with his old schedule. I know there will be bumps, and I’ll miss him when he’s traveling, but I’m ready to meet those challenges and enjoy this new phase together.

Forgotten photos – my solo trip to Biltmore

A few weeks ago, I got up early and headed for Biltmore Estate. I love the house but I decided that I wanted to spend my time exploring the grounds. Since I have an annual pass, I didn’t really feel guilty about this. The house itself is so overwhelming that it becomes difficult to really explore the grounds if you are seeing the house too.

I am finally posting these pics for your viewing enjoyment.

mountains There was a slight bit of haze but it was still easy to make out the gentle giants in the distance.

The house looks just a bit smaller from this angle. Side profiles must be slimming – at least if you are an enormous manor house.

Love the fleur de lis detail here. It took so many talented artisans to construct the house.

bambooA bamboo forest along one of the many paths leading to the woods surrounding the house. I love the lush, tropical look of these plants.

Gorgeous flame dogwoods provide a welcome burst of color during the winter.

The boathouse by the bass pond. I had the whole place to myself and it could not have been more tranquil. It is a gorgeous spot, even in winter.


A shot of the pond with the boat house slightly hidden by a tree on the right side of the photo.

This is on the upper side of the bridge/falls. I love the shiny copper under the murky water and wonder how many of those wishes came true.

These blooms had a beautiful ecru tone. They were delicate and somehow the perfect “flower” for a winter’s day.