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.

Dark Corner Outing

Dark Corner evening at the Upcountry History MusuemI have always loved history. There is something to be said for understanding the events that shaped your area. Furthermore, I find that history’s true stories are much more compelling than the Hollywood writer’s fiction.

I am particularly interested in what some might consider the small or inconsequential history. These are the stories of real people trying to improve their situation, preserve their way of life, or simply get by. It seems that I’m often drawn to the stories of those who live in the rural South. There’s a lot of good material there – eccentricities, faith, resourcefulness, sass, determination and the occasional blood feud. All of those facets seem to be wrapped up in the history of South Carolina’s “Dark Corner,” an area of the state that was celebrated at the Dark Corner Evening event that I attended at the Upcountry History Museum on January 26.

In addition to a screening of the Dark Corner documentary, the evening featured sampling of moonshine from the Dark Corner Distillery and brief talk from distillery co-owner Joe Fenten.  Dean Campbell, Squire of the Dark Corner, was on hand to introduce the film and talk about why preserving (and protecting) the area’s history was vitally important to him. I could drone on about all that I learned, but instead I am simply going to list a few things that really struck a cord with me.

  • So many families in the Dark Corner and other parts of Appalachia wouldn’t have survived without the money they earned from moonshining. I loved the passion that Joe Fenten has about the moonshine that they’re making down at Dark Corner. Even in his brief remarks, it was clear that he wants to preserve this art for generations to come. He’s also eager to tie his business to local farmers by buying their grains and repurposing the spent grain for feed. It’s great to see someone who has such a love for what they’re doing.
  • I know that for many people the caricature of the Southern hillbilly and the reality of people living in Appalachia cannot be separated. Dean Campbell proudly accepted the name hillbilly but reminded us all that it’s not the same as white trash. I think that many people don’t see a difference. I think it’s time to abandon the idea of mountain people being uneducated, backwards, and often lazy. Mountain folks, or hillbillies, are far more likely to be hardworking, resourceful people doing everything in their power to provide for their families. They are also a people with a deep and abiding faith. They might speak plainly or slowly, but often it’s because they put a lot of thought into what they have to say. I think most of us could learn a lot from a hillbilly.
  • I appreciate the filmmakers who wanted to unlock the mystery of the Dark Corner. The stories of common people are often overlooked or lost through the years but they’re so interesting. I’m glad to know more about the families who lived in that elusive area, just a little further up the road.
  • I thank the Upstate History Museum for having fun with history. Just like the encampment at Cowpens, it’s this kind of thing that will spark a love of history in generations to come.

If you can get your hands on a copy of the documentary, I encourage you to do so. It is available from the Greenville Library. For those of you not in the area, consider looking into a lesser known facet of your local history. You’re bound to learn a lot and have a good time in the process.

The accidental Christmas parade or our new home for the holidays

A friend asked if I felt that my brain cells were dying off during this period of unemployment. I answered with a polite “no,” realizing that this person doesn’t understand what a challenge it can be to get adjusted to a new town, rock the household stuff, and look for a job. I’ve also got a library card and an appetite for really thick historical non-fiction so, again I say “no, my brain is doing just fine.”

I must admit that my brain isn’t concerned about the actual calendar date like it was when I was working outside the home. I know what day it is, but the date – not so much. It’s for this reason that we wound up going to dinner in downtown Greenville on the same night as the Christmas parade. I was pretty sure that the parade was on December 3 (which it was) and that December 3 was a Friday (no, nope not at all.)

We drove down to the West End to eat at Smoke On the Water (more on this later) and quickly realized that the parade is indeed the same night. We found a parking spot, with just a little difficulty, and decided to make a full night of it.

First for dinner, Smoke On the Water, “a saucy Southern tavern,” specializes in burgers, smoked entrees, and barbecue.  The atmosphere is relaxed and modern-rustic. Our server was fast and helpful. Before our meals were served, we were treated to cornbread and brought a variety of bbq sauces. While Mr. McB found the sweet sauce to be his favorite, I went for the thin peppery sauce that was a bit like Tabasco. Neither of us were overly fond of the mustard-black pepper sauce but agreed that it was an interesting spin on the Carolina mustard sauce. I thought it could help clear the sinuses.

McB had the bbq chicken sandwich. He was pleased with the saucy, grilled breast that was topped with melted cheese. We were both quite pleased with his fries. I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m becoming a fry-thief and these were definitely worth taking.

I had the “home plate” which featured three side dishes of my choice. I selected the baked beans, squash casserole, and loaded potato cake. The baked beans were sweet and spicy; I’m almost positive that there were a few bits of jalapeno in the dish. The squash casserole was good but since it contained red peppers, something I wasn’t expecting, I had to pick around those pieces. For that reason alone, I probably wouldn’t order it again. I’ve saved the best for last with the loaded potato cake. The cake was made from mashed potatoes blended with something both creamy and tangy. It was then breaded with panko and deep-fried before being finished with a sour cream sauce and chives. That was a little lump of heaven. It melted in my mouth, my big smiling mouth.

Our meals were reasonable and we felt full but not miserable as we made our way from the restaurant and out to explore before the parade began. Our first stop was The Cook’s Station.  It’s a local, high-end culinary store. They have beautiful things including some dream kitchen setups and lots of nifty gadgets. We had lots of fun looking around. The husband made a mental note that if the bank account is drained, I may have blown it all there.

We continued to stroll around until we found a spot for parade viewing. The night was warm and we enjoyed the people watching before things got started. The parade itself was lots of fun. There were bands, floats, cute little kids, several Grinches, Storm Troopers, Santa and everything else you could expect from a Christmas parade.

After the show was over, we continued up to The Chocolate Moose for a treat. We were dismayed to see the mess that folks left behind on the street and sidewalks.  The pizza boxes, bottles, cups, napkins, and other rubbish were all contrary to the civic pride of the parade. Once inside the cupcake shop, we grabbed a seat and enjoyed delicious, rich cupcakes (black-and-white for him, black bottom for me) and fresh coffee that really hit the spot.

As we made our way toward the car, we made a quick stop at Ice on Main and the Christmas tree. Despite the fact that the ice wasn’t optimal for skating, everyone seemed to be having a good time including the guys in shorts.

Just this past Sunday, we decided to add another Upstate Christmas tradition to our holiday celebration and headed to see the Roper Mountain Lights. The fee is $10 per car and proceeds go to the Roper Mountain Science Center and several educational charities. They also offer a deal on three admissions for $21 which would be perfect if you are expecting company during the holiday season. In addition to the drive-through features, there is a walk-through Winter Wonderland where you can sit on Santa’s lap and roast marshmallows though not at the same time.

We enjoyed both parts of the attraction. After roasting (and eating) marshmallows, we saw the large boards that were decorated by various local schools. There was a lot of creativity and good use of recycled materials in many of these displays.

The drive-through features were quite nice as well. I thought the big caterpillar near the butterfly garden was especially cute. Our only complaint is that you don’t get a good view of the majestic star at the top of the mountain.

I hope to repeat both of these holiday traditions in 2012. I can’t wait to add new experiences to the repertoire too, as long as we still get to go to The Chocolate Moose that is.