Thursday, June 30, 2011


I've been awake since 3 am, made coffee at 3:45. Today marks a major transition for me, as I leave a career of nearly 35 years in education. I've been so fortunate to work with wonderful people and the seven-minute commute wasn't bad either! But it's time for a change, and I am sad and very excited, all at the same time.

We had a lovely tea party yesterday, attended by some of the people I work with. It was so nice, with a few tears and speeches, and lots of good food. Stuart and Mel were able to come, which meant a lot to me. Carol read her speech, which started the tears.

It wasn't an easy room for wide-angle photos, but we got a few.

I've spent a lot of hours in that conference room, but this was definitely a special time.

Now it's time for the final office clean-out, and I'll turn in my keys and parking pass. I think I'll go for a bike ride first!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pawley's Island 2011: A morning at Hobcaw Barony

Besides being a fun thing to say (when else do you get to use the word barony?), Hobcaw Barony is a fascinating place to spend a morning on the Carolina coast. We had been there in 2009, but were happy to go again a couple of weeks ago. It is owned and run by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation as an environmental reserve for the universities of South Carolina, and both Clemson and University of South Carolina have research stations on the property. It is a huge, mostly undeveloped tract of over 17,000 acres, and includes forests, salt marsh, abandoned rice fields, remains of several slave villages, and many historical sites. They take 12 visitors daily, by reservation, on a three-hour tour of some of the highlights of the reserve.

The Foundation is reestablishing longleaf pine forests in parts of the property. We learned to distinguish between the fast-growing loblolly pines and the more desireable longleaf pines.

Although the natural beauty and environmental lessons were fascinating, I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the Barony and its owners. Bernard Baruch bought the property in 1905 as a winter hunting retreat, and his hospitality was legendary. The original Hobcaw house burned, but a new brick house was built in 1930 overlooking Winyah Bay.

Arriving by boat to that rickety dock in the photo below were such visitors as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Omar Bradley and Irving Berlin.

We got an informal tour of the ground floor of the house, which is slowly being restored. It was quite modest as grand old houses go, not much bigger than many suburban homes. You know what was the best part of going through the house? Getting to use Winston Churchill's bathroom. (Photos not allowed inside, unfortunately. It was green tile, and I suspect the toilet had been replaced.)

Our tour guide was Lee Brockington, senior interpreter and a well-known historian of the area. She was not only informative, but a lot of fun as well. She drove the van, answered our questions, told us stories of the Baruch family and their guests, and basically made me want to work there so I could learn more. Lee went into detail about the month-long visit of President Franklin Roosevelt to Hobcaw in April of 1944. The purpose was to restore his health and prepare him to face some of the hardest months of the war. While he was at Hobcaw House, the plans for D-Day were coming together and he was able to recover enough to return to the White House to oversee the Normandy invasion. Historians speculate about what the outcome might have been if Roosevelt had not had his month-long rest at Hobcaw. A bit of Lee's information is here, as well as an article on the redecoration of one of the guest bedrooms.

Belle was the Baruchs' eldest child, and bought the property from her father in the 1950's. She loved the land and built her own home, Bellefield, in 1936. It is not restored, but the Foundation is "keeping the roof on" to keep it from deteriorating. We got a glimpse from the van.

Belle was a renowned horsewoman, and the tour makes a stop at her stables.

Belle had quite an interesting life. She even served with U.S. Navy intelligence during World War II, surveying the coast for German U-boats. The tour was really fascinating, and included a short drive through Friendfield, which was a 19th-century slave village. The village was in use by employees of the family until 1952, and some of the buildings have been restored.

Belle Baruch set up a trust before she died to preserve the Barony's lands for education and research. I was sad when the tour ended, because there is obviously so much more that I didn't get to see. I'm planning to read more about the family and the area.

After the tour, we were really hungry, so off we went in search of lunch. To get a true taste of local fare, we went to the Ball & Cue in Georgetown. Of course we had the Meat-and-three special, with unsweet tea. The fried chicken was delicious and our waitress was charming. I found a blue-and-white bread-and-butter plate at the consignment shop at the back for a souvenir. Lunch for four and my souvenir plate totaled under $35. I love to eat in the South.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pawley's Island, 2011: the PIT

Just off U.S. 17, between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, is a hidden gem of a local place, the Pawley's Island Tavern. Known as "The PIT" and marked only by an old mailbox, it's down a dirt road, tucked behind the Island Shops. And yes, Island Knits is conveniently there in front.
The decor is marked by dollar bills that have been stapled and taped to the walls and ceiling, most with some personal note or name written across.
There's a large patio area, but we've never used it -- we always aim for the same table. Well, I say "always" because it's about my favorite place to eat in Pawley's Island, and I think we've eaten there four times in the last few years.
So why do I love this place? Other than funky decor, cold Blue Moon, and nice people, they have really good food. Southern comfort food for me, although Mike says their pizza is the best around. I wouldn't know -- why would I fly 3000 miles to South Carolina for pizza?
Our first lunch at the PIT this year was early in the trip, and I had not even begun to fill my quota of fried food. So I had a shrimp/flounder basket and it was grand. Like many restaurants in South Carolina, the PIT makes their own potato chips and they are worth the calorie load. Some cole slaw and a Blue Moon, and I was happy.

Gaye and Cindy being happy

We requested a return to the PIT for our last lunch of the trip. I had the "Barbecue" which of course is pulled pork on a bun, again with cole slaw and those homemade chips. Oh yum. And amazingly, I think it was $5.25.

Stuart had an Oyster Po'Boy that day, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Mike and Gaye were relieved that I didn't photograph them eating their lunches, and were good sports about their crazy houseguests snapping photos everywhere.

Good memories.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pawley's Island, 2011, part one

Oaks at Brookgreen Gardens

We recently spent 8 days in coastal South Carolina, visiting Gaye and Mike, very dear friends in Pawley's Island. They live on the inland side of town, amid beautiful pines, and seem to enjoy having us bunk in with them. Their beautiful home is the perfect vacation B&B, they are the perfect hosts, and the four of us are very compatible in our ideas of fun. So it was really the most relaxing vacation I've had in ages.

We loved sitting in the back yard, watching the birds (and mosquitoes). Papa and Mama Bluebird kept busy feeding their chicks, and were an endless source of amusement. The chicks flew the nest a few days into our visit, and we missed them.

The cardinals didn't disappoint either; they had a nest in one of the trees, and put on quite a show. The third component of the backyard show was this lizard. He showed up every day and was endlessly entertaining. Stuart got so many great photos of him, but this is one of my favorites. Our first excursion was to Brookgreen Gardens. We loved it last time, and were looking forward to a return visit. Brookgreen was formed from four old rice plantations in 1931 by Archer and Anna Huntington, and is a combination of nature, art and history. Like most of this area, Brookgreen is full of trees and water.
We made good use of the tram this year, and saved our legs.

A highlight of the visit was the new Butterfly House. A "viewing facility" in place for the summer season, it featured hundreds of butterflies in a fairly small space.

They were everywhere: on the gravel paths, on the bushes, on the netting, on the signs, on us. It was amazing.

Stuart was enthralled: he has always loved butterflies and had the opportunity to photograph types he had only seen in books.

The beauty below was most illusive -- we spent a good part of our allotted 30 minutes trying to find him still. Stuart finally got the shot.

We took the last Creek Cruise of the day on a 48-foot pontoon boat. It was a restful and beautiful trip, through a few of the small creeks that feed into the Waccamaw River and provided transportation through the plantations.

We saw a couple of good-sized alligators along the creek banks, including this guy who quickly slid into the creek as we passed.

Much of the Creek Cruise was a narrative of how the rice plantations were run. The crop was completely dependent on slave labor, so disappeared after the Civil War. Brookgreen keeps one of the old rice fields as a nesting place for migratory birds.
Although we really enjoyed the boat ride, the best extra at Brookgreen, in my opinion anyway, are the Treks. We missed them this time, but loved the bumpy ride into the old plantations through forests, old cemetaries and rice fields on our last visit. The Lowcountry Trail is a nice walk through a historical area of the property, with some archeological sites and interpretive listening stations. It's one of my favorite parts of the Gardens.
We didn't tour the Sculpture Garden this year - not enough time - but it is amazing, and I still enjoy the photos we took two years ago. There's so much more at Brookgreen that we still haven't seen, but that just means we'll have to return on our next trip to SC.