Friday, May 30, 2014

Jersey Wild, Part I

My latest journey..see more of my Jersey host:

t was time. There was a journey to be had. And yet, it was not quite as bouncy and storied a beginning as I would have liked. If you have been following this strange leviathan of a journey, then you will understand why this next part was filled with trepidation, like sticking one's toe into cold water.

I was headed off to New Jersey, you see. Normally, the idea of being road-bound was more excitement than I could take, but having survived my killer van incident, I was wincing more than smiling. And, since the thing was still in the shop 'til the last possible moment, I was making my hostess nervous as well.

Still, there was nothing to be done but hold one's breath and wait--I was Jersey bound no matter what: see, I was scheduled for five classes there. A caravan parade of all those "Jill of All Trades" skills that I managed to bring with me: Middle Eastern Dance, sewing, wood burning, herbalism....if I could just GET THERE.

But then, finally, that junker of a vehicle was released to me, and I was off. Mind you, the whole time I held my breath, sure that something was bound to unravel; I drove in high grandmotherly fashion for 20 hours, sluggishly moving--too safe--in order to keep my newly precious van out of harm's way. Even my brief reprieve in Virginia offered little relaxation; I was only half-way through my journey, then.

Slowly but surely, though, I'd gotten along. And suddenly, I was swerving down the ramp to a place called Mount Holly, a town I'd only seen in maps. I should probably note an unfair thing about myself here: I had typically stereotyped the place. What was New Jersey, if not big warehouse, smoggy, urban, bullet-riddled metropolis?  Boy, was I wrong.

I had known New Jersey's background as "The Garden State," and heard about it's storied past in farming and garden markets. How this translated into a foggy modern landscape I wasn't sure---there had to be some charm somewhere in there, right?

Indeed. Mount Holly, and it's other subset--Mill Race Village--was where I was headed and it wa,s unto itself, and amazing place. A step into Wonderland, a jaunt down olden Salem Streets, this place was somehow lost in time and space and into a spellbinding, cottaged little town that felt locked away from the
rest of the world.

The enchanted world of Mill Race Village!

A historically referenced place, every (and I mean EVERY) structure boldly displayed its 18th or 19th century pedigree. There were no modern brick buildings, no massive skyscrapers, no concrete behemoths, no gaudy giant warehouses around here. Nope, not in this place. Small cottages, renovated farmhouses, original old structures were part of the "Pinewoods" or "Piney" culture.  Mill Race Village stayed true to its roots...a large stream actually flowed underneath and around the village, the water once used to power the bygone mill industry there.

The town boasted, as all towns should, it's own firehouse, old fashioned ice cream place, lots of little, artsy businesses housed in old, enchanting cottages. The shopkeepers friendly--heck, everyone said hello. A diverse group of people lived here, in a dreamy, strange, enchanting landscape I'd never quite seen before.

My hostess, Holly Doyle, fits in easily. Readily polite and accommodating, I sense that she has a bolder interior, but one thing is for sure: she loves what she does, and the people around her. She is the proprietress of Jersey Made and, true to its name, it boasts a wide array of quality-hand made things by artisans, crafters, and farmers from all over New Jersey. The inside of the place is exquisitely charming, packed brim-full of various lovely items and sundries.  There are soaps, honeys, knitted things, art and mixed media, jewelry, antiques, hand made clothing, baby's a massive display of Jersey talent.

The soap-making heart of mine loves these soaps!

The beekeeping part of me love this honey!

Homemade art, much of it one by Holly, herself.

I am buoyed by this collection of goodies. I will learn later, that her shop neighbors have cottages of equally fine things: The neighbor to the left of her embosses and embroiders names on charming items, and the neighbor the right of her--a couple actually--sells old time musical instruments, woven baskets, gemstones, incense, and interesting items from old-time living. I am in HEAVEN! There were other little antique stores, country prim stores, lovely restaurants, quaint diners, and more to appreciate, as well.

Very kindly, Holly has made me space to sell my clocks, soaps and honeys. People bought them throughout my stay.

My clocks, hung on the wall...

It's a three day affair, and so many funny and fine people stroll through, it's a kind and curious, dreamy experience. The whole town is a cornucopia of charm--there's even a gypsy wagon parked in the middle of town!

Though the first day was rather a dreary, rainy day...the rest of the story continues as a bastion of learning, laughing, and a car-painting bonanza.

And THAT, my lovelies, is the NEXT PART OF THE STORY...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Story Behind The Story

This van looks very innocent, doesn't it?

I had started to write a tale of my first true, teaching, Vagabond stop in New Jersey--but to understand that, I realized it perhaps makes more sense to tell the Story Behind the Story...and so here it is.

I remember once, a young friend of my family idly, dreamily mentioning how charmed my life was, how she wished to "just run away" and do the same thing I was doing. I chuckled under my breath; this was not the first time I'd heard this, though I excused the girl's young age for this fluffy bit of thinking.

She couldn't know that this sort of thing didn't JUST happen, at least not to me. There's always a Story Behind the Story, and mine always involved a careful and long bout of planning. Trust me, I'd never been the sort to just roll out of bed, grab this strange, storied gypsy gold that I'm sure people think I have, and GO. I actually envied people who simply seem to effortlessly do things, on a whim, blindly jumping into any and all situations, and who are buoyed, unscathed, by luck--though I strongly suspect that they, too, have a story behind the story.

Indeed, I am no wealthy traveler, I do not stray, fully feral sans a trusty map--it is why I do, in fact, teach classes. While I enjoy this self-made occupation, it also quite literally pays the bills and the travel--a clever way to remain self sufficient, I'd at least hoped.

This would seem quite simple--call hosts, schedule classes, get on the road, teach classes, see the country, repeat. Except that sometimes unlucky things happen...and this go-round has been a passel full of curious new misfortunes I'd never seen before.

The Romany people believe highly in luck, good or bad (known as Baxt or Basht). Any number of things influence it, and if you speak with superstitious people (and I shall neither confirm or deny that I am in this category), you will be followed by it for some time.

If I were superstitious, I could say that the cutting my long hair (you DO remember I cut off seven-years worth of Mountain Woman dreaded hair, right?) was probably the pinnacle point for the level of crazy I was about to experience....indeed, it would unfold in such a way that would have near-grave consequences.

It started simply enough. See the beast in the top picture? Once affectionately known as "The Jalopy," it was a second-hand landscape work car that got me through my adventures in Pennsylvania, and actually managed to drive me from New York all the way down to Florida. A tough old bird, it was a well-worn traveler, like me.

Then winter came. WINTER. Now, mind you, Florida winters are pint-sized mutts compared to the Wolves of the upper half of the United States. Still, for a few days there was ice, there were freezing temperatures. Later, in March, when I tried to start the thing, it wouldn't move out of the driveway. The van was promptly taken to a HIGHLY recommended mechanic. I was told the springs were shot but also--since it was a Northern van--that the brake lines were heavily rusted, likely the result of salting the roads up North which were now wearing through the bottom of my vehicle,  and that one line was slightly leaking brake fluid. I dangerous situation, indeed.

Several HUNDRED dollars later, and I was told that three lines were repairs, springs replaced, and it was ready to go. I still had a full couple of weeks before I was set to leave, plenty of time. I breathed a sigh of relief...

...sort of. In the middle of all of these mechanical acrobatics, I was finding out from my first two hosts that they could not garner enough attendance for the classes, and would cancel them. There was no blame to be had; these fine women hosts had been prepping and posting on line and bugling them here and there in the world--one simply couldn't say whether people would be interested in bees or art or sustainability. It was a disappointing blow, but nothing could be done with it.

At the same time, I had scheduled another fine appointment to show off a bevvy of clocks at a National Halloween convention with another fine art hostess, rolling with the punches in fine fair. So, bags were packed, boxes sealed and--with lots of lifting and shifting---the old Jalopy was set to roll again.

Or so I thought. With two days grace, I had planned to drive from Florida to my sister's home in Virginia, then off to Pennsylvania, where I envisioned meeting thousands of people, talking about clocks, and perusing tons of Halloweenware.

Of course, with my backwards luck, I would have to leave the day it decided to thunderstorm and tornado. I actually wasn't worried, I'd spent thousands of hours on the highway, and this particular stretch from my home to Alabama was far less traveled, a safe little two laned labyrinth that had only two traffic lights for two hours.

So for two hours, no problems. I then reached my first light at the cusp of the Alabama border. I had a small side cross road at the other end of the red light. I pushed my foot on the brake, barely thinking about it...except I wasn't slowing down fast enough. Newly panicked, I pushed down on the brake, hard. I suddenly felt a slight give, and the car slowed down, but I still managed to roll past the red light. Even though the car in the opposite lane saw the incident and did not move, I then shot straight through, only to swerve into a side lot, shocked.

What had just happened there? It couldn't possibly be my brakes, I had just been bled solid for solid brakes. It must be the slick roads and the heavy load the van was carrying, I reasoned. Yes, I can be a genius, no?  Even smarter (do try not to laugh), I decided to continue driving, reasoning that if I just slowed down farther away from all cars, I might possibly make it. All. The. Way. Up. To. New Jersey.Right. I made it through three lights before I experienced the same thing with a MACK truck parked at a red light. Even stopping SIX car-lengths ahead of the goliath, I still had to swerve into a right hand turn lane to keep myself six feet above ground.

Long story short(er), I promptly turned back, driving like an obnoxiously slow grandmother all the way back. I took the newly named Beacon Of Death to Sears, where I was eventually told that--yes, the mechanic DID repair the brake lines, but only to the joint (middle part) of the car, but he did NOT extend this out to the WHEELS, and the front left brake line there had rusted out and leaked out brake fluids--I was DRIVING WITH NO BRAKES!

So folks, the next time you see your friendly Vagabond, or any traveler for that matter, give a tip of the hat and a nod. It sure looks fun, but there is usually a Story Behind the Story, sometimes fun, sometimes fearsome, but definitely something to tell tales about!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Adventure Begins....

This is a story of a charming Southern Town....
nd so it begins again...this traveling...and this writing. Such is the story of the Vagabond.
It's been long--too long, as usual--since this space has been occupied by wordage, and the curse of it (I often joke) is that when one is the doing sort of person, it becomes hard to stop and write about the doing of it. In the time I have not been clacking away at keyboard, it has been a hallowed and harrowing tale of journey-prepping. I will tell you tales of painting and planning, and driving with no brakes on a wayward van. But those harrowing tales will come another time.

Now, it is time to catch you up on the traveling part, for what is a traveler without their travels. Four months ago, I decided to go on the road. Initially, it was to be a four state starter trip, with ideas of some Summer and Fall notions. Because of strange, mitigation circumstances (which I will tell soon), I had to cut those plans half-way, but that did not mean that there weren't adventures on the horizon.

I packed a pied parcel of art, art supplies, soap, honey, my trusty fiddle, and my old bones into a rogue van and, sure enough, it was time for another long distance trip. This time, the planned excursion snake-winded me from humid Florida at a pit-stop in Virginia, before I stopped into New Jersey for my first bout of classes at Jersey Made.

Virginia was a logical choice, a touchstone, as my sister works there in the horse hemmed hills of Southern Virginia, at a fancy girls school that--by all outward appearances---looks like Hogwarts.  By the way, it occurs to me you may be scratching or shaking your head, realizing that I do, indeed, have a sibling. Indeed, us wayfaring, mysterious traveling folk hail from families of all ilks and yes, I am indeed the proverbial black sheep of the family.

My sister is one year-and-a-half younger than I, though I joke when I say people think I'm the younger one; she is quite the serious, scholarly type--which I admire highly, but do not follow to the letter. Whereas she tread the same sort of path my parents seem to have laid out, I dallied amongst the outside lines, which seemed far more interesting to me.

In any case, she makes her home in a lovely little town called Chatham, which will remind you of all of those bucolic Southern small towns made famous in novels by Fannie Flagg or some such similar idealistic musings. And, of course, these towns are the ones I absolutely fall in love with, time and time again.

Once the proud home of an All-American made cloth company known as Dan River, as well as a booming mill town,  this place is still the county seat, where old law, lawyers, money, stories, and fine Southern charm mix itself up in that slow, swanky way that things do, south of the Mason-Dixon line.

And so here is the story, in pictures, of my small Southern love affair--

An old Victorian Mansion down a quiet tree lined street...

This stately home greets passers-by with  sunny "Hello!"

Down main street, this curious sight: an old trolley converted cleverly into a diner....

The steps of the county courthouse.....

Quite the sight: a swanky upscale home blazons the initial of the owner's name on the front door....

I step around the corner to find some amazing old country houses. This one boasts a rounded porch... you know how much I love rounded porches??

This beautiful old church is on Main Street....

In fact, fine old enchanted details could be found everywhere..... in the case of this lovely old gingerbread....

And even better than CHIPPY old gingerbread....

...or this fine old stone well, right in the middle of someone's front yard.

Or this fun, Hobbity door at the bottom of this house!

Here is a curious house of long proportions--I have been told that the house started as the large house, and smaller, similar additions were added onto it as the family expanded. Today, this beauty serves as professional office space.

And of course, what forest lover wouldn't end with noble old trees...I wonder what this fellow has observed in its lifetime?

My stay was absolutely winsome and wonderful--and there was still a world of whimsy to come...
TOMORROW--The Song of A Storied New Jersey!