A Carolina Tale


Photo of Reedy River from S. Main Street bridge, downtown Greenville, SC.

In the category of “You Learn Something New Every Day,” I learned some interesting American lore rooted here in my new hometown of Greenville, SC.

PoinsettJust south of Greenville City Hall in front of the old County Court House (now the M. Judson Bookstore) on S. Main Street sits a bronze statue of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851). Born in Charleston, SC, son of a wealthy physician, Poinsett was a physician, statesman and diplomat.

He was educated in Connecticut and in Europe, where he traveled extensively including Russia and the Middle East and became fluent in several languages. He returned to the U.S. where President James Madison named him ‘special agent’ to Chile and Argentina (1810-1814, 50+ years before the U.S. had ambassadors). He returned home to be elected to the S. Carolina House of Representative (1816-1819). He was elected for two terms to the U.S. House of Representatives (1821-1825).

Poinsett resigned his seat in Congress when President John Quincy Adams named him the first Minister to Mexico (an appointment turned down by Andrew Jackson).

Poinsett’s interest in science led him to discover La Flor de la Noche Buena (the Christmas Eve flower). He brought specimens back to the U.S. where it became know as the Poinsettia.

In addition to further public service as Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President Andrew Jackson, Poinsett also was a cofounder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts, a group of politicians advocating for the use of the “Smithson bequest” for a national museum that would showcase the most significant items from American history, which eventually became known as the Smithsonian Institution.

Note: A block further south on Main Street leads to a bronze statue of Charles H. Townes , (1915-2015) who was born in Greenville, SC. Widely recognized for his work as an inventor and a physicist, in 1964 Townes was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics with Nikolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov for contributions to fundamental work in quantum electronics leading to the development of the maser and laser.

Scotland’s Inchcolm Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel

Flashback Friday: Two years ago today, we were exploring the countryside in Scotland. This was part of what I still refer to as the ‘ABC Tour.’


Inchcolm Abbey on a perfect Scottish summer day Inchcolm Abbey on a perfect Scottish summer day

The ABC Tour (Another Blessed Church) continues with a day trip by bus and ferry to the Inchcolm Abbey (‘Inch’ being the Old Celtic word for island). It is unseasonably warm for Edinburgh, so we chose the perfect day to be on the water for the 45 minute boat ride out into the Firth of Forth. As we approach the island a local grey seal bobs his head above the water’s surface to check us out.

Boat dock and the Firth of Forth from Inchcolm Abbey Boat dock and the Firth of Forth from Inchcolm Abbey

Inchcolm Abbey is where monks lived and studied as far back as the 12th century. Nowadays it is also the favorite nesting place for a thousand seagulls, plus a few puffins and other migratory birds. The grass bordering the pathways along the half-mile long island is strewn with windblown white feathers from the nearby nesting sites…

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My How You’ve…Changed


Before Mike and I lived in any new city, on any continent, we researched the area as best we could on the internet. We tried to find other expats who lived in the area so that we could ask them pointed questions about life in that city. We located grocery stores, bakeries, fresh markets, the local library, banks, and transit centers on a city map. If possible we also tried to locate information on crime statistics in a certain city.

Because we were heading back to Olympia, Washington, and we had only been away for seven years, we figured we knew enough about the area. Thus, we did no prior research. Before arriving we had planned to find something to rent in or near the downtown Olympia core.

Somehow, somewhere and without many people noticing, downtown Oly became a not-so-nice place to live. They even managed to turn my much-loved…

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The Fleecing of America, or Where Did All of Our Money Go?

Part 2 in a series of stories about getting reacquainted with living in the United States after three years abroad.

Applecore Too

I believed the reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the U.S. inflation rate has held at around 1-2% for the past five years. However, I noticed from our trip abroad to Sicily in 2012 that one U.S. dollar was worth about .80 Euros, and on our most recent trip through Europe in 2014 one dollar was worth about .72 Euros. That is a 10% loss of the purchase power of my dollars in two years. Something is not right.

Shortly after our return to the U.S., I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was trained as a financial advisor at Morgan-Stanley. I told him I noticed a discrepancy between what my dollars were worth and what our government was telling me about the inflation rate. I mentioned also that my wife and I both were experiencing severe sticker shock¹ at the price of basic…

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The Duping of America

I created a new blog, Applecore Too, where I will post stories about things other than my travel experiences. This is the first post on my new site. It is an opinion piece about the United States based on my perspective having traveled on four continents over the past three years. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Applecore Too

Yes, America, we have been duped. Language is one way we are manipulated through mass media. Deep divisions between groups are often the result of stereotyping. We use words like weapons on one another to reinforce these stereotypes. The people on the left are labeled liberals, socialists, commies, takers, bleeding hearts, and libtards. When religion creeps into the conversation, a lefty is often called godless, atheist, and anti-Christ. People on the right are labeled nut jobs, homophobes, racist, greedy, mean-spirited, and enemies of the poor. Through the prism of religion, a righty is often called Bible thumper, faithfool, and Christard. There are also derogatory terms especially for Muslims and Jews. We have all read and heard them – towel head, raghead, Hebe, Yid, Kike.

Within the safety of our private internet world, we freely throw out verbal bombshells to retaliate or to provoke. Pick a topic – climate change, gun…

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The Day Mt. St. Helens Blew

Our view of Mt. Rainier from Chinook Pass Photo credit:  Wikimedia.org

Our view of Mt. Rainier from Chinook Pass
Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

Note: Inspired by memories of my younger days, this story is the second in a series looking back on my experiences growing up in Seattle.

It was May 18, 1980. I was standing on a snow-covered ridge south of Chinook Pass on a bright, sunny day with Mt. Rainier towering over the western skyline. Above us to the east stood Naches Peak, a 6,000 foot peak overlooking our snow camp. I was encamped with nine teenagers and one other adult – my friend Scott.

Scott and I were leaders of an Explorer Post in Seattle with nine teenagers including three girls. These were kids I had backpacked with a number of times. I had led backpack trips over previous summers with each of them as members of the group. They were all great kids, and like me, they loved the mountains. Now they were sixteen and old enough for their parents to entrust them to my care to teach them mountaineering.

Our practice slope for self-arrest practice near Naches Peak Photo credit:  EasyTrails.com

Our practice slope for self-arrest practice near Naches Peak
Photo credit: EasyTrails.com

Our snow camping and ice axe training was the final field trip before our planned graduation climb of Mt. Rainier. We had hiked in from Cayuse Pass the day before, and we were busy kicking steps in the steep snow after breakfast. Scott and I were supervising ice axe practice from our vantage point on the ridge above our campsite. I looked west to take in the fantastic view, and that is when I saw what appeared to be a massive storm cloud, and it was clearly moving in our direction. I even thought I saw a bolt of lightning. That was strange.

Ash cloud of Mt. St. Helens soon after the May 18, 1980 eruption. Photo credit:  Joan Magin

Ash cloud of Mt. St. Helens soon after the May 18, 1980 eruption.
Photo credit: Joan Magin

It was a sunny day and the weather report had been favorable. I looked at my altimeter which would indicate an increase in elevation with any drop in barometric pressure. It showed no change from the day before. This was too weird. Nothing in my experience would account for a sudden weather change without a corresponding change in air pressure. All I knew was what I could see, and that was a colossal storm headed directly for us.

In my experience, when something is happening that you do not understand, do something now and ask questions later. I yelled out to the group, ‘That’s it, we are done! Coil your ropes. Pack up. We are leaving NOW!’ These kids could hike! We boogied down the mountain and within an hour we were back at the parking lot. It was about 10:00 a.m. as we headed down the highway. Droplets began striking our windshield, but there was no water. These drops just blew off our windshield. I soon realized those droplets were volcanic ash when, thirty miles down the road, we finally had radio reception. That was when we first heard that Mt. St. Helens had erupted at 7:32 a.m. that morning. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when I realized we had averted a major disaster.

Ash cloud looking north Photo credit: USGS

Ash cloud looking north obliterating Mt. Rainier in the background
Photo credit: USGS

By the time we arrived back in Seattle, the ash cloud from the eruption had turned day into night in the City of Yakima, and our camp had been directly in its path. I have no idea what happened to the day hikers who were out there when the ash started to fall. I only know how relieved the parents of my young climbers were when we called them from my house in Seattle to say we were all safely back in town.

A few weeks later, six of my young scouts reached the summit of Mt. Rainier. My reward was the satisfaction of seeing the elation on their faces. It was the 16th anniversary of my first climb of Mt. Rainier, and these kids achieved the same goal – reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier as a teenager. I could not have been happier for them.

I eventually lost track of these young people as they got on with their busy lives. Although we did not climb together again as a group, we will always have the experience we shared that day, the day Mt. St. Helens blew her top.

My Most and Least Favorite Things About Spain

Spain has been an interesting contrast with the other countries in which we have lived over the past three years. As we prepare to move on, it is natural to reflect on the high points and the low ones. Here are some thoughts about what I most enjoyed and least enjoyed about Spain.

#1 Least Favorite – Dog poop

I find it incredible that dog owners in towns all around Spain do not clean up after their poopy dogs. There are piles of dog crap on almost every sidewalk of every block of every town I have visited. The big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada, and so on, are well-enough funded to have maintenance employees in the city centers who pick up pet poop along with garbage. Not so in the other areas of the towns. If the people of Spain had any idea how disgusting it is to tourists to have to dodge these piles, and how poorly it reflects on their country, they might do a better job of enforcing dog sanitation regulations. Thank goodness dogs are outlawed on the beaches!

#1 Most Favorite – The people

Our finest friends in Spain were the Brits, Mike and Ruth, on either side of me.  Joining us were their friends from England, Debbie and Hannah at the site of a Roman quarry in La Torre.

Our finest friends in Spain were the Brits, Mike and Ruth, on either side of me. Joining us were their friends from England, Debbie and Hannah at the site of a Roman quarry in La Torre.

We have made friends in every country we have visited, and Spain was no exception. It is always the memories of places and events shared with locals and fellow travelers that seem the most vivid. Even if we never see some of these friends again, we will never forget the kindnesses they have shared with us that made our time in Spain memorable.

#2 Least Favorite – The poor

There are poor people in every country, but that is no reason to forget about them. The poor economy hit Spain harder than most industrialized countries, and they have lagged behind the rest of the world in recovering. Personally, I think Spain has the resources it needs to take care of its people. Unfortunately, much of the revenues that flow into the economy seem to get siphoned off through corruption and unethical business practices.

When Spain recently announced Felipe VI as their new king, he proclaimed he would work to achieve greater equality and more opportunities for the unemployed and the needy. I hope he has the influence, the leadership and the integrity to bring about these benefits for his people.

#2 Most Favorite – The Food

The Central Market of Torrevieja, where I purchased dried figs and apricots.

The Central Market of Torrevieja, where I purchased dried figs and apricots.

I love fresh markets, and Spain is a fantastic place to find countless varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables, olive oil and prepared foods to meet most people’s tastes. The land is fertile and productive. There is no reason for the people of Spain to ever go hungry. We also learned they make delicious chocolate in Spain!

#3 Least Favorite – Pickpockets

In the resort towns along the coast, there is little concern about personal safety and security. I have never felt unsafe walking alone or with my wife. And even though we were never directly approached in the big cities – Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Cordoba – we were always cautioned to be on the lookout for pickpockets. This was especially true in the bus and train stations whenever we were toting luggage. After having my wallet lifted in Rome, I have become more vigilant about watching out for thieves. They have become quite sophisticated in some instances. For example, I witnessed a well-dressed man in a fine suit carrying a clipboard and hanging around our hotel in Granada while the tour buses were unloading. When he saw that everyone remained standing next to their personal bags and he noticed my wife and I were watching him, he walked away.

#3 Most Favorite – The Weather

A typical sunny day at one of Torrevieja's many local parks.

A typical sunny day at one of Torrevieja’s many local parks.

Although the Costa Blanca has experienced its worst drought year on record and there have been dozens of brush fires in the surrounding countryside, it has been pleasant living on the coast just a few short blocks from the beach. The evening breezes coming of the Mediterranean Sea are cool and refreshing. In fact, we have seen rain here on the southern coast of Spain just a handful of times during our stay. We have been most fortunate weather-wise when we take into account that Madrid received over a foot accumulation of hail on July 3rd. The traffic on the freeways feeding this city of 3.2 million was brought to a standstill and the precipitation eroded the track of the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid. The Metro subway and the airport were flooded forcing delays and diversion of flights. I am grateful that we live on the Costa Blanca where it was 85°F and sunny.

There is something for everyone in Spain, and I am sure I will think of more things I could have added to this list after we leave.  Suffice it to say Spain should be on your list of countries to visit. Should you decide to go, I will be watching for your stories so that I might reminisce about our time in Spain. Buen viaje!