Free Resources – Discovered While Genealogying

The Library of Congress has some great online resources… they have far more resources still just in paper form, but they have made great strides in scanning or organizing important pieces of our history online.  In doing my own genealogy research, I would often get sidetracked.. clicking through the volumes of resources available.

This collection at the link below is a project completed in the 1930’s where they collected thousands of oral histories from former slaves.  It’s fascinating to read through and see their dialect portrayed in the writing.

You can also buy certain volumes of this project for your Kindle on Amazon.

My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery: Personal Accounts of Slavery in North Carolina (Real Voices, Real History)

Slave Narratives Arkansas Vol 3 (Arkansas Slave Narratives) Kindle Edition – Click picture below

More to come.

Visiting the Low-Country of South Carolina

When my cousin suggested we check out Charleston, South Carolina for a few days, I said “Sure. Why not?”

I had never really thought about going there before and didn’t know much about it.  I searched online and found a hostel and got an idea of things to do.  Turns out the only hostel in South Carolina is located in Charleston.  So I booked us a private room and we set off from Atlanta where my cousin lives.

Upon arrival in Charleston, I immediately picked up on the similarities to Savannah.  In fact, on several occasions I would think I was in Savannah and my cousin would politely correct me.  🙂  It had a historic small town feel, with tilted old houses and narrow streets.  Our hostel was cute, with several houses on one lot and a small gravel parking lot in the middle.  Our room was on the second level of a house, accessed by the double decker outside porch.  We had a cute bench swing outside our door and it had the perfect feel for the Southern experience.

After settling in, we immediately hopped back in the car and drove down to the scenic battery at the southern most point of historic Charleston on the water.  We parked the car and walked around the park facing the large stone barrier walls along the waters edge.  All around the park are historic cannons and statues demonstrating the historical significance of this waterfront corner of town.

As you walk into town from the battery area, you pass by historic southern mansions squeezed together on a tight row, sharing the waterfront views.  If it weren’t for the cars, you would really feel like you were in a different time.  We zig-zagged through town, cutting down cute brick alleys between historic homes, peeking into gardens and church yards, and taking pictures of everything!

I was immediately enchanted by Charleston.  I couldn’t wait to see everything.  We hopped on the free trolley that circles around the historic downtown area so we could see where we wanted to go next.

We got off the bus at the Market Hall, which is a historic market with a series of buildings stretching four blocks.  This market has been here since the 1790’s and there are still vendors there today selling local foods, produce, and various souvenirs.  The market leads you to the wharf and the waterfront. We walked along the park with fountains along the water and headed back into town to get food.

We grabbed some seafood at a restaurant with a rooftop deck.  I asked the waitress what seafood on the menu was local and she said probably only the shrimp.  So I ordered a shrimp sandwich and my cousin got a steam pot.  Both were great!  But while we were eating our table’s umbrella got picked up by the wind and rose up out of the table.  In mid bite I grabbed the pole and a guy at the next table helped me!  Haha it was quite the meal.

We planned out the rest of our trip and headed back to the hostel to relax with a six pack of beers on our porch swing at the hostel.

9/11 Memorial

NYC Day 2 – Afternoon

I walked out of the lovely Met with my 9/11 memorial ticket in hand. It was time, after a lovely morning at the art museum, to do something I’d been putting off for a decade: visit Ground Zero. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001 and the memories and emotions attached to them came flooding to the forefront of my mind.

Luckily, my cab driver distracted me and tried to give me all the life advice I needed in the 20 minutes it took to drive all the way downtown. Thanks cabby, what would I do without your advice?

He dropped me off at a crowded corner where hundreds of people were funneling into a long switchback of lines to enter the memorial. I was actually an hour early for my entrance time, but the security guard at the front said it didn’t matter.

I stood alone between groups of tourists, shuffling along, trying to ignore the little girl behind me with no personal space that kept bumping into my butt. I looked at her father and he tried to hold her back, but she was a tailgater and there was nothing he could do about it.

The line enters a building where they scan your bags and send you through a metal detector. Along the walls are pictures of how cities all over the world reacted on that day. My tear ducts start to warm up as I look at the thousands of people all over the world in mourning.

As you exit this building and get in line again, you walk by a NYPD precint entrance and it reminds you of the first responders lost on that day. I put on my sunglasses at this point to cover my eyes that are starting to tear up.

I turn another corner and I’m walking towards the beautiful square fountains that mark the bases of the fallen twin towers. I get flashbacks from high school, when I stood in this exact area, twirling in circles between the two towers staring up towards the sky getting dizzy and laughing. I remember the wind that used to whistle between the two towers and I observe the wind is replaced by the rushing water of the fountains.

It’s crowded around the fountain so I walk towards a quieter side of the fountain and begin to read the names of the victims engraved in the wall surrounding the fountain. The names are organized by building, flight, or first reponders. I read in my brochure that the family and friends of the victims provided information about the relationships of the fallen, so the memorial designers could place victims that were friends and colleagues next to each other in the long list of names scattered around the two square fountains.

I read the names and wonder about their friendships and what they were doing before the event occurred. At this point, I’m sniffling and crying. I look around at the crowd and wish I could just be alone with this place for one moment. But this is New York City, where you are never alone and I accept that as fact and move on.

I look up at the new shiny World Trade Center tower being built and take a deep breath. I decide that maybe I can find some peace in that church I remember on Wall Street. So I work my way out of the memorial and grab a bottle of water at Starbuck’s on my way to Wall Street, to rehydrate my tear ducts.

The streets around wall street are very narrow and the buildings are extremely tall. I zig this way, zag that way, and come upon a huge crowd of people walking outside the church I was looking for, that’s just one block over from the New York Stock Exchange. I stare at the two police officers in their blue uniforms standing outside the church giving directions to tourists passing by. I get that warm teary feeling again, but I walk past them and enter the church.

I remember this church as a peaceful place to find solitude, but I run into a clog of tourists in the back of the church taking pictures. There are some in the pews praying, but there are tourists sitting in the pews talking and laughing. I roll my eyes and walk down the left aisle towards the front trying to find a quieter section. I kneel and cross myself with the trinity, like I used to do when I was a kid and enter a pew.

I haven’t been to church since a friend’s wedding a few years ago. But I kneel down on the prayer cushion and pray in the memory of all those names I just saw at the memorial. I think of my Irish Catholic grandmother that used to take me to church and I imagined her looking down on me and smiling.

Finally, I took a deep breath, lifted myself up and walked back out into the crowded streets of financial district tourists. I walk down to the front of the New York Stock Exchange building and take a few pictures of myself and the huge American flag strung across it’s columns. I get tired quickly of the crowds again and walk down the street to see the Charging Bull where there are even more people crowded around.

That iconic bronze bull is the center of attention for over a hundred tourists waiting to get pictures next to it’s head… and another hundred waiting to take pictures next to his behind. I scoff at the tourists rubbing the bull’s balls and walk away slightly traumatized that women the same age as my mother would pose next to bull testicles for a picture.

I realize my feet are starting to hurt at this point. After all, I had walked 30 blocks up 5th Avenue this morning and all through the Met and then a walking tour of Ground Zero and the Financial District. The closest subway is by the water where you catch the Staten Island Ferry. As I’m walking towards the subway entrance, I turn at the last minute to enter the ferry station. The ferry was on my list of free things to do and I figured I might as well give it a go, as long as I’m right next to it.

I walk into the station and wait by the doors for the boat to pull up. As the minutes pass by, people filter in and surround me. I must have just missed the ferry when I walked in. The large room is beginning to fill up and there’s no sign of the ferry. A fellow tourist asked me if I’ve done the ferry before and I explain that I hadn’t and talk to her for a while.

Eventually, I decide that my feet have reach their limit and turn to catch the subway. Of course, as I’m exiting the terminal, I look back and see the ferry pulling up. But at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I caught the correct subway train back to Chelsea and headed to my room to take a nap.

I knew I had a long evening ahead of me. I had plans to meet up with a friend for dinner and clubbing later. I had to rest up!

New York City – Day 2, Morning

I woke up a bit groggy from my big bottle of Belgian beer the night before.  I got dressed and wandered down to the courtyard for my complimentary breakfast.  It consisted of: Bagel, 1 butter, 1 jelly, 1 Apple, and unlimited coffee.

I sat down at an empty picnic table and began to spread my jam on my bagel when a girl came up and asked if anyone was sitting next to me.  I shook my head and she sat down directly next to me on the bench of the empty picnic.

I snickered to myself because I thought it was odd behavior to not spread out, but we began to talk and I decided she wasn’t so much of a weirdo after all.  She was from Germany and had been to America before.  She had lived in Texas for a year on an exchange program.  So she had just finished revisiting them and was stopping in NYC for a week on her way back home.

She had done what I was planning to do this day already.  So I picked her brain about the 9/11 memorial and the Met.  She told me about a Tenement Museum downtown that sounded very interesting as well.  However, this museum is still on my to-do list.  She was headed to MoMa, so I bid her farewell and headed out to the subway to get to the Met.

I was given directions by the Subway lady to what I thought was the Met, but as I walked up the stairway from the station I realized she had sent me to MoMa.  I guess all the art museums are the same to the subway lady.  So I walked 30 blocks north along Fifth Avenue, taking pictures the whole way.

I walked by the Plaza Hotel and the Central Park Zoo before I finally arrived at my final destination.  The Met.  I had never been before, but I knew what was here.  The biggest and best collection of my favorite classic artists: Monet, Manet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Matisse, etc.  I walked past the voluntary contribution line and headed straight to the Monet section on the 2nd floor.  I walked around taking cell phone pictures of myself with all the greats!

I had a blast and then I decided I was hungry and it was lunch time.  So I went down to the wine bar restaurant in the Met and had myself a fancy salad and fancy glass of wine.  As I was eatting my lunch, I remembered that my friend had recently been to an event on rooftop of the Met, so I looked on the map and saw where it showed an elevator to the rooftop terrace.

After my delicious meal, I hopped on the elevator to the roof and discovered a beautiful mirrored sculpture with stairs cutting through, so you could walk around like in an Escher picture.  I got another glass of wine at the rooftop bar and strolled around the veranda gazing across the park at the Manhattan skyline.

As I looked across the treetops and glanced around at the people my age here with friends, and I began to imagine myself becoming a New Yorker myself…  It’s not that far-fetched; I am having my 30 year crisis.  🙂

New York City – Day 1

Saturday August 11, 2012 12:45AM

New York City

I arrived in NYC with excitement, anticipating a jungle of activity and was immediatley underwhelmed.  Well the city that never sleeps can look kind of sleepy if you’re not on the right block or in the correct bar.  So I just walked to my hostel in Chelsea and checked in.


Made quick friends with a girl from Argentina.  She used the word “wicked” and I asked her if she’d been up to Boston.  Haha, she had been living in Maine and was on her way home after a 2 month stay.  She was very tired from a difficult journey just getting from Portland to New York, we discussed grabbing a drink, but she really just wanted water and bed so she could continue her journey to the southern hemisphere the next day.  Poor thing…

I sprawled out in my private room, blasted the AC and relaxed for a bit trying to dry out from the humidity.  Ugh!  I finally got up and headed out for a night cap.  I tried to walk in one bar but they had just decided to close, so I walked around the long block and saw gay clubs and a busy irish dive bar, but kept going.  I was way too sober to catch up with these crowds.  It was midnight on a friday and these New Yorkers were blasted…

So I found a corner market and bought myself a bottle of Delerium Tremens for super cheap and I now plan on drinking it before I go hang out with the guys hanging out on the hostel stoop. 

The Time I Went Spelunking

I had been in caves at summer camp, but it had been a while.  When my friends suggested we go to West Virginia for a “wild” cave tour, I was on board!  How hard could it be? I’ve done it before…

Well, I hadn’t had to wear equipment before and I know now that I underestimated what I was getting into.  “Wild” cave means we were going where there were no railings, sidewalks, steps, or spotlights to light up the stalactites.

We headed out from the DC area and arrived in Hico, WV after dark.  It was very hard to find our cabin, because GPS navigators really don’t get you anywhere in West Virginia.  We had to pull over at a landmark and have the cabin owner give us turn by turn directions, which involved no streets signs, just landmarks…

But we finally made it to our wonderful party cabin.  There was a hot tub in the screened porch and a great big living room with a big stone fireplace.  It looked great!  So we started out with some drinking and some cards, ended up in the hot tub and all of us eventually passed out in anticipation of our caving adventure the next day.

We arrived at the Lost World Caverns entry house when it opened.  We were welcomed by several friendly dogs wondering around the yard and headed into the preparation room, where you get to put on all the lovely gear.  The knee pads were uncomfortable, but necessary.  The helmet was cool cause it has a light on it and the gloves were good too in anticipation of the rocks we’d be hugging.  After our guide Steve instructed us about things to look out for in the cave (bats, salamanders, etc) and gave us some safety tips, we headed in.

You start out walking down the commercial part of the cave, with steps and railings.  You walk through the lit up giant room of formations and what not, then when you get to the back, you jump the fence.  Climb down some rocks and then up some rocks to a hole in the wall that you can’t really see from the main path.  Once you get through this hole your in the wild part of the cave, no lights, no stairs.

In the wild part of the cave, there is a lot more dirt and mud than I expected.  Also, there are loose rocks stuck in the mud, so you can’t depend on them.  But according to our guide, Steve, there’s never been a serious injury and that was true for our group as well.  So Steve took us all the way to the back of the cave, which I think was like 2 miles.  He took us on steep muddy sloppy parts and small crawl spaces.  We faced all sorts of challenges that brought out different fears in the members of our group.  We had one claustrophobic person and one with a fear of heights (me).  Steve helped us out in tight spots and when our fears kicked in.  He couldn’t have been more helpful!  and patient!

We stopped for a break in The Long Crawl, which is a very very long crawl space, where you have to crawl with your belly on the dirt, or in some parts, you can roll sideways, which is much easier.  In the spot where we took a break, there were mud carvings and messages all over the walls from previous adventurers.  Some mud creations were very artistic and some silly.  I saw smiley faces and initials and thought about the people who came before me as I rested on my stomach in the 2 foot crawlspace.

On our next break, Steve gave us candy and water, which was much needed.  When we got to the very back of the cave, there was a stream, that we sat by and chilled for a minute.  Then when we turned around (exhausted) and began to crawl out, I came face to face with a red salamander!  I screamed, which echoed loudly, and everyone came quickly.  So we took some pictures with the little guy and moved on.

The trip back to the entrance of the cave went by more quickly, but was more painful.  We began to realize our age with our sore muscles and joints on the climb out. MJ, the claustrophobic one, was the first one out of the cave.  He was highly motivated to get out of there!  MJ was followed closely by Juan.  However, the girls were lagging behind due to exhaustion!

When we got back to the supply room, we took turns taking showers and got back into our clean clothes.  This was a slow process, because we were all moving sluggishly.  But we had so much fun in the cave!  And we recommend everyone try it at least once.  It’s physically challenging, but anyone can do it if I can!  🙂

For information:

Beach Camping Through a Derecho

I recently planned a trip to the beach for my friends.  We wouldn’t be able to check-in to the Ocean City condo till noon on Saturday… so I booked us a beach front campsite on Assateague Island.  Sounded like a wonderful idea, until I realized as we were driving down that a huge storm system was headed our way.

We arrived late to our campsite, around 11pm and saw people tacking down their tents and battening down the hatches.  We hurried to our site and got our tents setup and started a fire.  We made s’mores, drank beers, and started to enjoy our evening.  
I’m sitting on the picnic bench in front of the fire when all of a sudden the wind rushes at me, picking up hot coals out of the fire and spraying them in every direction, including my face.  
I screamed!  And ran for my tent.  The wind was howling all around us, waking up campers that had already laid down for the night.  I unzipped the door to my little 4 person Coleman tent and the wind flew in the door, knocking me inside, ballooning the whole tent in different directions, as the fly flew in the air!  
Help me!  
My friend grabbed my fly… and I asked him to help me break down the tent so I could just throw it back in the car.  I guess you can call me a fair-weather camper.  
We hustled a big wad of tent back to the parking lot and shoved it in the trunk.  I told him I would be fine and just stay in the car.  He ran back to join my friends in the other tent, that also wasn’t holding up very well, but it was weighed down by their bodies, and they weathered through the storm.
I, on the other hand, setup camp in the back seat of my friends car.  I waited for the rain to start and turned on my little portable ipod speaker.  The car started to get hot inside… I started to get bored…

The storm wasn’t as scary as the first burst of wind.  But the lightening was breathtaking.

As I moved to the front passenger seat to charge my phone, 2 guys rolled up in a Land Rover next to me.  I saw them hop out and admire the storm.  One of the guys had the storm on radar on his phone screen. 

I perked up, because that’s exactly what I had been trying to do with my phone.  I hopped out of the car, “Hey do you have the storm on radar?!”

They immediately welcomed me and explained that they had been in the off-road section of the beach, drinking around a fire on the beach when the wind started and did the same thing to their fire!

So they packed up as quick as they could to get back to the camp ground where they had a very sturdy REI tent setup on their site.  

We hung out in their car, drank Captain Morgan, admired the lightening, all while sharing travel stories.  These guys had a couple years on me and I admired their level of outdoorsiness.  They had 2 sea kayaks strapped to the car right above me, I was sitting next to their fishing poles and a surf board.  These guys loved the outdoors and turns out they have a camp site booked in Assateague for every weekend of the summer.

For those of you who don’t know, Assateague books up months in advance.  The only reason I was able to book a site at the last minute was because campers cancelled in anticipation of the storm.  These guys are Assateague die-hards, which is part of what contributes to the difficulty in getting a site there. If you want to go, book in April.  

OK, back to the story… We continued to drink as the storm mellowed down.  We finally decided the rain was light enough to go check on their tent.  I walked with them to their site, a few sites down from my friends.  While they investigated how their tent weathered the storm, I walked over to my friends tent to find them all asleep.  

I told them I made new friends and walked back to the guys.  What I learned later, was that my statement freaked out the girls in the tent, imagining the worst…

The guys had a broken pole in one spot that had ripped through the tent, but for the most part the tent was solid and dry.  I left them to their tent repair and walked back to my car.  

I got in the front seat and started to play with my phone, when I noticed one of the guys walking up to my car.  I opened the door and he said he still wanted to hang out.  I was tired, had no idea what time it was, but the adrenaline from the storm was still in me, so we went for a walk.

We talked and talked and walked and ended up on the beach.  Next thing I know, my guy has stripped down to his boxers and he’s running into the surf!

It’s pitch black on the beach… the clouds are blocking out any ounce of moon or starlight so it’s hard to see anything except the water line and the splash of white on the breaking waves. 

“Fuck it!”  

I took a layer of clothes off and ran into the water.  The water was warm and we had a blast.  Every once in a while a wave would wash me out pretty good out of nowhere, but aside from that it was fun.  

It even got a little romantic when we noticed we were circling around in a cloud of glowing algae.  The more we moved our arms on the surface of the water, the brighter the algae became.  It was beautiful and I’d never seen anything like it.  

It’s amazing how a series of events can occur sometimes, from a collapsed tent to a romantic swim in the Atlantic….

The next morning, we all woke up at the crack of dawn.  What my friends didn’t realize is that I only got 30 minutes of sleep.  But I was excited for the beautiful morning on the beach.  

We packed up the car, stopped by the beautiful bayside nature walk on the island before we headed to Ocean City, Maryland for breakfast.  

Bayside of Assateague Island

Camping in Assateague with the Wild Ponies

I recently had the pleasure of going camping at Assateague Island National Seashore.  I went with a hiking group off and we had over 100 people.  We took over one group site and had a bunch of individual sites on the same ocean front loop.  

The ocean front camp sites are the perfect location, tucked behind the dunes which protects you only slightly from the constant breeze blowing off the ocean.  You can hear the waves crashing in the background as you enjoy the wildlife around you at these sites.  There are plenty of interesting birds that love to chirp and visit your site, and they aren’t sea gulls!  

We went camping in late April to beat the mosquitoes.  There can be a mosquito problem if you go later in the summer, so just come prepared!  

Paddling through the mist on the bay side.
It was misty and foggy the first day I arrived.  It was not raining, but it was like the clouds had dropped from the sky and were floating across the island.  

I made friends with some of my camp neighbors and we decided to explore the island and see what there was to see.  We walked over to the bay side and found beautiful views from a boardwalk trail.  We could see people in the distance on stand up paddle boards.  

In the distance behind the paddle boarders we could see wild ponies on the narrow peninsulas.

We saw a pair of mother and child ponies.

Itchy ponies

A cloudy misty beach.  

Dogs were having a blast on the large open beach.  After exploring the island, I setup my camp chair on the beach and enjoyed the beach as well.  

Later that night, we all go together for a bit of a potluck and everyone grilled their meats on one big grill.  We enjoyed a beautiful night on the beach under the stars.

Camping under the stars!

I couldn’t help but wake up and watch the sunrise, with my tripod in tow.  

Our tents for the “group” camp site were nestled among the dunes.

Sunrise over the dunes from my camp site.

Beautiful boardwalk trail leading to the bay.

Kite Surfer enjoying a perfect day on the bay.

At the end of a perfect day, hiking and socializing with the group I headed south for a journey to the Low Country, but that’s another story!

Photos: Gravelly Point, Washington DC: Lots of Planes and Monuments!

Recently went to a meetup at Gravelly Point by Reagan Airport across the Potomac River from Washignton, DC.  This is a great place to go if you like to watch planes taking off and landing at the airport.  There’s also a boat ramp if you want to go boating on the Potomac and a soccer field.  Beware of the bike path, the bikers can be short with you if you’re in their way…
Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Monument
The Capitol Dome
Thomas Jefferson Memorial & The Monument
Now leaving DCA
Rumbling down the runway
One in, One out
3 planes in a row off to who knows where?
Taking off into the Sunset
Jet Stream over Northern Virginia
Sunset at DCA
Twinkley Runway
The Tower
Coming in for a landing
The Monument at Night
Oopsy I moved the camera, but it looks cool, right?
The Capitol Dome across the Potomac River
Plane lights streaming down for a landing
The Monument across the Potomac River
The colorful DC skyline at night
Looks like Star Trek Enterprise coming in!
The Capitol through the tree branches
The End

Shenandoah National Park

SNP Collage
Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful park if you’re in the mid-atlantic region.  A road called Skyline Drive runs from the North end of the park to the South along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Appalachian Trail also runs directly through the park.  In addition to the drive with over 75 overlooks, there are 500 miles of hiking trails and 4 campgrounds.  One of the most popular times of year to visit is when the leaves change in the Fall.

This past fall, I reserved a campsite way in advance for the peak weekend.  During this weekend, every year, Skyline Drive is inundated the entire length with families, photographers, and tourists.  Armed with cameras, packed into vans and SUVs to save on the per car entrance fee, they take over!

But if you show up friday night and camp out, you beat the crowds to the punch!  We camped at Matthew’s Arm, which is the furthest north campground in the park.  On top of avoiding the traffic, you are also guaranteed a parking spot at your camping site.

The campground has a trail that connects to the popular Tuscarora Overall Run Trail, that provides views of several waterfalls.  One of the falls is 93 feet tall and stunning as it cuts through the fall colors.

I would like to embarass myself a bit now and share my experience of trying to sleep outside in October in the mountains.  It’s cold!  I wasn’t quite prepared.  I had my tent and sleeping bag and lots of layers, but I forgot my air matress, which would have lifted me off the cold ground.  So instead of bothering my other friends in their tents and trying to spoon… I ran to my car in the middle of the night and slept on my passenger seat laid out flat, snuggled in my bag.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep in my car… I thought it would be uncomfortable, but I passed out.  I think after shivering for two hours, I was exhausted.

OK, spare me the lecture… I learned my lesson.

Enjoy the pictures from our hikes and drive along Skyline.

Smart People have campers…
Going down the trail.  Down the mountain!
Creek crossing
The fall foliage and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
One of the waterfalls
Overlook from the trail
Hikers enjoying the vista
Last look before heading back to campsite.
To warm our feet after a long day of hiking.
From a Skyline Drive overlook
Skyline Drive view
Hiking in the Fall – wear layers and enjoy the colors!

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