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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Star Drugstore: A Lot of Firsts, and a Good Place for Seconds!

I had lunch today at the Star Drug Store in Galveston (

It's a great little historic place. They claim to be the oldest drug store in Texas, and it's a pretty sincere and non-falutin' place, so I'm inclined to believe that their research is correct.

The history doesn't end there: the porcelain Coca-Cola sign is one of the oldest around, too, and it's been beautifully restored (as has the entire building). Star was also the first lunch counter to be integrated on the island, by George Clampitt back in the 50's.

Speaking of integration, I quickly integrated a bacon, lettuce, and avocado sandwich into my hungry belly this afternoon. The hub had today's special, an italian sub on great french bread. My sandwich came with a side of dill potato salad, which was warm and seemed a little more like mashed potatoes. But it was GOOD, once I stopped expecting crispy cold potato pieces.

Star serves homemade ice cream (made just up the street in Santa Fe). We actually wanted to order some, but our waitress never returned to take our order. We took that as a judgement, like we didn't need ice cream, and we headed out without dessert. Luckily, Galveston only had about 30 other little places that were more than happy to add to our calorie count for the day.

But bad waitressing aside, I love the Star Drug Store. I love all of the stuff for sale in the display cases around the dining area, and I love the little list of historic tidbits that's printed on the back of their ice cream menu (like, the hilarious David Schwimmer movie Breast Man featured a quick glimpse of the Star's exterior, as well as a shot of the phone booth that used to be in front of the building. How did I miss that movie on the Oscar list?)

And I love the cute pink t-shirts that they sell for just $15. I got mine a little big, to hide that ice cream belly fat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Serial Killing Gardener: Back to School Edition

There are those gardeners who are trainable. They make mistakes, they learn from them, they improve. They are in a constant state of evolution to a higher-functioning mind. And a better looking garden.

I'm so not one of them.

Case in point: as I write this, the heat is still sweltering. The corn in my county looks like fields of pineapples, and the grass sounds like a bowl full of Rice Krispies when I walk through the yard.

And what did I buy two weeks ago? A beautiful planter to put on the little patio outside of our cellar entrance. Salvia splendens, a bright red flower, really perked up the outside of our basement apartment.

How many plants do I have now that I'm a cellar dweller? Uh...just the one. The Salvia splendens. Which is now just a plastic pot filled with shriveled crackly dead things. Not so splendens anymore.

Why do I do this every year? Why do I fall for the marketing at the big box stores, luring me to buy the bright bushy red flowers? Why don't I remember to water these damn things once I buy them?

After all, I know that it gets hot in summer. My birthday is in July, and for 40-some years now, I have never worn a sweater to blow out the candles on my cake (there are those wags who will say that those candles are at least partially responsible for global warming, but there is no real evidence of that). And I know that plants put underneath porches (like this one) seldom (read: never) get any rain, even when it's a big storm.

And yet, no matter where I'm living, I buy beautiful outdoor flowers, only to see them die.

I am a serial plant killer.

The kids are getting ready to go back to school, and I'm ready to learn something myself. I'm moving to Florida later this week, and it's hot there all year. As I pack up the last of my clothing (and throw out most of my socks!), I've vowed to learn something this year: when I get to Florida, I'm not going to buy plants that I will forget to water. In fact, I may not buy any plants at all once I get there.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Work Stay of the Day

Last week was my company's strategic planning session.

We strategically used the facilities at the Mount Washington Conference Center, strategically located in Mount Washington, just a few minutes from downtown Baltimore.

Mount Washington is a cute little area, lined with serious looking Victorians and well cut lawns. Of course, you'll only see that if you go there during the day because Mount Washington is the darkest neighborhood in the city. As I mentioned to my boss last week, as we stumbled through the parking lot looking for the pedestrian exit, Mount Washington is like Iowa on a cloudy night.

When the sun came up the next day, I had a great view of this building:

The Mount Washington Octagon was built in 1855, under the direction of the Reverend Elias Heiner of the German Reformed Church. It was used until 1861 as the Mt. Washington Female Academy.

After the Civil War the college failed and the building was bought by the Sisters of Mercy, who opened Mount St. Agnes College.

My father-in-law remembers hazing freshman in the building's steep parking lot when he was a senior at Loyola High School. (They made the froshs take their school jackets off and tie them around their waists like skirts. Oooh. Nasty.)

In 1971, Mt. St. Agnes merged with Loyola College and moved from the Mt. Washington site. USF and G then bought the property, and did a bunch of renovation to the Octagon. Today, Hopkins owns the place.

They have not added any lights since the original building was finished in 1855, as far as I could tell.

Incidentally, the building was never a private home. This is historic fact even though someone on our management team--someone who acts as if s/he knows such things--confidently told one of our directors during the second morning that "Yes, it was private originally." Really, if anyone is going to answer those kinds of questions, it should be Historic Travel Girl. Non-historic senior management dude/dudette should stick to answering questions about tax codes and annualized earnings. Or whatever it is that s/he really does know about.

I srategically kept my mouth shut.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Photo of the Day: Mackinac Island

I'm not a photographer. I don't understand light, F-Stops are as confusing (and useless) as video games to me, and composition always has and always will mean writing.

The most artsy thing I do when taking a photo is to put the subject off-center.

But some days, the PhotoGods shine on you and give you a shot that captures the feeling of your vacation.

I know this isn't an award winner. But when I look at it, it takes me right back to Mackinac Island. And that's a winner in my book.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trying Anything Once

They say that nothing is perfect. But imagine, for a moment, that the second that a particular activity was imperfect, it would be banned forever.

This no tolerance policy would change our world forever.

Sushi restaurants would close, of course. Most hair stylists would be out of business (at the very least, they would never give a perm or try to dye anyone's hair red again). And...let's be honest here, would almost certainly be a thing of the past.

But apparently, one bad experience is all it took on Mackinac Island in the Michigan Straits. According to local legend, in 1898 one of the residents drove his nice new horseless carriage into someone's lilac bush or something, and the town big wigs said That's Enough. No more cars in Mackinac.

And they've stuck to it. For 112 years now.

If you want to get around, you have to take a horse (they rent them for $38/hr at Cindy's) or you can bike, walk, or whistle for a horse and carriage.

It changes the environment considerably, and I'm not just talking about the smell of equine waste, either.

When horses are the only means of transportation, you have to slow down. Whether you want to or not.

Case in point: the hub and I were in Mackinac (said Mackinaw, just fyi) a couple of years ago.

One day, around 12:15, we decided we wanted to go to a restaurant a couple of miles away. We went up to the bell captain, and asked him to call us a horse. "Where are you going?" he asked amicably. (Everyone in Mackinac, for the record, is persistently amicable.)

"Woods," we said, referring to a restaurant owned by the Grand Hotel in the middle of the woods.

The bell captain looked at his watch. "I don't know," he said dubiously (yet amicably). "They close at two."

Confused, and slightly less than amicable, I said, "And???"

He amicably explained that it was over 80 degrees that day (it was about 81), so the horses were on "walking orders." It would take a horse at least 25 minutes to get us, then 30 minutes to get us to the restaurant. That would be approximately 1:10, assuming everything went perfectly. And the restaurant closed at 1:30.

Now, had we been in Baltimore, that little vein in my forehead would have been throbbing at full mast. I would have said something that questioned the bell captain's intelligence, or his ability to read a digital watch, or mentioned that his mother smelled like horse butt.

As it was, I said, "Okay. We'll walk into town." I may have even sounded amicable myself.

All of this is simply more evidence that a stay on Mackinac is truly life changing. Not to mention personality shifting.

Two weeks ago we decided to spend another couple of days on the island. It was a chance to get out of the cellar, and perhaps our last chance to relax before taking over the hotel. (Speaking of hotels, we stayed in the beloved Grand for the first few days of our stay. I'm new to the whole hotel ownership thing, but I think we can write our stay off as research. Or something like that).

Mackinac was as beautiful, and serene, and soul washing as I remembered. (This is rush hour in Mackinac's downtown. These are the carriages that are used to move people--but there are plenty of flatbed wagons, too, carrying boxes of vegetables and cases of wine to the hotels around  town. It looks just like the wild wild west).

There have been one or two cars on Mackinac since 1898. Like the one that Christopher Reeve drove in the 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time." (See more about this in my upcoming blog on the Grand Hotel).

But other than that, and an ambulance or two since then, the town elders have stuck to their guns and kept their resolve to keep horseless carriages off the island.

Thanks, guys. I needed that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Grandma Knows What She's Doing

Mike's Grandmother turned 96 yesterday.

If you haven't met her in my blog yet, please check out my favorite post about her here.

Incidentally, she is still trading on the phrase "I'm old and I don't know what I'm doing." But she knows. Oh, she knows.

What she's doing right now, for the record, is living with Mike's parents. Yes...these are the same parents that the hub and I are having dinner with. Every night. While we live in their basement like rebellious teenagers in the 1970's (do teens still want to convert the rec room into a bedroom?)

A few weeks ago I promised some background as to why we have become cellar dwellers (besides just loving the dark and hating the hassles of homeownership). The short story is that we've bought a house in St. Augustine (yes, that St. Augustine), and the appraiser decided that it needed a bunch of work before we could settle. So, we're currently painting the house (yes, we're painting it...the seller refused to), and living with Mike's parents while it's being done. We hope to settle on it by the end of the month.

We painted a discarded door in the new colors...I hope they will look okay in a larger scale. Mike still isn't sure if he likes them...but I love them.

This door was taken from Mike's parents house. I think they took it out of the basement as they prepared for us to move in. I don't see any missing doors, though, so I could be wrong.

With me and the hub hanging downstairs, and Grandma living in the guest room, Mike's folks are officially at 100% occupancy. Which is pretty good for Baldwin, Maryland this time of year--because it's definitely low tourist season in Harford County. (That little bit of hotel-speak will become more evident in the next few weeks as Mike and I embark on our Next Big Venture. Which involves buying a hotel. But that's another blog for another time.)

Anyway, all of this is to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDMA. For the record, I think that you're young, and that you always know EXACTLY what you are doing.