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Road Trip Birds bikes flowers and art

I went to Ft. Myers for my annual Florida fix. I was pooped when I arrived, getting my house ready to sell, getting the new one remodeled and added on to. One I got rested I was on a quest to see some of the things I’ve missed the past four trips.

My first trip this year was to a botanical garden in Punta Gorda called Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens. The garden opened in 2017 and covers 27 acres. In addition to plantings there are a dozen or so sculptures along the walk that goes out to the Peace River. My favorite is this steel palm.

They host different events, music, plant workshops, yoga, and more. They have done a great job of labeling all the plants and have a nice selection of different kinds of palms and other plants, there is also a butterfly house. The gardens aren’t huge but it is worth a visit if you are in the area.

Another place that was a first was Boca Grande. As the crow flies it is 24 miles from where I stay but by car its 54 miles. You have to drive all the way to North Port before going west. I’m glad I made the effort. It’s a beautiful little town with an amazing beach. The island reminds me of Sanibel but in many ways I liked it better. There is more of a town center and less traffic. There is even a little funkiness left at Whidden’s Marina which was established in 1926, I think there are some of the original items left in the store from the beginning!

Since I got my recumbent trike last May I’ve been traveling with it and looking for trails to ride. Boca Grande has a nice one, Gasparilla-Boca Grande Rail Trail. It’s six miles long and flat, which is great for a recumbent trike since they are not great on hills.

Back in N Ft. Myers

Two streets down from where I stay is a Bonsai Nursery. I knew it was there, I’d driven by it before but you can’t see what it is from the street so I never entered. This year I rode my bike down there and wow! It is an amazing place. They are the largest Bonsai Nursery in Florida with over 150 specimen plants for sale and thousands of pre-bonsai. I had never heard of pre-bonsai but it is a plant that can become a bonsai with some tlc. I think I’m going to try it this year.

Next I went to St Petersburg to go to the Van Gogh experience. It was interesting. My favorite parts were that the paintings were blown up so big you could see how he applied the paint, the brushstrokes, and I loved his quotes, from the letters he wrote to his brother I’m sure.

Of his quotes, this one was my favorite.

I’m leaving some souvenir too!

I always go to the Craftsman House when I am in St Pete, they have a wonderful selection of pottery and other crafts and I always enjoy talking to the owner Jeff.

He mentioned a new glass gallery down the street (opened January 2018). So glad he did, I probably would not have gone otherwise, I couldn’t tell from the name what it was. Imagine Museum. It is the best glass museum I have ever been in. They concentrate on contemporary glass, blown, cast, fused, lamp worked, were all represented.

Usually when I’m in St Pete I’m on my way somewhere else so don’t see everything there is to see. This year I spent the night so had more time to explore. It seems Downtown has gone through a renaissance. The St Pete Pier is all new and wonderful. It just opened in October, it’s now a real destination and there is enough to do there you could spend the day. I parked and rode my bike on the North Bay Trail to Coffee Pot Park where the trail leaves the bay. I turned around and rode back visiting every park as far as the airport, then back to the Pier. It was a wonderful 11 mile ride, off road with very few streets to cross, and where you did cross they were 4 way stops. I saw manatees, a bird rookery, beautiful stately homes, boats, birds and even a rhino!

Central Ave has totally changed, there are all new streetscapes, business support, many new condos, lots of shops and restraurants. They have divided the street into districts, each with their own marketing, banners and focus. Some of the districts are Garden District, Grand Central, and Edge, with seven districts in total. The city has really gone all in on this and you can see the results. This evidently started in 2012, but this is the first year that I really noticed the difference. Here is a link to their economic development plan, and it’s paying off.

Like many towns now there are a lot of murals. They have been having a competition called Shine that started in 2015 and have artists from all over the world come to the city and paint murals. Since 2015, the SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival has created 93 world-class murals, hosted artists from 15 countries, coordinated 13 community projects, and showcased the art of more than 90 local artists. It seems I’ve been posting about a lot of murals the last couple of years, like I’ve said before its an easy way to see a lot of art, often without getting out of your car! Here are some of them.

Stopped to check out The Morean Center for Clay (MCC) which is located in the Warehouse Arts District in St Pete and recognized this arch immediately. It’s by Peter King and Xinia Marin. About 15 years ago I went to a workshop with them at Dan Finch’s place in Wilson. They do amazing work, I’ve seen other examples like the gate at Annmarie Gardens, Solomans Island, MD.

I came home and using some of the techniques I learned and made this sculpture that I mounted at my front door at East Front.

I write a lot about what I see in an urban setting but I love the birds, flora, and fauna as well. When we first moved to New Bern most of the work I was doing at the time was drawings of birds. Last years trip to Fort Myers inspired two new design ideas for my pottery. A nature series and what I call a dark series, flowers and birds with a black background.

A nature series pot – this is one that is featured on the deck of cards the Craven Arts Council has just produced.
Dark series

Love the foot sticking out! I’ve written about this before in a previous blog post but Cape Coral is a haven for Burrowing Owls. And Florida has its share of Carnivorous plants, bottom right is a sundew.

A boat trip to see manatee, a walk in Six Mile Cypress, and many trips to Babcock, yielded seeing lots of wildlife. The bottom center photo isn’t sharp, it’s a bald eagle and it was a long way away.

In addition to riding the trail in St Pete I rode trails on Sanibel, John Yarborough Trail in Ft Myers, in Cape Coral, Venice and in North Fort Myers.

I got home on April 8 and turned around and went back on a 10 day camping trip on May 8. I’ll write about that in my next blog post.

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Winter 2020-2021

It was pointed out that I haven’t done a blog post in a while, I thought to myself I haven’t been anywhere….. but wait! I took a trip to Florida in November 2020. It started out with a trip to Blowing Rock, meeting up with friends (masking, social distancing, etc). On the way there I stopped at several places to ride my bike. The first was in Winston Salem – the Muddy Creek Trail. It’s not long – 4 miles – but it’s beautiful. Creek on one side and farm and woods on the other. It’s pretty enough to make two or three passes to get in more miles. Paved and wide enough for two trikes to ride side by side. 4 separate parking lots. Flat!

Then I struck off for an overnight at a Harvest Host. Harvest Hosts is a membership program that provides access to a network of wineries, farms, breweries, museums and other unique attractions that invite self-contained RVers to visit and stay overnight. I had never stayed at one so didn’t know what to expect. Where I stopped only had 4 spots but had water and 30/50 amp electric. Most don’t cost anything, they just ask you to buy something. Where I stayed had a farm and the cutest goats.

After I left there I rode 2 trails, Yadkin River Greenway, and the Lenior Greenway. Yadkin is in Wilkesboro – the part I rode is only 2 1/2 miles, the river on one side, on the other is a park, then industry, then just woods. Very nice, flat until you get to the end, then you come to a locked gate. I started at the YMCA. There is another section that I think the section I rode on will connect to eventually. I was going to do that part starting downtown but after walking a short way on it I realized it was a long way down to the river – about a mile, and I would never make it back up.

While in town I wanted to go to St Paul’s Episcopal Church to see Ben Long’s Frescos. I was there years ago. Unfortunately the church was closed but I wandered the grounds.

Yadkin Greenway was nice but the Lenior Greenway is spectacular!

It’s seven miles. I had a hard time finding the trail heads so ended up parking at a church right in the middle. When I got to the trailheads on each end there were bathrooms at one end, portajohns at the other. If we ever get around doing anything like this in New Bern I would say this is the trail we should fashion it after. There were only 2 short hills and you have enough warning to get some steam up and low gear I made it up both with no problem. There is sculpture along the way, you go along a river, woods, lots of markers, markers showing what trees you are seeing, even one of those little libraries! Lots of benches, shelters, even a few drinking fountains, one of those bike repair stands. Then off to the side are mountain bike trails. I would definitely go out of my way to ride this trail again! And this is just phase one of the trail. I’m really careful where I ride and park because I’m usually by myself, have felt very safe on the 3 trails I’ve ridden so far on this trip. Having my trike has definitely changed the way I travel. I like to wander but usually don’t get much exercise doing it. My trike has changed all that. Love it.

I have to admit I had never stopped at the actual Blowing Rock, it was a beautiful view.

After Blowing Rock I headed for Ft De Sota State Park in St Petersburg, FL. I was excited to be there but my visit was cut short due to hurricane Eta. They closed the park the next day so I continued to Ft Myers and spent the next few days holed up, waiting out the hurricane. After it passed I joined 2 other campers and we headed to Collier-Seminole State Park.

There was so much standing water that there was even too much water for the alligators. We had never seen so many right beside the road. Bike riding, a visit to Everglade City, walking in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve were a great distraction from the work I had waiting for me at home.

I started home and went through Lake Placid, a town full of murals.

My friend Judy mentioned the ridge of Florida, I hadn’t paid much attention to it before but as I drove it I realized it IS higher than surrounding land.

The Lake Wales Ridge, sometimes referred to as the Mid-Florida Ridge is a sand ridge running for about 150 miles in Central Florida. The ridge is clearly viewable from satellite, the white sands of the ridge are located Highlands, Polk, Osceola, Orange and Lake Counties. The highest point of the ridge is Sugarload Mountain at 312 feet which makes it the highest point in Florida. Another high point is Iron Mountain where Bok Tower is.

The sand comes from ancient oceans that once covered most of Florida, and unfortunately may again.

I’ve driven by Bok Tower many times but had never stopped, so decided this was the year. One of my early memories is a thermometer that my Grandma had from Bok Tower.

After arriving home I went back to working on my oil paintings – I was the featured artist at Carolina Creations for the month of December so wanted to get some new pieces ready for that. Here are 3 of the oil paintings I finished for that show and a pottery piece. I was pleased that I sold all 4 pieces.

I had seen on Facebook the mention of Heads of Presidents near Williamsburg, VA. I love quirky odd stuff like this. So off I went over Thanksgiving weekend to wander around giant heads in the mud. On the way up there I stopped and rode on the Dismal Swamp Trail. When we moved here 30 years ago this was part of the road you drove on.

Inspired by Mount Rushmore, Presidents Park was built for $10 million by Everette “Haley” Newman in 2004 so visitors could walk among 20-foot tall busts of the presidents while learning more about them. The busts themselves were created by modernist sculptor David Adickes. Doomed by a poor location and lack of visitors, the park went under in 2010.

The busts were supposed to be destroyed but Howard Hankins, a man whose construction company worked on the park, suggested moving them to his farm in Croaker, Virginia instead. As per Smithsonian Magazine’s article on the location, “so began the laborious process of moving 43 giant presidents, each weighing in between 11,000 and 20,000 pounds, to a field ten miles away. Hankins estimates the weeklong process cost about $50,000—not including the damage done to each sculpture during the move.”

It was interesting!! While there I rode around old Williamsburg on my bike then rode on several of the bike trails in the area. What a great place to bike! Many trails connect to one another. I rode 6 miles in Colonial Williamsburg, 18 miles on the Powhatan Creek Trail which connected to the Virginia Capital Trail, which connects to the East Coast Greenway. There is a really nice county campground Chickahominy Park Trailhead with a new pool and is a trailhead for the Virginia Capital Trail. I stopped at the Spoke + Art for a nosh and was entertained by a Jazz Duo outdoors. I’m guessing it’s about 10 miles to Jamestown and will do that ride in July.

Whats next? Hopefully a month in Florida when I’m tired of winter.

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Road Trip Off to Franklin Tennessee

I’ve been wanting to work on my oil painting for quite a while. I never quite get there because I find I know what I’m doing with watercolors so always revert to that, and my default creative outlet that I can do no matter what is going on in my life and my world, is my pottery. So the oil painting always comes last.

Yes, I’ve done successful oil paintings in the past, but because I don’t do them all the time each time I start one it’s like I’ve never done one before so I struggle. Just to kick start the process I decided to take a 3 days workshop in Franklin, TN with Richard Oversmith. The 2nd reason for taking it is I’ve heard about Franklin but have never been there. For me the saying “I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list” rings so true!

Photo I took in Amsterdam!

On the way I decided to spend the night in Asheville and look at some of the public art.

I always thought I’d have Stan make something like this for the side of my house but I’ve never gotten around to it.
On the front of Odessey Clay Center

I guess I have never driven under this overpass, or if I have it was before these murals were painted.

I didn’t have much time in Asheville but have to go back to ride the Greenways there. Especially the one along the French Broad River, they are working on major improvements there now. As always happens it seems, the artists move in then people start to take notice of an area, then soon the artists can’t afford to be there any more. Hope that doesn’t happen with the River Arts District. I first started going to the area about 20 years ago when Michael and I started making pottery. At that time I was just doing hand building and making tiles, then Michael started throwing pieces and I would decorate them, so we would go to Highwater Clays to pick up our clay. There were some artists there at that time but it was pretty low key. Around 2005 it really started to come alive. The good news is a lot of the buildings are owned by artists.

While there I read about an apple place in Serverville, TN so took a detour on my way to Franklin. The Apple Barn and Cider Mill was worth it. That’s one thing I miss about Michigan is the cider in the fall so always visit ever cider mill I hear about. My favorite is one near Mystic, CT called the BF Clyde Cider Mill, circa 1881 the oldest steam powered cider mill in the country I visited in 2016. It was probably a mistake to go to the Apple Barn because I ended up having a piece of apple pie with their homemade ice cream on it for breakfast!

From there I continued on and made a brief stop in Knoxville. I’d only ever driven through on the expressway before so didn’t realize how beautiful it is.

When I arrived in Franklin I decided to go to Leiper’s Fork before settling in for the night. It was one of the places we were supposed to paint at during the workshop. Which did not happen because the remnants of the hurricane came though on the day we were supposed to be there. Leiper’s Fork is just a wide spot in the road but is quite charming with some galleries and restaurants. It is definitely worth the visit if you fine yourself anywhere near Nashville.

Franklins Downtown is charming as well.

During the 3 day workshop Richard did a demo every morning explaining his thoughts as he went along then in the afternoons we painted. He was constantly on the move visiting each of us to give pointers. He did a great job of that, and didn’t let anyone monopolize his time (which happens sometimes in situations like this).

Our first day was painting at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm where we painted a barn, not exactly something I would choose to paint but the idea of going to a workshop like this is not to come out with a good painting it is to try something new and to learn. I’ve been to a few workshops through the years and find that my mind is swirling with what I’m learning and sometimes (or often) I’m not necessarily able to really absorb, it’s after I get home that I “get it”.

While the barn didn’t turn me on the Park was pretty cool, and well used, its big and right in the middle of town. Harlinsdale Farm has been called the most significant historic farm associated with the modern Tennessee Walking Horse industry. In 1933, W.W. Harlin established the farm on the northern outskirts of great renown in the fledging Tennessee Walking Horse Industry.  It’s 200 acres of rolling farmland.

One thing Richard said was that he didn’t have a formula, that he didn’t always start a painting the same way each time. Well that was what I’m TRYING to do – develop a formula to at start a painting, at least until I feel more comfortable with the medium.

Each evening after class I would roam the countryside. Wandering is my favorite thing to do. What a stunning area the south side of Nashville is! Rolling hills, streams, I described it to a friend as bucolic. Hundreds of huge estates, even the smaller houses in the country had a lot of land. Beautiful!! The Natchez Trace starts just outside of Franklin too. I’ve been on parts of that through the years, one day will just have to do the whole thing.

Day 2 we painted at another farm south of Franklin which was more my style.

Day 3 we got the tail end of the hurricane so had to paint inside. I sat in the doorway and painted some flowers on the porch.

One thing I like about traveling in the fall is seeing all the fall and Halloween decorations, I don’t decorate myself but like seeing them.

The other thing I like about traveling is I learn so much.

Before leaving the area I visited Nashville. I loved it. Once again I did a tour of murals. There are hundreds in Nashville and I saw just a few. I know I’ve been writing about a lot of murals lately, I’m not obsessed with them it’s just a way of seeing a lot of art without even getting out of your car and you can view them any time of the day. I may have gotten a few of these mixed up with those from Asheville.

Other things I loved about Nashville….. I assumed it was only about Country music, and assumed country everything else. Well I was wrong. I saw some very contemporary art, lots of nice old neighborhoods, lots of new contemporary architecture and lots of neat looking shops. And in the city and all around south of the city, major construction going on. I’m told it’s not just country music but all kinds of music is happening there all the time.

From Nashville I drove to Murphy, North Carolina for the night.

On the way I drove through Monteagle. It is home to the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly which I had never heard of. Monteagle Sunday School Assembly dates back to 1882, when the Sunday School Convention of Tennessee created an educational congress for Sunday school teachers. From ancient language to music, Sunday school teachers from across the South attended summer classes at the Assembly to broaden their experience. The first Assembly it appears was in Chautauqua, NY. Funny, I had not heard of that one either until I was in Florida in March and one of the ladies I met talked about having a condo there, so I read all about it and intended on visiting this summer, then all plans went out the window when Covid arrived.

Just before you get to to Monteagle is Sewanee. The town is cute and it is the home of Sewanee: The University of the South which was founded in 1857 and has a BEAUTIFUL wooded campus. The Chapel is the centerpiece of it.

A few other shots along the way.

The These photos were taken from my window in Murphy.

I have always planned on going to John C Campbell Folk School have never made it, never even been to Brasstown so made a detour to there. The school is not having on campus classes at the moment but the shop is open and it’s very nice with lots of great art in it.

Then I continued to Bryson City, again, never been, been very close but never have been there. They have some neat shops too, and it was very busy. I’m sure the Smoky Mountain Railroad is the driving force there. I took the train ride, made sure the steam engine would be pulling it, and made reservations for first class. They did a good job of social distancing, insisted on masks, and we were greeted with mimosas and gourmet muffins. The lunch was also good and the hostess in our car was very informative and attentive. I highly recommend the ride.

I did not stay here but a friend does whenever she goes to Bryson City. Have to say from the outside it looks pretty ratty and I would not have gone in if she didn’t tell me to. The Freymont Inn is on a hill above town. it’s pretty cool, built around 1921. I WILL stay there next time I’m in the area.

After my ride on the train I decided to drive to Highlands and glad I did.

That evening I drove the Road to Nowhere – The Road to Nowhere is an 8-mile drive outside Bryson City. It leads to a a 1,200-foot tunnel that was built for a scenic drive but never completed. It’s mostly woods but there are a few spots where you can see the vista. The National Park Service committed to rerouting the road and finishing it but never did.

Like I’ve said before there are just some things I won’t do by myself and hiking through this tunnel is one of them. It’s longer than it looks in this photo!

Then I drove to Cherokee which was just a few miles away. I didn’t really care for it but I understand there is a really good museum there.

I drove into the Smoky Mountain National Park then saw the turn off for Clingmans Dome. It is 7 miles off the main road. I got to mile 5 and came to a dead stop, a traffic jam at the top of the mountain! I sat in the jam for about 45 minutes inching along, many times I contemplated turning around, many people were parking and walking up but since it was close to dusk I was reluctant to do that. Just as I was about to give up I made it to the top and it was worth the wait!


Time to go home!

Made a couple quick stops in Waynesville then Black Mountain.

And always stop at the Farmers Market just outside of Winston, open seven days a week.

I came home with inspiration for some new paintings, a new way to approach them and ready to get back to work. Next up …. camping for a week in the Everglades in early November.

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Road Trip – Floyd Damascus Abingdon Travel During a Pandemic

Ok I really needed to get out of town! Yes we should still be staying home. But what if you are traveling in your own home? Doing your own cooking, taking your own bathroom with you? In 2014 Michael and I bought a Pleasure Way Sprinter RV and we had a lot of adventures in it. I was always the driver, I think he may have put 100 miles on it. The reason? I’m a terrible backseat driver and it just made us both more comfortable if I did the driving. Since he’s been gone I have continued to travel in it. From Florida to Maine to Michigan to Arkansas and all along the Gulf coast, I continue to have adventures, just wish he was here to share them with me. I’d love to take it to the west coast but obviously that won’t be for a while.

We always used to name our vehicles but haven’t the last couple including this one. Our 69 VW Bus was Poke. When we lived in Aspen and would drive to Denver by the time we got to the tunnel at the top of Loveland Pass we would be going 25 and be nice and warm. Once we exited the tunnel we could be going 70 but freezing. So this RV is just called the Sprinter.

I had plans to go to Maine and Nova Scotia this summer then over to see family in Michigan. When states started shutting down due to Covid 19 I changed it to just Michigan. Now cases of Covid are surging everywhere so I decided to stay closer to home. For some it’s no fun to travel if things aren’t open. For me I’m content to look at the outside of buildings (more interested in the architecture than the contents), walk a neighborhood, look at a vista, and just have a pleasant drive.

I have never been to Floyd or ridden the Virginia Creeper so decided this was a good time to do it. Of course if I AM around other people I always wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart, and wash my hands until they are raw. Floyd is 5 hours from New Bern.

This was my first trip carrying my new bike with me. I got TerraTrike (made in Michigan) that folds up so it would fit inside my RV. Yes I could hang it on the outside, I did not worry about someone steeling my old bike, I think I only paid $150 for it and it was well used. This one, would be more tempting to someone so I wanted to be able to put it inside.

Floyd is SSW of Roanoke, VA, a small town of only 428 but is definitely a tourist destination with cute shops, a distillery, vineyards, and in a beautiful location. Floyd County is situated on a high plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains which divides the eastward flowing from the westward flowing waters. It is said that no water flows into Floyd County. My Dad would say this was “the height of land.” I always thought that was a phrase he made up but it’s not. Here is the definition I found “Height of land is used to mean a local high point on a trail, road, or along a ridge where you stop going up and start going down. It’s basically used to describe a high-point that’s not a summit.”

I stayed at Chantilly Farms, a beautiful event space and campground. If you just need electricity and water they place you way away from everyone else, it was beautiful. And at dusk I saw this deer on the ridge above me.

On my way out of town I spotted her…..

I’m always intrigued by grindstones. Partly because we went more than once to Grindstone City at the tip of the thumb in Michigan when I was growing up. We had a grindstone for a front step at our house and one by the back door. In those days you could just pick them up now I’m told the only ones left there are giant.

I ran across the Claw of the Dragon, a motor cycle route going up Virginia Route 16. I had heard of the Tail of the Dragon, which is a famous motor cycle route in western NC. But I didn’t realize there is the Back of the Dragon, Claw of the Dragon, etc. I tried to track down a map of the whole dragon but could not! I guess they are just motorcycle routes that don’t necessarily connect to one another. Here is a website that shows the different Dragon routes. I drove on a part of Hwy 8 in my RV that could be some part of the dragon!

I left Floyd and headed west to Damascus, VA. Another first visit.

On the way I spotted a lot of LOVE in Virginia!

Damascus is known as Trail Town USA due to the convergence of four scenic trails in the town, including the Appalachian TrailU.S. Bicycle Route 76The Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Damascus also is on the route of the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail and the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail. The Trail Days festival is held around the middle of May each year and draws in 20,000 tourists, making it the largest single gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers anywhere.

Like I said I was there to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail which is part of the Rails to Trails  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors. This program and other trail programs have been an economic boon to towns along them. I wish our town would get with the program! We have the perfect topography for it since it is so flat in eastern North Carolina.

A shuttle service carried my bike and I to Whitetop Station – The elevation at Whitetop Station is 3500 feet, dropping down to about 1900 feet in Damascus. This is a 17 mile downhill ride. You can ride an additional 17 miles up to Abingdon with an elevation of 2087 feet which I did not do. Can’t say the ride was much exercise but the view was spectacular! At times the Trail runs along Whitetop Laurel Creek through a deep narrow gorge with views of both whitewater rapids and swimming holes.

A little history – The Virginia Creeper Trail Began as a Native American footpath. Later the European pioneers, as well as early explorer Daniel Boone, used the trail.

Shortly before 1900, W.E. Mingea constructed the Virginia- Carolina Railroad from Abingdon to Damascus. Its nickname, Virginia Creeper, came from the early steam locomotives that struggled slowly up the railroads steep grades.

The Virginia Creeper engine and tinder are now on display at the Abingdon trailhead.

Virginia Creeper is also the name of a vine that grows prolifically in the area.

  It’s a pretty plant with berries the birds like but it’s kind of like poison ivy so it’s nothing you want in your yard. Plus if you don’t keep it in check it would cover your entire home.

The Creeper ran its last train March 31, 1977.

Between Abingdon and Damascus, the trail right-of-way belongs to the two towns. Although the public legally has the right to use the trail, most of the actual land between Abingdon and the iron bridge East of Damascus is privately owned. The 15.9 miles of trail between iron bridge ( mile 18.4 ) to the state line are part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest. Except for a short stretch through Taylor’s Valley, the public owns both the right-of-way and the actual property. Taylors Valley is a cute little town with a restaurant.

The trail is well traveled so I was assured by a female friend that it would be safe to ride by myself. Some trails that are more remote I probably would not ride by myself unless there were a lot of people on it. There were no issues whatsoever. Lots of people on the trail and I saw the same people over and over so felt perfectly safe.

My dream is to have some dedicated bike trails in and around New Bern. The closest thing we have is the Riverwalk that goes out to Lawson Creek park. I ride it at least once a week, but it is only a mile and a half or so long. The rails to trails, or any bike trails in the country have been an economic boon to the communities they go through. This would be especially true right now because bike sales have soared, to the point most bike shops can’t get any and in some cases can’t even get parts. I’ve joined a club of people with recumbent trikes and ride with them occasionally (retirement is wonderful)!

Here are some shots around Damascus.

I was camped in the middle of town, a perfect spot. This was my view.

A friend of a friend picked me up and we went to Abingdon for lunch then went to Backbone Rock Tunnel. We climbed up these amazing stone steps to walk across the top of it. Glad I had him with me because I never would have made it on my own. Boy I need to do a lot more bike riding, I’m so out of shape! It was beautiful and worth the huffing and puffing! It doesn’t look like it but it’s 75 feet to the top of the rocks. It is known as the shortest tunnel in the world.

Backbone Tunnel is just a few miles out of Damascus. I then drove to Abingdon. I’ve visited here many times picking up pottery from Mary Curtin. Through the years I’ve seen it go up and down in prosperity. Sometimes I’ve gone and found it bustling with lots of neat shops, other times it’s pretty quiet. It looks like it is thriving right now, even with the Virus.

This is the Abingdon end of the Creeper Trail and one of the original steam engines.

Things Abingdon is known for is the Barter Theatre, the trails of course, The Martha Washington Inn, its 20-square block Historic District with homes and buildings dating from the 1860s, the Virginia Highlands Festival, lots of hiking including the Great Channels. I love the idea of seeing the Great Channels but would never do it by myself, and don’t think I’m up to hiking that far. Of course when I was in Rome and Amsterdam I had no trouble walking just as far but both cities are on flat ground, with lots of people to pick up up if I tripped and fell. Which I did do in Amsterdam, in the street, right in front of the train station. And people came from all around to pick me up!

Obviously this is not my photo of the Great Channels because I did not go, it looks like it would be really neat to see.


I understand the Barter Theatre is doing performances at a drive in theatre. They have a stage then the performance is projected onto the movie screen.

I love the architecture here.

After leaving Abingdon I stopped in Blowing Rock. Always love the flowers there, I didn’t mind it was raining because it was nice and cool.

I then drove to see a friend that started and owned Craft Company Number 6 in Rochester, NY, a great gardener and woodworker.

We visited Collene Karcher at her studio Stone Crossing Studio and Gallery. She does contemporary folk artist carving free-standing and bas relief sculpture in marble, slate, and limestone, as well as hand-carved letters in stone. There are only a handful of people in the country that are still doing this type of work by hand.

I was particularly interested in the garden pieces that she casts in concrete from her molds she has made from her sculptures. I loved it ALL and of course came home with a few pieces. I don’t really need to be still collecting but I can’t help myself when I see such beautiful things.

One of the pieces I got!

All in all it was a great week and I will certainly return to the area. Where to next? Franklin, TN to a painting workshop in October.

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Road Trip My 10 Favorite Drives in the US and Canada

Granted I have not been everywhere in the US but I have been in every state but Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon, and know there are many beautiful drives. These might not be the most spectacular but each speaks to me for various reasons. And while the title says 10 I thought of another favorite while writing! These are in no particular order.

1. The Tunnel of Trees US M-119 in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan

I probably rode down the Tunnel of Trees when I was 1 or 2 years old for the first time. When we started driving home from Canada or the UP we would drive down the Tunnel of Trees. On the way there we drove on back roads, wandering from Mackinaw City, and I distinctly remember a corner that had a fence made of cement and glass bottles. I’ve asked people up there where it was but no one knows. I don’t think I’m dreaming! We’d start the Tunnel of Trees at Cross Village, which is a wide spot in the road. The tiny town is famous for Legs Inn, a Polish Restaurant in a beautiful stone building. The part of M119 that is officially The Tunnel of Trees is 20 miles long, a narrow road that twists and turns through the woods on a cliff above Lake Michigan with a peek here and there of the Lake. It would be a lot of fun on a motorcycle! There isn’t much development along the route just a lot of trees that meet above you creating a tunnel.

2. US1 through the Florida Keys

The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile highway carrying through the Florida Keys to Key West. Most of it was built on the former right-of-way of the Overseas Railroad built by Flagler and completed in 1912. It was severely damaged in a 1935 hurricane. Which ended the railroad. Starting in the 1950s it was refurbished into a highway. Funny I don’t generally like bridges but I have no problem crossing the 42 bridges you drive over on your way to Key West. Even the 7 Mile Bridge doesn’t bother me, probably because none of them are very high off the water. The first time I went to the Keys was in 1983, Michael had been going since 1970. When he started going you still drove over some of the original bridges left over from the railroad. Including the bridge at Bahia Honda where you drove over the top of the trestle. NO WAY could I have done that. It was not only rickety but very narrow. He also was at Sunshine Key when the Seven Mile Bridge blew up and he had to spend extra time there. Being from Michigan and there in the winter I’m sure it was no problem for him.

As you drive along the water is Carribean blue, you can peek through the mangrove, you see the birds, on one side is the Atlantic, the other the Gulf. I don’t know what it is but I love it. It was when I was there in 1983 that Michael and I decided to get married. We didn’t return again for 6 years, those years we spent in Colorado. When we returned we were in an RV towing our VW Bus and we stayed for a year. When we left we moved to New Bern! Since we’ve been in New Bern I’ve been back there at least a dozen times, and since I retired I go to Key West every year.

Here is a photo of part of the old and new Seven Mile Bridge, looking toward Marathon, this is not my photo it is from AP.

3. Beaufort

Closest to home is a drive I always take visitors on. We start by going over the Neuse River Bridge and out to Oriental, the Sailing Capital of North Carolina, then swing around to catch the Missosott Beach/Cherry Branch Ferry, going down Hwy 101 crossing the Intracoastal Waterway at Core Creek. There used to be a great swing span bridge there, then we continue into Beaufort. At Front Street we turn left and go down to Curtis P. Perry Park. That part I love with all the live oak trees alongTaylor Creek. A couple stories about that part of the drive, one of the last times Michael and I made the Beaufort portion of the trip I said “don’t you just love this part?” He said he could care less! I was crushed. But I continue to go out of my way to drive that stretch of Front Street whenever I go to Beaufort. The other story is my sister Betsey came to visit from Michigan and said “the main thing I want to do is see the horses on Carrot Island” (our friend John called it Pony Poop Island). I thought to myself, ugh, because you can go there 100 times and not see any horses. As you drive down Front Street you can see Carrot Island, easily it is very close, just across the channel. There have been wild horses living on the barrier islands since the 1500s. This particular group has been on our islands just since the 1940s. Well that day when we took Betsey there we must have seen 50! I’ve never seen that many before or since, if you do see any it’s usually 2 or 3.

4. Cabot Trail Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, in fact close to 50 years, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had planned on going up there this summer, now hope to go next year. This is a ribbon of a road that goes across the top and through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, along the St Lawrence and with spectacular views of the Atlantic. There is art, hiking, tubing, sailing, kayaking, bike trails, villages and more…. it is stunning.

5. Utah

It was a four hour drive from Aspen to Moab, Utah and we went whenever we had the chance. As I said I’m not a fan of bridges (funny since I love driving down the keys) but I loved the Dewey Bridge on the way to Moab. It was an 8 ft. wide bridge crossing the Colorado River. You could feel the boards bounce as you drove over it! It was replaced at about the same time we were getting ready to move so did not see the replacement. Then some kid set it on fire so all that is left is a sign I think. It was replaced in the 1988 by a metal and concrete 2-lane bridge. Once in Moab we went to Arches National Park – where there are 2000 natural arches! A memorable evening was spent sitting near the double arch and seeing them glow red as the sun went down. We would also drive out to Dead Horse Point on a cliff above the Colorado in Canyonlands. Once on the way out 3 giant big horned sheep ran in front of us then abruptly stopped in unison and turned to look at us. And another time on our way to Arizona we parked our VW bus Poke right beside some  petroglyphs in Canyonlands and spent the night.

6. Old Frankfort Pike

It appears the trail this road follows has been traveled since the 1770s and probably Indians long before that. The region’s first known Thoroughbred Farm was founded on this road in 1790. What caused us to go on this road was to visit Excelsior Motors, owned by a guy that has spent his entire adult life restoring Citerons. After Michael retired and was diagnosed with cancer he said he was getting brain fog from the treatments and wanted something to keep his mind sharp. When he got home from VietNam his dream car was a 1970 Citeroen SM but he could not afford one. Instead he collected an even dozen Crosleys! He said the Citeroen is the most complicated car ever built and it would be a good puzzle for him so he got his dream car, and it was in need of some tlc. Unless you are a great mechanic like he was I would not choose this car to work on yourself. We did have fun with it.

Anyway back to the road. In addition to the shop this road is lined with a stone fence and some of the most well known horse farms in the world. Some of them are Stonestreet Farm, Lane’s End Farm, Airdrie Stud, Darley America and Three Chimneys Farm plus nearby Calumet Farm, WinStar Farm and more. One time as we were driving along we came across a fawn that still had its spots. He was so small he could not get over the stone fence so we slowly followed him, so the cars behind us would not run over him, until he came to a gap in the fence and could escape. It is a lovely drive.

7. Driving around the lake

The Lakes are Round and Devils Lakes in Lenawee County in southern Michigan. I grew up on the south side of Round Lake. Every Sunday after church we would go for a ride. In the 50s and 60s we were one of the few families that lived on the lake year round. During our rides it was fun to see all the activity on the water. As we would approach Christians Corners in unison we three kids would cry out “Ice Cream!” And more often than not we would stop because Dad liked it too. My folks moved away from the lake after 50 years when my Dad started to decline (1997) but I still go up and ride around the lakes when I visit.

8. Driving up the Delaware north of New Hope on Route 32 AKA River Road

It’s a narrow road that follows the river, at times twisting and turning. I don’t know what it is about it that I like so much, maybe the history, maybe a little bit of interesting architecture, but If I’m anywhere near I always go out of my way to make the drive. Click here to read a blog post about the last time I was there.

9. Glenwood Canyon

We lived in Aspen Colorado for 6 years in the 1980s, at that time US 70 through the Canyon was still 2 lane, the four lane part was not completed until 1992. I don’t like it as much now, it’s still beautiful, but with the four lane there aren’t many places you can stop and take photos. The Canyon is about 12 1/2 miles long, you drive along the Colorado River and the Union Pacific Railroad with 2000 foot peaks around you. At the end of the Canyon you arrive in Glenwood Springs. Michael would always say, can you imagine what it would have been like to ride the train from New York in 1888 and get the opportunity to soak in the hot springs. The hot springs pool is the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool. We would soak there every chance we got and spent every Christmas Day we were in Colorado there, soaking is 104 degree water, surrounded by snow, with the steam coming off the water. I also distinctly remember the day we moved to Colorado. We were in a motor home towing a car. As we started into the mountains we realized the motorhome didn’t have quite enough power so we unhooked the car and drove separately. I was awestruck. Seeing the small towns along the way, there was house racing with mudslides as we went through Vail It was raining as we drove through the canyon and it was very dark at the bottom of the canyon, then all of a sudden wow, out into the light we came! Then off to our right we saw the huge hot spring pool. I thought right then, we’re going to like it here.

10. Independence Pass

Going out of Aspen heading east you immediately start the long rise to Independence Pass on Hwy 82 and over the highest paved highway in the continental US. The summit is at 12,195 feet. The pass is 32 miles long and goes along the Roaring Fork River. It is the site of the first road in the Roaring Fork Valley, which was pioneered over Hunter Pass, the original name of Independence Pass, in 1881. An old stage road still remains visible from several locations. The road was built in its current location in 1927 and was paved in 1967. I worked at the Aspen Times and the owner/editor Bill Dunaway rode his bike to the top of the pass every day for at lunch, at that time he was in his 60s.

In addition to spectacular scenery and hair raising narrow curves with 200 foot cliffs up on one side and 200 foot cliffs down on the other, with barely enough room to pass another car you will find the remnents of the town of Independence. It’s sixteen miles east of Aspen and was once a thriving mining town with over 40 businesses and an estimated population of 1,500. Now you can see the remains of miner’s cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill, stables and a general store.

My favorite stop is the Grottos which are 9 miles east of Aspen. There are hiking trails that lead to waterfalls, rock formations, and ice caves. It’s an easy hike and an interesting one through the boulders where you can barely see sunlight.

On another longer hike you can reach the site of the town of Ruby. It’s about 5 miles off Hwy 82.

Then once you get to the top of the pass you are at the Continental Divide The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, at 12,195 feet. What a view! You are surrounded by 14,000+ foot peaks. Once when friends were visiting they were just starting up the pass going from east to west and my friend said “look at those idiots way up there!”. By the time they got “way up there” I believe she said she was on her second Valium.

It could be scary doing that drive. Once I showed my work at an art show in Buena Vista, which was on the other side of the pass. Michael joined me later so we had 2 cars. It was in early October. After the show Michael took off (I was not happy, this was before cell phones) and so I was driving over this wilderness pass, close to dark, by myself. As I approached the summit it started to snow, and by the time I got to the tight curves near the grottos it was snowing pretty good. As I rounded a corner I came upon a car that had nosed into the stone cliff rising above the road. Two people were trying to get it unstuck. I got out to help, I would have stopped anyway but the fact that the road is very narrow there I could not have driven around them even if I wanted to. So the wind is howling, the snow is flying, the man is quiet and the woman is having hysterics. I finally determined that he could not hear. We finaly got them unstuck and he started getting into the drivers seat and she screamed “you can’t drive you can’t see!” I thought to myself, great, I’m following someone that is deaf and blind down this steep mountain road in a snow storm. I did make it safely but they closed the pass that night shortly after I made it to Aspen. I’ve tried to go back to Aspen every year the past few, here is a link to one of my blog posts about the Pass.

11. Leelanau Peninsula Michigan

The Leelanau Peninsula is north west of Traverse City and the drive around it is on M22. I start in Traverse City and end at Sleeping Bear Dunes. A lot of what I like about this drive are the small towns that line it, Suttons Bay, Northport, Leland, Glen Arbor, Empire to name some of them. They all have neat art shops, there are wineries, and outdoor things to do.

To some people there are probably drives that are more beautiful but to me part of the beauty are the memories the drives evoke.

I’m anxious to discover more once we can readily travel again!

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A short trip to Norfolk to clear out the cobwebs

I’ve loved being home but have to admit I’ve suffered from wanderlust since I was a child. I’ve always loved maps and planning a trip almost as much as going on one. Since the places we are allowed to go are shrinking I wanted to go SOMEWHERE before I could go no where. BTW I write these blog posts as a kind of visual diary for myself. Once a year I print it into a book form. I make it public because friends have told me they like reading it and get ideas of where they might want to go next.

My friend Irene and I arrived in Norfolk and were armed with lots of masks, hand sanitizer, and we wiped the hotel room down the moment we walked in. There were NO people on the street at 2 in the afternoon. The people we did see were all wearing masks. We stayed at the Glass Light Hotel, which is decorated with blown glass, in a landmark building that has been renovated making all the rooms very contemporary. It’s beautiful.

Every floor has a signature pies of glass as you exit the elevator and our room even had a little glass carrot laying on the desk. They are going to have a glass gallery next door eventually.

The building, The Royster Building, was constructed CA. 1911–1912, Ferguson as the headquarters of the RoysterGuano Fertilizer Company. It’s 13 storeies and was once Norfolk’s tallest building.

While a lot of shops were closed we found a great independent bookstore called Prince just around the corner from our hotel and we met an artist, Derek Shaw, who makes leather wallets and beautiful his partner cousin Aaron McLellan canvase and leather bags. They have their shop in the Selden Market.

The Selden Market is an innovative space for entrepreneurs to develop new street-level business ideas. The market provides a low-risk environment with short-term leases, a supportive development program, and a community atmosphere that fosters learning and growth. 

The market is comprised of 12 retail spaces, 7 pop-up booths, multiple lounges and seating areas, and even a shared kitchen. What a fabulous idea!

The bag from my purchase at Prince….

It reads

Shopping locally preserves the character and vitality of the community , strengthens our local economy and makes this a better place to lives.
Local business owners care deeply about the well being of our community
Money spent locally stays local.
Local business owners are your friends and neighbors. They make buying decisions based on local tastes and interests.
They care deeply about the wellbeing of the local community, the vibrancy of our downtown, and the health of the local schools.

Local business owners have a vested interest in the community, they live, work, and pay taxes here.
Shopping locally reduces energy consumption and cost. It is good for the environment.
Locally owned businesses and retail stores, and restaurants, help to make our town unique. Support them!
By supporting local businesses you help to sustain our community.

The Chrysler Museum had a Munch display and we saw one of his original Scream Lithographs. I guess I forgot what I learned about him in art history class so this was a good refresher. He had emotional and psychological trauma throughout his life which contributed to the dark nature of his work.

A $4 ferry ride across the river was a nice break from the heat and gave us a good look at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

The Neon District has a lot of murals…….

I can’t believe it’s so close but have never been to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens before. I’m big on them and have visited dozens. Two special exhibits they had were the flamingos……70 scattered around the garden…

… and handmade paper art by Caroline Hardy.

My favorite flower I saw were the lotus. They were so perfect.

Back downtown we sought out the Pagoda and Koi Pond Park which was just a short way from our hotel in the Freeman District which is a beautiful neighborhood. The Marine Observation Tower also known as the Taiwanese Pagoda is the centerpiece for the tranquil garden. The tower was a 1989 gift to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Norfolk honoring Taiwan’s trading ties with Virginia. The two-story pagoda, with Chinese architectural details and ornamentation, sits on the concrete foundation of an old molasses tank. The Pagoda is the centerpiece of the Oriental Garden. This unique building provides a panoramic view of the beautiful Oriental Garden, the USS Wisconsin, sunsets over the Elizabeth River, and is a beautiful venue for weddings, receptions, and other events.

We ate dinner out twice, one great, one not so much. The hotel has it’s own French restaurant, we didn’t eat there for dinner but did eat breakfast, and it was great. There is an Irish pub Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub & Restaurant  next door, they got an A for masks and social distancing but the food was just ok.

But the 2nd night dinner at Freemason Abbey Restaurant a few blocks away was great. It’s located in a 147 year-old renovated church. One thing they are famous for is their She Crab Soup and it WAS tasty. They have a wide variety on their menu.

Just before we left we walked around the Downtown. Most of the buildings are new but here and there you’ll find a glimpse of the architecture that must have filled the area. We went to the visitors center and saw an interesting display about General MacArthur . Both he and his wife are buried here too, Norfolk was the hometown of his mother.

And of course we saw dozens of the mermaid sculptures, Equivalent  to our bears.

We rode up to Yorktown just to check it out. They have a nice beach on the York River and it was packed. The town is most famous as the site of the siege and subsequent surrender of General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington and the French Fleet during the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781. Although the war would last for another year, this British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war.

On the right is the Victory Monument, the cornerstone was laid in 1881. It was struck by lightening in 2018 and had extensive damage which has been repaired. It is 84 ft tall.

I always stop at the Dismal Swamp Canal State Park, and remembered when boats still used it. The Dismal Swamp Canal is located along the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp at the Virginia/North Carolina line.   It is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States, opened in 1805. And part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

In May 1763 George Washington made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp and suggested draining it and digging a north–south canal through it to connect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle Sound.  

Work was started in 1793. The canal was dug completely by hand; most of the labor was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. It took approximately 12 years of back-breaking construction under highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway, which opened in 1805.

And on the way home stopped and had a picnic at Merchants Millpond State Park. Here are a few pictures I took the last time I paddled there. It is an enchanting and eerie place.

Settlement in the area began in 1660. Residents of early rural communities made a living by farming and lumbering. In the early 1700s, Hunters Millpond was built at the head of Bennetts Creek to provide a means of processing and marketing regional produce. Highway construction destroyed this millpond in 1922. But further downstream, Norfleets Millpond, which was built in 1811, thrived. Gristmills, a sawmill, a farm supply store and other enterprises made the area the center of trade in Gates County. Thus, the pond became known as Merchants Millpond.

Shortly before World War II operations around the millpond came to a halt and millers sold the land to developers. In the 1960s, A.B. Coleman of Moyock purchased the property and later donated 919 acres, including the millpond, to the state. His generous donation led to the establishment of Merchants Millpond State Park in 1973. In the same year, the Nature Conservancy contributed an additional 925 acres of woodlands to the park that now encompasses more than 3,250 acres.

You could easily get lost paddling around but the park has a set of buoys of different colors to help prevent getting lost in the “maze” of the swamp.

We took the back roads as far as we could on the way home, checking out roads we’d never been on. We saw LOTS of horses….

…. and the cutest herd of 7 goats gathered by the side of the road. They took off before we could get a good photo of them…. the end.

The 3 day trip will last me a couple weeks. Next I think I’m taking my RV and bike and go check out Floyd, VA, then continue on to Damacus, VA and ride the Virginia Creeper trail. Travel makes my life so much richer. I learn alot, I get new ideas for my artwork, and it gives me confidence that I can handle whatever comes my way because the best laid plans don’t always work out.

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A jaunt into the Croatan

Pitcher Plant Janet Francoeur Fine Art Blog

I hadn’t been in the Croatan in years, like maybe 20 or more, but I saw photos from a friend and decided I had to go. I’ve now been twice, once with a friend and once by myself. I was a little leery to go by myself but I went anyway, it wasn’t the animals, snakes or bugs I was worried about, it was other people. Luckily I only saw some bicycle riders the first time and no people the second.

I thought it would be really hard to find the carnivorous plants thinking (I don’t know why) that they were like morel mushrooms and you never knew where they would show up. And I would have to wander aimlessly through the woods looking for them. That was not the case! They were just off the road. As I was driving in I could see that the forest had been burned this year, at least the part I was in. This helps the plants thrive and also makes it easier to see the plants and walk into the woods to them. More about that later. The easiest ones to spot were the green pitcher plants with their chartreuse green color, and the fact that they are tall.

The first spot had about 100 green pitcher plants, 1000 flytraps, and a half dozen orchids. Wow!

The second spot had 1000 green pitcher plants and purple pitcher plants, no orchids and no flytraps, interesting!

Another spot had a different type of tiny pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and butterworts and there were lots of other types of wild flowers scattered about.

It was like a fairy land!

Of course as instructed I had on boots, long pants, and lots of bug spray. Because the wind was blowing both times the bugs were not a problem anyway but I guess the danger of ticks was still there.

This is a panoramic view of a field of green and purple pitcher plants.
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava in Bloom
Sarracenia psittacina, Parrot Pitcher plant bloom