Biltmore Estate

Biltmore from wall 001

Since I grew up in the northwest corner of South Carolina, my family traveled to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina frequently, especially to Asheville, where the famed Biltmore Estate is located. The first time I visited the castle, built by the Vanderbilts of New York, we parked along the driveway just in front of the entrance, and a tour guide took us through the mansion group by group, enlightening us with facts such as, “This chess set was once used by Napoleon Bonaparte,” and “These  antiques were brought over from Europe after the castle was built.”

Biltmore House closeup 001

On one of my visits with my husband decades later, we parked in a lot about half a mile away from the Biltmore House and hiked to the site. (There is now a shuttle available.) There’s no tour guide, and the admittance fee is higher, but we also get to see more   of the mansion and estate.  A winding staircase greets the guests, and to the right is my favorite part of the house: The Winter Garden. It’s filled with palm plants which reach toward a glass dome and sunlight. As we move through the house, several large bed- rooms reveal the opulence of the Vanderbilt’s lifestyle with elaborate furniture and silk     wall coverings, and bathrooms with running water.  When the castle was completed           in 1895,  after five years of construction, all of these features were rare. A bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, gardens, and green house all give us an idea of the wealth the Vanderbilts possessed.

Biltmore greenhouse 001

Greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate

There is now a restaurant and gift shop in the former stable area, and a hotel on the property. The grounds are abloom during the spring and summer, with an enormous variety of roses and other flowers. At Christmastime, the mansion is all decked out with trees, poinsettias, and wreaths, and a tour at night may include Christmas music sung by   a choir or another vocal group. Touring the Biltmore Estate has changed over the years, and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who go there feel the same way.

Biltmore from a distance 001
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The Jefferson: A Romantic Hotel

Richmond, Virginia’s The Jefferson, a grand hotel built in 1895, salutes the past, as well as its namesake, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. I’d visited this immense, column-filled lodging before, but they’ve since remodeled the rooms, creating spacious suite-like quarters. And, while so much of the past has been preserved, the present and future certainly haven’t been left out.

A gracious hotel employee carried our belongings, then he pointed out certain features of the room. I stood amazed as the gentleman aimed a remote at an enormous bathroom mirror and an image appeared in a small television! I can easily imagine someone relaxing in the marble-clad tub and watching a golf match or favorite show. (My photo below didn’t turn out well because of the reflection and flash, but you get the general picture.)

Formal dining rooms are available for an haute cuisine experience, and decorative skylights hover over rich carpeting in the rotunda.

From the moment we stepped into the opulent lobby with crystal chandeliers, I knew we would be pampered, but I didn’t expect the cubby-hole for luggage or an office space set between the room and the luxurious bathroom with the largest shower I’ve ever seen.

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we return to this magnificent hotel, and maybe we can stay a little longer next time.

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Grove Park Inn: A Great Place, Summer or Winter

Posted on December 6, 2021 by dalesittonrogers

Grove Park Inn

My husband and I discovered Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina many years ago.  Built entirely of stone, it was once a playground for presidents and celebrities. (Their portraits are displayed in the hotel’s hallways.)

Although we first visited the famed inn when a relative recommended it for their after Christmas buffet, we discovered there was so much more. From the lobby, with its polished stone floors and enormous, six-foot high fireplaces, to endless hallways and hidden  sitting areas, we were blown away. It’s easy to get lost, even on the first floor, but it’s a great place in which to disappear. It’s also a good way to find gems such as a small waterfall isolated in a quiet spot.


After our initial trip there, we returned several times. One year, we opted for an historic room. Instead of using the regular elevators, we were sent to a small one set into the stone wall and guarded by a steward. The old-timey compartment took us to the top floor, under the eaves. The whole room seemed to be carved from oak, and the thick furniture made me think a giant once lived there. We didn’t have the amount of space we were used to, but we did have a magnificent view of the mountains and part of Asheville through our tiny window. And, although it was interesting, we thought we’d rather stay   in one of their modern rooms during subsequent trips, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows and all    of the updated amenities.

Something unique about Grove Park Inn is the Gingerbread Contest. It wasn’t well-known as the time, but a few years later, I spied it on television. It had become a really important national competition. Perhaps that’s one reason so many people started showing up during the Christmas holidays–and now it’s the place to be.

Grove Park Fireplace 001

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Whitewater Rafting:

An Unforgettable Adventure!

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It had seemed like a good idea: Whitewater rafting in Virginia in October. On the last weekend that guides offered a ride down the James River, my husband, Rick, and I drove over to Richmond with a group of eight. None of us had been rafting before, but that was okay, since we knew we would have experienced guides. We followed directions to the headquarters, but instead of reaching a flowing body of water, we discovered an old shack next to a highway. Our first question when we arrived was, “Where is the river?”                                                                       

Hopping out of our van and heading inside, we found the building filled with people, paddles, and all kinds of paraphernalia. Our names were checked off a reservation list, and we received assistance in picking out our gear, including life jackets and helmets. Next, a fit-looking guide gave us a safety talk on how to survive the day. Wait a minute. Survive?  We were just there for a fun run down the river. We soon learned that whitewater rafting can be dangerous—especially if there are rocks, which there definitely were in the shallow James River. We were taught everything from how to sit in the raft, to getting into the “swimmer’s position” if thrown overboard. We also learned to hold onto the handle of our paddles at all times. (That way, when the water tossed us about, we wouldn’t whack anyone.)                                                                       

We learned that the roughest rapids would be level four, and the only other adult  in our group gave my husband and me a sideways glance, conveying the message, What have we gotten into?

Rick and I tried to assure her everything would be all right, but we weren’t that sure about it ourselves. We boarded an old school bus with other rafters, enduring a bumpy ride through the woods to the James River. Our group was divided, with our teens in one orange raft, while the rest of our gang was placed in another with a scout leader and two boys. Bruce, our guide, pushed us into the water effortlessly, and we gently flowed along as birds in the trees sang.                                                                  

It wasn’t long, however, before the birdsong disappeared and we paddled down a roaring river topped with, you guessed it—white water.  I felt some apprehension as we approached our first set of rapids, but I slid my feet under the plastic tubing in front of me, holding onto my paddle as if my life depended on it—and maybe it did. We had been instructed to keep paddling while going through rough water, and our raft bumped and dipped, but it wasn’t bad. Actually, it was kind of fun.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One of the boys said with enthusiasm, “Let’s do it again!”                                 

Our guide chuckled. “Don’t worry. We’ll do it again.”                                             

It wasn’t long before another patch of angry water loomed before us, tougher than the first. It lifted us up and set us down, turning us to the side before we reached a calm stretch. After several more whitewater runs, just as I felt more confident concerning my navigating skills, we came upon something I’d never even imagined. We were about to zip through two large boulders toward water that looked like a whirlpool in the ocean.                    

I couldn’t believe we were headed right for it. We’re never going to make it, flashed through my mind, but a second later, I could only think about paddling and staying inside the raft at the same time. We were tossed about mercilessly, then pushed to the right with such force, I was thrown to the opposite side of the craft. The boy scout leader asked if I was okay, so I guess it must have looked pretty dramatic. I didn’t think it was possible for our journey to become even more difficult, but soon Bruce told us we were approaching a broken dam. I wanted to scream, What?!                                           

Perhaps sensing our anxiety, Bruce said, “Don’t worry. It’s a small dam.”

Small or not, the water rushing between two brick walls and into another churning mass sent a surge of fear and doubt through me. We bounced through, however, but not until a wave of icy cold water came in on my side of the raft, threatening to submerge it while shooting up the arm of my waterproof jacket. I didn’t see any more treacherous sections ahead, and I’d started breathing more easily right before a shout caused me to look behind us. The raft holding our teens was stuck on a large stone!                                                                                                                                                 

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They struggled until finally get their wayward craft back into the current, then all of the rafts were strung together for a leisurely ride  to a dock. (In a way, it was the most fun part of the day.)                                                        

We later learned from the others that one of our teens took a dip in the river, but their guide reached in and pulled her out in a flash. I’m glad he was there for her, and that there were no other problems during our outing. All in all, I had a great time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself rafting again in the near future. Just not in October.

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Do I Use a Comma Before “Too” or “Also?”

writing in the dark

Something I’ve run into fairly recently is whether or not to put a comma before “too”        or “also.”  I’d never thought about it much, and I probably just used one when it seemed necessary, but I started noticing that some writers use one every time. Perplexed, I found the answer in an old grammar book.

It’s actually quite simple: If the emphasis in the sentence is on the word or words just before “too,” put a comma. Otherwise, leave it out.

Whether or not there is a comma can actually change the meaning of the sentence.          For example:

He likes baseball too.

What does this tell us?  He likes baseball as well as someone else. The emphasis is on the   word “he.”

Note the difference: He likes baseball, too.

In this sentence the emphasis is on the word “baseball,” indicating that he also likes other sports or activities.

I keep it straight by separating the emphasized word from “too” or “also” when it’s at the end of the sentence. If the emphasized word is near the beginning, I don’t use a comma.

Here’s another example of how the meaning of a statement is changed depending on whether or not a comma is used:

He’s going to town also.  (He’s going to town as well as another person.)

He’s going to town, also.  (He’s going to town as well as some other place.)

After reading variations of the use of commas before these two words, I’m glad to find an easy way to be consistent and get it right every time.

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Biggest Surprise Ever in a Pool


During the time my husband, Rick, and I lived in the country, some neighbors down the road told us we could swim in their pool. We hadn’t been swimming in  a long time, and we wanted to go one day when they were out of town, since we thought we would feel more comfortable that way. We walked down the forest-lined road where we occasionally spotted eagles and weasels,  only to find that the pool filter had broken. Since we were surrounded by wildlife, it was starting to resemble a pond. There was scum on the  surface of the water, and it was teeming with life. (My husband said he saw some frogs jump in.)

We didn’t really want to get into the infested pool, but we really wanted to swim, so pretending it wasn’t any different than a natural body of water, we took the plunge. After swimming several laps, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, and I turned to find a two-foot snake happily swimming beside me. I wasn’t sure what kind it was, but I didn’t take the time to find out. I said something to Rick, and we swam to the edge of the pool and climbed out as quickly as possible.

Watching it from the safety of the deck, my husband thought it was a king snake, since it was black with light yellow rings. They’re not poisonous, but no one wants to be bitten by anything, and we knew someone who was bitten by a king snake and became ill.  Rick used a net with a long handle to scoop the serpent out of the water, taking it to the woods which bordered the back yard, and we felt all was clear.

I got back into the pool, enjoying the cool temperature and exercise, but it wasn’t long before another king snake, closer to three feet in length, swam alongside me. Moving at Olympic speed, I once again hurried out of the water. Rick pulled the creature out, but  we decided we’d had enough nature for one afternoon. I realize now how much filters can help a pool, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as bad if we’d been in a city or town.  I think we learned our lesson concerning messy swimming pools.

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Charleston, South Carolina–A Great Place to Visit

Posted on April 18, 2022 by dalesittonrogers

Rainbow Row, Charleston 001

The first time I visited the Charleston area was after my newly-married sister moved there with her husband. I was only ten, but I really liked the lower part of the state–especially the live oak trees with their long, swaying branches. We went to Charleston several times during the next couple of years, and I didn’t go there again until I was in my mid-twenties. It still had allure for me, but a few years later Hurricane Hugo hit, and much of the vicinity changed. But it wasn’t too long before buildings were rebuilt or refurbished and trees had grown, and it’s a lovely place again. My husband and I visit as frequently as we can, and we vacationed there recently.

Battery, Charleston 001

We actually stayed in Mount Pleasant, just a few minutes from Charleston, across the Cooper River Bridge. It’s more quiet than the city, and has it’s own array of restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping. Our favorite place to eat is Water’s Edge, which is on Shem Creek. The service and food are excellent. Sitting inside or on the deck, next to the water, one can enjoy yachts, sea gulls, pelicans hoping to get scraps from a fishing boat, and an occasional glimpse of a dolphin. There are also kayaks floating by, which can be rented at a shop next door.

Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are just beyond Mount Pleasant, and they have beautiful beaches as well as restaurants and shops. We did go over to Charleston a couple of days, eating lunch at 82 Queen, which is a wonderful place with indoor or outdoor dining. It’s at 82 Queen Street, with a less than obvious entrance. We love to eat in the garden with its plants, trees, gazebo, and partially enclosed section which resembles a green house.

Dale at Battery Park, Charleston 001

After visiting Charleston Place Hotel with its huge chandelier, shops, and restaurants we got into a pedicab and ventured into the quieter, residential part of the Historic District.  It was so much nicer than walking in the heat. We had a breeze on us the whole time, especially as we approached The Battery. We sat back and relaxed while our fit driver took us around, then back to our car.  It’s less expensive than some of the other private tours, and you don’t necessarily have to listen to a history lesson.

If you plan to visit Charleston, wear comfortable shoes that can take cobblestones and lots of walking, and be prepared for a crowd–especially during the summer. It’s worth it, though, to see Rainbow Row and all the lovely historic homes, and to dine at prize-winning restaurants. Maybe I’ll see you there the next time I go.

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Can Cats Talk?

Many people think cats just say, “meow” or “mew,” but the more time I’ve spent with them, the more I realize how much they understand, and that they some- times use actual words. Beginning with Annabelle, a black part-Persian my family had for about fifteen years, I began to notice just how good communication can be between cats and people.

Annabelle in Batesburg 001

She came to live with my husband, Rick, and me when she was about nine, and already quite experienced. When we wanted her to go outside, we’d simply say, “Out,” and she got the message. One day, when she was relaxing on the floor, I gave her the command when we needed for her to go out, expecting her to immediately obey, and she responded with, “No.” (It wasn’t a clear word, but I knew what she meant.)

Slightly taken aback by her lack of respect, I said, “Annabelle, out.”

She turned her head toward me and blatantly repeated, “No.”

Hardly believing her impertinence, I again said, “Annabelle, out!”

This time she said, “No” so emphatically, she moved her head to make sure I understood, then she nonchalantly licked her paw as if the matter were settled. I finally got my way,   but not without a stream of mumbled words as she trudged toward the door. She liked going outside sometimes, including when Rick and I went for a walk. Sometimes one of us would say mention going for one, then Annabelle would be at the door, waiting.  She could keep up with us all the way    to the end of the street and back.  We couldn’t figure out how she knew we were about to leave, but she probably thought, You said you were going for a walk, didn’t you? 

Years later, after we’d acquired a Siamese, I knew Coco was intelligent, but he sometimes amazed me. When he’d gotten a little older, he would sometimes say, “I want” when he desired to go outside or when he needed food. One day I called him when he was outside,  and was just about to close the door when he showed up several yards from the house.   He said with clarity, “Rail?” (D’s seem to be difficult for cats to pronounce.)

Coco or Mocha 001

Another time, he sniffed a spot on the floor, and I wondered if a ladybug had come inside, since we’d been having trouble with them. I asked, “What is it, Coco?  A ladybug?”

Not only did he understand, but he casually turned away from the spot and said, “Water,” almost as well as a person would have.

The other cat we had at the time, Velvet, liked to sit next to me outside. I would look down at her and say, “Velvet,” then she’d stare up and say something back without fail. We did this regularly, and I finally understood that she was saying, “Dale” in her own way. She got what I was doing.

Velvet in New Ellenton 001

Velvet was on a diet and couldn’t have dry food for a while, so we kept it in a cabinet most of the time. One day Coco let me know he wanted something, and I thought he wanted out, but that wasn’t it. I kept saying, “What do you want, Coco?”

Finally, with great effort, he formed his mouth into an O and squeezed out, “Food.”

Although the “F” wasn’t distinct, I knew what he was saying. He wanted some dry food.      I got  it for him, and he was satisfied. I guess he’d heard me say it so many times when        I fed him, he knew what it was.

Years later, when we had two Siamese cats, they would sometimes go into the hall and talk to each other in a secret language I like to call “Catonese.”  The exchange didn’t sound that friendly, but they seemed to understand each other, although I never figured out what it was all about. The larger Siamese also said, “I want,” just like Coco. A lot. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for him to say it several times in one day. He usually wanted food, but occasionally he desired attention or a door opened so he could look outside.

Choco on couch 001

I try to use the same words over and over when addressing the cats, so they can capture their meaning. When I occasionally speak a little French to them, they look at me like, “What on Earth are you saying?”  They can definitely tell the difference. I’m glad I finally realize just how much they understand. It makes me appreciate them even more.

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There’s a Bear–Over There!

I grew up in the northwest corner of South Carolina, and my family frequently visited the nearby Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. When I was small, probably about five, we traveled to Cherokee, which is surrounded by mountains and lots of wildlife. During our journey, we decided to pull over to the side of the road for lunch. There was a picnic area   at the top of a steep incline, and we spotted a small black bear rummaging through a trash can.

I thought that was pretty scary, and I didn’t know there’s usually a larger bear around when a cub is present. Everyone stayed at the car except the oldest person in our party– my step-grandfather, and the youngest–my little brother. I was criticized for screaming, but what can you expect from a five-year-old girl?  I think I was  upset partly because     two of our group were risking everything to get a closer look at the creature.

They climbed the hill together, Mr. Tom with his cane, and Johnny with his little boy legs, while the bear continued to hunt for something to eat.  The whole scene terrified me. I later reasoned that Johnny wasn’t old enough to be aware of the danger, and Mr. Tom was experienced enough to not be afraid. It took them awhile to climb up the slope while we all watched in anticipation, and when they were almost to the crest, the bear forgot all about the trash can and turned toward the two visitors. As he started toward them, Johnny and Mr. Tom decided he wasn’t that interesting after all. They did an about-face and hurried down the hill and back to the car.

My mother laughed for years about how she’d never seen Mr. Tom move so fast, and that Johnny was pretty quick too. And they all love to mention how I  screamed, especially my brothers, but at least I was smart enough to know a dangerous situation when faced with one.

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Blurred Lines

A Broadway actress, Jasmine abandons her career and moves to her hometown of Edgefield to forget memories of her stalker, who’s supposed to be in jail. She’s content at her community theater until strange events occur, putting her in danger. Who is harassing her? Has Dexter escaped from prison? Find out in my long short story, “Blurred Lines,” now on Amazon.

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