Embracing Creativity, History and culture, Travels

Explore the mysteries of Mt. Gilead, North Carolina

On a family trip to Lake Tillery this week, we traveled into Mt. Gilead one afternoon to check out a coffee shop. As we got out of the car, the North Carolina August heat rippled up from the sidewalk and silence wrapped us in a blissful blanket of quiet — no constant roar of engines or music blaring from car speakers. A stately red brick Methodist church stood across the street, and a colorful “Welcome to Historic Downtown Mount Gilead” mural hung from a facing wall.

I love murals and street art (check out my Las Vegas post), so I was immediately curious about the town we had stumbled upon.

The first mural …

Next, I saw an old-timey Coca-Cola ad painted on the side of a building. Then, an R.C. Cola one:

We passed a sewing shop, a frame and gift shop, and when we got to the next cross-street, we saw a historical-looking mural:

And opposite this mural, another important-looking one:

A fifth mural up ahead displayed an image of a Native American man. Who were these men, and who commissioned and painted all these murals? We walked back the way we came, crossing the street at the coffee shop, which I later found out had once been a doctor’s office building. I took a photo outside as a record:

Who was Dr. P.R. Rankin? I’m so curious!

Kyle and Myra Poplin own Speckled Paw Coffee and were more than happy to tell us how they started the coffee shop, which is much more than a coffee-and-ice-cream shop. It’s a community center, a place for people to gather and chat. Mt. Gilead didn’t really have a place like that until 2018, when the Poplins bought the old building, which had stood empty for two decades. The Poplins took out the office walls of the main room but kept the original windows (and all the glass except for one pane, which had to be replaced.) Now, it’s an airy, open space with lots of light flowing in.

Guess who Speckled Paw Coffee is named for?

I love mysteries, and Mt. Gilead is full of them. The town is tiny — only about 1000 people — but it has the feel of a place much bigger. The Poplins had the wherewithal to start an online community newsletter to replace the defunct local newspaper, and everyone has jumped on board. Elderly readers often get their children to print out the newsletter so they can read it more easily, Myra says.

The owners of Thistle Ridge Soap just down the street from Speckled Paw, rely on their Internet sales, as well as ones from their brick-and-mortar store. A husband-and-wife team, they make their own soap and sell crafts by local artisans.

Less than 10 miles away stands Town Creek Indian Mound, a State Historic Site. I’ve lived in NC for more than 20 years and have hardly heard anything about this archeological site of the Pee Dee people, other than that it exists. Why? I want to learn more — we arrived about 15 minutes before closing and didn’t have much time to look at the displays inside the museum — so I will need to research this.

Just ten minutes down the road from Mt. Gilead is a North Carolina State Historical Site, the Town Creek Indian Mound. This is the view from atop the mound.

Unlike other places I’ve visited (and lived in), Mt. Gilead seems to peacefully embrace its history and the modern, digital reality forced upon it. The residents I met are friendly and optimistic, proud of the past but also excited about the future. This feels like a healthy place to be!

What’s different about this little town, located near the geographical center of the state, next to the Uwharrie National Forest? Nearby, the bigger towns of Troy and Albemarle get more traffic (and more press), but Mt. Gilead has mysteries to uncover. I’ll be following up with answers to my questions in upcoming posts. If you want to visit Mt. Gilead (and Speckled Paw Coffee), it’s about 90 minutes south of Greensboro, in Montgomery County. And if you live in Mt. Gilead, or know more about this town, please share in the comments!

Fiction, The Rain Catcher, Travels

New book release…finally!

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my middle-grade fictional book, The Rain Catcher! It’s been changed since I posted the earlier snippets of it, but the general idea is the same. The story is set in Scotland and follows 13-year-old Katy as she visits her estranged other for the first time in 10 years!

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My book started off as a diary-format novella for adults, then morphed into a more complicated (3 points of view!) novel for adults, then just a plain (1 point of view) novel for adults. And now…it is a short chapter book for kids aged 11 and up! Phew!

So, all those adages about writing taking time, blah blah…well, they’re true! The idea for my story came after I took a trip to Scotland with my mum in 2006, so you can count back to see how many years it took me to get to this point!

If you have a young person in your life who likes to read, please give The Rain Catcher a try. It’s got some mild bad language, and there is definitely a dark side to it, but nothing worse than most kids see on the nightly news. If he or she likes adventure and is curious about traveling to another country, this might be a good fit for him or her. I’m going to be setting up a kid-friendly page on this website soon, so stay tuned!

Embracing Creativity, Travels

Freedom on Freemont Street

A couple of weeks ago I visited Las Vegas with my husband. It was my third or fourth trip, and I always approach the city with mixed feelings. On the one hand, you can’t beat the place for glitzy distraction — who can feel anxious or annoyed when watching strings of water shoot through the air in time to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” at the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel? Who can’t feel a certain weird admiration at the giant slot machine on Freemont Street and its attached zip lines high above where people fly through the air like super heroes?

IMG_7745On the other hand, the discrepancy between the ridiculous wealth on “The Strip” and the bone-crushing poverty in other areas of the city, such as the streets surrounding Freemont (the “old” strip) is pretty hard to take. While tourists dine at the all-you-can-eat lobster buffet at Caesar’s Palace, Vietnam Veterans make roses out of palm leafs to sell for around $2. I felt really depressed as we drove down one downtown street, where abandoned motels stood gated and decrepit, their windows boarded with ply wood or painted black. Every now and then someone pushing a shopping cart full of clothes and blankets would appear at an intersection, waiting to cross the street. “You get the feeling that people really struggle in Vegas,” said my husband.

But when I visited Container Park, which is just down the road from Freemont, I felt a little bit more hopefull. Created from repurposed shipping containers and locally-made “Xtreme Cubes,” the shopping center is only about two years old. I went into “Art Box,” a store selling creations by local artists, and bought a Dr. Who-inspired necklace for my mum made by the owner’s wife (Kellie Kroplinski).

Outside Container Park is a metal heart covered with locks (likely inspired by the Paris bridge) by artist Nova May.

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And in front of Container Park is a giant praying mantis that can shoot fire:

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And in the surrounding streets, I discovered a bunch of really interesting murals. I haven’t been able to find out much about who painted them or why, but I believe they are part of the Las Vegas Centennial celebration of 2005, which invited public and private businesses to host murals throughout the city. Here are a few of my favorites…

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

Las Vegas mural     Las Vegas mural

These murals and Container Park really saved Vegas for me, adding another layer to an otherwise pretty obvious city. If Las Vegas can create art as beautiful and wacky as the murals and a place as unique as Art Box, it must have something pretty special going for it!