AIKEN, S.C. -- This favorite city 20 miles from the Georgia line is my home away from home until the gypsy bug bites again.
While home sweet home has a nice ring to it when you are far from it, travel can be an ongoing experience of learning, meeting interesting people, and getting your feet wet in new territory.
As an example last night I attended a beautiful Christmas musical at St. John's Methodist Church, which is within walking distance of my three-room apartment. Had I not purchased the Aiken Standard, the daily newspaper, I would not have known about the concert.
Reading the local paper is an insight into the fabric of a community. It is also where I found out about the mega craft show last weekend and the Nutcracker performance next week.
The local newspaper ads are a valuable guide to sales, especially during the holidays. Otherwise, shopping is not a challenge. Most of the same stores that we patronize at home are well represented as we travel.
I was pleased to see a Kroger store here because of the longtime association in the Toledo area and in southern Michigan and am familiar with the store layout.
Because I pack about everything but the cats for a long trip, the apartment has a festive air with Christmas stuff toted from home including a red poinsettia-pattern tablecloth with a lace overlay. The two-foot tree that I packed with great care was a disappointment when the lighting failed. An electronics department employee said it needs a part that would cost $40 if I could find one, which he doubts. So much for the $3 tree I stood in line to buy at a going-out-of-business sale in Adrian.
The tree could be replaced at a dollar store. There has been no shortage of them on this trip that covered 1,800 miles through six states. With that record and an aching back and stiff legs, the craft show didn't hold much appeal. But, as I always debate with myself, "May as well go, I'm here."
No matter how many craft shows you attend, if you take the time to check the merchandise and talk to the vendors there will be something you haven't seen before. Three artisans of the more than 200 vendors at the Aiken show got my attention. Lorrie Melnick recycles antique pieces into attractive useable objects. There is no controversary about Christmas fruitcake with Maxine Smelts of Augusta, Ga. And Heather McQueen of Aiken became more than a watercolor artist specializing in pet portraits for me.
When Ms. Melnick sees a box of old buttons, clip-on earrings, or cufflinks, she sees them recycled as bracelets, pins, and earrings. To her, discarded salt and pepper shakers, when attached to fringe, become fan pulls or door knob hangers. She also salvages egg and tea cups for lovely pin cushions. Ms. Melnick personalizes antique keepsakes. Her business is Vintage Designs, 803-649-6781.
Ms. Smelts says "I am proud to be the fruit cake lady." After baking 700 pounds of fruit cake each year for 37 years she is entitled to that honor. It's her only entry into selling and she proudly states that her first ingredient is South Carolina and Georgia pecans, followed by real Honduras vanilla, real butter, and eggs from her backyard free range chickens. Her telephone number is 706-868-6715.
The portraits of dogs at Ms. McQueen's booth naturally got my attention. She is a retired grief counselor, which opened a chance to talk about the first anniversary of Digby's death, Dec. 21.
She explained that the death of a pet is particularly difficult for people whose children have grown and left home and for older people alone.
"Pets are our emotional family," she said, adding that she highly recommends that people who have lost a pet adopt one when they are ready. It doesn't mean you are forsaking the lost pet, it means you are looking for a friend.
"Unless you really want a designer dog there are so many dogs in local shelters that would thank you for a home." Ms. McQueen sells her art work to support her work with rescue dogs. Information: MumsGirl43@AOL.com.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.