Closing out November

A few photos and notes to finish out November, December has arrived so very quickly. We celebrated our usual Thanksgiving, John in Huntsville with his family, Leslie’s husband, Mike with his family here in Knoxville and the three sisters, the last of the Smith family, celebrating with an early meal at Copper Cellar.

This was our 3rd Thanksgiving at Copper Cellar. We move restaurants every few years when we believe the quality of the Thanksgiving offering goes downhill or at least as we remember it from the prior year. With this in mind, next year should be a “move” year because we were not so pleased, but we may hang for another year, the crab bisque and smoked salmon still linger pleasantly in my memory.

Three sisters, me on the left (middle), Leslie slightly behind me (youngest) and Carol in front (oldest).

Carol has had some health issues recently and has spent weeks in the hospital and healthcare rehab. She is now on oxygen full time with no apparent option to get off. Another reminder that taking care of oneself to the best of one’s ability is important.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, John and I drove to beautiful Maggie Valley, NC to select a Christmas Tree. The drive has become a much-anticipated event to kick off the beginning of our Christmas season. On this day, smoke and fog hung low in the nooks and crannies of the Appalachian Mountains. Each season is dramatic in these mountains, but I believe I like winter best.

We have been visiting this farm, Mehaffey Christmas Tree Farm for three years now. Two years ago, we cut our tree from the land to the right of the path where John and Katie are walking. This year we noticed new sprouts, trees for future generations.

“This is it!” John walked immediately to the tree he thought would be best.

John and Katie waited patiently for me as I walked about the lot to be sure this was the tree I wanted. Honestly, I walked around because I wasn’t ready for the trip to be over so quickly. This was indeed a perfect tree for us so we had it cut and wrapped for the drive home, but any number of trees would have been perfect. Trees are sold by height and the pole John is holding is a measuring pole.

The picture below is looking back over the valley with the mountains in the distance. This valley is dotted with family Christmas tree farms.

Our perfect tree

By default, watering the tree is my job and for me, a very manual process. I get down on my hands and knees and eyeball the water level. These days I can get down to the floor with no problem but crawling back up is just a little harder. The addition of a heavy, metal tree stand, with a large bowl, will keep me from crawling on the ground twice a day to water (as I did last year).

We set the tree up as soon as we arrived home and then promptly decided to let the tree open up for a few days, or at least that is our excuse for waiting a few days before adding lights.

Always colorful lights for me, since my earliest childhood Christmas memory.  The pink lights on the light strands are a plus. Ornaments will be added soon although we swear every year, we will leave them off.  This year we will have a 19-month-old so hmmm…

Katie’s chair normally sits where the tree currently resides.  We have moved the chair to the dining room, same view, different angle.

With the end of November also comes sunset season. I am always pleased to glance out my kitchen window and see the long, bare branches of our neighbors’ trees, lit from behind by the colorful rays of a fading sun. Sunrises as seen through the living room window aren’t too shabby either!

And lastly, my sourdough starter has been “put to bed” for a few weeks while I focus on keeping a thirsty Christmas tree watered. But before I put the starter to sleep, I baked. My latest King Arthur Baking catalog inspired this effort. I baked two “flavors” of bread, olive and fruit. The loaves were rustic, made without forms and the cuts (vents I guess) are rough. The olive loaf has kalamata and green olives with chopped walnuts and rosemary. I immediately wrapped and froze this loaf for later.

Olive and nut loaf on the left, fruit and nut loaf on the right.

The second loaf, fruit and nut sourdough, well, I cut into it immediately. We have been on a panettone kick the last couple of years and I wanted to see how the two compared (or at least that’s my excuse). Panettone is light and sweet like cake with intoxicating vanilla notes. Fruit and nut sourdough is heavier, more like a stollen without icing. The fruit I used: dried cranberries, dried apricots and lemon and orange peel. The nuts: almonds, pecans and walnut mix. Yum, perfect, toasted or not! I have a King Arthur sour cream fruit pound cake recipe I will try before Christmas so as not to waste the rest of the dried fruit.

Inside the fruit loaf.

That wraps up November, with camping and other stories yet untold but December is on the move!

Posted in Uncategorized, Family, Life, PetLife, Christmas, Food, Winter, Baking, Aussie, Katie | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Late November

As these late November mornings begin to unfold, a soft, blue light filters through the windows. The light, grey in hue, reflects against the darkness and barely luminates plants, books and other objects scattered about. Slowly daylight fills the room casting shadows about. The sun is in no hurry to make her presence known; she will rise above the trees in a little while. Meanwhile, I sit still, hot coffee in hand, watching the shifting shadows and allowing my mind to drift. I treasure late November mornings.

In the blue morning light.

This has been a busy week. No big camping adventures but some travel, nevertheless. On Wednesday we drove the van to Dayton, Ohio to have an awning issue corrected. We knew when we purchased the van that a recall was imminent but honestly, we had hoped to have it fixed in Knoxville. As it turned out, the local Winnebago dealership, (head quartered out of Tampa, I won’t mention the name Lazy Days), did not want to do the work because we had purchased from another dealer. So, we drove back to Dayton.

Somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati.

The drive was long, and we dreaded the wait but noticed a little sub shop within walking distance of the dealership. When the van was pulled into a service bay, we began to walk. Wind blasted through the gaps in our clothing as we were not dressed warm enough. A handful of snowflakes dusted our shoulders. Snow? Snow was definitely not in the forecasts we had monitored for weeks.

The awning fix was completed within two hours, two hours less than expected. We had packed to spend the night along the way but, in what would put us home almost 15 hours from when we left, we decided to attempt the drive to Knoxville.

The outskirts of Cincinnati.

Not long out of Dayton, threatening skies went from spitting snow to a light snow. The closer to Cincinnati we drove, the heavier the snow. We passed in and out of falling ice and held our breath as we inched further south. Finally, just over the Kentucky line, we popped out of wintery weather into subdued sunshine. This had been a long day, but we had no regrets waking in our bed on Thursday, and the awning was fixed!!

On recent day, in his recent cleaning of upstairs bedrooms, John discovered a little red rocker and wooden school chair that had belonged to his boys, when they were quite young. He cleaned both and had them ready for our regularly scheduled Tuesday evening visit with Laurel. That blue eyed, curly haired little missy could not have been more excited.

Little red rocker.

At her insistence, we carried the chairs back and forth between the living room and kitchen as she pattered about. She told us stories of seeing Frosty the Snowman (in Gatlinburg) and sang the 1st stanza of the Frosty song over and over. The Frosty song was interrupted only once or twice by a spontaneous burst of “Old McDonald.” Finally, she and her grandpa sat in the chairs as I fixed dinner and sang and talked, mostly Frosty talk. Miss Katie was so jealous! John and I are now busy brushing up on nursery rhymes and children’s songs. Thanks, Alexa, for your help in our schooling.

Grandpa and Laurel in their little chairs as Katie watches enviously.

On an outdoor note, I have been pretty regular about running and walking. The temperature this week suits me just fine, upper 20’s when I leave the house and only slightly warmer when I return. The difficult part of the cold is at home within the interior where once the cement board walls get cold, they don’t warm up until spring, challenging our heater. As a result, we bundle up and dream about a working fireplace.

Post run on Thursday. I have two layers on under this top. Gosh I look like my grandmother!

While I often walk and run along the same roads and trail, there is so much to see. I love the way Ginkgo leaves turn yellow then seemingly fall, all at one.  We have three old Ginkgoes in this neighborhood, each is spectacular as the next.

Frost heaves along the trail are quite prominent as winter nears.

As soon as the leaves fallen, I go in search of mistletoe that is tucked in amongst the branches of trees growing along the river. John never fails to remind me that mistletoe is a parasitic plant, but I prefer to think of the romantic story where the plant is considered a sign of love and peace.

Mistletoe

Our new carpet was delivered this week. John ordered it for the living room a week or so ago, after several years of living with a pup rendered the old carpet undesirable. With colour on the floor, the look and feel of the room have changed significantly, but I like it. A few minor tweaks need to be made to the lampshades and pillows, but this rug will suit us just fine.

Katie found a spot on the new rug in the afternoon sun.

Finally, flowers this week are vibrant magenta and yellow with touches of pink. I didn’t think I would like the combination but my choices at Trader Joe’s were limited so I brought them anyway. The colours have turned out to be a favorite.

That’s it for me this week. The next few weeks are filled with Thanksgiving, lunches, parties and such, and of course preparations for the holidays. This is a fast paced, fun time of year and I look forward every minute.

Posted in About Last Week, Fall, Life, PetLife, Regional Travel, RVing, Thoughts, Uncategorized, VanLife, Walking, Winter | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Norris Dam State Park-River Bluff Hike

The outside temperature had just reached 36°F when we climbed out of our cozy, warm car and began hiking. Brrrrrr! We were in Norris Dam State Park to take Katie on a hike, on the TVA River Bluff Trail. The hike, a loop, is not long, about 3.2-miles but long enough to give Katie some freedom to run and us some uphill climbing.

At start time, 9:30 am, an autumnal sun sat low on the horizon. We did not feel much warmth radiating from the sun’s rays. Long, dramatic shadows stretched across the trail and except for our shuffling feet amongst the leaves, the air was silent.

Katie waiting for her slower humans.

Fronds of woodland ferns poked through a dense covering of leaves along sections of trail. The bright green, leafy blades stood out against a vast brownness and seemed to reflect the sunlight. I have always been fascinated by the hardiness of the woodland fern, so unperturbed by the cold.

Ferns along the trail.

Just at the top of the ridge, where Norris Dam is visible, we cut right and walked through the brush. We have found an old road that parallels then twists away from the trail. The road is a good choice for us because it keeps our water loving Katie away from lake access on the lower section of trail and provides a good up and down hike to remind us that we are out of shape.

Norris Dam (built in 1936) and Norris Lake from the ridgetop.

This was an out and back hike for us. We turned around near the bottom of the road, where a green flood plain is visible and before we reached what we believe is a plant nursery. Sometimes we hike longer but most times we are ready to start the steep climb uphill.

Near the bottom at our turn around point.
A backcountry mix of local vegetation crunched underfoot.
I love the pinkish hue of this plant, the only colour in the forest at this time. Unfortunately, I do not know the plant’s identity.

After the hike, it was time to winterize the van. A few nights of below freezing temperatures are predicted and we didn’t want to risk damage to the tanks and hoses. This was our first time through the process and John must have watched a winterizing video 10 or so times. The process was not too difficult and only a few “words” were spoken. These clandestine photos below show a bit if the process.

Removing the sink water filter. Yep, it’s under my bed.
Pink, non-toxic antifreeze.
Supervising the winterizing process. Those man paws sure are dirty!
Posted in Fall, Hiking, Outside, PetLife, Tennessee State Parks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

November and Running

There’s nothing like the sun as the year dies,
Kind as can be, this world being made so,
To stones and men and birds and beasts and flies,
To all things that it touches except snow,
Whether on mountainside or street of town.
The south wall warms me: November has begun
.”

A few lines from a poem by Edward Thomas “There is Nothing Like the Sun”. A reminder on this cold, grey day that much beauty can be found as November arrives. Overcast days hold a stark beauty; sunny, crisp days are magical.

Today began heavy and overcast with a chill in the air and a dampness courtesy of yesterday’s rain. But I have had a good day, I broke through the clutter in my head and got outside for a run. My running stops and starts are legendary, at least around this house. Was it only four weeks back that I was going on in a post about my four week “running streak?” Ha! A simple stumble (tumble) on a hike and I am starting from scratch once again.

The city of Knoxville in the distance.

I ran a shortened version of my usual route. So much had changed since my last run. I felt the stillness and silence that arrives with November. Barren trees reached their dark limbs toward the sky, while their summer attire crumbled, dry under my feet. A seemingly lonely bird chirped in the dense weeds trailside, yet I expect a companion or two might be hiding nearby. Few others were out in the cold, and I enjoyed the solitude. I am a mighty runner when I am alone.

I forget how grey I am becoming till I look at a picture.

After my run, John and Katie joined me for a walk. Like me, this is Katie’s favorite weather. She walks briskly on these cold days, stopping on occasion to sniff. Given a chance, she will grab her leash and break into a run. I find much joy watching her transform out of summer’s lethargy to embracing fall.

The only plant I could find that still had color.
A brisk breeze ruffled the water and blurred the reflection of the trees.

Tonight, a freeze will settle in, then another mostly overcast day. By Tuesday, rain arrives again though I believe it will warm up sufficiently so that snow is not a possibility. John and I have van tasks to complete next week, winterizing and a warranty recall issue to attend to. We are grounded at home now until after the holidays so maybe I can catch up on van trips 3, 4 and 5. That is unless, of course, an interesting opportunity appears.

Posted in Fall, Knoxville, Life, Outside, Running, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Walking, Weekend | 2 Comments

A Good Week for Democracy

Last Wednesday, I arrived at the campground feeling exhausted and unwell. I was dismayed by the size of the campground and the number of oversized RVs. I felt like we had moved very far from the solitude of backpacking, and I dreaded the next few days. More important, it was the day after the mid-term elections, and I was feeling burnout after 6 years of rolling political struggles.

Winter has arrived in the Little River Canyon in Alabama

Over the last years I have worried endlessly about the state of democracy and that the right of a woman to hold dominion over her body would be scuttled by a very conservative Supreme Court. But most of all I worried about the state of the human race. What had happened to decency and kindness, our ability to disagree without hating each other?

While Tuesday’s election brought some relief, some sign that craziness is on the decline, our politics are still undecided. The possibility of retaliation politics and other discourse still exists. I don’t think that Trumpism has released its stranglehold on many Americans; absolute power and idle worship are hard addictions to break.

From my rocker in front of the fire.

Late Wednesday afternoon in our little campsite, John built a fire. I sat in my rocker and rocked. I closed my eyes and focused on the breeze streaming across my face. I listened to the brown oak leaves scattered beneath my feet as they caught the wind and rustled across the ground, and I heard the sound of insects echoing in the air. My mind drifted to the memory of backpacks of years past, sitting on the ground in front of a fire with a breeze tickling my face. I felt an intense sense of peace.

I am finishing this post on Saturday evening and pieces of our election are still undecided. But by current counts, this has been a good week for democracy. Many struggles are still ahead but I feel hopeful and am gaining strength in the belief that we will endure this storm.

Posted in About Last Week, Alabama State Parks, Democracy, Life, Outside, RVing, Thoughts, Uncategorized, VanLife | 1 Comment

Tuesday Hiking-Snow Pocket Wilderness

Way back in early October, the 11th to be exact, we took a hike in the beautiful 2,259-acre Snow Pocket Wilderness. Located in Rhea County, Tennessee, this wilderness area was once logged and mined. The State of Tennessee now owns the property and maintains all trails and other structures for hikers and rock climbers to enjoy.

For reference, Rhea County is on the Cumberland Plateau, the nearest town is Dayton. If Dayton, TN sounds vaguely familiar, the town is the site of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trail, which put the teaching of human evolution in public schools on trial and caught the attention of the nation.

On this particular Tuesday, we were here to hike. Our day began with a chilly breeze, but the temperature warmed as the day unfolded. Fall colours had not yet presented themselves, still we shuffled through a blanket of brown leaves that covered the trail. I thought the trees must have been shedding all unnecessary baggage to protect themselves against the drought.

Our trail, Laurel-Snow Trail, is the main artery in this wilderness and travels alongside Richland Creek. Stone remnants from the Richland Mine Company days are still standing for hikers to stop and imagine life in a 1900’s coal mining community. During the days of coal mining in this wilderness, the very trail we walked was embedded with rails that carried a small train that transported coal from the mines to a distribution point.

A hikers’ bridge now runs across railroad stone trestles.

The old mine still stands and surprisingly, the entry is not barricaded against the curious. While I have hiked this trail several times, this is the first time I gave into my curious self and walked inside. Inside is dark, damp and musty but no bats or birds flew out, so Tom followed me in. John reluctantly followed behind. None of us aspire to be spelunkers but John particularly dislikes caves.

Mouth of the mine.
Inside looking out.

John turned his phone flashlight on and pointed the light toward the back of the mine. The light hit a black, black hole where the mine shaft dropped underground. The thought of slipping into the shaft gave me the shivers so we very quickly scrambled out of the mine and resumed hiking.

John leaning in to look into the mine shaft.
Tom examining a stone wall from the same period.

About 1.5-miles into the trail, a metal bridge appears. The bridge is fortified to stand up to spring floods but on this day, water was hard to find. The bridge spanned over large rocks and small puddles. Once across the bridge, the trail forks. Turn left to hike to the 12′ Snow Falls, turn right to see the stunning 24′ Laurel Falls. We turned right.

Metal bridge.

While this trail is not particularly difficult, large boulder scrambling is required along this section. We climbed over, around and through some really spectacular rocks.

Massive rocks!

At the end of the scramble is the reward, Laurel Falls, except we didn’t see the falls. While we expected to see low water flow, we were surprised to see no water. Still, this spot, with big boulders and lush vegetation is perfect for listening to the insects and the occasional bird song while we enjoyed lunch.

Lunch spot.
Laurel Waterfall on October 11, 2022, no water, very little colour.
Laurel Snow Waterfall on a similar date in October 2021, lots of colour, lots of water.
For size scale, this is Tom walking along the lower ridge of the falls. He did note a small trickle of water falling from the top ridge.

After lunch, we hiked out on the same trail. Not far into the hike, my foot hit a large rock hidden by leaves. The hit was so sudden and so hard that even with poles, I could not keep myself upright. I fell hard on my left knee and hand. Took a few minutes to shake off the pain but I realized I had not broken anything, so I righted myself and continued on. By the end of the hike, I could tell me knee was swollen and I was very happy to see the car. As of today, I am 4 weeks past the fall. The swelling and bruising have mostly disappeared though a bit of tenderness still persists. The good news for me is that no permanent damage appears to have occurred.

Posted in Fall, Hiking, Injury, Outside, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Grayson Highlands, VA -Vanlife #2

VanLife trip #2 (October 3-6) was a little more relaxed and certainly more enjoyable than the first trip. Our destination was Grayson Highlands State Park in western Virginia, a drive that was twice as long as trip #1 and included 45 minutes on a winding two-lane road that climbed to the top of White-Top Mountain. Again, I got away without driving but my “grace period” is about up.

The biggest difficulty of this trip was getting out of the neighborhood. On the first attempt, we forgot something, the “what” has slipped my mind. On the second attempt, a loud rattling in the kitchen alerted us that something was not properly stowed. On the third and final attempt before a successful departure, John left a large glass of water on the kitchen countertop. As we turned to leave the neighborhood, the glass fell off the counter and hit the dog, who was resting peacefully on the floor. Ouch!! Needless to say, Katie was startled, wet and unhappy.

Grayson Highlands is a beautiful state park, well kept, nice trails, friendly camp hosts and good facilities. Because we booked late, our site choices were few. We ended up in site #45, which sits on a hill. Even rolling the front wheels onto a 3-story leveling block configuration did not level us. I couldn’t bear the thought of adding more blocks, yet I was fully convinced we would roll into the trailer below us in the middle of the night. At least the campers below were friendly, and we had our heads facing in the right direction for sleep. Of course, the van remained stationary for 3 days.

Campsite #45, not level, avoid if possible.
Looking outside before most of the campers pulled in. Of course this campground was packed, it’s fall!

Grayson Highlands is an interesting place to explore. Several trails begin in the campground but for our first hike, on Tuesday morning, we walked the main road. We began in the campground and walked to Hwy 362 and back, turning around just past the backpacker’s parking lot. The walk is not far, 3.41 miles and we took the time to stop and take in the fall colour around us.

Rock wall and colours along the road between Hwy 362 and the campground.

The morning walk was not enough exercise and well, what else did we have to do 😁, so after lunch, we took another hike. The hike, Wilson Creek Trail, was a short 1.8-mile loop (2.6-miles out and back from our campsite) and advertised as difficult. Wilson Creek Trail lived up to its billing with a very steep drop to the water over roots and large rocks covered in leaves.

Along the route we passed lots of rhododendrons, hickory and brightly coloured maple trees. At the base of the trail is a beautiful 25′ waterfall. Although the falls are not fully visible creek side, what we saw was worth the hike. As we continued along the creek, on a slow ascent back to the trailhead, we were awed by small waterfall after waterfall. The scenery was a nice distraction from the rock steps and many twists and turns. Good news for these campers, Katie was exhausted for the rest of the day.

Headed down Wilson Creek Trail.
John and Katie under a canopy of rhododendrons.
The first few stone steps (many to come) as we turned the bend and headed up.
Glimpses of the creek along the trail.
My favorite picture of Wilson Creek.
We had a cozy little fire the 2nd night, but I forgot the marshmallows!

On our last full day, we hiked again, combining Stampers Branch Trail (from our campsite to the Visitors Center) and Twin Pinnacles Trail (located behind the Visitor’s Center). The combined hike out and back was 6.04 miles.

John and Katie near the beginning of Stampers Branch. Katie could not believe her good fortune with the walk through creek crossings
And a few stone steps to climb.

Twin Pinnacles Trail was my favorite on this hike. The trail is located behind the Visitors Center on Haw Orchard Mountain. Logged of virgin spruce, hemlock and fir in the early 1900’s, Haw Orchard is now covered in grasses, shrubs and red spruce. The red spruce trees have adapted to relentless wind and are permanently twisted and stunted in growth. Haw Orchard Mountain is dramatic and intense.

John and Katie at the top of Little Pinnacle. At 5089′, this is the taller of the two pinnacles.
Really amazing views! Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in VA, is in the distance.
John and I stopped for lunch on Big Pinnacle (5068′).
Colours were not peak but still beautiful.
Views that seem to stretch to infinity.
On top of Big Pinnacle, John and our little hiker girl.
Picnic overlooking a field in Abingdon, VA. Nice break on the drive home. Katie is clearly more interested in John’s food than her own.

Overall, this was a really good trip for us. As a matter of fact, we are now two weeks post Trip #2 and feeling anxious to get back on the road. On this trip I seem to have mostly worked through my sleeping issues with a new mattress topper and set of soft cozy sheets. We did forgot a number of items such as dressing for the salad and cabbage for the coleslaw dressing. We ended up putting the coleslaw dressing on the salad, which was not bad. I also felt a little disorganized, but time and experience will take care of that. Meanwhile we are looking forward to an upcoming 2-night trip, without Katie!

Posted in Hiking, Outside, PetLife, RVing, Travel, Uncategorized, VA State Parks, VanLife | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Fall Colours Tour and the Opera

Life is happening faster than my posting can keep up. I have Vanlife #2 and a nice fall hike write-up waiting for a distracted me to finish. But this week, as I rehab my knee from a fall on the noted above hike, I am writing about “regular” life events. WARNING: no hiking or vanning included but a sprinkle of fall colours and a modern opera.

Several weeks ago, we marked Wednesday, October 19th on our calendar for our Annual Fall Colours and Apple Barn Tour. As it turns out, the day was perfect for our plans, clear, crisp and fall colours were near peak. A light snow had fallen on the upper peaks a few days prior and the high elevation trees were covered in white.

21 years of pictures in the same spot. I should try to locate the whole series.

John and I have been making this trek for 21 years now. We may have missed a year or it would be 22. Last year we recruited my sister, Leslie and her husband, Mike to go, we added a nice lunch to the mix and we now gave a grand tradition.

Leslie and me. Wow aren’t we both getting grey/white. When did that happen??

The colours were beautiful but, in my opinion, not quite as intense as prior years. I am attributing the lower intensity to lack of rainfall. Carver’s Apple Barn had a narrower selection of apples compared to prior years, which I also contribute to the dry conditions. We did find apples to suit everyone’s taste including Cosmic and Thomas Jefferson for John (soft and sweet) and for me, Braeburn and one whose name I forget (crisp and tart). All in all, a great day!

White peaks are unfortunately not visible in this photo.
Or in this one (unless you zoom in), but oh, those colours!
Beautiful reds and oranges! These maples are intense and dramatic…

Also, on the calendar this week, the opening of opera season. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I grew up with a distaste for opera. My father loved the opera, as did his mother and his grandfather (my great grandfather). As long as I can remember, until his passing, he listened to Texaco’s presentation of the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoon. My father turned up the volume so loud, the opera would bounce off the furthest corners of the house, or at least this is the way I remember it. When I was stuck at home on Saturday afternoon, I would go to my room and close the door, convinced the shrill soprano voices would explode my eardrums and probably break the windows.

Fast forward four years ago when friends Bill and Nancy invited us to a night at the local opera. For some reason, probably because we enjoy Bill and Nancy’s company and dinner out preceded the opera, we agreed to go. We now have season tickets and standing opera dates with Bill and Nancy. Go figure! Last night was the first opera of the 2022-2023 season.

Our season tickets are with Marble City Opera, a local company specializing in modern and often first run operas. The 14 or so operas we have watched unfold over the past few years have caused me to laugh, very often to cry and always to walk away with an incredible sense of gratitude that I agreed to go to that first opera. But last night’s opera, not so much.

Dolly related opera, what can go wrong?!

I had highly anticipated this opening opera. The story is built around four Dolly Parton fans and everything I associate with Dolly is positive and good. What can possibly go wrong, right?! The answer is everything.

Last night opera’s set.

The opera had a dark story line. Briefly summarized, the four fans were waiting in line to meet Dolly. In the first act, each fan tells the audience how Dolly is going to change their life. In the second act, the fans are summoned “behind the curtain” for the meeting, and return to the stage disappointed, demoralized, their dreams in shambles. On top of this, add an uncomfortable chair at the Old City Performing Arts Center and a male soprano voice that made my ears hurt and suddenly I was back in my youth and Saturdays at the Met but with nowhere to hide. Note: I am not an opera expert or critic so I can only judge by what I like and don’t like. The rest of my group had a similar reaction.

The best I can guess is the opera librettist must have had a bad experience meeting Dolly, or possibly another singer or actor and used the experience to write this opera. The fact that it was only an hour in length was a gift. That said, “Heartbreak Express” is the only performance by Marble City Opera that I have seen in four years that has disappointed me. So, I plan hang tight to my recent love affair with modern opera (it had been so rewarding) and look ahead to the next.

Two of the opera singers in the evening performance and Kathryn Frady (center), founder of Marble City Opera singing “Jolene”. This is as close as we got to what felt anything like Dolly.

Moving back to Tuesday and another day with this bundle of blonde curls and blue eyes. We are so lucky. She was in a good mood, giggling, racing through the house and making faces at herself in a mirror we keep on the floor for this very reason. We had her dad too, a break for the mother of our little miss, who was having a rough day. Yes, we will be grandparents x 2 in May!

A brief moment of almost stillness.

A little story about the bright bear that our little one is holding (above). When I first started thinking about stuffed toys, I thought I would try to knit something for her. Fun idea but here is the problem, I don’t knit. I did learn to knit some 40 ago but I don’t really want to pick up knitting now so I decided to enlist my sister Leslie, who is a big knitter.

I wasn’t exactly forth coming that I really didn’t want to knit but got her looking for an easy pattern and yarn. Once down that path, she was hooked. Not only did she knit the bear, she is now knitting a purple elephant to go with the bear. I am thinking next, a yellow giraffe. Who knows how big this zoo might grow?!😁

With the ups of last week, we had an undercurrent of downs (aside from the opera). A week ago, the son of one of our neighbors (lives in his parents’ basement) fell into our doorbell. After some conversation and assessment of his condition, I called 911 and his parents, who were vacationing at the lake. He is doing okay now but five days later his father went to the hospital with stroke symptoms. A day later, my older sister was taken to the hospital with severe respiratory issues. All are out of the hospital now and doing ok but I am ready to put October in the rear-view mirror.

A Calla Lily that broke away from the main plant. The plant was a gift from our neighbors for helping their son. I like the simple, clean look of one bloom in water.

So, that’s “regular life” for this week. We have lots going on next week including vanlife. Stay tuned…

As a note, I am turning off the “like” section of this blog. I have a tiny audience and I am ok with that. I am happy to have you here. Please don’t stop visiting and your comments are appreciated. My problem is with the folks who stumble across the blog via WordPress and “like” with the intent of advertising their business or very odd self (at least my definition of such). Since WordPress does not give me the option to delete these folks as do other forms of social media, I am just deleting the option. I plan to change site hosts in the future and upgrade my blog template but I am still doing research so the change will probably not happen this year. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Posted in About Last Week, Fall, Family, Friends, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Life, Opera, Outside, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Middle Prong and Running

The house seems to be in a state of flux and clutter as we move from one camping trip to another, all the while executing our day to day lives. Fall is here. The hot, steamy, drowsy days of summer are behind us and we slip into to crisp fall mornings, warm afternoons and our busiest time of year.

This post was started on the 1st of October, but adventure called, and I am just getting back to finish. Looking back to the last weeks of September and early October, I started running, again. I have struggled with running since the pandemic with no good reason. As it turns out, the pandemic provided me with all the time in the world to work through my running demons and self-doubt and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I have struggled with running since. A restart was attempted last fall, but I barely started building endurance when I abruptly quit again. “I’ll get back to it,” I told myself, but I didn’t.

A late September day, photo taken post 3.0-mile run. Because I cannot run my desired length of 5-6 miles yet, I walk the rest of the mileage.

This year, on a late September morning with the promise of fall in the air, I finally pushed myself out the door, again. One of my favorite runners’ sayings goes something like this, “the first steps out the door are the hardest” a saying I have found to be true. Once the shoes are laced, the front door closed and my feet hit the pavement, my mind is free. I have been running pretty consistently for almost four weeks now and enjoying the time to myself. I do have to avoid looking at my ground shadow, who seems to be a fast-walking version of me. In my mind I am running like the wind and that shadow can be discouraging.

Greenway near my house providing a nice mix of sun and shade.
The last of the summer flowers along my neighborhood greenway.

Aside from running, in late September (September 27th to be exact) our Tuesday hiking group officially returned to hiking. Due to other commitments, we were down to three hikers and these three had successfully procrastinated getting out for a month post Wyoming backpack. On this day we hiked the Middle Prong Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an easy 8.0 mile out and back. We last hiked this trail just before Christmas 2021. A more detailed post about the hike is here: https://smithposts.com/2021/12/17/tuesday-hiking-middle-prong-trail/

Long morning shadows along the early parts of the trail. Autumn Equinox has passed, and the sun is changing positions in the sky.

We had a beautiful fallish day to hike, cool in the morning and warming as the hours passed. I remembered this trail as being easy, but longer than we had hiked in several months. I was not disappointed; the trail was indeed wide and easy, along an old logging road. The turn-off to Indian Flat Falls, a “man-way” as it is called, was thankfully just before the trail curves, narrows and heads steeply upwards. I must admit to memory failure on the turnoff. I had in my mind the turnoff was very short. When I felt like we had hiked too far with no falls in sight, I became insistent that we were on the wrong cutoff. John and Tom just shook their heads and continued on. I must have been tired because I continued to insist. In the end, when we returned to the trail from the cutoff, I had to conceed, I was wrong. We were almost back to the car before the age and memory ribbing subsided.

John and Tom crossing a crooked little bridge.
Blue skies and very little color change
Small cascades
Water flow is much lower than our last hike in December 2021. Everything in this area is very dry.
The second falls, located below the falls pictured above. We spent some very enjoyable time next to these falls, watching leaves shoot down between the rocks and eating lunch.
Reflections in a pond.

With that, I will close the blog on September. October is full of exciting new adventures!!

Posted in Fall, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Life, Outside, Running, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Big South Fork – VanLife #1

Van trip #1, DONE! A “shakedown” as our next-door neighbor told us. He knows, he and his wife are becoming regular RVers. They purchased “Cousin Eddie’s” rig last year at what we have been told was a very favorable price and they are having a blast, getting out every chance they can.

Our neighbor’s RV. Luckily he stores it at his wife’s work so the RV is only in front of his house at travel time.

Trip #1, a two-night outing, was intentionally close to home. We drove only 170 miles, (out and back) to Bandy Creek Campground in Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The drive was easy and while early on I had made some promises that I would get comfortable behind the wheel, I managed to stay in the passenger seat. John mostly ignored this. I confess to being a little intimidated by driving something that costs more than the house I purchased in the mid-90’s. At the time, the house encircled me with a sense of security. These days the van offers just the opposite, a sense of freedom and adventure. Adventure feels appropriate at this stage of life.

Sweet Katie making herself at home in the van as we packed and loaded. Her thrill was short lived as the reality of vanlife became apparent.

Pre-trip packing was messy but not as complicated as anticipated. I combined my backpack and car camp lists with the needs on my menu list, then tossed out the fluff so only the essentials made their was into the van’s very small kitchen. The essential items add up to a lot of stuff so going up and down the basement steps a thousand times to load (and to unload) the van, appears to be a promising way to stay in shape.

Beginning to pull things together, a process that would consume our dining room and other parts of the house too.
Campsite #10 on the B Loop in Bandy Creek Campground. Bandy Creek is the most popular campground in Big South Fork. Loop B appears to be the least popular camping loop in Bandy Creek.

My first (but not last) rookie mistake was not paying attention to the Amps in each campsite. I initially signed up for a 50 Amp site for our 30 Amp vehicle. We spent several tense hours the day before the trip, changing the reservation. Frustrations peaked when I couldn’t make the change on-line (complications with senior rate) but a phone call and very helpful rec.gov employee, made the change in moments.

Morning view in B #10. I wish I could bottle up the sound of insects for quiet days at home. I also wish I could bottle up the mosquitoes and ship them elsewhere.
Yum! Haven’t had pancakes in a long time.
Maybe the only tree we saw with fall color.
Almost every colorful leaf was on the ground. That is to say, most leaves were still green and securely attached to a tree. The weather is still too warm here for fall color.

We did not hike on this trip in this area known for stunning rock formations. We did walk, a lot, about 7-miles on our only full day. Fall had not quite arrived, but the daytime temperature was comfortable and even Katie seemed to enjoy the day.

Walk on the gravel road to John Litton Farm.
Field of late blooming summer flowers.
A blooming flower from above.
Curiosity got the best of me as to what was inside. Is it a puff ball?
And here is the answer, not a puff ball at all.
Hearts-a-bustin’
Sun, shade and gravel.

The trip was over too quickly, and we came home to a recall for the van, a possibility of an unexpected awning deployment. Before we purchased the van, the Travato facebook page noted this problem. When questioned, Lewis RV said it couldn’t happen when we were driving. Apparently, it can and occasionally does so we will await the solution. Meanwhile, we have another trip or two in the planning stage.

Posted in Big South Fork, Outside, PetLife, RVing, Travel, Uncategorized, VanLife, Walking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment