Seven Islands, TN's Newest and Best State Park…

Seven Islands State Birding Park is the newest gem in TN’s system of 56 parks. The park encompasses 423 acres along the French Broad River where grounds are managed as a grasslands and river habitat for 190 species of birds. The peninsula showcases rolling hills, some woodlands and more than 8 miles of trail frequented by hikers and birders. It is also used in research and education for area schools and other groups. A small canoe/kayak launch has been added in recent years. On my goal list is to participate in one of the group paddles offered weekends during the summer months.

This past Sunday we packed up the dog and headed to Seven Islands to do bit of walking and to explore the newly built pedestrian bridge that connects the Seven Islands mainland to Newman Island. While Seven Islands is beautiful anytime you choose to visit, we find the park particularly stunning in the winter. Tall grasses have turned golden, seed pods flutter in the breeze and leaves are off the tree so high point views are vast and beautiful. On a somewhat overcast sky, such as Sunday’s sky, photography is dramatic.

This rustic barn greets park visitors as they come in from the main parking lot. While it offers picnic tables and park literature, it also provides much needed shade during the summer months. Behind the barn, trails split in several directions depending on your destination. Ours was the pedestrian bridge.

As it turns out, the path to the bridge is handicap accessible so the grades were not steep and the entire trail was paved. Standing water from recent heavy rain was visible along the trail. The park was busy with hikers and lots of dogs but it never felt crowded.

As the pedestrian bridge came into view, it was bigger and more impressive than we expected. Large concrete pillars support a wide structure above what was a fast moving river on this day. The new trail and bridge are not only ADA approved but also large enough for bicyclists and hikers to share.

The view from the middle of the bridge was impressive. On one side the sky was cloudy and blue on the other side, cloudy and grey.

Once on the island, we discovered a natural surface loop trail. We hiked along with a puppy that was becoming increasingly impatient to get in the water. We were not anxious because of the steep drop-offs and fast moving water but we let her sniff it out, harness and leash on, hoping she would realize swimming was not a good idea. I know, I know, we are the adults here.

She headed right in. When she realized her big man paws would not touch bottom, she clung to the bank with all she had. You can see a wide paw stance, water swirling around her and John’s feet as he hurried to grab her harness and get her back on solid ground. She did not try to get in the water again.

Newman Island loop trail followed along the water’s edge (right) as it circled the island. Bare trees and winter grass were stark against the cloudy sky.

As we headed back to the car, we detoured to take a trail previously unknown to us. The trail is and out and back, .6 miles in one direction. It meanders up a hillside, through a forest to a ridge high above the park where the views are stunning. Below is a view of the pedestrian bridge we had just crossed.

Another ridge view of mountains, the river and the ridge top.

We returned home with a tired, muddy puppy and good memories of a Sunday morning spent at Seven Island State Birding Park.

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The first full week…

Life has been quiet this first full week of the New Year/New Decade. Lingering holiday leftovers have been swept from the house, wilted holiday flowers have been replaced with bright, sunny ones and art classes resume next week. A peaceful routine has returned to our lifes.

But I am restless. I drift from project to project thinking about 2020 plans that are yet to be defined. I like a good plan, a destination, a concrete challenge. We have missed our spring window for a longed for Portuguese walking trip and have moved on to fall. Maybe Alaska again, maybe somewhere else, Plan A, Plan B. I am working on options and we are having conversation so maybe it will all come together soon.

This yellow spider mum is so bright I almost need my sunglasses

Today we took Katie on a several mile walk to a local wilderness area a few miles from the house. IC King Park use to be known for it drug deals and other illicit activities, someplace you didn’t want to be. The park has been become part of the city’s growing park system. A much needed accessible 2nd entrance has been added along with trails for hiking and single trek. Also large, engaging dog parks, one for dogs up to 45 pounds, one for dogs over. We didn’t take Katie to the dog park, we took her on the trails.

John and Katie walking among the beech trees. They seem to hold their leaves tight till the new ones begin to push out in spring.
Pine cones make for lovely photography, even if it is a tiny bit out of focus.

We left the trail at some point and headed up a series of small rolling hills. In the ground far below us (I hope), high pressure gas lines were buried. Away from bicycles and hikers, we could release Katie from her leash and let her run till she wears herself out. Well, maybe wears herself down.

John and Katie running up hill
Winter seed pods against a dark sky. A storm is coming.
A small arm of the Tennessee River reaches into the park near the less accessible original entrance

Water levels on the Tennessee River are seriously down right now. Perfect for bird watchers, not so perfect for puppies that love water and discover that you have to slog through chest deep mud before reaching water. It was oh so hard for the puppy but oh what a joy when she got there!!

This girl is crazy for water!
Seed pods against the gold that is winter grass
Moss has found hospitable housing on this decaying log
So have these mushrooms

We have battened down the hatches as we prepare for an incoming storm, 50+ mph winds and rain. Anything that can become a projectile has been moved to the garage, bird feeders, windchimes and metal garden ornaments. Tonight we will ride out the storm with old friends and traveling companions (Israel and Italy) that we have not seen in several years.

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Chilling in Quebec City…

Bright, shiny Christmas decorations a block or so from our hotel

Our flight landed at Jean Lesage International Airport around 5:30 pm. It was December 15th. It had been a smooth flight from Toronto, about one hour and 45 minutes but as we broke through the clouds and the mass of city lights grew closer, we could feel the wind tug on our little commuter plane. In the reflection of the plane’s landing lights, we could see fine snow.

Sunset comes early to Quebec as the Winter Solstice nears, around 4:00 pm. By the time we arrived, it was dark, bitter cold and gusts of frigid wind slapped against our bodies. We grabbed a cab to our hotel, . After two prior stays at the lovely we had decided it was time for a change. The Auberge Saint Antoine, a historic boutique hotel was our destination.

As we entered the lobby, a fire at the far end was bright and welcoming. We were warmly greeted and checked in quickly. Upon settling in, our first thought, as always, turned to food. We had spend just over 12 hours in airports (3) and planes and were looking forward to eating something that wasn’t, well, airport food.

Hotel Lobby

When one travels to the same city several times, certain places begin to feel comfortable and bring to mind good memories. Our favorite first night restaurant is a cozy Italian spot, Le Parmesan, located just steps from the Frontenac (, at 38, rue Saint-Louis. For days we had been anticipating a little table by a crackling fire, table to table violin music and a nice meal BUT Le Parmesan is located in Upper Town and our hotel was located in Lower Town. We didn’t fully get that when we booked the hotel. We were tired and a trip to Le Parmesan would necessitate a long, steep hill walk and some 200 steps in dark, icy conditions. Also, it was about 0 F wind chill.

Sooo, we checked with the helpful hotel staff and found a nice restaurant just steps from the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Ristorante il Matto is located in Hotel 71 at 71, rue Saint-Pierre. Not as cozy as Le Parmesan, but the food at this modern restaurant was delicious! Our first course was a bowl of what may be the best minestrone soup that has ever passed our lips. For a second course we chose mushroom risotto. The portions were large enough that we could have split a main dish and had dessert but we didn’t realize that when we ordered. We had to pass on dessert.

Modern and elegant, our first night restaurant.

The tables around us were bubbling with couples and groups. We assumed many were locals, deep in conversation. We were especially fascinated by five couples seated next to us. Elders, such as ourselves. We judged them to be in their late-60’s to mid-70’s, fit and dressed in “outdoorsy”, stylish clothing (this coming from a wistful someone whose outdoorsy clothes are not so stylish). We had no idea the topic of their lively conversation (old friends discussing holiday plans or an afternoon spent skiing in the Plains of Abraham) as French is the spoken language and we don’t speak, but the food and wine flowed at their table and they appeared to be having a marvelous time.

After a solid night’s sleep fueled by exhaustion, we woke to a clear but painfully cold Monday morning. The high was predicted to remain in the single digits but with gusty wind blowing off the St. Lawrence River, the wind chill would feel like -10 F. Our plans remained loose as we had ticked off many of the major sites on previous trips, trips that also occurred in the middle of December in snow and ice. What can I say, Old Quebec does Christmas as well.

Seriously buttoned and bundled up, we began our morning by navigating our way to Upper Town via the Cote de la Montagne, a steep, demanding road. I stayed some steps behind John, huffing and puffing and trying not to be too loud as to not elicit a comment about fitness levels. We took this trek several times during our two day visit and it did become easier.

I pause here to announce that we have officially become old people worrying about slipping and sliding on ice. We watched younger people rush up and down hills and steps, hurrying from one place to the next, icy patches be damned. We walked carefully and deliberately, especially me. I felt achy and old in the bitter cold.

Our first stop was the rue petit de la Champlain. Little has changed since the last time we strolled the historic, icy, cobblestone street (well maybe a foot less snow). The popular shopping district lined with artisan shops and restaurants, is located at the bottom of a cliff under the Chateau Frontenac. It is accessible 24 /7 by foot or by the popular funicular which connects to the boardwalk by the Frontenac.

Petit Champlain
We rode the funicular up to the Chateau Frontenac boardwalk.
Fabulous view of the St. Lawrence River from the funicular
We are not as unhappy as we look, just very, very cold.

When we had seen everything we wanted to see and I had strolled through all the stores I wanted stroll (John is not a store stroller), we decided hot chocolate at Café La Maison Smith was a good idea. Along the way we passed through the closed Christmas market. We thought the number of vendor huts had expanded significantly since our last visit. The market is only open Thursday-Sunday so poor planning on our part meant we were walking through shuttered wooden huts.

Warm hot chocolate from Café La Masion Smith
A new group of huts in the Christmas market.

Our walk included a trip to the Old Port where the best indoor Christmas market is located. Much to our dismay, the market had moved to the suburbs and the building was being demolished. Sigh… We visited the beautiful Basilique Cathedral-Notre Dame de Quebec, and window shopped the art galleries in Lower Town.

The interior of the Basilique
A prayer stop around the perimeter of the Cathedral.

Lunch was at the “cheerful and relatively cheap” Casse-Crepe Breton, 1136 Saint-Jean, where ham and asparagus crepes were had by both. Dinner later at D’Orsay Pub included French Onion Soup, salads and an order of poutine. John’s soup order was mixed up and he ended up with the cream of celery. This is memorable because into the night he ended up with food poisoning and the soup is the only thing we ate that was not the same. I must tell you, while I am not a fan of poutine, John will never eat it again, enough said.

A view of Saint-Jean from our table in Casse-Crepe Breton
Sunset from the boardwalk. We at least look a little happier!
Sunset over the St. Lawrence River
Dreaded poutine. I eat French fries with ketchup and can eat them with mayo like the Germans but gravy is a no go!

Needless to say, the next day I was on my own to move at my slower pace. Still very cold but the wind was not gusting so the temperature held around 20 F. Warm compared to Monday! I ran a handful of errands including purchasing several Christmas gifts and a 22″ strand of pearls that had caught my eye. The pearls are an anniversary gift from John. I also purchased a set of beautiful pearl earrings for myself for our anniversary (John gets a bird feeder and stand). I stopped often to take photos of festive Christmas decorations.

Most Christmas decorations involve fresh greenery and lights.
Lights and a live tree surrounded by historic buildings.
Cobblestones and art galleries.
The Chateau Frontenac stands high above Petit Champlain.

I had cancelled our reservations for lunch at Le Monastere des Augustines ( We have eaten here before and the food is delicious and healthy BUT I wasn’t sure I could navigate my way to and from the monastery so I slipped into a seat at the hotel bar and enjoyed a nice salad. I was spending the day wondering if John had a virus and if it would strike me next. Sick on a trip is difficult, we have both been there.

Since I didn’t want to go back to the room to sit while John slept, I didn’t want to stray too far from the hotel and I really had nothing else I wanted to do, I splurged and booked a pedicure at the hotel spa. Wonderful, relaxing choice for the afternoon!

Spa nestled inside the fortress like walls of the Auberge Saint-Antoine

I had dinner at the hotel bar again. The food was the same as in the hotel’s restaurant and the atmosphere less stuffy. After dinner it was time to pack and prepare for our morning flight. John was somewhat stirring and ready to pack. We had a long travel day ahead and he was ready to get home to his own bed.

We were glad to return to Quebec again for a little Christmas magic and glad to get home. After this trip we have seen everything we want, shopped every place that interests us and eaten at some memorable restaurants. Hopefully our next Christmas trip will bring some new and different adventures.

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A glance back on the ending decade…

A post by Frances @ about major life events over the past decade got me thinking about my own decade. Ten years ago on this day I was in my mid-50’s and anticipating my upcoming marriage. My life had not yet been rocked by the events of the decade.

Since January 1, 2010, these are the major events that happened in my life. At least what I can remember and piece together.

*After 10 years of dating, John and I got married on January 16, 2010. It was a small affair with only family and our closest couple friends. Because we had been together so long I thought I would not feel any different after we said our vows, but suddenly we became a little family. Over the past 10 years we have loved and supported each other through some pretty difficult and some really amazing times. I am very happy to have found the right guy for me!

*I lost my mother in 2011. It was not unexpected but not really expected. Difficult times ahead. I also lost my favorite aunt in 2010 and my favorite uncle in 2013. My father passed away in 2016. Oh my, the pieces of ones heart the departed one takes with them. Luckily John did not suffer family loss. His father and brother had passed away a couple of years before.

*John suffered a horrific bicycle crash in 2013, on my 60th birthday. I will never forget that day. He spend 4 day in Critical Care with 16 broken bones, collapsed lung and a couple of surgeries and more days in the hospital. Post hospital he spent 10 days in a rehab center. Aside from some new internal hardware, he recovered completely. He had prostate cancer in 2014 and I was diagnosed with melanoma in a year or so later. Both caught very early and caused no further issues.

*I retired in December 2018. It is not always been easy trying to find my way but I am working on it and have settled into several interesting and challenging projects. I will continue to refine my interests and time allocation as I go along.

*We traveled quite a bit. We discovered European Christmas markets during the last decade and also enjoyed travel with John’s sons and some close friends. Countries visited include (in no particular order): Bahamas, Israel, Iceland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, England, Italy, Canada, The Czech Republic. Cities we have visited in overseas and in the US are too numerous to mention.

* We also took several epic “human powered” trips: Gates of the Arctic National Park (Brooks Range Backpack), Alaska 2015, White Cloud Wilderness (backpack), Idaho 2016, Eagle Cap Wilderness (backpack), Oregon 2017 and The Cleveland Way (109 mile walk), England 2018. We went on many more hikes and overnight backpacks over the last 10 years.

* I have run many miles, bicycled somewhat fewer and hiked and walked the most. I went through great periods of exercise and times when I was a complete couch potato. Consistency was not my strong suit but last spring I started working with a personal trainer (to get ready for the Alaska backpack that did not happen) and am still working with her on a weekly basis. I also began kayaking in 2019

*We brought an Australian Shephard puppy into our home in the fall of 2018. Her name is Katie, her registered name is “Maple Run’s Sugar Plum Katie.” I swore I would never have a dog but she has brought a lot of smiles into our lives and more walking than either of us thought through.

*John’s two sons graduated from college and headed across the country to grad school. As of the end of the decade, the oldest has received his PhD in Earth and Planetary Sciences and went to work at NASA. The younger son will receive his PhD in the new decade.

My New Year/New Decade began on a healthy note, running 5k in the neighborhood. The temperature has been cool and a brisk wind kept me in gloves and fleece tights. I struggled a little with the run as I took a very hilly route but was glad when I finished.

Clear skies and beautiful views for my run this morning.
These seed pods and others like it were blowing in the wind like little lanterns.

After my run, John and I took the puppy for a walk. We walked 3.5 miles, mostly along the street outside of our neighborhood entrance. This area is in the process of a much needed revitalization. It is currently the home to several local craft breweries, a couple of eateries and a nice coffee shop that we stopped at for take away hot chocolate. Yum!

Katie and I wait for John on the coffee shop patio. No dogs inside. From this vantage point we have a nice view of the river and the city.
Katie and her freckles!

The day has been otherwise quiet. Sun streamed through our windows and the dog has been following the pools of sunlight as they move along the hall carpet. We have rested and read and generally enjoyed the beginning of 2020.

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Christmas 2019 Recap…

Outside my window I can see the winter sun struggling to make its presence known. It is warm, 61 F warm, too early for such temperatures. The weatherman tells us another front is coming through and the temperatures will drop to seasonal. I am counting on it, I enjoy the cold, crisp days of January and February.

The unseasonably warm weather was perfect to don a sport skirt and go running this morning, my first in several weeks. I am now mostly inside for the day. John, his sons and the dog are in Alabama celebrating Christmas with his family. I am picking up and doing this and that in the quietness of the house. The family will roll back in tomorrow and settle in for another week. I look forward to it!

Christmas came and went quickly for us this year. Between an upper respiratory infection, our trip to Quebec, John’s lingering exhaustion from a stomach virus and the puppy getting her version of a several day stomach virus, we completed everything that had to get done and let the rest slide. Looking back, what we did was all we needed to do. After all, Christmas memories center around times spent with family and friends and for us, a little seasonal travel. Gifts , decorations and undone household tasks fade to the background.

One of my favorite memories of the season will be our 2nd annual weekend before Christmas gathering with six old friends (old and friends :). We met at one of our local breweries (Printshop) located a little less than a mile from the house to raise a pint to the season. We spent an hour struggling to hear conversation in an echoing old building (printshop actually) with high, bare ceilings and cement floors . Even the addition of local art on the walls did not help.

After drinks we adjourned to the home of one of the couples in the group to dine on chili, mushroom barley soup and salad. From there lots of lively conversation ensured including everyone’s favorite topic, US politics. This topic takes up too much of our conversations these days. Luckily all of us fall on the right side of the issue, I should say, on the left side of the issue so our conversation was spent commiserating and discussing the 2020 election. I wish I had taken a group photo but did not think about it until we left. I did get a picture of our festive and delicious dessert (Anything Bundt Cake). Chocolate-chocolate chip cake with buttercream frosting anyone?

The puppy delighted and entertained John and me during the holidays providing hours of cuteness and silliness. John has a bad habit of dressing her up and Katie has a bad habit of sticking her nose into everyone’s business. In this case John dressed her in a strand of lights when she stuck her nose in John’s business which, at the moment was stringing lights on our tree. That’s what nosiness gets a pup. Anyway, she hates anything on her back so she laid down in surrender till the photo was taken and lights were removed.

She also got a pre-Christmas bath. While she loves to swim she will run and hide at bath time, which she did as soon as John said “Katie” and started running bath water. She thought she was hidden by hanging out on the porch but again her curiosity got the best of her and she came inside to see if John was lurking about. SURPRISE !!!! Oh, the life of a poor little puppy….

For the past eight years, visiting the cemetery to lay a holiday wreath on the bench where my parents ashes are buried has become a part of my Christmas tradition. If for some reason I don’t make it, John does it for me. He was raised with the southern tradition of cemetery decorating, I was not.

The day we visited was cool and grey. The hill where the bench is located has a magnificent view of the Great Smoky Mountains. On this day a thick blanket of clouds lay nestled low in the mountains. My dad would be quite pleased with the sight. Laying a wreath on the bench this day made me smile and feel grateful for the unconditional love given to me by these two people and a lifetime of happy Christmas memories. I miss them.

On the eve before Christmas Eve, crazy wrapping happened in our house, but ribbons on those packages never did.

These three Santas, the Three Amigos, supervised everything.

When Christmas Day finally arrived, my younger sister hosted our family brunch. We are a small group, even smaller on this day because Leslie’s husband went to his family’s Christmas morning celebration and my husband stayed at home with his sons.

We had our family favorites: cheese grits , sausage, biscuits and gravy , quiche and fresh fruit (the only healthy thing on the table) . We ate, drank coffee, talked and lingered in each other’s company till it was time for me to leave to celebrate with John and the boys. I did get a picture of “the sisters” but we look tired and, well, ready for the holidays to be over…..except maybe my older sister (middle) who looks pretty put together. BTW, I am wearing pearls purchased in Quebec. Don’t tell but they are my anniversary gift, I got to wear them early then put them back in the box.

Christmas with John and my stepsons was next. Luckily they had already had brunch so I didn’t have to eat again till late afternoon. Here are Daniel and Lee, one lives in Houston, the other in Davis, CA. We don’t get to see them often enough.

Evening arrived, we dined on beef tenderloin. Soon afterwards the boys scattered to visit local friends leaving John and me home to begin the post holiday cleanup.

And that’s a Christmas 2019 wrap…..

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6 Days Until Christmas and We Are Not Ready….

We arrived home late last night after a quick getaway to beautiful, wintery Quebec City where the Christmas lights twinkled and the city was dressed in its holiday finest. Snow and ice covered the sidewalks, the temperature hovered in the teens and oh that northerly wind! Brrrrrrrr, bundle up baby!

But two days in the city came at a cost, two travel days from hell. It’s the travel days that had us questioning our decision to leave the comfort of our home. Each day involved 12 hours, mostly spent in the confines of several airports with only 3 3/4 hours spent in the air. This and John fell victim to a stomach virus that kept him in the room from Monday night until we left the hotel on Wednesday morning. Not the best of trips for him but not bad for me. I will save the details for another post.

Christmas decorations are going up slowly around here. We pull the artificial tree out on years we travel but, well, you can see the problem with the lights, er no lights. Tomorrow we will find a few replacement strands and relegate the tree to the porch. Plans are to replace it with a fresh one. I am look forward to the house filling with the sights and scents of Christmas.

This small wooden bowl was picked up at The Great Alaskan Bowl Company on a stop in Fairbanks in 2001. We spent a few days there waiting for our group to gather before heading to the Brooks Range for our first backpack in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The bowl holds memories (rocks) from several backpacks I have taken and feathers discovered on local walks. I like the bits of glitter among the earthy wood and rocks.

The holiday cactus defy my lack of preparedness and are blooming right on schedule. I am a holiday cactus fan. They take a lot of abuse during the year and continue to put on an amazing show of flowers during the holidays. The red cactus was purchased about five years ago from a local grocery. It started as a few sprigs, look at it now!

The fuchsia cactus holds my heart. I purchased it in 2010 for my mother the Christmas before she passed away in spring 2011. This cactus is moving toward the end of its life as the base becomes very woody and stalks break easily. I am working on rooting pieces as fast as they break. Hopefully a new cactus (or two) will emerge from the old.

A few lights and Christmas items sit on the buffet. The photos need to be culled to give Christmas room to breath. The dining room is waiting for holiday linens, candles, lots of food and laughter from family.

Today I received this lovely holiday gift from Lancôme. A nice unexpected surprise and a little luxury during the hustle-bustle of Christmas. It consists of a full size Absolue cleansing cream, a small size soft cream and a lovely candle. I look forward to burning the candle while sipping coffee after the 1st of the year.

I am closing with this picture of La Petite Champlain in Quebec, a reminder that Christmas is a short six days away. It’s time to put on my running shoes and get going. I have much shopping, wrapping and decorating to do and a little gathering with friends before the big day.

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Limping Along Till Christmas…

With Christmas only 15 days away, we are limping to the finish. An upper respiratory infection has claimed my head and chest so John is carrying the household load along with a full load of students at work. We are both looking forward to his holiday break.

Thanks to on-line shopping some of the shopping is done, thanks to hosting the neighborhood book club last week a few (very few) decorations are set out but neither of us has made an effort to pack for a quickly approaching trip to Quebec City. We are definitely feeling the effects of the shortened time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. At some point we will do with what is done and call it a wrap.

Oh my, those eyes…..

At least Christmas cards are almost done. They too are abbreviated this year based on an uneventful 2019. Uneventful is good!

With no travel photos this year, Katie graced our 2019 Christmas card.
A bored little puppy is tired of being with the sick one and waiting somewhat impatiently till John’s holiday vacation.

This morning the temperature dropped rapidly and a sloppy rain turned into this. Tonight the snow is still drifting down and the ground is almost covered. I think the system will blow out before the night is over and we will wake to a chilly sunrise. Meanwhile it’s little Christmas magic on the holiday countdown.

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