On running and December…

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Holiday greenery on a crazy warm day after Christmas!

“Running is nothing more than a series of agruements between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going.”  -unknown

It’s over and finished, my first run in weeks. Three slow but happy miles, run by myself with lots of time to think about goals for 2017. Running hasn’t been a priority recently, I have replaced it with meetings, travel, errands and other time filling but lesser important tasks (well, travel always rates near the top of my priority list). As I have moved though these last weeks and months, I realized the little old lady in me is itching to get out.  I can feel her presence in my knees, movements and on the scale and I am just not ready.  So I am looking for some serious motivation to keep me going in the new year!

December has been a whirlwind!  We started the month in Chattanooga, TN with friends for a 2 hour dinner ride on the Tennessee Valley Railway.  We spend the night in the lovely historic Read House Inn in downtown Chattanooga.  Sunday morning was was rainy and cool so we defered exploring outside for another time.

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John and I in the lobby of the historic Read House in downtown Chattanooga. The hotel lobby was beautiful and the rooms quite nice.

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Our dining car on the Tennessee Valley Railway.

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The dining car was very festive, the food was pretty good and we would do this again.

From there we headed north to Canada to historic Quebec City. This is our second visit to this beautiful city and will likely not be our last but I will post more on that later.  We stayed on a gold floor in the fabulous Chateau Frontenec.  December is off season for the city so our beautiful hotel room came at an equally beautiful price.

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Lobby in the Chateau Frontenec, a Fairmont hotel.

We arrived on Sunday evening and woke to very cold and snowy Monday, 8″ of snow before the day came to an end. It finally felt like Christmas to us.  The food, snow and adventure were magical to us but our stay too short.

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Old City Quebec

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The Grand Chateau Frontenec

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Farmers/Christmas market at Marche du Vieux-Port.  I came home with way too many maple sugar products!

As festive as we felt the beginning of the month, we struggled on the lead up to Christmas.  John finally rallied and decorated the house, inside and out. We celebrated Christmas with John’s sons who were in for the holidays as well as a Christmas Day celebration with my sisters.

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We put our tree up and hung a few ornaments.  The tree looked a little more festive once we hung a few ornaments. 

 

 

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Do you believe in the paranormal…

Are you serious about the paranormal or a curious nonbeliever with a sense of adventure?  Last Saturday night, just prior to Halloween, when downtown Knoxville was filled with 100’s of ghosts and zombies and a flash mob may or may not have broken out in the Thriller zombie dance, we joined 20 others on a Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tour to learn about the Knoxville paranormal scene.While John and I maybe curious non believers we were open, even hopeful to the possibility that the spirits of Halloween might play hide and seek with the legends in our city.

Our Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tour was led by J-Adam Smith, a bonifide paranormal investigator who has appeared on Paranormal Television and has participated in a number of investigations in Knoxville and other parts of the country. He is a gregarious, animated and quite knowledgable on the topic of the paranormal in Knoxville.  He is also passionate about his topic.

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J-Adam’s briefcase filled with paranormal detection equipment

As per pre-arrival instructions, participants began to gather in the Market House Cafe on the northern corner of Knoxville’s famed Market Square around 7:15 PM.  J-Adam stood near a table with an open brief case filled with beeping and blinking gadgets, paranormal equipment we later learned.  He greeted each participant with a warm welcome and a Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours lanyard. As we slipped the lanyards around our necks, we fell into the world of the paranormal for the next few hours.

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Ghost Tour lanyard and free entry into Scruffy City Music Hall

J-Adam began the adventure promptly at 7:30 PM, leading us to the alley behind Urban Outfitters, which we learned was the original site of the 2nd Presbyterian Church and graveyard. Those who wanted to participate in the hunt for ghosts or spirits were equipped with paranormal tools including ghost meters, hand held flash lights, EMF meters (electromagnetic field) and a spirit box. J-Adam explained the nuances of each tool.  I liked the lights and bleeps of the ghost meter so I took one of these. John, ever practical, decided to be an observer.

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Urban Outfitters Alley, the tour begins

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Ghost Meter!!

We quickly discovered that about 1/3 of our group not only knew all  the answers to J-Adam’s questions but were dead serious about the paranormal. As we moved from site to site, this group worked with the equipment, talked to the spirits and kept those of us on the fringes totally engaged. We stopped at sites of long gone funeral homes and graveyards (currently known as back alleys and empty spaces), The Bijou Theater (Lamar House), Knoxville Historial Society (ex-post office-federal court house) and the the 1st Presbyterian Church cemetary.  The history was fascinating, the spirit hunting was entertaining and we thought J-Adam Smith was a super guide. The tour lasted for 3 hours,  a value for the ticket price of  $30/per person.

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East Tennessee History Building once home to federal courts and post office.  According to J-Adam, it is also the site of possible ghost activity

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Our guide,  J-Adam Smith (seated), explaining the details on flashlight use in ghost hunting

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Tour participants on the hunt for spirits

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An empty lot on the corner of Church Avenue and Gay Street which, back in the 1800’s, was the site of a funeral home.  Do ghosts from the funeral home haunt here?  Just ask J-Adam why such a valuable piece of property sits mostly empty with a only a sculpture to occupy the space

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Looking for ghosts and spirits in the 1st Presbyterian Cemetery on State Street

So, did we see any ghosts or hear any spirits?  No, not unles you count a couple of fluttering flashlights and a possible “orb” on someone’s photo. But we learned something about history and the paranormal and we had a really great time and that was worth the time and money spent for the tour!

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1st Presyterian Church Cemetery

 

 

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Roaming in the Roans…

Mountains are the beginning and end of all natural scenery.   John Ruskin

I think the balds of the Roan Highlands are about the most beautiful place I have ever hiked. Located in the Unaka Mountain Range in Upper East Tennessee, the balds make up the longest section (7 miles) of grassy balds in the Appalachian Mountains.  All but one of the balds is located on the Appalachian Trail (AT).

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For the weekend hiker, the AT section of trail to Grassy Ridge Bald begins at Carvers Gap, just on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. For the AT thru hiker, the trail begins some 378 miles south at Springer Mtn, GA. There were a lot of day hikers and backpackers the weekend we hiked the balds.

Late on Friday night, after yet another week of sweltering temperatures in the valley, we decided to escape the city heat and head high into the high mountains for an overnight on Grassy Ridge Bald. We choose Grassy Ridge for several reasons:

  • The drive from Knoxville is only 2.5 hours so we could get some things done in the morning and leave in the early afternoon.
  • At 6189′, Grassy Ridge Bald is guarenteed to be cooler.  We figure about 2 degrees per 1000′ so the temperature differential between Knoxville and Grassy Ridge would be at least 10 degrees.  The bald is also free of heavy vegetation and with a likely breeze blowing up and over the bald, the temperature would be even cooler.
  • While demanding for short stretches, the 1.8 mile trail from the Gap to the Bald is moderate and would take significantly less time than the drive.
  • The views are amazing!!
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The AT section leading to the Balds of the Roan Highlands, begins with 8 log steps which lead to an opening in the log fence, then an ascent through a small spruce forest and up to the top of the 1st bald, Round Bald.  The ascent is not too demanding and most of the trail surface is packed gravel. It is no surprise that many day hikers stop at Round Bald.

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Grasses near the top of Round Bald

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Dayhikers at the top of Round Bald.

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John hiking down the backside of Round Bald, Jane Bald lies ahead of him. Notice the AT sign post on the left of the photo indicating we are headed north on the AT. On the backside of the sign is a southward marker. From Georgia to Maine, the AT is marked with a “white” blaze.

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Didn’t I say, the views are spectacular??

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We are now looking back toward Round Bald, which is in the foreground with the AT winding up the bald in the left of the photo. Roan Mountain is the tallest mountain behind Round Bald with Carvers Gap in the center between the two. The photo is from Jane Bald.

Jane Bald is the 2nd of the 6 balds that make up the Roan Highlands. The trail (still on the AT) that climbs Jane is a little rougher and rockier than Round Bald.  At the top of Jane Bald, the AT splits to the left and continues over Yellow Mountain, Little Hump and Big Hump (each one equally beautiful) as it heads north toward Mt. Katahdin, Maine some 1810 miles away.

Since our destination was Grassy Ridge Bald, we forked to the right and followed an unmarked spur trail climbing up a rutted, rocky trail through rhododendren thickets.  The Roan Highlands are known for their spectacular display of rhododedren blooms around the 3rd week of June.

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Hiker climbing to the top of Grassy Ridge Bald.  Jane Bald,  Round Bald and Roan Mountain are visible behind the hiker.

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A dense rhododendren forest arches over a secton of the trail near the top of Grassy Ridge Bald.

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Up and over the top of Grassy Ridge Bald

Based on the number of cars in the parking lot at Carver’s Gap and foot traffic on the trail, we were not surprised to find the best tent sites on Grassy Ridge Bald taken.  We crossed over Grassy Ridge and dropped down into a gap (our usual camping spot) only to find a tent set up in the middle of the gap.  While technically there was still space for  a second tent, we continued up the other side to a rhododendren garden with rocky outcrops.

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John begins the tent set up for what we though was the perfect campsite.  As it turns out, we bypassed testing on the ground cloth to see if the site was flat and later discovered that the middle of the tent was in a bit of “impression” in the ground.

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Incredible view from our tent!

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Our tent is nestled against a rhododendren thicket which provides protection from wind that often roars up the side of the mountain and across the balds.

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We were treated to a spectacular sunset.

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Both of us were happy to see the sunrise, it had been a restless night on the uneven ground.  Besides, we always look forward to coffee and the best cup is the one sipped in the great outdoors.

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We watched clouds gather in the valley as we sipped coffee on our rock outcropping some 6000′ above the valley floor.  It was a beautiful  morning.

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Morning light in the mountains.

After an hour or so of  cloud watching and packing, we hiked out the same way we came in. It had been a great 24 hours in one of our favorite areas and our 78th backpack was in the books.

The trailhead at Carver’s Gap and parking are located about 25 minutes from Elizabethon, Tennessee off Highway 19E. From 19E take  Hwy 143 to Carver’s Gap.  At the base of the mountains, on Hwy 143 is one of Tennessee’s 56 State Parks, Roan Mountain State Park .  A visitors center is located on the main road where maps and information can be obtained. Hiking and camping in the Roan Highlands is free.

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Trying to shake loose the guilt of commitments…

I went for a run this morning, I needed to clear my head. Work, volunteer committee meetings that have developed into more meetings and other life demands have me feeling a little blue. It was raining lightly as I left the house. My support team of one (John) was out there with me, once again walking nearly as fast as I can run.

I thought about entering the 4th quarter of my 62nd year and how grateful I am that my body still allows me to run, hike and play hard. I thought about the big goals l have left hanging and which ones I really want to accomplish. I thought about how lucky I am to be me and live the life I live. And I thought about the fact that I don’t have to feel guilty about missing some of those committee meetings that have turned into a weekly events (yes, really!!). This last point is important because I need to remind myself that  sometimes it’s hard to see through the casual commitments and remember that it is the time spent running, hiking and spending time with friends that will matter to me.  The time spent in meetings upon meetings will feel like time wasted! 

Meanwhile the intensity of the rain picked up, Thunder and lightening rolled across the sky. I imagined that I was ninja, running between the drops. I turned to looked at my support team who had the hood of his rain jacket pulled low over his face and walked behind me without complaint. He is good that way. We made our way home.

Done: 4.2 miles. BTW, I am not ninja, I am soaking wet!

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The Meaning of Thanksgiving…

I woke Thanksgiving morning tired and a little stressed.  The day had turned into a big deal for our little family of four.  Several weeks ago my father, who is a resident of a retirement home and temporarily in a wheelchair, spoke his desire to see no processed food (meat or otherwise) on the big day. That meant that unlike recent Thanksgivings where we shared our meal in the retirement center dining hall, my sister Leslie and I would be preparing and transporting the meal.

Thanksgiving for four can be as complicated as Thanksgiving for 20.  We have our longtime family traditional meal like everyone else.  While we like turkey and love post holiday turkey sandwiches, my father is famous for saying that turkey is only an excuse for eating bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing and deviled eggs.  He could do without the rest of the items except the fruit (specifically apple) pie.

A couple of weeks ago, Leslie and I set about dividing the tasks of who will cook what (we prefer our sister Carol not contribute to the cooking for reasons left unsaid here).  I drew the short stick with the turkey and fretted about it for a week or so. Do I cook a whole turkey for leftovers or just a breast?! Looking back, it seems like a no brainer.

One night last week, while we were shopping in Fresh Market,  John grabbed a Thanksgiving order form and signed me up for a nice 10-12 pound rotisserie whole turkey. Yeah, precooked and leftovers, the decision seemed right.  With the big decision made, I made my list for my sides (cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bread casserole, bread and apple galette) and did the shopping. I would breeze through prep!

I was wrong.  Heating what turned out to be a 13 pound precooked turkey takes several hours.  Preparing the rest of the sides, carving the turkey, packing everything carefully so a sudden stop or curve would not result in the lose of one of the sides and preparing myself so I would look presentable really pushed my tired self to the limit. Did I mention my Dad likes to eat around 11:30 AM and I had a 20 minute drive drive with platter, pans and a crock pot in my car?

As I walked out the door to head to the retirement center I surveyed the mess called my kitchen.  Dishes were everywhere (I am a messy cook), mashed potatoes were drying on the wall behind the stove, flour from the galette was scattered on the counter, turkey grease filled tin cans in the sink and the floor had a few mishaps scattered about. Clean up would take hours.  This is it for me, I declared to myself , I will not go through this again.

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Our reserved room in the retirement center

I was late getting to the retirement center, Leslie was even later.  Carol had rolled my Dad down to the room we had reserved for the festivities and he was hungry and impatient. When we finally got the cars unloaded, table set, candles lite and plates filled, my Dad gave the blessing. He talked about his thankfulness to still be here (he is 91) to share this meal with his three daughters.  He said how grateful he is that his daughters dote on him, spend time with him and are willing to help him when he needs it. And he said how much he loves his girls.

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 Thanksgiving dinner

The meal went fast (as it always does).  My Dad started falling asleep at the table so the daughters packed ” to go”  containers for everyone, cleaned up the mess and repacked our cars.  Carol rolled our dozing father back to his apartment while Leslie and I headed home.

When I walked in my house with the remnants of Thanksgiving dinner in my arms and hours of clean up yet to be done, I understood the words “labor of love”.  For this Thanksgiving meal was a labor of love for the father I adore.  This effort was for the man who loves to be the center of attention yet worries so much about being a burden, for the father who wanted nothing more than to have his children at his side to share in another home cooked Thanksgiving dinner.  I am so grateful…

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

BLS

 

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Life’s Little Wake Up Calls…

I have been out of touch for a few weeks!  It is not that I don’t have anything to say, I am just having trouble carving out enough time to say it.   We are busy working hard and playing harder and I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of  sitting down at my computer to write. But just last week I was reminded how important it is to take time to reflect and record this amazing journey called life.  As I found out, life can change rapidly.

The beginning of last week I went to my dermatologist for an exema and annual skin exam.  She was running late and I was in a hurry so after the exema conversation I told her I would return at a later date for the skin check.  She asked it I was having any problems.  I answered no then remembered the tiny freckle on my leg that had developed a small red 1/2 circle around the edge.  She looked, said it looked a little inflamed so she cut it out and sent it out for testing.

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The biopsy area above is about 2x as big as the actual freckle.  Sorry the photo is so ghastly, it was taken in pre-sunrise light (we were on the way to the mountains for a bicycle ride) and without a flash.

Fast forward Friday evening, I received an after hours call from my doctor with the news that I had melanoma and had been scheduled for in office surgery Monday afternoon. Then she started to talk about the surgery and what to expect,  checkups every three months for several years and so forth.  Meanwhile I am thinking to myself… “What, isn’t melanoma the preferred skin cancer (if you have to have skin cancer)? “

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So here I sit Wednesday with this huge bandage covering a 3+ inch incision that has 3 layers of stitches. I am still wondering how a little, tiny, flat, non nondescript freckle turned into this.  The good news is, my surgeon says the “margins are clear”  (that’s a new term to me), the cancer has been removed and it was superficial enough that lymph nodes do not need to be checked.  By the way, I have rescheduled the full body skin check that I was in too big a hurry to do last week.  I think I have the time now.

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