Spring at Tall Pines

April/May 2021

It’s against my nature to go out of order, but for this post that’s exactly what I’m going to do. We’re having such fun seeing what pops out each day as Spring unfolds here in the North Georgia mountains and there are a lot of “littles” to share with you. Of course I’ll give you a few house sneak peaks, too, for your patience.

17-Year Cicadas

These ugly chaps are 17-year cicadas and members of brood X making their appearance now in our woods. The ground is full of holes about the size of a pencil and that’s where they emerge to latch onto something and crack out of their “shell”.

They’re particularly fond of our ferns and you can see the empty shell above and the drying cicada below. I did a little research and found that there are 17 and 13-year cicadas with the 2021 brood being the largest of the 17-year guys. They’re also known for being particularly loud, but so far we’re just hearing a non-specific whirring noise in the trees. How about those beady orange eyes!?

April Showers Bring May Flowers

I delight in all the growing things around here since they are often so different than what I was used to in Florida. It’s a whole other growing zone up here in the mountains. This plant is so far my favorite. It’s called a leatherleaf mahonia with leaves like holly and the most delicate yellow flowers in winter that initially smell like lemons. Then those same flowers mature to smell just like roses. Fast forward to spring and they have these berries turning gorgeous shades of purple. A treat for the birds.

We have a nice patch of pink lady slippers, too. They’re wild orchids and so delicate. They’ve been blooming since April, but the flowers are now starting to shrivel up and die back. Ah until next year my pretties.

I can’t identify most of these except the bright orange ones – native flame azalea that grows on tree-like shrubs, and the fleabane that look like teeny daisies. We had the fleabane in Mom’s yard in Florida so those bring back memories. The tall white flowers grow along the creek and those other two might be wild rose or blackberry. If you know, shout it out!

The tulip poplars are finally leafing out and dropping these interesting blossoms. Another bright spot in the forest with tree leaves shaped loosely like tulips, thus the name.

We have patches of mountain laurel, too. These bushes are described as gnarled like arthritic hands, but the blooms are quite showy with pink and white clusters. Some spots on the property are thick with them making it hard to hike through. I think the deer like the cover, but they are highly toxic so hopefully they aren’t eating them.

Just a few more for you. Lovely pink trillium, unfurling fern fronds, wild iris, and finally my new favorite annual. I have discovered dahlias and the orange/yellow ones are newly potted and sitting in view of the mountain ridge.

The House

Yes, the sticks and bricks house is underway as of April 21st. The very first scoop of dirt on ground-breaking day!

So far we are the proud recipients of a porta potty and a stylish yellow one at that. A dumpster will join the fray this week. We also have footers poured and the blocks delivered for the foundation that will hopefully be completed this week as well. Progress! Not exactly the most exciting photo since it really still looks like a big mess. That should improve a bit shortly.

We decided we needed a flat spot for our evening firebowl sitting, so Pat got busy.

Ta-da! Not bad at all.

All that dirt they took off the top went down the hill to our future RV creek spot. Our man Rodney graveled it and Pat’s got the grass coming along, too. Right now it’s ready if you want to boondock! Also our first attempt at hanging gates and if you don’t look too closely they are pretty good.

The last “improvement” to show you for now is our rustic bench on the creek trail. We go and sit almost every day, look for the deer, and listen to the water babble.

Other Random Things

We’re fully vaccinated now, so looking forward to getting out and about to enjoy the area more. We have lists of places to hike, restaurants to try and festivals to attend. For now I’ll share a few other pics I’ve taken lately.

Just a few of our neighbors and their tranquil pasture.

Another neighbor. This Carolina wren was nesting in our shed eaves. He’s calling his lady I think.

I’ll leave you with this view. We marvel at how it changes every single day. Sadly that bare little tree did not survive the house site prep, but I’m sure another one will come along.

Next Up: I think I’ll go back and finish off last year’s photos. Fall was extraordinary! See you at Tall Pines!

Tall Pines

September 4 – October 11, 2020

So I started this post quite a while ago (last year!), but I much preferred being outside on the new property to sitting inside and writing. Sorry you had to wait so long for the rest of the story. I’ve given up on being “caught up”, but I’ll get back to regular blogging eventually. For now expect it to come in dribs and drabs. Now on to the story…

We’ve quickly moved from Property Hunters to Property Developers and we’re learning a lot along the way. Moving to our new property is so close we can taste it, but patience is a virtue so they say. Not my strong suit.

Let’s Talk Water

I realize this isn’t the most interesting photograph, but it represents huge progress for us. Here’s the back story. We go down to our local water company with all our proud owner paperwork to start the water acquisition process. Fortunately the property runs along the county road with a water line so we don’t have the expense of running that all the way up the road and we can get a water meter set right there. We pay our handsome fee and are given two flags to put in the ground where we want our meter. Really we don’t know what we’re doing, but Pat eyes the spot and places the flags. And within a day or two – wah lah! We have a big OK spray painted there indicating (we think) that all is well. Picture if you will in that blue spray painted area, a nice new water meter, or at least the cover. Within a week we have a meter! Of course it doesn’t do us much good…yet. Patience my friends, yes patience.

Let’s Talk Septic System

Now I know this is quite the sexy topic, but have you even seen an original septic system installation? We hadn’t either. Closest we’ve come was the installation of a new drain field at our former DeLand home. Not nearly as exciting as this.

First you need a tank for all the solids, so for that you need a BIG hole. And here it is.

Then you need the tank. Here’s our big beautiful septic tank being plunked into the big hole by the most interesting truck. It shot the tank off the back and lowered it into the hole. This is a tank big enough for a three bedroom house even though we’re not planning on building that big a place. We need it though since the Lucy sewer connection counts.

Then you need a drain field for all the liquids to percolate into the ground. How about that for a drain field! I was sad to take out so many tall pines for this, but it couldn’t be helped. Permanent plumbing is one of my must-haves.

At this point we’re oh so close to having all our services on the property. Our man Rodney installed a water line from our nifty new water meter and finished it off with an RV hydrant. He also installed a sewer line with a connection next to it for Lucy to dump. Water – check! Sewer – check! What’s left? Yes, we need power, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Let’s Talk RV Shed

Rodney did a superb job of hurrying the grading and graveling along to beat what seemed like the monsoons and make the deadline for the shed installation date. After all the tree-cutting and excavation work, we had a nice flat graveled pad ready for the RV shed that we ordered.

There you have it. The biggest “garage” Bitsy will ever have. Ah but she’ll have to move over for Lucy shortly. I realized while writing this post that I have zero photos of the shed build which is a shame since the crew that did it was amazing to watch. They blasted their music, hardly spoke to each other and knocked it out in record time. We marveled at their efficiency.

NOW Let’s Talk Power

Power was quite a process. It was the one link in the chain that seemed to grow with each step we completed. I’d check one step off only to find out we have two more things to do. In a nutshell, the electric guy came out in August and quoted us the job to get power from the pole in our neighbor’s yard across the road. Sure, throw money at it. We’re getting super good at that. But not so fast he says. We need notarized permission from the neighbor to dig our underground line from the pole through her yard across the road and into our lot. Oh and by the way, everyone on the neighbor’s deed has to have their signature notarized.

“Hi there, I’m Judy. So nice to meet you. And by the way, do you think you could notarize this document for us so we can get the power company to come dig up your yard and give us power?” Yeah, that’s the first conversation you want to have with new neighbors. Our lovely neighbor agreed, but she has to have her daughter (who is on the deed) also sign and she, of course, is not local. Mailing, signing, notarizing, mailing, signing, notarizing and just like that we’re ready to dig.

Not quite “just like that”. Here’s where a few more steps get added in. Before the power company can do their thing, we need to have an RV pedestal set on the property. Pat, handy guy that he is with his electrical background, is quite capable of installing said pedestal and the county is cool with that. Here he is doing a fine job. But wait, remember that little issue with COVID-19 where stuff you order takes forever to arrive and lots of building materials are affected? Well this little pedestal gem took a whole month to arrive and turned out to be the biggest delay in the entire electrical process.

Finally we’ve jumped through all the hoops including that time when the fabulous crew from Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Cooperative came to install our power only to find we still had stumps and no pedestal. I apologized, thanked them profusely, and they did come back when we were really, really ready. Here they are parked prominently in our neighbor’s yard working on our power.

Oh my gosh – isn’t that an attractive thing at our entrance. Hey, but this transformer can power as many as four houses and we are grateful!

Just look at that. They’ve run the power line and it now completes our magic triangle of services – sewer connection, water hydrant (that blue thing) and RV pedestal. Now we can “move in” with Lucy.

Happy Are We!

Here’s Lucy all tucked into her new home and connected to water, power and sewer. Best campground we’ve ever been in, but certainly not the cheapest.

Tall Pines in all her glory. We think we can get used to this.

Of course there was permitting and documents being bandied about along with countless phone calls and a few inspections, but we’re truly official now. We even have our 911 address post to show we’re on the map. Well, not exactly on the map since Google will send you way down the road if you try and navigate to us. And we aren’t yet “official” in the eyes of the US Postal Service, but that’ll come in good time along with fiber optic internet.

Next Up: That’s a hard question, but I think I’ll now backtrack to the other stuff we did during our property development adventures. We had visitors and we did manage to enjoy the property and surrounding sights. See you on the way!

Blairsville

July 24 – September 3, 2020

Hang on to your hats! I’m going to cover a lot of ground in this post including the latest from the property hunters, sightseeing, and a family visit.

Track Rock Campground

Finally our preferred campground came available and we’ve got the prime spot overlooking the lake for six weeks. I read all the great reviews about this place and we were not disappointed.

The nights were lovely with all the night bug sounds, the rising moon and sometimes thunder booming like cannons. By day we watched the kids playing king of the hill on the platform in the middle of the lake and throwing each other off into the water. Looked inviting but I don’t really like to swim and I especially don’t do lakes.

Sightseeing

To keep ourselves entertained while we waited for August 14th, we took in the local sights. Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in Georgia and just up the road from Track Rock.

At 4,784 feet in elevation, it’s a great spot for panoramic views of the surrounding area. You do have to work for it though since the parking area is 0.6 miles from the summit. That doesn’t sound like much, but the 0.6 is all uphill and I mean it’s steep. Normally there’s a shuttle that will take you up, but not in the time of COVID-19. On our visit we had sun, an enveloping mist, and a carpet of rhododendron blooms on the trail.

Then there are all the local waterfalls. Georgia has a ton of them and we’ve just scratched the surface. We decided to re-visit one from a trip up this way four years ago.

Amicalola Falls pandemic-style. We are getting a teensy bit better at selfies as you can see. This is one of the most impressive falls in the area at least from what we’ve seen, but again, you have to work for it. There are 604 steps up to the viewing platform and halfway mark where we took this shot. Got our cardio in for the day, but unfortunately it was way too people-y and no way to distance on the stairs. I insisted that we go all the way to the top like we did on our first visit and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we’re in better shape this time around. Not nearly as much huffing and puffing even with the masks and the 85+ degree heat.

The falls without the distracting mask people and the view from up top.

Property Hunters Update

I’m going to skip right to the good part. We officially closed on August 14th on all that beautiful land and moved right along to tree removal on the 17th!

Here’s the before and after view.

And this is what it should look like from the house windows once the house is there. We overlook farm and pastureland as well as Duncan Ridge in the Chattahoochee National Forest. We think that biggest peak in the distance is Coosa Bald, but we’re still trying to completely figure out what we’re seeing.

The highest elevation point on the property was identified as a white pine thicket by the guys who bid the tree cutting and excavation jobs. These trees are 70-80 feet tall and kind of scary around the house and RV shed sites. We busily marked all the ones we wanted removed for safety and the view. Then the first thing out of our tree guy’s mouth was “I wouldn’t have this property”. Well alrighty then. He said they were brittle trees and would snap off in high winds. So off we go marking even more trees. In the end we cleared a bunch, but at least we don’t think we’ll be crushed like a bug in our own home.

A beautiful specimen that went the way of the saw mill and is providing someone with fine pine lumber. We hated to cut down thriving trees, but we had to make room for the RV and the house. Plus there are 9+ more acres full of lovely trees that we won’t touch. As a nod to our thicket, we’re calling the place Tall Pines.

Some of you may know the first step for developing raw land, but we sure didn’t. First question we had was how do we get an actual street address? Well, our realtor told us we needed to call the 9-1-1 mapping office. Ask for John he says. Of course you need a driveway to get an address assigned and we just happen to have one of those. That’s all we have, but seems that’s enough. Lo and behold John comes out and puts a little flag out and tells us our new address. We are on the map people. Now before you get too excited let me just tell you that a 9-1-1 address is one thing, but a mailing address is another thing entirely. That, my friends, will not become a reality until we lay the foundation for our house according to the Blairsville postmaster. For now, we’ll just have to settle for a P.O. Box.

There is so much more to tell about the property development, but I’ll save something for next time as Pat likes to say.

Family Comes to Town

The family visit all started when Pat’s nephew Brandon complained that the one remaining trip not ruined by the pandemic was ruined by renovations at the family lakeside cabin. I suggested he come here and stay in one the Track Rock Campground cabins. Oh, and why don’t you bring your grandmother along. So he did!

Of course before we showed Mom and Brandon anything else, we took them out to the property. They were lucky enough to see it before the tree cutting started, and also got to see the view emerge. Unfortunately we also dragged them to the water authority office, county permitting office, and I don’t even remember where else. We were in the middle of a lot of “stuff” at that point.

It wasn’t all business though. Track Rock Campground has stables and Mom has horseback riding on her bucket list. The boys weren’t interested in riding horses, so us ladies went for a lovely hour in the meadows, woods and by the stream. Mom’s horse took advantage of her and ate every chance he got, but she enjoyed it anyway.

Vogel State Park was worth a visit and we walked the lakeside trail even though it was a little rainy that day.

The Appalachian Trail crisscrosses this area so we drove farther up the road from Vogel to Neels Gap in search of some mountain views. This spot is the only place where the trail passes through a structure. Mom and Brandon can now say they hiked a bit of the AT.

Then there’s Helton Creek Falls. For not a lot of effort, you get to see the lower and upper falls. Really the worst part is the drive. Another case of where the pavement ends and the gravel takes over. At least we know the right way to go that doesn’t involve a water crossing in the car.

Speaking of water, Brandon couldn’t resist getting under the falls for a photo op. I will say it’s a good thing I snapped when I did since he didn’t waste any time getting our of that frigid water. We egged him on so he just had to do it.

When we weren’t driving all around town or sightseeing, we were playing cards. Oh how I’ve missed our rousing golf card games with the family in Springfield. Every night found us at their cabin table betting our money and giving each other grief. Brandon and I have a special rivalry which always makes it fun. Of course this picture has nothing to do with that. It’s actually the first mushroom I’ve been able to identify in my newfound mycology obsession. This one is an Indigo Milk Cap and one of the rare things in nature that is truly blue. The photo doesn’t quite capture the brilliant blue “milk” that comes out of those gills. Mom went with me so I could identify the mushrooms that were popping through the dead leaves outside their cabin. I was armed with my trusty new Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms. The boys were not nearly as impressed with my find as Mom was. Anyway, stay tuned for more mushrooms and fungus facts.

That’s it for the family visit and the month of August.

Next Up: Blairsville part 2 and more property details. See you on the way!

Biding Our Time

July 15-23, 2020

I’m going to combine two stops in an attempt to get caught up before yet another month passes.  (I failed miserably, but I had high hopes when I started drafting this post.)  We’re waiting for a spot to open up in Blairsville, GA so we filled the gap with a stop at Persimmon Creek Campground in NC and a short stay at Vogel State Park outside of Blairsville.

Property Hunters Update

When we last left you we thought we’d found THE place, but alas, it had an offer already.  Well, we tromped around the whole 5 acres with the realtor anyway and also checked out the 5 acres right next door.  And during that visit he gave us the good news.  That other offer fell through!  So by the time we left our happy place at Cardinal Ridge, we had accepted offers for both pieces of property.  That’s right – a whole 10.4 acres of beautiful forested land that met all our criteria and some we didn’t even know we needed like fiber optic wi-fi availability and a driveway.

Clockwise from left, that’s Pat in the driveway and I’m taking the picture from where the house will eventually go. Those next two are our ridge with the tallest trees showing on our soon to be property. According to forest service maps, this is Chigger Ridge and part of Payne Mountain with our spot at an elevation of 2,008 feet. Next Lucy in the driveway, and yes, we’re busily measuring. Finally the view looking out our driveway down the one-lane county road that is paved as far as our entrance. Bonus! Now we just have to amuse ourselves until our closing date of August 14th.

Persimmon Creek Campground

We now needed a spot in Blairsville, Georgia, closer to our property-to-be and I found a great campground. Unfortunately they were full until later in July. I filled the first part of the gap at Persimmon Creek Campground.

Our little peaceful spot beside Persimmon Creek was perfect. Well almost. At this point it was the height of summer around here and upper 80s during they day. (Really not bad for this time of year and much better than what we would have “enjoyed” in Florida) That means the AC is running most of the time, oh wait, make that ALL of the time. That’s ok, but the power here was a little temperamental and would shut off from time to time. With Jackson, that would have meant we had to relocate since we couldn’t leave him in the hot box while we were off on outings. We miss that boy, but at least we could deal with the power issue and not worry about him. Of course most of the time we were running off to the property meeting with people about tree removal, excavation, etc. so the heat of the day didn’t matter to us.

Ocoee River Scenic Byway

We did manage to do a little sightseeing. We’re within spitting distance of Tennessee and the scenic Ocoee River, site of the 1996 Olympic rafting events. You round a corner in the twisty road and see this frothing rushing river full of rafters. It’s quite impressive.

Looking upriver at the rafters and kayakers and downriver after the big rapids.

Vogel State Park

Still biding our time, so I filled the rest of the camping gap for two days at Vogel State Park just outside of Blairsville. It’s one of the oldest and most popular state parks in Georgia, so two days in a row was all we could get during the height of the summer camping hysteria.

Vogel is on the side of Blood Mountain and quite picturesque. That’s Trahlyta Lake.

There’s a nice hike around Lake Trahlyta with a side jaunt down to Tahlyta Falls.

The vast misty mountains…

And the littles – my toasted marshmallow and magic mushrooms.

Next up: 6 weeks at Trackrock Campground and more property news! See you on the way!

Cardinal Ridge Farm

July 1-14, 2020

When we were making plans to leave Springfield, we knew we’d have to be more flexible with our stops given the weirdness of travel right now.  We also knew we needed reservations for the 4th of July, THE top camping weekend of the year.  I decided to call our very favorite little place, Cardinal Ridge Farm in Franklin, NC, and just see if by some miracle this 8 spot private campground had an opening.  Imagine my amazement when Kathy said they could fit us in!

Cardinal Ridge Farm & RV Mountain Retreat

I think their name says it all.  We just love it here with sites as spacious as most state parks and peaceful grounds for hiking and gawking at the mountain views.  Plus the owners, Kathy & Kenny are just so welcoming and friendly.  It’s like going to visit your family.

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See what I mean?  Huge site and a perfect setting.  And how about a round of applause for Crunchy the camera just returned from a trip to New Jersey for repairs.  Hopefully you’ll notice a difference in the photo quality.

So what did we do here?  Well, in the beginning we agonized back and forth about traveling down to Florida which was our next big push.  I really wanted to get down there to get my Florida license back.  Of course COVID-19 had other plans and still had the Sumter County Tax Assessor’s office closed to in-person business.  Plus we’re really torn.  We want to visit my extended family and friends down there, but we’re also thinking that we shouldn’t take the risk for them or for us.  But the clincher is Florida weather in July.  You know what they say.  It’s not the heat it’s the humidity.  Well it IS the heat AND the humidity and we’re just not feeling it.  I’ll just stay a Missourian a little longer and we’ll continue to enjoy the cooler mountain temps, thank you very much.

So again, what did we do here?  Well that’s a very good question.  It was our intention when we left our wintering spot that we’d make the most of our forced eastern travel this year and explore options for a home base in north Georgia or Gainesville, Florida.  Yes, I know.  Completely different places, but each with their own pluses and minuses.  If travel continues to be weird (and we think it will be for a quite a while longer), then focusing on a home base would be a good use of our time right about now.  Since we didn’t even want to visit Florida, we decided to focus all our energies on exploring property options in the area.  North Carolina is grand, but north Georgia is more affordable and still has those lovely Appalachians that we just adore.

Fast forward and we drop in to a real estate office to inquire about places.  We get a printout of available property with the suggestion of scouting them out on our own.  And we’re off to the races zigging and zagging around to places like Young Harris, Clayton, Ellijay and Blairsville.  It was an adventure since half the spots we couldn’t find and the other half were split between water crossings that we couldn’t manage in Bitsy, scary mountain-top drives I couldn’t abide, or places that had us hearing banjo music.  I had us set up for failure according to Pat with all my criteria – must have a creek, must have mountain views, must be unrestricted (so we can be those people and park our RV there), must have roads that Lucy can drive, must be reasonably close to town, must be 5-10 acres, no power lines running through it, no derelict vehicles next door, and the list goes on.  A lot of those things got added as we visited, and eliminated lots of spots.  A few days were very discouraging and I was beginning to think that shangri-la did not exist or we were 50 years too late as Pat suggested.

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Then we found it.  A five acre wooded spot with an honest to goodness mountain view, Watts Creek running the length of the property, unrestricted land, paved county roads on two sides, no power lines, no banjos, no hairpin turns, and a driveway with a flat spot partially cleared so we could picture our little mountain oasis.  Of course when we called the realtor he told us the bad news.  An offer had already been made on it, but he’d show it to us anyway along with the adjacent 5 acres also for sale.  In the meantime we did some other stuff, so I’ll jump to that and leave you hanging for a while.

Gorges State Park

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Last year when Pat went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, I took a day trip that included a hike in Gorges State Park in North Carolina.  I loved it and talked him into going back with me.  Not a hard sell since it involved a great hike and Rainbow Falls at the end of the trail.  The thunder started just as we arrived at the trail head, so most of the hike was in the rain.

Wayah Bald

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On another random day we drove up the mountain to Wayah Bald for expansive views of the surrounding mountains and a brief hike on the AT.

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The observation tower here is the highest point in the Franklin area and was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937.

Pat’s on the AT again and me, too.  We checked out a shelter and admired all the Rhododendrons in bloom.

Other Outings

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It was a quick trip back to Georgia with our goal being a hike to Angel Falls.  Turns out we were Googled again, but luckily some kind soul helped us out.  This sign keeps you from heading down what we assume is a messy gravel road to nowhere.  Or maybe to someone’s house and they’re tired of us tourists showing up?  Anyway, they even put maps in a Ziplock baggie so you know where you really should be.  Quite helpful!

With the trusty map in hand we’re happy to report that we made it to Angel Falls without too much trouble.

Then there’s Black Rock Mountain State Park also in Georgia.  We’ve been here before and felt bamboozled when we thought we’d made it to the top of the tallest mountain in Georgia.  Well it’s really the tallest mountain within a state park in Georgia.  We felt terribly cheated when we found out, but it’s still an excellent park and mountain hike.  And we ruled out camping here.  The road up is just too scary for Lucy.  Honestly it’s a little hairy in Bitsy!

On The Farm

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We just loved the surrounding area in Franklin, but the farm is so inviting that you never have to leave to enjoy the time.

Most evenings we hiked up the trail behind our site to catch the breathtaking views.

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And my favorite two sunset shots from those hikes.

Finally, The Littles.  The mushroom flower, my little magic mushroom, and the perfect pattern of mushroom gills.  Told you I would bore you with lots of fungi.

Parting Shots

There’s a sign in Franklin, NC that just makes me laugh.  It was at a good spot for connecting Lucy and Bitsy, so Pat promised me a photo op with the sign.

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So here’s my shot with the muscle man.  Stripping indeed!

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And here’s my muscle man.  There are just no words…

Next Up:  More news from the Georgia property hunters!  See you on the way!

Cloudland Canyon

June 28-30, 2020

This spot has been on our list since we acquired Lucy back in 2014.  It was just a little too far a stretch when I was still working, so had to wait until we had more time.  Well guess what?  We have more time and all the regular plans went out the window.

On The Way

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It was a quick trip from Huntsville, Alabama to the peach state.  Georgia is on our minds and welcomes us!  We’re getting spoiled with these short travel days.

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park has a Rising Fawn, Georgia address which conjures up all kinds of cute spotted images for me.  It’s also on the edge of Lookout Mountain and a bit steep to get up to the top, at least driving big Lucy.  I let Pat do all those tricky drives and try not to look down or mention the lack of shoulder on the road.  These are the kinds of drives when Mom would threaten get down in the floorboard if Daddy didn’t quit looking around while he drove.  Those were the days.

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The best view in the park and they even say so in the park brochure.  So unexpected, but that’s north Georgia for you.

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Hemlock Falls wins the “favorite in the park” award.  Very few people to avoid and a lot less screaming.

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And this shot of Cherokee Falls to explain the screaming comment and why we liked Hemlock so much better.

Hiking the West Rim Loop Trail formerly touted as one of Backpacker Magazine’s top ten in the US.  It was pretty great.

And the other trail.  So, do you think that big rock looks like a turtle or dinosaur head?  We have a difference of opinion although a little girl on the trail agreed with me.  Dinosaur of course.

And “the littles”.  Proof of my new obsession with fungus as promised.

French Fries

This was the stop where we experimented with the Ninja Foodi Grill and perfected our french fry cooking.  Steak fries with avocado oil were the bomb.  No photos since we scarfed them down so fast.  Move over Instant Pot.  We’ve got a new favorite gadget.

And that’s it for the quick stop in a beautiful spot.  We’ll be back.

Next Up: Our happy place – Cardinal Ridge Farm in Franklin, NC.  See you on the way!

Monte Sano State Park

June 26-27, 2020

This was a quick stop on our way east, but one we really enjoyed.  Monte Sano State Park is technically “in town”, but didn’t feel that way on top of the mountain in Huntsville, Alabama.

Dinner Out!

You know how much we love dining out, so you can imagine how COVID quarantine really cramped our style.  I will say I learned to cook a few new things and we managed to recreate most things we really like, but we can’t touch the wood grilled chicken at Carrabba’s.  Oh how I love it.  Anyway, after winding our way up the mountain and getting settled, we went back down to town for an errand or two and opted for dinner actually inside.  We were hoping that dining at old-people-4:30pm would thin the crowds and it did.  All the staff had masks on and we were spaced out nicely.  We enjoyed the bread and dipping oil and I had my chicken.  I don’t remember what Pat had, but he’s easy to please.  And we finished it all off with cheesecake and tiramisu (my absolute fave dessert) to go.  We worried about the whole experience being in a bigger city, but it turned out fine and we remained healthy.

North Alabama Japanese Garden

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Monte Sano State Park is home to the North Alabama Japanese Garden, so we took a stroll.

Ahhh so peaceful with the biggest zen garden I’ve ever seen

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Any idea what kind of flower this is?  Just gorgeous.  Sorry for the blur, but Crunchy is still out for repairs.

Hiking the Trails

Since the zen garden was a short walk, we set out on a hiking trail next.

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You can’t beat a waterfall, especially one you can walk right up and touch.  We don’t discriminate against waterfalls.  Big or small, we love them all.

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And the complete waterfall view down the trail.

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The overlook.  I just didn’t realize you could get a view in Huntsville.

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Finally, “the littles”.  Pretty fuzzy yellow thing similar to a bottle brush.

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How about these mushrooms that look like neon orange golf tees!  I think that’s going to be my new hobby – learning about the fungus among-us.  Stay tuned for probably more mushroom pictures than you really want.

So that was our two days in Huntsville.  A nice spot and we have it on our list to return one of these days.

Next Up:  Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia.  See you on the way!

Tishomingo

June 22-25, 2020

Tishomingo State Park boasts some of the best hiking in Mississippi.  A good reason to make a stop, but I confess that’s not why we did.  If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ you may remember that the escaped convicts went to Tishomingo to “sing into a can”.  It’s one of our favorite movies so we just had to say we’d been.  And if you haven’t seen that movie, you should.  Very quirky and funny starring George Clooney and landscape that looks nothing like the Tishomingo terrain we saw.

Tishomingo State Park

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The campground sits on little Haynes Lake and is quite peaceful.  We were happy with yet another quiet spot.  No traffic noise and not even any motorboats.  I was even pleased to find a washer and dryer that looked pretty new.  The laundry event worked out well and I was there at just the right time.  Due to the passing rain showers, a camping couple had a big smoker under the cover next the to the dryer.  I inquired about the smoking process and they showed me all the wonders of preparing pork butt.  In the end they wrapped up a nice sized chunk for me to take home and it was delicious.  Now we’re thinking we need a smoker.

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This park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and still has lots of evidence of their work.  It seems that the swinging bridge is the most popular spot to visit despite its obvious aging.

We ended up walking back and forth across it several times in our hikes, but were concerned about the missing bolts and broken cables.

The bridge is more CCC era construction, but the cabin dates back to the 1880s.  Both were at one of the stops on the scenic drive within the park.  The park (and I assume the town) is named for Chickasaw Chief Tishomingo who fished and hunted in the area and “served a brilliant US military career” according to Wikipedia.

Hiking the Trails

On our first hike in the park, we returned to the car soaked to the skin despite donning our rain gear.  We were promised thunderstorms and they delivered a downpour.

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On our next outing, we started out in the rain gear and then shed it when we started roasting.  Our lunch spot where we checked out the rock outcroppings.

Cypress knees in Bear Creek, limestone cliffs, rock scrambling, and canopied trails.

The limestone cliffs and rock formations are like nowhere else in Mississippi and are part of the very tip of the Appalachian Plateau.  It does look like somewhere in the Carolinas rather than what we’ve seen before in Mississippi.

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And the littles.  Huge pine tree feet covered in moss.  I really miss my real camera right about now since all the phone close-ups look blurry to me.  Some of the far away ones do, too, so I blame any bad photos on the phone.

Natchez Trace Parkway

The Natchez Trace Parkway runs right through the state park.  Pat had it on the list of things to see so we drove it as far south as Tupelo.

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Scenic stop at Pharr Mounds, one of the most important archaeological sites in Northern Mississippi.  There are eight mounds built by nomadic Indian hunters and gatherers about 1-200 A.D.  They’ve had lots of rain so the entire parkway was lush and green, including the mounds.

At one point on our drive we were able to hike a short distance to a portion of the original Trace, a historic forest trail originally used by Native Americans and then by emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  It wasn’t used much by the Civil War, but there are 13 unknown graves of Confederate soldiers with markers facing the original trail.  Interesting piece of history.

We made it to Tupelo and the main visitor’s center only to find a ranger sitting in a plexiglass booth in the doorway.  We couldn’t go in thanks to the virus, but fortunately the restrooms were open and you could get a brochure handed to you through a small opening.

No singing into a can, but we did enjoy the stop at one of Mississippi’s oldest state parks.

Next Up: Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama.  See you on the way!

Spring in Springfield

January 1 – June 14, 2020

I’m using the term “Spring” loosely since this post is going to cover January through part of June.  I didn’t intentionally give up blogging, but just didn’t feel inspired since our activities of note were hand washing as if scrubbing for surgery and approaching grocery runs with the strategic planning of a S.W.A.T. team.  Ah, but that’s not entirely all.  We did manage to complete a few road trips (back when that was really a “thing”), and we had a visit from the kids.  So here goes to catch you up.

Liberating the Clock

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Once the apartment set-up tasks and holidays were all over with, job one became the road trip to Florida to liberate my grandmother clock.  We had a few bins of mementos, too, so we rented a minivan and headed south.  Here’s the clock emerging from three years of confinement in the little storage unit.  I remember this clock fondly from my childhood and have a picture of a four- or five-year-old me standing with it.  It hasn’t worked for years, but I have high hopes of getting it going again.

Along the way we stopped for a few nights in Tallahassee at Lisa and Al’s.  They graciously hosted and fed us well.  In addition we took a ride to a country store and a stroll on the country lane under the Spanish moss draped oaks.  I was surprised to find suspicious longhorns and very friendly donkeys on that junket.  We also met up with my sister Elaine and husband Jimmy for a visit that was long overdue.  It was a quick trip since Jackson was bunking with Pat’s sister, so our only other outing was a nice dinner with former neighbors Chuck and Petra.  Just like that the week flew by.

Texas Bound

Then I called up my good friend Wendy from Grapevine, Texas and said I’m coming to visit!  Another car rental and I’m on my way in February.

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I know you’d be disappointed without another of our famously bad selfies.  We actually got both of us and the train coming to take us to downtown Fort Worth.

There was sight-seeing (monument to JKF and his final speech location, water gardens, and stockyards) lunch out, and shopping.  Remember when you could just go DO all that and not worry about anything?  I know.  Feels like forever ago. Such a grand time and we picked right back up where we left off like we always do.

Celebrations

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Meanwhile back in Springfield, we celebrated a few things.  Pat’s mom had a milestone birthday and we ate cake and played games of course.

Then there’s these two kooks.  Pat and Paula share the same birthday – month, day and year!  More cake and more game playing.  I believe we lost a lot of money to Rob.  But then we always do.

The Kids

In March Ethan and Stephanie flew in to visit right in time for Pat’s birthday, the start of the pandemic hysteria, and possibly the worst week of weather we had all season.  It was cold, rainy and otherwise not fit for outside activities.  But we did a few anyway,  I was determined to find the world’s biggest fork rumored to be in Springfield somewhere.  I felt strongly that we needed to see that first and then and only then, we could take our picture with the Big Noodle.

 

The big fork is 35 feet tall, made of stainless steel, and marking the offices of The Food Channel.  Pat is showing his solidarity with the fork, and me?  Don’t know what I was thinking.  People leave forks of all kinds at the base of the big one and who knows why.

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Now we get to the Big Noodle photo op.  That’s the giant elbow outside the Kraft-Heinz plant right across the street from Mom’s apartment.  And we do love it and have three boxes in the pantry right now.  I do fix homemade macaroni and cheese on occasion, but there’s just something about that neon orange cheese powder.

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Naughty Pat may not be in the shot, but he’s very much a part of this photo.  I always complain about his photography skills so he took this just for spite.

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Thankfully there was one indoor activity we could squeeze in right before they closed this place down for the virus.  Not sure it was our best decision but no one got sick.  The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is attached to the Outdoor World mother ship and was quite a place.

Steph enjoyed getting in all the kiddie spots for photos with the fish swimming around her head.  She didn’t touch anything and sanitized heavily, so we reasoned it would be ok.  And it was.

That was the last time we actually ate out anyplace prior to the COVID-19 lockdown and by the time the kids were set to fly home, we were all worried about air travel.  Fortunately they managed to get home without incident and it was so good to see them.

Spring

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Springfield is pretty in the Spring.  Lots of flowering trees and flowers greeted us along our walking routes.  My favorite, beating out irises, tulips, peonies, and poppies, was this tree that seemed to ooze flowers like a crystal growing experiment.

Lockdown

Then there was the lockdown.  We’re not unique in the fact that life changed significantly from the end of March until, well, now.

My biggest gripe during this time was the lack of laundry at our apartment complex.  They locked the door on the machines and no amount of whining and complaining on my part made any difference.  (I’m ashamed to say there was a lot of that!)  So we made do with a few washes in the bathtub.  Way too much work by the way, and I was not cut out to be a pioneer woman.  We also visited the laundromat once and vowed never again.  We ran a load at Pat’s sister’s and Pat’s brother’s when we could properly socially distance and sanitize, and did stealth laundry in the laundry room on nights when they forgot to lock the door.  I must say I got great satisfaction out of those times.

 

I’m sure we set a world’s record for take-out food including an Olive Garden feast, and we even picked up a Taco Bell habit.  Then I tried my hand at baking with ten dozen of my mom’s favorite cookies and some pretty scrumptious cheese danishes.  Hello Fresh meals were fab too, but the no-yeast bread?  Not so much.

 

For fun we resorted to walking Jackson like masked bandits, playing puzzle as I like to call it, and playing a socially distanced giant version of the dice game Left, Right, Center with the family.  And for exercise we had to get creative since the workout room at the apartment complex was also locked up.  Stairs at the local high school track and a 4-mile walking route worked well.

Shakedown Cruise

You’d think with all the time on our hands, we’d be ready to hit the road in Lucy.  Nope.  Like most people we know during the lockdown, we drifted from one thing to another not getting a lot accomplished on any given day.  We did manage to get new tires on Lucy before things got weird.

What really got us moving was Rob and Paula and their plan to go camping.  We booked a site near theirs at Osage Bluff Campground just about 80 miles north of Springfield to get our feet wet again.  Of course that weekend was a mixed bag.  We enjoyed time with Rob, Paula and Mom, but the heat and Jackson’s passing didn’t make it an easy few days.

That left us with one week until our summer departure really kicking us into high gear.  But we managed to get everything done and left our little apartment under the watchful eye of “Big Brother”.  That’s Pat’s name for the security camera we have rigged up in the living room.

So that’s it for the first half of 2020 – the six months that felt like years.

Next Up: Back to our travels and our second stop in Tishomingo, Mississippi.

 

The Iversons Have Left the Building, Literally

June 15-21, 2020

Yes, we are FINALLY on the road for the summer and we’re pretty excited about it.  So excited in fact that I’m going to do something very difficult for me and blog our adventures out of order.  My obsessive compulsive side has a hard time with that sort of thing, but I’m in the mood to write about the here and now.

One small disclaimer up front.  Crunchy the Camera is in the shop for repairs.  It seems that breaking my fall back in Ontario didn’t do it a bit of good.  Don’t worry though.  It’ll be back in action in July, but for now my phone is pinch hitting.

Our First Stop

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Yeah, this state was nowhere on the original itinerary for 2020.  We have nothing against Arkansas and in fact it’s pretty, but it just wasn’t on the wish list this year.  Ah but fate had other plans and so here we are.

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We’re in Lake Charles State Park in Powhatan, AR to be exact.  It was a favorite short stop during our 2017 travels and fit perfectly for a reasonable first day’s drive on this trip.  Very quiet, very peaceful, and just what we needed out of the gate.

What About That 2020 Plan?

Forget everything I said about where we were going this year.  We had Plan A that was centered around Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks and took us back through Canada to some of our favorite spots in Alaska.  Oh man, it was going to be great and we had prime spots inside both parks.  We even expanded our travels to include a zip down to Florida to get my Florida license back and a Florida plate for Bitsy.  Loooong story that I will eventually share.

Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head and we switched to Plan B.  That one involved nixing the border crossing into Canada since we didn’t think getting stuck in another country was a good idea.  Sigh.  No favorite spot in British Columbia and no Alaska.  But, we’re still getting our national parks in and we reworked the whole trip to include the Redwoods and more of California.  I got busy making all new reservations and we felt pretty smug when they did, in fact, close the border to Canada.

And then the cancellation calls and emails started coming in.  Remember that Grand Tetons reservation in the park?  Nope that’s cancelled.  Pat held onto hope for Yellowstone for the longest time until that, too, was cancelled.  Well heck, everyone is totally freaked out by this point so we guess we’ll just stay here all summer.

Although we enjoyed our extended family time, we were getting pretty bored and antsy to get rolling again.  That’s when we hatched Plan C.  It’s more a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants endeavor than the usual carefully crafted plan with all reservations in place.  In fact, we only have reservations for the next month and then?  Well, we’ll see.  The loosy-goosy plan is to head east to the Smokies for the first two weeks in July, followed by a month or so somewhere in Florida.  Maybe.  We’re still trying to get to Florida for my new license, but that virus is keeping the office we need closed.

From there we head up to Itasca State Park and the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota by the end of September.  Our trip down the Great River Road to Louisiana is the only part of the original 2020 plan we could salvage.   That’ll put us back in Springfield by Thanksgiving.  Again, we’ll see.

So What Are We Doing Here?

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It is a lovely spot and we initially rested.  We’re not used to the packing process and getting all loaded up again was real work.  Strolling along the lakeside was just right to work out the kinks.

Then the maintenance and organizing bug hit.  Pat managed to cross an amazing amount of things from his never-ending list including new step covers, door latches and bleeding Lucy’s brakes.  That last one was a nasty process that involved rolling around under the RV and emerging with yucky bottles of brown fluid.  I did not participate other than to hand him a shop towel.  Of course I did some things myself.  I reorganized all the kitchen stuff and pantry since we now have more room to spread out.  It helps to not be carrying around absolutely everything you own.  Now it’s much easier to access the things we need all the time instead of constantly unloading a whole shelf every time I need the mixing bowl.

Of course my big achievement was setting up an inventory list of all the things we buy from food to paper goods to toiletries.  I found a cool app that is working well on my phone.  I’m hoping to avoid tearing apart an entire area of the motorhome looking for something I was sure we had only to find we didn’t.

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Then there’s the new rug.  The old one smelled a bit funky and I was tired of it.  This one is much more fun.

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Ah but the best part is our new chest freezer that now travels with us in Lucy’s back bay.  We can stock up on meat which is good in case we get somewhere and have to hole up for a while.  You just never know with the way the year is going.  We hadn’t exactly tested it all out though, so Pat’s been spending quality time monitoring the temperature and check, check, checking on it.  Constantly.  I finally said “What’s her name?”.  He’s named her Beulah and I’m calling her Pat’s other woman.

She gets too hot in that bay especially with the summer heat, so we found a hardware store so Pat could get insulation.  He spent time out there crafting a special blanket so she now looks like a big cooler.  She was still a little hot under the collar, so Pat installed a small fan to circulate the air.  Of course both those things involved more check, check, checking.  Now we believe that Beulah is satisfied with the attention she’s getting and has settled down to a nice frigid temperature perfect for our meat haul.

And I got a grill for Father’s Day.  Well, not exactly.  Before we left Springfield I got a wild hair and insisted that we needed a Ninja Foodi Grill.  So we bought one and I proceeded to run it through its paces.  So far it has baked cookies and grilled the best pork chops we’ve had probably ever, but that’s not the best part.  It’s also an air fryer.  French fries people!  That’s what we’ve been missing on the road.  We’re now working on the optimum french fry experience.

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That’s it for Arkansas at least for now.  It’s been a week and it’s time to leave.  Every night we’ve been treated to this lake view along with fireflies and croaking frogs.  A great first stop of the summer and hopefully more great ones to come.

Next Up:  Spring in Springfield and other assorted stuff.  See you on the way!