Saturday, October 14, 2017

This year Hamish's fall break aligned with Columbus Day, and so we got to extend our annual Blue Ridge trip. We spent Saturday through Monday with family in South Carolina. We read lots of books, played, wiggled Hamish's first loose tooth incessantly, and celebrated Aunt Kitty's birthday with a piñata stuffed with presents and treats.

On Tuesday we drove up to the Blue Ridge. For the past few years we've stopped for lunch in Little Switzerland, and this year we were thrilled to find a house swap in the heart of Little Switzerland: a little mountain cabin that made a great home base for exploring the Southern Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tuesday night we headed to the Inn at Little Switzerland for dinner at the Fowl Play Pub. The whole ridge was was covered in mist.

On Wednesday, we headed North, driving the Blue Ridge up to Boone. The colors weren't at peak this year. It's always something. This year big temperature fluctuations and rain amounts kept the leaves off "schedule", and when Hurricane Nate blew through, lots of leaves fell early. But it was still lovely to walk in the woods and see the trees changing. And we had the van packed with snacks and coloring materials and Adventures in Odyssey on the radio, so everyone stayed happy.

We hiked Linville Falls North of Little Switzerland. We got the most comments from other hikers on the Linville Falls hike. Several older couples commented on the "next generation of hikers" and remembered fondly bringing their own now-grown children to hike on the Blue Ridge.

Of course we also did some caterpillar-spotting.

We'd done this hike in 2013 when Hamish was about 16 months old. It's fun to sit in the same spot four years later.

Even though we didn't get quite the same color show as last year, the Lin Cove Viaduct was still our best view. Last year the kids stayed in the car while I walked along the path at the Viaduct. This year, they came with us, even climbing the rock face to get the best view.

We headed back to Little Switzerland after we made it all the way to Boone. We stopped at a playground by the river in Spruce Pine for a bit before dinner at a pizza place that our hosts had recommended. One of the best things about house swapping is getting inside suggestions for where to go and eat.

Thursday morning we woke up to a heavy fog in Little Switzerland. We took a quick trip to the shops in Little Switzerland. Hamish had some change burning a hole in her hot pink purse. She really, really wanted to "buy a treat for everyone in the family." Unfortunately, $1.21 won't buy much of anything, much less four of anything. Instead of spending her stash on a single piece of candy, she chose to save it until she can buy what she really wants.

Once the fog had burned off and we'd had lunch at home, we got back on the road to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway South of Little Switzerland.

Mount Mitchell was our first stop. We walked up to the summit for the first time this year; it's a short walk from a visitor's center. There were boulders to climb, and our kids love being "baby mountain goats".

Back at the parking lot we had traditional hot cocoa and hot apple cider. Kyle remembers always going to Mount Mitchell when he was a kid and the dramatic temperature change between the Blue Ridge and the summit. At 6,684 ft, Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. But the Blue Ridge is already at 5,100 ft at the turnoff into Mount Mitchell State Park. As we drove up, our car showed about a 3-5 degree drop. But when he was buying the  hot cocoa, the attendant backed him up, and said sometimes there's as much as a 20-30 degree temperature difference!

We worked on the loose tooth a lot on Mount Mitchell. Kyle thought it would be a good added memory to lose her first tooth on the peak. No luck.

We bypassed Craggy Gardens this time in favor of the Manimal's car nap, and drove down to Asheville before turning around and heading home.

Thursday night we had dinner at home on the porch, and then cozied up with popcorn and a movie: the 1974 Benji.

Friday we cleaned and packed up and headed home. Hamish left our hosts a thank you note and drawing highlighting all of her favorite activities.

We hit rush hour traffic right as we got into town, making the last hour and a half of the drive less that ideal. We made good use of the van's DVD player, watching many episodes of the Magic School Bus over the last 40 miles or so.

We were happy finally to be home Friday night. (Tooth still in place).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Less than one month late!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

After Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Houston, it came toward Nashville, and dumped some rain on us as well. School was canceled on Friday because of flooded roads, so our Labor Day weekend plans were in jeopardy for a while. But on Saturday morning things looked clear, so our camping plans were back on. 

We had intended to leave mid-day on Friday and camp Friday and Saturday nights. We knew by Wednesday evening that wasn't happening. So while we had planned some on paper, we hadn't actually gone grocery shopping or cooked or packed anything on Friday. We spent Friday night having a loaves and fishes dinner with our neighbors and camping partners and introduced all the kids to the original Parent Trap. 

Saturday morning the weather had moved on and at 8:30 we decided to shift our camping reservation to Saturday and Sunday nights. Kyle ran to the grocery, I started cleaning and packing. He came home and I started cooking while he finished packing. (The van was a joy for him to pack! He loved all the space!)  

We pulled out of our driveway at 1:30. Not bad for 5 hours. 

We drove up to Edgar Evins State Park at Center Hill Lake. The park camping spots were full when we'd tried to make reservations several weeks ago, so we had booked at a small private campground just outside the park. It was an interesting place. There were a handful of permanent residents; that always makes a Campground unique. But we had a nice, shady, grassy spot to pitch our tent and start our fire, and the people were friendly. 

We got camp set up and ate a snack and then headed into the park. We had a 5:30 reservation for a sunset pontoon cruise with a ranger in Center Hill Lake. The cruise was lovely and the ranger shared a lot about the dam and the history of the lake, which was created by the Army Corps of Engineers. We learned all about the short-lived freshwater pearl business that thrived there for about 15 years, and about the homeowners who were sold lake-front property but only later learned they had no access to the water. 

The temperature dropped dramatically in the two hours or so we were on the water, so while we started the trip comfortable in shorts and t-shirts, but were all pretty cold by the time we got off. The Marina in the park had a restaurant and live music--and the Manimal really wanted to stay and listen--but we headed home to our campfire (and sweatshirts) quickly after the boat trip. 

We warmed up over a board dinner (cheese, crackers, tapenade, nuts and salami). The kids went down quickly with only a little silliness. I sat in the tent and sang them to sleep before going back out to sit around the fire with Kyle. 

Sunday morning we were up early and started the morning with homemade breakfast burritos over the campfire. Hamish had high praise, calling them a "tiny bit better than Pop's"--McDonald's. Eh. I'll take it. 

We spent the morning inside the park, first the kids played at at the playground while we listened to church online, then we went to the park's interpretive center listening to a ranger talk ok snakes and meeting Pearl, an albino king snake. The interpretive center had a story area, so of course we stopped to read some books as well. 

When we got back to the campsite, our at-home neighbors had arrived and were just getting their tent set up. The kids were thrilled to see each other as always. We ate lunch together then headed to the Caney Fork River to get our canoes for an afternoon river float. 

The weather could not have been more lovely--amazing because we had been wearing sweatshirts that morning. We rented three canoes from Canoe the Caney. The company's logo is a pirate, and there was a real live, dressed up pirate at the shop. He was amazing with our littlest kids--gave them treats and each their own treasure map. He marked Xes and commissioned them to find treasure for his treasure chest. They were thrilled with the prospect. 

The Manimal fell in after about the first mile. He was looking over the edge of the canoe and just flipped in headfirst. He was wearing a life jacked of course and immediately bobbed safely to the surface safely, but he was terrified. I took one swipe to grab him as he went over, but couldn't get his life jacket so I jumped in after him. 

Kyle argues that maybe this was an overreaction. But I stand by the choice. 

Even though the water was shockingly cold and I was wearing clothes, not a bathing suit. Thankfully I had on some awesome water shoes. Thanks Mimi! 

We got the Manimal back in the boat as soon as Kyle turned around, but I couldn't jump in a canoe when I could barely stand. So I swam while all 3 boats paddled over to the shore. The Manimal continued to be in some distress: Get my Mommy!! But we ended up stopping for a snack break and all was well. Once the Manimal had calmed down he was happy and again fearless in the water. Hamish was intent on finding treasure for the Pirate. She was dug a bit and looked for the famous freshwater pearls. Then she settled for pretty shells and rocks. 

I dried off in the sunshine and the rest of the trip was uneventful, peaceful, and beautiful. Finally back to the office, the kids had to check in with their pirate and show him their treasure. He responded admirably and offered them each the chance to keep their bounty or add it to his treasure chest. They both chose to keep it. After another round of bathroom breaks we didn't get back to camp until nearly 6:30. Then it took us a while to get a fire going and arrange a cooking set up. 

We had our Dutch oven and a corn stew with chicken and sausage prepared, but that meant we needed the right kind of fire and a rack to hold the heavy pot. Kyle and Gary figured it with everyone else took turns getting cleaned up and we put the kids to work assembling grilled banana splits. The Manimal fell asleep hard on the short dive back from the canoe trip, but he finally woke up and joined us for dinner and dessert. Then everyone went to sleep. The kids were exhausted and the adults weren't too far behind them. 

Monday morning we woke up before the neighbors and spent a long leisurely morning drinking coffee and tea, eating breakfast, and reading. Once everyone else woke up, our friends had prepared a breakfast feast for the second morning and Hamish devised a new hammock technique that kept everyone entertained. We finally started moving toward breaking camp, and had the vans packed by noon. 

We headed back into the park and climbed the observation tower at the Edgar Evins ranger station then we started the 2-mile nature loop around the station. It was a beautiful trail and a tough one, but the kids did great. Everyone made discoveries: frogs, super letters, crazy caterpillars.


We stopped about a third of the way in when we found a trial spur to the Lake. We loved getting out into the sunshine and some of us took off shoes and soaked our feet in the water. Then we finished our hike and only had to really encourage and cajole for the last 20% of the trip. The Manimal rode on my shoulders for last 500 feet or so. #IworetheManimal

The kids finished the trip with another several trips up and down the tower (second wind) and a BBQ lunch. Then we headed home.