Thursday, December 17, 2015

Season of Joy

Sunday at the Methodist Church in Stafford, the Deel family lit the third Advent candle, the Candle of Joy.  Isn't that a feeling we all desire?  Joy is so much deeper than fleeting, in-the-moment happiness.  Joy is a bedrock, the solid rock that lies beneath the shifting sand of daily life with its trials and tribulations. 

With our RV's maintenance and repairs complete, Tim and I drove back to the farm in Stafford last week.  I made only one navigational error, telling him to turn right on a Kansas back road that was closed due to construction.  The sign warning me of the detour was, in my opinion, way too close to the turnoff for me to react and tell Tim that, in the words of a GPS system, our route needed to be re-calculated.

He was not pleased with my error and our happiness with one another was temporarily gone.  Still, my underlying joy remained because I knew that, despite his grousing, Tim loves me regardless of my faults.

That's the way God loves too.  His love is constant, even though I've messed up so many times.  After all, He died in my place and that substitution paid for my guilty sins.  He sent His Son into the world to bring me joy.

We await the addition of Christ in the manager with our Nativity scene 

On Sunday Pastor Nathan Gift spoke about how anticipation enhances one's joy.  He mentioned the joy of an expectant mother in a planned pregnancy or the excitement of a child awaiting Christmas day.  That's what Advent, the four weeks prior to Christmas, is all about.  We look forward to Christ's birth, knowing that He came to put paid to our sins.  He brought light into the world and drove the darkness of guilt from our lives. That's the bedrock upon which we stand.  

Sunlight boxes light the sanctuary's ceiling of Stafford Methodist Church

And isn't that good news!  Joy to the world!

Postscript:  I'm setting aside this journal until after the New Year so I may finish all the preparations for Christmas before our children arrive next week.  May your holiday season be full of joy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hunting Waterfalls

On a beautiful, sunlit day in early December, Tim & I went hunting for waterfalls along the Cherohala Skyway.  Locals told us that we’d find at least eight falls within hiking distance along this scenic road that cuts through the Cherokee National Forest. 

With time to kill while we waited for the repairs on our RV to be completed, Tim & I decided to drive the Cherohala in its entirety from Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC, a distance of approximately 40 miles.  

Actually, we had no choice but to drive it entirely because once you set forth on the skyway, there are no alternative routes back.  Neither are there gas stations or food vendors.  Fortunately we had full tummies and a full tank.

The mile-high skyway, peaking at 5,390 feet, took over 30 years to build and cost more than $100 million.  One of 96 National Scenic Byways, many people say the Cherohala rivals and even surpasses its neighbor, the better-known Blue Ridge Parkway on the other side of the Smoky Mountains.  If it's not the best, it runs a close second!

Finding our first waterfall was easy.  The dramatic Bald River Falls cascades over 100 feet to the rocks below and you can see it without leaving your car. 

Of course, we did leave the car because we wanted to get as close as possible.  We wanted to hear its voice roaring in our ears and feel its mist caressing our faces.  

Dropping the car in the nearby parking area, we walked back to the bridge.  Slippery with the ice that had formed from the mist, the bridge was almost my downfall.  If another couple had not warned me to proceed with caution, I would have fallen flat on my face.  As it was, I had to windmill my arms to retain my balance.  Still, it was worth it to experience this majestic force of nature. 

We had to work harder to find the next waterfall.  Taking the trail at the upper end of Bald River Falls’ parking lot, we climbed above the falls.  Our second destination was Kahuna Falls.  

Working our way upstream was not easy due to the frost-covered rocky trail, but we made it.  

Although the drop at Kahuna Falls is only 10 feet, making it less spectacular than its sister, the falls were still worth the hike to view them. 

We’d hoped to continue upwards on the same trail to Bald River Cascade, but as we climbed, the path became more and more treacherous.  Deciding to stay safe rather than sorry, we turned around before we ever made it to the cascades. 

Our consolation prize was the rainbow that formed out of the mists of Bald River Falls.  

Back in our car, we began to realize that we were not the only hunters on the skyway.  Biologists estimate that the population of black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is roughly 1,500 and we were just outside the park's confines. 

The volunteer at the Cherohala Visitors Center back in Tellico Plains had warned us that today was the opening day of hunting season for black bears, but we thought little of it at the time.  However, pickups loaded for bear were almost the only traffic we encountered all day.  

Clustered in several of the scenic overlooks were hunters outfitted with orange vests and camouflage pants.  I didn’t feel comfortable snapping photos of men carrying guns so the only shots I took were at zoom level.  I did capture one close-up though--a hunting dog who was raring to be released.

Seeing all the hunters made us re-evaluate our own hunt.  Was it really worth tramping through the woods without the protection of orange clothing just to capture another digital image of a waterfall?  We thought not!

Instead we opened the sunroof on the car and listened to Christmas carols while we exclaimed over the beauty we found around every curve.  No doubt our singing along with the music scared the bears away because we didn’t see a one. Perhaps we were also lucky that no hunter took offense at our noise. 

Lake Santeetlah with its 76 miles of shore appeared on our left. It was tempting to stop but we were burning daylight and needed to press on.

At the end of the road and three hours after we'd begun, we turned off the skyway onto Highway 129.  We headed back to Vonore, TN, through The Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile-long series of hairpin twists and turns.  

I can attest to the suitability of the road’s name.  It was easy to imagine that the road mimicked the snap of a dragon’s tail.  

Even though Tim took it slow, there were still times when I had to clutch my seat’s armrest to feel secure.

I’m not sure it counts as a waterfall, but the spew of water through the floodgates of the Cheoah Dam recalled for us the 3 days of rain earlier that week.  No doubt the runoff of that water contributed to the spectacular volume being released over the dam’s spillway.  This dam might look familiar.  It was used as a filming location for the 1993 movie, The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. 

Towards the top of The Tail was a scenic overlook that showed how far we'd come from the Dam. 

We saw a several small waterfalls as we traveled along the Tail.  These were nestled in the bends of the road as we came around the curves. 

So I guess that upped our waterfall count for the day.  We were still short of the eight promised by the locals, but the ones we saw were definitely worth the hunt. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cades Cove

don't have a print dictionary anymore.  My copy fell victim to the downsizing we did before we moved from Tucson, AZ to Washington, D.C. four years ago.  So when I re-read the brochures that told me Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was isolated, I turned to my trusted The Free Dictionary on the Internet for a clearer definition of that word.

Isolation  (ī′sə-lā′shən)  4.  (social) a lack of contact between persons, groups or whole societies, separation, solitude, loneliness

Hmmm!  That definition doesn't quite describe Cades Cove, a 19th-century settlement we toured in a supposedly isolated valley in the western portion of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  No doubt the geographical location of Cades Cove with its historic homes, churches and a working grist mill could be described that way.  After all, it is remote from any city.  

Many of the trails and tunnels were built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

But the number of vehicles we joined on the eleven-mile one-way loop through the valley jumped the contact with people from zero to critical mass.  We found the congestion surprising on the late November weekday we visited.

Still, I guess we shouldn't have been astounded.  After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940, "for the permanent enjoyment of the people."  And what a crowd of people have come!  The park with over ten million visitors in 2014 tops the list of the most-visited national parks.  Even the Grand Canyon runs a distant second. 

The animals like it, too. 

The National Park Service's web page for the Great Smoky Mountains says it is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.  "Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 4,000 species of plants, 130 trees, 65 mammals, 240 birds, and more species of salamanders than anywhere else on earth."

Most of them were hiding the day we visited, although we did see quite a few deer, including this 10-point buck who played peek-a-boo with us from the brush.

That was enough to convince us that someday we need to return to this United Nations-designated International Biosphere Reserve and spend much more than a day within its confines.  We'd like to hike its backcountry away from any of the park's roads.  Perhaps we could even climb the park's rugged segment of the Appalachian Trail that straggles along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.

The total knee replacement Tim had in August still limits his exercise, but not so much that we couldn't enjoy a 5-mile hike to Abrams Falls, a picturesque waterfall with a 20-foot drop to the stream below.  

The trail was slightly more isolated than the road's loop; we only passed a dozen families as we made our way to the falls and back.  Several children I saw practically skipped across the bridges.  Not me!

The effort we expended was more than paid back by the beauty we encountered along the trail as it closely followed Abrams Creek.

Establishing this park was not as simple as setting aside the government-owned areas like Yellowstone in western United States. 

Instead, over 6,000 small farms and a handful of large timber and paper companies had to be bought out. 

Many of their deserted cabins and churches still stand as reminders of the mountain people who once called this home.  Perhaps it was their isolation that the brochures recalled.  

Despite my quibbling about what the word isolation means, we found the beauty of Cades Cove remarkable.  No wonder so many other tourists have found it, too.   

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


At a time of year when many are making their travel plans for the holidays, Tim and I have turned our attention to plotting our itinerary for 2016.  Finally, come January we'll be on the road to our first Habitat for Humanity construction site. Along the way we must line up campsites where we'll stay. 

Booking a build is easy if you check out Habitat for Humanity's Care-A-Vanners web page.  As the page says, "Care-a-Vanners is a volunteer program for anyone who travels in a recreational vehicle, wants to build Habitat houses and have fun doing it.  RV Care-A-Vanners welcomes people of all ages, from all walks of life who want to pick up a hammer and help change lives."

That description fits us to the T.  We are excited about this "second" career of ours which will give us a purpose while we travel the country.

The schedule for participating Habitat builds is listed on a link from the Care-A-Vanners' site.  Usually builds are listed 6 to 8 months prior to the event.  Not every Habitat affiliate participates in the Care-A-Vanners program, but several are planned in the southern states during the winter months.  Of course, summer is a fine time to head to builds up north.

Right now we are signed up for seven builds.  January we'll travel to where's it's warm.  Fellsmere, FL will be our first build.  From there we'll venture on to Fort Myers and Sebring, FL in March.

Along the way we'll try to tick off as many Floridian sights as we can from our book, Places to See In Canada and the USA Before You Die.  There are also several areas in Florida that are under the auspices of the National Park Service.  I'm hoping we may visit some of these.  I'm as bad as any kid; I want to add a stamp to my National Parks Passport.

We can already mark the Everglades off our list.  We visited that park in 2005 when Tim had an interview week in Fort Lauderdale.  For much of Tim's FBI career, he served on the agency's interview team, vetting those interested in a career with the FBI.  Interview weeks were held in 8 major cities around the country, one of which was Fort Lauderdale.  I was fortunate to travel there with Tim during a spring break from my school.  We used his free afternoon to drive over to the Everglades where we took an amazing boat ride through the preserve.

Come April we'll head west to Hobbs, New Mexico and then up to Santa Fe.  That will put us closer to the family farm in Kansas where we plan to help with June wheat harvest.  July will find us in Brookings, SD and in September we'll be on a construction site in Kalamazoo, MI.

That should keep us on track to meet our personal goal of assisting on eight builds during 2016.  We'll try to sign up for the 8th one when locations for the fall are posted.

Meanwhile, we are reserving campsites along our route.  A couple web sites have proven to e invaluable:  Allstars, Big Rigs Camp Directory, Passport America and RV Park Reviews.

So, we're booked!  Now all I need to do is learn to build.  More on that as our year progresses.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Ark

Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky
Noah, he built him, he built him an arky, arky
Built it out of (clap) hickory, barky barky
Children of the Lord ~ Children’s song

Perhaps Tim & I should have named our RV the Ark instead of the Dawn Treader.  After 3 days and approximately 3 inches of non-stop rain, it’s a wonder we haven’t floated away.  Even though we didn’t build this “ark,” we are doling out the money to fix its cracks and leaks.

Monday we returned to Vonore, TN, after spending Thanksgiving weekend in Nashville.  We thought Jeff Rowe, the owner of East Tennessee Luxury Coaches, would be finished with the list of maintenance issues we’d given him.   

We appreciate the fact that he was able to replace all the tires.  He also ticked everything else off our list, everything except replacing the foggy window whose seal had worn away.

Had I been a  second faster, I could have captured Jacob in action.

That window has proved to be a thorn in our side.  On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the replacement window arrived broken.  Jeff ordered another.  Even though that arrived all in one piece, its box was labeled incorrectly.  The part number written on the side of the box was the one we needed, but the window inside the box was a sliding window, not the plain window specified.

Now we are waiting for a third window.  However, instead of being in-stock at the Prevost service center in Nashville, this order must be filled at the factory in Canada.  That means we will be camping out in the parking lot at Jeff’s shop for several more days, waiting for it to arrive.

There is a silver lining in all this.  Because of the torrential rains, we’ve discovered leaks in places where we’d never thought to look.  Jeff has patched all those up for us.

And we were here on Tuesday to join the celebration of the 21st birthday of Jeff's son Josh.  Cake, ice cream and lots of good-natured ribbing of the guest of honor.  Too bad I didn't snap a photo of Josh at the party--another lost photo opportunity!

Once that darn window arrives and is installed, our ark will be ready to set sail.  Hopefully, the weather won't interfere with a smooth voyage back to Stafford where we'll spend the holidays.  Then everything will truly be hunky dory!

That is the end of, the end of my story, story
That is the end of, the end of my story, story
Everything is (clap) hunky, dory, dory
Children of the Lord.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Locked Out!

I've been locked down, locked up and, most recently, locked out--again!

The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge over the Cumberland River with Nissan Stadium in the background

Lockdown drills became a fact of life during my tenure as a school librarian.  Tragically schools these days must prepare for horrific massacres.  However, the only times my Tucson school were truly locked down was when bobcats wandered onto our campus from nearby Sabino Canyon.

I was locked up in jail back in 1980.  My incarceration in the county jail was the sentence I received during a mock trial of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I, unfortunately, was Goldilocks.

I’ve been locked out of my home or my car several times, most notably when I failed to grab the house keys before Tim & I left on our honeymoon.  My new husband was not pleased to call a locksmith when we returned. 

View of downtown Nashville from the pedestrian bridge
But the most recent locked out experience I’ve had happened this Thanksgiving weekend.

Honky tonk bars and juke joints along Nashville's Broadway

Thanksgiving, for us, was celebrated in Nashville, the Music City with its honky tonk bars and Hall of Music fame.   That’s where our daughter Jillian lives and our son Richard flew in to the Nashville International Airport to join us.

Jillian & I with Elvis

Jillian was our tour guide, showing us several reasons why she loves her adopted city and state.   But our tour was curtailed Friday morning when Tim realized that he—thank, goodness, not me!—had left the key to the condo where we were staying on the console inside our accommodations.  Yikes!

Not only were we locked out of the condo, our car was also locked in the parking garage since the gate would not open without the presence of the key fob. 

No easy solution presented itself.

A front desk with a friendly, helpful concierge was not an amenity of this particular condominium.  We didn’t know the contact information for the property manager either.  Jillian’s roommate Sarah had made the arrangements for us to stay in this condo owned by her employer, the Tennessee Disability Coalition.  That office was closed on Friday and Sarah was in Chicago visiting her family for the holiday.

Compounding the problem was the fact that Jillian had left her keys to her apartment inside the condo.  Spending the rest of the weekend at her place was not an option.  And then there was the worry of putting Richard on the plane early Sunday morning sans his suitcase.

Still, all hope was not lost.  When Jillian telephoned Sarah, she promised to contact someone—anyone!--from her work, but she warned that it could be hours before she could locate someone who could bring us a key.

That morning Jillian had hoped to show us the Jack Daniels Distillery, just an hour or so south of the city.  But without access to our vehicles, that trip was no longer feasible.  So Jillian reorganized her itinerary to visit places downtown and within walking distance.

Johnny Cash Museum

First stop was the Johnny Cash Museum.  I swear that man must have been a hoarder.  The museum was filled with letters, report cards, music contracts and album jackets.  Also on display were the clothes he wore on various stages as well as those of his wife, June Carter.  Video clips of his many movie and TV roles played on monitors throughout the museum.  Unexpectedly, there were also original charcoal and crayon drawings he had created.  I had no idea he was so talented! 

Tim & I with Johnny Cash

I'd forgotten the his activist role in helping prisoners and Native Americans secure their rights. And did you know that he had a degree in theology?  I didn’t!

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Although the Frist Art Museum was not on Jillian’s original list, I was happy to see its collection.  An exhibit of Michelangelo’s drawings, drawn on scraps of paper which due to paper's scarcity, he also used to jot down notes and even letters, was currently on display.  The collages of Shinique Smith also caught my attention, especially the one that encompassed a black beanbag chair.

Union Station Hotel

Nearby was the Union Station Hotel, a restoration of what had once been Nashville’s railroad station.  Its 65-feet tall stained glass ceiling was striking.

late lunch at the Burger Republic gave us a chance to rest our weary feet.  It was while we were there that Sarah called.  She was able to contact her boss who could meet Jillian shortly at the condo.  We were a couple miles away, but ever-resourceful Jillian called Uber, a service that provides rides for a fee less than a taxi would cost.  Jillian signed us up!

Soon we were in possession of the key and back on track with Jillian’s original itinerary.  Next stop--Carnton Plantation.

Carlton Plantation in Franklin, TN

During the Civil War, Nashville was an important transportation hub, built as it is on the Cumberland River.  Union forces occupied Nashville, but the Confederates tried to oust them in the Battle of Franklin, a town situated just a few miles south of the city.   

Carnton Plantation, smack dab in the middle of the battlefield, became a field hospital for the thousands of wounded and dying Confederate soldiers.  Carrie McGavock, mistress of the plantation, nursed the wounded and the floors of the home are still stained with the blood of the men treated there.  

McGavock Confederate Cemetery

Near the house is the McGavock Confederate Cemetery, the final resting place of 1,481 Confederate soldiers.

Yab-a-dab-a-doo, to you, too, Yogi!

As dusk fell, we drove back to the city for a visit to Jellystone RV Campground.  How odd to visit a campground without our RV!  

But the owners have created a winter wonderland of lights synchronized to Christmas music available on your car’s radio.  The light show was pretty spectacular!

A statue of Jack Daniels

Saturday morning found us on the road to Lynchburg, TN and the Jack Daniels Distillery.  Hard liquor has never been on my list of favorite beverages but a tour of this distillery was highly entertaining.  Jack Daniels was a budding entrepreneur.  At the age of sixteen, he purchased with hollow, set up his still and the rest is history. 

Miss Mary's Boarding House

Part of the distillery’s appeal is dinner served at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House .  The restaurant is owned by the distillery and serves Southern food with all the charm of our Southern hostess, Miz Rena.

Olive & Sinclair Candy Factory

You would think that after all the feasting of the past three days, we would vow to eschew all food.  But Jillian had signed us up for the tour at Olive & Sinclair’s Candy Factory that afternoon.  Of course, we couldn’t say no to the free samples that were offered at the end of the tour.

By late Saturday we had covered as much of Jillian’s itinerary as we possibly could.  Falling into bed, Tim & I set the alarm for 5 a.m. so we could get Richard to the airport in time to catch his early flight back to Washington, D.C.

Nashville's skyline at dusk

Sunday morning we attended Jillian’s church.  Afterwards, we gassed up her car, accompanied her to the grocery store and spent the rest of the afternoon helping her decorate her apartment for Christmas. 

Fortunately, she had her keys!