Smoky Mountain Views Ode to 2014

2014, you were a very good year.  It’s a quiet New Years for me.  Tom and Brian took a road trip to Orlando, FL to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on Missouri.  Happy for them and very content to stay back with Kevin who has basketball practices and games.  Go Gophers!  This gives me a chance to reflect back on 2014 and share with family and friends.

I could write blog posts more often but the darned technology of getting pictures off my iphone on my PC and then uploading to wordpress, well I’m a bit ashamed of my lack of tech skills.  When my PC came with Windows 8 over a year ago, I never really figured it out and it all feels very clunky and not intuitive.  I texted with some friends yesterday and mentioned to Terry I might post here, she said “please blog”…so let’s see what I can do here in a few hours before the bowl games begin (UPDATE: this is a loooooong post, sorry friends!)

Winter 2014 brought a few snow storms to Knoxville.  There were more missed school days here due to ice and snow than in Chicago (7 or so?)  But the snow melts away quickly and it’s green again in a matter of days.  IMG_1997 Kevin took his sweet girlfriend Laura to the high school winter formal and enjoyed playing freshman and JV basketball. IMG_1981 IMG_1942 I enjoyed a weekend getaway with book club friends to Atlanta to see the play “Book Club.”  Very grateful for this bright and funny group. IMG_2053 Then the big trip of the year was a family cruise over spring break, where we joined up with friend Diana and her kids and had Brian’s girlfriend Maddie and her mom Stephanie join us.   We were a very happy group of travelers, and should really do this again soon. IMG_2196 IMG_2192 IMG_2189 IMG_2185 IMG_2184 Could have been one of Tom’s hardest working years and he was very deserving of all the rest and relaxation he enjoyed! IMG_2155 One other winter getaway was when I flew to MN to visit Brian and take his friends to lunch at Brits Pub, then drove to Eau Claire, WI to watch Brian’s University of Minnesota club volleyball tournament. IMG_2084 IMG_2112 IMG_2104 Travel fun continued following the cruise, when Kevin and I flew to Naples, FL for Tom’s extended family reunion at the magazine worthy home of Jaye and Joe.  Tom had to return to work and Brian was away at college, but I will be sure they are there next time…an amazing destination with the funnest bunch of people I know. IMG_2252 IMG_2343 IMG_2389IMG_2356 IMG_2395IMG_2312 Spring brought AAU travel basketball fun with a talented group of boys with fun families. IMG_2470 Blooming gardens around my home bring me exercise and pleasure. IMG_2469b I hacked out a ton of ivy from a birch tree garden.   Here’s the before:IMG_2469 Here’s the after, the azalea bushes were never so happy! IMG_2469a My parents visited in the spring and we enjoyed brunch at our favorite Lakeside Tavern as well as hanging out in our candlelit backyard. IMG_2460 IMG_2450 Brian enjoyed taking his sweet girlfriend Maddie to her senior prom.  She started at University of Minnesota in the fall. IMG_2515 I sent him a batch of “congratulations” cake pops, as he took a summer marketing internship position with the University of Minnesota and will continue working part time during the school year.  We missed having him home all summer but way to go Brian, we are proud of him! IMG_2475 Summer brought us home to Chicago for a couple of visits.  Kevin hung with buddies for a great day at Great America.  Social media is certainly good for staying in touch and close with friends even though you are 9 hours away!  I met college girlfriends for a relaxing lunch and watched my godson Christopher in the play Oliver.  Really nice visit but too short.IMG_2553c IMG_2553b

IMG_2929We helped my parents get our family home of 46 years ready for sale and it payed off…sold in two weeks and they settled in a lovely condo in Des Plaines. IMG_2553 IMG_2547 IMG_2553a Mid summer we traveled back north for a family picnic at Tom’s moms, then she joined us as we traveled to Rhinelander, WI to my sister Sue’s for a week of relaxation.  Brian joined us midweek and we loved being together for family, fun and good food. IMG_2761 IMG_2845 IMG_2839 IMG_2824 IMG_2807 Bond Falls about an hour north of Rhinelander.  Beautiful and great place to hike around.IMG_2774 Late summer brought visitors, and there’s nothing we love more than visitors in Knoxville!  Brian and Maddie came down for a week, and we enjoyed visiting the Smoky Mountains (saw The Sinks and Surgarland Visitor Center) and doing some school clothes shopping at the discount mall in Pigeon Forge.  Enjoyed downtown and they did some golfing as well. IMG_3057 IMG_3054 IMG_3028

Then, my fabulous college girlfriend Vicky came for a long weekend of FUN.  We hiked Alum Cave which was a wonderful hike along a stream and a cool arched rock with steps to climb.  We chilled at the pool and pretty much agreed this was a first annual. IMG_2996 IMG_2984 Summer was coming to an end with friends overnight and nighttime swimming.  Kevin enjoyed time with a friend at Norris Lake where his cool swan dive off the second floor of the houseboat was caught on camera.  Tom and I took a day to rent a boat and fish Norris Lake….beautiful scenery….no fish.  Then it was back to school, sophomore year.IMG_2875 IMG_3095 IMG_3081 IMG_3068 Time for Tennessee Football!  The first picture below is my friend Diana (son Kyler is starting offensive lineman) and me ON TV during the amazing win by the Vols in South Carolina.  We had a ball watching an overtime WIN and am hopeful for a bowl win vs Iowa tomorrow. IMG_3284c IMG_3284b IMG_3284 Sunrises are my favorite way to start the day.  I keep imagining having a real camera to catch them on, vs. my iphone.  Which I found out in December is missing the glass over the camera lens, so that explains many of the fuzzy photos in this post. IMG_3269 A handsome group got together for pictures and dinner before the Homecoming Dance at Lakeside Tavern. IMG_3218 I loved having book club friend Meredith join me to see The Avett Brothers concert, with cold refreshments downtown at Calhoun’s beforehand. IMG_3166 Tom’s sister Sandy welcomed a new grandson into the family, as our niece Kristin gave birth to baby Grady.  His big brother Colin is so happy to have a little brother!  I told Kristin two boys is amaaaazinggggg! IMG_3497 My baby Kevin turned 16 and got his drivers license. IMG_3326 He joined me for a Columbus Day drive to the Smokies, where we hiked up to Clingman’s Dome in crazy foggy weather, the temperature really does drop at that elevation.  Pictures from Newfound Gap below don’t do justice to the beautiful colors. IMG_3302 I like to put on some relaxing type music CDs as we drive along the winding curves of this spectacular national park. IMG_3297 The Karl family boys and friends stayed over a couple nights and we enjoyed a TN football game followed by the guys all going to an Atlanta vs Bears football game in Atlanta.  And of course a round of pass the trash cards for $10. IMG_3289 Tom’s mom joined us for a delicious Thanksgiving weekend.  In addition to too much food, we bummed around Market Square shops and visited Fort Dickerson on our way back from Sweet P’s barbeque. IMG_3551 IMG_3546 IMG_3539 Thank you God for fun girlfriends in Knoxville, here we are enjoying a girls night out at an Irish pub. IMG_3520 And before we knew it December was here and it was time to deck the halls with boughs of holly. IMG_3634 IMG_3630 IMG_3601 Enjoyed a lovely work lunch at my owners home with a super bunch of coworkers. IMG_3666 And finally Jesus’ birthday, Merry Christmas!  My parents came to town and we relaxed with poker games and basketball games. IMG_3699 IMG_3696 IMG_3692 We spent a little time at the Knoxville Museum of Art, my first time there.  It was sensational and I can’t wait to go back and spend some more time. IMG_3706 My favorite piece of art is shown below.  See if you can figure it out. IMG_3702 It looked like some sort of upside down Mona Lisa…zoom in and you will see it is made of spools of thread…then look closely at that little glass ball, which shows the Mona Lisa right side up.  There were many impressive pieces throughout the museum.

The year ended with a trip to the Atlanta Hawks arena where Kevin’s varsity basketball team was playing an exhibition game, followed by the Hawks vs Cavaliers game.  And the Knoxville Catholic Irish won, great way to close out the year! IMG_3720 IMG_3723 Thanks for hanging in there for my recap of a year I am very grateful for.  I shared all the joys, but life always brings both joys and struggles…I’ve focused on the joys here.  May the new year bring you more joy than struggle, and health and happiness to each of you and your loved ones.  Knoxville doors are always open, so come on down and you just may be featured in my next blog post! IMG_3724

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New Year of Smoky Mountain Views

Greetings from Tennessee, it’s been awhile since I posted.   I checked my last few posts, and noticed I wrote a fairly steady stream of posts for the first year after moving to Knoxville from Chicago.  Which helped keep friends and family in touch with our comings and goings, cuttings and growings, and gave me a chance to share the beauty of the state of Tennessee.  I’m a sucker for sunrises.

IMG_1709But once that first year of blog posts passed in July 2013, we got busier planting our roots and living our lives, and it became trickier to find time to sit down and gather thoughts and pictures for a fresh post.  Like many people who blog, I’d find myself ruminating a blog update in my mind while driving, or taking a fun picture while thinking of a clever caption…but unlike committed bloggers, free time would open up in my schedule and I would blow off putting pen to paper (or thoughts to keyboard.)

But then I got my whole family on a Smoky Mountain hike last weekend.  And I had a stranger (nice lady) from University of Alabama take a nice picture of us at Laurel Falls.  And it is the New Year and I miss my dear family and friends so instead of calling each of you individually, I’m posting here more thoughts and scenes from Knoxville.

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Last Saturday, we drove about an hour to the Smoky Mountain entrance in Townsend (actually the entrance off 321 and Lyon Springs drive near Metcalf Bottoms) then about 20 minutes to Laurel Falls parking area.  It was crowded with cars last weekend, but the hike wasn’t overly crowded.  Definitely plenty of people out enjoying the mild weather and walking off some holiday meals.  It was an easy (though clearly uphill) paved path hike up about 35 minutes, we enjoyed the falls area for 10-15 minutes, then headed back down and were back in our car in just over one hour.  Add a half hour or so if you’re taking a more leisurely walk.  Perfect, and maybe a new family tradition?  I found the weekend after Christmas (after pulling off all the holiday magic) was a great time to ask (beg) my family to join me for a hike.  It worked and made for one of the nicest days of the year.

Here’s some more updates to the second half of 2013, specifically, our beloved visitors.

Sweet visit from the Karl family, our dear bowling partners of many years, Vicky and Joe and kids.  Loved, loved, loved grilling dinner and playing cards with them, kids swimming and all playing rounds of Pass the Trash, tour guiding them to Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg for a day, then a round of golf.

IMG_1325The boys enjoyed the Smokies more than me taking pictures.  Excellent guests and friends for life!

IMG_1339Next up were high school buddy and college roomie Julie and husband Jim.  This dynamic duo (and Tom of course) beautifully displayed how getting older does not have to mean loosing steam or good looks!

IMG_1517They stayed a night with us with poolside cocktails then grilled dinner. then I joined them for a day in the Smokies after which they stayed two nights in Gatlinburg.  We tackled a new lovely hike, moderately strenuous Abrahm Falls.  Moderate hike mostly because of an unlevel, rocky path with roots here and there.  It was about a 3 hour round trip hike.

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Big payoff at the end with gorgeous Abrahm Falls, and many stream side pretty points and some mountain vista views along the way.

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We laughed hysterically as we were stuck in crawling traffic trying to exit Cades Cove (Abrahm Falls hike begins halfway around the one way cove drive.)  We anticipated what all the drivers were gawking at…perhaps a mama bear and cub feeding or a large group of grazing wildlife?  As we approached we could see tourists with tripods pointed, and drivers pointing out their window.  Finally the big payoff…we viewed a squirrel holding an acorn to it’s mouth sitting on a fencepost.  Causing a 30 minute backup.  Really?!  The backup was worth a laugh that we will remember forever.

We joined up with Julie and Jim for one more visit and meal at Double Dogs before they headed home.  It’s a great place for a tall beer and watching sports.

IMG_1534 IMG_1533I enjoyed hearing about their more challenging hikes the second day, including the Chimney Tops in the morning (Julie said guide books said strenuous, she suggested they add “for Navy Seals” for some of the particularly steep sections) and stunning Alum Cave in the afternoon.  Each were about 3-4 hour hikes.  She said they walked to dinner in Gatlinburg that evening, but were happy to hit the hot tub and relax after that.  She sent me a very sweet and appropriate thank you gift from Pottery Barn, including this priceless squirrel with a nut wine stopper.  Imagine her joy spotting this after her trip!index

Next visitors were mother in law Jan, her sister Lynn and husband Bruce in October.  We first met them in Louisville, KY with daughter Kim and husband Scott for an awesome day of horse racing at beautiful Keeneland racetrack.

IMG_1639Then Kim and Scott returned home, but the others headed to a nice Gatlinburg timeshare for the week (and some nights with us.)  On the way back from Louisville, we hit the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, TN.  This is a nice collection of buildings and artifacts from pioneer days, and is great for a nice day to walk around and learn about life before our time.

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A very interesting exhibit is there from a man named Harrison Mayes who built huge cement religious signs and spent 70 years putting them up on highways across the country.  Who knew?!  Go Harrison.

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We enjoyed getting together with Jan, Lynn and Bruce throughout the week, and loved that they came to watch Kevin’s high school football game.  They commented the crowd and atmosphere was akin to a college game, and that’s what you get in SEC country.

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By the way, it was a successful, albeit long, football season as they surpassed expectations with a great new coach, making it to the quarter finals and losing to the Fulton High School team (named in the top 100 high school teams in the country.)  We spent a day together in the Smokies viewing some fall leaves.  This was just a few days after the government shutdown impacting national parks ended, and we could still see evidence of the shutdown (cones on side of road.)  So glad they missed it!  We headed up to Newfound Gap and views were wonderful.  Fall colors probably peaked a couple weeks later, but nonetheless, we were all inspired by the scenery and smoky mountain views.

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We were happy to have Jan back at Thanksgiving, along with son Brian (he’s not a visitor, though we missed him while he was at University of Minnesota since Labor Day!)  This was a relaxing visit, including good food, playing cards, having a few good meals out, and watching lots of football.  Tom/Kevin’s team won regular season fantasy football first place and Brian’s team took second place, so every fall weekend involved lots of Redzone football and couch time.

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Final visitors included my parents for a week at Christmas time, and a lucky strike extra visit from my sister Sue and husband Randy, who like roadtrips and did the 14 hr. drive back and forth from Rhinelander, WI just before Christmas.  They arrived just in time to see Brian back from college and to catch a JV basketball game Kevin’s school team won in the final seconds of the game.  They all enjoyed the mild 70 degree day Saturday where we ran errands and did some last minute shopping without heavy coats, hats or mittens.

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IMG_1916My parents saw some colder weather for Christmas (mid-30’s) but around here, the sun will come out in the afternoon and temps rise to the 40’s or 50’s and fortunately it was warm enough for my dad to get the itch to trim a few bushes (yes!)  We enjoyed doing puzzles indoors and going downtown Market Square window shopping and a delicious meal at Tupolo Honey.

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A final event was viewing Shadrack Christmas Wonderland light show at the Smokies Baseball stadium, “the worlds largest drive through fully synchronized LED light and music show.”  Very amazing, I’d recommend it!

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And that sums it up.  Peace on Earth!  Goodwill to Men!  Thank you God for a good year, and bless my family and friends that have had their owns highs and lows in 2013.

Maybe you’re thinking about some travel in 2014?  Come see us, our guest room is open and we are taking reservations!  The price is right (free!) Happy New Years dear family and friends.  Hope to see you soon.

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Front Garden Makeover

I love having Brian home from college.  For many reasons.  He is a positive person, funny, like a parent to his younger brother (sometimes,) likes playing games, and last but not least, he does discounted landscaping.  He’s not afraid to work hard, takes direction well, adds his viewpoint, and enjoys a little extra cash.  I knew while he was home this summer I wanted to tackle the overgrown front garden that greets you at my front door.

This all started once we removed a huge evergreen tree in the spring.   The tree on the far left below is a magnolia tree and stayed.  The tree second to left was removed by a tree removal company.    That made a big difference and lightened the front view of our home as well as let more light into the dining room.  Here’s the before, notice you only see three upper level windows:

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Here’s the front of the house without the extra tree, wow there is another window up top!  And the limelight hydrangeas I planted are beginning to bloom nicely in the front of the picture.

IMG_1298[1]But back to the front garden project.  From the view above, you see the birm garden in the middle of our front yard.  That’s another story for another day, and the massive mounding round bushes do provide privacy to the front garden.  Here is the front garden “before” shown below:

IMG_0985Thick, heavy mondo grasses that have not been trimmed or cleaned annually (at least that’s my guess) lined the front garden area.  Sorry mondo grass, but I prefer my beloved hostas lining a garden, but let’s see if we can forge a friendship if we clean you up.  Yes, I talk to my garden plants. I think I heard somewhere it helps the plants grow and while I’m still building friendships here…hey, don’t judge me!  I think it’s working.

IMG_0987Several groups of bushes exist somewhere between dead and overgrown.  Woven through these are tons of weeds, ivy and other invasive plants.  I started the cleanup process early in the mornings before the sun got too hot, lopping the bushes down close to the stumps.  Leaving some short branches to help pull out the stumps.  A few stumps came out easy.  A few were left for Brian’s strength.

IMG_0989Slowly we were clearing out the jungle and working toward a blank slate to rebuild the garden.  Picture above shows first group of bushes on the right removed.  I made a list of all the 2-3 hour tasks that Brian could handle to get this garden closer to where it needed to be:

  • Lop off first bush branches and remove ivy from along brick
  • Thin out mondo grasses creating an entry and remove bush stumps
  • Relocate or remove second bush group (ended up removing)
  • Clean out all weeds, misc. plantings, and magnolia leaves and level dirt area
  • Lay down 6 bags dirt to fill holes, lay down 10 bags of black mulch ($40 total investment)
  • Bring chairs and table from backyard, along with a couple ferns

IMG_1285[1]Progress!  Kevin helped move the bags of dirt and mulch and after laying a landscape fabric along most of the dirt, it was time for some furniture.  Voila, an inexpensive garden makeover and a lovely place to sit and watch the sun come up.

IMG_1294[1]This is still in progress.  I’ll be thinking about what bushes I will bring in to run along under the windows.  With all the leaf trimming required in this yard I am definitely thinking slow growing evergreens.  And need to update the spent planter flowers.  Maybe some paver stones.  The mondo grasses are still heavy, but for now, this clean palate will do the trick.

IMG_1295[1]A nice place for morning coffee and sunrise views.  Brian doesn’t head back to school till after Labor Day, but I’ll remember the work he did to clean up this garden long after he’s gone!  Thanks for looking.

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Knoxville Summer

Well, I had the last date I last blogged in the back of my mind, April 23 (Happy Birthday Sue.)  I’ve had plenty to blog about but many excuses why I haven’t sat down to share the goings on around here.  Number one excuse, my laptop screen is shot and I have to use my laptop hooked up to an external monitor and sit in one place.  I don’t like sitting in one place!  I’m determined not to let two months go by without an update!  But, if I had sat down, here would be the things I would have blogged about…and I hope to come back and share more soon.

Colonial Williamsburg 8th Grade Field Trip

– chaperoned Kevin’s class, what an amazing group of kids.  Visited Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg, learned a lot and saw lots of inspiring gardens and decor

IMG_0560Noakes Sisters Do Knoxville

– would say the four of us had more fun together than we’ve had in a long time.  Lots of touristy adventures, beautiful Smoky Mountain wildflower walk, plenty of laughs and games and memories

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Springtime Gardens

– it’s been a blast seeing what comes up in the gardens here, but parts of the yard are a real jungle!

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Graduation!

– from visiting grandparents to final dance to graduation breakfast to graduation ceremony to last day of school, it was one quality event after another

IMG_0880Knoxville International Biscuit Festival (do not miss 2014)

– this tops the year’s list of best value entertainment and dining downtown Knoxville.  We went with the grandparents on a whim thinking we’d kill some time and it ended up being delicious and a lot of fun

IMG_0903Memorial Day Visit to Cincinnati Reds/Cubs Game and Churchill Downs

– We did a four-hour drive to Cincinnati overnight with Cubs game, then 2 hour drive to Louisville, KY for Churchill Downs racetrack (we miss Arlington but this was an awesome racing day), then 4 hours back home.  F-U-N

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Summer Recipe Favorites

– grilling outside more and of course enjoying my sister Kathy’s poor man margaritas poolside (1/2 pitcher ice, add one light beer, add one can concentrate limeade, 1/3 can tequilla, 2 T. orange juice, serve in rocks glass with lots of ice and crushed limes)

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Yes, Pool’s Open

– my job as pool girl never ends, we actually never covered our pool this “winter.”  So I’ve been keeping things clean and inviting pretty much round the clock.  Had a few lifesaving opportunities (chipmunks) unfortunately, not all successful.  Really had to wait until early June for the unheated water temperature to get to 78-80 degrees and now that it’s about 82 degrees it feels great on a warm day

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Summertime Visitors do Knoxville 3 day Tour

– Brian’s girlfriend from MN visited and they did the rounds of the area and had a blast, including dining on Calhoun’s patio on the TN River

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Knoxville Botanical Gardens

– Not quite the caliber of the Chicago Botanical Gardens but anytime you put this many paths, stonework, perennials, grasses, trees and benches in one area you can not go wrong and it was a lovely and free place to spend an hour or so

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Crazy About Bee Balm

– I’ve been patiently waiting for the plants I transplanted from Arlington Heights to come back and bloom, and thankfully most of them made it.  My beloved bee balm that has gorgeous, tall red blooms just popped this week and I am crazy about this fast growing, spreading perennial (is it just me or should this iPhone photo I snapped be entered into a photo contest!?  Or am I indeed a little bee balm crazy?  Crap, I cut off the left edge, oh well, so much for photographer career)

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Before and After

– Been working on plenty of outdoor gardens, hacking, whacking, dividing, trimming, watering and waiting.  Started with corner garden but making my way around the yard.  Our parents visiting in spring was a very positive experience for my garden.  My dad has never met an errant branch he’s afraid to lop off and my mother in law cut my first rose bouquet of the season.  Latest project are these overgrown bushes next to my front door…wouldn’t that be a nice place to sit and watch the sunrise?  I removed the bushes this week and the “after” is in progress, stay tuned!

IMG_0985So, I promise to be back before another two months go by, with some details of these blog posts that have been swimming around in my head.  Until then, happy summer!

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Gardens and Good & Plenty

What a great day.  I’m preparing for my three sisters to come visit me in Knoxville TOMORROW through Sunday.  Woo-hoo!   I ran some errands this morning and picked up some treats for the weekend, and couldn’t resist a bag of fresh popcorn and a bag of fresh Good & Plenty from Mast General Store downtown.  I had to sample some and yes, that was my lunch.

Spring has sprung here, and I should be doing housecleaning but I can’t stay inside.  It’s more fun to get outdoors and sweep a patio, spray paint an end table or throw some more mulch in a corner.  Yes, the laundry room is calling me, but I’m wiping down the porch furniture and watering the flowers.

This past month, I had garden inspiration from a couple of trips.  I went and watched Brian play for the University of Minnesota in Dallas at the national club volleyball tournament (awesome experience) and went on a field trip to Williamsburg, Virginia with Kevin’s 8th grade class.  Gorgeous gardens!

Pictures from the Dallas Farmers market, beautiful nurseries:

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Pictures from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg:

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I’ve been gardening away down south.  There was a dead corner in the back yard that needed some TLC.  Some old bushes and dead trees were removed, creating a blank slate.

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A trip to the local nursery and Home Depot, along with some grasses from elsewhere in the yard that I divided and transplanted, resulted in an updated backyard corner.

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It’s all a work in progress and not quite on the same standard of Monticello, but it’s coming along smashingly.  And, oh, so much more fun than laundry!

Hence, my lack of blogging.  The weather here is something else.  I’m sorry if I’m a broken record on that topic and hope none of you had damage from the heavy midwest rains.  For my friends in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, hang in there.  As my sister Sue says, she is still optimistic about getting the snowed under outdoor Christmas decor down by 4th of July.

Here, the dogwoods and redbuds are in bloom, and the azaleas are just firing up.  Japenese maple pretty purple leaves are here.  Fifty shades of green are everywhere with lots of white, pink, purple and yellow sprinkled all around.

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I may have mentioned earlier, about 50 years ago, a travel reporter declared Knoxville the ugliest city in the country.  City leaders went about a beautification project, with emphasis on planting blooming trees and public gardens.

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Then came the annual April Dogwood Festival, where designated streets and neighborhoods are marked with dashed pink spray painted lines running down the middle of the street as you follow along the Dogwood Trail and enjoy lovely blooms and gardens.

OK, time to put away the snacks and head up to the laundry room.  Hope to be back next week with updates of some fun.

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Laurel Falls on Valentines Day

Now I’m backtracking, but just realized I’d started a post about hiking on Valentines Day and never finished it.  Well, here you have it!

Knoxville had great weather for Valentine’s Day.  After a little breakfast of pink chocolate chip pancakes for Kevin and a short stack of “red” treats, it was off to school.

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I had not been to the Smoky Mountains since our last visitors in November and was overdue for a visit.  I didn’t have a lot of time but drove to the park entrance near Townsend 45 minutes away and had a peaceful drive along Little River Road.   The park was very quiet, only passing occasional cars and a couple of bikers.  My destination was Laurel Falls, one of the most popular hikes in the park that was about 20 minutes from the entrance.

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On past trips to the park, I noticed as I passed the Laurel Falls parking area it was packed with cars, and there were many cars parked alongside the road before and after the area.  This time, the lot was just full, with a few open spots.  Hikers were heading up and down the 1.3 mile walk to the falls at regular intervals, so I was comfortable walking solo (had mace in my pocket just in case.)  Unfortunately, I realized as I approached the area that the temperature was 40 degrees (versus the 54 degrees on my weather app which was scheduled for later in the afternoon) and I had left the house in just a t-shirt and red sweater.  No fleece.

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I saw some folks in winter garb getting out of their car.  I figured I’d give it a shot, it was a beautiful clear, sunny day.  Once I got walking, there was no issue with the cold and with the sun at my back, I was sweating just a tad.  So glad I’d left the winter garb in the attic!

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The walk was a smidge more uphill than I ‘d anticipated.  I read it was a good walk for families with strollers, since though there are over 800 miles of paths in the Smokies, Laurel Falls is one of only a limited number of miles that are paved.  It warns of steep drop offs though.

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A path was paved back in the 1960’s when a fire lookout was built nearby and erosion was taking it’s toll on the path.  I was walking at a good pace and made it to the falls in 30 minutes.   A more relaxed hike would probably be 45 minutes or so.  Not saying I’m wonder woman, just saying I was not dawdling.

Beautiful Laurel Falls.

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Along the way there were tons of rhododendren which I imagine will be gorgeous when they bloom in June.  I got corny and looked for heart shaped nature things and came across this rock.  How artistic!

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Totally worth the walk! You can continue on for Cove something up to an 8 mile walk, but after 10 minutes of enjoying the falls, I headed back as I needed to be at the school by 2:30 for an event.  I was back in the car exactly one hour after I arrived, and while this was a quick trip, I loved it.

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On the way back I stopped at a Country Store and saw an inscribed valentine frame that I jotted down to deliver in a homemade card to my sweetheart Tom who was stuck at work…while trying to keep a straight face…

“I know it is love when I can’t sleep because my reality is better than my wildest dreams.” 

Sounded like something my brother in law Randy would come up with, but it certainly was a lovely day in the Smoky Mountains!

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March Madness

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Sorry for delay in fresh content on smokymountainviews.  My advertisers have been starting to complain (kidding) so lets see if I can get back on the blogging track.  Last time we were all together I was talking about the Biltmore Estate and Downton Abbey.  Since then, we’ve enjoyed both snow days and some nice weather in Knoxville, hiked Laurel Falls on Valentines Day, hosted mother in law Jan, Uncle Bruce and Aunt Lynn for a visit, Kevin got his braces off and started playing with a competitive AAU basketball team, Tom and I did a mini-25th anniversary getaway to Nashville, I started playing in a USTA tennis league, Brian is home for spring break and I’m in the early stages of college basketball overload with a Noakes family NCAA bracket and a $100 prize at stake.  And I made a spring wreath for my front door.  How’s that for an update!?

Late February and early March we had visits from Tom’s family and had fun sight-seeing in Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains.  One of my new favorite things to do is hit the daily Blue Plate Special at the downtown Knoxville Visitor Center.

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There is a daily live performance from two bands at noon at the WDVX radio station.  You can get a two-hour parking pass and enjoy live music then grab a bite to eat or shop a bit on Gay Street. We enjoyed some music then hit Mast General Store across the street and indulged in some popcorn and a bag of candy from their old-fashioned section of candy in a barrel (must have–bag of Good and Plenty, very fresh.)

Uncle Bruce got me fired up in the kitchen and shared a couple of traditional family favorites, crepes and fudge!  We went from this…..

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to this in 30 minutes!  Delicious fudge.

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We had to visit the Smokies while they were in town.  It was a sunny day but cold and as usual, the scenery was breathtaking.

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We left for the park about 10am and did the usual…entered park at Metcalf Bottoms between Townsend and Gatlinburg, drove along gorgeous Little River Road (never disappoints, beautiful rushing water over huge boulders, lovely in every season especially when there is no traffic,) video at Sugarland Visitor Center (partially under construction now, small museum inside is closed but still nice video, gift shop and rest rooms,) then we drove up to the Rockefeller Memorial at the Newfound Gap Overlook, the gorgeous location where Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park in September, 1940, saying:

“...It is good and right that we should conserve these mountain heights of the old frontier for the benefit of the American people. But in this hour we have to safeguard a greater thing: the right of the people of this country to live as free men. Our vital task of conservation is to preserve the freedom that our forefathers won in this land, and the liberties that were proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution…”

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The Appalachian Trail weaves through the park and now Lynn and Jan can say they’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail.

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We saw a couple of hikers warming up along the base of the Memorial and I joked we should give them some fudge.  Leave it to Bruce to hop out of the car and offer these guys a bit of our homemade sunshine.  They eagerly accepted and told him they’d been in 80 mile per hour wind and frigid cold the night before trying to keep their tents from blowing over.  Nothing a couple of pieces of Bruce’s fudge couldn’t cure!

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We stopped for some pictures on the way up and down the road, including a frozen runoff waterfall

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We also stopped at the 0.5 mile loop walk at Sugarlands Valley Self-Guiding Nature Trail and saw plenty of downed tree limbs and the impact of the recent heavy winds.  It’s a pretty walk and gives you a nice chance for a photo opportunity along the rushing river.

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What wonderful guests that we hope come back again and again.  We’re thrilled that their daughter (cousin Kim) and family will be here for a few days on Monday.  I need to pull out the crepe pan.

After Bruce and Lynn left, Jan stayed on through the weekend so Tom and I could getaway to Nashville.  I’ll be back with more pictures and stories of that fun soon.  Until then, enjoy this morning’s sunrise, the rest of your weekend and may your favorite teams make it to the Sweet 16!

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