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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5 Responses to New Year of Smoky Mountain Views

  1. Aunt "B" says:

    We used to think that Wisconsin was “God’s Country”, but your pictures and adventures tell us that God made Tennessee and then moved on to Wisconsin. Beautiful pictures and you are a great spokesman for Tennessee. Haven’t seen anything yet that wasn’t just breath taking. Good health and happiness to all of the Stewarts in 2014.

  2. GRANDMA JAN says:

    Its been a good year and certainly have cherished my times in Knoxville Hope I haven’t worn out my welcome. Say Kevin who was that little old lady you were standing next to on the football field ? Health and happiness in 2014

  3. High time you blogged again! I’ve missed it…and missed you! Definitely plan on the O’Briens coming for a visit. Looks like you’ve settled in quite nicely in TN! They’re lucky to have you…and everyone looks great! xoxo

  4. Northwoods Sue says:

    Missed the stories…..it was a whopper this time. About time you caught up. Hard to imagine that compared to our temperature here, it was almost 100 degrees difference in temperature when we were there a short two weeks ago!!! I’m sorry we missed the light show……gives another reason to go back next year!!!!!

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