Southern Summer 2009

So we went to Tennessee to visit my parents at the end of June.
The last part of the month was crazy. I will admit to having cried more than once about the stresses of work combined with the stresses of taking time off from work. I don't really know how I managed to take 2 whole weeks off for the wedding last year.
Everything came together though; work was tied up, the car was clean, bags packed and off we were through the south and into the mountains.

Every time we drive somewhere on vacation, there are photos of us taken in the car. Collin is almost always driving. He is so wonderful.
Of the 1000 miles round trip, I think I only drove 250? That's love.

We left behind the flat land of Florida and Georgia for the hills of South Carolina.
Then the scenery changed again to large rock walls and mountain passes. Blondie did a good job up that steep grade. I love my little car. Miraculously (not really) we only got "lost" once, right in Elizabethton. Of course I use quotations around that lost because we were actually exactly where we were supposed to be, we just thought we were lost and proceeded to drive in big circles for half an hour. A quick call to my dad and he laughed at me and told us to quit turning and go through the first light, we'll know where we are then.
He was right.

I love coming home to Tennessee. They have lived here in the cabin for almost exactly as long as Collin and I have been together. My first trip here to visit them and the new family home was with him, just three summers ago. It was our first long drive together after many many separate drives up and down I-75; Sarasota to Gainesville and back. The sight of their land and the gate can relax my body like nothing else.

On the first day we just hung out. We arrived in the evening, but the days are long enough now that I could still go off and take photos - soaking it all in.

We ate this broccoli the first night we were there. Delicious. I hope this thumb they gave me gets greener every year.

It was the first time I was seeing their garden all done up. The last summer we were here my dad and Uncle Andy had a garden they worked together at Andy's house. My parents were still working on their home and didn't really have the time to put in for a proper plot.
This year though, whoooo boy, it's just grand. I love that you can see my grandma's house in the back ground.

Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, dill, lettuce, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, bush beans, more lettuce, watermelon, and oh yeah - cabbage.

It was around the potting shed that we watched the birds and chipmunks from the back patio. You cannot know how delighted we were to find out my parents had named the resident chipmunk "chippie".
as in
"Where's my chippie?"

The fruit trees have gotten so much bigger. Mom added markers to help Grandma remember which trees were what when they weren't fruiting.

It's too bad that all the fruit this year is being destroyed by these little assholes. THANKS A LOT JAPAN FOR THE BEETLES!
(But really, thank you for your maple trees. They are glorious.)


I can't tell you what these flowers are, I asked but do not remember. I do know though, that I want one.
Or five.

And the cutest little apples in the land.

We had a nice meal, watched TV and went to bed early(ish) that night. My dad has gotten a new job truck driving and works through the night. It's not a terrible schedule for him and my mom because they still have all weekend together.
He leaves at night after dinner and relaxation, around 9:30, works through the night and arrives home for a big breakfast at 8:30. Then he goes to sleep until just before dinner. It was too bad he didn't get to come along for all our fun stuff, but I am happy that he and my mom have a stable financial reality now - it's hard to find work anywhere let alone in these areas of the country.

Wednesday morning came and mom took us off to Blue Hole for a short hike and some waterfall action. After the last summer hike here, I figured the water would be way too freezing for swimming - I would be wrong. We parked at the top and made our way down nature's stairs to the first landing.

Blue hole is a creek that runs over three increasingly larger waterfalls. The middle fall pours into a wide round pool.

The first fall felt like it was in a cavern almost. There were only little pockets of the brightest sunlight. Spotlights through the trees and rock.

I had to stop myself and remember to take in the feeling of the cool breeze off the falls. In mid summer, it is a treat to feel this comfortable outside. Coming from Florida and the land of 100+ heat with 90% humidity I couldn't get enough.

We went down the next set of (mans) stairs to the second landing.

We were greeted by an even bigger waterfall and a pool I wish I'd swum in. Next time, I will. It was in no way too cold to swim this time - at least in this water.

Collin was brave and climbed down to the bottom and took this shot of the biggest fall of the series. There's no swimming at the bottom down there...

We headed home for an easy afternoon. Collin watched sports while I took a long nap on the couch, and then in our bed upstairs. What can I say, the best vacations are those when you have time to nap. We had another awesome dinner with fresh veggies from the garden again.
My parents don't have a garbage disposal or compost pile... but they do have these across the street: Goats!

Yaya, Pepper, Billie and Arnold.
Come and get those scraps!

Another evening spent watching TV (how can I miss So You Think You Can Dance?) and hanging aroundwas topped off by a night of looking at old photo albums from my dad's boat and fishing charter service. Some of the biggest smiles on my dad's and grandpa's faces are when they're holding fish that hang to their knees. I have many many memories on that boat, of the salty air and seasickness as I watched my family reel them in.

The next morning dad got home and we had breakfast, then it was off to Gem Mountain!
I was looking forward to this the most on this trip. I asked my parents if we could go gem mining sometime while we're up there and this place was the best - just under an hour away in Spruce Pine, NC. Mom bought us a 5 gallon bucket to share and we all went to town on the flume. Sifting and sorting.

Who would believe those gorgeous gemstones previously looked like this:

Is it obvious that in this photo I am in the middle of fulfilling a lifelong dream. I can't explain it or where it came from, but I have always wanted a bag of gemstones. Loose, faceted stones of all kinds. Well, after that Thursday my wish can come true. They may not all get faceted, but I have them for later.
To think there is a profession where an affinity for sparklies is the #1 skill requirement.

This was the biggest piece of aquamarine found that day. I left it in their capable hands to be cut and polished for future wearing. About a month and a half and I'll have a shiny surprise in the mail. Then for Christmas, the plan is to set both this one and the cushion cut aquamarine we purchased in Mexico on the cruise.
I asked Collin if he minded that one day I will become That Lady With Too Much Jewelry On.
He doesn't, as long as that's not until we're old.

Also, please check out the super adorable shirt I scored at the clothes swap we held at my house. Perfect for Tennessee.

Once the bucket was sorted, we took our gems inside to have them professionally checked out. A nice woman went through all 6 bags of ours and set aside all the stones large enough for jewelry-quality faceting. Those would be the stones on the left.
I really didn't know what to expect coming here. I thought maybe we'd find a few cool things but really? All this? It blew my mind.

A quick stop at the grocery store on our way home for burger fixings turned into my wet dream when we spied this little bottle in the beer cooler.
Yes, the elusive Magic Hat. My most favorite of all beers. I became aquainted with this lovely in Boston and it's been almost 5 whole years since the sweet light taste hit my tongue. I have talked about this beer to anyone who's ever asked me, "What's your favorite beer?". Every time I drink some summer fruity brew, I wish it was this. A "not quite pale ale" it has hints of apricot and I could really drink it forever.
We also picked up a sixer of Lucky Kat, Magic Hat's other summer brew. New to me, it was delicious and I could not resist the name.

After lunch and beers we started separating out all the gems that were previously sorted at the mine. Of course we didn't buy one of those little books so I barely knew what most of this was hours later. Some were obvious; amethyst, quartz, ruby, garnet. The hard ones were the darker stones - is that tourmaline or onyx?? And the stones that looked just like the throw away rocks until they were wet. We quickly realized that we need some water and a bright light to see things like emerald and sapphire properly.

That day was also my parents 30th wedding anniversary.
Yes, 30th . 3-0 years. I love them so much and am so thankful to them for being a wonderful example of a happy marriage. Nothing is perfect, but they're still best friends and so in love after the years of raising kids, running businesses side-by-side, and moving across the country to a place where they knew no one.
A place though, that has views like this.
Lake Watagua - we had dinner here three years ago to celebrate their anniversary and Grandma wanted to take us here again this year. Boy do they make good catfish and fried pickles. Do not laugh at my Southern taste in food. Fried pickles are a regional favorite to be cherished and loved and passed on to future generations of Southerners.
Here's a panoramic view from a little ways down the walk. I think their favorite part about this restaurant is the wall of windows overlooking this lake and the mountains. In a way it reminds me of The Wharf restaurant from back in the day. Too bad there weren't any giant aquariums.

Thursday night saw more relaxing, more gem sorting and a late night look through my mom's old high school yearbooks. I had never really thought about the fact that my mom and her sisters are all a single grade apart - imagine that. Five girls, all in highschool (or a year away) at the same time. Gross.
I'm so glad my parents didn't have a bunch of kids like that... I even thanked my mom for this in the car later on this trip.

We planned Friday so that my dad could stay up after his shift and come with us to Elk River Falls. Blue Hole was a series of small falls but this one was one big drop! Definitely majestic.
I love seeing my dad enjoy these places and have fun taking us to see them ourselves. I have so many memories of him guiding us through the property in Arcadia way back when and now showing us these beautiful scenes in their new home.

Boulders like these really dwarf you.
This day was actually pretty chilly. Rain came over night and the humidity hit us that morning, it sprinkled a little but was mostly just cold when we were on our way to North Carolina. Honestly it was a welcome change to the heat of Florida for sure.

Some day, way way back, those giant rocks were pushed by the force of water. Amazing.

We left the falls and made a couple stops at some of my parents favorite farmer's markets. The first had dahlias as big as your head.
No, really.

Perfect natural geometry. Seeing things beautiful as this are what make me feel humbled. Grateful that the universe unfolded as it did.

So much good produce, right off the land. Mom bought some black raspberries, blueberries, white peaches and red plums. That night for dinner I made an amazing fruit salad as dessert.

They can grow poppies here!

Collin and I bought some local wildflower honey from their bees and a jar of homemade pecan apple butter. We also stopped by Hump Mountain Apple House to get, well, apples.
They also had their own honey.

When we came home Dad hit the sheets and Collin curled up on the couch to watch baseball or something. Mom and I went off to downtown Elizabethton for some antique store shopping. I have so much love for those little shops. I ended up finding an adorable mug and breakfast plate set, a ring holder shaped like a cat with a long tail (like lucky) and a fabulous table on which the TV in our bedroom now sits. I've been actively looking here in the 'ville for so long to find a table that fit in that spot, was strong enough to hold the tv and was open enough at the bottom to keep the air conditioning vent accessible. I haggled the owner down 8 bucks and we took it home with us.
Collin was sound asleep on the couch when we got back so I read some and woke him up in time to go water the garden together and start on dinner.

Every night after eating and cleaning up we would sit in the rocking chairs that line the front porch and watch the fireflies as they rise from the earth. The hummingbirds would dart from feeder to feeder suckin on the sugar water and sure enough as the light faded, the flashes started. Friday night I finally let that little kid loose and grabbed a jar to catch some for myself. They're so slow - this was not hard. They didn't light up in the jar like I'd hoped though and soon enough I let them loose.

We watched a movie Friday night and woke up for our last breakfast together on Saturday. My favorite, biscuits and gravy. We packed the car, said some long goodbyes and were once again off, headed back home. We had planned a pit stop in Savannah to hit up Vinnie Van-go-go's for a slice and a beer for dinner. It was SO HOT in Savannah though that I was dripping all through my meal after walking just a few blocks. Our the window flew our romantic plans of walking the city for a while, getting ice cream or something sweet and sightseeing again where we honeymooned last year.
We finished our food, and walked to the car in the garage. After 5 1/2 hours of driving already Collin was never so ready to get back on the road.
I tried to take photos of the "welcome to" signs for each state both up and back...

Living in Florida, I find it funny sometimes that I have to drive north to get to The South. Hopefully the next time we visit there will be a white christmas to greet us.