Archives for June 2013

Last Asheville Post

I had planned one post on Asheville, but now I’m on the 3rd! I think this will be the last…we’ll see how long it gets….

We found Carrier Park to be a wonderful place for biking and walking next to the river:


We satisfied our appetites with delicious sandwiches from Firehouse Subs—yum! Then on to the Jonas Gerard Studio in the River Arts District:


The River Arts District is a collection of art studios where the artists actually work, and visitors can watch as they stroll the galleries. I wish we could have seen Jonas Gerard at work—by the look of his paintings, he must be quite animated and interesting to watch. We enjoyed his gallery, though, especially the signs near the **very expensive** art that said “please touch”.  His art is full of texture and it was satisfying to be able to reach out and experience it with more than one sense.

One more store I would be happy to return to is the Screen Door Store—very eclectic décor items, many of which are made from old parts—recycled? upcycled? or just ARE old parts, for sale. We had fun with the hats:


Next, it was off to a tour of the Moog Factory:


This is where Moog analog synthesizers and other instruments (Mooger Fooger, theremin, Moog guitar) either are (or were…some have been intentionally discontinued) made by hand. These instruments are widely recognized and used throughout the music industry, and their store has all of their currently made products available for “sampling”.




Spunky Monkey could have stayed there all day; we all enjoyed it. The theremin was what really stood out to me. I hadn’t heard of one before, but we learned it’s the only instrument you can play without touching. Leon Theremin was a Russian scientist living in America until he was taken back to the Soviet Union and put in a concentration camp for 50 years. He had developed this instrument, apparently as somewhat of an accident, while working on a burglar alarm that used the same technology. Here is a video of him playing this unusual instrument:

Leon Theremin

Two metal antennae are used to control the sound—the one on the right changes the pitch, the other, the volume. The tour guide explained that while most of us haven’t heard of the theremin, we have heard its eerie music—if we’ve heard the theme song from Star Trek, any suspenseful movie music, even Shostakovich used it. Robert Moog became interested in Leon and his Theremin while in high school and started building kits, which led to his eventual development of the analog synthesizers he created his company around.

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs right through Asheville and we were blessed to visit it several times.


Those are some pretty high elevations! (tongue in cheek, since our house sits at 7400 ft…but these valleys are much lower, too, so these really are bonafide mountains!)




The kids worked hard to complete another Junior Ranger program, and the Ranger invited Sweet Pea to help him fold the flag after it was taken down for the evening.


Another highlight for us was the day we got to take a sweet dog named Teddy on a hike with the Outward Hound program through Brother Wolf. This no-kill shelter has hike days several times a week, when volunteers can come choose a dog that has been “okayed” for walks and take them on a group hike with a leader. In our group, there were 5 dogs, I believe. Teddy would probably have made it home with us if we were in the market for a pet. He was super-sweet and a trooper on the hike—his legs were the shortest of everyone’s!




One of Spunky Monkey’s pics from our hike. He likes taking pictures of trees with the sun shining through.

After the hike with the dogs, it was on to the French Broad Chocolate Factory for a tour.



The tour was more of a lecture on the history of chocolate—quite a long and convoluted one. I wish I had taken notes!! This is the cacao pod that is grafted onto root stock—and the silly little things REFUSE to grow in North America!


The pods are opened up and processed by hand, then roasted.


This is a very small independent chocolate factory (husband and wife and a handful of employees) , so they’ve been creative with some of their machinery (see the jigsaw?). This one separates the roasted beans from the “chaff”—a winnowing machine for cocoa beans.


Mmmmm…finally something more recognizable:


Afterward, we visited their chocolate lounge in downtown Asheville—now, that’s MY kind of lounge!


Yum!! (We also went to Mast General Store again, because it was right down the block!!)


We said goodbye to Mama Gertie’s and headed to nearby Rutledge Lake (by the time we decided to stay an extra week in the area, Mama Gertie’s didn’t have a spot for us, so we moved on).


Before we left, a few more games of pinball, which the kids had never played before, and I happen to LOVE.


A couple more walks around the campground…


I pray they’ll always be buddies…


And time to move on….


More Asheville Highlights

After a tearful goodbye to Oma & Opa at the Knoxville airport (boo hoo—we miss them Sad smile), we had to cheer ourselves up the next day with a visit to Biltmore Estate.


This is the 180,000 square foot, 250-room, largest privately owned house in the US. George Vanderbilt inherited his family’s wealth from railroad and steamboat investments, and commissioned this home built in the 1890s for $10 million while still a bachelor. We went early in the day to bike ride with my brother, and look at the farm animals they have there (the Estate is 8000 acres and includes trails, ponds, a farm, winery, hotel, gardens, woodlands…if you’ve watched Downton Abbey, this is its American twin—splendid).


The Village, where we had ice cream after our bike ride.



View from the back “deck”—terrace, perhaps is a better word?


The kids & I left for lunch (the lunch prices on the premises were fitting with the grandeur of the place) and came back later in the day, still hoping to get in on a tour of the home. We got up to the house at 4:25, and I knew they stopped letting visitors in at 4:30, so I asked if we’d still be able to get in. The kind man handling parking told us to just park up front and we should make it. So I did!


I think the little Mazda fits in quite nicely!

We were the last ones let in for the tour (self-guided) and felt like we were the ONLY ones in this humongous house. (Except for the rather unpredictable and stealthy appearance of various black & white-clad docents to answer our questions.) It is quite impressive and beautiful inside and out. We especially liked the swimming pool and bowling alley, all the original furnishings and the LIBRARY!! George had the Sistine Chapel-ish ceiling brought over from Europe in 13 panels.

After some silliness with the sad-faced lions,


we explored the Gardens:


A lovely day, and after all that finery, boy, does it feel good to run through green grass barefoot!


Asheville Highlights

Wow. I thought I’d be writing posts everyday, but we’ve been so busy since we arrived in Asheville that I haven’t been able to get it all down in writing!

First off, it has been GREAT to spend time with my brother and his sweet wife (he’s sweet, too Winking smile) and to get to experience their area. If you’ve never been to Asheville, it’s a unique, lively, vibrant city tucked into the lush green, Blueridge Mountains. We’ve heard from the locals that Asheville is the San Francisco of the East, and that “if you’re too weird for Asheville, then you’re just too weird.” We haven’t seen anything too out-there strange, but have seen lots of art, creativity, expression, free spirits. There are so many locally-owned businesses—coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries, gift shops. And flowers everywhere—the interstates have huge patches of day lilies at the on- and off-ramps.


Our home base for 2 weeks was Mama Gertie’s Hideaway, which is truly one of the best campgrounds we have ever stayed in. In my recollection, it is the quietest and the cleanest (as in SPOTless), and the best value for the price. It is also definitely the steepest. (I lost sleep the first night, imagining the brakes failing and our camper slowly teetering down the hill at the end of our site…!)


Here are some of the highlights while we were staying at Mama Gertie’s:

A train ride through the Great Smoky Mountains:




The Asheville Nature Center (like a zoo, but regional, rescued animals—otters, wolves, black bear. No zebras, monkeys, or other exotic animals), cookouts, and visiting Billy Graham’s training center The Cove were fantastic:




I enjoyed playing hymns on the Steinway in the beautiful, peaceful chapel at The Cove. Would love to attend a retreat there someday.

Another favorite discovery?! The Mast General Store. Like REI meets the 5 & 10.


I don’t quite get the pairing of the super-healthy-vibe clothing and shoes with the sinful amounts of candy, but it was a blast nonetheless, and we’ve been back several times since. I haven’t made it out of there without purchasing something—my new favorite necklace, a bag, an umbrella, and of course—candy!!


We found the best coffee shop (other than Monument CO’s Wesley Owens, of course!) inside this double-decker bus that used to actually drive on the streets of the UK!



We sat upstairs, up the spiral staircase. It was totally shabby chic inside, driven by a skeleton—seems to embody the spirit of Asheville pretty well!

Time for a flower picture break (did I mention I like the flowers here??!):


OK…back to highlights of the Asheville area…

Exploring waterfalls and hiking would never get old, living here.



Chocolate malts and Coke-floats at Rocky’s old-fashioned soda shop followed by a trip to O.P. Taylor’s toy store in Brevard are a must:


There are beautiful streets to stroll on, lined with sycamore trees (no wonder Zaccheus climbed one—see the knobby handholds?):



In addition to the amazingly gorgeous weather (not too hot, not too cool, rain at night and enough humidity to keep one’s skin soft), the super-friendly people, the trails and mountains, there’s more! Tomorrow’s post will wrap up our stay in Asheville.

A few more random pictures of the ways we enjoyed our time here:



Parrot Mountain

Our last leg of our journey before North Carolina took us from the KOA in Georgia to a day spent in Sevierville, TN. We stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant where we found beautiful white farmhouses, cute little shops, colorful flower gardens, and apple-EVERYTHING! Apple wine, apple décor, apple ice cream at the ice cream shop, and delicious farmhouse cooking.

Chad stayed behind to get caught up on teaching and the rest of us went on to Parrot Mountain for the afternoon.





Plenty of birds to feed and hold.



Many have been rescued and have found a place where they are well cared for.


Feeding the Lories was fun. Keeping the head covered?! Good idea. Makes talking on the cell phone challenging.


A beautiful place, and all dedicated to the glory of God. Worth a visit if you’re nearby!


Got to our next destination—ASHEVILLE!!!—in time for a dinner in the dark.



Heads up! LOTS of pictures—found one of my favorite places…

Time to explore Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga! Lookout Mountain is home to Ruby Falls and Rock City and overlooks the city of Chattanooga. We started the day off with a tour of Ruby Falls. After an elevator ride 260 feet down into the mountain and a generally flat walk for 30 minutes or so into the mountain (ending up with 1100 feet of dirt and rock above you…my favorite line from the tour guide was: “Someone asked me once whether we had good insurance in case there was ever a cave-in. I told him, ‘Absolutely, in the event of a cave-in you are certain to be covered.’” ba-dum-bum) At the end of the trail, the turning around point, the tour guide turned off the lights, turned on some dramatic music, and then the colorful lights turned on, focused on the falls. The is a 70-foot waterfall completely inside a mountain.


I couldn’t get a picture of the whole falls from top to bottom because of the crowd of people at the bottom, but it was pretty amazing to see. They aren’t sure where the water comes from, but it ends up in the Tennessee River. Back in the 1920s a young man, Leo Lambert, who worked on the railroad nearby and who grew up exploring another cave on the same mountain decided he wanted to re-open the entrance to that cave after it was closed by the railroad operations. In the process of digging a shaft down to that cave opening, a gush of air rushed out in an unexpected place, so this young man explored it for 17 hours, most of the time on his back, inching through very tight passageways. He found the falls, somehow convinced his WIFE, Ruby, to go back in with him, and as they say, the rest is history. I say any woman who would venture into a cave that tight with her husband deserves to have the cave named after her!! The cave itself was interesting to walk through (thankfully they have since enlarged the passageways and made a nice smooth path to walk on), with many interesting formations, stalactites and stalagmites, cave bacon, and pools of water. Spunky Monkey documented the whole thing with about 100 pictures along the way. Here’s one of his—this is the “steak and eggs” formation”


Here’s another one he took, of the size of passageway Leo Lambert crawled through when he discovered the falls:


Where you see the red light, it was maybe one foot high—ugh.

After Ruby Falls, we had lunch with the Chattanooga Choo-Choo (well, near it anyway).


After lunch, we went to one of my favorite places…squeeee!! I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve been to Rocky City in Kansas, which is a bunch of surprisingly large (10-15 ft in diameter), round rocks in the middle of farm country. This was completely different—cool, narrow sheltered pathways through towering rocks, lush plants, bridges, tunnels, a 1000-ft water fall next to Lover’s Leap, where one can view 7 states. And gnomes! (Zwerg, correctly, in German) It was whimsically magical and enchanting, and I can’t wait to get back someday.








Heading into Fat Man’s Squeeze!


Made it!!





Fallow deer—not albino, just a genetic variation. Very pretty and fit in well with the enchantment of this place!


Gnome sighting!


The Rainbow Tunnel—so colorful!


Entrance to the Fairyland Caverns—a walk through caves with niches all along on the sides, filled with elfin scenes, fairytale characters and gnomes!



So lush and green, flowers everywhere—did I mention I liked it here?

At the end of the day, a very close-up and educational Raptor show:



Random thoughts and more rockets…

Here’s our campsite at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, AL:


We only stayed one night. Wish we could have stayed longer—it was comfortable, quiet, and very pleasant. (On a side note, we’ve had amazing weather everywhere we’ve been! One strong thunderstorm in OK, and HEAT in Tupelo and Red Bay, but overall it’s been wonderful! Our skin is soaking up the humidity…aaaah.)

I have NO idea what this picture is about—Spunky Monkey took it, and I like it, so on the blog it goes!


We pulled out of Monte Sano fairly early (depends on who you ask—my dad who thinks anytime after 6 am is too late to get up has been very patient with us as we adjust to time zone changes and recover from moving & downsizing. Breakfast hasn’t really happened before 7:30 or 8 around here lately. It’ll get better) and headed back to the Space and Rocket Center. If you have or know of any budding astronauts or space scientists, Space Camp sounds amazing! Friday is graduation day, so we saw lots of young scientists.


Here is a Blackbird reconnaissance plane. It’s made for one person and can fly across the country in a couple hours.










Not everything was authentic (Spunky Monkey pointed out that there was grass growing on THIS surface of the moon):


But these were real!



We learned about black holes, Wernher von Braun (the German who dreamed about rockets when he was 15 and in 1942 led the team that developed the V-2, the world’s first ballistic missile. He later lived in the US and worked for NASA…Rocket Boys/ October Sky), Mercury capsules, and Able & Baker (two little monkeys who, in 1959, were the first animals to be recovered alive from a space flight).



After a quick climb up the Mars rocks,


getting to see a “real live pack robot!!!”,


and some frozen yogurt served by a robot, we were off. Time to say good-bye to Huntsville.


We weren’t quite sure where we would stay that night but were blessed to find a KOA in Georgia, near Lookout Mountain, with a spot available. This was probably the nicest KOA we’ve ever stayed in! It had a sparkling clean saltwater pool, a huge bounce pillow, nice playground, well-maintained grounds and more fireflies than we’ve ever seen in one place!


After bouncing, the kids and I enjoyed the pool. This is the first summer they can both actually swim!! (Thanks to Donna’s Dolphins in Colorado Springs. We crammed in as many lessons as we could get to before we left–about 6 each—and I’m so grateful for it! Spunky Monkey was barely putting his face in the water before, and Sweet Pea’s confidence and abilities shot way up too. So glad I can rest easy a bit at the pool, knowing they are safe and can have fun. Thanks especially to Vicki and Rachel, swim teachers extraordinaire!)



Friends old and new, bad brake controllers, and rockets

Thursday morning it was time to say goodbye to our lovely McFarland Park campsite along the Tennessee River, where we could watch the barges slowly plod up the river.


I caught the elf arranging pinecones on the picnic table. Winking smile


We said goodbye to a new buddy who shares Spunky Monkey’s middle name (not Monkey…) —they became fast friends and must have worn holes around the campground roads with their scooters, as much time as they spent racing around.


We traveled on to Huntsville, Alabama, after Chad tackled his favorite part of getting the motorhome ready to go—the brake controller for the Mazda. Here’s how he thought he would feel about it when he bought it:


Here’s how he really feels:


Yep, that’s his mad look.

On to Huntsville! This is the first city we’ve visited that a tiny part of me thinks might be worth leaving Colorado for! (Don’t worry, Chad’s not interested, for those of you whom that might concern—you know who you are!) I just thought it was a beautiful city! So green, flowers everywhere, just the right amount of hills, clean, did I mention flowers? After a quick set-up at the Monte Sano State Park, we were off to visit the US Science and Rocket Center, also home of the Guiness world-record holder largest K’Nex structure:


This was one impressive visit! Real rockets that have been in space, a space shuttle, rovers, Mercury capsules, and so much to learn!! For example, did you know that traveling in a car at 70 mph, it would take 151 years to get to the Sun?!


That evening we met some friends who moved here from Monument several years ago—so good to see them again and catch up inside an old Airstream booth at Mellow Mushroom. Thanks for giving us a good reason to get to Huntsville, guys! We loved our time there!


Helen Keller, Wilson Dam

After a tense night of watching news about a huge wildfire in a residential area close to our home, and finding ticks parked on both Spunky Monkey and my dad, we managed to get up and visit Helen Keller’s birthplace and childhood home, Ivy Green, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. What a charming place!P6126536

We are currently reading Helen Keller’s biography together, so it was fun to see places mentioned in the book, such as the cottage in the yard where Anne Sullivan and Helen lived for a time soon after Anne arrived to teach Helen. They had to take a 2 1/2 hour carriage ride around and around the yard to get there so that Helen wouldn’t know she wasn’t right in her backyard (she was quite the wild child until this time with Anne). We saw the room Helen locked Anne into shortly after her arrival, and the well where she learned her first word, “water”.P6126554P6126557


My favorite story about Helen that I learned here is this one: when Helen was nine years old, she went away for school. Her parents had never been able to tell her about God because they couldn’t communicate with her. While away at school, a minister visited her and told her, through signing, about God. When he was finished, she signed back that she had always known Him, she just never knew His name! I love that! Even in the dark and silent world of a young girl, God is there and makes Himself known.

Later that evening we stopped by the Wilson Dam, part of the vast Tennessee Valley Authority river system. Unfortunately, since 9-11 the visitor center has been closed, so all we could do was drive across it (a little unnerving to drive across a road with very high water on one side and very low water on the other and to realize that what you are on is also holding back all that water!


We tried to get close to the locks to watch the barges being lowered and raised, but the best we could do was to get pics as we drove by. On the far right you can see the barges ready to be lowered to the much lower level of water on the left (or maybe they’re heading the other way and have already been raised??).


In the evening, time for scooter races and watermelon & popcorn dinner! Yum.


How are YOU enjoying your summer?


Tiffin Motorhome Tour, Red Bay Alabama

We took a bit of an unplanned detour through Red Bay after Chad realized how close Tupelo was to the Tiffin (Allegro) motorhome factory. We got up “early” and drove about an hour to get to the plant on time. After a super-quick unhitching of the car in the middle of very small and full parking lot, Chad was able to maneuver the motorhome into a parking space (it was very kind of Tiffin to let a Winnebago occupy a spot at their Tiffin factory!).



This is a picture of a 1976 Allegro (they opened in 1973). It’s classic 70s inside: harvest gold shag carpet, avocado green chairs, wallpaper AND paneling! Throw some Cher or ABBA in the CD player casette player  8-track player, get it to Route 66, and you’d have the makin’s of one rad road trip.


OK, enough of the 70s.

We started the tour off in the carpentry shop. LOTS going on in here. All of their cabinets and wood accent pieces are made from scratch here.


Next, on to the chassis. Tiffin basically builds them from scratch, adds some Michelin tires and a Cummins engine, and voila! The skeleton of an RV:


These are the walls and ceiling—windows and other openings are cut out of foam with a c & c router:


This was really an up-close tour. Long, too! It lasted almost 2 hours. The lunch whistle blows at 11:20, when there is a mass exodus of employees hitting the Piggly-Wiggly deli (where we ate, at 11:45) or the Jack’s hamburger place.










Each RV has 2-3 miles of electric wire in it—??!


After the tour and lunch, Chad was pleased to have an hour speaking with Bob Tiffin, the founder and owner. Chad had called the day before and asked if he could have an hour of Bob’s time to interview him for The Everyday Innovator, Chad’s latest web venture. I’ll link here to Chad’s post about when he finishes it.

We found a place we could park the RV for a bit (the Tiffin service center) while Chad bought a few parts at their RV store, and Sweet Pea had her Skype piano lesson! Thank you Mrs. Jessica for being willing to do this with us!



Then it was on to McFarland Park, in Florence, Alabama, next to the Tennessee River!


Can you find us?


A tranquil and lovely end to a long and splendid day!




Tupelo and the Natchez Trace Parkway

We hit the road for a shorter drive this time, to Tupelo, Mississippi. Just a couple hours, and uneventful, We found our campground before lunch, got all settled in (it’s so quick to set up the motorhome compared to the fifth wheel we had last year!) and took off for lunch nearby at Cracker Barrel. So nice to be near civilization again! For a little while, anyway. We stayed at the Campground at Barnes Crossing, a private campground. Our site was easy to into and out of and the campground is very well kept—lots of beautiful flowers and a quaint country cottage for an office, complete with a colorful garden in front.P6096326



Chad & I took advantage of having “babysitters” (sounds funny to say that, as big as our kiddos are getting) with us, and went out for date night at a Mexican restaurant. The next day, marathon Monday workday for Chad, while the rest of us went to explore the Natchez Trace Parkway. This is a beautifully maintained 444-mile parkway that runs between Natchez, in southern Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee (hitting a corner of Alabama for a bit along the way). It’s history is deep, with stories of Native American travelers, “postmen” carrying messages (pre-Pony Express) and civil war battles fought nearby. We drove about 50 miles of it, up to Cherokee Alabama.



The original trail (Trace).











We saw Indian Mounds:


And even climbed up one (this one was used for spiritual ceremonies, not burial):P6106406P6106407

We hiked a bit (we’ve been having trouble with bugs…ants, ticks, chiggers, so it was a short bit that we hiked):


And saw quite a variation in scenery as we drove along:


Of course, at the end of day (actually 5 minutes before closing time…), more badges! Yay!


Spunky Monkey had fun taking pictures along the way. Here are some of his (he takes his in manual mode, whereas I’m always looking for that “auto” button):


He doesn’t always get it quite right: Winking smile


which isn’t a problem, except then he asks me what to do differently (other than find the “auto” button). I think there might be some photography classes in his future. Maybe mine too!