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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas to All ...

What a fun year we have had.     Our travels have taken us from the far Northwest parts of our country to the Southeast.

We spent the winter in Las Vegas where we visited (and hiked) many of our National Parks.    Zion is always a favorite as is Death Valley after a rare rain.     There was a reunion of the Irish Wives Garden Club in Arizona  (a lively group of two), we shared the Las Vegas we know (away from the glitz) with Don and Kathy on their visit, Brent joined us for a few days to escape the winter,  there was a reunion with Karin and Chris from our days in Hawaii and a short visit with Lindy, also from our time in Hawaii.    It was so much fun seeing these friends, whom we hadn't seen since the late 70's!

Our return trip in April had us spending a few days near Page AZ where I photographed Horseshoe Bend while extending myself over a cliff.     I was fortunate to get space on a photography tour of Antelope Canyon which I would recommend to everyone with a camera (and requisite tripod).   On to Monument Valley  (John Wayne's favorite) and other parks featured in my favorite old western movies.

We returned to the Midwest (and our storage unit) long enough to visit family and friends, unload the car and repack for our next adventure - Alaska.    The drive out had us staying a few days on Victoria Island - Butchart Gardens lived up to the rave reviews!    The next six weeks involved a lot of driving, time on car ferries and beautiful scenery.      We managed to traverse most of the paved roads in this beautiful state.   Glaciers, bears, moose, bears, whales, bears, etc.

Our return trip took us from Jasper BC to Waterton NP.     The beauty of these Canadian Rockies is incredible.     We re-entered the U.S.A. at Glacier NP on July 4th.   On to Yellowstone NP and a week in Bozeman MT.

The fall took us to the SE coast.    We spent a month in Myrtle Beach (getting out hours before the rains and floods).    October we were in Asheville NC (and another reunion with the newly re-named Irish Wives Travel Club).    November we traveled back to Raleigh NC where Ron and Mary put up with us for two full weeks.     The Villages, FL were next visiting my cousin Kevin and Adele.


Our last stop was in Hot Springs, AR visiting Paul and Janet.      Janet loves to decorate for Christmas, so I felt right at home!     Her home was transformed, but the real eye stopper is her yard. I really thought I had taken pictures to share, but they are not in the camera so I must have been too in awe to actually take them.    She does a beautiful job.  They did take us to Garvan Woodland Gardens to see the light displays, and I have been sharing those pictures in this year in review.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Monday, November 9, 2015

A late Asheville Post...........

A couple days before we left Asheville, we took a day trip into the Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg.      The leaves were past their prime, but they still put on quite a show.

I loved the rushing water, moss and colorful leaves on the rocks.

The blue reflections on these rock were great

This tree was nearly done but still presented a lovely silhouette against the blue sky.

We were even able to get a "front row" table for lunch.

Laurel Falls is a beautiful hike.

This water appears from under a large boulder

Farewell ............................

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Farewell to Asheville.................

The car is packed and we will be leaving Asheville in an hour or so.     It has been a very fun (albeit wet) visit.     Asheville is an incredible town.     The downtown reminds me so much of European cities.    It is vibrant every day of the week and every hour of the day.      Lots of outdoor seating for food and brew;  after all, we are in a much milder climate than Wisconsin.     We are on the edge of the mountains, so the natural beauty of the area is incredible.      We have found the people to be welcoming and friendly.     

There are 50 microbreweries, yes, 50!     We didn’t visit them all, but we did our best.     Some are fancy, others are very earthy.     Of course, most are in between.      The Arts community here is extremely active.     I confess, I only bought one bracelet, but if we had a permanent home there would have been several additions.      If we end up in this part of the U.S., I will return to make one-of-a-kind purchases.  

Did we find our future home;  sadly, no.      With all the pluses, it has one giant minus.     The streets/roads.       I don’t know if it’s because of the mountains, the age of the community, or poor planning, but driving here is a nightmare.    Very narrow streets.     They are all windy and curvy.    The interstate system in the greater city is also a nightmare.    Left lane ends, right lane ends.     Entrances and exits are a study in confusion.     Even if I lived here for many years, I would need GPS to get from Point A to Point B.      If it’s hard now, I can’t imagine it when I’m ten years older.   Therefore, I can’t live here.    Darn! 

However, if you haven’t visited this city, I would highly recommend it.    Spend a few days, wander around.    If you can visit for the Craft Fair ( in July and October) put on by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, you are in for a treat.    As members of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, the exhibition artists have passed a rigorous jury process to become a part of the organization.   This show is of the very highest quality and very diverse.    

Don’t forget The Biltmore Estate.      I wasn’t too sure about going there, but check out earlier postings, it was incredible.     Shopping (other than the Craft Fair) is poor, but even I can live with that shortcoming.     There’s even a very large casino an hour’s drive away.     As I said, something for everyone.    

We are off to Raleigh for a couple weeks.     More explorations and future home research.        Plus, one of my favorite stores ever – Southern Season.      

Ron and Mary have graciously opened their home to us for this extended visit – fun is guaranteed!

Friday, October 30, 2015

NC Arboretum

Our time in Asheville is coming to a close, but the rains have stopped and we have the afternoon to explore the Arboretum.

Although I have never attempted to cultivate a bonsai, they have always intrigued me.    I'm not sure I have the patience to bring one to the point of calling it a bonsai, but I can certainly admire the work of others.        These are almost all small enough to sit on a coffee table yet it is obvious most have been around for many years.

This tree has two full size quince.    Unbelievable.

This one was a little larger - you would want a table for it.

The Arboretum also has a permanent outdoor art collection.

These gates represent the Bent Creek that meanders throughout their acreages.

"Hedge Against Extinction" represents stylized human hands forming a hedge.    It honors those who stand together to nurture and share the treasurers of this planet's plant life.

This screen shows a farmer plowing a field.

This is a living quilt garden to honor all the quilters, past and present.    Unfortunately, they had already been cleared for the season.

I know there are gardeners back in the Midwest who have grown Rush, but I have never seen them bloom.     They are gorgeous.

After walking the 65 acres of cultivated gardens, we decided to take a hike.     They have 10 miles of hiking trails and I assigned RJ the task of picking one while I did a little more exploring.      To make a long hike story short, I finally stopped and asked him how long was this trail.    His answer (with an odd smile) was that it was several segments put together and he'd never added up the total.      Where is my FitBit when I need it?  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Asheville - Our Neighborhood

Our month in Asheville has been spent living on an alley.      That doesn't sound to great, but we are in the heart of the Montford Historical District.  

Montford retains more than 600 buildings, most of which were built between 1890 and 1920, and includes a variety of architectural influences reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Asheville during the turn of the 20th century.

Montford was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and in 1981 the Asheville City Council designated Montford as a local historic district. Montford's success has been fostered by its proximity to Asheville's city center.   The district is located an easy walk or bike ride from downtown, which RJ will confirm as he has walked it more than once.

Many of the homes have cottages and/or carriage houses on the alley behind their home.     Our Host has both.     Our 2-bedroom cottage is one of the nicest we have stayed at during our journeys.    We have three skylights to make it bright and cheery, stainless steel appliances, leather furniture and many antiques throughout.     The floors are original narrow plank wood with a trap door to the basement.   We are really enjoying our stay here.

RJ and I like to walk around the neighborhood and admire the homes.     These are some of the homes within a two (very long) block radius of our cottage.

This one is a B&B

The people of Asheville are friendly, a bit eclectic, very artsy and they all seem to have dogs that are walked frequently.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Biltmore Estate - Odds and Ends

The South Terrace was a convenient place for guests to relax under this huge vine covered pergola.     There is a large area just beyond it that was originally a bowling green and could be used for tennis and croquet matches.       The vines are wisteria and trumpet creeper vines.

The gentleman with the handbag (again) was taking a break while I shot pictures.

This simple photo shows you the kind of detailed work on the outside of the house.     This is an obscure window on the side of the house, but it still received these detailed carvings.

I loved this stone fountain.  

The Italian Garden features classical statuary and three formal water gardens.    This area was designed for quiet moments of reflection by their guests.   I particularly loved the unique shape of this pond.

On our tour of the grounds we were taken to the spot where they found part of the railroad that brought supplies when they were building the house.     Vanderbilt had it destroyed when the house was completed.     Although the family got a large share of their fortune from the railroads, he blamed them for his mother's lung conditions and wanted nothing to do with them.     He had reluctantly agreed to put in this short line during construction because the materials were too heavy for the horses to pull.

I, however, got sidetracked and became fascinated by this fungi.  

Bass Pond was created to provide a water feature for guests.     There were rowboats for fishing or exploring.     It also attracted birds.

Whenever there was a heavy rain, the stream going in to Bass Pond would become full of mud and silt, making the pond unattractive.     This was unacceptable to Vanderbilt, so he had a self-taught engineer build a one-of-a-kind system to divert the water during those periods.     It worked amazingly well and was all automatic.       It is now designated a Historical Site.  

Unfortunately, it stopped working a few years ago.     They have been unable to find any drawings of the original design.    Because of its designation as Historical, they cannot make any repairs without the original drawings.    The system still works, but it must now be manually operated during rain storms.

The area over this system was covered in bricks made for the construction of the house.     They are labeled Biltmore.      Our guide told us that any home in Asheville that used a certain number of these bricks is worth at least 5% more than a similar home without these historic bricks.

Our visit to Biltmore Estate is complete.     It was fascinating.      It also included dinner one evening and a visit to the winery which is housed in the original milk barn.      It's all interesting..............