Sunday, March 22, 2009

Farewell to North Carolina!

Tomorrow I'm leaving North Carolina. I'm going to leave a piece of my heart down here. I think there was still a piece here from my very first visit, which occured almost 30 years ago! Steve and I weren't even married yet. We came down here with some friends and camped on top of Mount Hibriten in Lenoir, NC, about an hour and a half northeast of here. That's when I think this area took hold of my heart!

When the kids were fairly young, we came down again. We were visiting Gatlinburg, TN with some friends, and they suggested we come to Asheville for a night. They wanted to visit the Biltmore. We couldn't afford for all of us to go so we let Megan go with them, and Steve, Danny, and I did a little site-seeing in Asheville. We remember eating at a really good Mexican restaurant and walking through a quirky toy store. We also visited the Folk Art Center, which I thought was the neatest place I'd ever seen!!

I finally went there again today! It's still a real treat! We were doing some geocaching on our last day and one of the caches required visting the Folk Art Center and decoding information from some of the plaques to help us determine the GPS reading for a couple of caches. It added a new element of fun to the whole treasure-hunting scenario!

So after a day of hiking and caching, we came back to the campgrounds and fixed dinner and sat at the picnic table on one of the premium campsites that wasn't occupied, and enjoyed the sunset. It was a pretty good one for my last night. I took a picture of it......

I'm going to end today's blog with the lyrics to a song that's become very dear to me. It's written by Steven Curtis Chapman and it's based on the verses in the Bible about Moses and his journeys up and down Mt. Sinai when he was leading the children of Israel to freedom. Exodous 19, I believe.

The Mountain
by Steven Curtis Chapman

I wanna to build a house up on this mountain
Way up high where the peaceful waters flow
To quench my thirsty soul
Up on the mountain

I can see for miles upon this mountain
My troubles seem so small they almost disappear
Lord, I love it here,
Up on the mountain.

My faith is strengthened by all that I see
You make it easy for me to
believe up on the mountain
Oh, up on the mountain

I would love to live up on this mountain
And keep the pain of living life so far away
But I know I can't stay
Up on the mountain

I said I'd go, Lord, wherever You lead
For where You are is where I most want to be
And I can tell we're headed for the valley

My faith is strengthened by all that I've seen
So Lord help me remember what You've shown me
Up on the mountain

You bring me up here on this mountain
For me to rest and learn and grow
I see the truth up on the
mountain And I carry it to the
world far below
So as I go down to the valley
Knowing that You will go with me
This is my prayer, Lord
Help me to remember what You've shown me
Up on the mountain
Up on the mountain

I cherish these times up on the mountain
But I can leave this place because I know
Someday You'll take me home to live forever
Up on the mountain

(You can listen to this song on youtube, click here if you'd like to hear the music.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Last Sight-seeing trip - Grandfather Mountain

On Wednesday we decided to visit Grandfather Mountain. It's one of the last tourist attractions in the area that I wanted to visit before we leave. It's about an hour and a half from Asheville. I would say it was definitely worth the drive and (almost) worth the admission price ($14/apiece.) Surprisingly enough, it's privately owned (as opposed to a state or national park.) For some reason, I don't mind the fee so much if it's privately owned. Must be the capitalist in me!! When we paid $14/apiece to get into Chimney Rock, a state park, it bugged me to think that a state-funded park would be charging such a high admission fee? Whadda I pay my taxes fur?? Guess I should be happy it isn't MORE expensive!! Ok, enough politics.

Let's talk about Grandfather Mountain! It's basically a really tall mountain that's known for it's "mile-high, swinging bridge." I suppose that at this point I could spout off a bunch of statistics and facts that I would blatantly plagiarize from their website, or I could just post some of the pictures we took while we were there. I think people would rather look at pictures than read!

Let me just add a couple more facts to the blog though. When we left Asheville, the temperature was in the lower 60s. When we were arrived at the top of the mountain the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees and the winds were whipping across the mountain at 50 mph!! The lady who took my (grumpily paid) admission money recommended we visit the bridge first (if we didn't need to pee) because if the winds get up to 65 mph, they won't let anyone cross it. Don't worry, I don't think I'd WANT to try crossing it!!! She also recommended that we purchase some obligatory fudge at the tourist shop because her cousins ran the shop and it was homemade fudge!! (It was actually pretty good!)

One other fact, I'm not extremely fond of heights.

OK.......finally, the pictures...........................

Heeeere's yur sign..............

That's just what I needed to read! Very reassuring!

Next sign, stating the elevation of the bridge, let's call it a mile.......

(To be fair, that elevation is "above sea level," the bridge itself is spanning a chasm in the mountain that's actually only 80 feet deep. Of course, when you can see for miles all around, vertigo is an issue!)

I told Steve I had to try crossing it after seeing half-a-dozen snot-no
sed kids skipping across! He encouraged me by striding confidently out to the center. His only regret was dressing inappropriately for the altitude! Can you see the goose-bumps on those legs??

Before crossing the bridge, I pause for a moment of prayerful consideration. (OK, I'm actually assuming the fetal position!) Those guy-wires were humming like a choir because of the wind!! It sounded ominous, like a Tibetan funeral chant. Hummmmm.........

Making my way across the bridge...........

.........and I made it!!!!!!

Actually the first shot was taken on my way back across, I was so panicky I didn't want to stop for a photo-op on the way over the first time!!

WOW! It was worth it!!!

to see the rest of my photos, visit my picasa site!
And if you're ever in North Carolina, be sure to visit Grandfather Mountain!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yet more food!!

I'm pretty sure I've put on a few pounds while we've been down here!! When we first arrived I lived under the delusional I thought that I might actually lose a little weight, get a little exercise, eat healthy. Yeah, right!! There's wayyyy too much good food that's too easily accessible down here! Not that accessibility has ever been an issue for me! No, I seem to be able to access food, and lots of it, no matter where I am!!

Night before last we went out for sushi. Steve got friendly with one of our campers who took us to a a great sushi restaurant where he is friends with one of the sushi chefs. It's called Mikado and it was great!! I've been trying to get Steve to go to a sushi restaurant with me since we arrived down here. One night when he was out of town, Ande and I ate at Green Tea Sushi and I've been wanting to do it again ever since. Of course he thought it sounded disgusting when it was my idea, but when a visiting camper talks about it, suddenly he's interested. Whatever! Our friend, Matt, alas, I'm afraid will never try it. He refers to it as "bait." I have to admit, that when I first got up the nerve to give it a try, the names of the entrees were somewhat intimidating. Of course some had rather innocent names like Butterfly Roll or Tuna Roll, but some of them start to sound like one of the Bizarre Foods you'd see Andrew Zimmer eating on the Travel Channel. Eel, squid, octopus......there's just no way to make that sound appealing to me.

The chef, Okki (not sure how it's spelled) was very patient with us and explained many things about the food. For instance, sushi is assumed to always contain raw fish, but that's not the case. Sushi is the word for a vinegared rice dish topped with other ingredients that usually includes fish. Sometimes, the fish component is raw, this is referred to as sashimi. And that's about as educated as I needed to get, I was ready to chow down!! As long as my meal's not staring at me, or still breathing, I'm not too picky!!

I do have to say that food is taken very seriously in most Japanese restaurants and that the presentation is as important as the taste. It's all considered an art form. I would love to visit some of the Asian countires someday to see the pottery and of course eat the food!! I find it pretty fascinating. I recently bought a DVD entitled Eat, Drink, Man, Woman that takes place in Taiwan. It's about a retired chef with 3 daughters. Much of the movie shows the methods they utlilize in that country to cook meals, many are primitive and somewhat graphic. They often start with the live critter and proceed from there to the table! Obviously our meat dishes here in the west begin with a live critter too, we've just managed to remove that step from the general public's concept of eating meat. I suppose we'd have a lot more vegetarians around otherwise. Rent the movie if you enjoy learning about other cultures and can stand to see a little fish gutting.

To top the evening off, Okki made us a special dessert (I don't think he put it on the bill which immediately made him Steve's hero du jour!) It consisted of fried bananas with chocolate sauce and whipped cream!! yum!

Today we went geocaching in a little town east of here called Old Fort. We wanted to be the "first-to-find" on a cache that was just hidden. We found it and then started searching for a place to eat. We don't need our GPS for that, altho I think I did punch "all food" in to the garmin in the car. It directed us to a restuarant on the outskirts of town that had a new name. It was called Tagi's BBQ Junction and that sounded pretty good to us!!

The owner (and chef) welcomed us warmly. His name was John but he went by Tagi. They weren't very crowded because it was late in the afternoon so we got all his attention. He was extremely friendly and recommended we try the sampler platter when we admitted we'd never been there before. He and his wife opened the place last January and he wants it to be the catalyst that puts Old Fort on the map!! He said he specializes in "fusion" BBQ, which means he uses a combination of secret spices. All I know is, it was pretty doggone good (and we were stuffed!!) The sampler included hushpuppies, french fries, cole slaw, baked beans, pinto beans and rice, a veggie burger, a beef brisket sandwich, and a pulled pork, plus 2 kinds of cake for dessert!!! SHWEW!!

I have to say that my favorite dish was Tavi's Special Cake. OMG!!! It was so good. It was a yellow cake with fried apple slices on top soaked in reduced balsamic. If you don't watch the food network, that balsamic part may sound a little gross, but lemme tell you, it was wonderful!! He even brewed me a fresh pot of coffee to wash it all down, no you KNOW that put him on top of my list!!

It was an unforgettable experience. One of many we've had down here. Most of them seem to involve great people and great food!! I suppose it's better for my health that we'll be waddling up to Indiana soon. Although, my son-in-laws family has a lot of good cooks, we may be in BEEEEEG trouble!!

Striking a balance

I'm beginning to feel a little worried. I started this blog as a way to keep track of what has been going on the last 12 months. I suppose that my genetic pre-disposition to forget important happenings was the major "prompting" factor. But when I re-read my posts, I begin to worry that I'm being too dry and ....... factual. My goodness, if anyone besides myself and an obligatory relative read this, well, when I look back at my posts, I pick up on some major, yawn factor (shall I say?)

So perhaps today would be a good time to ramble about deep things, like the meaning of life and whatnot. So here goes!!

Some days, I think of myself as an artist. I spend the day at the studio, and I'm on the wheel, feeling as if I'm "in the zone" cranking out work like nobody's business. (Well, not as fast as some production potters I've had the pleasure of knowing, but at a pretty good clip for me.)

I enjoyed eavesdropping on a make-up class one day being taught by one of the instructors at the studio. After seeing the work being produced by her students and hearing some of her class lectures, I wish I had signed up to take her class this session instead of the one I did. But of course, then I wouldn't have been able to continue focusing on my decorating skills. There aren't enough hours in the day.

What I liked about this instructor's teaching was the critiques she conducted with her students. The way she talked about their work was extremely positive but somehow she managed to make suggestions about something they could do that would make the piece more interesting, or improve its design. I've been trying to do that on my own, but sometimes it's nice to have input from an impartial observer; someone who doesn't have the blood, sweat, and tears, invested in a piece that might taint my view of it. This instructor seems to be able to do that without devastating the person who put that blood, sweat, and tears into the piece of work. That is an admirable skill.

Of course I still have to spend time doing the real "job" that we came down here for - which unfortunately consists of the mundane type of chores I filled my time with the first 20 years of my marriage. Those years consisted of cleaning toilets (and behinds) and chasing dust around the house. I don't regret keeping my focus on "maintaining a home" during those years, as a matter of fact, when I look back on it, there's little I would change. However, I don't want that to be my focus now. Especially when the home I'm "keeping" is a rental unit on a campgrounds.

Fortunately, our decision to come down here during the winter meant that I actually did have enough free time on my hands to spend time at the studio attempting to perfect my ceramics skills.

I still find that I think of myself as more of a crafts person than an artist. I don't feel like my work is making any kind of statement, and I'm not sure I want it to. I like producing something that serves a specific function. (Obviously a painting or sculpture serves a function. It's decorating a wall or floor space, and sometimes also making some sort of social or political statement.) But I think that's what I like about pottery. Aside from liking the 3-dimensional characteristics of it, I like the fact that it's often something that a person might use on a daily basis.

I was telling a friend of mine about Andy Goldsworthy, He's an "environmental" artist who utilizes things in the natural environment to produce works of art. If you're not familiar with him, watch some of the videos posted on youtube. He is completely obsessed with the process of producing his art. I get the impression that it's more important to him than any of life's typical neccessities, like food, water, companionship, etc.

I don't feel as though I'm DRIVEN to produce pottery or art, it's just something I enjoy doing. (I suppose sometimes my husband thinks I'm obsessed with it, but I could spend many more hours on it than I do.) I've done it sporadically to put it mildly, over the years, with stretches lasting days, months, even years, of not even getting my hands muddy. Looking back, I can't say I would do it differently.

I know it sounds archaic, but I can't think of any career or job that would have been any more meaningful to me than taking care of my family was. Of course we had years where we struggled financially and I contributed by finding part-time jobs waiting tables or cleaning dog kennels or horse stalls. I can't say I regret doing any of that either. Well, the only thing I might regret is that it made life a little more hectic. I wish I could have enjoyed and observed many more moments of the kids' "growing up" years, but it was probably good that I had to learn how to budget my time. I had to prioritize what was important.

Having several close friends and relatives pass away in a fairly short time period also forced me to re-prioritize what really mattered to me. It turns out that relationships and the time spent developing them, is the one thing that I think I will regret not spending more time on.

The pottery is fulfilling and enjoyable and I don't think I'd ever completely give it up, but I also don't see a reason to ever let it completely engulf my life. I hope that somewhere along the way I've learned to strike a balance.

I think that some of the current economic problems (and I hate talking politics) are actually a result of the breakdown of traditional family roles. YIKES!! Now that's something I would not have want to admitted 25 years ago!! But it seems as though it's become too commonplace for people to rely on 2 incomes and base their mortgage, car payments, and credit card debt on the dependence of 2 incomes. When one of those incomes suddenly disappears, that can cause major financial problems.

I also have always believed that if many women would be surprised if they calculated all the expenses that come with a career (and I'm only considering the financial expenses now, not the emotional expenses that come as part of it) I think it would be shocking how little income is produced by most full-time jobs, unless a woman is a doctor or lawyer, or owns a large, successful business.

When one figures in the cost of child-care, travel expenses, clothing for the job, and convenience meals, it's surprising how little is left from that paycheck for the work that went into producing it! I guess that it never really seemed worthwhile to me to work full-time. Of course I didn't have the education or experience to make it a difficult decision. It might have been more tempting to pursue a career outside the home if I could've made $40,000 a year. Or $140,000. I dunno, I like to think I would've still made raising my family my priority.

I know that many of my female friends would NOT want to return to the era where women were expected to stay home and cook and clean and raise the children, but part of me wonders if in some ways it might have been a relief to have the roles and expectations so clear. Part of me is glad that women have achieved more "equality" with men, especially in the workplace. I just wish that along the way we hadn't trivialized the importance of raising our children and creating a pleasant home environment. At least for those of us who chose to focus on that.

I guess I've started thinking about it more since my daughter is about to give birth. I think that she and her husband are going to make good decisions about what they need to focus on. I just wonder about other members of their generation who take it for granted that their children will go into daycare as quickly as possible.

Part of me understands why a woman doesn't want to lose her identity to her children, but another part of me thinks that mothers and fathers both should be a little more concerned about who, or what, is influencing their children, whether it's a baby-sitter, a day-care worker, a teacher, a playmate, the TV, or the X-box.

And how I managed to arrive at this topic when I started out talking about art and pottery is beyond me!! I believe this post has been a complete rambling rant!! Well, haven't had one for awhile, guess I'm entitled. Oh!! Entitlement - now there's a whole new topic to rant about. On another day!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A busy week!

I just can't get over how quickly the time passes. Here it is almost the middle of March!!

First, I should mention that the Baby Shower/Reception in Indianapolis for Megan and Dustin seemed to be a success. We were so happy to see family and friends that we haven't seen for awhile. There was a good turn-out, Steve's whole family made it!! We got to visit with everyone and even play a few hands of Peanuts, what more could we w

Also, besides new baby congratulations to Dustin and Megan, we have to congratulate Dustin for getting accepted onto Pike Twp's Fire Department. He starts trainin
g in a few short weeks. He's going to have his hands full with a new baby and a new job!

Here's a couple of pictures from the shower (and I promise not to hold animosity against Curt for dropping my crock pot full of weenies! I'm just glad no one was injured!!)

The Shower Cake......

Another shower cake.......

Dustin's ready to eat some of that cake!!
I like all of Steve's family in the reflection of this one!

After a fun week-end with friends and family we came back to Asheville and met up with our geocaching friends, the Flip/Flop Girlz from Cincy. They decided to pay us a visit while Jan is recovering from double knee replacement. She seems to be healing pretty quickly because we went hiking with them at Chimney Rock and also broke a record for the number of geocaches we've found in one day on our drive back from Chimney Rock with the help of the Girlz!! It was an exhausting, but fun day!!

Here are the 4 of us on Chimeny Rock using the timer on my camera!

I took this one from the observation deck above Chimney Rock...the little specks are Karen, Jan, and Steve!! That's Lake Lure in the background.
After spending the morning site-seeing, we geocached the whole way home and managed to snag almost 30 caches along the way. Up until then, our record for one day had been 7!! The Flip/Flop Girlz have found over 2,500 caches and were willing to share their expertise with us rookies!!

Yesterday, Jan, Karen, and I visited Thomas Wolfe's family home. Wolfe was an author in the early 1900s who wrote an autobiographical novel about growing up in Asheville. It's called Look Homeward Angel. I read part of it when we first arrived down here but hadn't finished it. His family was rather dysfunctional and it got to be a little depressing! HIs mother owned and ran a boarding house downtown for many years and that home is now a museum dedicated to Thomas Wolfe. After our visit, we managed to find a few more caches too!

Earlier in the week we unloaded the salt-kiln at the Odyssey Center. It was an excellent firing!! I wish they had been able to fit more of my work in the kiln, but I had to share space with the other students! To see pictures of most of the work, visit my picasa site.

Here are a couple pictures of my favorite pieces! This has certainly been a wonderful opportunity for me to improve my pottery skills and learn about new glazing and firing methods!! The experience has been UN-believable and I'm so thankful that we were able to live this life for the past 12 months!!!

This is a lidded, oval shaped box I made for Steve to charge his R/C helicopter batteries in. It has a hole in the back for the cord to hang out of. I put fish on it to make it more manly than my pieces with leaves.....

This is an oval shaped platter that I put a horse figure on with black slip. I was pretty pleased with the result!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pass the gravy.....

Today we were paid a visit by a small flock of wild turkeys. I always thought wild turkeys were somewhat elusive, but these didn't seem intimidated by people at all. As a matter of fact, Matt thinks they may have been the same turkeys he saw hanging around the campground last spring that were just chicks at the time. I would have to agree with him. He said he had fed them bird seed last spring, and today he went and got some seed and as soon as they saw him throwing it, they came waddling right up and started having their own little feast.

I took some photos and even some crappy video which I will post because thing
s have been boring around here. We were somewhat "snowed in" this morning. I did make it into town this afternoon. The road down the mountain is the biggest problem because parts of it don't get any sun at all.

Hopefully it will be melted enough tomorrow to go to my pottery class. We'll be loading the salt kiln for the last firing.

Thursday we're going to head north to Indianapolis for Megan's
baby shower on Saturday. It will be great to see the family. Then in a few short weeks we'll be heading up there for good.

It's hard to believe that our stay here is almost over. We've made some great friends and I'm going to miss them and the mountains.

And the turkeys......

.....these are either turkey tracks, or peace signs made by vandalous hippies!

(Eat your heart out DC!!)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

White Stuff

Red-bird guarding the feeder....

Ok, I know that North Carolina isn't the "Deep South," I just didn't expect the weather to be quite so similar to an Ohio winter! Of course, this has been an exceptionally cold and snowy winter for Ohio. I would say the winter down here has been like one of the more recent mild winters we've had up north.

Anyways, the snow is pretty, but it's the first day of March fer-cryin-out-loud!!!! I'm ready for spring. I noticed this morning in the church parking lot that the daffodils were in full bloom!! Unfortunately, I think they'll be killed off in the next couple days.

Our boss, Ande, is originally from Florida and she was completely blown away by the snow, taking lots of pictures to email her friends down south (the true South.) I did take a few pictures, but I don't know too many people who will be impressed or surprised by the amount of snow we've received. I'm sure most of our family could send us more
impressive winter photos.

But I do want to record our stay down here so I've posted a couple snow photos. Unfortunately, it's been too "white" to get a picture of the mountains. It cleared for a few minutes this afternoon when we walked down to the bath house, but I didn't have the camera, and by the time we were done, it was white again.

Hopefully we'll get to enjoy a few "spring-like" days before we head north for good.

The view from our window.....

Twiggy's happy she's not out there!!