Monday, May 30, 2011

Life in a Small Town

Life in a small town is never better than on patriotic holidays.  Brevard is a small town with a population of fewer than seven thousand people.  So when we celebrate a holiday we simply close off the streets and people walk toward the courthouse which sits in the middle of town.  There is friendly conversation among strangers as we gather.

Transylvania County Courthouse

Presentation of the colors

Special seating for our WWII veterans.

We all joined together to sing our National Anthem.  We were led by a lovely soprano who did not feel the need to personalize it to suit her style and make the song "her own." We sang it as it was meant to be sung.  (Well, perhaps we weren't meant to strain so hard on those high notes at the end.)  Salutes from those in the military, hands across our hearts from the rest of us.  Every single person paying rapt attention, perhaps standing a little taller than usual.  What a wonderful feeling.

We had the usual number of speeches, some inspirational, some far too long, but all delivered with pride and enthusiasm.  There is something so intimate about celebrations in a small town like ours.  The crowd included several men and women in military uniform and I often saw complete strangers walk up to shake their hands and thank them for serving our country.  Little children carried small American flags and nearly everyone was wearing a poppy.  Life is so good in a small town.

  I hope you and your loved ones are safe this Memorial Day.

In the words of Thomas Moore:
Peace to each soul that sleepeth;
Rest to each faithful eye that weepeth.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fridays are Golden

We have had much warmer than normal temperatures with high humidity.  So what do the Golden Girls do when it's so hot?  As little as possible.  We get them up earlier so they can get a good walk before it warms up so much.  The rest of the day they are slugs.

Lucy chooses the hardwood floor rather than a bed.

Ellie collapses between a chair and table.

It's nearly time for dinner so they stay very close to the man who will feed them.  They snooze there.  The man in the chair?  He's snoozing along with the girls.

This is Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S.  Let's all keep in mind those who have fought for us, especially the ones who gave their lives.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nearby Attractions

So many attractions bring tourists to the NC mountains.  And those of us who live here take advantage of them as well.  One of the most popular tourist destinations is the Biltmore Estate.  I won't go into detail about the house and gardens, but you can find more information at this wiki link here.  Or the Biltmore home page here.  The estate is so grand that one must spend several days in order to appreciate the beauty.  We go often to the estate, and generally focus only on one aspect during each visit.  On a recent visit, the sculptures and gardens were our destination.  Here are a few pictures of our most recent visit.

She is so beautiful.  Too bad she never gets to turn around and enjoy the mountain view.

Another one of my favorites has a secret hiding behind her.

On the other side stands a sweet cherub.  The side of the house is in the background.

Under the trellis, always in the shade.

One of the many fountains...this one also under the trellis.

One of the three turtle fountains along the wall.

And this sweet cherub shining so white in the glaring sun.

The weather was perfect on the day of our visit.  The old saying rings true.  If God is not a Tarheel, why is the sky Carolina blue?  The estate is about 25 miles from our town, an easy drive for unbelievable beauty.  If you are ever in the Asheville area, please spend at least one day at the Biltmore Estate.

Alas, much of our Nation has not seen a Carolina blue sky in recent days.  More tornadoes have taken even more lives and made such a path of destruction we cannot comprehend even with the videos and photographs.  Our thoughts are with all of them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Can't Chew This One

We begin another week with more devastating weather and we turn our thoughts to those directly affected.  I do hope none of you are in harm's way and that you and your loved ones are well.

Charlie is my favorite potter and I visit the studio often.  I told him about the raid on the birdbox and he said he would make me a pottery birdhouse.  So we have hung the new house.  I'm not sure how well it will attract birds, but it makes a lovely addition to the branches of the oak tree.  The hole cannot be enlarged so the flying squirrels and large birds won't have access.

Its brown color fits right in.

It has a lip above the opening to keep out the rain.

Most of our bird boxes are built to be functional, but we do have a few that are purely decorative.  We have very plain gourds scattered in trees throughout the woods.  It's always fun to see which birds will be attracted to which of the houses.  I don't really care if no one choose my new pottery one.  It pleases me enough to look at it.  Serving as a home for birds would be an added bonus.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fridays are Golden

What a strange week we have had.  Nothing, however is strange about Lucy's idea of sharing.  Sharing the bed with Lucy means she takes almost all of it and Ellie gradually gets pushed under the chair.

Lucy, you have a bit more than your share.

Really?  It seems just fine to me.

Yes, you are taking almost all of the bed, and Ellie was there first.

Yawn...I couldn't be less interested.

I'll just stretch out and part of me will be off the bed as well.

I'll just snooze here for a while.  And Ellie better not move and wake me up or I will growl at her.

I have come to the conclusion that most of our elected leaders have lost compassion for their fellow citizens.  Here in NC, our recently elected Senate and Congress are spending their time on the following issues, all of which show that they lack compassion for fellow citizens.  Bills are afloat to make it even more difficult for a woman to make the hardest decision of her life by establishing a waiting period and mandating a sonogram.  If the woman refuses to look at the sonogram, a physician would be required to explain in detail what is seen.  Our NC Congress is looking at a bill to ban marriages except between a man and a woman.  Because, as one Representative said, "All children deserve to have a mother and a father."  [Does he actually think there are no single parents out there?]  Another said that marriage must be ordained by God.  [All right, then does that void any secular marriages performed by a judge?  Or that you cannot get married if you don't believe in God?]  And in the interest of big business that paid for their Congressional seats, we have a bill that would deny the right to sue a company for failed medical devices or drugs if those devices/drugs were FDA approved.  [Do they have a clue how the FDA approves such devices?]  Almost all of the funding cuts involve taking away from the poor, from the children, and from the disenfranchised.

The Trappist Monk Thomas Merton said:
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.

But our leaders seem to have adopted another quote, this one from Animal Farm:  All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

If we are to succeed as decent human beings, we must have more compassion for one another.  So this weekend, do some self-inspection and try to pull up more compassion for others.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Housing Tragedy

My husband spied the damage first.  The Titmouse house had been invaded overnight.

For several weeks now we have enjoyed watching the Tufted Titmouse couple fill one of our nesting boxes and take up residence.  Recently we have noticed one of them flying from the feeder to the door of the house with food.

Nesting material hangs out the door.  Part of the nest hangs outside the back door used for cleaning.

My husband found the back door on the ground below.  He did not find any eggs.

Several times that morning the Titmouse flew into and out of the destruction, apparently trying to determine if anything remained to be salvaged.  Around noon she stopped coming to the nesting box.  The pair apparently decided to build elsewhere.  Dang!  We had so looked forward to fledglings.

I'm blaming the flying squirrels.  Why?  Because they recently enlarged the opening of another nesting box and moved in.  I was sitting on the porch one evening at dusk when the house started swaying despite the absence of wind.  Imagine my surprise and disgust when I saw one of the little devils squeeze his body though the opening.  I had no intention of providing housing for those nasty critters.  And that's the house the chickadees usually use.

On a more upbeat note...the mountains around us are full of greenery now.  This weather which has been pretty rotten for us seems to be just perfect for the trees and grasses.

We finally gave in and turned the heat  on once more.  Hey, we are troopers but when the temperature is 60 degrees inside...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cake, Ice Cream, and Health Screening

The United States Administration on Aging has declared May to be "Older Americans Month."  Cities and counties across the country are honoring the lives of the elderly.  Transylvania County held a big celebrating, especially noting the citizens who are one hundred years old and older.  I think it is appropriate that along with the cake, punch, and ice cream, free health screenings were available.

When 100-year-old Irving Hyman received his invitation he immediately asked if he could bring a date.  He invited his girlfriend and dancing partner to attend the celebration with him.  After all, she is only 91.

Photograph from The Transylvania Times

Both Mr. Hyman and his friend Kay Kadden live in assisted living apartments in a retirement community downtown.  Both of them take advantage of all the activities there, and their favorite is dancing.

He was a teacher and school principal until he retired.  Friends say he was always known for being a snappy dresser and that is no less true today.  When asked the secret to his longevity Mr. Hyman replied, "Optimism.  Always be an optimist."

So here's to all the Older Americans.  Heck, they didn't list the guidelines...I think I might just be one of them myself.  And if I can age as gracefully as Mr. Hyman and Ms. Kadden I would happily live to be a hundred.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fridays are Golden

When Ellie runs she is a beauty in motion, her long silky hair flowing and a smile on her face.  She is our marathoner, not running terribly fast but paced to go the distance.  She pays little attention to Lucy sprinting back and forth.  She runs at her own speed, loving every minute of it.  Lucy runs more like a rabbit, with both front legs taking off, followed by both rear legs.  Ellie is more like a trotting horse, taking the distance at a gallop.

I love it when we first get out of the car!

That silly Lucy misses so much by zipping by everything.

Better speed up a little to see what Dad is doing.

I love running up and down steps.

But mostly, I just love being off leash and running wherever I want.

The month of May is flying away faster than our dogs can run.  The weather is crazy all over the country.  Here in our area of the NC mountains we are having temperatures much above normal with high humidity.  It's not much fun to be outside for very long.  Evenings bring thunderstorms, often with hail but the storms do not cool off the evening air.  It was an unheard of 72 degrees last night at 9:00 pm when I took the dogs out.

I leave you this Friday with a quote that is familiar to all of you.  We hear it, we know it, but this weekend let us all try to live it:

Attributed to Mark Twain:
Dance like nobody's watching,
Love like you've never been hurt,
Sing like nobody's listening
And live like it's heaven on earth.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We've Lost the Art of Insult

Would you have ever imagined the crude insulting remarks we hear from some of our elected leaders?  That someone would yell, "Liar" at the President of the United States during a State of the Union Address?  Have you taken even a short drive recently without seeing some gesture aimed at insulting another driver?

Most of our insults have denigrated to four-letter words and a few gestures.  Time was when our elected leaders went at it tooth and nail all day, but retained respect for those with dissenting views.  And the same Senators who stood on opposite sides of an issue during the day managed to sit down for drinks, dinner, and gracious conversation that same evening.

There are many ways to insult someone and time was when the insults were so beautifully said.  Winston Churchill is no doubt more famous for his "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" comments than for his insulting remarks.  But he was a master of them.

Photograph taken from Wikidpedia

Here are a few of my favorite Churchill insults:
Lady Astor once told Winston Churchill that if he were her husband, she would give him poison.
Churchill replied, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

On another occasion, Churchill said, "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."

George Bernard Shaw sent Churchill tickets to a new play, explaining that he was sending two tickets so that Churchill could take a friend, "...if you have one" he added.
Churchill resonded, "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second...if there is one."

Here are a few of my favorite insults:

A member of Parliament said that Disraeli would either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.  Disraeli responded, "That depends, Sir, whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

Irvin Cobb:  "I've just learned of his illness.  Let's hope it is nothing trivial."

Mae West:  "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."

Oscar Wilde:  "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."

Groucho Marx:  "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening.  But this wasn't it."

Clarence Darrow:  "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

William Faulkner (speaking of Ernest Hemingway):  "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

Billy Wilder:  "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

Mark Twain:  "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

I am not proposing that we insult others more often...just that we do it in a grander style.  The best insults are worded so that the receiver of the insult has to think about it for a moment.  I once felt obliged to respond in kind when insulted.  Now I have mellowed to the point that I let almost all of them pass without comment.  Life is easier that way.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Colors in Spring

Spring unfolds magically in the mountains.  While most people think of mountain color in the fall, fewer people know there is plenty of color as the trees begin to leaf in the spring.  Not only do we have different shades of green, we have reds and yellows as well and the white dogwoods or mountain magnolia mixed in.  All of the photographs except for the last one were take in our neighborhood.

We are especially lucky here in the mountains.  If we drive downtown (about 900 foot change in elevation) we see spring unfolding a week or so earlier than it does in our neighborhood.  And if we drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we gain several thousand feet where there is less evidence of changing seasons.  In a single day we can see a modest amount of green in our neighborhood,  much more green downtown, and very little green in the higher mountains.  It's almost as if we can follow spring.  And follow it we do...several times a month.

Cold Mountain

When we lived in WI, we saw short spring seasons.  Everything burst forth at once and we went from winter right straight into summer.

As a general rule (OK, as MY general observation) there truly is such a thing as southern hospitality and gentility.  Although I was born in the mountains of North Carolina and spent my youth here, I had forgotten how different the people are.  A prime example of this happened Saturday.

An elderly neighbor died some time ago and her niece and nephew had a  household sale.  I do not often go to such sales, but this one was very close so I walked down.  I wandered through the house, picking up a few things as I went.  The items I picked up were old kitchen items to add to our display over the cabinets.  I found a wire egg basket, a little teapot, a vintage Guardian pot (think non-electric slow cooker), and a small pitcher.  I carried them around with me from room to room.  I didn't find anything else I cared to buy, so I took my treasures to the nephew to pay for them.

Imagine my surprise when a woman yelled in a shrill and grating voice, "Wait a minute!  That's MY teapot.  You stole my teapot!"  I turned around and SHE WAS LOOKING AT ME.  I said, "I beg your pardon...I picked up this teapot from the table over there."  To that she responded, "Well, my pile was on that table and that is my teapot."  The nephew looked quite uncomfortable.  I gave the woman the teapot.  Smiling at her, I did not apologize.  There was a time when I would not have done that.  On principle I would have paid for the teapot and taken it home.  The woman took the teapot from me, scowling all the way.  I thought to myself how awful it must be to let such a small thing bother her so much.  And why she would choose to say I STOLE her teapot, rather than consider I picked it up not knowing she had chosen it.  In fact, I had the teapot in my hands when I had seen her in another room and she hadn't said a word.  And there was nothing about the table to suggest that some of the items were already selected by someone else.

The woman's behavior reminded me of the worst of the rude people in our Wisconsin community.  I had gotten used to more calm and better manners in the years since we returned to NC.  I told one of my friends about the incident.  She replied with a stone face, "She didn't have a southern accent did she?"  No...she did not.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fridays are Golden

Our dogs get plenty of exercise.  They have at least one really long walk and three shorter walks every day.  We take them hiking on the forest trails.  They get to run and play in our woods.  Playing in the woods is not so much exercise as you might think.  Yes, they chase each other for a while.  But most of the time in the woods is spent smelling, sniffing the ground and picking up sticks.

Their favorite exercise comes when we take them to the top of the dam of one of our community lakes.  Summer will bring swimmers and fishermen, but during spring, fall, and winter we have the place to ourselves.  And we take advantage of it as often as possible.

Lucy is our sprinter.  She doesn't know how to pace herself.  She just runs and runs until she is exhausted and stops to rest.

Lucy, slow down a little.  We're going to be here for a while.

Can't stop.  Gotta run, gotta run, gotta run.

Lucy, you act as if we aren't here...that it's only you.

OK  I'll smile for you next time I run past.  But I gotta run.

If you will make me a cape, I can be airborne like Superdog!

All right.  I'll slow down, but only just a little.

Lucy, don't go in the lake.

Why would I do that?  You can't run in the water.

I can run even in this tall grass.

Maybe I can be a pointer.  I will point out to Ellie that you posted only photographs of me.

There used to be a television show that I liked.  It was called "That Was the Week That Was."  And that's how I feel about this week.  So many important happenings in the lives of Americans and people with whom we share this planet.  Some of us have heart break because of the flooding,   Some of us were excited about the royal wedding.  And all of us harbor mixed feelings about the execution of Bin Laden.  There are so many feelings that fill us this week.  Not to mention personal losses and triumphs.

I hope you have an outlet for your emotions.  There's no other way to get through life.  Lucy tells us to let it go and enjoy every minute we have.  So this weekend I hope you will do that.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

They Grow Wild Here in the Mountains

What comes to mind when you hear the word "Magnolia?"  Chances are, you are visualizing Scarlett O'Hara, the characters in "Steel Magnolias" or other individuals from the deep south.  It is not likely that you are thinking of the mountains of North Carolina.  In truth, we have our own magnolias here in Western North Carolina mountains.  Scattered thoughout the forests, these lovely fragrant blossoms add an unexpected pleasure to a mountain hike.  Magnolia Fraseri, more commonly called Mountain Magnolia or Fraser Magnolia, was named for John Fraser (1750-1811).  A botanist, Fraser traveled from his native Scotland to the Appalachian Mountains collecting specimens of native flora.  The wild magnolias grow on rather spindly trees, not the stately lush green trees we see in southern yards.  But the blossoms are just as lovely.

This magnolia is growing on our property.

It has a sweet fragrance similar to the Southern Magnolia.

We are blessed to be surrounded by such a variety of trees and we especially appreciate those whose fragrance catches the breeze.  As my tee-shirt says, "Life is Good."

Monday, May 2, 2011

It's OUR Waterfall Now

I own a waterfall now.  Actually, I own two waterfalls.   [OK, I am a part owner along with all the residents of our county.] 

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in our county is Connestee Falls, a twin waterfall in which two streams drop to form a common creek, part of the French Broad River Basin.  Connestee Falls drops from Carson Creek and its twin, Lower Batson Falls drops from Batson Creek.  The origin of both creeks is a mere two miles away at the Eastern Continental Divide.  The two waterfalls are commonly called Connestee Falls.  Lower Batson Falls is owned by our community.  For years Connestee Falls was privately owned although the owner allowed public access.

Several years ago the owner of the larger Connestee Falls decided to have the waterfall and land surrounding it placed into a land conservation.  A fund-raising drive began and with the efforts of many people the falls became part of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and Transylvania County Parks and Recreation.  When donations fell short of the asking price, the owner reduced the price and sold the waterfall and land.

Access to Connestee Falls was closed for most of the winter to allow the constuction of the new walkway and observation deck.  It is handicapped accessible so more people can now enjoy the falls.

A new wood and galvanized steel walkway leads the short path to the top of the falls.

This view from the observation deck shows part of the drop of Connestee Falls with part of Lower Batson Creek Falls in the background.

Also taken from the observation deck, this photograph shows the roaring Connestee Falls dropping to join Lower Batson Creek Falls.  A gift from Mother Nature gave several inches of rain in the days before the grand opening, filling the creeks and making the falls even more beautiful.

The view of Connestee Falls itself is accessible only from our community.  Members of our community frequently hike down the trail.  The trail follows Batson Creek and is a gorgeous and moderately strenuous hike with two other waterfalls along the path.  The hike ends with Lower Batson Creek Falls and this beautiful view of the Connestee Falls.  The photograph below was taken during one of our autumn hikes.

Connestee Falls.  The observation deck from which the above photographs were taken is at the top of the waterfall you see in this photograph.  The water in the right side of the photograph shows part of Lower Batson Creek Falls.  The fencing in the middle left is a remnant of earlier times when access to the falls was further down.  Future plans include creating a trail and a second observation deck from which visitors will be able to view both falls at once.

Connestee Falls was named in 1882 by Dr. A.F. Miles who owned nearby Caesar's Head Hotel.  Connestee was a Cherokee princess who, according to legend leapt to her death from the top of the falls because of a lost lover.

The two waterfalls are tiered cascade waterfalls.  Connestee Falls drops one hundred and ten feet and Lower Batson Creek Falls drops eighty-five feet.  The sight of the two waterfalls is impressive indeed.  With the new deck, visitors need only to park and walk (or use a wheelchair) a hundred feet or so to view the falls.

How nice to see the citizens of our county come together to make this possible.