Monday, December 30, 2013

Really Cold Water

Our daughter flew down from Wisconsin to spend Christmas with us.  While our weather was a bit cooler than normal, most days were sunny.  And with the unusually cold weather in WI, our days seemed almost balmy.  Our daughter remarked that it was wonderful to go outside with a jacket rather than a heavy coat and scarf.

We drove through the mountains and stopped at one of her favorite places, Looking Glass Falls.  The mountains kept the waterfall in shade and the areas surrounding were covered with ice from the mist.

This view is from the road.  We decided not to walk down to the damp cold.

The trees were beginning to get some sun to melt the ice on their branches.

Further downstream we saw several fishermen wading and casting in the cold, cold water.  Brave souls they are.

This morning our daughter arrived in Milwaukee to a welcoming temperature of minus 4.  She already misses sunny North Carolina.

Here's hoping your last few days of 2013 are bringing you good weather, happiness and great joy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

We Love Lucy

We had a lovely Christmas.  After we opened the gifts, we gave Lucy hers.  A plush toy puzzle.  It is a hollow tree stump with three little squirrels hiding inside.  They all have squeakers.  It's a great toy.

Lucy has no idea what she is supposed to do

She tentatively chews an edge of wrapping

She moves near my husband and looks at me

My husband helped her take off some paper.
Even with one of the squirrels visible, Lucy is not really interested.

We finally placed the toy on her bed.  She clearly has no idea what to do with it.
We tried putting our hands inside the stump, putting one squirrel inside and squeaking it, tossing the squirrels like tennis balls but Lucy was having none of it.

She still has not touched the toy and in fact moves to avoid it.  The gift was not a success at all but we will leave it around just in case.

Today's quote is from author Edna Ferber:

Christmas isn't a season.  It's a feeling.

So let's try to keep this feeling longer.


Monday, December 23, 2013

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Not many people in our community put out Christmas displays.  A few tasteful red bows or candy canes, or some flags announcing the season.  But not much else.

There is, however, one house that goes all out for Christmas.  I love to drive past it both in daylight and dark.  None of those inflatables for them.

How often do you see a gecko bearing gifts?

And ever laughing Elmo

Reindeer pig, anyone?

They shine brightly at night.

I must admit that I have a dislike for the inflatables, but I love to see outdoor decorations.  Some are elaborate and some are simple.  As far as I'm concerned, none are tacky.  (Although one nativity display with Rudolph sticking his head in the manger came mighty close.)  It's all in the eyes of the beholder.

Friday, December 20, 2013

We Love Lucy

Lucy has never had a plush toy.  Ellie had already learned to disembowel them before Lucy arrived on the scene.  This year we got Lucy a plush toy for Christmas.  We're not sure what she will do with it.

Lucy deep in thought

Each year at Christmas, we give the Golden Girls presents.  And each year Lucy looks on while Ellie opens them.  She doesn't seem to know what to do, so she follows Ellie's lead.
Ellie tears right in

When the presents are opened, Lucy watches Ellie to see what to do with them.
Ellie watches to make sure Lucy is gets it

We're not sure whether or not Lucy will figure out how to open her gift.  And we are not at all sure what she will do with a stuffie.  I'll let you know.

Today's quote is from author Abigail Thomas:

I watch my dogs.  They throw themselves into everything they do; even their sleeping is whole-hearted.  They aren't waiting for a better tomorrow or looking back at their glory days.  Following their example I'm trying to stick to the present.

Wise words indeed.  As someone once said, this is not a dress rehearsal.  Live your life today.


Monday, December 16, 2013

We Love Christmas

We've been married over four decades now, and our Chistmas traditions have changed over the years.  When we were both working, all decorating was completed in a single weekend.  The real tree and all the trimmings.  Our children loved deciding which ornaments were "front" worthy and which ones went to the back of the tree.

Now we have an artificial tree and put it up and decorate at our leisure with no timelines.  While I did enjoy the hustle and bustle of doing everything at once, I also like the slower onset of bringing out our Christmas treasures.

One thing the slower pace allows, is more memories of Christmas past.  One dreadful one we will never forget.  On Sunday, after we brought the tree inside and put on the lights, my husband began running a high fever with chills and aching.  Despite having received a flu shot, he had a bad case of flu.  Two days later I also got sick.  We took turns languishing on the sofa and during brief periods hung a few ornaments on the tree.  Then we got a call from the nursing home where his mother was residing.  She was sick.  Pneumonia.  So with a temperature of 102 I went over to the emergency department to admit her to the hospital.  I wore a mask of course and you cannot imagine how miserable it is to have a fever and wear a mask.  When I got home, we both cursed ourselves for not calling our doctors and getting an anti-viral.  Nope.  Neither nurse nor doctor thought of it.  We learned later that our batch of flu vaccine had been recalled as ineffective.

But even that Christmas was still a good Christmas.  We have abandoned a lot of the traditions but we still retain the memories of all those years.  The gifts we gave and received.  The excited faces of our children.  Having coffee cake while emptying our stockings.  Then opening the gifts and trying to guess what gift one aunt had sent.  She always sent the most tacky gifts.  One year it was three small coffee samples that clearly had come from a cheese package she had received.

One of my favorite gifts is a Santa my husband gave me many years ago.  He has a lovely face and is cradling a number of dolls in his arms.  Each year I love bringing him out of his box and putting him out once more.

Santa with dolls.

If you celebrate Christmas I hope you have as much fun surrounded by your favorite decorations as we do.  The house seems so cheerful when Christmastime is near.  And the wonderful memories come flooding back.

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Love Lucy

Lucy is still grieving.  There is little doubt about that. She is no longer the mischievous dog who won't grow up.  Her sense of humor has left for a while.  She rarely plays with toys.  She stays by our side all the time.  She does wag her tail but her smile is rare.  It's clear...she misses Ellie.

On the other hand, she gets very excited when we take her for a ride or to the park.  She found that the drive-through at the pharmacy provides a cookie along with the prescriptions.  And she welcomes friends and neighbors just like always.  She is eating and drinking and we're sure she will finally get other Ellie's death.  Just as we will.

She checks frequently that we are still there and never runs far ahead.

And here is why we still grieve.
We all miss her so.

At times like these it is well to listen to the words of Kahlil Gibran:

"When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart.  And you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

And so, it is true.  We are so happy that we had ten wonderful years with Ellie.  And nothing can take that from us.  We are smiling because it happened.  For those who asked, yes we will be getting another Golden Retriever in the future.  We want to get an adult and while no dog will ever replace our Ellie, one more Golden will be a good thing.

Hold on tight to those you love.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Even Here in the NC Mountains

Many of you know that there is an almost unprecedented irruption of Snowy Owls this year.  All along the Great Lakes area and New England the Snowy Owls are everywhere.  They are most often seen in areas that look similar to the tundra, including sandy coasts and airports.  This year the Snowy Owls have traveled much further south than usual.

In fact, there have been several sightings right here in Transylvania county.  Birders from across the south-east have come here for a chance to see one of these birds, a lifer for many.

 This one first seen on December 7
Photo by M Simpson

And this one on December 8
Photo by D. Womack

And this one also on December 8
Photo by J Griggs

And this one on December 9
Photo by W. Thomas

So Hedwig and his brothers have been sighted multiple times but so far no one has seen Harry.

Last week New York officials shot and killed three Snowy Owls at JFK Airport.  After a massive protest by the birding world, they wisely decided to trap and relocate them instead.

To see a map of the Snowy Owl irruption click here.  You will note that a Snowy Owl has been spotted even in Burmuda.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thank You So Much!

I can't begin to tell you how much comfort I have received from your warm comments about our losing Ellie so suddenly.  The pain is still sharp although I know it will lessen as time goes on.  Because we are retired, we spent much more time with the Golden Girls than we did with our other dogs.  And we miss Ellie all that much more.

Ellie's death has taken a toll on Lucy as well as on us.  As regular readers know, the two dogs were rarely apart from one another.  And it was always Lucy who sought out Ellie.  And then used her for a pillow.

Lucy has never known a life without Ellie so it is not surprising that she misses her.  At first she was very quiet and reserved.  Then, after about four days we both noticed that she had wagged her tail for the first time.  She is still a bit "clingy" and doesn't seem to want to be in a room by herself so she follows my husband around much like she followed Ellie.  And she often uses his shoe as a pillow.  But she is eating and drinking and seems to be doing well, almost enjoying the extra attention she gets.
I don't know when I will return to blogging.  My muse still hasn't reappeared.  But I will return.  Meanwhile I will enjoy reading your blogs.
Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your wishes and kind words.
Take care...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rest in Peace, Sweet Ellie

With a broken heart I need to tell you that our dear Ellie died quite suddenly yesterday.  She seemed so healthy and happy and had a great day.

My husband took Ellie and Lucy out for a short walk around 2:00.  Both were frisky and playful.  As they approached the house, Ellie collapsed and could not get up.  She did not even try to get up, simply lay quietly looking at us.  She was not in pain, not struggling to breathe and was not unconscious but very lethargic.  We rushed her over to the animal hospital.  Tests showed that she was bleeding internally and had fluid in the sac surrounding her heart.

They prepared her for aspiration of the fluid but she had a cardiac arrest before they could attempt it.  She died on the operating table.

Ellie died of hemangiosarcoma in her heart.  She had collapsed when it started to bleed.  She had no previous symptoms and we had no reason to believe she was anything other than the picture of health she appeared to be.

Our house is unbelievably sad and quiet today.  So many little things trigger the tears again.  I won't be posting for a while.  We need to heart dog.  Ellie had a wonderful life and gave us more joy than you can possibly imagine.  We will always hold her in our hearts.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

The leaf peepers have gone and we have the mountains to ourselves for a while.  The dogs love Autumn, the brisk mornings and sunny days.  They especially love running through the fallen leaves.  There are several picnic areas that are deserted now and great places for the Golden Girls to run off lead.

Never far apart, they sniff and run.  Sniff and run.

No destination.  Just milling about.

We make them sit and rest after having a drink.
Look at those smiles!

Life is definitely better in the mountains.

And here we are in November already.  The colors are mostly gone with some red remaining.  High winds are clearing the trees of the remaining leaves and the streets are covered with them.

Sir Walter Scott said of November:
"November sky is chill and clear,
November's leaf is red and sear."

In case you have no other reason to panic:  only 53 days remain in 2013.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Another Year and We Still Remember

Each year I re-post this story in memory of two marvelous people whose lives tragically ended on the mountain trails. 

They first met on a blind date and took to each other instantly.  Much of their courtship consisted of hiking in the mountains of western North Carolina.  She was three years his senior, a fact that brought many laughs in years to come.  They were married in 1949.

He became a lawyer.  A lover of animals, she became a veterinarian, rather unusual for her time.  Her continued quest for knowledge led her to take courses in forestry, ichthyology, and she loved and studied all things living.  She would later give up her veterinary practice to take college-level courses full time.

They lived in Montana and in New York, but their passion was for western North Carolina where they always intended to retire.  The couple were true lovers of the outdoors.  When their children grew up they traveled extensively, hiking some of the most rugged mountains in the world.  They always stayed at hostels or inexpensive lodging because, as he said, "You meet so many more interesting people that way."

When they were in their 50s he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.  She joined him for parts of the hike and they celebrated with champagne at the end of the Trail.  Other hikers were delighted with her ability to identify every tree, every bush, and every flower along the trail.

All photographs taken from local newspapers.

In 1990 they moved to the North Carolina mountains they loved so much.

She was an avid gardener and an award-winning quilter.  Their passion was hiking, especially the lesser known trails in Pisgah National Forest.  They were stewards of the environment, purchasing land in their community and donating it to be a nature preserve.

This photograph was taken in the last year of their lives.

After 58 years of marriage they were deeply committed to one another.  They continued to hike together every week when she was in her 80s and he almost 80.  In all seasons they hiked together.

This photograph was on their last Christmas card.

On October 21, 2007 they went for a hike in Pisgah National Forest.  Their son who lived out of State became worried when he didn't hear from them as usual.  He contacted their neighbors who also were concerned that they had not returned.  The son called the local police and a search was begun.

Their car was found near a trail head here in Transylvania County.  On November 9, 2007 her body was found near the trail.  Telephone records showed that she had made a "911" call from her cell phone on October 21 but the signal was insufficient to relay beyond the tower.  Their bank card was used in nearby Tennessee.

Irene Bryant had died of blunt force trauma to the head.  Her husband John was still missing.

In February 2008 the remains of John Bryant were discovered near a forest service road in upstate Georgia. He had been shot in the head.

Evidence linked the senseless killings of this wonderful and devoted couple to Gary Michael Hilton.  He appears to have been a serial killer preying upon hikers in the mountains of Georgia, NC, and FL.

On Februray 1, 2008 Hilton pleaded guilty to an equally senseless murder of 24-year-old Meredith Emerson in Georgia.  (Interestingly enough, he was captured primarily because he kept Meredith's dog who was hiking with her.  He says he "just couldn't bear" to kill the dog so he kept it.)  Under the terms of the plea he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years.

He was tried in Florida for the murder of Cheryl Dunlap, a 46-year-old nurse.  He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death on February 21, 2011.

Hilton was extradited to Federal Court in Asheville and charged with murder, robbery, and kidnapping in the cases of John and Irene Bryant.  He initially entered "not guilty" pleas to all counts.  After lengthy delays, hearings, and new attorneys, Gary Michael Hilton pleaded "guilty" in March 2012 and was given a life sentence.  He was returned to Florida's death row where he awaits execution.

This post is not about Gary Michael Hilton.  It's not even about justice.  There is no justice here.  There can be no justice for such heinous actions upon such wonderful people.  This post is about two of my heroes...John and Irene Bryant.

They left behind a legacy of love.  Love for one another, their children, their fellow man, and the future.  Love of nature, love of the outdoors, and love for these wonderful North Carolina mountains.  They are together once again in spirit.  And still we grieve.  They left the world better than they found it.  We can all take a lesson from John and Irene Bryant.  Live your life to the fullest and give back to nature and to humankind.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Small Town Festival

It comes as no surprise that Halloween is celebrated big time around here.  After all, we live in Transylvania County.

Our newspaper features this heading on October 31.

Halloweenfest is the second most popular festival in Brevard.  Food and craft vendors line the streets and music fills the air.  There are costume contests, cooking contests, fiddling contests, bouncing houses, festival food, and fun for all ages.  The weather was perfect this year.
One big event is the pumpkin roll down jailhouse hill.  (Never mind that the jail is no longer located will always be jailhouse hill.)  The children line up in waves according to age and roll the pumpkins, hoping to miss the barriers and make it to the end.
I love the looks on their faces as they let the pumpkins go.

White squirrels abound, including this white squirrel witch.

Putting greens provided some challenges for the little ones.  With adult-sized clubs, they tried to hit the holes.  One little princess decided the challenge was too great.  She picked up her golf ball and placed it next to the hole.
No doubt a golfer in the making.

I loved this little toddler cow.  Even in public places, I always ask permission to photograph a child.  The mother said, "fine."

Isn't she adorable?

She started running toward me giggling all the while.  As soon as I snapped the second picture, she was grabbing my knees and hugging me, yelling "Up! Up!"  Her mother ran after her laughing, "She knows a friendly face when she sees one."

I seem to attract dogs and little children.  My husband says that if I could attract money as easily, we would be rich.  I told him that when dogs and little children run to you then you are already rich.

Many of you will have the opportunity to perform your most important civic duty tomorrow.  Get informed.  And VOTE.  Even if it's a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

Finally we have a temporary resolution of the government shutdown.  One of my friends has been paying her daughter's mortgage since she works for the TSA.  She is glad that she is able to do that, yet so sorry for those who do not have that backup.  Our national forests and parks are open.  We've had some rain and now expecting sunshine.  So life is good.

I do wish our leaders in government could work together like our two Golden Girls.  They are often in tandem.

Together they look at something (real or imagined) below the deck.

And they are always together for an after-walk treat.

One of them saw something on the deck so both must investigate.

They wait together for my husband to get up.
It's dinnertime and my husband put his book aside.

We have some color although I don't think it's going to be as splendid as in years past.  But it is gorgeous enough.  We don't have to go far...just look out the windows into the woods.  Or, go out the front door and walk to the street.

Autumn comes to our street.

I won't be posting for a couple of weeks.  We're having a special guest who loves these mountains as much as we do.  So we will be hitting the road, following the color and the roads wherever they lead us.

Once again our quote is from Marcus Aurelius:

"Accept the thing to which fate binds you and love the people whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart."

In the midst of this divisive nation, let's be accepting and loving.  With all our hearts.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Almost Time

One of my favorite mountain drives is from Brevard to Highlands.  The mountains are gorgeous and said to be some of the oldest in the world.  There are awe-inspiring views all along the road and several trails and waterfalls a short distance away.

One of the most impressive mountains is Whiteside Mountain, so named because of the rocky cliffs that shine white in the sun.  There is a hiking trail to the top with fantastic views of NC, SC, and GA.  The mountain has inspired legends of all sorts and has an area said to be the devil's courthouse.  (Not to be confused with Devil's Courthouse in our county along the Blue Ridge Parkway.)  That part of the mountain is closed to hikers because of dangerous winds and slides.

Every year in mid-October something wonderful happens on Whiteside Mountain.  The sun slipping down in the west casts shadows from the mountain to the valley below.  And the shadow greatly resembles a bear, said to be searching for a winter den.
AP Photograph by Jerry Jaynes

The Shadow of the Bear has  a short life every afternoon near 5:30.  Obviously the shadow appears only when the sun is shining and only for a couple of weeks.  We have never seen the Shadow of the Bear.  We are content to see photographs rather than take the drive, take a chance on clear sunset, and then drive home in the dark.

We love the mountains in all seasons and drive them as often in winter as in summer.  The following photograph is one I took in January.  Whiteside Mountain is white not because of snow but the face of the cliffs.  The trees are bare with a coating of ice.  Unfortunately the sun is not shining on the white cliffs.  But where else can you find such beauty in all seasons?

Hope your week is going well.  Try to avoid the "news" if you can and focus on the beauty around you.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Customer Service

My husband wanted a new laptop.  And he thought he would like one with a touch screen.  So off we went to look at computers.  He "needs" a large screen so that eliminated many of them.  He decided on one that he liked.  We have bought many computers in the past.  And we have always bought the extended service contract.  And we have never once used it.  So this time we decided to pass.

We brought the computer home and put it on the dining room table so I could set it up for him.  My husband is not techno-savvy.  Not because he isn't clever enough but because he chooses not to bother with such detail. The plan was for him to go through his "favorites" on his old laptop.  Then I would copy them and send to myself in an email.  After that, we would set up a new email for his new computer and email the links back to the new computer.

My husband periodically played with the new laptop, marvelling at the screen resolution.  Until one day when he opened the computer and pressed the "windows" icon.  The screen went black.  The power light went off.  The computer would not turn on.

We tried various combinations of unplugging the power cord, letting the computer rest, plugging in the power cord, moving to another outlet, moving to an outlet in another room and nothing worked.  The computer just sat there, clearly not getting any power.  My husband fretted that he might have done something.  I reassured him that we could have put a two-year-old and let him bang on the computer and it should not have resulted in a total shutdown.

I remembered that we could return the computer within 14 days of purchase.  So I looked at the receipt.  Sixteen days!  You are on your own with the manufacturer if you did not purchase the extended service contract.  Bummer.

I grabbed a phone that was fully charged and began the ordeal of calling customer service.  I was on hold forever.  I finally reached a customer service representative with a heavy accent and soft voice.  He asked for the serial number.  I had to remove the battery and try to read the serial number which is in very small white print inside the battery compartment.  He asked all sorts of obvious questions and sent me though all the same maneuvers.  I spent fifteen minutes on the phone with him and another representative only to be told that he would send my call to the supervisor.  The supervisor finally answered with a heavy accent and soft voice and asked the exact same questions I had just answered.  It was a harrowing ordeal for both of us.

So the manufacturer will send us a box with a FedEx pre-paid label and we will send back the computer.  They will either repair or replace the defective laptop.  So how many customer service representatives do you have to talk with when your computer dies?  Three  And how long with the call take?  About 40 minutes.

Do I regret we didn't purchase the extended service contract?  Not really.  The laptop is under manufacturer's warranty.  Had we taken it back to the store, they would have kept it for a week or more trying to identify the problem before fixing or replacing it.  We will probably get a new computer as quickly.

Do I regret all the time spent on the phone?  Not really.  That's what "customer service" has come to be.  You have to start out with that in mind.

Here's what I really regret.  It wasn't until I finished the phone call that I noticed the side of the box the computer came in.  There in big bold black easy-to-read letters is the serial number!!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fridays Are Golden

We are having perfect Autumn weather.  It rains a couple of inches per week, always at night.  Mornings and evenings are crisp with nice sunny days.

Good news for those who drive the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).  A few establishments are open.  It began with the Pisgah Inn whose owners defied the shutdown.  Then police officers came and blocked the entrance.  The owner brought legal action and the Park Service indicated that he could remain open in exchange for dropping the legal action.  The Pisgah Inn, like several properties along the BRP is privately owned and managed, leasing the land from the National Park Service.  They do not employ government workers.  Following the opening of the Inn, several other businesses decided to open and were assured that the Park Service would not interfere.  So the wonderful Folk Art Center near Asheville is open again.  Obviously the Park-run campgrounds, visitor centers and facilities will remain closed.

I've mentioned before how much the Golden Girls love the cool weather of Autumn.  There are several places where we can allow them off lead and they run and run and run.

Deep in the forest, Ellie runs on the trail.

We have to make them stop periodically to rest.
Look at the sheer delight on Lucy's face.

And so they take off again.
(Sorry about the eyes.  It was a dense forest so the flash reflected in their eyes and I don't a have fancy photo-fixing program.)

Our quote this week is from George Eliot:

"Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."

Write your Senators and Representatives again.  I'm not saying it's a canned response, but I have received four identical letters from Mark Meadows in response to four different emails I sent.  But that won't stop me.