Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In the Smokies: Cosby Campground and Hen Wallow Falls

The last camping trip of the year is always bittersweet. Sweet, because huddling together with friends by a fire on an October evening is just about perfection. Bitter, because, well, it's the last camping trip of the year—for me. Randy and all the menfolk will continue camping throughout the winter with Boy Scouts, but I reach my camping tolerance when I have to wear a ski jacket to bed.

This camping trip was especially wonderful because our beautiful Smoky Mountains were "closed" up until two days before our scheduled trip! What excitement there was around here when those crazies in DC decided we could have our park back. The whole thing reeked of insanity. But anyway, back to the mountains.

For a few years now we've been gathering with this same gang (actually, one family replaced another that couldn't go this weekend) to camp at Cades Cove and do the loop on bikes. But this year the Cades Cove campground was booked before we could reserve our spots. Our second choice was Cataloochee, but it was also booked. No one besides us had ever been to Cosby, so we thought we'd head there. It's one of the least used campgrounds in the Smokies, probably because it's a bit of a ways from Gatlinburg.

The weather was absolutely perfect—low 70s during the day, 40s at night. Perfect for soup and chili, hot chocolate and plenty of blankets.

We took a hike to Hen Wallow Falls on Saturday. This was a 4.4 mile round-trip hike, moderately strenuous. We were taking it very slowly with a 7-year-old, so we had plenty of resting times.

The falls are gentle and the rocks are fantastic for climbing on.

The boys, of course, had to explore all the nooks and crannies, including a cave or two. They are sitting waaaaay up on a ledge in this picture.

There's nothing better than a hammock and snack food after a hike.

The leaves were just starting to change there, so we got a good preview of the fall colors. Back here in town, we are just barely getting some color. With all the rain we've had, I predict fabulous fall colors!

It was a fabulous weekend, and we were all terribly reluctant to come back to reality. I could almost be convinced to do winter camping after a weekend like this. Almost.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up

Fall break: the loveliest time of the year. After a week off from co-op classes and nearly all activities, I feel refreshed. I would like to say that I feel ready to get back into the swing of things, but the reality is that I'd love to stay on permanent fall break.

Our big adventure this week was to visit my alma mater, Milligan College, on an official college visit. Laurel is only a junior; but Tristan is a senior, and this was his first college visit. It was an absolutely fabulous day for it: the weather was stunningly perfect. The campus is two hours away, and it was a lovely day for a drive.

The kids had a fantastic tour guide. I have discovered that, when requesting a private tour, it is helpful to give a few details about your kids to the campus visits director. Our last student tour guide had no valuable insights to offer my daughter because his interests were completely different. This time I gave the director a few details about the kids (academic, not sports-oriented, creative) and she picked a perfect student guide. Just a little tidbit for those of you preparing for college visits!

It is always lovely to be back on my campus. My college experience, while filled with expected ups and downs, was truly amazing. The campus has changed a lot over the years, but the heart is still the same.

Well, except for this aberration.

 It's hard to know how to feel about this new dorm. The original Pardee Hall, a sacred place, was torn down a decade or so after we graduated. Being part of Pardee was practically a religion unto itself. It was a men's dorm, but of course I married a Pardee Rowdy. And now the campus has added a beautiful new village with 5 dorms, and one was named Pardee. It's a lot to live up to.

And here's another change:

The buffalo, Milligan's mascot, is now cemented into the ground. Used to be a moveable buffalo that those Pardee Rowdies would find in a storage shed somewhere and hoist into all kinds of surprising places: on the stage in chapel, in the cafeteria, on the president's rooftop, strung from a wire. That old one is probably still around somewhere though...

The kids went to convocation, ate lunch in the cafeteria, and took a tour. Tristan sat in on a history class while his mom, Laurel, and I relaxed by the creek. The bridge and gazebo used to be popular spots for all kinds of tomfoolery. Milligan grads of my era probably remember the bridge painted pink with yellow ducks. Or vice versa.

After the financial aid and admissions procedure talk, we met my friend and fellow alum (now adjunct professor), Robert, and hiked up Buffalo Mountain.

That was good for our souls. With our big backyard, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, closed for the shut-down, we needed a beautiful view and a place to stretch our legs.

And that was the high point of this week! Laurel has been to Milligan a few times before, and it is definitely one of her top places to apply. But she still has a year to figure things out for sure.

We took a few days of fall break this week but are getting some school done yesterday and today. Co-op classes start back up on Monday, and I have  hours to spend doing lesson plans for my classes—as always.

Hope you get a bit of a break and a beautiful view wherever you are!

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-up

Friday, October 4, 2013

Weekly Wrap Up

A day, a week, a month: they march on, and I am reminded again of the passage of time. It happened today, when I realized that this was the weekend our oldest is going to Pompeii. He's in Italy, studying abroad for the first part of his senior year in college.

See, this is where parenting gets tough, and not because he is halfway around the world, living on his own in a different country, without one person I know. But because this is when the memories come back, and you know you can never, ever return to that place.

Sonlight users no doubt remember that little early reader, Pompeii-Buried Alive! that comes with Core 1 or 2. We probably all made models of Mt. Vesuvius and poured in the baking soda and vinegar for a second's worth of foam. I can see that day. We were out by our garden, and it was a warm fall day in late fall. Jesse was about 9, Laurel 5, and Duncan just 2 or so. They were tiny and blond, and we spent every single day outside together. Together.

That is how I see it. In reality, I was probably exhausted. Duncan probably had a mouth full of sand from the sandbox and needed a nap, the dumb dog had probably run off, and Laurel may have had a door-slamming tantrum already that day.

Or maybe not. Maybe it really was like I imagine it: that we all waited with great anticipation for the lava to flow. I think I even remember adding red and yellow food coloring to make it an even more realistic orange. I can almost see the sun glinting off my daughter's hair, and Jesse's green eyes as he watched, always thinking. And I can almost feel Duncan's little sturdy legs, moving, moving, moving.

Regardless, there is great satisfaction in knowing that what he learned about so long ago with great interest is now happening to him in real life. Letting go isn't so hard: it's remembering that gets me every time.

And so this week, I put down my laptop and phone a little more, and really sat and looked at these two beautiful beings that are still here with me. My 16-year-old daughter sometimes curls up in the evenings next to me just to chat. I cherish that. My 12-year-old is at that age that sometimes drives me nuts—that in-between little kid and teen place—and I talked myself down because, you know, he's 12. And he's my baby. And pretty soon, he'll be 20 and in a different country.

And that's my week: living in the moment, savoring the sweet memories, and always grateful to have had and to have them at home.

Linked up to the Weekly Wrap-up