Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dahlonega Days.......

Why Dahlonega? Well....Dahlonega is well-known to my darling husband, who has many times in the past driven up there to ride the Six Gap Century (the North Georgia Cycling Club's annual 100-mile bicycle ride that traverses 6 of the area's biggest mountain climbs).

Our lovely cabin lay within a few miles of Neel's Gap (a.k.a., Blood Mountain), one of the 6 mountains featured on the yearly Six Gap ride. Blood Mountain is also the first major stop along the Appalachian Trail for hikers setting out for Maine from the Trail's southernmost point at Springer Mountain, GA. We met some through-hikers at the hiker hostel/camp store atop Blood Mountain. We were told that it takes about 6 months to walk the entire AT, and generally at least 2 pairs of hiking boots!

Bicycle sculpture inside the camping supply store:

A political bumper sticker outside the camp store. I guess it should not come as a surprise that the Free Tibet crowd has passed through Blood Mountain.

Well, I am no mountain climber when I'm on my bike. I have always wondered why some cyclists seem to love to endure a great deal of pain in order to struggle their way up big, scary mountains. According to Andrew, it's "the challenge."

My road bike has not had its drive train modified, meaning it's equipped for moderate hills at best, with regard to its gearing. So refitting my bike to make it more suitable for climbing mountains would require replacing my rear cassette (the little gears attached to the back wheel) and also my crankset (the big cogs attached to the pedals that turn the chain). It's all about the gear ratio, and I currently don't really have the right gearing to allow me to pedal with relative ease up a really steep incline. Having said that, I don't kid myself. I truly believe that what happens, good or bad, on a bike ride depends more on the "engine" than the bike. And my bike's engine (me), is just not physically up to the task of climbing 6 back-to-back mega-mountains.

Despite my commitment to mountain avoidance, I knew that Dahlonega would make even me want to prove that I could do at least one badass climb. So, of course, we rode.

I hoped to do Three Gap (the shorter, 50-mile route of the yearly Six Gap ride). But, we set out after 10 a.m., due to misty weather conditions that threatened rain. I ended up doing One Gap, and my one gap was Neel's Gap. Ten miles of unrelenting uphill climbing, with a 6 to 8% grade at times. (Regarding hill grades, FYI: "6% grade is enough to cut speed to well under half, and absorb more than 80% of a rider's power output, leaving less than 20% to fight air resistance and rolling friction"). I never got the lactic acid "burn" in my legs, and I was able to keep a slow but steady upward pace, spinning in my lowest low gear, but I was panting by the time we made it to the summit. Yes, my engine could use some hill training.

We were passed at one point on our ascent by two flatbed trucks delivering a doublewide. The sound and sight of being passed by half of a house inching up the mountainside around hairpin turns, with gears whining, and spewing black diesel exhaust, while taking up 3 lanes (both of the uphill lanes and one of the downhill lanes, too) , well....it got my adrenaline going! All that kept running through my mind was how my obituary would describe the circumstances leading up to my death.

I made it.

Andrew and me, at the top of Neel's Gap:

And the reward for all that pedaling, the misty view from atop Blood Mountain:

In retrospect, getting up Neel's Gap was not really that hard, physically, just longer than LOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGG. I was delighted to see the sign saying, "Blood Mountain Cabins," because I knew that a couple hundred yards past that sign was the summit, designated by this marker:

The reward for the hard climb was the downhill. It's so steep and winding, it was impossible not to brake and brake. I never came close to reaching Andrew's descent speed, though I'd estimate you could easily get up to 50 m.p.h. on that downhill. Nevertheless, even my relatively slow descent was pretty exhilarating. The mountain that took me an hour to climb took less than 8 minutes to descend!

Me at Turner's Corner, after making it back down the mountain:

Andrew, my cycling coach and cheering squad:

A nice old barn along Highway 19 on our ride back to the cabin:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Georgia Mountain Getaway

Skipping ahead to the week of Labor Day....

Andrew and I decided to take a little time off and head up to the mountains of North Georgia. That started me searching online for a place to stay in the Dahlonega area. We found what seemed to be the perfect cabin rental, located on the Chestatee River, but we were told it was already booked. The cabin owner emailed me back to tell us about a second cabin that she had recently put on the market that was still available, and that's where we ended up.

The cabin was perfectly situated in a clearing in the woods, on top of a hill, and a short walk from a stream. It was nicely decorated, with lots of antiques, very quaint and homey.

Andrew brewing some Starbuck's French Roast on our first morning at the cabin:

Coffee on the deck on a cool mountain morning:

One view of the kitchen/living room area:

The bedroom, with French doors opening onto the screened back porch:

and a couple of photos of the bathroom, since I adore old vintage-style bathroom decor:

Who's that handsome guy in the medicine cabinet? Don't you love the white beadboard walls? This cabin had some very interesting moulding details throughout. I hope to steal and use some of these ideas myself one day. The fish sink was quirky, but kinda cool.

Nice tile detail, and, like the rest of the cabin, wood plank ceilings!

We ate all of our meals on the porch, and spent most evenings there relaxing with a glass of wine by candlelight.

Like everyone else in America, we barbecued on Labor Day!

Chicken, corn-on-the-cob, and steamed asparagus. on the porch, by candlelight.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our North Country Honeymoon, Part II: The Good Stuff.

No, not THAT good stuff....

Stuff like hiking and gemstones and wildflowers and blackflies. We hiked some of the trails adjoining the Garnet Hill property, including one trail that goes up to an old abandoned garnet mine. Those who know me know that I LOVE jewelry. I hoped to find a record-breaking, gem-quality bauble in those hills and rocks. I did not, but it was still fun trying.

Andrew braved the highest, steepest wall of the old mine.

I didn't get quite that far up. See, I am afraid of heights, and I figured that the laws of physics would prevail, and gravity would tend to keep the really, really BIG garnets down at the bottom of the pit.

I searched among the rocks at the base for awhile, then reconsidered, thinking that maybe the really, really BIG garnets would be up at the top of the mine, where people afraid of heights would not be so apt to search, so up I went, to knee-wobbling height.

The reward for our hard work: handfuls of teensy little port-wine colored baby garnets. Tiny little precious sparkly delights.

Too bad the local garnet jewelry-maker (within walking distance of the lodge) was closed, or else I might have come home with a golden, garnet souvenir of our wonderful honeymoon trip. Guess it wasn't his "season."
So, I turned to hiking and exploring with Andrew. We started with an easy 1-hour hike from the lodge up a small mountain. The ground was wet, due to recent heavy rains (that had washed out parts of the gravel road leading up to the lodge, we were told). This log bridge crossed a particularly mucky place on the trail:

Here I eat an orange while pesky, annoying, blood-sucking blackflies eat ME. They are straight from the depths of hell, these insects. We had to buy netting to go over our hats in order to keep the blackflies out of our ears, noses, and mouths. They are that bad. And the bites are no picnic, either.

Our hikes were full of encounters with beautiful wildflowers like this one, a purple trillium:

Me, on one of our hikes. This was a short, but very nice, walk that we did just before dusk one evening while driving back to North River from Lake Placid. We did a rolling hike through the woods and ended at this peaceful lake.

Our last hoorah before heading home to Florida was whitewater rafting on the Hudson River. (I'm in a blue helmet, Andrew is to my left, in a yellow helmet). My first whitewater rafting trip! A highlight of our day was when we both accepted the dare of our raftmate and jumped off a big rock in the middle of the river, into the 52-degree water!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our North Country Honeymoon, Part I: Saratoga Springs,

This post is long overdue, I know, but this blogging business is time-consuming. I feel obligated to be witty or engaging, but, hey, sometimes I just don't feel like it, especially when I'm having one of those days where work just sucks the life out of me.
Where to begin? We left Florida back in late May under drizzling rainy skies, driving to Tampa, a 2-hour drive. to catch an early morning flight to our honeymoon destination: New York's Adirondack Mountains. We flew into Albany, and rented a car for the drive north. I learned from a fellow native New Yorker at work recently that referring to this part of NY as "Upstate" is, actually, incorrect. Upstate New York is the far northwestern region of the state, around Buffalo. Where we honeymooned is correctly referred to as "the North Country." I stand corrected. Judging from the number of "Snowmobile Crossing" signs we saw there, I can understand why.

We arrived in Albany at around midday, and had just a 2-hour drive ahead of us to reach our honeymoon locale, so we decided to take a detour off the Interstate and explore Saratoga Springs, NY. We ate lunch at a local diner, then wandered around the downtown area, where we explored a very European-looking public park

with a very old carousel,

the kind that has hand-carved wooden horses.

Saratoga Springs is a very picturesque town. We visited the local history museum,

which featured displays of photos, period furnishings,

and even dresses worn by some of the wealthy ladies who were among Saratoga Springs' seasonal residents during its heyday.
One of the beautiful vintage dresses that featured incredibly elaborate and detailed hand-beading:

and a closeup of the bead work on the dress bodice, with genuine turquoise beads:

Saratoga Springs is a geologic wonder, situated over numerous mineral water springs many of which are naturally carbonated. We sampled water from the various springs that are all over town and open to the public.
One such spring, Hathorn Spring:

We did as advised by a local, and each drank only a very tiny plastic cupful of the metallic-salty water from the spigot. It was not completely awful, but I feared some sort of laxative/purgative effect, as alluded to by said local. I had in mind visions of the colonoscopy preps that my patients must endure, at my behest (for their benefit, of course). Luckily, there was no such outcome, probably due to taking such a minuscule dose.

We spent our Honeymoon in beautiful North River, NY at rustic Garnet Hill Lodge. On the way to North River, we stopped along a scenic overlook beside one of the many lakes in the region for this photo of my beloved and me:

The lodge, being between "seasons" ("ski season" and "summer") was completely empty, except for us. Yes, we had the ENTIRE lodge to ourselves, at least for the first 2 days or so. We even (at least I did) peaked into each any every one of the unoccupied guest rooms to compare our accommodations. Nah...ours was best. After a few days, some weekend guests arrived (losers!). In the meantime, we OWNED the pool table...oh, yeah!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our Wedding!

Andrew and I were married on a beautiful, hot, humid, rainy (at times) Florida day on Saturday, May 16th, with our families and friends all around. The past week or so post-nuptial period had been just wonderful for so many reasons. We left on our honeymoon last Tuesday for a very relaxing and unforgettable 5-day trip to the Adirondacks in Upstate New York. More on that in a later post.

Wedding pre-celebrations began on Friday the 15th. My Uncle Tommy and Aunt Mary (Mom's brother and his wife, from the Boston area), and Andrew's Aunt Helen and her partner, Arthur (who live in Chicago), as well as Andrew's Uncle Doug (who I have very quickly learned can be counted on to be the life of the party), and Andrew's sister, Carolyn, mother of Sean Patrick and baby Cathleen, all traveled quite a distance in order to join us, for which we were very touched and grateful.

Our official wedding photographer, Ivy Hammer, has posted a very nice selection of our wedding photos on her website, which can be reached via this link: Andrew and Allyson's Wedding.

But, please also see the "unofficial" photos by 2 of my new sisters-in-law: Laura (Andrew's youngest sister, and Mom to nephew Leif) and her hubby Jason got some terrific shots as they traded off camera duty. Check out Laura's blog: Water in the River (look for the May 17th blog entry). And, Spring (brother Scott's wife, and niece Avery's Mom) managed to get some beautiful photos that look like they came directly from Martha Stewart Living magazine. Spring's blog: Life Love Laughter.

We began our pre-celebrating Friday night, when all of my family seemed to descend upon Gainesville in one swarm. We learned that, despite having NO dining room chairs (true, since we ditched the old pub table and 4 chairs when we had the big clean-out yard sale), and limited seating in our small living room, our folding camp chairs (which I am now very, very glad I purchased from REI on clearance) and various footstools and benches will do just fine in a pinch.

My dear Aunt Mary maintained her composure nicely when she, needing to use the facilities, was suddenly faced with the complete absence of a bathroom door! Luckily, Dixie's dog gate (which also came in handy during the big remodel) made a great barrier, and blocked unwanted entry into the hallway leading to the loo, keeping traffic to a minimum. Since our bathroom is out of direct view from the living room, anyway, no one, especially the boys, seemed too bothered. After sitting around enjoying beer, wine, and snacks, and catching up on old times and more recent news, we headed out for dinner at Sonny's Barbecue, a Florida staple. Yum!

Dixie Dawg got lots of ear rubs, belly rubs, and snacks. Did I mention that Dix LOVES having company, especially men and children! I think this has a lot to do with being allowed to jump up on them, in their laps, being allowed to lick them right on the mouth, and getting to eat lots of snacks off the floor.

My brother Vinny's wife, Jeanie, did not miss a beat, and, as soon as she arrived, seeing that I still had some wedding favors to finish wrapping, took over truffle-stuffing duty like a pro, so I could enjoy my company. What a sweetheart! Meanwhile Vinny & Jeanie's 2 boys, Justin and Jake, loved on their old pal, Dixie, who once upon a time used to be Vinny and Jeanie's dog.

This marked the first time that all of my siblings and Mom were all in The Cottage at the same time!

Meanwhile, Andrew's parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and their families were having a similar gathering over on the Gulf Coast in Crystal River on our wedding eve, where we wish we could have joined them.

My dear sister, Jennifer (also my Matron of Honor), took some candid shots of her own at the wedding, and I've posted some of them here:

Me with my friend and former coworker, Kelly, and her husband, Kyle, and our friend Beth (in black and white), who is also Andrew's coworker.

My 3 brothers all in one photo! Glenn seated at the table with his girlfriend, Karla; Bubba (in a tie!), and Vinny.

Our first dance! It was a waltz, to a traditional Irish tune called Planxty Fanny Power. So glad we took a few dance lessons.

All went so well, we couldn't have asked for a better or more beautiful wedding.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flowers on the brain.

Blush Noisette

With just 7 days until we are married, I seem to have flowers on the brain. I have been spending more time than usual in the garden, tending to my roses. I keep thinking about the wedding flowers, which for our wedding means peonies. It's very unfortunate for me that peonies just cannot grow in hot, humid Florida, because when I lived in North Carolina, although I never actually grew any of my own, they grew happily there. Except people there pronounced it pee-YOH-knee (rhyming with baloney). Peonies, along with forsythias, were always a welcome sign of Spring. But, we can't grow them here, so I grow what does grow well here, instead. And remember that I never had tangerine blossoms outside my bedroom window when I lived in North Carolina, either.

No peonies, so old Southern roses it is. Just try to kill them, drought. You won't. Neither will black spot, or aphids, or lack of fertilizer. Old Southern roses are so effortless and content just to be, they almost make no peonies okay.

Natchitoches noisette, one of my pink Noisettes, photographed at dusk:

I like to look at my roses at different times of day. Early morning and close to dusk are best, when the foliage is not wilted, and everything looks fresh.

Madame Alfred Carriere a climbing Noisette, at dusk:

We have had so little rain lately that our rain barrels are now bone-dry. I have resorted to paying for City water to run the little portable sprinkler in order to soak their roots deeply. I do water them when it's really dry, because even tough, hardy plants suffer from extended drought. It was 94 degrees in the shade at the Cottage today.

Let's hope for a nice, Spring-like day next Saturday!

Yard sale

Today, we held a yard sale, and a pretty successful one at that. Our Cottage is located in the Stephen Foster Neighborhood of Gainesville (our little corner of the 'hood actually used to be known as Pine Haven way back when), and our local Neighborhood Association held a neighborhood-wide yard sale today. Nice of them to organize the whole thing, because that meant someone other than us had to take the time to place an ad on Craigslist and put up signage.

The neighborhood yard sale couldn't have been timed better, since Andrew and I are in the process of combining 2 households. We didn't have much trouble finding about half a roomful of fabulous finds. We spread the treasures out on the lawn and porch and sat back, waiting to see what kind of interest we'd get.

The antique oak fireplace mantle and 2 Depression-era kitchen cabinets sold quickly.

Andrew's Nana's old faux fireplace was a favorite among the looking-but-not-buying crowd. It gives off a soft orange glow and has realistic crackly fire sound effects!

Yeah, lady, sure you'll be back later for it. We may have to find it another home at the end of the day.

The Linen Department:

where one woman bought my nice crocheted tablecloth to use as a bed topper.

All in all, we made almost $300.

No one wanted the Chicken Head, though...