Category Archives: Travel

Attaching the Unattached

Good morning Everyone!

When I load pictures into my blog, I usually just load them straight from the “New Post” page on WordPress, but yesterday morning I decided to check the tab on My Dashboard marked as “Media” (for the uninitiated, I assume that is short for “Media Library”), when I came across a forlorn group of miscellaneous pictures grouped together under the label “unattached.”

Unwilling to allow them to languish forever in this lonely place, I have chosen a few of them to share with you today, accomplishing two purposes – something to write about today, and the creation of a “happily ever after” relationship for the pictures-formerly-known-as-unattached by providing them with an attachment here.

My first picture came from a couple of days before Halloween, when I took pictures of Kayla in the Rapunzel dress my mother made for her this year.   Here, she is working on (pretend) needlework.

Rapunzel, Halloween

My next choice was this picture from Christmas 2007, when Mandy (aka Bad Dog) was investigating what Kayla was up to Christmas morning.

This picture caught Kayla waiting for the Southern Star (one of the dolphin cruise boats in Destin, an experience I highly recommend).

Boat, Southern Star, dolphin

This sunset over the Gulf of Mexico was too spectacular to leave languishing in the realm of the unattached:

Sunset, Gulf of Mexico, Destin

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

So was this picture of the bridge across the Destin Pass.

Bridge over the Destin Pass

I loved this picture of Mandy (Bad Dog) looking up from her fortress spot from which to view the world at our old house.

Dog, Couch, Window, husky-basset hound mix

I also liked this picture of Darwin (aka No-No) coming into the kitchen begging for food.  He’s good with the sad face look, isn’t he?

Dog, Labrador Retriever

So there you have them – seven pictures who have happily been relegated from the forlorn category of “Unattached”  to the “Attached”!

Have a great day everyone!



Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Good morning everyone!

As some of you may recall, Mark and I went to Universal Studios for a parents only excursion in January, while Mom and Kayla spent a weekend together doing other things.  Today seemed like a good day to tell you about the newest area in the most recently built of the two parks at Universal Studios, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Islands of Adventure.

Me and the Squash in Hogsmeade

Because we were staying at a Universal Hotel, we got to enter Islands of Adventure one hour early so we could go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  This section consists of a replica of Hogsmeade and, further up the path, a replica of Hogwarts.  There are three rides in this section:  Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Hippogriff, which is a (comparatively mild) roller coaster, and Dueling Dragons, which is a much more extreme roller coaster.   When we entered the park, we, along with 500 to 700 other people hurried through the park to get to the Harry Potter section.


We started with the Forbidden Journey ride.  The entrance to it is fascinating, with all kinds of things laid out along the path to distract you from the fact that you will be waiting over an hour for this ride, but because of early entrance, we hurried through most of that to reach the ride fairly quickly.  We did notice that the outside waiting area is designed to look like the greenhouse, and as you go through the castle you see statues of each of the Gryffindor founders, Dumbledore’s office, one large classroom, and a lot of talking, moving pictures that argued back and forth about various subjects.

Some of the pictures in the castle

Statue of Salazar Slytherin

Counters for the House Cup

The ride is a combined motion/film experience, which means the ride moves some, and Universal uses a lot of film effects also to make you feel like you are moving.  To be honest, the ride was about 15 – 30 seconds too long for someone who hasn’t taken Dramamine recently and has an empty stomach.  It was toss and go for the last few seconds of the ride as to whether I was going to have motion sickness, and Mark was even closer than I was.  Except for that, the ride was a lot of fun, with multiple swoops and dives as we rode on an “enchanted bench” to reach the Quidditch pitch.

Full view of Hogwart's Castle

We needed to rest for a minute when we finished that ride, and while Mark went outside, I went through the gift shop at the end of the ride to pick out various souvenirs for Kayla – at that store, she acquired a Hedwig puppet.  (For those who haven’t read the book, Hedwig is a snowy white owl.)  I also discovered that the shops at Universal sell Dramamine – you have to ask the clerk, and they keep them out of sight,  but they  have them, so I picked up a couple of packs to arm us for the rest of the day.  I would have loved to have bought Kayla a set of Wizard Robes, but at over $100 a robe, they were just too much.

After I finally came out of the souvenir shop, we walked over to the Hippogriff roller coaster, which was not too rough of a ride, but exciting none the less.  It also had some super views of  the park when you reached a crest on the roller coaster.

View from the top of the Hippogriff

We then walked through Hogsmeade.  There was a line to enter one shop; I asked the attendant what that line was for, and he told me it was for Ollivander’s wand selection shop.  We didn’t go in there, because the wait was already at 45 minutes.  However, we still were able to purchase a wand for Kayla, because the general store next door to Ollivander’s has the same wands for purchase.  The wait at Ollivander’s is because Universal has a wand selection experience for its younger guests that want wands.  For those familiar with the books and/or the movie, I gather the experience is similar to that Harry had in the movie, with a meeting with Ollivander, etc.


There is a restaurant in this section called (what else?) The Three Broomsticks, and Universal has come up with its own version of Butterbeer, which it sells at The Three Broomsticks and a couple of outdoor snack stands in the Harry Potter section, also.  Even the restrooms come complete with the voice of Moaning Myrtle!

Close up of Hogwart's Tower

Because we went to the section as part of Early Entry, and because it was winter and not high summer, we were able to complete everything we wanted to do there the first day within about one hour or less.  To give you some idea of the difference early entry alone makes, we went back the next day to ride the Forbidden Journey one more time, and ended up waiting in line for over an hour.  I shudder to think of what the line’s length would be in mid-summer!

View in the Waiting Line

Still, we had a lot of fun, and I am excited thinking about the time when we go back and take Kayla with us!

Have a great day everyone!


The Benefits of an On-Site Hotel at Universal

Good morning everyone!

Some of this is going to sound like a commercial; I apologize in advance, but when something is enjoyable, it doesn’t make any sense to try to find something negative to say!

As you know, Mark and I took a trip to Orlando last weekend. Mark and I hadn’t been to a theme park in a lot of years (since Kayla was 4) and we were a little unsure how he would do with the walking and the standing in line given his rheumatoid arthritis, which is one reason we wanted to take this trip with just the two of us – if we ended up only being able to stay in a park for one or two hours, we wouldn’t have to worry about disappointing our daughter.  There were about 500 other reasons to have some time for just the two of us, so that wasn’t the only reason, but it was one.

Picture from our Porch the Other Day;It has nothing to do with anything I am writing about but it is pretty!

Then, as I was going through our options for a hotel room, I started looking at the three Loew’s  hotels that are “on-site” Universal Studio hotels – the Portofino, the Royal Pacific and the Hard Rock.  They are not cheap, but by staying at the Royal Pacific, we picked up a lot of extras that were worth their “wait”  in gold.  (You’ll understand and be able to groan at the pun later.)

The most important of those benefits was the fact that every guest at one of those three hotels has automatic “Fast Pass” entry to every ride that has one, which basically is every ride except for Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey.  Granted it was January, with Fast Pass, we hardly had to wait in line at all (okay, go ahead and groan now); often we were able to walk right onto the ride as soon as we got up to it.  (The lines at Universal are astounding labyrinths; as we walked through them we tried to imagine what it would be like to have to wait if all of the labyrinth was full and came to the conclusion that it would not be fun.)  For those of you who, like me, have stood in line somewhere like Disneyworld or Universal for over 45 minutes to an hour for a ride, you can just imagine the feeling of soaring into the ride immediately!  I would have felt a little bad about it if the Fast Pass option wasn’t available to everyone if they choose, but if you are not staying at the hotels, you can buy Fast Pass privileges.  It costs $87 per person per day on top of the entrance fee, which is already over $80 for a single park, single day admission.  (In other words, it ain’t cheap.)

Hogwarts at Universal

Even though the Harry Potter ride does not have a Fast Pass entrance (yet, anyhow), staying at one of the three Universal Hotels also allows you to enter Islands of Adventure one hour early to go down to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World, so instead of waiting over 60 minutes to ride the Forbidden Journey, we had a wait time of about 10 minutes.  The second day, Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey was one of the only two rides we decided to ride twice.  We waited 60 minutes in line for the ride that day, and easily came to the conclusion that the Fast Pass and early entry was what had made the trip possible.  The other ride we rode twice was the Spiderman ride.  It is one of the best rides in both parks!  Since Spiderman has a Fast Pass entry, it only took about five minutes each time to go through.

Hogsmeade at Universal

Another benefit of staying at an on-site hotel at Universal is proximity and transportation.  We were only a ten minute walk away from CityWalk and the entrance to both parks, and if we didn’t feel like walking, there was a water taxi that would carry us to and from the hotel along a canal Universal has constructed.  The hotel or the parks, I’m not sure which, also provide shuttle buses if you prefer.

We walked along the hotel path several times; it is a well-designed route, with landscaping that has a pan-Asian flair, including stands of bamboo and small stone statues hidden around, and lots of flowering plants, some of which were still flowering even in mid-January.  We tried the water taxi too; it was basically just a ride in a boat but the drivers were very friendly and after all of the hours we had spent walking, being able to sit down was fantastic!

The Water Taxi Pulling Up At CityWalk

Another benefit was the ease with which we picked up our tickets.  There is an automated “Will Call” Kiosk that you go to in the lobby, swipe the credit card/debit card you used to make your payments originally with, and out pop your tickets for your entire stay.

Staying “on the park” really made a difference in how much we enjoyed our short stay.  Hopefully, you will get the chance to do so soon!

Have a great weekend everyone!


Smart Marketing

Good morning Everyone!

What a week!  I’ve been trying to write this post since Tuesday, which was the day we got back from a mini-vacation to Orlando.  Tuesday for whatever reason my internet didn’t want to load pictures (and how can you talk about a trip to Orlando without pictures?) and then I ended up working until extraordinarily late to get a brief filed.  (By extraordinarily late, I’m talking about times I haven’t seen since I was in college!)  Then yesterday I had an 8 a.m. check-up which involved fasting beforehand (nothing to eat from 12 until 8 – I am not exactly Miss Merry Sunshine in the morning anyhow, but me without food in the morning is an unhappy combination!)  Then, the check-up over and breakfast procured,  I went to work to recover from my late night session Tuesday, which translates to trying to get enough papers moved to see the wood of my desk top and pushing forward with other projects.  It felt good last night just to come home and collapse – I was in bed by 8:30 and asleep by 9:20, which was great!

A visual depiction of my week so far!

But now we have reached Thursday and I have yet to post for this week, so I better get started.

As I’ve already mentioned, we spent this weekend traveling – Kayla went to visit my Mom, who had bought the two of them tickets to see the Broadway musical “Wicked” this past weekend, and Mark and I decided to take advantage of the weekend to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

Mark and I did have a good time, but I want to talk today about our first evening there, where sunny Florida was not sunny (but only because it was night) and COLD! The night-time temperatures when we were out and about walking were down in the high 30’s. (For those of you from colder climes who think the high 30’s is downright balmy, I suggest you try coming down here to Alabama or Florida in July when our temperatures are in the mid-90’s or higher with 200% humidity, and you will understand.)

All right, I admit it wasn't as cold as this!

It was so cold, in fact, that I had to pull out The Squash to wear. The Squash is a bright yellow fleece that I have had for ages; I used to wear it often with green gym pants which made me sort of resemble a summer squash, which is how it got its name. The Squash is one of my favorite fleeces – brightly colored and extraordinarily warm, with sleeves that are too long – just too long enough so that I can pull my hands into them and let the sleeves double as gloves when I need them too. Long live the Squash!

Me in The Squash at Islands of Adventure

But I digress (I can hear the shocked gasps!) We didn’t want to go to either of the parks in the evening, because they weren’t going to be open that late, so we decided to go to City Walk, an entertainment area Universal has constructed in an area between Islands of Adventure (their second theme park) and Universal Studios (their first theme park.) After we got lost trying to find the walking path from our hotel, the Loew’s Royal Pacific, to City Walk, then finally retreating to the lobby where, starting from the point of origin we finally found the path, we had been out walking in the cold for about 25 minutes and were glad for a chance to sit down in the warmth at the restaurant we had chosen for dinner, called Pastamore.  At least, it started out warm, but once someone decided to open some large panels in the front, the temperature quickly plummeted.

The Beginning of the Islands of Adventure Theme Park

When we finished eating, we decided to walk around CityWalk and look at some of the shops. There are a lot of nightclubs there, too, but we were planning on an early day at the theme parks and didn’t want to stay up that late. The shops were interesting, but they were all cold. I think they had heat, but the fact that they left two doors open at all time caused most of the heat to float away in the night sky. Because they were cold, we didn’t really want to linger.

Until we came to the Fossil Store. For those who don’t know, Fossil is a company that makes watches, wallets, purses, some jewelry, belts, and some briefcases/satchels. Mark and I like what they sell, but at first we just intended to make a brief sweep of the store and go on. That is, until we entered the store and found that someone had the good sense to close one of the two doors to the shop and keep the heat in. It was blissfully warm in there! Nor were we the only tourists who had a sudden penchant to linger around the store that evening; I counted about 15 or 18 tourists sharing the shop with us while we were in there, and the store is not that big.

Mark ended up buying a watch for me; it is a nice, somewhat dressy watch for work. It is made out of my favorite precious metal, rose gold, and has Swarovski crystals embedded around the rim of the front.

Had the store not been warm, we never would have stayed in it long enough to find the watch, so kudos to the manager at the Fossil Store at City Walk at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida for extraordinarily smart marketing – with heat!

Have a great day!


The Forbidden Caverns, Sevierville, TN

Good morning Everyone!

A Reflecting Pool at the Forbidden Caverns

I like caves but only certain caves.  I am not a spelunker – the thought of exploring previously unexplored or “wild” caves where I could run into all kinds of nasty creepy crawlies does not appeal to me.  At the sight of the first spider or flying bat, I’d  jump, hit my head on the cave ceiling and knock myself out, giving me the record for the shortest spelunking expedition in history.  Further investigation would reveal that the spider or bat was just a root or leaf I looked at the wrong way!

A Stalactite and Stalagmite about to meet - in another 100 years!

However, nice, tame caves where someone has considerately carved out a walkway through the depths of the earth for me to observe nature’s creativity, those caves I definitely enjoy.  The Forbidden Caverns has done exactly that, while preserving and protecting the natural cave formations which allows the cave to continue to grow and develop. 

Beginning Stalactites, called soda straws, along with flow formations on the right and left

The last time we went to the Forbidden Caverns, Kayla was three.  Because she was terrified of the dark, we were a little worried about the expedition, since there is one part where the guide turns off all of the lights for just a second so you can see how dark the cave really is.  We shouldn’t have worried; Kayla quickly realized that the tour guide kept a flashlight with her the entire time and knew where all the light switches in the cave were, so Kayla made sure, even at three, that we stayed just one step behind the guide!

"Young" columns, where stalactites and stalagmites have joined to make a single formation.

Seven years later, the cave is as fascinating as it was the first time we saw it.  This Thanksgiving trip, Kayla, although she was a little more subtle about it, still made sure that we stayed very close to the guide. 

Either a very old column, or rock carved out by underground water

The Forbidden Caverns were used by Native Americans in the area for centuries before Europeans arrived, although the way in which they used it is not entirely certain – the cave area was considered taboo by the Indians, which is where the name Forbidden Caverns first came from. 

Remains of the Moonshine Stills

During Prohibition (FN),  moonshiners used part of the cave as the base of their operations, until law enforcement discovered the location and raided the cave.  The locals brewed the moonshine by the original entrance to the cave, which involves a very steep 500 foot climb to the surface.  I tried to imagine making that climb while hauling a big jug or cask of moonshine with you at the same time, and decided that the moonshine business during Prohibition must have been extremely lucrative. 

The way up to the natural entrance!

Most of the cave’s stalactites and stalagmites are still growing.  The guide said that you can remember that stalactites are cave formations that grow down from the cave roof because they “hold tight to the ceiling” and that stalagmites are cave formations that grow from the floor of the cave upward because they “might reach the ceiling some day.”  I thought that was a pretty good way to remember it!  Where a stalactite and stalagmite meet, they form what is known as a column. 

One opening showing the underground river

The Forbidden Caverns have many stalactites, stalagmites and columns, and a swift moving underground river, as well as several formations of white onyx, including the largest known white onyx wall formation in the United States.  The mining of onyx in the United States is not allowed, according to our cave guide, because there really is not enough of it in the country to make it lucrative.  It’s just as well, because if it was legal I doubt the wall would have survived for people to see it!

Another Picture of the Underground River

For those of you who, like me, probably will never tackle a “wild” cave, the Forbidden Caverns is a fascinating experience – and somewhere during the tour, for just a split second, you might even imagine yourself out in the wilderness exploring the cave on your own.  My flight of fancy lasted exactly the ten seconds it took to see a bat sleeping on the cave roof but it was fun while it lasted!

Have a great day everyone!


FN.  For my non-American readers, Prohibition was a time in the 1920’s and 1930’s when, by a constitutional amendment, alcoholic beverages of all kinds were banned in the United States.  The amendment was later repealed.

Moonshine is one form of “home-brewed” alcohol that was, and still is, illegal in the United States.  Moonshine is illegal partly because either the federal government or the state governments strictly regulate the production and sale of alcohol and partly because if the brewer makes a mistake in brewing, it is poisonous.

Our Day in the Smokies

Good morning everyone!

Mountain View

Mark, Kayla and I went to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg over the Thanksgiving weekend and as always had a great time.  It has become a family tradition for us to spend at least one day in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and this year was no exception. 

The first year we did this, we drove around Cades Cove, stopping at all of the houses along the way, the second year we walked to Laurel Falls and back and took Tyra and Mandy for a walk at one of the only two trails open to dogs, and then last year we went around one of the park’s motor nature trails. 

Evergreens of Some Kind

This year, we decided that we wanted to go for an easy hike, and then drive over the mountains from Tennessee into North Carolina. 

Mark and Kayla together on a mountain overlook

We stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to get some advice.  We asked the ranger behind the counter to recommend an easy walk that wasn’t too very crowded.  (Laurel Falls is classified as an easy walk, but the two times we’ve been it has been packed with people.)  She recommended we try the Alum Cave Bluffs trail, so we drove over toward the trailhead, about 15 minutes away, to find the road around the trail head lined bumper to bumper with parked cars empty of people who were at that moment trekking up the Alum Cave Bluffs trail. 

Kayla and I at an Overlook

We decided thanks, but no thanks, so we continued on our drive up the mountain and stopped at a couple of overlooks to take some pictures.  I love the Smoky Mountains; winter, spring, summer or fall, they are always beautiful!

Kayla on the walkway in front of the parking lot

As we wound our way up the mountain, we came across the Newfound Gap Overlook, so we stopped there to see what we could see.  Kayla found a little walking path along the front ridge of the parking lot, so she walked along that for a little while as we followed her up top.

The View from Newfound Gap

Then we climbed to the overlook itself (just a few steps) for a stunning view. 

Mark and Kayla at the Newfound Gap Overlook

As we came down from the overlook, we noticed a trail heading off beside it with the following sign.

We decide to go on a hike.

So we decided to walk that way for a while.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which trail we were shooting for. 

A sprawling root system on the side of the trail

It didn’t take too very long on the trial before I realized that everything on this trail was up.  No down.  None at all.  And I detest Stairmasters!  Still, I am willing to put up with a lot in order to get outdoors for a while and find somewhere where you can get away from the sounds of modern civilization, so we persevered. 

The Trail


 Kayla appointed herself tour guide, and selected two twigs as weapons to protect us from bears and snakes.  She was a little crestfallen when she learned she had to leave the twigs at the trail and couldn’t take them home with her, but I explained that there was a huge fine for taking anything from the park and that if everyone who came there took away a twig, there wouldn’t be any twigs left, so she understood that a little bit better.

Our Fearless Protector and Tour Guide

We were about halfway up by this time, and I was winded.  I told Kayla that her best bet if a bear came after us was for her and Mark to leave me for the bear and run on ahead.  She instead showed me her best karate moves with the twig.

The View from the trail

We stopped a couple of times on the way up just to admire the views and listen to the sound of the wind around us, and the leaves rattling on the trees. 

Trail View - the Side of the Mountain

And next on our tour –

And next on our tour -

Waiting on parents again…

When we finally reached the part of the trail where it looked like it was going to start heading down again, we decided to stop and go back.  Neither Mark nor I wanted to walk up more than once if we could help it. 

Really, I"m having fun - how much longer?

Kayla studied the best way to get down the rocks.

Kayla studies a way to get over the rocks on the trail.

Carefully, she climbed down.

Carefully Climbing Down

Once we finished with the trail, Mark stopped and took our picture at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line.  Kayla and I held hands across the sign, so one of us was in one state and one was in the other state.  Not very original, perhaps, but fun!

One Family - Two States

We reached Cherokee, North Carolina in a little while and started looking for somewhere to have lunch.  We had a moment where all three of us wondered if we had suddenly become dyslexic as we rounded a corner and saw a sign in front of what was obviously a school building that none of us could read – until we figured out that the sign was written in Cherokee.  (We catch on eventually!).  We found a breakfast/lunch place within 10 minutes of closing, and ate there, then headed back over the mountain, still enjoying the scenery. 

A close-up of me on the trail

Our final view of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park that day was a modern contradiction – two hikers were trudging down the mountain with heavy backpacks on their shoulders, obviously having finished a wilderness trek of some length.  One of them was talking on his cell phone.

Have a great day everyone!


The Sooty Tern

Hi Everyone!

Here is the latest picture I have completed in art class.  It is a pastel portrait of a bird called “the sooty tern”, which I learned about during our trip to Key West in March.

The sooty tern came to our attention because the only nesting colony in North America is on Bush Key, one of the islands that make up the Dry Tortugas National Park, where Fort Jefferson is located.  (It is not an endangered species; it has a lot of nesting places in tropical areas, even a few in the Pacific around Baja California in Mexico.)  However, in the course of our tour of Fort Jefferson, we learned quite a bit about the sooty tern, which really is an amazing bird.

Sooty terns can stay aloft for years at a time!  They can do this first because of their light, aerodynamic body, which means they can fly without spending much energy, but also because, for some reason, the sooty tern does not need deep sleep.  In fact, nesting may be the only time some of these birds ever land.

They are very noisy birds;  in Hawaii, the name for the sooty tern is  ‘ewa ‘ewa  which means “cacophony.”  Their normal life span is between 30 and 40 years.

I hope you enjoyed the combination nature lesson/art show!

Have a great weekend everyone!


Walk in the Woods: We Travel to Callaway Gardens

Hi Everyone!

As I mentioned earlier this week, Saturday the three of us, along with the dogs drove over to Callaway Gardens, a privately owned recreation/garden area about an hour and a half from here, located in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

A very happy older dog!

It was an almost impromptu trip; I say “almost impromptu” because any trip involving a car ride with Mandy requires a 30 minute head start to allow her motion sickness medicine to kick in.  She is the only dog I know who gets car sick but loves riding in the car anyhow!

One of the lakes at Callaway Gardens

We really didn’t mean for this trip to be a scouting expedition.  There is a lot to do at Callaway Gardens – walking trails, biking trails, a chapel, a butterfly house, a vegetable garden and greenhouse garden area – but we ended up only getting to walk through the forest with the dogs around the chapel forest area so we will have to go back!

Another Lake We Drove By After Our Walk

This was the first such expedition I can recall Darwin coming on since we got him two years ago, and on the drive up there, one huge Lab/Great Dane mix was losing his mind in the back of the Ford Escape!  Tyra was excited, but without a camper behind her wasn’t excited as she could be – Tyra loves to go camping and has missed the travel trailer since we decided to get rid of it.  Mandy likes riding in her own unique way – she plants her front paws on the center console in the front, plants her back paws firmly on the back seat and alternatively lays her head on Mark and my shoulders.  (Hence the reason the motion sickness medicine is imperative!)

Tyra Looking Back for Me

When we got to Callaway, it was about 12 Eastern Time, so we decided we would walk the dogs first.  Three dogs, three people was the perfect ratio, too, although we didn’t let Kayla walk Darwin.  He is too strong and too young to trust completely.  Mandy has mellowed out enough to let Kayla walk her once in a while.

Tyra and Mandy Confer

We went to the chapel area first, and would have loved to go inside the chapel but realized that a wedding was going on (we saw the bride and bridesmaids walk by on the way to the entrance; that is what is known as “a clue!”).  Still, the forest was beautiful and the walking or biking path made it very easy to stroll along.

Come on Mom!

I had the camera, so I tried to take photographs as we walked; this made the rest of the walking party have to wait occasionally.  The forest was beautiful.

A view of the trees at Callaway Garden from inside the forest

After we had walked for a while, we came to the lake that borders the chapel, and sat down to rest for a minute.  Tyra had been trotting along gamely, but really needed the breather.

Tyra laughing during her break

Surprisingly, under Mark’s firm hand, Darwin sat still during our break and just watched the world go by!

Darwin waits patiently for break to end

Even Kayla was willing to sit down for a minute!

Kayla resting

The lake we were sitting beside was calm and surrounded by color filled trees mirrored by the water.

After our break, we followed a footpath around the lake for a little bit to see if it would take us back to the chapel.  While doing so, we found another good view of the lake.

We finally struck across the forest back to the trail so we could get back to the car, because it had been about two hours, the dogs were ready to rest and we were hungry.  That was where our plans hit a snag.

While it was one o’clock our time, it was two o’clock in Georgia and we couldn’t find a restaurant in the gardens that was open at the time.  We went by several, but not all, and then decided we had to leave the gardens to find somewhere to eat.  We found a nice little mountain grill in a shopping center at the crossroads outside Callaway, but by the time we did that it was getting late, so instead of finishing at Callaway, we took the short ten minute drive over to Warm Springs to see FDR’s Little White House.  We got there about 45 minutes before they closed, and while we could have spent a little more time there, we did get to see the house and explore the museum a little bit.  It is well worth traveling to see, too; the house itself is not nearly as grand as you might think it would be but it is comfortable and perfectly suited to the woods that surround it.  (The dogs, of course, were not allowed in; we left them in the car sleeping with the windows cracked, and they were happy to be doing so!)

Then it was time to head home, so we had to leave everything else for another day.  It is a matter of record that Mandy traveled back with her head on my or Mark’s shoulder the entire way!

Have a great weekend everyone!


Which Tree? (A Puzzle!)

Good morning Everyone!

Today I am going to try something just a little bit different – the six of us, Mark, Kayla and I as well as Tyra, Mandy and Darwin, took the hour and a half drive over to Callaway Gardens Saturday.  (More about that tomorrow!)  I am sure you will be relieved to know that Mark, and not Mandy, drove, although Mandy did spend most of the drive standing with one set of feet on the middle console, with her head pressed against either Mark’s or my shoulder, and the other set of feet in the back seat.  We’ve never had a dog that could do that before. 

While we were there, I took the following two pictures of the same two trees.  My challenge to you is to tell me which one is the pine tree, and why do you think so?  (Bonus points to whoever can tell me what type of tree the other one is; I don’t really know the answer to that, so I’ll learn something too!)

Guessing is permitted, of course; however if you are guessing, please note that your reason for picking the pine tree as the one on the right, or left, is a “WAG.”  (WAG is a term that is sometimes used around my firm – it stands for Wild *** Guess). 

Ready?  Okay; here they are:

Trees 1

Trees 2

I’ll let you know the answer tomorrow!  Please, guys, play along with me on this one; I have an ulterior motive I’ll share with you tomorrow, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rescue a stray handkerchief that has fallen into the clutches of Bad Dog and convince No No to leave her alone about it before he gets in trouble, too!

Bad Dog Caught With A Handkerchief!

Have a great day everyone!


A Trip to Oak Mountain

Hi Everyone!

Sunday afternoon, Mark, Kayla and I hopped in the car and drove up to Oak Mountain, a state park in Birmingham, Alabama.

Oak Mountain is located just south of Birmingham, on what is probably closer in size to a foothill than a real mountain.  Just to the north of Birmingham, in Tannehill State Park, there is a sign that proclaims that the end of the Appalachian foothills (0r the beginning, depending on which side of the sign you’re on) is located there, but personally, looking at Oak Mountain, I think they missed one.

A tree at the top of the ridge

Oak Mountain has both overnight camping and day use facilities.  We were there to see what the day use facilities had to offer.  As I carefully explained to Kayla, this was a scouting expedition only, to see what the park held for future use.  With my bronchitis, I knew I couldn’t walk far, and I was right.  I managed to stroll at an incredibly slow pace about one and a half football fields worth of space with lots of stops, but at least I did it.  We also were hoping we might see some autumn leaves, even though we were a week or two before fall foliage’s peak in Alabama.

We stopped first at the entrance gate (they seemed to kind of expect us to pay the entrance fee – $7 for the three of us), then on the way up to the day use area passed riding stables and the golf course.  The riding stables offer trail rides, and also the park offers something called “equestrian camping” which I had never heard of before, but would guess is a two-word phrase for “camping with horses.”  I admit the prospect of a trail ride was enough to tempt me away from my “scouting expedition” intentions, but I stayed firm, so we continued up to the turn for what are called the “day use” facilities.

The Lake

The centerpiece of the day use area is the 74 acre lake located in a hollow surrounded by the ridge of the mountain.  This was the place where I was able to get out and walk around for a little bit.  Kayla was ecstatic.  She immediately ran down to the front of the water to look.

Kayla headed to the lake

Kayla, Lake Side

A Little Girl, A Big Lake

We then found a sandy beach, which was even better.  The beach has restroom facilities, and in the summer has an open snack bar.

The Line in the Sand!

Kayla likes beaches, of all kinds.

Running across the beach....

To Dad!

There are pavilions for rent around the beach and the lake, and on a quiet October place, they made a great place to stop and just look for a while.

Mark looks across the lake from one of the pavilions.

Another picture of Mark and the lake

A View of Some of the Pavilions

A family brought their canoe for a fun afternoon, and we made a mental note to remember to bring our own kayak next time.  There also is a place to rent paddle boats or canoes if you forgot to bring your own.  I suspect there are seasonal hours for it, also, but it was open Sunday.

A family canoes

One person was brave enough to swim in the lake.  I didn’t think it was that warm, but then again, I wasn’t the person out there.

In addition to the pavilions, there are picnic areas all around the lake, and throughout the park there are over 50 miles of trails for hiking and biking around the park.  (One note about the hiking:  when you pay your entrance fee, you need to ask for the separate hiking trail map, which is 50 cents.  We didn’t but since I couldn’t really hike anyhow, it didn’t matter.)  There is even a BMX course, although I never was entirely certain that we found it.

One very interesting feature of the park, which is high on our “must do” list when we go back is the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center’s “Treetop Nature Trail.”  The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center rescues raptors who have been injured and prepares them to go back to the wild.  Unfortunately some of the birds are injured so badly they cannot survive in the wild, so they have constructed enclosures for them in the forest surrounding Oak Mountain.  The nature trail takes you on a winding stairway/trail where you can see the enclosures.  I think it is a marvelous way to allow the birds to feel somewhat like they are still out in the wild.

Once you make your way past all of the day use area, there is a road that lets you drive through the forest up to the ridge, in that uniquely American concept of a motor nature trail.  (Of course, there are hiking trails that will let you walk up there, too.)

The bones of the moutains show through

We saw all kinds of beautiful trees and interesting scenes while we were driving up to the ridge.

I took a picture, too, as we got close to the hilltop.

We begin to see the top of the ridge

Then we got to the ridge itself, and looked over much of Birmingham.  It’s hard to tell that a major city is tucked down among these trees.

The view from the ridge

Mark Looking Over the Ridge

Then, finally, it was time to head back home.  

A Final View Overlooking Birmingham

We had to turn away from an inviting stretch of further roadway, but at least we know there is more to explore next time – and there will be a next time!

Have a great day everyone!