Friday, October 23, 2009

Our Annual Unplugging Part Deux

So far, we had survived the 'coons for two nights. It was Tuesday morning and again the morning ritual took place. Get the fire going to heat water in the camp coffee pot for those mornin' cups of joe and then start breakfast. On this morning we had eggs and sausage if I remember correctly, all cooked on the Coleman stove.

Morning time coffee and fire

Nothing better than waking up on a chilly morning to a nice warm fire

It was definitely chilly that morning, so the hot breakfast, coffee, and fire were essential. Before long, it was time to get into our day clothes and start the second daily ritual of gathering wood and getting it squared away for the upcoming evening. Once that was done and the kids had some play time and several walks around the campground and too the bathhouse and back, it was lunchtime. I don't remember what we had for lunch on this day. As a matter of fact, I don't remember our lunches past Monday. I think we had Sandwiches or something easy like that, possibly BLTs.

After lunch, it was time to get the big Ham Radio out and see what I could do. Once again I won't bore you with these details so you can check the Ham Radio blog for those details. I will tell you that I didn't have any luck in making contact with anyone. I only played for about an hour before it was time to get a fire going, start thinking about supper and entertaining Clover and Ashby.

For supper, Robin cooked us a nice big ol' pot of chili. It was quite delicious especially considering how cool it was that evening. I believe the low that night was in the lower 40's. After the chili, it was time for some dessert. Robin took a can of biscuits fried em up in a pan. With that came the fixin's which included a cinnamon and sugar mix and both cherry and blueberry pie filling. That's right mini pies. Let me tell you how good these were. Absolutely delicious. After about 4 or 5 it was time for our evening cup of coffee and our nightly sitting around the campfire, listening to both the HT (it's a hand held Ham Radio) and/or the shortwave radio. You'd think we were into Radios or something.

Anyway, this day we had carried our garbage out further this time. However, earlier in the day, there was another family that joined us in the campground and the trash can we opted to play the raccoon's favorite game, Guess which trash can has food, was right across from the campsite the family had chosen to stay at. I'm sure they got quite the thrill out of that. Of course we heard the raccoons but luckily we didn't have any run-ins with them this evening. Instead, we had another pleasant surprise. It was later in the evening and the kids were already asleep in the tent. Robin and I was sitting by the fire enjoying a cup of coffee and each other's company when I heard the kids stirring in the bed. Robin heard it too, but she also heard something else. We had a small bag of trash still on the picnic table under the awning and Robin heard it rustle. Of course I just thought it was the wind. We both turned and looked and what did we see? Well, if you said a raccoon, you couldn't be further from the truth. Instead it was a big orange, no it wasn't a bobcat, it was a kitty cat. That's right, we had ourselves a big Tom camp kitty. It was rather startling at first, but once he realized we were on to him, he took off rather quickly. Robin and I both got a pretty good chuckle out of it, and shortly there after it was time to tote that bag of garbage off and get ready for bed.

Well, I'll leave it at this for the time being as it has become another lengthy post. I'll be sure to get working on the Third shortly for your reading and viewing enjoyment. Until next time....

God bless and enjoy the outdoors,
Tim and Robin

Here's an extra treat:

Little button mushrooms all around camp.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Our Annual Unplugging from Society and Technology (mostly) Pt. I

It was time for our annual unplugging. We decided to head to our trusty camping area, Frozen Head State Park. Our original plan was to stay a full week. We started our planning a food two weeks in advance. Well, really Robin started the planning two weeks in advance. She's very organized like that. For two weeks, her biggest concern was the menu. What were we going to eat for a week at camp? I can tell you this, thanks to Robin's planning, we ate real good, but I will save that for a bit later.

I was responsible for the radio portion of our trip. Of course it was the last minute with me and Robin was sure to point out the faults of my planning or lack thereof. Well I won't bore you with the details of the radio plans, especially considering I've already wrote about it on my Ham Radio blog. Let's just say I took an HF radio had it powered by the jeep battery, and we strung a big ol' wire antenna up in the trees. I will tell you this much, I made one contact with another Ham living on the Canary Islands. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about that.

So we had our plans made most everything packed up and it was just a matter of waiting for the day to go to get here. See I took a half day on that Friday and on Saturday we had already planned to go to a hamfest in Sevierville, TN so we figured that we would leave on Sunday afternoon once we had everything packed in the jeep. So the Sunday was finally here and as planned we had the jeep packed and a couple days prior, we decided, that with all the stuff we were bringing with us, why try to cram everything, including ourselves, into the jeep. So we also packed stuff in the car and took two vehicles, which worked out quite nicely.

Everything was set, we were packed and off we set. We got there shortly after 2:00pm and started the task of setting up camp. It was just after 3pm when we were complete with setting up the tent and awning and the rest of camp, including unloading all the other essentials. We were finally camping and it felt great.

Here's our campsite.

For 4 days and 4 nights, we were left to live off the food we brought with us, and the wood we gathered on a daily basis. We were left to our own devices without much technology at all. We did have the Coleman stove and propane. That was about the only advanced device we had for cooking.

Speaking of the cooking, our meals were very tasty. It's something about working in camp most of the day, gathering and chopping wood. The walks back and forth from the bath house, riding bikes, walking the dog and all the other fun things associated with camping, that make camp meals so gratifying. Sunday night we ate potato and sausage packets with onions and peppers. These are foil packets that we laid on the grill and cooked over some charcoal. For dessert we had sort of a strawberry shortcake which really hit the spot.

Afterward, our bellies were full and it was time to sit around the campfire and enjoy a cup of coffee. Of course this was after the dinner clean up and all. It wasn't long that the kiddo and the Beene retired to the tent and Robin and I were both up enjoying the campfire. After all, it was a long, hard day. Before long Robin was on the phone checking in with dad when we heard a racket that sounded much like lids on garbage cans being dropped to the ground. It was a bit startling considering the only light we had was the campfire, the Coleman lantern, and flashlights. It wasn't a few minutes later that we discovered that the raccoons had sniffed out our McDonalds for lunch and our dinner garbage that we placed in the cans. Luckily, they didn't attempt to come into camp, but it wasn't long that we decided it was time to put the food boxes and cooler into the back of the jeep for the night and lock it up tight.

Dawn broke the next morning and it was a new day at camp. For breakfast, we had pancakes and bacon. When breakfast was over we enjoyed our morning coffee around the campfire as usual and then it was time to get the day started. Another round of wood gathering to make it through the evening. Ashby rode her bike a few times throughout the day. We played with the dog periodically between our different activities. Lunch time was upon us and we had tacos in a bag. That has to be one of my absolute favorite camping meals. After lunch we got the Antenna for the radio in the air and did some other things around camp. Robin and Ashby ran out to Darnell's food mart at one point to get more ice for the coolers and Ashby talked Robin into getting a cake for herself as it was her birthday. The funny thing was that they came back and talked about having gone to Darryl's food mart. It was then that it became Darryl's Food Mart, amongst us three anyway, for the rest of time.

Ashby decided she would make Robin some present from around camp, as camping was the only thing she wanted. So, Ashby decided to make her a spear, using a good stick she had found and some rocks to try and sharpen one end of the stick. After a few minutes in a lesson of futility, Ashby brought the stick to me to ask if I would help. What daddy could say no to a daughter struggling to make her mom a present. Out my knife came and before long I had produced a decent looking spear. Of course it wasn't sharp but then again it really didn't need to be as we were planning on using it for food. After the spear was done, she wanted to make her a sling. So around camp there were plenty of partial walnut shells, and earlier Ashby had found some twine in one of the other campgrounds. So I set to work helping her make the sling. Of course I totally forgot about cutting the string into two piece and Robin ended up with a really fine looking camp necklace.

Amazon Woman with spear and sling necklace.

It wasn't long before dinner time was upon us again. Mom and dad had come up to visit and wish Robin a happy birthday. For dinner we had Chunky Potato Soup with bacon bits and added fried Spam. Considering how cold it was getting, this was a good choice for supper. After the soup, we lit the candles for Robin's birthday cake (a Boston Creme Pie Cake, absolutely divine) and sung her happy birthday. It wasn't long before the cake was obliterated and we were around the campfire enjoying coffee and conversation. Mom and Dad left to head back home shortly after dusk as they had no intentions of camping and didn't want to get locked inside the park.

Mmmmm. Potato Soup w/Spam

Birthday Supper

Happy Birthday to Robin

I forgot to mention that while Robin and Ashby was at Darryl's Food Mart, that they decided for some extra Birthday fun they picked up some wax lips.

It was fun for sure....

Inspector Clouseau?

I vant to suck your blood.

But fun always comes to an end...

Hot Lips Houlihan?!?

I wasn't going to use them after that. hehehe.

This evening we got smart and took our garbage down to another set of garbage cans. Of course we thought that was smart, but little did we think as it was the set of cans that we had to pass to get to the bath house. It was well after we got ready for bed that Robin and I had to go answer the call of nature. So down to the bath house we went. No problems with that whatsoever. You see this evening we were the only people in the campground. The night previous there was a couple in a pop-up camper that had left earlier in the day. Anyway, we had already heard the 'coons earlier getting into the garbage and feasting on tacos in a bag, potato soup and Boston Creme Pie Cake so we figured it would be safe. It was on the way bag as we were passing the cans that we heard something in the cans and Robin was off to the races back up to camp. I was behind by a few paces. It was about 30 feet later that I stopped turned around and flashed the light at the cans and saw a big ol' 'coon sitting there and I could have sworn I saw him laughing at us when in all actuality he was just wanting a ride to Darryl's Food Mart for another Boston Creme Pie Cake. It wasn't long after that we were ready to turn in for the night as it was another cold one.

Stay tuned for Part Deux of our trip....

God Bless,
Tim and Robin

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sunday Swoon: Supper in the Park

This past Sunday was a lovely day, and we were all aching to get outside. Clover had lots of energy to expend, seeing how she’d been cooped up all week with us sick people. She needed a walk in the park; we needed to eat supper. So, we resolved to combine the two, and had supper in the park.

I whipped up an insanely easy, but delicious, supper and had us packed up in less than 30 minutes. In our little plastic containers I had purchased just for those occasions, I placed two boneless, breaded pork chops each, some stuffing, and a side of long-cut green beans. I added a brown gravy to the pork chops (something I made out of a package and later regretted – I typically make a buttermilk roux gravy for pork chops, but it takes longer). I added a container of capped strawberries, and threw a bottle of honey into our basket. I made sure everyone had a fork, gathered some napkins, and packed a cooler. I hunted down an old sheet to use as a tablecloth, and we headed for the door.

We decided to go to Norris Dam State Park, as it is close to home and Clover likes to walk there. She gets tired of the same ol’ walking places, so we try to mix it up for her. Besides that, the park offers a really nice picnic area on the East side of the dam, with an array of wildlife and wildflowers to be photographed.

When we arrived, we unpacked and set to eating. It seemed we were all famished, as hardly one word was passed between the three of us. Only chomps and deeps swallows could be heard amidst the birds singing and some children playing far off to the side of us. It didn’t take us long to finish up, and then we packed the picnic, stored it in the car, and took Clover Beene for her walk.

Beside our choice picnic table was a long stretch of young trees, and beside it was an easement for the power lines that wind through, offering a small bit of field – and Clover loved that. She sniffed and hunted for “hoppers” while Ashby took advantage of the young growth forest. She tugged, swung, climbed, and played on just about every tree in there. She stopped to count rings on the only old growth stump we found. She lost count after about 5. It had been there a while, and was very decayed. I accepted this opportunity of natural child playtime, and took lots of pictures. I set focus on some wildflowers, while she hunted for sticks to play with. Clover continued to sniff, and dragged Tim along with her.

We walked a short piece down to the lower picnic area. There I caught more photos of wildflowers, and some wild berries. Ashby played with a huge stick she had found, and sat on the “mushroom topped” tables – at least that’s what she called them. She played on the rocks that border the parking area, while Clover sniffed and sniffed and sniffed some more. She was drawn towards the scent of a deer, which came remarkably close to us. They must be used to people in the park. I caught a great picture of it (posted below).

After letting the kids play just a bit more (Ashby the ruler of the bathrooms, and Clover the ruler of the nose), we took the road back to the upper picnic area, packed up the kids and left for home. It was a great Sunday in the park… relaxing and refreshing. We highly advise “Supper in the Park!”

And now... for the pics:

Pic-a-nic Basket

Yummy Food

Dessert: Strawberries with Honey

Ashby chowing down.

Young forests = Good Fun

How strong is she? Well, the tree still stands.

Nice try... but we see you!

*sniff, sniff* My Favorite Thing!

Wildflowers in the Park

More sneezes - I mean, Wildflowers - in the Park

Thistle in Bloom

Lots of "Do Not Eats"

Ashby's favorite thing... A Stick!

Ashby on her "mushroom table"

"By the power of this stick, I shall rule the bathrooms!"

A lovely, curious little deer

An ugly picture of the dam due to "Dam" power lines.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our Dog Is Prettier Than Yours, Mr. Photographer

How sweet it is, taking off on a fall-like day with no real time constraints and a familiar destination at hand. Today, with the weather mild and the temps barely cresting the eighties, we wanted to get outdoors of course! We opted for our favorite park, Frozen Head State Natural Area, because we wanted the kids (Ashby & Clover) to be able to play in the creek. That's their favorite thing to do after a nice trail hike. We also didn't want to travel too far, nor did we want to brave the unknown today.

It's always nice visiting a park you are familiar with. It's comfortable, relaxing, and you don't have to constantly worry about what's around the next bend. This is exactly what we had in mind when we set foot on the Debord Falls trail head. What we found at the falls, however, was far from comfortable, relaxing, or familiar.

We hiked up the ridge following the creek for the .6 mile to the falls. Upon arrival, we encountered something we had never before encountered on the trail. No, not a bear, nor a snake; not even a bobcat (all of which make us nervous at just the thought). No, what we encountered was a photo shoot, and a very odd photo shoot indeed.

We stood at the overlook for a little while, contemplating if we should even venture down to the falls. The photographer, if you could call him that, kept looking up at us, obviously contemplating the same thing. It was then I noticed that, what appeared to be, a teenage girl was the single subject of his portraits (unless you count the small amount of Class I Natural Area making it into the shot). We watched as a few other people braved to go down there, and they had a dog, too. Clover gets a little nervous around other dogs, so we waited........ and watched. **Although, I think Tim was feeling a little uncomfortable watching an old man wearing only swimming trunks photograph a teenage girl wearing what could have been last night's used dental floss.**

The man with the dog finally came up out of the falls area, and I made the executive decision to go down anyway. By this time, the girl was changing clothes behind towels underneath the overlook (thank God we moved when we did). This gave the kids a little time to play in the falls cove while the photographer readied himself for their next.... whatever they were doing. But it was all too soon that they were back, and this time, it was worse.

I'm not going to go into detail, but imagine an old man ogling at a young girl in a wet t-shirt contest. Believe me, we tried to block them out. We tried to let the kids play. We tried to admire the congregations of butterflies. We TRIED to enjoy the relaxing sound of the rushing falls. But all that is pretty hard to do when, in the background, someone is shouting, "Work it! Ah Yeah! You're the best! That's HOT! Let's see it, baby!"


Needless to say, we didn't stick around as long as we would have liked, and I was getting pretty perturbed at the whole situation (not being able to capture the photos I wanted because they were in the way constantly). Begrudgingly, we left our beloved falls behind, and opted for a picnic by the creek in its stead. Things got much better from there.

Tim cooked us yum-dogs on the charcoal grill, while Ashby played in the creek below us. Clover took a nap while waiting on food, and I took lots of photos - most turning out blurry though for reasons unbeknown to me -- I thought I did all the camera stuff right. *sad face*

After filling our bellies with outdoor vittles and playing the TAKE A CROOKED PHOTO game (pics attached), we took the kids to play at the playground. To Ashby's dismay, the swings had been taken down, and she had no further interest in playing there. So we walked around the campground loop instead, letting the fall camping bug bite us hard. Ashby was practically begging to go camping before we were even halfway around the loop while Tim was looking for a good spot to put up an antenna when we go camping next.

We let Ashby play on the gigantic rock (another favorite pastime at Frozen Head), and walked Clover (or did she walk us?) around the upper portion of the campground. We finished our walk at the car, and promptly pulled out for home. The kids had a ton of fun, played hard, and were both tuckered out. They slept good on the way home.

And Tim and I? Well, we were tired, too, but we left with memories of a trip we will likely never forget.

Now for the pics...

Eww.. What is this? Swimsuit Illustrated?

Uuummmmm.... Okay....
My dog is prettier than yours mister.

The real beauty in the woods.
One of God's masterpieces, Debord Falls.

Ashby (The Rugrat) and Trusty Sidekick Clover Beene

The Goblin Behind the Falls

Some Call Him Tim

The Grill Master
Cookin' the Chili

Ashby on a Rock

Tim Tending the Yum-Dogs

Yum-Dogs and Chili Spells YUMMY in Our Tummies

Yum-Dogs Ready to Eat

There was a Crooked Man...

Who had a Crooked Wife...

They had a crooked kid,

But the Dog, she was not Crooked.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vinegar Pie??? We're Game!

The weather has been mild this summer, until a few weeks ago when we finally started having the typical 90+ degree heat and humidity. It's well known here in East Tennessee that August brings beautiful days but scorching heat. It's for this reason that we found ourselves on a Saturday drive this past weekend instead of on our usual outdoor walkabouts.

Saturday brought blue skies, and the clouds that were overhead were the large fluffy type that you want to curl up and nap on. We absolutely had to get out and do something. It didn't take long before we decided what the best choice was.

After a long day mowing two yards and cleaning out some hip-high weeds, we were hungry and hot. The air conditioner of the car and a nice country meal was calling our names. We packed ourselves in our maroon Chevy Malibu like sardines (mom & dad came along too) and headed towards Clinch Mountain and the nice restaurant we had heard was at the crest.

From the homestead, we took Hwy 33 North to Hwy 61 East to TN 131. We followed TN 131 for quite a ways. It's definitely a great drive, but the road is narrow and curvy. Makes for great scenery though as you follow the Clinch Mountains through the valley in Grainger County out towards Thorn Hill. The farmland is breathtaking, and there are plenty of beautiful, "Kodak moments" if you happen to like that sort of thing. And don't forget to look for quilts on the barns along the way. There are plenty to be seen in Grainger County, one of the largest participating Appalachain Quilt Trail counties.

At the end of TN 131, turn onto 25E to go up the mountain. There are two ways up to cross over the Clinch Mountains (that are passable by cars) and this is one of them. The other is on Joppa Mountain, but we'll save that for another day.

As Clinch Mountain crests, there is a very accessible lookout parking area. Veteran's Lookout to be exact. The view is astounding. Make sure you stop in to look down on Cherokee Lake, Morristown and Bean Station.

Also, while you are there, and if you can take your eyes off the view long enough, make sure you look at all the fossils in the rock that make up the stone wall guard rail. Long ago, when they were blasting the area to make way for the road, they found all those fossils in the rock. They used this to build the wall. Although it has been extremely vandalized over the years, we did find a few fossils without marks on them, which you can gander at in the photos below.

After taking a few moments at the lookout, we turned our backs on the view in favor of filling our bellies. The Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant, "Home of the Vinegar Pie" sits right at the side of the lookout.

Now don't let the sight of this place fool you. We know there are some folks that won't eat at a place that's not as fancy-smancy on the outside as the inside. But if you're reading this blog, you probably don't mind if the paint's not fresh and the wood boards are chipped.

Upon arriving, we were greeted with smiling, friendly faces. We arrived around 5:30pm and didn't leave till nearly 7:00pm. Please note that they are open 7 days a week, open at 7:00am and must close by 7:00pm since we found the closed sign had been turned upon on leaving.

We were not the only people there, but there wasn't many. We chose a table at the back and found that they have a music venue set up back there. From what we've gathered on the Internets, they have live Bluegrass music each and ev'ry Friday night.

We were promptly attended to by a wonderful, jolly lady who probably thought we were food critics of some kind since we were taking pictures of everything and asking many questions about the menu.

She requested our drink order. They serve Pepsi products, tea, & coffee. We had a chance then to look over the menu while she got our beverages. They serve a variety of items, but the menu's not huge. Prices are very reasonable, taste is country-to-the-bone, and breakfast is served all day. Friday is all-you-can-eat fish fry, and Saturday is all-you-can-eat chicken fingers. Four of us opted for the country fried steak with brown gravy. You get two sides with a dinner platter, and between the four of us we chose mashed potatoes, fried okra, soup beans, and coleslaw. You also get a biscuit or corn-muffin with your supper. It's an enormous amount of food for the price you pay, and we even brought some food home! Ashby opted for the BLT and some mozzarella sticks, both of which she thought was the best she'd ever had.

After stuffing ourselves with some of the best home-cooked food we'd had in quite some time, we took our chances at blowing up and ordered dessert. Two pieces of vinegar pie, two pieces of strawberry-rhubarb pie, and one strawberry ice cream cone were delivered to our table promptly.

Now if you've never had vinegar pie, and if you're scratching your head right about now like we did, you need a little history lesson. Back in the time of the Depression, lemons were scarce. So people started using vinegar instead of lemon juice. Thus, vinegar pie. It looks just like lemon pie, but it definitely has a distinct flavor. Too distinctive for me (Robin). It was definitely different. Not really bad, but unappealing to my palette. Tim and dad liked it though. Ashby thought it was okay. Mom wouldn't even try it and stuffed her mouth full of the strawberry-rhubarb, which I thought was most excellent. As for Ashby's ice-cream - well it was no little Baskin & Robbins scoop. It was quite large, just like all the other portions we had encountered.

At the end of our meal, our waitress (whom I regretfully did not request her name) brought us a box for our leftovers and a tab for $51.00. Can't beat that with a stick. After the tip (and we typically tip way more than 15% in places like this) the meal was roughly $12.40 per person. Not bad - not bad at all.

With our bellies stuffed, and a nap ensuing, we headed for home. This time we took 25E towards Tazewell and took 33 South home. It was an excellent summertime journey with many things learned, lots of memories formed, and a flavor our tastebuds will never forget.

The Lookout

Mom and Dad

The View

Aww... Kissing the rugrat

Peepaw and Ashby


YAY! More Fossils

Nuff Said

The gang minus one.
(Someone had to take the photo)

You don't see this at some fancy-smancy restaurant.

The Menu Pg.1

The Menu Pg. 2

Mmmm.. Food!!!

Mmmm... More Food!!!

Mmmm...Vinegar Pie!!!

Mmmm...Strawberry Rhubarb Pie!!!

Mmmm...Strawberry Ice Cream!!!

Look! They even have cabins.