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morning in the blue ridge mountains

you guys.  it will be two weeks tomorrow that we left for our big adventure, which means it’s been already two weeks since i last popped in to say hello.  no art fair updates today since i just sat at my sewing machine for the first time yesterday and have done little but botch two plackets, but i thought i’d try something different and write a bit about our trip, which ended up being pretty craft driven.  we did lots of cool stuff, so if you’re headed to the southeastern us, perhaps this will serve as a good resource for you!

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driving up to mt. pisgah, asheville

also, do you know that feeling of sheer discombobulation when you get home from a long trip?  especially when i’ve been separated from my kids, it takes me at least a few days to get back into a routine, and we’ve all been hit hard with jet lag this time around, so every night since our return has been full of kids clamoring for snacks at 3am or up with stuffy noses every other hour.  the weather cooled significantly during our travels, and with the very early onset darkness coupled with total exhaustion, i’ve found myself utterly unable to go back to my sewing room after the kids’ bedtime, where i usually squeeze in another few hours before retiring myself.  i’m writing this post thus for three reasons, to check in, to talk about our wonderful trip, and to try and keep my eyes open past 8:30pm.

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country road, kentucky

our trip was actually not off to a great start.  flying across the country with two toddlers isn’t my first choice on how to spend a day, but our kids are generally well behaved on airplanes.  but, it is tiring, and the next four days were jam packed with wedding festivities, which meant a lot of hustling the kids to and from various non kid friendly venues to my parents’ house in hours and hours of bumper to bumper traffic, no naps, no normal meals, just a mess.  and, the canopy i hand embroidered over so many hours?  hung upside down.  completely invisible to everyone, including the bride and groom.  just a sheet of muslin over their heads.  i audibly gasped in horror when i walked down the aisle and saw that.  somewhere in there i also sang a whole new world in front of roughly 100 people. i wish i could say alcohol was involved, but this was a sober and therefore mortifying endeavor.  needless to say, after this wedding weekend, david and i too were in dire need of a honeymoon.

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we took off early monday morning and drove straight down to cave city, kentucky, to check out mammoth caves.  we arrived in time for the star chamber tour, which had interesting historical implications, but not a ton of amazing cave scenery.  we stuffed our faces with small town kentucky’s version of mexican food, and immediately hit the sack at our bed and breakfast.  i always try to find bnbs when we travel because they’re homey and interesting and often the same price as a mid rate hotel if you factor in breakfast.

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historical entrance looking up, mammoth caves
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historical entrance looking down, mammoth caves
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19th century tour guides scrawl their names in charcoal on cave walls

the next morning, we got the full scoop on 1852 hall place, full of civil war era history, handcrafted by slaves and with underground railroad access.  i’m not exactly a history buff, but i always appreciate context.  however, this particular area of the country is rich with history, so, when in rome…  the innkeepers were warm and accommodating and had an interesting story themselves on how they found themselves to be innkeepers.  after breakfast, we packed the car and drove up to the green river for an early morning canoe trip.  david is quite the wildlife enthusiast and i am a canoe enthusiast, so we’re always happy to marry the two, especially in the off season when it’s so serene.  we were completely alone on the river, and the fall colors were totally stunning.  we did pretty well on our wildlife sightings too–river otters, turtles, wild turkeys, a coyote, and the place was swarming with bald eagles!  it was a relaxing morning paddle.

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old books, 1852 hall place

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green river, ky

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right after we docked, we ran off to the great onyx tour, which was much more cave like!  great onyx was privately owned for many years, so it has been better preserved than the more heavily toured areas of mammoth caves.  the tour is lantern lit, so photography is a little tricky, but you get the idea.  from there, we high tailed it right down to asheville, nc, to meet up with some very dear friends of ours from a bygone era.

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here we are in the amazing blue ridge mountains.  katie and i met in public health school and became immediate friends–david joined our class a year later, at the time katie’s boyfriend, now husband, moved to ann arbor as well.  i can’t say i use my degree much, but that program rewarded me with some of my most treasured friendships, and also, my husband, so i can’t complain.  katie and mark moved to asheville shortly after finishing school with no other firm plans but to run.  pretty bold, eh?  by now, they’ve made a life for themselves there (including a lot of running), and were exceptional hosts.  check out our welcome wagon:IMG_0991

after our two day tourism blitz in mammoth caves, we were excited to make absolutely no plans.  it was PERFECT.  it seems, especially when you have kids, that it can be very difficult to relax on vacation.  you stay with friends or family, you have a ton of obligations, and if your kids are with you, it’s really not a vacation at all and is often more stressful than just being at home.  david and i have been really fortunate to travel a ton this year, but this is the first vacation we’ve returned from feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.IMG_1053

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while katie and mark went to work, we leisurely wiled away the hours reading in cafes, shopping for running goodies, checking out the amazing local foods scene, or attempting to run through the blue ridge mountains.  mountains are not flat, fyi.  i haven’t visited a huge amount of small, artsy towns, but asheville really blows me away.  it has got to be one of the most locally driven economies in our country.  EVERYTHING is local.  it’s affordable, hip, unique and creative.  every restaurant is growing its own food out back, every menu is chalk full of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options.  get the huevos rancheros here, the black eyed pea and posole biscuit here, and pretty much anything here–you can thank me later.  clothes, stationary, housewares, soap, everything can be found from local makers, and residents really support these local industries.  there’s a legitimate music scene, and the spirit of the city is young and vibrant and entreperneurial.  there is a clear appreciation for arts there; we spent a nice afternoon browsing galleries in the river arts district, where you can watch artists in their studios blowing glass, throwing pots, painting canvasses, etc.  however, i think asheville’s love for beer might edge out its love for art…this place must be second only to portland in microbreweries per square mile.  even the gas stations have breweries.

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huevos fucheros at sunny point cafe–ordered these more than once during our stay!
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beautiful condiment bar at biscuithead…the bin on the far right is all flavored BUTTER.

between our historical bnb, our tours, visitor center exhibits and the flock of bald eagles, i was feeling so overwhelmed by americana when we left kentucky, i decided that once art fair concludes, i’d like to read a serious piece about native american history.  we heard a fair amount about their presence in mammoth caves and the surrounding areas, and it’s a topic i’ve always been interested in but haven’t learned as much as i’d care to in my public school education.  i rarely buy from bookstores anymore, but while milling about here one afternoon, i came across this (they do not wrap all their books, just a few):

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and i had to buy it!  even though i hate surprises.  it seemed too large a coincidence to ignore, going local in asheville on a topic i had just resolved to devote some time to.  i actually wrapped up work on a side project early and already dug into this pretty seriously.  can’t wait to finish it after art fair.

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drygoods, asheville
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leatherwork supplies

i had time to partake in a spontaneous leatherworking session at this cool spot.  people in asheville are making amazing bags, and i want in!  i have been interested in basic leatherwork for months now, but acquiring new skills is a slow go with the kiddos around and limited resources very close by.  this one hour session probably saved me hours of research and trial and error.  armed with my new rudimentary understanding of leatherwork, i marched right down into the employees only section of jackson’s western store where i slowly won over my new friend and leather supplier, otter.  i learned about raw hide and tanning hide.  until now, i thought those were only figures of speech.  after some early creative differences, otter and i are now on the same page and he got really excited about my future leather plans.  we have promised to stay in touch.

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otter cuts straps from tanned hide
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my new leather goodies!

our final morning, we had the pleasure of watching mark compete in a grueling trail run up those very non flat blue ridge mountains.  after 18 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation change, mark was crowned the new winner of the shut-in trail, and i think is now officially a public figure in asheville.  i designated myself official photographer, and got some amazing shots from various overlooks.

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we were really disappointed to say goodbye to asheville, but still had so much to look forward to!  we left before sunrise sunday morning so that we could arrive in columbus in the early afternoon, where i had a date with the totally delightful april rhodes.  i had heard wonderful things about her mom’s shop, sew to speak, and when i told her how disappointed i was to pass through on a day the shop was closed, april volunteered to give me a private tour, because she’s AMAZING.  i have never felt more like a celebrity.  actually, i’ve never felt like a celebrity at all, but it must be something like this.  a closed shop, opened just for me, where i am the only shopper being assisted by april rhodes?  WHAT?!  it was even so much better than i just made it sound.  the shop is every bit as charming and adorable as i had heard, but chatting with april about life and fabric and creativity was just so great.  it’s an experience i’ll never forget.  i just love her.  the shop is small but mighty–i couldn’t resist its power and had to break my fabric fast to get just a few goodies…

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april cutting some delicious double gauzeIMG_1074  IMG_1076
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check out my sew to speak fabric stack! wouldn’t you love this cute face at your local fabric store?!

and then we were off again to head into ann arbor for the night, because the next morning before my flight, i had another blogging date with the one and only rae!  she recently opened a studio in downtown ann arbor, and was kind enough to let me pop in to check it out and chat for a bit.  it was neat to see her space and hear about her upcoming projects…the warmth of this community never ceases to amaze me.

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shortly thereafter we were reunited with the kids, which was joyous initially and then, beginning with the cross country plane ride where they both needed to sit in my lap the whole time to present, exhausting.  however, we are very happy to be home together again, and to have had this monster of an amazing road trip!  special thanks to my parents for [again] taking such good care of the kids (remarkably this is their favorite pastime–i don’t ask questions, i just exploit it), and to david for chauffering me from one artsy locale to the next, and participating whole heartedly when appropriate.  don’t worry–i have spent many a saturday, sunday, monday and thursday of every vacation we take between august and january in front of a football game, so we have a reciprocal thing going here 😉

so, hello and goodbye…hope you enjoyed hearing about our trip as much as we enjoyed taking it!  i will be back as soon as i can!

12 Comments on to asheville and beyond

  1. Wow – I don’t know where to start! What gorgeous fall photos in your opening sequence! And lots and lots of fun vacation photos! Loved the “Hardtimes Trailhead” sign – that would be enough to send me back running the other way:) And how lovely that April opened up her mother’s store for you to get a peek! Love that personal service – really distinguishes the mom and pop shops from the big box stores. I’m sure you enjoyed the much-needed break from craft fair preparation, though good to see you got a fabric purchase in there:)

    • oh, i know! the fall scenery in the blue ridge mountains was unreal. no matter where i turned, i couldn’t take a bad photo! my whole sew to speak experience was really wonderful, but it was really neat to see a whole city (asheville) that is so mom and pop focussed. it’s really a social order there to go local first for just about everything. very cool!

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