Friday, September 29, 2017

Another TV Segment: Fall Travel

In August, I was invited up to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to chat about saving money on back-to-school supplies on WBKO, the ABC-affiliated television station for South Central Kentucky. (Click here to watch the segment.)

This week, WBKO and TopCashback invited me back on WBKO Midday to chat about saving money on fall travel. I hadn't done much traveling in autumn until last year, when Mr. Handsome and I took a cruise to Mexico in November, but we were thrilled to find thinner crowds and cheaper prices. The cost of the cruise itself was much lower than we had expected. Fall really is a great time to get away!

Hope you enjoy the segment (embedded below). Even if you don't plan to take a vacation this fall, the money saving tips can apply to travel in any season. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Another Year Gone By

September is coming to an end, and fall is officially upon us. How can that be?

Growing up, I was always wishing time would pass quicker. Whether I was sitting in math class eager for the bell to ring, anxiously watching the clock during karate practice or orchestra because I couldn't wait to go home, or excitedly counting down the days until our next family vacation, it always seemed like time passed at a snail's pace.

Now, I blink and another four months has gone by, and it's time for another haircut, another oil change, another insurance payment. Then I blink again and it's time to plan yet another Christmas celebration and ring in another new year...I'm left wondering how on Earth it has been nearly two decades. (Turns out that all the worry and concern that something terrible would happen the second the 2000s began was for naught.)

My grandfather passed away a short while ago, and while he lived a long life and we are rejoicing that he is with the Lord and no longer in pain, it has been a reminder of how quickly the years go by.

Many of you have asked for an update on the book I am writing about my grandmother's WWII story. The book is nowhere near finished, but I am determined to complete the project. She and my grandfather were a good match, as they both grew up in Europe and went through major trauma as a result of the war. My grandfather was only a child when he lost his home and his parents to an air strike and he was forced to start over on his own.

Despite their many hardships, my grandparents made a new life in a new country, clinging to their faith and choosing to rejoice at the little things, even while dealing with the sorrow that came from losing multiple loved ones to the war and being forcibly separated from others for as long as 30 years.

I'm curious to hear what lessons you have learned by looking back at the lives of those who have gone before you, whether relatives, close friends, or historical figures?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Nashville Shores Treetop Adventure Park

Two weeks ago, we spent an incredible afternoon at the Nashville Shores Treetop Adventure Park. Have you ever been to an aerial park? This facility has a children's course for ages 7-9, two easy courses for ages 9-adult, and two challenge courses for ages 12-adult.

It took us nearly four hours to complete all four courses, but it was a blast. Growing up, I did several aerial courses (including one in the hills of Quebec, Canada) so I was thrilled to share this experience with Mr. Handsome.

The resort has approximately 100 aerial challenges (bridges, tightropes, Tarzan jumps, swings, cargo nets, and more) as well as a handful of zip lines.

As we made our way through the park, the challenges became increasingly difficult. 

The Tarzan jump was Mr. Handsome's favorite. You clip yourself onto a hanging rope and then launch yourself off a platform toward a cargo net.

Then you have to climb up the cargo net to reach the next platform.

My favorite challenge was a long tightrope with large metal rings that you have to climb through.

My least favorite challenge was the row of small hanging rings. I thought it would be a breeze, but it ended up being very difficult. In order to move my feet from ring to ring, I had to push myself harder than I ever had before. My abs were crying by the end of it.

After we completed the aerial challenges, we finished the day with the two longest zip lines. What a great reward! 

I am not a fan of heights, but there was not one minute that I felt unsafe. For those who want to attempt the aerial park but are unsure whether they will be able to complete the courses, I encourage you to give it a try. The staff is able to bring you down at any time, should you begin to panic. We loved our experience at the Treetop Adventure Park, and we hope to return soon!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Icefields Parkway Part 3

Two days ago, I told you about the first half of day six of our Canadian Rocky Mountain journey (click here to read). Here's the second half:

Medicine Lake is a quick stop, but if you continue to follow the road another 30 minutes, it ends at beautiful Maligne Lake.

We spent an hour walking along the lakeside trail and admiring the gorgeous view. Mr. Handsome's Tennessee shirt earned us a conversation withe a couple from our neck of the woods. They were on their way back from a long road trip to Alaska and happily told us that the scenery in the Canadian Rockies was better than anything else they had seen on their journey.

Although it is very much in the middle of nowhere (no cell service, either), Maligne lake does have a nice cafeteria, where we purchased an iced coffee. Kind of ironic. After all, it would be a major travesty to have to embark on a mountain hike without first getting your coffee fix.

We browsed the small gift shop and saw this hanging decoration. Mr. Handsome is an avid fisherman, so it made us both chuckle.

Before heading back to our car, we snapped some photos for painting inspiration.

The day was quickly getting away from us, but we want to get a good hike in before dinner, so we stopped at Old Fort Point Loop, near Jasper Townsite, and made the 2.5-mile/4km round-trip to the summit. The 360-degree view was wonderful.

The parks service had even hauled a pair of lawn chairs up there. 

We were surprised to only see a few other hikers along the way.

After the hike, we snarfed down pizza at a restaurant in Jasper and then headed east to our accommodations, Miette Hot Springs Resort.

It was 10:30pm when we arrived. The sun had just gone down, and Miette Hot Springs was about to close. Much to our dismay, the "hot springs" is just a regular old swimming pool fed by the hot springs. When we found out that they empty it daily and add chlorine, we weren't too interested in paying to go swimming.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Icefields Parkway Part 2

After our Athabasca Glacier tour on day five of our Rocky Mountain journey, we spent the night at the Glacier View Inn.

The inn is located in the same building as the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center, which is where the tours meet, so during the day, it is packed full of people. But in the evening, the crowds disappear, and only the few hotel guests are left. We ate dinner in the cafeteria, next to a large window looking out at the glacier. It was so peaceful.

The following morning, we checked out of the hotel and continued up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. Our first stop--only 6.5km north of the Glacier View Inn/Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center--is Tangle Falls. It is right off the main highway but easily missed. A multi-tiered cascade, Tangle Falls is 114 feet (35 meters) tall. Our stop was quick, but it was the perfect way to start the day.

We hopped back in the car and drove about 25 miles (40km) north to Sunwapta Falls. 

Just a short while up the road, we stopped at a viewpoint of the famous Athabasca River.

After another short drive, we came to Athabasca Falls, one of the most iconic stops along the Icefields Parkway.

The sheer volume of water that runs over the falls is incredible...approximately 4,000 cubic feet per second! As you can imagine, it is quite loud.

From Athabasca Falls, we drove about 40 minutes (past Jasper Townsite) and stopped at Maligne Canyon, a limestone canyon. We had seen a couple other canyons on our trip (Johnston Canyon and Mistaya Canyon) and they were all beautiful and worth stopping at.

Six bridges cross the narrow gorge of Maligne Canyon, and as you look down, the water is 50m (164 feet) below your feet. Yikes! We were on a time crunch, so we only walked to the first bridge, but someday we hope to return and do the full 7km hike.

From Maligne Canyon, we continued on down the remote Maligne Lake Road and stopped 20 minutes later at Medicine Lake, perhaps the most unique "lake" in the Rockies. You probably won't believe me when I tell you that it has holes in the bottom and isn't a real lake, but allow me to explain.

In summer, runoff from melting glaciers gathers to create what appears to be a lake, but in the fall, the "lake" becomes a muddy flatland with a stream connecting scattered pools of water. Here's the shocking part: What creates that abrupt change is a process in which the water from the "lake" drains out through the holes in the bottom and empties into an extensive underground cave system that researchers believe to be one of the largest in the world.

Maligne Canyon is actually the next spot where the underground river surfaces. I had to laugh when I read that folks in the mid-1900s made unsuccessful attempts to plug the holes with mattresses, magazines, and other materials in order to attempt to set up a ferry service.

We saw several more sites before the end of the day, but I think that's enough for now. I'll pick up where I left off next time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hidden History At Hidden Lake

Mr. Handsome and I are always up for a hike. A few weeks ago, we heard about Hidden Lake at Harpeth River State Park, located just west of Nashville, and decided to check it out.

The trail is made up of several connecting loops, with a combined length of just over 2 miles. It took us about an hour to hike the whole thing. Halfway through the hike, we began seeing abandoned structures that we figured had to be at least 70-80 years old, and we quickly realized that there is more to the area than meets the eye.

The reason it's called Hidden is because the trail loops around a lake that is well hidden by two bluffs.

In the 1800s, the area was used as farmland. From about 1895-1910, the lake was created when the Hutton family started a limestone quarry. During Prohibition in the 1920s, rumor had it that there were speakeasies and illegal moonshine sales operating on the property.

In the late 1920s/early1930s, the Dobsons opened a family-style resort called Hidden Lake. They sealed to bottom of the quarry with asphalt and a concrete edge, created a system to filter the water, and built a water slide from the top of one of the bluffs. The resort also featured a lodge with showers and a mess hall.

It was neat to walk the path and see multiple abandoned, dilapidated buildings in the middle of the woods.

On top of one of the bluffs, we found the remains of a 90-year-old stage and marble dance floor, with a beautiful birdseye view of the lake. Apparently, popular groups from the Big Band era played at the resort while guests danced.

At the trail entrance, this old flyer was displayed:

We also found an old fuel tank that sort of looked like a submarine.

Unfortunately, the lodge burned down in the 1940s, and the resort closed. The area was once again used for farming until acquired by the state in the 1990s.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Homemade Salad Dressing 2.0

This spring, I shared the recipe for one of my favorite homemade salad dressings. I'm a real lettuce (and spinach) lover, so I have quite a few salad dressing recipes in my arsenal. This is one of my most basic vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together all ingredients, and serve over salad. Poor leftovers into glass jar (Mason jars work well), cover with lid, and refrigerate.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

East TN and West NC

After spending all our weekends at home for a couple months, we recently drove out to North Carolina for a wedding. It was a several hour drive, but the gorgeous scenery was well worth it. On our way home, we stopped for two beautiful hikes. The first was in Western North Carolina, about 45 minutes northeast of Asheville. I spent quite a bit of time researching online to find the hikes with the best views, and you know what I discovered? There are tons in that area!

We ended up choosing Mt. Mitchell State Park because reviews said the terrain is more similar to Western Canada. (Most of you know that we took a trip to the Canadian Rockies this summer and loved it.)

Of course there are no snowy peaks in North Carolina at this time of year, but it was still about 20 degrees cooler at the summit than it was along the interstate. The one downside is that the 20-plus-mile road leading to the park is narrow and winding.

We drove as far as the road would take us, parked, and then walked five minutes up to the Mt. Mitchell Summit. The view was glorious!

At 6,684 feet elevation, Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Apparently the guy after whom the mountain is named lost his life proving that statistic.

We wanted some decent exercise, so we hiked two miles down the mountain on the Commissary Trail (very rocky but not too strenuous). On the way back up, we took the 2-mile Old Mitchell Trail (even rockier and much more strenuous).

The sun was setting quickly, so we had to jog part of it, but of course we still had to stop and take a few photos.

We spent the night at a cheap hotel in Asheville, walked around the shops of Historical Biltmore Village and then drove a couple hours to Gatlinburg to hike the 2.6-mile out-and-back Laurel Falls Trail.

It took about 30 minutes to reach the waterfall and 20 minutes to return. The trail is a decently steep incline, but due to erosion, it is paved (although still very bumpy). The waterfall was beautiful, as were the views along the way.

In downtown Gatlinburg, we stopped for BBQ at Calhoun's, a Knoxville-based restaurant with nine locations. The ribs were some of the best we had ever tasted. And let me tell you, when your husband is as much of a ribs connoisseur as mine is, that's saying a lot.

While driving through the area, we saw some of the damage from the November 2016 Gatlinburg fire, but the town has done a fantastic job of restoring and rebuilding.