Monday, October 31, 2016

Mini Mountain Vacay: Where 'I'm so glad we did this!' meets 'I never want to go anywhere again!'

My dream of taking a trip to the Blue Ridge mountains finally came to fruition this past weekend. Once we pointed the car southeast and drove away yesterday, and I watched the rolling hills and fall colors gradually give way to flatness and green, I found myself thinking two things: 1) Praise the lawd! and 2) I want a do-over.
For years now, we -- mostly I -- have been talking about going to the Asheville, NC area for a long weekend in the fall, but I was too scared to pull the trigger. I'd ask for recommendations of places to stay from my sister and others, all the ideas would overwhelm me and I'd give up and forget about it for awhile. A couple months ago we decided to really go for it this year. The kids had two four-day weekends this month (those in addition to the evacuation), and one of those would be the perfect opportunity. Again as I'd done at least once or twice before, I turned to my sister who's been there before, and to "my people" as Tim calls them (the Marine officer spouses Facebook group) in search of the best place to stay for us and our brood. I waded through all the suggestions, weighing the pros and cons of the ones that looked most interesting. I couldn't wait to get my fall foliage fix and wear a jacket again!
Sunrise out the kitchen window. That's the chicken coop on the right. Delaney practically lived there.
We ate dinner here the first night: a very disappointing pot of chili that I had waited all day for (all year really), but somehow made it way too spicy. There wasn't enough shredded cheese in the world to put out those flames, and some high-quality beef had gone into it. Tim liked it, at least. It was dinner out for the next two nights, which turned out fine.
I found places with awesome views off the deck but I was concerned there would be nothing to do but stare at the view or get in the car and go somewhere else. Being just a few miles from Chimney Rock or the Blue Ridge Parkway or whatnot might be great for some people, but I don't consider myself on vacation unless I wake up in the morning and I'm already there. That's why I've always loved beach vacations. We might venture out somewhere from time to time, but we come back to the house and the beach right out the back door and that's where we spend most of our time. I emphasized to my people that I did not want to be stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with an incredible view and nothing for four little kids to do.
Weapons safety and marksmanship training
Eventually I settled on this little place because it seemed to provide the best blending of all our interests. We got the pretty view of the trees and mountains, but not as great of a view or as high of an elevation as some other places. We got everything the property comes with: chickens, cows, turkeys, hiking trails, a pond and a fire pit. We stayed in a sprawling three-bedroom ranch home with a kitchen and living area on one end, another living area and dining room in the middle, and all the bedrooms at the other end. Plenty of room for everyone to sleep, all the amenities we're used to, a well-stocked kitchen, and I figured we couldn't go wrong there. We were only 20 minutes from Asheville and the Biltmore if we wanted to go there, a half hour from Chimney Rock State Park if we wanted to do those things. But I figured that if we stayed here there would be enough to keep us occupied so that we didn't have to go anywhere else. I knew that would be important, but I really had no idea just how much so.
Tim had this breakfast waiting for me the first morning. The fresh eggs were delish!
The first evening we were there, I was ruining our chili dinner and Joey was standing and playing with a bar stool in the kitchen. He and the barstool fell down and at first I thought, 'he's fine,' and then saw the blood gushing down from a vertical gash across his eyebrow. I still have no idea how it happened. I thought we'd need to take him for stitches, but Tim got the bleeding to stop after a few minutes of direct pressure while Joey cried hysterically.  At Mass two days later, one of the greeters asked about it and I told her. The other greeter came over and wanted to know, so she told him, "He fell off a bar stool. Mom spiked his milk with something." Her version of the story is funnier.
Once in awhile Tim's crappy phone takes a really good picture, and this was one of those times. Delaney loves to be in nature.
Tim and I both feel in the end that I chose appropriately for the season of life we're in and the challenges that I have because of Joey -- namely, crippling fatigue because he sleeps so poorly when we're away from home. We can't be having big adventures in the mountains right now, especially in an area we're so unfamiliar with. Maybe a younger, more energetic mom could handle all that and a high-maintenance baby, but I am maxed out. So it was great that the kids had so much to amuse themselves with right there at the farm without us having to load up and drive anywhere. They had target practice with Timmy's bb gun, they visited the chickens and collected eggs for our breakfasts, hiked the trails, and floated around the pond in a paddleboat. It was just a simple kind of vacation where I felt no pressure to be anywhere and do anything special. It takes so little to please them. Timmy and I played a game of War one morning next to that big window with the picturesque view, and that was special. The air hockey table in the basement got a lot of use during "quiet time", and was probably Timmy's favorite thing of all. Delaney couldn't stop talking about being chased around by the turkeys. Annie was a good shot with the bb gun and loved competing with her siblings -- little Annie Oakley. The three of them had a blast one morning digging for worms (that they never found) in the compost pile. Tim let me sleep in on Joey's extra-early mornings, and then while Joey was down for his first nap I could have my coffee and go through my waking up process, which can take a while.
View from Buzzard's Roost. OK, so the sign at the bottom said 3/4 mile, I could have sworn. Tim says it was 1.75 miles according to his watch. The website says a mile. It was described as a leisurely walk, but I guess that depends on your definition. The girls and I climbed easily if not impatiently, with me saying, "We'll get to the top any minute." I couldn't wait to see the "panoramic views" boasted on the website. The walk just kept getting longer and steeper with no end in sight. I said, "There's no way Timmy's getting to the top of this mountain." He was further back with Tim who had Joey on his back. Timmy whines on every walk. I finally got to the top and was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' See the picture above? That one small clearing in the trees was the only view there was. Tim later told me that walk was the most painful thing he'd ever done in his life, trying to motivate Timmy along. I still can't believe they made it. 
We put on nice clothes on Friday night and went out to eat in downtown Asheville, and that was fun. The kids were on their best behavior (even Joey parked in his stroller); and we ate noodles and seafood out on the patio while listening to live music and taking in the sights. I'd never seen a "Pubcycle", but every so often one would go by blasting music with people pedaling in the back. I guess they're getting to drink while touring the city, and burning all the calories from those drinks while they're at it. Win! I'd love to see more of Asheville another time. There are so many things to do and see, but all of that wasn't for us this time around.
The milk is not spiked!
One of these days I'll get my do-over, and Joey will be older and it will be different. But maybe it's because I'm fresh off my first good night's sleep in days that I have the perspective it takes to say you know what, I'm glad we did this and I'm glad we did this now. We had so much quality time together, and it was time spent outdoors that we don't get at home with it being so hot and buggy. The kids loved having their dad playing with them every day all day. It might not have lived up to my expectations, but my expectations can sometimes be pretty unrealistic. I must have thought to myself a hundred times throughout those three long nights, 'I wish we could go back home!' or 'I wish we'd just stayed home!' In fact I did utter the words to Tim Saturday morning, "I can not handle one more night of this. I'm losing my mind. We need to get out of here!" But then I revived myself with a cup of coffee and that view again, and I knew I was going to do another night. When he came back in a little while later with the kids he was relieved to hear me say, "We're going to have one more great day and one more crappy night, and then we'll head home!" (My rallying cry) It was the only thing to do. Memories like this are what the kids are going to look back on the rest of their lives.
P.S. I have renewed admiration for my parents taking all of us camping when we were little kids, babies and toddlers. That is, an experience similar to this one except with no indoor plumbing and no walls, doors or climate control. I really don't know how they did it but if I were to ask my mom she'd probably say "It was a different time," "I'd grin and bear it" or "offer it up." The (spoiled) apple that is me fell far from the tree. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

P.P.S. I read this piece by Suburban Turmoil maybe only a week before we left on this trip and said to Tim, "I always think of mountains in the fall and the beach in the summer, but after reading this Lake Lure is now on my North Carolina summer bucket list." We have a high probability of getting orders to NC in a few months, and I am totally counting those chickens before they hatch.

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