Quarantined in the North Georgia Mountains

flyingAfter several weeks of shelter in place in South Florida, my husband and I decided to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at our mountain home in Helen,Georgia, as numbers of confirmed cases grew in Broward County.  The mountains are less crowded, with beautiful spring weather  and opportunities to spend time in nature abound. We loaded up our plane and waited for a good flying day. It turns out our timing was perfect, any other day may have left us stranded due to weather, a situation we needed to avoid.

When we arrived at our home, I immediately felt less anxiety and more relaxed. I felt like myself again as the situation in South Florida worried and stressed me out. I listened to birds sing off our back deck instead of helicopters flying overhead.  Squirrels crunching on decomposing leaves  replaced sirens screaming in the distance.  I breathed fresh oxygen rich air, cool and crisp, rather than the thick humidity of the south.

I wanted to cry.  I had been so emotionally on edge for what seemed like forever.  Instead I said.  “I feel better already.  We are so lucky to have options.”

“Yes we are.”  He agreed.

I found my new normal over the next few weeks.  Running in the morning through our desolate little town center, side roads and nature trails.  Yoga in the afternoon on the back deck, surrounded by nature.  I use my iPhone to guide me through my practice, with videos posted by the studio I attend.  Fighter jets from a nearby military training area even flew overhead one day, adding a bit of excitement to my flow.  I spotted a red fox in the distance while in tree pose.

My husband has home improvement projects to keep him busy.  We just built our house last year, leaving several tasks unfinished.  He cut and fertilized the grass, planted more trees, stained wood, built shelves for his tools and a framed our fireplace.  It’s an ongoing list but  now has the time to complete them.

One day he called me out back.  “Come here.”

A large bird attacked a tree off our deck.  “What is that?  A woodpecker?”

“Yeah.  The largest one I’ve seen.”

I found new recipes and dinners to make.  We went to grocery store to stock up, a first for me in a month.  We both had masks and gloves and followed the arrows of which way to go up and down.  It felt good to pick out food, although I think many items were overpriced, especially the produce. I had a list for most things, then a random note to buy drinks and frozen food.

In the evening my husband noticed something through a side window.  “Bears.”

“They’re so quiet.”  I whispered.

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They looked in the trash can, picked through it. Then checked out our golf cart, sniffed around and left.  Three of them, a momma and two cubs I imagined.  Although they all looked pretty big.  Our dog didn’t even know they were outside, she usually  hears and smells everything, then barks like crazy.helen15

We are fortunate to have access to hiking trails and golf.  We learned that federal trails are closed but state parks open.  I personally think all outdoor activities should be accessible.  It’s a great way to escape and find tranquility and peace in our current world.  Something we all need.  Please find nature, love, compassion, health and hope during this difficult time, and reach out to those that need the same.

 

 

Building a new house. The excitement, and endless decision making.

foundationThree years ago Brad and I bought land in a gated community in the North Georgia Mountains, with the intention of building a summer home of our dreams.    Last fall we bought architectural plans, hired a contractor, and received building permits to start construction at the beginning of this year.  Upon clearing the land and building a foundation our one level, two bedroom cottage turned into three levels.  There went our small house!   The lot is sloped, so it needed a large deep foundation.  Our high ceilings begged for a loft so that space wouldn’t be wasted.  It made sense, and the second bedroom was relocated upstairs as we made room for a larger master bedroom.  We also added an office in the loft overlooking the great room. This was all decided from our house in Florida with numerous phone calls and video chats with our contractor, Duane.

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When framing neared completion we flew in for a walk through.  The kitchen was too small, but we had a random room behind it where we could expand.  We changed some windows, and added a door in the bedroom leading out to a spacious deck.  The three of us figured out the placement of appliances, what made the most sense for an easy flow,  marking accordingly for electric and plumbing lines.

buliding1Before we headed back to Florida we picked out windows, roofing, outside paint colors and other immediate issues.  We continued daily chats and photo updates with Duane as he got things done.  Construction was moving along, until we didn’t hear from  him.  A week or two passed, we finally got word that he was in the hospital from a massive heart attack. We’d become friends with Duane, this tragic news affected us and our community.

My husband decided he could take over the completion of our house.  We loaded up our plane, dog and necessities for the long haul. Already owning a rental duplex we stayed there, getting kicked out on weekends to keep our rental agreements intact.  The evening of our arrival we checked on construction progress.  Much needed to be done, but I knew Brad could make it happen and I’d help anyway I could. 

He looked at his phone a bit teary-eyed.   “I just got a text.  Duane passed away at 7:45.  That’s about the time we walked in here.”

“Wow.  So sorry, but it didn’t sound very promising the past few days.”

Brad got busy organizing specialists for the upcoming weeks. Electric, A/C, flooring, painters, trim, plumbers, and cabinets.  There were no shows, high quotes, phone calls not returned and others too busy to take on new projects.  In the mean time we had my handy nephew drive up from Florida to help with some minor stuff.  We kept him busy with the outside fencing and cleaning.   We found dependable hard-working painters who started right away on the exterior.

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We had to decide on fixtures, starting on the door handles.

“I’d like a statement piece on the front door.”  I said.

“What about the rest of the doors?” he asked.

“Just normal door handles.” I responded.

“What’s normal?  They have different colors, types, locks?”  He asked.

“Just the normal round knobs in nickel.”

“You don’t like the hooked door handles?”

“I don’t care, its a just a round knob with a lock right?”  I said in frustration.  “You pick the rest of the handles, and I’ll find the statement one for the front door.”

This is pretty much how we chose the details at first, until we sat down for a day or two searching and comparing our individual styles on Amazon and similar sites.  Fans, lights, sconces, sinks, faucets, fencing, appliances, indoor paint colors, trim colors, flooring and tiles. I missed Duane’s opinion as he was helpful with decisions. We made daily trips to Lowes, an hour and a half round trip. I noticed the details in these things everywhere I went in restaurants, stores and houses.  They were in my nightly dreams when I wasn’t running around trying to save my pup from strange creatures chasing us… a topic for another blog or a psychologist.

cincy1We visited my family in Cincinnati for a weekend, allowing occupancy for renters who had booked months prior.  We had to pack up everything  into storage or take it with us. A heat wave engulfed the east coast which made flying around or above the cumulus clouds and weather a bit harrowing.flying

hikingBack in the mountains I made a point to go hiking when possible and occasionally relax at a winery for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with an amazing view.  Amazon packages arrived regularly, and on some days the construction site looked like a beehive with everyone working.

We’re leaving the basement unfinished for now.  It’s framed out with space for two bedrooms plus a storage area, and a sauna/hot yoga room wired for the required 220-240 voltage.  We have to leave again this weekend for our rentals and we’ll either camp out at our new house, or visit a nearby town such as Asheville. I’ve been slacking on  blogging, but it’s been a busy yearsmile nature1

Total Eclipse from North Georgia

Like many others I eagerly awaited August 21, 2017 for a chance to see a total eclipse. In Helen, Georgia that meant 1 minute and 41 seconds of complete darkness. People flocked to our town and others within the path of totality. Many events took place in the surrounding wineries, parks, schools and communities.  Wanting to avoid gridlock, we chose to have our own celebration at the Innsbruck Club house overlooking the golf course, and a regular meeting place for local residents.

About 50 people showed up with side dishes to compliment the burgers my husband cooked on the grill.  Moonshine cake and moon pies sat among the salads while the bartenders served up Tequila Sunrise cocktails.  The sky was clear, a telescope for viewing sat on the veranda porch alongside golf clubs, balls and corn hole games. Everyone brought their viewing glasses and excitement, the eclipse had just begun with the moon slowly casting a shadow over the sun.

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I’d glance up at different stages, taking a few photos with my iPhone.  We milled about, socialized, ate, drank and looked up again.  An amateur photographer with a professional camera rigged a solar filter by duck tapping part of the eclipse glasses to his lens.  After an hour and a half the sky became grey. Everyone spread out on the porch, parking lot and even the golf range for the moment of totality.  It was easy to spot through the cardboard glasses since everything including the sliver of light went black, then it was safe to look directly at the sun.  I stared in awe, mesmerized for almost two minutes until the sun, known as the diamond ring, peeked through the other side.

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Afterwards, about half of the crowd left, not really interested in the waning of the moon passing over the sun.  The rest of us shot golf balls off the deck with the goal of hitting the 9th hole about 100 yards in the distance.  A young lady in her early 20’s hit her ball closest to the flag, as professional golfers competed against her shot to no avail. Drinks and some new age conversation flowed until the sun and heat returned full force and the party dwindled.

I had witnessed partial eclipses in the past, but it doesn’t compare to a total eclipse. During the brief moment of totality the world seemed so different and so small in comparison to the universe.  I later learned that this phenomenon occurs every two years in different parts of our world.  I found it so memorizing that I’d consider myself a total eclipse chaser.  Here I come South America in 2019.

total eclipse

Photos by Josh Garrison

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

mt yonahThe North Georgia mountains have a lot to offer during the summer, so my husband and I decided to spend a month at our cabin in Helen, Georgia.  This quaint Bavarian themed town is nestled near the Chattahoochee River and National Forest in the northeast corner of the state.  It is also close to the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT), so we decided to hike to the peak of Tray Mountain, described as an easy AT day hike with magnificent views.

It seemed like a harrowing feat driving the winding, bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain. Steep cliffs dropping off on my side made my heart race and hands sweat. After an hour of this I was ready to hit the trail, but I was surprised we were the only ones in the parking area.  It’s supposed to be a popular day hike.

I recognized the white lines on the trees indicating the AT. It was all uphill and I welcomed the challenge, although my husband wasn’t as eager.  We discussed what we’d do if we encountered bears or wild boar, since they roam the area.  In less than an easy-paced hour we reached the top. I took pictures of the amazing view, and suddenly my husband jumped back and shouted “Holy Shit.”

timber rattler2A fat six-foot snake sun bathed on a rock, its tongue flicking next to his leg.  He moved closer to me.  “I almost stepped on it.”

My eyes widened, “I must have walked right pass it while taking pictures.”

“What is it?”  He asked.  “Do you think it’s poisonous?”

“That’s the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.  It looks dangerous.”

We were in a jam.  It blocked our path back down to our car, we had cliffs on both sides and in the opposite direction the AT trail continued for another 6 miles to a gap, but we didn’t know if a town existed at that junction.  Besides, I knew we weren’t prepared for a longer trek and we didn’t see another single hiker on the trail.

“Does your book mention anything about snakes?” He asked.

I took the trail guide out of my pack and paged through.  “No, but it has phone numbers to the park service.  They’d know about snakes in the area.” I hoped.

We finally reached someone at the forest service and described the snake.  We couldn’t see it’s tail, but it looked like a rattle snake to me. I’ve never seen one that large during my hiking days in California, and I didn’t hear a rattle.  Its size resembled a python.

She told us to treat it as poisonous.  “Don’t point any sticks at it and don’t cross it’s path.  Gather small pebbles and rocks and throw them towards the snake.  Stomp your feet because they don’t like the vibration. You want it to retreat.  But don’t get aggressive.”

I walked in the opposite direction down the other side of the mountain and found some small rocks.  A few pebbles hit its head and the snake didn’t budge.  We discussed our options, should we try to find a way down and around the cliffs, climbing through scrub brush?  timber rattler

“It’s too dangerous, you risk falling off the cliff.” Hubby said, before walking off to gather some more rocks.  The moment he disappeared from the snakes view, it started to slowly turn away.

“It’s retreating.”  I whispered loudly.

We watched it slither off, lastly revealing a large rattle.  I shuttered and carefully walked down the rocks and then more hurriedly down the trail.  Believing we were safe, I stopped and breathed.

“That could have turned into a deadly situation.” I said, still freaked out by the encounter.

When we got home, I started researching Georgia snakes.  It was a Timber Rattlesnake described as a heavy bodied pit viper.  It is one of the most dangerous snakes on the east coast due to its long fangs, high venom and impressive size.  The females often bask in the sun before giving birth and they prefer not to strike, but will if threatened.  In fact, a man in this area recently died from its venomous bite.

At the end of the day I had a cocktail, embraced life and relaxed on our back patio.  I heard a large bang and my husband ran out.  “Bear out front.”

bearsThe bear had knocked over our garbage can and proudly walked down our empty street.  It too was large and beautiful.  We often found our bear-proofed trash can sideways, but this was the first time I’d seen one in the area. I smiled and welcomed a bear over a snake any day.

The next day we watched mama bear and her cubs lunching on our trash.  With four locks, I was shocked they opened it. Although I don’t think its a good idea for bears to eat human food, I certainly wasn’t going to stop her. She knew we were watching from the porch, along with a stray cat that adopted us.

After my wild life encounters the friendly cat scared the crap out of me the next morning with his warm greeting.  I really didn’t want strange creatures jumping at me before my morning coffee.  Maybe I was just a little sensitive.

 

 

A little piece of heaven in the hills

helen signA spur of the moment purchase of a mountain home in Helen, Georgia flung my husband and me into an unexpected trip and immersion into a country lifestyle.  We won the high bid on a foreclosure and decided to turn it into a vacation rental for ourselves and others.  Collecting furniture from auctions and personal knick-knacks from our Florida house we hit the road with the goal of having it ready for the rental market in a week or less.  Game on.  It was not my first rodeo doing this, we’d done it twice prior.  My ten pound snorkie was accustomed to the drill and probably thought we were professional movers.

It was my first time seeing the house, hubby flew up and checked it out prior to our bid.  It blew me away instantly. Within walking distance to the quaint Bavarian styled village, yet in the woods in a gated golf course community and we are the only house on the street.  Hiking trails are nearby as are wineries, ATV rentals, zip lines, mini golf, German restaurants galore and my favorite country store Betty’s.betty country store

What surprised me as the crème de la crème and the real gem of north Georgia are the super friendly people.  They are warm, sociable, helpful and generally pleasant folks.  We made friends everywhere we went, already feeling like part of the community.  Before we even arrived in Helen we got stuck in gridlock traffic on Interstate 75 due to a fatal accident.  We backed up an interstate ramp and pulled over to figure out directions around the traffic jam.  A local pulled up in a red dodge asked where we were heading.

“Follow me.” He suggested.

We sped through winding country roads, landing us just north of the accident and continued on our merry way.  During our detour I spotted a unique bright yellow government issued sign reading “Quiet Sickness,” and silently pondered its meaning.  Does this mean I’m in danger of getting sick and why the quiet part of sickness.  Weird and strange things to discover on country roads in Georgia.  Winding paths I’d become all too familiar with over the course of the week.georgia sign

The gate guard at our newly acquired house as well as the young freckled blond at the local convenient store were smiling and congenial.  As were our few neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves, welcoming us to the community.

The best part of our initial stay was the interaction at bars and restaurants.  One night we joined a biker party singing Karaoke combined with a separate birthday party group from Atlanta.  Everyone laughed, toasted drinks, exchanged home states and even shared an impulsive parking lot mob flash dance.  Many of them were in a band and we applauded their performance. I smiled all night including our stop at the local pub where we mingled into the wee hours.  One woman was a little too friendly and a fight between two men almost broke out.  My hubby grabbed the bartender, our new friend and neighbor, warning him of the tension building.  He was quick to react, diverting any fight.

At Lowes when I couldn’t find something the clerk was readily available and walked me to the item.  At Betty’s, when ordering lunch, the boys behind the counter were attentive, assuring me that my sandwich was made with care and the best I would have.  They were right.

helen roadSo with all the love is there any downside to Helen?  Just that’s it far from some basics like large chain stores.  Groceries, home improvement, Wal-Mart and anything other than a small country grocery store will be at least a 45 minute drive or more.  But I’ll take that given all the natural and cultural beauty of the place.