Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 Summer Adventure

View New England Summer Trip 2012 in a larger map

So much left to do and so many things I still want to do before we leave.   Hard to believe that 2012 Summer Adventure is already here.  Seems just yesterday I was writing about our exploits in Colorado last summer.  As is always the case, the trip continues to evolve almost until the moment we leave and this year is no different.  But the itinerary is basically set and I'm happy to share our map with you in hopes you'll follow along as we explore New England.  

Why New England in 2012?  Read this post from my old travel blog (which is in the process of being folded into this one) if interested in more detail as to how we go about deciding where to travel each summer.  We don't think of it as a vacation.  It's more of an opportunity to be in a region long enough to get to know its people, understand differences in culture, take in the things of which they are most proud, visit locally owned/produced industries, farms, businesses, and of course, take full advantage of the chance to be outdoors.  In a nutshell, we have a list of possibilities that are best visited in May/June because until Mr. B retires, those months are when we are free to take an extended trip.  Mr. B (for those of you joining this blog from the old one, this is just the way I've always referred to my spouse rather than using his real name), has lobbied for New England the past several years, but sometimes May/June can be rainy and muddy in early spring, not to mention the possibility of running into the dreaded New England Black Fly Season.  We decided to bite the bullet and go anyway. 

We've been in the area twice (Northern NE in 2002, Southern NE and Nantucket in 2006), but always knew we wanted more time for hiking/biking.  These previous trips also happened before we began focusing on the goal of visiting all the state capitals. So although we've visited several of these cities before, we have ZERO pictures of the capitol buildings.  On this trip, if all goes well, we will visit a record breaking TWELVE state capitals plus we'll be in Washington, DC so include our Nation's Capital in that.  

So here's your first piece of trivia for this trip............I wanted to be sure I was spelling state capital correctly.  Is it "capital" or "capitol?"   Anybody know???   A quick Google search informs me that a state "capital" refers to the city which bears the designation while state "capitol" refers to an actual building.  So guess I'll put myself out there and see who catches me in a misuse of the word first.  Probably won't take long!

I have much work to do in order to be proud of my Google mapping skills, but the map gives a general idea of our planned route along with the time we'll have at each place.  Clicking on the placemarks should provide a little more detailed information.  I try to blog more frequently while we are traveling keeping updates current.  Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn't.  Because hey, the bottom line is we are out seeing and doing what there is to see and do! 

So, one week from yesterday, I'll be on my way to my first stopping place near Dulles Airport in northern Virginia.  There are several things I wanted to do in that area and thanks to very early planning along with a wonderfully cheap airfare, I should get to do them.  Mr. B will fly into Dulles at dark-thirty on Tuesday morning and we will immediately head for state capital #1 (on this trip), Annapolis, Maryland.  Not quite the roadtripper I am, he was more than happy to forgo the first leg of this trip in the car and cover 478 miles in 1 hour and 20 minutes arriving in plenty of time to eat MY breakfast at the Residence Inn!! 

My friend, Tish, who blogs at Incremental Improvements, and I are hoping to complete something we began in October, 2010.  We rode 33 miles of the 45 mile W & OD Bike Path from Leesburg, VA to its end in Shirlington, VA.  Hopefully, next Monday, Tish and I will be able to complete the trail riding from its beginning in Purcellville, VA past Leesburg (where we began in 2010) and directly to my hotel near Dulles for a total of 21 miles.  Tish beat me to it by riding that section last year with her hubby and she tells me it's very pretty.  I don't know which I'm MORE excited about - spending some more time with Tish or completing the trail.  How fun that we get to complete it together!

Anyone who knows me at all is aware of my fascination with grocery stores and farmer's markets.  Also very near my hotel is a Wegman's Grocery.  Visit any list of favorite or best grocery stores and it seems Wegman's always comes out on top!  Gotta check it out and see what the buzz is all about.

And given any extra time at all, I'd love to revisit Great Falls Park and Harper's Ferry.  Think I can do all that in a day and a half?   Of course not, but I'll do what I can and leave the rest for another time. 

In other news, I've just got to take a moment to brag on my sweet husband who was named Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Person of the Year at the Community College where he teaches.  I might be showing a tiny bit of favoritism, but I do know that there is no one who works any harder or cares about his students more, so IMHO, he totally deserved the award this year.  I am so proud of him.  I had actually planned to leave on Friday instead of Sunday so I'd have a better shot at getting all those things done in Virginia, but am so thankful I hadn't made any reservations that were unchangeable.  Part of the honor given to the Faculty Person of the Year is the privilege of leading the processional at the graduation ceremony and then delivering the final remarks.  I wouldn't miss that for the world!  

Thanks so much for reading.   Hope you enjoy our adventures!

Any travel or vacation plans for you this year?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reflections on The Songbird Trail

Along the Songbird Trail - Norris Dam State Park
April 7, 2012

The big hills to my east aren't always the place I go when the need for restoration hits!  There are days when thinking through food, water, trail navigation, etc. give way to thoughts of just walking.  I have so many choices right near my town with our ever growing greenway system, however, just a few miles up Interstate 75 brings me to a place I've grown to love.  

Tennessee has a wonderful array of State Parks and someday, I'd love to visit every one of them.   I am not here to debate the pros and cons of charging entrance fees for state parks, but I am thankful that Tennessee is one of the few states remaining which charge no fee to enter or use any of their state parks.  Through our years of travel, Mr B and I have visited state parks all over the USA and truthfully, I find no difference in facilities or maintenance of those which charge a fee as opposed to those who do not.  Off the top of my head, I can think of seven state parks within an easy 45 minute drive of my home!  

Norris Dam State Park is one of those and on a gorgeous Saturday morning a few weeks ago, that is exactly where I headed.  My destination was a stroll along the Songbird Trail.  Depending on what you read, the trail is anywhere from 2.5 to 4 miles.  I've developed a circuit that extends beyond the "official" end of the trail to the foot of the dam and back, which I'd guess is closer to the 4 mile mark.  No matter - it's flat, either paved or pea gravel and so beautiful, I think one could walk six miles and not grow tired.  

Beginning of the Songbird Trail

The trail is very popular with joggers. On this Saturday morning, it was filled with families, dog-walkers and others out enjoying the spring sunshine.  To the left, across the river is another of my favorite trails, the River Bluffs Trail, a 3.1 mile loop best known for early spring wildflower displays.  The entire area is widely touted as a bird-watchers paradise and I saw many folks with fancy photography equipment set up just waiting for a sighting of some elusive bird.  But today, none of these things held any interest for me.   I just wanted to walk and think!  

Mr. B and I had been in the midst of some deep conversations regarding the shape of our future and its plans.  Life is such a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges that require us to always be open to change no matter how difficult it seems or how far it strays from the "plan" set in place years earlier.  We've always been good at planning and goal setting which has been the primary reason we've been able to execute plans made a long time ago and also be debt-free.  At age 30, we set the goal of both being fully retired no later than age 55.  The reason??  No surprise here!  The chance to travel the world while we still could.  And the ability to combine that travel with volunteer/mission work.  Unexpected career changes for both of us threw curves in the path.....................

...................but that was o.k. too because it always seemed that what was around the next curve was even more beautiful than we could have imagined.  We want the path to be straight, wide and clear....................
.......................but it never will be and I'd encourage you to internalize that fact of life long before my stubborn mind chose to.   We aren't just talking about careers, marriages, child-rearing, relationships or any other adjective you might want to insert in this blank. YES, we are also talking about the roads to healthy weights, proper eating habits, exercise routines or anything else related to that.  

Sometimes, despite all the planning and what you think are your best efforts, you just flat hit the wall.  Sometimes you know it's coming, but you hit it anyway!  

Norris Dam

Maybe it's time to stop...............................

See the path differently.........................

For me, it was a day to be reminded of, and grateful for, a life that is full of love, joy and gifts beyond my imagination even when they aren't given to me along my timeline, but thankfully from the timeline of one with a much wider perspective than mine!

I wouldn't change a thing!

Not at all what I'd planned to write this morning, but there's something about being awakened at 5:30 a.m. by your blaring weather radio announcing severe weather that sends me downstairs with my laptop and pictures of serene walks and sunny days.  Thankfully, the severe weather has moved on into the mountains and although we are expecting more later today, right now the sun has come out.  

Hope you enjoyed your impromptu walk on The Songbird Trail! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Through The Eyes Of Another

Abrams Falls - GSMNP
An amazing gift to get a picture with no other people in it! - April 20, 2012

It's early Sunday morning and from my room at the Residence Inn Nashville Airport, I am reflecting back over yet another wonderful time with two friends who have jumped off the pages of BlogLand and into my life forever.  I've looked forward to Debby's visit for so long.  Add my already good friend, Cammy, to the mix and you've got a winning combination.  But I never expected anything otherwise!

If you read Debby's blog, you already know that she is an accomplished quilter.  I was thrilled when she contacted me several months ago to tell me she was attending a quilt show in Paducah, KY (quilting mecca of the world) and would love to come a day or two early if we could work it out to meet.  Things fell quickly into place for that to happen. I asked what she'd like to do while in my neck of the woods and without hesitation, her response was, "hike in your mountains."  After a day of rest for her to acclimate to a three hour time difference, that is exactly what we did.  Although I'll say, we certainly didn't let any grass grow under our feet on her "rest" day!  With her help, I finally made a delicious batch of yogurt that actually BECAME yogurt. (I've had several failures attempting to do this on my own.) We invented a to-die-for muffin recipe that we plan to market and I'm certain you'll soon find in grocery stores everywhere.  Mr. B treated us to dinner at one of his favorite restaurants.   We walked one of my much-loved greenways and I toured her around my hometown.  My guess is she was relieved when I suggested an early evening since we needed to leave quite early the next morning for our hike.

Mid-April in the Great Smoky Mountains National is peak wildflower season and I challenge you to find a more beautiful display anywhere in the universe.  But I realized pretty early on, that this year was different and the wildflower show was going to be well past prime, if not over, by the time Debby was here.  I found it hard to contain my disappointment, but quickly readjusted and determined to show Debby one of our beautiful waterfalls.

Debby probably has no idea what she "taught" me during her stay in East TN.  It began shortly after picking her up at the airport along the short drive to her hotel - an area which I view as over commercialized and a traffic nightmare.  Imagine my surprise when the words out of her mouth were,  "it's so GREEN and beautiful!  WHAT??   Here I was getting ready to apologize and she's seeing green and beautiful.  I said nothing at the time, but I was already humbled at the realization of what I take for granted.  Yet I often argue that I never take my mountains or the beauty constantly surrounding me for granted!  But I do.  And it took a quick lesson of seeing it through the eyes of another to wake me up.

Friday morning saw us heading out very early towards the Cades Cove area of the park.  The trailhead to Abrams Falls begins about half way around the 11-mile one way scenic driving tour of the cove.  We were hardly past the beginning of the loop when Debby started snapping pictures and commenting on the peace and serenity of the valley.  We saw turkey and deer.  I reminded myself to see it through her eyes and not those impatient eyes which have driven this loop so many times and wanted only to arrive at the trailhead.  I remembered riding this loop a couple of weeks ago with Gene and Judi as we made our way to the Gregory Bald trailhead and wondered if I appreciated what I was seeing that day as I was a passenger rather than the driver (always a treat) and this was when wildflowers were near their peak.  

By the time we arrived at the trailhead, I promised myself I WOULD appreciate every moment of this trail and waterfall that I distinctly remember visiting for the first time as a young child when we camped in the Smokies.  So it was with great anticipation that I watched Debby's face because 2 1/2 not-so-easy miles later, we arrived at Abrams Falls and between the look on her face and the audible gasp of joy at her first glimpse of the falls, I finally got it.  And vowed I'd remember the value of never becoming so familiar with any aspect of life that I fail to appreciate the gifts I have at my fingertips.

Yes, I call these "my" mountains and "my" trails because I have such a love for them.  But always remember that even those things we "love" can become so familiar we forget their value until we see them through the eyes of another.   That can apply to people, places, things, experiences, habits, character traits and yes, even a journey to a healthy life.

There is one thing, however, that I never take for granted and hoped for the opportunity to see through Debby's eyes.  That is the special gift of seeing a black bear in the wild.  And following our hike, as we drove the last few miles of the auto tour, there it was.  He was back off the road - too far for a decent picture.  But unmistakable and as always, truly majestic.  I couldn't have asked for a more perfect ending to our day.

We traveled to Nashville on Saturday morning where we met Cammy and enjoyed a full day of fun which I'm sure both Cammy and Debby will write about.  We parted ways late Saturday evening.  Debby will join her quilting tour, Cammy headed back home to west Tennessee and I drove east toward my mountains. 

But I won't soon forget the lessons I learned from Debby's visit.  And I am grateful!

Enjoy a few pictures from our hike to Abrams Falls.  (It's pretty obvious the joy I found in taking pictures of Debby taking pictures!  LOL!)  I did not take any pictures during our day in Nashville with Cammy, but every time I turned around, she was snapping pictures, so it's a little scary to think about what might appear on her blog! 

I'm challenging you to find something familiar in your life and this week, view it through the eyes of another.  I'd like to hear about it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Very Relaxing Trip

Long Branch Cabin at Boyd Mountain Cabins - Maggie Valley, NC
My Home for Five Days Last  Week (April 10-16, 2012

How could one NOT have a very relaxing week when this is where you get to live?  I took off last Tuesday (a week ago) afternoon in my new RAV4 headed for a few days of hiking with friends Gene and Judi in the Cataloochee Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Boyd Mountain Cabins have become one of our favorite "go-to" spots as they are easily accessible from our house in less than 1/12 hours.  The cabins are secluded, safe and secure and make a perfect solo getaway for me.  They are also very near the best entrance to the Cataloochee area of the national park.  Winning combination, right??

Over the past couple of years, I've spent a good bit of time in this area of the park and I always approach a visit here with mixed emotions.  The Cataloochee Valley was once a thriving community. In fact, it was the biggest settlement in what is now the national park boasting nearly 200 buildings scattered throughout the very remote valley.  Only a handful of those buildings are left and the forest has reclaimed much of the farmland and orchards which were their livelihood.  It is said that most of the women and children never left the valley.  The men would leave once each year and travel across the mountains carrying fruit from the orchards to sell and returning with staple items they were unable to grow.  

At the height of prosperity, around 1928, rumors became rampant that the government was going to buy all their land in order to create a national park.  And by 1938, all but a few of the families had moved out of the valley.  Those who refused to move, were ultimately forced out and it is recorded that as they left, their homes were burned in order to ensure they did not return.  

And having spent so much time in this beautiful valley, that's the part with which I have trouble.  These mountains have provided me with more joy, relaxation, miles walked with friends, time spent with Mr. B and the feeling of being so close to God that I am often overcome with love for these mountains and their amazing beauty.  But, on the other hand, I NEVER, EVER wish to forget or take for granted the price that was paid by so many in order for me to have this beauty at my fingertips.  A walk through the Cataloochee Valley will teach you many things if you listen to the quiet and study the surroundings.

On Wednesday, Gene, Judi and I left at what seemed to be dark-thirty, but in reality was 7:15 for the not-so-easy drive from their campground (which is absolutely beautiful, BTW).  One must drive approximately 15 miles over tiny, curvy roads which change from paved to gravel and back to paved just to get down onto the valley floor where most of the trailheads are located.

Our destination on that day was the Palmer Creek Trail, a 4.9 out and back trail that would equal a 9.8 mile hike with a elevation gain of 1700 feet.  I have linked to Judi's post about our day on this trail because she describes it quite nicely and her photography puts mine to shame.  The weather was perfect as we were experiencing what some call Dogwood Winter which made for starting temps below freezing that never warmed up significantly.  But the brilliant sunshine made it perfect conditions for hiking.  It was a wonderful day, a terrific hike with loads of wildflowers, a couple of tricky unbridged creek crossings to get the adrenaline flowing and lots of conversation with friends.  Here are a couple of my favorite pictures from the Palmer Creek Trail.

Thursday, by mutual agreement, was a rest day and we each went our separate ways.  I spent a good part of the day working on blog maintenance and gearing up for my "friend in every state" goal announced this past Monday.  Later in the day, I went out for a nice long walk around the Boyd Mountain property (they have built four miles of hiking trails) and finished off the evening starting a book I brought with me from home.

Our hike on Friday was a bit shorter and the trailhead was only 4.5 miles from my cabin, so we were able to start a tiny bit later.  This hike took us up the Jonathan Valley side of the mountain to the ridge looking down into the Cataloochee Valley.  Our hike was a 1.8 mile segment of the Cataloochee Divide trail which Judi needed to complete as she is working towards hiking all the official trails in the Smokies.  But of course, we had to hike 1.5 miles just to get to the 1.8 mile segment that she needed!  Again, I'll let her tell the story and share her pictures.  But the best part of this day was the lunch spot graciously provided by The Swag, a luxury resort located less than two feet from the park boundary and from the Cataloochee Divide trail on which we were hiking. The Swag's owners, who once lived in my hometown, are hiker friendly and encourage hikers to use the resting place we chose for our lunch spot.  Weather was as perfect as weather can be and with a shorter distance hike, we allowed ourselves the luxury of over an hour at this spot.  I mean really, look at this...................

Gene had even brought his hiker stove and was serving up coffee and hot tea!   What's not to like??

Saturday was another rest day.   I spent the morning resting, reading and enjoying the quiet around the cabins.   In the afternoon, I took off to check out an area walking trail about which I'd read in a brochure.  Lake Junaluska is a nearby conference and retreat center affiliated with the The United Methodist Church.  It is in an incredibly gorgeous setting surrounding a lake ringed by the distant mountains.   I read that a 2.6 mile paved walking trail circled the lake and I just had to check it out.  What I found was indeed, a lovely path that made for a leisurely stroll around the lake.  It was just the amount of exercise I needed in preparation for yet another long hike on Sunday.  Take a look.........

Ended the day by meeting Gene and Judi for ice cream at the Maggie Valley Ice Cream shop.  We each indulged in some yummy ice cream and I don't know how theirs tasted (there was much eating and little talking), but my Butter Pecan (sugar-free, of course!) was delicious.  Ah, the rewards of hiking - coffee served at 5,000 feet and ice cream eaten in the valley!

Sunday was another day of leaving at dark-thirty.  Our trailhead was once again down in the depths of the valley and even further than the one on Wednesday.  But we arrived at the Big Fork Ridge trailhead and were off by 8:30. This hike was a loop hike covering Big Fork Ridge Trail, a portion of Caldwell Fork Trail and Rough Fork Trail.  Our total mileage was 9.2.  The weather, although warmer than previous days, began cool but a rapid warmup began quickly and I'll have to say, that by the time we reached our lunch spot, HOT became the operative word for me.  We still had quite a bit of climbing to do after lunch and I was quite happy to see the high point of our hike when we reached a particular trail junction.  From that point forward, it was ALL downhill!  Enjoy a couple of pictures from this hike.

We'd been warned that some of the foot bridges on Caldwell Fork Trail were damaged or missing from heavy rains last fall and through the winter.  This bridge was intact, but was missing its handrail.  YIKES!   I don't like these bridges when they are sturdy and stable - they mess with my depth perception.  This was a challenge, but fortunately not far off the ground and the log itself was wide and stable.  Piece of cake!  Cough!  Cough!

 This is one BIGGGGGG poplar tree! Hard to see my hiking poles, but they are fully extended.  

At the completion of today's hike, we all agreed that more than one rest day was in order.  I was headed home early Monday morning.  Gene and Judi had decided to extend their stay in Maggie Valley for a few more days.  We said good-bye, but plan to do more hiking while they are in the area. Once more time, I'll link to Judi's post about our Sunday hike. BTW, Judi is an avid blog reader.  Since I've linked so liberally to her reports, please let her know if you enjoy them.  I want to make sure she gets the credit for her wonderful pictures and hike reports.

If you are a new or regular reader and haven't left me a comment helping me reach my goal of having a friend in every state, please do.  Read about my goal from the tab at the top of the blog or THIS POST.

On the horizon...............exciting stuff!   More friends coming to town for some good old Tennessee adventures and right around the corner (Yikes!) is 2012 Summer Trip.  Can't believe it's only 2 1/2 weeks away.  Where are we headed?  Stay tuned!

What are you doing this week?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Friend In Every State, or maybe sutitled..................

..............Ramblin' Rose's RAV4 Is Coming to A City Near YOU!

Yeah, baby.................I got my new car!   And so far, Rose's (that's my middle name, in case you wondered) RAV4 is working out mighty fine.  She's a beauty, I've had my eye on her for a long, long time and knew I'd know when the right time arrived.   Did I cry when my 2000 Corolla....................

rolled away from me for the last time?   Actually, no.......but I cried like mama being separated from her pups when I was cleaning her out and getting her all shined up for the last time.   She has taken us all over the USA and given us not one minute of trouble.   But she is old, has almost 188,000 miles on her, the dashboard was beginning to look like a Christmas tree with red and green lights.  I no longer felt comfortable driving her very far or to remote trailheads and switching cars with Mr. B was getting to be a royal pain for both of us.  It was time!   And I am FREE!


On May 14, 2010, when I hit "publish" for the first time and began Gains and Losses:  Life Through Sharon's Eyes,  I had no idea what to expect or how long it would last.  I had no idea what a "follower" was or what it meant to leave a comment on someone else's blog or receive one on mine.  I laughingly acknowledge that when my first comment appeared, it scared me to death.  I was certain I was exposed to the entire World Wide Web and everyone was reading my private thoughts about my weight and fitness journey!  But I learned quickly! 

One follower became two and before I knew it, it was ten.   And almost immediately, an idea was born in the back of my mind as a way to combine my passions for health/fitness/weight loss with travel/hiking/RVing.  Even as a little girl, I always had a desire to know people from around the USA and anywhere else.  I loved seeing how people in different cultures lived whether it be the vastly different areas of the US or any other country!  Where other girls my age had pictures of teen heartthrobs adorning the walls of their rooms, I HAD MAPS.  All kinds of maps!  And all of a sudden, I realized that maybe, just maybe, this blog could be a means to help me achieve that little girl's goal of "knowing" someone in every state!


At that point, I was still very much a new Blogger, but had already sensed that in some realms of BlogLand, it was always about "how many followers do I have" and "how can I get more?"  For me, that took away TOTALLY the joy of knowing someone CHOSE to become a follower simply because they read the content, liked it and wanted to read more or be notified automatically when a new post was published.  Even though the idea of trying to find a friend in every state was born from my own passion for travel, I was always afraid that it would APPEAR as just a way for a new blogger to solicit followers.


Two years, 225 posts, 120+ followers and a lot of Blogger meet-ups later, I'm ready to revisit the goal.  See, Ramblin' Rose's RAV4 told me she would take care of me and she was made to ride.  Mr. B likes when I roadtrip because he's knows that's when I'm really just happy being ME! (I'm certain it has nothing to do with how tidy everything stays when I'm gone!)

So it's time to reset the goal of  having a friend in every state and anywhere beyond.  This Blog can help me achieve that goal with the secondary goal of traveling to as many of those states and meeting as many other bloggers as I possibly can over the next few years.  (One of these days, I'll convince Mr. B that retirement really is better than having a job! Sure will love having him traveling with me all the time.   Someday.......)


I'm adding a new tab to the top of the blog titled, "A Friend in Every State........"   Although I know where most of those who read live, to avoid my own confusion on keeping the page accurate and up-to-date, I'm starting from scratch.


As YOU let me know in which state (territory, province, country) you live, I will update the page changing from red letters to black and updating number of friends in that state by parenthesis.  I will be maintaining a separate (totally PRIVATE) Excel Spreadsheet on my computer (see below) with your city and blog title.

I hope to make this fun for you also! Help me find friends in the states I'm missing and enjoy visiting the page yourself to see who I lack.  A secondary goal is finding lots of new blogs for all of us to read and offer encouragement.  As mentioned in my last post here, I am in the process of combining my travel blog with this one in hopes that it will free more time to concentrate on this blog and new friends it may bring!

A FEW MORE IMPORTANT THINGS......................

1)  YOUR PRIVACY is of utmost importance to me and I will always respect that.   I'm aware that some of you carefully guard any information about where you live and I understand.  There will be NO information on the page which gives any specific information about anyone.  My separate Excel Spreadsheet is for me and me alone.  If you don't want anyone to know your state, but don't mind ME knowing, instead of leaving it as a comment, send me a separate email.   At some point down the road, it is possible I might add links (and only links) to your blogs, in the hopes that YOU might find new blogs to enjoy or readers in your own state.  But I would ask permission before even doing that.

2)  This one I've thought about for a long, long time and I have decided that for me to include your state, I do want you to be an official follower of this blog.  I will reciprocate if I haven't already and taking that step seems to indicate somewhat of a commitment to mutual readership and friendship.  So if you aren't already a follower, please take that step.

3)  Again, I'm starting from scratch, so even if you KNOW I'm well aware of where you are, please leave me a comment (or send an email) telling me what state, etc. you are in and ONLY IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE DOING SO, tell me what city/town.  Once again, the city/town will NOT go on the page - only on my personal spreadsheet that will never be published anywhere!

I'm excited to see where this goes and excited about the future of Gains and Losses as it soon begins it's third year.  I'm afraid to voice the thought, but I'm getting closer and closer to goal.  Don't think I'll make it by May14, but I'll be very, very close!

What an exciting time it is for me.   Thank you so much for your encouragement, your support, your loyalty and most of all, your friendship!  Oh, and BTW, I guess the idea of visiting all of you in my new RAV4 is probably not very practical, but a girl can dream, can't she??

Who'll be first?   Where in the world are you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Two Shall Become One!

Jakes Creek/Cucumber Gap Trails Intersection - GSMNP
Smaller path meets larger trail and arrow points to way forward
February 20, 2012

It seems to be a recurring pattern for me to begin a Monday blog post saying, "whew, what a week!"  But it's always true and I find myself arriving at Sunday evening thinking, "whoops, haven't begun my blog post."  This week brought even more pressure as there is so much about which I want to write.  I mentioned "surprises" in my last post and most of you know that this year, for me, is ALL about surprises.  You couldn't handle all this in one post, so I'll keep some things in suspense.  

I'm heading out Tuesday afternoon on a solo (sort of!!) hiking roadtrip and am so excited.  I'll be gone five days and my hope is that on off-hiking i.e. "rest" days, I'll have some time in solitude to spend writing and getting everything caught up the way I envision.  Much more about the trip with details to follow as it happens.

May 14 will mark the two-year anniversary of this blog.  I find this incredibly amazing when thinking back over the rewards I never imagined and the friends I'd never have had otherwise.  As year two draws to a close, I've decided to make some changes that I am sharing with you first, but that I also sincerely hope you will find make Gains and Losses better.  Something that compels you to return post after post not because it pops up in your reader, but because you find something in my ramblings (both literal and written) that you find encouraging, fun and with which you identify. 

Today, I want to share with you a major change and next post, I hope to share a goal that was born not too long after I began the blog, but am just now feeling is the "right time" to talk about it.  And somewhere in all of that, I'll find time to share my adventures from last week which involve more Blog Friends who have become real world friends.  Oh, then there's NEXT week which brings even MORE adventures with Blog friends jumping off the page and into real life!  This one will involve the longest journey yet JUST TO MEET ME!!   Well, not exactly...................

When I began this blog, I struggled with the decision of whether or not to tell any of my real life friends or family members about the blog.  With help from lots of you, I chose not to do that as it left me the freedom to journal about my inner thoughts without fear of offending anyone by the things that challenged me.  Two years ago, that was the best decision and one which I've never regretted.  But as I near my goal weight for the final time armed with a new attitude and a much more settled feeling of confidence that I'll be able to maintain my goal weight, I'm finding the desire to share this blog with others.  

Many of you know that I also maintain a travel blog that was begun primarily to keep family and friends updated when we travel.  Maintaining both blogs has increasingly become a source of frustration and I've come to realize that the frustration lies not in maintaining two blogs, but in trying to keep them separate.  The two blogs represent LIFE THROUGH MY EYES and it just no longer feels comfortable trying to decide what to put where and when to post on which. 

I began this blog with the goal of having it become a complete lifestyle blog once I reached my goal weight and was successfully maintaining it.  That is reflected in the title I originally gave GAINS AND LOSSES: LIFE THROUGH SHARON'S EYES.  Now that I am within ten pounds of goal, a place I plan to stay forever, I have made the decision to go ahead and combine the two blogs.  In this blog, you'll see very little, if any, change.  In fact, what I hope you will see is a return to more frequent posting about a wide variety of topics, adventures, opinions, etc.  As I fold the travel blog into this one, you'll see more posts dedicated to a hiking day, a place I've visited or some other travel adventure.  Over time, lots of you have told me that's the type of writing you prefer and have styled your own blogs in that same fashion.  However, I am well aware that some of you read strictly for the purpose of finding encouragement for your own weight loss and healthy eating efforts and have no interest in reading material on any other subjects.  But I do hope the relationships we've established will keep you reading even on days when the writing has nothing to do with any of those things.  

What the writing will reflect is a happy, healthy 50-something women looking forward to years of living life at a healthy weight doing things one couldn't have imagined 65 pounds ago.  

Even as I write these words, I'm feeling a sense of relief in finally having made this decision.  For almost a year, I have felt unable to give EITHER blog the attention it deserved simply because I;ve been so divided over the time it was taking to maintain both in the way I desired.  The transition will be seamless - I'll simply write a post on the Travel Blog explaining the change and then redirecting all traffic to this one!  Easy as pie.................

On to this weeks adventure................

Blog Friends, now Real Life Friends, Judi and Gene, live full-time in their beautiful RV.  I've been reading their blog for so long I can't remember how I first discovered it!  We have a Tennessee connection and a shared love for hiking and travel, so it was inevitable that the friendship jump off the written page into time spent together.  Judi blogs at Blue Roads To Hiking Trails and we met for the first time last fall for a day of hiking as I made my way to Little Rock for a blogger meet-up.  After an amazing trip to Alaska last year, they will be spending a much quieter summer in the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.  I am looking forward to many days of hiking.  We began that in fine style last week hiking two days which Judi writes about here and here.  (FYI - If you enjoy pictures of spring wildflowers, check out both these posts.  Her photography is beautiful.)  They have now moved over to the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I'm headed that way this afternoon to spend some time hiking with them.  Cataloochee is at slightly higher elevation levels than the areas in which we've been hiking, so the wildflowers which are waning on our side of the park, should be at peak!  

More blog goals and exciting challenges (for me!!) to come, but for now, I've got lots to do this morning before leaving.  The community college at which Mr. B teaches, is inaugurating their new President today and I will attend that ceremony just before heading towards North Carolina.  Their new President is a good friends of ours (as was the now President Emeritus) and we are both so excitied about the future of the college!  

As always, thanks so much for reading.  Almost two years ago, when I hit "publish" for the first time, I HAD NO IDEA...............And it just keeps getting better!

How do you describe your blog to other people?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Anticipating April

Tulips in the Gardens at Biltmore Estate - Asheville, NC
March 31, 2012

When one enjoys beauty such as you see in today's picture, how can one not Anticipate April and the incredible surprises it will bring?  March certainly didn't disappoint with its early flowers, record breaking warmth not to mention extreme tornado outbreaks and vivid lightening the likes of which I haven't seen since the early 90's when we lived in Louisville, KY.  Surprises, not all of which are pleasant or wanted, keep us mindful and my 2012 Mantra of viewing life as a constant surprise rather than a series of ups and downs has been instrumental in helping me change the way I view each moment in time.  

March brought another 2.4 pound weight loss.  I had hoped for more and with a higher level of diligence, could've probably had more, but I'm fine with this.  I have just over 10 pounds left to reach my goal and with the same way of eating, I will continue to lose about that much each month.  Should I catch myself becoming impatient, I'll simply spend 17 days in Cycle 1 of The 17DD and speed things up.  Right now, I have settled into Cycle 2 as a way of life with a choice from Cycle 3 once a week or so.  Some days just naturally end up at Cycle 1 days.  Truthfully, I don't EVER see myself moving fully into Cycle 4 or what is referred to as the "Maintenance" cycle.  My greatest challenge from this point forward, will be continuing to be sugar-free and virtually gluten-free.  Right now, it is easy, but I am not foolish enough to think that it will always be that way, nor am I foolish enough to believe that "one bite won't hurt."  

Speaking of "one bite won't hurt," last week brought a challenge from MIL.  In her defense, she has made a ton of progress towards understanding, but then...........this!  Easter and Thanksgiving meals have always been her thing.  Early on in our marriage, we set boundaries with BOTH sets of parents and it was one of the smartest moves we ever made.  But Easter and Thanksgiving became the two events each year which WOULD be at in-laws house, no questions asked. My parents and in-laws became good friends and they are included in the two meals so I'm not complaining. Over time, other close friends have become part of the tradition and I look forward to those days every year.  It's worked well for 35 years.  The other non-negotiable is MIL's Chicken 'n Dumplins and the reason they became a non-negotiable is ME.  That is (or was) my all-time favorite food and hers are the best.   One day last week, she called and immediately said, "you are planning on eating Sunday, aren't you?"  There was no need to pretend I didn't know what she meant, so I very gently said, "no, I won't be eating any dumplin's, but there will certainly be plenty there for me to eat. Her response, "I wish you could make an exception on Easter since EVERYONE THERE KNOWS HOW MUCH YOU LOVE THE DUMPLINS."  And it was in that moment, that I realized she really didn't quite get it.  Nor does anyone else who has never faced a struggle with weight or excessive eating.

Being virtually gluten-free (and totally white flour free) and sugar-free is really such a new "surprise" for me that it's hard to even voice the feeling, but it's not about willpower or deprivation - I simply don't want them.  They don't even sound good any longer.  Even as I write the words, it's seems impossible that they are true.  So sadly to say, I'm approaching the meal with a sense of dread.  I don't want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable, but on the other hand, I don't plan to worry about it either as it is now my normal way of eating and all around me need to accept it and not make a big deal about it.  It's been my way of eating for over four months now.  This isn't new!  

Mr. B and I made our annual spring pilgrimmage to Biltmore Estate this past Saturday.   I've written about Biltmore so many times, I'll not bore you with repeat info, but here are links to two previous posts about our long-standing love for Biltmore.   Beautiful Biltmore and Discovering Hidden Treasures (one of my favorite posts).  Our Saturday adventure was only a day trip, but it was special and we enjoyed every minute of it.  The tulips were exquisite and the color pattern which changes each year, featured my favorite color palette focusing on the purples, lavenders, pinks, yellows and red shades.  One more delightful surprise that awaited us was the converging of so many things blooming at once which normally are spread out from late March through early May.  I squealed with delight (unfortunately, to my own embarrassment!) when I came upon a gorgeous patch of Virginia Bluebells that I didn't even know was there.  And they were exquisite.

Enjoy of couple more pictures of our day:

I have one more surprise to tell you, but it will have to wait.  Because it's a whole post in itself and one I've been anticipating writing for quite some time as it involves a goal I set for myself almost two years ago when I truly began to grasp the joy I would find in the blogging community.  Which reminds me...........I actually have TWO surprise to share.  Will try my best to get another post written this week.   I promise!!

How was your weekend?   Any surprises??