Monday, December 24, 2012

Fun In Music City USA

Bryant Grove Trail - Long Hunter State Park, Mt. Juliet, TN
December 22, 2012

Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee or technically, Mt. Juliet, TN, a few miles east of Nashville.  We made our way west on Friday morning very nearly getting blown off the Cumberland Plateau as our part of the blizzard which hit the midwest and northeast came through.  We received rain and some of the strongest winds I've ever experienced.  Driving was not easy - being outside was downright painful.  But what a difference a day can make.  By Saturday, brilliant sunshine and moderate temperatures had returned making for a perfect day for a middle Tennessee hike.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself...............

We make an effort to spend a few days in the Nashville area each Christmas holiday because there are a few things we love to see and do.  But our primary reason this year is that my sister, who lives in a small town 30 miles east of Nashville, is hosting my family Christmas.  Normally, everyone comes to our house on Christmas Day, but her family is growing and she expressed a desire to have her own family together on Christmas Day rather than having to travel as they'd always done.  I certainly understand, respect and fully support this, so after making sure our parents were comfortable getting to middle Tennessee, we proceeded with the new plan.  We will gather at her home later this morning, exchange gifts, eat a delicious meal, then Bill and I will head back in time to participate in the Christmas Eve service at our church.  

We traditionally visit Opryland Hotel during the holidays as the Christmas displays throughout this gigantic facility are simply amazing.  It takes at least an hour simply to walk through the three sections of the hotel.  We look forward to it every year.  

This year, a Google Search of "Christmas lights in Nashville" brought some ideas for things we'd never done before and the first thing on the agenda turned out to be a real winner.  I have always loved Nativity Scenes and during our early years of travel abroad, I began collecting handcrafted nativity sets from the countries we visited.  For reasons to complicated for this post, I abandoned that idea a long time ago, but truly cherish the 20 or so scenes that I have from around the world.  And I've certainly never lost the appreciation for viewing Nativity settings from various cultures.  It simply fascinates me.  So to stumble upon the Night of The Child exhibit featuring more than 100 Nativity sets from 30 different cultures had me practically shivering in anticipation. And it most certainly did NOT disappoint.  Housed in the Upper Room Chapel and Museum in downtown Nashville, the exhibit runs through the end of January.  Although a $4.00 donation is requested, the box is discreetly placed (in fact, I had to go back to the desk and ask where to place my donation) and you are in no way coerced to donate.  

Here are a few pictures although as you well know, I am not a photographer and most of these pictures were taken through glass.  They are not of high quality, but I wanted you to have some idea how special this was.  If you have any interest in viewing handcrafted Nativity Sets from many different cultures and are anywhere in the vicinity of Nashville, TN, put this on your to-do list.  


We settled in at our very favorite cabin, Uncle Pete's at Rockhaven Farms,  We've stayed here so many times, it seems like home, yet we never grow tired of being in this lovely place.  Plus, it is close to Long Hunter State Park where we planned to hike on Saturday and Sunday.  

Saturday dawned as clear and calm as Friday had been brutally cold and blustery.  We headed out to hike the Bryant Grove Trail in Long Hunter State Park.  Tennessee has a terrific state park system most of which have miles of well-marked and perfectly maintained trails.  I had hiked this particular trail on my very first hike with now good friends, Gene and Judi and wanted Bill to enjoy it with me.  I'll let a few pictures take the place of words...................

After experiencing the pure luxury of the cabin's whirlpool tub (which I do not have at home), steaks grilled by chef Bill, and our traditional holiday viewing of The Polar Express, we called it a night anticipating another great hike on Sunday.

Sunday's weather called for mostly cloudy skies with rain moving in by early afternoon, so we got an earlier start.  Our trail today was the Volunteer Day Loop, a trail that was new to both of us.  This trail turned out to be our favorite of the two that we did.  Trails in middle Tennessee are so different from those in the Smokies primarily because they are flat and much smoother.  They are truly a pleasure to walk and even a clumsy soul like me can look up from time to time without stopping simply because the trail is so smooth it isn't likely you'll trip over a rock or a root.  Benches were placed at strategic points all along this trail and the solitude was wonderful.  We talked about some important things going on in our lives, some upcoming decisions that need to be made and our much anticipated trip to Florida coming up, but mostly we hiked in silence left to our own individual thoughts.  It was wonderful.  Enjoy these pictures from the Volunteer Day Loop.

 This rock garden along the trail was absolutely beautiful. 

This one just kind of summed it all up.  How peaceful does this look?  Who knows what I was thinking about?  I could have sat there for hours!

Trailheads in the Smokies where I most often hike, are usually far from any towns, so it felt quite odd to be sitting in Red Lobster less than ten minutes after finishing this trail.  I enjoyed one of their seasonal specials, Tilapia with Roasted Vegetables, that was delicious!  We made it back to the cabin just as the rain arrived and spent a quiet afternoon together gearing up for today's very hectic schedule.

I want to wish each of you the very best Christmas Day.  Your friendship is important to me and I treasure each one of your kind comments.  You've stuck with me through good times, bad times, quiet times and times when I did little but whine about any and everything!  I count all of you as friends!  Let's walk together into 2013 anticipating another year of cultivating healthy habits and deepening friendships!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Laurel Falls Trail - GSMNP
December 17, 2011

Except for a lingering cough and a very frustrating lack of energy, I seem to be back to normal after losing a full two weeks of productivity at a time I least wanted to do so.  As if anyone EVER wants to be sick enough to lose two weeks!  It was, however, a good lesson for me to experience.  A reminder that giving in and letting others "do" for you plus simply accepting that things which you thought HAD to be done really aren't all that important.  Thanks again for all your concern and well wishes.   Illness is ugly and it seems I've had more than my share over the past six months, but I'm thankful to be feeling good again and excited about the holidays and the new year. 

Bill finished a very successful school term this past Friday and completed his responsibilties as Assistant Choral Conductor for the Knoxville Choral Society on Sunday afternoon.   Did you hear the shout??  December is an extremely trying month for any musician and as much as he loves the performance aspect, he is always glad when that last concert ends.  We've had some low-key fun this week with a combination of activity, rest, spending time with friends/family, evening movie watching, etc. as we gear up for the frenzy that will start on Friday. 

So here are the three things on my mind this morning that I wanted to share with you........

1)  Hiking - I have hiked only once since my last post and it was a short one.  I have missed it terribly and likely will not be hiking again in MY mountains until the first of February. (Read on for the reason why that is).  Thanks to the two weeks lost due to illness, I will not reach my secondary goal of 400 miles hiked in 2012, but that's o.k.  I did reach the original goal of 350 miles and that, in itself, was an increase over mileage hiked in 2011.   One hiking friendship ended in 2012, one enjoyed extended hiking time due to the unexpected availability of this person (translate: became unemployed), and new relationships were established and solidified.  I am thankful for this blog as through it, I first found Gene and Judi (who no longer blog) and then Becca.  Now that I am at goal weight, I am a stronger and more confident hiker and my plans in 2013 include becoming an active part of some area hiking clubs which will always provide opportunities to hike most any time.  The friend who became unemployed is actively working on completing all 900+ trails in the Smokies and we've had such a good time helping each other out planning routes and getting new trail mileage accomplished.  After a well deserved break, his job prospects look good and I expect, he'll be employed once again by the time I return from Florida.  I hike for the peace and solitude, so my preference will always be to hike solo or with a friend, but those aren't always options and becoming a part of the groups will increase those options considerably plus give me opportunities to hike in new places. 

2) Weight -  I don't mind confessing that I am just a tad above my scream weight.  I unexpectedly gained a few pounds (I still find this unbelievable) while I was sick.  Your thoughts about that helped me relax.  The weight, however, did NOT fall off once I was able to return to normal eating.  I am not worried.   In fact, I am very relaxed about it.  With Bill home, we traditionally enjoy some of our favorite restaurants* and he COOKS, so I'm placing my focus on sticking with the habits I've learned over the past year, maintaining portion control and avoiding white sugar/flour.  The pounds are actually coming back off - it's just slower than it would be if I would revert to Cycle 1 of the 17DD.  That's what will happen in January!! (*When Bill is out of school, we love having breakfast or lunch at some of our favorite NICE restaurants in town which we avoid during dinner hours for two reasons, expense and portions)

3) Our Plans - Here's the holiday schedule.  I am so excited because it includes some things that are very different from years past and that always energizes the radical part of my personality.  Although I love tradition, I'm not one who stays enthusiastic about doing things exactly the same way they've been done for the past thirty years.  I love change and I love being creative in the way traditions are done.  We will be traveling to my sister's home for our family Christmas this year.  That will happen on Christmas Eve morning, but Bill and I are headed to Nashville on Friday morning for a few days in our favorite cabin and the chance to check out some of the places we love in Nashville.  We'll be back home in time for our church's Christmas Eve service and then dinner with Bill's mom that includes family friends.  We will enjoy a very quiet Christmas Day (this is new and I am SO excited about it) just the two of us.  We remain flexible about what we will actually do on that day.  As best we can remember, there has NEVER been a Christmas Day when we didn't have at least one place we HAD to be at a specific time.  Wednesday and Thursday following Christmas will be frantic as we prepare to leave for Florida.  Heading to Florida is a tradition that was put on hold three years ago when Bill's dad became ill.  It is a tradition which I am thrilled to be reviving as I thought we'd likely forever lost the chance to return to our favorite place when I gave it up in January of 2010.  I also realized that this part of our life was pre-Blog which means YOU know nothing about it.  Funny how this blog seems to have ALWAYS been a part of my life.  So next post (whenever I can get it written) will tell you more about where you might find me for New Year's and most of January.  Prepare to be envious - I am a lucky girl!  And like I said, so happy to be given the chance to return to a place that feels like home which I thought I'd lost forever!! 

Curiosity about you always gets the best of me.......
What are your plans for Christmas and New Year's???

Monday, December 10, 2012


Rabbit Creek Trail - GSMNP
December 4, 2012

A resounding thank-you is my top priority to start!  As I expected, you came through with kind words, thoughtful suggestions and much appreciated wisdom after my last post.  This has been a tough couple of weeks and unfortunately, it isn't over yet, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.  It occurred to me that I've only been sick for two weeks, but it feels like a lifetime!  Here's the latest on that and then believe me, I am more than ready to let the subject go!  On Thursday, I had my regularly scheduled visit with my rheumatologist who was THRILLED with my progress since restarting the Enbrel as my primary medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis.  She and I are both still astounded at the immediate relief once that specific med was reintroduced.  The whole episode which lasted from mid-August until mid-October was quite the wake-up call to me.  It reminded me that no matter how good I might feel, the fact remains that for 30 years, I have had a debilitating, chronic illness for which there is no cure.  Yes, tremendous advances have been made and continue to be made in the treatments available, but I must never become complacent enough to believe that this will not be a primary challenge for the remainder of my life.  Each "flare" takes its toll in one way or the other.

Unfortunately, my rheumatologist (who is also a board-certified internist) was NOT happy with the way I looked or sounded.  Since she noted that right away, I must've still looked pretty washed out although I'd completed my first round of antibiotics and thought I was on the mend.  She promptly sent in a prescription for seven MORE days of antibiotics and I am on day five of that.  I can tell that it is working, but this particular med doesn't agree with my system very well, so I've had to endure some rather unpleasant side effects, most notably a headache.  But as I said, the respiratory part seems much better and I'm hoping for good things this week.  Another lesson reminder has been that sometimes, you just give in and let some things go.  Basically, I've lost two weeks and many of my Christmas traditions simply will not happen this year.  And that's o.k.

For now, I think I've found a way to work around the picture quota limit issue.  Upon further research and based on what some of you indicated, I've learned that this is one of Google/Blogger/Picasa's "known" issues and it seems some accounts are being shown as having reached their quota when technically, they haven't.  Since many of you who have blogged far longer and post lots more pictures than I do report you've NEVER been told you'd reached a limit, nor do you pay for extra storage, I'm going to sit tight for a few weeks and see if the issue might fix itself.  In the meantime, I have reset my camera to take pictures using less pixels and found that I can now upload with no problem.  Quite frankly, I can't see any huge difference in the quality of today's pictures compared to those I'd been posting.  So we'll see.

I was able to hike one day this week, but quickly realized my stamina level had got up and gone so they say.  Knowing I'd spent the better part of the previous week on the sofa, we picked a shorter hike (7.4 miles) that would also net me one mile of new trail.  Thanks to a very patient hiking partner, it was a wonderfully enjoyable day, but jeepers, was I ever slow.   A slow hiker by choice at any time, believe me, when I concede that I'm trudging along, the pace must be brutal to whomever is walking with me!!  But then, surprisingly, when we reached the end and calculated time hiked, the pace wasn't any slower than normal, so guess it was all in my head.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you all thinking loudly.....she needs to end this rambling, drug induced post immediately.  And I'm going to do just that.   Enjoy a few other pictures from my hike!

This trail was closed for several months following the April, 2011 tornado that ripped through the south wreaking havoc along a swath through Alabama, Tennessee and points further north.  The park service did an amazing job getting trails reopened, but even now, there are still two trails in this section of the park that remain closed  I've hiked many of the trails that sustained damage, but none as evident as this one.  Having hiked Rabbit Creek Trail many times, I had a basis for comparison and can only tell you that it doesn't even resemble the same trail.  What was once shaded forest is now completely open and would appear to a newcomer as if the trail had just recently been constructed.  I understand that this is the circle of life and the forest will come back, but to those of us who love it so much, it is heartbreaking.  These two pictures don't even begin to depict what we saw, but maybe you can get the idea.

 Rabbit Creek Trail - GSMNP
December 4, 2012

This river is crossed via log bridge at the beginning and then the end of this out and back hike.  It is always so peaceful.  This is one of the most remote entrances to the park and one of my favorites.  I always enjoy hiking in this area.

Please continue to remember my friend Jo (A Well Kept Life) as she cares for her terminally ill husband and my friend Tami (Nutmeg Notebook) as she recovers from foot surgery.  This is when blog friendships are tough.  I want to DO something - I want to hug Jo and I want to take Tami a casserole.  I hope they both know that I care.  And I know you do as well!  Update:  Jo posted a short notice late Sunday evening that her husband passed away on Saturday.  Please keep her in your closest thoughts this week.  I simply cannot imagine what that must feel like.  They had been married 29 years.

Are you ready for Christmas?


Monday, December 3, 2012

Sharon's Sad Post-Thanksgiving Saga

Traditional After-Thanksgiving Hike - West Prong Trail - GSMNP
November 24, 2012

To say that I am in the midst of a full blown tussle with life is putting it mildly, so let's just say from the outset that this will likely become a whine-fest of epic proportions.  My hope is that you will ignore it and move on.  Not the post - please don't ignore it.   Ignore the whining and know that at some point, I'll return to the version of myself which I actually like!!   

I need some help quickly, so will start with this plea.........

1)  If your blog is set up through Blogger, read on.   If not, move on to whiney post subject #2!  When trying to upload today's picture, I received that unexpected message that I had reached the end of my 1 GB picture storage limit and could no longer post pictures to my blog without upgrading to a paid subscription.  This happened once before and somehow (unfortunately, I can't remember how), I was able to get around it.  This time, however, no dice.  The only way I was able to get today's picture uploaded was to compress it which makes the quality horrible.  Many of you who post through Blogger have been blogging longer than I have and post LOTS more pictures than I do.  Do you mind sharing your secret?  Are you paying for the extra storage or is there a way around this?  And let me EASY way around this.  Technology is not my strong suit and I have absolutely ZERO additional time to fool with it.  As important as this blog is to me, maintaining it HAS to be simple.  If it can't be, the pictures will have to go.  Suggestions please......................

Moving on..............

2)  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.   Bill and I enjoyed a perfect post-Thanksgiving Day hike (of which I'd love to post some pictures if I could) and celebrated the one year anniversary of my beginning the 17 Day Diet.  My weight on Friday morning was exactly 25 pounds less than my weight on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving one year ago.  Unfortunately, the post-Thanksgiving euphoria hit a resounding thud by Saturday evening as the dull headache, scratchy throat and hoarse voice indicated an upcoming problem which I chose to ignore and lived to regret.  I took some over the counter meds, gargled salt water and moved on.  We were having dinner guests Sunday evening whom I always look forward to spending time with, plus I really didn't feel bad and at that point, truly hadn't come to the realization that I was getting sick.  By Monday afternoon, my thought process included calling my doctor and requesting an antibiotic with the idea that we'd nip this in the bud from the beginning.  Tuesday morning, I met Becca for coffee.  Although it seemed the chest congestion was getting worse and the dry, hacking cough more troublesome, I still was not giving in to the fact that I truly was sick.  By Tuesday afternoon, I was on the sofa where I stayed until Saturday.  Can't recall ever having anything quite like this.  Thankfully, never any fever, nor the chills and pain associated with flu.  Just a deep, unrelenting chest cough that has left every muscle in my chest and back prone to spasms from the incessant coughing episodes.  This is something I try every which way to prevent because with a compromised (translate: non-existant) immune system, it is likely this cough will persist throughout December.  Needless to say, it has been a depressing, discouraging week in which I've felt myself getting further and further behind.  I've been unable to attend a couple of events which are important to Bill forcing him to attend alone and I've missed some important choir rehearsals for our Christmas Music performance which is now less than a week away.

The saga continues..................

3)  Since Monday evening, I've have existed on three things as it has been ONLY these three things that have sounded or tasted good to me.  I have eaten oatmeal, cereal and cream of chicken soup.  I've tried throwing some yogurt in, but that just didn't work.  This may sound impossible, but I've managed to eat enough of those three things that I've gained some weight and am above my scream weight.  That's got to turn around although I suppose there's some humor to be found in what crazy person gains holiday weight eating oatmeal and cream of chicken soup.  Unfortunately, food still doesn't sound or taste good, so the oatmeal/soup/cereal diet continues.  

But the tone of this post is about to change.....................

Yes, I am still sick.   Yes, I am discouraged as I've yet to buy the first Christmas gift for my family and I have LOST an entire week.   Yes, our weather all week last week was gorgeous and I was unable to hike a single time.   Granted, I've felt so bad, I didn't care, yet nothing makes me feel better than time out in nature.  Yes, I have settled into a gloomy outlook for the upcoming weeks and that is so not my normal way of looking at things.   I've got to find some fight and turn it around.   

And I will..................

It started Saturday morning with a trial early morning run to Walmart just to see how I did and if there was any stamina at all.   Two traditions of giving that Bill and I celebrate together are buying items needed for the Mission of Hope (gifts for the children of rural Appalachia) community drive and the annual Christmas Brunch (a special "nice" brunch for the homeless and low income families of our community) sponsored by our church.  Believe me, no matter how rotten I've felt this week, it took only about 30 seconds of choosing hats, gloves, scarves, underwear, socks, etc. for folks WHO HAVE NONE OF THOSE THINGS.   For all these days, I have laid on a comfortable sofa in a beautifully decorated den (which I would post pictures of, if I could!!) knowing that at some point each day, Bill would call and say, "do you need anything?"  And that we were able to easily afford the prescription I needed plus anything I wanted that would help me feel better.  Go armed with a list of items for folks who likely have NONE of those things and it'll put things in perspective very quickly.  Yeah, I lost a week and my Christmas shopping may include more gift cards than usual this year because of it, but that's o.k.  I can afford those too!!

And last of all, but certainly not least..................

Please, PLEASE remember my blog friend, Jo, who blogs at A Well-Kept Life.  Jo and I began blogging at approximately the same time and we live in the same state, so there has been a connection from the beginning.   Just a few short weeks ago, her husband was suddenly, almost without warning it seemed, diagnosed with esophageal cancer.   His condition has deteriorated rapidly and their heartbreak is palpable through the written page.  My heart breaks for them.  Hospice has been secured and he has chosen to forego any further treatments.  Please remember them in your prayers.  I cannot begin to imagine what this precious friend of mine must be feeling.

So once again, from me you receive a long and rambling post.  With or without pictures, it's "me" and is pretty much a reflection of why I named this blog, "Gains and Losses:  LIFE Through Sharon's Eyes."  Please do two things for me...................

a)  If you have any insight regarding the picture saga, help me out.   Posting the pictures is important to me and you've always seemed to really like that.  I hate to have to eliminate that aspect of the blog.

b)  I'd rather have some upbeat comments on what your week has been like than sympathy because I've been sick.  For starters, tell me what you and your family do each Christmas to "give back" to your community or those less fortunate.  I know you all - I don't think anyone reading this will say they do nothing.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!