Christmas Memories (Part 2: Twilights at Chimney Park)

Our next Christmas adventure is sure to become part of our yearly tradition, and I stumbled upon this gem on a family photoshoot. An old friend of mine needed some family photos done, so I suggested we head out to Chimney Park behind the local library as it has many nice spots for photos. Upon arriving, we discovered that there were people there decorating for an event that night. This worked out wonderfully for our photoshoot with the lovely Christmas decorations, and everyone there was very kind and patient with us.

A gentleman finally told me what all the decorating was about and invited us out to the event that evening. The event was “Twilights at Chimney Park”. For $5 we could see the lights, get a hot dog, hot chocolate, and s’mores, and enjoy various choirs singing carols. It seemed like a wonderful event to take my niece to, especially considering how much she enjoyed the Fairy Festival earlier in the year, so I proceeded to call and offer an invite and make plans to return that evening.

It was truly magical! You pay your fee, receive your tickets, and then the local elves whisk you into a winter wonderland filled with the sights and sounds of Christmas!

The first smell upon entering was that of hot chocolate, so of course, I stopped for a cup. We arrived early, so of course we were one of the first families in line to see Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Then we set out to explore the rest of the winter wonderland.

This tiny little park had magically exploded into a world of Christmas wonder. It was truly a fun and magical adventure, and I’m sure we will return year after year.

 

 

Christmas Memories (Part 1: Decorating and the Parade)

Christmas is over and a new year has begun, so we are left with but memories of the special things that happen at this most wonderful time of the year. Old traditions mix with new memories to say goodbye to one year and issue in the next.

So, with that being said, I will trot down memory lane and tell you about my Christmas. This year was a little different than most. My daughter turned 16 this year near Christmas, so a Sweet 16 Birthday Trip was scheduled during this holiday season. Because of this, we skipped many of the family gatherings in favor of a trip to Disney World. Yes folks, we skipped Christmas…but not entirely. Some traditions must be kept, and some traditions were sadly missed, but Christmas was still fun and exciting and especially special this year.

Now the tradition that always brings in the holiday season is of course the decorating. Every year on Thanksgiving Night we begin decorating the house for Christmas. When the guests are gone and our bellies are stuffed with turkey and all the fixings, we put on the Christmas music and bring the decorations down from the attic.

And of course, no Christmas tree is complete without a cat sleeping under its branches.

Every year we each get a new ornament, so each one we place on the tree has a special Christmas memory attached.

This year the nativity went up on the mantel.

And after all was said and done, we had a beautifully decorated tree…if I do say so myself.

Even the sock monkeys helped to decorate this year.

Then the day after Thanksgiving, we finished up the decorating with the outside lights.

The next big Christmas tradition is the local annual Christmas Parade. Each year my husband’s workplace has a float in the parade, so usually, we are all in the parade in some fashion. This year, only my daughter followed the float while I took pictures and my husband prepared for the after-parade kids’ party.

There were so many beautiful floats this year, and everyone seemed to be having such a great time. Like with every year though, I think half of our town was in the parade leaving the viewing audience a bit thin. But it’s all fun!

And that is the end of Part 1. Be sure to keep your eyes open for Part 2: Twilights at Chimney Park.

Girl’s Trip! (Part 2: Chattanooga)

Wow! So part two only took a month to get written. It is that crazy holiday time of the year, so as usually happens, life gets in the way of writing. The good news, however, is that I now have several wonderful events to write about. But before I move on to holiday cheer, it is time to finish my Girls’ Trip blog.

Now where did I leave you? That’s right…after we finished our hike at Cloudland Canyon, we drove over the mountain to Chattanooga. Thirty minutes later we were checking in to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This historic location was once the train station in Chattanooga. Now it serves as a hotel and historic attraction. The main lobby where you check in is in the old rail station and is quite lovely. You should definitely drop by and take a look if you’re ever in the area.

They have rooms in some of the old rail cars which might be an interesting overnight experience, but my daughter and I stayed in the standard hotel portion. Apparently the site was under a major restoration, so it didn’t prove to be the best time to stay. As for location, however, we were in a prime area for visiting this lovely city.

On our first morning, we found ourselves in need of something warm to drink. Lucky for us The Hot Chocolatier was right across the street. We started our Chattanooga adventure off with some of the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted…and a couple of truffles to accompany the delicious beverages. My truffle was lavender. I didn’t even know you could eat lavender, but now I know what lavendar tastes like (just like it smells by the way). Interesting.

Then we headed off to the aquarium. We decided to get passes for the Behind the Scenes Tour. We arrived at the aquarium approximately an hour before the tour began, so needless to say, we were unable to wander far. The tour was in the ocean aquarium, so we started out on the top floor of this building. To my delight, at the very top of the escalator was a sign pointing to the butterfly sanctuary! I didn’t even know they had one of these, so I again found myself in butterfly heaven on a trip. Yay! Before we entered Butterfly Heaven, however, we were greeted by two large blue Hyacinth Macaws who found great pleasure in laughing at all passers-by.

After talking to and laughing with the macaws for a little while, we headed to the butterfly room. To my daughter’s dismay, we ended up in this room before and after the tour. Though she enjoyed the butterflies, she was afraid I might decide to spend too much time there dooming her to miss the rest of the aquarium. Her fears were unjustified, however, as we did see all of the aquarium.

Inside I managed many wonderful shots of these beautiful lepidoptera. And after the tour, we enjoyed the pleasure of releasing some newly hatched butterflies into the habitat.

The Behind the Scenes tour was equally amazing. We were able to see the penguins up close and learn about them and their habits and habitat.

Did you know they raise one arm to regulate their body temperature? And their normal body temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit? Those are just a couple of the cool facts we learned about these interesting creatures. Penguins are awesome!

After visiting the penguins, we headed to the large saltwater tank. We were taken into the room where the divers enter the water and the sea creatures are fed. We met the divers and learned a bit about their job. Then we met with the people that feed the animals. We learned about their diet, where they get the food, and which creature eats what.

Then we were given the pleasure of feeding the sea turtles!

Then we had an animal encounter with a glass lizard. This particular lizard is legless and looks disturbingly like a snake. He wouldn’t stay still enough for me to get a good shot, so I will be unable to share a picture of this amazing creature.

The rest of the ocean aquarium was typical for a saltwater habitat.

After we finished the ocean aquarium, we took a walk to find some lunch. We walked under the bridge and found a hidden park. It was like a secret world. We didn’t actually find any lunch. Instead we found ice cream at The Ice Cream Show. It was enough to tide us over until dinner. Then it was back to the aquarium to visit the river side.

Now, I must admit, I am not a fan of river fish…except for eating. They aren’t the loveliest of fishes. There were some other interesting aqueous inhabitants, however.

My favorite river buddies live around the water on the banks of the river and use the waters a food source and place to play. Say hello to the River Otter!

And of course there was the regular array of reptilian, amphibian, and avian riverside inhabitants.

Unfortunately, our river adventure was cut short due to caterers setting up for an after-hours party.

On our last day in Chattanooga, we headed across the river for a shopping trip. Our first stop was in Coolidge Park for a ride on the carousel.

And of course any good shopping trip starts off with coffee, so we hunted down a great little coffee shop called The Stone Cup. We hung out at the coffee shop for nearly an hour sipping Peppermint Mocha and enjoying art. By the time we left, it was lunch time, so we picked up some sub sandwiches and headed to the Walnut Street Bridge to eat. Then we made our second trip to the Ice Cream Show for coffee and ice cream. We spent the rest of the afternoon inspecting the record and book collections of several shops. Our only find was a Disney trivia book that kept us occupied while at the ice cream shop.

We ended our day with a little down-time in Coolidge Park. My daughter played her guitar while I walked around taking photos.

A perfect end to an amazing Girls’ Trip.

 

 

 

Girls’ Trip! (Part 1: Cloudland Canyon)

My daughter and I recently took our 2nd Annual Fall Break Girls’ Trip. Our original plan this year was to go to Charleston again, but the hurricane the week before down in the Bahamas was causing all sorts of weather trouble for the east coast. Charleston was flooding, and there were photos online of our lodging area where people were paddling down the streets in kayaks. Seeing as how that didn’t seem like the ideal girls’ trip location for this year, we decided to look for an alternative. After a bit of searching, we settled on a trip to Chattanooga so she could see the Tennessee Aquarium for the first time.

Now, though Chattanooga was the final destination, it was not the first destination. There is plenty to see and do along the way. Our first stop en route was Cloudland Canyon. This was my daughter’s first trip there. After seeing photos from my last trip, she really wanted to see it for herself. Since I had my handy-dandy Friends of Georgia State Park Pass, we breezed right through the front gate with a friendly smile and wave from the attendant and headed straight to the lookout point and trail head. When we got there, my daughter had to put on her hiking shoes…and she didn’t like the way they fit. We walked as far as the benches at the trail head, and already, she was complaining. So, being a resourceful mother and hiker, we switched shoes. The shoes worked for me (though I still prefer my boots). Then off we headed to see the waterfalls.

We didn’t get very far before I had to stop for a photo-op though. We found the greatest tree.

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Then we started our walk down into the canyon. Before long we happened upon a rock wall (that of course reminded my daughter of MineCraft) and a little ways up the wall was a little hole that looked like a cave. I decided she could probably climb right on up there, so she agreed and gave it a try…and did very well.

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I of course didn’t try it. Those rocks were better suited to the lighter-weight and reasonably flexible. I would’ve broken something…a rock, my camera, MY HEAD! Needless to say, we did not want to take any trips to the hospital because of Mama’s foolishness, so I refrained (this time). As we continued along the path we eventually came up on a giant boulder overhanging the trail. Now the last time I was here, I only had my dog, Dixie, with me, so getting a photo to convey the shear size of this thing didn’t really work out. This time, however, I had a crazy teenage girl with me who let me direct her for photos. It is amazing how perspective can change with just a little manipulation. In the first photo, I had her stand directly under the boulder, so you can see just how massive it is.

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Then in the next photo I wanted to make it look like she was holding the boulder up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look nearly as impressive in the second photo.

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And of course, we had to get the Hercules shot where she actually has her hands on the rock.

 

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Eventually we moved on from here and rounded the corner. In the distance, I could see the bridge that crosses Sitton’s Gulch. I wasn’t able to cross the bridge the last time because the grating hurt Dixie’s paws. This time, however, it was just us people, so across we went, and it was well worth the trip. We made it across and saw some lovely cascades beneath us, so we made our way around the trail to get a better look. As we were firing off a few shots, my daughter said, “I wish we could get down there to the bottom.”

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This of course was responded to with, “I think we can.” So down we climbed. There were plenty of sturdy tree roots and a somewhat worn footpath where others had attempted the descent. Soon we were at the bottom and trying to figure out how to get the best shots. It was absolutely beautiful down there!

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Of course, the trouble with making your way down is that eventually you have to make your way back up. After we were done marveling and exploring and photographing, we headed back over to where we came down and realized that this was going to take a bit more effort. Hand and feet were required for this climb, so the all equipment had to be secured and free from dangling into our way. Then up the tree roots we climbed back to the path. It was awesome! My daughter, however up for the challenge she may have been, does not find hiking to be her sport of choice after this adventure.

Soon we made our way back across the gulch and onto the path for the first waterfall. Along the way we passed more “MineCraft” rocks…

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…and a leaf stuck to the canyon wall.

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And eventually we made it to Hemlock Falls. Here I got a few shots of the waterfall disappearing into my daughter’s head.

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And a couple of good shots too.

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And always remember when you’re out hiking to stay well hydrated.

 

 

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Then we decided to head over to see the other waterfall. The path from one fall to the other is a bit of a walk, so we got several pictures along the way as we stopped to catch our breath. It was getting into the golden hour, so I managed several beautiful shots of reflections in the water.

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Eventually we made our way over to Cherokee Falls. You can get right up to (and into if you want) the water here. Of course there were a few fun shots just before the waterfall came into view.

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My crazy girl was the first one to make it out to the rocks at the water’s edge, so I got some really great shots of her there.

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Then we got busy taking shots of the waterfalls…

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Then, of course, there were more fun shots.

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Ahh…I just love taking pictures of that beautiful, silly, crazy, wonderful girl.

Finally, we headed back up out of the canyon and got a few shots from the lookout point.

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And before long, we were back in the car driving over Lookout Mountain headed to Chattanooga.

 

 

Sweetwater Creek State Park

I’ve recently discovered another state park gem in my beautiful home state of Georgia. What is this gem? Sweetwater Creek State Park. It is located in Lithia Springs which is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Six Flags.

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Now, you may be wondering why this is important. Well, my lovely children had the good fortune (or perhaps small fortune depending on which end of the spending spectrum you may be on) to acquire season passes to this awful…I mean wonderful…roller coaster thrill ride filled land of amusement.

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I myself, in case you haven’t caught on, am not a fan. As far as theme parks go, I would much rather spend my days searching for autographs from my favorite Disney characters or exploring the magical world of Harry Potter. However, since we don’t live in Orlando and since I prefer the natural world to the theme park world any day, I have acquired a season pass (well, really it’s a parking pass with a few benefits) to the Friends of Georgia State Parks. So, voila! Everyone is happy! I drop the kids off at Six Flags, and I head to a state park.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t figure this out at the beginning of theme park season. Well, unfortunately this was the hottest summer EVER (and trust me, because I’ve been a Georgia girl all my life), and I was suffering from an unknown illness all summer (not to worry, the source was discovered and easily treated, and I’m all better and ready for hiking season! Yay!). So, all that to say, it’s October, season of Freight Fest and every weekend trips to Six Flags (thanks to Rat Man and Cheese Boy, the dynamic duo cleverly disguised as my son and his best friend),

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and Mama needed a close-by place to go to find adventure and a bit of peace and quiet (because the “my son, Cheese Boy” part of that duo doesn’t want to take Enderchick, the minecraft warrior cleverly disguised as my daughter).

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Well, that and dear old Dad decided to get a season pass, too…For next year! For everyone! A whole year more of that dreaded theme park!

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So dear old tired Mama gets to drop half the crew off at that place and head to the woods. Good thing is, they all ride home together, so I don’t have to pick them up.

Ok, so back to my hidden gem. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this state park. It is one of the smaller ones and quite close to Atlanta. But like all of the state parks in Georgia, it did not disappoint. So far, I’ve hiked the same trail twice, but the view each time was amazingly different. The trail that I took was the Historic Trail and blazes red. It takes you down to the ruins of the old New Manchester Mill. This mill was built during the Civil War era, and unfortunately, it was not running for long. Soon after it began operation making textiles, Union troops captured the employees, sent them up north as prisoners of war, and burned the mill. The scorch marks from the fire can still be seen on some of the walls.

Now, this mill may have a tragic history, but that history has left some beautiful ruins for photographers like myself to hike out and photograph. The hike out to the ruins is about a half mile, give or take. The first time I went was after a long stretch of rain from Hurricane Joaquin on the coast. (In fact, that hurricane flooded Charleston, but that is a story for another day.) The creek’s water level was very high. Some of the areas where trails went were inaccessible due to the water level. However, it made for some lovely shots of rushing water. The water cascaded over large boulders (which I discovered on my next trip when the water level was back to normal).

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I managed a few good photos of the mill as well, but I couldn’t get very close to it due to the water level. The mill is situated right beside the creek, so the creekside of the mill was actually in the water that day.

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I hiked out past the mill to the end of the trail. After the mill, the trail gets a little more difficult with steep hills,

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slippery rocks,

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and narrow spots on the trail with some steep drops.

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However, it is worth the hike, because the view is gorgeous.

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Unfortunately, I was anticipating an easy hike, so I didn’t wear the right shoes. Needless to say, it made the trail harder to navigate and my feet hurt by the end. Western boots are for riding, not hiking. Hiking boots have a little more play in the sole for climbing those rocks.

When I reached the end of the trail and set up my tripod for some panoramas, the sky suddenly got very, very dark. I was caught in a sudden state of panic, because I was about a mile into the woods and not prepared for a storm. I snapped off some quick shots for a panorama that didn’t turn out at all, but I did get a shot for my monochrome photo challenge of a beautiful stump that had been shaped by the running water.

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When I felt a few rain drops, I hurriedly packed up my things, threw the rain cover over the backpack, and darted out of there…well, as much as one can dart on a wooded trail. By the time I reached the mill again, the ominous clouds had moved on and the rain threat dissipated. So, I slowed down a bit, retrieved my camera from the waterproof safety of its bag, and began the end of that day’s journey.

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I even found some cool fungi,

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a couple of interesting trees,

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and a great rock to relax on for a few minutes.

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The second time I went out to the park was the next weekend. The boys invited another friend along to Freight Fest and headed out early with our Expedition, and my husband and the girls (my daughter and her best friend, Shipwreck Samantha…check out her cool clay creations on Etsy) wanted to go up later, so I drove them out, dropped them off with the boys, and headed out to the park on this super clear, absolutely beautiful, fall day. It was a bit later in the day this time, so I only hiked out to the mill. As soon as I saw the creek, however, I was very much surprised. What was nothing but rushing water before was now a reasonable creek with boulders you could make your way across. So you know what this girl did…walked out on those rocks and got some close-up pictures! I traveled a little lighter this time…no pack, just my camera. I took the 55mm lens, so I wasn’t able to really zoom in. I was, however, able to get some good macro shots, up close and personal shots, and some great landscape views. I had my proper shoes on this time, so I was a bit adventurous with climbing up and down the sides of hills, venturing across the stream, and picking out those less traveled paths. I navigated across an off-shoot of the creek and traveled the path right next to the water on this trip.

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I was able to get right up next to those little waterfalls, and the water was calmer, so the golden hour reflections in the smoother water were magnificent! As I traveled further downstream, I found many amazing waterside views,

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and eventually, I stumbled upon a most spectacular view of the creekside of the mill. So of course this required a little trip out into the creek to get just the right shot. It also meant a short trip down a steep hillside, but there were plenty of rocks to help me down (and back up again when the time came).

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It was well worth the adventure, that is for certain! By the time I made my way back up to the front side of the mill, however, it was starting to get dark, so it was time to head back. Night was fully upon me as I exited the trail, and as I looked back, I saw a line of lanterns heading to where I had just been…a twilight tour to the mill. (I bet they had a blast. I wonder if they got to hear spooky ghost stories about that old place.”

So that was the end of my journey. Expect to hear more about this place in the future. There’s a five-mile trail out there I plan to do the next time.

Beautiful People

A funny thing happens to people when a camera is pointed at them.  They turn into posing puppet people. Now, that’s all good and fine for some situations, like a nice family portrait to give to your friends with big smiles and loving attitudes (and they’ll never know you were just frantically trying to fix the fussy toddler’s hair, arguing with the preschooler about ice cream, and secretly planning revenge on the spouse sitting in the other room oblivious to it all…like fifteen minutes before the photo shoot). You head into a studio or other photo session environment, put on big smiles, and allow the photographer to pose your rather awkward puppet bodies into a happy, loving family for this year’s Christmas cards. But let’s face it. It’s usually noticeable that the smiles don’t really go beyond the face…unless your photographer is a really good puppet master. Since I’m still working on that aspect of my photographing skills, I prefer to photograph people in their natural element. Most would call this candid photography. I think I prefer to call it “bet you didn’t know I was looking”.  In my opinion, this is when you get the best shots. The ones full of life and emotion. These shots are the real deal…no acting, no posing, just being. Beautiful people showing beautiful emotions at every end of the spectrum of human expression.

When you follow your loved ones around with your camera ready, you can catch them doing all sorts of things.

Like sleeping at the cafe:

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Hanging out with a friend:

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Blowing bubbles:

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No need to catch the whole scene. Zoom right on in there and catch those wonderful facial expressions while they’re having fun. You can get so many emotions when they don’t know you’re looking, and you can learn so much just by watching people.

You can catch so many smiles of pure joy and amazement:

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You might even catch the loving gaze of a young father as he watches his wife and child:

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Love is always nice to catch on film:

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And sometimes you catch people just lost in thought and wonder where they might be in that other-world of dreams and thought: