Tag Archives: Written by Susanne Kessaris

An Idyllic Mountain Vacation Setting

Recently my family and I took a much-needed trip to the mountains. As on most vacations, we never know what our accommodations are going to be like as I reserve lodging spots sight unseen. It is a little easier with the use of the internet. However, as each owner makes their own rental sound simply amazing and breathtakingly appealing, it can be somewhat misleading and we never quite know what we are going to get until we arrive at each vacation destination. At a certain price point, we can be pretty assured that it will be acceptable. However, one never really knows what awaits. Will we be out in the sticks, miles away from town and unable to find grocery stores, restaurants and shopping? Will everyone be happy with their designated bed and/or room? We have rented houses in the past through real estate rental management companies and have recently discovered vacation rentals by owner. Most often, we have been happy.  One time, our house was up a very steep hill that left us all scared to make the ascent each time we would go to and from our rental property. We have been far away from civilization and were exhausted each time we had to find a grocery store to gather our supplies for the weekend. We have had rustic quarters where someone had to sleep on a cot, a sleeper sofa or worse, on the floor.  We have stayed in what we refer to as “the elf house” that was literally so small that we could barely turn around. We had to make up the couch/bed and push aside the kitchen table each day in order to have a spot to sit down or eat.

The story that tops them all is when we stayed at a “resort” in West Virginia. I use the term lightly as this is how it was advertised. Little did we know that it had been a former women’s prison in the early part of the 20th century.  We stayed in a room that had been the infirmary. The bathroom had no updates and I got an uneasy feeling about the sanitary condition of a place that must have treated contagious diseases and all sorts of ailments. Even worse, the twin beds in the room seemed like they were original to the prison.  We could barely sleep with imaginations of what prisoners had stayed in the room before us. However, what was unnerving were the eerie sounds in the building and particularly in the floor above us throughout the night. Upon closer examination the following day, we discovered that there were still cells and bars on the windows in the upper rooms. It was a space that was rented out each Halloween as a haunted house. It was equipped with a coffin, skeletal figures and other ghoulish apparitions. We could not leave that vacation spot quick enough.

We have been on the other end of the spectrum  when we knew we had spent too much for our rental and the space was so too nice that we couldn’t really relax for fear that we would mess something up and would forfeit a rental deposit. One time our children marvelled at the sight of a refrigerator in an upscale hotel room.  They took treats out of the refrigerator all through the first day of our stay before we realized it. Of course they did not know that those candy bars and sodas were not free and were attached to our already expensive bill at then end of our vacation.

I guess this is part of what makes vacationing an adventure.  Our family always has a ball together. We laugh at each other until we almost cry. It is a much-needed break from our hectic life and we love times that we spend together.

This year’s fall mountain trip offered us one of the best accommodations yet.

We scheduled to stay in a house in a lake community that was built in the 1920’s. From the pictures, I could tell that it had a nice front porch with a view of the lake.  There were plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms for everyone.  It sounded nice enough and since it was in an area where we had never stayed before, we decided to take the risk. It was not far from town, so we figured there would be plenty to do if our house was not quite to our liking and we wanted to venture out.

We arrived in two cars. My mother, son and I arrived earlier in the day. My husband and daughter arrived later that night. We found the house to be better than we had imagined.  It was old but charming because it reminded us of a grandparents’ house. It was furnished in craftsman style with oak wooden floors and moldings.Wallpaper from another era was still on bedroom walls. The bathrooms were not modern.  We found cast iron tubs  in two baths upstairs. There were quilts and rocking chairs throughout the house.  The lack of updates added to the appeal by taking us back to a simpler time. There was only one television in the lower downstairs bedroom. We discovered that we were actually relieved to do without modern technology. It was good to be coerced to unplug for the weekend. We played card games, communicated a lot with one another and  found interesting reading material amongst the many bookshelves throughout the house.

The community was private and quiet.  There were walking trails around the lake.   Canada geese waddled by the lake’s edge. Other water birds could be seen floating  in the distance.  Among them were ducks, swans and loons. These birds were delightful to watch even though they made quite a racket and disturbed our sleep by their constant honking throughout the night.

My daughter took the opportunity to go for a run each morning and made it all the way around the lake.  She explored the neighborhood and brought us back to see a cross at the top of the tallest hill and a bridge that crossed the lake at its narrowest point. There was a feeding area for the swans and a couple of gardens that were maintained by residents throughout the year.

The weather was balmy the first day. My son and I took the opportunity to sit out on the porch and read for a while.  It was good that we did for it rained the next day and turned colder.  We had no choice but to take an indoor shopping excursion and a car tour of the area. The night before we left, the temperature dipped into the 30s. It caught us by surprise forcing us to bundle up as we packed to leave. We started to see snow flurries on our departure and even heavier snow fell along the mountain roads as we travelled home. None of us cared because we had a wonderful time and fond memories of out trip to the mountains.

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Filed under Fall, Uncategorized

In Hibernation Mode

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The ice on the trees glistens in the sun and is a breathtaking sight.

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The ornamental kale is especially beautiful covered with snow.

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The snow is melting in the afternoon sun but I caught a photo in my yard before it is all gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People ask me if I like cold weather or snow days here in the south.  I typically say that I don’t because we often get ice mixed with snow which can make driving conditions hazardous. I really don’t like rushing at the last-minute to the grocery store to find one of the last loaves of bread or cartons of milk . I don’t like standing in a long line to make my purchases then fighting traffic to hurry home before the winter storm hits.

The first day, it is fun to watch the snow coming down which is often a rare occurrence here in South Carolina. I go outside with my dog for short walks and enjoy the scenery  which looks vastly different with a white blanket. I may try to build a snowman, although with little precipitation, it is often a failed attempt. I take photos to send to friends in Florida or for northerners to get a laugh out of  the “big  snow that shut down everything”. I lug out the snow boots, hats, scarves, gloves and hooded coat for a short trek in the woods. After they have dried out, I  store all the single-use winter paraphernalia that we had to have for Christmas  until next year.  The muddy walks with the dog leave the floors dirty and they must be cleaned up multiple times. I  exhaust myself with all this activity and  fall in a heap in my big easy chair to warm myself by the gas-powered fireplace. I  sip on a fresh cup of hot coffee or tea. I  take in a movie from Netflix. I  dig out a book that I have recently purchased but haven’t had time to devour.

I say I don’t like the snow or cold weather. However, I really don’t mind being stuck indoors and having uninterrupted time to work on projects that I have put off until one day. I enjoy planning and dreaming of gardening projects to tackle come the first signs of spring. During long sessions when I am sitting I may even  indulge myself in a brief cat nap. I get some time to rest and relax from the busyness of the past Christmas and New Year festivities . I find myself in hibernation mode and finally have time to think, reflect and focus my thoughts.

I think I like an occasional snow day after all.

 

 

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The Love Tree

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I enjoyed a walk in the woods near my house today as it was unseasonably warm outside.  The backdrop of cascading yellow leaves was a beautiful sight to behold. Our property is surrounded by maples and tulip trees whose leaves turn to gorgeous shades of gold in the fall. I  kicked the leaves to make a rustling sound as I walked. I spied acorns and pinecones peering through the leaf piles.  Just beyond the creek that runs beside our property, I discovered a tree that was amazing in a different way  besides its leaf color.It is extraordinary because it has a very distinct shape in a knothole.  The hole goes clear through the tree which is in a state of decay although it still has leaves and signs of life. The fact that it is still standing is a testament to the image it portrays. I have named it the “Love Tree” for there is a perfect heart shape permanently imbedded  in its bark.  I am reminded of a poem called Trees by Joyce Kilmer.

imag0115imag0114-1A line in the poem states “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” I might also add  “His love was shown to me through a tree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Taste Of The Country

Last weekend, I travelled with my mother and daughter to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. My mother is delighted anytime we take her near her childhood home of Christiansburg. I searched the internet for bed and breakfast accommodations near Abingdon and discovered an 1880’s farmhouse that sounded idealistic.  We have taken risks before by staying in unfamiliar places. Sometimes it has worked out to our advantage but other times it has been disappointing.

I spoke to the owner of the farm when I made my reservations. She warned me that the farm is difficult to find in the evening because of the dark and winding mountain roads.Our goal was to arrive well before sunset.  However, we were not prepared for an hour-long delay travelling through Charlotte last Friday afternoon due to a traffic accident along the interstate.

We arrived in Abingdon just as the sun was setting. I phoned the farm-owner. She said we were about twenty minutes away. She gave me directions and said she would have the lights on.  The travel time seemed longer than what we anticipated and the road was DARK! Finally we reached the church where we were to make a right turn but we were unable to find road signs leading to the farm. Fortunately, the lady had parked her car at the bottom of a hill. She stopped us and led us up the road leading to her farm.  When we parked, we could make out only a shadow of the farmhouse. She got out and led us by  flashlight along a sidewalk towards the house. She warned us of a metal boot scraper that was imbedded in the concrete just outside of the gate.

She showed us around the inside of the house.  It was filled with interesting antiques and portraits of her family. The house had been updated with a modern kitchen. There was a living room, dining room, family room and bathroom downstairs. IMAG0098.jpgimag0096IMAG0099.jpgimag0100Upstairs were four bedrooms and an additional bath with a claw foot tub that had been added to the original house. We were very comfortable because each of us had our own room.The only drawback was that there were four steps down from the landing to reach the bathroom.  In the middle of the night it got very dark in the house so we had to set up lamps near the stairs so that my eighty year old mother could find her way down the steps.

We went to bed early as we were tired from the trip. We were excited to sleep in old beds covered with beautiful antique quilts and soft down filled pillows. It was easy to fall asleep in such luxury. However, the real delight came in the morning when we peered out our bedroom windows and finally beheld the surrounding countryside.  We spotted cows and horses grazing in pastures of rolling hills with distant mountains behind them. Barns and sheds near the house seemed to beckon for us to explore them.

We excitedly ventured downstairs into the kitchen and discovered a vase of yellow and red roses on the table and a basket full of delicious breakfast treats.  Our hostess had bought pumpkin doughnuts and apple bread from a bakery in nearby Bristol. She had also tucked an assortment of fruit, cereal and coffee in the basket.  We felt very pampered and were delighted to get a taste of the country for a weekend.

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Backyard Beautification Project

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We have begun phase one of a beautification project in our backyard since the city’s crews have finished digging and have removed their dirt moving equipment.  They pushed and moved dirt around for about two weeks beginning by 8 each morning and quitting by 4 each afternoon. Fortunately, the weather cooperated during that time and even the threat of hurricane winds and rain did not blow or wash their work away.

First they dug and removed cracked concrete drain pipes. Next they dug out a deeper trench. They left a four-foot deep ravine along the back of our property which leads to a creek on our neighbor’s adjoining property.  They smoothed out the dirt piles then laid out bundles of straw and burlap mesh which then was covered with grass seed.

The landscape area looked bare when they finished. We decided to plant a row of fast-growing shrubs that would eventually hide the ditch and landscaping fabric along the slope facing our property. The problem was that the ground back there stays fairly wet during rainy seasons. We had to decide what could tolerate damp ground conditions. We decided on tea olive shrubs known as Osmanthus. They are evergreen, have a holly type leaf and have sweet-smelling white flowers that bloom both in the spring and the fall.

I shopped around until I found a reasonable price since we had to cover a 140 foot expanse. We got 25 shrubs to be spaced out 6 feet apart. The nursery delivered them. We had our yard guys dig the holes while my husband planted the shrubs.  Four hours later, I had three tired, sweaty fellows but a beautiful hedge of shrubs. They planted them in a curved rather than straight line for better aesthetic appeal.  The plan is to later fill in with some camellias and Little Gem Magnolia trees in front of the hedge.100_4055

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The Story of Pushkin

About twelve years ago, our beautiful white persian cat came to live with us in a very extraordinary way.  A pack of stray cats hung out in our backyard then. At the time,we had some cat food in a bowl near our back door for our tuxedo cat that occasionally went outside. The food attracted a few interesting critters including an occasional opossum or racoon. It became a problem, however, when stray cats hung around because they wanted to stay permanently.  During this feline visitation,  a particularly scraggly and motley crew showed up.  We tried our best to discourage them, inquiring of ownership among the neighbors to avoid calling the pound. With their usual overload of cats, sadly many are  euthanized.

Two of the cats in this pack looked like they had been in a cat fight. One had a partial ear that apparently was injured during a brawl.  We heard them outside our window at night hissing and howling at each other. One night we noticed an interesting white addition to the pack.  We began to see him show up with regularity. We noticed that he was a persian although his coat was quite matted. We tried to get near him but each time we came close, he would run away. He was very skittish around us. We referred to him as the “ghost kitty” as he would appear and disappear quickly around the house when we suddenly came upon him. He looked like a ghost as he whizzed by us like a white streak in the dark.

My son began to befriend the little cat that was so shy and scared.  He gradually got closer to him until one day he was able to pet him. Of course he wanted to keep him and because no one claimed him, he soon was ours. We had to have him completely shaved down to regrow his now beautiful white fur. We had him neutered as he was spraying outside and we wanted to make him into a house pet.  The vet made an astonishing discovery. This poor kitty had no front claws and had been fairly defenseless outside. No wonder he was so scared! His skin was full of scratches under all the matted fur.   There was a total transformation between the shy, matted creature before and the gentle, loving beauty that he has become. My daughter suggested the name Pushkin because of his pushed nose and rather grumpy face.

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Big Cats In My Back Yard


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Sometimes we are visited by the neighbor’s cats.  We have found the yellow tabby curled up on a sunny spring day taking a “cat nap” in a flower-pot beneath our deck.  There is a black, brown and white calico that wanders through the yard occasionally and teases our Cavalier while she sits at the picture window in our kitchen longing to tear after him.  Our Cav  loves to go out on our deck where she can get the best vantage point to scan our property and  a corner of our neighbor’s yard. Their yard is heavily covered with foliage from which the cats can peer out and easily find a camouflaged spot to hide from our furocious sounding dog.  Our Delilah has caught these intruders by surprise when we have taken her on walks. She has gotten close to them but never quite close enough for her liking. She lives frustrated because she can do no more than bark at them to temporarily frighten them away.

This week we have had a different type of “cat” in our backyard.  I am talking about a power-operated form of equipment that is used to move dirt around.

We have lived with a ditch in our backyard where water drains from surrounding properties into a drain field and eventually into a creek beside us.  The drainage ditch has gotten bigger through the years and the water run-off has begun to create some gulleys on our property. A complaint was filed before we bought our property five years ago and we hoped one day the problem would be addressed but had almost given up thinking they would come to fix the problem.  We tried to work around the problem and made a garden plot beside it in the spring. A team of workers from the city came to inspect our property about a week ago.  They  have to excavate through our garden to work on the project.  I am really not upset. I believe it will be worth it in the long run. In the mean time, I am having to look out in my yard at some monster “cats.”100_4047100_4048

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