Tuesday, December 12, 2017


This was my favorite, of all the boats I saw in the 2017 Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama, Christmas Lighted Boat Parade.  Based on its appearance, it might be called a "Floating Castle"!
A Christmas parade usually includes some version of Santa Claus, and this water-based event was no exception!

Perhaps a lighted Christmas boat parade  is no big deal to residents of coastal regions, but for someone who was born, raised, and stayed in the land-locked state of Arkansas, it is something I have longed to see.  Therefore, I will start this blog with some photos of my main reason for wanting to make this trip---the lighted boat parade!

The cabin of this boat was COMPLETELY covered in a "Light Drapery"!
This photo of several lighted boats lined up close together, is one I found on the Internet, before attending the event.  In reality, when the parade is in progress, the boats cannot stay that close together.  I have learned this fact in previous travels to the "Tall Ships" Parade of Sail in Tacoma, and the "Tall Stacks" paddlewheel boat parade in Cincinnati.  However, it makes for a great photo op, when you can see the boats close together, before the necessary spacing that occurs when the parade is in progress!
We knew the after-dark, lighted boat parade would be no longer than an hour or so in length; therefore, the group I hike and kayak with decided, "Since everyone was making this 12 hour drive to get to Gulf Shores, why not take advantage of the abundant waterways, and take along the kayaks??!"  Fortunately, one of the group has a large trailer that was adapted to carry the individual kayaks!  Likewise, another person in the group had a vehicle large enough to transport those who did not want to drive their cars to Gulf Shores.

This group of ladies has traveled and kayaked together so much, they have the loading process perfected to "artistry in motion"!  ( If the reader is interested in learning about the paddling this group did on the Fish River and Magnolia River on our trip last year, you can check out the article I published about those trips in my blog archives, under the date of December 29, 2016, with the title, "Gulf Shores Expedition!".)

The trip to Gulf Shores was a Christmas gift I gave myself, and explains my  uplifted arms of praise and gratitude in this photo.  Diana took the photo whenever our group went to "The Wharf" in Orange Beach, to see their Christmas light show.

The Wharf ( www.alwharf.com ) has a light show throughout the year, and our visit there enabled us to see the version of the spectacular show ( called "Spectra") with a Christmas and holiday music choreography.  It was a visual feast for the eyes, and an auditory feast for the ears, and a spiritual feast for the soul, as we remember we are celebrating the birth of Jesus---God's gift to mankind! For the show, the palm trees "come alive" with color and sound!

There was more to the trip than kayaking and light shows, however.  We also did some hiking!  This photo shows some of our group, as we started out to explore the all-paved Coyote Crossing Trail.  

Just a short distance down the Coyote Trail, we came to the headquarters for the Gulf Shores State Park.  I was delighted to see they sold the metal hiking medallions that I collect for my wooden hiking stick. Yippee!!  This meant I could have another one of my "Get Hammered" ceremonies, as I diligently work at using the tiny nails to attach the medallion to my hiking stick.  Information on this park, as well as the numerous other hiking trails of the county, can be found on the all-encompassing website, www.thebeachiscalling.org .

This is a photo of the paddlers that paddled across Little Lagoon, to the restaurant where we all met for lunch.

I made this same trip last winter, the temperature was in the seventies, and we were all wearing water shoes to access our kayaks.  However, the chilly temperatures on this day, made it necessary to have knee-high waterproof boots.  Since I never used the waterproof boots I carried down to Gulf Shores last year, I decided not to bring them this year.  The lack of boots gave me a good "excuse" not to do this paddle, although the truth is, I am a wimp when it comes to paddling in very cold weather!

The kayakers give the "Paddler's Salute", as they wait for Diana to get her stand-up paddle board dislodged from its muddy mooring spot, at our delightful lunch-time location of The Original Oyster House ( www.originaloysterhouse.com )

For almost twenty years, I have had "Lighted Christmas Boat Parade" on my "travel radar screen", as an event I wanted to see.  My first attempt was to attend one on the California coast, but alas, the airplane ride that I needed to get there got cancelled.  The cousin I was going to visit while in California tried to make me feel better by saying there was so much fog on the night of the event, that the boats in the parade were barely visible. My second attempt was a trip to the Louisiana coast, but it too, got cancelled, because the group I planned to meet up with in Louisiana, unexpectedly, "dissolved"!  I have been hoping and praying for a full year, that the one I was invited to attend in the Gulf Shores area would be the one that actually came to fruition!  And thanks to the grace of God, and the hospitality of a hiker/kayaker friend who has a second home in Gulf Shores, my dream came true!  The photo of the lighted boat pictured above, shows that, thankfully, fog was not a problem for the Alabama event!  Likewise, this photo below of our jubilant group, as we are in our spot, along the parade-route waterway, indicates this "hiking/kayaking affinity group" did not "dissolve".  In fact, it "solidified" into a fantastic group travel experience!
The photo of our group at left,  was taken in Dee's living room in Gulf Shores.  I have included this photo, so you can see what the ladies look like, whenever they are NOT covered from head to toe, with several layers of cold weather apparel and waterproof outer garments!

Another one of our activities was hiking the trail at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge ( 251-540-7720 ).  Despite the rainy conditions, we were able to complete the six-mile loop trail, and get some much-needed exercise to burn off a few calories! (Did I mention the food we had on this trip was abundant and delicious!)

Although these hikers might be called the "Three Hunchbacks of Notre Dame", it is actually what our group looks like, when they cover up their backpacks with waterproof coats and ponchos.

Ellen S. took this photo of me and three of the other ladies on Dee's porch, as we started out for our Saturday morning hike. 

The reason we are so bundled up is because it SNOWED the night before!  The startled-looking owl design on Dee's sliding glass doors to her deck, is how us WHO ladies ( our "mascot" symbol is an owl ) felt, when we woke up Saturday morning to see a VERY RARE Gulf Shores snowfall!

Even though the white stuff in the photo at left could pass for snow, because of the way the ladies are so "bundled up" against the weather, it is actually just the sand dunes we hiked through, to finally reach the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

Diana took the photo below of me with her smart phone, showing the Gulf waters in the background, through the hole of a shell, found along the beach during our hike.

Dee had it planned so that two cars would go find a parking space along the parade route, about mid-afternoon.  That is because if you wait too late on Saturday, there will be very limited parking.  We used the time we had to wait, to have a "Tail Gate" (or in this case, a "Sail Gate") party!
The food was set up on a cot, covered with a table cloth, and complete with Christmas lights!

Whoever said "Food always tastes better outside" was right on target. 

Even though it had warmed up enough to melt the snow from the previous night, it was still VERY COLD!  But we were prepared!  They say, "There is no bad weather, only people who are not dressed appropriately for whatever the weather brings you."  That is why I can say, "The weather outside was clear as a bell and delightful!"

The parade route goes along Portage Creek, a man-made canal, that eventually connects with the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000 mile  inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.  It starts in Boston, goes around the tip of Florida, and ends in Brownsville, Texas.  As we waited for the parade to start, we got to see some of the large commercial barges and tugboats that use this vital passage. 

A nice thing about a winter-time lighted boat parade is that it starts getting dark about 4:45 pm, so one does not have to wait very long!  If being out after dark in a new location is not something that "Floats Your Boat",  there will be a DAYTIME boat parade along this route on February 13, 2018, ("Fat Tuesday"), as a part of the Mardi Gras celebration .  Check out the area's excellent website at www.gulfshores.com .

I think Dee, shown in this photo
, with her knee high waterproof boots, has the spiritual gift of hospitality .    It is illustrated by the fact that she and her husband have made a living, by providing lodging to folks for decades.  When they lived in Missouri, it took the form of a mobile home park.  In Arkansas near the shores of Norfork Lake, it has taken the form of an RV Park, where vacationers can find lodging.  They also hosted a foreign exchange student from a European country for several months.  Now that they have a second home in Southern Alabama, they have hosted our hiking/kayaking group, plus numerous other friends and family members.  She has really demonstrated the words of Hebrews 13:2 that says, "Remember to welcome strangers to your homes.  There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it."  Having Dee as a friend provides me with a "visual aid" of what I need to strive for.  THANK YOU DEE!!   She, and her hospitality, gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia   ( p.s. I am no "angel" as referenced in the Bible verse, but the more I get to know the ladies in this group, the more convinced I am that they have been "angels" to me!)

Saturday, October 14, 2017


The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, was founded by Alice Walton (daughter of Walmart's originator, Sam Walton), and designed by architect Moshe Safdie.  It opened on 11-11-11, and has been a great success in terms of providing access to acclaimed works of art to all who visit.  That is because it allows free public admission!  Since I have written several articles in the past extolling the virtues of Crystal Bridges (see "Blog Archives" on 12/12/11, 4/6/12, 4/5/13, and 7/23/13), suffice it to say I am a big fan of theirs!  This photo shows the entrance, as it is enhanced with red columns, announcing the Chihuly exhibit.

The indoor Chihuly exhibit had some incredible examples of blown glass that had been fused together.  This particular "bugle-shaped" piece reminded me of some on display at the Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.  Dale Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1941, and he has not forgotten his roots there. ( I wrote articles about how his work is showcased in Tacoma, in blogs dated 9/21/12 and 9/22/12, which the reader can find in the Blog Archives)

These intricate blue and clear glass spirals defy gravity, and make my mind try to grasp how difficult it was for the glass blower to create them.  We know that it was not actually Chihuly who blew these shapes, since he has not been able to hold a glass blowing pipe, since an accident in 1979.  Rather, he is seen as the "choreographer of a group of dancers".  He dreams up the concept and shapes he wants, then skilled artisans try to execute them.  Sometimes they work, and sometimes they crash to the floor and shatter into a thousand pieces!

My favorite in this section of the exhibition was the red and yellow piece pictured here, because it reminded me of sea anemones I have seen while scuba diving. 

An amazing aspect of the Crystal Bridges Chihuly exhibition was how close the viewer could get to the pieces on display.  The docents told us the only restriction was "No Touching", but we could get up as close as we wanted to view the artwork!  If I were the glass blower who created that piece, I would be much more protective! However, when I saw Chihuly interviewed on PBS, he said the fragility of glass is what makes his work so exciting and thrilling to him!  For me, the fragility of glass just makes me nervous!

Notice how there are no barriers between the large installation pictured here, and the visitors who are looking at it.  To me, it is a strange coincidence that it is glass that has made Chihuly famous, yet it was glass that resulted in the loss of his left eye in 1976.  That is when he was involved in a head-on car crash in England, during which he flew through the windshield.  His face was severely cut by the windshield glass, and he was blinded in his left eye.  The black patch he wears over that eye has now become his trademark. 

Chihuly collects Native American trade blankets, and that collection was also on display, along with his glass pieces.

Chihuly has commented that Northwest Coast Indian baskets that he had seen as a child, were the inspiration for some his his glass baskets.  This photo shows Native American baskets on the right, and Chihuly glass baskets on the left.

The first time I ever heard of glass artist Dale Chihuly, was the television coverage in 1998, of some of his work that was being installed in the newly-opened Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  When my husband and I visited the Bellagio later that year, I was looking on the walls and tables for these famous glass works, but not seeing anything.  Finally, I asked one of the female clerks at the Hotel Registration Desk, "Where do ya'll display that  Dale Chihuly glass stuff?"  In a very condescending tone ( no doubt brought on by my unmistakable Southern accent and hillbilly appearance), the lady said, "The MASTERPIECE is above your head, my dear."  And sure enough, when I looked up, there it was on the ceiling!  His installation, called Fiori di Como, is composed of over 2,000 hand-blown flowers, and covers 2,000 square feet of the lobby ceiling.  It truly was amazing, and I have been a Chihuly fan ever since!

In fact, I have a framed photo of "The Masterpiece" in my bedroom, that has an abstract appearance, similar to this tangle of colored glass tubes in this photo.  The "tubes" installation is one of the first pieces you see, as you start your 1.1 mile trek on the newly built North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges. 

The preparation for the Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges began in 2013, when Chihuly himself walked the grounds, as well as the indoor spaces of the museum.  For a complete listing of his past exhibitions, and future installations, you can visit his official website at www.chihuly.com .  This boat full of glass pieces reminds me of a flock of swans, all huddled together and extending their necks. One has to wonder, which future installation this boat will sail to next!

Chihuly has done numerous installations in public gardens, and my first time to see his work in an outdoor setting was when it was presented at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, in St. Louis.  (Photos from that installation are on my blog post dated 7/11/12).

The Chihuly team includes a lighting director, and visitors are being encouraged to view the outdoor pieces after dark, as well as in the daytime, to  fully appreciate the translucent properties of the glass.

Likewise, even without artificial lighting, the glass "reeds" change in appearance, depending on the location of the sun. 

These forms bursting out of the ground remind me of mushrooms that suddenly push their heads out of the soil, after a period of extended moisture.  (Although the indoor exhibition of Chihuly work at Crystal Bridges has ended, you can see the outdoor installation along the North Forest Trail until November 13.  For exact hours of operation, log on to www.crystalbridges.org )

This massive ten foot tall sculpture is called "Sol d' Oro", which means "Gold Sun".  The white spires remind me of those that make up a glass Chihuly Christmas Tree, on display in the Clinton Library, in Little Rock, Arkansas (See blog archive for 3/8/12).

I read that the spiraling columns of glass jutting out from the center were created in Seattle, where the piece was assembled.  Then they were individually numbered, and disassembled.  Then they were VERY CAREFULLY packed for shipping to Bentonville.  Then they were VERY CAREFULLY unpacked and reassembled on the grounds at Crystal Bridges.  I find this INCREDIBLE!

One of my photography instructors years ago taught me to experiment with backlighting from the sun on your chosen subject.  When I did this with the "Gold Sun" piece, I was able to see that there were indeed, pieces of GOLD glass, that are not seen in a quick glance of the piece. 

I am using the Chihuly "Gold Sun" sculpture, as the visual aid to help me learn my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless."  Psalm 84:11 .  Several folks at the "Gold Sun" sculpture were getting their photos taken, with their heads being framed by the sculpture, and I was no exception!  It was fun reading the comments about the photo on Facebook, and getting more "likes" than any other photo I posted.  What the First Place 4 Health memory verse helps me understand, however, is that the "likes" of many, cannot compare with the favor of our Lord!  Having this promise from God, AND seeing the Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges, gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia

Thursday, October 12, 2017


I recently had the opportunity to participate in Road Scholar Program #17288, called "Nature Hiking in the Southern Appalachian Mountains".  (Regular readers of this blog will know that I have completed over a dozen of these Road Scholar adventures, and direct links to the articles I published about them will pop up, if you type "Road Scholar" into the Search Box at the very bottom of the web version of my blog title page)
This particular program was being held in Hayesville, North Carolina, at The Hinton Center ( www.hintoncenter.org ).  Some of you may recognize the Methodist Church logo in their entrance sign, and it is, indeed, a wonderful facility for their denomination, as well as any other organizations that want to make use of what it has to offer. 

Our group stayed in the Joe Ervin House.  It has three levels, with the main public space being on the middle floor, complete with TV, full kitchen, game tables, and lounge seating.  When we had entertainment in the evenings, it was held on this middle floor public space. 

When our group traveled to off-site locations, we had the very comfortable Hinton Center Mini-bus (shown in photo above), and/or a large van.

When you sign up for a Road Scholar week ( www.roadscholar.org ), you will be provided 8 guidelines to assist you in "Getting the most out of your program".   Those guidelines are Tolerance for Ambiguity, Ability to be Non-Judgmental, Flexibility and Adaptability, Sense of Humor, Open-Mindedness, Curiosity, Self-Reliance, and Communicativeness.  I think each program I have attended has helped me improve in a different area of development, and I can say with a certainty, that my September, 2017, Road Scholar program helped me develop in the area of "FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY"!  The "Trail Closed" sign in this photo is an illustration of why our group had to be flexible and adapt to a raging storm, known as "Hurricane Irma".  Even though we were several miles inland from the Atlantic Coast, the high winds, downed power lines, downed trees, electrical outages, and never-ending rain were being felt in the area where we were located.  Our leaders had a "Plan B" for us since we could not hike, so we took a drive through the Nantahala River, that is a popular rafting destination in western North Carolina.

We were told the river is usually crowded with rafters, but there was no one rafting at this location when we stopped here!

The boat access ramp leading down to the river was one of the nicest ones I have ever seen, and I hope to go back sometime and experience the Nantahala River, from the perspective of a river rafter!  Even though the river was still roaring through the gorge, the high water mark on the concrete access ramp indicates it was lower than it had been a few hours earlier. 

Our group continued on to Cherokee, North Carolina, where our leaders had put their "Plan B" into action, by arranging for a visit to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  There we were able to learn the story of the Cherokee Nation from prehistory to modern times, with exhibits that included crafts, clothing and weapons.  There was also extensive information on the tribe's resettlement to Western Reservations and the hardship endured along this "Trail of Tears".  I found all this of particular interest, since I have distant heritage from the Cherokee lineage, and grew up in the area traversed by "The Trail of Tears". 

In Cherokee, North Carolina, we stopped at a lovely park near the downtown area (Oconaluftee Islands Park), that had a covered pavilion, where we could enjoy the sack lunches we had prepared, without getting our sandwiches ( and our bottoms!) waterlogged from the drizzle!

The park has a stream that runs through it, and pedestrian bridges that provide access to the opposite shore, with additional PATHS to explore.  

After lunch, the group went to the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., that is across the street from the Museum of the Cherokee.  The cooperative shop had all manner of handiwork made by Native Americans.  For information on both the museum and the Qualla store, check out www.VisitCherokeeNC.com 

The final stop of our "Plan B" Day took us to the Swain County Visitor Center and Heritage Museum.  Since it also serves as an information center for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park ( www.nps.gov/grsm ), we learned while we were there that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was being totally shut down and closed, due to Hurricane Irma.  Highway 441 that goes down the center of the park, through its entrance in Tennessee, to its exit in North Carolina, was completely closed!  This made me EXTREMELY thankful I had been able to visit  Cades Cove and Clingman's Dome the previous Saturday, before it was shut down!

Since I had not been able to get much exercise the previous day, I got up early on Tuesday morning, to walk down to Chatuge Lake, which the Hinton Center property adjoins, and has access to.  ( Chatuge Lake is formed from a TVA dam across the Hiwassee River.) Although there was no sun on the horizon, at least I was able to make the quick jaunt without getting rained on!

On one of the days,  our group headed south to Georgia, to hike a trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  Because of the high winds, there were LOTS of trees across our "PATH"!!  Adventure travel magazines tout advertisements for what they call a "Treetop Canopy Tour through the Rain Forest".  Turns out, this Road Scholar program included a "treetop canopy tour" of sorts, because the tree tops had come down onto the PATH we needed to take to reach our destination! I think we burned off some extra calories breaking away tree limbs and climbing through tunnels of downed trees!  And I know, we shredded a few rain ponchos!

However, the payoff we received for all our efforts, was experiencing this beautiful location, called High Shoals Falls.  Needless to say, it was gushing with water from all the rainfall we had experienced!

On the drive back to the Hinton Center, we implemented a "Plan C", because one of the afternoon hikes the leaders had planned, got aborted because there was a tree across the only access road leading to the trail head.  And, it was not a little tree that all of us could have moved---it was BIG!  So instead, we stopped at the Chatuge Dam, and walked the wide asphalt "PATH" across the top of it. 

This particular Road Scholar hiking program was like a "fashion show", designed to illustrate all the many different types of rain gear that hikers have available to them!

Both sides of this PATH into the woods are lined with rhododendron bushes, that are prevalent throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains.

This PATH into the woods shows why tree roots are NOT your friend when hiking a heavily forested area!  They tend to rise up and grab your boot, causing you to trip, especially when you get tired!

Fortunately, everyone in our group followed the appropriate PATH, that took them to the top of Siler Bald, and we took this photo to prove it!

Wonder of wonders---there was a brief break in the weather, so that I could get a photo taken sans raingear!! 

A nice thing about all that moisture was the opportunity to see several species of mushrooms I had never observed before.  This very large specimen (note hiking boot in photo for scale), is called "Chicken of the Woods".

This photo is similar to the very first one in the article, except that it shows me hiking in what looks like a dress (It is actually a waterproof raincoat I always keep in my car).  That raincoat turned out to be my "Plan B" attire, after ponchos got shredded from attacking tree limbs!

This photo shows Liz Domingue, a highly educated naturalist and guide, who was one of our two hike leaders.  Besides her work leading Road Scholar hiking trips, she also operates "Just Get Outdoors" ( www.justgetoutdoors.com ) Phone 865-977-HIKE , which offers both scheduled outings, and custom adventures.  Everyone in our group has a brand new appreciation of salamanders, after hiking with Liz!  (She did advanced graduate study and research on salamanders, and was able to find SEVERAL in the rain-soaked areas we explored!)

The Group Leader for our week was Jack Loveless.  He did an OUTSTANDING job making the week's activities proceed smoothly, in spite of the many adjustments made necessary, due to the weather and road/trail conditions!

Jack Loveless, our leader, is the one in this photo, who DOES NOT have on a poncho.  Instead, he opted for a rain jacket, rain pants, and waterproof cover for his back pack.  Note to self:  Be like Jack next time!
Mrs. Foley took this photo of Jack with his "Three Muskateers", as we dutifully followed him down whatever PATH he took us on---having no idea where we were going!  (I am the one with the yellow caution tape on my hiking sticks. I put it there to make them easier to spot, whenever I walk off and leave them, as I often do!)

On the final day, we visited the natural areas of the John C. Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown, North Carolina, a section of which is shown in the photo below.  My week in North Carolina took me on many PATHS that were new to me, but I am using this photo of a STRAIGHT PATH in Brasstown, as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight."  Proverbs 3:5-6.   I can assure you that every single PATH I took on this Road Scholar hiking adventure in North Carolina, gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia