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July 2 - 21 updates

Because I don't know when I'll get a chance to fill all of you in ( or if I will remember much longer) I've got to put it all down now, while I have access to the internet. Wireless connections have been difficult to say the least lately. Bryce is able to work by escaping to internet cafes and coffee shops, but the other boys, for some reason, do not prioritize my blog time. Its now or never. Don't worry, I'll try to include more photos soon too. Here goes. (BTW you may want to read this in short doses.)

Friday, July 2

Lucky us. Bryce took most the day off, so we headed to the Toe River for a relaxing day in the canoe. A 6 mile trip down the river from a nearby campground. What a day for the Oateskis. The boys in the middle of the canoe, Bryce steering, Jenny as the powerhouse (ha) at the helm. Okay, so it was my job to look out for rocks, rapids, sticks, and wildlife. I did okay, but this was not home territory. This was no Current River. We saw herons, ducks, a newborn fawn and plenty of other fish and aquatic life thanks to my keen eye on the (mostly) calm water. What I did not see well, were rocks and rapids. Ooops. A few bumps, scrapes and spins of the canoe and we were having a great time. This river was exciting. It offered a few whitewater sections, some drops, nothing huge but a couple feet or so and even a few bail outs. We never did swamp the boat but did have a close call.
We were coming up on some rough water when the bow hit a big rock, swinging the boat around. To save the boat from capsizing, I flew out of the boat and into the rapids, pushing the canoe away from the rock. I did it. I saved the boat from flipping, but looked down the river to see the boat riding the rapids with out me (which I had to catch up to.) Only, strangely, the boat was now missing Bryce. Hmm. The boys were in charge. Laughing their heads off as I paddled to catch up and Bryce hung onto the canoe, his body in the water and his paddle charging ahead without him. It was the highlight of our day. We finally got it all together and had a well deserved picnic on the bank of a deserted river. It was nice to have the river to ourselves. Easily, one of our most memorable moments.

Saturday, July 3

Headed to Burnsville for the Farmers Market. Wow, were we ever surprised by a street festival taking place along with it. We filled our cooler with market goodies, then enjoyed the festivities for a few hours. The boys began to wilt, which meant it was time to get back to the cabin for a dip in the creek. Followed all this with an amazing supper of local brats on the grill, tomato salad, cukes and onions, potatoes and squash grilled and fresh lemonade. Finished with homemade ice cream sandwiches. Almost everything came from those fine farmers in North Carolina. Mmmm. Who needs fireworks after all this?

Sunday, July 4

Time for some hiking. We wound around and up and over the mountains to the Roan Mountain Gardens to check out the interesting ecosystem at the mountain top known as a mountaintop bald or glade. Dry, crumbly rock, pine forest, and cool temps made us feel like we were hiking in Canada. Fun enough for us to drive to the Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. Here, we hiked another, similar trail and enjoyed the numbered checkpoints with a brochure highlighting the finer points of the state park system, ecology and preserving the world for future generations. On the old iron mine trail we even got to watch an old water wheel working.

Monday, July 5

A relaxing day spent creekside, mostly. Ran races up the steep gravel drive, listened to the kids whine and played games. Found a Craft Alliance offering pottery classes in town, so I picked up a block of clay. We made clay creations on the deck for the remainder of the afternoon/evening. Ahh...finally my hands were in clay again. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I found this fine mud.

Tuesday, July 6

After 3 trips down the mountain and back up again, all to take calls or send and receive emails, Bryce was officially finished with this cabin. No wireless or phone was really wearing on him (and the car.) We spent most of the day searching for alternative shelters.

Wednesday, July 7

Much of the same. Bryce drives up and down the mountain several times, wanders the woods in search of cell signal, shakes his head in frustration and we both continue to pursue other housing options to no avail. It is officially high season in the Smokey Mountain region. Cabins are a hot commodity.
I did take the boys on a jaunt to Celo (a fun commune sort of area) for some blueberry picking. Together, we picked a gallon until our faces and hands were blue with juice. Delicious! After all that we drove around enjoying the various farms, gardens, art galleries (which we saved them the trouble and saw from afar) until we found a good 'ol ice cream stand for a bit of an ice cold cone in this thousand degree heat.
Back at the house we swam ourselves silly then put some of those berries to good use in a homemade blueberry pie. What a treat! I think that was dinner and dessert that night.

Thursday, July 8

Bryce worked worked worked. We played played played. In the creek, board games, pottery fun, and baking with blueberries. Discovered a new favorite cake recipe. Blueberry buckle. This is like a vanilla cake with zillions of blueberries to hold it all together. Again, dinner paled in comparison to dessert.

Friday, July 9

Mostly stuck at the cabin as Bryce drives up and down the mountain to try and work. Ridiculous. Found a cool skull and fur and tiny bones strewn all about at the creek along with some bear scat. Exciting find. Now we know the bears are near (or were), but decide on a creek walk upstream anyway. We walk all the way up and over boulders, up waterfalls and through lovely cool pools to an old board bridge covered with moss. We climbed the log cabin style posts up as a ladder to the bridge, then walked back down the road to the cabin. Adventures abound out here. So many hidden treasures. We also saw three different types of little "sallies" (salamanders) as the boys call them.

Saturday, July 10

Ahh. Saturday. Hooray! We get Bryce to ourselves. We were off on an adventure to Linville Caverns and Linville Gorge. Linville Gorge rivals the Grand Canyon in the distance from top to gorge or canyon floor. It was beautiful. Wynne was on a roll, engaging everyone he could with his stories of rockets and space race cars. It made for tired ears for the rest of us, but at least he was hiking miles and miles without complaining in the 90 degree heat. Waterfalls with enormous drops and a canyon filled with trees could be seen from several astounding overlooks. Green all around. Then underground.
The caverns were also a hit. Henry has been known to get a bit freaked out when going into caves, but this was quite a tour. The stalactites and mites were streaked with blues, greens and oranges from the various minerals in the dripping water forming these interesting cave creations. There were even fish swimming in the underground stream. No bats could be seen then, but we did see some fascinating cavern rooms and deep water pools. This region is truly blessed with natural wonders. Exhausted and happy, we headed back to the cabin to clean up and prepare to leave this great little home on top of the mountain.

Sunday, July 11

I woke to a welcome bit of solitude. All the boys headed down the mountain for a boys morning out. They dined at at the all boys diner, then hit the Burnsville Skatepark and later returned while I was at the creek enjoying a swim. The boys joined me, then we concocted various dishes from the remaining foodstuffs in the cabin. A few peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies later and I was feeling ill. We planned to leave that night to head toward Cherokee, where Bryce had meetings in the morning. Instead, we watched the longest World Cup Championship game ever, followed by rest and lots of packing and repacking of the car.

Monday, July 12

Out of the cabin early so why not to the Early Girl Eatery in Asheville? Local food and fare is their fix and we found them true to this mission. Grit cakes (polenta or mush cakes to some of you) with eggs, sausage, tomato salsa sauce, goat cheese and avacado. Yum! Oh, also multigrain pancakes and blackberry french toast if you like that sort of thing. No one was disappointed.
Rain on the way to Cherokee. Rain. Rain. Rain. All the stuff we own is in the car, we have nowhere to go, but we do have friends to meet up with. Friends? Its been so long since we've seen anyone, we're giddy with the thought. We meet the Muchow family all the way from Chicago. (Molly, who Bryce and Jenny went to college with, Brett, her ever so accomodating and fun loving husband and their two great kids, Beckett (3) and Russell (18mos.)) The sun arrived with the Muchows. After spending all morning trying to dry off, the kids were in the splashpark/sprayground together having a blast while the rest of us caught up on the sidelines.
On to the matter of shelter. The Muchow's tent was soaked and we were homeless. A dinner of Indian tacos inspired us to just drive down the road looking for available cabins. A quick stop and phone call at a roadside sign about a small cabin and we were in our new short-term home. So it was a one room cabin with one bed and a teeny bathroom and kitchenette for all 8 of us, but we're all about togetherness, right?
It worked out fine. We had a small hot tub, just big enough for 4 little boys to splash the evening away until campfire and s'mores time, followed by storytelling and a very late night for all of us.

Tuesday, July 13

Bryce was already in town and working for hours by the time the rest of us got up and around. After Chef Molly's delicious breakfast of potatoes, eggs, and blueberry pancakes, we headed out for a little hiking.
Mingo Falls in Cherokee is one place not to be missed when visiting the region. A pretty easy hike up the many, many stairs to lovely falls. It was a great time climbing on the rocks and getting shots of the falls and the kids playing together. We followed this with lunch and a few trips tubing down the Oconoluftee River at the Oconoluftee Islands Park and it was a great day. Molly and Brett offered Bryce and myself the kindest gift ever of time to ourselves, by taking all 4 little guys to see Despicable Me. Great timing. It poured down rain and Bryce ended up on a conference call the entire time. I desperately searched for a more long term housing arrangement. This was really beginning to be a pain. I did find a deal at a small hotel on the river with a pool, so that would have to work for a week or so.
That night we dined on something resembling food at a Pizza buffet and spent the evening back at the campfire ring and snoozing in the cabin.

Wednesday July 14

We checked into our new home for the remainder of the week, up until Monday. Perhaps I should've seen the warning signs beginning with the deal we worked out. The room was dubbed the "practice hotel room" by the boys due to the various nail holes in the walls from misaligned mirrors and fixtures then moved to even weirder locations. The shower head was at my eye level. MY eye level people. I am barely above 5 feet tall. The bathroom door didn't close and the beds were merely box springs. Interesting. Also, a fridge the size of my rear end and no microwave. This surely made life interesting. On a positive note, they had a pool and were right next to the Islands Park and the fairgrounds.
To burn off some steam, we went back into the Great Smokey Mountain park for a little hiking. About a 1/2 mile into the trail, I had to duck out to empty my guts for other wildlife to discover later. Back to the car. Barely made it back to the hotel where I disappeared into a dizzy ickiness. Luckily, it was in the afternoon, and Bryce saved me by taking the boys swimming.

Thursday July 15

I was feeling marginally better and the boys were ready to blow off some steam, so it was back to the Smokies again. The boys were halfway to Junior Ranger status and we noticed some fun programs going on in the park, so we learned a bit about blacksmithing and then what life was like for a kid on an Appalachian farm in the 1800s, made a craft, helped out the rangers with some clean up. The Ranger helped the boys through the Junior Ranger pledge at the visitors center and announced them official Jr. Rangers. They even got certificates and badges. Yeah Oates boys! A little picnic in the park to celebrate. We started out hiking, when Henry complained of feeling dizzy, so back to the room with us. We all slept off the heat the best we could under the circumstances as Bryce wandered the streets chatting away.

Friday July 16

With Bryce on a jaunt to Virginia for official business, we were on our own in Cherokee for the day. First to the skatepark to get the energy out before the melting temps got to us. Lucky for us, the Cherokee Farmers Market is in the parking lot of the Skatepark. However, the market, advertised all over town as 10-2 on Fridays, was nonexistent. Bummer for us, because we needed some veggies and fruit. About 11 a beat up truck pulled into the lot. An older man with out a shirt sat in the truck in the heat. His truck was full of watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, cukes, and more. I couldn't stand it any longer. About 11:15 I approached the truck and asked if he was the farmers market. He affirmed that he was, but that he'd get going in a few minutes. Finally, at nearly noon, he stepped out, put on a shirt (didn't button it) and set up a card table and a scale. Really? How hard was this? In the end we did get a few pounds of juicy peaches, some peppers, yellow cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. It was all I could carry. All for $6. Are you kidding? No wonder no one wants to farm out there. That was nothing.

The boys took a break from skating and Wynne even tried a tomato. If you know Wynne you know that he likes COOKED tomatoes, not raw ones, as he will remind anyone repeatedly. Lately, though he's claimed he'll like tomatoes when he's four. With his fourth birthday only 2 days away, he decided to try his luck. He popped a cherry tomato in his mouth and announced,"Hey! I like tomatoes! I am still three and I like them! I don't believe it! These are really good, mom! Call Grandma and tell her I like them now."
What a day! Go Wynne!

We scootered back to the hotel with our booty and enjoyed a cool dip in the pool, followed by a walk across to the fairgrounds where the Festival of Native Cultures was just getting started. We saw drumming and dancing and of course, found sno-cones. It was fun until the sun got to us and we went back to the room for a little rest. Just as we were planning on heading back out, the clouds moved in and emptied out. We watched the flocks evacuating the fairgrounds from our own door. Finally, Bryce was back, after a day of 500 miles or more and meetings galore.

Saturday, July 17

It amazes me that Bryce even goes near the car on the day after a long trip, but he did. We enjoyed a morning of hiking in the Deep Creek section of the Smokey Mountain National Park, home to many waterfalls and great tubing spots. We hiked the Juney Whank Falls trail and stopped at the bridges to watch the tubers floating along and flipping over in the rapids. This, we had to try sometime. This inspired us to get back to Cherokee for a little tubing of our own. We walked up the trail along the river a mile or so and put in to float down to the park bridge. It was so much fun, we did it again and again. Henry and I held a rope between our two tubes and had great fun spinning each other and bumping each other over the rocks. Good thing I have extra padding to absorb the shock. When we decided we were waterlogged enough, we walked over to the Festival of Native Cultures where we saw some amazing dancing, drumming, native costumes, and even Pole flyers from Mexico. These guys climb a pole (like a telephone pole, only taller) with One man in the middle, standing on the top playing the flute and drum. The four remaining men have wound themselves up to the top with ropes tied to their feet. At the exact moment all four dive head-first off the pole and begin spinning around the pole all the way to the ground all the while the man on top continues to play flute and drum. It was quite a site to see. There were also other amazing acts, but that one takes the cake. When our eyes could remain open no longer, we headed to bed.

Sunday July 18

Happy Birthday to Wynne!!! We had lots to do today. For Wynne's big day we were off to the Smokey Mountain Railway for a train trip to the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center.) Bryce upgraded us to the cushy seats, air conditioned car and special train lunch, so we were effectively spoiled rotten. The band at the station even sang "Happy Birthday" to Wynne before our departure.
The train ride itself was informative and scenic, all along the river, where we could watch kayaking and white water rafting. We even crossed a 100 year old trestle bridge that would make Aunt Shelly squeamish. At our stopover at the Outdoor Center, the Junior Olympic whitewater kayaking team was practicing. This is when we lost Wynne. Well, we didn't lose him, but we wished we had. Seeing this, he announced that all he wanted for his birthday was his own, brand new whitewater kayak (the pyranah, specifically.) He even went so far as to try (several times) to throw himself into the rapids, as if this would automatically earn him a spot on the "kid olympic" team. Not exactly as we planned it to go. One thing to know about Wynne is his passion for extremely dangerous outdoor sports. The higher the risk, the more enticing. Oh goody. The trip back on the train seemed quick and we were back in Bryson City before we knew it. Here, we enjoyed a lovely pasta dinner and headed back to the hotel happy and ready for an evening swim.

Monday and Today

Out of the Cherokee motel and onto Sylva, NC. Found a great meal at the Guadalupe Cafe in Sylva, but still having difficulty finding shelter, so we may have to head back to the MO without Bryce. I will try to update when I can. Thanks for all the attention. We may stop to see you soon!

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