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For various reasons it was decided that we could get together as a family for Thanksgiving again this year. We enjoy the time together and I hope you will enjoy my pictures at “2021 Thanksgiving and Hike.”

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I try to do what the customer asks for. The house is a remodel with new vinyl siding. Attaching the deck to the house would mean putting holes in the new siding and crushing it to the wall. Additionally, he wanted the posts set on concrete footings. I said on, not in. The combination of these two requirements meant a deck with very little lateral stability. To solve this problem I installed twelve diagonal braces with copious numbers of screws. Along with the stairs, the deck ended up quite stable. Check out the pictures at “Table Deck

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I like to build decks, but lately I’ve been the home repair guy. It started with cutting up a tree and felling a massive dead white oak. Then the question came, “Can you fix our rotted second story porch? And we have some doors that won’t shut properly (three to be exact), and can you replace a doorknob? Our kitchen cabinet doors are about to fall off. Can you repair those? Our entryway side walk has drainage problems. I’d say so. It slanted toward the house and there is no where for the water to go. Do you do concrete?

The day the big tree hit the ground a neighbor came out of his basement to see what had happened. He walked out into the street at about the same time I was bringing my chainsaw up to the truck.

“Oh,” says he, “did you just cut down a tree?”

“Yes,” I replied, “It was a big one.”

“It must have be a been,” he chuckled, “because it shook my foundation.”

That introduced me to my next set of jobs: replacing a rotten window sill, repairing rotten corner trim, building and “planting” a mailbox, installing a divider board between kitchen and dining area, replacing an exterior light fixture, repairing a cabinet shelf and door, fixing a lamp, replacing a toilet seat, repairing closet shelving in two closets, repairing a unique (and therefore irreplaceable) and old-school (which means it was made to repair) doorknob, and installing a new skylight in place of a hopelessly fogged and smoked one.

I was told on the final day of installing the skylight that the neighbor is supposed to call me. I wondered if the neighbors had seen me since I was at eye level with their upstairs windows.

Other than my Facebook page, which serves more as a way to show people who are asking what work I’ve done, and occasional business cards that I pass out to people who are curious, I don’t advertise. Word of mouth is keeping me plenty busy.

And I am building a deck now and am supposed to start on another one as soon as this one is done.

If you would like to see a few pictures of the aforementioned odds and ends, then click hereafter.

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I have talked about heating with wood several times over the years of writing this blog. Particularly at this time of year, it is entails a significant input of time, energy, and mental focus. You might wonder why anyone would expend so much energy over the course of 38 years heating their house. In generations past is was, no doubt, a simple necessity of life. It certainly has saved me thousands of dollars in heating bills which I would have struggled to come up with in certain years of the past and always preferred not to spend.

But even more than that, it is a lifestyle. David Thoreau was generous when he said that heating with wood warmed you twice. Cutting, loading, unloading, splitting, stacking, carrying in, starting and maintaining fires, enjoying the heat, carrying out ashes, and cleaning the chimney are a few ways it warms me. I think it probably warms me nearly ten times. Central heat is good, but I don’t know where to go to warm my hands or dry out my wet clothing. And when the blizzard of ’93 hit, we were warm for the 8 days that the power was out and cooked beans and soup while we heated the house. My boys split wood while they were home, but I even participated then. I have been loaned a hydraulic wood splitter thrice that I recall, but never split all of the wood that way for a season. At my latitude the winter is not long or bitterly cold. 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cords of wood is sufficient for the warmest and coldest winters we have. I prefer taking dead wood over cutting live trees and the majority of trees here are oak.

I have gotten to where I can smell what kind of wood is being burned and whether it is wet or green or dried. When the first fire of the season is lit, the smell of dust burning off of the stove brings warm reminiscence of past years. For all of this, the 39th year of heating with wood may be the last. I am not tired of the work and fire making effort. If you had asked me 5 years ago what would cause me to stop heating with wood, I would have said ability and energy to gather it. The real reason now seems to be that all of that smelling of fires, and more specifically chainsaws has had a bad repercussion. Between mowing, weed eating, leaf blowing, and chainsaws I have become “allergic” to combustion products, particularly 2 cycle oil. An hour or so exposure brings on aches and sometimes debilitating joint pains. So, since I haven’t converted over my heat source, still mow and weed eat and blow leaves, I have to wear a organics fume mask. Try working in that on a hot day. And since I don’t sport a Hitler mustache (regulation for gas masks), The seal on the mask is not ideal and I still get some mild ill effects from the fumes. So, check out my latest foray into the woods to cut and split wood here.

I thought as I pulled my truck out of the woods and passed a super duty four door diesel truck that I am thankful to have an old truck that is still functional and being used for what it was designed for. I guess that I like working, even though I want to do it at a slower rate these days. What’s the rush? Of course, there is the need to get wood in the dry before the wet and cold days when very little dries out. I believe I am ahead of that curve this year.

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There are few trails in my neck of the woods that I haven’t been on. And when I’m next to a creek, I’m always looking for a cascade or waterfall. A little while back my daughter and I went for a hike on a trail that I determined that I had not been on for perhaps 20 years. We were only gone from the house for 4 hours, but it was such a blessed time. To see the pictures and find out why, click on Hidden Cascade.

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My oldest brother and his wife decided to have a big family reunion of both sides of their family. They had planned to have it at their house where many years of Thanksgiving gatherings have occurred. Those gatherings had brought upwards of 30 people, but this one garnered replies of attendence from 70+, threatening to overwhelm their residential infrastructure. They had rented an event tent for the occasion, but that fell through. Their youngest son acquired permission for them to have it at their church. It was best that it happened that way. It was roomy and quite nice.

My wife and I headed out on Friday morning, going to a doctor’s appointment on the way to Knoxville. We met two of our sons and their families at Austin’s Steak and Homestyle Buffet in Knoxville for an early celebration of my wife’s birthday. What better gift than seeing six grandchildren, two sons, and two spouses. It was all you could eat and I was up to the task, filling 4 plates and concluding with two more partially filled.

The morning of the reunion, my wife got together with her four sisters. With me and two brother-in-laws, we had a mini-reunion. Seven of us went out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, sitting outside under cover with pleasant breeze. It was so encouraging to hear my brother-in-law pray over the meal, not just for the food but for the physical and spiritual well-being of family members. After many years of atheism he came to Christ in his early 70’s. I was among many who prayed for him over the years. Keep praying for those loved ones. Importune God based on His grace to save those around you and be bold to share your life and the Gospel.

The big reunion started around 2 PM. People trickled in and children took up playing GaGa Ball. Including children, my count of attendees at the Francis-Whaley Family Reunion was 51. We met people, set-up, re-acquainted, caught up, played kickball, ate, ate some more, learned family history, reminisced, perused family histories and photos, talked some more, took down, and cleaned up. In one real sense, that’s all we did, but that doesn’t communicate the feelings and emotional connections that were made and strengthened which constitute family. It occurs to me that pictures, though better at conveying those connections, still fall short. I guess you just have to have been there. So, the next time it happens, come along. Concerning the pictures, you can see those at Francis-Whaley 2021.

During the kickball game, I was running to second base and trying to slide so I wouldn’t be put out. My oldest nephew scooped up the ball and smashed it into my face and close range. Impulse and heat of the moment he called it, but in a bit of rebound I’m reminding him that it was just a friendly family game of kickball. My niece reminded me that it couldn’t be a Francis family gathering without me getting hurt. Over those many years of Thanksgiving gatherings we would play touch football, and given my personality, I don’t really play half-heartedly, so her comment was justified. I guess my nephew is of the same tribe.

The Whaley family tree stretches back quite a ways, verifiable back to Charlemagne. So does the my mother’s family Shelton, though we are missing a few generations of making that connection to my family. Oh well, we are all connected to Noah and Adam. And more importantly my wife and I and our five children are part of the family of God. We will just keep praying for those grandchildren.

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Ginger Snap Cascade

Some people cherish the opportunity to hang out, lay around, not do much. I do when I am incredibly tired, but otherwise I prefer to be active. Lately that has been difficult because of my lower back. However, firstly, it is getting better, and secondly, though any lifting, twisting, fast movements, or long strides are out, walking actually makes it better. Today my youngest son ask me to go canoeing. Nope! that involves lifting a canoe and twisting to paddle. How about a hike? Yes, I can do that. So while he was on his way to pick me up, I went to pick up two ladders I had loaned out and pick up a few things at the grocery store next door. I had loaned the ladders out to the local climbing gym (Bigfoot Climbing Gym) for a route setting clinic While there I saw a very interesting climbing hold (Click on link below for pictures.).

My son likes to hike for solitude. Today it was not to be. We hiked down a section of the Mountain to Sea Trail on a gravel road and then down into the woods. We passed 15 mountain bikers and then a refreshment station for a 50k race. Soon afterwards we began passing runners/walkers both coming up to the station turn around and back away from it. When we cut down the trail, it was part of the race course, too. Oh well, everyone was polite and busy.

At one point I spied a possible cascade through the underbrush. I asked my son if he’d like to check it out. Being on Ginger Cake Creek, I suggested the name Ginger Snap Cascade. My son said he might come and camp there sometime where there was a campsite across the creek. There was a decent little swimming hole at the base of the rock and a nice place to lie down in the water at the top. The woods and underbrush were thick and there was only a little sky visible overhead. And that began to get dark and a breeze kicked up. So, we decided to turn back before the afternoon thunderstorm arrived. We probably hiked less than 5 miles, but it was a good leg stretcher with a nice little reward at the turn around point and good conversation throughout. The temperature and humidity hearkened to more Autumnly feel. It was good to get out again. I am once again thankful to be able to come back from health difficulties. Sometimes it is hard to do so, but the rewards in health, being able to stay active, and well-being make the effort worth it. God has been good to me in my health even through the downturns.

Click here to see the pictures.

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Adventure Climbing was until recently an odd term to me. What climbing is not adventuresome?

My last day out changed my mind about that a bit. If you go to a crag where the climbs have a well worn and relatively short approaches, are bolted, well chalked, cataloged, described, and frequented, that is not adventure climbing. Conversely, if you lose the approach trail multiple times because it is fully grown over, the way is steep and sketchy, the climb you intended to do is flowing with water and you select another climb with little description and no familiarity, one pitch’s crux is wet and another requires going around extensive wet rock, the heat is challenging, and you are not sure if you will find placements for protection or your stashed packs at the top, that seems more like adventure climbing.

Well, I am generally up for a challenge and an adventure, so we had a good day. I am thankful to God for affording us good weather, safety, and good challenge.

If you want to see some pictures of the adventure, click on Dirty Corner.

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My daughter’s youngest child turned 3 years old on August 2nd. We were not able to get to their house until the 3rd because of a doctor’s appointment, but any excuse to see the grandchildren will do. We arrived 1/2 hour before dark after 5 hours at the doctor’s office and a total of 4 1/2 hours of driving. We so want to build relationships with the grandchildren, but distance, health, responsibilities, and flexibility conspire against us. I decided to use the smartphone app for this purpose and am reading the Chronicles of Narnia 2 or 3 evenings a week to my grand-daughter. Even then other activities cause rescheduling, but here flexibility is my friend. We are on the third book, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”.

We picked blackberries at the neighbor’s house across the road, because they asked my daughter to since they were away. As we picked my daughter reflected on why she did not want to move from their present house. “We have the best neighbors. And no one else can build here because the soil percolates so poorly that septic drain fields are expensive and difficult” with the new regulations. It is a very beautiful spot and the neighbors are helpful and friendly. The neighbor behind them allows my daughter’s family to walk on the trails in their woods on about 40 acres. The next night the grandchildren, their father, and I walked to this neighbor’s house down their long driveway. The man who lives there was glad for someone to talk to and allowed the children to watch the Koi while he told how much old Koi can cost and his plans to add a deeper pond for overwintering.

The morning of the next day, the grandchildren and I were dropped off at a playground park while my wife and daughter went shopping. We tried out the various slides and swings and crawled up onto the old caboose. I think that the little ones liked the trail that I found across the creek best. They had to take their mother and mamaw to see it when they returned from gathering sale items. Every once in a while you get a good picture of several people together. What most usually prevents it is the movement and moods of the subjects. I got two good shots in a few minutes. Check here to see the pictures.

I am so thankful to God that my wife was feeling strong enough to make this trip and that we had time with this part of the family. It seems to get harder to have family time as time and distance increase.

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Some of you will probably say so, but we are proceeding with adequate care, and more so as we learn the plausible situations.

Last weekend my youngest son, climbing partner, and I started at the Sitting Bear parking area, hiked to Hawksbill, climbed the two easier pitches of Lost in Space and Star Trekin, hiked to Devil’s Cellar at Table Rock, climbed again on Helmet Buttress, and walked down to the Table Rock parking area. See the pictures at HB and TR.

That was the overview. We are continuing our training for the Linville Crusher. We are most slowed down by transitions: butterfly wrapping rope, organizing protection gear, changing shoes, putting harness on and off. These preparation outings are good to see where the slowdowns are. At Hawksbill we talked to a man who had done the Crusher. I asked him how long it took them. He was reluctant to say but I insisted since I wanted to have an idea what I am getting into. He admitted that it took them over 16 hours. I was shocked. The descriptions on Mountain Project say you should aim for 10 hours and expect 12. Something isn’t adding up here. So, hiking will take the longest time and be the second least efficient part I figure, while transitions have the potential to zap our time. My partner says we have to hope for the best and plan for the worst. If it gets light at 6 AM in late August and dark at 8 PM, that means we will need to start hiking to Sitting Bear before light to prevent climbing in the dark at Shortoff. It would be way cooler if we were driving home at supper time, but “plan for the worst.”

August would not be my chosen time to do this adventure given the heat, but we are balancing two limitations: 1) climbing closures for Falcon nesting until August 15, and 2) length of daylight hours. We even have to wait to do several preparation climbs until after August 15.

The hike from Sitting Bear to Hawksbill is the second shortest and definitely the easiest. We may even jog part of that. The Hawksbill climb is the hardest technically, but we both did it clean, and that was my first try on it. The hike from Hawksbill to Table Rock is not the longest, but it is definitely hardest. Getting around Hawksbill, we missed a turn because the trail is vague at places. Hopefully, we know the route now. There is a steep uphill section going up to the base of cliffs at Table Rock. I will be glad for a rest at the belay station. We will be doing the easiest climb of the trip at TR, North Ridge.

This day we decided to do something else rather than North Ridge. My wife had mentioned that FB friends were reporting encounters with bees in the mountains. I alerted my son who is allergic but I forgot to stock my first-aid kit with Benadryl. I was so thankful that my son went up through Devil’s Cellar to hang out on top while we climbed. Soon after passing North Ridge, on a steep downhill, I walked over a Yellowjacket’s nest. At first I thought it was the buzzing of flies and was about to tell my partner that there must be something dead about because of the flies. Before the words left my mouth, I received the first of five stings. I yelled and started running. My partner ran back to see what my cry of pain meant and received a sting. He turned and ran, too, but was there just long enough to break my fall on the steep terrain. I made a mad rush downhill, swatting and grabbing for tree trunks. We recovered at the base of our chosen climb. After starting it we backed off and decided on an easier climb for carrying packs, Helmet Buttress, which with My Route above, is 5 pitches. We reduced it to 3. Still my son waited two and a half hours for us rather than an hour or less. Oops on several levels. Thankfully we can do North Ridge in one pitch with a 70 m rope.

All of this causes me to reflect on the planning and moxie needed to pull off a major expedition. We are just planning a day trip. I am thankful to God for the safety and health we have experienced during this preparation time. Even the bee sting swelling diminished when I sweated and climbed some more. It seems like a worthy challenge and adventure for this old guy, but I want to continue to increase the safety factor. Also, I decided that if I want to see a bear, I should hike with my son. We saw two this day when I hadn’t seen one on the trail in over a year. Several weeks ago he was in the Gorge with a friend and saw a Bobcat and a mother bear with two cubs in a standoff- a once in a lifetime view, I’d guess.

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Many a parent will recognize the title of this blog as a title of a children’s book. I think that I should write one titled “Real, Pretend, Alive, and Inanimate”. Yeah, I know, I would have to say “Not Alive” for a children’s book title, but the idea is that young, concrete-thinking children have difficulty differentiating these concepts, and I’m not really sure I could help them, so it’s just an idea. That is not t he purpose of my entry, so I regress.

While my daughter and family were in town one weekend recently, all of us were in the kitchen at one moment. This little family gathering got turned upside down when a critter that belongs outside came inside. I was talking to my wife while we stood at the counter when she shrieked and said that a critter, possibly a possum had just run past her and under the hutch. Now she reminded me that a few moments later that I should not doubt my wife, but I was as surprised by the idea as she was by the critter. I bent down and peered under the hutch to see a baby o’possum frightened and then running over under the dining table. I ran downstairs for a container, and thankfully for the purposes of observation, grabbed a clear bowl. The next time that I saw it moving I clamped the bowl over it. Everyone was fascinated for a look and curious how in the world it got into the house. A few days later while in the basement, I observed that the dryer vent line was knocked off of the exit point through the external wall. I went outside to find the plastic grating over the end of the vent pipe fallen off. Evidently, the little varmit had run into the pipe and somehow dislodged the pipe from the wall, probably when he fell the down the ~7 vertical feet of the pipe. He was happy to be outside, inside his own habitat, right-side up.

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Still in training for a late summer climbing bonanza, my partner and I headed out on Friday to do a few of the routes on Shortoff in Linville Gorge. The hike up from the parking area is about a mile and a half through recovering forest after forest fires about a dozen or so years ago. There is some shade beginning to form, but most of it today was the partly cloudy haze out of a super-humid July day. When you reach the top there are breathtaking views of Gorge and Foothills region. The difficulty of access to these climbs is the topography, the whole reason we are here of course. You have to drop down a very steep gully about 150′ vertical and then rappel another 100′ to the bottom. Getting to the rappel station was the scariest part of the whole day.

When I lead The Nose at Looking Glass Rock, it was the first 4 pitch, trad route I had ever done. But it felt pretty chill because the belay stations were bolted and the overall climb is in the neighborhood of 75 degrees positive (15 degrees off of vertical if you prefer), so there was no exposure and you couldn’t see the base after 50′ or so. The first climb at Shortoff, Dopey Duck, was different. On the second pitch it has sustained 5.9 climbing with little rest. I thought I was going to flame out until a reached a rest just below a small roof. I told my partner that I was glad he lead because I would not have had enough endurance to place protection and climb. It is, in fact, a little past vertical. I read a quote online afterwards by longtime climber in the area who said, “If it was any more 5.9, it would be 5.11.” That is an intended exaggeration, I’m sure, but the point is that it gets tiring. My partner, having a 70 meter rope, decided we should do the 3 pitches in one. In order to do that we would have to simul-climb for a short distance. Both tied in with numerous pieces of pro between you, you both climb together. He reminded me, “don’t climb into the slack”, just before he left the ground, so a fall would not drop us far. It turned out that we only did this for about 20′ before he reached the top and set up a belay- a day of firsts for me.

Next, I lead an easier route, Maginot Line, 5.7. I am sometimes amazed at the knowledge base of climbers naming some of these climbs. They weren’t just laying out of class to go climbing. You trot up a juggy corner almost the whole way. At one point there were some chock blocks you have to navigate around which got me out on the face and a hanging belay for one pitch. Over all it was 250′ of pretty mellow climbing. If you would like to see a few pictures of the process, click on “Dopey and Maginot“.* Even humid, sticky July days can be glorious with a little breeze and occasional shade and a good challenge. I try to get out climbing 2 or 3 times a month, though it doesn’t always happen. I am so thankful to God for the health and opportunity to try new things and enjoy nature.

*Until I figure out a good alternative, most of my pictures will be loaded onto another site.

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“I am sitting at the Yellow Mountain Gap Shelter [a barn long ago converted for this purpose], having come up the Overmountain Victory Trail along Hampton Creek [on the Tennessee side]. It is my [son’s] 31st birthday… Two deer, probably just having lost their spots recently, hopped around in the meadow above me. Five or six varieties of birds sing and insects buzz beneath a low overcast with a slight breeze carrying occasional sprinkles of rain. Despite the clouds, it is fairly bright, and a profusion of summer wildflowers surround the mowed clearing and adorn the seeps of the forest. The grass is indeed a yellowish green on Yellow Mountain before me and every direction speaks of summer lushness and humidity. I want to praise His holy name and forget none of His benefits, as Psalm 103 says, but I am in need just now of His joy and His guidance. I desire to want Him more than His benefits,” I wrote at the picnic table after a strenuous hike up the ridge for about 3 1/2 miles. I had need of going over the mountain by road to get some things and decided to make use of the outing to get out into the mountains.

This way of getting to Yellow Mountain Gap did not exist 25 years ago when I was asking permission to cross private property, which I was allowed to do on two occasions back then.

If you don’t know the history of this game changer of the American Revolution, then you should check it out. Backwoodsmen streamed across the mountains in search of Major Patrick Ferguson who had threatened them. They caught up with him at King’s Mountain, SC. Reenactors make the trek yearly, stopping at key points to explain the significance of the battle to school children and anyone who will listen. I used to live near Sycamore Shoals and now live near Quaker Meadows, two significant staging and meeting points for the pioneer combatants.

A little more recent cultural icon of the mountain draw, the decaying clapboard house.

The fields get narrower and steeper as you climb up the draw and the gates keep in the wondering cattle on the hillsides.

Multiple tractor tracks, cattle ruts, and trails made the little symbols a guidance comfort for this first time hiker on this particular trail.

It is the season for sweet treats along the trail of which I availed myself.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus L.) is said to be an invasive, but it is definitely useful to dry up runny sinuses, using the leaf or the flower. I just learned that the reason it is usually found along highways, which are frequently sprayed with herbicides preventing me from collecting it there, is because it needs bare ground for the seeds to germinate.

Though I paralleled Hampton Creek and Left Prong of Hampton Creek, I saw the creek very few times. I was in the fields but it was in the woods in a narrow draw most of the time. I knew it was there because I heard it for all but the last 1/2 mile before the gap.

Further up and further in:

Woods and shade at last:

Literally at field’s edge and overlooking the barbed wire, I saw this beautiful stretch of creek.

There were many beautiful wildflowers, some of which you can see at Hampton Creek Reserve Wildflowers. I did not see one other person in the five hours of hiking. I enjoy conversing with people, even strangers, but I also enjoy time for reflection, prayer, observation, and praise. Frequently I find that strenuous exercise keeps my body occupied so that when I take a few moments of rest my mind and spirit can converse with God better. The surroundings were certainly beautiful in the big and the small. And I was enabled to visit a spot I had not been to for more than 15 years.

You can see Yellow Mountain behind me.

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Rarely do I complete a deck repair in one day, but this job was that small. There were two decks, the main 12 x 12, and smaller 4 1/2 x 10. The larger one had three boards with developing rot, a quick fix. I also replaced three balusters there.

The smaller one had an end rail that was fencing (??), almost an afterthought put up shabbily. Because of the position the back post and the proximity of the tree, I had to put the balusters on the inside.

The lower deck was also made with 2 x 6 joists. I would not use those on anything more than four foot spans. So, I installed a post in the middle to strengthen the span.

Off to one side of the smaller deck was an eroding flower garden. I installed a little barrier and back filled it to preserve the level space.

Small jobs are good. I get the satisfaction of quick completion. Also, most companies won’t mess with a job this small, but a day’s work is a day’s work. God has continued to provide work right along to pay our accelerated bills. I am constantly reminded that I can and should trust Him and must continue to do so, and that this demonstration of His faithfulness and provision means that I can trust in other areas as well. My faith has moments of faltering, but I have not seen Him unable or unwilling to provide as I am diligent to ask and walk into the opportunities which He provides.

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Sound like a title straight out of a Prohibition movie? Actually today it was a pair of climbs my partner and I did on Table Rock. I trad lead (1) White Lightning. My partner has a 70 meter rope so I did the first two pitches as one. First you go straight up a crack to an overhang and then traverse right to the anchors of another climb. We rappelled down from there and then did North Ridge to the top in one pitch. On this second climb, we climbed with our packs on so that we could walk off the top.

My partner realized just after we left the parking lot that he had forgotten his climbing shoes. So while he went back, I had a few moments to reflect on the surroundings. Sourwood bark has character and so much “scope for imagination”, as Anne of Green Gables would say. The furrows and ridges could be dragon skin or climbing holds or tire tread. What does it remind you of?

And the surrounding woods were lush but open, and even pleasant on this otherwise sultry, July morning.

The first climb that I led was a challenge for me, but the belay station was a big enough ledge for a comfortable look about. It was indeed hazy this day, calling for afternoon thundershowers. The clouds obscured the sun just sufficiently to preclude sunburn or copious sweating.

The view north was the best, straight upstream on Linville Gorge. You can see the river down below and Hawksbill on the right.

Just beyond the anchors this block sits precariously on the ledge. How did it get there? Why hadn’t it tumbled to the ridge below? Why does it continue perched on this slopped ledge? The shadowed left surface seen in the picture seems to be a mirror image of the small roof above. Is it possible that it could have detached from there, fallen about 3 feet and just sat?

It appears as though there is an arch at the left. I leaned out (2) to see, discovering that it is detached from the wall, and therefore, a spire. I may have to climb that one day. You can see here that the cliff line of the opposite side of the Gorge. The next valley behind that is Paddie’s Creek, its far ridge being another place that I like to climb.

My wildman partner smiles for the camera as he belays me to look around. The end of this climb ends at the anchors for the second climb we did, North Ridge. It is definitely on the turning edge of Table Rock’s north end. From where he stands to where I stand allowed me to see around the corner to the southeast pictured in the last scene.

I’m just a tourist taking in the beauty of God’s green earth.

There are two weird effects in the next photo. The blue band is just that, a blue band, that holds my camera around my neck and gets in the way sometimes. The other is the appearance of my partner trotting up the wall as if hardly touching it. I guess the moves were so easy that he did not have to keep three points on.

On the drive out I saw two picture worthy organisms. The first was butterfly weed.

The second was a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus). The other common rattlesnake in these parts is the Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus). Both suggest a wide berth.

All in all, it was a good day enjoying God’s creation, challenging ourselves in the process, and having good conversation about everything from an upcoming wedding to unsolved math problems and analema- so much scope for imagination.

  1. Trad (traditional) climbing is using gears like nuts and cams to climb from the ground up. Lead climbing is the first person up the pitch (length of a rope) who places gear and climbs above the protection to set the next piece.
  2. tied in, of course

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At first the owner just wanted the decking replaced, but I noticed that the center of the deck was several inches higher than around it. I went to look underneath and discovered the problem. As I began removing decking boards, I paused to record the deterioration that caused the owner to contact me.

The old stain reminded me of weather worn whitewash on a New England coastal style house.

The pattern of boards was interesting but probably contributed to the deterioration and would certainly take more wood and more cost to replace.

Here was the real problem with the deck, a hidden hazard that I declared, “If you had had a party with 30 people on this deck, there may have been many of them in the hospital.” You see, the cracked 2 x 12 is bolted to the side of the post and expected to hold the weight of eight 2 x 8 joists. The 1/2 carriage bolts held, but the board did not. Notice the 2 x 8 at the right has dropped down with the settling 2 x 12. This is where the rise occurred on the decking boards, which must have been taking much of the weight as well.

The different perspective of the problem reveals more of the near failure of the joists.

I cleaned it all out except for the facing boards attached to the walls that had been under the overhangs with no deterioration.

The center post of the deck held a larger percentage of the total weight, so I increased the post from 4 x 4 to 6 x 6.

I did have to replace one facing board that was not holding well to the wall. I used numerous concrete screws and increased strength of the joist ends with joist hangers.

Take note that the joists now sit on top of the post, a much stronger configuration.

The part of the deck that you don’t normally see is the most important part that supports the weight, the part that takes the most energy to construct and get right, and the part many casually observers think shows little progress when being constructed.

In order to reduce leaf litter and deterioration, I caulked between brick and face plate.

And the decking begins!

The joints are not obvious and the area has a clean and spacious look.

The requested steps, near copies of the old ones were complex. I quit early this day for rain.

Getting standard stringers to fit the rise and run of available space is a significant challenge.

The lady of the house wanted the deck to have symmetry, so the landing and stairs running two ways.

Concrete for some reason that I don’t understand causes quicker deterioration of treated wood than straight clay. So I have taken to putting tar on posts to lengthen the their life.

Wow! It’s finished. All that I need to do is stain it. I finish it off with a belt sander on the railing especially and any other place that looks rough.

And there it is in its light gray stain, all matching the brick and trim and gray, wicker deck furniture and white, metal furniture that we moved onto the deck a few days later. Another good challenge for Decks and Such completed.

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Our daughter and her family visited this weekend. I thought that we should plan at least one activity of interest. I remember meeting the CEO of the Hart Square Museum at my local climbing wall. She invited me to come see the Museum that her grandfather and grandmother put together over many decades. Since it was between my family members and myself, it would break up their trip a little and get us outside. I was concerned about our tour schedule time being at noon, because of the heat of June, but I was pleasantly surprised that 90% of the tour was in the woods under shade. The CEO met us in their brand new event facility that has been in the works for 5 years from fund raising to near completion. Already events are being scheduled there. I think that this new facility will be a big drawing card and help to fund the museum for many years into the future.

It pretty well dazzles the moment you enter the hall, and there is a kitchen, bathrooms, and dressing rooms in one wing and offices and conference rooms in the other wing. Here you see a birthday party being set up.

The young and energetic CEO passed us off to the young, talkative, and knowledgeable tour guide. He has lived on the premises as son to the caretaker for ten years and has been involved in deconstructing, moving, and reassembling several of the historic structures as well as repairing and upgrading others constantly. Here he is (on the right) in an upstairs bedroom of one of the larger log cabins describing the set-up to my son-in-law. Very few of the pieces of furniture were original with the cabins they are in, but they are all very much period pieces.

Our tour guide (from here on XS) said that there are now 103 and historic log structures on site, approximately 80 of which were log cabin homes. The structures range in construction date from 1792 to the 1870’s (the latter number being an observation of mine and not definite). Most were bought by the late Dr. Hart. XS said the property was originally intended to be a personal preserve for the good doctor but shifted purpose when a friend suggested a log cabin be purchased and moved to the edge of the pond and then a barn. Two of the most fascinating and used structures are the log churches. You might well imagine that some couples would want to be married in these rustic and romantic houses of worship.

The old 19 century pump organ is functional and used in weddings and gatherings.

With a tour guide along and care taken, this is largely a hands on museum. My son-in-law and two grandchildren confirmed that the organ worked. I ran up the scale, impressed with good sound. I only found one white note that had a reduced, though in tune, sound, I suspect because of a dirty or jammed stop.

The people that I met at the museum are not shy about their faith, so it made the whole presentation seem all the more real. Amazingly this structure was an apartment with siding on it when Dr. Hart found it. It cleaned up quite nicely, as we say.

The other church is smaller and has a circuit rider’s portable pump organ that could be folded and strapped behind the saddle of the traveling preacher. My grand-daughter pretends to be the organist on this day. I found an old hymnbook on the podium and began leafing though it. I think myself somewhat knowledgeable in Christian hymnody, but I had gone 50 hymns before I found one I knew. I sang the first verse. It seems an apt response to being in a structure constructed and dedicated to the worship of God.

XS says this is perhaps the best view on the site and a drawing point for small weddings.

I didn’t think to ask at the time, but I wonder if this glass above the window was original. It doesn’t seem likely to me since a “St. Mark” glass should be grouped with the other three Gospel glasses.

The cabins, many and varied, are furnished in even more varied ways. Some, to be sure, are furnished as the homes they originally were and similarly to their actual use according to interviews with former occupants. But others were furnished as workshops and businesses which they were not. This increases the interest in their contents and plays into the one day reenacting festival every Fall.

Most, the following one not included, had original rock chimneys along with the mostly original logs and timber.

This one was decorated as if Christmas was soon to arrive.

The cookstove was impressive.

Except for the cobwebs, which XS says they are constantly clearing, the cabins are furnished to appear occupied in the present.

Given the number of bedrooms, however, I can assure you that this pantry should be better stocked. Check out the blue Mason jars with the zinc lids.

If you included the four poster at right, this bedroom alone could have housed seven youngin’s. It was adjacent to another room with two double beds.

There are also several modern, old design structures on site like this covered bridge…

…and cotton press for making bales. The cotton gin in the barn like structure is one of only two period gins in the country that is still functioning.

There is also a functioning grist mill fed by one of the ponds.

My family members loved combing every inch of what we had time for and asking many questions. Sometimes I think XS was talking as much to himself as to us. He had plenty to say and good, interesting information, too.

I observed that a modern leather belt replacement might be quite expensive and XS added, less durable.

My grandson is positioned just right to be grabbed up by the millstone hoist.

The passage between living quarters and the kitchen is called a dogtrot. The design helped with heat management by avoiding the heat of the kitchen in summer and providing a shady, breezy passage. I think a quick way to get out of the rain without tracking mud into the house would be nice, too.

There are clay and brick ovens and kilns here and there for the festival reenactors to make anything from bread to pottery, pewter, and more.

Can you guess what we saw inside of this cabin?

Bear on the wall, buffalo on the bed, and deer on the foot board, I’m told.

The large, iron rich, mica schist blocks on this chimney were fascinating.

The Holstein hide bed coverlet drew my attention as well.

There were museum pieces at every turn. You should see what was inside the shed.

There is a centrally located picnic pavilion where my grandchildren were attempting to call up anyone with ears to hear.

My son-in-law caught a little wildlife for his daughter to play with.

There is not enough time to go into all 103 structures on a given tour, but you may request that anyone be opened to inspect. I was interested in the pottery cabin. It was full of labeled historic pots. Some were from a well known local potter and his business from the 19th century. This was definitely a no touch zone.

My daughter observed that the Indian glazes had a more smooth appearance and I would add a more matte finish as well.

The last cabin that we went into was furnished as a doctor’s abode. It had matching horn “silverware” and a grand Lazy Susan at table.

I had a few more pictures, but I seem to have arrived at the limit of the blog entry. That is fine, because you need to go see for yourself. Even with every picture I took, you would not have seen the half of it. Go check it out. They seem quite flexible in scheduling tours and there is some real history hear. Or plan an event there. Yes, I’m advertising, but not because I get anything out of it other than the satisfaction of knowing that I pointed some people to a profitable tour for mind and body and helped out a worthy museum. Check out their tours at Hart Square | A Common Past, Uncommonly Preserved. It is located just south of Hickory, NC, near Vale, NC. I was going to add a map, but I have maxed out the storage, evidently. You’re smart, so check it out and go see it this summer.

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Last weekend my wife and I went to Knoxville for a one our daughter-in-law’s surprise birthday party, my wife’s family reunion, and other visits. What makes this so amazing is that my wife had had health problems that prevented her from significant travel or visiting- she was in much pain and it simply wore her out. About 3 weeks ago the symptoms suddenly began to go away after almost two years of intensifying. She has been to many doctors, but mostly they could not pinpoint the problems, which are not all solved but she feels like she has a life again. She decided that the birthday party with many people would be too much for her, so I dropped her off at her sister’s house to have a quiet visit while I was at the party.

Her husband is very patient to talk to my wife at the slower pace of someone with aphasia.

I missed the surprise moment of the daughter-in-law’s arrival, but there was plenty of visiting all around.

Visiting with my six grandchildren by my oldest son and his wife was enjoyable.

My oldest son is listening to a story by his pastor. We went to church with them the next morning. You can see my sister-in-law in the pink pants getting to know one of my grandchildren.

The pastor is also a near neighbor, so the grandchildren feel comfortable with him and his wife.

I said that there were six grandchildren. The one in the green cap holding his mother’s hand in an earlier picture didn’t stand still long enough for me to get a picture. My oldest brother is a retired pastor and quite the UT fan.

My sister-in-law is quite the story teller. You can about see her spinning a yarn here to my youngest son: “Ye…eeep! It was a real humdinger.” The daughter-in-law’s brother is listening to another story with pleasure.

My third son has that “are you taking my picture” look, but his wife just smiles.

The family gathered for the reunion at Cumberland Mountain State Park on Sunday afternoon after church. Eating and talking is what you do at a reunion. Most of the participants are past playing games.

Mother and son.

Who looks more mischievous, uncle or nephew?

Brothers.

Their spouses.

The eight siblings of my wife’s family and all but one of their spouses are still alive even though the siblings range from 63 to 86 years old. They didn’t get to have a reunion last year and everyone feels like this can’t keep happening from now on, but they are blessed to still be alive and still enjoy getting together to catch up on what has happened in the last year or two. Could you point them out in order by age?

My two oldest grandsons and their father rode with us to the reunion. The others stayed back for a much needed nap. We had gone on a hike together previously, so they wanted to go again. We went down the road a short distance to the dam where we found a trail down by the creek.

The bridge over the dam is the most picturesque feature in the park.

Besides painted dots to mark trails, the park has these special trail markers, this one on Black Oak bark.

I am trying to keep up on the march in the woods.

This is fun, grandpa, but the creek water is only cool and not cold as we expected.

It floats but will it support any weight?

I had the boys in their cowboy hats and boots stand by a healthy Eastern White Pine.

After returning to my son’s home we visited for awhile before departing to my oldest brother’s house for the evening. I was focusing in on my grand-daughter, who is the first second daughter in four generations among the male progenitors. Speaking of whom, the party, reunion, hike, and visit after a week of laboring has rendered him tired. We were all ready for some rest, but content with time we had to visit.

Indeed the years are passing, and we become more desirous of renewing family ties as time goes along. God has been good to our families according to His mercy. We should love those around us and build relationships while we can, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, though we can guess what many tomorrows will. Life is short so we best be about knowing God and knowing people while we have the opportunity, because eternity is coming. I am so thankful for the young ones coming along, and I pray regularly for their salvation, health, relationships, and knowledge base. May they know Him and give Him glory. Life is good, because God is good.

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I usually like to keep my titles short and leave the depth for the text and images. I’m reversing that today. I frequently have ambitions upon arising in the morning of gettin’er done. I have learned, however, to better go with the flow, be patient with the process, and pray through it.* I only had limited time, needing to do other things in the afternoon and having every expectation of eventual rain. I finished the railing on the deck. Then I realized that I needed another load of lumber. Of course, I’m not blind, but frequently I can keep working until the need for a certain piece of lumber or hardware arises, without which I cannot do the next step. It was two hours before lunch. I can hand pick the lumber at the lumberyard, pay for it, load it with the help of guys at the store, haul it, and unload it before lunch I thought. And I was on track, lumber in the the truck, ready to go.

I hopped in the cab, stuck the key in and turned it, “Claaaack, claaaack, claaaaack, claaaaaaaaack.” How did my battery go dead? After a minute of consideration, two guys in a diesel, company truck pulled up beside me and kept their engine running. I asked the driver across our window openings if they could jump me off. “Sure.” The solenoid clacked faster, but no start. We charged it a minute, but no start. The other guy tapped the starter with a hammer while I tried to start it, but no start. We forgot to put it in gear and rock it, but I know it would not have started. We concluded that the starter was bad. They went along and I was left wondering if we were right and how to get to the an auto parts place. I called my youngest son who is a mechanic. He said the boss was out and the work was slow so he would come and check on it and take me to the parts place. He did essentially the same as we did, but no start. He took me to the parts place, I purchased the the starter, and he dropped me off and went back to work. Have you ever changed out a starter in the Lowe’s parking lot? It was warm, gravelly, and very awkward to get while the truck was sitting on the ground. And to further the suffering, there were three bolts rather than the usually two holding it on and the small wire for the solenoid magnet had a different connector so that I had to cut, strip, and crimp the old wire into the new one. The best part was that it immediately and strongly started once I had hooked up the battery cables and turned the key. I arrived home two and half hours late for lunch. Afterward, I hurried to unload the lumber because I could sense rain coming. The moment I completed unloading and stepped into the truck, the rain poured. I returned the starter core for a refund and arrived at home as the rain began to subside.

The timing of no vehicle breakdown is ever convenient, but I have no complaint. Two random guys offered to help. My son could come, confirm the diagnosis, and take me to get the part. A cashier saw me at work during her break and brought me a water bottle. I didn’t get soaked either replacing the starter or unloading the wood. It started immediately. Though there were moments of frustration trying to reach bolts in seemingly unreachable positions that I could not see, I think I passed the patience test and even chuckled a bit over the process and prayed a considerable amount. And, hey, the starter was original equipment, serving the old truck for 24 years.

You can see the case rust and easy position of the first bolt. The third one was next to the bracket above about 170 degrees counterclockwise to the first.

It seems very odd to me that the paint and label had not come off during those many before I removed the starter.

I always compare parts before installation, usually at the parts store but that was impractical this time.

I hope to finish the deck soon and show you the results, but It will get done when it gets done with whatever situational bumps appear in the road. For all the difficulty, God was kind to allow the details to work out so well. I have certainly seen worse.

*Except when I don’t because I’m still being sanctified.

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I have been building decks as work arises for just over a year now, but before that when I was full time teacher, I would do projects in the summer and sometimes on weekends. The following deck was built in the summer of 2013 and turns 8 years old this month. Unlike another one that I built that had no maintenance in the ensuing years, this one has been taken good care of. I cannot find pictures of building the deck though I remember taking some. My two youngest sons helped me with the project which included replacing the front steps, installing a thermostatically controlled vent in the front porch shed roof, trimming two trees overhanging the house, reshaping the the contour of the ground above the house to direct water away from the house, and building the deck which replaced a similar one that had not been maintenanced properly. Besides being re-stained regularly since it was new, there have been improvements like the skirt underneath and the concrete pads at the base of the steps and underneath. The wall below the deck was there but has been landscaped along with other areas around the steps. Decks are certainly not permanent structures, but when taken care of properly may last and look good for more than 30 years.

Though you may take care of your deck and it may rot anyway because of circumstances of the wood quality or environment of the deck*, it is much more likely to last in good shape when you do some maintenance.

This idea of maintenance applies to all things that you own, but also applies to your body and relationships. Make time for taking care of yourself. Make time to get to know better those you love and those with whom you are acquainted. You will be happy with the result and the benefits will be long term.

*Things very detrimental to decks include intense solar radiation (south facing or reflection off of glass or radiation from brick or asphalt), residing under trees where there is much litter accumulated and constant moisture that promotes algae and mold growth.

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