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My daughter decided to start hiking to build up her stamina. She said that she needs intermediate goals in order to make progress and keep interested. So, she decided to start hiking to the top of the 25 tallest peaks in the Eastern U.S. That had to morph into a different goal because it is either hard or silly to do, depending on which list of highest peaks you look at. The hard has to do with deciding which peaks are the 25 highest. Different lists credit different peaks with that status. You may think that is silly in the days of Global Positioning. In one sense it is silly. One site included any peak that rose from around the surroundings for 160 feet. That means that you could “bag” five or six peaks on two hikes along two different ridges. The site she settled upon was a Wikipedia page called “Southern Sixers“. It includes all of the mountains east of the Mississippi that are taller than 6000′ above sea level, except Mt. Washington (6288′), which is in New Hampshire and would rank 22 on the list. The list has 53 entries, so 54 with Mt. W. I don’t what my daughter is going to do, but she suggested some number like 32 on the list. She will bag some peaks lower on the list with the two ridge walks that I mentioned above. I hope that I might be included in a fair number of these excursions.

Click on A Good Beginning to see how the first two “sixers” went.

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My oldest brother turns 74 today. Always looking for an excuse to go on a hike and get together with family, he emailed the family via group email about hiking not too far a drive from any of us. Schedules being what they are, three out of the four brothers and their wives and one son out of eight children and his family made it for the hike, 14 souls in all. We had done this hike as one of our Thanksgiving hikes several years ago. For some reason, all of us remembered the falls but forgot the hike. It is not steep but it is continuously up. It is not long at 1.5 miles out, but it is rough with randomly pitched small boulders in sections. Small children needed assistance and less stable older participants gave out. The purpose of the hike was time together and time in the woods. Both objectives were completed. For half of us there was a little extra adventure as well. Check out the pictures at Margarette and Bailey Falls to see why.

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Permanently or for a while, I don’t know, but certainly for the next few months I will not be building any decks since I have started a new, fulltime job indoors helping people recover their health. It is a major career and direction change for a 62 year-old, but one I have been pursuing for nearly five years now. I agreed to this deck somewhat reluctantly because I knew that it was going to push right up to the time I would be moving. In fact, I did end up pushing very hard to complete it the day before I started packing the truck. The completion of this short phase in my life reminded me of a song on an old 78 RPM record my mother had in the Livingroom Closet. On the very static recording, Gene Autry is crooning, “I’m headed for the last round-up”. In the song, he is actually talking about going to heaven, but as a boy I didn’t catch on to that. Instead, I took it to mean that an old cowboy was riding in his last cattle round-up, meaning he was retiring. I get asked somewhat frequently how I like retirement, having retired from public education after 28 years. I don’t really know. I have built decks for two years and now end that round-up circuit in order to start a new adventure.

There were costs to building decks. I worked long hours on the clear days and not at all on the rainy days. I was totally worn out at times. Making mistakes and having cost overruns was frustrating. I was frequently exposed to chemicals that I have a reaction to. It was difficult to price things to make money without chasing off potential customers. I knew that I could not physically do this work long-term. There were benefits to building decks. I was my own boss and kept my own hours. I met new people and had many profitable conversations. I was physically stronger than I had been previously for many years. I sweated profusely which is good for a body. Solving problems was a good challenge. I had the sense of a job well done and thank you’s for accomplishing it. It paid many bills.

For a tour of the process on this latest and possibly last deck, click on Something Old and Something New.

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Well, part of it anyway. We met at the Smoky Mountain Highland Festival Games. We watched some of the cabers and bails being tossed. The Border Collies are always amazing, herding geese and sheep without wearing down their charges. I talked with several clansmen in tents, particularly asking about some history of Stewart. The older gentleman recognized that I had a Stewart nose with a crease in the tip of my nose. The history of outlawed tartans for men after the Jacobite Rebellion was interesting. The women had to carry the tartans in their skirt patterns. At the Burnett tent I was gazing at the motto drawing, thinking that I had seen something similar before. A clansman asked if I had a question. This precipitated a discussion about how their motto, “Virescit Vulnere Virtus”, is the same as the Stewart motto. Both clans have the same ancestry. The motto is said to have been adopted after Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, embroidered it into one of several still surviving tapestries that her and her ladies in waiting made during her long years of confinement at the hand of her cousin, Elizabeth I. The motto translates to “Courage grows strong at a wound.” It is supposedly a political statement against her cousin. All of these tidbits, demonstrations, sport, dance, instruments, weapons, and clothing were interesting, but the main event was seeing our grandchildren and interacting with them. If you want to catch a little of the flavor of the day, click on Scottish Clad Grandchildren to see a few pictures.

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Spring has sprung, and along the Catawba River Greenway, it is in full bloom. The years pass and I have seen every season multiple times on this 6 miles of trail by the river. To long time watchers of this blog (1), this entry might be a bit boring, but there are a few new twists and turns and the beauty of God’s Creation never grows old. I am especially drawn to its ability to regenerate and renew. I didn’t take a picture, but I observed several large Mayapple patches blooming in the middle of a died out Kudzu patch. Of course, as the weather gets warmer, the Kudzu will take over and completely shade and choke out the Mayapple for the remainder of the season. But the plants persist because they sprout, leaf, bloom, and fruit by mid-May before the Kudzu has done much more than sprout.

I found a wildflower new to me. I took two pictures and immediately sent them to sister-in-law, the family resident wildflower expert (2). Within two minutes she replied with the name and inquiries as to the presence of crossbred varieties with different color centers to their flowers. A short distance down the trail I spied a curiously marked songbird, and the two of us stared each other down for a few minutes. I made a cautious one step for a better view, and the bird flipped around on the branch preparing to fly, allowing me to see the backside coloring. After another good look I cautiously moved away, leaving the bird on his branch. I feel quite confident, after looking it up, that I was viewing an Ovenbird, a larger songbird but smaller Warbler. I haven’t the camera to even have bothered to try to take a picture, but the breast markings, eye ring, back and tail feathers were distinctive enough.

To think that this walk had come about because every effort to secure work for the day had fallen through. So, what do you do when you can’t make your best laid plans A, B, and C happen? Take a walk, pray, and look intently around at the beauty of God’s world. For a few of the pictures I did manage to take, click on “Greenway Flowers“.

  1. Some of my former blog entries on Spring on the Greenway follow: “Out and About“, “Small Delights“, “Colorful Treasure“.
  2. In fact, she is a remarkable woman. If you don’t believe me, check out this link: https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/remarkable-women/2022-remarkable-women-linda-francis/

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It was a bit cooler than we anticipated last Saturday for climbing. My climbing partner arrived at the house just after 8 AM and it was still about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. We decided to go to a south facing, low elevation crag. From what we observed and others said later on, it was a good thing. One friend at church said, “I could swear that when I looked up at the mountains it was snowing.” I replied, “I can swear it was snowing.” We had snow showers with sunshine and wind alternating with just sunshine or then dark clouds and wind. Just as we were hiking out a fierce sleet flurry rushed down the draw. It was laying before we could get out of the woods. On our first climb the rock was quite cold resulting in cold fingers, but after that the sun warmed the rock just often enough to make it good climbing. We had lively talk, good climbing, brisk hiking in and out, bracing weather, Spring just breaking in blooms, and Winter trying to hold on for one more hurrah. It was a good day. Check out the pictures at Crag Day.

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My wife and I had a long weekend with family, the first since Thanksgiving because of sickness, finances, and business. We interacted with 8 our of our 10 grandchildren, two of our children, three of my brothers, one of her sisters, nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, and in-laws at meals, on hikes, sitting around, and in church. Click here are some pictures of a few of the activities.

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I had a peculiar feeling today (1). Two people were talking about an animal that had to be put down for attacking the owner and in the past other people. The owner cried during the conversation and the other person empathized and then turned and asked if I had a dog. I do not. Because of a poor experience (2) with a dog as a child, I don’t really enjoy pets that much.

Some people have pet dogs or cats. Some people have pet hamsters or gerbils. Some people have pet fish. Some have pet rocks. Later in the day I received a strange text with a picture (click here). I had a sinking feeling when I saw the picture. I lived under that plant for 22 years. I cleaned up after it. I trimmed it. I looked up at it during various seasons and variable weather. I enjoyed its shade, its shape, and it size. The new owners had ever right to cut it down, but I was still a little upset. It was, as my wife reminded me, the largest tree in the neighborhood, and it was probably 150+ years old. I have long known that I like trees, but today I realized that I must hold some similar emotions to other pet owners of dogs or cats or gerbils. I felt a sense of loss over an old companion. (3) I responded in a quite non-committal way to the text with the picture, “Make a alot of good firewood.”

  1. Let me tell it in the present tense even though a week has slipped away since it happened.
  2. I wasn’t attacked. I just didn’t like the dog because I had to train it and feed it but couldn’t really play with it because it would always run over you when you went into the backyard.
  3. Far older than me, perhaps 120+ years old based on other oak trees of similar girth on which I have counted the rings.

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I have been privileged to work on various types of projects since I began Decks And Such (see https://www.facebook.com/decksandsuch). Friends at church asked me to repair the porch on their house that was built in 1875. They built houses differently back then. Likely, the beams and boards were milled on the property. The beams in the porch were treated with tar that smelled like creosote. I can imagine a crew of workers cutting, milling, cooking tar and applying it, building the foundation and floor joists all from materials found close about. Check out the progression of my repair work at This Old Porch

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Wow, time flies whether you are having fun or not. So many challenges and unknowns have come our way in the last 3 months, but God is faithful and His providential care and guidance is unerring even when we can’t see it. We are thankful that our house sold, but we don’t know where we are going next. Houses are hard to get in this rarefied real estate market, and direction for where we should be is even harder at the moment. I am by no means a control freak, but I like a little predictability and consistency in my life, and that is all out the window at the moment. My climbing partner said just today that I seem to handle uncertainty (“the unknowns” as we called it) pretty well. I testified to God’s work in my life to make that so. If I say that I trust God, then I need to prove it by not fretting and by waiting for His guidance.

Having said all of that, I am also thankful for decompression times like hiking hard on an approach to a cliff and climbing hard on climbs that are very challenging for me. That was today. Last week was more chill (or was it?) on a bright sunny day and friends trying hard at the boulder field. Check out a few pictures of that trip at Bouldering with Friends.

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I have not written here for just over a month, but it seems longer. My wife and I have gone through a period of difficulty and transition. Just after Thanksgiving we both had COVID. Then our house, sold, we moved into a rental house, and the closing on our house was delayed by a failed structural inspection. During the process of moving, I borrowed a trailer from a friend of mine. We met at dusk about halfway between our houses, so I needed the trailer lights. The problem was my truck’s plug did not mesh with his trailer’s plug. How was I to get it home without him spending an extra hour of driving to deliver it to my house?

When your ship is floundering in the swells because of storm damaged rigging and masts, you put up a jury-rig, an improvised, temporary sail that gets you into port. You use what you have. Check out what I had that worked at Trailer-rig.

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The owner built his own house with many days of sweat equity for him and his wife and subcontractors for various major steps. The house is 98% done inside but needs some work and finishing touches on the exterior. The couple enjoyed their deck so much and love to entertain that they decided to add onto their deck, or outdoor living space as he called it. Being from farther north, they were amazed at the fierceness of the summer sun. So, they decided that they would use a covered deck more. For that reason, the most recent deck that I worked on might better be called a porch, because we put a roof over it. The outdoor living space changed the character of the house, giving it a more homey and inviting look and feel. The owner, with whom I have worked, has appreciated my attention to detail. He says most everyone who sees it comments on the quality. Check out a few of those details at “Outdoor Living Space“.

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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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"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

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Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains