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Spring Peaks Through Winter

For the first time in many years, we experienced a little of that Artic Blast last week and I have to say, I have not been that COLD in years!  We saw temperatures below zero and with wind chill, it just cut through my bones like a knife.  Granted, we did not suffer as badly as some of our neighbors to the north of us, but it was still cold! Our ground was covered in snow and ice for a couple of days until the sun finally melted it all.

While I enjoyed it a tiny bit, a part of me was excited to see the birds arrive this weekend.  It only means that Spring is on its way and warmer temperatures will be here once again.  I will then be able to get outside and play in the dirt!  This year, I need to revamp my garden layout and make some big changes with what I want to do.  So I am looking forward to warmer weather!

My yard was just alive with birds yesterday…Robins, Blue Jays, Wrens, Sparrows, and Cardinals.  Following the snow we had earlier this week, it was a rainy, dreary day brightened only by the choir of birds that came by.  Since they all know I keep bird seed available for them, they always stop by for a visit.  I grabbed the camera and camped out waiting for them.  After refilling the dish with some bird seed, it didn’t take long before I was rewarded with a visit from my little feathered friends! 

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One that I haven’t seen in a very long time is the Blue Jay.  While they are quite annoying as birds go, I think they are beautiful and have some gorgeous markings.  And yes, he did chase off the other birds, but once he had his fill of the food, everything was fine and everybody came back.

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He was a little showman for me and in my excitement I nearly scared him off myself!

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Papa Cardinal arrived for his share of the feast.

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Not to be outdone, Mama wanted a bite, too.

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One last friend, the Mockingbird arrived and our visits were done for the day.

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Soon I’ll be out shopping for a new feeder as mine has seen better days and this year, I hope to capture a hummingbird on film!  Until then, stay warm and count the days until Spring!

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Orange Fig Bars

This year I am running behind on everything!  Shopping, baking, mailing the Christmas cards and gifts… So I am absolutely grateful to have a quiet weekend just before the big day.  I’ve been craving something fig lately and I came across this wonderful recipe in the Family Circle Magazine 2013 holiday edition.  Being a huge fan of figs, I just couldn’t pass it up!

So….(drum roll, please) here is my first attempt at homemade fig bars!

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Pre-heat your oven to 350* F. The next thing I do is get the figs cooking down so that once I finish the cookie layer, they are ready to go and I don’t have to wait for them.

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You’ll need a large, lidded pan that can hold 4 cups of dried figs that have been coarsely chopped.  In this pan will go the chopped figs, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, orange juice (I squeezed a fresh naval orange) and the zest from an orange.  I also added a little water.   The figs I used were organic, dried figs that we found at Costco.  They are wonderful!  And since figs can sometimes be difficult to find depending on where you live, this was a nice treat for me.

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First chop your figs into smaller chunks.  I cut these figs in half, the cut each of those halves into another half.  Wash your orange really well (organic is best) and take your zester, pictured above, and zest all the peel off into the pot. Then squeeze the juice of that orange. It will look like a sticky mess once you add the honey, orange juice and water!  But it will smell absolutely wonderful!!

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On medium heat, bring the figs to a simmer, lower the heat, put the lid on and let cook about 15 minutes or until they are all soft.  I made sure to stir occasionally and was actually able to resist the urge to lick the spoon!  While the figs are cooking, put together the cookie layer.  Once that is done and the figs are soft, you will put them into a food processor, or blender, and run until they are completely smooth.  This mixture will then be spread on top of the cookie layer to be baked for about 25 minutes.  Make sure you cool completely or cutting them into bars will be a nightmare!

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The recipe is below.  Have fun with it and enjoy these!  I actually ended up cutting them smaller than what is on the plate.  They are so rich and delicious and not very sweet at all!

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Orange & Fig Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour (make sure it is unbleached) or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt (I used Celtic Gray Sea Salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (vegan butter works well here)

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

4 cups dried figs, roughly chopped

1/2 cup orange juice or the juice of one large orange

1/4 cup water – this is my addition to the recipe

zest from a large orange

2 tbsp. pure honey

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  (I am partial to parchment)

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Slowly pour in the flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Press firmly and evenly in the bottom of your lined baking pan.

In a medium, lidded pot, combine figs, orange juice and zest, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, and water, if you are adding it.  Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook until soft…about 15 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor (or blender) and run until smooth.  Let cool about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula dipped in warm water to prevent sticking, spread the fig mixture over the cookie layer. (re-dip your spatula in warm water as needed to prevent sticking)

Bake at 350*F for 25 minutes.  Cool completely.  Lift from the pan to a cutting board.  Cut into small squares.

Per cookie: 122 cal; 3g fat (2g sat fat); 2g pro; 24g carb; 2g fiber; 41mg sodium; 7mg chol

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Smile, You’re on Jeffery Camera!

Easter Weekend 2012

This weekend Jeff developed a stye in his camera eye, but before it got really bad, he was able to get a few beautiful shots of Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountain National Park. As always, I hope that you enjoy these.

Happy Easter!

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Happy Easter!

This year we decided to spend our Easter at Cades Cove and try to catch the sunrise. Since Jeff has a little bit of a problem with his camera eye (a lovely stye developed yesterday), I was the lucky girl holding the camera.

Enjoy the views – they were breath-taking! And it was about 38-degrees, too!

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We started out as early as we could. The Moon was still out and was so beautiful. Not only because it was a full moon, but because it was so beautifully bright.

I tried to capture this before we hopped in the car and headed out to Cades Cove. Since I never seem to remember the tripod – this is my best version of catching a shot without using one by leaning on the car!

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When the sun finally came peeking through, it was a so warm! The deer were out as well as so many of the turkeys.

We believe it must’ve been a day of celebration for the turkeys since it is probably the holiday where the least amount of turkey is eaten!

The deer quietly grazed while the sun continued to rise and as you’ll soon see, we were fortunate to have a few walk right in front of us! This is something that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, you hold your breath. 086

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Cades Cove is always a place where we feel that we can leave stress behind087 and find ourselves completely refreshed and revitalized to tackle the next week.

This photo to the right is a view of Sparks Lane. All the recent storms have left all the streams flowing and some spilling over. This section of the Lane hasn’t seen water run across it in a very long time!

And this time of day is absolutely perfect! There is almost no one there, leaving little to disturb and distract the animals.

What a wonderful way to spend Easter! This was the best one we’ve had yet!

I hope that if you are ever in the area, you will take the time to visit Smoky Mountain National Park and Cades Cove. You won’t regret it!

Happy Easter!

 

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Good-Bye 2011, Hello 2012!

Today is the last day of December and it just doesn’t seem possible that we are about to ring in another year. In just a few short hours, 2011 will be just a memory. And for some, the fresh start in 2012 will be a welcome relief!

DSC_0009 (2)For me and my husband, we are looking forward to the new year and are already making plans for a much needed vacation!  And I’m dreaming up how my garden is going to look this year. We’ve even picked out a paint color and the type of new flooring for the basement!

How about you? Have you thought about the possibilities for this next year? As the old saying goes, the sky is the limit! May the New Year bring to your home the joy and love found in family and friends, a steady source of income, continued good health, and much more.

Make 2012 the best year yet!

Happy New Year!

Frosty’s Cades Cove Christmas

Christmas Day Frosty came to visit and we decided to take our friend back to a place that is very special to all of us. If you’re looking for a great day trip for the family or a great place to take visiting friends and family, Cades Cove, in Smoky Mountain National Park, is one of the best places to go. Once Frosty heard about the idea, he was excited to go and couldn’t wait for us to get there.

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Cades Cove is a short drive from Sevierville and Pigeon Forge and there are a couple of ways to get there. But we feel that going up over the mountain through Wears Valley into Townsend is the quickest way from Morristown.

Just 7 miles from the fork in the road near Townsend, the winding road takes you up over the ridge into Cades Cove. It’s a beautiful drive no matter what time of year you go. Frosty reminds us to remember our camera so that we can catch the wildlife up close and personal.

There is a fabulous picnic area set under the trees. You can bring your portable tents to create extra shade in the summer or simply picnic under the trees.  There are outside grills available for your convenience and public restrooms close by. Before heading around the Loop, we always stop by the campground store. There is a really nice camp store that sells the most fabulous soft serve cones for just a couple bucks. You can also get drinks and quick snacks as well as souvenirs. There are vending machines but they don’t always work. We find that we end up donating to the Park more often than getting a drink out of the machine!  Frosty Adventurer at Cove Campground

There is plenty of parking by the camp store so if you have a group of friends who want to all ride in the same truck or van, this is a great place to meet and leave their cars while you all go around the Loop together!

Next to this parking lot is the campground itself. There are sections for RVs, tents and group camping. Right now parts of the campground is closed for the season, but during the summer the drifting scent of burning fires lifts through the air. There are trails all around both for hiking and biking or even just a casual stroll. If your family enjoys the outdoors, this is the place to be.

You may be lucky enough to see a black bear or two, young bucks, fawns and does and possibly a turkey or two! On several occasions we have seen coyote, foxes and hawks as well. On a hike you may see a beaver or an otter. You just never know. It was really cold the day we went, which is how Frosty likes it, so we didn’t see a lot of wild life like we usually do. It was actually a deer kind of day.

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There were bucks of several different ages and many does that would come right up to your car. We were excited to see them so close and when three of them decided to walk across the Loop Road in front of us, they each gracefully stooped to crawl under the fence instead of jumping! We were all so disappointed at their laziness! Later on we were lucky enough to see a couple of does leap over the fence in front of us. What a beautiful sight that was!

 

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A favorite place for many is the creek that runs right over part of Sparks Lane. The water is so cool and refreshing in the summer. When there has been a lot of rain, you’ll have to be careful because the water tends to rush through and have a bit of a current. It seemed a little unsettling to Frosty as he looked out the window at it. The water was high enough to reach the bottom of the car and you could feel it sloshing under the floorboards! Dad was our driver and was careful to get us to the other side without the car slipping once. I think we all let out a quiet collective sigh of relief once we were on the other side.

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I think we can all agree that the views around Cades Cove are breathtaking. Years ago, a group of families settled here and were, for the most part, self-sufficient. There are churches and graveyards tucked away all over the area. There is a watermill at the halfway point as well as various cabins (many are reconstructed) on the very spot where families once lived. You will find that this valley is rich with heritage and history that is worth checking out. And it is a wonderful place for shutter bugs with an itch for building their portfolios. We have had many wonderful moments catching black bears, coyotes, deer and the stable horses on camera. The Park Rangers are willing to share the history of this magical place with you and a Tour Book is available at the beginning of the Loop for a small donation.

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We love going to this little spot of Heaven in the Smokies and hope that you will fall in love with it as well.  It is so peaceful here no matter what time of year you come. In the fall, the valley is a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and yellows and in winter, the white blanket glistens like jewels in the sun. During the spring and summer the blackberry bushes are in abundance and the birds sing their hearts out. What a magical place this is!

Take the time from your busy schedule and take in the view. Cades Cove is an excellent day trip and well worth the drive.

It may become one of your most favorite places to visit.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

DSC_0043Christmas has always been my most favorite holiday.  There’s just something about the glittering ornaments, the sparkling lights and all the festive holiday music and movies that just make me smile. While we are not getting a white Christmas this year, at our house it is still quite festive!

Collecting ornaments has become something of an adventure for me. I love to collect ornaments that are a little different, some are from Hallmark and others I find in unusual places. But when I see one that I love, well, I usually just get a collection of them. The wooden drums were found in an art store years ago. I was rummaging around for art supplies and came across them. They just screamed my name and I couldn’t resist!

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Ahh, my Christmas goose! Goose has followed me around for nearly 25 years. She’s been a mainstay on every tree I’ve had as an adult. She’s so simple but I think that makes her even more adorable!

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What is Christmas without a Nutcracker? I’ve always loved The Nutcracker Suite Ballet. Some day I want to see it performed live!

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As we close out this holiday season, I wish for you all the best in the coming year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New year!