"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Save Cummins Falls!!

We took a ride up east toward Cookeville yesterday to check out Cummins Falls in southern Jackson County. There is an effort going on currently to save the beautiful 75' waterfall and 186 surrounding acres from development in hopes of creating a new Tennessee state park there. It was a beautiful sunny day with fall-like temps. A perfect day to get out in the woods for a nice hike to this amazing, fairly-unknown regional gem. The conservation effort is being coordinated by The Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation (TPGF) and yesterday was an organized open visitation to the privately-owned property as well as a fundraising effort.
We parked about a half-mile from the falls on the north side of the Blackburn Fork River in a designated parking area. Rob and his best friend, Craig, visited the falls over 20 years ago while they were students at nearby Tennessee Tech University, and this was actually the third waterfall of over 300 that Rob has hiked to and photographed since then, many of which with either Craig or Ashlee. At that time the guys parked on the south side of the river in undesignated pull-offs on side of Cummins Mill Road and scaled down some treacherous cliffs to the falls and excellent swimming hole beneath it (stupid kids). The TPGF has provided better access to the top and bottom of the falls from the north side with rope railings and ladders into the gorge. Of course, if it becomes a state park, permanent steps and railing would be installed for better and safer access.
We were surprised to see a really nice set-up by the TPGF when we got near the falls. They had set up displays with information about the area and their fundraising effort. There were also chairs and tables set up for a complimentary lunch that was provided to all in attendance. We made our way to the the falls overlook nearby and marveled at the amazing site (photo above). The line to the rope ladder to the bottom of the falls was long and somewhat slow since you had to take your time on the tricky apparatus, so we opted for a hike to the top of the falls instead. We were rewarded with great views of the brink of the falls themselves as well as an expansive view of the amazing gorge below the falls that the river has carved out over thousands of years
On the way back out of the gorge, we caught up with a group being led by a Tennessee park ranger who was giving an impromptu hike and offering information on the surrounding flora and fauna in the area. Once back up to the overlook we were offered complimentary Yazoo beer. What a nice surprise after a good little hike! Lunch was served a short time later and it was delicious. After the meal, several guest speakers were introduced including TPGF board members, the president of Tennessee Tech (the university is very involved in the effort to the conserve the area) and a couple of local elected officials. Everyone was enthusiastic about the effort to save Cummins Falls and we were as well. We pledged $100 to the cause which we know isn't a great amount in terms of the over $1 million that they need in total, but, hey, every little bit helps, right?...plus, they did feed us and give us beer whether we gave anything or not. In total over 200 people attended the fundraiser and they are reporting over $40,000 in donations came from it. If you want to learn more about the effort to save Cummins Falls and perhaps give a little yourself, then please check out the link below:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

20 Years Since The Pickle Barrel

20 years and going
We celebrated a pretty amazing anniversary today. It was 20 years ago today the we had our first date. We were both working at the Chattanooga Downtown Library on a Sunday afternoon and decided to go across the street after work and get something to eat at The Pickle Barrel, a little sandwich shop that is still in operation today. (We are already planning on going back there on our next visit to Chattanooga to relive the moment.) The rest, as they say, is history (and blog material).
Until we can make it back to The Pickle Barrel, we had to settle for a date in nearby downtown Nashville instead. Our original plan was to go to one of our favorite restaurants, Watermark, for dinner, but those plans were quickly replaced earlier in the week when we learned that two of our favorite bands, Five for Fighting and Tonic, would be performing at Live on the Green tonight in downtown Nashville. Live on the Green is a six-week series of concerts that are free to the public and sponsored by the local independent radio station, Lightning 100. They are held at Public Square Park, a large grassy area (ala "green") in front of the City Hall Courthouse. Since we would pay to see either of these bands (we did last year for Five for Fighting - see earlier blog entry), we decided to pony up $30 a person for the "VIP experience" which promised complimentary food, beverages and a private up-close viewing area of the stage.
It was money well spent. They actually had real food available and not only soft drinks and water, but beer as well. They also had a nice tent to sit under pre-show. This wasn't as valuable as it could have been since the temps were nice and reasonable since the sun was behind a heavy cloud cover that spit a little rain now and then, but never really opened up thankfully. The viewing was, as promised, right in front of the stage and much less crowded than than "Freebieville" next door where the folks were packed in like sausages. We arrived in time to catch a few songs from a good local East Nashville band called Hightide Blues. Five for Fighting was up next. FFF is basically one very talented guy by the name of John Ondrasik. He was accompanied by another young guitarist, but it was John's show from start to finish as he moved back and forth from the piano to acoustic guitar. He performed all his favorite hits between witty banter with the crowd and charming stories about his family. Well worth seeing again live and we won't miss a chance to see them/him again if we get the chance.
Next up was Tonic, a Grammy-nominated rock-n-roll band that really took off in the early 90's with a couple of well-received albums and a string of popular hits. They took a hiatus around the turn of the century and lead singer, Emerson Hart (a Nashville native), did some solo work that produced some songs that got a lot of radio-play as well. These guys don't seem to have lost a beat over the hiatus. They sounded great from start to finish of their hour-plus set packed with all their old favorites, and the couple of songs they played from their new album were very good as well.
This was a great way to celebrate our first-date 20th anniversary. We plan to come back to Live on the Green in a few weeks and catch, Band of Horses, who we discovered at Bonnaroo a couple of years ago.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Return to the Conch Republic

Friday, September 3, 2010
We drove down to Chattanooga today and picked up our brother- and sister-in-law, Andy and Paige, and continued on to the Atlanta airport to catch a direct flight on Delta to one our all-time favorite vacation spots, Key West, Florida. We have been coming here for many years now and consider it almost like a second home to us. The place is relaxing with a Caribbean-island feel more than just another Florida beach town. The food is spectacular. Some of the best we have ever had has been in Key West. And, there is just a vibe in the Old Town area that is hard to explain unless you've been there. It just makes you happy to be alive when you are there.
The flight was an easy hour and a half trip. We usually stay at a small European hotel called Eden House, but this year we opted for a private house (photo above) experience. We found a moderately-priced tw0-bedroom house online that looked great and divided four ways actually saved us a few dollars not to mention the fact we had a private pool, hot-tub, living area, etc. There is always trepidation when booking a new place online (yep, we've been burned a few times), but the owner, Sullins, is a Tennessee native and couldn't have been nicer or more genuine. The house was everything his ad said it would be and more. We absolutely loved it. Clean, spacious and in a great location in Old Town. We immediately hopped in the pool when we got there that evening and it was heavenly. Here's a link to the house if anyone's interested. We highly recommend it: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p267677
 After a dip in the pool and a shower, we walked a couple of blocks over into the Bahamian Village area for a 9 PM reservation at Better Than Sex - a dessert-only restaurant that we had read great reviews about. Those reviews were dead-on. What a cool place! We started out with cocktails which were all served in glasses whose rims had been dipped in chocolate or caramel. Yep, they call this process a "rim-job." The entire menu is clever and funny with "interesting" names for all their drinks and dishes. We split a huge grilled cheese & chocolate sandwich - who knew it was such a great combination! After dinner we met up with some friends, Chris and Shane, over at their timeshare condo complex, The Banyan, which was very nice. This was their last night in Key West after having been there for a week.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
We met up with Chris and Shane again for breakfast before their flight out. We decided on Blue Heaven which is our favorite restaurant in Key West, although we have never actually been there for breakfast. It stormed the night before and some rain was still hanging around this morning with a promise to be out of sight by noon. We have always sat outside in the garden at Blue Heaven, another reason we love the place besides the delicious food, but the raindrops forced us to sit inside which we had also never done before. The food is just as good in the mornings and inside at Blue Heaven. We were absolutely stuffed. The sun did its job and forced the clouds and rain away giving us a great afternoon of total laziness around the pool. While we have always loved the Eden House Hotel, it sure was nice to have a private pool and hot tub where we controlled the tunes and the libations flow.
We decided to take a stroll down to Mallory Square to catch the daily Sunset Celebration (photo below) before dinner. Mother Nature obliged us with a gorgeous sunset and the usually popular area was much less crowded than usual in the past for a Saturday night. We chalked that up to a stuttering economy and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which had not affected the water of Key West that we know of. The walk back to dinner at a new-to-us place called Nine on Five on Duval Street was a bit long and the air was humid. We were hot when we arrived and happy to sit down for dinner, but wished our table was inside in the a/c, plus the fact we had slow service and so/so food made this place worth crossing off our list to return to again. We have found that restaurants on the famous (and rather tacky and touristy) Duval Street are always hit-or-miss and rarely have much staying power. The great food in Key West is always off the beaten path. After dinner we cooled off in the pool again and just enjoyed the great rental house we had.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
We slept in a bit this morning before ambling over a couple of blocks to the Six-Toed Cat cafe for breakfast. The name comes from the variety of cat that takes up residence at Ernest Hemingway's House next door. The food was delicious and filling. More pool time was in order as the cloudless sky beamed with sunshine. We kept our revelry to a minimum this afternoon since we had a 4:30 PM departure for a Sunset Dolphin Watch and Reef Snorkel with one our favorite Key West outfitters, Sunny Days Catamarans. We have went with these guys several times on short snorkeling jaunts as well as all-day trips out to the Dry Tortugas and the stunning Fort Jefferson. They are always super courteous and professional and give you a real bang for your buck. This trip was no exception as our captain, Ash, and his first mate, Jesse, took great care of us aboard the Dolphin Cat. Our group was small since the craft only accommodates around 20 people. The water was calm as we headed out to an area a few miles out where Ash and Jesse said the local dolphin pod (240 strong) usually hang out. It didn't take us long to find a group of about a dozen brown bottle-nosed Atlantic dolphins cruising around. We got a lot of close-up looks without disturbing them, a process that is taken very seriously in Key West. Afterwards, we headed over to a nearby small uninhabited key and got in the water for some reef snorkeling. We immediately saw two good-sized sand sharks resting on the bottom. Quite a jolt when you first get in the water! They were, of course, harmless and undisturbed by our presence. The water was a bit murkier than usual - probably due to the strong storms the two nights before, but still clear enough to see a good amount of fish and coral. After a good half hour of snorkeling, we cruised back in to the harbor at a leisurely pace as the sun was setting behind us with some Bob Marley on the stereo...this is the good stuff, ladies and gentlemen.
Dinner this evening was going to be later than usual thanks to our little ocean adventure. We settled on Louie's Backyard, a place we had been to before but only for drinks and dessert. We got a great table outside in sight and earshot of the Atlantic waves slapping against the island's eastern shore. The pesky rainstorms creeped in just about the time we got our meals and we had to make a quick dash inside where our great and on-the-ball waitress had us a table waiting. The inside of Louie's is just as great as his "backyard." It's an old rustic mansion that is in pristine condition. Did we mention the food was A++? Well, it sure is. Fresh wild scallops that were huge, lightly smoked salmon and yellow tail snapper were some of what was ordered and devoured rather quickly. The stormy weather kept us out of the pool that evening, but we lazed around the house happy as clams anyway.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Our flight was at noon so it gave us time to lounge the morning away at the house and take another last dip in the pool as the weather was beautiful. The Key West Airport is tiny, so there is no need to get there too early for a flight. We returned our rental car, a nifty little Nissan Versa that was perfect for our long weekend and saved us money on cab fares and such, and boarded the plane for another quick flight back north. After breezing fairly easily and quickly through downtown Atlanta (thank you holiday traffic), we stopped again at the Marietta Diner (see previous blog on Atlanta) for lunch. The food was great and capped off a great weekend of good times, good food and good memories once again from The Conch Republic.