"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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beat Paraguay!!

We had tickets tonight to see the US Men's Soccer Team in a "friendly" game at LP Field in Nashville vs. Paraguay. "Friendly" meaning it did not count for or against either team in terms of the 2012 World Cup qualifying which starts in June. Basically it was a practice or "pre-season" game, but you couldn't tell that from the crowd of over 29,000 that gathered to see the game - it was a historic night since it is now the largest crowd to ever see a soccer game in Tennessee, surpassing the same record set here two years ago when the Americans played Trinidad & Tobago during World Cup qualifying with over 27,000 in attendance including Rob.
Our friends Craig and Alison and their two sons, Ryan and Colin, traveled east from Paris, TN, to catch the game with us. They too were at the previous game in 2009. We also learned recently that our friends, Chris and Tarryn, were going to the game, so we made plans to all tailgate together beforehand if the weather allowed. We watched the weather all day as a bright sunny morning and early afternoon gave way to a cold front moving in fast from the west in the late afternoon and early evening threatening rain, cold temps and wind. The tailgating went fine with only a few sprinkles to report. Chris was an excellent parking lot grill-master. Much thanks to he and Tarryn for providing quite a spread for all of us, plus even a couple of young guys who accepted our extra burgers and a surplus hot dog.
At game time the temperature had dropped somewhat significantly, but it was still fairly tolerable. Ryan and Colin got help with the cool temps with the Team USA scarves we bought them as a late Christmas present. The field was immaculate and the US team wearing their new all-red jerseys for only the second time was an exhilarating site. Our six seats were right behind the north goal (photo above) about 15 rows from the field, and we got to see several near misses for the US in the first half as Paraguay defended in front of us. We were quite a long distance from Paraguay scoring on the other end of the field about a third of the way through the first half. A fairly heavy rain shower also came down in the first half, but neither it nor the early Paraguay goal dampened the spirits of the raucous crowd.
The second half was 45 more minutes of several shots on goal for the US (including an oh-so-close boot by team captain, Landon Donovan, (photo above courtesy of The Tennessean) that went side-net just inches from a goal. We saw a solid defense of the goal in front of us against Paraguay. The score remained 1-0 until time ran out. A win or even a tie would have been nice, but it was still great to see the team in action including several of the new, young members of the squad getting quality game-time minutes against a strong opponent in Paraguay who made the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup.
We hooked back up with Chris and Tarryn back in the parking lot after the game and sat in the car while the traffic cleared out just talking and laughing over a couple of adult libations. We all felt very fortunate to have dodged a lot of potential weather for the most part and see a close, exciting game amongst a lively, excited crowd right here in Music City. Come on, MLS, give this town a look!!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Falling Inn Love with Evins Mill

We spent the night at The Inn at Evins Mill in nearby Smithville, TN. It's a place we have been wanting to check out for a long time and a recent Groupon.com purchase allowed us to do so at half the price. The weather couldn't have been better for mid-March with sunny, warm temps in the low 70's. After having lunch in Watertown on the way, we arrived around 2 PM to check-in. We were shown to our room, the Lawrence Two, which was just about perfect. It sits on a fairly steep bluff overlooking babbling Fall Creek with our own porch complete with rocking chairs. Their are only 12 rooms total in the whole complex with three buildings of 4 rooms each (2 upstairs and 2 downstairs) plus a main lodge (photo below) all nestled in among the forested bluffs of the creek.
After getting settled in our room, we headed over the walkway above the dam (also photo left) to the south side of the creek past the original Evins Mill which was built back in 1939. Our destination was about a half-hour hike downstream. Carmac Falls, (photo below) is the gem of this 40-acre facility. This 90-foot beauty is the main reason we wanted to come to this place, and it's also the reason we have known about this place for so long. It's ranked the 10th highest waterfall in Tennessee and it's one of the few major falls in the state that we had not yet visited.
The hike was a bit challenging to get to the base of the falls but well worth the effort. We were rewarded with two other smaller falls dropping into the gorge as well. The great swimming hole beneath Carmac Falls looked inviting with the warm temps, but a little wading in the creek showed us the water was still too painfully cold to immerse oneself in. We instead just enjoyed the sights and sounds of this beautiful place. We met two other couples coming in and out of the gorge, but otherwise the place was ours alone. The stream and surrounding areas were clean and free of trash, graffiti and other signs of an uncaring public that you unfortunately see on a regular basis at waterfalls with public access and no protection.
As the sun started to drop lower in the sky, we climbed back out of the gorge and headed back upstream. We stopped in Evins Mill itself on the way back. The innkeepers have turned the ground floor of this cool old building into a game-room complete with a pool table, ping-pong table, dart boards, a large TV and sitting area, and a bar with complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. After a spirited and close-scoring game of ping-pong, we headed back to our room to grab a shower and relax in our rocking chairs before dinner. We also had free wi-fi to access which was a nice perk.
Dinner (as well as breakfast the next morning) is included in your per night cost and is served in the main lodge. The inn offered some yummy appetizers before dinner and while nibbling on them out on one of the lodge's huge porches overlooking the mill dam and pond, we ordered a great-tasting bottle of Italian sparkling wine (prosecco) at a very reasonable price from their full bar. Dinner was scheduled for 7 PM, but the staff offered us seating at little early and we were happy to oblige since we were famished from our afternoon hike. Now, we came here specifically to check out Carmac Falls, and we figured anything else we enjoyed would be gravy. And let's just say, the gravy was delicious!! This four-course meal blew us away. It was easily one of the best experiences we've ever had dining out. The first course, ginger-infused soup, was amazing. The pineapple salad up next was creative and refreshing. Our entrees, organic pork loin from a local farm, and wild Tasmanian salmon, were incredible. Dessert was a light strawberry meringue that went great with the delicious coffee they served.
Our great meal experience. the mild temps and the "supermoon" (hey, that's what the experts were calling it as the largest full moon in 18 years thanks to its proximity to the Earth - photo below) inspired us to grab some flashlights and take a quick hike back out to the overlook of Carmac Falls about ten minutes downstream on the south side of the creek again. Wow! What an experience! Seeing and hearing the roaring falls under dazzling moonlight was breathtaking and one of those moments in your life you just have to be thankful you got to experience together (photo above).
A game of pool and a sad attempt at darts back inside the mill concluded our evening and brought the end of a surprisingly great day. We dropped another blanket on the bed back in the room and decided to leave a window open so we could let Fall Creek rushing over its rocky course put us to sleep. The bed was comfortable and although the inn was full, the entire place was very quiet and peaceful.
Breakfast the next morning was not served until 9 AM, so that gave us time after waking up around 8 AM to take another quick hike to work up our appetites. We opted for what we were told was the "easy" north side of the creek trail, but actually found it to be a bit more harrowing than we expected. The trail that hugged the high bluffs of the creek gorge disappeared at points along the way either washed away from recent heavy rains, or perhaps not properly maintained for a while. We made it to the overlook without incident, but thought the view of Carmac Falls on the south side was much better. This trail does lead you the brink of the second falls dropping near Carmac which is kind of cool.
Breakfast was an all-you-can-eat buffet-style, and again the food was excellent. They even had an omelette station that we had to skip because will filled up so f
ast on the wonderful sausage, bacon, fruit, pastries, etc. We ate out on the porch where we had enjoyed our wine the night before and the weather was once again just perfect.
Check-out isn't until noon and since we had a couple of hours, we decided to take one more hike over on the south side of the creek and say goodbye to Carmac Falls from the overlook. We thought we were alone on the trail until we happened upon the little fellow in the photo above sunning himself on the trail. Looks like spring has officially arrived! We got back to our room and packed up and reluctantly checked out of The Inn at Evins Mill. We were home in less than an hour and we vowed along the way to definitely return to this wonderful place where even paying full price is well worth the money.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Seaside, Destin-ation

We took a drive deep down south to the panhandle of Florida this weekend for a quick long weekend beach getaway. Joining us were Ashlee's twin sister, Paige, her husband, Andy, their daughter and our cutie-pie, almost-5-year-old niece, Ella, and the girls' mom, Evelyn. The sole purpose for the trip was for Ashlee and Paige to run in the Seaside School 5K Race which Ashlee had bought Paige entry into as a Christmas present. The biggest payoff for the girls (besides the accomplishment and the exercise) was a Vera Bradley (big sponsor) bag that each participant received after completing the run. The rest of us decided to tag along to make a beach trip out of it since Seaside is..well...seaside.We got rooms at a conveniently-located Hampton Inn a few miles away near Destin, Florida. The drive down was rather long but necessary due to soaring airfare prices recently. The in-laws drove down from Chattanooga in one car and we headed out from Nashville in a rental from Enterprise which we got a great deal on. It was a spacious new Chevy Impala for a mere $13 a day. The 7-hour drive down went without mishap of too much note (other than having to drive the wrong way down a freeway off-ramp due to a wreck ahead, backed up traffic and a gas light burning brightly!). We passed the time on the road fairly easily thanks to an audio book from one of our favorite comediennes, Chelsea Handler, and her hilarious true-life escapades in "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea."
We arrived late Saturday afternoon in Seaside in time for the girls to pick up their registration packs that included their race numbers for the following morning. Seaside is a rather famous planned community (it was featured in the film "The Truman Story") constructed on the Emerald Coast. It's extremely quaint, clean, organized and very quiet. After some searching, we found a little pizzeria nearby to have dinner at called The Pickle Factory. What the name has to do with pizza is beyond us, but their pies were excellent.
The next morning we awoke bright and early for the girls' 7:30 AM start of the race. Both Ashlee and Paige did great and finished the race ahead of their previous best times at such a distance. The weather was great for a race: cool, breezy and no humidity. Unfortunately, the weather stayed that way the rest of the day which is not so great for the beach, so the girls all went shopping and the guys checked out the the Bass Pro Shop in nearby Destin as well as the Irish pub there that brews their own beer (more on that can be found in Rob's beer blog). Dinner was a bit of disaster that evening as we all got lost searching for a Cajun seafood joint that sounded promising about a half-hour from the hotel. When we finally found it and sat down at a table, the small place was so unbelievably loud with tables full of people seemingly trying to shout over one another, that we had to make the tough decision to just get up and leave without eating there despite an interesting menu and rumbling bellies. This revolt was led by us two because one of our New Year's resolutions in 2011 is to not spend good money and time in a place we don't feel is worth it. This has been about the third time we have initiated this mantra this year and we feel all the better for it.
By the time we got back near the hotel, little Ella was exhausted and so was her grandma. Neither were very hungry and opted to crash in the room instead of pursuing a late dinner, so the foursome that was left trudged on and in an all-out desperation move, we opted for the chain seafood restaurant, Bonefish Grill, in Destin. We actually had a great time there laughing about our misadventures of the night, and the food wasn't too bad either (Bang Bang Shrimp is never a bad choice).
After a relaxing sleep-in on Monday morning, the weather had improved to sunny but the temps still hovered in the cool range well below 70 degrees thanks to a cold-front that had moved in the day before. We headed over to nearby Henderson Beach State Park, determined to at least get a little beach time in despite the weather. The beach is beautiful here (photo above) and thanks to the temps it was pretty much abandoned for our own private use. We braved the cold water and did a bit of wading in the pounding surf. It wasn't too bad after you got used to it. We two took a long walk westward along the shore that was very relaxing and enjoyable. We got back in time to help Ella build one humdinger of a sand castle (if we do say so ourselves) complete with walls, a moat, a central tower and gardens.
Dinner this evening went much smoother and we all had a blast at McGuire's Irish Pub, the one the guys had visited the day before. Despite it's name, this place is a world-class steakhouse as well as having all the usual Irish fare. Our two steaks, filet minon for Ashlee and New York strip for Rob, were superb. The place itself is pretty unforgettable with the nearly 900,000 dollar bills (photo below) hanging from its ceilings (we didn't count to confirm but we will take their word for it), it's delicious 18-cent senate bean soup (yep it costs 18 cents per bowl) and as mentioned before, several of their own types of beers brewed on the premises (again, more on that in Rob's beer blog).
Tuesday was another sleep in day for everyone before we all loaded up for the long drive back up north. We downloaded another Chelsea Handler book for the drive back: "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands" which is also hilarious and surprisingly well written given the racy subject matter. We got into a lot of rain coming back through Alabama and a bit of a traffic jam in downtown Birmingham due to an accident, but we were home after returning the rental car before 10 Pm.
In hindsight, it definitely wasn't our best trip by far, and the foul-ups with the weather and dinner on Saturday night don't overshadow the fun we had and the accomplishment of Ashlee and Paige in their first 5K race. Good job, ladies!