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go . Sights and Shops in Downtown Asheville
[part 2]

A few weeks ago, I shared part 1 of downtown views and shopping fun from my recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It was an inspiring trip getting to see this quirky city for the first time, and today, I thought I would share part 2. I was in town for a conference on school public relations, and I actually stayed in a different hotel from the one hosting the events. That gave me the chance to walk around a good bit and explore some of the heart of Downtown Asheville.

Walking around the downtown area, I couldn’t get enough of the colorful buildings, sidewalk art, and the unique shopping experiences – all with a distinctly Asheville flair. Churches spires and doorways, art deco building details and both public and impromptu art captured my attention on every jaunt between conference sessions. I always enjoy looking at buildings and signs – particularly hand painted signs – when I’m visiting places, so I took time to capture a few examples to bring home for inspiration.

On one afternoon walk, a familiar name caught my attention… Kress. The fabulous art deco Kress building in Downtown Memphis is one of our favorite landmarks. The old department store chain has been preserved in Downtown Asheville as well. In addition to Kress, the historic F. W. Woolworth and Company building on Haywood, down from the Basilica of Saint Lawrence and Malaprop’s Bookstore, pays tribute to the department store era. Plus, what fun to find a historic marker commemorating Meridian, Mississippi native, Jimmie Rogers’ music career in Asheville right outside the Woolworth entrance. A good sign to go inside! It was great to see that both the Kress and Woolworth buildings had been reclaimed in Downtown Asheville as venues for local and regional artisans, crafters and small businesses. I found some quirky Asheville-made pottery in the retail incubator spaces on the ground floor of Woolworth’s. The venue also boasts an old 1950s soda fountain, which is on my list for the next Asheville adventure!

aSHEville Museum on Wall Street (with its twinkling lights) near the flatiron building offers a crazy, eclectic collection of artsy merchandise in the museum store. (I bought the children some pirate and princess crocheted finger puppets!) Plus, through rotating exhibits, the museum pays homage to girl power and the talents and legacies of women with walk-thru displays of memorabilia, art, and more. I also enjoyed visiting Bee Charmer on Battery Park. Bee Charmer features all things honey and bee-related, but most notably, a honey bar with the opportunity to taste local and a variety of hand-crafted infused honey options that are available in the store. From food items to skin care to wearables, Bee Charmer is definitely a sweet stop!

I’ve been looking through the tons of other photographs from my visit to Asheville, and reading some of the books by locals that I bought there. I’m looking forward to sharing a few more posts about the arts and tastes I enjoyed there. Stay tuned!

Dreaming of Snow Days [printable January calendar]

Happy New Year! We are starting 2018 with cold toes and warm fires. Temperatures are in the teens, and the cold weather has all of us dreaming for snow days! I don’t think any flakes and flurries will make it to Mississippi, but a girl and her blessings can dream, right?

Along with dreams of snow days, we’ve been doing some home-keeping and home-making, as we refresh and prepare for a new year, a new semester at school, and rocking out new opportunities in the Pond. I’ve been thinking and dreaming and conjuring ideas through these last weeks of holiday vacation, and I can’t wait to get all that out through the pages of The Frog Kisser blog this year. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll have fun dreaming of mittens and flakes with this month’s printable calendar! Just click the image below to download – and stay tuned… I’m working on a new calendar format for February that I think will be fun!

collect . My Childhood Christmas in Vinyl

I don’t remember us having a record player at our house until I got the little green and blue kids version from Santa one year. He brought my eight-track cassette player with the removable speakers too, and my first stereo. The turntable took a back seat to the double cassette deck in that one. But as far as vinyl goes, Christmas music was synonymous with the big white record player at Grandmother’s house – and the small collection of classic Christmas albums we kept there. I can clearly remember lifting the cover of the record player, choosing the speed, moving the arm, and hearing the scratch of the needle, an experience practically lost to my children and their digital world. I’m slowly trying to pique their interest these days with our little orange Crosby.

We’ve been at Mom’s this week, making merry with an updated set of traditions. But, yesterday I pulled out the records from Grandmother’s and found so many of my favorite songs and memories staring back at me. In fact, some of my first memories of music center around this collection of Christmas records. Each year growing up, we spent about two weeks at Grandmother’s house on the farm, and the records served as the background score for a lot of holiday traditions and fun. They are an odd mix of unnamed choral singers, big band crooners, and old school country – with a little pop and folk thrown in, courtesy of Aunt Betty. Most are classics now. Some were already classics in the second release versions we had. And not only the music. The album covers! Like favorite book illustrations, they instantly send me back to childhood Christmases.

The Little Drummer Boy (late 60s?) and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1962) compilations — those illustrations! I don’t know the singers, but I’m pretty sure this is where I learned most of the Christmas carols I know.

No Christmas is complete without Elvis’ Christmas Album (1970 re-release of 1957 classic) and the classics, “Blue Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” in his one and only style. I think everyone in the family took a turn as background singer on this album each holiday season. I’m betting this album is also why I know my mom saw Elvis at the Tupelo Fair before he reached iconic status. Stories just seem to abound around old Christmas albums.

I attribute a lot of my love of show tunes, crooners and the big band sound to Saturday evenings at Grandmother’s watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” on E-TV… and to The Dean Martin Christmas Album (1966). For sure, it’s the reason why I sing ” Marshmallow World” every time we make hot chocolate! My grandmother loved the Perry Como (1961 reissue) and Bing Crosby (1973 reissue) albums, with their rich voices. My favorites were “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S” and Bing’s iconic rendition of “Adeste Fidelis”.

My Aunt Betty loved records. She always brought new ones home. The old John Denver and Olivia Newton John LPs she handed down to me where my favorite childhood songs. I have most of her records now, but her love of classic country music didn’t really stick. I’m sure she’s responsible for the country and folk albums that were part of our Christmas collection… Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas (1971), Glen Campbell’s That Christmas Feeling (1968), Christmas in My Hometown (1970) from Mississippi-native, Charley Pride, and Emmylou Harris’ beautiful Light of the Stable (1979). I love Tennessee Ernie’s version of the Negro Spiritual, “Children Go Where I Send Thee”, along with Charley Pride’s “They Stood in Silent Prayer” and Glen Campbell’s cover of Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper”. I also remember thinking as a little girl how cool The Partridge Family Christmas Card (1971) was, since it was so obviously a younger sound. I felt like I was a girl in the know listening to it — even though it was really before my time!

Memories, memories! When I look through the issue dates on all these records, I realize what classics many of them already were before I ever heard them in my 70s childhood. I realize it every time one pops in my head in response to some family activity. It’s fun to think about what the sounds added to how we celebrated Christmas. I’m already humming them again!

December . Celebrating the Start of the Season [printable calendar]

It’s hard to believe December is here! This fall has been filled with lots of projects and activities, fun travels, precious times with my little ones, and the beginning of some new opportunities. Now, we’re ushering in the Christmas season. It’s been a little bit of a busy week, and I’m already feeling the impact of lots to do and days flying by. I found myself struggling to keep stress at bay. But, I’m determined to keep a baseline of peace through this season celebrating Christ’s birth, the source of our ultimate peace.

I feel like the holidays are in full swing now! We took the weekend after Thanksgiving to deck our halls for the holidays. We called it the Christmas Kickoff weekend, and filled it with as much holiday cheer as we could fit. Everyone is always excited to pull all the boxes of decorations down from the attic and look through the evidence of our memories and traditions. We usually spread our decorating over two weekends, but because of some of our travel schedule this year, we decided to pack it all into one. I was sore from climbing up and down ladders, but I’m so glad we have everything in place now, with the whole month to enjoy so many of the things we love about the holiday season. I can’t wait for a lot of family time together with these traditions as the backdrop!

With the start of the new month, I’ve put together a printable calendar and some cutaway art to celebrate the season. You can click below to download, and also get a glimpse of some of our holiday decorations to get your in the season. Enjoy, and happy December!

celebrate . Thanksgiving Tree on the Farm [printable]

The Thanksgiving Tree has become a farm tradition. We have a branch, old and dry now, that stay’s standing in a crockery pitcher in the corner, waiting to be set at center stage on the table during our Thanksgiving holiday week. Held up by rocks collected from the road, the “tree” started as my effort to sow some seeds of gratitude when my children were young. That first year, we set up our tree at home using a branch we had found on the farm during October. Baby Girl was only a couple of months old — too young to offer her contributions, and the boys were at a stage when it wasn’t hard to get them to look for sticks! The idea was to add paper leaves or shapes to the tree each days with little “Today I’m thankful for…” messages written on them. We never did it every day. We weren’t that disciplined. But, it gave us a chance to talk about gratitude at the dinner table, and make note of our blessings.

Since then, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving at the farm, and the Thanksgiving Tree has become something we do during our week there. The first year we stayed at Busy Bee for the holiday, we found a branch, and we’ve kept it since. Some years, we’ve cut out our own leaf shapes. And, several years, I’ve created a printable for us to use and also share the tradition with others. I was looking back at a few “leaves” from the years, and it was such a blessing to see each of our hearts revealed in those few words. The treasured places, possessions, and people. It was sweet to see my loves’ handwriting change over time as they’ve grown. And, neat to see that some of our gratitude hasn’t changed. Through all the changes in our lives, what a blessing to count our blessings!

I’ve shared some of our memories here, and I’ve included another printable for 2017. You can download here or click the image below if you’re celebrating with your own Thanksgiving Tree. I’m looking forward to pulling that crockery to the forefront again next week, and adding these tags to it.

As I wrote about that very first Thanksgiving Tree…

I’m convinced that gratitude is an antidote to worry and complaint, and it’s the catalyst for kindness and generosity. In times of joy, in times of hardship, I need it. We need it.

go . Sights and Shops in Downtown Asheville
[part 1]

Beautiful, quirky Asheville. There are places that grab you, that you immediately want to claim as your own. That’s how I felt about this vibrant, Southern mountain town. I had the opportunity to visit Downtown Asheville for a few days last month while attending a public relations conference, and I think it took my heart.

From Tuesday to Friday, I spent as much free time as possible wandering the downtown area, stopping in shops, poking my head down alleyways, and sampling the local cuisine. I found historic and colorful views, a love and commitment to all things Asheville-local, a penchant to spontaneous self expression, and an overwhelming sense of energy — really a “vibe.” Yes, there’s an unmistakable vibe, like something inspiring could happen at any moment. The jacket of a book I bought about the city described Asheville as “everywhere an easy gaiety.” That sums it up perfectly. The joy was so very easy.

The book, 27 Views of Asheville, came from Malaprop’s Bookstore on Haywood, along with the funky Only in Asheville tome. They were both on the recommended shelf of regional work, and kudos from the Malaprop’s staff carries good weight in indy bookstore circles. An iconic Asheville book seller and literary cafe since 1982, the store has a revolving door of events and author readings along with a stellar collection of bestsellers and unusual finds. After the public art, street musicians, and traffic bustle outside the door, the bookstore had its own buzz of book talk, event prep, and literary energy.

In Asheville wanderings, like in so many of the South’s urban centers, I found an inspiring mix of art deco ornament, historic structures, cobbled streets, sacred spaces, public parks, and the region’s overlapping colors of fall. What was even more inspiring was the obvious creative energy – community gardens outfitted with hand-made sculpture, outdoor artisan market areas, colorful facades, doors open with music outpouring, goods and wares pulled out into the sidewalks, and many shops proudly displaying not only a commitment to inclusion, but a list of wares available from fellow shops and artisans around the region. I walked back to my hotel each evening believing that each shop or restaurant or artisan I encountered knew they had something unique and wonderful to add to the world around them. Somehow Asheville seems to have created a place where those gifts are overwhelmingly welcomed and set on display for anyone to partake in the vibe.

On the last morning of my trip, I stopped by another Asheville shopping icon, the L.O.F.T., offering “lost objects and found treasures” since 1996. Squeezed into a vibrant street level and basement walk-down, I found quite a few treasures, indeed. Unusual books, ethnic memorabilia, gypsy-esque fabrics and decor, Asheville products, unique wall hangings, outdoor art and more. The color alone, displayed in every inch of the place, was enough to set my eyes in wonder.

Over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing some glimpses and thoughts from my morning visit to the beautiful Basilica of St. Lawrence, also on Haywood, the spectacular Grove Arcade on Page and Battery Park, a few favorite local restaurants, and some of the vibrance of the Flatiron area on Wall Street. So many memories that will stick with me! I think I love you, Asheville.

 

discover . Nine Farm Specimens

There was a time when my children wanted to create a museum. We were in the phase of hoarding rocks and other tiny objects in our pockets, and on a constant quest for outdoor things in cool shapes and colors. This was also the phase when playing with dirt was a priority and walking around outside was a continual pique of curiosity, not just getting from one place to the next.

I noticed in those special days that there was a clear scale for the best nature objects, a cool factor we seemed to consistently assign to the most highly prized finds. Anything heart-shaped was immediately brought to Mommy. Anything with petals. After all, giving Mommy flowers was the ultimate feel-good activity. Things shaped like letters or numbers were happy surprises. And, anything containing bones or teeth was the ultimate discovery. That’s what made the farm the center of museum curation. Walks on gravel roads, pasture trails, and stream beds are places where bones and teeth tend to show up. Along with seed pods and oddly-shaped earth clumps, and the occasional rusted tool.

The museum was to be located in the barn at Busy Bee and serve as a showcase of our most exciting discoveries. Really, a showcase of every single little thing that any one of us thought was precious enough to tuck in our pockets or throw in the wagon. The barn was the perfect location because it already contains its own collection of old jars and cans, and rusted tools and horse bridles and such. We dreamed of little displays of countless “heart rocks”, the bones of cows and coyotes, dried flowers and berries, and the remnants of withered mushrooms and acorn tops.

The museum never really materialized, although much curation happened on the farm table and on shelves in the house and baskets where we still gather our “collection.” The children have grown, of course, and their interest in saving rocks and plucking flowers sometimes wanes. But, they still notice them. They still say “Mommy, there’s a heart rock!” sometimes. And I mark it down in my soul. I saw it on our trip to the Smoky Mountains last month. The beauty and overwhelming curiosity of nature. The wonder of exploring it. It’s still there. For me and for them. Just masked sometimes by the pull of busyness and technology. And growing up, but resisting it.

It’s funny, though. When we go to Busy Bee, we slip right back in that curation mode. There, the rocks and blooms and curious finds seem to hold more fascination than anywhere else. There, we’ve made it our mission to find the fascination. To wander. To look up and look down. To touch what we see. And even sometimes to pick it up and put it in our pockets.

I found some still life photos of some of our farm collection. We all loved the 9-shaped twig in the one above – or is it a 6? I went with 9, and included nine views of the colors, shapes, and curiosities of dying things. All telling their own story of autumn on the farm. Enjoy! And, I hope they inspire you to look up and down, too.

November is Here! [printable calendar]

November has slipped in under the radar for us. October was filled with projects and kids activities, a few weeks of travel, all topped off by a little Halloween fun with parties and trick or treating with friends. The last week has been crazy with enough activity to make my head spin. I had the opportunity to travel to Asheville, North Carolina last week for a public relations conference, and I’m still processing all the great information presented there. I came home to a sweet birthday celebration orchestrated by my Baby Girl, complete with decorations, a rainbow cake that “Special Agent Rainbow” decorated herself, hand-wrapped presents, and a pretty robust party plan. That celebration shifted right into Halloween class parties and a failed attempt to find a pumpkin to carve into jack-o-lantern guise. Trips around town to all the grocery stores yielded not a single pumpkin, so we had to satisfy ourselves with postponing that tradition until next year and promises for me to plan better! We visited with dear friends on Halloween night for party foods and trick-or-treating, and suddenly, we woke up to a new month! November, the month for “grateful praise,”  has arrived, and I’m totally unprepared! So, today (a day late with my printable calendar), I’m reminding myself that gratitude doesn’t really require much preparation. Just a heart decision. And a commitment to looking at each moment in a new way.

On our schedule this November:

  • A new branding and strategic planning campaign for one of my long-time clients
  • Celebrating a trip to the district Reading Fair for Baby Girl
  • Pulling together proposals for a few new clients
  • Preparing to chaperone Travis’ trip to Auburn, Alabama with his robotics team
  • A few new holiday products I have in the works (hint: pennants and the North Pole)
  • Celebrating Elisha’s 11th birthday
  • Our annual trip to Busy Bee for Thanksgiving week
  • Christmas decorating weekend
  • The anticipated arrival of Gabriella, our family elf
  • Watching Travis march in the Christmas parade

It’s an exciting month. The cooler temperatures are finally here. There is anticipation in the air for what’s coming up. And, a little fear of the rush of those activities. November’s rich tapestry of celebrations and demands can be intimidating. With the turn of the calendar, I find myself ushering in a renewed desire to draw my blessings closer, to nurture only the thinking that pulls me forward, and to protect the most precious moments from distractions and urgencies that water down my attention. The challenge November is to live each hour by carving out my own priorities. And, as this month’s printable calendar reflects, to fill those hours with rightful and grateful praise. I invite you to download the calendar and enjoy. Happy November.

 

collect . 13 Jack O Lanterns for the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th, and we’re almost in full spook here! The kids and I been having fun getting our house harvest-ready over the last couple of weeks. The mantle is decorated with turkeys and pumpkins. The Halloween and Thanksgiving books are gathered in our “book basket,” and the wreaths are up on the doors. This weekend, we’re planning to add our little family of scarecrows to the porch along with some pumpkins and colorful crotons, and the decorating will be complete. My kids have never really gotten into trick-or-treating that much. They’ve always been more interested in handing out candy at the door than walking around the neighborhood. But, that doesn’t mean we shy away from “Jack.” It’s not every year that Friday the 13th falls close to Halloween, so in honor of this so-called unlucky day, I wandered around the house and captured a lucky 13 from our jack-o-lantern collection – all ready to lend their toothy grins to the season’s festivities. Enjoy!

go . Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tomorrow, my children are on Fall Break, and we are heading to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few days. I have visited the Smoky Mountains many times, but last October, was the first time I’d taken the kids there.They decided right away they wanted to go back. We enjoyed a “town day” and a “Park day” on that last trip, and this time we’re adding one extra day to be sure we fit in all our favorites. As I’ve been gearing up for the trip his week, I’ve been looking back through some of the photographs I took on our last trip to the Smoky Mountains. I took some time to record my memories in watercolor – the first time I’ve painted this week.

Last year on our visit to the Smokies, we spent most of our “Park day” exploring Cades Cove. It’s a great driving loop with mountain views and a collection of preserved primitive structures – churches, houses, and barns. It also includes some of the last pasture lands still maintained in the National Park.

The historic churches in Cades Cove are quiet, moving experiences, each standing empty now with only echoes and strong light from the windows to highlight their sacred spaces. There are graves from pioneers and mountain folk who populated the area over the last few centuries. And, the houses and barns show a small glimpse of what life might have been like. It’s not unusual to see wildlife in Cades Cove (and throughout the Park). On our last visit, it was wild turkeys. Depending on the temperatures, the views are a display of oranges, maroons, yellows, browns, and a rainbow of green shades with that namesake gray-blue smoky haze over the upper elevations.

This year, I’m hoping we can drive over the mountains to visit Cherokee, North Carolina on our “Park day,” and I’m looking forward to new views in one of our favorite places. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these views of our trek through Cades Cove.

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