Thursday, July 3, 2014

57 WHY GEORGIA: Panther Creek Falls

Once you’ve traveled to the North Georgia Mountains and seen a few of the gorgeous waterfalls that the region boasts, you become determined to see them all.  In the past few weeks we’ve traveled to Amicalola Falls, Hurricane Falls at Tallulah Gorge, and High Shoals Falls near Helen.  After taking a weekend off to celebrate our two year anniversary and take care of some renovation on our rental house, we decided to tackle a much more challenging hike for the fourth waterfall to cross off our list of Top 10 Trails to Waterfalls in Georgia.  Panther Creek Falls is just south of the Tallulah Gorge that we previously visited, but this is a 7 mile hike roundtrip – 3.5 miles to the waterfalls and back. 
We got an early start, knowing this would be a long day.  Since it was a Sunday morning, we were surprised to see how many cars were in the parking lot of the trailhead, although we assumed many of them were campers from the night before.  Even though it is not a state park, this trail obviously sees a lot of foot traffic.  However, the trail was less well kept than the previous trails we have been on.  There were many roots for tripping hazards and in some places the trail was extremely narrow.  The 3.5 mile hike in was not very strenuous as much of the middle of the hike is flat.

Although 7 miles is a little long, the hike was enjoyable.  The creek followed the trail for the entirety of the hike, which kept it cool and scenic.  Being a Walking Dead fan, which is filmed here in Georgia, I can’t help but let my imagination go a little bit as we walk along these trails and wonder where we would jump or run if zombies were to jump out.  Sometimes I’m still a 10-year old at heart. 

Taking a quick break along the trail to enjoy the view of the creek
We arrived at the trail near baby girl’s morning nap-time and we weren't 0.5 mile in before she fell asleep on her daddy’s back.  This left most of the trail for quality chat time with my husband, which is something we don’t get often in our busy technology-filled lives.
As we neared the end of the trail, it became more difficult.  What had for most of the hike been a fairly wide, flat trail suddenly became an extremely narrow trail with steep drop-offs to the side.  In some places there were guardrails, but others were dangerously open.  A few places we had to lean over to grab roots as we walked over slippery rock.  As we came closer to our destination, we could hear the falls roaring and see the open area of people playing on the banks of the creek and splashing in the cool mountain water in their bathing suits.  I filled with excitement as I couldn’t wait to have baby girl, who was now awake, see the waterfalls and splash through the water.
The Panther Creek Trail gets a little more dangerous towards the end
Unfortunately, at the very end of the trail, literally feet from the bottom beach area, there was one spot where the path narrowed and was partially washed away.  All that was left was a slick rock to climb over, with a drop off to one side and rock to the other.  There was nothing to grab onto for safety, as the ground the guardrail post had previously been mounted in was washed away, leaving it to dangle.  Normally, this would not be a problem as we would just go slowly over the rock.  But life isn’t normal anymore.  There is a 22 pound baby on my husband’s back, and it was just too dangerous for my husband to attempt.  One slip on the wet rock and you risk the baby hitting her head against the rock. 
We were so disappointed to be so close to the falls and the cool mountain water, but not able to get to it.  My heart fell knowing I wouldn't get to see baby girl splash around in the mountain water.  We found a spot on the trail to rest for a few minutes while viewing the falls from up high, and my husband noticed a little side trail down to the water that although steep actually felt much safer than the slippery rock because we were able to hold on to roots and trees as we descended down.  We were able to get all the way down to the water.  I am so, so happy we found the side trail, because baby girl had a blast playing in the cool water with her daddy.  She is truly a water baby at heart.  We ate the breakfast bars we had packed, drank our water, and enjoyed the falls for a little while before packing up and heading back to the car.

Playing in the water at Panther Creek Falls
Family photo at Panther Creek Falls
Retracing our steps back to the car seemed to be more difficult.  We were tired.  Taylor Grace was cranky for awhile before falling asleep again on her Daddy’s back.  It was mostly uphill at the end.  We decided 7 miles might be a little long to carry a 14-month along for.  I've never been happier to hear a highway than I was when we first heard the cars on the overpass of 441 that the trail cuts underneath at the very end of the trail.  I didn’t even feel an ounce of guilt when we stopped on the way home at Wendy’s for some glorious hamburgers.  They were well deserved by at least 2 out of 3 members of our family.
Luckily, the other 6 waterfalls on our list to get through are all shorter than 7 miles – so we've conquered the longest hike!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

7 WHY GEORGIA: Chop Time

I’ve never been a big fan of baseball.  I know, I know.  America's Favorite Pasttime.  Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  BUT there’s just too much downtime for me.  It can’t hold my attention.  I need something more fast paced to watch.
But my husband’s company’s family day ever year is at a Braves game, so one Friday night in June the three of us headed to Atlanta to take in a Braves game.  It was, of course, baby girl’s first Braves game ever and a stop by guest relations earned us a certificate that says as much.  And I must say, even though baseball isn't my favorite sport, I do enjoy our yearly trip to the Braves game.  It's a fun time for everyone, whether or not we are glued to the action on the field.

This year was especially fun because baby girl's reaction to everything was brand new.  She's been to basketball games, gym meets, and college baseball games, but she's never been in a stadium as large as the Braves stadium.  At the beginning of the game, they had paratroopers land on the field and watching her jaw drop as she saw a man come floating out of the air to land on the field was a really cool moment.

While the game was going on, she preferred to stand in the chair facing backwards and hold court for the 4 rows behind us.  She had at least 4 different groups of people entertained at her dazzling little smile and antics.

She is truly something very, very special and we feel so blessed to be her parents.  But it’s a really good thing that I’m NOT a big fan of baseball, because keeping up with little Ms. On-The-Go and keeping her from climbing over the back of a seat, distracting her from pulling the girl’s hair in front of us, and keeping her well hydrated required FULL attention.  But baby girl had an absolute blast making new friends and in the end – that’s what it’s all about!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

3 WHY GEORGIA: Tallulah Falls, Lake Burton, & High Shoals Falls

The next Sunday after we visited Amicalola Falls, we decided to keep crossing off the list of the Top 10 Trails to Waterfalls in Georgia.  This time we picked another extremely popular waterfall area to visit – Hurricane Falls Trail at the Tallulah Gorge.  We have driven by the gorge countless times, but never took the time to stop and explore.  As we pulled into the parking lot early Sunday morning, we were excited to see that we had beat the crowd at this popular Georgia park. 

We start down the path of the trail, and it looks very promising.  There is a very well kept recycled rubber pathway around the top rim of the Gorge.  We stop at the first view point and gaze down into the gorge and then across to a small platform across the gorge much like the one we are on.  We couldn’t possibly be going all the way over there, could we?  This is only a two mile hike!  After walking to a few more viewpoints down into the Gorge, we begin the descent.  Like last week at Amicalola, the descent isn’t bad.  No one ever complains about going DOWN stairs.  Fairly quickly, we reach the bottom of the staircase and walk across the suspension bridge to the other side of the gorge.  I walk behind my husband and love watching baby girl look from his back over the side of the bridge.  She’s in awe because she’s never seen anything like this.
Suspension Bridge at Tallulah Gorge

Walking across the suspension bridge at Tallulah Gorge
Across the suspension bridge, down a few more flights of stairs, and suddenly we are at the bottom of the Gorge viewing Hurricane Falls.  The platform at the bottom is starting to get crowded and my husband stops about 30 steps from the bottom and says “Do you want to just go back up?”  I say no, we might as well go to the bottom since we made it this far.  We were glad we did, as we came around the corner of the bottom, the full view of Hurricane Falls comes into view which we didn't realize we would be able to see at the point we pondered heading back up.  There is a path off to the right that is closed off as some days you can go further down to the gorge floor, but due to weather conditions the gorge floor was closed on this particular day that we visited.
Hurricane Falls
Hurricane Falls at Tallulah Gorge
Even though we couldn't get to the gorge floor, viewing the falls from the platform is beautiful.  We spend a few moments enjoying the "natural air conditioning" of the mist coming off the falls.  It’s strange in hot, humid Georgia how cool and relaxing the mist of the cold mountain water is coming off a waterfall.  Then we remember – We have to climb all the way to the top of the gorge.  It won’t be hard, right?  Coming down was easy.  We made it to the top, but it took a few rest breaks along the way.  The stairs are nearly straight up the side of the gorge and when we reach the top of the gorge, we will have traveled 1,099 steps in all.  Bless my husband, he did this all with baby girl on his back.
As gorgeous as the waterfall was from the gorge floor, I preferred the views from the top of the gorge.  From the top you can see all of the small waterfalls coming off the sides of the gorge walls, as well as the big waterfalls at the bottom.  For a moment, it feels like you are somewhere completely different than North Georgia.

Again, it is only a 2 mile hike in all, but the 1,099 steps straight down and up in the middle make it seem much, much longer.
View of the marina while eating at the Chophouse on Lake Burton
After we left Tallulah Gorge, our plan was to visit the antique shops in the small quaint mountain town of Dillard.  But as we were driving north to Dillard, an idea popped into my husband’s head.  “Why don’t you see if there is a restaurant to eat at on Lake Burton?”  Lake Burton is a clear beautiful mountain lake only 20-30 minutes from the gorge where many of the well-known names in Georgia have lake houses.  With a quick search on TripAdvisor, I find a spot on the lake called The Chophouse.  Sitting down at our table at The Chophouse, we know we have made the right last-minute decision.  We sit at a table in the open air dining area overlooking the marina and my husband comments that it felt like we were on vacation.  Indeed, it didn’t feel like we were just a couple hours from home.  It was an unusual June day for Georgia as it was overcast and cool.  The breeze coming off the lake was perfect.
Enjoying Sunday Brunch at Lake Burton

Feeling refreshed from lunch, and with a whole afternoon to spare, we decided to cross off one of the other small hikes on the Top 10 list near Helen.  So we set the GPS and headed towards Helen to find High Shoals Falls.  We were a little surprised when traveling down the dirt road that leads to the trailhead to find a small creek that we were to drive over.  It was at this point we realized we were definitely somewhere more remote than the first two state park waterfalls.  But, adventurers at heart, we forged ahead and found the trailhead.
The trail is a little over 2 miles roundtrip, with mostly a descent to get to the falls and climbing back up elevation to return to the car.  It seems like much more than a mile to reach the first platform overlooking the upper falls.  Maybe this is because of the hike earlier in the day, or maybe it’s just because you lose track of time and distance when you’re wondering through nature.  There is another platform overlooking the lower falls and we spent some time using the wood railing to set up the camera to take a family photo.

Can you spot the teenage girl at the top of the waterfall taking pictures in the water?
 It’s hard to turn around and head back to the car, because what we refer to as the “natural air conditioning” of the falls feels so amazing and relaxing.  So relaxing, in fact, that baby girl couldn't make it back to the car before settling in for naptime.  Why wait, after all, when Daddy’s neck makes the perfect pillow?

Lower portion of High Shoals Falls

Baby girl and daddy in awe of the falls
Naptime before we could make it to the car

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

1 FOODIE: Birthday Party - Part 2

I realized I never finished with the second part of baby girl's birthday party.  This post has been in my drafts folder for a couple of months now - OOPS!  But the sea themed decorations from her birthday party were too cute not to share, even if it's a little late.

After we had finished with the traditional Korean birthday outfit, it was time to change into her party dress and for the rest of our guests to arrive!  Since she's not old enough to pick her birthday theme, I decided to choose a theme from MY favorite movie as a kid - The Little Mermaid.  While I didn't want to go with a Disney Princess Ariel theme, I still used an under the sea motif in everything I did.

April was an abnormally busy month for us.  I had a work trip to Chicago.  We had events going on every weekend in the month.  It literally wasn't until two nights before her birthday party that I had time to start working on ANYTHING and I thought the whole under the sea theme was going to have to be trashed.  Luckily, with just a couple cute desserts, the sea theme lived and the only actually craft item I did was creating a banner with the 12 months of photos of baby girl.

The sea themed items:
- Goldfish Puffs purchased from the store and poured into a fishbowl like bowl - EASY!
- Cut up a watermelon to look like a sea turtle - EASY!
- Put a spoonful of store bought cream cheese fruit dip with blue food coloring in frozen premade phyllo cups and add a couple little slices of strawberries to look like crab claws - Ok, a little more involved but still EASY!
- Take a couple Nilla Wafers and squeeze some cream cheese frosting between them.  Add pearl candy and VOILA quick and easy oyster cookies - EASY!

For some of these dishes, I mashed up graham crackers, white sugar, and black sugar to look like "sand".  I think everything came together looking really cute, and the best part was how extremely simple it all was.

To make life easier on me for everything else, we ordered her smash cake and the adults cake from my absolute favorite bakery here in town.  The adult cake was an out of this world Tres Leche cake.  For some "real" food, we ordered a flatbread tray from Zaxby's catering which everyone loved also.

But enough about the food.  The party went wonderfully.  Thank you to all of our friends and family who came.  Baby girl is so loved and we appreciate each and every one of you.

Friday, June 20, 2014

3 WHY GEORGIA: Amicalola Falls

I love to travel.  I love standing on new soil, wondering who has been there before me and who is yet to come.  The places with natural beauty or with ancient manmade wonders are my favorite.  I’ve been fortunate to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looked down on small villages from the top of peaks in Italy, gazed in amazement at the Coliseum, and wondered what it would have been like to see an army of ships coming across the ocean as I gazed out at the waters from a fort in Puerto Rico.  It was in Puerto Rico I also married my best friend with the sound of the waves crashing.  The flavors of the places we travel to are as big a part of the experience as the sights.  There’s nothing quite like trying a new amazing dish that you know just won’t be the same if you try to get it at home.
In the nearly 14 months since we became parents, our trips have been a little less exotic and have required a lot more baggage.  We’ve found ourselves on the more traditional family beach trips at the tourist trap locations.  Without a doubt, we will pick up our exploring and travelling again when baby girl gets a little older, but at this point it would be more stressful to try than enjoyable.
Given the spirit we have for exploring when we travel, it is interesting that we have admired the beauty of places far away, but have never really explored our own backyard.  It was a few weeks ago that we began our latest set of adventures.  To be honest, I don’t even remember what started us down this path, other than maybe my husband asking during Memorial Day weekend if there was somewhere we could go to and explore.  Somehow based on his prompting, I ended up on a website that had the Favorite Trails to Waterfallsin Georgia.  Looking through the pictures I couldn’t help but think these are exactly the kind of places we search for when we travel.  Who would have known all of these beautiful landscapes are within two hours of us in our own home state?  It feels silly to have travelled across the ocean to hike Cinque Terre, when some really gorgeous hikes are right here. 
So that first weekend we picked a water fall that was easy to access, but still boasted the stat of being the tallest cascading waterfall East of the Missisippi: Amicalola Falls in Amicalola State Park.  I quickly packed up a bag of goodies to take with us for the baby and we grabbed the backpack baby carrier that I scored at a yard sale for $7 a few weeks before.  A quick call to my parents to see if they wanted to be our partners in crime on this adventure and we were picking them up and heading north.
Amicalola Falls has a staircase that climbs along side it with viewing platforms at the bottom, middle, and top.  A parking lot at the bottom and top of the staircase makes it extremely accessible.  My parents dropped us off at the top of the staircase, and met us with the car at the parking lot at the bottom.  We planned to hike down the staircase, admire the falls, and then Mom and I could enjoy some holiday shopping at the outlets nearby.  Unfortunately as we began the hike, we noticed that baby girl was starting to have an allergic reaction to something from lunch.  She had a hive forming on her elbow that began growing.  We finished the hike down the staircase and the hives went away for a moment, but then came back.  In the interest of being cautious, we decided to skip the outlets and instead stop for some Benadryl and head back home.  She ended up being okay after a day or two of taking Benadryl, and we still have absolutely no idea what caused the hives because the first bump appeared before we even entered the woods.  We thought it was a mosquito bite at first. 
Quick family photo in front of crowded Amicalola Falls
Amicalola Falls were definitely very pretty, but were also the most crowded falls we’ve been to thus far.   It takes away from being in nature a bit when there are so many other people around you.  This was our first hike, and admittedly I haven’t been as active since having baby girl as I was beforehand.  As we were descending the staircase I felt great.  It wasn’t nearly as difficult to go down the stairs as it looked for the people coming up the stairs.  When we reached the first viewpoint and stopped for a moment to enjoy it, I began having the strangest sensation.  My calfs began shaking uncontrollably.  Luckily, I didn’t feel quite so out of shape as my husband spoke up and noted that he was experiencing the same.  The uncontrollable shakes in our calfs continued the rest of the descent downwards.  We've done several more hikes since, and haven't had this sensation at all, so I'm not too concerned.  Little by little we're getting in better shape and making some amazing family memories along the way.    
And, of course, once you’ve seen one on the Top 10 Trails to Waterfalls in Georgia… you have to see the other nine.  More to come!
Amicalola Falls

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

6 Happy First Birthday to my beautiful baby girl!

Today my beautiful baby girl turns 1.  I can't believe it.  I know it sounds cliche, but it has gone by so incredibly fast.  It seems like yesterday I was waking up at 2am, wondering if the cramping feeling I was having meant "it's time".  I can't wrap my head around the idea that an entire year has passed.  A year used to seem like such looooonggg amount of time.  Now, it's the blink of an eye.  I feel so luck every day that I get to be this kid's mom.  She amazes us everyday with how smart and sweet she is.

This past weekend we had a birthday party for baby girl since her actual birth day falls in the middle of the week.  To avoid photo overload, I'll break this up into two blog posts.  FIRST - The Korean traditions from her first birthday!

My mother-in-law is Korean, so first we took photos of her in a traditional Korean birthday outfit.  They placed her at a table and placed three items in front of her: money, a stethoscope, and a notebook with a pen.  They said which item she reached for tells what her life will be like.  If she reached for money first, it means she will have a lot of money.  The stethoscope means she will be a doctor.  The notebook means she will be very smart.

She is, of course, her mother's daughter so she reached for the money right away.  Not once, but twice she grabbed at the bills.

I love how she looked like a little princess in the Korean birthday outfit.  She looks like she could be a little doll on a shelf!!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

9 Daddy Built Me A Swingset

I thought the title of this post was appropriate, as my daddy and baby girl's daddy worked together to build a new swingset for our backyard.

Several weeks ago my parents hung a toddler swing on the deck at their home, and baby girl absolutely adores it.  She giggles and laughs when she's in it swinging.  So I told my husband we needed to build something in our backyard to hang a swing from so that she could swing at our house too.

Off I went scouring the internet for swingset plans.  I found this awesome swingset at Our Fifth House and knew immediately that I wanted one like it in our backyard.  Since baby girl is only a year old and she only needs the swing portion now, we decided to build it in stages.  Right now we would just build the frame to hang a toddler and adult swing from, and when she gets to be 2 or 3, we would build the platform area for a playhouse and slide.

The rockstar husband has spent the past few weeks cleaning out the area where the swingset will go, as it used to be trees and lots of leaves.

Once the area was clear, I drew up some (really rough) plans similar to the ones on Our Fifth House, showed my dad and husband, and off we all were to Lowe's to buy lumber for the swingset.

*NOTE* It helps to have a large, strong husband who can easily dig 2-feet deep holes and lift 6x6 posts.  It's an added benefit if he looks good while doing it :)

*NOTE* Toddler must also be set up in stroller and/or playpen to supervise this whole job and generally just keep the men in line.

I think the swingset is a success with the little one!  It may look a little odd - skinny, but that is because we left enough room on the left side to make sure we could build the platform playhouse & swing area.

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