Beautiful Stone Mountain Georgia

When I was a little girl we used to sing a song in Bible class that went something like “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, heavenly breezes blow…”
When we visited Stone Mountain, Georgia a few weeks back I think I sang those words over and over as we climbed the mountain with our kids.
Audley kept singing Alabama’s “Mountain Man”.

We are all a little crazy.

One side of Stone Mountain holds the famed carving of the 3 of the Confederacy’s heroes; Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee.It’s the largest carving of it’s type in the world.

{You know us Southerners, we may have lost the war, but we are proud of our heritage.}

Anyway, the other side of the mountain is the walk-up trail that we took.

The famed carving on the side of Stone Mountain:  Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson & Robert E. Lee.  It’s the size of TWO & 1/4 football fields!

Before I get to climbing the mountain, let me assure you, there is so much more to Stone Mountain than just a climb, so a visit is well worth your time.  First is the quaint historic village of Stone Mountain Georgia with shops and restaurants to enjoy.  As for the park itself, there is golf, museums, riverboat & train rides, ropes course, antique car museum an interactive play area, antebellum mansion, water park, tram and so many other things that you can do, creating a vacation that would last for several days.And if you like history, there is plenty of it to be found here!

Stone Mountain with it’s carving was originally envisioned by the Daughter’s of the Confederacy in 1916 as a memorial to the South.  The project took a lot longer than envisioned as the original artist abandoned the project in 1925,  then the family that owned the property actually forbid any more work on the the project, leaving the sculpture unfinished.  It sat unfinished through the depression and WWII, until the state of Georgia purchased the land (in the 1950’s) to turn into a park and hired two other artists to finish the work during the 1960’s.

While there is some past dark history surrounding the mountain, the carving was not made to encourage it. People (especially the family who owned the property at the time) took advantage of a memorial situation.  Stone Mountain has also played a role in many different unique ways in our country.  Granite originally mined from Stone Mountain was used in the foundation of the Georgia Capitol building, the steps of the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, the dome of the Federal Gold Depository at Fort Knox and the locks of the Panama Canal.  

Stone Mountain was also a destination for young couples on dates even as far back as the 1800’s.  They would ride on horseback for a day of hiking and picnicking.  In 1838 there was a wooden observation tower built at the summit for people to enjoy the views from the top.


So climbing this mountain is not a new thing! 
General admission to the park for a couple of the museums, hiking the area, picnicking, and watching a fabulous laser show on the side of the mountain after dark is only $10 per vehicle.  Each of the other available activities to do have their own price and I was feeling rather cheap the day we visited.
{I can be that way sometimes.}
We really only had a few hours, so climbing the mountain was our main goal anyway.
I grew up climbing Stone Mountain at least once a year, since we lived just outside of Atlanta.  At the time all the park consisted of was the train ride & tram, antebellum mansion, a couple of museums, the golf course (which has been been upgraded) and naturally the mountain climb and the laser show added when I was in the 9th grade.
{I feel old now.}
Audley and I took our kids about twelve years ago and climbed it.  I was already on my way to gaining tons of weight (well, I was clinging to baby weight …. for 13 years!) so it was not a very enjoyable day for me.
When I put together my Fit Girl Bucket List a while back I added this as a test to see how far I had come.
At the start point of our climb with my girls.
This time I planned our little climbing adventure and was really looking forward to it.  We couldn’t have picked a better day to climb the mountain.  It was mostly sunny with a few clouds, not too hot although that Southern humidity was weighing heavily in the air & when we got to the top of the mountain there was an amazing breeze!
My kiddos ready to roll!
The United Daughters of the Confederacy flag terrace at the base of the mountain.

The actual climb up the mountain is one mile.  Sounds easy enough, but it has been a challenge before. I was super excited just to see how much I’ve changed over the years!

The rocky hike up

And it is a very steep climb at some points which is why many people will take the tram to the top & maybe walk back down.

Believe me, I thought about it.

But, I didn’t.

The views of from the top of Stone Mountain are breathtaking.

Downtown Atlanta from the top of Stone Mountain
At the top after our climb.
That’s Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in the background

And this once very unhealthy woman climbed right up the mountain making very good time (for me) …. about 20 minutes. Besides being REALLY thirsty when we reached the top, I felt great!

{There is a snack bar with plenty to drink once you get to the top!}

This was a really huge deal for me!

Enjoying the views with my Audley
It’s amazing the little things you find on top of a granite rock…..
So full of spirit and adventure!

After the hike back down we really enjoyed a fun supper picnic.

Do you really expect them all to be serious & paying attention?!

Like I mentioned earlier, there is so much more to do than climb the mountain (they have some pretty good homemade fudge as well).  If you are planning a day trip (& you live in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina), this is a perfect one for you!

You are only 15 miles from downtown Atlanta, so it also makes for a great two or three day get-away You’ll love being close to Six Flags, the Atlanta Braves, the Georgia aquarium, lots of great shopping, & a little fun local history in Marietta that you won’t be bored!

Tabletops & Shops: {Steve McKenzie’s}

Just before Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit with Steve and Jill McKenzie in their brand new (and absolutely fabulous) store while traveling home for Samantha’s wedding.    “Steve McKenzie’s, ” is a furniture and general lifestyle shop located in the growing westside district of Atlanta.
via Steve McKenzie
via Steve McKenzie

Steve, a former CEO of Larson-Juhl framing company in Atlanta (you can read a little about some time I have enjoyed with Larson-Juhl here), and his sweet wife Jill opened their place back in October.  I first met Steve about three years ago at a blogger’s dinner and framing workshop hosted by Larson-Juhl in Atlanta.  Steve and Jill’s fabulous store combines Southern living and hospitality for a fun shopping experience.  Most all of their brands are local/regional from soaps, candles and leather goods to jewelry, pottery and furniture! Steve McKenzie’s also features some the beautiful artwork of Steve’s in the form of paintings and fabrics inspired by his artwork!  This great little shop is also the Southeast representative for Grange Furniture, an absolutely stunning furniture line anchored in France with a history dating back to 1904.  Boy do they ever have some beautiful pieces!! This fun shop is just the perfect place for everyone from interior designers to me!

I could’ve stayed all day!

Decorated for Christmas (via Steve McKenzie)
via Steve McKenzie
I loved the red silverware which I purchased for our own Christmas table setting!
Gorgeous fabrics inspired by Steve McKenzie’s artwork (via Steve McKenzie)
Pillows made from the fun and unique fabrics of Steve McKenzie (via Steve McKenzie)
Steve and Jill are so welcoming and excited about their new shop, which makes shopping such a joy!  
I had seen and heard about the opening of Steve McKenzie’s through several friends on Facebook and was really hoping for the chance to check it all out.  That opportunity came through a table setting demo with Kerry Howard (a former Top Design contestant and Atlanta-based Interior Designer) and Blake Weeks that just happened to be scheduled for the Saturday I was traveling through.

How perfectly convenient!

Like I really needed another reason to shop!?!
While these great settings on display were to inspire us for Christmas, I discovered that when you mix the everyday in with a few seasonal touches that these were perfect for all winter long!
Here are just a few inspirational table settings and tips from Kerry Howard!

 

*Mix time periods and textures.  I absolutely LOVED this table setting that mixed pieces of everyday china from the 1950’s with modern elements from Crate and Barrel and pieces of coral.  So much fun and very classy!If I could find plates like this, I would be one happy girl!!

 

*Mix colors.  Be brave and step outside your comfort zone when decorating.  It’s perfectly fine to break away from tradition!

*Layer colors, accessories, styles, and dishes.

Mason jars, Mint Julep cups, and wine glasses?  Who would’ve thought that mixing such odd pieces would be so pretty …. and super Southern!

*Choose surprising elements.

Isn’t this just the cutest idea for a place card … a votive cup filled with natural elements you can find in your own backyard!
I love the mixture of the Asian figurine with shells, rock and assorted glassware.  It just all pulled together to make a gorgeous table!
Kerry demonstrating how to make decorations for the table using a mason jar, fresh evergreen and cotton.  

*Have the centerpiece mimic the shape of your table.

The roses in this centerpiece are from Publix and the greenery is from the backyard; set in a round silver bowl it’s just too pretty!

*Use the unexpected in your centerpieces …. twigs from the yard, pine needles, magnolia and even grocery store flowers (Costco, my favorite place to buy flowers, generally has a huge and affordable selection)

 

*Be creative with your vases.  Use wooden bowls, pottery, vintage pieces, silver, etc… to create a great centerpiece.

*And be sure to add candles.  Candlelight, besides being beautiful is just flattering to any space!

Kerry and Blake talking tables

The ideas these two designers shared were so simple that anyone can pull off a beautiful table!  I sure am looking forward to Valentines Day and seeing if I can pull of a fun table!

If you are ever passing through Atlanta, be sure to stop by Steve McKenzie’s and check them out!

996 Huff Rd NW, Suite E
Atlanta, GA 30318

Stepping Back in Time: Nora Mills

My sweet momma grew up the daughter of a sharecropper, traveling all over Alabama as they made a living for themselves.  All my life I have listened to the stories of her childhood as her family traveled with eight brothers and sisters from home to home for work and school.  They picked cotton, gleaned gardens, washed clothes with a washing board and hung them to dry, and despite hardship and heartache, truly loved one another.

Mama smelling cotton out in a local field

Next to the stories told by my momma, I loved my grandmamma’s stories even more.  She lived a really tough life, especially as a runaway child bride, but she could do anything, and honey, did she ever take care of her family!

This picture is of my sweet grandmamma on her wedding day in 1947.  She was just 14 years old, and my grandpa was just days out of the Army.

 

Grandpa and Grandma on their wedding day — 1947
My children were never able to know my grandparents, but I have tried to share with them the life and stories that are their heritage.  It wasn’t a glamorous or easy life, and everything was done by hand, but it was a quality life.  
A life that at the end of the day meant something had been accomplished, and a heritage to be proud of!
My kiddos have it easy just as I did.  When they have to clean the kitchen, they load a dishwasher.  When they want to wash clothes it’s in a front loading washer and they can then dry their clothes in a dryer.  When they want to bake a cake, I buy flour and sugar at the grocery, and if I am in a hurry we just buy a cake mix.  They ride to school in a cooled or heated car driven by their mom, and picking peppers and tomatoes in my garden is more like gathering roses.
They have it good.
Because of the stories and experiences, walks down memory lane with my mom and grandma, I have always respected the ways of the past as they have shaped my life, and I want my children to know the old paths as well.  Stories don’t always remain with them as two generations later they can’t imagine being poor or struggling to make a living or doing things without modern conveniences.  So, I look for ways to give them a glimpse of life as it once was.
While we were in Helen last weekend we discovered this quaint little “working” gristmill just outside the city limits.

 

Sitting right on the Chattahoochee River in Helen, Nora Mills has been in operation for over 135 years!  As a matter of fact, it has been run by four generations of the same family since it went into operation until just the last few years.  Now that is a heritage to be proud of!

The kids weren’t too keen on stopping in the mill; it was just another one of my crazy ideas.

You know how kids can be!

Instead of “crazy”, they discovered a world and an art quite unlike any that they could have imagined by just reading in a book.

The moment that the kids walked into the mill, they were greeted by Tommy Martin, who has run this operation for the last few years.  He was so excited to show the kids how everything works and teaching them how to make cornmeal for the cornbread they love and grits to accompany a full Saturday breakfast!

The corn in Nora Mills is ground on an original 133 year old piece of equipment, still powered by the Chattahoochee River.

 

Mr. Martin showed the kids how to swap and add corn to the mill, how it processes, and then travels to bins to be bagged for use.  I was thrilled at how all three of the kids listened and participated in all he had to say.

(hmmm, I wonder if they would listen to him if he told them to clean their rooms?)

I was impressed with Mr. Martin’s knowledge and how well he did pull the kids in.  Learning outside the classroom isn’t always an idea kids are up for.

MacKenzie opening the storage bun to release the corn

 

Corn falling into the conveyor

 

 

Corn as it is traveling in an “elevator” to the mill for grinding
Releasing the corn to be ground

 

Making sure the corn doesn’t wind up in one deep pile

 

 

Ground corn

 

White cornmeal

Mr. Martin prides himself in using the entire corn kernel, meaning all of the vitamins are kept and nothing is added when the corn is prepared.  Now that is true “whole-grains”; the food we should be eating.  We have lost this using commercial processing of grains which results in the government “enriching” our food.

I like this natural process much better!

We could not have had more fun during our visit to the mill if we had planned it!  Tommy Martin was a wonderful and educational guide for our children and gave them an experience that they are still talking about!

freshly ground grits …. just need biscuits and tomato gravy to go with them!

Watching the kids have fun while learning made for a really great experience.  They were so excited and couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her all about it!  Of course we had to buy cornmeal for both sets of their grandparents and a bag of grits for me.

(I see a huge brunch in my future!)

And now my kids have their own story to share with their own children ……


“When I was a kid, I got to grind corn in a 135 year old mill in the mountains of Georgia.”


It’ll go along with the story of walking two blocks to school in the snow when we lived in Iowa.  Of course it’ll be two miles when it is retold!

If you make it to Helen in the future, make time to stop off at this historic old mill.

Stepping back in time for quality family time?  I’ll take it every day!

Weekend Get-Away

Isn’t it crazy how some of our fondest memories and greatest adventures come from the zaniest of events?!
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  
~Lao Tzu
Take for example our weekend…..
On Friday, my daughter, Samantha and I picked the kiddos up from school where she was going to drop me off to pick-up a rental car which I would drive to Spartanburg to meet Audley, who has our mini-van.
{You got all of that, right?}
Through a series of misfortunate events, the least of all being stupidity miscommunication from Avis a leading car rental company, I did not have a car to make my trip.
Samantha was not making the trip with us as she had Saturday football plans with her fiancee, but she suggested that we meet Audley half-way.  We opted to take the Appalachian Foothills Parkway through North Georgia and by-pass Atlanta rush hour all together.  Audley was going to head our way at the same time and we would meet somewhere in the middle.  It sounded great on the phone, but his GPS and my GPS did not send us the same pathway.
So while Audley was traveling on spacious four-lane highways, we were winding and twisting up and down two-lane roads with this as our scenery….
and as the roads seemed to get a little darker we saw a little of this …..
And while it was all so breathtakingly beautiful, and Samantha and I kept stopping for pictures, we were traveling in a small Ford Focus with a slightly irritated 11 year-old boy sitting in between his 12 and 14 year old sisters in the back seat.
I was seriously thinking that a padded room was in my future.
 
And Samantha?  She swore that she heard banjos and was “paddling faster!”
Finally, I called Audley and told him to meet us in Helen.  And to get a hotel room.
{He did good, too…. a suite with a jacuzzi!}
Hampton Inn in Helen, Georgia
So instead of making it to Spartanburg on Friday night, we decided a little mini-vacay was in order for us and our three younger children.
Located in the north Georgia mountains, Helen, with it’s fabulous Alpine architecture makes a wonderful weekend getaway.  Much smaller than Gatlinburg, Helen is filled with quaint shops, unique restaurants, and just minutes from wonderful hiking trails for the hiker in all of us and amazing trout fishing in the iconic Chattahoochee River.  As you can imagine the mountains are stunning in autumn each year which draws a crowd alone, but with it’s Oktoberfest celebration (carrying on the Germanic theme) the month of October, Helen becomes a wonderful weekend get-away.

 

 

We picked a wonderful time to visit.  The weather was gorgeous, the crowds were down since the leaves won’t peak for another three weeks, and we had nothing pressing going on so “relaxing” was all that was on our agenda!

 

We decided to be a little adventurous for supper on Friday night and visited a local German themed restaurant; Hofbrauhaus.

 

I have never been to Germany, but I can imagine that the interior of this restaurant; mix and match furniture with twinkle lights and antiques scattered about fit the image.  I did not like the smokey feel that did find it’s way to the nonsmoking section, but the sweet waitress in her theme attire was a hit with the kids.
Pronouncing items on the menu was quite entertaining for the kiddos.  I took two years of high school German, so many of the terms were vaguely familiar.  From sauerbraten to schnitzel to schweinebraten  to sauerkraut we had many interesting dishes to try!  And even though MacKenzie’s breaded chicken schnitzel was renamed “sh**” chicken and finally “that German chicken stuff” it was in no way a reflection on the meal.
Audley and Bradley split a sampler platter for two.  It contained sample sized portions of sauerbraten, schweinebraten, breaded pork schnitzel, house smoked pork chop, homemade garlic wurst, filling sides such as sauerkraut, German potato salad, red cabbage, and a delicious salad topped with a garlic-dill dressing.
Sampler fit for a king!

 

Wonderful sides of sauerkraut, German potato salad and red cabbage.

 

Schweinebraten (pork loin) with a butter cream sauce

 

German Potato Salad

 

Spaetzles …. German noodles.

 

Of all the delicious flavors, the pork loin was delicious, especially with the sauerkraut, but the chicken schnitzel was my favorite!  Madeline was my least adventurous and chose the German noodles topped with cheese, although she did taste some of the other dishes.
I will be honest, that while the food was good, it was not seasoned in a way that I could consider a favorite.  After enjoying the many flavors Mexican, Italian, and even many American dishes have to offer, German food seemed rather bland.
Over-all the experience was memorable and unique, but I am not sure that I would repeat it every time we might find ourselves in Helen.  The kids and Audley were good sports and made the evening a lot of fun.
We had several other wonderful adventures while in Helen, but more than I can fit into one post and hope to keep your attention!  Adventures in a mill, another great restaurant and a doll hospital are sure to interest you as well!
I hope you’ll stop in and check it all out this week!  Maybe you will find inspiration for your next next get-away weekend!