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!