Pizza Out


Most folks who know us think that Brinn’s true passion lies in paddling, but this just isn’t true. While we paddle quite a bit, and Brinn paddles extremely well, skiing will always be his first mistress. In fact, when I first met Brinn he was back in Tennessee temporarily. His goal was to work the Ocoee for the summer while wrapping up his personal affairs in order to move permanently to Colorado, but then he started dating me. Woops. Now he has resigned himself to remaining in the south, with infrequent visits to the mountains.

The unseasonably warm weather last winter made it difficult for the local resorts in Western North Carolina to develop as deep of a snow base as Brinn prefers, and the longer drive to West Virginia didn’t quite line up with Brinn’s surgery dates or my PT schedule, so we haven’t been able to get Ian on a pair of skis until this year. Over the holiday weekend, Brinn finally had the opportunity to share his greatest passion with his little boy, and Ian finally had the opportunity to practice his moves.

Four years ago we spent February glued to our television watching as much Sochi


coverage as possible. Between watching Joss Christensen clinch the gold in slopestyle skiing, and Shaun White’s infamous snowboard crash in the halfpipe, Ian pulled his little trampoline over to the recliner, and started jumping off the chair onto the trampoline and throwing in spins. Now that stinker is a big five year old, and he insisted that he didn’t need anyone to teach him how to ski, and he was going to work on his 360s at the mountain.

Magic Carpet

So it turns out that Ian wasn’t able to go straight to 360s as he’d hoped. Instead, Brinn started him slowly and they practiced making a pizza wedge to slow down and stop. That may also be about the extent of Ian’s abilities for his first ski trip, but Brinn seemed pleased with Ian’s progress. After a few trips down the bunny slope, Ian mastered the magic carpet, and Brinn deemed him ready for the lifts. I’m 98% certain that Ian will remember the lift more than any other part of the trip, and had the most fun riding it up the mountain. Brinn had to hold and guide Ian down all of his runs, but I can’t imagine a more qualified instructor to help him begin learning edging and turning.

I suspect now that Ian has had a taste of winter sports, we will find ourselves driving

Ashlee and Ian

more frequently to the mountains. He seems to already have big plans for his next trip, and Brinn’s already thinking over Ian’s equipment needs and deciding which size skis he plans to put Ian in for the next trip. It looks like I won’t be burying my ski pants in the back of the closet anytime soon.


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A Dry Run

20180104_163339.jpgI bought a drysuit for Ian. Well, for all of us, but more about that another day. Back to Ian. He hates getting soaked on the river. Now mind you, he’s the kid that hates getting splashed and wet in the raft, but an hour earlier he’s swimming at the put-in, then at the end of the day we can’t drag him away from swimming at the take-out. But while he’s on a trip, he hates a cold splash. I’m right there with him. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only chump wearing a drytop in May on the Hiwassee. Ian has been wearing a splash top and pants with hydroskins underneath for a year now, and they have improved his experience quite a bit, but basically they’ve been a spring/fall fix. Winter paddling has remained off-limits for our dude until now.

Kokatat makes a great kids semidrysuit, but the smallest size available is a children’s 20180110_161909.jpgmedium. As far as kids’ sizes go, this is a very generous medium, but Ian FINALLY has grown just tall enough that he just barely manages to fill a suit out enough to safely wear one. As soon as he came sorta kind almost close to the minimum specs, we placed the order and waited eagerly for his suit.

Once Ian’s Kokatat arrived, we suited him up and headed to the creek for a trial run. Our plan was to get our boats in the water and let Ian paddle around to see how it felt to stay dry when water dribbled down his paddle shaft, or if he leaned too far and let in some water around the cockpit rim. It turns out, Ian had entirely different plans for testing his suit.

20180110_162355.jpgI often joke about personality types and use the metaphor that some people (like Ian) don’t like to ease into new things, they just jump straight in. This is exactly what Ian did with his new suit. Rather than wading out and adjusting his body temp to the cool water temp, or floating around high and dry in a boat, Ian took off running across the gravel bar, crossed his arms across his chest, and jumped right out into the water. No need to worry about Ian’s commitment to product testing –he thoroughly put his new suit through its paces.

So far we’ve had a very dry winter for Tennessee, but we’ve had a pretty steady rain 20180110_163547.jpgtoday alternating between downpour and drizzle, so I expect the creeks to actually have more than a few puddles between rocks over this weekend. Maybe Ian will get to take his boat all the way down the creek soon to enjoy his drysuit.

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Winter Is Here


20180106_144202.jpgHouse Stark’s motto cautions all to remember “Winter is coming.” Winter found Tennessee early this year, and brought a hard freeze that transformed our local creek into an ice covered splendor. After a few days of below freezing temps, we braved the bite and chill of the air to experience nature’s sculptures.

The Upper Cumberland region usually receives its fair share of winter weather, but we 20180106_140541.jpg
infrequently find enough consecutive wintry days to produce a good hard freeze. This year we’ve actually encountered two winter events already, with this hard freeze coming first. It seems that this cold snap hit the entire state, as friends posted beautiful pictures and videos from back home in Wartburg of a completely frozen over Potter’s Falls, all the way down to Tellico Plains with a frozen Baby Falls. Rather than driving people deeper inside to huddle by the fire, this winter event brought more people outside to marvel at the glacial figures.

20180106_141648.jpgWe began our frosted expedition of Spring Creek top side at Go-No-Go where Ian enjoyed throwing rocks across the frozen eddies. The majority of the creek had enough current to prevent a solid freeze from bank to bank, but we definitely found solid H2O in the calm areas.

After walking along the creek back towards the large fall, Waterloo, we decided to walk 20180106_144026.jpgto put-in down below Waterloo to see what sights might be lurking. The chilly walk down the trail and over the metal stars held gratifying results. We found some icicles that hung so low that they had fused with the ice below and formed full columns. Brinn didn’t want us to walk directly below any of the icicles, as stabbing by ice could be a painful way to go in the event that one had detached and fallen, but the outcrop of rocks hanging over the creek bed offered a good defense. Following along the overhang, I was able to walk behind the ice to view it up close. Maybe the non-permanence of the ice added to its beauty, but its magnificence left quite an impression with us.
While I’m not in any hurry to pack up and move to Wyoming to enjoy winter’s opulence more continually, I must admit that I do appreciate the infrequent gusts of arctic air that have moved through Tennessee this January.


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You Can Drink the Hemlock


Christmas came and went quickly this time, and 2017 quietly wound down with time spent at home. January, however, has found us off and going and we’ve already experienced a variety of activities.


To kick off the New Year, the boys and I participated in a guided hike at Burgess Falls State Park, where we got to see the three falls in all their normal glory, with the addition of some beautiful ice formations. The rangers shared the local history of the park’s formation with us, and also educated us on the park’s flora and


fauna. Guess what…the hemlock trees we have here in the south-east are not the same as the hemlock that Socrates used to poison himself. In fact, our hemlock is a good source of vitamin C!


Burgess Falls lies south of Cookeville, just over the White County line. The Fall Water River winds through the park, and crashes over three beautiful waterfalls. On our hike, we learned that the park was originally owned by Thomas Burgess, who was gifted with the land in response to his Revolutionary War efforts. The river at different times powered a grist mill and even a sawmill. Later, construction of a flume line carried water through a powerhouse below the bottom falls. This powered Cookeville with electricity until TVA took over in 1944.

The Kisers spend a lot of time at Burgess Falls. The hike is relatively easy, but extremely


gratifying. You can’t ask for better scenery. The rangers who take care of this park are always happy to answer questions and work hard to keep everyone safe. They’re constantly making improvements to the park, particularly with improving the footing on the hiking trail. Ian also loves the playground at the main entrance of the park, and splashing in the small streams along the trail and road.

FB_IMG_1516824497923.jpgIf you ever find yourself in the Upper Cumberland and need to kill an hour or two, stop by and check Burgess out. If you’re trying to think of a full day activity for your family, pack a picnic basket and make the drive. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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Christmas Time’s a Comin’

Doesn’t it seem like time really accelerates about mid October? Once the fall festivals hit, it just seems like a roller coaster of events clear through to Martin Luther King Junior Day. We’ve already zoomed past so many fun events that I’ve failed to bookmark. Hopefully during the dreary days of February I’ll get a chance  and find those images to share.

Kid in a binNow that we’ve turned the Thanksgiving corner of the track, we’re hurtling straight toward Christmas and so far, it seems like our plans are right on track. This time last year we were dealing with insurance battles, MRIs, car repairs, and pain. In comparison, this year has been absolutely blissful and my family has been extremely fortunate to enjoy making some great memories early in the holiday season.

We began our Christmas enfestivation with a double duty birthday trip and visited Rock RC3City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights. As always, the lights and views from Lookout Mountain stole our breath and gave us warm fuzzies to inspire Christmas shopping and party planning. We discovered a new favorite this year in the mushroom patch, and Ian set his heart on building a bear in the new area by the gem mining shop, welcoming “Greenie” to the family. Mogwai happily wandered the trail with us but had to wait outside while Ian ducked in to meet Mrs. Clause. The weather remained cool, but not cold, with a beautiful clear sky. In years past, we’ve had to bundle up in giant layers and stumble along awkwardly through the narrow passages, but instead, this time we wore long sleeves and vests and stayed fairly comfortable.

cornbineMeanwhile, back at home we’ve had a few goings on. Ian has been saving his chore money since summer towards the purchase of a John Deer “cornbine.” Through repeated trips to dump items on the compost pile, sweeping the porch, feeding the cow, putting away laundry, and checking the mail, the little man finally saved up the hefty price and we made a trip to Tractor Supply. While it’s awfully close to Christmas for toy shopping, he earned this one, and I would hate to have made him wait another month for the goal he’s worked so solidly towards.

While Ian has worked away at his chore list, Brinn has also been catching up on a few gasket repairchores. Winter paddling season is just around the corner (if it will ever rain), so Brinn has been busy replacing gaskets on drysuits. Our living room has a nice aquaseal aroma to it if anyone needs a whiff for nostalgia’s sake. I’m sure now that Brinn’s removed the shredded gaskets and put nice tight ones on, the skies will open and keep the creeks filled all winter, right? Just like it never rains when farmers cut hay… Anyone else need a gasket replaced? Now’s the time to swing by the house. I’ve been roasting venison tenderloins to tweak a recipe and Brinn’s stretching latex amidst glue fumes…

RC2Tomorrow will find us at another of Ian’s favorite holiday traditions. When we pick him up from school, he’ll join Marilyn and me at Walmart to help us ring the bell while asking for donations to the Cookeville Rescue Mission. I can’t remember the exact number, but I think they shared with us that thirty percent of their operating budget comes from Christmas bucket donations. That’s huge! Think of how many other organizations are out there ringing the bell this holiday season. It might not feel like the loose change rolling around in the bottom of your purse would actually amount to anything, but obviously it does! “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” I think you know the rest of the story.

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“We Can Take My Flashlights”

Ian CheoahSpring CreekIt rained in middle Tennessee this week. A lot. So of course all of the creeks jumped up and the paddlers rejoiced. But daylight savings time ended this week, leaving Cookeville in darkness by 5:00 PM, with no hope of after work paddling trips. While driving Ian to school Tuesday morning, he looked out the jeep window at water sheeting across the road next to an overflowing ditch and exclaimed, “Mama, I sure do hope Spring Creek fills up!”

It warms my heart every time I hear Ian express an interest in the pursuits that Brinn and I follow, so I quickly answered him, “Me too, baby, me too.”

But he took it one further and arrived at a genius conclusion: “Hey mama, I know, do you Ian gonogowant to go kayaking today?” I certainly wished we could go kayaking this week, but I work until 4:30 most days, and would lose the light before we could even put on the water! On top of that, deer season has hit, so Brinn pretty much works ’round the clock all of November.
TurtleI reluctantly explained our situation to Ian and reminded him that we had an obligation at the rescue mission for that evening and wouldn’t be home until after dark. He immediately replied, “well, we will just go tomorrow!” And again, I had to review the hours of daylight with him to help him understand the time constraints, but Ian would not be daunted. “I know, Mama! We can take my flashlights. I’ll take my turtle light, and you can take my blue flash light. And I’ll go in front of you and show you the way because I know where to go.”

I knew when Brinn and I decided to start a family, that at some point, I would no longer22883469_10156292145230656_507655648_n be teaching junior how to paddle, and he would eventually be babysitting his mama on the water. I just had the assumption that this situation would not occur until our child was… you know… out of kindergarten?

Ian ClearSo there you have it, folks. If you’re looking for a guide down Upper Spring Creek, Ian knows the way and can show you day or night. And oh yeah, the turtle flashlight he’s carrying? That’s for my benefit so I can see where he goes. He clarified this for me as he insisted that he won’t need the light for himself because he has light-up eyes that see really good at night.

By the way… we did not go kayaking in the dark on Spring Creek this week.

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Let’s Get This Show Going!


The sound of fish hitting the surface of the water and birds chirping as yellow and red leaves fluttered down from the autumn trees provided a calming backdrop for our evening after a busy day. Ian participated in the Tomahawk Trot fundraiser at his school today (soliciting pledges from his family members for donations to his cotsschool for each lap he ran around a course) while Brinn and I ran our annual booth at Cooking on the Square. The three of us were up early and out the door by 7:00 to get moving with our exciting days. After running out of venison stew and my grandma’s broccoli cheese soup, Brinn and I flew home, packed our gear, threw boats on top of the jeep, and left the truck at our take-out while we were in route to pick Ian up from school.

It feels like the day consisted of hurry up, hurry up, then hurry up some more. After we grabbed Ian from the pick-up line, we threw snacks in the backseat to him and bolted to the put-in. We yanked him out of his booster 22854857_10156292144705656_427669104_nseat and stuffed him in his hydroskins, slapped a helmet and pfd on, and hustled through the weeds to battle the beggar’s lice with our boats sliding in front of us to beat down a path so we could actually walk through the brush. After all this rush, rush, rush, we finally made it to the water with enough daylight remaining that we all took a deep breath, and slowed down to properly enjoy the significance of this trip.

While we’ve gone down this section of Spring Creek as a family about a dozen times, we 22854632_10156292119025656_1632239467_nenjoyed today more than all those other times put together. You see, today Ian made his debut descent in a hard boat! He has paddled Kachow on the lake, and even through a couple of rapids on Spring Creek, but until today, he had not run from put-in to take-out as a solo boater.

22883469_10156292145230656_507655648_nWe floated through the first few “rapids” with Brinn leading Ian through his lines, but Ian soon decided that he could pick his own lines. For the most part, this worked fine as Ian has progressed in his ability to read water, but he’s not had a lot of practice at boat scouting yet. All went well until he refused to listen to his daddy and he drove himself against a rock too big to splat, and he failed to lean into the rock. Since he’s still paddling skirtless, Kachow took on a good bit of water when he partially flipped. Fortunately the water was shallow enough that he was able to hold a good brace against the bottom of the creek to hold himself up while mom grabbed his stern and rolled him back up so he could climb out on the offending rock while dad drained his boat.

While Brinn and I revealed in the beauty of autumn in all its glory, and the experience of 22854752_10156292144990656_225231747_nour family hard boating together, Ian had other goals for the trip. Obviously his long day at school took a toll and left him pretty tuckered out before we got on the water, but cold weather moves in tonight, and today had the best weather we’re going to see for a while, so we asked him to soldier on and he happily agreed until we hit flat water. Brinn tried to encourage Ian to set his paddle down on his cockpit and enjoy taking a break while floating, but Ian had other plans. He pulled a sweep stroke to spin his boat around and declared, “let’s get this show going!” Then he paddled away and we had to hustle to catch him before the next small feature.

22854793_10156292145085656_1201612145_nWith the final release of the Ocoee this weekend, river running season in the southeast effectively draws to a close, but creeking season will soon begin. The Almanac predicts that Tennessee should have a chilly winter this year, so it looks like I need to get a move-on and get a youth drysuit ordered soon!

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