Drums and Snakes and Goats…OH MY!

Why Chickens

My first additions to the homestead were four silver-laced Wyandotte hens.  One little chicken was supposed to be a rooster, but sexing chickens at a young age is not reliable as I have found out.  My little flock, AKA Frankie and las Chicas, has turned out to be quiet helpful.  Why chickens you wonder?

Helpful Gardeners

My ladies are very helpful in scratching up the soil and making sure that no pile of leaves goes unturned.  Most of the time, they have the run of the yard, but in the fall I gave them a job.  Yes, my chickens have jobs to do just like the rest of us.  Just be sure to fence off new garden planting.  Freshly tilled and mulched garden spaces are a paradise for chickens, and they will uproot young plants within minutes.  I find they are easily redirected with a little coaxing.

Clearing a New Garden Space

I created a fenced area that was about 10×15 feet.  The grass/weed area was mowed down low to the ground.  Each day they were turned out into the fenced area and in about 8 weeks, my little helpers had cleared the new garden area. If chickens are left in a confined area, they will peck, scratch and dig until the area was just about bare dirt.

 

Fresh Eggs

The most obvious job a chick has is laying eggs.  My girls started laying at about six months of age.  They have been providing about one egg per chicken per day without pause since then.  Even as temperatures dipped below freezing and we got a foot of snow, they continued to provide a steady provision of eggs each day.  They are gorgeous, organic eggs that taste delicious.  Once they started laying, I gave them oyster shell scratch to help they develop nice eggs shells.  Also give them a handful of corn on nights that will fall below freezing.

eggs by why Asheville

 

Comic Relief

My chickens are very entertaining.  Just watching them roam the yard is hilarious in itself.  They follow me around as I do my chores, finding bugs and weeds to eat up.  They coo and cluck when I walk out with treats of kitchen scraps. If you’ve never seen a chicken take a dust bath, you are truly missing out on a good laugh.

Endless Composters

I treat my chickens to snacks leftover from the meal prep from the night before.  They love anything with seeds… cucumbers, peppers, melons… but a word of caution that apple seeds in large quantities are not good for chickens (or the consumer of their eggs) because they contain cyanide. They efficiently dispose of the scraps and provide me with lots of natural fertilizer for my garden (AKA poop).

Feathered and Furred Friends

Not every dog will be kind to your feathered friends, but my pooch grew up with the flock and they coexist without harassing each other.  They even seems to enjoy each others’ company since they wonder the grounds together.  Do you think my dog thinks he’s part of the flock?

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On the Move

Howdy Folks!  My first year in Asheville has come to an end. I hope you have enjoyed my adventures of discovering the area. At he beginning of summer, we found our permanent home… thus explaining why I fell of the grid.  We have firmly landed in Marshal, NC…just a bit north of Asheville.

Marshall NC
photo courtesy of Erica Buehler

Our new home is just what we were looking for – a small, easy to maintain house with lots of outdoor space…32 acres to be exact.  As with most moves, there were a few hitches.  First, my computer’s hard drive crashed.  Second, good internet access has been a constant battle.  I think we have those two issues fairly well resolved.

I will be turning my attention from exploring Asheville towards the adventures in homesteading – a lifestyle with a focus on becoming more to self-sufficient.  I hope it will be insightful in a DIY way, but certainly it will provide a few laughs. Hope you’ll come back to see how that’s going.

P.S.  Cover photo is our very enthusiastic and joyful helper, Milo.   More on him another time.

Organic Growers School Asheville

For 25 years, the Organic Growers Spring Conference has brought together environmentally minded folks from 17 states and Canada. The University of North Carolina (Asheville) hosted this educational event that offered regionally specific workshops on organic growing and sustainable living. It was a event  that provided down-to-earth, practical advice while remaining affordable and accessible to anyone who wanted to participate.  There were many learning and networking opportunities.  Plus it was good, clean fun.

raising chickens

As someone who is just beginning – basically still searching for land – I thought perhaps this might be a little over my head.  My focus was primarily on chickens, so that hopefully next spring I would be educated enough to raise my own small flock of chicks.  The classes I attended were fantastic.  All the basics were clearly spelled out, pitfall discussed and the practical how-tos were covered.  The presenters were more than patient with a wide variety of questions thrown at them.

I was treated to a short film on the life cycle of an egg.  It was precluded by a short video on a chicken actually laying an egg.  Two fascinating videos!  One instructor also brought live chickens, in a cat carrier, to demonstrate the proper way to handle chickens and provided us with a hands-on opportunity for those of us that had never actually touched a real, live chicken.  I learned where to buy chicks, what they most needed to thrive, how to properly handle and store eggs, process the meat, and most importantly who to call when I encounter problems.  The instructors were smart, generous and obviously passionate about chickens.

While I stuck mainly to the chicken track, trust me there was something for everyone.  They had classes on raising, growing and preparing everything:   community food, cooking, earth skills, farming, gardening, herbal medicine, homesteading, livestock, mushrooms, permaculture, pollinators, poultry, soils, water, sustainable forestry and sustainable living.   Besides classes, there was a vendor tent.  I scooped a few varieties of locally harvested seeds to try in my garden this year.

heirloom seeds for trade

Look for this event next fall or check out upcoming events through the Organic Growers School.  I’m headed to farm tour in a couple weeks.  Just another reason answering the question, Why Asheville?

Well Played Asheville

Well Played in Asheville NCSearching for a playful night out?  This is just the place in Asheville, NC.  As you approach the entrance, you can’t help but smile at the over-sized Jenga and Four Score.  Even though it was raining, a few rounds of Jenga helped pass the time while we waited for our table to be ready.  On a Saturday night, the wait was 2 hours for a table of 7, but they got us seated (party dropped to 5) within about an hour.

Well Played boasts that it is North Carolina’s first board game café, with over 500 games, from the classics to the cutting-edge.  There were the games of my childhood like Monopoly, Trivia Pursuit and Sorry and many more that I had never heard of before.  Luckily, there is a “gamemaster” situated in the gallery of games that is happy to help your group make a fun choice depending on your group size, age and interests.

They have a small, but adequate menu.  They offer sandwiches , wraps and healthy choices, such as hummus and veggies or a cheese and fruit plate.  Drinks run the gambit from local, craft beer to organic teas. Then off to my personal favorite section of the menu – baked goods and seasonal pies. I would highly recommend the  Cheerwine float or Oreo milkshake. While we waited for our food, Roc ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots was passed to our table which provided a light-hearted start to the evening.

Roc em Soc em Robots Why Asheville

For $5 per person, you have unlimited access to their entire selection of games for the entire day. If you can’t get enough, unlimited monthly memberships are also available for $20. A smaller cart of free games are available in the bar area if you just want to pop in for a drink or dessert.

The service was not outstanding on my visit, but it was a busy Saturday night.  It certainly didn’t spoil the evening, since there was plenty to do while waiting for our server to reappear after long periods of absence.  The space is loud and full of laughter, as you would expect in a room full of gamers, but not so intrusive that you can’t hold a conversation.  This is not the quiet date-night spot.  It appeared to be family friendly.

This is definitely a place I would return to for a unique, night out.


Are you interested in exploring spirituality in the everyday moments of life with gratitude and humor?  Visit … http://stillsacred.com/blog/

Still Sacred - Everyday Spirituality

Asheville Botanical Gardens

One of my favorite spots to go and bird watch and take a stroll near the city is at Asheville Botanical Gardens.  It is located on the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA).  It is about ten acres with an official half-mile loop trail taking you across bridges over streams, through meadows and through forested areas.  Most of the trails are wide, well maintained gravel paths. There are a few picnic tables, benches and plenty of room to spread out a blanket and relax.  They do not allow dogs, bikes or sports activities. The best part is that it is free!

Asheville Botanical Gardens by Why Asheville?

No Frills Fun

This isn’t a showy-type garden.  It is dedicated to the study and promotion of the native plants and habitats of the Southern Appalachians.  Quiet a few of the native plants and trees do have identification markers, but a lot of them remain nameless… and a few nibbled away by the local squirrels.  If you head to the gift shop, someone  is sure to help you if you really want to identify a particular plant.  In the spring, it will be filled with the wildflowers which can be quite spectacular.

Bird Watching

When you first arrive at the Botanical Gardens, there will be a gift shop directly in front of you.  It is open March through December.  It offers some snacks, books and trinkets.  There is a clean bathroom.  The staff is helpful and eager to answer any questions you might have about the gardens.  If you take an immediate left before the gift shop, you will arrive at an elevated viewing deck.  At your eye level, at least a story above the ground, is a suspended bird feeder that is usually loaded with bird food and thus birds.  It’s a lovely place to enjoy the view, especially in the mornings.

Local Swimming Hole

If you follow the path to the left across the first bridge and then bare to the right, you will come out on an informal trail down to the Reed’s Creek.  This area is often filled with families with young kids that want to cool off in the summer heat.

Off the Beaten Trail

About half way around the loop trail, just past Hayes Cabin, you will find a more rugged trail.  It looks as though is might have started off as a short cut that students took to get across campus.  It is aptly named, the UNCA perimeter trail.  It is narrow and a bit uneven, but easy enough to walk on.  It will lead you back to the open meadow near the gift shop.

This is another great spot to stretch your legs and enjoy some peace and quite right in the heart of Asheville!


Are you interested in exploring spirituality in the everyday moments of life with gratitude and humor?  Visit … http://stillsacred.com/blog/

Still Sacred - Everyday Spirituality

 

Asheville Mall

I will lead with the fact that I am not a huge mall shopper.  I generally prefer to order online or stop into smaller shops.  The idea of hunting for parking and fighting crowds is the image, that until recently, is the one that filled my mind when I thought of going to the mall. Once again, some things are different here in Asheville.

Why Asheville? Shopping

Before I moved to Asheville, I lived less than a mile away from the 19th largest mall in America.  With over 2 million square feet of shopping, Northpark Shopping Center almost always had a full parking lot.  My first experience there was in my twenties, and on that day it was completely deserted because we had just had a huge ice storm.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to “practice” driving on ice.  Let me translate… I was doing donuts in the parking lot of Neiman Marcus.

Since living in Asheville, I’ve needed to visit the mall 4 times.  Once to exchange a gift at Eddie Bauer.  Another time to pick up a Christmas present at Barnes & Nobles.  Third, to check a product before ordering online. Lastly, to find a sweater that matched my pants.  Going to the mall is not something that I do often, because my previous experiences tended to be hectic and my senses were overwhelmed.  Not so here in in Asheville.

Asheville Mall- why Asheville?
Not a person in sight in Dillard one evening at Asheville Mall

When I needed to make a trip to the mall three days before Christmas, I was absolutely dreading it.  I was lucky enough to be told about a side road that would lead to the back side of the mall where parking would be plentiful.  I was skeptical … it being the Friday before Christmas, but I really had no choice.  I was amazed that I was able to pull right into a spot by a main entrance.  I continue to take this route, and on my last visit there were only three other cars in the parking lot .  I suspect the other two may have belonged to employees.

On my last visit, I stopped in all the major department stores: Sears, Dillards, JC Penneys, Belks and a few local shops.  I also perused the food court and grabbed a Starbucks coffee.  All told, I was in and out of there in an hour.  I rarely saw another person, in fact, the majority of people seemed to be sitting in the abundant lounge/charging stations scattered throughout the mall.  There were no pushy sales people, but when it came to check out, it was easy to find fast and efficient service.

I am not sure why there aren’t a lot of people at this mall.  It has nearly 1 million square feet of retail sprawled across a single level.  It recently had a face lift that added the charging stations, new flooring and more. It’s clean and well organized, and has some interesting architecture. I certainly don’t think of Asheville as a consumer hub, but still I would expect to find a few people shopping.  Perhaps everyone, including me, chooses to spend their time enjoying the more interesting activities outdoors.

 


Looking for some winter meditations to lift your spirits?

Winter Meditations by Still Sacred

Smashed in Asheville

While many of my posts are about fun adventures and delicious food, this week is about the unexpected curveballs that life throws at you…even in Asheville.

Expect the Unexpected

I started my drive to work on a rainy morning.  Nothing dramatic, we’ve certainly had much worse winter weather to deal with recently.  I was stopped in traffic waiting for the light to turn green when SMASH!  I was hit from behind and pushed into the vehicle in front of me.

After that, things become a little blurry.  I got out and snapped photos.  Checked to make sure that no one was seriously hurt.  Climbed back in my car to get out of the rain and noticed all of my belongings tossed all over the car.  Maybe I got hit a little harder than I realized.

Smashed in Asheville

The Good News

Long story short, my boss was very understanding that I wouldn’t make it to work, the guy who hit me took full responsibility, rental car provided and my car is being repaired.  Most importantly…no injuries!

Irony of Life

So here is the ironic part, I was in the midst of creating a blog for Still Sacred on how an ordinary trip to work can be an extraordinary journey.  This little mishap didn’t change that… I stand behind the notion that there are sacred moments in all the events in our life.  It’s great to remember that God has a sense of humor.

 


Are you interested in exploring spirituality in the everyday moments of life with gratitude and humor?  Visit … http://stillsacred.com/blog/

Still Sacred Blog link

Asheville Escape Room

My escape room adventure has prompted numerous inquiries, so I thought I would elaborate.  In Asheville, there are three escape room companies that I am aware of.  I checked them out and decided to go with the one that wouldn’t break the bank.  I was not disappointed.

Escape Room Doors Asheville NC

What is an Escape Room?

Escape rooms are real life adventures where players find clues, crack codes, solve riddles, piece together puzzles and hopefully escape the room within the allotted time.

Escape rooms were inspired by “escape the room” style video games that were developed in Japan in the early 2000s.  The Real Escape Game (REG) was developed in Japan in 2007, and the first one opened in the United States in San Francisco in 2012.  These rooms started popping up in Asheville in 2015.

 

What Makes A-Escape Special?

Admittedly the location is a little tricky to find… turn up the driveway next to the Shell station and it’s at the top of the hill.  It looks a bit sketch on the outside, but trust me that the inside is clean and the owners are friendly.

Kyle Tharrington and Ashley Fox, owners of A-Escape, discovered escape rooms while living in Korea. When they moved back to Asheville in 2015,  they decided to create their own escape room, which was one of the first in Asheville.  They designed the rooms and strive to make your experience a fun adventure.

At this time, they have three escape adventures. The Mystery Lodge which is touted as a light-hearted tourist trap gone awry and suitable for beginners.  The Biotech Research Bunker and the Abandoned Submarine are more challenging and a little eerie.  A few surprises await you in these rooms.

Unlike many escape rooms, you never get put with other people at A-Escape.  For those of you who might be uncomfortable being locked in a room, rest assured there is a key in the door that can be used at any time to leave, but if you use the key then you may not return to the room to finish the game.

A-Escape Asheville NC

My Family Adventure

I had this idea that it would be fun to try an escape room with my family.  I knew it would be risky – either we would work together or have a meltdown – either way memories would be made.  We escaped somewhat to the surprise of the owner since only one of us had ever played before. I later found out that less than 85% of the people complete the room we chose in 60 minutes. Don’t let that dissuade you, my group of 4 novices successfully escaped in 46 minutes – nearly making the top 10 board.

It was frustrating at times, very challenging and we needed to work as a team to get out.  Luckily, if you get stuck, you have 3 chances to type “help” on a tablet in the room and a clue will pop up to assist you.  We needed 2 help lines on our adventure.

For those of you searching for a good escape room, A-Escape on New Leicester Highway costs about half of what the escape rooms charge in downtown Asheville and it’s top notch.   Why not have a great escape?


Are you interested in exploring spirituality in the everyday moments of life with gratitude and humor?  Visit … http://stillsacred.com/blog/

Still Sacred Blog link

First Christmas in Asheville

My first Christmas in Asheville has been fantastic.  It included the first snow, Santas galore, gingerbread capers, double d’s and escape rooms.  In no particular order, here are the highlights from the last couple of weeks.

First Snow

The weatherman predicted a light dusting… we got almost a foot of snow in less than 8 hours.  I am keenly aware of this because when I arrived at work the roads were clear and by lunchtime it was a ghost town in my office.  By the time I had the good sense to leave, my car had at least 9 inches of snow covering it.  The good news was that the roads has been plowed and there was no one on them, so my commute time home was the shortest time ever!  I was lucky enough to snap this photo of a cardinal from my patio once I arrived home safely.

First Snow in Asheville with cardinal

Gingerbread Houses at Grove Park Inn

The Grove Park Inn is always spectacular, but as the host of a National Gingerbread Contest the place was filled with the heavenly scent of gingerbread and sugary goodness.  In order to avoid the $20 parking fee, I parked at Biltmore Industries, took a quick tour of the car museum and artisan shops and then walked across the road to the hotel.  People are so creative and you can view the 2017 winners here. Below is one of the whimsical gingerbread creations that caught my eye.

Gingerbread Contest 2017 Grove Park Inn Asheville

SantaCon Asheville

I was meeting some friends for dinner in early December, when I noticed a lot of people dressed up like Santa Clause or elves.  Even by Asheville standards this seemed a little odd.  As yet another group of Santas passed by, I asked them what was going on … well SantaCon of course.

Asheville SantaCon 2017 photo credit to Thomas Cole
photo credit to Thomas Cole

Ginger”dred” Man

Run, Run fast as you can…  I heard rumors that if I was lucky,  I might see the infamous ginger”dred” man.  While finishing some shopping one afternoon, I found him catching his breath on a bench downtown.

Gingerdred Man Asheville

Double D’s

A great place to people watch is from the top of Double D’s coffee bus on Biltmore Avenue.  I grabbed a gingerbread latte and took a break with my family in the bench seat on the top level of the double decker bus, which seats four very comfortably.

 

Biltmore House at Christmas

I have been told over and over again that the Biltmore house was not to be missed at Christmas.  This was my first time to tour the 178,926 square feet home – the largest private home in America.  I was glad that I could share my first visit with my visiting daughters. It was indeed a spectacular home made even more spectacular by the extravagant decorations.   It rightly deserves its very own blog.  Here’s a sneak peak of the grand dining hall with its 35 foot Christmas tree.

Biltmore dining hall at christmas

Escape Room Bonding

I had this idea that it would be fun to try an escape room with my family this holiday season.  I knew it would be risky – either we would work together or have a meltdown – either way memories would be made.  We escaped somewhat to the surprise of the owner, who later informed us that only 15% of the people actually complete the room we attempted.  Our final time was only 1 minute and 15 seconds off making the top ten fastest escapes. It was frustrating at times, very challenging and we did need to work as a team to get out.  For those of you searching for a good escape room, A-Escape on New Leicester Highway costs half of what the escape rooms charge in downtown Asheville.  Read more about my escape room adventure.

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Hope your holidays were filled with good times and lasting memories!

Biltmore Estate: Overview

It’s taken me 8 months for me to visit the Biltmore Estate, one of Asheville‘s most popular tourist destinations.  I’ll admit it…I was a bit intimidated by the sheer size of this sprawling 8,000 acre estate.  But with my daughters coming to visit, I decided it was time to tackle this adventure and do a little recon before they arrive… hmm wonder if they read my blog.  While most people head straight to the Biltmore House for a tour, I decided to do things a little differently.  This week I bought my annual pass, allowing me unlimited visits and some extra perks to enjoy for a whole year.  On this visit, I focused on getting the lay of the land.  You definitely need a car and some good walking shoes to explore this estate.

History

In 1889, George Vanderbilt bought 125,000 acres in Western North Carolina as an escape from his busy city life and a retreat for his family and friends. He would build what is regarded as the largest privately owned home in America boasting 178,926 square feet.  While most of the land was sold to the U.S. government in 1914 and is now part of the Pisgah National Forest, an ample 8,000 acres still remains as part of the Biltmore Estate.  Its name is a combination of “bilt,” the Dutch region of origin for the Vanderbilts, and “more,” an old English term for rolling countryside.  The estate was opened to the public in 1930, to increase tourism during the depression, but some of the Vanderbilts still maintain residences on the estate property.

Antler Hill Village

Bearing to the right as you pass the main gate will take you to the Inn on Biltmore Estate and to Antler Hill Village(AHV).  There is tons of parking at the AHV. There are several casual restaurants, shopping, playground, farm animals, historic barn with farming, woodworking & blacksmith exhibits and a winery.  I headed straight to the Outdoor Center to grab a trail map.  Here you can also rent bikes, Segways, and book specialty outings such as fly fishing, kayaking, skeet shooting and off-roading in Hummers.  I just got the map, which has over 22 miles of trails.  Some of them are paved for easy walking/biking and some of them are more rugged for mountain bikes, horses or adventuresome people. There is a nice 3 mile trail that follows the French Broad River, but I’ll save that for another day.

Biltmore Antler Hill Village

The Lagoon

Continuing on the same road, I made my way to the lagoon, which has small, gravel parking areas on both sides. On a clear, calm day, this is the location to get that famous photo of the Biltmore House reflecting in the water.  It’s also a popular spot for locals to feed the Canadian geese or have a relaxing picnic.

Biltmore House reflecting in lagoon

 

From the lagoon it is a nice 1 1/4 mile hike up to the main house.  This trail takes you through some rolling pastures and offers great views of the back side of the house as well as Mount Pisgah.  Because of the rolling hills, I really felt that I had this whole place to myself.  I rarely heard or saw another person along this trail.

Biltmore House

The great lawn in front of the house is a great place to snap your selfie and where you go for a tour of the house – entrance ticket times are required.  I headed to the right of the main house to the Carriage House for a quick bite to eat.  It was a lovely day, so I grabbed a sandwich and ate in the courtyard.  I think this was fairly reasonable, $6 for a chicken salad pita and chips.  Free cups of water are available at the ice cream parlor or coffee shop which are also located here.

Biltmore Carriage House Courtyard

Gardens

It is winter, but the gardens are still very impressive and I will definitely be back in the spring.  On this trip, I headed to the conservatory, a glass-roofed building filled with exotic orchids, succulents, and this time of year, poinsettias. It is a maze of rooms designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, that is delightful to wander through.  There are spots to sit and enjoy the greenhouse-like atmosphere and a terrace.

Biltmore Conservatory Garden

Deerpark

Heading back out from the lagoon to the left took me to a fork in the road, bearing to the right took me past the Deerpark area.  I didn’t stop at this area, missed the turn, but it houses the fancy Deerpark restaurnant and Lioncrest event center.  I’ll be back for brunch.  Heading just a bit further down the road, on the right, are the stables.  Here you can arrange for a carriage ride through the estate or horseback trail rides.  This too will have to wait for another visit.

House Approach Road

Heading back to the main entrance, I took the main road to the house.  If you are starting from the main gate you would simply bear to the left.  This is a spectacular 3-mile driveway designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted who also designed New York’s Central Park.  Here is were you would usually park and shuttle in for the main house tour.  Locals have told me that if I keep my headlights on, the guards will simply wave me through so that I could drive right passed the parking and go right up to the steps of the main house.  A great tip if you have family that has mobility issues.  Just a bit further passed the house, there is a small parking area below the gardens that would be a fairly easy walk back up to the house, if you wanted to avoid taking the shuttles.Biltmore Estate Terrace

 

After this 4 hour tour, there is still a lot more to explore, but it was a magnificent first visit to the Biltmore Estate. On thing that was apparent, this is not just for tourists.  I spotted lots of locals walking their dogs, jogging and enjoying a picnic.  I think I’ll bring my bike and a picnic next time and cover a little more ground.