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It snowed again today!

blog25It snowed again today! That means it has snowed a measurable amount in every month for the past four months. I know it has been the same for many of you as well. It has been colder and wetter than most recent years. Our local weather reported in late February that we never reached our normal high temperature for any day since November.

As expected, many are now just sick and tired of all the snow and cold.

Just about everyone I talk to and all the media are dearly wishing for spring time warmth and sunshine. Who can blame them…Except I love snow! Now I admit it is easier for me to say that given my circumstances. I work at home here at the inn, so I don’t have to get out and travel in the mess. My children are mostly grown. It is usually not an inconvenience to me. I do have to admit that when it snowed December 22 when we were expecting a full house of happy families coming to ride the “Polar Express”, I was not particularly happy. But for the most part, I love a good snow.

Two things intrigue me. First, just watching it fall is soothing. It is like watching a goldfish swim or a kitten play with a ball of yarn.

It is restful and peaceful and in the mountains it is even more so because we have such a large field of vision to watch it fall. I can sit in my chair and for a just a while forget my “to do” list and even the economy and the hurt it is causing so many people and businesses, Secondly, I like to watch it lay and cover everything in sight. We have been cutting some trees recently, opening some views and clearing out some dangerous trees. It is necessary to do, but it creates an awful mess. The snow gently covers it all up and everything else as well.

All the scares and messes we have created over time. Sounds a lot like

grace doesn’t it? What a wonderful blessing it is to know that all my scares. bruises, and messes are covered by undeserved grace delivered by the same one who brings the snow.

This may be the last snow of the season. It is forecast to be near 60 this weekend. And while I love the snow, I also love spring and the renewal of life it brings. Spring also brings the opening of the inn.

Check our website for our schedule, rates, and discounts. Enjoy the snow, look forward to the spring, and come see us.

–Mort

What Do You Do All Winter?

blog24We hope your holidays were great. We enjoyed a few “family days” over Christmas, celebrated John Shell’s (Lainey’s dad) 80th birthday, and then closed up the inn after the Polar Express completed its run on December 30. Turns out, we closed just in time. As you are certainly well aware, winter has hit with a fury. We have already had several snow falls, and now are experiencing plunging temperatures. We usually take a while to close and winterize the buildings, but not this year.

With temps getting down into the teens and wind chills much lower than that, we immediately drained all the water pipes and winterized all the rooms as soon as we could. It is still bitterly cold and looks like it will stay that way for a bit. Time to put another log on the fire.

To some our guests, we seem to have an ideal job. We work hard for nine months and then close completely for three months. What a life. Then the question arises…What do you do all winter? The answer comes in four words:

1) Rest- The first thing we do is just simply rest. By the end of our season, all of us are exhausted. I often tell folks that we nothing we do here is especially hard, it is just about the time. We are always open, including weekends or evenings. The days are long, starting around 7:30 in the morning and usually lasting until around 11:00 that night.

We don’t mind. We love our work, love the folks that come, and enjoy serving and visiting with them. It is just that we get few breaks and the end of our season is the busiest. October is the most popular time with lots of folks coming to see the mountains in full fall color.

Then we turn our attention to the Polar Express Christmas train excursion for families that begins in early November and runs through December 31. It has been a blessing for us, but is more demanding. The reservations are more detailed and complicated since we are making train reservations as well as room reservations. Most reservations are usually for just one night, so there is a lot of daily turnover. By the time the last guest leaves, we are leg weary and tired. It’s just nice to have some time to recuperate.

2) Host – Even though we close the inn for regular business during the winter months, we will open for special events such as retreats, get aways, or family reunions. If we can get a group of at least 25 folks, we will gladly open our doors for them. Our first group of the winter will be coming January 29-30. As soon as this cold snap ends, we will open the buildings back up, prepare menus, order food, and welcome our guests . It is a lot of fun. If your family, Sunday School class, group of friends are looking for a winter get away, let us know. We have room this winter and would love to host your group. (It is a great winter price too)

3) Plan – Winter is also the time we do our planning for the upcoming year and beyond. That is especially important this year. Our business, like so many others, is faced with many challenges due to the downturn in the economy. We have to operate more efficiently, market better, and respond more quickly to the changes in our market. We must be able to communicate faster and be ready to change direction mid-season if necessary. Our planning time is probably the most significant and productive task of the winter.

4) Repair and Refurbish – There is always a list of things we want and need to do here to keep the rooms in good repair. Our winter list is always longer than our time to do the tasks.

We like to tell folks that our winters are like your weekends. You rest some, have friends over occasionally , catch up on maintenance and yard work, and plan for the next week. We just cram all the weekends we missed during the season into the wintertime.

We hope your winter is a great one. We will be in touch with you soon about the next season. We are enjoying our quiet time, but are already looking forward to warmer days, fresh spring growth, and wildflowers.

They will be here before you know it. We are here to take your calls all winter.

– Mort

Merry Christmas!

blog22It has been a while since I last wrote a blog. The reason has simply been that we’ve been busy with the Polar Express. For any who may not know of this event, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad turns into the magical train ride to the North Pole, based on the popular book and movie. Since November 6, kids of all ages have been converging on Bryson City for the ride. At last count, I understood that around 40,000 will ride the train over this six week period.

For the past few years, we have offered a package for folks wanting to ride the train. It has been very successful, but it is also very different from the rest of the year. The folks come for just one night, ride the train, and go home the next morning. They usually don’t eat dinner with us since that conflicts with the times of the train ride, and breakfast is sometimes a buffet (on weekends, we can have up to 100 guests). This is certainly not a normal Hemlock Inn experience, but it is still one of the most joyful times of the year for us. The kids are very young and have an absolute ball on the train and love to tell everyone about it who will listen….and we love to listen.

I think we all need to step back sometime and just watch and listen to the children, especially at Christmas. Their wonderful level of excitement and pure joy is contagious. They don’t care about the economy, or schedules, or politics….they just enjoy the moment and thrill of Christmas. I hope you have that thrill this Christmas as well. Enjoy time with your family, and remember the real joy that comes from knowing the meaning of the season…a Savior is Born…Wow!

Speaking of family, allow me a quick update. Andrew is now fully funded and is working full time with Campus Crusade for Christ on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. Thank all of you who are supporting him. Steven has just one more semester at UT and will graduate in May with a degree in International Business and Marketing. John Thomas will graduate high school in June and has already been accepted at one university and waits on word from another. Lainey’s dad, John Shell, who ran Hemlock Inn from 1969-89, will be 80 on December 17. A big family celebration is scheduled later. Lainey and I count our blessings.

We all hope your Christmas is especially merry. If you need a little help to get into the spirit, watch the children.

– Mort

The Wonder of Christmas

Even though it is still November, our thoughts are turning towards Christmas. The reason is the “Polar Express”.

Several years ago, the local excursion train, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, began to do a holiday train based on the book and movie by the same name. Over time, it has become the most popular event they do. We are told that from the first weekend in November until December 23, over 40,000 happy children and their parents will ride the Polar Express.

The ride starts in Bryson City and goes to the “North Pole”. Along the way, they gleefully sing Christmas carols, read the Polar Express book, and drink hot chocolate. Upon reaching the North Pole, they are greeted by Santa Claus, who boards the train and rides back with them to Byson City, talking with each child and giving them a bell from his sleigh.

The whole excursion lasts an hour and fifteen minutes, but the wonder last much longer than that. We began staying open for the train four years ago and love every minute of the time. The children come back to the inn after their magical ride and are still filled with excitement.

They will tell anyone and everyone about their adventure to the North Pole and that they saw Santa. It lifts the spirits of everyone who listens and watches their joy.

Christmas should be a magical time for all of us…even us grown ups.

We should all take a lesson from the kids back from the North Pole and join in the joy and celebration of the season.

Here at Hemlock Inn, we offer special packages for those wishing to ride the Polar Express. Most of the weekends are already reserved, but there is a little room still available, mostly rooms with one king bed.

_*There is plenty of room on weekdays*_. You can check the train website at www.gsmr.com for the schedule of rides. Check our website for our packages. The inn will be decorated after Thanksgiving with a live 10 foot tree and live garland and wreaths everywhere.

Your kids will love the Polar Express and Hemlock Inn too. Last year, one small girl wrote in our keepsake book ….

“I feel like a first class passenger on the Titanic (before it sank). It is very comfortable and the view is fantastic….love it”

Another wrote

“We’re having a wonderful time here at Hemlock Inn, we’re sharing memories that we will never forget,.. this place rocks…the Polar Express is great, SO GO RIDE IT”.

Call us and make your plans now before it is too late. Come join in the wonder of Christmas!

–Mort

October has come to an end

blog17October has come to an end and for many that is the end of the leaf color season. While the peak has passed, Lainey and I were awed this past weekend as we drove to Knoxville to see our son Steven. The colors were still ablaze in parts of the park. I have attached some photos I took in the park for you to see. We saw gorgeous bright yellow colors in places, wonderful waterfalls in others,. and then complete fog and winter like conditions at the crest of the Smokies at Newfound Gap. The Smokies are a marvel, no matter what time of year.

This has been an interesting year to say the least. The unusual economic conditions made it difficult for many to travel this year, but we were encouraged all year long by our regular guests and new guests alike. How blessed we are to have the friends new and old that support Hemlock Inn. As I sat at the dinner table one night with four couples, we figured between them they had been coming to Hemlock Inn for 135 years. I don’t think many places can boast that kind of loyalty.

We are still open….

We are now starting the Polar Express season. This very popular train starts its magical trips to the North Pole this weekend, November 6.

Most Saturday nights and many Fridays are already sold out, but there is still plenty of room other times. We just had a cancellation for Friday and Saturday December 18-19 in the Red Cottage. I advise you call soon. This is a wonderful treat for the whole family.

Another grand time is Thanksgiving. We still have some room available for that wonderful weekend. Our rates include those great home cooked meals including the Thursday night Thanksgiving feast.

I encourage you to rejoice this season! Things are getting better and no matter our circumstances, we are really blessed.

–Mort

Leaves, Leaves, Leaves…

blog16It is mid October and in the mountains and all the attention is on the changing colors of the leaves. This is a great time of the year, the best time many folks feel. Right now, there are beautiful colors to be found all around. But there are still areas where the color still has a ways to go. So there is color available now and still more color to come. I think we will have some vibrant colors into November.

The air has cooled considerably with the lows at night well into the 30′s while the daytime temps stay in the 50′s and 60′s. In addition, we have had good amounts of rain so the streams and waterfalls are accenting the overall beauty of the fall season. There was even a little bit of snow at Clingman’s Dome last night. Hiking is wonderful and the sightseeing is unmatched.

I feel sorry for folks who can’t witness all four seasons like we do in our mountains. A lady called a while back and wanted to make a reservation for December. She asked “Will the leaves still be pretty?”

When I explained that the color would all be gone by then, she paused and then asked “Well, will the leaves be green again? While I didn’t ask, I assumed she must be from some tropical climate and did not know that after the leaves turned their beautiful fall colors, they died and fell off the tree. Leaves were always on the trees where she lived.

The mountains have four wonderful seasons, none better that fall.

If you still want to enjoy the mountains in the fall, there is still color to be found and we still have a few rooms available, especially the last week of the month and into November. Give us a call.

Gift Certificates

On another note, folks are already gearing up for Christmas. I wanted to remind everyone that we offer Hemlock Inn Gift Certificates. It is the perfect gift for those who love simple pleasures, genuine southern hospitality, and the Great Smokies…not to mention wonderful homecooked meals. Call our inn and we can take care of all the arrangements.

Speaking of Christmas, don’t forget the Polar Express which starts November 6. Tickets are selling fast, so make your plans and give us a call. We can arrange accommodations and train tickets too.

Hope your fall is as wonderful and blessed as here in the Smokies. Come see us!

– Mort

When do the leaf colors reach their peak?

blog14We are accustomed to answering a lot of questions at our inn. The two most often asked are “How do you get up your driveway in the winter?” and ” When will the leaves be at their peak?” The answer to the first question is pretty matter of fact depending on weather conditions.

However the second question has no real answer because there are so many factors that influence the timing of the colors including amount of rainfall, temperatures etc.

The best bet is the middle of October around the second or third week. However, we have seen good color earlier in the month and some brilliant color well into November. It is hard to pinpoint the absolute best time. The only thing we can tell you is that the leafs always change, they will be beautiful.

A local motel a few years ago decided to be the leaf prognosticator. On the sign outside his establishment, he listed the percentage of leaf color up to that point. Early in the month, the sign would read “Leaf color at 10%”. As the month went on, the percentage would increase until it reached 100% at what he thought was absolute peak. Of course, his method was to step outside his door, look at the mountains, and make up a number. Truth be known, that is about as good as any more scientific method.

The colors have started. The dogwoods started a few weeks ago along with some sourwoods. We are beginning to see color change across the valley and all indications are that it is going to be a glorious fall.

It is one of the wonders of nature. I have been in the mountains since 1967 and at Hemlock Inn for since 1988. I am still amazed at the splendor of fall. The colors, coupled with cool temperatures, and clear skies make it breathtaking season. My mother-in-law, Ella Jo Shell, use to refer to October as the “color spectacular show in the world”.

Come enjoy the most beautiful time of the year in the mountains. Some room is still available in October and November. We will have a fire in the fireplace, hot coffee in the morning, good meals, wonderful fellowship, and the most beautiful scenery you could ever imagine. You don’t want to miss it.

– Mort

Are you watching it?

blog11PBS is showing a Ken Burns series on the National Parks. As with all of his work, this is very well done and tells the story of the formation of all the National Parks in our land. Of course, our special interest will be the feature on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Coincidentally, the Smokies are celebrating their 75th Anniversary this year. I encourage you to watch this series if at all possible.

Then, I hope you will take the next step and come visit the park. There is no better time to visit than right now. October is the best month to see the Smokies. The air is cool, the mountains are crisp, and the colors are unimaginably beautiful. I was down in Deep Creek just the other day and took some pictures of Tom’s Branch Falls. It is one of our favorite spots and we never tire of it.

Fall is definitely here. The nights are cool (we had a fire in the fireplace last night and this morning too), the leaves are beginning to turn, a gentle breeze rustles the leaves. We are breaking out our sweaters and sweatshirts. We finished our Apple Chips in September and are now starting our Pumpkin Chips. Our supply is just about gone.

You need to come to the mountains. Our weekends are pretty busy, but there is a little bit of room here and there. There is more room available on weekdays. Don’t forget about early November. Often the colors last into the first or second week.

Coming up is Thanksgiving and Polar Express. Both are very popular. Reserve now. The National Parks are a treasure and I hope you can come enjoy them soon.

– Mort

We can feel a change in the weather in the Smokies

applesWe can feel a change in the weather in the Smokies. Not only have we had a fair amount of rain this fall (especially lately), but the temperatures are cooling off. We are experiencing temps in the 50′s at night and 70′s during the day. Some of the dogwoods are already beginning to show a change in leaf color.

Yes, the fall season is upon us.

There is absolutely no time better in the mountains than Autumn. The mountains become ablaze with color, temperatures are cool and comfortable, we keep a fire going in the fireplace, and there is nothing better than a hot cup of coffee in the early morning as the early morning fog lifts revealing the beautiful colors of fall. A roommate of my sister’s once said the mountains in fall looked like a huge bag of M&Ms with the assortment of red, orange, yellow, green, and brown. I can think of no better example.

Even though we are busier in the fall than most any other time, THERE IS STILL SOME ROOM AVAILABLE. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to come, even at the last minute. We have changes and some cancellations and may have room for you. Often the color last well into early November as well, so that is another option for you if October is not convenient.

The other event of fall here at Hemlock Inn is the making of our Apple and Pumpkin Chips. This special recipe is the only one we don’t divulge. They are the creation of Lorraine Haney, the original owner of the inn. They are served on our tables every night and are very tasty and popular. We make our Apple Chip supply in September and our Pumpkin supply in October. We make enough to serve and sell. We just finished our Apple Chips and are in the process of getting our supply of pumpkins to start the Pumpkin Chips soon.

If you like to plan ahead, we are open for Thanksgiving and still have rooms available. We are already taking reservations for the Polar Express for November and December. I will give more information on that soon. But it is not too early to make your plans. Many nights and train excursions are already filling up.

We always look forward to seeing you. It is going to be a great and colorful fall. Make plans to enjoy it.

– Mort

The Light of Hospitality

blog9From the very beginning, the lantern has been the symbol of innkeeping. Visualize the innkeeper standing outside his inn with the lantern, welcoming weary guests to his establishment. Outside Hemlock Inn, there is a lamppost and lantern near the parking lot and right next to the “New Guests Park Here” sign. It has been our welcome to tired travelers of today.

None of us here know when the lamppost was installed. Maybe it was around when the inn was built in 1952. We found some pictures of it in the 60′s. We think the Haneys, the folks who built the inn and managed it for the first dozen years, may have found it at an auction or antique store. No one really knows the age of it …we just know it is old. Earlier this year, it began to malfunction. The lantern was showing some rust and the post was rotting. We thought maybe it was time to replace the whole assembly…new post and new lantern too.

Charles and Mary K Turkington had scheduled a family reunion at the inn for late June. As it turned out, several of the men in the family, including Will and Tim Turkington and Jack Ewing, loved to do handiwork and asked for a chore to do while they were here. I told them about our plans for the lamppost and they agreed to take on that task. But our plans to install a new lantern abruptly changed once they began to take the old one down. A quick examination revealed it was much older than we expected. First of all, it was very heavy. The top of the lantern was vented and the bottom was designed for a removable plate. It was quickly determined that this was a lantern designed for candles. The glass was very thick and some of the fittings were brass. This was a valuable and old treasure. We decided then and there that we needed to restore the old lantern and Charles Turkington, patriarch of the family, agreed to take on that job.

In Mid August, the Turkingtons returned with the refurbished lantern and it was installed in its original site. As I look at the lantern today, I think of how many guests it has welcomed over our 57 years of operation. I also think of the many the life long friends we have made here and how our lives have been touched by them. We hope our simple inn has touched them as well in some small way.

We often wonder if our inn is getting too old. We know much of the traveling public today want new buildings and modern amenities. Then I look at the lantern and remember that Hemlock Inn is also a valuable treasure offering a break from the stresses that seem to over take so many folks. You simply cannot find many places around any more that offer peace and tranquility in a wonderful natural setting, genuine southern hospitality, and delicious homecooked meals served family style.

Thank you Charles, Will, Jack and Tim. The new, refurbished lamppost and lantern is wonderful and has reminded us of our heritage May our lamppost continue to be the light of hospitality for many more years for folks looking for a special place to rest, relax, and renew.

Come enjoy the peace

– Mort White