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There is nothing like the Great Smoky Mountains!

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Now that spring is upon us, I have had the opportunity to do get out and do a little hiking.   Over the last two weeks, I have been to the far western and far eastern parts of the park.  Last weekend, I hiked the seven mile Twenty Mile Loop.  This is located about 20 minutes west of Fontana Dam.  It was a wonderful trail with early spring trilliums everywhere and one of the most beautiful cascades I have seen.  I didn’t take my camera, but I will return there later this spring to take some pictures when it has fully “greened up”.  Yesterday, I went to the other extreme section of the park to Cataloochee Valley.  I intended to walk another loop trial up Caldwell Fork Trail and around Boogerman Trail.  Unfortunately, the foot bridge at the start of the trail was washed out and the stream was running too full and rapid to ford.  So I spent the next few hours just exploring Cataloochee.  I toured some of the turn of the century homes, walked a few miles up the Rough Fork Trail and Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, and saw a bunch of elk.  It was a great afternoon.

I was not surprised!  I have had the great opportunity to walk many of the trails primarily in the NC section of the park.  All of them are wonderful.  There is something about getting away from whatever consumes your time, and escape for a while in the beauty of the Smokies.  Some of them have breathtaking views, many of them follow captivating creeks, all of them offer a solitude and peace that is hard to find.  As I walk, I find that tensions decrease and stress melts away.

Many of our guests at Hemlock Inn come to experience the joy of hiking in this spectacular paradise.  Hiking not your thing, there are scenic drives that are unequaled anywhere.  The drive through the park on Hwy441 is just one; there is also the Blue Ridge Parkway that starts in Cherokee and the Cherohala Skyway that goes from the Fontana Dam area to Telico Plains, TN.  There is also the popular excursion train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  Not adventurous enough? Try white water rafting, mountain biking, or zip lining.  Like to fish?  There is wonderful flyfishing available everywhere you look.

Too much to do, too little time………..

At Hemlock Inn, we offer one other activity…NOTHING.  Rocking chairs are available to just sit and relax and take in our view; followed by our delicious home cooked meals.  Sit around our lazy susan tables with your family, both old and new friends.  Meet Ashley and her family.  Take in the peace and comfort of old style southern hospitality.

There is nothing like the Great Smoky Mountains…and no place quite like Hemlock Inn.  We open for the new season in just three weeks…April 23.

Hope to see you.

Mort

 

Ashley’s Big Announcement

Last night, our friend, Ashley Hackshaw, announced on her blog, lil blue boo, that she and her family will be moving to Hemlock Inn this summer.  I encourage all of you to read not only this particular blog, but the others she has written over the past several months that led to this decision.  Here is a link:

Lil Blue Boo at The Hemlock Inn

                                          

Our story:

All this transpired over a relatively short period of time.  Last summer, Lainey got an email from our daughter-in-law telling us we needed check out a blog that someone had written about our Hemlock Inn.  We read with fascination about as Ashley recounted her childhood memories of visiting the inn.  Chad told us that Ashley had sent the blog to the inn as well.  Lainey entered a comment introducing herself and Ashley quickly replied.  A connection was born.  A short time later, we were delighted when Ashley called and made reservations to visit the inn with her family in August. 

Ashley tells about some apprehension she was having as she approached the inn.  We were downright nervous because we didn’t want to disappoint her.  I had visited my childhood home several years earlier and found everything so different and small.  But we treated her family as we would any other.  We are who we are.  We want all our guests to enjoy our simple pleasures, genuine southern hospitality, and our homecooked  meals.  But this was special.  Ashley was special.  She was a magnet.  Everyone she met was drawn immediately to her.  Conversations around the table lasted well after dinner was over, she organized games for the kids at night, she would take pictures of everything, and she would write…and write…and write.

When we discovered she was writing a book, we did joke about her coming back to finish it here.  It had happened before. A friend of ours finished his doctorial dissertation here, and Walt Larimore visited here several times as he wrote his trilogy on Bryson City.  But when she left, we never dreamed it would become reality.  At best, we hoped she would write another blog about her visit to the inn…hopefully complimentary.

Over the next few months, we kept in touch and the possibility that she might actually come to the inn became more of a reality.  She told us in late December they had made the decision to move.  It has been a hard secret to keep since then.

So how will this work?  I joked that she will be our “writer in residence”, but that is not far off the truth.  We want her to finish her book, about which she can share with you later.  But, she will also continue to write her highly successful blog..lil blue boo.  Again, please link to this site and read not only about her announcement and other blogs about Hemlock Inn, but also more about Ashley, her father’s death, and her battle with cancer.  It is fascinating story.  Her new blogs will tell a different story.  One about living at Hemlock Inn and in Bryson City.  She will definitely immerse herself our operation and share her experiences with her 1 million plus readers

Now, let’s not forget about two other very important people.  Ashley’s husband is Brett and he is a remarkable person as well. Like his wife, he is a graduate from Wake Forest and a former investment banker.  He is also successful businessman with his own company.  He is an avid outdoorsman and mountain biker, but he will also be of so much help as we deal with the challenges of a 60 year old facility.

Then there is the indomitable Boo, age 7 and aspiring blogger.  I suggested to Ashley that we make her the manager of “play” at Hemlock Inn.  Boo always has something special to share with her booisms and unique perspective on life in general.  She will keep us all on our toes, laughing all the way.

We are so excited to welcome Ashley, Brett, and Boo.  We can’t wait for them to get here. And we look forward to sharing them with you.  It is going to be a special year at Hemlock Inn.

Never Say Never

When Lainey and I were young newlyweds,  we were having dinner with a group of friends.  One of the couples starting sharing about how their child had scratched up the walls in their hallway riding his tricycle.  Lainey and I gave each other “the l0ok” as if to say “Why would they let their child ride a tricycle in the house?” On our ride home, we laughed and agreed…no child of ours would ever be allowed to ride in our house.  Well, you know where this is going.  Not only did our children ride their bikes in the house, they played baseball, breaking a window, practiced their swing, breaking  a ceiling fan, as well as a few other adventures.  Never say never!

Yesterday, I bought an IPhone!  I have to admit this to everyone, because anyone who knows me well, knows that I have often adamantly said I did not want an IPhone and would not use an IPhone.  I believed they were too large to comfortably carry in my pocket (don’t like much in my pockets),  did not feel I would use all or even most of the features (not a web surfer much)and did not want to be drawn into the temptation of concentrating on my phone more than my surroundings.  But,  my beloved flip phone was having issues.  The keys did not work well and texting was a constant lesson in patience.  I knew the time had come to retire it and I fully planned to get another flip phone….But there was this promotion, and I could get this IPhone cheaper and because of our family plan the monthly charge was not much…So I bit the bullet and took the plunge into the 20th century (or is it now the 21st).

Now, just because I got an IPhone, don’t expect me to start tweeting or instagraming, or whatever.  I will never do that…..then again……

I announce this openly because after all my public objections I have made over the years, I fully expect to receive some grief and ribbing.  Go ahead, I deserve it.  Send all your comments to me….I’ll read them on my new phone.

Mort

 

2014 – A Year of Milestones

After the end of our 2013 season, Lainey and I took a little while off to recuperate from another long year.  Now we are back, getting ready for 40 guests coming for President’s Day/Valentine’s Day this weekend. We are also thinking about 2014, our 26th season as the Innkeepers of Hemlock Inn.

2014 is going to be a year of milestones, both personally and for the inn.

First, our family will experience a number of events that are noteworthy: In February, Lainey and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary and I will officially become a senior citizen when I turn 65.  This is retirement age for some, but I plan to be at Hemlock Inn many more years, maybe just moving a bit slower.  In May, we will celebrate two graduations.  Steven, our middle son will graduate with a MDiv from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. and John Thomas, our youngest will earn his BA in History from the University of Tennessee. The trick is they graduate the same weekend, but Lainey has a plan for us to be at both.  In July, Andrew, our oldest, and his wife Jeanette, will return to the states after a year in East Asia.  Then in September, John Thomas will marry Alli Cochran, right here at the inn.  We will have more to report later.

Hemlock Inn will also have significant events throughout the year.  We start our season with our annual Wildflower Walks and Talks with Jim and Eleanor Burbank.  This is be April 28-May 10 and is always a highlight of our spring season.  In late May, we will be the site of the first of four weddings scheduled this year.  Other weddings are scheduled for June, September, and early October.  In August, the Francis Asbury Society will meet here for the 32nd consecutive year.  The second week of September will be the time of our “Innkeeper Hiking Week”  when I will lead all comers on some of my favorite hikes in the national park.  October will be beautiful as always, Thanksgiving Weekend is a popular time and is highlighted by our Thanksgiving feast.  November and December is known for the Polar Express Train Excursion packages which include a stay at the inn and a ride on the magical train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad to the North Pole.

We will also host a number of family reunions and a few church retreats as well.  I’m sure there will be more to report, so keep in touch.

2014 is going to be a great year and we hope you can come to share some time with us.

Thanks

Mort

 

Where’s the Love…..

It’s Christmas…when we celebrate peace on earth, good will towards men. It is a time of joy, and love.  But recent events have me wondering “Where is the Love?”.

I normally do not like, or think it is wise, to comment on news events, but I am baffled by two recent stories.  You have seen them…

  First a 6 year old was suspended from school because he kissed his classmate on the cheek.  His parents were told it would go his record as sexual harassment.   Then a few days later, a 17 year old high school senior was suspended FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR  because he gave his teacher a hug.

Admittedly, I may not know the whole background on either story and  no one should ever tolerate any form of sexual harassment;  but does this seem a bit extreme?

Some guests have told us about a new Hallmark movie entitled “Let it Snow”.  It is a warm story about a family owned ski lodge that is being sold to a large conglomerate.  The inn has been run by a family for a long time and has a large number of returning guests each year (sound familiar?).  The guests  have become like family as they share meals together and participate in many activities  with other guests and staff.    It is real homey and our guests tell us it reminds them of Hemlock Inn.

Predictably, the new owners don’t quite know what to think of this folksy feel and…well watch the movie.

All of this ties together in this way.  We strive to be the inn from the movie…family oriented, and filled with joy and happiness.  We want to know our guests and help them have the best vacation possible.  We try to build a personal relationship with them.  We have guests that have been visiting our inn for generations.  They are not like family…they are family.  We rejoice with them in good times, cry with them during sad times.  AND when we greet them it is most likely not with a handshake, but with a hug.  New guests quickly become friends as well and often depart with a hug as well.

We all agree that Christmas should not be the only time we “exhibit good will towards men”.  We believe, like many of you, that it joy, peace, and love should flow everyday.  We invite you to come visit us.  We will do our best to make you feel welcomed and loved.  And if you don’t mind, you might even get a hug.

Blessings to all of you this special season.

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express

We are close to one of our favorite times of the year!  We love the fall and all its color and cool days.  We love seeing so many of our regular guests who come that time of the year.  But I am also talking about the Polar Express.

For the past 6-7 years, we have stayed open through December specifically for this wonderful event.  Based on the popular movie and book of the same name, the Polar Express is an exceptional experience for families with younger children.    The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad begins making runs to the North Pole on the second weekend of November that continue through and past Christmas.  The ride on the real authentic train lasts about and hour and fifteen minutes.  On the ride out to the North Pole, everyone sings Christmas carols, drinks hot chocolate, and reads the Polar Express story.  They arrive at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting for them.  He boards the train and rides back with them, visiting with every child and giving them a bell from his sleigh.

This has become extraordinarily popular and it sells out every year.  We have been fortunate to be a part of this by offering packages that include room, meals and train tickets.  We decorate the inn with live Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths, and candles.  It is a festive time for everyone.  What we love the most is the sheer joy we see in the children and the fun their families have together experiencing this adventure.

If you have never done this before, I encourage you to bring your family.  It is a magical time.  If you have done this, you know how popular it is and how important it is to make your reservations NOW!    Some of the most popular times and train cars are already beginning to fill up.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  It is important to act now to get the reservations you want.  Call us at (828) 488-2885 and we can help.  There are a number of decisions to make, so we cannot do this online.

You will not regret coming to the mountains to ride the Polar Express.  Call soon!  Thanks

Blue Zones

Have you heard about “Blue Zones”?  This is new to me but I recently saw a report and was curious so I did a little checking.  Blue Zones  refer to a few areas of the world where folks have longer life expectancy than most.  Not surprisingly, their extended life is due to their unique lifestyle and environment.  Researcher discovered there are  nine common denominators among the people living in these Blue Zones.  They are:

1 They are active not sedentary.  They are not necessarily  exercise buffs, but they get up and simply move around regularly.  I imagine that includes a lot of walking etc

2 They have a purpose in life.  They know why they wake in the morning

3 They have routines that shed stress.  This can be prayer, mediation, naps etc but they do something regularly to get away from whatever gives them stress.

4 They eat sensibly.  Basically they eat what they need but don’t overeat.

5 Their diet is mostly plant based

6 They drink wine, but just moderately and never excessively.  Interestedly, one of the Blue Zones is Loma Linda, CA, the home of Seventh Day Adventist and they drink no alcohol at all

7 They belong to a faith based community and attend services regularly

8 They put their family first.  They commit to a life partner and their children.  Often their family lives close by.

9 They are social. They connect with others and are a part of a personal social network.  PLEASE NOTE: THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE SOCIAL NETWORKING SUCH AS FACEBOOK ETC.

I think in many ways, this describes the type of guests we attract to  Hemlock Inn.  They come  to get out into the Smokies and enjoy all its wonders, whether it is hiking or rafting etc.  They visit  to get rid of their stressful situations. They are largely people who are faith based, family first, and who know their purpose in life.  Our whole setting epitomizes social interaction where guests eat and share with each other on a daily basis… face to face around the lazy susan tables and on our porches.

OK OK OK.  We fail on the sensible eating, but we do offer a variety of food including fruits and vegetables and and and…..ok we just fail on sensible eating.  But no place is perfect.

Some may think the values and lifestyle we follow here  are old fashioned and archaic.  Sounds to me they are the values and lifestyles people need and seek.  Personally, I like it just fine.  I have found my Blue Zone

If you are looking for such a get away, come visit us. We are waiting for you!

Mort

 

 

 

Memories

I am certainly no expert, but I imagine we all have childhood memories that brings a smile.  I remember growing up in Charleston, SC, living on Winston Street,  playing backyard baseball with Sammy King and of my friendship with Doug Cone who could play the violin like a virtuoso.  (I tried to emulate him and failed miserably)  I remember fishing off the pier in the Atlantic with my Dad on the coast of NC at Caswell Baptist Retreat Center.  I remember accidentally pushing my sister down the steps at home one day (I hope she doesn’t remember, but I thinks she still holds a grudge), trying to keep up with my brother athletically ( another failure), and thinking my oldest sister was the smartest girl anywhere.

We are in the memory business here at Hemlock Inn.  I don’t think I realized this when I first came here 26 years ago.  I was too busy “learning the ropes” from John Shell and trying to figure out where all the light switches and hot water heaters were located.  But after a while, I started to observe the families visiting us.  The kids were giggling with glee as they ran around the front yard, playing tag or  whiffleball.  I saw them squeal with delight as they slid down our embankment on sleds made of cardboard or even when they rolled the shuffleboard discs down the same embankment into the field below, not  to be found until we cut the grass.  And I observed the parents sitting on the porches laughing with equal glee as their children relished the pure joy of simple fun.  More often than not, they didn’t sit long and were soon up playing with their children and even taking a cardboard ride down the embankment themselves.  No one needed TV or internet access or even their cell phones.  They had each other and were having the times of their lives.  They were building memories.

This still happens.  We have had over 10 family reunions of various sizes visit over the past month.  Each has been accentuated with carefree fun, abundant laughter, and yes, an occasional cardboard ride.

Years ago, we put a blank  “memory book” in our sunroom for our 50th Anniversary and encouraged our guests to share their favorite Hemlock memory. Many wrote of their wonderful visits and all of them were heartwarming. But one comment has stuck with me more than the others. It was from a 12 year old girl who simply wrote in her comments “…my dad finally had time to play a game with me.” She didn’t want things, she wanted time.

All this came to mind as I read a great blog written by one of our guests of many years ago.  Ashley Hackshaw writes a blog entitled “Little Blue Boo” and recently wrote  about her childhood visits to Hemlock Inn.  It is a beautiful and touching  expression of her childhood memories here. I encourage you to click on the link below and read it.

Years from now, when I reflect on my time at Hemlock Inn, I don’t think I will remember the leaky roofs, or stopped up drain lines.  I think I will remember the  delight on children’s faces and the joy they experienced being and playing with their families.  I will certainly remember my own three boys and their adventures here…and I will smile!

Hope you will come soon and start your own memory

Please read Ashley’s blog

http://www.lilblueboo.com/2013/07/the-hemlock-inn.html

 

 

Attitude Adjustment

Every now and then, we all need an attitude adjustment and I needed one badly this  week.  This economy thing is just beginning to get the best of me.  I hoped this year would be the start of a slow recovery for businesses like ours.  The election year is over, stock market is climbing, employment improving, and consumer confidence is up.  But our occupancy remains stagnant.  So I have been getting  frustrated trying to determine what we can possibly do the get folks back to the inn.

Lainey picked up on this and showed me the latest post on our Trip Advisor review page.  Since it was publicly posted, I don’t think the author will mind if I share it with you.  It was titled:

An Honest RETREAT From Life

“With all that life hands you…the joys of births and unions, the sorrows of death and loss, add in illness and disease and you have an overwhelming view of every day life. Everyone has their boulder to bear in an uphill struggle to reach the top, but at least there is ONE place and GOOD people I can visit to forget about these woes and sorrows.

Just five minutes to sit and rock on the Hemlock Inn’s porch overlooking the mountains and the beautiful wildlife below gives me a glorious moment to relax and regroup my mind and body. Mort and Lainey have always been there for me whenever I’m in need. I can’t say enough good things about the Hemlock Inn. It is a true retreat from your life, it gives you the opportunity to slow down and only focus on where you are in the present. All I have left to say is, when you stay at Hemlock Inn just remember it’s all about finding yourself and your loved ones; get closer together.”

This is exactly what we hope and strive for Hemlock Inn to be.  Times are admittedly tough and it is easy to get discouraged.  But comments like these keep us going.

Thanks for the adjustment.

 

The Big Wedding – Behind the Scenes

Last week, I wrote a bit about Steven and Sarah’s big wedding June 1 here at the inn.  In addition to the normal planning and hosting of this big event, we also encountered a few non planned events leading up to the wedding. Thought you might be interested in them

-January 1 -The weather – As most of you know who live in the east and southeast, this has been a very wet year.  To date, Bryson City  is almost 20″ above normal in rainfall.  Because this was to be an outdoor wedding and reception, we were paying special attention to the weather and were glued to the Weather Channel looking at long range forecasts. It had not escaped our attention that it has rained every weekend since the beginning of the year with the exception of Memorial Day weekend.  What a helpless feeling.  Many Prayers were being said.

-May 2 - The Cooks – When the wedding was first planned, we had a wonderful cook on staff that we loved and trusted. She was known for her prime rib which we normally don’t serve but Sarah and Steven wanted.  We all met with her last year, planned the menus,and made all the arrangements for both the  rehearsal dinner  and large buffet wedding dinner.  All the planning and meals were based on the promises and availability of this cook.  Then, on May 2, she suddenly and unexpectedly quit,  for reasons we still don’t quite understand.

-May 10- Graduation – Since our winter can be unpredictable, the date for our local high school graduation is not set until spring.  So in May, they finally announced graduation would be, you guessed it, Saturday morning, June 1. ..the date of the wedding.  At the time, we had four high school students working for us in our dining room…all seniors…all graduating.

-May 1 – The Bear – Early in May, we were surprised to see a large black bear casually walk through our woods towards our garbage can area.  This has happened before and is always intriguing. We took lots of pictures and began to haul off our leftovers every night after the meal hoping to discourage the bear from returning.  However, that did not deter the bear.  He (we think it’s a male) continued to come every evening, sometimes twice an evening, smelling whatever the cooks were preparing and looking for leftovers.  Interestingly, he would come about 4:00pm, the same time the wedding ceremony was to commence just a relatively short distance away. No matter what we tried, we could not keep it away.

-May 20 – The Snakebite  – Less than two weeks before the wedding, we were outside working when we noticed Scruffy, our small dog, walk up limping on three legs.  I checked her out thinking she got something caught in her paw.  I couldn’t find anything wrong  and she was still in obvious pain, so I took her to the vet and found she had been snake bit.  Multiple subsequent trips to the vet were necessary, another distraction we did not need.

-June 1 – The Snake – The morning of the wedding day, with a full house of guests, Andrew and John Thomas pointed out a small copperhead just outside our house door.  With bravery above and beyond normal men, the brothers and I were able to quietly eliminate the snake without disrupting any of the activities.

The surprises just kept coming… But there was a happy ending

The Weather – The weather Friday and Saturday was perfect; cloudy with a slight breeze.  It was not hot and did not rain a drop, UNTIL after Steven and Sarah were long gone and we had cleared the front yard of all the tables and chairs.  Then it rained all night Saturday and into Sunday.  Well, prayers do work.

The Cooks – We had two of our former cooks, Donna and Wally, and two brand new cooks, Starr and Jay,  and Maggie, Chad’s wife, do a marvelous job preparing our wonderful meals.  They all pitched in working  long hours and without complaint and prepared all the outstanding meals.  We also had a little help from The Well House in Dillsboro, which prepared our Prime Rib.  We cannot thank them enough.

Graduation -Well we couldn’t change graduation, but we did call in help from our friends and former employees.  People like Tim and Sandy and extra work from Christine, Heather, and Loretta plus the hard work of Chad, Maggie, and Gail made sure everything was done just right.  Thanks to all.

The Bear - Our friendly bear just disappeared and did not show its face the entire week of the wedding.  But it did return the week after the wedding and the adventure continues.

The Snakebite - Scruffy has almost completely recovered. She has a shaven leg where she was treated and still favors it some, but is slowly getting back to normal with, we hope,  a little more appreciation for where she ventures into the woods.

The Snake – There have been no more snake spottings anywhere…thankfully

 

The result was a perfect weekend, a perfect wedding, and a  wonderful time…..but the adventures getting there will long be remembered