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Cherish Every Memory…Love Every Moment

 

This past weekend, our middle son, Steven, and his bride Sarah, were married at the inn.  It was a wonderful ceremony on our front lawn overlooking the beautiful Smoky Mountains.  The spot was then dramatically transformed into an outdoor dining area as our 150 guests were able to enjoy a great buffet dinner still surrounded by our magical mountains. It was perfect in so many ways; a time to cherish and love.  We invite you to check our website and Facebook pages for pictures.

One of the highlights of the weekend was all the family and friends that attended.  We were so fortunate that so many took the time out of their busy schedules to be with Steven and Sarah on their most important day.  It meant so much to them to have everyone here.

I don’t think we can ever underestimate the importance of the time we spend with those closest to us.  Family members, often separated by great distances, or dear friends, missing from our lives for too long, are often reunited on our front porch with hugs, kisses, and often tears.  This followed by long conversations to catch up with each other’s lives around our lazy susan tables.  Before their time together is over, an old bond has been renewed.  With promises to never go as long without seeing each other again, the short time  is over and everyone goes their separate ways again.

Now if we can only keep those promises to reunite soon. I saw a sign for sale in a store yesterday that simply read “Cherish every memory, Love every moment”.  That is a simple yet profound statement.   Time together with family and friends should never be taken for granted.  Instead we should savor each minute and imbed them into our memory.  But it is also important that we get together as often as possible.  Time is a limited commodity, perhaps we should begin to use more of it to be with those we love the most.

Part of the philosophy of Hemlock Inn is to provide a place that allows that to happen.  We were so pleased Sarah and Steven gave us the opportunity to be that place for them.   We were honored they chose us.  We invite you to choose us as well.  Come, cherish and love!

 

Andy Griffith and Me

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am a huge Andy Griffith fan; more precisely I am a fan of the Andy Griffith show. I grew up watching it, still follow the reruns and usually can identify the episode after only watching a few minutes. The stories of Mayberry, of simpler times, and southern grace just always made me smile, not to mention the memorable characters like Barney, Otis, Floyd, Earnest T, Briscoe Darling and so many more. Like countless others, I was saddened to learn of Andy’s passing this week.

Many folks think we live in a version of Mayberry here in Bryson City. We are a small town that will never get very big because of land constraints. We had a local barber that knew everyone and gave everyone the same haircut (whitewalls and all) no matter what style you requested. We have the local gas station where everyone likes to hang out (for many years including the mayor) sharing news and gossip. We even had a local businessman capture a bank robber on Main Street a few years back (“Citizens arrest; citizens arrest” as Gomer would say). So as not to offend anyone, I won’t comment on the possibility of a Barney Fife in the Police Department.

But it is comfortable in our little town, where most folks know each other and our simple pleasures include going to the ice cream shop, attending Little League games, and having town festivals with craft booths, local music, and lots of food (our Freedom Fest complete with fireworks was this past week). We like the slow pace, not much traffic, and peaceful setting.

I read an article by Ted Anthony entitled “Andy Griffith evoked, stylized small town America”. He quotes a 24 year women who said “It’s kind of like ‘Oh this is how it used to be’ and ‘Why isn’t it this way still?’ Things were so much simpler back then’. His article concludes sadly this way:

“Americans loved, and still love, the notion of the small town as a manageable, nonthreatening, friendly, finite community-an idea all but upended in the 21st century, where the truly isolated town is, for all practical purposes, no more. The black and white world that Andy Griffith shaped so masterfully is there for our perusal from a distance, but it is not coming back-either on television or anywhere else”.

I hope he is wrong. We are seeing trends of folks leaving the rural environment and moving back to urban settings where there are more jobs and opportunities. But I still believe there is a place for the small town and more importantly the small town feeling. For if we loose that feeling, we have really lost the essence of Americana.

For many years now, we have be discussing the future of Hemlock Inn debating how much change we need to make to be attractive to the newer younger traveler. It is a compelling discussion, because there are things that do need to change, but we never want to mess with the underlying character of the inn. This includes a quiet peaceful setting, simple pleasures such as hot coffee around a fireplace and homecooked family meals preceded by a blessing. We believe in family vacations, couple get aways, and a wholesome place where everyone feels comfortable and at ease. We want to embrace many of the values Andy Griffith evoked in mythical Mayberry. We still think that many folks are looking for such a place…maybe even you.

Rest in peace Andy and long live the spirit of Mayberry found in communities like Bryson City and at Hemlock Inn.

– Mort

Personal Retreat

I should have said more about my nephew and his family that moved here last summer to help Lainey and I here at the inn. Some of you have already met Chad Gilbert and his wife, Maggie, and their two young sons, Seamus and Declan. They have already been such a big help.

Recently, they volunteered to take on the task of coordinating our “social media” which includes Facebook, Trip Advisor, and internet (we are not into tweeting yet thank goodness). If you know me very well, you know that is not my strength. I love sitting and talking with our guests, but don’t so much enjoy sitting at the computer doing daily Facebook posts, keeping up with Trip Advisor comments, and keeping our internet pages fresh and current. They have already been successful in raising our Trip Advisor ranking. I will still be writing this blog and making occasional Facebook posts. I can’t keep my hands off it completely.

“Social Networking” is very popular and has become a necessity in today’s business world. It is a way many folks prefer to communicate both professionally and personally. It is fast and constant and we will use it as much as we can to let as many folks as possible learn about and keep up with Hemlock Inn. When they get here though, we will do our best to get them to slow down, turn off, and relax.

We live in a fast paced world and it is not going to change. That is why I am convinced more than ever that we need places like Hemlock Inn. I once asked my sons what one word best defined the inn. Without a blink, one of them said “retreat”. He is right. The very meaning of the word is a place where folks can go to experience peace and quiet and a change of pace from whatever gives them stress. So one phrase we are beginning to use more and more is that we are a place for your “personal retreat”. Up here, our guests enjoy the peaceful setting of the mountains, wonderful company of friends around lazy susan tables full of genuine homecooked southern meals, and simple pleasures such as a steaming cup of coffee each morning while sitting around a roaring fire. If you can stay just a few days, you will feel the stress melt from your body.

In preparation for our new season, Lainey and I went off for a few days this past week. It was a place we go often and is our place of peace and relaxation. I took a lot of work to do and two books. I read the two books and did nothing else. I came back ready to face the new season. You need that too. Let us help you find your peace…and be your “personal retreat”.

Hemlock Inn will open for our 60th year on April 16. Hope to see you this year….

– Mort

Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Weddings

blog52February has always been a special month in our household. In addition to the usual Valentines and Presidents Days hoilidays, Lainey and I also observe our anniversary and my birthday. We were married February 12th (Lincoln’s Birthday) and celebrate our “Anniversitine,” commemorating both our anniversary and Valentine’s Day into one event. My birthday then occurs just a week later on February 22 (George Washington’s birthday). We are partied out by the time the month ends. But, now we have one more time of celebration to add to the list…..

Andrew, our oldest son, was married this past weekend on Saturday, February 18 in Durham, NC. He married the beautiful Jeanette Howell, whom he has known and worked with for several years. It was a beautiful ceremony and fun time all weekend. We love Jeanette and know she is just the right person for Andrew. We couldn’t be happier for them. So we will joyfully add their anniversary as part of our February celebration. See some pictures of the happy couple. We have more posted on Facebook.

Oh wait, I just remembered that we have two nieces with birthdays on February 2, another niece and nephew with February 14th , Roberta Shell, Lainey’s father’s wife’s on February 8, and Maggie Gilbert, Chad’s wife’s on February 28……..

Good Grief…Let’s just celebrate all month long!

–Mort

New Year’s Resolutions and Winter Views

I am not very good at making New Year’s Resolutions, and worse at keeping them, but I try to make a few every year with varying degrees of success. I won’t bother to reveal what’s on my list this year except for one item. I resolved to get out more and hike the great trails in our area. I have been so consumed with running Hemlock Inn that I have let it run me. I live in one of the most beautiful areas and don’t take advantage of its majesty. In addition, last year we began an “Innkeepers Hiking Week” in September. It was so much fun that we are going to do it again this September and even start a weekly “Innkeeper Hike” this year. I am committing myself to lead a hike one day every week.

So I thought it was necessary that I start now and try to hike some trails. Surprisingly, I have been pretty successful so far and I have enjoyed it more than I ever dreamed. I started with some of the trails I already knew, but have lately begun to hike the areas I have only heard our guests speak of. One thing I have learned is that I should have started this years ago.

Early in the winter, I went up on the mile long trail here on our property. Now, I have lived here for 23 years, but I am still amazed at the simple yet glorious mountain views all around us. This is more evident in the winter. I walked up our trail to the ridge and just stopped and gazed in wonder. All the leaves were off the trees and everywhere I looked, there was a spectacular view of the mountain ranges visible only in the winter. It was just before dusk and I could see the early signs of sunset to my west with brilliant red and orange skies. I would turn to the east and see the glows of purple as the shadows crept across the range. I literally had a mountain view all along the trail except when it took me into the thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron.

How sad that sometimes we fail to see what is beautiful right where we live. I try not to take it for granted. . I will be leading weekly hikes all year and daily hikes during “Innkeeper Hike” week in September. I want to see more and I want to share it with you.

If you are looking for a short get away and want to see the wonderful winter views, remember that we are open President’s Day Weekend, February 17-19. Hope to see you soon!

–Mort

Ringing in the New

It has been a while since I have written. We have been very fortunate to have a busy fall and holiday season. We loved seeing many of our regular guests in the beautiful month of October while November and December have been filled with wonderful families in town to ride the Polar Express. 2011 was our best Polar season yet. Thanks to all of you who came and made 2011 a good year for us.

Our family was home for the holidays. Andrew brought his fiance Jeanette Howell (they will be getting married in February in Durham), Steven brought his girlfriend, Sara Loiacono, and John Thomas was home as well. It was a wonderfully full household and we had a great time.

We are now looking forward 2012, hoping, wishing, and praying that it will be an improvement for many of those who have been so severely affected by the economic turmoil of the last few years. I hope your families are well and that you have great plans for the new year that include a trip to Hemlock Inn.

This is another milestone year for us…..2012 is the 60th Anniversary of Hemlock Inn. Seth and Lorraine Haynie opened the inn on July 4, 1952. Raymond and Georgia Johnson bought the inn from the Haynies in 1964 and my inlaws ,John and Ella Shell, from the Johnsons in 1968. Lainey and I have been here since 1988. We have just completed our 23rd year as innkeepers. We are thankful to now have Chad Gilbert, our nephew, here helping us now.

We will be having some special $60 per person per night rates available throughout the year staring with two holiday weekends this winter. We will be open January 13-15 for Martin Luther King holiday and February 17-19 for Presidents Day weekend and will offer the $60 per person rate both weekends. There is room still available for both weekends! Look for this and other specials throughout this special year.

Another important event for us this year will be the reprinting of the Hemlock Inn cookbook, “Recipes from our Front Porch”. The cookbook will be updated, recipes and photos added, as well as with lots of interesting sidebars on the history of the inn and of the various recipes. Much more on this later

Let’s all make 2012 a year of celebration…giving thanks for our families and friends, for the freedoms we share, for the opportunities we have been given, even for 60 years of operation.

We hope you will celebrate with us.

Hemlock Inn Folks

We just finished our biggest season of the year. Each fall, we enjoy seeing so many of our regular friends as well as a good number of new guests who have come to the mountains to see the beautiful fall colors. The colors this year were exceptionally brilliant. They started earlier than usual and lasted throughout all of October. In fact there is still some nice color around. We had a good number of guests all month and enjoyed each one of them.

One of the comments I hear regularly and noticed more that usual during October was “You have the nicest people come here”. We have known that for years and we agree. As much as I love to think that our guests come for my pleasing personality, they really come for the view, the food, and the other guests. In truth, we realize that our guests are our biggest asset. Those who really fit in we tend to call “Hemlock Inn Folks”. They love the inn, love the peaceful atmosphere of our setting, and love being with other people.

How can you identify them? It’s pretty easy. They are usually soft spoken, kind, gentle people who love to share stories of their families and events in their lives. They enjoy simple pleasures like a hot cup of coffee, a roaring fire, family style meals, nature’s beauty, and good conversation. We see them sitting around the fire before breakfast solving the world’s problems, sharing a laugh around the tables at mealtime, and sitting on the porch watching the sunset. They enjoy life and their friends. We are so glad they are our friends as well.

You know Hemlock Inn Folks. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Thanks. We can’t wait til your next visit.

–Mort

PS…. Be sure to check out our winter specials celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the inn….$60 per person per night. The week after Christmas, MLK weekend in January, and Presidents Day weekend (formally known as Mort’s Birthday) in February

Blessed!

Please forgive this very personal blog. And I apologize if my experiences do not match occasions in your life and bring up unpleasant memories for you. I just feel I need to share some events in my life that can be summarized in one word … “Blessed”.

As most of you know, I have three boys who are just great young men. Andrew works for Cru (formally Campus Crusade for Christ) on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. Steven is in his second year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. John Thomas is in his second year at the University of Tennessee.

We live in an idyllic setting, running Hemlock Inn in the beautiful mountains of the Great Smokies. All three boys grew up working here. It can be challenging sometimes helping with the family business, working for Dad, and being on call all the time. But they handled it fine.

But we have had our share of challenges too. John Thomas was diagnosed with Patella Malalignment in the 8 th grade, tore up both knees, had surgery on both, and had to give up sports at a young age. In his senior year of high school, Steven was driving to school one morning when a sudden cold snap froze the roads. His car slid off the road, went over a 50 foot embankment, hit a tree while flying through the air, and landed upright just shy of the Tuckaseegie River. He was able to walk away from the accident. Last Thursday, Andrew called at 12:30am to report that he was standing in the parking lot watching his apartment go up in flames. He escaped with very little as the rapidly moving blaze consumed his third floor apartment.

As I have revisited those events and others in my life, I couldn’t help thinking how I have been blessed. I shouldn’t waste my time concentrating on the “what ifs”. John Thomas can walk; Steven and Andrew both survived very scary and potentially dangerous situations.

Times are difficult right now for many folks. Unemployment remains high. Businesses are closing at an alarming rate while others are struggling just to survive. To some extent, Hemlock Inn is in that last category. But it is important for me to remember that the blessings I have received far exceed the hardships I have experienced. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not always remember that. I need to focus more on being thankful and counting my blessings. But I also realize that there is more to it than that. I am also compelled to pass my blessings to others. If I allow myself to concentrate only on the blessings I have received, I am selfish. Many around me need to receive my blessing through simple acts of kindness, generosity, compassion, concern….giving. That is where Hemlock Inn has been so instrumental. It is a tool where we can touch other people’s lives and be a part of their good times as well as the hard times. I hope and pray that I will always take the time and opportunity given to me to pass blessings not only to my family, but also our guests, our staff, and others.

I am blessed and so are you. I just hope I can be a blessing to others…..

–Mort

A Great Way to Clear and Energize Your Mind

blog50When I am flustered and frustrated, I am not always the best person to be around. I can be moody and sometimes downright grouchy. When that happens, Lainey always knows what to say…”Mort, take a hike”. Literally…She is not giving up on me, just sending me to woods to walk. She knows that when I do, I think more clearly.

That reality was validated recently by a study published in Proceedings, an online medical journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Among other things, it suggests that regular exercise like walking or hiking can improve the brain’s memory function and perhaps even lessen the risk of dementia. Another study from the University of Rochester noted a 20% increase in energy for people who spent a minimum of 20 minutes outdoors as opposed to individuals who exercised indoors.

I know getting out and walking works for me. First, it just calms me down. I blend in with the peaceful setting and enjoy the quiet. Then an interesting thing happens, my mind kicks into gear. My thought process clarifies and I have a better perspective on the tasks and challenges I am facing. I am able to mentally compose letters, plan activities and organize my thoughts.

It happened to me yesterday as I hiked the Loop Trail at Deep Creek. It is so close by that I should do it more often. I walked up Deep Creek trail following the creek, listening to it tumble over the rocks. I could hear the birds singing and even spotted a wild turkey in the brush. As I started up Sunkota Ridge, everything changed. The roar of the creek melted away, the breeze died down and suddenly I was in the most still setting I could remember in a long time. There was not a leaf moving, not a bird fluttering or squirrel scampering anywhere. It was the most peaceful, quiet surrounding imaginable. I was not thinking about anything but the wonder at the beauty of the woods and the stillness all around me. As I topped Sunkota Ridge and started back down, I first heard and then saw the first evidence of a small spring beginning to make its way down to Indian Creek. Some Rhododendron bushes began to rustle and the forest began to come back to life. Shortly, I could hear the roar of Indian Creek heading down to Indian Creek Falls. It was an auditory delight.

When I reached Indian Creek Falls, I was just a mile from the trailhead and my thinking was energized. By the time I was back at the car, I had mentally composed some correspondence I needed to do but had been putting off. That evening it was on paper…completed.

I will be leading hikes the week of September 12. Every morning we will be going out to some of my favorite trails, experiencing some beautiful scenery, having some wonderful conversation, and clearing our minds. Come join us.

– Mort

The Disappearance of Rural America

Did you read the recent article about the disappearance of rural America? It seems that only 16% of the nation’s population now lives in a rural setting… the lowest percentage ever. By contrast, there is a growing number of “megalopolises”. In fact, the boundary lines between many cities is becoming more and more blurred. Moderate size metro areas are blending together to form larger and larger megapolitan areas.

The article went on to point out the many advantages folks see in larger communities from economic opportunities to mass transit systems, to the many conveniences larger cities offer. Anything you want or need can be found just a short distance from home. I remember years ago, when Bryson City finally got a McDonald’s (we still have only one small one). A guest asked how long it would take us to drive to it from the inn. After we told him it would take about 10 minutes, he told us he had 5 within 5 minutes of his home.

But with all its advantages, there is a also a downside to metropolitan living as well. Lainey had a birthday last week and wanted a manicure and pedicure. I offered to drop her by the nail salon while I ran some errands. The nail salon was busier than usual and I ended up having to wait for her for a while. After reading all the People magazines they had (one) and passing on Women’s Wear Daily, I struck up a conversation with another husband. He was visiting the area and when I asked where he was from, he named a North Carolina city which will remain nameless. Then the fun began. He proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with the city from traffic to crime to schools. If that was not bad enough, a lady, waiting her turn to have her nails done, joined in conversation saying “You think you’ve got it bad, I live in ……..”(another unnamed city in a bordernig state). For the next few minutes, these two adults argued over who lived in the worst city while I sat listening, amazed at what I was witnessing.

blog48Our mountain community does not qualify in any way shape or form as a metro area. We have about 15,000 year round residents. 87% of the land in our county is owned by the government and is very rural…including much of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Nantahala National Forest land, TVA (Lake Fontana is part of the TVA system). We don’t have many of the conveniences or resources of the larger areas.

My nephew, Chad Gilbert, just moved here from Marietta, Georgia to help us with the inn’s operation. We are delighted to have him here. One of the first things he did was try to get internet service in his home. After two days of discussions with the service provider, he was told that the lines were full at this time and he would not be able to get service until someone moved. Welcome the the mountains Chad.

We are not perfect, we have our share of problems too, but I also believe we have something very special. Peace, quiet, and tranquility. Rather than super highways, we have tree covered trails. Rather than water parks, we have mountain streams Rather than huge shopping centers, we have small towns filled with unique shops of local interest. Rather than big resort facilities, we have quaint country inns and bed and breakfasts. We may have to drive a little ways to find something we need, but the drive is beautiful and pleasant.

In closing, the article said… “Far Flung rural counties boasting vacation and outdoor recreation will continue as popular destination points for young couples, retirees, and empty nesters”. I believe that is true and hope that if you live in a big “megalopolis”, and are looking for a quiet get away, come see us. We’ll be sitting in our rocking chair looking over our mountain valley….waiting for you.

–Mort