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Georgia Gratitude Getaway-Birthday Week March 2022


Middle age-that is what 51 years old used to be defined as. Two long years of Covid has unfortunately accelerated the aging process to make this old gal feel shall I say “vintage”. A bit worn for the wear, yearning for a reboot, rejuvenation. A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase through the last 24 months have evolved into a kinder, gentler travel experience. Last year as “yours truly” entered AARP status, we escaped to a North Carolina cabin for some good old-fashioned R&R. It was my version of eat, pray, love-significantly more boring and less exotic than the original story-for sure. 1 year prior as we drove home, 8 hours into the sojourn we passed a captivating area that stayed with me for 365 days. The blurred vision of beauty as we zoomed by at 80 miles an hour, I screen shotted in my mind writing it down in hopes that we could one day recapture the magic. Tallulah Falls- Tallulah Falls – Home of Tallulah Gorge (tallulahfallsga.gov) was the destination.

A couple new challenges have been added since last year’s getaway. These additions go by the name Lucy and Hank, 5-month-old energetic miniature dachshund siblings. They have rounded out the family if you are keeping track to a sausage party of 3-the OG Juliet remains the head of household. In an effort to enhance family bonding and embrace our new offspring an inaugural weenie wagon voyage was about to take place. This certainly added a unique nuance to travel, including managing 5 bladders in an overstuffed aging SUV.

We mapped out our quest and stopped at the halfway point in Ashburn, Georgia Home – City of Ashburn in a sleepy, truckers oasis motel settling in for the night. In the am, we packed up dogs, Hubs and our exploding caravan of goods and set off for the remainder of our travel. As we dodged the madness of Atlanta, the roads got curvier, and the geography shifted to wide open vistas. The ears began to pop as we made our way to Toccoa, Georgia-Toccoa | Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org final destination. Coming from Tampa, Florida, any elevation above sea level creates a stirring in the heart and a yearning in the soul. Being able to achieve this a little bit closer brings out the allure of Georgia. It takes 4 painful hours to exit Florida but from there-the Georgia options are endless. After decades of international travel, A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase continue to be inspired looking for creative ways to capture wanderlust without a passport. As mentioned in previous entries, Hubs retired last year. Covid and a year of impacting travel restrictions made downsizing life very easy. So, for now and perhaps-forever, domestic globetrotting it is. We are at peace with this decision and are grateful for what we continue to see and experience-right here in our glorious backyard-USA.  

As we made our way through the winding concourse of Toccoa, the many rapid turns and dips, catapulted our turbulent tummies into a buoyant roller coaster. We eventually made it to the Toccoa Lake House Airbnb Cardinal Cabin on the Lake – Cabins for Rent in Toccoa, Georgia, United States (airbnb.com) pulling into the driveway as Hank released a messy mound of puppy puke on my lap. A delightful welcoming after 6 hours trapped in the vehicle. As we unloaded, excited with glee and anticipation we plugged into the keypad the assigned code. I entered it 1, 2, 3 -10 times-no success. The dogs danced around our feet, leashes hogtieing us captive in a precarious hostage stance. Realizing in self-directed annoyance-I did not have the owner’s number, I went to the app in futility observing in frustration a complete lack of cell service. Unraveling ourselves as we snapped irritatingly at each other, an argument percolating in the wings of my negligence, we all piled back into the car. We made our way down through the swerving roads as I tenderly hushed Hank’s gurgling gut. As we crossed county lines, I willed my phone to indicate cell service. Eventually, a tiny bar emerged, and I was able to contact the owner and get the necessary corrected code.

We made our way back to the Lake House-Hank’s GI system cooperating this time, liberating my lap from further carnage. As we approached the precarious 45-degree down sloping driveway, the previously locked door was now wide open, the alarm discharging a high pitch piercing chirp screeched in an anxiety provoking tempo. Successfully disabling the alarm, we then exhausted the next 2 hours unloading 5 days’ worth of contents, while ensuring all 3 dogs did not escape into the vast wilderness beyond.

All the drama that precipitated our arrival was worth it as we checked out our luxurious accommodations. The Airbnb concept is relatively new for us but has created options that would have previously been impossible. Being able to explore off the grid and still have the comforts of home-transform a trip into an all-around ultimate experience. As preparations began many discussions were had with the always available owner Misty. Having that local connection to seek recommendations from was extremely helpful.

The Lake House is a welcoming presence nestled amidst infinite tall, bare native trees. They tower high into the sky creating a curtain of dappled light between the timber towers. The Georgian rusty soil earth lies beneath the thickly layered carpet of crunchy fallen auburn-colored leaves. The angled ground is imperfect perfection. Perched up in the graceful crevices of the alpine lumber shadowy stalks a cacophony of bird arias ricochet through the forest of trees signifying the stark winter’s end and the promise of spring. The silence at times was deafening presenting an echo of eerie noiselessness.

Bags unloaded; sibling puppies contained in their cage; we toured the house. It is a wooden wonderland of sophisticated, chic fabulousness with equal parts homey comfort and modern-day elegance. An open floor plan on the ground level that included a kitchen with chef level copper cookware, high end countertops and a farmhouse sink swoon worthy-all these amenities carry an intimidating element of use. A bio-fireplace embedded in the shared wall with a monolithic TV screen and high-end sound system provided hours of entertainment during our 5 days. A firestick contributed a plethora of viewing options-once we figured out how to use it-we spread out on the plush, spacious couch partaking in judge free binge-watching.

Making our way outside there was a wraparound deck facing down below the infinite Hartwell Lake-Lake Hartwell | Georgia | South Carolina – Community and Visitors Guide (mylakehartwell.com). Surrounded by a labyrinth of trees, the porch was a sanctuary of tranquility. Porch chairs and a firepit were a daily meeting spot for A Girl and Her Hubs while Little Green Sprout maintained a watchful guarded eye on the home. Later on, I would read in the Lake House welcome book that detailed Misty’s father-in-law outlining the labor of love that entailed securing Little Green Sprout to the porch.

Moved to curiosity, weeks later I texted Misty inquiring in further detail the meaning of Sprout. She volunteered personal insight on Sprout’s presence. He was there as a watchful protector resurrected out of love. This one small detail distinguished this Airbnb from others, offering a true connection from the owner. During our stay we would find many other similar examples that allowed us to feel like family instead of a stranger’s Airbnb.

Inside the house a wooden staircase leads the way to 2 spacious bedrooms. I did not realize until the final day when we left that both rooms had a TV. The bed was exceptionally comfortable. The bedroom was pretty sparce which is how I prefer it, with little opportunity for any kind of breakage.

We had gone food shopping at the local store-Ingles Store Location and Information (ingles-markets.com)-stocking up for a 5 day stay. I prepared a steak dinner while Hubs sat on the deck, drinking a beer taking in the view with the pups. We sat outside as the sun set on the lake’s horizon eating our dinner alfresco. As we took our final bites, the temperature steadily dropped. We made our way back into the welcoming heat of the warm fireplace.

We watched the President’s State of the Union with apprehension as the uncertainty of war was descending upon us. The comfort and solace of the Lake House helped to soften and mitigate the ever-present angst of an unsettled and unknowing world.

As accommodating as the bedroom was it lacked one thing an aging gal needs, a bathroom at night close by. Trudging down the steps at 3 am I stealthily snuck by the pups’ cage as they slept. A creek in the floor alerted them of my close proximity signaling their bladders as well. Back home, as a city dweller, our streets are lit up like a stadium. However, as the pups and I went into the pitch-dark night, the charcoal black sky speckled with Van Gogh starry night white flecks-I realized I am not in Downtown Tampa anymore. Flashlight in hand, I tiptoed cautiously in the driveway as my feet loudly pulverized the decaying leaves. I immediately heard savage howling reverberating in the cold night obscurity. Unable to distinguish how many and where-I darted the gaze of the flashlight like a weapon. At once, yards away-eyeballs met mine. I yelped grabbing all dogs, running with determination into the house. Fueled by fear, I screamed for Hubs.

Manic with terror, fight or flight activated-I rattled off my “wolf-like” encounter. Earlier in the day Hubs had also seen the beasts, roaming the driveway, stalking our puppies, terrorizing us with wagging tails. As city dogs, our pooches have never been off leashes outside. The site of wandering dogs conjured up Cujo-the killer dog-visions-slobbering, death jaw grip ferocious and feral-locked on my helpless brood.

Commissioned by my belligerent bellowing Hubs staggered haphazardly, pants on backwards, still asleep muttering. My fearless warrior grabbed a broom -yielding it straw forward in protective defense prepared for battle. We all ventured out, reattempting the dark night and task-the warning sounds of howling persisted. Hubs cloaked in the armor of a dusty sweeper in Mr. Clean guarded pose sheltered the clan as the puppies peed in unison. We retreated back to the safety and warmth of the couch dozing off the next several hours-the whole gang traumatized more from my antics than the rabid roaming dogs.

I laid on the couch pups molded under each arm, my eye shield ministering me in a blissful Shangri-la as my Peloton meditation app lulled me into a heavy slumber. I dreamt of devilish dachshunds and robust rainbows with no annoying alarm clock to disrupt my current utopian state. I lingered in this heightened hypnotic hiatus heated by the soothing synthetic embers of serenity. Abruptly, I was pulled back to reality by dachshund puppy breath and a scratchy tongue licking my face. In the cold air, the pups did their business as the first pink signs of the morning dawn merged with the lingering remnants of the still night.


Day 2In the morning (technically 4 hours later) I texted Misty-the owner-sharing my sad drama filled saga. She was alarmed, concerned and I believe mildly entertained. She posted an alert on the neighborhood Facebook page. The “wolves” never did stop their shenanigans -however, my fear and trepidation lessened as the days went on.

We slowly got ourselves together preparing for a day of hiking. We drove about 30 minutes to Tallulah Falls – Home of Tallulah Gorge (tallulahfallsga.gov). Tallulah Gorge State Park is 2,689-acres surrounding the 1,000-foot-deep Tallulah Gorge.

We stopped off in the visitor center, Hubs acquiring a sturdy walking stick. We then made our way onto the trail that consists of 1,099 steps-uniquely arranged on ascending and descending staircases that follow the perimeter of the gorge.

A bouncy wooden plank suspension bridge straddles the daunting gorge below. Meteorological conditions were top notch-sun bright, clear sky, cool air.

There were few people on the path, but all were friendly and visibly enjoying the stunning scenery and weather as well. The staircases circle around the rim so one gets a 360-degree view of the gorge and thunderous waterfalls.

Green calm waters below combined with white foamy falls signaling the changing of seasons. Tall, exposed trees, next to varying shades of green brush peppered the skyline. At the halfway point we sat on a bench enjoying a picnic of cold PB&J as we gazed out at the panoramic wonders. All in all, Tallulah Falls provided a dynamic day of hiking full of captivating visuals, phenomenal weather and longstanding memories.  

Back at the Lake House, we sat outside, I exuberantly swung in the hammock under the shadowing canopy of trees with not a care in the world.

We explored the grounds making our way down a rather dubious gradient to the lake below where the owner’s pontoon boat was docked. We approached wobbly legged, awkwardly balancing ourselves on the floating dock mystified by the foreign seascape, unlike a Florida water view we are accustomed to.

I made Hubs a fine salmon dinner, dining again outside as the last of daylight dissipated. We ended the evening lounging fireside watching mindless TV on the inviting couch.

Day 3-Another challenging night of restless sleep. But I promised Hubs I would not attempt another 3 am dog walk. In truth, the dogs were thriving in this environment. The fresh air, parental love 24/7 with no distractions-they had never behaved better. Which was fantastic because staying in someone else’s home does create a layer of anxiety that does not accompany a Holiday Inn stay.

We made our way to Toccoa Falls College-Toccoa Falls College – North Georgia Christian College (tfc.edu) which coincidentally is also the entrance to the Toccoa Falls. Founded in 1907 it is a Christian based college on a beautiful campus. The vibe is young, hip and academic. Once again, the sun was out and shining, the air was cool with a slight chill. There was an energetic atmosphere of youth and innocence that was palpable. We hit the coffee shop first-Odyssey Coffeehouse at TFC | Facebook– entering as it had just opened. An engaging hipster element with touches of Christian love sprinkled throughout. The friendly Barista provided an aromatic, robust French press delivered with a sweet smile and a bold sharpy handwritten blessing scribbled on the cup. We lounged in comfy chairs enjoying this unique campus.

We made our way to the colorful gift shop and with a $2 fee one is provided entry to the majestic falls. A gravel, whitewash path less than 100 yards takes you straight to a dazzling water display. 186 feet high of milky white aquatic ribbons cascaded down from the primordial sunbaked brown rock backdrop. A steady thundering stream emptied into the shimmering iridescent pool below. Gutsy, daredevil tourists took selfies climbing the stratified, slippery rock.

Hubs and I strolled along the path, pausing at a sign commemorating 39 individuals who tragically died in the early morning hours of November 6, 1977, when the Kelly Barnes Dam broke overtaking the college grounds. The dam was never rebuilt, and the financial damage was over 3 million dollars. The memorial was dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the flood and stands today as a symbol honoring the victims on that fateful day.

Our next stop-very close by in the tiny downtown of Toccoa was the Currahee Military Museum  Currahee (toccoahistory.com). The museum is situated in a renovated train depot where 5,000 men in July 1942 trained to be paratroopers.

These brave soldiers made up the newly formed Parachute Infantry Division and were known as the “Toccoa Men.”  The museum takes one on a historical journey through the training at Camp Toccoa HOME | camptoccoaatcurrahee  that ultimately prepared these courageous men in defending the free world from the German offensive that culminated to World War II. The museum includes an actual stable that housed the paratroopers before and after the war leading up to D-Day.

Nearby, in the Chattahoochee National Forest Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest – Home (usda.gov)-the soldiers would train at Currahee Mountain Currahee Mountain | Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore Georgia.org which was made famous by the series “Band of Brothers” Band of Brothers (TV Mini Series 2001) – IMDb . The soldiers ran up and down the 1,735-foot mountain coining the still widely used phrase “3 miles up, 3 miles down”.  At the time of our visit, there was virtually no one else there. Our self-guided tour was an information packed hour for a reasonable $5 entrée fee (with discount).

Currahee Mountain

We had worked up an appetite and after chatting with the friendly cashiers from the museum, they suggested X-Factor for a late lunch HOME | x-factorgrill (xfactorgrill.com). A diner like environment with a small-town local feel, an overly seasoned black beans and petrified rice veggie taco dish was painfully consumed. The owners were very friendly and deducted a dollar from the bill for using cash. Other than that, it is not worth mentioning and for me best forgotten.

 Conveniently, right next door and dually owned by X-Factor was the Cornerstone- Home | Cornerstone Antique & Craft Market (toccoaantiques.com) according to the Airbnb owner-a genuine Toccoa staple for antique shopping. We browsed the many miles of recycled bric-a-brac leaving me with the same burning reflux my lunch had unfortunately-which was good as no coins were spent. Hubs secured a few items spending less than $6 and thrilled with his new acquisitions. Weather wise-it was simply divine, so we strolled the bucolic main street. Interesting stores, boutiques and vintage shops lined the traffic-free quiet road. We popped in each store, touching and exploring with novelty infused curiosity. We ended the fine outing sedate on a bench in a sugar induced bliss courtesy of a ridiculously overpriced, exquisitely indulgent delectable dark chocolate truffle.

Back at the Lake House, dogs released, we sat outside, Hubs on the porch, I dozed off in the hammock as the tall trees creaked and moaned, caramel-colored leaves danced from above, daintily gliding their way down. Energetic squirrels played hide and seek, while birds flew gracefully above the soaring tree line. Mesmerized, I stayed in this trance, until I looked over and saw one of the beasts-the “howler” from the 3 am nightmare. In the light of day, this “mut” seemed slightly less primitive predator and more house pet Husky. Regardless, Hubs brandished the broom, as if a sword preparing for a dual-swinging it in the air, dust particles released from the ends as if a warning call. Eventually, bored by our antics-the killer canine left us in peace.


Day 4-March 4-MY BIRTHDAY!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Waking up with the main loves of my life on my 51st birthday in Toccoa, Georgia was truly all I could wish for. The day in the end, granted me more than I could have ever asked for. The sun was golden, the beginning of morning’s hope emerging into a day of promise and endless potential. Using the app All Trails AllTrails: Trail Guides & Maps for Hiking, Camping, and Running | AllTrails as a guide has revolutionized hiking for A Girl and Her Hubs. This electronic tool provides helpful tips, accurate levels of difficulty and a handy map for navigation.  This innovative addition has turned us from novice to hiker extraordinaire (in the “easy” category) and removed any guess work or surprises in our planned adventures. Hubs did research and designated the most perfect hike for my birthday activity. A beautifully serene drive 30 minutes from the Lake House brought us to Tugaloo State Park Tugaloo State Park | Department Of Natural Resources Division (gastateparks.org) located on the shore of Lake Hartwell in Franklin County, Georgia.

The enchanted wooded peninsula occupies 393 acres of majestic beauty. We positioned ourselves in front of the placid calm water of Lake Hartwell taking in the picturesque setting. Sassafras Loop Trail Sassafras Loop – Georgia | AllTrails is  3.6 miles that weaves in and out of the forest never straying far from the domineering lake.

The barren, leafless trees exposed visual opportunities and glimpses straight through to the gleaming aqua water. We stopped halfway, nourishing ourselves picnic style on packed snacks. Silence accompanied us as we refueled in the stillness of the quiet woodlands. We continued our trek, passing an RV park with bucket list worthy camper set ups. Eyeing the motor homes dreamily, sparked a frenzied monologue of ambitious fantasy future goal strategies that we both knew would remain sequestered in our imagination indefinitely. We wrapped around the lake, completing a full circle-2.5 hours of sublime enjoyment.

Back at the Airbnb, we lounged on the porch lazily tired from our hike, savoring the luxury of nothingness as the end of the day sun warmed our faces. The dogs planted at our feet, unused to this stress-free version of us, piggybacking off our obvious contentment. We dined outside again mimicking the previous 3 nights, savoring our last final days.  


Day 5Today was a gift. We were only booked until this day and then our long journey home was to begin. However, Misty the Airbnb owner, made a very generous offering of a complimentary additional night due to the code mishap on our arrival day. We were enjoying ourselves so much and embracing this much needed down time that we graciously accepted. Making the very most of our last day, Hubs planned out another hike for us. The temperature was transcending, the nicest we’ve had. Wanting to take full advantage of nature’s patronage, we set off early.

Traveling Northeast we headed into the bordering state South Carolina. The topography began to change subtly with curving winding roads flanked by high reaching stark pines. Lustering sunbeams of morning light penetrated the window creating a shifting mosaic of opaque shadow and brilliance as we snaked along the twisting two-lane highway.

As we were headed towards our hiking destination, we passed Chattooga Belle Farm Distillery Back Door Store Home | Chattooga (chattoogabellefarm.com) in Longcreek, South Carolina. The adorable hip country store/distillery stands out like a beacon in a sea of endless countryside. Upon entry we were immediately greeted by Evan-from behind the Whiskey lined bar. He confidently educated us on “the many spirits in this distillery makes it haunted”- appropriate whiskey humor.

I half listened distracted by the slanted sunrays bouncing off the amber liquor filled bottles anchored behind him. Aging wooden barrels stacked 2×2 of liquid happiness dominated the large open space. Country goods, provisions and distillery merchandise occupied the shelves in a rustic, uncluttered appealing display. Sauces, seasonal fruits, jams and other delights created a charming, welcoming experience. Evan offered a complimentary tasting-Moonshine, Whiskey, Vodka-name your poison. We both declined due to Hubs driving and yours truly gave it up many years ago. Instead, I was granted a ruby red, succulent apple. Evan eagerly shared Chattooga’s amenities-fruit picking events, camping on premises and encouraged us to dine at the popular bistro next door. He mentioned that it has limited hours and fills up quickly but is well worth it. We needed no more persuasion than that.

Piling back in the car, for the 100 yards distance, we arrived at Belle’s Bistro. We entered an imposing, stone and wooden barn structure. Once “inside” it opened to ethereal panoramic vistas of the sprawling vineyard and as far as the eye could see emerald-green lawn.

A small prop plane was taking off into the clear blue horizon, an enthusiastic gathering collected, necks craned up, eyes darted forward waving farewell in celebrated delight. We were unaware of who the pilot was and why we were all excited and waving with jubilation-but we joined in with shared passion.

The procedure for ordering food and eating were a bit odd. Orders were placed at a general store and then you were given a number and ushered out to wait. Pockets of people congregated amongst the expansive grounds. Adirondack chairs were scattered throughout all turned in various angles to capture the most perfect view. Every perspective was sensational, not a cloud in the sky, and not a bad way to kill time as our tummies grumbled.

The service was painfully slow, and we waited 45 minutes as the 2 waitresses ran around the many tables in a tandem rush. We noshed in silence concluding the memory of this moment centered more on the beautiful landscape vs a tasty meal. We departed Chattooga Belle Farm ready for the real mission of this drive-Sid’s Falls Sid’s Falls – South Carolina | AllTrails.

Just a short distance away with little to no cars passed-we reached our final hiking destination. No marking or indication signifying location-only a locked gate, two vehicles and a bizarre sign with step-by-step detailed instructions on how to “defecate properly” in the woods. Having memorized this important information, we progressed through the pine needle covered wide pathway.

The trail which is a 3 mile out and back innocently begins very easy with a generous clearance and no elevation although it is marked moderately challenging on All Trails and later, I would learn this the hard way.

At the halfway point the trail begins to narrow a bit, producing a limbo/mambo jig over/under sporadically dismantled fallen trees. As we continued the path began to tighten dramatically to the width of my being and then even less. Tenacious brush, branches and pointy thorns scrape my face and embedded stubbornly in my curls. Rapidly, all hell began to break loose the last 10 minutes as the path had become the Anaconda Jungle.

Sloping down a lunging 90 degrees full tilt I scrambled into life preservation mode clawing at anything my stumpy hands could death grip. I desperately clung to secured roots as I descended treacherously down this makeshift passage. My feet squished in the sloshy mud as I scrounged helplessly for steady footing. My eyes rapidly scanned in frantic futility for accessible limbs, rocks and other crucial protruding lifelines to help propel my pathetic plummet. I began to move quickly through the 5 stages of death and was left with only good old-fashioned prayer and bargaining. I am 100% convinced I was going to die-a slow painful death partially impaled by decaying vegetation, infested with poisonous ants causing me to lose my center of gravity eventually plunging me into the jagged rocks only to be swept away by the water’s deadly torrent and then ultimately submerged into a riptide of cold water laced with deadly flesh-eating bacteria. Meanwhile, Hubs with his “monkey-like” skill set and opposable orangutang thumbs had mastered the rain forest obstacle course waving eagerly “hey honey, come on down.” He was calmy planted firmly at the base, balanced boldly on a slippery rock, facing the splendor of the 50-foot rapturous falls. A few obligatory selfies were taken to document this magnanimous quest as now we had to make the return trip.

Emotionally traumatized by the near-death circumstances I had just encountered; I began to formulate my strategy for my ascent. PTSD began to settle in my already unsteady bones and my quivering appendages tried to retrace my mud laden steps. Having mastered the terror of the descent, I was bolstered with confidence to conquer the beast. I thrust out a hearty guttural call of the wild, digging my manicured nails into the saturated earth. I reached for the roots this time anticipating their placement. Without even a twig in my frizz, I reached the top victoriously.

We passed one young guy, college age, fit, spry and agile. He asked us-as he gazed at my scratched, dirty face, haggard eyes and disheveled self- “How was it?” I provided him with an abridged version of the horrors that awaited him. 10 minutes later he passed us, a slow jog as he sped by. We asked him “How was it?” ready to share war stories and bond like soldiers in battle. He nonchalantly said “No biggie. It was easy.” Shoulders slouched, defeated, fatigued and feeling all 51+1 day-years old-we sought comfort for our egos in some gluttonous, fat laden Dairy Queen.

YUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

But first, we had a light dinner at Las Amigos Mexican Restaurant in Toccoa, GA | Mexican Restaurant Near Me | Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant (losamigostoccoa.com). We made our way back to the Lake House one final time to begin the daunting task of packing up for our departure early in the morning. It would be a long 10-hour drive no stops straight home.

As we packed the last item, locked the doors and headed down the winding streets of Toccoa and beyond, I reflected on this time together. The nature of our trips have certainly changed from Parisian Operas and 8 hour Louvre Museum marches to swinging on a hammock in South-Eastern USA. However, the gift of time, bonding and family love cannot be underrated. Shortly after we returned home, monumental life changing events took place. I can’t help but think emotionally about the treasured moments of nothingness combined with the lack of stress, big decisions and hard work.

Two big events occurred that would make the time we had together that much more precious. Juliet, our 5-year-old dachshund the following week while running with her siblings suffered a catastrophic injury rupturing her disc. She required emergency (very expensive) surgery. We were told she was paralyzed and may never be able to use her hind legs. Life as we knew it, with our most beloved “Juju” was forever changed. She spent several days in the ICU, while we processed all that occurred. She returned to us, certainly challenged and unable to do anything she used to do. But her spitfire determination and perseverance shined through, and she is slowly making a resounding recovery. We will most likely never have the girl we first took to Georgia, but we have our Juliet, and she is showing us what true strength looks like-way more than that silly climb down to the waterfall.

The other big life changer that occurred was I made the hard decision to resign from my job of 15 years. It was a major life event for me, a leap of faith, fear of the unknown and what was to come. If not for the time spent in Georgia -the much-needed rest, the joy and love experienced all together helped me to heal my mind, body and spirit-I know that without this I would not have been able to make the move so effortlessly. I have something new and exciting I am transitioning to. I am taking all my love, experience and now clear head with me to this new challenge. I embark on this rested and reassured-thankful for the momentary reprieve the Lake House and Georgia allowed me.

I end this trip journal on this one final note-not every vacation is a page turner, a spellbinding, bucket list adventure that includes a color coated itinerary with rest penciled in as optional. For A Girl and Her Hubs, we are continually learning this. Our simple Georgia retreat showed us that every destination has a purpose, time is more valuable than anything monetary in life and memories infused with love, light, waterfalls and mountain air can cure just about anything. I usually conclude with where to join us next-but for now-we have a blank slate, nothing on the horizon-but you never know where A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase will show up next…..

LOVE F&B

Casatelli-Anderson St. Petersburg Sophisticated Sunset Soiree November 2021

This blog takes on a different focus and goal as travel for This Girl and Her Hubs has all but dried up. I will continue to find ways to use language filtered love. But, in the meantime I am living my best life documenting a beautiful wedding. This is my gift to you both-Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. May the script on this page express the love, light and laughter that you both bring to others.

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Have you ever met someone who is the whole package-the real deal? A true lion-hearted “jack of all trades” luminary, crusader of courage, heroine for humanity? These traits are indeed a rare finding, but every now and then the planets align where fate and happenstance intervene converging the path for these extraordinary souls. On a chilly, Florida November evening I was lucky enough to witness the union between two such virtuosities.

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For me, the story goes back 5 years ago-first meeting Dr. Jennifer Casatelli. A firebomb of intellectual energy, medical knowhow equal parts fierce, feisty and fabulous all contained in a petite 5-foot 4-inch dynamic spitfire package. Her electrifying blue eyes, emulating the caerulean opaque oceanic abyss with camouflaged hues of mischief and mystery.

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In addition to her spellbinding beauty, she is a remarkable teacher, a patient practitioner and a medical maven mastermind. Her commitment is lovingly loyal, and her keen pediatric expertise and passion makes her a triple threat force to be reckoned with. It is important as well to note-the Casatelli “shoe game” which is on a whole different level. Footwear that makes one sigh, swoon, yelp, cry and gasp in half glee (partial pain) and jealousy. 10-12 hours her dainty tootsies endure phalangeal prison and confinement enclosed in trendy “on fleek” captivity. Elegantly, teetering on stilt-like fashion forward elevation, her heels glide with graceful ease as she sashays with medical majesty through the colorful halls of the Children’s Hospital.

Our worlds collided as we shared a mutual fondness for running, dark humor and pediatrics. She cheered me on in races and life and vice versa. It was during this time I began to hear of Kent Anderson-Jen’s neighbor. This dynamic military man who had performed death defying bold operations in the airborne infantry as a ranger in special units now facing his most monumental acquisition-capturing her guarded but generous heart-the most daring of all reconnaissance missions. Both intensely protective and private these two would negotiate a love treaty worthy of honorable medals and heroic measures. If only a Jen/Kent concord was in place in 1983 Grenada may have looked more like Woodstock.

They met by chance-neighbors for years, they connected at a local auction bidding on a dock ladder. Some friendly competitive banter manifested a unique comradery. Over a first date at Whiskey Joes with sunset, chips and salsa and storytelling-they grew even closer realizing they shared a love for many of the same humble simplicities in life. They began to spend their evenings snuggling, animals included by the cozy firepit watching the pink cotton candy sky disappear slowly into the still darkness of the bay’s horizon. It was in those magical starry night wind chiming moments that they realized a blossoming love for one another.

As their lives merged closer, fur families combined and expanded. Day to day life commenced-a sublime Spain getaway, frolicking paddleboard dolphin aquatic adventures and nightly fireside, moonlit backyard moments occupied precious gaps of time. Then, 1 week after Thanksgiving 2019 at The Don CeSar Hotel-Kent surprised Jen in a well-orchestrated, epically romantic, engagement proposal.

The Bride and Groom-Jen and Kent have graciously agreed to let me document their inspiring love story. It is my humble privilege to chronicle their most precious day through the art and sculpture of words, unveiling layer by glorious layer of the love filled, joyful Anderson-Casatelli wedding celebration.

Crossing the bridge into St. Petersburg, the iridescent turquoise waters of the Gulf ricocheted off the beaming radiance of the beguiling sun’s rays. A multitude of visual sensations pulsed through me as I gathered a stunning bird’s eye view of the fired earth terracotta roofs and sexy curved arches of million-dollar Spanish style waterside homes neighboring extravagant luxury mega yachts.  

The wedding venue -The Don CeSar Hotel is steeped in a 1920’s time capsule that is soul stirring. The salmon-colored monolithic eclipse of the historic hotel is captivating, classic and timeless. Built in 1928, the St. Petersburg icon’s popularity spans over almost a century and has been the source of indulgence-a retreat for the rich and famous, providing wealthy men such as Scott Fitzgerald a sanctuary of sugar sand beaches, sun sets and solitude.

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After pulling up to the behemoth pink palace, we entered the spacious lobby spilling out into the open, airy, fusion of old-world Mediterranean meets modern day chic. A small collection of eager attendees, family and friends were clustered in a love circle around Kent-the groom. He was surprisingly calm, welcomed us with a robust, sturdy handshake and some pre-wedding chitchat. A slender elevator shuttled the guests in a 2×2 Noah’s Ark formation ejecting matching tethered twosomes hand in hand to the next stop on the wedding express.  

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We were escorted into another area leading to French glass doors. As the partitions opened in a grandiose ooh-ahhh anticipatory moment-the aperture provided an inviting portal into a transcending entry of a 360-degree picturesque panoramic seashore Shangri la. As the harmonious wedding themed classical melodies reverberated onto the veranda, the combined cooling air and setting sun created an idyllic atmosphere.

A utopian paradise awaited us as we stepped out into the salty seascape. Family and friends began to congregate on the terrace taking in the cornucopia of scintillating delights-a free-flowing champagne station and a colorful charcuterie kaleidoscope of tasty provisions. Cordial waiters circled the space eager to provide decadent tempting appetizers. Vertical heaters stood erect like patient guards, ready to provide warmth for any wimpy Floridian shivering from the unusual cool weather (Hubs). We lingered nibbling on yummy delicacies and marveled in wanderlust at the rutilant, fading sun slowly melting into the vast cobalt serene gulf.  

The music shifted to a more matrimonial cadence and a noticeable pivot took place signifying the bride was coming. The guests shuffled to their seats in a swift determined pace. We all held our breath anticipating the beautiful bride as Kent tall, lean and handsome waited patiently. In his midnight black tuxedo, classic and bold bowtie and pink boutonniere he stood stoically- his masculinity in complete contrast flanked by 2 abundant bountiful plumages of soft pink blooming roses and pearly white hydrangeas.  

Officiating the ceremony, standing front and center with purpose guided intention was Mike Matt-Kent’s longtime friend of over 30 years and military “brother from another mother.” Pachelbel-Cannon in D melodically started-beaming with gallant pride, baby brother Michael Casatelli-furnishing a pink tie matching his blush cherub gleaming cheeks-arm in arm with the bride, made their way down the aisle.

On any given day Jen is stunningly drop dead gorgeous. But today her beauty was transcending-goddess level. Her hair resembled the exquisite golden petals of Van Gogh’s sunflowers pulled into a braided bun of silky perfection. Her face glowed with pure joy; her periwinkle-slate eyes matched her grandmother’s blue stone ring- embedded in her bouquet. As she glided shoulder to shoulder with baby brother Michael-her eyes remained fixated on her soon to be husband, her sun kissed tanned, toned torso and measured gait was steadied with confidence and exuberance. Her smile radiated equal parts repose and jubilation. The dress-let me pause for dramatic affect….

The dress-an ethereal A-line strapless, empire waist, floor length, crisp white gown created by the delicate wings of auspicious angels, beaded with heavenly lace detail, fanned out in a splendiferous and arresting wingspan. Her diamond necklace (gift from Kent on wedding morning) and matching diamond earrings sparkled in luminescent dazzle highlighting her mesmerizing beauty even further.

The Queen Casatelli

With the enrapturing backdrop behind them and the promise of their future ahead-Mike Matt in articulate precision began the ceremony. Eloquent, insightful flawless he delivered his lines impeccably. Both Kent and Mike-military heroic bad-ass special force units bravado, stood next to each other humble and vulnerable- hard to imagine these two gentle souls, relatable “civilians” performing daring and courageous military combat.

Positioned in a holy trinity formation, Mike spoke of a love and life together. The bride and groom faced each other-eyes locked mirroring their love for one other. Vows were exchanged as the sun transitioned from a smoldering yellow to a flamingo splendor. The ceremony grew to a close and sealed of course with a tasteful celebratory “close the deal” kiss. An enthusiastic unified audience applause erupted followed by a buoyant bridal bouquet thrusted fist pump and then the newlywed’s kicked off the festivities with a commemorative impromptu spirited boogey down the aisle.

From there, we were guided back inside to a dimly lit dreamy fairy tale of opulence and elegance. Celestial starlit soft ambient illumination, intimate table groupings arranged with an overabundance of flickering candle clusters layered lavishly with more of the precious pink and white flower centerpieces created the ultimate enchanted nirvana. As I made my way around the calming space, a seamless balance of first-class grandeur and refined restraint was mastered.

I sat down at table 7 perusing the crowd, in terms of wedding volume it was a small gathering-60 attendees. There were many times throughout the evening as I looked out onto the guests, I wondered why did I make the cut? In this room, were a bountiful of intimidating brilliance, medical pioneers, military excellence, worldly wise regal talent….and then me. But ultimately that’s what makes Jen and Kent all the more spectacular. A distinguishable combination of genius and humility makes them the consummate couple, clearly this room was not only filled with accomplished intellect but a striking surplus of love.    

We found our designated seats, settled in while Hubs took advantage of the open bar’s libations-several cocktails in. My table was an eclectic collection of fascinating individuals. Introductions and history swapping quickly established a theme for the newly married couple-loyalty and longevity. The relationships and connections at just my table alone added up together well over 50 years. From Jen’s longstanding trainer to her professional mentor’s widow, it was obvious that she treasured her friendships.

Midway through a lengthy explorative diagnostic debate with Jen’s trainer regarding Hub’s possible frozen shoulder-words like lateral pecs and trapezius obliques hung in the air on pause as more pressing matters such as the much anticipated “Introducing for the first time” wedding announcement. Jen and Kent’s introduction generated a spontaneous outburst of overflowing communal elation demonstrated by emphatic clapping, foot stomping, triumphant reciprocal love. The newlyweds retreated to their table; canoodling nestled in their couple’s love nest. Brother-Chris Casatelli stood up to deliver a powerfully poignant and touching speech. Impactful, sentimental prose extracted out of a poetry book from philosopher Khalil Gibran

But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you Love one another but make not a bond of love between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow

not in each other’s shadow.

Chris read these meaningful, deeply weighted words derived from unspoken love and memories interweaved and entwined in each stanza and verse. For what no one knew, and Jen later revealed to me was she had read this very same passage at her older brother’s wedding. She also provided brother Michael a copy of this same book at his high school graduation. Khalil Gibran’s expressive writing was not just a connecting entity unifying the Casatelli siblings together through narrative but also a nostalgic enterprise of evocative, tangible, loving composition.  

When he was done, silence and introspective reflection stirred amongst the group. Next, Kent’s brother Steve Anderson turned to face the couple. He extended a personal account of Jen’s generosity, her openness and unconditional love from the very beginning. Between both men and their compelling toasts, it was clear the love was overflowing in this room.

All this matrimonial adoration stirs up intense hunger. Lucky for us we had quite the widespread buffet waiting. Fresh salad selections, a pasta station, various vegetarian options and prime rib were a few of the enticing culinary creations. We made heaping plates of yumminess as the music took on a spunky beat.

As the dishes cleared out, the dance floor began to fill up. Young, old, the serious and the animated, guests whirled, twirled, rocked, bopped and gyrated center stage-an entertaining view for all. The bride and groom pirouetted onto the dance floor, showing off their hard efforts achieved from weeks of pre-wedding dance classes.  

They twisted and dipped, swaying to their wedding song Broken Road by Rascal Flatts. Lost in the moment, soulfully they gazed into each other’s eyes reflecting a mirrored tenderness.

A lively photo booth in the corner held a steady line of playful participants displaying goofy variations of ridiculous glasses and silly accessories that ignited the funny and frivolous. Hubs and I jumped in there, trying different poses in 10 second increments- photos that would be placed in a scrap book of mementos for the Anderson’s.

The best part of a wedding other than the romantic thrill of it all is the CAKE. Not one, but two sinfully, sensational, salacious cakes made their divine debut. A white creamy, rich decadent tower of feminine fabulosity with pink rococo swirly “too pretty to eat” flowers awaited the ceremonial slicing. Hidden layers of luscious, velvety, strawberry shortcake mastering a spiritual level of confectionary enlightenment. The groom’s cake was sugary, serendipity infused rich chocolatey, heavenly happiness. They both stood facing the alter of sweet loveliness-the shiny gleam of the knife symbolically held in unison cutting ceremoniously through the succulent stratified tiers of cake and frosting. Coquettish Casatelli mischievously bobbed and weaved, avoiding an unwarranted icing incident, eventually succumbing to the cake laden fork. Kent less resistant opened wide for a photo op devilish gulp.

We remained seated devouring and scraping the last delicious and desperate remains of the sumptuous wedding cake. As Hubs sipped on dark coffee, we knew this fine evening was coming to an end.

Seeking out the bride and groom for goodbyes, we found them mid-jig on the dancefloor. We treasured our limited one-on-one time with the newly married couple. After our brief farewell, we made our way out. As our car made its way down the steep decline, our departure feeling similar to a magic carpet ride send off. In the dark of night, as we drove home-we replayed the evening savoring each component of the wedding. Like a recipe that works when all the ingredients are placed together, Jen and Kent-their wedding and their life are just that. A perfect combination of old-world sophistication with elegant new school brilliance. These two have solidified a place in my heart forever and I can’t wait to continue to follow their ongoing journey of love.

Honorable Mentions:

Wedding Planner: https://partiesalacartefl.com/

Venue: Elegant, Luxury Hotel in St. Pete Beach, FL | The Don CeSar

Florist: Bruce Wayne Florals l St. Petersburg l FL

Hair and Makeup: Lasting Luxe Artistry | Bridal Hair and Makeup | St Petersburg

Wedding Dress: Ivory & Lace – Bridal Shop, Wedding Dresses (ivoryandlacebridal.com)

Bristol Bridal Bash-October 2021

Mr. And Mrs. Ackerman

Bristol Virginia/Tennessee October 14-16, 2021

Just a forward introduction on this Blog. This is not my usual account of A Girl, Her Hubs and A Suitcase. This entry is a wedding gift to my longtime friend Vicki, who married Rob in October. I combined journaling my experience in Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee with the wedding activities. However, please be warned-some semi “paranormal” events occurred that I am still trying to process. I went back and forth whether to share this with all, with just Vicki or not at all. In the end, I live my life openly and honestly and this Blog has always shown the good, the bad and the ugly. So, in the end-I felt it was a disservice not to share the full story. But if the supernatural is not your cup of tea-I still encourage you to read this-perhaps with an open mind.


Welcome to the Ackerman’s 3-day wild, wacky wedding weekend. This is a tale of two friends-pals that date back to almost 3 decades. A comradery that spans from young women to old gals. Victoria, Vicki, Vic-all interchangeably used at different stages in her life-her and I met as novice student nurses, a duo that could not be more different. Vicki, always confident, an air of certainty wrapped around her like a cashmere shawl, brilliant and dazzling next to me- ditzy, insecure, dramatically and dangerously messy. She patiently tolerated me, as I idolized her laissez-faire stance on life. Unable to combat DNA-my Jewish roots have always produced a slow annoying churn of palpable anxiety always brewing and ready to detonate the slow, destructive lava of unhealthy coping coupled with an ample 6 pack of Zima cocktails. As you could imagine, the twenties were not kind on yours truly. But, somehow like the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” But, if not for some tough love from sweet Vic, I might still be causing havoc on the sandy beaches of Siesta Key-fogging up potential suitor spectacles shamefully through despicable (yet oddly unique) hyperventilation breathy methods.

Skip ahead some years, Vicki sets off to continue her education excelling in the surgical realm of nursing. My trajectory a bit different with decades of degrees accumulated along the way with a large surplus of student debt all in an effort to shed my destructive self-sabotaging way. Through the years, my path takes me towards working with children, a traveling partner-that later would become my Hubs and a quiet shared life of travel and steady work.

Vicki works her way up through the surgery ranks creating a name for herself and excelling as a coveted circulating OR nurse for prestigious surgeons in Atlanta. We unite sporadically through the years catching up hastily and intermittently. These reunions center on quality verses quantity and an enduring friendship and love that always brings us back keeping us connected.

Through the good times and in crisis- when Vicki’s sister Celeste died, I tried to be a buoy in the sea of sadness.

But, inside my heart ached for Vicki and her family, experiencing this profound loss as if it were my own family as well. But, always after the darkness comes light. Enter Rob Ackerman.

Vicki in a courageous move leaves the security of her surgical job in Atlanta, now that Andrew her son, her love, is now grown and has inherited her same fire and fearlessness-she embarks on a life of travel nursing. Through her shared stories, I live vicariously through her bravery as she crisscrosses the country living her best life. Through luck and divine alignment, we connected in Southwest Florida for a weekend of sun, cycling and sisterhood.

On a hot summer weekend, I traveled to her bachelorette pad, we biked through her neighborhood, dined outside, swam like eager minnows and had a good old fashioned girls night slumber party. It was during these 2 glorious days that I was reminded of all the hijinks, shenanigans and lunacy we both had lived through together all those years ago. We laughed and giggled like schoolgirls, reminisced, and discussed past heartache, pain and day to day strife. She intently listened, providing truly sage and wise advice.

Weeks following this visit I would find myself murmuring “What Would Vicki do?” Having said the statement so many times- I had to shorten it “WWVD?” Vicki’s approach to problem solving is tough love, a robust serving of sarcasm, followed by an ample helping of a throaty laugh. The hearty, baritone chuckle resonates deep from the core working its way up through the esophagus releasing a one-of-a-kind tympanic guttural harmonic opus that ultimately results in an infectious cascade of euphoric ovation for those fortunate enough to experience it. One could describe this celestial acoustic event as an exhilarating auricular exclamation point to a riddle-the infinite encore to any allegory-an audible, unmistakable showstopper of seraphic sounds.

It was on this visit; I saw the shimmer in her eyes as she shared in detail the love story of her and Rob. I knew in my heart that this is where Vicki’s new chapter of her life begins. Realizing this, our limited time together was even more special and cherished.

A short time afterwards-Vicki announced the incredible news of their engagement. A deep, emotional well of happiness swelled in my heart, sincere wholeheartedly genuine joy for my friend on this exciting news. The bride to be sent out save the dates and the monumental planning began-months later, the determined toil of details that were dedicated to this matrimonial magical occasion would be evident-sweet shout outs, nods and private mementos weaved craftily within the components of the wedding events.

As the wedding week in October approached Hubs and I planned for a 3-day retreat in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia for this celebratory jubilee. Luggage packed, vehicle crammed, Juliet-Dachshund in tow, we made the over 10-hour pilgrimage to the soon to be Ackerman/Alberti ceremonial palooza.

Bristol Experience Bristol, TN – TN Vacation is situated in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Cherokee National Forest. It is a truly unique city as on one side of the main street-State Street is Tennessee and on the other is Virginia. Bristol is known for being the birthplace of country music and has the Bristol Motor Speedway. The main downtown is lit up, energetic, country chic, with historical markers connecting the old with the new in a symbiotic way.

OCTOBER 14, 2021

We were staying 3 nights at The Sessions Hotel, Bristol, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel – Bristol | SPG (marriott.com). The boutique hotel is named after the 1927 famous country music sessions. The hotel’s décor is aesthetically appealing in a rustic meets modern way furnished with handcrafted pieces with musical elements. The uniquely designed rooms with exposed brick are spacious, dark, comfortable, clean with insanely cool details such as a hanging light resembling 2 old fashioned microphones. Throughout the hotel space and rooms are endless particulars worthy of a scavenger hunt-small subtle artistic features all leading up to an inspired architectural sensory, multilayered experience.

We checked in with the overly friendly staff and were presented with a burlap bag containing ALBERTI wine in it with a personalized handwritten tag. A welcome packet with the 3-day itinerary and instructions were also handed to us. I realized now why every time over the last 6 months I attempted to contact Vicki and why she was always so busy. The details were not lost on me and as the events unfolded over the next few days it was clear the many months of preparing and arranging were organized and well thought out.

The hotel Sessions was dog-friendly, and the promenade to our room seemed to generate a feverish cacophony of frenzied barking and puppy dissonance. Juliet our Dachshund was serenaded by a rambunctious choir of contained pooches in a pitchy enthusiast canine reception.

We acclimated ourselves to the room and quickly dressed for our separate events. Hubs would be with the “boys”. I would join the “girls” across the street for what was to be a surprise for Vicki. Dressed in -may I say -adorable “cow girlish” attire I escorted Hubs to Bristol | Quaker Steak & Lube® (thelube.com). The restaurant was filled with an abundance of men, car themed manly paraphernalia prolific, testosterone, swashbuckling, brawny, robust males yielding large beer steins as the smell of nachos and chicken wings perfumed the musky air. I handed Hubs off to Rob (The Groom) and roughly 8-10 well behaved guys, trusting them with my most prized possession-Hubs.

Trying to make my way across State Street to State Line Bar & Grille – Home (statelinebristol.com). I stood there negotiating traffic on the busy street-a familiar throaty yelling “Brooke” startled me and caught my attention. Familiar golden flowy coiffured locks of undulated flaxen beauty spilled out a car window. I stood there statuesque and flustered-knowing my cover had been blown-Vicki spotted me! Perhaps, if I stand still, she will not notice me? As if to answer my redundant question-the persistent yelling of my namesake continued from the slow-moving car window. This outing was to be a surprise (I thought) and my appearance on a random street in Bristol 3 days before the wedding would certainly have created suspicion. Oh well, let’s get moving-a bachelorette party is waiting across the street!

State Street is the mecca of activity and nightlife for Bristol. For an early Thursday evening, an energetic buzz circulated down the trendy boulevard. Solo on this mission, culminating in over 10+ hours to get there, I hurriedly made my way up the stairs to the “girls night out event”. For the purposes of this blog, there are only 3 categories of guests-Aunts (7 of them) Cousins and former coworkers/roommates/friends. A small gathering of guests began to trickle in arriving in dizzying fragments. The theme was “wear your favorite rock band t- shirt”. Always one to skip instructions, I was in full cow herding regalia.  The room began to swell with laughter and volume-abundantly louder as the alcohol flowed freely.

I made my way to Vicki’s sister Jennifer, a tall, blond, beautiful soul-in any other environment I would be completely intimidated by her stunning beauty. However, her warmth and kindness took center stage, hugging me as if I too were her sister. A sudden shift in my solar plexus sent a wave of energy down my spine and an unexplainable familial love and openness settled in my being. An odd déjà vu hung over me as if searching for a word or thought forgotten but lingering. As the noise volume grew, I withdrew into a world foreign but strangely inviting. All these sentiments, although completely irrational and mystifying would later be revealed to me. But, for now as the patrons celebrated, laughed and giggled an unsettled vague feeling hung over me like a weighted blanket.

I made my way around, meeting Vicki’s friends, connecting a lifetime of stories to new faces. I immediately felt a kinship to all these ladies as we all occupied a mutual space in our heart for our dear friend Vicki.

The 7 rambunctious aunts constructed a protective ring around Vicki forming a fortified wall of love yielding years of private family moments, long withstanding jokes and a lifespan of memories. Echoes of laughter reverberated in the spacious room-an estrogen laced colloquy of multiple simultaneous competing conversations celebrating Vicki. Vicki performed a ceremonial T shirt give away brandishing each aunt with a matching kitschy statement. The aunts never strayed far from each sister as if cosmically drawn to one another. They provided an animated, theatrical and extremely entertaining backdrop to an already captivating group. Yummy treats were provided, shots consumed while Vicki anecdotes were swapped amongst the newly formed compadres.

From there, everyone moved downstairs where part 2 of the evening kicked off. Karaoke was next on the agenda. The ladies were starting to show signs of the libations kicking in. One by one, amateur serenades were belted out by microphone holding, booze induced wanna-be “singing idol” types. Some ladies from the group swaggered up on the makeshift stage, piping out unique unrecognizable versions of “I will survive.”

The aunts migrated outside to a substantial gathering of leather wearing, tattoo sporting, burly looking biker men. Inside, Vicki and a growing posse were dancing, swaying, twirling to the karaoke creations. At this point, the men including mine and the groom, done with eating, darts and pool, rejoined us-balancing out the vibe with some much-needed machismo.

As the drunk serenading continued, a rather stellar football game was on the big screen. The game was between my home team Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles (my former hometown). A nail-biting close game kept me equally engaged as I was hijacked into an impromptu Conga line that coiled around the bar and out into the streets. The bar bouncer growled under his breath swatted at us in an irritating hand gesture as Vicki innocently led the group into a dead end. Back inside, the Buccaneers won, the boozy crooning continued, and Hubs and I were exhausted. As we said our goodbyes, the tipsy tunes melodically escorted us out the door. Back at The Sessions Hotel-Juliet greeted us with enthusiastic zeal for a quick walk and restful sleep for all of us.

OCTOBER 15, 2021

I awoke by alarm clock, carefully planned out from the evening before for a sunrise run. Slightly cool outside with a darkened skyline illuminated by a peekaboo trace of pink served as my landscape. I ran up the mounting hill on the Virginia side. I passed by the 1902 train station Bristol Station Brews & Taproom Craft Beer TN VA Bar and Music Venue (bristolbrew.com) which apparently is now a brewery. The Welcome to Bristol lit up sign hovering 25 feet over the street  Downtown Bristol – Discover Bristol illuminated the quiet darkness. The historic charm of the street displayed markers commemorating the birthplace of country music. Quaint country stores, guitar themed shops and other inviting store fronts kept me entertained as I made my way up the growing hill. I turned around, passing farm like residential homes, emerald grassy fields and then crossed over to the Tennessee side of the road. All in all, it was a short run, trying to leave a reserve for a hike we would have later that day. As I ended, the sun was fully out, and hunger began to emerge.

I made my way back to the hotel restaurant Southern Craft BBQ: Best Barbecue Restaurant | Johnson City, TN. Southern Craft conveniently situated steps from the hotel has a cool, hip and patriotic vibe. Inside the enhancing aromatics of mesquite, barbeque and smokey deliciousness filled the air. Even with my vegetarian lifestyle, the tantalizing fragrance spontaneously stimulated rambunctious tummy grumblings and carnal cravings. I ordered Hubs a wholesome and southern style 2.0 breakfast with potatoes that I am convinced was laced with crack.

Back in the room, darkened shades, cold sheets and plush linens-Hubs was still asleep-as I should have been. After feasting we made our plans for the day as later that evening the wedding celebrations would commence. We drove through the quaint streets of Bristol making our way to Osceola Island Loop – Tennessee | AllTrails. We specifically chose this trail because it was dog friendly. We were testing out a new backpack for Juliet. As we drove up, a flurry of activity and people were assembling. Later-we would learn that it was a ceremonial gathering between the Fish and Wildlife and the Tennessee Valley Authority TVA donating a large quantity of Rainbow Trout stocking the South Holston Lake and Dam South Holston Lake & Dam & Reservoir in Bristol, TN – Tennessee Vacation (tnvacation.com).

The 2-mile trail is a winding deeply shaded loop with a beautiful path, water views and park benches throughout. Trialing Juliet in the backpack was nerve wracking for me and subsequently annoying for Hubs and sadly Juliet as well. My mind was in ridiculous unwarranted overdrive with theatrical scenarios all ending with Juliet nosediving in a suicidal kamikaze mission from backpack to ground. My melodramatic milieus all concluding in an ambulance and dachshund wheelchair. Juliet was fine-I was obviously the issue with my histrionics blockading stress-free merriment. Eventually, the fresh air and beguiling landscape infused some sense in me, and only then was I able to release Juliet onto the ground to frolic like the dog she deserves to be.

As we made our way back- feisty Rainbow Trout gracefully catapulted from the tame waterway in acrobatic aquatic summersaults. Determined fishermen perched over the wooden bridge patiently awaiting a nibble. I vocalized buffoonery ponderings out loud in my most obtrusive and irritating New Jersey twang as Hubs winced and cringed smiling apologetically to the friendly anglers. He softly pointed out to me-silence is necessary to capture fish. I am pretty sure my shrilly vocals traumatized those unassuming trout tainting their tranquil dwelling fortunately only temporarily.

We left the park hungry and tired. Back to downtown Bristol we regretfully asked the receptionist at The Sessions for a suggestion and acting on her ill-advised recommendation we ate at The Angry Italian – Official Website (theangryitalianrestaurant.com). After our unmemorable meal was consumed, we walked State Street window shopping and browsing in the interesting stores. Making up for the lackluster regrettable lunch, we feasted on homemade ice cream at The Southern Churn. The fluorescent yellow sugary whimsical concoction “playdough” was dreamy.

We sat in the old fashioned, country store-esque creamery licking our confectionary goodness. Out of the corner of my eye, my mind saw an image out of place. Is that a potbelly pig, in a tutu being wheeled in a wagon? Does that wagon say Porkchop.Ebara🐷 (@porkchop.ebara) • Instagram photos and videos? Nobody else felt this was a peculiar finding. I announced to the 2 other patrons- “there is a pig in a wagon coming in”. A friendly Asian man asked to enter and explained this is “Porkchop” his emotional support Pig. Well, that makes perfect sense now. Porkchop and owner ordered a large black cherry ice cream with one spoon that the owner and Porkchop shared. Porkchop and man were from Beverly Hills apparently making their way to New York City. This was certainly in all my travels the only time I have ever confronted such a bizarre situation.

Bellies full and tired from the festivities behind and ahead of us we took an indulgent nap. Rested and refueled, donning a second cowgirl-type dress, Hubs in plaid we ventured out to Thunder Valley Tavern – Discover Bristol.

Again, Vicki left no detail astray providing a complimentary van service to and from the hotel and venue, for those who planned to drink or merely had no vehicle. We bypassed the generous option as we had our own car. We approached Thunder Valley as the golden sun was setting into the mountain horizon. The pink edges of the soothing sky offered a welcoming backdrop as we ascended the steep gravel incline to our destination. The crowd was already in full swing-many from the evening before and a lot of new faces as well. A temperamental bonfire sparked and sputtered in a fire pit adding warmth and a campy touch to the night. Informal picnic benches offered foot respite for the high heeled ladies as they negotiated the precarious pebbles and sloping ground. It was a unique pairing of country casual let-loose joviality mixed with familial ceremonial formality. Generations comingled; relatives reunified, music, laughter, conversation all converging for a shared purpose-love for the Bride and Groom.   

Outside, colorful food trucks Gypsyroadeatery – Home | Facebook and La Abejita Food Truck – Home | Facebook offered eclectic, made to order food options. We gobbled down hearty quesadillas from La Abejita as the struggling fire slowly dimmed out in the dark, starry night. We organically made our way inside where the band Coal Camp | Rock Band | Virginia | United States (coalcamprocks.com) was rocking out some good old fashioned southern rock tunes. The Aunts were all on the dancefloor, shimmying down, switching partners in a rapid, random rotation. Coal Camp was going strong on stage, energetic nostalgic guitar riffs and riotous drum solos evoking toe tapping, knee slapping heart thumping movements. Vicki, radiating and sparkling-decked out in a shimmering, dazzling dress glided in luminescent brilliance rhythmically across the room, from end to end, snatching innocent bystanders resulting in a romping, spirited dancefloor.

The most entertaining and memorable part of the evening was just ahead of us. Vicki and Rob in a startling seamless move made their way center stage to thank everyone for coming. Then, before our eyes they transformed into Olivia Newton John and John Travolta “Grease” circa 1978- “You’re the one that I want” (ho, ho, ho, honey) Grease u better shape up – Bing video. I am uncertain the preparation that preceded this debut rocking duet, but it was as if this performance was made for this diabolical dynamic duo. The audience sang along in playful harmony with a “bring the house down” ovation at the end.

As the activity around me swirled like a fast-moving cyclone, inside I felt off, emotional and not myself. I felt weepy and oddly connected to all of Vicki’s family in a strange familial way. I searched deep in reflection to understand why at such a joyous event did I feel such things? Weird stirrings shifted inside my heart until eventually, I had to sit quietly and listen closely to my heart.

I stood against the wall, feeling dizzy and vulnerable. It was then that I heard Celeste-Vicki’s sister that had died many years ago. She spoke rapidly with almost frantic urgency. I attempted to slow down the delivery of this message, as if to depict a morse code. She was here, watching Vicki and would remain here with me until the ceremony. She made it clear that she was not going anywhere and for now I was to accept this. I was to be her messenger-providing her spirit to ride shotgun with mine.

I began to view Vicki’s family members with a new love and adoration. This was no longer my feelings, my voice and my doings. I made my way to sister Jennifer unaware of what my voice would say. I pulled her aside, as I admired her brilliantly long slender legs-as my short stumpy wide-bodied self -approached her. She lovingly smiled at me, and sisterly love flowed from my heart. I told her to please not think I am crazy and began to weep uncontrollably. I shared with her that Celeste was here, with us (with me) watching all of this. She is here and I was there to tell her.

Without blinking an eye, she believed me. She embraced me and said she appreciated this comforting knowledge. She urged me to let Vicki know, but for now, I did not want to interfere with Vicki’s celebrations. I walked away, composing myself but feeling utterly drained, starving and almost weirdly violated.

We said our goodbyes, hugged the soon to be Newlyweds and made our way back to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow’s big day-The Wedding.

OCTOBER 16, 2021-WEDDING DAY!

The steady cadence of rain and gloomy sky awakened us on Wedding Day. A rooftop ceremony was the plan-however, this dreary weather would certainly impede this. But, knowing my friend Vicki, she was one step ahead of Mother Nature and she would most certainly find a workable solution. Dressed in our finest wedding wear, we walked shieled with umbrellas by the pelting deluge of rain the few blocks to The Bristol Hotel Hotels In Bristol VA | Official Website | The Bristol Hotel (bristolhotelva.com). The historic architectural icon of Bristol dates back to 1925. Its rooftop holds sweeping views of downtown Bristol (which sadly would not be seen on this visit). As we entered the lobby, we were greeted by all our new friends we had made over the last 2 days. Adorable, creative center pieces of donut holes on skewers adorned the tables. A bar providing mimosas and bloody Mary’s remained steadily busy. The percolating coffee contained a growing line for the many that had partied the last 2 nights. It appears the rooftop wedding had migrated to where we were.

2 room doors magically opened, and a buffet of delicious food was offered. Slowly, the crowd trickled in and partook of the mouthwatering southern fare. Flaky, buttery biscuits, crispy bacon and other caloric indulgences filled our hungry greedy bellies.

We found a table and seats and settled in for the ceremony. This quick-thinking plan B decision was wise, and I could not imagine a more intimate, cozy and ideal setting. We began a conversation with a sweet couple from Atlanta next to us, who knew Vicki from her first surgical job. We struck up an engaging discussion so welcoming after months of Covid solitude.

As I sat waiting for the ceremonial events, my mood began to shift with feelings beginning to stir again. I felt on the edge of tears and hypersensitive. I gently spoke with Celeste, allowing her total permission now to stay. I would not fight any longer or question why, I simply would put myself aside so that she could have this full experience. A very heightened sense of urgency was palpable to me as if I knew she was here on borrowed limited time, taking up real estate in my exhausted soul temporarily. As the music started and family members began to gather, tears flowed spilling onto my cheeks as tangible evidence something was indeed off cue. I wept for what seemed forever and to the bystander-rather melodramatic. As the family members spoke, a familiar heart tug tethered me to each one in the most inexplicable way. When Celeste’s name was mentioned by Jennifer, I felt as if she was speaking directly to me.     

Eventually, one by one the “Wedding Royalty” began to come out-each one to a musical montage that represented them perfectly. They sashayed down the unrehearsed, makeshift “aisle”, musical prompts off and adorably discombobulated. Each one’s speech and connection to the Bride and Groom packed with humor and emotion. Vicki’s Dad, mixed laughter with love in an earnest dialogue. Andrew, her son, side by side these two grew up together. Vicki a young mom, determined and strong, clearly passed on these remarkable traits to her son. His warm and profound words, mixed with some “Alberti wit” offered levity and light to the moment. There was a tearful recognition of Celeste-knowing fully she was here in spirit on this glorious day and in this epic moment. Rob’s Dad poignantly told a loving story and shared a moving video of Rob’s Mom who sadly was unable to make it due to long term Alzheimer’s. With clarity and the clearest of lucidity, his mom provided loving, warm wishes.

After all the family members made their entertaining entrance and speeches-it was time for Bride Vicki’s magical moment. As she entered the room, all eyes washed over her elegant and captivating silhouette. The pure white lace A-Line floor length dress moved gracefully with her as her gloriously thick blond hair loosely curled framed her angelic face. A long tulle veil clipped in her flawless hair created an angelic dimension. Most noticeably, was her radiant smile, her heartfelt jubilation and authentic joy illuminating her soulful eyes. Rob waited at the altar, looking handsome, trim and striking-his gaze mirroring Vicki’s blissful state.  

Aunt Maureen then made a surprise declaration announcing she would be assisting brother JJ in officiating the nuptials. Vicki disclosed later to me-not even her mom had known this-she kept a vault of wedding secret details that made each unveiling amusing. Aunt Maureen began with some lively commentary introducing the couple’s interesting and unique online meeting and development of their relationship. The couple then recited their own vows-funny, quirky, sentimental, powerful and eloquent. After the vows, they sealed the deal with the most perfect kiss-Vicki and Rob beaming with pride, smiles displaying relief, love and happiness. It was official-these two were now Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman.

As soon as the ceremony ended, a literal weight was lifted from my body, I was able to find words and language again, laughter replaced heartache and tears. Did this really happen? Did I imagine it? I will never know. But I had never felt anything like that in my life and believe this all happened for a reason. I can provide no rationale or understanding for what transpired. Weeks later, I connected back with Vicki and shared with her the highlights of this experience. She did not laugh, she fully trusted this happened, believed me and was filled with love and hope that Celeste had been there for her most special day. This is just another example of why I love my friend Vicki.

The new Bride and Groom circulated the room, taking pictures in varying combinations documenting this extraordinary day. Hubs and I sat side by side, not too long ago we also had taken this matrimonial journey-Vegas style. Something about a wedding brings out hope, renewed love and fresh beginnings. Seeing the glow on both their faces was contagious. As I sat there introspectively thinking, I couldn’t help but reminisce of where our lives intersected all those many years ago. My nursing school comrade, my ally, my confidant, most recently my advisor and always-my friend and sister. All the people I encountered on these 3 days held a common theme in each of Vicki and Rob’s lives-longevity, loyalty, commitment, reliability and respect. I was honored to have been in company with such outstanding individuals. The party began to thin out, we sadly said our goodbyes, hugging our new and old friends.


We leisurely walked back to our hotel. We came to this event in heavy rain and stormy weather and now the sky was clear, and the ground was dry. Exhausted by all the activity, socialization, food consumption and emotions-we pulled the shades, tucked Juliet in between us and sumptuously snoozed. Waking up later with hunger, I was determined for Hubs to have his Rainbow Trout he so yearned for. I searched on the internet “best rainbow trout in Bristol.” Based on those findings we dined at J Frank – Home | Facebook. J Frank is a true treat, a gem of a find, and a divine dining experience. The exquisitely restored 1850 Victorian home originally built during the Civil War holds a great deal of history within its aging walls. It is cozy and inviting and you feel as if you are in someone’s home verses a restaurant. We were fortunate and were accommodated with the last table that actually was created in a corner for us. As promised, Hubs ordered the Rainbow Trout. The meal was memorable, offered southern flare, wholesome goodness and a great ending to our Bristol memories.

As Hubs and I made the long journey back, we had many stories to share, reliving our 3 days in Bristol that would occupy our lengthy drive home. I began formulating this memoir-this scribe composed from a place of love, friendship and sincerity. I genuinely hope that this compilation depicts events in the context accurately, authentically and honestly. These candid tender words, my dear friend Vicki- is my proud and humble gift to you.

Love,

~B&F~

Me & My Vicki ❤️

South Dakota-Wyoming-Montana September 2021

EDELLSESCIPADES.COM-A GIRL, HER HUBS AND A SUITCASE

TOP 10:

10.Downtown Custer, South Dakota-Baker’s Bakery

9. Sheridan Wyoming-The Historic Sheridan Inn

8.Whitefish Trail, Whitefish, Montana-Hike 

7.Two Medicine East Glacier, Montana-Hike

6.Fairy Falls Hike/Old Faithful/Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

5.Moss Mansion-Billings, Montana

4.Black Hills, South Dakota

3.Great Falls, Montana-Guitar Adventure

2.Sunday Gulch Trail-Custer, South Dakota-Hike

1.The Road to the Sun-West Glacier National Park, Montana

Day 1-CUSTER, SOUTH DAKOTA

It’s Fall… it’s 2021… and it’s been 18 months since we last connected in this format. But I greet you with hope and promise that life is returning slowly. Hubs and I decided to travel closer to home embracing our USA patriotism. Starting off in South Dakota in the heart of our beautiful country and eventually moving out West to Yellowstone and ending in Glacier National Park.

Our story begins on a miserable stormy September morning on the heels of Hurricane Ida from Tampa, Florida-our home base. Thrilled to leave swamp like humidity on a gloomy Thursday and the notion of escaping the hamster wheel of COVID hospital hell has provided me a small offering of a much-needed respite. Soon enough I will be back on the masked medical pandemic merry go round so this break I am certain will nurture my soul with much needed energy, strength and purpose.

On a fully packed airplane, we departed from Tampa, Florida to our halfway point of Denver, Colorado. After a 3-hour layover full of fun purchases and vacation euphoria we continued our short journey to Rapid City, South Dakota.

WE ARE ON OUR WAY

The Rapid City airport was one of the easiest and most manageable airports I have ever frequented. Luggage retrieved within minutes, rental car premises literally steps from baggage claim and before we knew it we were outside in the cool South Dakota air. A gentle breeze and zero humidity awakened a keen sense of renewal. As we drove off in our sensible non-flashy Toyota rental car, we embraced the challenge of creating new memories and for Hubs- later on reliving old ones.

It was a pleasant short drive on a near empty highway as we drove along the rolling hills and slanted boulder slabs while the salmon-colored sky began to fade. The lulling rhythm of the motor and tranquil stilled silence was abruptly halted by a surprise appearance by a beastly intensely focused buffalo munching on grass curbside. The appealing commute eventually delivered us directly to our refuge for the next 3 days-Calamity Peak Lodge Home (calamitypeaklodge.com) -a 10 cabin cozy dwelling tucked in an ideal setting nestled in the solitude of the woods.

Owners Joe and his wife are two of the most accommodating individuals I have met on my travels to date. They both live on the premises-Joe a gravel truck driver and his wife a respiratory therapist at the VA, dedicate their time when they are not working to making Calamity Peak Lodge a home away from home. A bargain of a price makes everything about Calamity Peak Lodge is a traveler’s dream. Joe provided us with maps, brochures and amazing recommendations that were all used. Perched up above numerous wobbly slate steps, we lugged our impractical rolling suitcases (hence the name of this blog) up to our abode for the next 72 hours.  

We were hungry and ready to explore the city of Custer, South Dakota. Joe suggested Pounding Fathers BreweryMt Rushmore Brewing Company – Custer, South Dakota -located in Custer’s adorable downtown. Pounding Fathers is a two-story brewery and eatery showcasing South Dakota specialties. Under the luminescent sky, we dined outside-Hubs nursing his beer with a local Wallaby Salmon cooked in parchment paper. I would soon learn in Elk/Buffalo country vegetarian fare is challenging. But, here at Pounding Fathers I was provided a delicious veggie burger on lettuce buns. This healthy focus would diminish as the days went on replaced by high carb portable snacks for quick easy convenience.

We ventured back to Calamity Peak Lodge as the night air turned cold. The dark cabin, chilly drop in temperature and well-fed bellies of good food rendered a perfect backdrop for a blissful night’s slumber.

Day 2 Custer, South Dakota

We awoke to darkened skies and heavy rain pounding obtrusively on the roof above. Disappointment and expectation adjustment forced me to refocus. In the scheme of things, this was a small obstacle and ultimately worked in our favor reducing crowds on this Labor Day Holiday weekend.

Again, at the incredible advice of Joe and his wife, they provided yet another fabulous meal suggestion-Baker’s Bakery Cafe Bakers Bakery Cafe – You are gonna love our buns!-located in downtown Custer, close to last night’s Pounding Fathers. A kitschy, long-legged lady with politically incorrect cinnamon buns strategically stationed on her derriere region is the mascot for this divine eatery. Known for its sweets and hometown comforts it did not disappoint. A diner-escue environment greets one with a very downhome local feel to it. Lauren greeted us with friendly enthusiasm, and it was soon determined that this spunky spitfire was running the whole place-quite efficiently I may add. I had a hearty and delicious Acai bowl, sweet, fresh and satisfying. Hubs had an abundant omelet that would keep him content for hours.    

From there, we made our way to Mount Rushmore Mount Rushmore National Memorial (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov) which was very close in proximity. The seemingly empty highways penetrated the tire wheels oddly reverberating sounds akin to Indian chanting that echoed through our silent vehicle. The Black Hills, an extension of the Rocky Mountains, occupy the southern half of the state and extend into Wyoming. The geologic history dates back almost 2 billion years ago originating from a cataclysmic collision of volcanic activity and titanic plates. The result is a beautiful, striated mosaic of tilted, twisted, slanted and folded granite, limestone and other unpronounceable stone elements forming an outer galactic display of natural riveting beauty. In various light and angles, the geologic mystery becomes even more elusive creating deceptive trickery of the eye by portraying images on the imposing boulders.

The melancholy sky began to clear as we approached the grandeur of Mount Rushmore. Hovering at over 5,700 feet with the backdrop of the Black Hills Black Hills National Forest – Home (usda.gov) near Keystone, South Dakota holds the most patriotic images of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Each President representing the country’s birth, growth and preservation. There was a minimal parking fee to a garage that brings you straight to the park. A colonnade of welcoming flags wave in greeting as one progresses down the wide arcade as all the Presidents are visible. The park’s passage twists, turns and rises in elevation as the Presidents facades become viewable. Plush greenery and scaling granite monopolize the visual field. A wide range of every demographic was represented with a strong focus on family unity and an overwhelming feeling of honor and pride was evident. There is a museum down a winding stairwell that we missed that tells the stories of the brave men that helped bring this vision to life. We spent an hour in entirety there and I was fully captivated with this bucket list event.

From there, just a short distance away is the Crazy Horse Memorial Home of the Crazy Horse Memorial: Crazy Horse Memorial– it is an ongoing incomplete  mountain monument in the Black Hills. It honors the Lakota warrior-Crazy Horse, riding a horse and pointing to his tribal land. Initially sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski it continues to be a work in progress with the legacy continued by his family.