Stargazing

If you know about my affinity for Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, you probably think I’m going to write about famous people. Nope. I’m actually talking about stargazing of the astronomical kind, not the Hollywood kind.

Last year, my friend, Mary Ann, and I went to Damascus, Virginia, with five kids: her three, my daughter, and a friend of my daughter. Damascus, Virginia, is the home of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bicycle trail that starts at the top of Whitetop Mountain. For info about the trail, click here. We went to ride half the trail…the first 17 miles from the top of the mountain to the town of Damascus.

Before we went, I called ahead to the bike shop and let them know we would be coming. The bike shop I like to use, Creeper Trail Bike Rental (see website here), has a large assortment of rental bicycles for adults and children. I spoke with Craig, one of the owners of the shop with whom I had dealt before. Next, I set up a rental for the night before our ride. We opted to rent a local four-bedroom apartment for the night, so we would have plenty of room for the seven of us.

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We left Charlotte in the afternoon and arrived in Damascus a couple of hours later. It was late afternoon, and we went straight to our rental apartment. After everyone picked a room, we decided to go out to dinner. Damascus is a small town, and a lot of places close early, but fortunately, we ran into some locals who told us about a locally-owned pizza place, which turned out to be fun and delicious. It was located near a grocery store, so right after dinner, we went to the grocery store to get milk and cereal for breakfast and a few other snacks to take out on the trail with us the next day.

Once we were back at the apartment, some of the kids went inside, and a few of us stayed outside. We had noticed how clear the skies were, and thanks to Mary Ann’s oldest son, I had a new app on my phone that would help me see constellations, satellites, and stars. Mary Ann and I sat out on the picnic table in the backyard chatting for a while before lying back to see the stars. Where I live in Charlotte, there is so much city light that it’s difficult to see any stars. Add in the fact that my husband lights up the exterior of our house like an airport, and there’s not much chance of seeing anything in the sky. Using the app Mary Ann’s son had told me about, Sky Guide, I knew which satellites would be coming over the horizon, and I found constellations I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I don’t know if there was a meteor shower that night, but we saw lots of meteorites, or as I like to call them, shooting stars. The term, shooting stars, just sounds more exciting. Two of the kids came out to join us as we were stargazing, and we all were amazed at the sky above us. I had never realized just how much fun it is to stare at the sky. I could have stayed there all night.

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We were relaxed and enjoying the sky show when suddenly, we heard a loud BANG! I don’t know what we thought it was, but it scared us. Well, it scared three of us, anyway. Three of us were off that picnic table in a split second and fighting our way up the porch steps and through the back door of the apartment. Mary Ann never made it inside. She was too busy laughing at us from the picnic table. As it turns out, the sound was a truck backfiring on the road in front of the apartment, so nothing to fear, but it took a few minutes for my pulse rate to come back down. I still wonder why Mary Ann didn’t run…was it a set up? Couldn’t have been, though, because no videos of the three of us running scared have surfaced…yet. Actually, I wish we did have a video, because it had to be hilarious. We did go back to stargazing afterward, but we couldn’t stop giggling about the backfire.

The next morning, we all got up, packed up our belongings, and went to the bike shop at about 9am. Craig loaded our rented bikes onto a trailer and drove us up the mountain in his van. On the way up, we told him about our stargazing the night before, and he suggested that net time we are in the area, we should go up to the top of Whitetop Mountain and do some stargazing from there. He said it’s beautiful on a clear night. I’m hoping I can get Mary Ann to go with me again in a few weeks, but frankly, I’m a little afraid of going to Whitetop…what about bears? Or Bigfoot? Maybe we will go in my car and watch the skies through the sunroof…at least then, we could make a fast getaway if necessary. I’m not usually a wimp, but I’m a wimp about bears and Bigfoot…and mountain lions…and snakes…and spiders.

So, Mary Ann, get your shorts and sneakers, and let’s hit the trail…The Virginia Creeper Trail! Looking forward to some pizza and stargazing!

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Sunflowers

Sunflowers look like happy faces. The young ones all face the same direction…toward the sun (to read why, click here). It’s not sunflower season, but pictures of them can sure brighten a dreary, winter day. They were my daddy’s favorite flower and by default, they became my mother’s favorite too. Bees love them too. Big fields of them cause people to stop on the sides of highways for photos. Because they were my parents’ favorite, they became my favorite too.

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This month is my parents’ 57th wedding anniversary (February 18), but they aren’t here to celebrate. That’s why sunflowers are featured in the Facebook cover photo. I took that picture last summer when my friend, Meg, and I drove up to Flat Rock to see our friend, Linda, perform the role of Ursula in The Little Mermaid. We stopped right on the side of the highway and took a bunch of photos.IMG_8684

Mother died December 30. It wasn’t really expected, but not entirely unexpected either. She had been in failing health for some time, but I didn’t see it coming. We talked every day, and even before Thanksgiving, she started saying, “Always remember I love you.” I thought she was just being sentimental, but in reality, she knew she was dying. Denial was strong for me. Looking back, I should have known, but I didn’t.  She mothered me for 50 years, and she was “Mama” to anyone who needed her. Fortunately, I was with her when she passed. There was no doubt she knew I loved her, and I knew she loved me. That’s all that matters.

FullSizeRender-27When my daddy died in October 2006, we had time to prepare and time to have those long, meaningful conversations. He had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in February of that year, so we knew. We spent lots of time reminiscing with him and making jokes, because if we didn’t laugh, we would cry. He helped us get out of jams our whole lives, but we couldn’t get him out of this jam. Since our daughter was not quite three, she wasn’t enrolled in real school yet, so our little family moved down to our little condo on the bay near my parents’ house in Alabama for the last couple months of his life. We are grateful for that time together.

My husband and I got married in August of 2000, and the next spring, I planted sunflowers all over our backyard, half expecting them to survive. Surprisingly, those sunflowers grew to be the biggest I’ve ever seen! The blooms were way bigger than my head, and I have a big head. Some of the stalks were thicker than my arm, and lots of them grew to be ten feet tall…or more! When it was time, I stood on a step stool and still had trouble reaching some of the blooms to cut them.

Mother and Daddy were proud. Sunflowers are pretty easy to grow, but I had worked hard fertilizing them, staking them, and watering them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have cell phone cameras then. I did take some pictures, and they’re in the house somewhere, but I have no idea where. After that year, I never planted sunflowers again; I developed a fear that I would stick my hands in the soil and pull out a snake.

This spring, however, I plan to honor my parents by planting OUR favorites, sunflowers, in my backyard again. I’m going to overcome my fear of snakes and plant those flowers so Mother and Daddy can look down and smile.

If you want to grow your own, they’re pretty hardy flowers. You can order seeds here. There are probably more varieties than you know. The year I had all my sunflowers, I planted the seeds in trays and transferred them when they were a few inches tall, but I’ve heard people say it’s just as easy to grow them straight from the soil.

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I think the sunflowers Meg and I ran across were just west of Shelby on the south side of Highway 74. Another friend, Carolyn, tells me there is a big field of sunflowers on Hallsboro Road near Hallsboro, NC.

***Read about other sunflower fields at the bottom of the page.***

So this summer, when you see a field of sunflowers on the side of the road, I hope you’ll stop and take pictures. I’ll stop at every sunflower field I see, and I’ll be thinking of Mother and Daddy.

If you know of any sunflower fields anywhere in the US, please share the location in the comments. And please remember to invite your friends to follow Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things on Facebook.

In the meantime, keep facing the sun…

 

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Sunflower field locations 

ALABAMA

*According to Country Living’s website, there has been a sunflower field in Autauga County, Alabama, in 2016, at the intersection of Highway 14 and Highway 33. Click here to go to their website and see an aerial video (by Alabama Aerial Photography) of the field. It’s incredible! I’m hoping it’s an annual planting.

*In Summerdale, Alabama, Alligator Alley has had a field in years past. This is located in Baldwin County, about 30 miles north of Gulf Shores, AL. It’s a small field, but easily accessible to visitors of Alligator Alley. Learn more about Alligator Alley here.

*I’ve seen photos of a sunflower field at Cornfield County Farms, just north of Montgomery, Alabama, in Elmore County. See more about that here.

GEORGIA

*The Anderson’s Sunflowers are located on Shiloh Road, in Cumming, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. You can see their Facebook page here.

NORTH CAROLINA:

*The previously mentioned flowers on Highway 74, west of Shelby; and the field in Hallsboro.

*Visit The Biltmore in Asheville between July and September, and you can see their sunflowers by the road to Antler Hill Village. See more about that here.

PENNSYLVANIA

*According to Heraldmailmedia.com, there has been an annual field in Marion, Pennsylvania, at Lesher’s Poultry Farm. Read more about that here.

SOUTH CAROLINA

*The Draper Wildlife Management area in Western York County, SC. Click here for more info. I visited this one with my friend, Jenn, and our girls a few years ago. When we went, they were smaller sunflowers, but beautiful, nonetheless.

VIRGINIA

*Burnside Farms in Haymarket, Virginia, hosts the Summer of Sunflowers. You can find out more about that here.

SUNFLOWER FESTIVALS

*There are sunflower festivals all over the world! Maybe my friend, Mary Ann, will road trip with me to a Sunflower Festival this summer. To find more info about those, click here. 

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