A Week of Paintings – Set 4

It really didn’t take me a week to do these, I crammed them into a few days when Boo was home sick, but there are 7 of them. So it kind of counts right?

Bryson City recently became a trout city which means they’ll be keeping the river stocked.  I’ve always wanted to learn to fly fish so I’m hoping this will be the year I finally do it. A tiny brown trout:

brown trout

An old friend asked me if I’d be interested in an art swap. He painted this painting of Boo.  I painted a series of 4 “things that are round” starting with a pie:


And ended up with these 4 which I think all compliment each other:


A full moon, in a locket:


And Frida, in another locket:


Not the first time I’ve used Frida in art. Boo and I made this button collage a few years ago:

How to make a button collage: Frida Kahlo Button Art Collage via lilblueboo.com (click through to see the HD  time lapse video)

We also made a Cinderella and a Mona Lisa out of buttons. You can see the process here. 


The little one-of-a-kind locket paintings will be in my shop eventually.  You can follow Lil Blue Boo on Instagram to see the progress!

An index of all tiny paintings can be found here.

Have a great day!


The Raptor and the Mourning Dove

Today I heard a huge “boom” right outside my window. The dogs went wild and ran from door to window to door. As I peeked out our big living room window I could see a hawk upside down moving his wings a little. I locked up the dogs and went outside to see if he was okay. HIs little chest heaved just one or two more times and then he was completely still. I yelled at him trying to shock him back into this world, but he was gone.  Lifeless. Poor little guy. To the right of me was another bird, its neck broken, in a pool of blood. It pretty much died instantly when they both hit the side of the house going about 100 mph. Normally I wouldn’t share a photo of a dead animal but the hawk was so beautiful. Those yellow-rimmed eyes, still wide open:

At first I thought that it was a pigeon that had been killed but it turned out to be a mourning dove. I won’t share that photo, even though it’s also quite beautiful I think with the thick crimson blood and the closed periwinkle eyelid, some normal people might have an aversion to it. But I did draw it:


When I was reading about the mourning dove today I learned that it is the closest relative to the extinct passenger pigeon. Coincidentally I wrote about the extinct passenger pigeon on Instagram recently.  I’d found an origami version of the bird in the September 2014 issue of Smithsonian Magazine:


The last wild passenger pigeon died in March 1900, shot down from the sky by a boy in Ohio. The last one in captivity died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Her name was Martha. She didn’t live the best life. (imagine being the last of your kind on earth, an elderly zoo attraction in a cage, with no friends, i.e. planet-of-the-pigeon) Her body was saved though and you can see her at the National Museum of Natural History through the end of this year. In 1860 there were estimated to be almost 3.7 billion Passenger pigeons. Then they were hunted to death. Not one left.

“MARTHA, last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden. EXTINCT”
(photo source)


(You can read more about Martha here.)

Speaking of taxidermy, because I know you are super interested, right? I’m reading a book right now called Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy. It’s kind of a memoir about taxidermy. Randomly picked it up at the bookstore.  I’m all for taxidermy to preserve animals, I’m just not a fan of it for the sport of killing trophies.

Honestly, for a split second I thought about the idea of keeping the tiny hawk and having him stuffed. But…the House on Hospital Hill is not the Biltmore Estate.  We don’t really have a place for skinned and stuffed animals. Plus I’d have to go through crazy hoops probably to get salvage permits and who knows what else.  The vultures around here keep leaving me feathers and it’s illegal to even keep those according to the North American Migratory Bird Act. Even if it’s from a dead animal. I doubt there would be a federal raid if I kept just one, but I won’t take my chances.

Have you heard about the Rauschenberg’s assemblage art Canyon? (You can view it here I don’t want any part of Migratory copyright infringement of bald eagle art.)  I was following the story a few years ago. Basically Rauschenberg’s piece contained a stuffed bald eagle which meant it could never be sold. According to the heirs of an estate that owned the piece that one little fact, in theory, would give it a value of zero for estate taxes. But the IRS placed a value of $65 million on it, which carries a huge estate tax:

“The IRS is saying you have to pay the tax. If you sell the work to raise the money to pay the tax, it’s a criminal offense and you go to jail.” -Ralph Lerner, art dealer, as quoted in Art News. 

It was eventually donated to MOMA. No charitable deduction with a value of zero.

Sorry total tangent there. But I do think the use of discarded objects by Rauschenberg is very relatable to vultures in a way.

Anyway, it takes all my energy not to keep a feather…because I’m constantly picking up little things here and there for the shadow boxes we have.


Seven vultures were just staring at me yesterday morning from a tree in our yard. FYI: they don’t like to be talked to. One by one they picked themselves up and flew away:


The vultures use the thermal air currents to fly with very little effort. I watch them all the time and they are so peaceful and unassuming, rarely flapping their wings. Just gliding. I think they are a great symbol for floating through life and I think a vulture feather carries a message with it: use your energy wisely. One circled me the other day…literally just about 50 feet away, just hanging out. I could see her eyes and then she flew off. Just curious I guess. Or maybe the crows told her that I give away popcorn occasionally on the tree stump.

I know I’ve written about this before but it’s primarily why I left the two birds for the vultures today.  A sky burial:

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
-The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?

The circle of life.

Rest in peace little raptor.

Rest in peace little dove.

Excruciatingly Intricated

I’m determined to know everything about every wild plant I come across in the Smoky Mountains. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book The Signature of All Things inspired me. On walks I’ve been collecting samples and figuring out what they are and whether they are edible etc. and the origin of the names. Keeping notes and sketches in a journal with the pressed flowers to be added in at some point.


In an 1897 bird book I found last week at the used book store John Burroughs wrote in the intro:

We must in a way earn what we have or keep. Only thus does it become ours, a real part of us.


This I’m determined to do: to earn this piece of earth I live on. And I love the process of it all. Like yesterday morning, on a walk in Island Park: I found ferns uncurling, or unfurling I think is the correct term. Doesn’t this look like something down the rabbit hole:


While I was taking a photo of the fern this little guy crawled out waving all his little legs. He kept moving too fast for me to take a photo of him. Anyone who walked past would have seen my on my knees talking to a few piles of leaves. I did a little research and found out that it’s a Nantahala Millipede. That probably translates to: millipede that lives near the Nantahala.


There’s a place in the park, the north end of the island, where a large wall in the shape of a “V” has been built to break the river around the island:


If you peek over the side it is covered in secret moss, secret only because you would have to kneel down and lean carefully over the side that faces the river to see it. And when I spotted these little pods…I almost keeled over the side….what are these incredible looking things?!


There’s this passage in The Signature of All Things where Alma is explaining why she admires mosses so:

Their dignity. Also, their silence and intelligence. I like that -as a point of study- they are fresh. They are not like other bigger or more important plants, which have all been pondered and poked at by hordes of botanists already. I supposed I admit their modesty, as well. Mosses hold their beauty in elegant reserve. By comparison to mosses, everything else in the botanical world can seem so blunt and obvious.

No thank you to Mr. blunt and Mrs. obvious. I spent a lot of time photographing the hidden side of a wall trying to capture it pieces of it, mostly because I have the worst eyesight and I can enlarge photos.

I mean, is this Narnia?!


I didn’t notice this spider until later. He was doing a great job camouflaging himself. Creepy little bugger.


Look at these teeny, tiny little ferns taking hold in a vertical wall. Ferns for ants. If I was an ant I’d set up a little camp site on that tiny little ledge and spend lots of time there roasting miniature marshmallows on a miniature campfire reading a miniature book.


Nature’s carpet, full of seed pods and dandelion wisps.


Gosh, this:

But sometimes I fear that my world has become too detailed. My books on mosses take me years to write, and my conclusions are excruciatingly intricated, not unlike those elaborate Persian miniatures one can study only with magnifying lens. My work brings me no fame. It brings me no income, either – so you can see I am using my time wisely!

Am I using my time wisely? I guess so, and I guess we all struggle with how we are supposed to use our time. I am always working. Working from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep. Collecting, writing, reading, and filtering. One day hopefully it will all translate into the end result I want it to. The castle in the air, right? When people ask me how my writing is going I tell them fine. And every once in a while all of that writing is packaged into a nice little package that may someday be used…or not used.  I recently had a chapter workshopped in a group of writers. As they critiqued my work, and I listened on mute, I cried. I mean I bawled. Because they got it. And I’d been in such fear that maybe I was not getting it. One writer said “this is a big existential piece” and I had to go and look up existential. And I thought maybe I should start learning and adding some bigger words to my vocabulary.

Our pastor’s wife Jodi (who you’ve read before here) shared this verse last Sunday:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14


A vanishing mist. I love that. According to Boo’s NatGeo magazine: the amount of water on earth never changes. What?! A constant? Last summer on Mt. LeConte I watched a delicate mist turn into a roaring river:

“The mist begins to condense onto the vegetation and then it begins to drip and then a trickle turns into a stream. As it’s filtered through moss and rock it gets funneled into tiny waterfalls across the trail…which eventually compound into the larger streams below.”  from High and Far Off Places

How to Get to Mt. Le Conte Lodge

This ranks high up there with the time I found the place where the river meets the lake. I never even imagined that there was a beginning and end to a river. It’s like the mystical end of a rainbow.

 Moss is inconceivably strong. Moss eats stone; scarcely anything, in return, eats moss. moss dines upon boulders, slowly but devastatingly, in a meal that lasts for centuries. Given enough time, a colony of moss can turn a cliff into gravel, and turn that gravel into topsoil. Under shelves of exposed limestone, moss colonies create dropping, living sponges that hold on tight and drink calciferous water straight form the stone. Over time, this mix of moss and mineral will itself turn into travertine marble.

Moss grows where nothing else can grow. It grows on bricks. It grows on tree bark and roofing slate. It grows in the Arctic Circle and in the balmiest tropics. It also grow on the fur of sloths, on the backs of snails, on decaying human bones. -Page 169, The Signature of All Things


Moss just needs time.

My friend author Patti Digh has always given me the greatest advice, I wrote this down recently:

We care too much about what people think. Your job is to write. Write what is true to you. We jump too quickly to putting our work out to other people.

I’m very cozy in my little world and all its details. It’s not glamorous or flashy or fame-filled, but it’s excruciatingly intricated, and full of moss and ferns and centipedes. And it may take me a million years to finish my castle in the air, but I can see it. I’m turning a cliff into gravel. With my health history you might think I’d be in a hurry, but quite the opposite. When the mist vanishes, it turns into another trickle. I think that’s kind of existential. Dictionary please.

And so, with that I am going to go and keep writing. Right after I do our taxes.

P.S. I did not spell check or grammar check this post. Sorry for any typos. And any incomplete thoughts.

Organizing Art Supplies

Since moving to the House on Hospital Hill everything has just been organized in “survival mode.” Brother P-Touch invited me to try my hand at some organization projects and so I recently re-organized all my craft and art supplies. Here’s my little animated gif of the process for my supply drawers…Max was so interested in what I was doing:


There was a method to my madness:  if I use something at least monthly it can stay in my flat file drawers, otherwise iot’s either banished permanently or to the basement.  I basically pulled everything out first, sorted and then labeled and put things back in. I’m so organized now that I ended up with empty drawers to fill up in the future:

Organizing Craft and Art Supplies #brother #labelit #organizing

Things that don’t fit into the flat file drawers usually fit into these scrapbook boxes. It’s easy to distinguish what is in each one when they are labeled correctly:

Organizing Scrapbooking and Art Supplies #brother #labelit #organizing

The boxes are also great for organizing all the artwork and items Boo brings home from school. Organized by year:

As the years go by I usually revisit the boxes and things I thought were important become not-so-significant-anymore. What was maybe once three boxes can now be fit into one and then I can use the old boxes for new organization because the labels are easily removed:


And when I get to labeling I just can’t stop. We have remotes for all the fans and lights in the house and I label each one to keep them straight:

Brother P-Touch Label Projects #brother #labelit #organizing

I love all the ideas that are being added to Brother’s “Label It” Pinterest board this week. Make sure to check it out to see some great organization and labeling ideas!


A Week of Paintings – Set 3

I actually painted last week, after taking some time off for traveling. It’s a manageable goal to pick a week and say: I’m going to paint 7 little paintings this week. Here’s what I painted last week:

Peanut Butter


A Rooster:


The Moon. Notice I am stuck in March and even though it was April 2 I dated it March 2.


A tiny portion of one of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings.  Still stuck in March:


George Washington or Bust:


A key from an old door. Or an old key from a door?


Tomato Soup:



You can find all the paintings here. 

Try fitting 7 acts of creativity this week!

Train Signals

Walking downtown this evening through the train tracks:

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City

I don’t set an alarm clock in the morning because the train starts blowing it’s horn each day around 8:45am. It’s a much nicer sound than waking up to a blaring beep. I’ve been noticing the trend in the horn, there’s a pattern to it. Obviously there’s a train horn language I’ll need to learn now that we live so close. I think I’m figuring it out without looking it up:

three short blasts = backing up

That’s all I’ve got right now. The horn blows so often that I actually have to focus on paying attention to it, otherwise I really don’t hear it.  Because of the winding roads around here some people have to cross over the tracks a few times to get home, that means more than once…and there isn’t always a little gate doohickey to come down. You actually have to PAY attention, especially in the summer when it comes in and out of town twice a day.

Boo has a new pair of overalls…she could fit right in behind the scenes of the railroad. The hardware store ordered me a pair too. I haven’t had a pair since I moved out to California. I might just wear overalls all the time…when I’m not wearing flannel shirts of course. I’ve come to the conclusion that you really only need 2 good pairs of jeans, a few t-shirts, a few flannels, and a pair of overalls to get along just fine. Oh and maybe one or two nice shirts to wear to a wedding. (that’s for you Harper, I’m not going to wear my overalls to your wedding.)


Boo and I went to the thrift store to see if she could find anything for Easter. Instead we found this old phone. Who wants to wear an Easter dress anyways…I never did. I told her she could wear her bunny t-shirt instead. I’m not wearing a dress…I’ll probably wear a t-shirt too since I’ll be handing out drinks at the big Easter event afterwards (that EVERYONE is invited to btw, The Grove on Franklin Grove Church Rd).  Oh, this phone has one of the old plugs…I wonder if I could get it converted. Funny, around here phone numbers are still only 7 digits. No one ever gives the area code. I’m not used to that yet, and when I ask what the area code is I get strange looks.

Vintage Rotary Phone

Boo had her first piano lesson last week. We can walk there…her teacher lives above the old drugstore where his antique shop is. He collects old clocks and they all chime at different times which I think is fantastic. I can’t even make this amazing stuff up.

Small Town USA

An old friend from high school asked if I wanted to do an art swap. I paint a few of my 3″ paintings for him and he’ll paint something in return. I didn’t expect this huge painting to arrive in 4.5′ x 3.5′ box!  How awesome is this painting of the depot by my friend Alex:


I might send my tiny paintings back in the same box he sent the painting in. Just to be funny.

Bryson City Outdoors opened this week! It’s only been open a few days but it’s been a great success so far with lots of visitors. Our friend Sarah made a huge detour on her way back home to DC to come and take some store photos. They came out with a new “Elk” t-shirt today too. If you missed what all that’s about read about the big renovation project here.  Here’s a photo of the building at night before opening day:


If you make it to Bryson City this summer make sure to stop by and say hi to my hubby Brett! Boo will probably be running around too…and I try and stop by at least once a day, usually towards the end of the day.

Oh, and it’s National Poetry Month. I wrote about that in my weekly letter today. (if you missed it you can find it in the archives)

Have a great weekend!





How to Make Stamped Solder Pendants

How to make stamped solder pendants solder jewelry

This was such a fun project. I made all of these cute little pendants using plain old plumbing solder! I think they resemble wax seals or old coins:

Bernzomatic torch projects: jewelry pendants

Basic List of Materials (a little goes a long way):

TS4000 Bernzomatic Trigger Start Torch
MAP Fuel Canister (yellow)
1 Roll of Sterling Plumbing Solder
1 Roll of Copper Picture Wire (18 Gauge)
Non-Asbestos Soldering Block
Lead-free Water-Soluble Flux
Rubber Craft Stamps (Postmarks)

Optional but Recommended:
Parchment Paper
Bon Ami Powder

Each pendant only requires a tiny bit of solder and a few inches of copper wire making it a very inexpensive project:


Here’s my TS4000 Bernzomatic Torch. It ignites with just a push of the button so it’s not scary or hard to use. Once you start torching…it’s kind of hard to stop!


The pendants are primarily made up of metal from melting this sterling plumbing solder:


To created the base of the pendant I used 18 gauge copper wire. Using pliers I created this “8” shape:


I use a non-asbestos soldering block to fire against. It can withstand the heat:


Brush a little bit of flux onto the copper wire. This will help the solder adhere to the wire:


Using the torch, carefully heat the solder so that drops of solder begin to fall into and around the copper circle. It doesn’t have to be precise. Once there’s enough solder to fill the circle let the piece cool.  I put parchment paper underneath because it will catch any extra beads of solder that can also be reheated to create pendants:

molten solder stamping

Use the torch to remelt the solder. If you burn heat in a circular pattern around the edges the solder will shift towards the center into a circular glob:

rubber stamped jewelry

Take a regular craft stamp, mine are the “Far Off Posts” set by Dawn Houser:


Press the rubber stamp onto the molten solder. They need to be wood-mounted so you don’t have to get your fingers near the molten solder.


One the sterling solder has cooled you can just tap the stamp on the block and the pendant will fall away:


Kind of addicting to make these…feels a little like minting money: [Read more…]

The BCO Renovation: Indoors

So yesterday I shared all the renovations to the outside of Bryson City Outdoors. I think what we are most proud of is how much recycling and environmentally-friendly thought went into it:

Salvaged windows
Salvaged doors
Reclaimed barn wood walls
Recycled/reclaimed wood furniture
Recycled paper bag floors
Recycled lighting
Recycled A/C system and energy efficient gas furnace
Locally sourced low-impact hemlock siding
And all the t-shirts are recycled from plastic bottles.

And what happened to the old stuff:

The new roof was built over the old to reduce waste
The old drop ceiling tiles were upcycled to our church to repair damaged tiles
The old brick was saved for a future project so it won’t end up in the landfill
The old windows were sold to someone for use in a greenhouse
All the large hemlock scraps were saved for art projects

The past few weeks have also been spent working simultaneously on the indoors. I love stopping by each day to see what’s new. The building used to be two separate retail spaces, and the floors were even different levels.  One of the doors to the outside was like a miniature door because of a step-down. That door is now gone. Here is the inside when demolition first started:


(photo courtesy of Bryson City Outdoors in Instagram)

The demolition found all kinds of stuff behind the walls including a few windows that had been covered by drywall. And once all the ceiling tiles were removed they revealed beautiful soaring rafters:


Oh, I should show you a REAL before photo of the interior: (click here to see the exterior before)


The office is in one corner of the building and the door you see from the retail space was found at Habitat ReStore in Asheville. The interior window was left in place and painted with chalkboard paint:


 (photo courtesy of Dwayne Parton on Instagram)

 A few interior walls were covered with reclaimed barn wood, and the sides were drywalled to make electrical easier. Here is Ben painting one of the walls where drywall went up:


In person I think the wall color looks just like the color of Ben’s dog Lager. Below Lager and Max are meeting for the first time. Now they are old pals.


Ben also painted this amazing mural map on the wall depicting the Great Smoky Mountains’ North Carolina side. Complete with all the main trails and distances. So when people visit they can see how close Deep Creek is to downtown Bryson City…just a few miles…and three gorgeous water falls within a short walk.


The concrete floor was such a mess that the guys decided to put down a paper bag floor. The floor is made of Elmer’s glue, paper and polyurethane. It looks like high end concrete. And if it gets messed up all you have to do is add another layer to that spot. I’ll upload a tutorial in the next day or so.


The conference table in the office was made from a 1950’s era window that we just had replaced in our living room on Hospital Hill. The legs of the table were reclaimed from fence posts Brett found at his mother’s house in Mississippi. All of the carpet was salvaged from a “model train” room in our friend’s house that was being torn down.  It was in perfect condition.


Here is Brett making the base for the table from the reclaimed fencing:


A table made from reclaimed wood for a display:


How awesome are these chairs? These were given to us by our friends Nick and Suzie to fix up. They just needed a little sanding and a layer of clear coat:


Here they are in the building. The side table was made from a slice of one of the trees we cut down in our yard. I’ve been collecting outdoor books when I come across them at the used book store, doesn’t every outfitter need an outdoor-themed reference nook?


The building used to be a jewelry store and a pawn shop among other things over the years.  There was a huge built-in concrete vault.  A few sections were cut out to make windows and now it’s the check-out area. I think my favorite part of the whole renovation is how the guys worked with the existing finishes of the walls and left as much as they could original.


The retail store is slowing coming together. The other day Boo came home wearing this awesome hat with the new logo on it:


Today Boo and I stopped by and saw this yummy pile of folded t-shirts getting ready to be put out on the floor.  Each BCO shirt is 100% recycled.  Each one is made from 8 plastic bottles.


One of the designs, “the Smokies” tee, is by my artist friend Stephanie Corfee. And I love the Leave No Trace shirt:


The grand opening of the store is scheduled for the end of next week.  I’m so excited for everyone involved. All the t-shirts designs will be offered online too as they are added. You can see the current ones here.   I’ll post more photos soon as the store inside is set up!

Walking Away to The Outdoors

So this is a long overdue Brett update. After the post I wrote last year about walking away from everything the most perpetual question I get from people is: What will your husband do?  I think people might have assumed he retired? Some thought we bought the inn we were staying at.

For the past few months Brett’s been renovating a building in downtown Bryson City. Just a little background, last October we were looking at places to live after the inn and we started with downtown Bryson City because we thought renovating some retail spaces that we could live above would be a fun project. After looking at a few places I had second thoughts about living right downtown, I needed more personal space. Right around then we ended up finding the House on Hospital Hill. But after looking at a few places an old building on the corner of Main Street, right in the middle of town square caught Brett’s eye.

When our agent Marty took us to look at it I was like: are you serious?! But Brett was serious. Last summer we got to know two guys, Ben and Dwayne, owners of a web company WNC Interactive. They were helping me change some stuff around on my website.  Brett became instant friends with them. When they weren’t working on websites they were renting paddle boards at the lake under the name Bryson City Outdoors.  Ben even took us out one day so we could try it out.

Brett: I think the building on the corner would be perfect for Bryson City Outdoors.
Me: That building is horrendous.

But Brett, Ben and Dwayne were able to look past the horrendous-ness. It took me a little longer to visualize it, but the more I heard Brett talk about how he thought he could help out this small local company the more excited I got about seeing him excited. Plus, we are all about giving back and the result would be fixing up the building that is always conveniently left out of Bryson City photos. And so we put in an offer and soon we had a deal. Shortly after that Brett became partners with Ben and Dwayne in Bryson City Outdoors.

It’s been an entirely different experience renovating a building downtown, in a small town. The locals stop by all the time to see the progress. Each visitor has an opinion how something should be done. You have to have a little bit of a thick skin for that, and a friendly demeanor: that’s Brett.  Most everyone is glad that someone is finally updating the building that has sat there so long. And everyone just wants to know what it’s going to be. I usually reply: Walmart. 

Here is the building when we bought it back in October:


I don’t want to scare you but here are a few photos:


The first stage of demo to the inside. That was awesome as the guys found secret walls and windows revealing the past history of the building:


The goal was to use as many reclaimed, recycled and locally sourced materials as possible. We were able to salvage all of the large windows from a home our friends were tearing down in Charlotte to replace the old ones in the building.  Below is a photo of Ben and Brett installing the first windows….they had to cut through a concrete wall to enlarge it:


Slowly the exterior began to come off. A friend stopped me in the grocery store one day and said: every time another layer comes off of that building it gets a little uglier.


Making room for a new window out front:


All the new windows put in! But no roof.


Brett had our friend Erik Perkins sketch out and plan a new roof:


The Perkins brothers, Erik and Jaime, took control of this huge roof job:


Amazing what a pitched roof can do for an old building!


Then the awning was added:


See that diagonal walkway in the photo above? I always wondered why that was there, until I found this old photo below of Bryson City’s main square and you can see that the diagonals mark the old intersection. It’s now been squared off.  This photo is from about 1910 I think. The BCO building stands at the bottom right corner where that pitched roof peeks up behind the brick building:


Everyone involved are the hardest workers. They were even out there when it was snowing.

snowBrett(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

 That’s Erik sawing in the freezing cold:


(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

Hemlock siding was chosen because it could be sourced from a local sawmill, which makes it low impact to the environment because it only had to be transported a few miles. Each piece was picked out one by one:


The siding was done in a board and batton pattern, which just means using vertical panels and then covering the seams with smaller strips of wood. The cedar shakes were stained (“Bark” by Cabot) before they started putting them on:


Industrial lighting was added under the awning:

lightingbrett(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

The green door is Bryson City Outdoor’s signature color:

tables(photo courtesy of Brett Hackshaw on Instagram)

The finished exterior. We may have set a record for the amount of reclaimed, recycled, and re-used materials ever used to renovate a building on a shoestring budget. All the amazing industrial lighting inside Ben salvaged from a Buckle Store in Asheville. We even reused the old air conditioner that came out of our house. Just wait until you see the inside!

And meanwhile the inside was also being worked on. You can read about that here. 

So proud of this guy. And all the guys. And Ben and Dwayne thanks for having faith in us. And thank you to everyone who has been involved from the start. It’s been a lot of hard work. You can follow more of the progress and look for the grand opening at @brysoncityoutdoors, @bretthackshaw and @dwayneparton on Instagram.

Brett Hackshaw


And there’s an awesome outdoor blog too…devoted to one of the prettiest places on earth:


In closing, I would like to send prayers to the family and friends of Mike Jones. He was the electrical contractor that worked on our building, and even more recently our home. He lost his life unexepectedly earlier this week. It was a great shock to everyone.  Our hearts are heavy. I had only met him a few times but I know many of our friends who worked on the building were very close to him. You just never know what’s going to happen in this life. Make the most of it. And like Mike did for me: be friendly and smile to everyone you cross paths with.

The Ghost of a Seminary School

When we were in D.C. two weeks ago my friend Sarah said: I have a place to take you. I think you’ll love it. And we went to the National Park Seminary grounds. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am obsessed with old, abandoned places. This place was like a dream for me. The original/unrestored portion of the grounds reminded me of The Shining meets Epcot, and in the best sort of way.

The Seminary isn’t necessarily abandoned because it’s slowly being rehabilitated, but it’s only half way there. The other half is still boarded up and in need of conservation and repair. It was a resort hotel until 1893, and then was turned into a finishing school for young women. Walter Reed Army Hospital acquired the property in 1942 and used it as a medical annex. Back when it was a school, the girls were required to join a  sorority and held their social events in small one-of-a-kind themed clubhouses: a pagoda, a castle, a windmill-like Dutch house, Greek and colonial are just a few examples. The quotes I’ve listed throughout are from plaques on the grounds.


This was closed off, but my curiosity gets the best of me:


“The Forest Inn was built in 1887 as a summer resort hotel. In 1894 it was leased and alter purchased by John and Vesta Cassedy to be the National Park Seminary for young women. The hotel building became known as Main and was expanded several times, providing space for classrooms, dormitory rooms, and school offices. When the Walter Reed Army Hospital acquitted the seminary in 1942, it used Main for administrative offices and convalescent wards.”


Part of the hospital and power plant:


Buildings seemingly mismatched together and connected with more tunnels:




Love the round porthole windows:

Boarded up:


A room in one of the sorority houses:


“Although originally built in 1887 as a resort, the first structure on what is now National Park Seminary was converted into a girls’ finishing school by the beginning of the 20th century. Under the guidance of three different headmasters the site transformed itself into what has been called a “Fairy Tale Setting.” The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago influenced much of the diverse architecture and landscaping, and the school’s first headmaster purchased a book of plans at the exposition from which many of the single family homes on the site were designed. At its peak, National Park Seminary boasted tuition rates higher that both Harvard and Yale and catered to some of the nation’s most influential families.”

I think this is the Colonial house:


A picture from the early 20th century:


Here’s an old picture of a young student on the porch of the Greek building. The students held their meetings and social events in the small unique houses. Eight houses were built between 1896 and 1905:

Here is the Japanese Pagoda house:


The castle is really cool. Really hard to access because the bridge was removed in the 1960’s:


Early photo of the castle. Match up the windows with the previous photo and you’ll see the changes.


 “Hotel guests and seminary students arrived at the Forest Glen railroad station and entered the campus by one of several bridges across the glen. The natural beauty of the glen was enhanced with stone paths, stairways, and a grotto. The bridges were removed and part of the glen was lost when the Capital Beltway was built in the early 1960s. The Italian Villa, a dormitory built in 1907, and the English Castle, built in 1904 for the Pi Beta Nu sorority, can be seen across the glen.”


A great video showing before and after photos of the entire renovation process, plus the extent of ruin and disrepair they were in,  can be found here. It’s all fascinating…reminds me of the big house in the movie Great Expectations. 

The buildings were interconnected by covered walkways to protect the students as they walked from building to building and that’s what you see below. I think they were added by the 2nd headmaster of the school:


We toured this building which used to be the President’s house:


Here’s a photo from back in the day, the overlook doesn’t exist anymore, it’s now just a solid floor:


The “Main” building as it’s called:


Once the hotel here it is as a dining area for students. Pretty posh. All that woodwork has been restored:


Inside the hallways today. Walking through them I definitely heard the voices of the past:


A view of the Greek house with the smoke stack in the back. And how cool are those passageways?


The ballroom was built in 1927 as a social gathering place for students of National Park Seminary, and later, for soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Want to know more? There is a full lecture with photos and history on the ballroom here. 


Girls outside of the gymnasium, which by the way is being completely renovated and the swimming pool will be a sunken living room for whoever lives there.


Yes, a fairy tale setting. I’m so glad it’s being saved. Nothing makes me more disappointed than old historic buildings being bulldozed.


You can read more about the history of the Seminary here. I love this project.


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