Upcycling a Window from a Door

There’s one window in the old depot that we’ve had trouble finding a match for without having one made. We were going to patch something together eventually but then over the weekend our friend Marty texted Brett a picture of a door that was being thrown out. Lightbulb! By late afternoon Brett had picked it up and cut out the window to reuse for the depot. Installed on hinges it can swing open for a cross breeze. It worked out perfectly:

Fixing up the train depot: upcycling a window out of a door

When I was growing up the farmer who boarded my horses re-used everything. Everything. I remember a few of the gates to some of the pastures were old vintage metal bed frames with metal wire holding the hinges on. Old horseshoes were used for hooks, and sometimes hinges as well. So many of Mr. Rea’s re-use ideas that I used to laugh at are now on Pinterest as “rustic decor.” I think Mr. Rea would be proud of this upcycling, and if he were alive today he could have cared less about Pinterest:


(More on the old train depot here.)

Fontana Dam, The Fugitive and the Whole Famn Damily

We went to Fontana Dam today. It’s only about 40 minutes from Bryson City. The big plan was to checkout the Fontana visitor center, eat a picnic lunch, and play cards by the lake (Boo’s request). So that’s what we did:

Fontana Lake from Fontana Dam Picnic Area

It’s an easy drive and a scenic one. Here is one of the overlooks on Highway 28. It doesn’t look real in the photo and it doesn’t look real in person either!

Fontana Lake on the way to Fontana Dam

The first thing we noticed when we drove up to Fontana was it must have been “Inspector Appreciation Day” because there were all these official looking guys in hard hats and reflective green vests. They didn’t keep us from walking and driving across though.

Fontana Dam Inspections

Fact: Fontana Dam is the tallest dam in the Eastern United States.

Fontana Dam in the Great Smoky Mountains

It also has a rich, fascinating history. The information center at the dam has a bunch of binders full of old photos in it dating back to the 1930’s (you kind of have to look for them on the counter). The Fontana Dam was built during WWII to control flooding in the area and to power Alcoa’s aluminum production. ENTIRE towns were displaced i.e. submerged when the dammed water level rose. (And of course there is the whole “Road to Nowhere” story you’ll want to check out about the lost cemeteries.)

Fontana Dam War Poster

Source: US National Archives

The scary part of the dam (besides all the cracks, which I’m sure the inspectors are taking care of) are the huge spillways that could swallow up school buses like bon-bons:


When we drove down to the bottom of the dam Boo said:

Let’s get out of here. I have a bad feeling about this.

I guess that’s normal when you are looking at a concrete wall holding back over 630 million cubic meters of water.

(There’s an app for that: TVA Water Info. You can see water releases and operating information for dams in the area.)

A random tidbit: If you drive across the dam and look towards the visitor center you can spot a little metal track running up from the powerhouse into the trees. That track used to be an incline tram to take visitors into the dam’s inner workings. They stopped all that after 9/11/01.

Another random tidbit: The power generated by the TVA system also had a hand in creating the atomic bomb, providing the necessary power to create nuclear material at Oak Ridge aka “The Atomic City.”

If you want to read more I recommend this book:

Fontana: A Pocket History of Appalachiafontana
by Lance Holland

The fascinating history of the Fontana Dam and surrounding area.  I love that it includes photos and diagrams. The undertaking of the TVA to build this dam and resulting lake is pretty incredible, and there is the devastating part of the North Shore families who were cut off from their homes when the lake waters rose (hence the “Road to Nowhere).


Ok quick movie quote trivia:

“Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

That monologue was the best. The movie debuted in 1993! Good grief I’m getting old. Yes, The Fugitive. And guess what? Not far from Fontana is the Cheoah Dam, also known as the THE FUGITIVE DAM!  The same one that Harrison Ford made his escape via in the movie. If you look closely there aren’t any tunnels for Harrison Ford to jump out of. The tunnel scenes were filmed elsewhere, but all the other scenes were filmed right at this little dam in the middle of the rural North Carolina mountains:

Cheoah Dam also The Fugitive Dam

A few miles before you get to Cheoah there is this huge powerhouse with enormous pipelines going up the mountain side. These pipelines come all the way from the Lake Santeetlah Dam (not easy to photograph)….you actually drive under them again if you follow NC 28/US 129 back to Bryson City via Robbinsville/Stecoah. This never made sense to me until I drove it today and realized that Lake Santeetlah is much higher than Cheoah:

“Water travels from the Santeetlah reservoir through an intake in the dam and passes through a five-mile steel pipeline to the powerhouse. This pipeline is both above- and below-ground, and extends through various mountains and ridges via five separate tunnels and six elevated pipelines. The above-ground sections ofthe pipeline are 11 feet in diameter, and rest on steel support beams and concrete abutments.” –National Register of Historic Places

Okay so the pipeline is 11 feet in diameter. Told you it was enormous.

P.S. One LAST little interesting thing I must tell you about. It has to do with The Fugitive. The train wreck scene was actually filmed in Dillsboro, right outside of Bryson City. It was a REAL train wreck. They wrecked a REAL train. And then left a real WRECKED train:

The Fugitive Train Wreck Dillsboro NC

Photo by Vicky Somma Flickr Creative Commons Copyright
The Fugitive Train Wreck Dillsboro NCPhoto by Vicky Somma Flickr Creative Commons Copyright

It’s not easy to see though except by river, otherwise you have to venture onto private property and I feel the need to post this now: Trespassing is a crime where someone else enters or stays on the property without consent or permission. 

P.P.S. So I’ve added this post to my “Smokies” page. Click the image below for more stuff around the Smoky Mountains and Bryson City.


P.P.P.S. I might be available for guided tours if you are willing to pay my ridiculously unreasonable hourly rate…still being calculated.

A Week of Writing Prompts – Week 3

(Daily writing prompts are posted Monday through Friday at 7am on Facebook. This is the weekly roundup with a few excerpts from my personal journal. The goal is to write for at least 10 minutes without stopping, regardless of what ends up on the paper. Feel free to share writing in the comment section. Write on!)

Prompt 11: Pick one word from the list and write to wherever it takes you:


From my journal:
“Betty Botta bought some butter but the butter was bitter? I’ve never once had bitter butter. I’ve never once put bitter butter in my batter. Total fiction.”


Prompt 12: Find an old portrait of a stranger or family member. (A Google search of “CDV Portrait” will pull up hundreds of old portraits.) Take a moment to study the photo you found. If you hit an imaginary “play” button on the photo what could you imagine the person saying to you? 

From my journal:
“The girl in the photo: I have to hold this pose for so long my lips begin to twitch. You know about that don’t you? Your lips twitch too when you are smiling. Then you start to sweat and wonder if anyone notices. Can you see the pressure of sadness weighing down my eyelids? “


Prompt 13: Lunchbox.

From my journal:
“I always wanted Koolaid in my thermos for lunch and I was always jealous of the kids that did have it. I think my first lunchbox was either Carebears or maybe even Rainbow Brite. Funny that all those lunch boxes are collectors items now. Mine’s probably in a trash dump somewhere or it’s been melted down for scrap.”


Prompt 14: Read this quote and then write about it:

“There are your fog people & your sun people.” –from Still Mostly True, Brian Andreas

From my journal:
“Maybe fog people are suspended in air like little water droplets. Maybe sun people are just energy and plasma. That’s all I know about that so here’s what happened on the plane…”


Prompt 15: Degrees of separation.

From my journal:
“He asked me how my day was going and then asked me where I was from. He was from Jordan, the middle east. And there was the guy that helped me on the train, he was from Mexico. His entire family is still there. What was the degree of separation between those two before they moved here? Maybe 8? And now they are probably at about a 3 in this big city. Do trees have an average degree of separation? A sycamore tree can product 10,000 of those little helicopter seeds in one year and the float through the air and down streams. That must calculate into something.”


More posts on writing here:

More on the Lil Journal Project here:

The Lil Journal Project via lilblueboo.com

Weaving, Watercolor, Paper and Transfers

I posted photos on Instagram over the weekend about my trip and I plan to do a longer post but I had so many questions on the classes that I wanted to go ahead and post where you can start watching them. They are free until August 22nd so get moving!

I always love learning something new. This weekend I learned weaving, watercolor, image transfers and paper flowers.

My watercolor project:


My weaving project: (all materials are from Michaels except for the peg loom we used in class which you can find here, the free class shows you how to make your own loom using nails)


Click here for the link or the image below to view the four videos over on the Michaels Makers blog.



A big thank you to Michaels and Creativebug for making them available! Enjoy!

A few lil blue boo tutorials too below (if image link doesn’t work click here):

journal DIY


Pinhole Photography: Developing the Darkroom Photo

It’s been a while since I talked about Pinhole Photography! This post covers how to develop pinhole photos using the black and white photo paper. (You can find the entire series here.)

Boo’s photos that she’s taken with a pinhole camera are some of my favorite ever. They almost remind me of Sally Mann’s work.

Pinhole self-portrait:


A photo Boo took of her horses:


There are two posts that led up to this post:

1. Building a Wide-Angle Pinhole Camera


A DIY Coffee Can Pinhole Camera (Wide Angle) via lilblueboo.com #pinhole #diy #tutorial #photography


2. How to Load and Take a Photo with the Pinhole Camera



So once the photo paper has been exposed how do you develop it?  Here’s an overview of darkroom supplies needed(click image to download the printable version):

Printable Basic Dark Room Supply List (Pinhole Camera Series) via lilblueboo.com  #pinhole #pinholephotography #photography #exposure #darkroom


Darkroom supplies you can find them at the below links. You’ll be able to use them over and over again (except for the photo paper):

Supply & Source Links: (all of the dark room materials and film paper will run you about $85.00)

A bathroom or laundry room without light
A small desk lamp

Foma Fomaspeed Variant III VC RC Paper 5×7/25 Sheets

Dark Room Supplies:
11W Red Safelight Bulb
Three 5×7″ Developing Trays
Stop Bath
Filter Funnel
Print Tongs
Datatainers for Storing Chemicals


At this stage you’ve carefully loaded the black and white photo paper into the pinhole camera and opened the shutter to expose the paper. The most important thing here is to WAIT until you are back in your dark room set-up to remove the paper. If you open up your camera and remove the paper without using the safelight in a dark room you will ruin the photo!

This is our easy setup in a hall bathroom:


This works great because the materials easily pack up into a box for storage and we can bring them back out again when needed:


The most important part of the setup is that there’s no light coming through into the room. This is why we use a safelight. (I also put towels around the bottom of the door where light leaked in.) I just replaced the bulb in a desk lamp with the 11W Red Safelight Bulb:


And then basically we have three trays:


And three kinds of chemicals: Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer


And three containers for the mixing chemicals (ratios for mixing will be on each bag of chemicals):


Once all your chemicals are mixed you’ll put a small amount in each tray, enough to cover the photo paper when it’s dipped down into the solution. Keep the trays in the following order:



Close the door to the dark room.

Carefully remove the photo paper from the pinhole camera and dip it down into the first tray. And follow the following directions:


While the lights are out you might as well reload the pinhole camera for another round of photos! Once the paper has gone through the fixer in tray #3 you can turn on the light to rinse under warm water. Boo getting ready to transfer her photo to the sink for rinsing:



This is what the photos will look like at this point. They are still in their negative form:


There is a whole process for creating the final print where you take the negative and put it together with another piece of photo paper and expose it. I will cover it at some point but for now I am going to show you the digital process for creating the final print. I scan the negative into a photo editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or iPhoto and then invert the image:


A sample photo with their negative:



Hope all of that is straight forward enough. Let me know if you have any questions.

P.S. I created this handy little guide sheet to help with the development stage. Click here to download the PDF or click the image below:




The whole series is indexed here:



Kayaking on Fontana

Here is Boo learning to kayak out on Fontana tonight:

Fontana Lake Kayaking right outside of Bryson City

This was an exciting weekend because Bryson City Outdoors starting adding kayaks to the current fleet of stand-up paddle boards. The local Crossfit group (Crossfit 2232) was the first to take them all out to get some lake training in yesterday:

Crossfit Bryson City on Fontana Lake - Bryson City Outdoors

I followed Brett and Boo across the lake tonight as they shared a tandem kayak. Never in a million years would I have imagined living here and being a part of an outdoor business:

Kayaking on Fontana Fingerlake - Malibu Kayak

I was trying to take some video. Instead I got this awesome accidental selfie of my shoe (Salomon Techamphibian shoes rock):

Ashley Hackshaw - Fontana Lake

We stopped and watched these guys jump off the rope swing across the lake. You have to cross the lake to get there. This guy must have been about 30 feet in the air:

Rope Swing over Fontana


I think this place must be one of the most beautiful places on earth:

Kayak Rentals at Fontana Lake Bryson City

Romantic Asheville just did a great story on Bryson City here voting it the “Coolest Mountain Town.” They included a photo of Bryson City Outdoors partner Ben King and his dog Lager on the river. Yes, you can paddle board and/or kayak on the Tuckaseegee River right downtown in Bryson City too:

Stand Up Paddleboard Rentals Bryson City(photo courtesy of Romantic Asheville Travel Guide)

Information on stand-up paddle board and kayak rentals can be found at Bryson City Outdoors. You can even reserve the boards and kayaks ahead of time here. 

And just a few awesome things about renting from BCO:

1. There’s water-side valet. “BCO knows that not every one can haul a 12ft SUP around. That’s why we actually deliver the boards & kayaks to the fingerlake and even carry them down to the water for you at no additional charge.”

2. Life jackets are provided. Just bring yourself to Bryson City.

3. You are supporting local small business! Thank you!

P.S. I get a LOT of emails asking for recommendations on things to do in Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains so I’ve started my own little “things to do” page. It’s brand new and I’m just updating it as I get time but check it out if you get a chance. Thanks!

Polar Opposites

Max and Diesel couldn’t be any farther apart in personality:

Diesel is mostly cantankerous and grumpy. I guess I might be too if I looked like the cross between an owl and a prehistoric squirrel:


Max on the other hand wants to be a part of everything that’s going on. I set up my camera the other day to catch what happens when I try to do sit-ups. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t approve of any type of exercise unless it includes a leash and the outdoors:

A Week of Writing Prompts – Week 2

(Daily writing prompts are posted Monday through Friday at 7am on Facebook. This is the weekly roundup with a few excerpts from my personal journal. The goal is to write for at least 10 minutes without stopping, regardless of what ends up on the paper. Feel free to share writing in the comment section. Write on!)

A little inspiration to start out:

“Write when you are in despair or euphoria, write it all! Write especially during the sometimes boring middle parts. Write about how pathetic or brave you feel, or how you just saw your unguarded face in the reflection of the TV screen and saw for just an instant…your grandmother’s face.” –Sark, Juicy Pens Thirsty Paper


Prompt 6: Anne Lamotte wrote in Bird by Bird that “good writing is about telling the truth.”Write down one true thing. And then another. And then keep going.

From my journal:
“I’ve been finding a lot of crow feathers in my path. They aren’t as black as I thought they would be. Some are more blue than black, “midnight” if I had to come up with a word. If crows weren’t such funny little creatures I would think the feathers were an ominous omen. “


Prompt 7: Pick one word from the list and write to wherever it takes you:


From my journal:
“The muskrats used to take the freshwater clams to their burrows in the styrofoam. Cracked open for their meat the discarded clams would litter the beach. I thought resembled shiny vinyl records or the blacks of saddleshoes. Some were lockets held together by a tiny ligament. I would try and nest tinier shells within the larger ones until they fell apart.”


Prompt 8: Grab a nearby newspaper, magazine or book. Write down a list of 20 interesting words you find. Pick one from the list to be today’s prompt.

From my journal:
“Ohhh…lots of good words here: storytelling, adirondack, traditional, sidekick, summer slide, unmask, librarian, dust, drought, Rothko, siphon, divining rod. DROUGHT. I read recently that the amount of water on the earth never changes which means that water is added in some places and subtracted in others. Subtraction is where the earth begins to tighten and contract and 
the shapes in the dried mud begin to resemble a geometry lesson.”


Prompt 9: What is the earliest memory you have? 

From my journal:
“I remember when my brother was born in Massachusetts, the drive to the hospital where the road seemed to go on forever. We were only in Boston for a few months in a rental house. I got one of those big vanity Barbie heads at a neighbor’s garage sale but it didn’t come with any of the makeup or brushes. When we returned to our house at the lake it seemed to big and vacant, like it had been sitting empty forever.”


Prompt 10: Where love lives.

From my journal:
“In open hearts. In open hands. In open minds. In open days. In houses with open doors. In pitter patter. In trails of ink….”



More posts on writing here:

More on the Lil Journal Project here:

The Lil Journal Project via lilblueboo.com

How to Make a Plastic Feather Necklace

DIY Feather Pendant Tutorial - 3D Printing Pen

I’m loving these feather pendants I made the other day….five in all in a variety of shades. I used two to make this plastic feather pendant necklace:

How to Make Feather Pendants

I made the feathers using a 3D printing pen. As a Michaels Maker, I had a chance to try out the new 3Doodler 2.0 3D Printing Pen and this was the project I came up with:

Plastic Feathers Made with 3Doodler Printing Pen

Here’s the 3D printing pen called the 3Doodler:


It was pretty easy to work. Boo actually read the directions and figured it out first, plugging it in was the first step. Second step: feeding these plastic rods down into the pen. The rods melt, and come out whatever shaped-metal tip you use:


I knew I wanted to make something practical that would get some use: feather pendant necklace was the first thing to come to mind because I have a metal feather necklace I wear a lot, and I actually lost it for about a month before it showed back up again. So why not have some backup jewelry in the same style? To start I drew a feather and then replicated it into multiples onto a piece of tracing paper:

How to draw a feather

Using a gray colored plastic rod I began to trace and draw parts of the feather directly onto the tracing paper:

3D Printing Pen Tutorial - 3Doodler 2.0

I worked on several feathers at the same time:

3D Printing Pen Tutorial

Switching between different color rods:

3Doodler Printing Pen Project Idea

I kept layering colors of plastic until I had the below effect. The plastic peels right off the tracing paper when cool:


Blue, clear, black, gray and white feathers:


I attached two feathers for a pendant using a rustic lobster clasp also from Michaels:


A finished plastic feather pendant:


Cool right?


I’d be wearing it but Boo stole it for her own wardrobe.

how to make feather jewelry


A little bit more info about the 3Doodler:

  • The 3Doodler 2.0 is THE must-have 3D printing pen that is an easy to use (and fun!) tool for crafters, artists and even designers!
  • The slim, light-weight pen draws dimensional figures and structures and is much more affordable than a 3Dprinter – you have to check it out!
  • You can purchase the pen directly from Michaels.com– and if you need some additional project ideas check out this awesome video.


{Giveaway is over. Winner is #62. But please feel free to leave a comment below still listing your favorite book!}


The Writing Struggle is Real


In high school, where I first started studying the Chinese language, I was introduced to Chinese poetry by my teacher Youming Che. I think it was my senior year that Mr. Che and my English teacher brought in the poet Sam Hamill for a workshop. One of the books I read to prepare for that was The Art of Writing by Lu Chi, translated by Sam Hamill.

I still have that book. It reminds me that the writing struggle is real. No writer is alone in it, because Lu Chi was writing about the struggle 2,000 years ago:

On starting out:

Eyes closed, we listen
to inner music,
lost in thought and question:

our spirits ride
to the eight corners of the universe,
mind soaring a thousand miles away;

Re: the eight corners of the universe: I have really vivid dreams. Mostly they are about my teeth falling out or forgetting to wear pants out in public but sometimes my mind comes up with brilliant material while I am fast asleep. The only problem is I can’t remember it after I wake up.

On choosing words:

It is like following a branch to find the trembling leaf,
like following a stream to find the spring. 

Sometimes the words come freely;
sometimes we sit in silence, gnawing on a brush. 

I often feel like I’m just sitting in silence, feeling the minutes tick by.

On revising work:

Even with the right reason, the words
will sometimes clang; sometimes the language flows,
though the ideas themselves remain trivial. 

This reminded me that really there is nothing new under the sun. Sometimes someone else just says it better, or worse.


On fear:

I worry that my ink well
may run dry,
that right words
cannot be found. 

This reminded me of a workshop I was in last year with the poet Ellen Bass. She told a story of how in one of her poems she struggled for so long for the right word that she went out to friends for help. I like that idea. Maybe sometimes the right word will never be found on our own. Maybe it’s resting within community waiting to be handed over. I would love for these posts on writing to become some kind of resource for that in a way using the comment section.

On inspiration:

The truth of the thing lies inside us, 
but no power on earth can force it. 

At first this had a “hopeless” ring to it but really it means as Lu Chi says in his own writing that we have to: search the depths of the soul for a spirit, beg, if need be, for a sign of life. Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird: If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unlikes. Tell the truth as you understand it. 

And encouragement:

Through letters, there is no road too difficult to travel,
no idea too confusing
to be ordered.
It comes like rain from clouds;
it renews the vital spirit.

The whole reason I decided to start the writing prompts was to keep me accountable. If I write on a schedule each day it becomes easier and easier, like the machine is being maintained and oiled. It is a practice, and it takes practice, and not a whenever-I-feel-like-it practice. Here’s some advice from Stephen King in his book On Writing:

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, read to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. 

On oiling the machine:

Learn to recite the classics;
sing in the clear virtue of ancient masters;
explore the treasures of the classics
where form and content are born. 

I read everything I can get my hands on.  I take classes and attend readings. Always learning. Learning from the masters. Taking notes. Using the voice memo function on my phone to record observations while I’m driving.


So, today I started posting the daily writing prompts on Facebook. It starts at #6 because the first five were in the post on Friday. You can start today or write a week delayed using last week’s prompts. All you have to commit to is 10 minutes of writing a day. And I’ll tell you a very, very big secret I’ve learned to good writing: Turn off the TV.