Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oak Ridge's Lavender Festival and the Secret City Festival

I'm getting to the end of my time in Oak Ridge, wow, time flies.  When I first came to Oak Ridge three years ago in 2009, I really looked forward to the Secret City Festival and Lavender Festival.  I used the shuttle between the two festivals to go to Jackson Square for the first time.  Without a car, Jackson Square was pretty far away to be walking in the summertime.  I had a ton of fun at both festivals, spent all day outside in upper ninety degree weather.  That year I went on a tour of Y-12 National Security Complex, played laser tag, ate lavender for the first time, heard "Eye of the Tiger," and of course, looked at all the exhibits.  

Last year the Lavender Festival really made an impression and so this time around I knew I would spend most of my time at the Lavender Festival.  Even though the lavender festival is very small, I think it's one of my favorite festivals I've ever been.  The reason is that the vendor selection totally matched my tastes.  There was a lot of pottery, bar soap, interesting jellies, exquisite cheese, and gorgeous wooden serving spoons.  

Lavender honey ice cream from Cruze Farm in Knoxville.  The flavor was good, but their ice cream is not as creamy as Razzleberry's ice cream.
Erin's Meadow Herb Farm made an appearance too!
"The Chef" comes every third Saturday to cook breakfast in a pay whatever you like pricing scheme. 
Decorative gourds
Farmer's market in Oak Ridge on Saturdays and Wednesdays.  This is my first time attending this year, since I usually go to the flea market for cheaper produce, but the atmosphere is pretty nice at farmer's markets.  I may go back next week.  Maybe.
Fried green tomatoes, a southern dish but really took off in Tennessee
Lavender milkshake.  While standing in line I said I wanted a lavender milkshake and the person in front of me copied me.  Good ideas are contagious, eh?
Spinach sambousek from Mediterranean Delight
There is a new bakery in town!  Dean's Restaurant and Bakery located in Jackson Square
 The Secret City Festival is to celebrate Oak Ridge's history.  The town of Oak Ridge began during WWII and it played an important part of the Manhattan Project.  The national laboratories in the US are all in remote areas because they started as secret places so that no one else would suspect what was going on.  Oak Ridge in particular was chosen because it's located in a valley and you can fly over the area and not see it.  Of course, I also went to the Secret City Festival to check out Tennessee Creates, the juried art exhibit.  I started taking a pottery class in April and a lot of people I saw in the studio on weekends had exhibits that weekend.  The Secret City Festival is great for those with children and all the games and activities are free of charge because it is sponsored by Y-12 and Oak Ridge National Lab.  Every year there is a shuttle to take people back and forth between the Secret City Festival and Lavender Festival.

Oak Ridge High School's old year books?  I didn't actually flip open these books, they looked ancient but there was a crowd around the books and middle aged people talking about attending the high school
Corn on the cob

Norris Lake

Friday after work my housemates were invited to our landlord's family lake house.  This was a place that reminded us so much of all of East Tennessee's glory.  The drive was pleasant and the trees and rolling hills were lush green.  We drove passed calm rivers and dramatic hillsides.  After only half an hour of driving, we arrived at this wooden barn-like lake house.    


We sat down for a delicious potluck dinner before heading out to the lake.  Prior to coming here, our friend said told that Norris Lake was the second cleanest lake in North America, but someone else would contest that statement because she has seen many much cleaner lakes in other parts of the US.  I did a quick google search and in that quick search I did not find an authoritative source on the cleanest lake in America.  There are many metrics for measuring the cleanest lake, such as visibility, bacteria, man-made pollution, etc.  Even if someone conducted a systematic study, there are subjective ways for weighing the different factors against one another.  However, when you search "Norris Lake" and "cleanest lake in America", those who spoke of Norris Lake would claim that Norris Lake was one of the cleanest lakes.  The point is that Norris Lake is pretty clean.  Norris Lake is connected to Norris Dam and so the water levels fluctuate quite a bit, during the winter months, this area looks like the moon's surface because all of the water is drained away.  Parts of this lake are very deep, so when you swim, you don't touch the bottom and touch whatever floats in the water. 

To me, East Tennessee can be represented by water.  The water is such a big part of East Tennesseans' lives in the summer.  When I first came here three years ago, I bought a pair of water shoes for $10 to wear while tubing.  It was a worthwhile investment because the water levels that year were extremely high and the currents were faster than usual.  As a result, those who wore their flip flops tubing lost them.  Which was minor compared to the bruises, scratches and scraped body parts many of us suffered.  In any case, in these three years, the only time I've ever worn those water shoes were in East Tennessee.  These shoes will not be following me to Australia because they smell really, really bad. :P  Hahhaha 

There's me with my flotation device and swimming like an otter!  :P  This is also my first picture of myself on this site!

 We went to visit the host's friends who were camping on the lake.  Their tent was perched right on the shores.  I can't wait to acquire a tent because many campsites are located on the best location and it's such a magnificent way of stay on prime real estate without paying a high dollar.  We drove back in the dark and watched a lighting storm take place to the north of us.  There was a flash of lightning every 10 seconds but we were pretty far away and so it stayed perfectly dry.  The periodic flash of light was very much like a mini fireworks show.  I wish I could have captured it on camera, but it was far too quick for me.  What a beautiful evening.  What a beautiful part of the country.  I am so grateful that my first post after graduation was in the beautiful East Tennessee.  Sometime I'll post pictures of fall in Tennessee, you will fall in love.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Summer time at my workplace means more interns and more traffic.  In my case, it meant having old friends around again.  Except many old friends and natives of Oak Ridge have other plans in California, Spain or Kenya.  Luckily one old friend did return to work this summer.  So when I texted and asked if he was interested in hanging out, I was at an awkward loss for what to suggest.  A meal?  A movie?  Is that really the best I could come up with?  I wasn't going to suggest shopping with this friend.  This is awfully embarrassing, don't I have a blog on where to go?!?!  Yes, I do!  Pull yourself together and think of somewhere to go or something to do that is a little more original than eating out or watching a movie!  I suggested Gatlinburg, a very touristy destination about an hour away.  He said it was too far.  He didn't have the right shoes for hiking either.  At this point I was really bargaining with my imagination to think up a storm... of better ideas.

How about kayaking??  I knew of exactly where to go, and I saw their rates at some point in time, just had to go confirm.  Yes!  The Cove at Concord Park had kayak rentals offered by River Sports Outfitters, $25 for half a day and $35 for a full day rental.  Half day means 3 hours, by the way.  I had wondered about that.  I mean, I knew without a doubt that "half day" did not literally mean 12 hours.  Oh, tip, always clarify the ambiguities. Three hours on the kayak for $25 (including tax is a little over $27) is a pretty good deal compared to what I saw at Lake Tahoe, $20/hour for 1-person kayak, $26/hour for 2-person kayak and $30/hour for 3-person kayak.  Of course, me being a cheap was thinking, "Hiking would have been free."  Just kidding, I didn't actually think that, I was pretty excited to kayak.   

Overcast day at the Cove at Concord Park
What I like about kayaking is that it's comparatively effortless compared to canoeing.  I think that canoeing takes skill that I acquire slowly.  Kayaking is faster and as a result, more fun.  The two-sided paddle is what makes it easier and faster in my opinion.  Also, since it requires less skill, it makes it easier to enjoy the views and relax.  My friend was a first-timer and he picked it up right away.  Despite believing kayaking to be easy, I managed to splash myself with each stroke.  Why?  I don't know.  Also, I may or may not have been using the paddles the wrong way during the first hours.  Whoops.  Experience is overrated.  :P

There's the beach!
The first hour we went out was pretty tiring.  We cross the lake, at a fairly quick speed to avoid the boats.  I, of course, was paranoid about the waves flipping me over.  Worrying is energy consuming, hence feeling more tired.  We took a break and had Snickers ice cream bars.  Then, we went back out and circled around the Marina.  My friend is from the coasts of Croatia and he said one of the things he misses about home is the sound of boats.  The sound is similar wind chimes.  Unfortunately, for the second hour I left my camera behind, thinking that I wanted to enjoy kayaking rather than photographing.  I could have recorded the sound, but since I did not, it means you'll have to go listen to groups of boats chiming.  

The other thing that was really cool about the second hour was this hawk we saw.  It was perched up on... something I don't know the name of.  It was sitting on its nest.  When we saw it, we got closer and she started screeching at us.  Whoops!!  I tried to paddle away but the waves of a boat rocked my kayak so my panic mode came on as I tried to stay afloat.  It's quite comical how my body reacts to situations.  The hawk did not attack us.  I think we'd have to get closer for that to happen.  This was another incidence when I wished I had my camera.  Had my camera been on hand, I would have to be careful that flash was turned off so that I wouldn't trigger a reaction in hawk mama.  Ha.  Maybe it was for the better after all, knowing me. 
My camera creeping on the old guys drinking beer in the water.  Doesn't that look fun?  A lot of people were sitting on stationary boats, partying.  It seemed like it might be more fun for the boat to be moving, but who knows, maybe I have to understand local culture better to "get it."
I had a lot of fun, we ended up kayaking for two and a half hours.  Although I would have been perfectly satisfied after kayaking for an hour.  So now I know for down the road, unless the area is spectacular or there's some destination to explore, an hour's rental would be sufficient.  These preferences will be different for everyone, of course., so take that with a grain of salt  :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lake Tahoe

I've been thinking about South Lake Tahoe for the past few days.  Not sure how much this trips fits in with my blog, seeing that it's not easy to replicate this experience, and if you were to, it would not actually be cheap.  A friend used to let us borrow his vacation house on occasion, which is right on the shore of Lake Tahoe, where there aren't that many other houses (compared to the North Shore).  Lake Tahoe is beautiful, as you can see, but what I like so much about it is that it's surrounded by gorgeous mountains.  Other than living in a rental house for free, we usually eat in (it's more fun to cook in a gorgeous kitchen) except for one meal at Burger Lounge (try their garlic fries!) and except for an afternoon shopping trip, most of our activities have only cost gas and time.

Emerald Bay from Vikingsholm
Emerald Bay from Inspiration Vista Point
Emerald Bay at nearly sunset
Lower Eagle Falls overlooking Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe in the back

Eagle Falls
Eagle Falls
Eagle Falls
The hike up to Eagle Falls was pretty quick, like 15 minutes, and the payoff was amazing.  It makes a difference when you visit.  The waterfalls are all in this area all depend on the snow to melt.  As a result, June is probably the best time to visit because it's warm enough for more snow to melt.  Once when I was there, I saw the mountaintop covered with snow in the beginning of the trip but by the end, there was barely any snow left.  The snow provides a beautiful contrast with the mountains.
My nephew, luckily the second time around he chose to pose in a safer location
Lower Glen Alpine Falls, near Fallen Leaf Lake
Lower Glen Alpine Falls
Fallen Leaf Lake
Rainbow Trail
A view of Pope Beach from the dock
Almost sunset on the dock