Hi I'm Amber, @simplelovequilts on IG! I'm a huge fan of 1canoe2 and I want to thank them so much for having me! I thought and thought of the perfect box to make for my tutorial before I came up with the one that stuck. The recipe cards on their site are simply adorable so a box displaying them in all of their loveliness was completely necessary. I can't forget to mention how their fabric along side their cards are a match made in heaven. In the end I ended up with more of a recipe card holder than a box. I had so much fun making it and hope you will as well!    

Supplies Needed:

1 FQ for Inside Fabric

1 FQ for Outer Fabric

1/2 Yard Pellon/Peltex 71F

(Ultra Firm 1-Sided Fusible)

Coordinating Colored Thread

Needle for Handstitching

Iron for fusing Peltex

Wonder Clover Clips

Optional Supplies:

Glue Stick for Basting (you can glue baste instead of using thread if you choose to)

Pearl Cotton thread for top stitching

Cutting Instructions:

You will need to cut 1 of each piece using the Pellon/Peltex. 

Outer Bottom Box:

• 2 Pattern Pieces

• Bottom: 3.25" x 6.75"

• Front: 3" x 6.75"

• Back: 5" x 6.75"

Inner Bottom Box:

• 2 Pattern Pieces

• Bottom: 3" x 6.5"

• Front: 2.75" x 6.5"

• Back: 4.75" x 6.5"

You will also need to cut your fabric using the Pellon pieces as a guide. Make sure you have at least 1/2" to 3/4" of fabric surrounding your Pellon pieces on all sides for basting. 

Making your Recipe Box:

1. Prepare your Pellon pieces. Using a clear ruler and a pen trace your rectangles and your side pattern pieces to the non-fusible side of your Pellon. Make sure you label each piece as you go, to help you remember what will go where later on. Then cut them all out.

Click here for the template!

2. Fuse your Pellon to the matching fabric pieces. 

3. Baste the fabric pieces to your Pellon. You can thread baste or glue baste. 

4. You will now start to sew together your recipe box. You will first sew together your inner box completely. With right sides facing stitch together the pieces until you have a complete box.  Now sew together your outer box.

5. Flip your outer box right side out, and keep your inner box inside out. Place your inner box inside of your outer box. Wrong sides facing.

6. Top stitch your the tops of your outer and inner box together. 

I used pearl cotton thread, but this is optional. Coordinating thread to your box fabric will look equally as nice! 

7. You're done! Now, write a recipe down and cook something yummy! :)

Or fill it with other goodies!

I hope you had fun looking through these pictures and if you are interested in making some of my other boxes you can find me on craftsy! :) Here is my pattern store link: http://www.craftsy.com/user/2330367/pattern-store?_ct=fqjjuhd-ijehu&_ctp=156212,2330367

:: Amber ::

**Many thanks to our wonderful guest blogger...such a lovely tutorial! But our partnership isn't stopping there. Together we're hosting a giveaway on Amber's Instagram! Here's the deal:

1. Follow both @simplelovequilts and @1canoe2 on IG
2. Tag 2 friends on the giveaway photo on  @simplelovequilts
3. At 9pm ET on Sunday, February 7th we'll randomly select a winner to receive a 50 pack of Green Mixing Bowl Recipe Cards + Tucker Prairie 5" Charm Pack for you and each of your two tagged friends!

When was the last time you were in your element, completely confident, aware, rising to the challenges facing you, and finding happiness because of it? Maybe you find it happening while you are baking, onstage collaborating with musicians to make harmonious music or, it could even be during the last half-mile of your 10k. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has given a name for this objective condition: "Flow."

Positive psychologists study patterns of behavior that allow a community and individuals to achieve a fulfilled life. Csikszentmihalyi discovered people find genuine satisfaction during Flow, an “optimal experience” in which the individual feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities, characteristics that are often linked to creativity. Csikszentmihalyi believed an individual’s best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile, and while doing so, training us to become more creative.  Csikszentmihalyi suggests those who are regularly in a state of Flow develop positive traits, such as high concentration, improved coping skills, and higher self-esteem.

You may be wondering, “That sounds great, but how do I find my Flow?” 

Fear not, here are some tips:

  • Find a challenge. Choose something that you enjoy doing. It can be anything, whether it’s playing the piano, working on your novel, skiing, horseback riding, playing golf, and so on.
  • Develop your skills in order to be able to meet the challenge. Remember that if something is too easy you will be bored (Think Michael Jordan practicing layups)–and your mind is likely to wander you won’t achieve the flow state, and if something is too hard (Think sewing a dress with no previous knowledge of sewing) you will be overwhelmed and won’t be able to achieve the flow state either.
  • Set clear goals. You want to be very clear on what you want to achieve and how you’ll know whether you’re succeeding. Here’s an example: “I’m going to learn how to play soccer.  I’ll know that I’m succeeding if I can demonstrate fundamentals skills as well understand the rules of the game.
  • Focus on the task at hand. Eliminate all distractions; if your concentration is broken you’re going to exit the state of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi suggests that in order to achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. You measure how challenging the activity is versus your level of skill at that particular task. For example, I have never played golf; I will not experience Flow the first time I swing a club. On the other hand, I have studied music since a young age, spending countless hours performing and learning music; therefore I should (And do) experience Flow when tackling a new piece of music. Finding “The sweet spot”, where the level of challenge is high and the skills that you have to meet that challenge are also high, is the point in which you enter the flow state.

Everyone can experience Flow, a state in which we can enjoy the challenge and appreciate the processes necessary to rise to the occasion consistently and become fulfilled.

So, what’s yours?

:: Angela ::

Psst..watch Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk on Flow right here.

Handwritten notes are just that: hand-written. They are valuable, they are personal, they are penned not only from your mind but from your very fingertips. A written note is unique and beautiful, creative and concise, and, therefore, more dense than a rambling email or a sprawling text message conversation. Also, space is generally limited on a cut piece of paper which causes one to be more intentional, with at least some forethought required. And finally, they allow (notice I used the word "allow" and not "make" or "force") us to practice our patience; snail mail is exactly as it sounds compared to the instant gratification we've become accustomed to with our beloved SEND button. I'm not saying that there isn't anything good about email, a text message, or a Facebook comment. I am simply saying that all these things have their place and purpose, and that the hand-scribed note is a precious point of contact that needs not be updated, outdated, or replaced. 
My mother-in-law has been sending us letters since my husband and I got married about four years ago. She is by far our most consistent and devoted mail sender, and oftentimes we have another letter in the mail box before we've opened the last. She writes us just to write, to tell us about daily tasks, a trip or some exciting sibling news, to give us a weather update, or to inform us of upcoming holiday plans. I am so grateful because she is faithful without any expectation of reply. I have saved my favorite letters from her - ones that tell of a landmark accomplishment in the family or ones that tell of no accomplishment at all, but give a sweet glimpse into her everyday life. It is a joy to read them now, over dinner or curled up in bed before we fall asleep, but I think the joy will only multiply as time passes. I'm so thankful to have documentation, penned from her hand, of life from her unique perspective. 
There is a sweet woman at my church named Diane. At some point Diane felt called to write a birthday card, every year on each birthday, for all the people she knows in our congregation - and it's not a small congregation. I'm not sure when this started or with how many people, but I have a feeling it's been many years. She's very humble about the whole thing and can be seen weekly, quietly walking around the sanctuary before and after church, often with a stack of cards multiple inches thick, looking for the recipients. Occasionally Diane's card is met with extra thankfulness because it is the only card that some people receive on their birthday. The cards always include an encouraging handwritten note and a bible verse, and no matter what specific words she uses, they all declare "You are important, you matter, you are special, and I am thankful that you were born." Words of truth that we all need to hear and know in a mighty way. 

I know what you're thinking... "I don't have time to send handwritten notes. They are so sloooow." Now, hold on just one hot second, not all things that are slow are bad. Sloths, for example, are extremely slow and extremely cute, and probably very important to the planet in some major way. School zones - let's be honest, safety is an excellent thing, especially when involving children. The dickens, whatever that means, is potentially a good thing. But for real, SLOW DOWN PEOPLE! Things like sweet friendships, delicious wine, and glaciers (yes, glaciers - this is what happens when I recruit my geology-loving husband to the brainstorming session) don't happen overnight, or in an instant for that matter. So I say, take 10 minutes, sit down at your kitchen table and write a little note to someone you love. Address it, lick the envelope, and drop it in your real, post cemented in the ground, have to go outside to the outside, mailbox. I promise, your heart will fill with joy as you write it - it's nearly impossible to avoid joy when practicing gratefulness and encouragement - and it will be a sweet and lovely gift for the one who receives it. It doesn't need to be perfect, and it doesn't even need to be a special occasion. Maybe it's even better if it's not.

Five Tips For Sending Handwritten Notes

1. It doesn't need to be perfect.

Anything you write is lovely. Don't stress out about your handwriting, about if the card is perfect for the occasion, or about if you have to cross a typo out. People will look past all of that in their joy and excitement of receiving your note. 

2. Don't expect a reply.

If you don't hear back from the recipient of your note, it probably didn't get lost in the mail. Most likely, they did indeed receive it and they did indeed love opening it. It's okay to leave it at knowing that you were given the gift of encouraging someone. Don't let a lack of reply stop you from writing other notes. 

3. Do it right away.

I often have really great intentions of writing someone a note, I get the idea at a random moment in my day and think, "I'll do that a little later," and then it slips out of my brain and I never seem to find an opportune time later to actually do it. Here's my suggestion (and something I'm trying to get better at), do it right away. The moment that little idea pops into your head - quick! Grab the nearest note card, greeting card, or scrap of paper, and write down that little bit of love. It really doesn't take that long, don't trick yourself into thinking it does. You can even address and stamp the envelope later if you need to. 

4. Have fun with the envelope.

Use a fun pen, get some colorful tape, google "hand lettered address" and give it a go. This will make that sweet "Oh!! I got a letter!" moment at the mailbox even more fun. Although, if you're feeling particularly void of creativity, don't worry about it. One of my favorite quotes from Elizabeth Gilbert is, "Done is better than good." 

5. It doesn't have to be a novel.

I know, I know, you're using a whole stamp!!! It's OK, really. I promise. A simple and short note is a gift to someone and it's much more likely to get done. If you intend on writing a lengthy update, for most of us, the anticipation of having to set that much time aside will prevent us from making it happen. If you can do it, good for you, but don't be afraid to jot down just a few sweet sentences and send it off.

:: Whitney :: 

**Many thanks to our wonderful guest blogger! Whitney is a former 1canoe2 crew member, but she remains (and will always remain) near and dear to our hearts!

Everything could be improved with a little gold paint. This is a super quick and easy tutorial on how to class up your wood stump! All you need is the stump from the 2016 Letterpress Stump Calendar, a paintbrush and a small amount of Liquid Leaf paint. Now usually I would show you a picture of the paint jar so you know what to look for when you’re out shopping, but it turns out that apparently I don’t know my own strength and broke the jar while I was trying to unstick the lid! Gold paint was ALL OVER my kitchen. My toaster is now gold, the blender is gold, even the crockpot fell victim to the splash. So no picture of the actual jar, but you can see it on the Michaels website right here.

The size of brush you choose depends on the level of detail you’re looking for in the final product. The bigger the brush, the less detail you’ll end up with — pretty straight forward. I would, however, recommend using a cheaper brush that you could easily live without. This gold paint is a little harder to rinse out than your typical acrylic or gauche.

Here it goes:

1. Shake the Liquid Leaf well before using.

2. Evenly coat your brush with paint. I dipped my brush straight in the jar...no need to dirty things up more than I need to, right? The paint is fairly thin but opaque so it covers very well. You should only need one coat.

3. Get to painting! Remember that there is a definite top and bottom to the stump — the top will have a nice little groove cut for the calendar.

Be sure to post your finished project to our Facebook page! We love seeing these tutorials come to life in your photos. Happy painting!

:: Haley ::

Psst..we also have a tutorial on how to up-cycle the 2015 XL Calendar!

So it's almost 2016 and hopefully, you've already got your refill for our XL calendar hanger. Now what should you do with all of those beautiful florals from 2015? We print our calendars on super heavy luxury paper. It's sturdy and cuts like a dream, so it's perfect for crafty projects. Here's a craft post from 2015 New Years that actually works even better this year. Enjoy!


Like I do every new year, I woke up this first day of 2015 with a mighty craving for cute organizing tools. No better way to start the new year than with a fresh and tidy desk, right? Right. This will last approximately 15 seconds into my first day back at the office, but a girl can dream.

These pages are so big (20x30 inches) that really the up-cycling and crafting opportunities are boundless! But I thought it might be fun to make new file folders for my "new" desk.

It's so easy, that if you have the supplies on hand, it literally takes about 2 minutes to crank out your first folder. And you could make 12 or 13 folders out of the whole calendar if you want to. **UPDATE! The 2015 floral calendar is organized so you can actually make 2 floral folders out of one page! So the folder count goes up to 24 folders out of one calendar**


  • 2015 XL calendar pages
  • Xacto knife, or sharp scissors
  • Old standard file folder
  • Pen or pencil to trace

2014 version


1) Unfold and trace the old folder on top of one of the calendar pages.

2) Cut out the folder with an Xacto blade or scissors

2014 version

3) Fold the old file folder in half, and using the Xacto, lighly score the newly cut sheet in the middle so it will fold nicely.

4) Fold.

5) Make millions more! You will miraculously become organized for the whole rest of the year.

Happy 2016!!!

:: Beth ::

I love tradition. Maybe it’s the ritual of it all, gathering once a year to celebrate occasions, or the idea of large groups of people celebrating a single holiday or event in many different ways. Growing up in the rocky terrain of Southwest Missouri, the ritual of picking out the perfect Christmas tree consisted of visiting our local hardware store under not-so festive fluorescent lights. While it may not seem like the most idyllic scene, it is a tradition I looked forward to year after year of my childhood.

Fast forward to my first Christmas as a newlywed and surrounded by the lush terrain of Mid-Missouri, I could not contain my excitement when I learned of a Christmas tree farm about forty-five minutes from Columbia. A Christmas tree farm was something I had believed was exclusive to New Englanders in L.L. Bean catalogs, a far cry from the pre-selected Christmas trees at Lowe’s I was accustomed to.

My husband Bradley and I loaded up our St. Bernard, Ellie, into our Subaru and took off to select the perfect Christmas tree. As we drove up to the farm, we were greeted by acres of Christmas trees. I scanned the field and saw everything from the smallest Charlie Brown Christmas tree, to the mammoth-sized Griswold Family Christmas trees. We were greeted with a warm Midwestern hello, handed a bow saw (Yikes) and dropped off by way of tractor to our destination.

Admittedly, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the sheer selection of trees. Douglas fir or Scotch pine? Should we play it safe and pick out a smaller tree, or go for a tree that would barely fit in our apartment? We wandered, and wandered; all while critiquing each tree we passed. After a roughly 45 minute search, we had found what we were looking for, a beautiful eight-foot Douglas fir.

Naively, we thought the hardest part of the job was over, until we had to saw the tree by hand and pull it roughly a quarter of a mile to our pick-up location. Talk about a work out! The sight of the tractor coming down the hill was a welcome one, and our tree was loaded onto a trailer to be trimmed down and netted. As we waited for our tree to be loaded onto our car, we were warmed by an iron stove and hot apple cider.

Driving home with our tree safely strapped to our car, I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of the new tradition I had just made with my husband. We lugged our tree into our apartment and laughed heartily as the top scraped our ceiling and the sheer size of the tree taking half of our dining room. As newlyweds, we had been adjusting and melding our respective families’ traditions and routines into our own, and the visit to the Christmas tree farm and our story of the too-big Christmas tree was unique to our new family and the start of a new tradition.

:: Angela ::

Psst..if you're looking to cut down your own Christmas tree in the future and you're in the area, definitely check out Starr Pines!

Nothing opens my mind and heightens my senses quite like a good book. I love the entire experience of reading — from going to the library, to browsing endless shelves of lovingly worn books, to finding the perfect one and cracking it open. (Yes, I still go to the library. In fact, I’ve been known to give my coworkers a little flack about actually buying books. Who wants to store all of those?! And Goodness help you if you move houses. Seriously..book boxes are heavy. Think about it.) Anyway, the point is: while I read dozens of books each year, I only own a handful. They are my absolute favorite books that I flip through time and time again. If you’re a read-a-holic like me, check out the list below. You just may find a new addition to your own collection!

The Forest Feast (Erin Gleeson) | First up is The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson. This is a vegetarian cookbook but I’ve admittedly only made two recipes so far. The real reason this book is a permanent fixture beside my bed is because it is BEAUTIFUL. Each page is a mixture of gorgeously styled photos, watercolor illustrations and hand-drawn lettering. It serves me more as an artist look book than anything else.

With that being said, I do have to mention that both of the recipes that I tried were delicious. Erin’s recipes are short, sweet and super easy to follow! For a non-vegetarian like myself, it looks like it’s going to be a great guide to help me get creative with my vegetables.

Typography Sketchbooks (Steven Heller) | This hefty book is completely filled with hand-drawn typography, something that I can’t get enough of. The book is basically snapshots from a variety of artists’ sketchbooks, each with a different approach to mapping their letters. Some measure out each curve while others go for the "wing it" approach (my personal favorite). Flipping through these pages is a great source of inspiration if you’re thinking up your own typeface.

Travel Guide for the Young, Sexy, and Broke (Off Track Planet) | A girlfriend of mine bought me this book for my birthday and my goooodness how I love it!!! This is possibly my favorite book of all time. But before I go any further – a warning: If strong language and sarcastic quips aren't your thing, you may want to steer clear. To be quite frank, the authors curse a bit. And by a bit, I mean a lot. If you’re okay with that — great! Keep on reading. It's broken up into 3 main sections: Get Inspired, Get Your S*** Together, and Make Yourself Useful. Basically, it gives you a rundown of some seriously awesome things to see around the world, then gives you traveling and packing tips, and then explains some ways you can volunteer while you’re away! The whole book is full of funny but highly useful and unique facts. For example, I personally love that it has a full two pages dedicated to toilets around the world (which could have saved me some serious culture shock in the Middle East). Another thing I love is that this book constantly encourages traveling alone. This may sound lonely or scary, but speaking from experience, it's definitely worth taking what they say to heart and considering a solo trip. Whether you’re a first time traveler or a polished pro, OTP’s Young, Sexy, and Broke is sure to give you some inspiration and tips for your next vacation.

The Crossroads of Should and Must (Elle Luna) | Wow, guys. Talk about a beautiful, inspiring book. Elle discusses the difference between doing what you should do versus doing what you must do — your calling, so to speak. The ideas she presents are extremely simple but profound..I found myself thinking “Exactly! Yes! Why haven't I ever thought of it like that?" Not only are her ideas great, but the book itself is a work of art. Her use of watercolor typography to evoke emotion is simply amazing.

Happiness (Matthieu Ricard) | In the short time I’ve owned this book, I’ve already read it three times. To put it simply — it's wonderful.  Happiness is written by a Tibetan monk (Richard) on the art of happiness. Ricard writes about finding and keeping happiness in terms of Buddhism, but it's not an attempt to sell you on the philosophy of Buddhism. These principles are easy and beneficial to add regardless of your belief system. Explaining it now, it almost sounds like a self-help book but it’s so much deeper than that. Happiness examines how we interpret our feelings, why we have them and what we can do to not simply let our emotions carry us through life, but to take charge and lead ourselves to be genuinely happy and healthy.

In the queue | The next three books on my list to read were all given to me because my friends loved them so much. The first is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which Beth recently loaned me. If you recognize that name, it may be because she also wrote Eat, Pray, Love! The book explores creative living beyond fear. Um..yes, please!

Beth also gave me Rising Strong by Brené Brown. The quote on the back of the book explains it all: "The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness – actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences including the falls."

The last book was given to me by my great friend, Paul. He's a go-getter if I've ever met one, so it's only natural that he gave me Executive Toughness by Dr. Jason Selk. This is what I have to look forward to: Just as an athlete needs to build his or her muscles to compete on the playing field, you have to train your mind to compete in your field. Executive Toughness is a virtual workout regimen for unleashing accountability, strengthening your focus, and supercharging your optimism in order to consistently achieve at or above your potential. 

We'll see if these make the cut! Do you have any book suggestions that you think may make my bedside stash? Let me know!

 :: Haley ::

    A few winter favorites from the 1canoe2 crew | @1canoe2 on Instagram


This month 1canoe2 will celebrate its second annual Worksgiving, a day to share a meal and share what we’re thankful for before we go our separate ways for family Thanksgivings.

   At the heart of this 1canoe2 tradition is Amy, our Production and Inventory Manager.  She’s small but mighty, and she loves to gather people together and celebrate the important things in life.  Last year’s first annual Worksgiving was a result of her labor of love; Amy cooked all of the food and treated us to a feast.  Her gourmet spread is still mouthwatering a year later: lemon and herb chicken, sausage, wild rice and cranberry stuffed acorn squash, homemade rolls and strawberry jam, pear and blue cheese salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and pumpkin bars with cream cheese icing.

   We filled our plates and sat elbow to elbow, enjoying the food and conversation. Over dessert each person was asked to share something he or she was thankful for with the team.  During that time we cheered for one another, laughed with one another, cried tears of joy and gave hugs to those facing a challenging season ahead.  What began as a somewhat cliché Thanksgiving question became a sincere time of sharing that brought us all closer together.

   Worksgiving taught us that traditions in the workplace are just as important as family traditions, rites of passage that move us forward as an organization.  The time we spend connecting face to face and being thankful for our business and the people who make it work is just as important as the weekly staff meetings, creative meetings, and operations meetings, maybe even more so. 

   We hope that in the busyness of this time of the year that you make time to break from your work to appreciate those who work with and for you.  We'd love to hear what your workplace traditions are and how you work to build a strong, supportive work community.  In the meantime, we’ll be working on pulling out our best recipes so that we can all pitch in for this year's Worksgiving meal!  Sweet potato casserole anyone?

:: Karen ::


Pumpkin-Spice Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting from Betty Crocker

When my mother-in-law suggested a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains for our bi-annual BIG FAMILY VACATION, I have to admit that I met the idea with only luke-warm enthusiasm. Not because I have an aversion to the mountains, but because I’m one of those people who’s not a big fan of the summer heat unless I’m in or near the water. A trip to the steamy, tropical-like forests of Tennessee—with no ocean in sight—wasn’t exactly top on my list. To my delight, however, I was never so happy that I stepped outside my comfort zone.

As we entered the foothills of The Smokies, excitement began to mount. Text messages were flying back-and-forth from car to car (there were four in our caravan!). “How much longer? What are we going to do first? What will the cabin look like?…”

All of us were to share one cabin the entire week. You could say it was like the The Great Outdoors meets National Lampoon’s Vacation (mind you I was very young when these movies were released, but they provide a great visual for those who have seen these 80’s classics). Our cabin boomed with the sounds of young children running, playing, and bickering, along with the adults letting loose a little or scurrying about the cabin in preparation for the day’s adventures. All-in-all, the mountains proved to be a great place to vacation with extended family, because by the end of Day 2 some may need a little more than just their own room or corner of the house to retreat to when someone or something starts grinding on their nerves. I mean, colossal log cabins with private resort-like swimming pools are great, but what’s greater is having a vast mountain range to fulfill your need for space.

I had just two stipulations for our trip to Pigeon Forge: 1) we must go white water rafting, which had always been on my bucket list, and 2) to actually step foot into the mountains, preferably hiking a trail. I’m happy to report that we checked both off of the list, along with many other firsts.

On the docket for Day 3 was white water rafting. We were all a little nervous, but equally excited. Crazy Carl was our guide, and with his cascading brown beard, he embodied a young and free-spirited mountain man. It just made the outing that much more authentic in our touristy opinion.

After a very quick crash course in synchronized paddling, we set off—navigating rapids ranging from Level 1-3. Just baby rapids, really, but we were so proud of our young girls for being brave and meeting every rapid with a smile and let’s-do-it-again attitude. It was thrilling for the adults, so I can only imagine what the experience was like for an eight- and five-year-old. As we approached the bank at the end of our float, I just knew this would be one of my favorite family memories of all time, and I highly recommend this to all families. This segment of our vacation even ended up being the subject of my daughter’s third grade journal.

When the day finally came for our little family (just myself, husband and two girls) to venture into the mountains for our much-anticipated hike, it was hot. And it was humid. But it was also an excursion that we’ll never forget.

We began our journey by hopping on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail from Gatlinburg. The mountains were heavenly. From afar, it was a mystical scene the way the moisture wafted from the treetops, seriously looking like continuous puffs of smoke (imagine that). And inside the forest was just as breathtaking—but almost eerie. The moisture from the trees created a fog-like screen all around us. We were literally in the clouds.

Our target was Grotto Falls, the pinnacle of the family-friendly 2.5 mile hike on the Trillium Gap Trail. And it delivered. The hike was challenging at times but manageable, and the trail was alive with salamanders, frogs, squirrels, and other wildlife. We even encountered a black bear (at which point we circled back to another trail head)! When we finally reached the waterfall, it was so beautiful and refreshing; my iPhone pictures just don’t do it justice.

One of the other jewels we stumbled upon as we slowly made our way out of the mountains in our car was a small general store fashioned from an old water mill. Inside was a treasure trove. Here we purchased our authentic souvenirs, which were nothing you could find in the shops that dotted tourist alley. The cozy shop was stocked with hand-crafted, artisan pieces: wood carvings, paintings, jewelry, soaps, jams, spices, and more. Just my kind of shop, because when I’m on vacation, I always make a point to purchase a one-of-a-kind keepsake made by a local artist. We even took home a colorful children’s book The Great Smoky Mountain Salamander Ball, which was written and illustrated by native Lisa Horstman.

The remainder of the trip was chalked full of tourist attractions, some worth the money but most of them not. We took a few spins on an alpine coaster, oooh’d and ahhh’d our way through Ripley’s Aquarium (totally worth it), shopped and played at The Island, and shut down Dollywood. Still, our favorite experience was the one nature provided for free.

If you aspire to venture off the well-worn tourist path and appreciate the beauty nature provides, be sure to plan a hike during your trip to The Smokies. There’s just no substitute for immersing yourself into the wilderness and awakening your senses with the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. A trip to the mountains without an authentic mountain experience would be one to regret.

All-in-all, not quite a Griswold family vacation, but it had its moments. Certainly one to put in the photo books.

:: Crystal ::