If you don’t live in the south, there’s a good chance you probably haven’t heard of Buc-ee’s. What is that, you ask? Buc-ee’s is hard to describe. At its most basic description, Buc-ee’s is a gas station and convenience store. A better description would be to call it a magical place full of food, household items, clothing, and beavers. Lots of beavers. Some of the bigger stores have over 100 gas pumps. Plus, it’s clean inside. Buc-ee’s was voted as the cleanest restrooms in America! Yes, that’s right.

Buc-ee’s is a Texas based company, that has recently expanded to other southern states like Alabama, Florida and Georgia. We visited a Buc-ee’s in Alabama while we were on vacation in July, and it felt so good to be back after two years. We had missed it!

A new Buc-ee’s opened in Calhoun, Ga., a few weeks ago, and it is only an hour long drive! There were other things we wanted to do in the area, so this was the perfect time to stop at Buc-ee’s.

I DON’T recommend going to a Buc-ees that has just opened. For those who live in Chattanooga or northern Georgia, wait a little bit longer to check out the one in Calhoun. It was madness! There were people taking selfies out front, and people were taking videos on their phones inside. Derek and I had to hold hands the entire time so we wouldn’t get separated.

Here are some of the things I personally enjoy and recommend buying at Buc-ees:

My favorite sweet tea is Texas Tea, found in the cooler section. There are many different flavors, but my favorite is strawberry.

I also enjoy their snickerdoodles. They are soft and chewy. There are so many different baked goods to choose from!

Kolaches are also a Texas specialty. Kolaches were brought over from the Czech Republic immigrants who settled in Texas. A kolache is a bun filled with either a savory or sweet filling. My favorite is sausage and cheese.

If you research Buc-ee’s online, most people will say to get the Beaver Nuggets, which is a sweet caramel flavored corn puff snack. I have had these before, and honestly, they’re not my favorite.

Of course, you have to get something with Buc-ee Beaver on it. Over the years I’ve grown a collection of keychains, stuffed animals, pajama pants, shirts, a sweatshirt and a mug!

Overall, Buc-ee’s is a great pit stop on a road trip. Gas prices are usually on the cheaper side. The bathrooms are humongous so there won’t be a line. There is so much food to choose from, too.

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Last Saturday we went to McKay’s for the first time, and I wondered where it has been my whole life!

McKay’s is a large used items store. In fact, it is so large that it looks more like a warehouse. The biggest draw is books, but they also have electronics, board games, music and movies.

Everything at McKay’s is used. You are able to sell your own items there, which will end up on the shelves.

The processing happens while you are shopping, if you have a small order. They try to process orders within 45 minutes. I brought a handful of books in to sell myself. You are handed a ticket number, and you can check a digital board on the wall that shows which orders have been processed. Once your order is done, you hand your ticket in, and they ask if you want cash or store credit. I got $2.81 in credit.

Not everything is accepted. The items that are rejected are put out in bins, free for the taking.

I headed right to the history section and helped to empty their shelves. Luckily, used items means good prices. Three of the books I picked out were only 75 cents! The most expensive book I picked up was $5. Now, there are books in the $10-$15 range, but that is still better than getting a new book for over $20.

Derek headed to the graphic design section and found some good books as well.

In the end, I bought eight books, and after my store credit was applied, I spent about $13.

We barely scratched the surface of what McKay’s has to offer. I saw a few children’s books that we loved when we were kids that we’d like to add to our collection in the future. I also headed to the historical romance section, but decided to leave because there was a large family in that aisle. Besides, I decided that eight books was enough for the moment!

I am definitely going to go to McKay’s again in the future. I can imagine that in a few months, the selection of books will be totally different.

Looking down below on the aisles of book shelves at McKay’s.
My store credit ticket.
The books I brought home.

A half-day in Trenton, GA

Trenton, Georgia is the county seat of Dade County, on the border of Tennessee and Hamilton County. I work in Trenton.

It is a rural county, and the town of Trenton is small, but there are some nice shops and good places to eat. Coupled with a visit to Cloudland Canyon State Park, you can spend about half a day there.

All of my favorite places to eat are all located on the square on Main Street. Corner Coffee has good soups and sandwiches. I ate there this past weekend and I got the grilled cheese sandwich with loaded potato soup. Lalitos is a Mexican restaurant. My favorite meal there is the #15 dinner plate: one chicken tamale, one beef taco and rice. Their chips and salsa are amazing! Thatchers is a BBQ restaurant. Their pulled pork sandwiches are awesome!

The inside of Corner Coffee. The owner is really nice and enjoys chatting with everyone while waiting for their food.
Indoor dining at Corner Coffee is currently closed, but expected to open again soon.

The historical courthouse is in the middle of the square. It is empty right now, but it is a pretty building and makes for some nice pictures.

On the other side of the square is a small park with a gazebo. A few times Derek and I have grabbed a meal to go and then have eaten it in the park.

The Dade County Historical Courthouse.
This park is located near the square and is right across from where I work.

If you like history, you can check out the American Legion’s War Memorial Museum, which is a great collection from local veterans. There are some really interesting items in the collection, including an original Revolutionary War drum, and bullets found at the various Civil War sites. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday, and by appointment.

The American Legion War Memorial Museum.

Cloudland Canyon is just a few miles south of Trenton. One of the trail heads for Sittons Gulch is actually in a residential neighborhood of Trenton. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can just enjoy the view at the overlook, and check out the visitor’s center. There are a few different hiking trails to choose from, ranging from an easy 1 mile, to strenuous. I have written about Cloudland Canyon multiple times. Here is the most recent article.

There are also some antique shops scattered around the town, if that’s your type of thing. If you’re heading back home to the Chattanooga area, take Highway 11 north and stop at the Wildwood Depo, a great little antique shop with a unique collection of items.

The Wildwood Depot.

A few hours in Ringgold, Georgia

After we finished blueberry picking in LaFayette, we were kind of hungry, and a drink was due. Derek Googled coffee shops in the area. He asked me if we had been to either Ringgold or Chickamauga before, and which town would I rather go to. I said no to both, and to pick whichever.

And so we ended up in Ringgold for a couple of hours. The town surprised us in a good way. We will more than likely go back there again.

We had a light lunch at Caffeine Addicts. I did not take any photos here, oops! I always get a chai wherever I go, since I do not like coffee. Usually chai doesn’t change too much from place to place, however, Caffeine Addicts featured toffee nut flavored syrup, a flavor I had not seen before. My go-to is usually hazelnut syrup. It was so good! I would definitely come back just to have that syrup.

Also, the people who worked there were wearing masks, and every other table was closed off. We were there before noon, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

We headed a few doors down to the cutest store front, A Fern and a Feather General Store. Derek bought moonshine jelly and muscadine cider (non alcoholic) and I bought a spoon holder for my tea that says “Today’s good mood brought to you by tea.”

If you’ve been reading for a while now, you probably know I love Civil War history. The Great Locomotive Chase ended in Ringgold. A group of Union men, led by civilian James A. Andrews, stole a train with the intention of running it to Chattanooga, damaging the railroad tracks in the process. The locomotive ran out of fuel in Ringgold, and the men fled on foot. Many of them were later put on trial and were executed.

We checked out the Ringgold Depot, which was closed at the time. We waited for a few minutes to see if a train would come through, but no luck. We drove about a half mile down the tracks until we came to the General monument. The General is the name of the locomotive that the men stole. I’m glad I texted my dad that we were there, and he gave us directions to the monument!

We will definitely come to Ringgold again, because someday I hope to do an entire Great Locomotive Chase day trip, stopping at each of the railroad stations and towns along the way.

Our last two stops in Ringgold were two antique shops that were next to each other. The one was called Cotton Gin Antiques, named for the business that was established by the Callaway brothers in 1929. The outside of it was so cool looking! It is a treasure trove for people who like to hunt for old items.

Ringgold Feed and Seed Antiques was next door. We were on the hunt for a basket to put on our table by the front door; a place to put our masks and hand sanitizer. We found one that looks great with our overall house decor. By the way, while we were there, that was when the train chose to come through! Oh well.

Ringgold is a nice little town, and there was plenty more that we did not check out during our time there. Because it’s only a half hour away, I am sure we will come back sometime for a half-day getaway. 

A Fern and a Feather General Store
The Ringgold Depot
Monument for The General, the locomotive that was stolen by Union men.
The Cotton Gin Antiques
There were cats at the antique store. I love this shot! Do you think this makes a good advertisement for Coca-Cola?
One of the rooms of The Cotton Gin Antiques.

An afternoon in South Pittsburg

Our pots and frying pans all seemed to lose their non-stick coating all at once, making it really frustrating to cook. We have been looking at different cookware options but couldn’t settle on anything.

I looked into Lodge Cast Iron, which is a nation wide brand, made right here in Tennessee.

Cast iron seemed like a great alternative, one that would last a long time, and I thought it would be a good thing to support a local brand.

Since Lodge Cast Iron’s foundry and main store are only 40 minutes away, in South Pittsburg, I looked into what else we could do for the afternoon.

We arrived in South Pittsburg right before lunch, and enjoyed a few minutes walking around what looked like their “main street” (actually called Cedar Ave.) and snapped some photos. There were some stores open, but we did not stop in.

South Pittsburg is home to the National Cornbread Festival, held every April. This year’s festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus. I would like to visit again for next year’s festival, if possible.

For lunch, we had originally planned to each lunch at a to-go coffee shop called Dragging Canoe. Repurposed in an old bank drive-through building, you can only walk up to the to-go window to order, and eat outside. We thought this was a perfect option in order to stay safer and keep our social distance. However, it was closed for the holiday weekend!

Instead, we ended up at Stevarinos, an Italian restaurant. I had a delicious Mediterranean pizza. Everyone wore masks, us included while we ordered, and the tables were all spread far apart. It worked as a plan B.

After lunch, we headed to the Lodge Cast Iron store. We bought two pans, a small one and a large one, and a dutch oven. For the dutch oven, and the larger pan, we bought factory seconds, meaning that there was a small imperfection in the casting, but it will still work just as fine. We saved a few dollars that way. The larger pan has a neat buffalo nickel design on the back.

Our last stop before going home was to stop at the edge of the river and snap a quick photo of the Shelby Rhinehart Bridge. We took that bridge home, into New Hope, Tennessee, instead of the highway, and we enjoyed some great views of the mountains around Nickajack Lake.

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Derek on Cedar Ave. We decided to keep our masks on for the photos so we could remember these crazy pandemic times!
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Stevarinos, where we had lunch.
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This Mediterranean pizza was so good!
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Yes, I am smiling under my mask!
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A pretty view of the Tennessee River.
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Shelby Rhinehart bridge.

The HoHo Expo

Derek and I were settling in for what was to be a long, boring Saturday. We had nothing planned. Derek was binge watching a show, and I was browsing the internet.

I came across an advertisement for the HoHo Expo, a holiday gift shopping event, held today and tomorrow at the Chattanooga Convention Center. There was free admission and free parking. We figured we might as well go since it wouldn’t cost us anything but our time.

The HoHo Expo is hosted by the newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press. They had a booth in the middle of the expo where they were giving out cookies and apple cider.

There were about 150 vendors selling all kinds of items. There were lots of things that I would have liked to buy, but I didn’t necessarily need any of it. I want to save money so I’m trying my best to be good! However, we did buy a loaf of maple pecan bread from the Dutch Maid Bakery and Cafe, from Tracy City, TN.

Santa was also there to take family photos, and there were also Disney princesses too! At one point my three favorites, Moana, Rapunzel and Ariel were all posing for photos together. I would have gotten in line for a photo, but I think that it may have been frowned upon. This isn’t Disney World!

We enjoyed the opportunity to get out and walk around and see the different items. Now that we know that this is an annual event, I will probably plan to do some Christmas shopping there next year.


Visiting old friends, and getting a glimpse of the Smoky Mountains

One of my best friends Dawn, and her family, live in Sevierville, Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains. We used to work together in Pennsylvania, and have stayed close. We moved to Houston in August, and her and her family moved to Tennessee that November, so it had been over three years since we last saw each other.

When Derek found out he got the job at UTC, I texted Dawn and said, “Best friends will be reunited again in the great state of Tennessee!” It is comforting to know that I have a friend relatively close by.

We spent the day with her two weeks ago, and we got a good preview of the Smoky Mountain region, and some of the things to do in the nearby tourist towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

We got there early in the morning and all headed out to breakfast at Flapjack’s Pancake Cabin. I had heard that this part of Tennessee was known for their pancake houses, so I was happy to experience one. I loved the decor inside!

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Dawn with her twin daughters at Flapjack’s. Not pictured is her husband Brian, who was also with us.
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Strawberry pancakes for breakfast.

Our first stop after breakfast was the Dolly Parton statue, in front of Sevierville’s court house. Dolly was born in Sevierville.

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We drove down the Smoky Mountain Parkway, on the way to Gatlinburg, and Derek and I were amazed at how many tourist attractions there were. Most of them looked quite cheesy! I knew that was what the area was like in general, but I didn’t expect so much of it.

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An example of one of the tourist attractions: The Hatfields and McCoy’s dinner feud.

We drove through Smoky Mountain National Park for a few miles to get to Gatlinburg on the other side, and we were shocked at how much traffic there was. We had thought we would miss the foliage crowd by going in November, but it was a sunny, mild day, so that was probably the last of the tourist rush.

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A quick shot through the windshield while driving through the National Park.

We were initially planning on finding parking in Gatlinburg, and then getting out and walking around for a little bit, but it was a madhouse. We quickly abandoned those plans. However I am glad that it ended up happening that way, because now I know what to possibly expect when we vacation there, hopefully next year.

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Scarecrows lined the streets in Gatlinburg.

We ended up going back towards Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg seems to be the most popular of the towns, so the traffic died down considerably.

While in Pennsylvania, Dawn and I would get together on Friday and Saturday nights at our houses, and enjoy cups of tea together at our kitchen tables, while chatting about anything and everything. Many, many hours were spent together with cups of tea. Therefore it was important to us, and symbolic as well, that we get drinks together during this visit.

We stopped at Espresso Yourself, a small coffee shop in Pigeon Forge. It was great to continue our chats as if no time had passed at all since we last saw each other.

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Chatting and drinks at Expresso Yourself.

Then we headed to the Apple Barn in Sevierville. It is a large complex that consists of two restaurants, a general store, a winery and more. What a nice store! I could have bought a lot more than we did. We bought red and white plaid table place mats with apples on them, plus some apple butter and a big jug of apple cider.

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Dawn and I at the Apple Barn.
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Inside the Apple Barn general store.

After that we got a quick mid afternoon bite to eat, and then we headed back to her house to say our goodbyes. We had a great day together. They will come visit us in Chattanooga next, sometime after the holidays.

Ketner’s Mill Country Fair

When I first moved to Chattanooga in September, Facebook started suggesting a lot of events for me to go to. Ketner’s Mill Country Fair was one of them, and I tucked the idea away in the back of my mind.

Ketner’s Mill is located in Whitwell, TN, about a half hour away from us, actually in the central time zone. It’s interesting and odd to be so close to the edge of a time zone barrier!

The Ketner family started working at the mill since 1842, according to www.ketnersmill.org. The mill ceased operations, but family members gathered together in the 1970s to restore the mill and house. It’s private property, but each year it’s opened to the public for the fair. The mill is not in production now, aside from that weekend. Visitors can buy cornmeal and watch it be made.

The fair featured a lot of vendors, wagon rides (we were lucky to get a whole wagon to ourselves) entertainment, blacksmith demonstrations and sorghum molasses demonstrations.

We learned that each of the vendors were all handpicked by the organizers of the fair. The items that each vendor had to sell were all nicely crafted. I stocked up on some homemade soaps, and we bought a small loaf of pumpkin bread to share at home. I only wish I had more money to purchase more items.

The fair grounds were beautiful as well. It was a cloudy day, and the clouds were low in the mountains. The mill was the focal point, and the Sequatchie River flowed behind it.

The drive to the fair was great as well, driving through some small towns and the Prentice Cooper State Forest. We pulled over many times to take photos of the scenery.

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Low clouds in the mountains on our way to the fair.
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Prentice Cooper State Forest.
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Had to pull over for some small pops of color!
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Ketner’s Mill and the Sequatchie River.
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The view behind the mill.
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Wagon ride with horses Mike and Ike.
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Inside the Mill.
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Blacksmith demonstrations.
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Sorghum molasses demonstration.
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A close up of the sugar cane being turned into juice.

Fairmount Orchard Apple Shop

I have been looking for fall related things to do. I found some you-pick apple orchards that are farther north of us, but I thought those could be saved for next fall.

Closer to home, I found the Fairmount Orchard Apple Shop on Signal Mountain. It is not an orchard that you can visit, but it’s the orchard’s shop where they sell their items that they have produced.

It was a small store, but worth the visit. The shelves were admittedly a little empty, but we had seen a recent post on their Facebook page that this was due to the on-going heat wave. I am sure now that it’s cooled down more apples will be coming in.

There were different apple varieties to choose from, in bags of different sizes. We got a small bag of Jonagold, because it is a kind that we had never had before.

Aside from apples, there was also apple butter and apple cider to sell. We bought both kinds. We had some of the apple cider last night and it was delicious.

The store also carried items like honey, soup mixes and dip mixes.

We will definitely make this shop a stop any time we are up on the mountain.


Chattanooga Market

Chattanooga has quite a few farmer’s markets. Each one is held on a designated day and location. The Chattanooga Market is held each Sunday from April to November at the Tennessee First Pavilion.

During our previous three years in Houston, I yearned for community type events such as these markets. While living in Pennsylvania, we alternated back and forth from the Mansfield Grower’s Market and the Wellsboro Farmer’s Market. I found one such labeled market in Houston that was each week during lunch time in front of City Hall. We went once, and left disappointed. It was less of a market, and more so food trucks and pop up booths from restaurants set up for downtown workers to grab a quick bite.

The Chattanooga Market exceeded my expectations. It is very large with hundreds of vendors. According to publicmarkets.us, “The Chattanooga Market is a producer-only market. Vendors have made it, baked it, grown it or sewn it themselves.”

The front half of the Market is produce, and the back half of the Market is crafts. Some mainstay purchases of ours have become honey, grits and apple cider. A local apparel store also sets up there, and I picked up a few t-shirts. Not to be missed is the Frios Gourmet Pops cart, which was a hit for everyone in the family. Mom got a coconut popsicle, Dad and Derek got blueberry cheesecake, and I got pink lemonade. We also picked up mini pumpkins and squash to decorate our front walkway. In the back of the market is always some kind of entertainment stage with a bunch of seating.

I have already made note of a lot of things I would like to buy for myself once I am working. Mom and dad also oohed and ahhed at some booths too. You could easily do Christmas shopping for your whole family there.

While the Market season ends in November, it moves indoors for three weeks for a special holiday market. I am looking forward to that!