9 Months Later…Yup, We’re Still on the Road!

Howdy, and thanks for keeping up with my journey over the last NINE MONTHS! Month #9 has been entirely spent in SoCal, and yes, there’s been plenty of sunshine and lovely weather.

I’ve been practicing driving our new RV because I’ll be damned if we’ll turn into that stereotypical old couple where the guy drives everywhere while his lady passively sits in the passenger seat. As a self-sufficient and stubborn feminist, I’m determined to learn every little thing about how this baby works.

Work has been going well – not overwhelmed, but certainly not underwhelmed either. Here’s a typical work day scene in the RV: back-to-back laptops in the dinette-turned-office, old college t-shirt, messy hair, cucumber & cheese snack plate.

During month #9, we wrapped up “home on the road #34” in San Diego. Before hitting the road again, we hit up a driving range…

…checked out Old Town San Diego with its historic park and festive nightlife scene…
…squeezed in some stand-up paddleboarding in Mission Bay in absolutely perfect wind/weather conditions……spent some time at the dog-friendly portion of the beach at Imperial Beach……and felt bummed to leave the San Diego area because it was pretty much ideal in every way.

As we transitioned from San Diego to our next destination, Banning, we also embarked on our first DIY project for the new RV. Now that I have my sewing machine with me in the RV, I’ve been dying to start a new craft project. I kinda missed doing projects since hitting the road, but with all this newfound space and storage, I figured that now’s the time to get back into it.

The curtains aren’t gorgeous by any means, and certainly not perfect. But they’re homemade and a hell of a lot easier to operate than those cheap and impossible blinds.

Read all about it: Our First DIY RV Project: Homemade Curtains


Places We Were in Month #8

After San Diego, we relocated to Banning, California. We originally tried (very hard) to stay at a campground in Palm Springs and found it impossible due to high nightly rates, pit bull bans, 55+ restrictions, and lack of internet reception. There really is nothing to do in Banning, but it provided a somewhat conveniently home base for the places we wanted to visit in the region: Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Slab City, Idyllwild, etc.

Then came the Los Angeles area. We stayed near Simi Valley and hit up everywhere from Burbank to Malibu, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and so on. Most recently, we’ve plopped down in Santa Barbara and are just getting settled into this new area.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Banning, California: Home on the Road #35

  • Highlights: Chill campground, cable TV hookup that allowed us to binge on Forensic Files, local brewery called Brew Revolution with lightning fast Wi-Fi, hiking a tiny part of the PCT, seeing gnomes in Idyllwild, amazing wildflowers, hiking through an oasis, epic found art at Slab City, hitting up a local bouldering gym
  • Lowlights: Abysmal service at Gastronome (a gnome-themed restaurant in Idyllwild), crazy high winds like all the time, being discouraged by the Palm Springs visitors center that there is “nothing” to do in town with a dog

And now…a slew of photos to go with those words! I was lucky enough to access some lightning-fast Wi-Fi at a couple breweries and cafes, so photos are aplenty in this blog post.


Los Angeles Area (Tapo Canyon) California: Home on the Road #36

  • Highlights: My parents flying out to visit us for a long weekend, doing all the Hollywood touristy stuff for the first time, archery at our campground, meeting up with my longest client of 4+ years and founder of Inside Philanthropy in the hippie mountain town of Topanga.
  • Lowlights: Not much to do outdoors or otherwise near the tiny Tapo Canyon Regional Park, crazy flying insects started coming in our camper and continue to do so – I have no idea what they are

Cue the mass of Los Angeles photos! Tapo Canyon felt like a million miles away from Los Angeles, but it’s only actually about 45.

I loved giving my parents the “grand tour” of our new home. Anyone want to book a tour in advance with me – spots are (not actually at all) filling up fast.I’m learning all about movie sets and whatnot on the Warner Brothers film studio tour here.Oh Rodeo Drive…how I cannot afford thee! Archery randomly happened at our campground Saturday morning…why not?! It’s pretty fun actually, and I’d love to pick up a bow more often. Paramount Ranch was a pretty cool place to walk around to see where some western movies and shows were filmed. I’ve gotten more into westerns after living in the west. There was a wedding happening here the day we stopped by. Malibu was gorgeous, as expected. We took a tour of the Adamson House and saw the most intricate and beautiful tile decor all throughout the historic home…totally worth the $7.Here’s a panoramic scene of the goings-on at Venice Beach on a Sunday afternoon.
Hollywood was essential to visit, but alas, it was time to move on. But not before Monkey posed with her favorite Walk of Fame star. She has no idea who The Monkees are, but neither do any of the other young whipper-snappers walking by. So, she gets a pass.

I’m actually going to save Home on the Road #37 for next month since we’ve only been here a couple days and haven’t experience enough of the area to really write about it yet. So far, our regional park campground is pretty sweet and we’ve got lots of fun things planned around work for the next week and a half.


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • Less wasted time walking back and forth to the bathroom and to do dishes has meant less time to listen to podcasts. I’ve had to find other times of day to satisfy my podcast obsession, like while doing push-ups and squats in the RV. I plowed through all the episodes of S-Town last month.
  • I love working outside. Bright sunshine makes my laptop die at times, but I will continue forcing it out into the outdoors whenever possible.

Trying to navigate super-sharp shells and dead fish parts to take a dip in Salton Sea. OUCH!

  • We’re still working on training strategies to get Monkey not to pull so badly on the leash. It really makes hiking miserable, and we’ve tried all sorts of leashes and tactics. We’re trying a Halti harness/easy-walk type thing right now. Lately, we’ve been using tiny pieces of cheese as training treats and walking in front of her to stop her from passing us. Anyone else have an obsessive leash puller on their hands?
  • Camping with (what we at least think is) a pit bull in California continues to be a huge challenge. This state has a stereotype of being full of liberal and inclusive hippies, but clearly that mindset doesn’t apply to dogs. My latest strategy for campground booking is to answer the question “What breed of dog are you bringing?” is “She’s a rescue dog, so a mix.” After all, we don’t honestly know what she is besides a “mix”, and everyone loves rescue dogs, right? This strategy has worked a couple times for me already actually for upcoming stays.

  • Staying in a small town with not much to do (like Banning) really takes the pressure off of daily travel planning. Sometimes it’s nice not having so many options so that you can just be lazy instead of feeling obligated to see and do everything you’re “supposed” to.
  • It’s totally possible to feel stuck in a rut even when you’re moving to a new place every two weeks. Finding joy in the little things is a challenge no matter where you are or what you’re living in.

  • Sweetwater Regional Park campground outside of San Diego was one of my all-time favorite campgrounds so far. I love the onsite trails for running, the green space between sites, and the chill atmosphere. Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara is right up there too, especially since it has disc golf and a place to kayak.
  • I am STILL struggling with how to dress myself in the west/in the desert. When I go out for the day, I always end up either sweating through my shirt with pit stains or shivering cold and miserable. To remedy this, I’ve started packing a tote bag with multiple outfit changes anytime I leave the RV. It’s overkill, but I’m determined to understand how people in this part of the world dress themselves.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

As the next month on the road begins, we’ll be in Santa Barbara for a little while longer. So I’ll have more updates about SB next month. After this, we’re heading to Kernville and then to San Luis Obispo – staying on the outskirts of both towns to explore the regions. Our pace has settled into at least two weeks per place, which seems to be working well right now.

Life feels comfortable, which is something that’s easy to take for granted but I keep reminding myself not to. Being able to get to know the various personalities of California continues to be fascinating, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive state. Thanks for following along 🙂

Catch up with the journey:

Spending a Day with Rich Humphreys of Gnome Countryside

One of my favorite things about being part of a community of gnome enthusiasts is getting the opportunity to meet other collectors and swap stories. As a writer with an insatiable spirit of wanderlust, my travels have led me to many amazing people who inspire me to keep collecting and spreading the joy of gnomes.

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at the one and only Gnome Countryside, tucked away in the peaceful rolling hills of Kirkwood Pennsylvania. For 35 years, Rich has been entertaining and educating kids and adults in his “Gnomery” and enchanted forest.

Rich, a long-time diabetic who nearly lost his sight to diabetic retinopathy, created Gnome Countryside after teaching school in Alaska for 12 years. He renovated this beautiful property and interwove the stories of gnomes into his nature tours. Rich first became enchanted by gnomes on a trip to Denmark, and he even dresses like a gnome in a wonderfully eccentric fashion!

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I first learned about Rich’s mission and Gnome Countryside in 2014 under tragic circumstances. Local news sources reported that a fire devastated his 220-year-old log home, destroying his possessions, but never his spirit. He has since rebuilt his home, and it’s just as beautiful as ever.

My tour of Gnome Countryside began in the Gnomery, a cozy room filled with wonderful gnomes where Rich shared stories, environmental facts, and songs with his captive audience. Then we followed The Gnomeman through the wooded trails, using our five senses to appreciate the rugged beauty that surrounded us. Small gnomes and gnome homes could be found along the trails (if you looked closely), and they were surely very happy here. Other highlights of the visit included listening to the waterfall sounds of Gnome Gniagra, participating in a drum circle, and building gnome homes and rock towers in the woods.

Gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, and this is a place to embrace that relationship and celebrate stewardship of the environment and a sense of community in the outdoors. Through Gnome Countryside, Rich empowers visitors to return home with a renewed love for the environment and a commitment to protect nature. Gnome Countryside celebrates the legends of gnomes, teaches us about gnomes and nature, brings your senses to life. With a creative sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, Rich’s dedication to nature and all its creatures is contagious.

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You too can visit Gnome Countryside if you only travel to the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country! Rich is an incredibly friendly and kindhearted man who loves to chat, so give him a call at 717-786-4928. Gnome Countryside is a favorite among school group tours, but he also leads individual two-hour tours at a rate of $10 per person. Morning and afternoon tours are typically available Monday through Saturday from April through October, rain or shine.

 

***A version of this story will be published in the upcoming edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter!***

One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

The Antique Gnomes of Rock City – Chattanooga, Tennessee

On a recent drive from Illinois to Georgia, I made a pit stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and decided to check out the famous attraction advertised on all the highway billboards: Rock City. Much to my delight, the nature paths and caves here are filled with gnomes!

I knew I was in for something special when the road leading up to Rock City was called “Ochs Highway.” No joke. Clearly, this place was meant for me.

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History of the Rock City Gnomes

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter began developing a walkable garden on their private estate to share their love for the region’s rock formations and native plants with the public.

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The husband-wife team opened Rock City Gardens during the Great Depression and had over 800 barns painted to advertise and attract tourists to Chattanooga. They gave the attraction its name because the rocks on top of Lookout Mountain looked like city buildings and the natural pathways like streets.

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Frieda Carter loved European folklore and fairytales, and she was an avid gnome collector. So naturally, many of her gnomes made it into the local attraction.

Gnomes Along the Enchanted Trail

Your gnome journey begins at the new Gnome Valley installation, which is a growing collection of whimsical space at the beginning of the Enchanted Trail.

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As you walk along the beautiful and easily accessible trail, you’ll notice even more gnomes peeking behind rocks to greet you.

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Keep an eye out for little red hats as you navigate the trail to Lover’s Leap, the 180-foot suspension bridge, Mother Goose Village, and the summit where you can see seven states on a clear day.

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Another awesome part about Rock City is that the whole place is dog friendly!

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The Gnomes of Fairyland Caverns

But by far, the best place to see gnomes is inside Fairyland Caverns, as this is home to Frieda’s collection of antique, imported German gnomes.

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Inside this cave, gnomes are situated into scenes that are illuminated by black lights.

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You instantly feel a sense of magic as you pass by the Castle of the Gnomes, Carnival of the Gnomes, the Moonshine-Brewing Gnomes, and many other displays.

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Admittedly, some of the scenes were a bit on the creepy side. But isn’t that what fairy tales are really all about anyway?

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Antique Gnome Restoration

Since the Rock City gnomes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of them were in desperate need of repair. Rock City’s resident art specialist, Matt Dutton, created a “Gnome Infirmary” to restore the residents to their original splendor.

Matt consults old photos to keep the gnomes’ coloring consistent, painting and repairing them as needed. He uses urethane resin and a hardener to fills his handmade molds to restore each little one’s unique personality.

The Gnome Mascot & Gift Shops

A red-hatted, white-bearded gnome named Rocky is the mascot for Rock City, and you might meet him walking around in costume! Yet no roadside attraction would be complete without a gift shop, and the one at Rock City is stocked with lots of gnomes you can take home as souvenirs.

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My souvenir of choice? A purple t-shirt that reads, “I’m a rock climbing, trail trekkin’, gnome lovin’ nature kinda girl.” I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect motto for myself!

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*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter! 

Who’s Behind All These Gnome Homes in Parks?

As a writer and hardcore gnome enthusiast, I keep up with gnome news on a daily basis. (Just create a Google alert for “gnomes”!)

One trend that I keep seeing is “gnome homes” popping up all over the country in public parks. As we all know, gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, so it makes perfect sense that they’d be setting up habitats in our most beautiful and scenic parks. With the assistance of creative and devoted humans, gnomes are moving into parks and sparking the imaginations of kids and adults of all ages.

Tomahawk Creek Trail – Overland Park. Kansas

Gnome homes started appearing along this trail in 2013, and their creator was recently identified as a single mother named Robyn Frampton. An Overland Park filmmaker created a documentary about her project called “The Gnomist.” It’s a story of paying it forward (one gnome home at a time) getting through a painful divorce, and connecting with nature and other people.

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Little Buffalo State Park – Newport, Pennsylvania

Sadly, this is a story of gnome homes that haven’t been well-received. A local retired couple built 39 gnome homes to encourage kids and adults to interact with the park. For fear of harming the natural environment, park management has evicted the gnomes. However, the couple insists the trail has no damage, and the park has seen tremendous increases in visitors since the gnomes appeared. You can sign a petition to keep the gnomes keep their homes and the community enjoying the magic they bring.

Glen Park – San Francisco, California

Gnomes have also taken up residence in this park along the Creeks to Peaks Trail with a sign reading “Leave for all to enjoy.” Visitors are encouraged to check out the gnome home while walking through the park and leave their own mementos behind in the community’s knotty tree stump.

Lamignomes…The Next Big Gnome Movement?

My new website is definitely still a work in progress, but I’ll give you a sneak peek into my next gnome venture: Lamignomes (i.e. laminated gnomes). Armed with custom gnome printouts, popsicle sticks, a sharpie marker, and a laminating machine, I have been creating gnomes with “talk bubbles” who have lots to say about the places I travel to. Stay tuned for an update on the Lamignomes movement in a future post!

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Have you spotted a gnome habitat growing in a park near you? Share your story (and photos!) with us, and maybe we can visit them someday too!

Songs about Gnomes & Their Curious Inspiration

With the recent passing of musical legend, David Bowie, an old song of his popped into my head the other day: “The Laughing Gnome.” To my knowledge, Bowie was never an avid gnome collector so why would he write a song about a gnome?

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In fact, I’ve often wondered why musical artists name their bands and songs after gnomes, especially when they have little to do with our beloved little friends.

Bowie’s song tells the story of walking down the street, hearing footsteps, and turning around to find a “little old man” who chuckles away all day long singing “I’m a laughing gnome and you don’t catch me!” The song was released as a single in 1967 and features a sped-up voice and several puns on the word “gnome.” It’s radically different from much of his other work and has been described as a fun children’s song, a mod anthem, and an embarrassment.

Another gnome song from an unexpected band is “The Gnome” by Pink Floyd. The song appears on their album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and tells the story of a gnome named Grimble Grumble. This little guy wore a scarlet tunic with a blue-green hood, and he had a big adventure in the great outdoors, followed by a bit of wining and dining. Sounds pretty fun, right? As far as I know, the British psychedelic rock band wasn’t into collecting gnomes either, but the song’s inspiration reportedly came random creativity and J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

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However, David Bowie and Pink Floyd haven’t been the only musical artists to oddly embrace gnomes…even if only for a short time. For example, the album of one Australian band simply named “Gnome” was described in a review as “other-worldly, blissful, euphoric, natural, and tranquil.”

It seems that many artists identify with what gnomes represent and are drawn to express those qualities through music. It also just goes to show that you don’t have to be a gnome expert to enjoy and celebrate gnomes’ clever, fun-loving, and mischievous nature!

So allow me to introduce you to few gnome-related songs and bands to listen to and decide for yourself. No matter what type of music you’re into, you’re sure to find a gnome song you enjoy, or at least get a chuckle out of.

  • David Bowie’s “The Laughing Gnome,” – AudioLyrics
  • Pink Floyd’s “The Gnome” – AudioLyrics
  • David the Gnome Theme Song – Video
  • The Alpaca Gnomes (band from Connecticut) – Video
  • Gnome (band from Cleveland, Ohio) – Video
  • The Gnome Addicts (band from Toronto) – Video
  • UnGnomes (band from Chicago) – Audio

Do you know of any other gnome bands or gnome songs? I’d love to check ’em out, so please share with me!

***This article will appear in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter. Find out what else is going on in the world of gnome news, by joining our club!***

“Gnome Hunting” with the Boden Gnome Ranger at a Lovely UK Arboretum

Still on a “gnome high” from my visit to the Gnome Reserve in the English countryside, I sat in a cheap motel in Bristol and thought about my new move.

There was one more place in England that I had dreamed of visiting… and I didn’t know when I’d be back around these parts.

About an hour and a half north of Bristol lives a magical colony of gnomes that I’ve become acquainted with through the power of the internet. The Bodenham Arboretum is located in something of a mouthful called “Wolverley, Kidderminster, Worcestershire.”

Here’s a little blurb for historical background:

A mile long drive winding through undulating countryside gently climbs to the brow of the hills to reveal a secret garden nurtured since 1973. An oasis of plantations, pools and avenues beautifully landscaped including over 3000 species of trees and shrubs from all over the world.

Bodenham is an area of outstanding landscape beauty and interest. Its 156 acres contains mature woodland, specimen trees and shrubs and two acres of pools and lakes.

So honestly, what better place could there be for gnomes to take up residence?!

Lucky for me, I’m well-connected to the ultimate Boden Gnome Guide, who just happened to be available to meet me the next morning.

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Davy is the one and only Boden Gnome Ranger. He is the faithful leader of the Boden Gnomes, which are the mystical, woodland characters  that help the farmers and the arborists with their work at Bodenham Arboretum. He and his lovely wife, Jackie, were kind enough to squeeze us into their busy day before an 86th birthday celebration with less than a day’s notice.

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I was so excited to meet spend my morning with this friendly and welcoming gnome enthusiast and meet all of his woodland gnomes. An important distinction to remember is that woodland gnomes wear green hats. It’s all those garden gnomes that wear red ones.

Much to my delight, the Ranger was in full character and costume: green vest and hat, a beard reminiscent of a mop I used to have in the kitchen, rain boots with mushrooms on them, a fishing pole with a squeaky toy fish on the end, and a gnome-carved walking stick.

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Equipped with this hiking stick and a fishing pole, we ventured into Poplar Dingle and were greeted by our first Boden Gnomes near the entrance.

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The arboretum hosts a “gnome hunt” in the summertime. And no, there are no gnomes harmed in this type of hunting of course.

The Boden Gnome Gnome Hunt – June 3rd – August 30th

This summer the ‘BodenGnomes’ will return for the whole of the Summer holidays to enable children of ‘all’ ages visiting Bodenham to join in the fun and search for the hidden Gnomes around the Arboretum.  Details and a map of the route can be found at the Visitor Centre. There will be a prize draw for all entries. Normal entry charges apply.

I spy one up there in the tree with a “G”!

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And there’s another lurking in the weeds! Both gnome statutes and wooden gnome cut-outs call the gnome trail home.They’re not too hard to spot if you’re moderately observant.

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And just when you least expect it…a Viking Gnome appears on a fence. Man, he looks fierce.

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Gnome spotting is hard work, so we stopped for a moment to sit a spell and chat about travel and gnomes. Many of the hiding gnomes were holding letters, which formed a secret word that I won’t reveal in this blog in case there aren’t plans to change it next year. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise 🙂

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Obligatory posing at the festive cardboard face cutout was a must. And now I’ve gotten a brilliant new idea to sew a mushroom skirt.

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If you’re having any difficulty imagining this magical day by just my words and photos, how about a video or two? Here are a couple gems that really give you a sense of the Boden Gnomes experience…at least to tide you over until the hunt picks up again next summer.

Whoops, caught a lil’ bugga with his pants down! Gnomes here are strapped in for protection from vandals. Gnome thieves are the WORST, and I hope they never find their way into this lovely arboretum.

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Sadly, our visit to the arboretum was coming to a close…but not before a surprise gift was presented to us through the most beautiful row of trees.

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Would you believe that the Boden Gnome Ranger is also a skilled painter? He painted me a replica of my new newly-inked ankle tattoo, a hiker gnome, which was based on my husband’s original design.

The painting looks exactly like my tat, which is amazing! It survived the journey back to the States with no damage and I hung it above my bedside table when I returned to remember this awesome day.

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You can see more of his art on the Painterman Davy T. Facebook page. Davy’s wife, Jackie is super talented too and made us a lovely gnome-themed wedding card. Check out Crafting with Jackie to see some of her stuff! Just like my dearly wedded, Jackie isn’t all that interested in gnomes, but she’s sure a damn good sport about it!

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I was disappointed to not find any gnomes in the arboretum gift shop, but it sounds like the Boden Gnome Ranger is really campaigning for more gnomes on the premises. So hopefully it’s only a matter of time before little green-hatted men start pretty much running the place.

There’s also a really cute black dog that hangs out at the arboretum that made me miss my dog sitting business back home a bit.

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After the gnome hunt with Davy and Jackie, we spent some time walking around the arboretum to admire the wide-open, natural surroundings, which used to actually be part of a farm. So with my visit to the Bodenham Arboretum, my Euro-gnome travels had come to a close. Gnome enthusiasts really are kindred spirits, and I was so glad to have met another on my international journey.

I totally admire the Boden Gnome Ranger’s creative spirit in dressing up, singing songs, and leading prospective gnome fans through the woods in search of magic and fun. I can’t wait to see what next summer (and the summers after that) bring to the arboretum and what shenanigans these green-hatted gnomes get up to throughout the year.

My Dream-Come-True Visit to Ann Atkin’s Gnome Reserve

This past June, one of my ultimate quirky travel dreams came true in the English countryside. In the midst of a three-week Eurotrip, we went well out of our way to visit the Gnome Reserve in North Devon.

Ann Atkin has been an idol of mine for many years. She holds the world record for having the most gnomes (at least 2,042) and she started the International Gnome Club, which I write newsletter articles for.

To get here from Bristol, the “roads” were more like treacherous and death-defying hedge mazes.

P1030002But a tiny sign with a friendly face finally appeared to reassure me and my wonderfully gnome-tolerant husband that we were on the right path.P1030013There’s no other way to describe this experience but euphoric. Believe it or not, this place is visited by around 25,000 people each year, and I couldn’t believe I was finally one of them.
P1030021But first order of business…a gnome hat! 
P1030328It is requested that all Gnome Reserve guests wear gnome hats while they tour the magical four-acre wonderland. You wouldn’t want to offend the gnomes with your bare, ugly head, now would you?

P1030039Ann’s collection has been featured on TV and in magazine tons of times and she’s pretty much the worldwide expert on the subject. I’m working my way up that ladder though, don’t you worry.
P1030083The reserve is a wonderful place for a casual stroll, and there’s something new and exciting to see around every corner. Lots of pointing and squealing took place, as you can imagine.
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Followed by some light fishing for stones in the gnomes’ dried-up pond.
P1030115Everyone you could want to be here was here. There were spacemen gnomes, pilot gnomes, and eating and drinking gnomes, as pictured here. Not particularly known for healthy habits, these lil’ guys were enjoying a feast of cake and wine. I can support that.
P1030145There were even a few rare racially diverse gnomes living on the property!P1030158Gnome races were taking place in another section of the reserve. I always place my bets on the one with the red hat.
P1030166And even a gnome chess tournament was taking place! Perhaps that chess board could use a little dusting off though, wouldn’t ya say?
P1030185Siegfried is the oldest gnome in the Gnome Reserve, and Ann sculpted him herself back in the late 70s!P1030196One of my all-time favorite gnome scenes here was the fishing scene. While I was only able to fish for stones earlier, these guys got real flowing water and some seriously serene scenery.
P1030220But the #1 highlight of my visit was getting to meet Ann. It was a weekday morning that we visited and not too crowded, so I was able to chat with her a while about gnomes and such.P1030227Ann is a skilled artist and sells her paintings (prices start at £5) and pixie figurines in the entrance building of the Gnome Reserve.
P1030233If all this gnoming makes you crave some refreshment, you can order sandwiches and cream teas from the Gnome Kitchen. There’s a little picnic area to hang out in for a while to savor the experience a little longer.
P1030324But there’s more! I know you’re wondering, “But HOW? How could there be any more to life than THIS?!”

Well there’s a wildflower garden here as well that Ann encouraged me to tour and view the labeled species of herbs, wildflowers, and grasses. There was even a quiz! Yep, I missed a few. This area is more nature-themed rather than gnome-themed, and full of fairies and pixies, but it was still a very lovely little activity.

P1030294Before heading back to the car and sadly leaving my new-found gnome friends behind, I browsed the gift shop for a few treasures to take back home with me. I bought four of Ann’s handmade pixies/gnomes and one of her gnome-themed paintings. And also a couple cups of locally-made ice cream to celebrate this awesome day.

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I’d been wanting to visit this gnome mecca since I first heard about it 5+ years ago and it totally lived up to the hype. I wish the nearly 80-year-old Ann all the best as she continues to take the gnome world by storm and be an inspiration for gnome lovers worldwide.

The Gnome Reserve is typically open between March 21 and October 31 between 10 am and 5 pm daily. Adult admission is £3.75, and it’s definitely worth it…even if you’re not an obsessed fanatic like me.

A German Village Oddly Misplaced in the Hills of North Georgia

These days, pretty much all travel planning is done via the interwebs. I work for travel companies, write for travel blogs, and Google my way from one destination to the next.

However, this travel story begins differently than all the others. That’s because I planned this trip WITH A BOOK.

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I picked up this book at a local state park after a hike and flipped through it up occasionally while it sat on the coffee table. I picked out six or seven “quick escapes” from Atlanta that I wanted to check out, and one of them was the Helen/Clarkesville/Sautee area. Here are a few key points from the book that stuck out to me about this particular escape:

  • German alpine village
  • Waterfalls
  • International restaurants
  • Local wine
  • German beer
  • Boiled peanuts

Following the book’s recommendations, we started our two-day northern Georgia journey in Cornelia, a tiny town “famous” for having the world’s largest apple monument. It was pretty big, as far apples go anyway.

20150718_113810There isn’t a whole heck of a lot else going on in Cornelia (population 3,834), so we quickly moved on down US 23 to Clarkesville, another little town (population 1,250) known for mountain craft and antique stores. The book recommended a placed called Stephen’s for lunch, but Stephen must have lost in an epic battle to someone named Tucker.

I haven’t the slightest idea who Stephen or Tucker are, but this is when I realized my prized book was published in 1996. Whoops.20150718_130820

Lunch at Tucker’s was pretty alright – a fried green tomato sandwich and side salad, which hit the spot and seemed appropriately southern. Well, the fried part at least.
20150718_131021Then we mozied on over to a few of the little craft shops and watched cows paint other cows. Craft shops and festival booths always make me wish that (1) I didn’t have to have a full time job, (2) that I had unwavering motivation to keep up with crafts, and (3) that I was much, much better at crafts. Le sigh.
20150718_132107Old timey libraries with lots of books and grandma-style couches welcomed us in town…
20150718_135102…and so did little pathways around historic (abandoned?) cabins surrounding by strategically-placed statues. I’m always willing to lend a helping hand to a friendly statue.20150718_135159But statues can only provide entertainment for so long, and our next stop was Sautee, a town best known for its old general store.20150718_143502Inside the store were lots of old-timey relics…
20150718_143554…and even circus-style games that tested the strength of your love and let you watch a little peep show. I think I saw an ankle. I’m not entirely sure, but it still felt scandalous.20150718_144133By this point in the day, I’d worked up a hearty thirst. Fortunately, the Habersham Vineyards and Winery was on the way to Helen. The Southern Harvest label utilizes the distinctly Southern Muscadine grape to make sweet, fruity wines. I picked up a bottle of Peach Treat, which seemed only appropriate for a Georgia winery.

Tastings were $5 per person, but the most memorable part of this winery visit was the slushy drinks. Habersham had two slushy options: a peach flavor with white wine and a blackberry pomegranate flavor with red wine. Wine slushies…what a brilliant idea for a hot summer day!
20150718_151421Nothing really goes better with wine than chocolate, and fortunately, there are lots of sweet shops in Helen. Unfortunately, it rarely dips below the mid-90s here in the summer. So if you’re going to buy chocolate, you’re going to have to stuff your face with it right away or be prepared for a nasty mess in your pocket.

20150718_185851Unlike my typical travels that usually involve stays at campgrounds and hostels, I sprung for a full-fledged B&B this time. In Helen, we stayed at the Alpine Hilltop Haus, whose owners were kind enough to accommodate us for just one night. Most B&Bs in the area require a two-night minimum…even for last-minute bookings, which is annoying.
20150718_182624Our room had the most amazingly realistic mural painted on it. Seriously, nothing in this photo is real except the chairs, table and lamp. Mind = blown.
20150718_182336It was totally relaxing to hang out in the B&B’s living room, which was much more spacious than mine back at home. This is where I watched some ridiculous reality show about dating naked while flipping through old copies of National Geographic Traveler, while my husband started putting together a puzzle of an bland lighthouse.

This is also where breakfast was served the next morning, which was a tasty egg quiche, breads, coffee, and tea. There were four or five other couples staying here as well, but it didn’t feel crowded. The back yard overlooked the Chattahoochee River down below, which would have been quite peaceful if not for all those silly tubers.
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The big thing to do in Helen, which I quickly discovered, is tubing. Tourists stand in long lines waiting to board re-purposed school buses and be dropped off at the top of the river. They leisurely float down the gentle currents, bumping into each other and awkwardly getting out to swim from time to time.

The crowds, lines, and congestion made this an unattractive option for our relaxing, low-key weekend. But perhaps another time.
20150718_191657There were quite a few German restaurants around town in Helen, and although the food is hit or miss, this particular restaurant got my “thumbs up” for having cool steins. And the beer was pretty alright. 20150718_194200

But putting all the trip details aside, I find it absolutely bizarre that a German-themed village is tucked away in the hills of north Georgia.

Apparently, Helen was a logging town that was going downhill fast. To resurrect itself, some local business folks decided to recreate a Bavarian alpine village in its place and try to bring in some tourists. Even franchise businesses like Dollar General and Huddle House have that German architecture look.

20150718_202446And not surprisingly, this is also THE place in the area to party for Oktoberfest. On weekend evenings, this little town square area is filled with DJs spinning bad 90s dance-along tunes and vacation-minded southerners dancing-it-up with plastic cups of beer in hand. Then again, it’s also a total family-friendly area and kids are everywhere.
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After waking up in the B&B the next morning, we took the kayak out on Lake Unicoi, a 53-acre lake in Unicoi State Park. There isn’t a whole lot of water to paddle here, but it is pretty peaceful.

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Then we drove over to Anna Ruby Falls for a short waterfall hike. You only have to hike in a half mile from the parking lot to see the falls, which is created by the convergence of Curtis and York Creeks. Curtis drops 153 feet and York drops about 50.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo this was my experience planning a weekend trip “by the book.” It started with a book, and then branched out into randomness from there. Helen is just an hour and a half from Atlanta, but it couldn’t feel farther away.

Sure, it’s more touristy than authentic, but what more would you really expect from a European replica in the American south? Regardless, it’s one of the most unique places I’ve discovered down here and totally worth a stop to gawk if you’re passing through.

My Gnome-tastic Visit to Brewery Achouffe in Belgium

Several years ago while shopping at Whole Foods, I caught a glimpse of a gnome perched atop a beer tap at the grocery store’s bar. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with Brasserie D’Achouffe, a gnome-themed brewery in the countryside of Belgium.

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Through my gnome writings, I’ve even gotten to know the brewery’s founder, Chris Bauweraerts via email! Well one of my gnome travel bucket-list dreams recently came true when I booked a trip to Belgium to visit Chris and these tiny gnome brewers.

My gnome-supportive husband and I rented a car in Brussels, and drove two hours to reach the brewery in the rolling hills of the Belgian Ardennes. Belgians drive on the right side of the road, not the wrong/left side like they do in the UK, so it was pretty easy to get around.

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But first, we stopped in Liege, a small Belgian town on the way. A quick TripAdvisor search told me that the top thing to do in Liege was climb the Coteaux de la Citadelle, which involves 374 stairs that lead to an awesome view of the town.

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The town of Liege has an upper level and a lower level, so we wandered the streets of both, which were connected by peaceful wooded trails. Although I only had a couple hours to spend here, I’d say it was definitely a worthwhile pit stop.

And what’s a pit stop without some sustenance?! Here’s me skeptically eating a delightful (?) lunch of canned corn and peanut butter while watching some drama go down with the local police.

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But without further delay, onward we traveled to Achouffe! The brewery location is beautiful with cutesy homes, a small lake, and gnome figures scattered all around on the walls and signs.

Chouffe 1It was a Friday afternoon and all was quiet on the gnome-front. This was fine with me, as it provided many uninterrupted photo ops with the local gnome residents.

Chouffe 2Helpful gnomes pointed us in the right direction as we explore the grounds before our scheduled tour.
Chouffe 4Reminiscent of that day back in Chicago when I “gnomed myself” at Chouffe Fest Chicago, the brewery had a perfectly-situated and oversized chair to hop into and feel as tiny as the gnome brewers themselves.

Related: The Night I Gnomed Myself – Chouffe Fest Chicago

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Standard brewery tours are in Dutch; however, our gracious guide, Lydia, took the time to translate everything in English just for us.

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We got to see the Achouffe beer-making equipment, brewing vats, and even a short film about the brewery’s history. Not surprisingly, I was captivated and enthralled during every single moment.

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Then Lydia led us to the tasting room to sample all the Chouffe specialties: the traditional blonde (La Chouffe), decadent brown(Mc Chouffe), hoppy IPA (Houblon Chouffe), and fruity summer beer (Chouffe Soleil). I must reveal that I’m a bit of a craft beer connoisseur, and even if gnomes weren’t on each label, these would still be some of my all-time favorites!

Chouffe 8I even got to play bartender for a bit! Could a full-time gig and relocation to Belgium be in my future?

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Although the staff gave us complementary glasses and postcards, I quickly found myself stocking up on gnome gear at the souvenir shop. I’m now the proud owner of a long-sleeved Chouffe bike shirt, wall plaque, key chain, and zip drive!

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But the highlight of my brewery visit was meeting and spending time with the owner and founder, Chris. I could not have asked for a more welcoming and hospitable host!

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Chris published a book, called My Chouffe Story, which details how the brewery began in 1982 and how the gnomes became such an important part of the brewing process. He gave me a signed copy of his book as a gift, a memento I will always treasure.

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Chris went out of his way to make us fall in love with the Belgian countryside, taking us to some of his favorite places in the area. We followed Chris, (in his orange shirt and orange car…a fellow fan of everything orange, like me!) to a nearby bed, breakfast & brewery, La Vieille Forge, which is known as the tiniest brewery in Belgium.

By the way, the concept of a BB&B is amazing and there should be more of these…EVERYWHERE.

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I got to meet the mastermind behind Brewery Inter-Pol and sample his two original beers, which were delicious. I really just wanted to stay at this tiny country pub for a while with the super-friendly locals and crash overnight at the B&B, but alas, all the rooms were booked for a biking event in the area. Maybe next time.

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After reluctantly leaving the tiny brew pub, Chris took a traditional kebob & fries restaurant, Friterie Au Chat l’Heureux, to fill up our stomachs after all that awesome beer.

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There were a few too many choices for my overloaded brain at this point in the brew-fueled day, but was finally able to decide on an order. Whew.

Fries are a big deal in Belgium, and although I tend to avoid the greasy specimens back in the States, I felt obliged to give ’em try on this side of the pond. I can’t deny that they were a tremendously satisfying post-beer snack. Good thing I’d been averaging 10 miles of walking per day!

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Chris knows the ins and outs of everything in the Belgian Ardennes…even the history behind an old cemetery that we stopped to check out along the road.

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In caravan-style, we spent our afternoon following him to a few of his other favorite places in the area, including a WWII site, scenic nature sites with yellow wildflowers, the production & bottling facility, and a local pub.

Chouffe19Gnome and beer enthusiasts truly are the friendliest people in the world, and I’m so happy to have hundreds of photos (literally, hundreds) to remember my gnome-tastic day forever.

Chouffe18A big thanks goes out to Chris, Isabelle, Lydia, and all the Chouffe staff for making my gnome brewery visit absolutely perfect. Cheers!

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*A version of this story is published in the current edition of the “International Gnome Club Newsletter.” Drop a line to President Liz Spera [email protected] become a member of our club and keep up with gnome enthusiasts like me!