Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What did Tennessee? She saw what Arkansas!

Sometimes I put off the simplest tasks just because.... I often think they will take more time than they end up taking. Or I know that if I start this particular thing, it will lead to other things, and I will get way in over my head. I often find that the most dreaded tasks weren't as bad as I expected, and the "just take a minute" tasks end up being humdingers.
Signing up for the 5/3 Riverbank run yesterday was in the humdinger category. I got sent to another site, and then the register icon was not very obvious. It took forever for the page to load my info. And then I decided to change my shirt size-which took another forever. But it was done. Then I tried to do an online donation, and it just wouldn't go through. Until I cancelled it, re-found the page, and reentered all my info. Then, and only then, did it go through. I can feel my hair graying on paperwork days.
Printing up Brian Marcus' photos last week fell into the way easier than I imagined category. We gave him a camera for his birthday, and his cousins gave him a gift card for printing photos, and a photo book to fill. He has been asking to print up pictures for months. I finally did it. It was a breeze to load them on SnapFish, choose the ones I wanted, and order them for pickup at Meijer. Actually, 1, 2, 3...done.
It was fun looking back through his pictures, and my pictures from the second half of the year. Particularly our vacation pictures.
We weren't going to take a vacation last year because of a new baby and all. But we decided about May that it would just be great to get away right before school started up again. We reserved a cabin the Smokies, about 20 miles from Gatlinburg, and started planning what to do and where to go. We have been to this area several times, and we love it. We have favorite restaurants, and favorite activities that we wanted to hit up, as well as try some new things.  We actually stay in Townsend, TN, a little town right near the entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park. Townsend is billed as the "quiet side of the Smokies". And it is a quiet place, definitely geared for tourists, but not as hyped up as its near relatives, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Brian and I planned all summer, and anticipated the trip. And we kept it from the kids, until a couple days before we left. Even then we didn't tell them we were going to TN until the day before or so.  They were very surprised!
Our cabin was right on a slow creek in a valley between the mountains. It was beautiful and quiet. We had a hot tub on the back porch, there was a big fenced yard for the kids to play in, and there was plenty of room for all of us. The property was one of many owned by a family in Townsend. I think the best part was the pool on the main property. We spent hours there everyday swimming and playing. We usually had the pool to ourselves. The kids improved their swimming skills, and got more and more brave as the week went on. The nights and mornings were cool, but the days got up into the 90s. I love that kind of weather.
We spent a day in Cades' Cove, an old settlement right there in the Smoky Mountain National Park. We climbed in and out of the car, exploring old homesteads and churches. We drove, and walked, and had a great time. The Cades' Cove loop is like 13 miles, after you drive almost that far into the park. But it is beautiful, with all the mountains, and valleys, and waterfalls.
We spent a day at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. If you have never visited the Biltmore, and are ever anywhere near there, you should go. It is the biggest privately owned residence in the United States. It was built by the Vanderbilts in the 1890s. The house is amazing. And the grounds are beautiful. It is fun to wander through the house, then over the grounds. We saw the bridge used in one of the first scenes from the Last of the Mohicans film. There is a winery, with a tour showing how they make the wine. Even the kids thought that was interesting. There is a petting farm, and quaint shops. It is a great activity for families. With a lot to see and do. It is rather pricey. Adults are $50 at the gate, but we got our tickets online for $35. Kids were free last year, due to a grant, but usually they are only $5. It is definitely worth the expense. Ethan has a special memory from the Biltmore...as does Brian Marcus. There is a huge fountain in the front lawn that gets turned off with a key. The gate keeper let Ethan turn off the fountain. He was very pumped. Brian Marcus fainted in the billiard room. You can ask him why.
A new activity was the Smoky Mountain Museum, that they built in Townsend since our last visit. There was a lot of great information about the railroad and lumber industries in the mountains, plus cool movies, interesting tidbits about the Civil War, and its affects in this area, and also neat buildings that have been transplanted to the site. We saw a still that was in operation until maybe 30 years ago. There was a church, and homes and barns that you could explore. There was also a detailed history of cantilever barns, that are found almost exclusively in that area of the country.
Our most crazy activity was visiting the Tuckaleechee Caverns. They are the biggest discovered underground caves in the United States. It is slippery and wet, and we were carrying Meredith. And I hadn't gotten over my fear of heights thing from driving through the mountains. So it was cool, but we wondered just what we had been thinking. It falls into the category of stupid things you do in your youth.

petting horses in Cades' Cove

One of the old houses in Cades' Cove

Meredith happy in her stroller

A water wheel for a mill

Meredith's first swim suit. Boy has she changed!

THE fountain

the mountain view from the Biltmore.

the Last of the Mohicans' bridge

a pretty boat house

a clock tower near the winery

On the back porch of the cabin
enjoying a campfire

drinking lots of Dr. Pepper

Meredith snuggling with her Wishbone, from Cades' Cove

Tuckaleechee Caverns

We had a wonderful, refreshing time. We made great memories, had good laughs, watched a lot of Hogan's Heroes, played games, ate great food and enjoyed our time together as a family. While it seems like we have been going ever since we got home, I am so glad we went.

Viva Tennessee!