Thursday: Drove out of Houston via Chill in a big storm… took us 8 hours to do a 6hr drive because of all the rain and lightning… but no worries ~ vacation freedom! Stayed in Baton Rouge in 1st of 7 different hotels... thank heavens for Daron’s free Marriott points!
Friday… 4th of July! Drove thru 6 states today ~ Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Watched fireworks in the cute towns along the way. Pulled into Corbin Kentucky at midnight – Daron saw a deer while he drove and we slept … reminded me of our trips as kids when cute Dad did all the driving and we’d wake up and load into the hotel in the dark. 8-)
Saturday: Coolest hotel pancake maker ever (fully automated – just push a button and then wait for the pancakes to roll out), then hiked Cumberland Falls in Daniel Boone State Park in Kentucky.
We then drove to Pigeon Forge in Tennessee. Here begins the reason we’re taking this trip… cute little quaint towns with fun homey small town hospitality… great timing to be there on a holiday weekend. Also went INNERTUBING down a clear rocky river– so much fun! We have always wanted to do this with the kids. Turned out to be quite comical – the river was low so it was more like river-WALKING than river-FLOATING… we had to carry our tubes like we were wearing tutu’s for half the way – hilarious! Only 2 swift current spots for about 2 seconds each… the rest of the time we were literally sitting ducks, laughing our heads off with the rest of the hundreds of people floating the river with us. Beautiful, sunny day, FREEZING cold water – great bonding time. 8-) Then we walked thru beautiful Gatlinburg that night, ate pizza and pasta, enjoyed the downtown life – Kenny’s cotton candy, Kassie’s caramel apple, saw cute cloggers, just love the darling town feel. A bit reminiscent of Lake Tahoe or Zermatt (Matterhorn city) but much more crowded. Plus Zermatt doesn’t allow cars b/c of pollution, so this really was a throng of massed humanity. So alive and fun!
Sunday: Gluttony continues with Krispy Kreme donuts… I inhaled 5 glazed with no stops. So proud, and yet so ashamed. And so proud. Then off to the sweetest Southern Baptist church service ever ~ brought tears to our eyes. Pastor Ron has been preaching at Gum Stand Baptist church for 28 years, and you could tell he loves those parishioners. They sang and worshipped and cried and laughed together ~ and welcomed us right in. Love watching the kids experience these different churches – such great fodder for post-conversation about how all these good people love God, just worship differently than we do, and they don’t have all the gospel truths. As they kept shouting out their ‘amen brother!’s, Kenny would snuggle in closer and closer to me on the pew… not quite sure how to take it all. But there’s no mistaking these good people’s hearts ~ loved singing “I’ll Fly Away, Old Glory” with them. Pastor Ron preached some fabulous gems – “Don’t get aggravated that Jesus doesn’t run His train on our track”; “We can acknowledge our blessings, or we can pout, doubt, and go without!”; “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow”; “God brings us thru the fire instead of delivering us from the fire.” My favorite part of his message was about the “stocks and bonds” – how we invest our faith and emotions in man’s ‘financial security’ – rather than how Paul (Acts 16:25) used his time as prisoner in the ‘stocks’ to praise God, and put his faith in ‘heavenly securities’… he invested in ‘eternal dividends’. Scriptures teach us how man will fail you – sure enough… imagine going into a doctor with an ailment and the doc says – hmmm, I’ve never seen that before! As compared to Jesus who has BEEN THRU IT ALL, and will never say – hmm, I’ve never seen that – He will always be there to walk with us. Put our investments in the Lord, not man. Loved it. Loved all the ‘amens’ from the congregation ~ so soulful. Then hiked a mile up to Laurel Falls – up in the Smoky Mountains National Park above Pigeon Forge. Popular hiking spot – lots of families going up there too. Then back to walk Gatlinburg again – get funnel cake, dinner at yummy Cherokee Grill steakhouse, and slept well that night in our 4th: hotel. Had hot chocolate, watched tv, and jumped on the beds… best hotel activities!
Monday: Dollywood! It had a quaint, less-commercialized feel to it…like Bush Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. It also has the country’s largest collection of captive bald eagles. More funnel cake, scary roller coasters, yummy country lunch buffet in the park, and cute shows – one with a wheelchair performer! So cool – 1st time to see that. After 10 hours in the park, drove to 5th hotel, stopping to play with fireflies in a field.
Tuesday: slept in too late and missed breakfast… starting a new pattern of staying up late and getting up late!! Then drove to OPRYLAND, Nashville! Lucky us to stay in the Gaylord Opryland Resort, where we played, did sightseeing (huge indoor botanical garden), had froyo, and window shopped until the Grand Ole Opry show that night. Charlie Daniels (‘Devil went down to Georgia’) and cute Willis Family performed... so fun to expose the kids to live performances. My favorite song line was “you won’t work a day in your life if you like what you do”… so true! But Daron says it made him mad, like he wanted to punch the singer. Not sure what that means about how he feels about his work…
Wednesday: Got up and drove all day… back to Baton Rouge. Maybe the 7th stop at McD’s?? Ridiculous -- stop the fast food madness! Time for a meal plan change of lifestyle after this trip, FOH SHOH! Pulled into our final hotel – an awesome 2 rm suite… love Residence Inns. Thursday drove back home… all of us agreed the only way we could’ve improved this trip was the EXTEND IT!! But there’s no place like home… except not really because there’s no place like fun vacations too so that phrase is kind of bogus. 8-)