Our original plan was to drive the 14 hours to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. After some consideration, that plan was dropped for flying. Since Jessie has his Aunt Joye, Uncle Ken and four cousins I have never met in Atlanta, it made perfect sense to fly into Atlanta, spend a day, then drive on into Tenn, which was a four hour drive. Much more manageable and much to our surprise went relatively smoothly. Well....as smoothly as it gets with two little ones. Here are some memories from the trip. There are so many of them, I might have to write more another day.
- A LOT of luggage! We had two big bags, Ashley's little bag, two car seats, a stroller, Ashley's backpack, Landen's backpack, Jessie's backpack, my bag and to top it all off - Jessie's golf bags encased in a military armor style contraption. When the rental car shuttle came to get us, he looked at all of our luggage and heaved a big, exaggerated sigh. He then got on the radio and said "Overload situation, I need backup."
- Wonderful hospitality, food, and company at Aunt Joye and Uncle Ken's house. It was great to meet all the cousins and kids. There are four girl cousins and they are each married. Each couple have at least three or four kids. Add our kids to this mix and another visiting cousin and we had a party.
- All the fun toys at Joye and Ken's house - a four wheeler, a trampoline, a movie theater, a Gym. a Corvette, a Harley and a boat. We got to ride the four wheeler and watch a movie in the theater. The other toys will have to wait for another visit. We decided next vacation we will just stay there.
- A great aquarium in Gatlinburg. It was the best aquarium I have ever been to (and I have been to a lot). They had the most exotic collection of fish I have ever seen. To top it off, none of kids fell into the sting ray feeding pool, which was perhaps one of the bigger accomplishments of the trip.
- AWESOME Dickens/Head '08 shirts. Jason and Ashley worked really hard and outdid themselves on this year's shirts. We had shirts in Cancun that we ordered online but these were a lot better. We got a lot of comments and stares when we wore them and they really helped us identify each other in a crowd.
- An incredible cabin. It was so beautiful. It was three stories and had everything we could ever need - a hot tub, a big screen tv, an air hockey table, a pool table and great views.
- Ober Gatlinburg. We took a big tram up the mountain to Ober, which is a ski/amusement resort. There was a really fun bobsled ride down the side of the mountain. I loved it. Even the kids went on it. Landen even rode the ski lift up to catch the ride and didn't fall out. Another major accomplishment down.
- Ober Gatlinburg's less than five star restaurant. We probably should have had a clue when we couldn't even find the "acclaimed" restaurant. Upon finding it, we were the only ones there. After our waiter took our order he disappeared for a really long time. When I requested his presence, another person told me that a cook had quit so our waiter, who was about 17, was cooking our food. Hmmmm.... The food was actually fine and Ashley declared her meal the "best chicken fingers ever." Of course this is the same girl that declared the breakfast buffet at Comfort Suites the best breakfast ever. Maybe we need to expose her to more food.
- Fudge, fudge and more fudge. It was our mission to find the best fudge. We had some at Ober that didn't measure up at all. Later, we bought some more in downtown. I never felt like we found the very best fudge but it was fun trying.
- Pancakes, pancakes and more pancakes. Before we hit town, Jessie said he wanted to make sure and get some pancakes for breakfast at some point during the trip. Well, he was in luck. There was literally a pancake house on every corner. Pancake houses are like gas stations are here. We ate at the Flapjack House one morning and that was ok, but the Pancake Pantry in downtown was YUMMY! They were the best pancakes I have ever had.
- Hillbilly Golf. One night we decided to do mini golf. Mini golf courses are a lot like the pancake houses, one on every corner. We picked one that proclaimed itself as the "most unique mini golf course in the world." I don't know about the world, but it was the most unique I have ever played on. You had to ride this tram thing to the side of the mountain where the course was. The kids loved hitting the balls around. Dickens and Heads tied.
- Yahtzee. Unfortunately, the game tie was soon to be broken as we embarked on a Dickens/Head Yahtzee match. To give you an idea how this went over, in one game Jessie scored three Yahtzees and I scored three Yahtzees. It was amazing and am sure has never been done before. We were the undisputed champions. Later the boys calculated the statistics on such a feat and it was like 1 in a 5 trillion I think. I am not sure though because the girls were in the hot tub while the boys were being nerds.
- Hot Tubbing. Speaking of the hot tub, we used the hot tub every night. That is what I call a vacation. The small B.B gun pellets we found in the water were a little disturbing and caused us to ponder how they got there, but did not force any kind of evacuation of the tub.
- Girls Day Out. Another true vacation moment was when I indulged in a facial and a massage at the local spa. It was a little different than some of the spas I have been too, but still relaxing.
- Boys Day Out. Don't worry, Jessie got his indulgence too. The boys played golf one day while we took the kids to a petting zoo. My kids were of course scared to death of all the animals. Ashley did get to ride on a little pony named Smokey. I didn't know until I paid that I was the one responsible for the leading the pony around. Those of you who know me, know I am not exactly an animal person. I did manage to lead that little pony around and didn't even step in any horse poop. Check another major accomplishment off the list.
- Bandits and a Southern Belle. To commemorate our trip, we took the kids to get their "old time photo" done. Again, these are like the mini golf and pancake houses, there are plenty to choose from. Jackson didn't care for the costume too much but the picture turned out great. It makes me laugh every time I look at it.
- Motion sickness. Neither one of us had third row seats so two people had to sit in the back cargo area. I always ended up being one of those people and I would get terrible motion sickness.
- Food City. I think I visited that store at least a dozen times.
- Wedding chapels. BFF Ashley loves wedding stuff as much as I do, so on our girls day out we went and looked at a couple of chapels. I had no idea it was such a popular wedding destination.
- Psalty. The Heads brought this video for the kids to watch. It is a Christian video and I am not against Christian kid videos in any form or fashion. However, I am against gargantuan sized noses that blow confetti out of its nostrils when it is time to praise the Lord. It is not bad enough that Psalty's costume is enough to give me nightmares the rest of my life, but his partner in praise is a huge nose. At one point, this nose come alive and walks on its own. Call me old fashioned, but Jesus and enormous noses don't work for me.
- Super nice people. I think Tenn has the nicest people in the world. Everyone we came across was sincerely friendly. I really loved their accents. Maybe that is what made them seem so friendly. Everything sounds better with an accent.
- New catchphrases. The first night Little Ashley got in the hot tub with us she declared it was hot, "Hot like a dolphin." So, pass it around. All the cool kids are saying it.
- Fans. When I sleep I have to have a fan on to block out noise. It used to drive my BFF and college roommate, Kristen, nuts. It turns out there are a lot of closet fan sleepers. When we arrived I looked at the fans at Food City and a big, burly man pulled one down from the shelf. He told me that he could not sleep without his fan. The next day I went back for the fan, after I indeed could not sleep without it. I had to ask another man to help me get it down. He asked if I was on vacation and told me he couldn't sleep without a fan either. So, I say it is time to make a stand. All of you fellow fan sleepers come out and be proud.
- Jessie, the Mountain Man. For some insane reason, the boys decided to take two 2 year olds and a four year old princess girl on a 1. 3 mile (each way) hike to see a waterfall. It went up a mountain so high that a sign half way up warned "Danger, Child Deaths Have Occurred." I was at the spa this day, otherwise there is no way we would have done this hike. However, Jessie is relentless about the kids' exposure to nature, especially when a waterfall is at stake. The hike was every bit of a disaster as you could imagine. Landen was hard to contain and Ashley didn't want to walk. She is a big time diva, no walking, no bugs, and no sweating are her motto's. Jessie ended up carrying both kids at the same time, the majority of the trail. Now that is a weight loss program.
- Babyland General Hospital. As a child I loved Cabbage Patch Kids. I had several of them. It would have been my dream to go to the actual place they are made. Well, Ashley got to live my dream. Uncle Ken told me that the hospital where the kids are "born" was only about an hour from their house. On our way back we took the slight detour and arrived. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind. In fact, most people would probably pass by and never give the small little building another glance. Inside, it was just a bunch of dolls. I thought we were going to see the kids being made but it was just a fancy store. Ashley and Landen both loved playing with the dolls though, until I found out one of these "original" kids was between $175 and 350 each. I put an end to that playing. We also got to see a kid being born. They do a little show where a doll pops out of a cabbage. Ashley got to name her. There is now a kid that bears the name Ashley Abigail. If I had been willing to pay a million dollars she could have been all ours. Of course, we couldn't leave without something. Ashley got her first "toy" Cabbage Patch. It was the more reasonably priced $20. To make a long story short, we traveled hundreds of miles to buy Ashley a $20 doll that we could have bought 2 miles from here at Toys R US.
It was a wonderful trip. All the exhaustion was worth all the fun we had and we can't wait for our next adventure with the Heads. Here is a pic of us in our shirts. The front of the shirts are cars with each person's head stuck on a person. The sleeve had another car with the opposite fam's pics. On the back it summed up the trip perfectly:
Dickens Head Vacation
1. Miles to Smokey Mountains: 1339
2. Hours in car with screaming kids: 21 (the kids' shirts said Hours in car with boring parents!)
3. Potty breaks along the way: 32
4. Dickens Heads together in the wilderness: Priceless!