Friday, April 21, 2017

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Part 4

This morning's hike was the toughest: Alum Cave. Again with the river! You're killing me, rivers!

Alum Cave isn't actually a cave, but we got to walk through this hole in a rock, so that kind of made up for it.

This hike had a lot more vertical to it, but my boys crushed it! In fact, we got to the cave so fast I thought it wasn't it!

The wire handrail made me feel like I was in Zions. Our boys were the youngest we saw on the trail and they did so great. So proud of these little boys!

After a lunch of pie iron calzones back at the campground, we headed out to drive Cades Cove. This is a spot which highlights the people who lived in the area 100-150 years ago.

We even saw a bear! Not the best shot, but I refuse to be one of those people who gets too close to wildlife.

A visit to the mill and the ranger station (where the boys were awarded their Junior Rangers) and the camp store for ice cream (which was free for the boys because of their Junior Ranger status), and we were done.

And because we were done earlier than thought, we may have bribed the boys with McFlurries (the next day) to get them to do one last hike: Laurel Falls. We ate a sandwich dinner there.

Saturday morning we hit the road and were home by 5:30.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Part 3

Another morning hike took us to Porter's Creek. I didn't bring a trail book, so other than my notes (which said, "popular, wildflowers" and gave the distance), we had no idea what to expect.

See how beautiful these creeks are? Gorgeous. Don't you just want to get in there and wade?

SURPRISE! A waterfall! The boys were super pleased, especially since we planned on going about 15 more minutes. But this made for a good turn-around spot.

Look closely at my boots in this picture. After only a quarter-mile of hiking, my left sole detached from my boot (except for at the toe). About a mile later, so did the right one. Seeing as though I only had flip flops in the car, these seemed a better choice (more like a hybrid flip-flop-boot). Thankfully I brought old running shoes that worked for the rest of the trip.

It was wildflower week in the park. Gorgeous!

That afternoon, we went to Gatlinburg. First stop was the aquarium. The boys loved it, of course.

Then it was this ridiculous 5-D movie (we passed on the 7-D one across the street).

And then up the tram to the lift for an alpine slide ride! The boys love these wherever we find them. We stayed in town for dinner (a welcome treat for the adults).

This morning was two hikes. The first was a short-but-steep walk to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the park (and Tennessee). The views were stunning, and it was totally worth dealing with Rhett's whining.

The second hike was to Andrews Bald. It's this weird spot on the mountain where no trees grow! Again the views were stunning.

That afternoon we went to Pigeon Forge. We started by mini-golfing and ended with a ropes course. It was this cool set-up of about 30 obstacles. The three oldest members of the family were scared, the littlest one was not.

And the dismount was a 30-foot drop. Fun times!

That evening's dinner was burgers, followed by a nice walk around the campground. Note to self: the best campsites are B10, C2, and C3. Who wouldn't want to be right on this river?!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Part 2

We left after rush-hour morning traffic, headed for a campsite in southern Virginia to break up the ten-hour drive. On the way, we drove past Natural Bridge State Park and the adults thought it was the perfect time for a move-your-body break. We loved it! Not sure we'd come this far just for it, but of course we'd stop on the way.

We did a two-mile hike to this waterfall.

Then it was back on the road again. That night we stayed in a U.S. Forest Service campground, which was nearly empty. We had an easy pull-through site near a river.

This is a "pretend you love each other" picture. We really enjoyed this little place. Dinner was delicious tacos on Doritos (Rhett's choice). We bought the cast iron skillet only days before the trip and loved using it on the campfire.

We got back on the road pretty early, knowing the campsites in the park were first-come, first-served. We had planned on doing a small hike that afternoon, but Plan A's hike was closed. So Plan B it was! And really, I think the boys preferred this. It was a relatively short hike to Grotto Falls. Clearly you can see why they loved it.

It's always fun to hike behind the falls.

This was NOT a "pretend-you-love-each-other" shot. More like an "act natural" kind of shot.

Dinner was this delicious pasta, again on the skillet over the fire. Good choice, me. Sorry my boys barely touched you.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Part 1

Over spring break we went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Let me get it out there: this is my new favorite place on the east coast. I love it so much. Maybe I'll become a missionary for them, preaching the word of the Smokies. It was that good. (Deanna and Todd--take note. Move it up on your National Parks list NOW. Or not.) Why? Because there were mountains and streams and green and it was just perfect. For reals.

Before I get into all the details, here are some random shots. The necessary park sign shot.

My boys (like most kids, I imagine) were complete pyros. They wanted to throw everything into the fire. Plates, cups, dinner, each other, whatever. And within reason, we let them.

This is as we were leaving. Isn't it a gorgeous sunrise? So pretty!

Wild turkeys! Most mornings we'd see them by the roadside, but they weren't usually all puffy (like the one on the right). But on our way out, one tom decided he wanted some action. Who could resist such a display?!

Other observations: I hate that the Park Service doesn't take reservations for the campground until May! This was my biggest worry about the whole adventure. Even as we pulled into the campground, the sign said "Campground Full." You know I wanted to cry, right? But we drove in anyway, hoping we'd catch someone leaving...and we did. Ugh. It would have been so much better had we been able to make a reservations.

The trips that I plan are NOT restful. I have something planned for pretty much every waking second (although I don't plan to the second; I'm not that nuts.) I just can't handle my boys running around aimlessly. I'm this way at home too, which made Monday (a day when school was still out) incredibly painful.

Our daily schedule looked like this: morning hike, afternoon activity, dinner/books by campfire. And for the most part, we followed this. We hiked just over 20 miles during the week. Which means my boys hiked over 20 miles. Chuck and I are so, so proud of them for this! And I am especially grateful that they didn't ruin something that I love doing. Hiking power beans may have been a strong influence, but I don't care. They did it.

We ate pretty good. Breakfasts varied (cereal, oatmeal, yogurts, etc.), lunches were always sandwiches we'd pack at the campsite and bring with us, and then dinner by the fire. One night we ate in town, but otherwise, it was camp cooked. Of course the boys didn't care for the one dish I picked out (a delicious pasta), but they ate everything else.

We gave the boys camelbacks to hike with because they're always complaining about how they're thirsty. Ollie usually drank the entire thing by the halfway point, and then peed it all out before we get back to the car. This led to him trying to "break the record" on each hike. I think on our last hike he peed seven times, which was his record.

We had perfect weather! Highs in the low 70s, sun, no rain at all. In the morning the boys wore vests, but that's it. It was incredible.

Being in the south was, um, different. Obviously it's still America, but it had a different feel for sure. When we go back (because we're for sure going back--who wants to come with us?!), we don't feel a need to touch Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge again.

When we do go back in a few years, I think I'd like to try summer (so hello reservations!). We'd stay in the park but maybe try some river rafting. This year we were just too early.

Okay, I think that's it. Starting tomorrow I'll post the details about each day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hamilton Intervention

Dear Self,

Your addiction to Hamilton has affected me in the following ways:

1. Your reading habits were disrupted by your desire to read Hamilton's 730-page biography. (But when it was finally marked "Read" in goodreads, you got an email congratulating you on finishing the book, so that was nice.)

2. Your vacations are driven by a desire to see the play, even going so far as taking advantage of your parents so that you can see it in Utah next year.

3. Your five-year-old (who, admittedly, is weird) draws himself dead. When asked how he died, he responded, "In a duel."

But, seeing as these three things are not terrible, carry on. It's totally worth it.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Random Thoughts

I used to borrow Chuck's sweatshirts. There's something about being only 5' 1" tall and wearing an XL sweatshirt. So when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him my own XL sweatshirt. And that's what I got. But then I made it better. You see, most XL sweatshirts are meant for tall people with long arms, one thing I am not and the other I have not. I found a tutorial online that helped me hem the sleeves. And check it out: AMAZING. It's my "cozy clothes" outfit. Come to my house any time after 7:00 most nights (or pre- or post-church on Sundays) and this is what I'll be wearing.

You know how people start book clubs so they can read books and then discuss them in a social forum? I'm in one. It's fun. But I want to start a TV club. The first assignment would be to watch the O.J. Simpson show on Netflix. I must discuss this with someone!

I want to go to New York City for my birthday this year (it's kind of a big one), just me and Chuck (anyone want to watch my kids?!). If we do, I would LOVE to do this. I'm pretty sure Chuck would not be on board, however.

I'm now convinced there is no tiring my boys. None. No matter what we do, they will always be moving. Want them to sit still for conference? Try a 3.5-mile morning Billy Goat Hike! That doesn't work? Between sessions add a 4.5-mile bike ride with a playground intermission. That doesn't work? Just fall asleep (because you're old and those activities successfully wore you out) and then you won't know how crazy they are.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Snow Day

I forgot to mention that we had a "snow-ish" day a couple of weeks ago. We were in a 6-8" band, but ended up with about 1.5" of icy slush--but of course that was enough for school to be cancelled. (I got to work from home.) The stuff was heavy. But seeing as though it was all we had, we made it work (after Rhett's morning tantrum due to disappointment, that is). We got out of the snow gear, played, sledded (the boys wanted to go out at 7:30 a.m. when it was still precipitating--ugh), watched movies, even had our one and only fire of the season. Not a bad snow day!