Please press pause

How can it already be the last week of summer vacation? I am not ready for the start of the school year and would like to press the pause button. Or at least the “slow time down a bit” button. I haven’t even downloaded all of our photos from Family Vacation 2013 – a down home Smoky Mountain vacation by way of Midway, Kentucky and home by way of Nashville.  A nine day jaunt that included two days of travel that equated to seven days filled with many relished experiences to pass along.

Weisenberger Mill

wisenberger mill in Kentucky

Weisenberger Mill is less than 10 minutes off the Interstate and a worthy reason to pack light. How I wish we had had more trunk space. My mere 10 lbs of their whole wheat pastry is not going to last long.  I was hooked at first bite after baking a batch of these drop biscuits. The whole wheat pastry flour rendered the biscuits lighter, fluffier, and moister than regular course wheat flour and was just as delightful in zucchini bread.

Wallace Street Station

If you don’t recall the taste of pure, unadulterated beef then be sure to visit Wallace Street Station if you’re in the area. It’s a short scenic drive from the flour mill and every bite is worth the wait.

The Doughnut Friar in the Village Shops of Gatlinburg

If doughnuts are your weakness, your portion-control strength will be tested simply standing in the threshold of the Doughnut Friar. For just a second I fantasized saying,  “I’ll take one of each.”  Then I remembered my soon-to-be 45 year old metabolism. My will power held during our vacation but thank goodness there isn’t such a Friar within 50 miles in any direction of my little suburb. Those doughnuts are that good.

 Big Creek Expeditions

“Oh sweet Jesus! It smells like catfish bait!”

It’s not often a Wisconsinite hears such a lively exclamation and I might add, a very apt description of our school bus full of dry people wearing river-water soaked life jackets and helmets.  I just couldn’t put my nose on exactly what it was that we collectively smelled like, but there you have it. And that was on the ride to the drop-in point.

Being the careful and cautious traveler that I am – one who is 99.99% likely to never set butt on a jet ski in any ocean again after last year’s excursion – this trip was a welcome respite. The water flow is dependent on the flow of the dam and, of course, the amount of rainfall. Thankfully, it was a good year weather-wise and there were only three class 4 rapids with only one of the rapids bearing resemblance to my first class 4 experience.  The scenery was beautiful, our guide was fantastic, and the trip was worth the bus ride stench.  A highly recommended expedition for families that include first time rafters.

The Hungry Bear

These folks take their butts as seriously as they do their sausages. It’s pork heaven and an obvious hot-spot for local diners considering the steady flow of customers. And only four customers were water-soaked, slightly smelly mid-westerners, two of which openly ooh’d and ahh’d with every bite.

Hungry Bear Restaurant

Our family has road-trip vacationed for the past five years, but this trip was different. This family vacation was our ‘feel the love one more time’ road trip, because it very well may be our last family vacation for a while. My first baby is going to be a {gulp} senior in high school and there is a post-graduation foreign trip already  inked in for next summer. (The ink comes with the initial down payment.) Thus, the bracing reality of how time continues to whiz by at warp speed.

I  can still remember my own mother tearing up while chatting with me about the upcoming school year as she was preparing dinner. It was the summer of 1985 and my sister was beginning college and I was entering my last year at of high school. I knew it wasn’t the onions that were making her cry and I clearly recall sitting across the counter, completely bewildered by the tears and thinking what a freak.  Twenty seven years later, I’m the freak.  I’m doing my best to squelch my gulps and so far so good.  I’m saving them for next June. To date my firstborn baby has only informed me that I’m a little cheesy…but she still loves me. {Double gulp.}

Jet ski dolphin tour

I vaguely recall Hubby mentioning jet skis and dolphin watching in early spring, and the only reason I can conjure for agreeing to it was that I was in a heavy allergy med induced fog at the time.

Despite being fully aware that whole point of this trip was to observe dolphins in their natural habitat, I remained completely delusional. I expected a calm, serene tour, travelling at 25mph tops with minimal wave interruption. Daughter 1 and I were together and my driving skills through the inter-coastal waterway were superb. Once out of the no wake zone my troubles began. I revved my jet ski and for a while things looked promising. “Go, Mama,” Daughter 1 roared. Then the mother of all waves came burgeoning up from the left. My knuckles were so white they were nearly glowing as I gripped the handles and prayed – hard. We caught air. A lot of air. So much air that I later learned Daughter2 happened to look back at that time and she also began praying for us.

Thankfully, we landed with a jolting smack, but stayed upright. What two important things did I learn? (1) Pay close attention to the tour guide’s pre-adventure chat, and (2) comprehend what it means when said tour guide warns against slowing down when the waters get rough.  In other words, when you see a mongo wave coming at you rev that baby and go!  If you fail to do the aforementioned, you too may hear a string of expletives in a foreign language bellowing from your firstborn. Said firstborn will then tell you how she nearly fell off, which will cause you sleep deprivation for weeks to come.

I didn’t have time to architect a dog house for Hubby in the early part of this adventure. Every endorphin and synapse was relegated to keeping me and my baby safe. Once I learned to stay in the wake of the jet ski in front of me and how to properly handle choppy waters, it turned out to be an incredible experience with a free facial to boot. (Countless face sprays of ocean water deliver one heck of an exfoliation. Never mind the parched lips.)

My darling Hubby is saved from the dog house once again and I’m happy to pass on these links to you:  Jet Ski Dolphin Tour and Ocean Creek Condos in Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach Dolphin Jet Ski Tour

Road trip!

As Daughter 1 and Daughter 2 were nearing the end of their middle school years, Hubby and I could hear the sirens blaring and see the lights flashing at the end of our family vacation tunnel.  How many more years will we have to vacation togther before obstacles such as summer jobs and summer school sprung up? This realization whalloped us just as the Dow and NASDAQ began to nose dive, prompting our family to forgo flying and hit the road like so many others.

For the past three years we tested our tolerance and love for each other by travelling out West in the confines of Hubby’s Grand Prix. Our first trip was to South Dakota and Wyoming, followed by North Dakota and Colorado, and finally Idaho and Montana. Together we got up close and personal to bison that caused to traffic jams, took in Yellowstone’s geysers in all their stinky glory, and hiked to numerous breathtaking views that only God could create.  We were pelted with hail in the Tetons and shared binoculars with strangers as we gazed at three Grizzlies foraging on the side of a mountain in Glacier National Park.

I indulged in huckleberry everything.  Thankfully my thighs never received such a workout as they did climbing these stairs.

Mountain stair climb

Our mountain vacations were among the most memorable times we shared together.  But it was on the way home from Montana that Daughter 1 announced, no offense,  that she had her fill of mountains. This was promptly followed by a motion that we head south for Vacation 2012. This girl was wasting no time lobbying for her beach vacation. It was unanimous and I admit that I was just as ready for a calm, serene vacation.

You see, I leave the family vacation planning to resident tour guide Hubby. By now I should know better.  Though he is the yin to my yang, the positive to my negative, he is also the one who pushes me to experience new adventures – ones that I’d be inclined to skip. For example, Hubby registered our family for a whitewater rafting trip on Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River in 2010 that included class 3 rapids and one class 4. During the pre-tour disclaimer discussions I nearly had the wet suit scared off of me with visions of petite, pre-growth-spurt Daughter 2 falling out of the raft into the cold rushing waters. There wasn’t going to be a dog house big enough for you-know-who. As it turned out, what I thought was going to be a harrowingly frightful adventure was a thrilling, only slightly frightful adventure that was more adrenaline rush than terror.  (If you’ll be anywhere near Ft. Collins, CO be sure to check out Rocky Mountain Adventures.)

Last year’s vacation involved Hubby-planned hikes in parts of Glacier known to be bear turf.  I am a careful and cautious suburbanite mother who doesn’t crave wild adventure. I don’t need it. I have my mischievous-kid-at-heart  husband and two teenage daughters. While we didn’t encounter any grizzlies other than from the roadside, many hikes were absolutely nerve wrecking and no sooner did Daughter 1 call for a vote,  I envisioned myself getting out of the car and thowing my arms open wide to give the beach a big hug. R&R here I come!

Nearly a year later, we loaded up the trunk and hauled it to the sea. (I loved the Beverly Hillbillies and ocean doesn’t rhyme, forgive me.)  After a long 16 hours on the road, we arrived in beautiful Myrtle Beach. I thew my arms open wide, enhaled the salty, fishy ocean air and took in its vast beauty. I was actually practicing a calming technique in preparation for this year’s adventure.

Dolphin watching…via a jet ski.