In the Midst of Fall

We are in the throes of fall here and things have been busy, busy. Parker’s soccer season, which was 8 weeks long, came to a close last weekend.

Parker playing in the Angry Birds hat my mom knit for him.

The good news is that he hasn’t freaked about losing for a number of games. I think it was the initial adrenaline rush of being in a competition that had his nerves wound so tightly, but thankfully, he relaxed as the season went on and learned how to have fun.

The Irishman helping to hand out medals.

That’s a great thing because contrary to this little medal ceremony, Parker’s team had a losing season. Not that you could tell by their glee at getting medals and cupcakes.

Yum!

Honestly, I’m not really a fan of the “everyone gets a medal” philosophy of team sports these days. Sure, at Parker’s age it’s fine, but as the kids get older, I think that there is something to be said for learning how to deal with defeat and disappointment because lets face it, it’s an important life skill!

Cupcakes from our great coach make everything better.

Did you happen to notice the gorgeous leaves on the mountains around the field (like in the picture above)? They’re lovely to look at, aren’t they? Unfortunately, living in the middle of the mountains this time of year means leaves. Everywhere.

I’ve been clearing off the deck so frequently that Lexi has adopted it as our daily ritual.

I bought her a kid-sized broom, but she wants nothing to do with it. That’s pretty much her personality in a nutshell.

She has no interest in her high chair (Parker used it until he was past his 3rd birthday) and insists on sitting at the table with the rest of us. In a regular chair. Without a booster. Oy.

And even though this broom is difficult for her to maneuver, so still manages to kind of clear the leaves with it.

With both of my kids, I’ve tried to encourage them to help out around the house. I want them to think of chores as fun and so far, they’re both super helpful…until one of them tries to eat the broom bristles. Why must they put everything into their mouths??

Brandcation Series: Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede!

Growing up in Florida, my experience with theme parks was the following: crazy parking areas, long lines for short rides, oppressive heat, long days, crowded buses, achy feet. It was the kind of experience that I anticipated greatly (yay! fun! woohoo!) and then ended up regretting as the lines got longer, the days got hotter and I realized what a chore it was going to be trying to get back to my hotel (even when I was staying on site). I cannot tell you how different Dollywood was from the Florida parks – like night and day!

First, the parking area was completely manageable. So much so that I just walked to the entrance instead of waiting for a tram. We were met by the great PR team there and escorted to a bakery where I consumed the world’s biggest cinnamon roll. Actually, I shared it – that was one big cinnamon roll!

Dee-licious!

The first thing I noticed about the inside of the park was that there was a canopy of trees throughout the entire park. While it was a chilly day while we were there, all I could think of was how much glorious shade would be available in the middle of the summer. Plus, it felt like you were walking through the Smokies instead of a theme park. Just beautiful.

There were a series of wonderful shops in Craftsmans Valley and while I could have spent all day just shopping and browsing, I was drawn forward to the 4 huge roller coasters in the park. Now, Dollywood is noticeably smaller than the Florida theme parks, which is why I was blown away by the number of crazy roller coasters. They all looked intense, but there’s one that’s been getting a great deal of buzz and that’s the Wild Eagle, the world’s first wing coaster (where there is nothing above or below you, but the sky).

Outside of the Wild Eagle coaster.

It just so happened that the Discovery Channel was filming a pilot about roller coasts on the day that we were there and they invited the bloggers in our group to ride the coaster during the filming.

Filming our group for a Discovery Channel pilot.

Since they needed to get shots from all different angles, the ladies rode it again…and again. Three times in all! While I decided not to ride it myself, you could tell that everyone coming off of that ride had a crazy good time!

After the Wild Eagle filming, we went to eat lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham & Beans and I have to say that the beans and collards were excellent! I was also happy to hear that all of the dining facilities at Dollywood can accommodate nearly every food allergy. While my kids are fortunate enough to be allergy-free, I can imagine how difficult it must be for parents and kids with allergies to have to constantly plan ahead with bringing their own food. That’s not the case at Dollywood – they’ve got you covered and they take food allergies very seriously.

After lunch, we wandered around enjoying the day and I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed with the shows and entertainment available in the park. I mean, it is Dolly Parton’s brain/love child, after all. One thing that really surprised me was how multi-generational the visitors to Dollywood were. There were just as many grandparents as there were children and I think that’s partly due to the great shows available there. I know that with the Florida theme parks that I’ve been to, folks who have no interest in riding the amusement park rides end up waiting around on park benches for the rest of their party to return. In Dollywood, there really is something for everyone and I think it’s great that grandparents don’t have to twiddle there thumbs waiting for the thrill seekers to return, but can actually enjoy themselves as well.

One thing I wanted to make sure that I mentioned is that Dollywood is a seasonal park, but it’s a long season. They are open from the end of March until the beginning of January. It is, after all, an outdoor park and the winters up here in the Smokies can be quite harsh. Oh and the prices? Check this out:

I could not believe that we can get season passes for $86 (for the adults) and $74 (for Parker) with Lexi getting in for free. That’s an incredible deal, especially considering that we’re only an hour or so away. Who knew? Now, Parker just needs to get a little bit taller so that he can ride the crazy coasters with his father while Lexi and I take in the shows – that girl sure does love to dance.

Bloggers at the pre-dinner show. Hi ladies!

The other Dolly event that we attended was the Dixie Stampede Dinner Show. Apparently, dinner shows are all the rage in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The show itself was a fast-paced arena-style show with trick horseback riding and a friendly competition between the North and the South, but I think my favorite part of the show was the pre-dinner entertainment.

Me and my good friend, Lori, from mykindarain.com

Normally, I get antsy and impatient waiting for dinner, but the pre-dinner show had me singing along with the band and laughing along with their jokes. I was actually sorry to see them end their act and honestly, it would have been a great show in and of itself!

Fighting fiddles at the pre-dinner show.

It goes without saying that a trip to Pigeon Forge would not be complete without a visit to Dollywood. I want to thank the folks at Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede for hosting us! we had a great time and certainly appreciated all of your southern hospitality. We’ll definitely be back.

Brandcation Series: The Lumberjack Feud

When I first read about the Lumberjack Feud dinner show, I noticed that it was ranked one of the favorite attractions for male visitors to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I can definitely see the appeal for men – the show is focused on competition between two families (The Dawsons and McGraws), the participants are premier athletes, they wield axes, saws and chainsaws and there’s a lot of heckling and grunting encouraged during the show.

What I don’t understand is why the show isn’t also ranked as the top show for women!

Photo courtesy of notsoaveragemama.com

The lumberjacks in the show are…fit (to say the least). I’m not sure that I’ve ever watched an athlete chop wood and work a chainsaw before…with fitted jeans – and the only thing I have to say is: What the heck took me so long?! Here let me show you…

 

Photo courtesy of Lumberjack Feud

 

Photo courtesy of Lumberjack Feud

Okay, okay, enough about the eye candy (but seriously, it’s hard to not focus on those biceps). Aside from the actual lumberjack competition – which is intense! – there is family-friendly comedy, audience participation and the carnivores in our group said that the food was pretty dang good. To top it all off, all of this action takes place in a 10 million dollar arena that puts the audience close to the action and really makes you feel part of the show.

With the number of dinner shows in Pigeon Forge, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like the Lumberjack Feud. So ladies, grab your men (and kids!) and recommend this man-friendly show. Trust me, you’ll thank me on this one. Yo Ho!

*A big thank you to the Lumberjack Feud crew for hosting our Brandcation event and for sharing your Lumberjacks with us. Thirty-four blogging moms appreciate it!

Brandcation Series: The Titanic Museum

All of the crazy bloggers (photo courtesy of notsoaveragemama.com)

When I heard that we were going to visit the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Admittedly, I was woefully ignorant about the vast majority of details surrounding the Titanic. I mean, I had seen the movie and a couple of documentaries, but I was definitely not an avid consumer of Titanic information and trivia…until I visited the Titanic Museum.

I have been to dozens upon dozens of museums in my life and the only other museum to move me as tremendously as the Titanic Museum was the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The care with which this museum has been assembled cannot be overstated. I was literally blown away from the second we walked into the doors.

A replica of a first class cabin.

Following a wonderful breakfast (it was the hands down best meal of the trip), we were escorted to the entrance where each visitor was given a card containing the information of an actual Titanic passenger. The card contained enough information to intrigue you, but it withheld a very crucial detail – whether you survived. That information wasn’t known to you until you reached the memorial room where you would look for your person’s name on the wall.

In contrast, the third class cabins were less…comfortable.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. While the museum had a number of amazing and authentic artifacts, the focus was most definitely on the people aboard the Titanic. Each person has a story and the exhibits in this museum did an incredible job sharing so many of those stories.

Thinking back to my favorite parts of the museum, I’d have to say that the most lighthearted room was the special exhibit focusing on Titanic, the movie. The original script was there as were some of the costumes. I learned that Kate Winslet insisted on filming the water scene (after the ship had sank) in frigid waters to make the movie as authentic as possible.

The movie exhibit.

Speaking of frigid waters, the most sobering of exhibits was a room created to mimic the conditions on the night that the Titanic hit the iceberg. When you step out onto the recreated deck, you are hit with a blast of cold air. Even more, you can reach your hand over the railing to see exactly what 28 degree water feels like. I tried to keep my hand in there as long as possible and I didn’t last 2 minutes. I can’t imagine being plunged into the ocean’s depths without knowledge or hope of rescue. Truly, it wasn’t until that exact moment that I really thought about how the passengers aboard the Titanic really felt.

A replica of the deck of the ship climate-controlled to mimic the conditions on that fateful night.

 

As I made my way to the memorial room, lost in my own thoughts, I was grateful to see that the person given to me upon entering had survived. Even more, she had written a book about her experiences (which I’m looking forward to reading). But there were hundreds who didn’t survive and as I looked at their names along the memorial wall, I said a silent prayer on their behalf. What they had experienced that night was truly horrific, but in learning and sharing their stories, their legacy remains.

Taking a picture with the book written by my “person.”

During my parents’ next visit, I will absolutely take them to the Titanic Museum. It is a gem and I am so thankful to have had the chance to experience it. Make sure you check it out the next time you visit the area -it is a beyond memorable experience.

*A big thanks goes out to everyone at the Titanic Museum. From the sponsored breakfast to the museum tour, it was a wonderful addition to Brandcation!

Brandcation Series: Climb Works Zipline Canopy Tour

When I heard that we were getting the chance to go ziplining with Climb Works, I was beyond excited. I have always wanted to go ziplining and getting to do it in my beloved Smokies was perfection! It was, hands down, the most fun I had during the entire trip and that’s saying a lot because we had a blast for 3 days straight.

It was a chilly, rainy day when we arrived at Climb Works and I honestly wasn’t sure how great of a time I was going to have swinging from tree to tree. As soon as I walked in and met the friendly (and super excited) staff, I completely forgot about the weather. Seriously. You could feel the energy in the room and our guides were pumped and excited to take us up. The Climb Works folks were, without a shadow of a doubt, the absolute best part of the whole experience…but more about that later.

The first step of getting ready for ziplining was checking in and signing waivers. This was done on a one of three iPads at the check-in area and I loved that the use of technology helped to reduce the eco-footprint of the operation, something that the company feels very strongly about. 

In all my gear and ready to zip. Safety first!

Then, we were given our safety equipment and while the staff was still lighthearted and joking with us, you could tell that they took our safety very seriously. They took their time fitting our harnesses and adjusting our helmets. Amen to that, right? It was only after everyone was comfortable with the fit of the equipment that we headed out the door for our tour (and right on time at that).

We piled into 4-wheelers with adrenaline running high and took off up the mountain towards the first rope bridge. It was a crazy ride up, but it definitely set the stage for the next three hours of fun. Yes, you read that correctly – the canopy tour was three+ hours of rip-roaring fun. It included 3 rope bridges, 9 different zip lines (which varied in speed, length and duration) and a surprise finale that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for you, but that spiked my adrenaline more than any other part of the tour. Trust me on this one, you need to experience it for yourselves.

Zipping above the tree line. Beautiful!

Okay, back to the tour. Our two tour guides, Thomas and Matt, were beyond hysterical. They managed to be playful and entertaining while maintaining their professionalism and following all of the necessary safety checks. I mean, it was clear that they knew exactly what they were doing and I didn’t feel unsafe or unsure of their abilities for one second. I also don’t think I’ve ever laughed as long or as hard as I did during that tour. It really made the wait from one zip line to the next seem to fly by.

I thought that we lucked out with our tour guides, but when we caught up with the other ladies after our tour was over, they shared similar stories and swore that they got the best guides. In other words, all the guides rock and it’s clear that they love their jobs. How could they not? It is obscenely beautiful swinging through the trees, feeling the wind in your hair, hearing nothing but the wind through the trees and the exhilarating hoots from other zip liners and guides. While taking the first step off of the platform was a leap of faith, I realized in 30 seconds flat that ziplinging was a rush…and addicting. I could seriously zip line with Climb Works every weekend for the next year and not get bored.

That was fun! Let’s do it again…

Which brings me to another point – I love that they offer zip line tours in all seasons and all weather. Having lived here for over three years now, one of my favorite things about this area is that each season is completely unique. I can’t wait to visit Climbworks again during the stark winter months and at the renewal of spring. There really is no better way to view the Smokies than from above.

I can without an iota of hesitation recommend that you check them out next time you’re in the area. Oh and definitely give me a buzz before you do so that I can go with you – I’m addicted to ziplining with the Climbworks Crew!

*Thank you Climb Works for sponsoring this event for all of us gals during Brandcation!

Brandcation Series: The Hollywood Wax Museum

I think that one of the most fun places to take pictures during our Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Brandcation excursions was at the Hollywood Wax Museum. They had over 100 wax copies of celebrities and my favorite thing about the experience was that they encourage you to touch them, take pictures with them and pretty much just run around acting goofy the whole time. Here, you’ll see what I mean.

Hangin’ with Indiana Jones.
Orlando Bloom? Yes, please!
Jason (Bourne), I think they’re after us!
It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…
MJ!

After our prance through the Wax Museum (check here for pricing), we also got to check out the Castle of Chaos.

Why yes, creatures of evil, I’d love to annihilate you.

The Castle of Chaos is a 3-D shooting battle against evil looking things. It’s definitely not appropriate for the littlest people, but older kids and horror-loving folks will get a kick out it. You sit on a spinning platform that is surrounded by screens and you shoot everything and anything that looks sinister (which is, um, everything). Naturally, there’s a competitive element between everyone on the ride, so I was totally game for the fun.

The Castle of Chaos and the Hollywood wax museum are both on the main strip in Pigeon Forge, so they are easy to find and easy to fit into your trip.

My Trip To Brandcation: Destination Pigeon Forge

Last weekend, I had the chance to spend a long weekend with 33 other bloggers. I was definitely looking forward to checking out all Pigeon Forge had to offer, but I was also crazy excited to spend time with my fellow blog moms. It was great to be with others who “get” what this blog thing is all about. Blogging can mean so many different things to people, but for me, blogging comes down to this: sharing what I love with all of you. On any given day, that might be a recipe that hits the spot, a gorgeous bike ride in the fall, my kids being goofy, or sharing a product or place that merits mention.

I’ll tell you all this – I could blog about Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for a solid month and still not cover all that it has to offer. My mind was literally blown by the vast number of places to visit, to eat, to shop! Having lived in a sleepy hamlet on the other side of the Smokies for over three years now, I was not prepared to find such a lively tourist scene just an hour away from me. In fact, tourism is the main industry in Pigeon Forge. Seriously, the main roadway reminded me of International Drive in Orlando, Florida. There is literally something for everyone!

A view of Pigeon Forge, TN from above.

Over the next week, I’m going to highlight a number of different places and attractions that I had the pleasure of visiting so that on your visit (or next visit) to the area, you’ll know where to start because seriously, the choices are endless.

The gorgeous view from our log cabin.

I wanted to start the Pigeon Forge: Brandcation series by sharing with you our accommodations, a gorgeous log cabin, that was booked through Cabin Fever Vacations. The log cabins available through Cabin Fever Vacations range from small, intimate cabins to large, luxury cabins like the one we stayed in. In fact, they manage over 200 cabins, so as you can imagine, regardless of your lodging needs, they’ve got you covered.

photo courtesy of Kim at theysmell.com

I have to say, I was a bit apprehensive about how 34 women were going to share a single cabin. I was seriously impressed with the accommodations – there were two refrigerators, ample towels for everyone and these very cool queen bunk beds that were comfy and plenty spacious.

photo courtesy of kim at theysmell.com

The drive to get up to our cabin was paved (which I can tell you is a huge plus for this area) and the cabin actually showed up on my GPS (again, another huge plus). Cabin Fever Vacations’ main office was easy to find and their staff was super helpful in accepting packages on the bloggers’ behalf.

With all of the cabin rental companies saturating the area, I can definitely say that I’ll happily go back to Cabin Fever Vacations for our next booking. There’s something about having a great experience with a company that inspires confidence. With as remote as some of the roads in the Smoky Mountains are, trust me when I say that you don’t want to take a gamble on where you’re staying. Make sure you check out their website for more information!