Friday, September 9, 2016

Flying High in the Smokies: A Family Road Trip to Tennessee

This summer we took the longest road trip I've taken in many years, certainly since my motherhood journey began. We began with a long drive down to Florida from our home in Massachusetts, to drop my kids off with their dad in Miami. My partner Jon and I (along with his two teens Hannah and RJ) stayed in South Florida for a couple of days before embarking on a longer trek back up north, with a stop for two nights in Sevierville, Tennessee.

I had very little in the way of expectation before arriving in Sevierville. I have always been a beach worshiper, and  I had never really considered a summer vacation someplace so far from the ocean. For our return trip, we debated crossing over to the Carolinas and staying at the shore, but then opted for the Smoky Mountains to check out something new. I was pleasantly surprised by how good of a choice that was. 

The Smoky Mountains are home to America's most visited national park, and after visiting the area I can now certainly see the appeal. The gorgeous, unhindered views of the mountains and relaxed country vibe make this the perfect place to get away. The seemingly never ending stream of attractions will also make sure you never get bored. 

Jon and I have six kids between us, so we are always looking for affordable vacation options. The Smoky Mountains turned out to be an excellent opportunity to take an affordable, extremely fun, action-packed vacation. 

Our lodging was at the Hidden Mountain Resort in Sevierville. This resort is easily in the top three best places I have ever stayed in my travel career. The management was friendly and warm, and the rental cabins were pristine. Ours had two master bedrooms, a large soaking tub in one, a wrap-around screened porch bedecked with hot tub and pool table, and a full granite kitchen far nicer than the one I have at home. The pool at this resort was gorgeous and clean, a short walk from our cabin. Hidden Mountain Resort has almost 200 cabins for rent of all shapes and sizes, with prices as low as $75 per night. The resort is close to the action of Sevierville, yet tucked up into a mountain with nothing to hear at night but the crickets. Our only complaint was that we didn't get to stay longer. 



We began immediately with the family fun, heading out to go horseback riding within minutes of arriving. It was a joy to fulfill a dream for Hannah (and on her 15th birthday!) by taking her riding at Five Oaks Riding Stables. They popped us all on calm, steady mounts and wound us up the trail with glimpses of the mountains and the zip liners whizzing by in between the trees.  It was a short ride, just under an hour, but plenty of time for our novice saddle behinds.




Our next day was jam-packed with more adventure than most people experience in a year, and included a trip to a local zoo (link), zip lining, mountain caves, and a unique airplane experience. 

We headed up to Foxfire Mountain in the late morning, in time for the 11am zip line tour. RJ and Hannah were strapped into gear by experienced guides Tim and Sydney and teamed up with six other people for their 1.5 hour tour, including the second highest zip line in the United States, the Goliath. The tour included five lines, totaling over two miles of zip line, for just under $95. Beware that in order to zip line on the Goliath you must weigh less than 250 lbs, and they weigh everyone who shows up for a tour. Jon and I were able to watch the kids fly through the air while hiking on several wooded paths on the property, including a stroll across the county's longest swinging bridge. We hiked up to Foxfire's waterfall, relaxed in a hammock, and took in the views of the stunning green Smokies. The kids came back flushed from their zip line experience with huge smiles pasted on their faces. They loved every second of it. Be sure to bring cash to tip your guides on this tour, the guides' livelihoods depend on it.





After an adventurous morning we were ready for something a little more low-key, so we headed over to check out the Forbidden Caverns of Sevierville, a set of huge underground caves buried deep into the mountain. We took a guided tour equipped with a light show that lasted about an hour. Beware,  while these caves are large and spacious (and did not induce claustrophobia) it was quite chilly down there at 58 degrees year round, definitely bring a sweater. We also learned that you may not touch any of the amazing stalactites or stalagmites that line the chambers, as it can lead to corrosion. It was a challenge, but we managed to keep our hands to ourselves. Tours run hourly and cost about $15 per person.



Our action packed day concluded with a ride in an old-fashioned biplane piloted by Marc Hightower at Sky High Air Tours. After many years as Captain of boat in Key West, Marc transitioned his life to Tennessee and purchased and restored a beautiful Waco biplane built in 1927. As pilot, mechanic, marketing manager, and all around one-man show, Marc runs his business right out of the tiny Sevierville airport and his pickup truck. Friendly and knowledgeable, Marc was quick to ease any nerves we might have had about taking off in the open aired cockpit. Marc has over 1000 hours of flying time in this gorgeous antique plane, and as the mechanic he is able to keep it in pristine condition. Two people can fly with him at a time (with a combined weight of less than 400 lbs) and he charges by the flight, not by the person. Flying with Sky High is a unique and one of a kind experience not to be missed. Cruise over the fields of Sevierville and take in the fog covered mountains all around you, it is like gliding down the highway in the sky, bringing you right back to the 1930's, when air travel was a novel concept. Marc offers several packages for flying, and the personal touch he gives to every take off makes this experience worth every penny. Biplane rides start at $95.



No visit to the Smoky Mountains is complete without chowing down at one of the many southern eateries. When visiting Sevierville make sure to check out the Applewood Restaurant. The apple fritters served at the beginning of every meal are unbeatable, and you can get a five course meal for around $15. The streets in Sevierville are paved with biscuits and gravy from what I could tell, and we did our part to fill our tanks with the delicious (but not exactly health-conscious) grub. After driving for days, and chowing down on chicken-fried steak and grits, we were ready to head home again and cleanse ourselves with leafy greens. Road trips with kids are not for the faint of heart, but Sevierville and the beautiful Smoky Mountains made the extra mileage worth it.




Saturday, August 27, 2016

Waiting To Be Home Again

I sold my house, hooray! It was sad but joyful at the same time. Jon and I were ready to be done with that house, ready for a fresh start that we create together, and too small for our blended family. I just realized that my last blog post (long ago, I am quite negligent!) was about the first house we tried to buy, which tanked when the sellers didn't want to delay the closing due to a bank issue with my house sale. So we lost that wonderful house, which was a big disappointment, but we didn't have much time to pull ourselves together and find another house that would fit our huge family, so we had another offer in on an equally beautiful, if not more so, property two days later. And away we go!

But not so fast... due to the sudden change of property we have now found ourselves with our belongings sausaged into a storage unit and bunking up at my mom's house while we wait for the closing on what we have dubbed "The Pillar House". Hopefully if all goes well that closing will happen next week, and we should be moving once again. I am kind of over moving, and (shocker) it has turned out to not be my favorite pass time. We will be living in the Pillar House for a very long time as I am not moving again for a long ass time. 

We are grateful to my mom for letting us invade her space (which is delightful for one person, I'm not so sure about 6) but we are ready to be in and starting our lives together. The past few weeks have been a jumble of packing, moving, roadtrips (because nothing to make a move more interesting than to throw a week-long 3400 mile journey into it!) and chaos. This week our kids start in four different schools, so time to figure out where we packed their back packs and get moving in that direction. We can't wait to be settling in, and we can't wait for you to come visit!


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bleeding Money and Preparing for an Exciting Future

So Jon and I are buying a house! So exciting and so huge and so fantastic. And also so expensive it's mind blowing. The house is beautiful, it's pretty much everything I've ever wanted in a house, and I am keeping every cross-able body part I have contorted in hopes that everything goes smoothly with the sale. There are so many hassles and areas of red tape, it surprises me that anyone is ever able to buy and sell a home, it feels almost impossible. The amount to which you manage to bleed money in these house purchases (and sales, because selling my house has not been cheap) is astounding to me. I feel like every other day I have to come up with another pillowcase full of cash that I do not have. I am aware that it's not forever though, and that is making me not freak out about it too much. That, and the fact that I really want to live here:

92 Main St, Northfield, MA 01360

The most important part of this whole transaction is the part where Jon and I and our kids are moving in together. Brady Bunch for real. The transition is anything but easy, the personalities are flying, and the adjustment is emotionally complicated on many levels for everyone, but we are soldiering through it in the name of love. It feels worth it. It would be way too much work if we didn't really really love each other.

This week Jon and his two older kids begin to live with us in our house, we will crowd in for the next month until we close on the new house mid July. I am beyond ready for this to happen, the quasi long-distance relationship that we have going on right now doesn't work well for either of us, we are ready to put our stuff down and be home together. It may only be an hour drive right now, but with our work and kid schedules it often feels exhausting and complicated to execute. We have found so far that we work very well as a team, and we can be much more effective navigating the various life turns from the same ship. Not to mention the fact that I love him and I miss him terribly when he's not around. I have always been terrible at being by myself, I really don't like it. So, now that I've found my person in life, the urge to not be alone is ten million times stronger. I really just want to be near him.

It's kind of weird to blog about this truth, these feelings that run so deep and so wide, but why not share love when you have it. The world is full of so much of the terrible and the devastating, especially recently, so we all need to add a little love to it where we can.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

The Clown Car Heads to Galveston

I've been meaning to write a post about our trip to the Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston since we came back a week ago, but I've been so insanely busy with post-vacation life that I haven't had one single second to myself with my computer. I'm trying to get this in before the memories fade because it was an excellent trip, one that is certainly worthy of blogging about.

Jon and I made the bold move to pack up our clown car family and take our six kids on an airplane and on vacation for a week on the Gulf coast of Texas. The purpose of this trip was predominately to introduce me to Jon's family, and give Jon and his kids the chance to visit with their grandparents, something they hadn't done in a very long time. Now that we are a combined family of six kids we have come to the harsh reality that it is impossible to visit anyone else in their homes, it is just too crowded. The only way for us to travel and visit people involves us renting our own house and bringing everyone else to us. So we rented a sweet little beach house in the charming residential area of Crystal Beach.

Each travel day took us a solid 13 hours. A two hour drive on either end of the four hour flight, it was definitely an ambitious way to spend our first week all together. Shockingly, our kids were practically perfect during both travel days. A seasoned traveler, Sofie led the way as we marched through the airport, while Jon's kids looked at everything with wide-eyed excitement. I love the look on a child's face when they experience something new, such innocent delight. We made it across the country without incident.

Jon (a native Texan) warned me about the beach in Texas before we arrived, but I did not actually believe him. This has to be the ugliest beach on the face of the earth. With Gulf water as brown as sewage from the unloading of silt from the Mississippi river, and sand akin to a New England riverbank, the beach in Bolivar is anything but gorgeous. However, sunset was always pretty sparkly and spectacular, and the water, albeit unattractive, was warm and clean for swimming. Our kids didn't even seem to notice that the beach wasn't all that nice, they immediately got to work burying each other in the sand and diving into the brown abyss.



The trip was really not a vacation, I don't think any trip where your kids outnumber you is, but it was a great jumping off point for us for future family travel. Our kids bonded in their week together, hopefully some good insight into what it will be like to live together in just a few short months. I was almost dreading the trip before we left, thinking for sure that it would be a week of kid fighting and arguing, but it was almost the complete opposite, they got along better than ever.



It was wonderful to meet the family that raised kind and caring man who has changed my life, and I was not surprised to find that I loved each member of his family, also kind and caring, lovely people. His parents may be two of the most adorable people I have ever met, and I kind of wanted to put them in my pocket and take them home with me. I feel very fortunate to have been welcomed into such a great group of people. I can't wait to get to know them better.



This trip made me incredibly optimistic for future travel as a family, although it definitely gave me some eye-opening reality about the cost of traveling with such a huge crowd. We may be looking at some serious close to home camping for many of our family outings while we save our pennies for the next big adventure.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Reflecting on the Hard Stuff...

I'm back to New England today after a jaunt in sunny Florida. The trip lived up to all of its excellent potential. My kids got a few days to spend with their dad, and Jon and I got a few days to ourselves (I'm guessing our last for quite a while).

Coming home from this trip has made me reflective on this year, particularly on my divorce. My kids had a wonderful time this weekend with their dad, mostly due to the fact that he seemed relaxed and happy. This is only the second time they've seen him since he left for Miami last July, and the first time was wrought with sadness and overshadowed by the knowledge that the visit would be short-lived. This time it felt as though something switched for both their father and for them, somehow they all understood that they will visit each other again, that this can and will be a regular thing. This is what should be understood, but somehow divorce and relocation can make kids feel so abandoned that they are left with a huge sense of mistrust and fear, more loss to add to their grief for the family unit they have already lost. As a parent trying to help your kids navigate this sea of emotion it's unnerving to bring them into a situation where you really have no idea where their emotions will end up when it's over.

Our visit to Florida last October took a long time to recover from, their bodies carried around the burden of that emotional visit for weeks. This time seems light years better, they were already okay even before we pulled out of the parking lot away from their dad. We ended this visit with their dad with dinner together with me and Jon and my ex-husband and the kids. The potential for awkward and cringe-worthy moments was looming large. Fortunately it worked out fine, a quick and easy meal that clearly made the kids happy, and made the transition much easier.

This past year has been a plethora of emotional baggage, both the most hideous and the most wonderful. I am still trying to find a balance for how to keep my kids happy and healthy amidst all the changes life is throwing at us, and I am pretty sure I am doing the best I can. Divorce has been one of the most painful and also most necessary things I have ever gone through, and I have come to the conclusion that there is no easy way to go about it. There will always be some level of emotional suffering at some point. My job as a mother and as a woman is to make sure we have found some level of peace and emotional growth along the way, and to try every day to see the things that make us happy.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Staycation: Not My Cup of Tea

I took vacation time from work in early March, when I learned that my mother would be out of town for the week and childcare would be dicey. In order to save money, I decided that it would be oh-so-smart to go the practical route and stay home (after much back and forth about taking a vacation to somewhere new and fun, hemming and hawing over where to go and how long to stay). 

The idea of the Staycation appeals to many; lounging around the house, maybe getting stuff done that has been bugging you for a while, perhaps taking a day trip to the coast or visit the aquarium with the kids. I can stand that crap for about one day before I am bored out of my mind and pacing the halls like a tiger at the zoo. I don't procrastinate very often, so I don't feel like I have a million "projects" at home that I need to complete. Being home all day for a week sounds like a good way to go out of my mind, whilst pretending to be productive and accomplished in the name of saving money. Both of my parents, but my dad especially, are terrible at being bored and are not into staying home for too long, so the apple does not fall too far from the airplane. I love getting out and going places a whole lot more than I should given that I am not independently wealthy, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to change. 

So Jon and I planned a long week off to stay home and putter around and be productive and righteous and all sorts of good things. Facing this unbearable reality, the other day I did the only logical thing I could do in these circumstances: I panicked and booked us tickets to Florida. We leave on Saturday. I am officially the WORST staycationer on the face of the earth. Key West here we come!

Friday, February 5, 2016

The New Relationship Heads Overseas...

So I just realized that I never followed up on our weekend away to Guadeloupe. Well, three weeks have gone by and it feels as far away as anything, but it was a wonderful weekend, to say the least. Guadeloupe is a beautiful island (as many of them are) where they don't really speak anything other than French (hilarious watching us work out how to buy a bag of ice in the grocery store), and where they have the absolute WORST rum I have ever tasted (something about the distilling process, Jon explained it in detail but I couldn't retain enough to tell you properly). Despite those two annoying realities, we had an AMAZING time (not a shock). We swam, drank imported rum in the sand (hooray for grocery stores), and ate spectacular crepes (how we managed to order those crepes is still a mystery to me). We almost missed our flight home due to comical circumstances, and we solidified the truth that we love to travel together (also not a shock).



It was interesting traveling with a partner for the first time in forever. My ex and I routinely did not go places together, as he did not like to leave the house, and I enjoyed escaping our unhappy reality to wherever I could. So this trip involved not only traveling some place new, but seeing how compatible we are in a foreign circumstance. Unsurprisingly, we got along splendidly. We also learned some new and valuable bits of information about each other that will be useful as we further our relationship, as some information can only be revealed in the most extraordinary circumstances (i.e. I do not like to miss a meal. Like, ever. And apparently I'd never shared that with Jon before, eek! As it turns out, he can go approximately 75 hours on a handful of almonds and not complain once. Bionic. Good to know). All in all, we are extremely compatible, and compliment each other very well. More importantly, we enjoy going places together, and we want the same things out of most of our trips, so planning a new trip is exciting and fun, a complete 180 from the life I once lived. It really is a dream come true.

So onto our next journey, which isn't happening until April, but stay tuned for the next installment, I'm sure it only gets better from here.