road trip!

we had SUCH an amazing time on our recent trip to Tennessee. It’s been 5 years since I was last in that beautiful state – in 2007 I made three trips there (one with Kyle, one with my mom and one for my grandpa’s funeral). Since then, a lot has changed in our family, namely adding our two kids! I’ve been wanting to introduce them to my extended family there ever since Jack arrived on the scene, but it hadn’t happened yet. So it was high time we headed down there. Mom joined us for the trip, which was our first official family road trip (well, further than WI anyway).

We started out on a slightly overcast Wednesday morning, as soon as we got everything loaded after Kyle came home from work at 6am. We hit the road at about 8am and went through the fertile plans and rolling hills of Wisconsin, instead of down I-35 during rush hour. πŸ™‚ We’re so smart. Armed with snacks galore, toys, books a plenty, one movie on the iPad, games on the iPod and Adventures in Odyssey’s to listen to, we were in good shape. Mom took driving duty first and I was on kid duty. Kyle, the warrior, slept.

We got hung up in some traffic in Chicago, which was par for the course, but arrived at my dear Lindsey’s house at 9pm, after 13 hours on the road/in the car. The kids did AWESOME. Nary a fuss out of either of them! Jack loved listening to Odyssey, Taylor was highly entertained by being able to see Jack directly behind her and everyone had a smooth ride. It was with gratefulness, however, that the kids fell into bed at Lindsey’s in northwestern Ohio. We had fun chatting it up with her, Marcus, Jessica and Janelle into the wee hours of the morning. The visit was far too short, however. I love Linz way too much to live as far away as we do. πŸ˜›

When we woke up, we enjoyed a few more minutes with Lindsey before she headed to work, then we took some pictures outside her house and hopped back in the car for a little drive to Uncle Pat and Aunt Annette’s house for lunch. Annette was already in TN for a scrapbook weekend, so we just saw Uncle Pat. The last time I visited them, they still lived in their house in town. Now they have a wonderful, charming and pastoral (I think I even uttered the word “bucolic”) little hobby farm on the edge of New Knoxville. We enjoyed lunch with him and his grandson, John; listening to Kyle and Pat swap cop stories. The boys played so well together and we were all glad for a chance to stretch our legs for a while! But all too soon, we had to get on down the road.Β We made another pit stop along the way for the incredible ice cream at Graeter’s in Cincinnati. I’d never been to Cincy – it seems like a cool town with lots of neat history.

Kyle navigated us through a terrific rainstorm while crossing Mt. Jellico and Jack was overheard saying, “We having fun, Mom!” with 250 miles to go before arriving, road-weary, at our final destination: Aunt Tamara and Uncle Rick’s home in Sevierville. :happy sigh: We settled into our guest quarters and slept so well.

It was odd and sad to be in TN and not see my grandparents. This was my first trip down there since they both went to heaven. Passing their street, going places they used to take me when we visited when I was a kid – it was all bittersweet. I was SO glad to bring my family there, but so sad that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t have a chance to meet my kids. The first morning in TN, I smelled honeysuckle on the air and imagined they were smelling it too…only in heaven it was even sweeter.

We did a little puttering around Pigeon Forge and Sevierville that first day. Papa and Grandma Meri bought Jackson some new Keens and we hit up the ol’ favorite of the Apple Barn for some more apple butter for the pantry and their fantastic apple dumplings. That night was a big birthday party for my cousin’s daughter and a friend of my other cousin. Everyone got to meet Jack and Taylor and it was such a fun night with family. I wish to heaven that we’d snapped a picture, but I forgot to. 😦

On Saturday, we were SO happy to see Karla! She was able to come over from NC with her friend, Ashley for the weekend. Jackson was so very excited to see her and made quick friends with Ashley too. That morning, my cousin Meriam joined Kyle, the kids and I for a hike up to Clingman’s Dome! One of my favorite spots in the Smokies. And it was a perfect day for it – not too chilly, not too warm. Jack was super duper excited to go through the tunnels and up the windy mountain roads, and did a good job hiking the 1 mile to the top too. It was so nice to spend extra time with Meriam. It’s been several years since we’ve seen each other and never have we had a chance to just sit and talk like we did while we drove to the dome and back. πŸ™‚ One of the highlights of our trip for me!Β Later that day we had fun at a carnival fundraiser for my cousin’s kid’s school and spent time just hanging out as a family.

Sunday morning, Mom, Karla, Ashley and our family all piled into our van for a drive to and around Cades Cove – a TN vacation tradition. Why? Because 33.5 years ago, my parents exchanged vows to have and to hold from that day forward in Cades Cove. It’s where it all began for our family! Not to mention, its an absolutely beautiful part of the Smoky Mountain National Park. It was another positively gorgeous day and we saw baby bears, deer, turkeys, and woodpeckers in the park as we drove around. We stopped to take pictures in the field where my parents were married and at “The Tree” in Cable Mill, where we’ve taken family pictures ever since I was a wee little lassie. Precious memories.

We said goodbye to Karla and Ashley and had another family supper with my cousins, complete with homemade ice cream by Uncle Rick. SO yummy. Another fantastic day in the books!

Jackson is ALL about golf these days and we thought he would really love to go play mini-golf. We decided that would be our one “splurge touristy” thing of the trip. So while Mom and Aunt Tam kept Taylor, we took Jack to Professor Hackett’s Adventure Mini-Golf (or something like that). It pretty much made his life. LOL. It was so fun to see him get so excited. He even got a hole-in-one on the last hole! However, the excitement of that was overshadowed by the fact that the ball went into the hole and never came out again. πŸ™‚ “I didn’t want it to go in da hole and down the tube, mom!” We grabbed Five Guys fries and Sonic burgers on our way back to the house for much needed naps after our fun excursion.

That evening, Kyle and I enjoyed a lovely date to Texas Roadhouse and a movie back at the Harrell’s on their big screen. We had to catch up on Captain America before The Avengers came out later that week. My mom was so sweet to put our kiddos to bed and love on them so we could escape for a while. I loved every minute of the time we got to spend together with our kids over this trip. It was a really neat week of sharing memories of my childhood with the people I love the most in the world.

We had ONE last day in Tennessee on Tuesday before we made the two-day trek home. And of course, we went back to the mountains. Jackson just plain loved hiking and going to the mountains, so it wasn’t a hard choice. I’m really glad that so far, our kids are up for the crazy adventures we like to enjoy. The hike of the day was Laurel Falls. Worth every bit of the 2.1 miles up. The last time I had hiked to Laurel Falls was when I was 15 or 16, with all my cousins and aunts and uncles over the week we celebrated my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. The trail had a few more potholes and worn spots than I remembered from 15 years ago. πŸ™‚ It was a beautiful hike and a lovely time in the mountains.

Vacation was wonderful, but going home is always lovely too. We left the Harrell House and went north to Indiana, where we stayed with my mom’s cousin Steve and his lovely wife Janet and saw my great-Aunt Doris (94 years old – hale and beautiful!). It was weird to drive past the Meridian St. exit in Indianapolis (where I went to culinary arts school 12 years ago) and painful to miss visiting with dear friends like Jamie as we went a little further north to be closer to home the next day. Steve and Janet told us tales of their farming life and we slept with the windows open and the crickets serenading us from the green fields of the Hoosier countryside.

One more day of driving – Adventures in Odyssey (Jack pronounced it “Awentures in Ossadee”) and a showing of “Babe” got us through Illinois, Wisconsin and then, we were at the Minnesota border! The kids did great again – until we were 5 miles from home. Jack didn’t take a good nap that day, so he was just DONE. Like my butt was DONE with the sitting business. We tumbled into the house and were greeted with a lovingly prepared by Papa Keith meal of penne and meatballs.

I’m so grateful we were able to make the trip – a huge thanks to my parents for making it possible financially, to Toyota for building the lovely Sienna minivan, to Lindsey, the Harrell’s and the Hurley’s for the lovely places to stay and the tasty meals, and to God for creating this beautiful country of ours. Traveling it by car was a delight and a fun adventure we won’t soon forget.

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33 years…

Today my mom and dad celebrate 33 years of marriage. In honor of such a momentous occasion, they are giving each other Lasik surgery. πŸ™‚ I mean – they are GETTING Lasik surgery from an expert doctor and its their gift to each other. No glasses. I guess if the commemorative gift was “glass” for this year, they are doing the opposite. πŸ˜‰ Either that or are changing it to “better vision”.

In their marriage I’ve seen much love, compromise, fun and adventure lived out. Of course they’ve had their moments of trial and I remember one particularly challenging time when I wondered if they would make it through, but God has been faithful to see them through those moments or days or years and they have given each other grace and the promise to never leave. When a lot of my friends in elementary and jr. high school had parents that were divorcing, Mom and Dad reassured me more than once that they would never, ever do that. And I didn’t have any reason to question them.

Though their address has changed many times through the years, their love for each other and their companionship has remained steady. When my dad gets a wild new idea, Mom doesn’t shoot him down. When Mom wants Dad to try a new diet or exercise regimen, Dad always gives it a little try. πŸ™‚ They bike together, grow plants and veggies and strawberries together, travel together and encourage their kids (that’s me!) to always follow hard after God, no matter how far from home that might take us. Or them.

Dad always comes up with something clever and sweet to celebrate the love they share on their anniversary. Some years its been a banner staked in the ground at Lake Harriet that told the world “Hip hip hooray! 10 Years today!” while we ate chinese takeout and then an anniversary cake appeared from the car trunk to share with friends that suddenly appeared. πŸ™‚ One year he had hats made that said “HIS” and “HERS” and the date they were married. Dad wore the one that said “HERS” and Mom the one that said “HIS” and walked around the MN State Fair (which always falls over their anniversary) to the booths of each radio station we frequently listened to in an attempt to get on the air on their special day. Most recently, the Better Together t-shirts – pretty genius. I can’t remember if it was a banner or a t-shirt that said, “She was the best then and better now”, and the banner from last year that repeated the joy of their 10th anniversary, with 22 years more of history tacked on.

I’m very grateful for every year of love and life that God has given my parents. I’m grateful for their example and encouragement to press on, follow God and love each other. They match and complement each other in the best ways. Life IS better when you’re together. I love you, Mom and Dad. Happy Anniversary! (and I hope your fried eyeballs can see clearly now!)