Friday, September 21, 2012

Our Week in Tennessee

Traveling by car had turned into a nightmare since Little Man came along 8 months ago. He has had very little patience with his carseat. He does not understand why he is not in Mommy's arms where he believes (logically, of course) he belongs 24-7. Therefore, we put off traveling big distances for awhile.

However, a year ago we had purchased a discounted travel voucher deal that was expiring this week. It was use it or lose it, and we (or at least the kids and I) really needed to get out of the house. It was important for us to go somewhere fun together as a family to slow down and reconnect without the hustle and bustle of daily life.

I was inspired by one of my facebook friends to make (Pinterest-inspired) traveling notebooks for the kids. I didn't know how these would go over, but they were a success! They never really used this license plate game because it proved to be a little advanced for them. 

I did love these state abbreviation pages I made by copying off a capital T pattern, then an N which I cut out and clued onto the T page before making copies. I had searched for something like this but couldn't find anything. (If there ARE pages like this available, please let me know, to save me the trouble for our next states.) I hope these will help make the state abbreviations stick in their heads.  

I also printed off a Tennesse state outline for them to color and label. They also labeled our route on the United States map. In addition, the boys had a Tennessee word search.

I found lots of versions by searching for road trip printables on Pinterest. The links to several of these are at the bottom of this post. They can be reused by putting them in page protectors and using dry-erase (better yet, wet-erase so it won't smudge) markers.

car colors bingo
I think this was one of their favorite pages they used the most.

I ripped some pages out of this hidden pictures workbook for the middle two and more difficult pages for Tornado. There was also a spot for some of their homework pages.

Prepared NOT Scared!: Preparedness Project - Travel Bag!
Something else I tried this trip was "Car Bucks." I attached a baggie inside their notebooks for their bucks. Each car buck was equivalent to a dollar. 

Every time they completed a couple of pages in their notebooks they earned a Car Buck. Whenever I noticed they had been riding well without fighting or complaining for a couple of hours, they earned a Car Buck. Because we were generous about handing them out, they were aware that any (Mommy-approved) snacks (even juice) from gas stations or souvenirs from shops were their responsibilities. (Meals and water were provided, of course.) 

Car Bucks could also be taken away, but fortunately that only happened a time or two. It was fun to see them calculating how many car bucks they might have left if they bought something and whether the purchase would be worth it or not. We'll definitely use these on future road trips.

We left our house about 8:00 p.m. and made it a few hours to Jackson, Tennessee. It was almost dark by the time we made it to Gatlinburg. This is the night view of our resort, which is a Holiday Inn property just a couple of blocks from the main downtown street in Gatlinburg. Great location!

We were very happy with our accommodations, and I'd recommend this resort to anyone (who can afford it, which won't always be the case for us). We usually stay in small hotel rooms, so this was fancy for us. We always feel torn - spend money on somewhere nice which does feel really nice. Or just find an adequate place to sleep because we're going to be spending most of our time outside of the room, anyway. We unfortunately never got to enjoy any of the resort's fun children's activities. We did get to swim in the pool one night.

master bedroom with jacuzzi tub 

the big kids' room

The first night when we arrived we walked downtown to look around. See that strand of lights against the trees in the back? It's a skylift that goes all the way up that mountain. I'd like to do that next time.

After a great supper at Mellow Mushroom, we let the kids play video games at an arcade.

The next morning, we headed to WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge. This was #1 on our list of intended destinations. I mean, look at it; how could it not have been? There are four WonderWorks locations in the U.S. (Myrtle Beach, Panama City, Orlando, and this one plus one coming soon to Syracuse, NY).

This is what the ceiling of the foyer looked like. You know that my Tornado, lover of silly and mixed up things, was in heaven.

Admission is expensive ($22.99 for adults and $14.99 for kids), the way it is at most places in the area. There are coupons, though, around town for...maybe $2.50 off per ticket? There is an additional discount for home schoolers, but you have to arrange for these tickets BEFORE YOUR VISIT.

There's a good mixture of active games and learning centers.

I caught Ryan in this flight simulator, which is right up his alley. He has a flight simulator computer game at home, but this one with the three screens and cool control panels seemed like a dream come true and led to my obnoxious teasing, "I'm so happy for you! Are you so happy right now?! This is like the best day of your life, isn't it?!" He, of course, told me to be quiet and go away.

The good news is that the kids and Ryan seemingly did not catch any viruses from repeatedly sticking their faces and bodies into this fun contraption.

It is a combination of a science museum, children's museum, and amusement park.

The bed of nails was cool. You lie on the smooth bed, then the nails raise up underneath you.

After a few hours at WonderWorks, we needed a break. After lunch at Mellow Mushroom, this time at the Pigeon Forge location, we drove over to Parrot Mountain and Gardens (which is very close to Dollywood). It's a very lovely spot that is run by seemingly nice, caring people. The grounds were clean and well-kept. Did you see the "19 Kids and Counting" episode which showcased a visit here?

We did not expect the volume of bird noise that greeted us when we opened the door. It was so loud (but in a beautiful way).

Admission is $15.95 for 12 and up; $7.99 for 2-11. We had a $1 off each ticket coupon. The kids really enjoyed feeding the MANY birds, which they did a lot, paying quarters for feed.

There are birds throughout the park, beyond this feeding area, sitting on perches. They are taken into cages at night. Other birds are kept in large outdoor cages. They do no allow photos taken in the bird nursery, but the kids got to interact with the babies, as well.

This bird was trained to high-five you. There were birds who could do all sorts of tricks, like say, "Praise the Lord" or sing "Rocky Top," which you can watch on this video. I am fascinated by the talking abilities of birds. The term "bird brain" is actually a giant misnomer. Even chickens (which have to endure such treachery and lack of dignity in factory farms) are very intelligent beings!!! That's not something I learned at Parrot Mountain, just a little something extra I thought I'd throw in here for ya.

This guy who talked to us for a long time about the birds and showed the kids their tricks was super friendly and helpful.

I could stare closely at each bird's amazing designs all day. 

It makes me sad to see birds with clipped wings. It feels so unfair. (What I didn't know until now is that wings grow back; it isn't permanent.)

I do understand that this place is partly a sanctuary (but can't be deemed a true sanctuary since I believe there is some breeding going on for profit, to make money to support their efforts), and I couldn't imagine how much hard work goes into it. I know these people are working toward rehabilitating injured birds and repopulating endangered species. I just wish there had never been such a thing as pet birds to begin with. (If you have a pet bird, that's not judgment. I wish I could bring them all home with me, too.) As for what is the best thing to do about it all now since they can't all just be released into the wild without consequence, I don't have the answers. I do believe that these birds get a lot of love and attention, which they seem to crave and enjoy, from their caregivers and the public.

Don't expect to automatically get your picture taken holding all of the birds, which is what you are led to believe with the brochure. Once we paid our admission (around $70 for our family), they wanted another $15 from us for a chance to hold the birds and receive a souvenir photo. It's misleading. We declined, but they did very nicely let the kids all have a turn holding this guy (girl?).

Baby tuckered out. I adore it when he does this, sitting straight up. With that chubby face and dimpled chin.

It's a nice little walk through the gardens. There is a "secret garden" area where small birds are flying free in a fairly large outdoor room with a netted ceiling. I would have liked to have seen free flying spaces like that for all of the birds. We did enjoy our time at Parrot Mountain, and the kids walked away from it with increased knowledge and an even deeper love of birds.

After we left the birds, we headed back to WonderWorks for the 7 p.m. magic show. It was fabulous! And guess who got to be the special helper onstage? This cutie, who even got to take home a magic rope as a gift.

I really enjoy magic shows. I spend my whole time, desperate to figure out the trick. But I never can! So then I constantly whisper, "HOW did he do that?!"

What I especially loved about this show is that Terry Evanswood (above) was very clear upfront that there was nothing "magical" about what he was doing. It was PRETEND, simply tricks he learned from practicing, and only God can perform miracles. He was very funny, charming, and talented. He was also an inspiring motivational speaker! I loved that he turned the conversation toward people appreciating life and choosing to be happy, etc. It was great for the kids to hear, I thought. He said that it would be arrogant for him to perform without telling everyone that it was God who gave him his success, encouragement, and inspiration. For anyone who is reluctant to attend a magic show because of the hocus-pocus, I thought he presented it in a very responsible, honest way that did not feel compromising.

We had some extra time after the show (since we were basically staying up until midnight all week), so these two wanted a try at the climbing wall.

I was really proud of them. After only a couple of steps they both felt how difficult it was going to be and wanted to give up. We encouraged them to keep going, and they did, which was good for them. Sissy got about half way up.

And, with a lot of urging and encouragement, Dash ended up making it to the top.

We didn't have as much luck with the Ropes Challenge Course. Earlier in the day, Ryan took Dash up there, and he (my 7 year old) totally panicked a few feet into it, and they had to come back down. 

Sis, my one brave child, was ready to go that night, which encouraged her 23 months older brother to try again. It went a little better this time, but Ryan had his hands full up there, trying to help both of them. It wasn't that it was scary for Sissy; it was just difficult for her to maneuver. 

And Dash - he gets really scared with things like this, which is something that surprises people sometimes because of his "active boy" nature. He's not really a risk-taker. I think he gets this from his father.

The next day, one of our activities included driving through the Smoky Mountains to reach Cherokee, North Carolina. We were hoping to check out the Indian re-enactment village, and I was sort of devastated when we arrived about 4:10 only to find they stop selling tickets at 4:00 (with a 5:00 closing time). It was one of the places I'd wanted to visit most during this trip. Fortunately, we were able to head down the road to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. We enjoyed this a lot! We're starting the Indian portion of our My Father's World studies, so it went along perfectly with that.

Next, we stopped by a few Native American souvenir shops.

Clingman's Dome was our next destination. I think the kids and I were all a little carsick as we made our way up the winding highway.

Dash was disappointed that the trail up to Clingman's Dome was paved. "I thought we were going to go exploring." A paved walkway just did not say "adventure" to him. He made up for it by climbing on any rocky hills he found.

The kids were really impressed with two guys who had been hiking and camping for days. Dash asked if we could "play explorer." That inspired our "what are we going to's getting dark, and we have no food or place to sleep" routine the entire half-mile walk back to the car.

Clingman's Dome Observation Tower is a half-mile (which actually felt much longer to me, and I love to hike) from the parking lot. I was highly impressed with Tornado who led the way. He and Ryan (who was carrying Baby on the way up) made it up there first. Sometimes, he either gets distracted or winded, so that was great.

Notice their rosy faces? It was CHILLY, and we weren't properly prepared for that.

Clingman's Dome is the highest mountain in the Smokies and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. It's beautiful, and the kids were able to see how the "Smoky" Mountains got their name. And wouldn't you know, after taking just a few pictures at the top of this remarkable camera battery died.

Fun trip. I'm sad that it involved finding out about the passing of my very special, beloved grandfather. The next morning (as was the plan all along), we packed up for home, which we reached around 11 p.m. After a load of laundry and a few adjustments to the luggage, we were back on the road by 10 a.m. toward Missouri for his visitation and funeral.

Homegrown LearnersPhotobucket


Pam Rohde said...

I have all the exact same car games and printables and did car bucks on our long trip this summer too! So fun! I love reading about the trips you take! Your kids are getting such incredible experiences they will remember for a lifetime. So sorry to hear about your grandfather's passing. Compassion and prayers to your family.

Our Side of the Mountain said...

Wow! Looks like a great place to explore! We've never been that way! What a blast! Love that upside down house! Too funny! And the bird lying down in your son's hand...And the wall climbing and ropes course and nature...LOL

Phyllis said...

It looks like you had a great time in Tennessee and that it was a great learning experience for the kids! Thank you for linking up.

Jen said...

Wow! What a great trip! I would love to check out that Cherokee Museum sometime, I'm part Cherokee. Thanks for linking up with FTF! I've only had one short trip to Tenn as a kid, and the only thing I remember visiting is Dollywood :D