Friday, April 29, 2011

Storms and Weddings

The threat of tornados is not fun. Especially in the middle of the night. Most of the campground residents were out watching the sky over the mountains around us. We were told that a tornado would most likely come up the Wears Valley route (our campground is ON Wears Valley Rd) rather than over the mountain, but we couldn’t see down the valley very well. There were a couple huge gusts of wind until 8 pm and then it started getting dark. The weather center kept us informed all evening of the splinter cells that may be even more dangerous than the solid line. They promised us that the tornado warnings would be over by 12:30 am. We couldn’t keep our eyes open, but they sure opened when we started rocking from the wind and the rain turned into hail. Gary laughed when I put the blankets over my head praying for the hail to be small and brief. Fortunately it was, and we finally got to sleep again around 1 am. Scary.

Morning dawned with heavy clouds, but little chance of rain. We slowly got moving and got out around 11:30 to look around. There was no visible damage in our area – we didn’t even lose power! But we heard of so much destruction all around us. Our hearts go out to all those who suffered losses, especially loved ones. A reminder that things really can change in a minute.

We checked out the Christmas Place. It’s a huge complex devoted to Christmas in every conceivable way: music, decorations, jewelry, toys and even upside down trees. The music put us in the Christmas mood and it was fun remembering past Christmases as we browsed all the displays.

We ate lunch at the Blue Moose Burger and Wings restaurant.
Friends Donna and Ron told us that if we got a Blue Moose key chain, we could get free appetizers. The Poker Chips were their favorite. They are breaded and deep fried dill pickle chips. Our waitress brought us two key chains and said we could get apps at half price. We tried the chips and this is what they looked like.
Gary loved them! There were enough to take home along with half my burger and some of Gary’s wings. Our rating: thumbs up!

Friday was a work day. Whew, 8 ½ hours is a long time to be on your feet. We really enjoy meeting people and we also enjoy our job. Gary was on the register most of the day and I cooked sausages and cleaned tables. Sounds easy, I know, but it’s the standing that we’re not used to. We get to do it all again tomorrow from 12 to 8. Cha ching!

We watched the Royal Wedding a little while getting ready this morning. What a beautiful bride and groom. We hope they’ll be as happy as… us! Too bad they’ll never experience the RV life!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gatlinburg and the Doctor

Another beautiful morning to spend together exploring the area. I wanted to check out the Gatlinburg welcome center where the trolley will pick you up and bring you downtown for 50 cents. You don’t have to mess with the road construction (they’re building a wall to keep the mountain off the road – a good idea, I think) where it’s one lane and very slow going and pay for parking (up to $10).

We spent at least 30 minutes talking to a host discovering lots of unadvertised places to see and the best way to get there. We picked up a package of pamphlets that include Day Hikes, Auto Tours, maps and Waterfalls info. I dropped that stuff in the Jeep and we walked over to the little Trolley shelter, where two other couples arrived and we started talking. One couple visits maybe three times a year using her brother’s cabin. They recommended the Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine Distillery on the Parkway for free samples. Well, Gary had to check that out. The trolley ride was about 10 minutes and at the exit we decided to walk the east side of the parkway through Gatlinburg. We stopped in a few stores and used our Dollywood perks pamphlet to see the Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum (curious stuff and fun) and ‘Illusions’ (we do not recommend this).

After we had walked miles (at least it felt like miles) we were needing a boost. And then the Ole Smoky Mountain Moonshine Distillery magically appeared. Gary smiled. Three tiny thimblefuls of white lightning, and his favorite was the one called ‘Apple Pie’. I settled for an iced mocha. Those gave us energy enough to make it back to the trolley stop where we enjoyed a stress-free ride to the Jeep.

At home we refilled the birdfeeder and watched another goldfinch having a snack.

Tuesday was Dr. day. We found the Thompson Cancer Survival Center and met Dr. Grossman. Gary was supposed to have a treatment today, but the order for the Ontak fell through the cracks. We scheduled for the next Tuesday.

We had a little lunch at home, then rode over to Big Lots and the grocery store for some supplies. It was a beautiful day again, but more storms are on the way.
We cleaned up the outside, tucking things away and talking about where we would go if a tornado came our way. Nobody knows anywhere but the toilets. Cinder blocks are the strongest building material around here. I wonder how fast we’d have to run?

Here are some photos of the storms overhead and the concern on the local TV stationTornado watches are on until 2 am. I feel like a storm tracker!

We have a weather radio that will probably go off to warn of severe weather many times tonight. It will NOT be a good sleeping night for sure.

The rest of the week it looks like beautiful weather. We will play tomorrow, but need to report to work on Friday. We'll let you know what we do (unless we're 'not in Kansas anymore...').

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter, Anniversary and Play Day

If anyone had told us that on our 19th wedding anniversary that we'd be spending it in the Knoxville, Tennessee Zoo, I would have shaken my head no way.


Gary was having a bagel craving, and there are no bagels to be found in Pigeon Forge, so we decided to drive to Knoxville, about 30 minutes away to a Panera. He checked the internet, said there were a couple around there and out the door we went. Fortunately I am the navigator, so I had all my maps and brochures with me. I found a Panera listing in a Knoxville brochure, checked the address against the map, and we got there easily. (One of these days we will get a GPS) We enjoyed a beautiful outside breakfast watching people in their Easter finery walk by.

Then what? Well, the Zoo was a free event according to our Park Perks pamphlet, so we went to the Zoo. Found it no problem, parked and saved $40.00 (minus five for parking). Yippee. So you guessed it - lots of zoo pictures coming up.

It was Easter in the Zoo for the animals, too. The elephants, Edie and Jana got their own easter boxes to open. Jana stepped on hers to open it,
but Edie used her trunk to delicately remove the lid.

The trainers put goodies at the bottom, but covered them with lots of dead tree twigs. The elephants weren't going to deal with that so they threw their boxes around until the goodies were available.

The Blue Monkeys received plastic easter eggs with popcorn and sunflower seeds inside. The keeper hid them around their enclosure, and then let them out to find them. TJ opened a bunch of them before Shelly even finished her lunch and came out.

I love giraffes,
and the big cats (sleeping in the shade).

Rhinos and albino aligators go back to the dinosaur age.

This cute little guy is a Red Panda, a real relative of the panda family, not bears like pandas. Huh?

Birds are beautiful and these roseate spoonbills,
and white faced whistler ducks are no exception.

The Andean condors were huge, but unless I put Gary next to one, it was hard to get a shot through the fence of just how big these two were. A twelve foot wingspan - whoa!

Most everyone's favorite cuties were the meerkats which just loved to play or pose for their pictures. This one gave me three different profiles, practically asking me which one I thought was the best.

These next pictures are X-rated. Two star tortises are having a good time.

Zebras are beautiful animals, too bad they are not rideable,

but camels are, and people were riding them. Here's a dromedary, too, being led out for some treats.

There is a two-toed sloth in this picture, but I can't tell which end is up or down.

Of course, there were human animals, too...

We came home and Gary grilled a steak for our anniversary dinner. We spent dinner time remembering the early days of our relationship and the subsequent wonderful 19 years. For you who don't know how we met, it is a funny sweet story. I moved with my two children from Toronto, Canada to Raleigh, NC in 1991 just before school started. My daughter, Michelle, was 14 entering high school. She met a friend, Mandy, whose parents were divorced, too. Well, they thought it would be funny if they introduced Gary and me to each other. I won't go into all the details, but nobody was more surprised than Michelle and Mandy when we hit it off and Gary asked me to marry him, which I did exactly 19 years ago today. It's the best thing these girls ever did for us.

The question asked often is: Would we have married earlier if we had met eachother when we were young? Who knows? All I know is that I'm glad it happened as soon as it did! Ah, true love.

Hope you had as wonderful an Easter day as we did, too!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Second Day at Work

We had a great starting time of 10:30, so we could drink a second cup of coffee. It takes us 30 minutes from door to workstation which is half the time it took us at Disney. Yay. One day we're going to ride the trolly to see how long that takes, too.

We were expecting a huge crowd today: the weather was perfect (87 and cloudless) for guests, but a little warm in our outdoor cooking station. However, we jumped right in making those sausages, peppers, onions and ribbon fries. I would love to try some ribbon fries, but we'd have to pay full price for them. Crazy, I know...
At 2.99 they're not too expensive, but they are just a potato deep fried. Not too healthy an option.

My first break was at 1:40 for lunch, but Gary couldn't come with me. For the first time ever I had chicken fried steak. That was on the menu along with green beans, mashed potatoes, brown or white gravy or stuffing. All for $2.50 including drink. I could have had a salad, but I was very interested in seeing what the steak tasted like. It was good! So now I like grits, chicken fried steak and that's it. I still have to get used to okra, biscuits and sweet tea to become a little more southern I suppose.

Another team leader dropped by later to tell me that I needed to start on the register. Great. I was hoping to avoid that like a couple of other people. I politely declined swearing that my checkbook has never balanced in my life, but that cut no ice. So, I was taught about 5 minutes how to do it and let go. It was easy. I guess I have no excuse now. Plus this will allow me to work at other stations like the frozen lemonade stand. Gary will get trained next week, as we have 5 days off until we work again.

We have the option of changing jobs after a month. I like this job, I like most of the people so far, but I am a born organizer. I might get in trouble for doing something. I was looking in a under counter cabinet for some coffee supplies. I found a plastic container underneath everybody's coats and bags. It had one bag of coffee in it, some open cups and a light bulb. That bothers the natural order of things in my brain. I started pulling out everything. I found heavy table cloths on top of everything, rolled up stuff, paper baskets we don't use at all. I hauled all these things into the storage area. Little Ashley was telling me I was sure going to get into trouble, and she was worried someone would blame her. I told her to make sure I get the heat (if there is any). There's rebel in this here Yankee.

Finally it was 7:30 and we could leave. Ouch, our sore feet. We drove home and collapsed with a cool glass of wine. But first we snapped a shot of us in our costumes.
Very comfortable, for sure. Since we had a hot lunch again, dinner was whatever.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow (our 19th Anniversary, Easter and a playday!) We don't know what we're going to do yet, but I'll let you know what it was...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Exploring Gatlinburg, TN

It was dark again this morning, but we woke up anyway. It was a play day and we wanted to see a little of Gatlinburg using our Perks from Dollywood. Gary wanted to see Ripley’s Aquarium, so we started there. This is a picture of the piranha that swims in schools but holds perfectly still to have his picture taken. He has scales that look like a coat of armor. Then there was this lizard just hanging around. This school of fish were swimming towards me, but my favorite little sea creatures are the seahorses. They were all crowded together on this artificial coral. The aquarium was crowded, but not jam packed, so it was a pleasure taking our time. People rode on a moving floor through the shark tunnel, while the saw-toothed sharks relaxed on the top. I love the jelly fish and the nautilus, too. The colors may seem a little off on the nautilus because of my camera setting and the tank lighting. Our favorite section of the aquarium was the Penguin Playhouse. African Blackfooted penguins cavort in a 40,000 indoor-outdoor tank with little name tags on their wings. This is Eddie, kindly posing for the camera. Kids (and adults if they can) crawl through underwater acrylic tubes and pop up in the middle of their habitat for a nose-to-beak encounter.

We must have spent a couple hours there and it was time for lunch. Chinese fit the bill and we savored some chicken with cashews, wild rice and eggroll. Yum.

The Earthquake ride was one of the funniest rides I have ever been on. You belt yourself into a seat with 6 others in the dark. Some guy narrates: “Ugh, oh, it looks like a train is coming right at us! It’s not moving!” You see a light shining at you about three yards away. There is a sound of a train whistle. Your seat tilts to the left. Then you start moving forward. You tilt and the voice says, “Oh, no, we’re experiencing a minor tremor!”. The pegboard with tools and a rat hanging by its tail begins to shake. The platform moves backward. Water gushes out of a wall. Lights go on and off. I’m laughing hysterically. A section of ceiling ‘falls’ with a million rats all over it squeeking (but not moving). The platform moves back one more time and the lights come on. Ride over. No kidding. I can’t believe it’s still in business. Perhaps that’s the draw?

We wandered down the street in and out of shops and shared a little Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream from Baskin Robbins. Our last stop was the Ober Gatlinburg Tram. Until 1972, skiers wound their way by car slowly and precariously up and down snow-covered Mt. Harrison en route to Gatlinburg's ski resort, which opened in 1962. That winter, the idea to provide a safer, more comfortable means to reach the ski area was explored, and Gatlinburg's Aerial Tramway was born. Departing regularly from downtown Gatlinburg, this cable car will take you on a 2.1-mile ride up to the Resort. The resort consists of a skating rink, shops and restaurants, a pool, maze, carousel, mini-golf and much more, but our favorite was the Wildlife Encounter. Six of Tennessee’s black bears reside here, and some cute otters, a golden eagle and peregrine falcon (enjoying his lunch of mouse). Snakes, skunks, screech and barred owls also live here, and we hung out talking to the keeper about the bears.

Unfortunately, VERY unfortunately, all my pictures were lost – my mistake. Bummer. Fortunately, Gary took some pictures with his little camera and these are the only good ones we have: a couple of bears,
bear poop (taken to recognize on a hike, just in case – yep, really)

our tram ride to the top of the mountain
and back down, and the ice rink.

I had photos of all these things. Sorry. Or maybe you're saying "yay"?

It really was a great day. We wonder how on earth we will be standing for 8 hours tomorrow after walking miles and miles today…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Work Day at Dollywood

Wednesday thunderstorms woke us up at around 6 am. The wind was whipping around our bedroom which made it difficult to go back to sleep, however, eventually the storm abated, and we finally woke up at 9:47! I had to check the clocks everywhere because it was so dark outside I was sure there was something wrong with my clock.

Well, we didn’t need to be anywhere this morning except Dollywood wardrobe to pick up our costumes. The rain stopped and the sun peeked out, but the wind was still up to 20 mph – no awning out yet. One good thing about the heavy rain is that the Jeep got washed for free! Yep, all that bird poop was washed off her shiny black paint.

I threw in some wash and after lunch we headed out. We were on the way to get our costumes, but Gary stopped at Workshop Tools, a place similar to Harbor Freight (one of our favorite stores). Such fun things! They had wooden slingshots carved into bears, deer heads and eagles for 3.99. I’ve always wanted a slingshot. I don’t know if I’d hit a dang thing, but it looks like fun. We did need some rare earth magnets to help hold up the tire covers and they had those for a great price, and Gary found a cool illuminated, collapsible, measuring hiking stick. It has a 90 degree rotating LED flashlight and a ‘pick-like’ handle with an adjustable wrist strap. A hard plastic grip and a foam rubber grip below that on a red aluminum shock-absorbing spring shaft that telescopes up to 58”and collapses to 22”. It has two different feet: one with a rubber tip like a cane, and if you remove that, there is a strong tiny tip for rock crevices and then there is a snow and dirt guard over those. All for $9.97! Love this place!

I finally hauled him out of there and we went to pick up our costumes. Tomorrow work starts at 9:30. Nice. Our last stop was our favorite store (Walmart) to put in Gary’s prescription and grab some tortillas for tacos tonight. It’s thundering again, but it’s supposed to be a perfectly wonderful Easter weekend.

We didn’t want to be late, so we set that alarm thing again and got to work in plenty of time. John was a great team leader and we filled out some more forms. Then we met our Assistant Leader, Tom. He went over some more forms and headed over to sausage and peppers. They told us we could watch and learn, but we jumped in making sandwiches and potato ribbons. The crowd picked up and we really moved. Finally at 12:35 we got lunch for 45 minutes, then it was back to work. We get lunch at any number of food places in Dollywood, but the host restaurant has a fixed menu for $2.50 and today it was chicken fingers, mac and cheese and cole slaw. It was constant moving, shelving, cutting potatoes and sausage and cleaning up. But it was very relaxed. The people we work with are great.

Anyhow we have tomorrow off, work on Saturday, off Sunday and who knows after that. Unfortunately, we were so happy to take off our smelly clothes that I forgot to get a shot of our costumes. I’ll try to remember on Saturday.

A goldfinch was munching on the birdseeder I put up yesterday, so I got a shot of him.

I was too tired to cook,
so I made a little fire and we had s’mores for supper. We ran out of grahams, so we stuck the chocolate chips right into the marshmallows. Look at that, will ya! MMMMMMM

Well, because we’re off tomorrow, and we’re not positive it will be a non-rainy day, we will probably choose some inside things to do. We’ll let you know!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Out and About the Smoky Mountain Area

Monday dawned bright and beautiful. We had a free day, so let’s go exploring. Going south on 321 our odometer turned to 120,000 miles. We had to take a milestone photo and you get to see it. They tell us that Jeeps only get started at 100,000 and often go to 250,000. We can only hope.

We wandered into Townsend, eventually turned around and stopped at the Visitor Center. We picked up a map of the Smokies and chose to take a short route back home through the north edge of the rim. I could have taken a thousand pictures at each pull off, but fortunately, Gary didn’t stop at every one. Here are a couple: There was a meeting between butterflies and they must have been deep in conversation, as they paid no attention to us.

I was taking pictures down the embankment from these little pretties along the river and was just setting my exposure when a kayaker comes speeding along. I wanted to get a shot of him, but had the wrong exposure (thus the brightness). He was moving so fast (and I am not that fast of a photographer) that they are overexposed. I hope he stayed upright on his trip, because that water was COLD!

The scenery was more and more beautiful around every turn. Here I am near a serious waterfall. Kayakers have been lost here and there are warnings everywhere. It was beautiful, and I find the rushing water mesmerizing.

After a quick lunch at home, we drove across the Parkway to the Tanger Outlet and even though there was a shuttle from one end to the other, we walked all the way around. Whew, what a workout. I was looking for a Totes store to pickup a waterproof raincoat. And I found one for a good price. I also needed black shoes for work, and I found out the Dollywood employees (or hosts, as they’re called in the park) get a 15% discount. Yay, we save a little more money. Dollywood has so many perks, that they’ve made a brochure with the list of all the attractions, restaurants, and theaters that employees can enjoy. We finished our trek with a coffee from Starbucks, sat on the bench for a minute and people watched. It was a thoroughly nice day. A quick dinner and then outside at twilight to start a fire. It only took a minute and we had a nice little fire.
We hung out enjoying the no wind evening and waving hi to other campers for about an hour. Then we went back inside and got ready for our orientation to Dollywood.

This morning we were up with the dreaded alarm clock to make our 8:15 appointment with wardrobe for our costumes. I LOVE them! Navy khakis, plaid short sleeve shirts, a jeans jacket, yellow raincoat (in case) and a tote bag for our stuff. The only thing I didn't have was a black belt. (I see a Walmart trip in the future) Orientation started at 9:30 at Dollywood University right up the street. We met several other seasonal RVers, took a tour of the park, enjoyed pizza for lunch, a few videos, had our photos taken for our ID and got our name tags. We are really looking forward to working at Dollywood. It seems like a special place. And we begin our adventure on Thursday.

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to enjoying the area, especially the beauty of the mountains, and getting to know the people of the Smoky Mountain area.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Time to Move Again

Yesterday was really windy, gray and cold. It never did get above 65 degrees. That didn’t stop some people from wearing shorts and t-shirts. I had my fleece on all day. We attended the ‘choosing a campground’ and ‘working on the road’ seminars for any new information from last year. They were good choices, but the favorite was On the Road to Alaska by Bill and Linda Napier. He took 14000 photos (of which we only saw some) but the preparation of the rig and what to expect weather-wise and road-wise was really informative. We hope we can talk Linda and Howard into going with a bunch of us. We’ll see…maybe in 2013.

Saturday night was the party from the 70’s. We had a DJ and dressed in tie-dye shirts, long wigs and granny glasses. This is Howard and us.
The caterers provided a chicken and rib dinner and then we danced the night away. Even the conga line was fun. Gary entered a “Name That Tune” contest, but couldn’t guess even one. When those contestants were replaced with new ones, he knew the first three new songs right away.

The whole evening was lots of fun and ended with a great song by the Rascal Flats called My Wish and some the appropriate lyrics for RVers, especially full-timers, were:
My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you're out there getting where you're getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.

A great song.

Anyway, we collapsed into bed at 10:30 but finally relaxed enough to fall asleep at 11:30. I had to set the alarm because we needed to get up at 7 am for the Rally’s end breakfast. It was so hard saying goodbye to everyone- there were lots of hugs and handshakes and photos. Here's Dennis and Susanne White from Marshalberg, NC.

We finally got on the road around 12 pm and the traffic was outrageous. We had to make a left across three lanes of traffic and get across two more to the far side of the highway. Gary finally had to just go out into the highway and people waited for him to get into traffic going south. Whew.

We found our campground in 15 minutes and Billy was there to greet us. We knew our spot and Gary drove up and turned to back in. Now, usually we do this very slowly and it’s just him and me. But Alvin decided to help, and Gary wasn’t watching me telling him to avoid the fence at the right front bumper. OUCH. There goes the fence rail and Bella got some scratches. We did get parked, but Gary was pretty embarrassed. Alvin told us to not even worry about the rail, but we offered to fix and paint it. There was mostly paint on Bella, and I thought I’d try toothpaste to get it off (slightly abrasive) and it worked. Unfortunately, the scrapes did go down to the fiberglass, but I used my fingers to cover them with our touch-up paint.

It’s not too bad, but poor Bella. What did we learn from this experience? To ONLY park her ourselves and to go slowly.

Here we are all set up and enjoying the beautiful weather. We had some firewood delivered and will enjoy a campfire tomorrow. It’s supposed to rain Tuesday through Saturday with pop-up showers, but hopefully no severe stuff. We’re really exhausted tonight, but I made some Speedy Eggplant Parmesan which was delicious.

Thank you, Linda and Howard, for another memorable experience that we can add to our story of ‘Life on the Road’.