Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Family Time!

What a great weekend. Mandy and her husband, Joe, daughter Ainsley and son Jack arrived with Gary’s mom, Eunice around 7:30 on Friday night (just a little traffic on the road). We got them settled into their cabin, then brought Eunice home to our coach and the couch. Since we planned to get an early start, we hung out at our campfire for a little while roasting marshmallows, then we all hit the sack.

The weather was perfect for a Saturday in Dollywood. We started with a Bojangles breakfast and then joined the line of others entering the park. Fortunately, Granny (Eunice) has a handicapped tag so we followed the blue dotted line into the handicapped parking area where we could walk into the gates. Everyone had a free ticket, so we strolled right in. Mandy headed up to the serious roller coasters as Joe and I helped the kids drive the 1950’s cars. What little kid doesn’t like the carousel? Poppy thought he’d win a guitar with a bucket of rings. Only one had to stay on a bottle, but not one did. At the top of the ferris wheel our son, Tristan called. So, how many of you have received a call on top of a ferris wheel? Cool. Even Granny enjoyed this ride. After a lunch of chicken and burgers, we looked at the Eagle sanctuary. It was unusual to see so many bald eagles in one place. They are so majestic, no wonder we chose it as America’s Freedom symbol. This barn own was looking at Ainsley a little too closely for her comfort. Before we knew it, we were hungry again, and since we did everything in the park that we wanted to, the kids used their Dolly Dollars to get a souvenir and we headed to the parking lot.

Father’s Day is coming up, and Joe was such a good sport all day, we promised him that we would go to Bass Pro Shop to get him a gift he had been craving and have dinner. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the one he wanted, but he did get a fish scale. The kind you weigh fish on, that is. We had dinner in the shop Grill, and this is what I ate: a pesto cheese and tomato pizza on flatbread with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I could only eat half, so took the other half home for another day.

The kids were exhausted and fell asleep on the way home. We were all tired, and hit the sack early, for the next day was Dollywood Splash Country day. It dawned bright and sunny with record temperatures predicted. We headed out for breakfast to Gatlinburg flapjacks. Delicious! Then on to Splash Country for water fun. We all had a blast and it was challenging to get moving water pictures. But here are a few:

We had a BBQ planned, but first Joe had to drive back to Bass Pro Shop to retrieve a forgotten credit card. Gary and Mandy ran to the store for some veggies, so I took the kids fishing with a hot dog and metal detecting. Before we got to the river, Jack heard a beep and the detector’s light flashed. He had found something! We didn’t think to bring anything to dig with, and there was nothing lying on the surface, so we used a sharp stone and dug like crazy. It still beeped, but we couldn’t dig deep enough, plus we were in the middle of the road. We gave up and headed to the river. We stuck a piece of hotdog on the hook, saw some little fish in the shadows and Jack tossed the line in. The fish swarmed the hot dog and Jack started reeling it in. Ugh oh, it got stuck on a log for good, and I had to cut the line. Bummer. We cut up the rest of the hot dog and fed the fish. They loved it. Now I know what to use for bait. Ainsley found a pretty barrette on the way home and I spotted half a robin’s egg. We had a great dinner and made s’mores using giant marshmallows – which I suggest you don’t use for s’mores, but just roasting and eating. Later that night, our boss called as asked us if we could work at Splash Country at 9 am. Ummmm, how about 12? That gave us some time to have one last breakfast with the fam before they had to head home. Pictures, packing and last time hugs with promises of driving safely and they were gone, and we got ready for work.

We started out in an assembly line for the menu items completing burgers, chicken tenders and grilled chicken sandwiches. It was 96 degrees outside the kitchen and I wish I knew how hot it was inside the kitchen. Our break found us at a patio table behind the host office with a cup of mini-melts for me and two chocolate chip cookies for Gary. We enjoyed our 45 minutes, and when we got back, I went to the Side Porch register, but Gary stayed on line. Then I wrapped 1200 cookies, sorted salad dressings, filled ice containers and then it was time to clean up. Since we were new that day, we got to clean the floors of all the grease. It took about 45 minutes to sweep and scrub them, but we didn’t have to rinse!! At 6:45 we were done (and done-in), limped over to the time clock and limped to the car. Tired beyond belief. Every bone and muscle was screaming ‘what do you think you are – 20??’ Enough of that job.

We actually were able to get up this morning for chemo, and once again, Gary slept and I read (and finished!) my book. We went home and fell into bed again, but didn’t sleep too long. We really didn’t want to waste the rest of this beautiful day, so climbed into the Jeep for some exploring in the cool Smokies. The Sugarland Visitor Center is also a museum and there is a short film about the Smokies which was very enlightening. It also has two hiking trails which we will come back to do on a cooler day and with proper footwear. I picked up a book on waterfall walks in the Smokies and NC mountains that was recommended to me by dear friend, Terri. We can’t wait until they finish clearing the trails due to the recent storms so we can do some hiking. Maybe in a couple more weeks…

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Storms and the Little Things

Today is our last day of work until next Wednesday. We were scheduled for Tuesday, but Gary will have to remind them that he needs Tuesday off for treatments all summer. Fortunately Dollywood has been closed on Tuesdays, but beginning this week they will be open every day. We also composed a letter asking if we could come back to work this fall after a visit to Raleigh in August.

We are expecting our daughter and her family and Gary’s mom tomorrow for Memorial Day weekend, and we are really excited to see how much the kids have grown. We haven’t seen them for a long time, and the weather will be perfect the whole weekend!

We’ll see how work goes today as there are severe thunderstorms and hail predicted for this afternoon. A gusty wind picked up last night and at 2 am I went out to untether the awning and put it in. It has an automatic sensor that we don’t use (we remove the fuse) because we find it too sensitive. A tiny gust of wind will make it retract, and although we don’t hang lights on our awning, we do have a little hanging philodendron and our Coleman lantern on each corner. But we are not foolhardy. That thing is very expensive to replace, plus it could do a lot of damage to the coach if left out during strong winds. We make it a policy to always put it in when we leave camp (unless promised to be a perfect day) but especially if winds are predicted to be 15 mph or higher. I am a risk taker, and it bothers me that other campers didn’t put anything away when the tornados were predicted, and nothing happened to them. But common sense rules in this case, and even though I’d like to leave things status quo, we don’t. We just don’t take that risk. Bigger risks, yes. Like going full-timing. Still loving that.

As predicted, around 5pm the lightning shut down the rides, and people started to file past my Show Street Lemonade stand on their way home. However, they all wanted to buy something for the ride. The thunder and lightning were getting closer and it was getting dark. A collegue came to say ‘shut down your shop’ and just as he did, the rains came – along with hail and a wind that blew everything off of every shelf and even the hat off my head (and I use bobby pins to hold it on)! I was drenched in about 20 seconds with people screaming all over the place running for shelter. I quickly covered the register, then grabbed the cotton candy and bags of chips escaping over the side, stepping on cups and lids all over the floor. The wind kept whipping trays and straws down the road as the hail gradually turned to rain and the wind decreased to maybe 20 mph. The bad part was over in about 5 minutes, enough to turn our pretty stream into flowing mud and land a tree on the zip line. This weather – I don’t know…

I closed the register, clocked out and went to help Gary and Kathy in Sausage Works. They were still cooking, but were soon told to close, and then the cleaning started. We got out of there at 7:20 and drove home looking at some more ominous clouds over the mountains. We didn’t know what we’d find at home, but we knew we’d find our awning all curled up like we left it. We also noticed that no one else had done anything to prepare for the storm. The sign we made was on the ground and the rug had blown up a little, but the little hummer feeder was still stuck on the windshield. It’s the little things that matter sometimes, right?

We hope you are safe and sound where ever you are.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Storms and Dollywood

Well, I got all ready to post this blog last night but Blogger was ‘offline’ or something. Apparently Facebook was too, said Gary. So this posted on Thursday morning before work.

Monday we were getting ready to go to work, and as I was packing my phone, I checked for messages. Ugh, oh – a call from my boss. “Peggy, you need to be at Show Street Lemonade at 12 o’clock.” It was 12:08 and we weren’t even ready for our scheduled 1 o’clock start time. We grabbed things and made a call to let them know we were on our way. I asked if I had screwed up, and he said it wasn’t me, it was them and not to rush, just get here asap. Fortunately, work is only 10 minutes away and I clocked in at 12:18 while Gary parked the jeep.

Sunday night there had been a severe storm over Dollywood where someone had even spotted a funnel cloud. It hit around 5:30 and only took 10 minutes to rip branches, leaves and guests all over the place. One little girl was hit in the face by a piece of signage and, for precaution, was taken to the hospital. Water ran easily down the hills and into stores and restaurants, people took shelter where ever they could, but the park stayed open. Once again, our hearts go out to all those affected by this terrible weather we have been experiencing.

In my frozen lemonade stand, everything was soaked (I have no walls), so before I opened up, everything had to be dried off. There was no time that night to salvage things, I guess. But the weather was hot and sunny reaching 90 some degrees and I was doing a brisk business that didn’t stop until someone came to give me a break. We finally closed up and got home around 8:30. Whew.

Tuesday was chemo day and we showed up at 10:15 but were told that Gary’s lab tests were read and fine, but now they had to defrost the Ontak for an hour. We drove home, I made brownies for the potluck this evening and threw in a load of wash. We drove back to the hospital and they were ready for him – in a private room, no less. He got his Benadryl and went promptly to sleep. I read my book. Home again, another load of wash while Gary slept off his drugs until 5 when it was time to leave.

We met Phil and Diana, Jim and Meghan and Richard and Sandy on the way down the hill from the parking lot and signed in at the barn dropping our door prize tickets in the basket. A welcome from the RV Coordinator, Pam Wood, and then we got in line to eat the goodies we all brought. Let me tell you, RVers are GREAT cooks! Here’s my plate:
After dinner it was door prize time. We had three tickets in the basket and we won three times! What are the chances of that??? Now if the Lottery would just come through... We got a Splash Country mug, a visor and a cap as prizes. Our friends who all won prizes, too! This is Jim and Meghan behind us in a Dutch Star, This is Sandy and Richard, friends visiting Meghan and Jim And this is Phil and Diana and us We gave a huge applause to oldest working couple at 78 years old and going strong! Wonderful!! Then we all herded out to have our picture taken and we ran into Chris and John whom we met in our Kissimmee campground. They are working in catering this year. It was a good time, although brief, but we see most of us on a regular basis either in Dollywood or in our campgrounds anyway. It was a beautiful evening, light until after nine, and we sat out looking for hummers. I got my feeders out for them this morning, but no takers yet that I have seen.

But it is Thursday morning and we have hummers! I love them at the huge windshield feeder, but I have three up now. I will try to catch them with my camera soon.

Right now, we've got to get ready for a 91 degree day at work.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Perfect Day

The perfect day for a hike and tour of Cades Cove! After I packed a picnic lunch, we loaded our walking sticks, knapsack and binoculars, put the top down on the Jeep and headed west on 321. I wanted to take the scenic tour along Laurel Creek Road within the Smokies to the entrance of the 11 mile loop road through Cades Cove instead of the highways. First we got a little gas at $3.58, the lowest so far in Tennessee, then entered the cove. There are pulloffs along the one way narrow road and when there’s a pileup, that means there’s something to see. We came upon a bunch of cars pulled over and discovered they were looking at a bear just at the edge where the forest met a field. Gary got a glimpse as I was getting my telephoto lens on, but then he took off into the woods. (The bear, not Gary)

The first house was the John Oliver cabin built in 1818, the oldest cabin in Cades Cove – very tiny, as you can see.

The primitive Baptist Church was established in 1827 and some of the earliest settlers were buried in its cemetery. I love looking at old gravestones. Here a couple of more interesting ones. Our next stop was the cable mill area with the original grist mill, blacksmith shop, LeQuire cantilever barn, millrace and dam, and sorghum mill. A horse or mule pulled this long pole in a circle pulling the canes through the rollers releasing the juice which was later boiled down in to molasses.

My favorite place that I could have moved right into was the Dan Lawson place built in 1856. It was in a lovely location with unsurpassed views. Can you imagine leveling a house with these 'jacks'? Yet all the homes had piled up rocks under their corners.

Another stop was a parking lot where only I saw these wild turkeys. They were totally unconcerned with me and walked right by. But we were hungry and carried on to the picnic area finding a table near a little stream (along with 150 other people), but we soon found a hiking trail and went or a quiet walk uphill. We did want to hike to the Abrams Falls, but the trail (and many others) was closed due to the huge storms a few weeks ago. They hope to have them open before Memorial Day weekend, but that is in one week, so we’ll have to return.

We arrived home just in time to hear about severe thunderstorms heading our way, so we hurried to get the jeep top up as we heard thunder and saw some lightning approaching over our mountain. It turned out to be more severe north of us, however Dollywood employees returning around 8 pm said they had lost power, trees were down and they even had hail. Dollywood is approximately 5 miles to the east of us, and all we got was a little rain. I am beginning to appreciate our little tucked-away campground that seems to hide from storms. We put our awning in, but most people here didn’t even do that when there were tornado warnings. The sun came out around 8:30, and the mallard boys came round to visit, along with many friends on the feeder. I have been wondering if there were any hummingbirds around here, and just as I voiced my question, one landed on our ‘dead tree’! I had my camera handy, and snapped this photo, and went inside immediately to boil up some syrup. They feast tomorrow.

We have to work tomorrow, but today was pure joy. I think retirement and RVing are the best career choices I have made so far.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Slight Change in Plans

We woke up to gray clouds and some drizzle. Not a good day for hiking, so we went to plan B. We started out with breakfast at cozy Cracker Barrel on the way to the Giant Flea Market near Hwy 40. We meandered through the junk there only finding a torque wrench that was suggested having on hand at the seminars during our RV-Dreams rally. It was $35 and we thought about it, but moved on. Gary picked up some tiny batteries that might fit in our pedometer. It might be interesting to see how far we walk some days.

Around 12:30 we came home and we played with our $5 rosebush from Lowe’s, which ended up costing near $20 after we got a pot, dirt and the little impatiens. Gary had designed the trellis back in Florida and placed it near some ground-planted roses next to our site. There are stones around our sites here, so it was impossible to stick it in the ground. We made it work, and here is a photo of the finished product. I worked on the computer for a few hours researching jobs and Gary washed the Jeep.

For dinner we decided to go see Dixie Stampede. We made reservations citing our Dollywood employment and arranged to pick up our tickets at the gate. The pre-show entertainment started at 7:15 which was a musical show with three great string players: banjo, bass and guitar/fiddle/mandolin. We enjoyed the music while sipping on a non-alcoholic strawberry daiquiri in a boot-shaped cup and a little popcorn. Then we were ‘herded’ into the main arena to our seats and table settings. The audience is divided into the North and South. We were in the Yankee section, which rankled Gary a little bit, but I got my Yankee spirit out of mothballs and hooted and hollered with the best of them. (we still lost). No photos were allowed during the show, but here’s a shot of us courtesy of our waitress.

The show was great with competitive games like racing piglets, lumberjacks, a live herd of buffalo and horse riding stunts. There was a lot of audience participation in the arena, too, from little kids to grown men playing a game of horseshoes with toilet seats. (the North won that one). A lot of food, too: a whole roasted chicken, potato slice, corn, soup, biscuits, something unidentifiable (I think it was ham based) and an apple turnover for dessert. The best part – doggie bags! Gary and I both brought home our chickens for dinner tonight after work.

So we’re slowly getting ready for work which will end around 9:30 tonight. Gary is nearly always in the sausage pit, but I never know where I’ll be until I get there. And tomorrow is going to be hot and sunny, so we will definitely plan a trip to Cades Cove. Really looking forward to that (as long as there are no bears).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Couple of Different Days

First, let me thank all of you who are following our stationary adventures. I absolutely love to read all your comments!

I have a question for you. We are looking for a GPS and I noticed that there is a new Rand McNally TripMaker RVND 5510 out that includes RVers as their target audience. It includes weight and height restrictions, sharp curves, breadcrumb trail availability, etc. etc. We have RV’d just over a year now, and thought one especially for RVers would soon emerge on the market. I think this is one of the first, but wondered if anyone is anxious to purchase it. If so, what features are your favorites? What would you like to see that is doesn’t have? Which one do you have (if) and what do you like/dislike about it?

Yesterday and today we were asked to work at Dollywood’s Splash Country putting cups together and programming them. Each one has a chip inside the bottom that can be programmed for one day use or all season use. The old red and blue cups needed new white bottoms and tops and reprogramming. The green cups just needed programming. Yesterday we started work at 10:30 and worked till 4:30 and today we started at 9:30 and finished at 4pm. Sounds easy, but as you can see, there was a lot of lifting of boxes, banging lids on, cutting old bottoms off and running around. [by he way, we did not stack these boxes] Each box has 32 cups! We did not sit down at all except for lunch which we ate in Dollywood. Here we are on our own golfcart! Yeeha!

Yesterday it was coldish so we had a delicious BBQ sandwich with fries at Hickory House, but today it was fabulous weather and we had pizza at Victoria’s. We got a free lunch with our “Thanks a Lunch” tickets we earned due to high volume one Saturday, but paid $10 for our pizzas and drinks today.

We stopped into HR to pick up our photo with Dolly. Here it is! Sorry it's so small.
And on a beautiful note: this is what we see everyday going to work. Inspirational, no? [and then you get to work....]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain, Cold and Chemo

Dollywood is closed today and it’s Gary’s day for chemo. We arrived at the center early, because the Ontak has to defrost to be mixed, and they won’t begin that process until, as they put it, they “see the whites of his eyes”. If he didn’t show, and it had been defrosted ahead of time, they would have to dispose of it, and it is very costly. After Gary konked out because of the Benadryl, I turned off the TV and picked up where I left off last week in my book. Suddenly, the power went off and the back up generator came on. The nurses scurried around as the machines started beeping on all the patients. About 30 seconds later, the power was restored and all was quiet once again. Did my hubby even notice? No, he was in dreamland.

A few hours later, we woke him up and I drove him home. We had soup and sandwich for lunch as it was only about 45 degrees and raining. Yesterday at work it was raining on and off, but the 30 busloads of kids didn’t care one bit. Of course they rode every water ride and were soaking wet, but perfectly happy in 50 degree weather and cleaned me out of cotton candy as they were heading for the bus home. I don’t remember going to amusement parks on school field trips. I thought that school trips needed to be educational. I wonder what they learned in Dollywood??

We have to work tomorrow and Thursday, but we sure are looking forward to Friday, our next day off. It should be around 83 and sunny, so we are planning a trip to Cades Cove in the Smokies. I’m packing a picnic and my camera for a day back in nature. Can’t wait!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whistle While You Work

We have been working since Thursday which is why I haven't posted. We get up, eat breakfast, do a couple chores (like wash work clothes), dress and go to work. Then we come home, crash and get up the next day and do it all over again.

Yesterday was a 10 hour day for me, but I did enjoy it. I was selling MiniMelts (Dolly's version of Dippin' Dots, the tiny little balls of ice cream) near the newest thrill ride: The Barnstormer - dueling giant swings. A might noisy, I must say, as my ears rang long after the ride closed. I had to close the register by myself, which involves four forms, three cash bags and a calculator. It took me 45 minutes to make sure I had it right and then another 15 minutes to get down the mountain to the "bank", make my deposit, put the forms in the correct place and clock out. Gary was waiting for me, dear hubby, and was really worried that I had been swallowed up forever. He had finished up at 8 and had been waiting all that time.

Anyhow, we have to work today and tomorrow. Gary has chemo on Tuesday and I'm getting a haircut, we work Wednesday and Thursday, but have Friday off. Boy are we looking forward to Friday. We are working 5 day work weeks again and sure wish our paychecks reflected that. But the money sure is nice, even if it is a couple of nickels we can rub together...

So if you don't hear much for the next couple days, you'll know we are working and whistling all the way to the bank. Someday soon I hope I'll have something interesting to tell you. Hang in there...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On the Pigeon River

Last night we heard some very tragic news. Our Team Lead at Dollywood, John, had died of a heart attack on the golf course that afternoon. I find it spooky to think that I just saw him on Sunday at work, and will never see him again. A severe reminder of how mortal we are and how precious time really is. You take for granted you’ll make it to the next day if you’re relatively healthy, but sometimes you must not take anything for granted. Another reason we are doing this now, not later. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family and friends and co-workers.

The temperature was supposed to be a record high today, so where else better to spend it than in a nice cool river? Last week I noticed the River Rage outfit in Townsend down the road a bit from us. I called them and asked Elvira if we could use our own inflatable kayak, but take advantage of their shuttle. She said sure and we planned it for today – the best weather day of the week. It was a tubing and kayaking rental place with a BBQ restaurant that would give you a 10 percent discount if you used their facilities. Gray led and I followed him to our take out point and parked the Jeep in the shade. He gave me a ride back to Gary while we talked about his desire to become a fulltime RVer as soon as his youngest ‘flew the nest’.

The ride took about 10 minutes and he watched us at work putting together our SeaEagle kayak.
We love this thing because it is the perfect kayak for RVers. It only takes 15 minutes or less to seaworthy shape, and less to put away. Everything fits in a foldable bag except the paddles for which I made a bag. I gave it to Gary for his birthday present back in December of ’09. I think we’ve used it about 7 times by now and in some pretty rough water, but it is a class IV rapids 420x and we’ve hit a lot of rocks and tree limbs with not even a scratch. Like today.

The river was low (considering the enormous flooding of the western rivers) and they warned us that we may have to walk over some shallow rapids. Just getting in the river was interesting. We had to walk into the river climbing around boulders on slippery moss and mud covered rocks. River rocks are very smooth and round – not easy when they’re hidden in knee-deep water. But we made it into the main draw of the Pigeon River around 11:30 am for our 1 1/2 hour cruise. We only saw these two tubers who must have gotten their bums bumped numerous times on those shallow rapids.
We left them far behind and noticed the “Tree of Lost Souls” with flipflops and watershoes nailed to it.
Someone had a clever sense of humor. These geese should be heading further north soon, but first they have to raise their family of five.
There were many beautiful homes along the river with hammocks
and waterfalls. Some other creatures had homes along the river, too, in these various caves.

The water was too shallow in some places and Gary had to get out and haul me over the rocks back into the deeper water.

I wish I could have taken a few shots of the delicious-looking trout we floated over all the way to the end. I offered Gary the net we had along, but he laughed. He was sure a Ranger would see him and we’d get fined. The fishing licenses are pretty steep ($80) and I don’t think we would catch $80 worth of fish while we were here.

We don’t paddle too hard when it’s calm water,
and we did get stuck on about 10 of the 12 rapids we encountered.
The best rapids were the ones that were deep enough that we didn’t get stuck and made us feel like real rapid riders! We were getting pretty hungry and finally arrived at the Jeep at 2 o’clock – way past the time they said it would take.
We deflated the boat, dried it off, folded it up and tossed in into the back of the Jeep and headed to Little River BBQ with a screened porch dining room on the river.
We shared the chicken and rib platter with sides of coleslaw, puppies and fried okra (for Gary – I don’t touch the stuff) two rolls and quart jars of fresh iced tea. Should have taken a picture, for it sure was pretty – but here’s a pretty picture of my hubby on the porch.

We had a great day that, if we were not RVers, would never have happened. We love this life.