Monday, December 19, 2011

Atlanta


We did it (with sighs of relief). After 8,000 miles, we made it to Atlanta, the last stop on this leg of our journey, where Great Grandma Jane and Great Grandpa Harold welcomed us with open arms. Here we collapsed into a puddle of extreme laziness. During our week and a half stay, Grandma and Grandpa kept trying to talk us into various excursions....museums, the zoo, etc, only to be met with the same response every time. "Nope we just want to hang out with you and relax." They graciously opened their home to us and we got to spend lots of time with them. Grandpa taught the boys how to play poker and solitaire. He drug the canoe up from the bushes and launched into their pool so the boys could paddle around. Grandma, a talented painter, sat and looked through Aaron's sketchbooks with him and praised him for paintings he painted on the side of a birdhouse.  When I wasn't cleaning the camper van, doing laundry, or lazing about drinking tea, I would commandeer their kitchen, super-duper excited to cook and thrilled to have a fridge that would stay cold and fit anything I wanted to buy. 

At the end of the week, family began to pour in for Grandpa's 88th birthday weekend-long celebration starting with a traditional Shabbat dinner Friday evening with immediate family. The blessings sung in Hebrew over the wine and bread were really beautiful.  We felt very lucky for the boys to witness some of their heritage and to share in this tradition. On Saturday we celebrated at a nice restaurant where Grandma and Aunt Robin had organized a delicious three-course private dinner where we all ate too much. And on Sunday there was a lovely brunch at Grandma and Grandpa's house with forty extended family members including Grandpa's brother and sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins. It was really fun to mingle with such an interesting and intelligent group of people, getting to know them better and photographing them whenever I had a chance. 

So after a week and a half of relaxation interspersed with camper van cleaning and prep for storage (including an oil change in the parking lot of a Pep Boys, where a homeless man came up to Jason and the following conversation took place: 
Homeless guy: Do you live in that camper van?
Jason: I sure do.
Homeless guy (sympathetically): I understand, I'm living under that bridge over there,
we dropped off Sylvia, tucked her under her brand-new camper van cover, and on December 6 boarded an airplane for home where we will celebrate the holidays with friends and family, play hockey, ski, and enjoy where we live until mid-February when we board a plane again to pick up where we left off. 

Click here for photos.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Smokies



Thanksgiving found us in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Since we arrived late in the season, all of the leaves had dropped, carpeting the ground and allowing open views into the forest and beautiful views of the layers and layers of blue mountains stretching into the distance. I am sure that it is spectacular when the leaves are in full color. We learned that the park contains the largest number of preserved buildings from Appalachian settlements. Our favorite was an old grist mill where the boys loved watching the chain reaction of the stream flowing into the water wheel, turning the giant gears that moved the mill stones that ground the corn into cornmeal. 

As it turns out some of the weirdness we experienced in Gatlinburg spills over here, the most visited park in the U.S.  People are what we would call "different" here. This is the only national park we have visited where it felt like a tailgating party with people hanging out their windows, tailgates open with people dangling out of the back, populated lawn chairs in the beds of trucks, as we sat stuck in traffic on the clogged roads. Everyone seemed in the know but us. We passed "basketball-shaped people," as Isaac described them, illegally gathering firewood in the woods, smiling at us as we drove by. After spending hours stuck in traffic taking in the views and watching the "wildlife" we found a campsite where Aaron and Jason went on an extended Owl search party. After they returned empty handed with reports of many owl shaped branches that required careful investigation, I whipped up a delicious chicken stew while we snuggled  in the camper van and counted our blessings.  

Click here for photos.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gatlinburg



We pictured Gatlinburg as a quaint little town, outdoorsy and earthy, snuggled up next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The drive there was both beautiful and a little strange.  It looked seriously poverty-stricken as we drove by ramshackle houses, the occasional tent, and loads of people living in RV's, and then, all of a sudden, a golf course with vacation cabins and condos scattered across the hillsides. The contrast was a little astonishing. As we neared the town we started seeing giant, for the lack of a better word, tacky Christmas decorations lining the road. Heavy rain was in the forecast so we opted to spend the first night in a hotel in an attempt to keep the camper van dry so that boys' bed would not freeze in the upcoming below-freezing nights. Upon checking into our hotel with a Daniel Boone mini-golf course out front (complete with intermittent explosion noises), we discovered that we had landed in a crazy theme park town including two Dolly Parton amusement parks. Driving down the main street we saw Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not theme parks scattered throughout town, a Dukes of Hazard museum (very educational, I am sure), and more air-soft gun/sword/remote-control-helicopter/tae-kwon-do shops than anyone would have dreamed possible, which made us feel like we were passing through a surreal, southern, hill-billy interpretation of Disney World. Not exactly what we were expecting.

Click here for through-the-window snapshots.