Oh, imaginary friends. Come. Sit on my couch and hold my photo album in your imaginary laps while I explain every single vacation photo to you in detail.
There are 428.
Seriously. That’s how many I dumped off my camera today. But, I am giving you the abridged version on the blog for the next couple of days so that I don’t have to purchase additional server space just to show you 84 pictures of Bean shooting his bow and arrow.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (Name that movie.)
Go pop some popcorn. We’ll wait.
Chris and I decided a few months ago that in order for me and our marriage to survive this school year, we needed a family vacation. Some time away to clear our heads and focus on nothing but ourselves, our kids, and all the fall our hearts could handle. Naturally, we headed to the mountains. My aunt and uncle have a little mountain house just outside of Sylva, North Carolina, so we packed up our kids, our dog, and about 20 pounds of s’mores supplies last Thursday morning and were on our way!
We got in around bedtime Thursday night, so we all went straight to bed to rest up for our big adventures on Friday. And adventures they were! We first started by mining for rubies, jewels, and gold.
I feel like we need to stop right here at the very first picture on our photo tour and let me explain this random digging for gold excursion to you. When I was a growing up, my family vacationed regularly in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee (that’s where my mom’s family is from). Now, my parents were pretty great parents. There wasn’t much that they didn’t let us try. But as often as we visited the mountains, my parents never let my sister and I mine for gold in the little stands that line all the backroads up there.
I am sure that it wasn’t some big monumental decision they made. But it just never worked out that we got to stop and mine for gold and jewels. Naturally, when Chris and I decided to go to the mountains, the first thing I said was, “AND WE ARE GOING MINING! BECAUSE I WANT TO!” So, we did.
Because that is how suburban, middle class adults who were raised in good homes rebel against their good parents. It’s the same reason I always take something from minibars when I stay in hotels.
But I digress.
The first thing you do when you stop at one of these little stands (and make sure you choose one that comes recommended from locals. Some of the stands on the sides of the roads are real ripoffs, I hear… We went to Cowee Mountain Ruby Mine because it was highly recommended and it did not disappoint!) is purchase the buckets of sand and minerals that you want to mine (incidentally, I don’t think it’s called “mining,” but I’m not sure what else to call it). We picked two medium sized buckets to share, and then you start by scooping cups of sand from your bucket into these little wooden basket-thingies.
(Don’t look at my bunched up pants in the background of this picture. I wore leggings under my pants that day because it was cold and the fabric stuck together. It was unfortunate.)
(I said stop looking!)
Next, you start shaking your wooden basket/box/thingy in the stream of water that is running through these little troughs.
And, y’all. That mountain water is COLD in October. This is definitely a spring or summer activity. I couldn’t feel my hands after about five minutes!
Anyway, you shake and you shake and you shake until all the dirt has been swept away and you are left with rocks and JEWELS! You have to sort through what’s left in your box to find the gems, but they were there and they were HUGE!
And they might have been fake, but even if they were, we had a BLAST! The kids thought it was the most fun ever. I mean, it involved dirt, mud, water, and treasure. It was a kid’s dream! They talked about it all weekend long! Every time Bean found something, you would have thought he has discovered the Heart of the Ocean. (Was that a real stone, by the way?)
Speaking of jewels, look at this boy’s eyes. They look just like his granddad’s.
We finished up at the ruby mine and decided to grab some lunch in Sylva before heading on our afternoon adventure. Sylva is an adorable town. It’s just the kind of town I would want to live in if I lived in the mountains – big enough to have everything you need, small enough that you run into family when you stop to eat lunch at Nick and Nate’s.
Seriously. That happened to us. We were eating lunch and looked over to see my Aunt Joan’s dad and brother eating at a table close by. What are the odds?
After lunch, we had about an hour to kill before heading out to Bryson City, so Chris stopped in at the local brewery that my uncle suggested. Even I had to admit, it was pretty darn cute. They had gnomes everywhere! Who doesn’t love a gnome?
So, Chris sampled the local brews and found a giant tub of his favorite kind of pretzels and all was right with the world. We left Sylva and drove across the mountain to Bryson City where we had tickets on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.
The tickets for the train are fairly expensive, so I went ahead and upgraded to private, reserved seating in a special car. I figure if you’re going to splurge, splurge big! The tickets came with these nice travel mugs that I didn’t think much about at the time I purchased the tickets a few months back. But the kids thought they were the BEST THING EVER. They were hysterical toting them around, flipping the lids open and shut, and refilling their water every 20 seconds.
I think that’s what I love about going on vacation with the kids. You never know what is going to be a hit. It might be the massive train you paid an arm and a leg to ride, or it might be the free souvenir mugs that come with the tickets. WHO KNOWS?!?!?! Way to keep us on our toes, little people!
The train ride itself was pretty spectacular for the kids. They thought the drinks and snack service on the train was the coolest, and they were mesmerized by the giant windows and all the farms passing by.
You can ride the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad all year long, and they have different events depending on the season. We had tickets to the Great Pumpkin Patch with the Peanuts gang! The train took us on a half hour ride up to this field on the side of a mountain. When you got out, there was this private, huge fall festival for us to explore. We had a hour and a half before the train left, so we got in as much excitement as we could.
We bobbed for apples with these weird PVC tube things…
We rode a wagon through the woods and down by the river…
We roasted marshmallows…
We played checkers out in these big fields that had mazes plowed all through them…
We jumped in bounce houses and slid down enormous slides…
And, of course, we visited the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch, and even picked out two pumpkins to bring home and carve ourselves!
Bean searched for the perfect pumpkin until the sun went down. Finally, he settled for one that was “almost perfect, I guess…” But the rule was that you had to be able to carry your own pumpkin, so he tested it out just to make sure he could carry it himself.
Success! (This is his determination face.)
I can’t tell you how much fun we had that day. It was the perfect start to our long weekend away.
Stay tuned for Day Two of our trip tomorrow! You’ll want to bring more popcorn…