The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. Psalm 16:6

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Road Trip, The Final Installment

Despite the sadness of saying goodbye to friends and family in Tennessee, we were thrilled to be heading to Birmingham to visit our most wonderful friends, the Henriques Family! We have been friends with Heather and Yurii for what feels like forever, and each of my three big kids considers their Henriques counterpart to be their best friend, despite having lived apart for six years now. Here's the whole gaggle of 'em!

Nathaniel and Nicholas - frighteningly more man-like...

 Gretchen and Emily...sweet friends who use many, many stamps communicating with one another...
 This is where I should put a great shot of Lillian and Hannah, but alas, I don't have one! Heather!? (Thank you, Heather!!! Here they are!!)

Here are Kathryn and Faith...

 We were able to spend a couple of days with our dear friends, playing and talking. We also visited The Church at Brook Hills and heard a really wonderful message given by David Platt. Such an encouragement! There were (A LOT!) of tears when it was time to leave. I know I can speak for my whole family when I say that we look forward to spending more precious time with them again.

We literally had miles to go before we could sleep, as it were. So, we pointed the trusty minivan southwest and traveled down to New Orleans. I had been to New Orleans on New Year's Day in 1994 when I played in the University of Miami's marching band at the Cotton Bowl. I knew it would not be as I remembered, given the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, but we were all eager to visit the city. Gustav insisted on beignets at Cafe Du Monde. So...we had beignets and cafe au laits despite the fact that it was a sultry 98 degrees outside!

 Now, the beignets rocked. The cafe au laits were incredible. But,

if I EVER have to go to the restrooms at that establishment again, I may just do someone bodily harm.

Yes, they were THAT BAD!

 Yeah, he didn't have to go to the restroom there. Hence the playful disposition. 

We spent some time driving the streets of New Orleans and then headed up to Baton Rouge where we were to spend the night. What a cool drive! Much of the highway there is elevated, dangling over the immense swamps and bayous. We discussed alligators and crocodiles at length. 

Once in Baton Rouge we had a super-fun dinner complete with fried alligator. Everyone loved it. Yep, you guessed tasted like chicken.

Once in our hotel room, Kurt took his usual spot for the night - the closet. At each hotel we made him a "Kurt nest" in the closet. He thought that was pretty stinkin' cool.
 The next day we drove down to the coast and put our feet into the unbelievably warm water of the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, it was lovely.
 The landscape was so stunningly beautiful. And the shells! So many intact shells and sand dollars. It was positively magnificent! 
 As we got closer to the ferry which would carry us all over to Galveston, we discussed the horrific hurricane which nearly wiped the city off the map in 1900. We marveled at all the tall houses on stilts, and explained why they were necessary. That evening we made it to San Antonio. Let me just say: "Such a COOL city!!" If I had to pick one place that most surprised and impressed me, I would have to say San Antonio. I really, really loved it. Our first night there we went to The Cove - featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It is a restaurant, laundromat, and a car wash. Right. I don't know who thought that was a worthwhile combination, but trust me, it is working for them. We had a delicious bison delicious! and sat outside by the playground and ping-pong table (?) While we were eating a group of guys started playing their guitars and drums and singing right there in front of us. They were really good. We were off to a very good start in San Antonio!

The next day we remembered the Alamo.

Kurt and I walked around and examined all the "canyons" (cannons) while Gustav took the big kids to the more academic portions of the museum. It was such a fun place - and FREE, which always makes it funner.

We walked the absolutely magnificent River Walk back to our hotel. Talk about beautiful. I felt like I was back in Europe. Check out how beautiful it is!
 After leaving San Antonio, we drove through forgettable western Texas and eastern New Mexico. I don't even have pictures. Just know that it was about 520 miles and 9 hours of excruciatingly brown, flat land. The following day we made it to Tucson, AZ, for a little visit with grandma.
 and a little swimming in her pool. We had all had a fantastic time on our road trip, but as we started to get nearer to home, we were anxious for our own beds and some kind of normal routine. 
On the evening of August 19th, our weary band of travelers pulled into the driveway and raced in to greet the dogs. Twenty-one days, six thousand miles, and countless wonderful experiences under our belt, we anxiously crawled into our very own beds.

This was a trip that we will remember forever. It was one big, long opportunity for memory making, and boy did we! I cannot encourage those of you with children enough to plan a road trip with your children. Short, long, near, far. You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Road Trip, Part 4

So, I promised my most wonderful friend, Heather, that I would blog today in an effort to actually finish the road trip entries sometime before our next road trip. Thanks for the little push, my friend :-)

My last entry had us landing in Pigeon Forge, TN after 2200 miles logged in the minivan, which is about 33 hours for those who like the stats. The kids were really exceptional in the car and I think I speak for all of us when I say the time together was a blessing. Once we arrived in Pigeon Forge we checked into our lodge which was perched precariously on a mountainside. The views of the lush Tennessee forests were breathtaking and the sound of the cicadas in the trees magical. The home itself was a little more run down than I would have liked, but the views and the arrival of family made up for it. Soon there were eighteen of us sharing the 8-bedroom home. Cousins quickly ran off to quiet corners to giggle and share highlights of the last year, while the adults breathed a contented sigh that vacation had come.

One of our first endeavors was to head over to MagiQuest to have a little fun and, boy, did we! What a fun and enjoyable time. Gustav and the older kids ran off to fight dragons, puzzle out riddles, and cast magic spells. Kurt and I acted as a team and had a blast. After the quests were completed we spent some time in the hall of mirrors getting ridiculously lost and loving it.

We finished the day off with some local TN BBQ and some more catching up with family. Happy tummies and happy hearts.

The following days brought plenty of adventure. We spent a day in the Smoky Mountain National Park. What a beautiful, lush place. The greenery, rivers, rolling fields, and old churches and homes were just beautiful. A wonderful time to appreciate the handiwork of God!

 Seeing as it was my 30-something-i-eth birthday, we stopped by a little riverside picnic area and enjoyed some sandwiches and cake (that was smuggled in by lots of adorable little girls!) I loved the way the bright sunshine streamed through the thick leafy canopy. It was breathtaking.

 After filling our tummies (again) we continued on through the park and found a delicious little swimming hole tucked into the forest. What a time watching all of the children swim with abandon, jump off rocks, and just be kids. Like the good old days. Gabriel's expression here says it all:
 The water was chilly, but no one seemed to care. Kurt had a blast crawling from rock to rock.

 And Gretchen learned to walk on water.

 It was really one of the most delightful days I can remember having as a family. Relaxing times in the beauty of God's lovely creation. So thankful.
 Later in the week we experienced what was probably the highlight of the family reunion for many: a zipline course through the breathtaking Tennessee forest. Most of the cousins (all except Kurt, who, sadly, was too young) suited up and set off on a 2-hour zipline tour at Foxfire Mountain. Kids and grown-ups alike had a fantastic time riding the different lines through the course, including a 1500-foot zipline!

 One of our final adventures that week was to hit the "upside-down house," a.k.a. Wonder Works. This was a brain-frying experience for those over 21. The lights, the sounds, the sheer number of people squealing, running, and crying. But, the kids, again, had a great time. Rock-climbing, hurricane chambers, puzzles, roller-coaster simulators, laser-tag, games, and a real, live bed of nails to lay down on. What's not to love?

We finished our week-long family reunion and sadly said goodbye to those we love. But the Hoyers were very excited to head down to Birmingham, AL to see their most wonderful friends, the Henriques Family!! And I'll tell you all about that, and our trip back to Cali next time :-)