When I was 24, I spent the summer working in Santa Cruz, CA, at a beautiful conference center. It was there that I met Melissa, a sweet college student from Colorado. We had a fabulous summer working together and serving the campers and counselors alongside one another.
Melissa and I kept in touch over the years, and Jim and I have had the opportunity to prayerfully and financially support her and her husband John in their full-time work with The Navigators.
As it were, Melissa and John live and serve in Jacksonville, FL, but we have yet been able to coordinate our schedules when we are down in St. Augustine on our vacations, so I haven’t seen Melissa since that summer in California.
But! This summer, Melissa and John have lived in Pigeon Forge, ministering to and serving as mentors to scores of college students from all over the country who are spending their summers as Dollywood employees.
In June, Melissa emailed me to invite our family to stay with them for the weekend (they’ve been put up in a furnished condo) and to take advantage of the Dollywood passes that they can receive for guests. They only had two weekends available to host us, but one of those fit our schedule perfectly!
So, the kids and I picked up Jim from work on a Friday afternoon, and headed east. Surprisingly, both Seth and Erin did well traveling and sleeping (a pack n’ play for Erin and te air mattress for Seth, both in our room!), and we were all raring to go bright and early Saturday morning.
I was SO impressed with Dollywood. The park is immaculate and gorgeous, and it is SO kid friendly. We actually didn’t do much at all (we rode the steam engine, saw a play, rode the antique cars, and had a funnel cake – that’s it!), but we had the best day!
Obviously, the highlight for Seth was the train ride. We timed it perfectly to park, walk in, and walk right up to the boarding train. How I managed NOT to get a picture of him is beyond me. Shame, shame, phot0-mommy. But here are a couple other cute passengers:
Dolly Parton is AWESOME. For many reasons. One of which is her Imagination Library, which is an early childhood literacy program, which provides an age-appropriate book to every child in Tennessee, every month, from birth until they enter kindergarten, FREE.
Did you catch that? A book, to every kid, every month, for five years, FREE. And these aren’t just cheap, 5-page books. These are beautiful, well-written, hand-illustrated stories, both classic and contemporary. We have LOVED the books we’ve received for Seth, and that we are starting to get for Erin.
One of the best books we’ve gotten this year is Otis, by Loren Long. Listen up. If you have a little boy, GET THIS BOOK. So beautifully illustrated, so wonderfully written. GET IT.
Okay, so there is the back story…
This summer, one of the playhouse’s at Dollywood was featuring three of the book from the 2011 Imagination Library list, and Otis was one of them. Now, when I saw this one on the schedule, I thought, “oh, they’re gonna read Otis. That’ll be cool.” Um, no. They don’t read it…they act it out, in full costume, and there are awesome songs that Dolly herself wrote to accompany the story. Coolest. Thing. Ever. Check it out!
After the show, all Seth wanted to do was ride the antique cars that we saw from the train, so off we went in search of that ride. And I need to note here, that Melissa sweetly brought us a frozen lemonade while we waited in line, and little miss, desperately thirsty, I think, mastered the straw. Whoo-hoo, Erin!
And then, of course, sugar. We needed sugar, because, clearly, between the heat and the fun and the no-breakfast, it was time for an intervention:
And for the record, the four adults SPLIT the funnel cake. And yes, there is a funnel cake under all the ice cream and strawberries.
After some much needed down time at, as Seth would say, "Mr. John and Miss Weesa’s house” and a drive up the strip from Pigeon Forge into Gatlinburg, everybody was feeling rested and cooled off and ready for a night of fun.
We hit up a local Italian spot for dinner; my pasta was average (I can make it as good if not better) but Jim and John split a pizza and Jim said it was good enough to go back for. We’ll see. We are going to Gatlinburg for an anniversary getaway in October… Anyway. Dinner. Yum. (And I love Seth’s face in this photo…he sure did take to John.)
After dinner, we decided to tackle putt-putt (and holy cow, does Pigeon Forge have a variety of places to putt-putt!) But we chose a farm-themed course (again, free, thanks to our great host’s discount!), and got to it. It was Seth’s first time on a mini-golf course, and he rocked it!