Anniversary week and fall break

Our anniversary fell on a Saturday this year, and while last year’s anniversary celebration was bigger and better, this year was just as sweet. There was no trip, no big event to signify No. 17, no big gifts or hurrahs. Just a lazy day at home and a lovely dinner in town, just the two of us. Contentment means life is good wherever you are.

Our anniversary kicked off fall break, so the week has been punctuated by long runs (me), hunting (Chuck and Jeremy), and lots of sleeping in and reading (Jackson).

Yesterday we went to Dollywood, the one thing we said we’d do over fall break. We had season passes in 2011, and I’m pretty sure we took the boys again in 2012 or 2013, but my memory fails me so I can’t be sure. Regardless, it’s been a minute since we’ve been to Dollywood.

Much like our experience last summer at Hershey Park, we rode a few coasters together, then the old people bowed out. Jeremy and Jackson love riding roller coasters together, which is a gift to these two parents. Have at it, boys. Have at it.

As the day wore down and the crowds increased, we ran into Jimmy and the kids (Lesli arrived later, but we missed her!). Since Jimmy was flying solo for a couple of hours, we stepped in as co-pilots for a few rides.

Be still my heart when Catherine, the sweet, shy introvert who takes her time with people, insisted I ride a kiddie coaster with her! Foolish to resist, I agreed enthusiastically and off we went to stand in line. She instructed me on how to hold her close on the ride – just like Mama does – and even held her arms in the air on the last go around. I’ve been around this little one since birth, since she eagle-eyed me in the hospital: 

Now she snaps pictures with me willingly, not shy, not reserved, and I couldn’t be happier:

The other thing I’ve done over fall break is clean out the boys’ closets and dressers. They are blessed with so many hand-me-downs that I haven’t bought clothes for them in years. After sorting through the many things I found underneath Jackson’s bed, I held my breath at this last little gem – a note from Jeremy to Jackson, many years old now:

It is a sweet reminder that while we may be in a rough season of picking and prodding, there is love there. Thank goodness, y’all, because 11 and 14 are tough ages. I’ll take every reminder I can get.

Roller Coaster Rider

Before Saturday morning, the only roller coaster I had ever been on was the piddly one at Lake Winnie in North Georgia. Most enthusiasts would hardly call it a coaster, but to me, it was more thrill than I could handle and that was well more than a decade ago.

When we purchased Dollywood season passes this spring, I never intended to ride the roller coasters. I mean, why would I? They were above my risk level, the boys couldn’t ride them anyway, and I like keeping my food down. (Also, I bungee jumped 10 years ago and wound up with the worst migraine I’ve ever had.) Resigned to my “Safety First” mentality, the first time we visited the park, the boys and I sat out while Chuck rode a few on his own. It didn’t bother me one bit to watch with both feet on the ground.

However, Chuck and I had Saturday morning to ourselves, and as season pass holders, we could get into the park an hour early. With my game face on, we woke up with the sun and got to Dollywood at 8:30 a.m. with the explicit purpose of putting these old bones on a roller coaster.

Or three.

Nervous knots do not even begin to explain the physical state I was in. I warned Chuck about potentially explosive diarrhea, or maybe I’d only make it through one ride and decide to sit out the rest. There were no promises. My stomach churned with anxiety. Upon seeing the parking lots signs for Dollywood, my arms and legs trembled. I began a series of nervous yawns and my teeth chattered.  Good Lord, why did I agree to this? 

Chuck made sure to point out all the little happy children running to the roller coasters with such enthusiasm, and here was I being so silly. Yes, well lots of people run to their eminent death when they are totally and utterly clueless. 

The first ride was the Mystery Mine. I climbed the staircase at a snail’s pace, but it was to no avail – there was no line, no one waiting before us. We sat in front, I was strapped in, I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and quietly weeped inside. This is nuts. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… 

The Mystery Mine spins you every which way in all directions, including upside down with two vertical drops. The first time was miserable, I won’t lie. I saw nothing and made no sound. Sweat poured from my hands as I gripped the metal harness for dear life. For some insane reason, I was talked into riding it again. The second time I peeped an eye open twice and squealed. The third time I kept my eyes open about a quarter of the time and screamed throughout most of the ride. The fourth time I kept my eyes open about 75 percent of the time – including when we went upside down. I screamed until I couldn’t scream anymore.

The Thunderhead wasn’t nearly as scary (despite the 100-foot drop), but I also kept my eyes closed through the entire first ride on the off-chance the coaster rolled off its track or the wooden beams broke at the bend. (You never know!) By the fourth time on the Thunderhead, I was wide-eyed and screaming with excitement. Again, there were no lines and virtually no waiting, so we’d have a turn and run back to the gate to go again.

After eight runs, we rode once on the Tennessee Tornado, which is a looping, spinning, 70 mph thrill that left both of us wanting to hurl. It was a 30-second ride with five loops or something ridiculous like that. When it ended, we wobbled down the stairs and agreed we were finished.

I give myself three stars – one for guts, one for determination, and one for not having explosive diarrhea. Thank you, Chuck, for making me go. Sorry for digging my fingernails into your bones.


We cashed in our 401K to buy season passes to Dollywood.  No not really, but we could have. It isn’t cheap, but my hope is that by the end of the season (December) the passes will have been well worth it. We have unlimited access to Dollywood as well as Splash Country, which will come in handy on those 95-degree/100 percent humidity days in July and August. The passes also gain us discounted entrance to other area attractions, like the Knoxville Zoo, and a small discount on food inside the parks as well.

Our first trip to Dollywood was yesterday and it really was a lot of fun. Lines were wonderfully short (or non-existant) and there were plenty of rides we could all enjoy. Of course, there’s an entire string of roller coasters and other rides that are only for bigger kids and adults, but that’s okay. There are plenty for the little ones to ride. (And my hope is that Splash Country will more than make up for the difference.)

To save money on the first trip, I packed our lunches and it was only a quick trip on the tram back to our car to eat. Sure, it was out of the way but not entirely undoable. However, after smelling the fragrant temptation of fair food throughout the park, Chuck was the first to remark, “Those better be some good ham and cheese sandwiches in the car.”  No doubt.

Overall, it was a good day. The boys expired around 4 p.m., a good six hours after we arrived, and once they realized we can go back as many times as we want throughout the summer and fall, they were really thrilled and thankful they have such amazingly cool parents.