Things Big and Small

Sorry about the crazy eyes, Tatum! Thanks for the party!

We recently had the joy of celebrating the marriage of some good friends at a rocking party. (All weddings should take place at distilleries... it makes for a rather good vibe.) And at this said wedding, I had the great pleasure of meeting a lovely new lady whom I hope will become a very good friend. I'm already intimidated charmed by her grace, resilience, thoughtfulness, humor...

Lukas and this lady (who shall remain nameless until given permission to publish.)
Tatum, the groom and my brother-from-another-mother, gifted us this book at the wedding as a thank you. Not only are the illustrations delightful, it is spot-on when it comes to explaining the nearly-religious experience of the Swedish coffee break known as fika. There are many things the Swedes get right - Ikea, paid family leave, candy... but fika might just top the list (although 18 months paid maternity leave is hard to beat!)

Drink up, people!
 Post-wedding, pre-back to real life in the 'burbs with our kids, we decided to brunch. After many recommendations, both from locals and the internets, we decided on the Silver Skillet based on its proximity to our hotel and (more importantly), the fact that it came highly regarded by Matt's food idol, Alton Brown. As we stand there in line, I kid you not, who gets in line behind us? Yep, Alton himself. Oh, we tried to play it cool. We totally did not get a third cup of coffee hoping to time our departure to his. We definitely did not linger in the parking lot hoping he would walk our way. But the stars in our eyes aligned when he did indeed come our way and I basically accosted him with a request for a quick picture. He was clearly in a rush but graciously obliged. Oh, and we totally brought home a whole lemon ice box pie. And then hid it from the kids so we didn't have to share.

Where do I know that guy from...?
We wrapped up our weekend by planted our garden, finally. The kids might be slightly obsessed with digging in the dirt now.

The garden is back!


Spring Break - Here, Fishy Fishy

Seahorse met some seahorse.

Spring break, day two. We woke up, got ready, and walked to breakfast on our way to the Tennessee Aquarium. Other than being rather chilly, there were no problems. I forgot how much I love this aquarium. I know the Georgia Aquarium, just down the road (literally next door to our new church building) is billed as being the world's hugest, most luxurious, most amazingest aquarium in the history of aquariums (oh sorry, that was Trump) but Tennessee's is nothing to sneeze at. I think it is actually more accessible and set up in a way that makes it easy to see everything without being overwhelmed.

We started with the river building, which features otters (they weren't doing anything) on the top floor before you wind your way down the dark ramps to see the various fish exhibits. Violet was once again in manic mode, wanted to race her way through everything on a quest to... get to the end? I really couldn't figure out why she was in such a hurry. 

There are alligators back there...

We made it through and switched to the ocean building, which brought you to the top floor into the "touch a sting ray" pool and the butterfly garden. Both girls got to hold a butterfly! This building also holds the penguins, which was really fun. First grade does a huge unit on penguins every year, so it was fun for me to see these guys up close. They really are amazing swimmers, and the exhibit was partly underwater, letting you watch them dive and leap.

Taller than a penguin... barely!

Finally, the live versions!

At lunch, we played pictionary. I drew this and told Violet to guess what it was. "It's a penguin!" she said. "Or... a volcano."

We had planned to go to the IMAX movie after lunch, but neither girl was really into it, and Annie was heading dangerously close to naptime meltdown. So we cut our loses, took another stroll over yesterday's bridge, then headed back to the hotel for some R&R. The nice thing about our aquarium passes - they let us in and out all day. So once everyone was rested up, we headed back and did the ocean exhibit all over again. A good thing too, since Violet rushed us through the first time. This round we arrived just in time for giant manta feeding. It was bizarre! Shrimp would come sailing down into the water and the mantas would shoot up the window and then sink back down, catching the shrimp against the glass and swallowing them. Talk about up close and personal! The sea turtle was feasting on an entire head of lettuce as we watched. Then we headed to our IMAX, which Annie and I ended up spending in the lobby (she's just not ready for 3D IMAX movies quite yet).

After the movie, we followed up on a recommendation made by some random dog walkers we passed at one point the previous day - dinner at Boathouse. It sits right on the river with great views of whatever happens to be sailing by. Alas, it was a rather stormy evening, so there wasn't much action on the water, but we enjoyed dinner and made it back to the hotel before the rain started, so... win!


A little sea salad for this big guy.

Last night in the hotel!
Our last day in Chattanooga, we packed up, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Ruby Falls. We figured this would be a good way to wrap up our trip and wear out the kids before we threw them back in the car for the ride home. Before we planned this trip, we were on the fence about Ruby Falls. It's dark. It's a lot of walking. Was it going to be too scary? But seeing Violet race through the dark caverns at Rock City convinced us she would handle it just fine, and she did. Annie, on the other hand, was in full clingy mode and insisted on being carried almost the entire way. By me. Try as he might, Matt could not convince her to take a turn in his arms. She lasted to the waterfall itself, then totally fell asleep on me during the return trip. Exhausting! I swear she's gotten heavier in the last few weeks. I was sweating by the time we made it back to the entrance!

The lights! The majestic music! Cheesy touristy goodness!
If you can get past the commercial touristy aspects, it's a pretty cool place. Some guy, drilling into the earth hoping to build an elevator down to some caverns, hits a hidden pocket of fresh air. He jumps down the shaft, crawls on hands and knees for hours in the dark through an 18-inch tall passageway, and discovers an underground waterfall! Had he started his elevator drilling just six feet over, he would have missed the pocket altogether and Ruby Falls would be unknown to this day. It's rather amazing to think about. Also, who has the guts to crawl through the dark for hours into the unknown? Not I, said the sensible school-teaching mother of two. No thank you. But it does make for a lovely end to our little spring break journey to Chattanooga.

View from the top.

Spring Break - See Rock City

Who is ready to see Rock City?

Spring Break! Spring Break! The blessed reprieve from work, a chance to literally stop and smell the roses, the gathering of a breath before diving deep into the fourth quarter sprint to the finish line. If you're a teacher with small children at home, and the children are being good, it's a happy preview of the glories of the coming summer off. (If the children are being bad, well, it gives you ample time to line up your schedule of day camps.)

Many spring breaks are utilized by the mister and I to take a break from the kids. The first time we ever left Violet overnight was a spring break mini-vacay to Serenbe. Then there was the spring break we used as an excuse to celebrate our ten years of wedded bliss at the Grove Park Inn. (We tried hard to justify another trip there this year... maybe in another decade!)

But as the kids get older, it is becoming easier to take them along on our jaunts, and I suppose it's not entirely fair to always ditch them for our own fun. So this spring break we decided to let them in on the action and planned a three-day getaway to Chattanooga. I know, Rock City versus the Grove Park Inn, definite downgrade right? But before you roll your eyes, I have to say how pleasantly surprised I was by this city to our north. I used to live in Dalton, just a stone's throw from the Tennessee border, so Chattanooga has never seemed like a destination. We'd regularly hop the state line to go to the mall. But it was perfect for our little family of four. 

Our first stop, on the way into town, was Rock City. I've been within spitting distance of this tourist destination many times (growing up, there were company retreats held just down the road on top of Lookout Mountain) but never actually visited. Say what you will, but I found it utterly charming! The kids were ready to get out and run around after our car ride, and this place gave them the perfect opportunity. Violet was eager to lead the way, and would have happily brought us through the entire attraction at a jogging pace. In fact, the entire trip was pretty much just her asking if it was time to move on to the next thing - the excitement for her was less in what she saw, but how quickly she was able to get there. (For Annie, the entire trip was pretty much just convincing me to pick her up. Girlfriend oscillated between fierce independence - pushing the stroller herself, jerking out of my grasp - and complete potato sack of noncompliance.)

This girl led the way!

Fat Man Squeeze!

But back to the delight that is Rock City. We were fortunate to get there before any school groups showed up and ran through the entire place with hardly an interruption. If you've never been, you follow a path over and through various natural rock formations, entertained along the way by cheesy gnomes doing whatever it is gnomes do. The path eventually leads you to a lovely lookout spot that will inspire you to grab your children by the backs of their shirts lest they lean too zealously over the railing. Had Annie not been on the verge of naptime meltdown, we probably could have gone through the entire park again, based on the breakneck speed Violet led us through the first time, but we decided to call it while everyone was still relatively happy and we headed to our hotel to check in and chill out.

Look out!

After exploring the hotel, we headed to an Italian restaurant on the river for dinner. We explored the little park next to the restaurant, then discovered a walking bridge that spans the river. It was filled with families, joggers, puppies and it was the perfect way to cap off the day, enjoying the sunset over the water. It was nice to be able to let the kids go and allow Violet to push the stroller without fear of fast-moving cars. What a lovely city! Everything looked very clean, very safe, definitely family friendly. Day 1 for the win!

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