Tuesday, November 27, 2012

getting away

Clouldland Canyon
We took a mini-vacation for Thanksgiving. Oh, what the heck, this is the only family vacation we got, and we will not be getting another one any time soon, so I can call it a full-fledged vacation.

I found a state park not far from Chattanooga and we rented a cabin there over the weekend. We got to the cabin Thursday afternoon (my husband was on call Wednesday night, so he did not get home till the morning). I was told that the cabin has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living/dining room, but I was not expected to find out how nice and spacious it is. I looked at a full-sized kitchen, with a self-clean oven and microwave and large fridge and joked that our NY apartments were smaller than this. There was a screened porch with rocking chairs, a wood-burning fireplace, a fire ring and two grills outside. Moreover, there were woods everywhere. A perfect location to spend a couple of days.

Learning to strike a match

I kashered the oven (just self-cleaned it!) and we went on a hike. We descended into the canyon, saw two waterfalls, climbed a million stairs up and down. I was grateful that I did so many hikes with the boys; they knew all the rules: stop at the fork, make sure you can see or hear your parents, stay together, hug a tree if you are lost. 2 yo walked the whole way down, but was carried up by my husband. I cannot manage Ergo any more over my expanding belly. Then we got back, grilled some hot dogs and baked potatoes. The evening was topped off with roasting marshmallows in the fireplace. The boys were taught how to light matches: not a trivial task. When I was teaching middle school, I discovered that out of four boys, only one was comfortable lighting a match for an experiment. Perhaps our safety rules are trumping common sense.

long steps down into the canyon
catching drops
hot dogs


gathering wood for the end of Shabbos
 On Friday, after kids gathered enough firewood for post-Shabbos fire, we set out for Tennessee Aquarium. In our current city there is a large aquarium which somehow means that the local zoo has no water animals whatsoever: no fish, no sea lions, no alligators... Consequently, my daughter never experienced a touch tank, or saw fish up close. The boys dove right in with the sting rays and sturgeons, but she was cautions. She stuck her hands in the water, but seemed uncomfortable touching fish. She loved walking alongside a diving penguin. I have a soft spot for penguins, we even had them on out wedding invitations and benchers, so for me they are quite special. I also just read a National Geographic article about how they can release bubbles of air trapped in between their feathers to get a speed boost when jumping out of the water and it was incredible seeing them accelerate and whoosh out in a stream of bubbles.

Overall, it was a good outing. Afterwards I remarked to my husband how different it is now, going to a new place with two kids who can read all the signs on their own. I do not have to interest them, they look and read about whichever animal they choose. I could unschool like that!

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We had lunch outside and then headed back to the cabin to get ready for Shabbos. I brought hot water urn and blech with us. For dinner we had Chinese take-out, with leftover hot dogs and roasted veggies. We played a few games of Connect Four, dominoes and Rummikub. One of the kids accidentally turned the light on in the bedroom, but they still managed to fall asleep and stay asleep.

On Shabbos morning everyone davened, then we had our first meal (brunch) and headed out for a walk. There was no eruv, and no city, so we had a limitation of not being able to carry anything with us and not walking too far. Nevertheless, we blazed a trail to connect to a marked trail on the other edge of the canyon. It was early, it was cold and quiet. The views were breathtaking. We walked for about half a mile, which took us down into the canyon. 2 yo managed all of this on foot.

Then we got back. For seudat shlishit (at 2) we had cold cuts, potatoes, veggies and leftover Chinese. Then 8 yo and my husband played a long game of Monopoly. It lasted till the end of Shabbos. 8 yo won. I managed to finish two books: Packing for Mars and Baby Catcher. According to 8 yo, I was interrupting the Monopoly game to read interesting excerpts. 6 yo read some, played with 2 yo and played with his stuffed toys. We went over the parsha.

When Shabbos was over, another fire was started in the fireplace and the kids had a melave malka of hummus and salami sandwiches. The whole scene was so idyllic: everyone sitting around the fireplace, rocking and snacking. The feeling was so relaxing.
melave malka

Rock City
On Sunday we drove back to Chattanooga, this time to Rock City. The drive there is quite interesting; one minute you are in one state, the next you are in another. From the top of the mountain one can see seven states. However, since we went right after Thanksgiving, the "holiday cheer" was everywhere: in the music, in the decorations, in the lights. Also we did not find the whole attraction so attractive. There are rocks and paths and small caverns. There is a great view. Maybe it is because I like things more unadulterated, less commercialized. Maybe we have been on better hikes, in real caverns, and without everything having a little cheesy note attached to it. At the end of the attraction there are Fairyland Caverns, culminating in a room full of illustrated Mother Goose rhymes. The dolls looks scary, and the rhymes are, well, sadistic. 
one last fire

The best part of this whole vacation was its remoteness. We were on our own, being able to do our thing, not running on anyone's schedule, not being connected and tuned it to anyone. We were unplugged (except for a few pages my husband got. 8 yo remarked: "We only have one car, so daddy cannot go anywhere!'). There was a TV in the cabin and 8 yo asked to watch it, once. I demurred. The rest of the time we just, well, were. There was all this time: to sit around, to build a fire, to gaze into the fire, to read, to play, to think. There was no rushing.

warming up with hot chocolate
State parks are underrated, in my opinion.

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