Monday, August 25, 2014

Heading East on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo!!!

On August 1, we loaded up the car once more, this time with 2 very special guests, Aunt Heather and Baby Kate!!  We drove to Birmingham, slept a few hours, got up and started driving again.. on our way to GLORIOUS GATLINBURG!!!!!!!  This would be our first family vacation in SEVEN years where all the sisters and Kurt, our spouses and kids would be able to spend the week together in the mountains with Grammie and Pops (minus Jason.. Jaseeeee, next time, you'll just have to quit work. Period.) :))  It was a 12 hour drive there... which you know, if you have kids, is really like an 120 hour trip.  Amazingly, the kids were the BEST travelers!  They watched lots of movies, colored in notebooks, ate snacks in the car, and kept the whining to a minimum.  Praise. God. Even Grant and Kate seemed to enjoy the ride!

In Chattanooga, there is a 100 year old train that still runs.  For $60, our whole family rode through a pre-Civil War tunnel (where the sides of the train and the sides of the tunnel are less than 6 inches away from each other! Whaaat?!),  watched a steam engine spin on a turn table, took a tour of a train-repair station, and sat and waited at a real, live train depot!  It felt like the old days!!  Not that I would know what that feels like, but it looks like it from the movies!!! Hahaa!!  We also got to play on all these trains in the train yard, too! What a way to start off our home school field trips!!

You can't imagine how happy this made Andrew Paul! 

Heading into the Railroad Station to buy our train tickets!

We've got a ticket to ride! ;))

Exploring with Uncle Kurt, Carson, Gavin, and Luke!

We would be riding on Train No. 102... leaving at 12:05 PM!

Aaaaaaallll aaaaaaboard!!!!!

Finding our seats... in the air-conditioned section, of course! Haa!!  Not quite like the old days, but hey,  close enough.  And I love Andrew's thrilled face, hahaha!!

"When is it gonna startttt???"

"I've got my ticket!!  What's the hold up??"

It's time!  It's time!! It's finally time!!  Off we goooooo!

Even the babies were impressed!

And then a conductor came around and punched our tickets.. just like on Dinosaur Train!  I was so scared that I might misplace my ticket and we would get kicked off the train..  So I kept my ticket out, up and ready at all times!  Hahaha!!  The kids loved this part and I did, too!!!!!!!!  So exciting!

Heading into the tunnel!!!!

This was really so neat... and kinda scary!  We were literally inches from the wall of this tunnel and it made the entire train sooo dark!  Of course, the kids were amazed!

Just getting out and back into the bright sunshine!

Our tour guide told us that this house has been owned by the same family for decades. The man currently living there is an old man now... but still specifically remembers sitting on his front lawn, waving as President Franklin Roosevelt passed by on these very train tracks.  Amazing!!

Our destination!

We unloaded here for about 30 minutes, watched a steam engine turn around, walked through a train shed, and then rode back to the station.  This post was getting long, but if you're interested in seeing all of those things, just come over. :))  This was our last picture on the train, and I thought it was so sweet!  Savannah and Carson - homeschooled kindergartners on their very first field trip!  Here's to many, many more!!!!!!!!!

After our train ride, I was starving.  And this momma wanted a barbeque sandwich..  So we google-mapped the closest BBQ joint and found Couch's Barbeque.  Unbeknownst to us, this was the sloooowwestttt barbeque eatery everrrrr.  We waited about 30 minutes for these sandwiches!!!  And while they were good, they probably weren't worth the stopping time.  Sorry, guys!! Next time, we'll just do Chick-Fil-A!  :))

We had about an hour to drive after that... and through the horrible mountain roads of up, down, curve around, and repeat 14 million times, I was so SICKKKK by the time we got to our cabin!!  I basically crawled up the front steps, ha! Thankfully, Jen, Nathan, Mom, and Dad had been there preparing a gorgeous dinner for us, complete with homemade rolls. They also had hot chocolate packets and so we indulged!!!  It became one of my favorite parts of our nights in the mountains!

The next day, we drove over to Laurel Falls for our very first hiking adventure!  Of course, before we got there, we just had to stop at some of the scenic overlooks!  How gorgeous is this?!

Best little trail buddies!

Crazy story - Probably 14 years ago, we were on vacation in Gatlinburg on this very trail..  I thought I would be smart and skip part of the trail by taking a shortcut. Umm, it wasn't a shortcut, it was DEATH TRAIL!!! I started running... and could. not. stop.  My feet couldn't keep up with how fast the mountain was pulling me down.. I can still remember my mom screaming, "Melissa!!! STOP!!!!" But I was too scared to even yell back that I couldn't!!  I ended up grabbing a tree and holding on for dear life... while wildly scanning the ravine that I was about to plummet into. (Okay, a little dramatic... but it was pretty serious and SO scary!) My dad had to come down the mountain and save me... and on the way back up, we came across a rattlesnake that I had apparently run over. Oh. my gosh.  Anyways, it was fun little story to tell the kids and Mom and I had a good time remembering it around every corner and every shortcut we saw! :))

We made it!!!!  This is Laurel Falls!!!

Amazingly cold mountain water to play in....

Of course, Brother got his feet wet and had to walk down the mountain in wet, smelly tennis shoes... shoes which have still not recovered to this day! Silly boy. :))

Sweet little friends!

What a wonderful start to our family's week together!

TGP Music Camp 2014!

This year, our church's Music Camp was home to 30 preschoolers who came to sing, make crafts, play games, eat snacks, and learn about Jesus!  We had to miss the final performance on Friday in order to get on the road for GATLINBURG (ahhhh!!!), but we were able to see the last run-through before the big night!!  Andrew and Callie are on the front row (Callie in white and Andrew in red and white stripes!) and the three big girls are right behind them!

The theme was Space Camp and I worked in crafts with my sweet friend, Jessica!!  We used most of the kids crafts as decorations for the performance..  The stars and planet in the background were made by these little children!

Singing their hearts out!

Here are the rocket ships and baby astronauts... so cute!

Astronaut Andrew!

Astronaut Vannie!

All of the kids were so adorable and did such a good job all week!  Savannah and Andrew came home everyday telling me that: "Jesus was born as a babyyyy... He grew tall and strongggg...  He died on the crosssss... and if you believe in Him, you will live with Him foreverrrrr!!" Hahaa, Aunt Jen taught them the Gospel so well during Missions Time and we are still hearing about it to this day, hand motions and all!!  I'm praying that each time we go over it, it gets pressed into their hearts more and more until one day they accept Jesus into their own hearts, recognizing that He died for them and personally offers them eternal life with Him!  So thankful for our sweet church and the amazing people who invest in the kids to teach them more about our incredible God!

Party at the Alabama Pool!

On July 11, our Poole Party packed up and headed down to Thibodaux so that we could leave the following day with Nana and Paw for ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA!!!!!  Of course, eating is one of the BEST parts of vacation, so we stopped at The Shed, a "barbeque and blues joint" in Ocean Springs that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri!  Pulling up, it didn't look like much...

...and then they brought out our food and we were officially IMPRESSED!
Ribs, chicken, brisket, pulled pork and sides with sweet tea... oh. my. gosh. YUUUUUMMMM!!!  If you get the chance, you HAVE to stop by!!  The experience itself was worth the stop... totally laid back, picnic tables and gravel floors, incredible food!  SO FUN!

And an hour later, we had to stop for dessert at the Burris Farmer's Market!  Homemade Apple Dumplings with Vanilla Ice Cream on top...  of course, this was my favorite part!!!  This place is like a hidden gem and their fresh, homemade desserts are even more of a surprise! If you are ever going that way, STOP. It's my best piece of advice for the beach! You can forget the sunscreen, just don't forget the dumplings...

Home, sweet home for the next 8 daysssss!

Hahaaa, Grant in this one makes me laugh out loud!  He was so happy to be out of the car!!

Our view of the pools...  can anybody spot the water slide in the corner??  That's pretty much where the kids lived for the week! 

On our first night, Wade and I put the kids to bed and sat out on the patio for a long time before we went to walk the beach!!  With 3 kids and 1 on the way, we have to be creative in finding time alone together, so to take a moonlit walk was SUCH a treat!

That same night, Savannah and Andrew came down with a horrible case of puking and throwing up.. we were up pretty much every hour of the night.  The ONLY silver lining to that black cloud was getting to see this view at 6am...  Good morning, Lord!!  You are SO good!!

The kids were totally fine during the day... their sickness only hit at night! So weird, I know!!  I was thankful  for the respite and we brought the kids down to the beach - their first time to go in 2 years!

The older they get, the more they enjoy the beach!!  They still didn't want to play in the sand all day, but we lasted for more than 30 minutes which was a huge improvements from 2 years ago!

Our view from the room!!  We never saw any sharks, but we did see a few sting rays and LOTS of dolphins!!

Baby Grant's first time at the beach!!  He was just so-so on it... didn't love it, didn't hate it!  But at least he didn't scream the entire time, so I was appreciative, ha!

Our TWO Poole babies! ;))  Here I am at 16 weeks pregnant!!

Baby Grant in his big-man jammies!!!!


Ready for a 10 PM swim! :))

On Thursday, we had our best beach days of the week!  The kids were so happy playing in the sand and swimming in the waves, building sand castles and digging holes for each other!

Digging with Paw!

Getting buried!

Two beautiful mermaids!!!

After the sand, we headed to the pool to swim and to lay out!  And to snack. ;)

It's not an official Poole post until there's more than one picture of food. ;))
Wade and I snuck away during nap time and headed to a local restaurant called Fiddlefish!  I got the loaded seafood potato.. ohhhhkayyyy!  Fresh crawfish, shrimp, and crabmeat in a loaded baked potato.. one of the greatest. meals. ever!!  It was topped only by Cafe Grazie.. our favorite restaurant of all time and the absolute one place we have to go when in Gulf Shores! 

Time to move out... :(((
But at least we get to bring the cutest part home with us.. all these babies!!!

Another tradition - stopping at Lambert's on our way out of town!  I got the chicken and dumplings and it's probably the first time that I've absolutely loved what I've gotten at Lambert's, besides the rolls!  Again, the experience is worth the stop!  The waitress asked Savannah if she wanted what was in her pot... and then pulled out a POSSUM! Savannah and Andrew giggled.. but as soon as she walked away, Savannah looked at me and said, "Mom, why would she do that??  I don't like when people play tricks on me..."  Hahaaa, poor baby!!  We will try this one again next year with hopefully a little better sense of humor! ;))
What a sweet, sweet trip!  We had a wonderful week, although next time, we would prefer to go without the kids having a pukey/poopy virus, ha!!  We went shopping at the Outlet Mall, stayed up way too late once we had the kids in bed, spent lazy days on the sand and at the poolside, and enjoyed just being together as a family.. and the kids enjoyed riding home with their pirate shirts, stuffed mermaid and turtles, and shark-tooth necklaces!  :))
 Until next time, Orange Beach!!  We will be back!

About Me

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From childhood friends to high school sweethearts, and now newlyweds and brand-new parents, Wade and I can only thank Jesus for His incredible blessings. Our three children are the ULTIMATE gifts from God and we pray that our lives glorify Him. He is our everything.