As we say above, this is mainly for friends and family. Michael's blog on the Middle East can be found here. Most of our other links can be found below on the right, but be sure to keep up as well with our family website, here. We also have discussion groups for genealogy, links to genealogical information on us, and our (semi-private) Flickr and YouTube accounts for those who are invited. You can also get a quick-navigation guide here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Again

Well, our little odyssey is over, and we're back home. I'll try to reflect on it over the next few days.

Actually, I guess I shouldn't call it an odyssey. It didn't take 10 years, there was no 10 years of war beforehand, we didn't encounter a cyclops, a sea monster, a whirlpool, lotus eaters, nor were we turned into pigs even once. And since the dog went with us, we didn't even have the only-his-faithful-dog-recognized-him bit.

Yesterday we made the trip from Pigeon Forge to Roanoke, today, Roanoke home. We had few major adventures. More to come though.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Days Five through Seven

I've been remiss about posting, but then, I didn't have much to report. Let me first give you a brief précis of the last couple of days. Today (day 7) I missed the main event, so I hope Tam and/or Sarah will fill the gap. Tam, in fact, has already posted on day 7 before I got to days five and six.

Day Five: August 25. When last I left our little adventure, we'd decided to bug out of Franklin for Asheville due to poor Wi-Fi. We did so, but intending to spend the day around Franklin before going, and letting Sarah do gem-hunting (a local activity which allows kids to get very muddy). In the morning, we went to downtown Franklin so Sarah could visit Ruby City, which is to your usual rock shop what Tiffany is to the jewelry counter at Wal-Mart. I visited the town bookstore, and Tam a gourmet kitchen shop she'd liked two years ago. Apparently small towns in Western North Carolina carry things you can't find in Metropolitan Washington, DC.

Anyway, since most places (with the exception of Ruby City, which invited us to bring Coco in) aren't dog friendly, at each spot one of us had to stay outside with the dog. During the gourmet kitchen shop phase, it was I. Franklin has old-fashioned benches in front of the Main Street businesses, so I sat on one, with my cane (from my surgery, but still occasionally useful) and Coco. This being a small southern town I naturally nodded or spoke to most passersby. We have begun to learn that if Coco is being held, he is less likely to try to attack every passing person. So I held him tight. Many people addressed him ("Hello, puppy." Or in one case. "Hi, stubby puppy." When Sarah heard this she started calling him "stubby puppy.") He was pretty stoic, not barking at nearly as many people as usual.

Along the way I suddenly had an epiphany: while I still think like I did at 35 or 45, I've actually become the white-haired old guy sitting on a Main Street bench in a small Southern town, with his hound dog, leaning on his cane and making pleasantries with the locals. I'm just one stop shy of settin' and whittlin' on the front steps of the courthouse.

The next step was to be the gem mining. Sarah did it first when she was three or four and again two years ago and loves it. She likes the "seeded" buckets that guarantee you'll find pretty semi=precious stones but also won't likely produce the rubies and sapphires that really are found there. The Sheffield Mine where we'd been before still has the best reputation so we set out, but with us having lefgt our Franklin hotel I figured we'd just keep the dog on the sidelines since there was nowhere for me to stay with him. When we got there, we were greeted by a great, friendly, tongue hanging out happy-to-see-us southern coonhound (He was eager to meet Coco; Coco was eager to attack him) and a "No dogs allowed" sign. After trying to think of ways to square the circle (I go back to town while they stay at the mine? I sit with Coco in either a brutally hot car for several hours or one in which we run the air and use up a full tank of gas,

Assured we would go to the Gatlinburg Aquarium, Sarah acceded to the idea we just couldn't make the mining work.

So day five ended driving to Asheville, checking in, and Sarah spending time in the pool. Nobody took any video.

Day 6: August 26. Asheville and the park We took the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We picked up a picnic lunch but, thrown off the parkway by repair work from a storm, we found a barbecue place in Waynesville and bought that two. Once in the park we had a picnuc lunch (with the BBQ; the rest is spoiled now). On to New Found Gap on the state line. Lots of pictures and the video is up.

Day 7: August 27. Over the mountains to Tennessee, to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Tam's post on the Aquarium visit will have to serve since I was waiting in the hotel with the dog. They were profligate in their photography and we'll produce a movie from their clips and stills.

A Note on the YouTube videos: As you may recall, I didn't upload the two part Day Four video from Franklin because of the poor Internet connection. Last night in Asheville I tried three more times without suceess, though Part Two went up without a glitch, as did yesterday's Day Six video. Tonight, in Pigeon Forge, I finally got Part One of Day 4 to upload. So on YouTube (where they're displayed, like this blog, newest first) the order is from oldest to newest Day Four Part Two/ Day Six/ Day Four Part One. (There is no Day Five.)

Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg

Friday night, Aug. 27, Pigeon Forge: First, the picture at left: This is one reason I find it hard to blog! We are settled into the Quality Inn Parkway, after a great late afternoon visit by Sarah and me to Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg, a special request of Sarah's for the last several days of vacation. Mike volunteered to stay in the hotel room with Coco, and let Sarah and me go see it.

I did not know what to expect, since we know and like the Baltimore and Virginia Aquariums so much. And although the Ripley's Aquarium is in the Volunteer State, it ranks right up there with the two coastal ones. We were so impressed! A huge glass column of silvery lookdown fish greets you at the entrance, then you are drawn through a course that features a huge open pool of swimming sharks, including sand sharks, hammerheads and sawtooths, various small and enormous stingrays, then separate areas devoted to coastal fish and ecosystems, seahorses, dragon fish, and garden eels. Other exhibits include huge Japanese crabs, whose claws can extend several feet, pirhanas, etc.

The highlight of the whole place is the acryllic tunnel that allows you to walk below the sealife, while it swims around and above you. It is an amazing experience! The hammerhead sharks eerily lounge langorously across the top of the tunnel, while you gaze at them from below. Just amazing. Really it filled me with wonder and joy at the marvelous color and diversity of sea life, what amazing life it is. It was a real joy to be there and to share it with Sarah. She took literally hundreds of pictures, while I videotaped it extensively, in order to show Mike. We will put some of it on our family You tube for friends and family viewing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day Four: Great Day, Lousy Evening

Today was a great day, the best yet. I use "day," however, not in the sense "24 hour period" but in the sense "not night." The evening has been frustrating, enough to make us change plans.

The day is well documented in a video that will take up two parts on YouTube even though their limit is now 15 minutes instead of 10. The bad news is that as I write this it's not yet on YouTube, for the reason the evening was a disappointment.

The day was a great deep draught of lakes and mountains and waterfalls and really helped fill my Scotch-Irish need for mountain and glen; we started with the Cullasaja Gorge with its multiple waterfalls, including one you can walk behind and one you can drive behind; then over Wayah Gap to Nantahala Lake and down Nantahala Gorge with lots of whitewater rafters (stopping at a little stream called Patton's Run where Sarah seemed to really enjoy it: very reminiscent of an Ozark stream). Then along Fontana Lake (above picture) to Fontana Dam, a TVA dam which is said to be the highest dam in the east, giving us a chance to explain the TVA to Sarah. (She likes Alabama's "Song of the South" which includes a line that roughly goes, "Papa got a job with the TVA; we bought a washing machine and then a Chevrolet," so we had a point of reference.) (By rhe way, what do the Tea Partiers who call Obama a socialist think of the TVA, anyway? Would they sell it off? De-electrify the South?)

It was a good day, but the evening was not. Around 7 or so as I was working on the day's videos and Sarah was watching video cartoons online, both our computers lost Internet. The whole hotel had. We were down for an hour or more, sporadic at best for an hour or two more. Though we're up and stable again, when I tried to upload to YouTube a file that should upload in under 30 minutes said it would take 190, or over three hours. So I stopped the upload.

Worse, another guest said she'd had trouble her first two days here, but no more trouble till tonight, and suggested she'd had trouble with connectivity here before.

The Internet is too mluch a part of us — this blog, our videos, researching where to eat, GoogleEarth — that we feel any unreliability is, in the 21st century, what an air conditioning failure would have been in the last. It's not management's fault if it happens rarely, but if it happens a lot it suggests stinting on the bandwidth or needing a new Internet Service Provider. Anyway, on a one-week vacation a single night's major inconvenience is enough to make us move. Instead of staying four days here, we're cutting it off after two. We're returning to our nice hotel in Asheville from Sunday night.

I didn't name our hotel yet because I believe they are trying to fix it. But I don't want to risk staying if this happens often.

And yes, I can acceas the Internet on my Smartphone. But I can't blog on the tiny keyboard (my fat fingers find Tam's netbook hard to manage), and besides, WiFi is advertised as part of the deal.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Days Two and Three: Coco Gets Crazier

So far I've done better at getting video up at YouTube than blogging here; but then, Tam and Sarah's intents to blog haven't produced a post yet. So let me catch up a bit. The videos are at YouTube, though the most video-ready moments of the trip have been missed, the bear cub I mentioned on day one, and another bear-related story for later in this post.

Yesterday, day two, was the second day of travel down, and again mostly engaged in burning miles. When we weren't on the Interstates however, Sarah began to understand the appeal (and variety) of old roads, as we went through the towns of Southwest Virginia, ranging from industrial and railroad towns that were long strips of trailer parks with double-wides, to charming towns like Abingdon, where the State Theater of Virginia is located and there's a flourishing artistic community. Otherwise we cut across northeastern Tennessee via the Tri-Cities and the new (well, we first used it two years ago, so still new to us) I-16, down to Asheville.

It was a nice hotel, a Comfort Suites, and dog-friendly as well. But we've discovered that many pet-friendly places put all the pet rooms in a single corridor. In Asheville, as in Roanoke, there was a dog in the room across the hall. Actually, in Asheville apparently two, crated, and while never actually seen, clearly of the small, shrill, yippy persuasion. When they started out, Coco responded with wild barking and a furious attempt to go through the door. Fortunately the desk clerk actually found this amusing, but I think he was off duty when it started up again around dawn. Tam and I thought we were off-duty too, being sound asleep, until our dachshund went off.

Now, this was not the first problem of the day. In the afternoon, Sarah wanted to swim in the pool and since the night before we'd had no time and the next few days would be poolless, we decided Tam would watch her while I either stayed with the dog in the room , or walked him outside. We tried the latter first, but when he saw them going to the pool but me pulling him the other way he started barking, leaping about madly, and trying to bite through his leash.

You see, Coco tolerates me. He understands that during the school year, I'm home on Fridays and no one else is, so I'm his sofa/food source, but when either Sarah or Tam is available, I'm dog food. He's a ladies' dog; I'm the only adult male he doesn't act like he wants to dismember, and he's not much better with males Sarah's age. We think his bark is worse than his bite, but don't plan to test it.

As for other dogs, forget it. Though we met Coco at an adoption fair where he was around a lot of other dogs, as he was at his (brief) foster home, he has challenged other dogs at every opportunity, not just on his home turf but in public places. At the vet's to get checked out for the trip he tried to go after a Rottweiler; once at Great Falls he tried to go after a pair of mastiffs; he's also confronted a German Shepherd. That any of these dogs could snap him in two with one bite seems to elude him; dachshunds, or at least Coco, seem unaware that they're five inches tall. Of course, they were bred to go after European badgers, so perhaps foolhardy courage against impossible odds is in their DNA.

We've already decided we need to get him a chain-based leash. Two of the three we brought on vacation are partly chewed through by day three.

But this maniacal hound of hell is not the homebound Coco. He's a sweet, loving, totally loyal ultimate cuteness, so long as no other dogs, or adult males other than me, or most females for that matter, enter his field of vision. (My physical therapist after my surgery came to our house three times a week for three weeks and he went berserk every time.)

Of course, we decided to get him obedience training. We even paid for the course. Then I broke my hip.

Anyway, we need to keep him fairly sequestered, so logistics are a problem. Day three (today if I post this by midnight: anyway, Monday, August 23, was spent mostly in Cherokee, NC. I'll post more on it later, though, except for this one story alluded to earlier: our second missed video moment. Sarah and I were shopping while Tam had Coco duty; we'd just switched shifts She was walking him when they came upon one of many bear sculptures in Cherokee (like a number of places they encourage artists to address a common theme: Norfolk does mermaids, Winchester, apples, and Cherokee, bears.

Well, as Tam tells it (I hope she'll tell it herself here), Coco saw one of these bear statues, and started barking and growling at it, all the while with his tail between his legs. He wasn't, apparently, trying to attack this bigger challenger.

But what kind of hound dog doesn't know a statue from a real animal?


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Roanoke: Day One

Day one of the 2010 vacation was mostly a driving day, pushing to Roanoke, VA. The dog behaved well in the car, but not so much around other people and, particularly, other dogs. Though we did end up taking the Interstate the last 75 miles or so of the 250 mile trip, we also did one stretch of Skyline Drive.

And what surely was the high point of the day came on Skyline Drive, when we came upon a black bear cub playing by the side of the road. Despite having three cameras, plus three phones that take pictures as well (also a Nintendo DSi) for a total of at least seven photographic devices (not counting the webcams), of course none of us got a picture. Wed didn't linger because we assumed Mama bear was somewhere nearby.

Besides not getting much sleep last night, I find that my surgeon was right and I need to move around every hour or so; long stretches in the car are uncomfortable.

More as we have something to report; Tam and Sarah say they want to post too, so keep watching this space.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Counting Down to Vacation

Saturday we leave on a delayed and truncated vacation, giving the family some much-earned respite in a difficult summer largely devoted to Tam and Sarah having to nurse me through my broken hip, surgery, and convalescence. (And Tam settling into a new job: same organization but new department.)

Instead of two weeks driving across country to Missouri and back in July, we're making do with a one week trip to the Great Smokies in August. And because we're insane, we're doing it with Coco, our dog. That means not a lot of eating in restaurants; lots of picnics, drive-through, carry-out, or delivery to the hotel. We might save money.

We'll be carrying two laptops, a netbook, and two smartphones so we should be pretty well wired and equipped to post to the blog, Flicker, and YouTube. Tam wants to blog more, and Sarah wants to try it, so you may see both of them here. The Flickr and YouTube accounts, because they show Sarah's face, are family-and-friends only, and while we've invited many to join our list few have, but the invitation is still open. (Either post a comment in the comments box (click on "Comment" below) or send me an E-mail.) We may also do short posts on Facebook from time to time, though we'll keep our main posts here. Though I have a dormant Twitter account I don't tweet: too talkative for that. Can't keep to 140 characters. (My work blog, the MEI Editor's Blog, does feed post titles to the MEI Twitter feed.) Besides YouTube videos we might try a podcast our two.

So do drop by.