Jan 102023
 

When I was digging through photo boxes in search of good shots of my Pappap’s house to use for my Christmas present project, I found these that I must have taken in the 90s on one of my last trips to Europe with Sharon.

I’m mildly amazed at the amateur photojournalistic quality of them (minus that broad’s hand cameo in the left-hand corner, lol). Most of my old vacation pictures are such trash, especially the earlier trips when I was 9-11 and taking pictures of castles from a bus window. I can’t believe my grandparents actually paid to get that shit developed (and got doubles?!). These must be from Italy, but I can’t remember from where or when.

LOOK AT THAT BROAD!!! I need to frame this. It’s too good to not be in a frame. That lady must have been such an icon.

There was this one night in particular where I can remember having a huge fight with Sharon and screaming, “I’M GOING OUT WITH SOME OF THE PEOPLE FROM THE GROUP AND YOU CAN JUST STAY HERE IN THE ROOM AND ROT!” because she was such a stick in the mud when it came to socializing with other people on the tour with us, but I think that was a night from the last trip she and I took together (the ONE WITH STEFAN LOL) and I’m also pretty sure we were in Lucerne when I went off with some of the other people and I felt like an actual grown-up. (I think I was probably 17.)

Sometimes it’s surreal to me when I come across these old pictures or have a quick flashback of some vignette from a foreign city. It was so long ago but also feels like no time has passed. I’m eternally grateful that I was given these opportunities to explore such beautiful, historical places as a kid, but I would definitely prefer to experience it again now as an adult, with Henry and Chooch. Sharon was…oof.

(Oh, I’m sure there will still be fighting, though lol.)

Dec 152022
 

You guys, the most amazing thing happened after we scarfed down 1.5 cinnamon breads between the three of us: ALL OF THE RIDES OPENED. In this post, we will look at pictures of rides, and us on rides, and I’ll say some things about rides. Sound good? YEAH THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT.

Blazing Fury! I love riding this and screaming outlandishly on the drops. Chooch thought the one ride operator looked like Jonah Hill except he couldn’t remember his name so I went through a list of basically every actor affiliated with Seth Rogen until his name was on the tip of my tongue and suddenly, in a moment of the ride when it was pretty quiet and no one on the train was talking, I bellowed, “JONAH HILL!!!!” so now I think that should be my new dark ride battle cry, kind of like when we went through a phase of screaming, “JANNA!” as a way to express mock-fear on kiddie coasters.

Hey man, I had been wanting to ride this dumb kids ride ever since I saw videos of Dollywood’s new family area, Wildwood Grove.

It was kind of dumb but also hilarious. I wanted Chooch and I to share a bear but as you can see, that did play out the way I had hoped.

Wow, Chooch put his phone down long enough for Henry to take a picture, I’m shocked.

Back row, Lightning Rod! This was a station wait ALL DAY LONG. Literally could have just walked on at times if we hadn’t been so particular about front or back row.

SIR. I forgot how insane this coaster is. My very first RMC, back in 2018, and still one of my favorites. However, it either got a lot rougher or I just don’t remember it being so rough, but my organs felt majorly jostled on every ride. The quad-down or whatever thoosie name it has is still easily one of my favorite elements on any RMC I’ve ridden this far. It makes me so fucking giddy!

Chooch sang Papa Roach on this again, for old time’s sake. This time though he looked up the lyrics so he could sing more than just the opening part and then made the mistake of trying to make sense of them. Words in a song written and performed by a band called Papa Roach.

Good luck!

We just kept getting right back in line at one during the day. When you can basically WALK ON an RMC, you gotta take advantage of that shit. I definitely had some minor bruising on my person from the re-rides. Not complaining!

I made Chooch ride these acorns with me. I had to do it for the squirrels, you know?!

I also had to take a picture of this because SQUIRREL. Also, in the background, you can see the lift hill for Wild Eagle. We only rode this once – I don’t know why this one isn’t very re-rideable for me. It’s not BAD by any means, I guess I just don’t care much for wing coasters? This one just isn’t that memorable to me, although the ride operator certainly was. He was some old dude who definitely was taking FULL advantage of being given a microphone and he turned that station into open mic night.

Except he was the only performer.

Chooch got on the train after us and was able to hear one more joke than we did. He was 100% not a fan of this guy at all, and in his typical surly manner, later relayed to me the “dumbest joke of all time” that the guy told as Chooch’s train was leaving the station.

“What was the name of the reindeer in Jingle Bells? Bob. The bells on Bob’s tail ring — no, don’t laugh. It’s not funny,” Chooch sighed when he noticed that I was cracking up at his retelling of the Not Funny Joke.

Here we are standing in line for the new family coaster in the Wildwood Grove section. This wasn’t when Chooch was retelling the joke, but that was similar to the face he made when I laughed at it. This was a new credit for him since it was built after our last visit!

Um OK, can we hold the phone for a sec? Because I think Thunderhead might be in my Top 5 favorite wooden coasters of all time? I think it might even be my favorite coaster in Dollywood? I knew that this was one that seriously gave me giggle fits last time we were there but I was SO AFRAID that it wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. Maybe I outgrew it! I have been on so many excellent coasters since 2018, after all.

But SHIT SON, somehow this felt even crazier, wilder, and more fucking fantastic than the last time. I was not prepared. Not at all. This was another straight-up walk on so after we rode it once, we ran all the way around and got right back on without Henry, who was reading dumb Reddit shit on his phone while sitting on a bench, even noticing.

I made Henry ride this later in the front row and you guys, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe and came SO CLOSE to peeing my pants. This is what a roller coaster should feel like! Insanity! Giddy! Wild!

Henry sent me this from his terrible phone, but it was a gif so I had to just put a screen shot in here because WordPress is so finicky. Anyway, this is us on the new kiddie coaster that went around like 3 or 4 times – 3 or 4 times TOO much.

Not shown: Tennessee Tornado, which was way less shitty than I remembered it to be so I allowed Chooch to drag me on it twice; Mystery Mine, which I was OBSESSED with the first time we went to Dollywood in 2011! It’s still fun, just kind of underwhelming now. Firechaser Express – I love this family coaster! It’s so much fun and it has a backward launch which always makes me crack up!

Oh wait, I lied! I forgot that I took this video while we were in line:

I think this wraps up the ride portion of the blog posts! I will return at some point with the remainder of my pictures and thoughts, like you care!

Dec 102022
 

Dollywood doesn’t open until 11am so we were able to have somewhat of a leisurely Sunday, which is almost unheard of for us when we’re traveling. There is not much room for “relaxation” with our vacationing style, lol. I tried to read on our little balcony for a little bit, and then we got a C- grade hotel breakfast downstairs. I mean, it was fine for people who don’t care about what they’re eating, I guess. But I am limited. I settled on scrambled eggs and it got the job done. Meanwhile, Henry tried to mansplain to some young girl how to use the pancake machine and she snapped back at him, which he proceeded to dwell on even a day later, like OK bro, god forbid you called out for being a know-it-all man.

Probably replaying the pancake scene in his head on the hotel balcony before we left for Dollywood.

On the tram at Dollywood! We arrived a bit after 10am because usually places will open the lots earlier than the park, so we try to beat the crowds. Sadly, the driver of the tram got on his little speaker thing and said that he was required to tell us that DUE TO HIGH WINDS, SOME OF THE RIDES WOULD NOT BE RUNNING TODAY.

He quickly curbed any and all questions but continuing, “Now look, I don’t have a list of the rides, but I’m obligated to tell you,” and then he went on to list all the non-ride shit that Dollywood has to offer, like meats and shows. Two things that I do not care for. We were pretty bummed about this but I tried to look on the bright side in that we’ve already ridden everything there (except for the new family coaster) and there are way worse places to be stuck at for a day than Dollywood, lemme tell you.

There was a small crowd already gathering at the gates and we were prepared to stand there until 11, but then they played the National Anthem at 10:30 and started letting people in! Let’s goooo!

DOLLYWOOD, I MISSED YOU!

We decided to take a chance and walked straight to Lightning Rod just to see, and there was already a small line that had formed. This gave us hope because there wasn’t a CLOSED FOR WEATHER sign at the entrance or any other type of crowd deterrent, so maybe the tram driver was given FAKE NEWS.

It did seem pretty windy though, which sucked because the rest of the weather was a bangin’ fall day, man. Sunshine, high-60s, bright blue skies. I was actually starting to sweat a little in my sweater and Chooch was mumbling about how this was why he wanted to wear shorts, wah.

I’m sure it’s park policy that they have to wait until the joint officially opens before the ride attendants can come out and give us the bad news, but it was still annoying that they let all of us coaster assholes loiter for 30 minutes before coming out of their hidey holes inside the station to tell us that the ride was not opening due to winds. Actually, they only seemingly whispered this update to the people in the very front, and not everyone was leaving so we weren’t sure what the fuck was going on until some girl behind us walked up and asked. Then we heard her tell her friends that they said NOTHING was running, and they left the line along with a bunch of other people, so we followed like the sheep that we are.

I was wondering if the carousel at least was running, and Chooch was like, “NO, NONE OF THE RIDES ARE, ESPECIALLY NOT THE CAROUSEL” because he has grown to hate carousels thanks to my obsession with carouselfies.

BUT IT WAS RUNNING!!!

I didn’t realize that they were both sitting in the same position, but they said afterward it was because they were both trying to get the seat belt on which wasn’t even required for adults. (I so badly wanted to end that sentence with “lol” but I my new thing is attempting to write more like an adult and not an AIM child. Bear with me, it’s a struggle.)

I love this sweater so much. I almost said I got it from Delia’s because my mind is clearly living its best life in the 90s but I actually got it last year from Mod Cloth. I usually have bad Mod Cloth experiences, but this one was a winner. You know, just a non-sponsored FYI.

I don’t know which one I like better: 1 or 3? Only one can go on the carouselfie wall!

Since all of the coasters were presumably closed, we took this opportunity to get some critically-acclaimed cinnamon bread. I had been dreaming of this moment. We didn’t know that this was a DO NOT MISS foodstuffs the first time we visited in 2011, because I had failed to do my due diligence, but we rectified our errors the last time we were there and can confirm that this is a park food that 100% lives up to its hype. Holy shit, this damn bread. They give you a whole tin pan thingie of it and it’s like a warm, sticky pillow of decadence.

We got TWO to split between the three of us because last time, we only got one for the three of us and craved more immediately after demolishing the pan in under 5 minutes.

We ate one and half loaves right then and there, and then devoured the rest later that evening because we are pigs for Dolly’s cinnamon bread.

LOL. Also, I begged him to bring other flannels but he of course just brought the one which is so annoying. “My shirts underneath are different every time!” he cried defensively, like that matters. (OK, it does, but Jesus, Henry.)

Then we casually strolled about, taking in the scenery. Dollywood is so cozy and woodsy!

Then something totally amazing happened: EVERY RIDE WAS CLEARED TO OPEN!! The day totally did a complete 180! So, my plan of, “Well, we’ll just have a leisurely, slow day at the park since the rides are closed. We can take it easy and go see some shows or something” turned into, “LET’S GO, BITCHES! GO GO GO!!” as we ran from one coaster to the next. More pictures in the next post!

Dec 062022
 

Here is where I eat crow –

(except not this crow)

(wait, I’m a vegetarian, so not ANY crow)

(WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE EATING CROW??)

– the hotel that I threw a fit over actually ended up being….pretty OK. Like, the room was big and modern shockingly, and the shower was very clean and nice, and it had a cute balcony that overlooked the Pigeon Stream or something, I forget what it’s called. It was literally babbling like they say in the fairy tales or whatever. Very quaint.

Lookit!

Here’s what it looked like from the street when we were en route to get our Gatlin’ on.

  1. It was like 40 degrees but would Chooch wear pants and at the very least a hoodie? Obviously not.
  2. I fucking swear to god Henry as an array of flannels but this is the only one he hadn’t vacuum-packed last spring and keeps re-wearing it because he can’t be bothered to deflate his winter clothes. Sigh.

Pretending he doesn’t belong to us.

GUYS. Guys guys guys guys. There was only really ONE THING I wanted to do while we were in Gatlinburg and that was revisit the Mysterious Mansion. Chooch and I went through the last time we were there in 2018 and it was SO GOOD that I think about it every Halloween season because I wish so badly we had something like this in Pittsburgh.

Aerial views while waiting in the foyer.

The ticket lady made us wait for “five minutes” to see if anyone dared to join us. A group of ladies and their annoying preteen girls approached at one point and one of the moms came in to ask questions. She went back outside and relied whatever info she had gleaned and it turned into a dramatic tug of war because wahhh, the girls were too scared, etc etc. They lingered outside the house for a good while and the ticket lady called out from her window-nook, “Let’s just wait a minute and see what these people are going to do.”

Finally, they retreated and I was tres relieved (lol, I used to say everything was tres this and tres that in middle school for no good reason other than I probably learned it from Sassy). As the lady was finally reading us the rules and letting go through the turnstile into the formal waiting room, two guys showed up and also bought tickets. I was pissed at first until they joined us and I realized that they were adults, maybe young 30s, and as Chooch said, kind of like my brother Corey. They ended up being great companions for our tour through this fucked up house, which requires lots of hands-on action, searching for hidden doors, etc.

I won’t give anything away because there is one thing that this place does that is different from any other haunt I’ve been to and it’s FUCKING JARRING, but for a haunt to have only 2 or 3 scare actors yet still make grown men jump is a true fucking feat. I just want to give a shout out to the Ringu-esque girl and the clown for being the real MVPs, and when I say that clowns usually don’t scare me…

DAMN this one got me GOOD. Like, 87 times. And then I think I imprinted on him.

“Do you think he thought I was pretty??” I breathlessly asked Henry after we left the house, with the clown leering at us from the exit.

“Sure, Erin,” Henry sighed.

:(

Things I didn’t take pictures of:

  • Walking to the main drag of Gatlinburg where Henry gave Chooch $40 to buzz off into an arcade while we did a cider tasting at the Tennessee Cider Company (I think this was the name?). Dude. I cannot hold any sort of alcohol anymore, which is perfectly fine with me because I truly don’t care that much about drinking, but after the second sampling, everything just tasted like lighter fluid to me, even though I am first and foremost a cider gal. Not to be a HIPSTER about it, but I was totally drinking cider (Strongbow for life) before it became trendy and…everywhere. Anyway, we had a hysterical cider-slinger assisting us and two other couples. We snagged 6 bottles (3 for gifts, three for us) and everyone who bought at least 2 got a free bottle of peanut butter cider and um, I can see why they were giving it away. Everything we sampled was delicious, but this tasted like smelling a scratch-n-sniff sticker while drinking…blank alcohol. Do not recommend. I honestly preferred the OG plain-ass apple flavor.
  • Then, Chooch popped into and was like, “Oh cool, you’re still here getting drunk anyway here are the pointless things I won at the arcade also I lost $20.” This got Henry’s attention. “You’re kidding,” he said. “Nope. I have no idea how it fell out of my pocket. It’s because I left my wallet at the hotel.” Then Henry called him an asshole really loud (not that loud, actually, but he did use his “I’m kind of in a loud bar environment and want to make damn sure my son knows he’s being called an asshole” voice-volume. Then Chooch asked for the key to the hotel now that he had “no money and nothing else to do” and the skulked away. “Wow,” I said. “He’s way more honest than I was at that age. I never would have admitted to losing cash! I would have been like, ‘Hi here I am, back with these two prizes that cost $40 at the arcade!'” I mean, even if he hadn’t lost the $20, he still would have lost the $20 in the games.
  • Then we walked the rest of the side of the road we were on. It was SO FUCKING CROWDED. You couldn’t get near the bar in the moonshine tasting places, and the line to ride the cable car had half a block’s worth of sidewalk congested to the point where we had to keep stepping into the street. This was not how I remembered it last time we were there, which was also the weekend after Thanksgiving!

New location: other side of the street.

Christmas dogs!

The best parts of Gatlinburg IMO are the little squares tucked away from the main drag. They’re these adorable little courtyards with fountains and specialty shops away from all the MAGA SWAG and MOONSHINE and RIPLEYS BELIEVE IT OR WHO GIVES A FUCK. (Honestly, how much stake does Ripleys have in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge??) One of the courtyards had a place called FRIAR’S DONUTS and it called to me. Not so much because I was craving a donut (although I could use a sweet carb to sponge up the cider in my gut) but because FRIAR and I saw from the doorway that they had MERCH.

“Oh, I KNEW IT. We have to go inside because I want a magnet!” I cried. “But you have to buy a donut too because then it just looks weird if we only buy a magnet.” This was one of the few times Henry didn’t question my logic because MMMMM, ME EAT DONUT NOW!!!!!! MMMM!

This guy looked so much like Henry’s son’s Blake’s BFF Artie, who also is one of Henry’s drivers at the Faygo Factory! He calls Henry to chat way more than any of Henry’s actual sons, which is hilar to me

A FRIAR AND HIS DONUTS.

We split a glazed and it was CLASSIC tasting. Like, it tasted like a donut my Pappap probably ate at Mr. Donut in the 70s with his drywall employees. Do you know what I mean? Like a genuine donut that knows its role and isn’t trying to be something it’s not. I would go back for more donuts next time we’re in town, for sure, and actually – was this open Sunday morning because I would have preferred another glazed over the meh hotel breakfast we had…

Although I was purposely having a meh breakfast because I was saving myself for the DOLLYWOOD CINNAMON BREAD LATER THAT DAY. More on that later, but I might need to take a break here for a second and stare at the ceiling with my tongue drooping out the side of my mouth as I recall the flavor fiesta in my mouth….

Taffy puller lost in thought.

We also bought some delicious cookies from a very friendly pregnant lady at some cookie place and an assortment of moonshine chocolate from a super bored young guy who was 100% wasn’t trying to make a sale in an empty store in the corner of the FRIAR’S DONUTS courtyard. I thought we were just going in to sample them but Henry was like OH TWIST MY ARM, WHY DON’T YOU and bought a box of 10 and I mean, they were fine but not $20-some worth of fine.

We walked back to the hotel on a much quieter back street, collected Chooch, and set off to do a mountain coaster but all of them were like SO CROWDED that you could barely even pull into the parking lots, so instead we went to a gas station to get beverages (Henry got some smirnoff mixed drink thing in a can and I was like WHO ARE YOU) and then we went back to the hotel, watched Friends as is our hotel routine no matter what (or Golden Girls!) and then got some rest in preparation for a full day of DOLLYWOOD!

(But yeah, if you ever go to Gatlinburg, do the haunted house!!!! DO NOT DO THE RIPLEYS ONE!!! If you see a haunted attraction on the main strip of Gatlinburg, THAT IS NOT IT. The one you want is on a back street, you have to cross over the creek via a pedestrian bridge, and the haunted house butts up against a hillside. Dude, you gotta go.)

Dec 052022
 

If I was a POSER, I would skip the part of Saturday where we came down from the mountain and went to our hotel in Gatlinburg and the sight of it from the parking lot alone made me throw a fit because IT LOOKED SKETCHY so I cried about how the whole weekend was awful and I just wanted to go home and Henry was like NO and I was like YES and Chooch was like *here we go* and then Henry called my bluff and said FINE and started to “drive home” and we made it as far as Pigeon Forge, past the signs for Dollywood, when I screamed, “PULL OVER, I AM GOING TO FIND MY OWN HOTEL” and Henry was like “OK YOU DO THAT” and Chooch was like *this is gonna be good* and I “found a hotel” in Pigeon Forge and Henry was like, “OK LET’S GO CHECK MOM INTO HER HOTEL” and I was like “OK but before I confirm my reservation, can we please eat lunch.”

And that’s how we ended up at Mellow Mushroom, which is tradition (4x makes it so), and then we all had a big laugh over The Fight while shoveling delicious pizza into our mouths.

And then Chooch told me my smile is just as fake as my voice.

I ALWAYS GET THIS ONE, it’s their mushroom pie and it is delectable. The waiter (super friendly chap in a cowboy hat who Henry originally thought was faking his southern twang but I don’t think so) agreed that it’s the best one.

Pretty uneventful (BUT FILLING AND DELICIOSO) lunch, which was actually welcome considering the stressful morning and high-octane temper tantrum of mine. It was nice to just sit in a booth and speak gently to each other. (Gently? Eh, we were still probably being assholes to each other but probably with more good humor and less vitriol.)

Look, so happy and fed! Hanger squashed. Real smiles! People walking by were laughing because we were laughing and this actually happened another time too, according to Henry. “That lady was laughing because she saw you laughing,” he said, slightly concerned.

After lunch, we went to the Old Mill …. something. Somehow, after two trips to this area, we had never known about this! I just happened to see it from the window when I was still sulking on the way to lunch, after the HOTEL HULLABALOO.

Look how beautiful! Once we crossed the bridge, I immediately recognized a bunch of spots from the In The Loop travel vlogs from Pigeon Forge. Legend and Molly are huge Pigeonheads (that sounded good at the time) so it all started to come back to me. We checked out a soap shop and instead of getting local soap, Chooch got a mass-produced brand name (Duke Cannon) bar of Pumpkin Spice Latte soap. I mean, you do you, Chooch, I guess.

Metal-working. Other people were taking pictures so I felt like I should too, but then I realized they were taking pictures of their family members who were metal-working with the professionals.

Next, I bought some local jams for Xmas gifts at one of the Old Mill shops. Surprisingly, this area wasn’t too outrageous people-wise for a Saturday afternoon, so we had a pretty pleasant time

We stopped in this alleged cat house but there were only THREE CATS TO BE FOUND. And then just a bunch of cat art and people clothes with cats on them. It was disappointing except for the actual cats we got to see.

Some cafe was next door. I had a pretty good apple cider chai.

By now, I was fed *and* caffeinated so I was feeling even better about life.

This picture actually became very useful a few nights later when we were back home in Pittsburgh and I lurched forward on this couch. “WAIT, WHERE ARE MY JAMS?” I exclaimed.

“……………..um,” Henry stammered.

I ran out to the car to check, we checked our luggage, but NO JAM. NO FUCKING JAM!! I started to think it was my fault. I vaguely remembered setting the bag down when Chooch and I were sitting in those adirondack chairs in the cafe. But then I was going through my pictures and cried out, “A HA!!!! YOU WERE CARRYING THE BAG AFTER THE CAFE!” So we had to have lost it somewhere between that bridge and our car. There were THREE more shops we went to before leaving: a nut place, a candy place, and a gaming place.

But as soon as I showed Henry this picture, he said, “I set it down in that planter behind Chooch when I took your picture. Fuck.”

I was already mad at him because he took the stupid picture from the wrong angle (the mill was to the left!!!) so this dumb picture ended up costing me $20 in lost goods.

I know, it’s not A LOT of money, but it’s not….NOT a lot. And it sucks, especially because I bought the jam with the intention of tucking them in gift bags for some friends.

AT LEAST HENRY MADE SURE HIS CANDY SAFELY MADE IT BACK TO PITTSBURGH.

And Chooch’s stupid soap! I should have made him carry my jam too!

Anyway, I can’t remember the name of this game store but the guys working there were FANTASTIC. They treated Chooch like a prince and when he asked for suggestions, one of the was like “WALK WITH ME, M’LAD.” I mean, not in so many words. But yeah, I would recommend this place if you’re in the area and looking for a game to play on a rainy night in your hotel, or whatever!

Oh, and the nut place we went to was full of MAGA shit so I did NOT buy a magnet even though their logo was a bad ass squirrel.

Back to the jam! Henry emailed the jam place on a whim to see if anyone turned in the bag.

“No one would have done that!” I scoffed, because my faith in humanity is at an all-time low. I mean, that’s 100% something I would have done – and been super panicked about it too. “WE HAVE TO GET THIS JAM BACK IN THE RIGHT HANDS!” as I’m darting all around Pigeon Forge like Dolly Parton looking for her car in the lot after working 9to5. (Look, that and Steel Magnolias is pretty much as far as my Dolly knowledge goes, but I am sure thankful that she has a theme park!)

“You never know, being the south and all,” Henry reasoned. “It’s worth a shot.”

WOULD YOU BELIEVE that the jam store emailed him and said that they weren’t aware of any misplaced jams being returned, but they would check with the managers of the other stores in the square AND ONE OF THE STORES CAME BACK AND SAID THAT YES, SOMEONE HAD BROUGHT IT TO THEM!

Ugh I’m so pissed that I didn’t realize it was missing while we were still there. BUT they were kind enough to issue me a refund (they also offered the option of shipping it to me but I didn’t feel like dealing with that). Whoever returned this is a true hero.

I mean OK it wasn’t like it was my WEDDING BAND (you can’t lose something you don’t have, lol) or my prosthetic thumb, but it was still a small weight off my shoulders.  I don’t have enough money for “It’s only money” to apply to me.

I did not thank Henry for getting me a refund because this was all his fault in the first place, so…

Anyway, after we left the gaming place, it was time to go back to Gatlinburg and check in.

“Don’t we have to drop Mum off at her hotel first?” Chooch deadpanned from the backseat.

Sigh.

Dec 022022
 

The first time we went to Tennessee was back in 2011, with our good friends Bill and Jessi, who invited us to tag along on their vacation and subsequently causing us to fall in love with the area! The three of us woke up early one morning in an attempt to do some mountain shit. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I think the sole reason was because my beloved Roadside America app had suggested a place called Clingman’s Dome and it sounded super spacey and weird, so I wanted to do it. I mean, it was only an overlook thing that required a mild hike to reach, but it was still something to do.

I just had no idea that Chooch was going to have such an adverse reaction to this area! He was throwing such a huge fit (“My legs hurt!” “I’m tired!” “CARRY ME, WAH!”) that we were sincerely afraid he was going to alert any neighboring bears to our presence (though I imagine they’d probably have fled the opposite direction, take me with you, bears).

I was cruising through my old Flickr album for the 2011 trip last week, to stoke the nostalgia for our upcoming return, and when I saw the below picture, I thought, “Golly, gosh darn, wouldn’t it be a real barrel of laughs to recreate this shot with Chooch who is now 16 and taller than both of us?”

I posted it on Instagram as sort of an interest check but also to put it out there so that Chooch and Henry would have less room to decline my latest demand. I love doing that to them. “BUT I ALREADY TOLD THE INTERNET!”

We went to breakfast first on Monday with the intention of then driving straight up into the Smokies. EXCEPT GUESS WHAT YOU GUYS. The fucking ONLY ROAD that takes you into the mountains was CLOSED. I went into a tailspin over this. Henry immediately pulled into the Smoky Mountain Visitors Center while I basically cried and Chooch sardonically murmured, “Aw, that’s too bad. I was really looking forward to having  my picture taken. Shucks.” Henry was checking the GPS for alternatives but there was NOTHING. The GPS map even showed that the road was blocked off! The day before, there were high winds in the area so Henry guessed that probably a lot of branches and debris were covering the road and needed to be swept off.

I DIDN’T CARE! I JUST WANTED THE STUPID ROAD TO BE OPEN!

“Go inside the info building and ask them when it will open!” I wailed.

“They’re not going to know,” Henry mumbled, looking for something shiny to distract me.

THAT IS LITERALLY THE WHOLE PURPOSE OF AN INFORMATION CENTER, TO HAVE PEOPLE INSIDE THAT ARE PROVIDING INFORMATION!

I was just about to lose my mind when I glanced at the GPS map and noticed that the “ROAD CLOSED” thingie was no longer showing up on the map, so I whipped around to look out the rear window at the actual road and sure enough, the barricades had been removed!

I was screaming! Henry and Chooch were sighing!

The drive to Clingman’s Dome took about 30 minutes or so but it was so nice because hardly anyone was on the road. I think only about 3 cars had made it in front of us when the road opened so it was as nature intended.

What a huge difference from Saturday, that’s for sure. I believe only 2 cars were already in the parking lot of Clingman’s Dome trail as opposed to the 50+ plus the line of traffic going down the mountain that we ran into on Saturday. Has an empty parking lot ever been so beautiful.

Unforch, another big difference was that the weather on Saturday was BEAUTIFUL, sunny and totally hoodie weather. But on this day, it was drizzling/snow-misting, windy AF, and around 30 degrees (but felt like 20 degrees).  Chooch of course was only wearing a hoodie over his t-shirt, AND SHORTS, and Henry and I just had on light jackets. This was 100% hat and gloves conditions, people.

But I wasn’t leaving without the damn picture, so we set off onto the trail at the same as an Indian family. We had only been walking for about 3-5 minutes when we all collectively realized that, “HOLY SHIT, THIS IS THE SPOT.” I mean, it was pretty much exactly the same, even the log was still there. And then I started cracking up because you’d have thought we’d had been legit hiking the side of a rugged mountain for hours the way Chooch was reacting in 2011. But nope – just three minutes!

I pulled out the camera to take the shot, BUT HENRY BROUGHT THE WRONG LENS. So, this time it was me throwing a tantrum and Henry angrily stormed off to retrieve the correct lens. Meanwhile, three of the older members of the Indian family had cried UNCLE and were making their way back. One of them stopped and kindly asked if we needed help and I said, “Oh, no thank you. We’re just waiting for—-” and I blanked, not knowing how to refer to Henry!? “—our friend.”

He nodded and kept walking, but honestly, I’m sure Chooch and I looked like suspish hooligans, loitering on the side of the trail like we had just found a geocache of drugs and gold bars and Elvis’s molar.

Henry came back, jammed the lens into my person, furiously shrugged off his jacket, lifted Chooch up over his shoulder, and hoarsely hissed, “TAKE THE FUCKING PICTURE.”

I mean, it does look like the same spot, right?? I was actually shook that we found it.

 

Look at Henry so far ahead of us, lol. He was DONEZO after this. It’s been 5 days and he’s still bitching about his back pain. Oops. But, at least we made the memory!? RIGHT HENRY?

Oh shit, the hilarity of the comparison of these two pictures carried me through most of the drive home. I just kept going back and looking at it and cracking the hell up. I want to say that I can’t believe they went through with this, but c’mon.

I knew that they would.

You knew that they would.

They knew that they would.

Nov 302022
 

I was so angry on Saturday. Henry actually got home from work early on Friday and we had discussed leaving earlier and driving all the way through to Gatlinburg, but then he decided to take a nap until fucking 3pm, so he stuck with the OG plan of driving to somewhere in Virginia and then continuing on the next morning. So, by the time we actually got to Gatlinburg, it was 11am on Saturday. I had wanted to get up into the mountains early! The plan was to go to Clingman’s Dome and recreate a picture of Henry and Chooch from when we were there in 2011. I was looking forward to it because it was a beautiful day for doing mountain walks, you know? Except, it was so incredibly crowded by the time we got there that we couldn’t even find a parking spot. Can you believe it?! It was like trying to park at fucking Disney, I don’t even know. And the worst part was that some BITCH in her pocketed leggings (Henry HATES when women wear these pants lol) got out of a minivan in front of us and ran through the lot which was horseshoe-shaped, when she saw that a spot had opened up on the other side. Literally ran across the grass that was separating the sides of the lot and stood in the empty spot so that none of the FIFTY (probably!!) cars in front of theirs could claim it.

When we passed her on the way out of the lot (after clearly NOT getting a spot), Henry called her a cunt and I yelled across him, “Must feel cool to be such an asshole!”

“Wow,” Chooch murmured from the backseat. Look at us, setting the Good Examples!

That felt good to get that off our chests, but it was still extremely disappointing that it was SO CROWDED up there. This was my first time really experiencing heavy crowds in nature and it was wild.  We were there at the same of the year, also on a Saturday afternoon in 2018 and it wasn’t even close to being this insane. We didn’t go to Clingman’s Dome that time around but the overlooks and parking lots for other trails were not even almost at capacity and when I tell you that there were people creating their own parking spots on Saturday, I’m not being hyperbolic. Henry thinks it’s because people are still super-motivated to get out and do shit after quarantine, but now that everything is $$$$$$$$$$$ more people are trying to have free fun.

I was really bummed about this (and projected my dissatisfaction onto Henry, as one does) but honestly, even if we had found a parking spot, there was absolutely NO WAY that we would have been able to recreate the picture we wanted without hordes of people being in the background. So, it was for the best, and we planned to get up extra early on Monday and revisit the spot before leaving for home.

But dude, listen. The best part about this failed drive up the mountain was stopping at one of the smaller overlooks on the way back down and befriending the cutest, sweetest crow!!

He was totally chill, you can tell he was very used to people (probably not a great thing) and was like, “Sure, you can sit as close to me as you want. Can I also get into your car and go into town with you? I have some errands to run.”

“OMG I HAVE NEVER SEEN A CROW BEFORE, WOWWEEEE!”

Chooch and I were competing over who could take the best picture of the crow, but Chooch sadly won. Only because he has the new iPhone and I don’t!! I don’t even know what mine is. It was the newest one available in the beginning of 2020, the Covid edition, I guess.

ILYSM!!!!!!

I wanted him to come home with me and chase the fucking hawk away, ugh.

Such a beautiful bird! A huge highlight of the day for me, for sure.

Nov 292022
 

We needed somewhere to eat dinner when we were en route to Tennessee on Friday and of course Henry put the burden on me. I hate that!! I can’t understand maps first of all, so I always end up finding a cool place, getting my heart set on it, only for Henry to say, “THAT IS NOT ON THE EXIT” like I know what that means.

I really hate him sometimes.

There was this cafe that was also a used book shop that had lots of vegan options and sounded like something I would love and I put all my eggs in that basket. Then of course, Henry was like THAT IS IN CHARLESTON, WV AND WE ARE NOT GOING THAT WAY but hello, he’s the one who was like, “Look for Rt. BunchaNumbers on the map and go from there.”  THAT IS WHAT I DID??

Anyway, I found a place in Davidson (? I think ?) WV called The Dish and it seemed appealing because they had housemade veggie burgers as well as brownies made with avocado. This seemed much better than going to a diner and getting stuck with either grilled cheese or a Gardenburger – not knocking either of these, and you know I love that greasy spoon ambiance, but I also wanted something healthy-ish.

Chooch was playing some dumb game on his phone called Bitlife all weekend and it was really embarrassing when he would say things like, “Now my mission is to become a pornographer” and the waitress would be lingering on the periphery. Or, “Great, 7 of my kids have measles and one just died.”

Henry and I are actually broken up but here is one of the last pictures we took together.


I had major regertz after seeing Chooch’s PB&J on a waffle that he ordered from the kid’s menu because he “just wasn’t that hungry” all of a sudden, but then was “starving” by the time we got to the hotel in Virginia an hour later. (I think we stayed in Virginia?? Yes, we did. I just had a flashback of passing the billboard for Dolly’s Diner and then going through the tunnel, and I think then Virginia happens.)

Oh you guys, my veggie burger was delectable. It came on a pita which was a nice departure from a typical bun! (Although the bun on ex-boyfriend Henry’s burger looked bangin’ so I kind of had double-regertz over that one.) There was avocado on this and a nice sauce that I enjoyed immensely. The only downside was that I ordered the veggie of the day – Brussels sprouts, which I love –  after confirming with the server that they weren’t going to be cooked in MEAT since nearly all eating establishments like to sully the sprouts in that way, making us veg-types the most sad. However, they gave me a baby portion! Literally like half of a palmful. I will say that they were cooked nicely and not all butter-logged and soggy. But still. I wanted more!

And then we split a warm brownie made with avocadoes, which Chooch frowned upon because he couldn’t wrap his head around this healthy ingredient substitute, but I thought it was just right.

Anyway, the whole reason I’m even writing this is because one day in the future, someone is going to ask, “What was that restaurant we ate at that one time…” and all I will have to do is check my dumb blog (if it even still exists) and scream out, “THE DISH! I WIN!” And also because I wouldn’t mind returning to this place the next time we’re driving out that way because it was delicious and didn’t make me feel shit afterward!

If you have any restaurant/diner recs that are on the route from Pittsburgh to Gatlinburg, let me know. I hate relying on Yelp, even though this time it worked in my favor!

Nov 282022
 

Leaving Tennessee today! It’s 6:46am and we’re packing up the room which involves us throwing stuff at Henry and saying, “Here put this in here.”

We woke up extra early to get to Crockett’s Breakfast Camp right when they open at 7 because for some reason I have latched on to this place after watching YouTube videos about it but it gets super crowded. We got here at 6:56 and there was already a small group of people waiting.

Chooch and Henry are not impressed yet.

7:45am: Back at the hotel so Henry can “go to the bathroom” before we check out. What you missed:

  • Henry being sulky that I made him order Aretha Frankenstein’s Griddle Cakes which are just thick boi pancakes made in a griddle because I wanted to try them but didn’t want my own order since it was too much for muh belly and also didn’t come with a side of PONE like the egg breakfasts do. I was obsessed with this mythical PONE and it turned out to just be a thimble-sized dollop of a mushy corn bread (almost like ChiChi’s, #rip) with cranberries. It was good but I wish I would have known that’s all it was.
  • The pancakes were GÜT!!!!
  • Our waitress had an accent and Henry was like IT SOUNDS CAJUN and chooch and I were like, “who were you talking to??” Because it was totally some sort of Eastern Euro I’m betting. Then we saw her name on the bill – JULIYA. So Cajun.
  • Had to check out the bathroom as per the uje. The broad in there with me left without washing her hands, ugh.

Last view from our balcony. We stayed at some lame SureStay / Best Western but it ended up being ok even though I threw a huge fit about it on Saturday just based on the parking lot, backside of the building lol oh, me.

9:34am Hoo boy we just had a great excursion to Clingmans Dome in the Smokies. I wanted to recreate a picture from 2011 and we tried to do this on Saturday but the mountains were SO CROWDED that we couldnt get even get a parking spot. So we came back this morning and it was basically snowing, soooo cold, but somehow we only argued once and very briefly??

I’ll post the recreation in a separate blog post because I used the DSLR for it.

11:00am: We’re only just leaving Pigeon Forge now. It took so long to drive out of the mountains and Henry refused to stop anywhere even though I purposely wore a nice sweater to have my picture taken in. But ok. Mm.

Stopped at a gas station in Pigeon Forge that was next to a Bojangles and as we were leaving I saw a sign for sweet potato pies so I made Henry go into Bojangles and get one but he had to wait ten minutes for new ones to be made and I actually hate saying this but it was lowkey worth it. McD’s-esque and the filling was so smooth and warm.

12:36pm: Starting to not be as sulky. Found a place to eat at in some rando’ Virginian town, stay tuned. Hopefully they’re actually open. Just sitting here in the meantime marveling over Renjun’s precious baby voice.

1:16pm: Made it to White Birch!

I haven’t had a golden latte in forever.

Guys. I got the vegan curry and it was…meh, sadly. It had huge chunks of crunchy onions and carrots that were barely cooked, stewed tomatoes (ugh), over rice and quinoa. I had to keep trying to eat around stuff and it didn’t even taste curry-ish, but more like a stew.

Chooch didn’t eat any of his wrap which I tasted and immediately wished I had ordered because it was delicious but Chooch is v. picky. So I guess that’s what I’m having for dinner.

Henry got a chicken salad sandwich or something who cares.

3:45pm: Henry made me drive for a little while and that was annoying. I’m actually still driving right now while I’m blogging JUST KIDDING I’m not an asshole.

5:44pm: this drive is so boring. I finished a book (Palm Beach Finland). It was ok. We have been listening to NCT this whole time. Chooch is laying in the back being a baby.

7:37pm: We just stopped at a rest area in Pennsylvania and I swear to fucking GOD this is not familiar even though we are on this route very often?? I feel like if it’s not new-new, it is at the very least a renovated rest stop but Henry is arguing that it’s not. I mean it was like sparkling, even the bathroom, and the vending area had an intense number of options and a SITTING AREA.

When we were leaving, I pointed out the numbers along the side of the door and asked if it was in case you wanted to measure your height and Henry said it’s there for when there is a robbery/crime so you know the approx. height of the perp?? I never knew this. I literally thought it was there in case someone felt like checking their height for curiosity purposes.

8:14pm: we should be home in about 24 minutes so I’ll put this live blog out of its misery. Byeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Nov 032022
 

Today is my Pappap’s birthday. He passed away in 1996 and while I miss the HELL out of him every single day, I did eventually reach a point where I was able to stop crying about it at a pin drop and actually enjoy the memories I have.

I acquired a shit ton of photos from whenever we were cleaning out my grandparents house in 2016. I still haven’t hone through everything but I like to rummage through the boxes every now and then. I decided to do that tonight to get some photos of him to post on here and I ended up pulling out a stack from one of our vacations in 1990. I was so wrecked-looking for a long time as a kid and these pictures of me are awfully cringey but it’s time for me to stop caring about that because – well, who cares!

I’m glad this is the stack I drew because I have been thinking a lot lately as we plan our family trip for next summer about how my Pappap (and Aunt Sharon, also featured prominently in the upcoming photos) instilled a strong love of travel into my life. I think he would be happy to know that Chooch is here now and is exactly the same way. I think my Pappap would have been wild about Chooch, honestly.

Anyway, please enjoy this random collection of my brace-faced, knotty-maned, chubby-cheeked adolescent self; my Pappap and Sharon’s disdain for posing for the camera; and a lot of European locations, some that I can’t exactly pinpoint all these years later – sorry!

Get ready for some signature Sharon scowls…

On this trip, we did London, parts of France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany, I believe. Maybe Amsterdam, too. I would have to consult my old vacation journals and they are in a large trunk which is a pain to open. So we’ll just have to pretend that my memory is tight.

To this day, when I think of the Spanish Steps, I think of the fanciest McD’s I’ve ever visited. I wonder if it’s still there/as nice?!

I look like I’m crying but this was one of my favorite places when I was a kid, except that there were GIANT spiderwebs inside that bridge and that always scared me. I hope that I can go to Switzerland with Chooch (and Henry, I guess, lol) one day!

I guess Sharon must have taken this picture; I love it a lot.

That green was a choice.

I mean, I hate that I’m about to say this, but Shron really should have smiled more. She was so pretty. Also, seeing those coach buses in the background have me stoked for our summer 2023 trip that better fucking happen because we’ve already paid for some of it and I fucking swear to god there better not be another lockdown. It will be our first time as a family traveling with a group and I’m so excited because I love group tours!!

My pappap was probably ranting about how we had to pay for each pat of butter.

My grandma was a difficult person to travel with.

We’re probably walking off yet another ear-beating from my grandma here in Venice.

I wonder what he was talking about! That one lady is like, “NO FUCKING WAY, YA GOTTA BE SHITTIN’ ME!” in response to whatever tale had him gesticulating like so. You know how kids are always like SO BORED to be sitting with a bunch of adults at a dinner table? I was the opposite – I fucking loved sitting with my pappap because he always had interesting things to say, he always ended up being one of the most popular people on all of our trips, and I felt like A FUCKING GROWN-UP sitting there drinking my hot chocolate (which was usually disgusting Ovaltine in these hotel restaurants) with my plump pinky finger extended.

HNNNNGGGG.

Anyway, I’m glad I never burned these pictures in a hobo fire of shame and I think it’s time that some more of these old shots see the light of day. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to make these memories, even though they weren’t always as idyllic as you’d think. At the end of the day, it was time spent with my pappap and I will always treasure, today especially. Happy birthday, Pappap!!

If you’re reading this, would you like to see more vintage photo dumps like this? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS. Lol.

Oct 142022
 

Not technically a live blog, but I’m still in the car traveling back to PGH and need something to do. So let’s look at the vegan fun that was had today!

As you may know I’m just a run-of-the-mill vegetarian but I always try to seek out vegan joints when we’re out on road trips for a number of reasons: the food is almost always delicious and a nice change from the soggy veggie burger I’d likely be eating at a roadside diner, it’s usually healthier (usually!), I like supporting vegan communities in other cities, it’s a lot easier to find a fully-vegan place than a meat-centric place with a generic Bocaburger on the menu used to placate the token veg that comes in with their carnivorous counterparts.

Good thing Henry isn’t one of those big shot manly men who refuse to put anything plant-based between their lips. He might look like he wakes up and immediately grabs a fistful of Slim Jims off the nightstand for a breakfast pre-game, but he genuinely is so used to faux meat options that he often will cook it for himself at home.

Originally we were going to go to NYC for a partial day trip but honestly, after I found out NCT was already going to be gone, I just didn’t care anymore (the trials and tribs of a forever 16yo) and also one of the places I wanted to eat doesn’t open until 5pm and we were definitely not planning on staying that long since we still had to eventually drive home today. Plus, when I woke up this morning, I was NCT-hungover and didn’t feel like fucking around with the logistics of getting there so I made the executive decision to just come home. Henry was like, “WOW ARE YOU SRS?” with a thank god quietly queefing past his lips.

However!! I had a plan B, and that was to go to Vegan Treats in Bethlehem PA because wait a minute it’s been a minute since we were last there. And then I wanted to swing by Harrisburg to have lunch at The Vegetable Hunter, a vegan spot I’ve been following for a bit on Instagram and also I’ve never actually been to Harrisburg for the dozens upon dozens of times we’ve driven past it to better locations (or…Newark).

The last time we went there, it was also in October and all the creepy Halloween treats were on display.

(Just an FYI as I’m writing this, we’re now home – blogging in the car wasn’t happening because I kept wanting to stop and rehash last night’s NCT concert lololol.)

OMG, we got the purple and black ice cream cone one up there, the Frankensteing, the green eyeball monster, the red&white red velvet one over there, all to take home to share with Chooch. Then Henry threw in a brownie, and pumpkin soft serve to eat for breakfast since it was like 10am and our hotel breakfast was…well, hotel breakfast.

I would like to state for the record that we almost didn’t get soft serve because when Henry asked for today’s flavors, he then turned and repeated them to me as if I wasn’t standing right there, as if the Vegan Treats employee was speaking in a special language that only people familiar with ovens could understand. I opened my mouth to say that I would like to try the pumpkin, but literally .00000003 seconds after Henry translated the utterly confusing big people language to me, he turned back around and said, “That’ll be it” and handed over the credit card.

Now, because I’m me, I quietly stewed about this until we got outside when I unleashed my vitriol. Henry somehow was very calm about this and said, “I’ll go back in and get it” and then told me to go for a walk, which was a good plan because I am currently in a workweek hustle competition on FitBit and some  broad named Marisol is REALLY testing my patience. So I walked around a random street of Bethlehem while Henry accidently entered the bakery through the wrong door and found himself in the kitchen with the bakers.

Then we stopped in Harrisburg for lunch at The Vegetable Hunter! I will say that while the food was great, the people at the counter were not very welcoming. No one else was in there but they didn’t even bother to greet us, show us the menu, ask if we’ve been there before, etc. We didn’t even know it was the type of place where you order at the counter  – I had to ask.

We were the only diners so that was nice. You never know what sort of clientele a vegan joint will bring! (Well, you do, actually, and that’s why you get happy when no one else is there, lol.)

I ordered pulled pork for Henry and immediately wished I had the whole sandwich for myself instead of just the half he shared with me.

I got a ranch chicken and bacon sandwich and it was DELICIOUS – the chicken was made with tofu and perfectly seasoned (what do I know about seasoning though) but it was pretty small. I would have been super hungry still if Henry hadn’t shared his pulled pork with me. My kale salad had peppercorn in it which I was not a fan of.

But overall, I thought the food was nice and would stop back again. They also have a location in Hershey so you never know!

Before we could enjoy our lunch, I made Henry walk near the river so I could catch up to MARISOL who apparently wasn’t stuck in a car all day and could just walk around whenever she fucking wanted. Henry was like, “When you get home, you will walk all night and win, calm down.”

I knew I shouldn’t have accepted this week’s challenge! I somehow managed to get my step goal yesterday before the concert started so that helped, but I had been consistently going over my goal all week and getting more 20,000+ each day since I was off and could take long, leisurely walks at my discretion.

We parked in front of this cutie building.

These are trash but I was wearing my NCT127 concert shirt today and I wanted it memorialized, haha.

I dunno what this building is, but I liked the roof

After we ate, I was like, “SAY, CAN WE TAKE A QUICK STROLL OVER TO THE STATE CAPITOL FOR DIGESTIVE PURPOSES” and Henry was like, “Sure” and then realized I was in a frenzy FitBit refresh sesh, trying to see how many more steps MARISOL had racked up while I was sitting on MY FAT ASS, EATING LUNCH.

This was a really great idea, actually. It was interesting to see all the … things.

I know this was pink for breast cancer awareness, but it was shocking at first glance! I loved it.

I had some thoughts on this.

Anyway, what a nice pitstop on our drive home! Of course, I realized too late that I should have asked Megan to ask her bf Eric if he had any recommendations, but we also didn’t want to spend too much additional time off the road. We were there for about two hours, but driving out, I was spotting some cute shops, etc that I would have liked to check out! And there was a cafe called Amps (which looked like “Pimps” to me from afar because the font was weird) that we were parked near but I was so full after that lunch that the thought of adding a latte to the mix kind of made me burp.

So that was our drive home, in a nutshell! We didn’t do any other stops aside from rest areas, where Henry would get gas, pee, stock up on energy drinks, while I walked in circles in the parking lots. And we talked about NCT127 pretty much ALL DAY.

Sep 292022
 

I forgot that we brought “the good camera” to Florida with us last April because literally time it was used was the last day when we went to the Fountain of Youth. I was being lazy and didn’t feel like carrying it so Henry ended up sort of using it. Here are some pictures he took, which I didn’t know existed until I was using the camera on Sunday at the pie party and saw them when I was scrolling through the pictures. I know it was forever ago that we were there, but I wanted to post some anyway because it was such a fun trip and I still think about it a lot. Traveling with Henry and Chooch keeps getting better the older we all get even though we still HAVE OUR MOMENTS of cattiness, ha.

Speaking of getting older, one thing that I appreciate so much more now that I’m nearly middle-aged (am I already middle-aged??) is plants! I never would have given a shit about Florida’s vegetation back in the day but now that I’m a houseplant hoe bag, I had to run my fingers along every plant that I passed. I loved these ones and I have several similar plants in my house! Of course, they’re tough for me to keep happy since they’re tropical-y.  I was happy when I discovered these pictures on the camera and saw that  Henry took one of these!

There were all kind of crab-things in that water and it was creeping me out, bigly.

That bruise on my calf! What a temporary memento of all the insane coasters we rode on this trip.

The fact that we paid like $20pp or something to enter this sulfur water tourist trap and spent most of the time fucking around with the peacocks, pigeons, and squirrels is very on brand with the Appledale clan.

IMG_2010 blog

WHOA. AMAZING. 5 STARS.

***

We don’t have any road trips set in stone until Thanksgiving, so I will be occupying my mind with haunted house-hopping and counting down to  the NCT127 show in Newark (doesn’t count as a “fun road trip” because the drive to Newark, and Newark itself, is never fun).

I love fall so so so much but a bitch is depressed that summer is over, sitting here shivering in leggings and a hoodie. :( I was just going to whine about how I haven’t ridden a rolleroaster in x-amount of time, but then I realized it was literally less than a week ago, lol. STILL.

(As I was writing this I had no idea that St Augustine was affected by Hurricane Ian. I hope everyone is ok!)

Sep 242022
 

Hello from the second half of our ultra fun day Great America! It was just Labor Day Weekend but they were already setting up for their haunt. I made Henry stand in this tunnel thing so I could photograph him like one of my french bitches.

I think he’s actually opening his little packet of aspirin in these pictures, lol. Can’t ride more than two coasters without it.

For Snack Time, I had this Dole Whip swirl. It was mango and strawberry. It was fine but like, why so much hype for Dole Whip though? Henry got a pretzel for his Snack Time and I had regertz so I gave him the rest of my Dole Whip in exchange for like 3/4 of said pretzel.

In line for the Flash – Henry dislikes Intamin Impulse coasters but I super-love them and he was my riding buddy on this day so SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP.

I always get extremely nervous waiting for the launch but guess what?? It was actually really weak. So weak that I thought they were having an issue but no, it was nervous I guess. Nowhere near as thrilling as my beloved Wicked Twister (RIP baby).

I always enjoy a good fling on the Batman clones! This one looked like it had a really long line but it wasn’t long at all. Really none of the lines were bad all day except for Joker (low capacity) and MaxxForce (this is just problematic and I feel like the line would be long no matter what).

I didn’t get anything from here but thought it was cute, OK.

At some point in the day, Chooch rode his 250th coaster and actually had one of his friends take a picture because I told him MAKE SURE YOU GET A PICTURE because you know me and my obsessive need to document every little moment of his life for the future MOMMY LOVES YOU scrapbook that I’ll be sure to present to him in front of a crowd someday.

OK, I was extremely excited to ride American Eagle! It was Intamin’s first foray into a wooden coaster and all I knew from coaster vlogs is that it is a legit HIKE through this queue, and boy they weren’t wrong. You just keep walking and walking, up and down and up and down, across a ROAD, until you finally reach the station. If that entire queue is ever actually filled, I would be horrified.

Halfway through our leisurely Sunday stroll through the American Eagle queue.

The line didn’t even actually begin until we reached the bottom of the steps leading up to the station. Then we played musical rows because I couldn’t settle on one – we started in the middle row because the only way Henry would agree to ride any of the wooden coasters was if I agreed to sit in the middle and not my beloved back row. But in the end, I had maneuvered my way to the front row and that’s where we stayed. It was right next to the ride op’s room and there were various rubber ducks lining the edges of it which was entertaining to look at it while waiting for the slow AF ops – it’s supposed to be a racing coaster but they were only running one train on one side, which was annoying  but I swear this seems to be the new norm anymore – King’s Dominion, Cedar Point – maybe King’s Island but I can’t remember now? – were all running one side only on their racing coasters the last few times we were there.

Our thoughts on American Eagle:

Henry – it wasn’t that bad, I’ve ridden worse wooden coasters.

Me – I FUCKING LOVED IT. It made me laugh my effing ugly face off so hard, it was ridiculous. Not nearly as rough as it looks like it would be, and the HELIX, YO. THE HELIX. Do not skip this if you go to Great America.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF US EXITING THE RIDE.

WHIZZER!!! Holy shit, Great America – you got a super weirdly-rounded coaster collection! This Schwartzkopf (I am NOT looking up the spelling, sorry imaginary journalism degree) oddity was so unique and felt like something the Brady Bunch would have ridden together and Alice would have been screaming into a kerchief while Marsha was making eyes at the muttonchopped ride op.

It’s a toboggan-style coaster where two people sit front to back on one long seat so I would have had to try and sit between Henry’s legs without jamming my knees into the seat in front of me.  I was super worried that Henry and I wouldn’t fit in one car together so we had to ride separately because I wanted to spare us from the trauma of being fat-shamed.  This was definitely made for two children or a parent and child and I noticed other adult couples were also riding stag so that is what we did too, sorry Henry, I know you were looking forward to squeezing your thighs against my saddle bags. Much erotic.

After this, we passed Chooch and his SQUAD GIRLS! The girls happily waved hello to us like normal functioning humans while Chooch looked like he wanted the earth to open up and engulf him whole. I can’t remember where Henry and I were headed, but we ended up changing our minds and going back to finally face the MaxxForce line which was hovering between 60-90 minutes all day.

GUESS WHO HAD THE SAME IDEA??? Chooch and his squad girls! WOO!! So much to Chooch’s chagrin, he ended up having to live the waking nightmare of standing in the same line with his PARENTS and GIRL FRIENDS for NINETY MINUTES. Yeah, I didn’t even realize we were in for 90 minutes until Chooch was bitching about it later and I was like “There is no way we were in that line for that long?” but he argued that we were, so I checked my phone for receipts because I texted Corey the moment we got in line with them and then I took that picture down there of Chooch right when we were next in line, and yep.

Ninety fucking minutes.

The big TO DO of this line was the fact that Chooch was wearing the same shirt as that guy behind us. His girl friends (Anna and Lexi) were dying over this and I said, “That’s his Dad Shirt” and that made them lose it all over again and Chooch kept making INSANE ORCHESTRAL CONDUCTOR hands motions next to his head like he was willing to swallow a stick a dynamite in order to escape the pain of his Mexico world colliding with MOMMY.

I was super engrossed in what they were talking about, too, but Henry kept gently pulling me back by my shoulders and making a subtle, “Give them space” eye blinks.

UGH.

They were totally talking about CIEE people and I wanted to know!!

At one point, Chooch made eye contact with Anna and then turned and made eye contact with me, and screamed, “STOP LOOKING AT ME!!” and the anguish on his face you guys, the wet glint of agony in his eyes. It was hilarious. Anna was laughing so hard and squealed, “Why do you get so upset when people look at you?!”

Oh, the trials and tribs of Riley J.

(Speaking of, we were very good about calling him RILEY in front of his friends although Anna found my Insta and knows about “Chooch” now so he was like, “And I would like to thank you for that.” LOL.)

THAT FACE THO.

We did not ride Little Dipper for absolutely no good reason. Apparently, Chooch didn’t either and he was pretty salty about it because it’s all about the COASTER CREDS. Guess we’ll just have to go back!?

Somewhere after MaxxForce, we rode Superman and it was excellent (Henry hates flying coasters but admitted it was OK) and whatever their indoor wild mouse is. Gotham something. It was about a 25 minute wait and also the only time all day that I got mad at Henry because I was trying to tell him a really important story and he kept looking past me and I HATE THAT because it makes me feel like he’s not listening to me so then I gave him the silent treatment and he cried and begged me to be his friend again.

Then on the ride, he caught the hat of the guy in front of us and it was probably the most heroic he’s felt since he was IN THE SERVICE.

That ride was actually good too! I think Great Adventure is where we rode the clone and I don’t remember thinking that one was any good because the theming was shit, but this one was SO GOOD. The theming was there and the ride itself was actually really intense and I nearly got whiplash.

Then I demanded Henry buy me a Six Flags sweatshirt because I was legit freezing in a t-shirt and shorts all day. So now I have red Six Flags sweatshirt which was actually a hassle to buy because some asshole family was hogging the whole rack and then I had to ask an employee if they had Mediums and she had to forage “in the back” for one. At that point, I was locked in. Had to buy it.

I have to say though, while Six Flags can generally be so hit or miss (they have major issues, I’m not even exaggerating, basically the Walmart of theme park chains at this point) their gift shop employees have always been EXCEPTIONALLY FRIENDLY AND HELPFUL. Literally every single park.

Anyway, this sweatshirt was a game-changer. Or, mood-changer really. Because I was really getting cranky but now that I was warm and cozy, I felt like I was given a do-over and was ready to get back out there and have fun again.

Got a late night black bean burger at some place in the Raging Bull area of the park. It was OK but they apparently didn’t have the sauce that was supposed to come with it and I get really mad about stuff like that because I LOVE ME SOME CONDIMENTS. The waffle fries were surprisingly good, but the pretzel bun was very dry and didn’t really do much for me. I would have preferred whatever bun Henry had on his meat sandwich.

Running back to try and get one last ride on Goliath before park closed. I LOVE the feeling of being in a park when it’s nearly ready to close. It’s like, romantic or something, I dunno.

We made it in line for Goliath and GUESS WHO ELSE DID TOO? LOL. They were behind us a bit. I let Chooch know we were aware of his location by texting him a picture I took of him from my spot in line, because I read the Creepy Mom Handbook when I was pregnant and it’s gotten me this far without causing a complete and utter relationship severance, so why stop now.

They ended up getting on the train right after us and I tried to get a picture of them coming onto the brake run but I stupidly moved before it was done so it was just one big blur. :(

We talked to them for a little bit after they got off Goliath, while watching the fireworks. Chooch was sure to point out that his night ride was better than my night ride because the fireworks started when they went up the lift hill.

“I don’t know if you guys realized this about him, but he is VERY competitive,” I said to Lexi and Anna, rolling my eyes, and they cracked up because OF COURSE THEY KNOW THIS. Everyone who spends even a few minutes with my kid knows this.

I TRULY DON’T KNOW WHERE HE GETS THIS TRAIT.

Oh also so that ride up there? Fiddler’s Fling? HENRY WOULDN’T RIDE IT WITH ME. Actually, HENRY WOULDN’T RIDE ANY FLAT RIDES. And this park actually had a pretty unique flat ride collection so I was super sad. I definitely need to go back – with someone else!!

The (weak) Flash.

Oh yeah! We rode this earlier too. It was Henry’s first ever 4d Free Spin and he didn’t hate it as much as he anticipated. I was scream-yelling the whole time. I hated this ride the first time I rode it in New Jersey, acquired a newfound appreciation for it in Massachusetts, and changed our status to IN A RELATIONSHIP in Illinois. You and me, Joker. 4 lyfe.

Oh look another ride he wouldn’t ride with me.

Literally one of the most beautiful amusement park landmarks.

Before we left, I blurted out, “CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOU GUYS” and the girls said ABSOLUTELY while Chooch was quickly looking for a vampire to turn him so he wouldn’t appear in the picture.

I don’t know what else to say – I loved this day so much. I loved the whole weekend. It was weird not being with Chooch all day but I also so happy that we were able to arrange this reunion for him and ugh, sometimes I really am such a mom! See?? I do have the maternal stuffs in me. It’s just sometimes buried by my Forever 16 personality traits.

 

Sep 222022
 

Yoooo, there was no way I was leaving this Great America without a carouselfie on their majestic double-decker carousel! Originally, I had wanted to get one of us PLUS Chooch and his SQUAD GIRLS but he was like, “We are never ever ever ever ever doing that together and if you don’t stop asking, I’m going to start singing that in the tune of Taylor Swift.”

He did not actually say that because he’s NOT AS FUNNY AS ME, THIS WAS ALL ME, I MADE THAT UP.

He did say something similar not in so many words, probably something like, “Nah, I’m good.” I’m honestly still sizzling about this though because the Friday before we left for this Labor Day trip, Chooch texted me at 6:30AM on a morning that I was planning on “going for a walk later” rather than at the exact moment I wake up inside of the 6AM hour. But nope, here comes  Chooch, foiling mommy’s plans AS USUAL.

He wanted me to walk to the Potomac trolley station to see if his wallet was there because he suddenly didn’t have it when he was on the T. He said he was almost certain it fell out of his pockets on the shorts that Henry bought him that don’t fit right so this, in case you were wondering how he was going to work it, was how he was able to twist it into being someone else’s fault.

Anyway, I angry-stomped my way to the station and there was his stupid Pokemon wallet, laying face down on the platform under the bench. No one even tried to steal it or turn it into the fare booth guy.

That motherfucker is so lucky because, while he only had a dollar in there (lol, that unemployed life), all of his amusement park membership cards / season passes are in there in spite of the fact that Henry keeps trying to confiscate them. Well, the confiscation was successful this time!

Yeah so I told him that for my reward, I wanted a group carouselfie and I feel like a GOOD BOY would have obliged but no, I got stuck with this bullheaded jerk.

So it was just Henry and me, and ew why does he look so sleazy?!

Quick carousel review: for as lovely and bitchin’ as this merry-go-round is on the outside, the actual ride was very lackluster. In lieu of traditional calliope tunes, some ride operator was up on the top deck, screaming Six Flags trivia questions over a speaker and it was just very disconcerting. Bro, I don’t play games, I want to believe I’m living in Mary Poppins times with a whimsical rabbit squeezed between my thighs.

Um, OK, unclear what sort of vibe he’s going for here but I feel violated somehow.

I think it’s weird when some carousels require you to actual fasten the seatbelt. Like, for what reason? In case it needs to brake real hard?

This was my feeble attempt to get a mirror carouselfie.

Well, that’s my account of our 5 minutes on the carousel. We’re actually in the process of redoing the carouselfie wall (it’s done, we just have to rehang the pictures and haven’t had time because this week is all Pie Party Prep, All the Time) and I’m really excited to include one of these. The exclamatory nature of that last sentence is implied.

Sep 192022
 

Hi guys! It’s me checking in from yet another amusement park. I tried to get Henry to guest-blog in order to mix things up but nope.

You’re stuck with me.

Six Flags Great America is located in Gurnee, Illinois, which is not Chicago, but kind of close to Chicago? I don’t know my Illinois geography AT ALL aside from where Chicago is located on a map and that’s only from flying in and out from there when we went to Korea.

As I mentioned previously, some other day in a different post, two of Chooch’s Mexico Squad friends live about an hour away from the park so they were game to meet up! Of course, Henry and I didn’t tag along, no matter how badly I wanted to, but we stayed with Chooch inside the entrance until they arrived, and he let me take one (1) selfie with him before they arrive. Everyone says that Chooch and I don’t look alike but LOOK AT OUR FORCED SMILES. They are carbon copies of fake affection.

Um, can I just say I love that he became friends with these kids?  The two girls who met him there were so cute and seem just, I dunno, good. One of them asked to take a picture of them with her phone and I was like GLADLY while Chooch squirmed uncomfortably, lol.

I won’t post the stalker-mom TMZ shot of Chooch and his pals through some shrubbery after we left them to it but you can believe that I immediately texted this to a laundry list of peeps who had been following along with the CIEE Yucatan Instagram posts, trying to figure out if THERE WAS A LOVE CONNECTION between Chooch and anyone there.

I had seen this carousel / pool set-up so many times in YouTube videos but it was really extra magnificent in person. I mean, Six Flags is not really known for its landscaping and aesthetic appeal. Granted, the rest of the park was questionable – lots of weeds and asphalt – but I will always associate it with this gorgeous entrance eye candy.

You guys, Henry and I were riding partners for the whole entire day! I was so nervous about this because he’s such a cock when it comes to:

  1. old woodies
  2. 4d free spins
  3. almost all flat rides
  4. Arrow loopers

So I anticipated that I would be skipping a lot or riding alone. But he was actually a good sport! Except for the flat rides. He was still a motherfucker about those.

We hit up the B&M hyper, Raging Bull,  immediately and it was a station wait! It was still pretty early – we got there about 30 minutes after the park opened – and the day was super dreary so we didn’t encounter very long lines until later in the afternoon, but even then the wait times were in flux. The only ride that was consistently LONG AF all day was MaxxForce but that’s because it’s right by the entrance, it’s still pretty new and novel, it runs one train ops, and it breaks down a lot.

Usually these hypers are guaranteed to be my faves in any park but this one was just OK. I kept saying I wanted to go back later and get some re-rides on it but every time I checked the wait time, it had gone up to around 45 minutes, and when it was a walk-on, we were on the other side of the park.

We never did get our bearings! The layout was confusing.

Then we rode Viper, a woodie that looked like it was going to be a spine-fucker, but it was actually not bad at all! Henry disagreed and immediately had a headache, but I experienced no jack-hammering and I thought it had a decent layout on top of that.

Later, Chooch texted me after he and PARTIAL SQUAD rode it: “RMC Viper.”

That’s something enthusiasts say after riding a real janky woodie that they think would be a good candidate for the RMC treatment.

It was not that bad!

Besides…

Great America already has an RMC…

…and it ain’t Demon, lol.

HOWEVER, to Henry’s actual disgust, Demon was my favorite ride. Before the ride started, a recording asked, “Are you ready to conquer the demon?” and Henry mumbled, “I do that every day” whatever that means. Then afterward, I yelled, “OMG I LOVED THAT DID YOU HEAR ME SCREAMING” and he somberly said, “Yes Erin. You were right next to me and we were practically the only people on it.” 😂 👹

Later, he told Chooch to guess what my favorite ride was and Chooch named every single ride in the park BUT Demon, then said, “Oh. I forgot that one even existed.” WOW JUST WOW.

It just had all the things I love: A TUNNEL, FOG, LIGHTS, A COOL SIGN, IT’S NOT WIDELY POPULAR (even with coasters, I’m a hipster).

I EVEN BOUGHT A DEMON MAGNET.

I swear I had heard that there is even a heavy metal theme song that plays but if this is a thing, they had the stereo turned off that day, unless I’m confusing it with another coaster!

Oh, it was a total fucking walk-on too.

Oh shit, X-Flight was amazing!! I’m generally not that impressed by wing coasters, but this one was FUN and really forceful. (I am not great at using actual physic-y descriptors like true enthusiasts do. I’m just not that nerdy I guess. LOL OK fine I am, but just in other areas.)

The X-Flight crew was really energetic and funny too, I should note – this was actually an ongoing theme throughout the day and I’ll tell you what, you stick some personable people on a ride crew, and it’s going to elevate the guest experience FOR SURE.

I just asked Chooch if he agrees with and he said “Sure” before I even finished my question and left the house.

It definitely counted for something because even though this was a station wait, it still took a short while to get on the ride because of fast pass or the people with the handicapped paper, I couldn’t tell who it was that they were letting steal the backrow seats.

Well, after X-Flight, the time had finally come: we had made it to GOLIATH, my TENTH RMC!!! We didn’t run straight to this because everyone knows that RMCs need some time to warm up, le duh.

The wait for this was only 25 minutes – FOR AN RMC. Do you know how many hours of my life I have spent in line for Steel Vengeance?!

Well, it’s a lot.

Seats were being assigned but I was like CAN WE HAVE THE BACK ROW IF POSSIBLE and did my puppy-dog lip/eye combo which ALWAYS WORKS ON RIDE ATTENDANTS ESPECIALLY BOY ONES. It embarrasses Chooch but Henry is like, “That’s fine, they’re not going to be sway by my grizzled visage.”

Obviously he said that in more simpler terms, but you get it.

OK, Goliath – I see you! Not the best RMC out there but still so fun and this one goes through a small underpass twice, and there’s fog!! The second time it goes through there, it is fucking CRUISING. If you are reading this and you have not ridden an RMC (Rocky Mountain Construction), please do yourself a solid and google WHERE IS THE NEAREST RMC HYBRID and then GET YOURSELF THERE ASAP.

I mean, 9 other RMCs have preceded this one in my life, and even still I was SCREAMING! LIKE, FUCKING HOLLERING as if my RMC cherry was being popped. Just laughing myself into a coughing fit, it was truly a goddamn delight. RMC just HITS DIFFERENT. (I said that out loud for the first time ever yesterday and immediately felt like such an herb lol.)

If you’ve been on an RMC before, please tell me which one! And if you are an RMC fangirl like me, tell me your RMC bucket list coaster! I have two: Zadra and Wildfire, the latter is one I might get to ride next summer GOD WILLING.

(I will turn religious if it gets me closer to international RMCs, bet.)

I’m going to end this installment here because true to form, I’m only 1/4 of the way into the day and I’m already over 1,000 words which is just stupid. Tomorrow, I’ll continue to beg and whine until I get Henry to contribute something.