Happy St.Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

It’s Friday, a joyful holiday and while we are currently experiencing a cold snap, it’s still close to the first day of spring…sounds like a good day for an adventure!

Today is season pass holder preview day at Dollywood theme park in beautiful Pigeon Forge, TN and we are south bound! While the weather isn’t ideal (only highs in the 50s and a little rainy) it’s a terrific reminder that the snow and winter winds will be gone very soon and carefree fun

These lime green 5k t-shirts are the only green we own!


 in the sun can begin!!  We find some of our best adventures in less than balmy weather anyway! 

Let the weekend’s adventures begin! 

 

A Brief History of Women’s Basketball in the US – Keep Pushing It Ladies!

In honor of International Women’s Day and my team’s end of season meeting last night, I thought I would take this opportunity to honor some of the trailblazers in women’s basketball and look how far we have truly come in a relatively short period of time.

The game of basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, however it wasn’t until Sendra Berenson introduced the game at Smith College in 1892 and adapted the rules of course, that women were permitted to play.  The rules of play were much different for women and involved no physical contact or perspiration for that matter.  In fact, there was no dribbling, touching the ball was a foul, double-teaming a shooter was a foul, and players pretty well had to stay on their own side of the court.  Oh and did I mention there was no coaching from sidelines!!

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As time passed the rules evolved but not as quickly as one might imagine.  The bounce pass was not legalized for women until 1918 and a continuous, unlimited dribble was not an official rule for women’s basketball until 1966!!  It amazes me to consider the level of play of women’s basketball today considering we were late bloomers in the game.  Finally, in 1971 the women’s game came into modern times.  The rules changed to allow a five player, full court game with a 30 second shot clock.  That same year the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was formed, giving women the opportunity to compete for collegiate national championships.  The following year the “Mighty Macs” of Immaculata College won the first women’s collegiate national championship!

Young women from across the county represented the United States in its Olympic debut in 1976 and earned their first Gold Medal in Women’s Basketball in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, led by Southern California’s Cheryl Miller (yes, that’s Reggie’s big sister, long before he ever dreamed of an NBA career).  That team also featured Teresa Edwards, Kim Mulkey, Pamela McGhee, Anne Donnovan, Lynette Woodard and was coached by the infamous Pat Summit.

As they proceeded into the 1990s women’s basketball came to the national forefront.  The 3-point shot was permitted in 1986 and the women quickly worked to perfect the trifecta.  Teams such as Pat Summit’s Lady Vols of The University of Tennessee, Stanford and the University of Connecticut Huskies shaped modern women’s basketball and took it far beyond a trivialized sport for “lesser” athletes.  They brought national media attention and for the first time, little girls in gyms all across the country had those powerful sport role models we had been anxiously waiting for.  I actually remember the first time I watched a women’s basketball game on the television.  I was maybe 10 years old or so and happened upon it on a Saturday afternoon; I ran through the house to tell my mom.  I was playing basketball for our county little league but never imagined watching girls play on TV ! I have been a proud Lady Vol fan since that moment! It was the moment that young girls like me developed aspirations of playing on the big stage, beyond recreational leagues and high school.  We signed up for camps and practiced our dribbling in the backyard and a love for the game grew in our hearts..

  The late 1990s brought forth super-stars in the game such as Rebecca Lobo (a former UCONN Husky) and Lisa Leslie (the first woman to dunk in a professional league) who both played in the inaugural season of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  It honored Sheryl Swoopes who was the first woman to sponsor a basketball shoe (I still remember them, I wanted a pair terribly). This year marked the 20th anniversary of the WNBA and its still going strong!

Modern times for women’s basketball is proving to be more successful than ever.  In 2009 Pat Summit became the first NCAA Division 1 coach, men’s or women’s to reach 1,000 wins in a career, an honor now shared by Tara VanDerveer just this year, as the only other women’s coach to reach this milestone.  In 2016 Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut surpassed John Wooden with 11 national championships, more than any other college coach in history (and he is likely going to break that record this year with his power-house team of athletes). Finally, this season Kelsey Plum made NCAA women’s basketball history by scoring an outstanding 57 points in a single game to make her the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Women’s Basketball history!!

So, keep working ladies; keep pushing those boundaries and developing the game far beyond what was once contemplated!  If you are interested in the full history of women’s basketball check out the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee! (Another reason to love being in Knoxville!)

The Mini-Vacation…Have As Many As Possible and Our Favorite Spots!

Today a colleague told me that he wanted to live our life….a compliment by any standard but I inquired further anyway!  He said that we always seemed to be going somewhere new or doing something, even in the middle of the week!

It’s true, I admit it, my family is addicted to the mini-vacation and we take them as often as possible!  Last week it was an impromptu trip to Knoxville to watch our Lady Vols Basketball team play their last home game of the season on a Thursday night!20170223_190258.jpgI am also in the process of planning a hiking weekend over Memorial Day , a short trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and this past Sunday we actually booked our week long beach vacation in Kure Beach, North Carolina.

My family has never been one for long, drawn-out vacations (aside from our beach week) and we often do not go very far from home.  Mostly because it is difficult for a family of five on a somewhat unpredictable income to save for those long journeys, so until the time comes that we can venture to more exotic places we will continue enjoying those not too far from home.  We are blessed to live in the Appalachian Mountains so fortunately nature’s playground surrounds us.

Some tips for an abundance of mini-vacations:

  1. Be an outdoor addict:  Hiking is much cheaper than touristy stuff anyway and the memories you will make connecting with nature will last a lifetime.
  2. Watch what you eat:  Since we take several trips to familiar places we have had time to perfect our favorite places to eat affordably and where to get the best snacks.  Its important to plan meals though, if not, wandering aimlessly looking for a place to eat will almost certainly guarantee that you will spend more and enjoy less because you are starving!  Pack snacks – helpful to tide hungry little mouths over while hiking or waiting in a line for a roller coaster and allows you to save money for the goodies you really want later!
  3. Camp as often as possible:  Our family has both a tent and a camper.  The camper is large and bulky to pull around but if the weather is cooler it can still be cheaper to stay in a campground for $30-$50 per night as opposed to a hotel for $150.  We tent camp when possible especially if we know we aren’t gonna be hanging around the camp site all day but rather getting out and doing things.
  4. Hold up on the souvenirs:  Save your hard-earned money for a meal or adventure, no need to bring home an over-priced trinket.  Take pictures instead, they will last alot longer and won’t need dusted sitting on the shelf at home.

Here are some of our favorite short getaways:

Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/The Great Smoky Mountains

These quaint mountain communities, while somewhat touristy in places, are as beautiful as the locals are kind and genuine. Known as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is something for everyone from handmade crafts, fantastic cuisine, a first-rate theme park and every other kind of adventure the outdoor enthusiast could ask for!  We prefer camping in the warmer months off of US Highway 321.  It is about 15-20 minutes outside of Gatlinburg but it is an easy drive into downtown Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge and the scenery is beautiful.  Additionally, Highway 321 provides access to exceptional hiking with nearby trailheads at the Greenbrier and Cosby Campground.

When in Gatlinburg, we often opt for dinner at the Cherokee Grill.  It is moderately priced and the food is delicious.  If you are in the mood for pizza, we recommend Luigi’s Pizza (1017 Parkway). For treats in Gatlinburg, the caramel dipped rice krispie treats at Kilwins are mouth-watering and the ice cream isn’t too bad either! Finally, if you are ready for entertainment like no other, and enjoy the occasional shot (or 8) of moonshine, do not miss out on the distillery tastings.  Our favorite is Sugarlands, the Apple Pie flavor with a caramel finish is a favorite! The distilleries are all fun to browse even if you are not partaking in the libations.  Both Ole Smoky and Sugarlands provide music on weekends that seem to bring the streets to life!

If you have children, and even if you don’t, do not miss out on Dollywood theme park.  My mother took my sister and I, along with countless other doting Girl Scouts to Dollywood every summer when we were children and in over 30 years of operation its standards for cleanliness, hospitality and a down home good time are unsurpassed. The park really has something for everyone.  The food is wonderful (do not miss out on the cinnamon bread sold in the gristmill building ), the shows and entertainment are top notch and even the holiday festivities in the winter are a joy to embrace. Did I mention that the roller-coasters are a scream!

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Daddy and Christina after riding Dollywood’s 2016 Lighting Rod

Our oldest is a roller-coaster addict and fully enjoys the attractions Dollywood has to offer from the Lighting Rod, Wild Eagle, the Tennessee Tornado (boy do I have a story about that one, or rather its predecessor), the Fire Chaser (a family coaster my 6 year old son affectionately calls the Big Bertha) to the Thunderhead, a wooden coaster that makes me laugh like a crazy person!  I am biased, I know it, I love the feeling I get walking through the gates!  I feel like a kid again and I want to share those memories as well as make new ones with my children.  Finally, Dollywood is super affordable compared to many theme parks and for those within driving distance, offers a 6 month payment plan interest free on season passes!  Season passes are super helpful when one person in your group has a gold pass, think free/reduced parking, discounts on almost everything you purchase in the park, including food and drinks.

Other helpful Dollywood tips:  1. You can take your children for measuring at guest services when you enter the park so that you don’t have to wait in line to learn that they are too short to ride; 2.  Remember, water is always free so let them fill your cup as much as you like and save your cash for dipping dots or those cinnamon rolls; 3.  Do not ride the train after water rides – it is a bonafide steam engine and if you are wet the soot will stick to you and your clothes, 4.  The Celebrity Theater shows, while wildly entertaining to my older girls and my husband and I, always puts my son to sleep so if you need a nap time place those are always winners, especially during the Festival of Nations – those shows are spectacular  5.  Be sure to catch the Harvest Festival – fall in the mountains is the best (although hotel rooms will be a bit more expensive), and finally 6.  In the summer months we find is best to avoid Saturdays, lines are long and hot even though the atmosphere is still nice, we often do other things on Saturdays and go to Dollywood on Sundays, the kids are out of school, what’s a late drive home – hone in your sense of adventure!

Bryson City, North Carolina

We had our first adventure to Bryson City last Memorial Day Weekend.  While still part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this little town boasts a more laid back attitude.  While I admit that we spent most of this trip camping just outside of town in Whittier, we visited the downtown area on a few occasions, lightly browsing the unique shops and checking out the railroad station.  Bryson City is home to the Great Smoky Mountain scenic railroad and while we did not take a railroad excursion on our last trip is it certainly on the list!  Also nearby to Bryson City is the Natahaha River, Fontana Lake and the infamous Tsali Trails (these are absolutely on my list to bike – although you need to check the schedule as certain days are designated for biking and others are not).

20160529_132952.jpgWe had the pleasure to hike in the Deep Creek area of the GSMNP. The trails in this area are mostly moderate and well marked.  We encountered horses and backpackers alike as well as day hikers like our family.  The most impressive part about Deep Creek is that after a tiring day of hiking you can rent tubes (cheaply I might add – a full day of fun for about $5) and  float your cares away down the mountain stream.  If you are looking for a wilder ride we recommend hiking up about a mile  and riding the upper section of the gorge which contains patches of whitewater (we also recommend a life jacket as it is easy to be separated from your tube in this section especially after a rainfall).

Our second day of hiking near Bryson City took us to The Road to Nowhere, a scenic mountain highway that takes you six miles into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends abruptly at the mouth of a tunnel.  The GPS calls this road Lakeview Drive but to the locals it represents a broken promise.  The history of this area is quite interesting. In the 1930s and 1940s  many Swain County residents gave up private lands to the federal government for the creation of Fontana Lake and the GSMNP.  The creation of the park meant that many ancestral home places were gone as well as Old Highway 288, the road to those communities. The federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with Lakeview Drive, which was to have stretched 30 miles west from Byrson City to Fontana.  The real importance of this road to many residents was that it would have provided access to family cemeteries.  Lakeview Drive was stopped just six miles in though due to an environmental issue and was never completed.  On weekends in the summer the parks service ferries groups of Swain County residents across the lake for family reunions and to visit these cemeteries.  The legal issue wasn’t resolved until 2010 when the federal government entered into a settlement to pay Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the rest of the road!  Walking through the tunnel will open up a world of adventure for hikers and horseback riders alike (we will opt for a flashlight next time thought!) including a trek to beautiful Fontana Lake.  Be wary though, many of these trial while otherwise moderate are somewhat steep and are shared with horses.

The Breaks Interstate Park (www.breakspark.com)

This bi-state park is located on the Virginia/Kentucky line in the Jefferson National Forest.  Affectionately called the Grand Canyon of the South, this park hosts a 5 mile gorge plunging to 1,650 feet to the Russell Fork River.  The Russell Fork is well known by adventuresome rafters for its Class 6 rapids and jagged rocks beneath.  Water is released from the John Flannagan Dam the first 4 weekends in October each year and the rafters come from all directions to try their luck.  One stretch of this river is considered the most difficult rafting in the East.

 The park boasts 25 miles of some of the most beautiful trails in the area.  Most are moderate to easy trails and are shaded for easy family adventures.  My personal favorite is the Geological Trail, the large boulders and majestic forest floor make this short hike more than memorable.  Additionally, the overlooks in the park are breathtaking, especially the Virginia/Kentucky Stateline Overlook near the Geological trailhead.

The Breaks also features a newly renovated lodge and new lake-side cabins.  The park completed a waterpark on the property just a few short years ago!  There is also horseback riding, fishing and plenty of geocaching opportunities!

While I have ventured to the Breaks on countless occasions I had never stayed until this past fall.  My family spent the weekend in the campground in late September when in town for a family reunion.  The campground did not disappoint!  The bathhouse was typical for a state park but clean enough – come on people, we are camping here!  We will definitely be making a return trip.  The weekend in the campground and hiking in the Breaks was relaxing and peaceful!

Other places we like to visit include: Knoxville, Downtown Greensboro, Asheville and surrounding areas, and Grayson Highlands State Park….

A Zero Day

Once in awhile, its nice to just be Mom for a day!

Sounds cliché, I know, we all enjoy motherhood and think20160313_142226.jpg it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us and frankly, you wouldn’t be reading this post otherwise! We hold these thoughts everyday of our lives, even when we are washing our 18th load of laundry or in the middle of an important meeting at work or at a parent-teacher conference to discuss why our little one licks the desk, or even when we are away on a much deserved “adult” weekend with daddy! Even though we as mom’s always feel this way without a shadow of a doubt we are often so busy, working cleaning, organizing, chauffeuring and trying to survive that we do not take the time to truly relish in the joys of motherhood! Sure, as we kiss them goodnight and say bedtime prayers we take in those moments and they renew our strength and bond, but if we are honest with ourselves, sometime during the hour it takes you to wrangle the Lil booger to bed you weren’t thinking how precious motherhood is, but whether or not you think you could stay awake long enough for that much needed glass of wine you had promised yourself if this nocturnal beast would ever go to sleep!!!

Today though, I was blessed with an entire day of motherhood bliss! Hikers call it a “Zero Day,” a day they come off the trail, eat a hot meal and relax to truly enjoy their surroundings and refocus on their journey ahead. That is exactly what I did with my son today. It all started with record breaking temperatures for late February here in the Appalachian Mountains and an article I had read about children, especially those with focus and hyperactivity issues, needing to simply play outside more often. So, I took that 70 degree forecast as a sign from above that we needed a mommy/son-play outside all day- kind of day! I didn’t go into the office, I let him miss school (yes I said it, he’s only in kindergarten) and we spent the day in the sunshine! We walked our dog around the lake and discovered she is quite the swimmer! We dug in the dirt and talked about different kinds of trees and the seasons. We identified signs of Spring and read numbers on the road signs and played spelling games as we laughed and sang at the park and for the first time in a long time I felt like an honest to-goodness, “good” mom! I felt so good, I even came home and made a homemade dinner, with dessert!

Today, I didn’t allow myself to feel rushed or stressed to achieve an unreal number of goals I typically set for myself in a day. I did take two brief business calls while my little man threw rocks in the lake! Otherwise, I didn’t tell him to be quiet or to stop fidgeting or running or jumping or not to get dirty; I simply enjoyed the day with him and appreciated his enthusiasm and excitement! What I achieved was more than I could have ever imagined. He and I were both immensely happy and settled and whole, and think even our lake swimming pooch would agree as she snores heavily at my feet!

When considering how I spend my time, I often spend weekends when we are home and not otherwise obligated, to accomplishing tasks around the house, catching up on cleaning I can’t complete during our busy week or preparing for the upcoming week. I rarely ever just take a walk or sit and watch the kids play. Parenthood isn’t  a dream sequence, we can not just sit around leisurely every weekend, we have a home and family and businesses to run, but that is why I believe taking days like today are so important, not only to us as parents but to our children as well.   I am so thankful for our Zero Day and I hope to carve out more of those in the future!