Staycation in the Knoxville Area

We’re not planning a family vacation this year, but we still want to make memories. Knowing that thousands of other families are in this boat, we’re all teaming up to give you ideas for your area!!  If you’re like I am, you’ll want to visit the host website for all the information anyway, so I’ve linked to site for specific information and only included a short summary here that includes our favorite family friendly characteristics. Almost everything I’ve listed is FREE, and I’ve noted where that is not the case. If you’re in the Knoxville or surrounding area, here are some of the things we’re going to do this summer: [Read more…]

Bringing WWII to Life

In our Around the World Travels we’ve landed in Japan for a few weeks.  And one of the things I’ve introduced is World War II.  Jacob has really enjoyed it!  I supposed there’s not much to not enjoy for a boy… airplanes, weaponry, battles, etc.  It’s been fun to see him jump in with both feet!
My grandpa on my mom’s side fought in WWII, but we weren’t ever allowed to talk about it with or around him, so I honestly have no idea what part he played. (He also died when I was 18.)  I do remember hearing that he had to pretend to be dead as the opposing soldiers came around shooting anyone still breathing among the carnage on a battlefield.
But Candace’s grandpa also fought and is alive and well, so we went for a field trip to hear all about it (on a 7 year old’s level).

Some photos of the young soldier and his squadron.

 Mr. Rosser looked in his old records and told us what his mission was on November 6, 1944!

 He flew all of these planes.  Mr. Rosser told Jacob when he asked what his favorite plane was to fly, “If you want to show off a little, fly this one. [bottom, middle]  But if you want to come home at night, fly this one [bottom right].”

These were the names of the 4 men (out of 20 in their initial group) who survived.  One of them bought a piece of wood cut from the same log for all of them to have to remember.

 Here they are at a reunion some years ago.

 Mr. Rosser’s pilot’s license.


 His flight log book… this was fun to read! He wrote how he felt after flying certain aircraft for the first time, flying his first independent mission, practicing landings, etc.

This photograph of his beautiful bride traveled with him on 68 missions.

This flag was attached to the back of a pilot’s flight suit.  Each grouping is the same paragraph translated into many languages.

Here is the text in English.  A bit sobering, I thought.

Mr. R did a great job and we really appreciate him sharing with us!  Jacob said he’d like to talk to him some more.  I’d love to hear more too, I enjoyed it.

And what grandpa doesn’t like finishing up with a few magic tricks for the kids??

Our trip to the The Lost Sea!

Today we went to The Lost Sea, America’s largest underground lake! It was a neat field trip! Jacob got to go this summer with a friend, but it was mine and Mattie’s first time.

We started our 1 1/2 hour tour by walking down this long tunnel.

We went on a boat ride as well! The surface of the lake is 100 feet below the ground and the water is 70 feet at its deepest. Right now it’s also 10 feet below its normal depth because of the drought we had a couple of years ago. The lake covers 4.5 acres!

They stocked the lake with rainbow trout to see if they would discover a way out. (See the fish in the middle of the picture?) They never did and are still there! A few random things we learned today… rainbow trout lose their color when they are not exposed to the sunlight! And they cannot reproduce in water that is not flowing (like a stream). I’m sure Robert already knew that, but it was new to me!

Mattie and Jacob enjoyed the boat ride!

Jacob told Mattie yesterday that The Lost Sea was dark, so she wanted to stay home. (She’s pretty afraid of the dark.) But she had a great time! She even survived (albeit anxiously) when they turned out the lights and it was pitch black for a couple of minutes.

Did you know that if you are not exposed to light for two weeks you will go blind? Even if your eyes are closed! Another interesting fact we learned today!

A tried and true Tennessee moonshine still.

This is called Crystal Falls, if I remember right, though I’m not certain I do! Anyway, it is pure water that feeds the drinking fountain in their lobby! You can also see on the sides of the cave the green copper. This was in quite a few places on the walls of the cave.

These next four are no flash, non-edited photos I got.

I remembered to ask about the trick to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. We learned two:
1) Stalactites hang TIGHT to the ceiling, leaving stalagmites to be the other ones. 🙂
2) “Stalagmites” has a G for GROUND and “stalactites” has a C for CEILING.

At least now I have them documented here so I can come back and find them when I forget!

Briarwood Ranch

So, today we went on the most memorable field trip… EVER. This will be one the kids will never forget! Candace and I are studying African animals and took the kids to Briarwood Ranch Safari Park. It is home to 55 species of animals from 6 different continents, but not your normal “zoo.” Oh no.

They have two options for animal viewing, well, in addition to the safe and controlled petting zoo.

You can ride on a tractor-pulled wagon and experience this:

(I must say, I was quite proud of Granny!)

Or you can drive your own car and have an experience more like this:

It is not a trip for the faint of heart, though we got much more brave as the day went on. By the end, we were posing for pics with the llamas!

Here’s some of what we saw. I am not zooming in on these pictures. I have my lens as wide as it will go! I tried to leave some of the car parts in the pictures for perspective.

This was one day I wish my pictures included audio. We were quite a noisy bunch for a the first part of the trip! It really was hilarious, but you had to be there, I guess.

These horns are amazing. He’s some sort of sheep from the African coast.

God made this guy with a built in football helmet.

The first African animal we saw!


We quickly gained a following. (We had food buckets the first time around.)

Our second trip around we followed the wagon even though our food was gone. (The scene reminds me of Noah’s ark.) It was actually much more realaxing to not have food. It’s pretty stressful when wild animals are fighting at your door for the goods you have in your hand!

The llamas were my favorite. They were very friendly and let us pet them a lot!

Mattie loved them too!

Look at my brave girl! (If only we could make this progress with the Chick-Fil-A cow!)

I think the guy with the shears thought this one was a poodle.

Nothin’ like inviting yourself in for a bite to eat!

Hannah and Emily enjoying the petting zoo.

The emus were my other favorites. They’d just come pokin their heads around to check things out!

Candace was not so convinced about the nosey ostriches.
(Here are some more pics on Candace’s blog.)

Not an animal I ever thought I’d have within arm’s reach.

Just so feel like you were there, that’s not rain on the window… it’s elk slobber.

This is Sampson, a watusi bull from Africa. I like him 30 or 40 feet away. Those horns are 3 feet from tip to tip.

Ummm, yeah. Here he is right next to the car.

So their horns are cool looking…

This is what they do to the side of one’s car.

I had these scratches all up and down both sides of my van. Thankfully my helpful neighbor knew what to do and pointed me in the right direction. The scratches aren’t totally gone, but 3 hours of polishing compound and turtle wax later, they’re probably not noticeable to the average bear. (Praise the Lord!) And I have no intention of going into auto detailing anytime soon. Lesson learned: take the wagon ride! (Or let your friend drive!)

It needed a good vacuum too… animal feed is not the scent of choice for my automobile!

Don’t you wish this was you?

Natural Tunnel State Park

Almost two weeks ago we went here with a friend of mine. She’s been wanting us to meet here for a couple of months and we’ve just had a hard time getting together. We started our day off at 8:00 AM and didn’t get home until after 9:30 that night!

Natural Tunnel State Park
This park has an old steam engine and train tracks, so you know with my crowd it’s a hit from the beginning!

We hiked on a nature trail down in a valley to see the tunnel.

This tunnel was formed 100% by water. Daniel Boone was the first white man to walk through it.

This tunnel was man made. It’s about 100 feet from the other tunnel, so the trains go through both as they pass.

Abby, Mattie, Michael, Jacob, Destiny, and Elyssa
The kids were excited to sit on the tracks! Thankfully, they were appropriately nervous.

(I was in the gift shop by myself with the kids for a few minutes and someone thought they were all mine!)

Jacob and Destiny were reading all about the history of the tunnel and the Norfolk Southern train tracks.

The View from the Bottom
Isn’t God amazing?

To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Psalm 123:1

We Saw a Train Come Through!
There is no schedule, so this was just a treat!

I could go spend a week here just me and my camera. (And Dad, you’d be in absolute heaven. Wanna meet us there next weekend for family pictures??) The photography opportunities are absolutely unlimited. After a while, leaves are just leaves in pictures, but I don’t think I can tire of being surrounded by them during the fall.

The View from the Top
Lover’s Leap is what they call the top of this mountain. Lovers from two different Indian tribes used to fall in love, but knew they were not allowed to intermarry. So they’d jump off the top of the mountain in hopes that they’d be united in the afterlife. A bit dramatic, I’d say!

View from Lover’s Leap

Natural Tunnel from the trail up to Lover’s Leap

The Appalachian Homestead
At the bottom is a preserved Appalachian homestead. We just finished studying Appalachia, and both kids were sick so we didn’t get to do our scheduled field trip. This was perfect! It’s just a one room house so we played some games to help the kids see what life would really be like with 10 people living in this tiny little house.

And how it would feel in January having spaces in between the panels of the door, floors and walls.

I believe this goes down as my favorite field trip ever. We’re going this weekend I hope, and taking Robert with us this time!