I Saw a Bear.

Need I say more?

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Oh wait – yes, yes I do.

Because I saw a bear – and her tiny, precious newborn bear.

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Less than thirty feet from our car.

If it weren’t for the phrase “Mama Bear” being common vernacular, I would have totally scooped that baby up into my arms and cuddled with him – just for a second.

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Instead, I so totally disturbed the wildlife by squealing like a tween girl spotting Justin Bieber in his natural environment.

So OBVIOUSLY, that was the pinnacle of achievement of our family vacation last week.

But here’s how it started.

Ali spent three day’s worth of quiet times packing for our trip.

She had plans, as she is, after all, the oldest cousin and self-appointed Activities Coordinator.

But as I was finally getting around to packing and she presented me with her own multiple “suitcases,” I had a vision of our cleaning deposit sifting through my fingers.

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And of keeping up with all. That. Stuff.

I began delving farther into her bag of preparations. It included a tin that, upon opening, sprayed me with crepe paper crumbs.

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(“But Mom, it’s for crafts!”)

Then another container, housing an entire family of mosaic stickers.

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(“But Mom, I just can’t travel without stickers!!”)

Yes, yes you can.

I explained to her the precious gift that is a mother’s sanity, and then allowed her to pick two out of the three trillion items in that bag to actually take.

Downcast Activities Coordinators are the worst.

But I cheered her up by showing her fantastic photos of the Princess House we were going to stay in on the way to vacation – The General Woods Inn.

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This was the first time we’ve taken the kids to my favorite hideaway spot, so we got two rooms. .

(We cannot, will not, do not sleep in the same room as our children. Call us infidels if you must.)

As soon as we got there and Ali ran up the fantastic staircase, she gasped at the bed in one of our rooms.

“A Princess Bed!! A REAL PRINCESS BED!! PleasecanIhavethisroompleasepleaseplease??”

We agreed, and she quickly got ready for bed, fixed her curtains “just so,” dug with much effort to get underneath the massive pile of covers, and wanted me to take her picture.

“I’ll do a Princess Wave.”

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When we came to get the kids up the next morning, she had closed all of her curtains. A Princess needs her privacy, after all.

We sat on the front porch and enjoyed the majesty of the views,

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then ate a spoilingly luxurious breakfast provided by Ali and Noah’s favorite innkeeper of all time, Kaitlin.

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After breakfast, Ali joined me in my usual appreciation of their wedding setup,

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where she noticed the photo bridge, and pondered wide-eyed, “Wow. I wonder if there used to be an ocean under there…”

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The kids and Chris swam in the pool for a bit, then we headed on to our ultimate destination, but not until Ali left her own entry in the guest book.

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Riding through the Smoky Mountains is always an awe-inspiring drive, and one that we don’t do often enough.

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They really help solidify the fact that Birmingham has hills and hills alone.

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(But I can live with that reality since Birmingham also never makes my ears pop.)

The house we rented was in Wears Valley, Tennessee, and across the street from this view.

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…and the owners had a very special love affair with their label maker.

Labels

(If they ever read this, I’d like to state that the Yahtzee Pencil bag was empty when we arrived, thankyouverymuch.)

We did the things that every family does when on vacation in a cabin in the mountains: we watched YouTube videos on our iPhones.

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…And on our laptops.

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We did get out and see the sights,

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Ali never wavering from her Princess Roots.

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My kids climbed cautiously, looking back every other second to make sure that I was okay with their progress.

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…While their cousins climbed with superhuman speed and complete lack of fear, requiring my brother to scramble up after them to prevent doom.

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We then took the paved but steep trail up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

Some required rides,

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and some required hands,

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But we eventually all made it up to the top, with only a dozen or so complaints.

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And the views were spectacular, despite the growing cloud coverage below us.

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The children, of course, were impressed. Or not.

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To celebrate the pinnacle of our success, we managed to squeeze in family unit photography before (or while) the kids were begging us to leave.

 

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And then all of the energy that the kids lacked going up flowed freely through their little bodies, causing us to have to chase them all back down the mountain.

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The next day, we somehow found ourselves on another hike – to Grotto Falls. This trail was not paved, over twice as long (1.4 miles instead of .5), and had twice the elevation growth.

And it didn’t start out so great, as there wasn’t enough parking on its one-way road. So my brother had to drive over half an hour just to circle the parking lot.

We did not wait for them.

We began our ascent, and it was slow, treacherous (the trail drop-offs completely freaked me out), and long.

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And it was the LEAST worthwhile hike we’ve ever taken.

The crowds indicated that it was The Taj Mahal of the Tennessee Mountains,

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But the falls were a trickle and that trickle was impossible to photograph due to completely unjustified crowds.

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Even Noah disapproved entirely.

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After we made the 1.4 mile trek back down, we went on a Ferris Wheel ride to mitigate our anger issues.

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And then our remaining disappointment in the falls made us believe this somewhat creepy sign,

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where we ended up eating dinner. It was called Friendly’s, and it was a restaurant perched precariously above a waterfall which they were very careful to block anyone seeing from the road.

You know, because they’re friendly and all.

But for a 0.0 mile hike, their falls were SIGNIFICANTLY more impressive than Grotto’s.

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Even though they took issue with nicotine-addicted dogs,

No Smoking Pets

and offered this for the bathroom,

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albeit outfitted with helpful accessories.

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And lest you haven’t gotten the complete feel of this eating establishment, I present to you Toby. And his kitchen.

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But they did have really nice waterfalls. And tasty french fries.

After three glorious days of being together, the cousins worked through all of the necessary iterations of goodbye hugs,

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and then we posed for our annual family shot.

Family Vacation Photo 2013

And did I mention that I saw a bear?

Because I did.