#1,649 Dollywood Santa.

First of all, last night we left home at 11 pm bound for Gatlinburg, Tennessee, for a quick one-day stay along the way to youth camp at Lake Junaluska. I can’t believe it’s already camp time! About 1 year ago, I was feeling very sick with my worst stomach attack ever, and it totally ruined my week at camp—a week I look forward to all year long. And then James Gandolfini died on June 19, which added insult to injury (and I’m still sad about it).

But this year is going much much better. I’m not sick, and I was tough and drove the 11 pm – 3 am shift in the chaperone SUV that follows the church bus. I slept for 1 hour, from about 5-6 am, and surprisingly… Didn’t feel totally like murdering anyone. That’s huge for me. HUGE.

We finally made it to Gatlinburg this morning after 9 hours on the road and after a quick stop for an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel:

We headed straight to Dollywood for a morning of water rides and roller coasters. Or, just walking around and people watching in my ride-phobic case.

And while we were waiting on one group of our kids to finish a ride, we met the sweetest man named John. But you know him by another name!

He was talking to Ben all about his 30-year career as a Santa, telling Ben what a great Santa he would be one day, because Ben actually does want to be a Santa when he’s retirement aged. He told us where to get the best velvet and fur trim, that to get a quality suit for Ben’s size he’ll have to have it made. All about bleaching (red beards bleach the best), and how much money you can earn doing events in the Christmas season… Though that’s not why he does it. He’s a full-time mechanic for the rides at Dollywood and reminded us for the world of Ben’s daddy. He was just the coolest dude EVER.

Before leaving Dollywood, I found the stage where I performed for the first time in my whole life as a 3 year old toddler when our family came one summer. They let little children on stage for part of the show and I sang You Are My Sunshine, and I’m pretty sure mama filmed it.

It’s a strange feeling to go back to a place you’ve seen in your family memories, and think of all the water under the bridge since then, isn’t it?

After everyone was thoroughly hot and exhausted, we finally made it to the motel room for showers and a nap, then dinner on the town.

 Apparently, there is only one shoe these days. Chaco is making a fortune off Mississippi teenagers.

After dinner, we went to downtown Gatlinburg and I had to go back to the only thing I remember fondly—the little German village in the middle of town.

There’s a shop that sells all things Scottish and we dug around looking for anything in the Napier tartan.

Ben wants a kilt in our family plaid, which I think is so cool, but we’ve never had any luck on the pre-made front. Guess we’ll add that to the list of weird clothes to be made for Ben in the near future?