December 2015


Beginning dumpling preparation

Today (12/24/15), it was supposed to be a rainy day, so we decided to sleep in and relax around the resort. I had written out Christmas carol lyrics so Hannah could learn that side of our Christmas traditions.  (If you look in the picture, you can see the paper standing up so she can see them while she cooks.)  Hannah had previously bought ingredients to make Chinese dumplings, and, in return for teaching her how to make chocolate chip cookies, she agreed to teach me. The problem is, she doesn’t really follow a recipe, so I will have a bit of trial and error when I decide to make my own in the future.  But, here’s the information I gleaned:  chop up a bunch of celery really finely.  Put it in a bowl.  Take some ground pork and put it in a different bowl.  Make them roughly equal.  Add oil to them both–one good circle should do it.  If the pork doesn’t taste salty, add some salt.    Pepper is also good.  Add two eggs to the pork and stir well.  Then, mix the celery and meat together.  Now, the hard part–the actual dumplings.


Learning the process

This is actually much harder than it sounds.  First, you have to take a flat dumpling from a package.  They come in a pack of 50 and are perfectly circular and about the size of your palm.  Because you’re actually shaping the dumpling, you have to trace the edge of the dumpling with water.  (Hannah had a bowl filled with water, and we dipped our fingers into it and traced the edge.)  This mixes with the flour to make the edge sticky.  Then, you put a small circle of the meat and celery mixture in the middle of the dumpling.  You fold the dumpling in half so it looks like a semi-circle (or a protractor).  Pinch the two sides together at the top center.  Hold the dumpling gently–a difficult task for me–it was hard not to squeeze mine, which makes the meat come out.  The complicated part is making the ridges on the dumpling.  Holding the top center of the semi-circle, you pinch the front side about halfway down and push the excess dumpling up.  This makes one side have a lot more dumpling than the other.


Nailed it!

You even the sides out by pleating the remaining dumpling to make the two sides of the dumpling meet.  (If you have never sewn and don’t know what pleating is, it’s like the paper fans you make in elementary school–essentially folding a piece of dumpling over and pressing it into the edge of the dumpling until the folds go all the way around the dumpling.


The finished product.

 Once we finished making the dumplings, we boiled a pan of water.  (You can also fry these dumplings.)  Hannah got a bowl of cold water to add later.  You bring the water to a boil, drop in the dumplings and stir them so they don’t stick.  After they’ve boiled for a few minutes, you pour half the cold water into the pan.  This seals the flavor in the dumplings.  You let the water boil again and repeat the process.  Finally, when the dumplings are floating instead of sinking, you take them out and enjoy!  They were incredibly good, and I’m pleased to have acquired a new skill!

After lunch, we watched our family’s favorite Anne of Green Gables.  We had shown the first movie last night and finished with Anne of Avonlea today.  Having traveled to Prince Edward Island twice, we wanted to share this special place and story with Hannah.


Christmas Eve Service at First Baptist of Sevierville

At 4:30, we headed out for the 5:00 Christmas Eve Service at the First Baptist Church in Seviereville. While the church is huge, I was impressed that the ushers/deacons seemed to know the names of many of the people around me, so they seem to have good connections.  We sang a number of carols, heard a bell choir, and were encouraged by the message.  This service was predominately just a time to sing, share communion, and have a candle lighting.  But, it was a truly beautiful time, and Hannah got to share in another tradition for many American families.


Stage view of the church

When we got home, mom read Hannah the children’s book of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (and gave her a small copy to remember this time by.)  We had covered Santa before, but he is a difficult idea to understand.  I confused her even more when I talked about the Santa tracker and that the news in America reports where Santa is in the world and encourages children to be in bed so Santa will come.  She asked if the government employed Santa to fly around and give these gifts away.  We laughed and explained that, though newscastors play along, Santa isn’t actually flying around delivering gifts.  So, we had an excellent time swapping cultures this Christmas.  For those of you reading around the world, may you have a Wonderfully Merry Christmas and may God reveal Himself to you in a special way this holiday season!  God bless us everyone.



Rainy Day at Cade’s Cove

It was supposed to be a rainy day today (12/23/15)–and all week, actually–so we decided to take our chances and head into Cade’s Cove.  We love Cade’s Cove for all the beauty of the scenery, but also for all the wildlife we are able to see.  It is truly a beautiful drive.  Since we knew Hannah hadn’t been when she was in Gatlinburg last, and we knew how much she enjoys nature, we were looking forward to sharing the beauty with her.



Thankfully, the rain held off, and we were able to hike around the trails and see some of the wildlife.  We encountered deer in several places and even some wild turkeys.  We especially kept our eyes open for bear.  Though we did not see one in person, a family we met at the visitor center had seen (and recorded, so we got to see pictures and videos!) a tiny bear cub.  He actually crossed the road in front of them!  They stayed with him for a while, once they noticed he had no mama, and later informed the park crew that he was there.  Because he was so small, they had guessed he was either abandoned as a runt or his mother had died.  Though we did not see him ourselves, it was neat to know that some visitors to the area had, so we will continue to hope the next time we come back.


The Sink


We finished up our time in the park with a visit to the sink.  This beautiful area was formed when earlier settlers dynamited a log jam.  It has experienced tourists since the 1800’s.  It’s breathtakingly beautiful with an incredible combination of strength and beauty.  Just an amazing place to experience!

On our way home, we decided to stop in several shops along the way.  There’s a phenomenal country store that allows visitors samples of everything from fudge to honey and pickled okra to barbecue sauce.  They easily have 100 samples, and it’s an incredible way to experience a variety of flavors and types of food all in one place. You can check out the virtual tour of the Moonshine Country Store at

The workshop at The Front Porch Carvers

After the country store, we checked out our favorite wood carver, The Front Porch Carvers (now on Etsy!). We’ve stopped every time we’ve been in Gatlinburg.  Today, we got to speak to the owner and hear a little of his amazing life story from being all over the world in the Air Force (including in Berlin when the wall came down) to driving trucks, to real estate, to wood carving.  I love to hear people’s stories.  Michael shared both his story and his workshop.

When we got home, we prepared to go to the Dixie Stampede.  When we arrived, we first went to pre-show entertainment, which we really didn’t get to enjoy as the two tables next to us had several foreign families with both parents and kids who talked loudly through the whole show.  We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know proper American conduct during performances.

Live Nativity

The actual show was an incredible experience.  The food was delicious, and the entertainment boasted a great variety of singing, dancing, trick riding, and other fun competitions.  It often involved members of the audience!  There were magic tricks, pig races, barrel races, wagon races–even miniature ponies.  The trick riding was incredible.  I also loved that they got the audience involved by dubbing you either the North or the South (at Christmastime, it’s the North and South Pole, but as the stalls in the bathrooms are labelled Northerners Only and Southerners Only, I’m guessing it’s a competition year round.)

The North (Green) vs. the South (Red)

The North (Green) vs. the South (Red)

Throughout the various competitions, we cheered our side on, whether it was things the rider controlled like barrel racing or things they didn’t like little kids chasing chickens.  I’m pleased to say that our side–of course, the South–Won!  All in all, we had a great time and were able to share a bit of the Wild West with Hannah.


The Finished Product

Since mom had the car to check out the Wyndham Resorts (and earn our free tickets to the Dixie Stampede),  Hannah and I were left to our own resources for the morning (12/22/15).

We decided to have a girls’ dream morning.  Because I usually curl my hair, Hannah had wanted to try curling hers to see what it looked like.  So, in between getting set up to bake, we put her hair in hot rollers and gave her beautiful ringlet curls, which she loved.


Cataract Falls

We then set about baking chocolate chip cookies.  I am famous on a small scale for my chocolate chip cookies.  In reality, they’re simply the Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on the back of the package, except I use butter flavored Crisco instead of butter, and I take then out right when they stop getting shiny, so they’re still soft and gooey.

If you’ve ever made cookies, you know after the initial preparation, it is a lot of waiting.  Since Hannah knows the tunes of the Christmas carols and can even hum along but doesn’t know the lyrics, I decided to write some out for her.  I’d really never considered how difficult some of these are to explain to those who don’t have English as a first language.  Things like :  Don we now our gay apparel (we put on our happy clothes?!?) or Troll the ancient yuletide carol (Sing the old Christmas songs)–so many words no one uses EVER–outside of Christmas carols. Sometimes it was hard, but we had a good time, regardless, and Hannah loves to learn!

Whose Secret Picnic?

When mom got back,  and it was no longer raining, we decided to head to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to hike down to one of the falls.  Since Hannah has a forestry degree in China, it was especially interesting to walk around with her and look at the various plant life labelled by the park service.  We ended our hike at Cataract Falls, a beautiful spot nestled about 3/4 mile from the Visitor Center or right down the road from the Park Headquarters.  When we arrived at the falls, we noticed a picnic blanket and a bright red basket in the woods.  We are too curious to not investigate, so we walked over to find out what it was.  It contained a bottle of wine or sparkling cider in a bucket–we weren’t sure what else it contained, since we did opt not to open it and see, but we all agreed it was very interesting that someone set everything up (for a proposal, maybe?) and left it unguarded in an area where we passed at least 20 people in the half hour or so that we were out.  It was, however, fun to speculate.

Finally, we headed home to do our own nestling with tea, popcorn, and Anne of Green Gables.  Truly a lovely day!



The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

When my mom originally booked our three bedroom (2 bedroom with a lock off 1 bedroom) at The Lodges at Great Smokey Mountains, we had thought my sister’s family of 9 would be joining us, but due to a change in departure time for my niece’s semester in Mexico, they were unable to.  So, my mom and I were left with three bedrooms and just the two of us.

We quickly tried to think of anyone who might not have family plans and would be able come with us.  We immediately thought of our Chinese friend from our Spring Break adventure the last time we were in Tennessee.  So, we called Hannah, and she said yes!

So, yesterday (12/20/15), we drove from Ohio to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, by way of Huntsville, Alabama.

10 Seconds til Bread

10 Seconds til Bread!

When we arrived at our resort, we decided to head to Dollywood to be there by 6, so we could finish the night and get Hannah the best value–after 6:00 P.M. one day and the entire next day for the price of one day.  We got to Dollywood in time to make it to the 6:30 production of O Holy Night.  Mom and Hannah staked our claim at the show, while I went to stand in line for cinnamon bread.  The fact that the line stretched out the door lends credence to my claim that this is the best cinnamon bread ever!  I ended up missing the show, since they were done before I got the bread, but it was well worth the wait!!  We devoured it!

We next decided to take the train around to look at the lights.  We quickly realized that, though the lights looked cool, it was not worth freezing over!  The wind was frigid and many places were not clear to see in the dark.


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

We then went to see ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  This play takes a humorous look at the traditional Christmas poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  In the play, a family is trying desperately to be together for the holidays.  The youngest girl in the family makes a Christmas wish for them all to be together for the holidays.  Through a series of interventions from “Nick,” many Christmas miracles abound, and the family is able to be together.  It’s a fun heart warming show, and was a good way to round out our evening.

It was a fun day, and we were able to see a lot in just three hours.  After that, we headed home to finish unpacking, and get ready for a full day at Dollywood in the morning.


The Wild Eagle Ride–with a gigantic drop!

Dollywood opened today (12/21/15) at 11:00 and closed at 9:00.  I think we packed more into those 10 hours than just about anyone else could have.  Because Hannah likes roller coasters, we wanted to expose her to some of the American variety before she returns to China.  We met up with another family who liked big roller coasters (we don’t), and they adopted her to go along with their family for the rides.  She first tried the Tennessee Tornado–a fast coaster which takes you upside down 3 times.  She enjoyed it, but said her heart was racing when she got off.  We then challenged her to go on the Wild Eagle–challenged, because this was the one ride she had said she thought would be too scary for her.  But, she accepted the challenge and did it!  She did, however, also decide she was through with roller coasters for a while.

Eagle Sanctuary

Since the first show we wanted to visit was at 3:00, we decided to use the time to look in all the shops.  It is fun to see so much of American culture through the eyes of someone from another county.  We had a great time sharing our heritage and learning about Chinese culture in return.  From the glass blowers to the wood carvers, to the eagle sanctuary and the old school house, we got to explain so much of life and early America, that, as a teacher and former teacher, we truly loved sharing.

A Christmas Carol

Our first big show was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  This was perfect for us, since it is an American Classic.  We had explained the story to Hannah earlier, and now she got to see it acted out.  This is the newest show at Dollywood, and truly an excellent opportunity.   I would definitely recommend it!

After the show, we went to see My People again.  Dolly’s brother wasn’t at the show we saw, which was a disappointment.  Since another man was saying the lines he usually says, I wondered if he left the show or just wasn’t there for that particular show.

View of Dollywood from the top of the Ferris Wheel

When the show finished, we headed to the county fair.  Since we were trying to expose Hannah to as much of American culture as possible, we explained the idea of county fairs. The one at Dollywood is a classic example.  I made Hannah ride the Ferris wheel–the county fair standard. Like the Wild Eagle, this ride was a bit stretching for her–especially when the carriage rocks at the very top, but she survived.

We finished the evening off with Christmas in the Smokies, rounding out a very full day.  Tomorrow will be another adventure, I’m sure!