Pigeon Forge


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 http://www.moonshine-ridge.com.

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 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!


Kingdom Heirs

Kingdom Heirs

Today (6/16/15), we headed back to Dollywood to check out the new shows we had missed. Dollywood is celebrating 30 years in business this year, and The Kingdom Heirs are celebrating just as many as part of the park. Though members of the group have come and gone, from the newest member who has only been in the group two months to the oldest who was part of the group before it came to Dollywood, this group has a passion and professionalism that makes it easy to understand their success. They sing a mix of old and new Southern Gospel, blending hymns “From the Redbook” with newer songs, but always with the theme of loving and honoring Jesus. Definitely a tow-tapping experience, and a must for any lover of quartets. I also learned that The Kingdom Heirs had topped a number of Southern Gospel charts with several hit songs, as well as an album that’s sold over a million copies.  A bedrock of Dollywood, this group should not be missed!  You can check them out at Kingdom Heirs

My People:  Dolly's family

My People: Dolly’s family

After The Kingdom Heirs, we rushed over to hear a newer show, My People, featuring members of Dolly’s family including a brother and sister, 2 nieces, and 2 cousins (pictured left to right.)   This show blended live performance with video of Dolly herself.  Dolly shared a number of her childhood experiences, and other family members added special memories of Dolly or their family.  It was neat for me to watch the interactions of this portion of the Parton family (Dolly’s mom and dad had 12 children, so the whole family must be huge.)
It may just be good acting, but this family seems to genuinely like each other and be close knit.  Having spent so much time making music together in their childhood, they have a tremendous opportunity to make music together again.  One of the things that set this group apart was that they take the opportunity after the show to meet and speak with any member of the audience who desires to do so.  (The Kingdom Heirs normally do this, but today had to rush off to Nashville for an awards event.)  You can check out their show here: My People

Rhododendrons in bloor

Rhododendrons in bloom

We hadn’t planned on watching the Gazillion Bubble show, but the fact that it was in the largest theater made us curious.  I’m so glad we did!  Deni Yang is a one of a kind artist (or apparently a 5 of a kind, as it seems his whole family is in the bubble business.)  Deni himself has been performing for twenty years (though starting performing at age 4 makes him still very young.)  While Deni has amazing talent, (Since there’s no photography, you can check him out here: Deni Yang) the thing that most impressed me was the way that he interacted with the younger members of the audience.  He involved them in everything from dancing at the beginning to putting them inside of bubbles, to a wonderful story in which a little girl sees her dream of snow.  He kneels down to talk to children (gets on their level), escorts them to and from stage holding their hands, and gives them presents, all the while making them feel amazingly important.  It was a beautiful thing.  And, as I heard the gasps, laughter, and excitement of the audience as thousands of bubbles cascaded over them, I was reminded that there’s just something about bubbles that makes people happy!

Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains

With three shows under our belts, we headed to the visitor’s center to plan our early morning jaunt to Cade’s Cove in hopes of seeing both fawns and bears, only to find out that the park wouldn’t be open until 10 tomorrow–they were opening early for cyclists.  So, that brought a change of plans.  We decided to take the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail to see if we could find Rhododendrons or wildlife.  The Rhododendrons were blooming gloriously, though the time of day didn’t provide the best light (We may head back here tomorrow.) But, no bears this trip.  After a beautiful drive beside babbling brooks and glorious flowering trees, it was time to say goodnight to the Smokies for another day.




Mom and I set out yesterday (6/15/15) for a few quick days in Gatlinburg before I leave for Poland on Saturday.   We arrived about 2:00 and set off in search of Rhododendrons, which my mom had been hoping to see in full bloom.  We drove a little ways up the mountain, but didn’t find the areas full of blossoms we were hoping for.  We checked out the chimney tops and headed back down to Dollywood.

100_4117We once again took the trolley from Patriot Park ($.50 each way!) and decided to check out the shows (Our favorite thing at Dollywood!). Our first show was Dreamland Drive-In.  This show features music of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in the story which follows a group of classmates from their early high school years through reunions and eventually to modern times.  While I’m sure the show is especially enjoyable for those who lived through these times and for whom the montage of songs and pictures have special meaning, it is an enjoyable collection for any group.  The songs and dancing were both fun!

IMG_2329From the Drive-In, we headed to Country Crossroads by way of the Grist Mill to buy some incredible cinnamon bread to enjoy while waiting for the show.  This show features three men and three women and includes a number of country music’s greatest hits.  Though mom and I don’t “listen to country music,” we were surprised how many songs we knew.  One thing that impressed me about this show was that one of the singers was in a wheelchair.  That’s not the impressive part.  What was impressive was not only this young man’s beautiful voice, but also his ability to do all the choreography everyone else did.  Definitely an impressive performance and a reminder of Dolly’s commitment to provide opportunities to such a diverse group of people.

100_4125We had decided this would be the night to stay for the fireworks since it had the least prediction of rain, so we meandered through some of the shops on our way up to Timber Canyon.  Before the fireworks, Dollywood offers a Lite the Nite production.  This show boasts singers and dancers all in light up suits, in addition to a variety of street artists, jugglers, stilt walkers, etc.  They even choose a kid from the audience to “Start the fireworks.”  Definitely a fun way to start our trip!

Today (3/26/15) started out early with the need to get our Chinese friends taken care of.  They had called last night with the decision to scrap the car and ride back with a friend from Alabama who had rented a car to come pick them up.  To be honest, we were a bit disappointed they would not be spending the next few days with us!

We awoke early (well aware that our late nights and early mornings were catching up to us) and headed down to the hotel to pick up our new friends to take them to arrange the details of the sale.  I had been a bit nervous when I looked up Carr’s Auto Sales and Service and a negative review came up.  However, in his “negative report,” this man mentioned how Carr’s sent someone to Florida to tow his car back to Tennessee to fix the problem.  He claimed this was to cover up shoddy workmanship, but the condition his “expert” described his transmission being in would have rendered the car impossible to drive even one day, much less 6 months.  For his one negative review, there were countless others sharing tales of how the owners had gotten out of bed to come out at midnight to help get their car out of a perilous situation or that they always stopped here for a check-up while on vacation.  It definitely restored my confidence, as did their help today.

Saying good-bye to the car--Thanks, Carr's!

Saying good-bye to the car–Thanks, Carr’s!

We collected our friends, asked if they had the paperwork, and proceeded to the shop–only to learn they had no idea what the correct paperwork was, and therefore, did NOT have it.  So, we headed back to their motel and looked through their stack of car documents to eventually find the RIGHT paperwork.  I remember a friend of mine telling me the biggest need her Mexican immigrant friends had was someone to help them know what they needed to know–to understand the process of how we do things in America.  I’m so glad we were at the right place at the right time, but what about the countless others who don’t  have someone there?  It was a wake up call for me to be more aware in my own community of those who might not know how to accomplish things.

We proceeded to complete the transaction with Carr’s.  The receptionist not only gave us the best possible scrap price for the car, but also gave her 1/3 of the money in cash up front–the rest to be sent when the title is mailed to them.  She did this simply because “this is a bad situation, and I don’t want her to have nothing to go home on.”  Additionally, one of the mechanics took time to ask her how to pronounce her Chinese name, actually say it correctly, and say, “It’s nice to meet you.  I’m so sorry it turned out like this.”  Just these little acts of kindness reminded me how often we get so stuck in our own business to be accomplished that we forget to take time for others.  If there’s anything I should have learned in my stay in Tennessee, it’s to slow down a little and enjoy the ride–hard to do for a Chicagoland resident.

Saying good-bye after making the best of a traumatic experience

Saying good-bye after making the best of a traumatic experience

We said farewell to the car, and headed back to pick up the rest of the group.  We made a side trip to our condo (to explain how a condo is different from a hotel), and headed to a Chinese restaurant for lunch where they gave us the special blessing of treating us.  One thing I had noticed the night before is that one of the ladies would always pull out a chair for my mom.  These little tokens of respect are too often lost in our culture. Throughout our time, we had the opportunity to learn so many interesting things about China.  When we were discussing family, we shared that my sister has seven children.  The lady who’s car we had just sold shared that she only had her one son–China’s one child policy.  One of the other students with them was from a family with two girls and a boy–they live in the country and were able to have more children due to family connections rather than a fine.

Rainclouds moving in

Rainclouds moving in

We also discussed the thing they missed the most from China–the food.  When  we got to the Chinese restaurant, I asked the boy if it was like the food at home.  He said Chinese food is more spicy, but they’ve made it sweeter for Americans.  We Do like our sweet things.  The hardest thing for them to get used to in America?   The culture.  One woman shared her fear of doing something wrong.  We explained that as a whole, American’s are remarkably helpful and forgiving–and we’re also incredibly diverse.  Finally, it was time for them to return to Alabama.  We were sad indeed that we were losing more time with these dear people, but after hugs, promises to keep in touch, grateful thanks, and invitations to visit China, they headed for home.  (We just got the text that they made it safely!)

We went home to catch up on our sleep.  I awoke to the rain clouds moving in over the mountains.  Since tomorrow promises to be a rainy day, we’ll see if we venture out or just enjoy a quiet last day in Tennessee at our “home away from home.”  Either way, I’m glad our plans changed to help out some dear new friends from China–we’re definitely richer for the opportunity!

Visiting friends

Visiting friends

When long time family friends called last night to say they were coming to visit and had planned on going to Dollywood, we together decided to spend today (3/25/15) with them.  Though they are “ride people” and we are “show people,” we decided to do a bit of both, and everyone had a wonderful time.

We first went to ride the Thunderhead–They rode, we were the supportive people waving on the ground.  Then, since we still had time to kill before the show we both wanted to see, we headed down to the Country Fair area.  We never spend a lot of time in this area, so it was neat to check it out.  We even joined them on the “moderate thrill” rides like Skyrider, the Scrambler, the Wonder Wheel (Swings), and the Carousel–and it was actually very fun.

Next, we headed to The Rhythm of the Dance, which we had both wanted to see. The crowd was better, but still not as “into it” as I would like.  I also realized how much music (without dance) is in the show.  I think almost half the numbers are strictly musical–a lot more than I had remembered.  But, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Los Pampas Gauchos

Los Pampas Gauchos

We got out in just enough time to make it over to Los Pampas Gauchos (My recommendation).  Having seen the show previously, I noticed they showcase different dancers in each show, so it is possible to see the show multiple times and see something different each time.  They also came out to the lobby to take pictures with audience members, but we were moving on, so didn’t take time to do that–a neat opportunity, though. Our friends agreed, they are a definite favorite! (Maybe we’ll get to see them one more time before we leave…)

One thing I love about Dollywood is their partnership with The American Eagle Foundation.  So far, they have provided a sanctuary for wounded eagles who would not survive in the wild.  These eagles are kept safe and are still able to breed.  At the time of our visit, over 133 eagles have been released back into the wild from this sanctuary, and eagles have moved from around 400 pairs to over 1500 pairs, allowing them to be taken off the endangered species list.

One of the rescued Eagles.

One of the rescued Eagles.

What an amazing opportunity to preserve this symbol of America!

After browsing in a few stores, we ended the day with the Alash Ensemble.  My mom recommends this group to everyone she possibly can–mostly because it is something you have to see to believe.  This show was also different.  For the last number, one of the band members recommended they teach the audience a song.  It was such a fun experience to learn a little bit of the Tuva Language–albeit a phrase with no English translation.  The audience here was incredible, and everyone participated well.  I think it’s a tradition that should continue!

We thought we were finished for the evening–we were all happily exhausted. So we parted ways with our friends and headed for home. Along the side of the road, we saw three Chinese ladies and a fifth grade boy in various positions around a car with its hood up. “Do you think they need help?” I asked. My mom pulled the car over, and I got out to ask. Their engine had started shaking, so they had called a repair place and were waiting for the tow truck to arrive. We decided to wait with them, since they might need a ride somewhere if the car were really in trouble. I’m so glad we did.

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

Map at Dolly wood showing the represented nations

One example my parents have consistently set for us is to help out those in need–it’s something that was not just an idea in the Bible, but something they lived out in front of us. And here was our opportunity to serve. When the tow truck arrived and led us through varying degrees of not so nice neighborhoods to arrive at the ultimate of stereotypical hillbilly garages (looking like a used car lot), we were skeptical, and didn’t want these kind ladies and boy to get “taken for a ride”–especially when we found out that same garage had worked on the car just that morning. To make a several hour story very short, the car had a ruined oil pump. The diagnosis was it had probably ruined the engine. Not knowing much about cars, I snuck off to Google the information. Unfortunately, the diagnoses sounded logical. So, these dear Chinese ladies, one of whom has only been in America for three weeks, are stuck about 5 hours from the colleges at which they are studying with a car they can either sell or pay $2500 to fix (to replace the engine.) Not a nice time.

Blooming trees at Dollywood

Blooming trees at Dollywood

But, we spent a lovely meal with them, took them back to their hotel, helped them negotiate a way home, and discussed with them the different options they had to choose from. We were so blessed to meet them and were hoping they would get to stay with us while we waited for the repairs to be done.

For me, it was another reminder that, just as God has put people in the right place at the right time to help me navigate through many other countries, He also chose to honor us with the privilege of helping out these wonderful visitors to ours. What a great way to celebrate the Festival of Nations!

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