Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our Trip To Nashville

Our older son, Benjamin, won the state T.S.A. (Technology Students Association) competition in software development, which meant he got to compete at nationals in Nashville, Tennessee. Our family decided to drive up and support him, as well as use this opportunity to take a vacation. While Benjamin rode up in a chartered bus with others competing from other schools in North Carolina, we drove up a couple of days after he left.

Since it is such a long drive from where we live to Nashville, Danelle and I decided not to rush ourselves but made a side trip to Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina because it is one of the best birding sites in our state (over 130 different types of birds). Any guess as to why we chose that as where we would visit along the way?  And he had his bird guide and binoculars packed and ready to go.  First one he spotted was a Broadwing Hawk. Since he'd never seen one before, he was very ecstatic.

While Danelle and Cava hiked up to Chimney Rock, which is a 535 million year old monolith that offers 75 mile view, I (who cannot stand heights) waited at a table near the gift shop where I enjoyed the view and one of the books I brought along the trip (It was an incredible book that I may write a post about later).

Danelle said the hike up the 500 stairs to get to the 315-foot outcropping was exhausting, she also admitted that it was well worth it for not only the incredible view but to see Cava's expression as he looked out over the valley and Lake Lure.

Once they returned down the mountain, we went to a nature show where we got to see some of the local animals including another one of my fears: a snake (I joked with Danelle that all they needed to finish off my phobias was to make me do public speaking in front of a group of clowns). Cava's favorite animal was, of course, the red-tailed hawk Ghost.

From Chimney Rock, we drove to Knoxville to stay at Danelle's aunt and uncle's house for the night, which was a great idea since both she and Cava were wiped out after their hike (the heat was in the 90's).  We left Knoxville early the next morning and headed to Nashville. Since Benjamin was in events for T.S.A. and we couldn't see him when we arrived, we took Cava to the place he most wanted to visit in the area: the Parthenon. "Why?" you might ask. Because it was in the movie Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (based on one of Cava's favorite book series). 

Once there, he had to explain to me how Percy and his friends Annabeth and Grover had to go to the Parthenon to retrieve the pearl from the giant statue of Athena that will allow them to escape to the Underworld. Thankfully, unlike Percy and his friends, we weren't attacked by the Hydra.

Of course, I did have to endure listening to him tell me repeatedly how this one looked nothing like the one in the movie. After touring the Parthenon and the grounds of Centennial Park, we got to see Benjamin for lunch. Since he didn't have a lot of time, we just grabbed a quick bite at the nearby McDonald's. Inside was live music. At first, the snarky part of me, thought: How far down in one's career does one have to be in life to find oneself performing in a McDonald's? Yet, as I sat there, I thought: This guy rocks. He loves to perform and is doing what he loves no matter what. How many of us actually do that with our lives? For him, it's not about the audience, it's about performing, about his love of music. Watching him made me think about my motivations in doing what I do.

After eating, we took Benjamin and Cava to race go-carts. At first, Cava complained it was "too loud" but once they were going, he had a blast.

We were sad when we had to take Benjamin back to his hotel, but we understood that he was busy with the competitions. Of course, he would have thought he had dodged a bullet because then we visited one of the places I most wanted to see: Parnassus Books. The bookshop is owned by best-selling author Ann Patchett (known for her novel Bel-Canto). 

While I was disappointed that she wasn't there that day, I was thrilled to buy an autographed copy of Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo's newest book Raymie Nightingale. I have yet to read a book by her that I haven't loved and, the girl working the cash register (who also loves DiCamillo's work) told me that this was the author's best book yet.  So now I have visited another of my must-see independent bookstores (as it joins Powell's, The Strand, and Malaprops as my favorites so far in the U.S.). 

The next day we visited The Grand Ol' Opry (not the original at Ryman Auditorium, which is the one I visited as a kid. What I remember from that visit is that the Ryman didn't have air-conditioning and we fanned ourselves with old church fans that had Jesus' image on one side and the name of a funeral home on the other while we listened to Dolly Parton sing on-stage).  

Cava spotted a photo of Carrie Underwood on a banner and got all excited until we informed him that she wasn't actually there. To say he was disappointed was an understatement. From there we went to the nearby Gaylord Opryland Resort, which is where they were having the competitions. We had hoped to see Benjamin before he went in to present for the semifinals, but no such luck. So we toured the huge interior of the resort with its river and waterfalls and shops.

While we were disappointed not to get to see our older son that day, we were delighted to hear that he made it into the semifinals. There were three full pages of those who were competing to get into the semi-finals just in his category and out of 75 teams, only 12 teams made it.

One of the perks to having a membership at our local science museum is that it gets us into many other science museums for free, and the Adventure Science Center in Nashville was one of them. Hey, when our family goes on vacations, visiting the science center of that city is a requirement!

Having looked the place up online before we left home, Cava knew the first area he wanted to visit once we got there: the moonwalk simulator. Thankfully, the line was short. Basically, the child is harnessed up and they have to move from one end to the other and back but the harness makes it more difficult and it also pulls them up to simulate loss of gravity.

Cava had a blast doing it, but most of the time he just looked like a dead body hanging from a rope.

After exploring space and the planets, he rushed to see the dinosaurs.

He climbed into the tunnel to get a closer look. What he did not know was that the dinosaurs moved and it freaked him out when the T-Rex came closer to him. Cava scuttled out as fast as he could.

Moving from area to area, we all enjoyed the hands-on exhibits, but we each missed not having Benjamin, our family scientist, with us. This would come up again and again throughout the trip. Cava, especially, missed his older brother and kept commenting how he wished Benjamin was "here" and that it would be more fun if he were.

Finishing off our day, we visited the Farmer's Market, which was one of our favorite places we visited. There were not only local farmer's selling their produce, but different stands selling everything from clothes to pottery. Inside were more shops and an international market. We got ice cream from Jeni's Ice Cream. Unlike most ice cream places that had unusual flavors such as Wildberry Lavender, Churro, and Birch & Marshmallows. For $6 you got three different flavors, which is what we picked so we could each choose one and then share it with each other. Cava picked the Atlantic Beach Pie, Danelle picked Sweet Cream Biscuits & Peach Jam, and mine was Lemon & Blueberries Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt. After tasting all three, we all agreed mine was the best. 

From there, we walked across the street to Bicentennial Mall State Park. It was interesting to read the history of the state on large granite walls, the 200-foot granite map of the state, a World War II Memorial, and numerous fountains.

Cava even performed for us in the outdoor ampitheater.

"To be or not to be . . ."

The boy definitely has stage presence. But if you ask him what his favorite thing at this park was, he would immediately blurt out, "The rabbit!"

On Saturday, Danelle went to the awards ceremony (as it cost $55 a person to attend) . . .

. . . while Cava and I spent that three hours exploring the Gaylord Opryland Resort some more.

I must admit, no matter what we did, my thoughts were on Benjamin. I prayed that no matter what the outcome, Benjamin would be at peace.  Whenever I talked or texted him before the awards ceremony, he would repeat how I would be "more proud" of him if he won and I reminded him that I would not be any more proud of him if he won or any less proud of him if he lost. I said, "If you win, I will just be glad that others saw the talent in you that I already see." While he did not make the finals, he handled it well and graciously. I was proud of him for that. While his teammates returned home on the bus, Benjamin stayed with us. Knowing how much he loves video games and arcades, we took him to Dave & Buster's. They had the new Star Wars Battle Pod, which is awesome and I want one for our house.

That night we went to Swett's a soul food place that had a huge wall of fame of celebrities and politicians who'd eaten there. All I know is, if it's good enough for Lionel Richie, it's good enough for me. The place has been there since 1954 and serves dishes that includes fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. As we ate, one of the guys behind the cafeteria style counter started singing a gospel hymn. His voice and that food were wonderful.

After dinner we'd hoped to go downtown and walk around Music Row, but Benjamin was tired and didn't feel well so we returned to the hotel.  As he lay there asleep in the bed, I found myself going over and kissing his forehead. No matter how much taller he is than me, he is still my little boy. For all the fun we had on our trip, it was tinged with not having him with us. The sappy, sentimental side of myself flash-forwarded to in a couple of years when he will go away to college. Benjamin and I have always been close so I will deeply miss him. I enjoy our nightly walks where we share with each other and the time we spend together. I love watching him become who he's becoming. I'm proud of him for who he is and not what he accomplishes. He is an amazing young man who God has blessed me with. It is one of the biggest honors to be his Papa.

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