45 Hours In Nashville TN



Travel dates: July 14-15, 2016

Park: Jellystone Park, 2572 Music Valley Drive,  Nashville, TN


The women agreed. After spending a week in the Great Smoky Mountains we wanted at least two nights in Nashville, Tennessee on our way home. The resort did not matter that much to us, as long as we were able to take in some of the sights, sounds, and flavor of Nashville we were going to be happy girls. Wayne is the one who selected Jellystone, I think he has a thing for BooBoo or maybe it is Ranger Rick. I dunno but which ever one it is, he was insistent on camping at Jellystone.

The drive from Townsend, TN to Nashville took us approximately four hours. As we neared Jellystone, large dark storm clouds threatened rain. Although check in was not until 4 p.m. we called ahead and the manager gave us the welcome mat to come early to try and beat the storms. We got checked in, unhitched, and leveled just moments before the skies opened. Lesson learned; sometimes those check in times are more of a guideline than a rule so be sure to ask.

Day 1: 2:00 p.m.   Music Valley, Opryland Neighborhood

Despite the fact that our first afternoon was wet,  we were determined to get out and enjoy the city. Our first stops were super convenient to Jellystone; they were a few hundred feet away on Music Valley Drive. We found several RV dealers that had a variety of campers that our local dealers at home don’t have. We looked at 5th Wheel trailers, Class A motor coaches, and even little girl campers. The fun abruptly ended when Angie slid down the steps of a Class A cutting her ankle requiring medical care.

Day 1: 5:00 p.m. Centennial Park:


The Todd’s second stop in Nashville was to a local urgent care center where Angie received five stitches.

The second stop for The Taylor family was to visit Centennial Park and check out the Parthenon.  Lesson learned, in planning I thought the draw was to see this beautiful building….from the outside. I did not realize there were amazing things to see on the inside. So, we were not concerned with business hours and by the time we got to the park, the Parthenon was closed for the day. We milled around the building and Centennial Park. The park itself is beautiful with ponds, manicured lawns, beautiful flowers in bloom, and plenty of walk ways to stretch your legs.

We expected a lot of people to be in the park, this place came highly recommended so I figured it was a tourist destination. On the date we were there, it was packed. People milled every where. Families, groups of friends, people driving by in cars. It took us no time to realize that while this park was a tourist destination, it was being invaded by locals all playing….Pokemon Go!  Under duress, I got a few photos of the family in front of the Parthenon before I gave up and consented to letting them play (and by that I mean be on their phones).

We will add the inside of The Parthenon to our return trip to Nashville.

Day 1: 7:00 p.m. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, 112 19th Avenue South, Nashville, TN:

img_7194While trip planning we knew that a visit to the famous Hattie B’s Hot Chicken Restaurant was high on our list. With heat levels that range from Mild (with a touch of burn) to Damn Hot (Fire Starter) or the Shut the Cluck Up (burn notice) we were a mixture of excited and intimidated to cross the threshold.

We met back up with The Todd’s,   newly stitched and bandaged, late in the afternoon and the line was already out the door and around the building. Wayne and I easily agreed to split the large dark but choosing sides was super hard for us to agree upon. With options like Southern Greens, Pimento Mac and Cheese, Black Eyed Peas, and Baked Beans it was a tough decision. We found a seat on the covered deck and soon our meals were delivered.  The chicken, slightly reddish from the spices, is fried to perfection.  Crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. Hattie B’s is the kind of chicken that makes you visit Nashville over and over.

hattiebalteredDay 1: 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Printer’s Alley and Pedestrian Bridges:

Every vacation has that moment when things just did not work out as planned. Well, for us, on this leg of the trip it was the time after Hattie B’s. We decided we would walk down Printer’s Alley and listen to the sounds of music pouring out of the buildings. However, we found parking to be a struggle for our large Ram trucks and when we did find a parking lot big enough to maneuver the trucks in, the spots cost $25. The price tag would have been one thing if we had one vehicle and we had planned to stay for many hours but we found it too steep for two vehicles and an hour or so of mingling in the area.

We decided to try out a pedestrian bridge. Siri failed to recognize the Seigenthaler Bridge downtown and gave us directions to the Cumberland River Pedestrian Bridge.  It was very close to the campground so we did not mind. Reviews said this bridge offers great views of the Nashville skyline. Althought we found it easily enough we could never find any access to it.  We ended up driving around for some time looking for a way to access the bridge and never found it. In the end, we drove around the suburbs a lot and called it an early night.

Day 2: 10:30 a.m. The Ryman Auditorium:

After breakfast our group split in half. Angie and I along with the two teens made arrangements to take the shuttle to downtown Nashville while the husbands and two girls stayed at Jellystone.

We used The Downtown Shuttle to pick us up right at Jellystone Registration and drive us downtown. The cost was  $10 per person round trip. The shuttle picked up tourist from all the local RV parks/hotels in the Opryland area and transports them to Lower Broadway. The Downtown Shuttle runs late hours so you get to determine how much downtown Nashville you want to see and have a safe way home. Our shuttle driver was very familiar with Nashville and with country music. She teased us all the way downtown with places we should see and she quizzed us with trivia all the way home. Considering how well we navigated downtown the night prior, using this shuttle was a  no brainer for us…and it allowed the men to stay behind and not worry about us banging up their trucks!

rymanalteredFirst up on our day of sightseeing was the Mother Church, The Ryman Auditorium (Tickets were $20 per person).  I do not think it matters what genre of music you grew up with, odds are your favorite artist has probably performed at The Ryman or at the very least dreamed about performing there. As a lifelong fan of country music I have wanted to visit the home of the Grand Ole Opry for my entire life. Being there was completely surreal.

The Ryman dates back to the 1880’s when a riverboat captain attended a good ole fashioned church revival. He was immediately converted and set out to build a permanent place for his preacher to preach in. After his death in 1904, the Union Gospel Tabernacle was renamed to The Ryman after the riverboat captain, Thomas G. Ryman.

Quick Trivia before I introduce Ms. Naff: this hat was made famous by Minnie Pearl. Any idea how much is written on the price tag so famously forgot to remove?

img_7266Thomas Ryman may have been the architect who built the Mother Church, but Lula C. Naff morphed the Ryman into the iconic building that we know. Under her management The Ryman became a premier performance hall and in 1943 she opened the Ryman up to the popular radio show. The rest, as they say in show business is history.

img_7253There are two types of tours at the Ryman; the self guided and the back stage. Both tours start at the same place, watching a movie titled The Soul of Nashville. The Soul of Nashville describes how the Ryman came to be the Mother Church, how it was abandoned, sitting in a state of dilapidation and nearly demolished, and finally, how it has once again rose to be the icon of Nashville. We followed a well marked path through the Ryman, reading well placed plagues full of historical information. We were able to see historic clothing from some of our favorite country music stars, sit in the church pews that makes up the audience seating, and we could even walk up on stage and stand near the unbroken circle.


Day 2: 12:30 p.m. Honky Tonk Highway (aka  Lower Broadway):

Our shuttle driver informed us on our way downtown that Nashville had become one of the most popular destinations for bachelor/bachelorette parties. Four city blocks known as Lower Broadway is one of the main reasons tourist flock to this city. All day every day, you can catch live music in every bar in this area. There is no high dollar cover charge to join this party and if you get lucky you might catch site of a country music legend or at minimum catching the next big star as they work to make a name for themselves. If being inside is not your cup of tea, we also noticed numerous bachelor/bachelotte groups cycling through Lower Broadway on Pedal Taverns where you get to take the bar and music with you outside. It is so very easy to see why this has become a party destination. alleyalteredOne thing is clear, this town is full of memories and legends. Every one you chat with has a story to tell. One of the stories we were told is about the alley between The Ryman and Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge. Performers of the Grand Ole Opry would sneak out of the Ryman and visit Tootsie’s in between sets, some of them not finding their way back to the stage in time. One artist even told Tootsie Bess that there were 17 steps to get to Tootsie’s and 34 steps to get back!

broadwayalteredThe four of us walked down Broadway, listening to the music as it flooded out into the streets. We stepped into every boot store we could just to smell the leather and try on hats. We ate lunch at Tequila Cowboy enjoying live music and a cold beer.

Day 2:  2:30 p.m. Country Music Hall of Fame:

Our last stop in downtown Nashville was the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was a two block walk from Lower Broadway. We paid around $25 per person to get in and we lingered in the Hall of Fame for a couple of hours walking from one exhibit to the next. The Hall of Fame is three floors and is also attached to Hatch Show Print, a printing company that has become famous for printing handbills.

img_7297alteredFrom Roy Acuff to Hank Senior, from Patsy Cline to Taylor Swift and from Johnny Cash to Blake Shelton.  Lead singers to bass guitarist and from managers to producers. If it is country music it at the Country Music Hall of Fame. The amount of history collected and displayed here is unbelievable. I felt like I was reliving moments from my childhood as we walked from one exhibit to the next.

Quickly some of the highlights from our time at the Hall of Fame; we loved the collection of cars, music, video’s, clothing, and instruments (Barbara Mandrell’s steel guitar!!). We saw the Hee Haw corn field, so many gold records, and we were super excited to see a painting by a famous Missourian (Thomas Hart Benton) hanging in the Hall of Fame room. The Hall of Fame had a Blake Shelton exhibit full of personal treasures of his rise to fame.

The Hall of Fame concluded Angie’s and my time downtown. We were tired, maybe a little hot, and ready to relax. We left the two young men with us and caught the shuttle back to Jellystone. The boys stayed and shopped until they found a new pair of boots and a cowboy hat to take home.

Our Nashville experience was almost complete. We  had eaten hot fried chicken, walked around the Parthenon, seen The Mother Church, walked around Lower Broadway visiting honky tonks and western outfitters, and even hit up the Hall of Fame.  There was one last thing for us to do….go to the Grand Ole Opry!

Day 2: 7:00 p.m. The Grand Ole Opry:

After a rest, nap, and a shower, we joined the rest of the family for a night out at the Grand Ole Opry.  We were actually pretty lucky that our campground was in the Opryland area so it did not take us long to get to the Opry.

opryWith a combination of old country and new/upcoming country we enjoyed our time at the Opry. The Opry started as a radio show and it continues to be. The show is divided into four segments, four different sponsors, one fifteen minute intermission, and over two hours entertainment.  On the night we were there, we saw legends Connie Stevens, Whispering Bill Anderson, John Conlee, and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. We enjoyed rising stars, Jimmy Wayne, Kalisa Ewing, Keith Anderson and Craig Campbell. Merle Haggards son, Marty was there along with Mike Snider and bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-press. I will forever be thankful that I had the opportunity to see Mr. Roy Clark at the Grand Ole Opry.

opry2From the youngest in our group to the adults, from those of us raised on country music to our vacation guest who had never listened to a moment of country music before this trip, we all had a great time. It would seem as if we could not get enough as we have found ourselves tuning into SiriusXM to listen to more.

img_7380alteredI might have dragged my husband to the Opry that night but in the end, he became a fan. We ended our evening walking through the Opryland Hotel, which is right next to the Grand Ole Opry. We woke the next morning headed home ending our first two week vacation in the RV.  Since our return home, I have heard several songs on the radio that we were introduced to at the Opry. Which is kinda cool.

By 10:00 a.m. the next morning we said au revoir to Jellystone and Nashville. Overall, it was a whirlwind 45 hours and in true Roam With Friends fashion, we packed as much in as we could.  We enjoyed ourselves and I think we all can say we have had a taste of Nashville and we left wanting more.



Halloween Camping

We love fall and our favorite fall activity is Halloween. I do find it a bit bittersweet, the fact that the end of camping season is near but Halloween is so much fun that you kinda put the doom of what is coming out of your mind for a while.

A few of our local state parks have started hosting Halloween Campouts (Watkins Mill State Park and Wallace State Park). We sorta stumbled onto the first one and had such a great time that we keep going back. Last year we even won the Scariest Campsite Contest and earned ourselves three free nights of camping. We used that reward and booked sites at Watkins Mill State Park for the 3rd Annual Halloween Campout this past weekend.

When the judges brought us our first place prize last year they said, “You really blew us away and we can’t wait to see what you come up with for next year!” I am sure that was some kind of standard reply they give to everyone but we took it to heart and looked at it as a challenge. Could we top the Mad Science Lab we did last year?

zombiekidsMaybe I should pause here and explain who all is involved in this haunted camping trip. The Taylor’s and The Todd’s have been at every single Halloween Camp-Out at Watkins Mill. Last year we extended an invitation to The Merriman’s because they are fun and love Halloween as much as we do. This year, the Todd’s had to cancel due to a conflict with Z’s sports schedule. So, I invited my friend Meg and her family. (Do you remember Meg? She wrote a blog post for us called Growing Up Camping.) Then we have my dear Mother who comes to help and participate the day of the Halloween party. We also have other friends who attend the same camp-out so it is nice to spend time with so many great camping friends!

zombiesWe settled on our theme for the year: Zombie Prom. We decided a prom had three main elements we needed to create in our campsite. First we needed a DJ. You can’t have a school dance without someone playing music. Second we needed a photo attraction. I am sure all of you out there have a “memorable prom photo” from back in the day. And finally, we needed a refreshment table with cake and punch.

I would say we it took us about 2 months to pull together all of our decorations. Finding formal attire we could muck up at a price point reasonable to us took a little while. In the end we told our family members that as long as they had something to do with high school we would be happy. So, we ended up with a Zombie Prom Queen and her date, a Zombie baseball player, football player, a few cheerleaders, and even a Grimm reaper responsible for collecting the departed souls.

img_8460We used two easy up tents as our frame. We covered the tents with inexpensive black dollar store plastic table cloths to create walls. Not only did the walls give us an area to transform, it also kept us hidden from the watchful eye sight of other campers. I think this helped create an excitement around our campsite as everyone’s anticipation kept building about what was inside that tent. On top of the black walls, we hung up some red plastic table cloths that we unevenly cut into strips. I remember back to my high school days and we used rolls of crepe paper to create the walls of our dances. Hours were spent hanging the crepe paper and twisting it in the same direction and taping it to the floor. We wanted our Zombie Prom to look like it had been pretty at one point but had been discarded and forgotten until this one night.

img_9026-1Our original plan was to have red and white plastic tablecloths cut to look like crepe paper streamers but when we got to the campground I realized I had picked up round tablecloths and not rectangle ones. Meg was quick on her feet and suggested using the rounds as valances on top of the red and it worked out well!

img_8970For our photo attraction, The Merriman’s and I made a giant 6 foot 3 inch coffin out of cardboard. We were gifted the shipping box of a whiteboard and set about measuring and cutting. Once cut, we painted it black and duck taped it all together. Our original thought was to have someone “pop” out of the coffin and provide a timely and funny photobomb but in the end, we left the coffin closed because it felt stronger. We added chains and a “beware of zombie’s” styrofoam sign to the coffin. Around the coffin we had a candelabra with zombie candle’s, skulls, and a flower arrangement of dead flowers.  The Merriman’s and I also made a sign to sit in front of the photo attraction that said “Zombie Prom “#3rdAnnualHalloweenCampout #WatkinsMillStatePark.

img_8974The DJ was the easiest and maybe the funniest part to set up. We have access to a life-size medical skeleton that we like to call Bob. Bob was always going to be the DJ for the prom. We were going to call him “Bob Bones” and use bone lettering to make him a DJ sign for his booth. However, the presidential debates happened and Ken Bone made himself an internet sensation. So, we changed Bob’s name to Ken, gave him a mustache, put a red sweater on him, and called him Ken Bone, DJ 4 Hire. We put Beat headphones on him, rested his hands on a turntable and a laptop. I even found a brand new mirrored disco ball on Craigslist and hung it from the roof of the tent. We used our red/green garden lasers to caste light onto the disco ball so the entire prom spun with light.

img_8968We always knew we wanted cake and punch at the refreshment table but really debated over fake cake vs real cake. A month or so ago, I stumbled onto a tutorial from another RV blogger, Gretchen about a fake cake she had made in the past. (Gretchen has two blogs one for home, Boxy Colonial, and one for the RV, Boxy Colonial On The Road.) I knew immediately that this was the type of cake we were going to have. So I set about buying cake forms with my 40-50% off coupons and used some Plaster of Paris I had at home to frost the cakes. I used old Mardi Gras beads painted black for decoration and made clay roses uses Sculpey clay I had on hand. Ironically,  I never figured out how to make roses with frosting but my clay roses turned out amazing! We added some old flower arrangements painted black to the table along with some blood red punch with eyeballs and had a spooky looking refreshment table.

img_8475Outside the tent we created a grave yard with styrofoam headstones and compost dirt. We put strobe lights and warning tape up. We also lit the pathway from the road to the tent with solar lights and we ran floral wire between three trees and taped red glow sticks to the wire to give the effect of floating red candles.

img_8965Reflections from the night:

This was the most forgiving theme we could have picked. It did not matter how inexperienced we were at mucking clothing up, it looked great. Not a single one of us felt confident with our make-up skills going into this but we nailed it! The Plaster of Paris got bumped around a bit as it cured, it didn’t matter it looked like it was a decade old.

I am not sure how many parents at the Halloween campout knew who Ken Bone was. He was funnier to us than any visitor!

We had a line to visit our Zombie Prom all night long. In hindsight, we should have created a front entrance and a back exit. Our photo attraction got a lot of attention and it slowed down the traffic flow.

img_8996We ended up taking first place again! It was a shared victory with all the kids and all the adults who helped plan. We all went to bed with big smiles  and maybe some sore muscles from all the dancing we did. People greeted us with their hopes of seeing us next year and looking forward to our site. It seems we have a reputation to uphold.

There were other really cute sites in the campground. A short drive around, we snapped some photos of our favorites.


This was our campground host. They used their Class A cab to create a giant monster face and even used the grill for a mouth. I also love the Halloween pail totem pole.


The Short Chic and I saw this large frame made of PVC pipe during our morning walk. We wondered how they would use it. Well, it was nice to find out. I am not sure if they purchased this or made it but they put a giant Frankenstein cover over the PVC frame.


This trio of skeletons sat around a campfire roasting marshmallows all weekend. The fire was very realistic and crackled and popped just like our real fire did!

img_8471A trio of witches brewing up some special potion just for Halloween. They had motion sensors and startled me when I got close enough to activate them.

img_8469This camper has been pickin his banjo a long ole time.

img_8473This group skeletons look like they are enjoying camp life.

If you have the opportunity to go camping for Halloween, we encourage you to give it a try! And if you are interested, we will back at Watkins Mill State Park next year for the 4th Annual Halloween Camp-out. See you then!

Play, Pause, Reset

We are victims of our own destruction at times. The schedule we keep; no one sets it for us. The hours we keep, no one sets them for us. Our children’s extracurricular activities, we said yes to those. So when I feel like my life or my family’s lives are running at a speed I can’t keep up with I know I can only blame ourselves.

img_7927Our youngest had a day off from school this past week. A fact that I seemed to overlook until the automated message came out the Thursday before to remind all those parents like me who can’t see the forest because we are dodging the trees. We could not go out of town because we still had cheer responsibilities Friday night and Saturday afternoon. We returned to a local spot and set up our base camp a few miles north of our own home at Smith’s Fork Campground.

img_7929The Todd’s schedule would not allow them to join us, their lives are just as hectic as our own, but they were able to come and visit us for dinner Saturday night. In addition to the Todd’s my cousin and his family joined us. We enjoyed a campfire, smore’s, and adult beverages, as well as laughs.

The rest of the long weekend was spent decompressing and relaxing. Every space for resting was utilized to the maximum. No alarm clocks; we slept past 9:00 a.m. every day of the weekend. The Boy and I each took late morning naps under the awning in a lounger and as soon as Wayne’s attention was diverted to fishing I climbed back in bed for another late afternoon nap while The Boy curled up on the coach.

img_8907Many weekend camping trips are filled with activities and running. During those weekends we hardly see the inside of our camper other than to shower and sleep. But occasionally it is nice to hit the pause button. During these weekends I am glad I took the time to make our camper feel like a second home.  There is no place like a home away from home to allow the body and mind to reset.


Farewell Miss Norma

In August 2015, Norma Jean Bauerschmidt became an internet sensation.  Days after her husband of 67 years passed away Norma found herself sitting in a doctors office being diagnosed with cancer and facing treatment options. The 90 year old woman squarely told the doctor she was not going to be doing any treatment options, she was hitting the road! And she did.


norma-trending-large_trans7mg_60o0rriiwrzvppge3mas08iywehanrog-y58hhmFor the past year I have been one of thousands who have followed Miss Norma’s story through their facebook page, Driving Miss Norma. Miss Norma joined her son and daughter-in-law and traveled 10,000 miles in a 36 foot RV. They have traveled the country in the past year and posted inspirational photos along the way.

Last week, Miss Norma at the age of 91 passed away. Her end of life celebration is tomorrow, October 7 in Friday Harbor, Washington where Miss Norma spent the last of her days. If you are in this part of the country, the end of life celebration is open to the public. But if you are not able to attend, you can still honor Miss Norma’s life by simply spreading joy in your world. She loved cake and root beer floats.

Miss Norma’s story has touched me for several reasons. Obviously being a RV traveler  and enthusiast, I am taken by anyone who hits the open road for an extended time. While I need to work right now, one day I plan to live my days out as a nomad just as Miss Norma did.

The other reasons Miss Norma’s story touched me in such a significant way is that I, just like Norma, have sat in the doctors office and been handed a cancer diagnosis and weighed all the treatment options available to me. Yes, I am a cancer survivor. Six years ago, as my Time Hop app is now reminding me daily, I was battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. Many of you here don’t know that about me. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and every year that I pass my diagnosis date I am reminded that my life is forever changed:

  • I do not want to put off doing what makes me happy. There is no time like the present to live a happy life. Life is too short to put off things that you “one day want to do”. Make the time for those things now. Honestly, that is why I love our RV so much. We are able to travel and spend time as a family doing those things that make us happy.
  • Life is full of adventure; even if you can’t hit the road for a 10,000 road trip, there are places to explore and adventures to be had in our own back yards. Go and explore!
  • Life is too short and precious to carry around heavy baggage; let it go! From relationships to personal choices don’t carry around negativity. This is probably another reason I love camping so much. You hardly ever encounter a grumpy camper.
  •  Be present and make memories often. I get it, I like my technology as much as the next person, but sometimes we just need to put it down and be present enough to make a memory with a loved one. When I was diagnosed all I could think about was my children’s lives without me. Even when I managed to not think about it during my waking moments, it seeped into my dreams at night. So, yes, we make the time to play checkers, catch fireflies, or play Bocce ball. We go for hikes and we teach ourselves how to Geocache just so we can look back on all of our shared experiences and smile. Even when they were not so successful!

Miss Norma’s decided to forgo treatment and to hit the road. She made a decision to take control over the time she had and to live each day to its fullest. I respect the decision she made and each day I saw her Facebook post, she inspired me.  As Miss Norma is honored tomorrow, lets be inspired by her once more. We do not need to wait until we are handed a medical diagnosis to change our lives. We can do that today!



Our thoughts and prayers are with Miss Norma’s family and loved ones. Thank you for sharing her with us. I hope our love and support can comfort you in this time of loss.

5 Tips For Hosting a Large Camp Out

For the past five years we have found a way of sharing our love for camping with our friends through our annual Family Camp Out. What started off as a desire to go camping and finding a friend, or two, to join us tent camping in the cooler fall weather has grown into something I never could have imagined. This year we had nearly 60 people (16 families) join us as either weekend warriors, overnighters, or day campers  for a weekend of games, activities, camp food, fun, and relaxation.

As you  can imagine organizing, planning, and hosting a camping event does not happen overnight and requires some attention to detail. Here are 5 tips to help you plan a large camp-out for your family or friends.

img_7661altered1. Select a Setting: The setting to any gathering is important and a camp out should be no exception. Finding a campground that will allow a large group to gather and has sufficient parking can be a little tricky. We originally selected Smithville Lake because it is beautiful and we could pick a loop that was close to the public restrooms which was super important when we were all tent campers. We keep returning to Smithville Lake because I have not found another campground that will let us buy day parking passes and park on the grass near the sites we have rented.  One last tip about the setting, find a place that allows advanced reservations or will do group reservations.

friends2. Select a Date and Invite Some Friends: We live in the Midwest and have a lot of weather considerations; spring and fall are unpredictable and the summer is humid and hot. We selected the fall and hope each year for sunny days and cooler nights. Most of the families attending the camp out are no longer in tents but we still have some tent campers who do prefer fall to summer. Each year the weather has challenged us and surprised us; we have encountered near freezing temperatures, wind, storms, and even sunshine.

friends2Once you have a date set, start inviting friends. I did not look for friends who liked to camp, I started with friends who had children. My goal was to create a weekend of camping that my kids would enjoy and playmates were central to that. One friend I invited was so shocked she literally asked if I had sent the invitation to the wrong person as she had never been camping in her life. As she laughed about it, she actually let the idea sink in and she decided to join us. My dear friend Deanna has been at every single camp out and tells me every year that without this opportunity her two kids would never experience camping.  So, when looking for guest, don’t limit yourself by looking for campers instead open the opportunity to  others and they might surprise you and themselves!

friends53. Activities:  There is absolutely nothing wrong with free play but no parent wants to hear the words, “I am bored” especially during a weekend camping trip.  Each year we attempt to plan a few activities we think the kids will enjoy just so we can proactively ward off those three dreaded words. Pinterest can provide you with a plethora of ideas: nature scavenger hunts, wood chip necklaces, stamped metal, painted rocks, and one year we even had our very own raingutter regatta. In addition to the activities we have also do crafts. Every year we have either tie dyed, reverse tie dyed, or screen printed a t-shirt. It makes me very happy to see a returning camper wearing shirts from previous years.

This year, our fifth year, we started the morning with an oversized adult coloring book poster that I found at 5 and Beow. It allowed for quiet time while parents fixed breakfast or just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the quiet morning hours. Mid morning we a painted pet rocks. By late morning we had started tie dying t-shirts and by the afternoon all the kids had migrated to the lake to play in the warm water and the cool clay mud.

tiedye4. Food:  As I have previously stated, this camping event has morphed from tent camping to mostly RV camping (although we still have several tent campers) and many of those camping had never been camping prior to our first year.  The menu for the weekend was fairly prescriptive at the request of the guest. By our second year, we had a menu that pleased everyone and we have kept it year after year. You would think someone would complain but they have not, and until they do, I am going to keep doing what works.

We have a balance between community meals and on your own meals. One of the main reasons we do community meals is because of the amount of children we have at the camp out. Small children, as well as picky eaters, tend to shop between their friends to see who has the most desirable meal. So to avoid one parent being targeted to feed a large number of kids, we chose to organize community meals. We use a Sign Up Genius  for the community meals and campers bring their own drinks and paper/plastic wear. Determining how much of each item we will need is probably the hardest part of the entire planning. How many hot dogs per person, how many bags of marshmallows, how many eggs for breakfast? Each year the attendance at the camp out changes so the amounts change as well. This one aspect of the planning probably causes me the most grief so I start mapping this our early so I have time to gather as much input as I can. Despite the grief, you know what? Only one time have we came close to running out of food and more often than not, we walk away from the weekend with very little leftovers!

Here is a sample of our tried and true menu: Friday Evening and Saturday Morning are on your own meals. Saturday lunch is a community meal of walking tacos (a camp favorite). Saturday evening we light a huge bon fire and have a hot dog buffet: chili dogs, bacon wrapped dogs,  dogs stuffed with cheese, and even corn dogs in a pie iron! After dinner we break out the smore’s to round off the night.  Sunday morning we have a community meal of eggs in a bag and hash brown potatoes.

If you select to do community meals, I would suggest that you ask for volunteers to help get the food heated up, fire pit made, and to help keep things rolling. An event this large takes multiple hands and there is no harm in asking for help in the set up, the delivery, and the clean up of community meals.

friends35. Continue the Fun After the Sun Goes Down: Fun can be found around every corner at the family camp out all day long. For years, the kids played on a picnic table at an empty campsite next to ours and somehow the water fountain just accidentally gets the kids soaked EVERY SINGLE YEAR. The lake is great for fishing or wading and the sandy beach is perfect for building sand castles.  But my final tip is simply, the fun does not have to end when the sun goes down. Find a way to keep the young guest and their parents engaged right up till bedtime.

glow2A few years ago, we found ourselves with some old florescent light fixtures and we decided to recycle and reuse them by hosting a glow party every Saturday night of the camp out. We fix the lights to our awning, open a few bottles of glow-in-the-dark body paint, add a few glow sticks, create a play list, and we have ourselves an instant child friendly dance party at the campground. Young and old guest alike will enjoy watching their clothing change appearances under the black lights. Seeing parents and kids dance together for a few hours is just another memory that makes me happy.

glowDancing and glowing the night away is one option for using night time but there are other ideas worthy of consideration. Night hikes are awesome and with limited sight other senses increase creating a whole new learning experience. If you plan a night hike, I strongly recommend introducing a whole new crop of campers to the sparks Wintergreen Lifesavers make.  Star gazing is another fun activity if your camping setting is dark enough.

I hope these 5 steps help you create a weekend camping trip with your friends or family that is just as memorable as our Family Camp Out. To all the folks who came out and attended our camp out, thank you. I had a great time and look forward to next year!

I am going to leave you with a collection of short video’s of the glow party. They are so cute I can’t keep it to myself!

Growing Up Camping

This week we have a special guest post by our friend, Meeghan.  Meeghan grew up being a camper; something I did not. Today, she shares her childhood memories as well as her camping hopes for her own children.


Growing up, camping is what my family always did for vacation. We camped at many of the state parks in Nebraska. Camping seemed to be the most affordable thing for our family of 6 six. I credit my mom for always making these camping trips fun and of course memorable. We always had good meals and dessert; we always rode our bikes or skateboards all over the place, went on hikes, swam at the pool and if available went horseback riding. Camping was one of my most favorite things to do as a child and is still to this day.

FullSizeRender (1)As a very young child we always camped in a big green tent (see picture above from Louisville State Park Louisville, NE near Omaha). The tent was an old Boy Scout tent that my dad received from a friend. The tent was quite complicated to put together. I remember my dad cursing the entire time because it never seemed easy to find which pole went with which. But when he finally accomplished this task I vividly remember standing in the middle of the tent and feeling it was so HUGE! I remembered the plastic tarp that covered the ground was so loud to walk across – nothing quiet about it. I remember the big metal zippers that this tent had – weird thing to remember, huh, but many of you may remember the old camping tents and pop-up campers had these types of metal zippers. Do any of you remember these kind of zippers? My older brother, Colin, remembers camping during a rainstorm and water rushing through the bottom of the tent – obviously this tent was not up to waterproof standards of tents today!

IMG_4843We eventually graduated to a popup! (See picture above – Two Rivers State Park in Waterloo, NE also near Omaha). I loved this camper! Some of my fondest memories are camping in this popup!  My dad paid next to nothing for the popup and traveled out of state to get it.

There was no electricity – we always used the faithful old Coleman lantern for light at night. I can still recall getting ready for bed in this old camper by that light.  The only hook up was water. Everything else was manual – you had to crank the handle by the hitch to raise the tent part and then you slid the beds out. I used to be so excited to take my turn at cracking the handle. There was an old ice chest that you had to use a block of ice to keep the food cold – normally we just used coolers to keep our food. The camper came fully stocked with bowls, plates, and silverware – I mean real silver! I now have all the silverware in my camper and use it regularly!

The one table in the camper was always pulled down for a bed. If I remember correctly, my older brother always got to sleep on the table bed and he never had to share with anyone else. It’s lucky to be the oldest!  The rest of the family bunked-up on either of the side beds – mom and dad on one side and my little sister, little brother and I bunked on the other.

All our meals were eaten outside on the sites picnic table and/or foldable table we carried around with us. I don’t remember eating extravagant meals for breakfast – always cereal. Although, for dinner my mom always did something fun. Many times mom cooked over the fire in a pie iron. And for dessert we made tin can ice cream.



Tin can ice cream was always a must whenever we camped and you automatically made friends with other campers while making it.  The photo above is my sister and a family friend rolling the can back and forth to mix the ice cream. Inside the big can is a smaller can with all the ice cream ingredients. Surrounding the smaller can is ice and rock salt. As you the roll the back and forth the cans get colder and colder with the motion and the ice cream is made. This whole process takes about 30 minutes – with the making and the rolling included. It’s one of my fondest memories camping.

I’m not exactly sure when we stopped camping. The popup was eventually no longer able to be camped in and purchased by a man who made it into a trailer. It was sad to see it go but the memories will forever remain.

Summer Days 2006 050When I met my husband we always camped in a tent on air mattresses. We did this for a few years including some wonderfully fun trips with Pam and her family!

Summer Days 2006 052

(Smith Fork Campground Smithville, MO)

We started building our family and once we had children we never made it back to roughing it in a tent. In 2012 we purchased a travel trailer, a 34 foot 2007 Summerland with one slide. It has bunks for the kids and queen bed for us. It has been the best thing ever! My children love it! It’s the perfect size.  As I am writing this I realize my children have really never slept in a tent. Shocking I know! I’m not sure if this makes us officially bad parents but we have been able to provide them with some wonderful camping with good meals and campfires


My husband’s family has a family campground near White Cloud, KS right on the Mighty Missouri River. This is the only place our camper has ever been and the only place our children have ever camped.

Nine other campers sit on the property all family.   Our campground has full hookups. We leave our camper there all summer and we go up on the weekends from April to October. The campground has a boat ramp and a dock for all of the family fishermen.

We also have a building that we call a cook shack which all of our meals are cooked in. You haven’t had a breakfast until you’ve eaten breakfast at a the river. We also cook our dinner meals in the cook shack where we have anything from fish to steaks to fried chicken. Lots of laughter has taken place in the cook shack. Great memories have been made here.

To us our family campground isn’t like any other campground around. The memories we have made as a family and that our children have made will never be forgotten. Our children and their cousins have the best time in the world each and every weekend. Without the camper I’m not sure they would be as close as they are.


IMG_8601We worry as our children grow and become more active in sports that our time at the river will be less and less. As we see this happens our hearts begin to hurt a bit. We know there will also come a time when our children are “too cool” for the river. This too will be a hard day for us. But before this happens there plenty of camping trips that I would like to take! I’m ecstatic to have the river and I know each and every time we’re there is a great time; but I very much want to take our camper other places! I want my children to experience setting up our camping site and making friends with other children who are camping too and to ride their bikes throughout the campground. We definitely have many luxuries at the river and I want my children to see what camping can really be.  Our next big family vacation will be taking the camper somewhere. Not sure where because there are just so many place we would like to roam.  I can hardly wait!


Camp Katmandu

campkatmanduJust south of where Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska meet right on The Missouri River near mile marker 486, is a small campground called Camp Katmandu. You won’t find this campground in any Good Sam directory or even with a Google search. Camp Katmandu is a private campground and so are the invitations to visit. We recently accepted our second invitation to camp at what is affectionately called “The River” by our good friends Meg and Jeremy.

img_7588alteredFor the past two decades members of Jeremy’s extended family have worked hard to evolve Camp Katmandu from farm land to a weekend fishing spot to a family campground. Fishing was and remains central to this camp. Several members of the extended family have belonged or do belong to fishing clubs and participate in catfish tournaments. The weekend of our visit the family was getting ready for their annual community fish fry and Wayne volunteered his extra two hands to help skin the Buffalo and Catfish they had caught.

theriverThere are approximately twelve full service hookups at Camp Katmandu; eleven of them are used by members of the extended family. They leave their campers there from spring to fall each year and visit “The River” every weekend they can during that time.  Most of the “regulars” have built wooden decks/front porches for their campers. They have also built themselves some “extra’s” that make camp life a little sweeter:  a boat ramp, a large boat dock with fish cleaning stations and a live well, a community bathroom, an outdoor shower, an octagon shaped porch swing with a campfire ring in the center, as well as a community food shack.

Given the close proximity to the Missouri River, most everything at this camp is move-able or designed to withstand flooding. And it does flood here. In 2011 the entire camp was submerged in flood water for the summer, just ask Uncle Bud and he will proudly show the water line in the cook shed.

mealtimeFood is central to so many family gatherings and at Camp Katmandu it doesn’t seem to be any exception. The family shares at least one meal a day but often multiple meals. They select a main dish and each family adds to the community meal. My friend Megs joked that as one meal finishes they immediately begin talking about and planning the next! Moments are made as members sit around and cook, eat, and even clean together sharing stories and laughing as new moments unfold right before their eyes.

You never know what you will see or find at  “The River”.  Family members tell us that you never know what will come floating down the river, or what animal you will catch site of. We passed the time eagle watching and a fairly large water snake picked the boat ramp as a warm resting spot during our stay.  I was even treated to a boat ride upriver to an L-dyke to see the jumping Asian Carp.

Sometimes the unusual sites you see are not animal related; sometimes they are human. On the weekend of our visit, we encountered a man canoeing down the Missouri River. He told us as he approached camp that he had been on the river for 66 days on a quest to set a new Guinness Book of World Record for the longest solo kayak or canoe trip. He had started in Montana at the headwaters of the Missouri and was headed to the Mighty Mississippi and ultimately The Gulf of Mexico! Adventure Aaron might have thought he had found a public campground but in fact he found Camp Katmandu.  Extended family members offered up space for a tent and a home cooked meal to Adventure Aaron. We are all watching his journey and you can follow him too on Facebook!


I realize that most of you will likely never visit Camp Katmandu, that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to introduce you to another type of RV lifestyle. One where members of a group (in this case a whole extended family) enjoy each others company and decide to build a place so special that they return to it over and over. The families at “The River” may not be roaming and exploring new places together but they are group camping with multiple generations and they are creating a love for the outdoors, nature, and camping that will influence future generations. That is what we have in common and I think that is something we can all buy into.

Thank you, Camp Katmandu, for opening your campground and your lives to us!




Our Very Close Encounter With A Black Bear

This is a story that will now live forever in our family memories. I know our daughter, The Short Chic, will be passing this down to her kids and grandkids and retelling this story throughout her life. This is the story of the time we went hiking and almost got eaten by a bear in The Smoky Mountains.

As our time in The Great Smoky Mountains was coming to an end, I had hoped for one final hike in Cades Cove. All week I had read the “warning” signs of bear activity in the park. Abraham Falls was always on that list. Abraham Falls was also on another list: that of great fishing places in the Smoky Mountains. Wayne was hoping to catch a fish, I was hoping for a bear sighting, so we set off to hike Abraham Falls on our last day in Townsend.

Abraham falls6 The entire crew traveled to the welcome sign and the majority of them bid us adieu so they could hang out at the campsite and rest. Wayne, The Short Chic and I headed to Cades Cove. Going into this hike, we were a little ill prepared. We had eaten breakfast but had not had lunch. We did not pack snacks (because we were not hungry when we set out). We did not realize Abraham Falls was a 5 mile hike round trip (2.5 in/2.5 out). We did pack several water bottles but if I am honest, I carried in more photography equipment than anything.  I give you this background information so you will understand that after hiking the 2.5 miles into Abraham Falls we were HANGRY and to make matters worse, The Short Chic talked nonstop about having ice cream for lunch the entire hike!

abraham falls5The Abraham Falls hike terrain is rocky, uneven, and generally follows the Abraham Creek although the creek is often not accessible due to the terrain of the forest. Wayne took his fly rod and practiced catching wild Appalachian Brooke Trout any chance he could access the creek. The path dipped and climbed as the terrain did and it took us through moments of no shade/full sun, to the coverage of dense tree canopy and full shade, as well as up and over a rocky ridge. Several times the path took us over offshoots of the creek where we walked over wooden log foot bridges.

abraham falls2IMG_7159The falls were a welcome site after hiking 2.5 miles! Numerous hikers had shed their shoes and clothing (yes they had swimsuits on underneath their clothing) to wade and splash in the water below the falls. The Short Chic had fantasized about getting wet in the water the entire hike and as we walked up to the waters edge the first thing we saw were dual water snakes! Wayne may have spent some time fishing there but The Short Chic and I got no where near that water and kept a diligent eye open for any additional reptiles during our short stay!

abraham falls3We chose not to linger for a long time at the Falls, we still had 2.5 miles to go to get back to our car and it was getting late. I think we began our return around 2:45-3:15 p.m.. The Short Chic started making up songs about food on the way back and first Wayne attempted to hush her but I had the thought that it was approaching dinner time….not just to us but for animals as well. We let her sing at the top of her lungs just to make our presence known. We also hiked in a very specific order: me, The Short Chic, and Wayne just in case any predators were eyeballing us and looking for our weakest member.

abraham fallsAfter we passed the ridge line and about 45 minutes into our return I notice some wild blackberries growing along the trail. You should all know that I love wild blackberries and was so hungry that I started picking the berries and eating them right there on the spot. I did notice that the berries were small and most of the larger ones where not yet ripe. As I picked berries for myself, Wayne picked them and gave them to The Short Chic.  Wayne spied a larger ripe berry just an arms s t r e t c h off the path and he decided to reach and pick that one berry.

I never saw her. I heard the noise first. Then I heard Wayne yell. He saw her. He heard her. Just as he was about to reach that berry, a black bear who was hiding in the blackberry bush let her presence be known by woofing at him. As I turned back up the trail, there was my husband doing some Fred Flintstones thing with his feet, trying to run but yet not being able to move. I see the people who were behind us on the trail turn and run one direction and others who were in front of us run away from us. We were left to defend our ground and ourselves against this bear not knowing if the bear was going to charge us or not.

Abraham Falls10I grabbed The Short Chic’s arm and swung her around me. I stood as close to my husband as I could and in what felt like hours (but really was only a few seconds) we realized that bear had no interest in charging us; she wanted Wayne to leave her berries alone!

Abraham falls8We moved safely up the trail. I am no judge of distance but we put enough space between that bear and us so that I felt safe. Ironically, that bear was completely hidden in the dense forest prior to letting us know she was there but after she gave us announced herself, we watched as that bear shook the living dickens out of the trees and the berry bushes. As the trees were shaking, we stopped everyone who was walking on the trail and explained there was a bear right there and I could see people up the trail hiding around a bend, their numbers growing as well.

abraham falls7As we stood in safety waiting for our hearts to stop racing and for us to feel strength in our knees the next part of this story occurred. A baby bear walked down from the hill, crossed the trail, and went into the trees to the bear who woofed. The realization that we inadvertently had been standing/hiking in-between a momma bear and her cub hit us like a ton of bricks.

Abraham falls9I think Momma Bear had been shaking that tree to knock the berries to the ground so Baby Bear could eat them with ease. A few moments after the Baby Bear joined the Momma Bear the shaking ceased. A few minutes later, both bears walked back onto the trail. Momma Bear never looked at us, she looked up the trail in the opposite direction of us but that Baby Bear turned and looked right in our direction. I had carried all of that camera equipment just hoping to spy a bear and here I was on the same trail and total strangers had to suggest taking photos!

Abraham Falls11Momma Bear and Baby Bear walked up the trail away from us. In fact, just as they were reaching the bend with all the hikers hiding they turned to the forest and walked off the trail to not be seen again. It was as if time held still. I have no idea how long we all stayed in our safe spots before finally one of the hikers behind us came around the bend. I signaled where the bears had left the trail. He made it by safely so the masses decided to get finish the hike and get off the trail.

abraham falls12The Short Chic never got her ice cream for lunch. By the time we got back it was nearing 5:00 p.m. and time for dinner. We met the rest of our party at PawPaw’s Kajun Kitchen in Sevierville on Wears Valley Road for some of the most amazing cajun food I have ever had. As we told our friends our story of the bears we guzzled sweet tea and munched on boudin balls and catfish. There was a lady sitting behind me who kept advising me on the menu so I struck up a conversation with her. Turns out she was the owners Momma visiting her daughter from New Orleans. Her accent was thick and she was a delight!  I gave her every opportunity to take credit for raising such an amazing cook but she never once did. We ended the night with the white chocolate bread pudding and left that place happy that the bear did not eat us so that we could enjoy such amazing food!

Whitewater Rafting on The Upper Pigeon River

bigbearGrowth occurs outside of our comfort zone.

As much as I love being near water or even on the water, I do not always like being in the water. I really don’t like my face and water touching. Like never.

Whitewater Rafting has been high on my families bucket list and even higher on The Todd’s list. It is non-existent on my list but that did not stop me from agreeing to a whitewater rafting trip during our vacation to Tennessee.

We traveled from Townsend, TN to Hartford, TN. In our one and half hour journey we passed through Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and we even stumbled onto the home office of Bush’s Baked Beans in Chestnut Hill.

Our Aunt Adela, who lives in Ashville, NC found us Groupons through Big Bear Expeditions. The float was on the Pigeon River, a damned and controlled river. There was a minimum age of 8 years old, which was perfect for us as we had two short chics that are 8! The check-in process was easy. Everyone signed waivers, changed clothing,  assigned a guide,  and then we received our gear (helmets, lifejackets, and paddles). After a safety meeting, we bordered a bus that took us on a short ride to the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

 The Walters Hydroelectric Plant sits on the North Carolina side and releases water down the Pigeon River every day. When we arrived the Pigeon River was a stream until the buzzer rang and the plant began releasing water and we watched that stream transform into a full river. Our whitewater adventure down the Upper Pigeon saw Class I, II, III, and IV rapids.

Big Bear is not the only outfitter in this area and since we were the first float of the day, we got to see all the outfitters in the same place at the same time and that sight was nothing short of overwhelming. Our group was too large for one raft, so we had to be split in half. Despite unbelievable levels of anxiety, I got in the raft and before I knew it we were on our way down the river. The water was everywhere. We were bumping rocks. My face did get wet. Towards the end, I think we might have gotten a little caught up on a rock, which caused The Short Chic to get jolted out of her position. I was so proud of her, she controlled herself to fall inside the raft and not out of the raft.

Our guide, Billy, and The Todd’s guide, Molly, were both amazing! They were entertaining, knowledgeable, and they kept us safe. If you are in the area and looking for some fun, please give this company a shout out!

Before I knew it the adventure was over; in reality it lasted an hour. Whitewater rafting may not have been on my bucket list before but given the opportunity, I might do it again. That my friends is personal growth.