Sometime in late January,
during our weekly at-home date night dinner (shut in our room eating take-out while the boys ate their dinner and watched a PBS show),
Sam proposed that we go somewhere overnight soon.
I was, of course, immediately on board.
The question was...where?
There really aren't amazing destinations within a 2-hour radius of Memphis, which was about as far as we were willing to travel for this little overnighter.
Not to mention the fact that between COVID and the winter weather, our options of things to do were going to be quite limited.
We started looking at Airbnbs to see if we could find something fun--even if just the house itself was fun, it would just be nice to change things up and have something to look forward to as a family!
Eventually, we started looking at a few in northern Tennessee and then we realized--we could get a place close to the Discovery Park of America and Reelfoot Lake and have a great little vacation to visit the museum and go bald eagle searching!
We found a suitable home and I sent the owner a message to see if she would allow our family to stay since we exceeded the maximum number of guests.
We were very happy when she quickly responded and arranged to open up an additional bedroom for us that they normally keep locked, as it is an office where they keep the various electronic equipment.
So we were set!
Part of me always is hesitant to share exciting plans with the boys, because I worry they may not happen.
But thanks to Anne of Green Gables, we've decided that a big chunk of the enjoyment of an experience comes from the anticipation. So, the next morning, we told the boys our plans and they were so excited!
And then, just before we were supposed to go, the ice storm hit.
And 4 of our 6 kids got sick.
And I started to get sick.
And I injured my knee such that it was incredibly painful to put weight on it while bending it.
And I started to think that we REALLY are not cut out for vacations.
And Anne of Green Gables or not, I was starting to regret telling the kids our plans!
We did eventually make it on the road.
There were a few sketchy parts, but overall the roads weren't too bad and we made it safe and sound to our Airbnb. But on the way, the Discovery Park of America posted that they would be closed the following day due to the snow and ice!
Our little trip definitely wasn't going to go as planned, but we decided to try to make the best of it, and if it ended up that all we did was stay at the Airbnb and watch lots of movies together, that would be fun, too.
We arrived at our Airbnb (I didn't get any pictures but it was super cute!) and the boys started running around like crazy to explore. It was more kid-friendly than most, but there were still handmade pottery pieces on the nightstands and accent tables, little knick-knacks on shelves, and several musical instruments sitting in the living room that were making me very nervous.
The owner is the chair of the department of music at a nearby university, so the musical instruments were provided for us to play with, but having 5 boys wrestling around them, grabbing the nice guitar, and banging on the drum was stressful!
It wasn't long before we had designated a shelf in one of the bedrooms to put all the "untouchables" on.
Sam headed out to find an open grocery store to grab some food while I put the rest of the kids to bed.
The next morning was still frigidly cold, but we decided to venture out regardless and see if we could find any eagles at Reelfoot Lake State Park.
They had a guide available that led you through the park with odometer readings listed and very descriptive landmarks there by which we could find eagles' nests or common areas for eagles to be.
Eagles are some of the boys' favorite animals, so we were pretty excited!
We didn't see a whole lot at first and the roads were pretty snowy. I did see an ADORABLE beaver walking down the side of the road, looking just like a Narnia beaver that would start talking to me at any moment! I was squealing with happiness.
We were thinking about turning back, but we decided to go a bit further.
As we continued on, Talmage spotted a coyote walking through a field!
And then, after a few more miles, we came upon this pond with a couple of eagles about 50 yards away!!!
It was incredible to watch this one tearing into whatever bird it was eating, the feathers flying away in the wind. We sat and watched it for some time!
It also looked like there were some vultures hanging out nearby, hoping for an opportunity to swoop in and take the eagle's leftovers. This guy was pretty possessive, though.
Sam said seeing the eagles had already made the trip worth it, and the boys were totally happy.
So we headed back into town, picked up lunch, and went back to the Airbnb for some downtime.
Sam ended up heading out to the store again before dinner, and after he got back, I lay down for 30 minutes or so with a horrible, splitting headache. I was hoping a power nap would get rid of it, but it was still there pretty full force when I woke up.
We learned the Discovery Park would be open the following day (just the inside portion), but I was becoming less certain about whether we should go with several of us somewhat sick.
We got the younger kids settled down to bed after dinner and then started a movie night with the oldest three. Talmage and Wesley especially really have more grown-up interests in movies, but they almost never get to see anything other than PBSkids since that it what the little ones enjoy.
We were excited to have a chance to watch The Hobbit with them!
Lincoln was soon sound asleep, head laying in my lap, but the other two were very enthused through the whole movie. It was so fun to have a chance to spend that time together with our older kids!
We went to bed hopeful that a good night's sleep would have us all feeling reasonably well in the morning and comfortable with going to the Discovery Park before we went home.
The next morning, no one was really coughing and my headache was almost completely gone!
So we packed up, cleaned the house and checked out, and headed over to the Discovery Park.
I was sad that all the amazing outdoor exhibits would be closed, but they definitely wouldn't be enjoyed anyway...the wind was blowing hard and it was FREEZING!!! The 100 yards or so we had to walk from the car to the entrance had everyone struggling against the biting wind, Sam holding two kids and essentially running for cover, and me bringing up the tail with the stroller.
We were definitely grateful for the warmth of the museum!
The crazy weather had also driven away all the crowds, so we had the place almost to ourselves.
It's difficult to overstate the awesomeness of this beautiful facility!
The boys looove this fun exhibit where they reflect light onto a pad mounted up by the ceiling. When the light hits the pad, it makes airplanes fly around above them.
The huge bins of keva planks are so fun. Talmage especially loved these.
I think the water exhibit might be my favorite!
Benson got soaked so I ran out to the car and dug through our suitcase to find him a new shirt.
The toddler area is just perfection. Benson could have spent hours here, but the activities are engaging enough that the older boys can find things to do as well!
I didn't get many more pictures of the exhibits, because there was a special presentation about the history of the atomic bomb that Talmage was interested in attending so I took Talmage and Elsie to the military area to listen while Sam took the other kids around to the rest.
We were just about the only guests who stayed for the whole lecture, other than other museum employees, so we kind of got a personal presentation.
It was much longer and more detailed than I expected and I wasn't sure whether Talmage enjoyed it, but he ended up internalizing a LOT and later, when I was trying to give Sam a re-cap, he knew more details than I did.
It was actually really fascinating to learn about the birth of nuclear energy, though, and some of the intricacies involved in the decision to use the bombs.
After we met back up with Sam, we were about ready to call it a day.
We decided to stop at the museum cafe before we hit the road.
And oh, boy, what a disaster that was!
Often I feel like things run fairly smoothly even with 6 young kids.
This was definitely not one of those times.
It all started off okay.
Sam was walking Talmage around a few more exhibits that he missed since he was in the presentation about the atomic bomb, so I went in with the other 5 kids to get orders started.
Elsie was sleeping in her stroller, I placed orders for the rest of us, herded everyone to a corner of the cafe, and got them started with their chocolate milk.
I snapped a few pictures, appreciating the lovely light in the cafe.
Poor Lincoln had a strange mishap with his chin.
On our way to the Airbnb, we stopped to pick up dinner. He was eating his chicken nuggets in the dark car and suddenly started shrieking about his chin. He had gotten BBQ sauce on his chin and he said it was burning. He got it wiped off and settled down, but then he woke up sobbing around 5:00 am. His chin was red and bloody! We still aren't sure what happened with that. Did the BBQ sauce somehow burn him? Did he scratch the irritated part in his sleep? We just don't know.
That was the last picture I took, because...
-right after that one kid spilled their chocolate milk ALL over the place. I tried to clean it up with baby wipes and napkins until a kind employee came over and reassured me, "If this is the worst thing that happens today, we'll be in great shape!"
-the food arrived and, as often happens with such a big order, a few things were amiss. Like the fact that my BLT ended up just being 2 pieces of soggy toast with a little cheese and 2 small pieces of bacon inside. What?
-Sam and Talmage arrived and started placing their orders.
-Elsie woke up and started screaming for food.
-I picked her up to discover she'd had a MEGA blowout...like, all the way up her back and down her leg.
-I debated what to do and decided to feed her in the corner before changing her, so I asked one of the boys to hand me her blanket.
-He tossed it in the air and it hit ANOTHER bottle of chocolate milk, which spilled all over.
-Benson didn't want his chocolate milk and started begging for water.
-The boys all had various requests and some started to finish their food and get antsy, just as Sam and Talmage received their food.
-I nursed Elsie, while trying to not get soiled by her diaper blowout. Sam was fielding requests from the other boys about every 30 seconds while I was totally unable to help them, being stuck in the chair with Elsie.
-Benson knocked over his chocolate milk, too! Thankfully I had used a key to pierce a hole in the top and threaded a straw through it, so it only spilled a little bit.
-I changed Elsie's diaper on my lap, being uncertain of where the bathrooms were and wanting to quickly gather everyone up and leave. I wrapped up her dirty clothes and shoved them in my purse and put her in her carseat dressed in a onesie.
-Sam left with the oldest three to get the car and bring it up to the doors so we didn't have the fight the wind and cold as far.
-While he was gone, Benson started frantically saying he needed to go to the bathroom. I'd put a pull-up on him to ensure he wouldn't have any accidents during our excursion or our long drive home, so I told him to just go in his pull-up.
-He stopped right in the middle of the cafe and started filling his pull-up...with grunts and awful facial expressions and the works.
-I quickly grabbed him and practically drug him out of the cafe while pushing the stroller.
-We fought the piercing wind and finally got everyone loaded up in the car and hit the road to go home.
Phew! What a stressful ending! Sam and I just had to laugh ruefully as we commented on the disastrous situation in the cafe and what a spectacle we were.
But diaper blow-outs, chocolate milk spills, and chaos aside, the Discovery Park was lovely.
I'm still not sure we're cut out for vacations.
But I'm so glad we went and made some fun memories together.