Vacation in the Smokies

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We spent this week in Gatlinburg, TN, enjoying the beautiful colors that autumn painted across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was gorgeous.

The condominium we rented was just a five minute walk from the main street that winds through town, which gave us easy access to great food and entertainment. The condo also had all the comforts of home, so it made for a nice oasis when we wanted to escape all the tourist-traps that line the downtown area of Gatlinburg.

We arrived on Monday afternoon, so we didn’t do much besides walking around and eating dinner. We did manage a ride on the chairlift that overlooks the town, but I made the mistake of looking at how our “chair” was attached to the cable and spent the remainder of the ride with sweaty palms and a prayer on the lips.

Tuesday morning, we got dressed and went to stand in line at the famous Log Cabin Pancake House. Thankfully, they got us in quickly and we enjoyed an amazing breakfast complete with peanut butter for my pancakes. Yum!

Later in the day, we drove into the mountains and burned off a few calories by taking a half-mile hike to Clingman’s Dome. I had to stop to rest a few times during the steep climb, but I managed to get to the top for the amazing view. Even though it was breathtakingly beautiful, it was also sad to see all of the spruce and fir trees that have died due to pollution and insects.

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On Wednesday we traveled to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It is the largest home in the United States with 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. It was something to see, but it was hard to miss the absurdity of it all. The gardens that surround the home are absolutely gorgeous, and although it was quite windy, the weather afforded us a wonderful opportunity to explore some of them.

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Thursday was our last full day in Tennessee, so we decided to take things easy. We visited the Log Cabin Pancake House again for breakfast, then just relaxed until our dinner reservations at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but it was great fun! The evening started off with entertainment from a bluegrass band, then we entered the main arena for dinner and a show. The food was very good, but served without utensils. Thankfully, they provided warm, wet hand towels afterwards. The entertainment was fantastic and funny. Dolly appeared via video at the end to sing a patriotic song, and even though I am not too keen on that sort of thing, I teared up a little at the sentimentality of it all. It was a great way to conclude our vacation.

Post of many colors

It has been quite a while since I posted anything personal here, so I guess an update is in order.

We took a vacation a few weeks ago. It kicked off with a Dolly Parton concert in Chicago. It was my third time through the city, but the first time that I’ve actually been able to do anything of substance. The show was even more awesome than expected, and Dolly was able to quickly whip the crowd into a frenzy. The gays were out in full force. I guess we all enjoy a good drag show when given the opportunity. =)

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The hotel was nice, but we noticed that our car had been side-swiped when we loaded up to leave the next morning. The cops were called, hotel management was less than helpful, and it was clear that no one had any interest in trying to track down the insensitive (and probably inebriated) driver who inflicted the damage. Regardless, I decided that it wasn’t going to ruin my vacation and we headed for Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

I had read online that the best view of the city’s skyline was from the planetarium. It was perfect. A rain storm had just blown through, so the sky was clear and smog free, and the temperature on the lake front was in the seventies. We snapped several pictures before Honey’s mom announced that she had to go up in the Willis Tower (formerly named after Sears).

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I hadn’t been up in a skyscraper since my trip to the top of the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/9/2001 – save for my visit to the CN Tower in Toronto in 2003. That one technically isn’t a skyscraper or a high profile target for terrorists (at least in my mind). The Willis Tower certainly fits the bill for both, so I was more than a little apprehensive while standing in line with scores of other tourists while waiting for the elevator ride to the top.

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The view from the 103rd floor was incredible. People crowded against the windows snapping photos of each other and the surrounding urban environment, but the biggest draw had to be the three glass boxes that protruded from one side of the building. Glass ceilings, walls, and floors. I peered over the side and looked straight down to the street – a thousand or so feet below. Talk about vertigo.

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Honey and his mom couldn’t wait to walk out into the void, but I was freaked out. I did back out onto the glass floor a few inches, but I kept my hand firmly clasped onto the wall just inside the building and managed a forced smile for a snapshot. A few minutes later, we were back on the ground and headed toward Cincinnati, where we spent several days with Honey’s sister and niece. The days went by much too quickly and we were back home before we knew it.

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Last weekend, our church held a memorial service for our dear friend John, who passed away earlier this year. A health crisis had prevented one of his children from traveling back then, so things were delayed until everyone could be there. It was a beautiful service and a wonderful tribute to a man who continues to inspire me to this day. He was a quiet man with a gentle spirit, but he had a huge impact on the world around him, as was evidenced in the packed sanctuary.

One of our friends journeyed down from Wisconsin by bus in order to attend the memorial. She stayed in our home and we watched her health decline rapidly as each day went by. She was in poor health to begin with, but in very bad condition by the time we took her to catch a bus for the ride home. We actually wanted to take her to the emergency room, but she declined, insisting that she get home before seeking medical care. She was hospitalized as soon as she got home and will be getting a pacemaker within the next few days. Regardless of the fact that the trips were around 24 hours each way or that she nearly killed herself in the process, I know that she was more than happy to make the effort to be there to honor a man who meant so much to us all.

Not much else to report at the moment. I can already feel Autumn in the air, so I should have plenty of time for blogging in the upcoming months. Bye for now.

Meeting the parents

Honey graduated from college today, which provided the perfect opportunity for me to meet my “in-laws” for the first time. Although we’ve been together for just over four years, he’s never actually told them about the nature of our relationship. He hasn’t exactly kept it a secret either, since they know we live together and that I’m gay.

After spending almost three hours watching around 1,300 students accept their diplomas, we met up with friends and family at a nearby eatery. Since I hadn’t actually seen Honey’s parents during the ceremony, this would be my first face-to-face meeting with them. To say I was nervous would have been a great understatement.

After getting out of the car and walking to the front of the restaurant, we were greeted by Honey’s mom – a rather attractive lady who seemed delighted to meet me and our other friends that were along for the occasion. Honey’s step-dad introduced himself and said he had heard a lot about me. I said, “I’ll bet you have!” which made him laugh.

As we sat and ate, we shared little humorous stories about Honey and chit-chatted about various topics. Step-Dad was a rather likable fellow who kept me quite entertained with his offbeat sense of humor. We noticed an advertisement on the table for a special edition of Dolly Parton’s latest CD (which was being sold in the adjoining store) and Honey’s mom commented on how much she loved the song “Backwoods Barbie.” When I went to pay the bill a few minutes later, I bought a copy of the album and handed it to her. She was thrilled and I instantly knew that I had scored some major brownie points.

Once outside, we took some photos and Step-Dad announced that he wanted one with me. After taking my place beside him, I was surprised when he put his arm around me and insisted that I do the same. I even got a hug from Honey’s mom as we all said our goodbyes.

For four years I’ve worried about how this meeting might go. Thankfully, it turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about.

Not so far away after all

I’ve gone through numerous highs and lows in my spiritual life – times when I’ve felt close enough to God that I could almost touch Him, and times when He seems so far away that praying seems futile and I’m not sure He’s even there at all. The latter would describe my current feelings pretty well.

I mentioned these feelings as we visited with friends Saturday evening. Their responses were filled with compassion and understanding, and some shared their own experiences in such beautiful, descriptive ways that doubting was impossible.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep, I offered a prayer of thanks for my marvelous life. My partner, my friends, and even my home seem to be working in tandem to make my life as comfortable and happy as possible. That’s when it hit me… even when God seems to have completely disappeared, He’s still there. I see Him in the faces of my friends, my partner, even my pets. He permeates everything.

I got up this morning still thinking about this “revelation,” and remembered the words of an old song with much greater understanding.

Yes, I see God where the mountains reach the sky
I see God when the eagle starts to fly
I see God in a little baby’s smile
I see God and He makes my life worthwhile

Yes, I see God when the bridegroom meets his bride
I see God in a father’s loving eyes
I see God when a mother starts to cry
I see God in a love that never dies

I see God where the people meet to pray
I see God in the things they do and say
I see God when the little children play
I see God and I know He’s near always

I see God, yes, I see God

– From “Yes, I See God” by Dolly Parton