And a good evening to you from the Mountain Fortress in Whitesburg, TN. WOW - what can I say other than the fact that these last 4 days have reminded me why I love this country and this state so much, and that, once we're done "livin' the dream," there will be SO MUCH to come home to. Apologies in advance for no photos, but the PC here at mom's house doesn't have SD read capability. However, should you check this puppy and re-read this blog once I'm back in the UK, I promise you'll be treated to all the "Taylor family photos" you could ever want.
So Christmas eve was great. We started with a SUPER EASY drive over the mountain - I couldn't BELIEVE how few cars were on 26. Bob and Jan, fret not - we were SUPER gentle with the victory van. Let me just say that I wouldn't have dreamed she could handle so well on those curves at 95 mph - she corners like she's on rails. I'll try to get her up on 2 wheels on the drive home...
4.5 hours later, we rolled into the Mountain Fortress, where we bonded with Steve and Mom for about an hour before driving to my old church, Trinity United Methodist, for a candlelight Christmas Eve service. Then it was off to the oldest time-honored tradition in my Tennessee Christmas memory - dinner at Grandmother's.
This year was certainly a bit different, as it was the first year without granddaddy there. However, the rest of the gang was there and in full force, and it was a GREAT NIGHT with the family. Between all the FANTASTIC FOOD, courtesy of the Taylor women - and we're talking squash casserole, two types of hashbrown casserole, strawberry salad (the true Taylor staple), turkey, ham, broccoli casserole, and enough deserts to feed the Viet Cong for 10 years - and all the laughs, it was a GREAT night. Also, props to Uncle Scottie for tackling the toughest task of the night - stepping in to give the blessing, which was the post that granddaddy had held every other Christmas of my life. Full marks.
It was then back to dad's for gifts, relaxation, and the presentation of THREE CASES of wine to my stepmom. Hey man - she LOVES three buck chuck - what's a stepson to do? We handed out the gifts and had a great night kicking back and taking it easy, leaving about 11:45 and rolling back to mom's at midnight. From there, it was off to bed.
Christmas Day was just, well, simply perfect. We got up about 9:30, had a nice cup of coffee while we started on presents, and then cleaned up before heading over to Nanny's for the other time-honored tradition of my childhood - Christmas Dinner at Nanny's. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).
Turkey, ham, more squash casserole, CREAMY mashed potatoes (complete with 2.5 sticks of butter - Paula Dean would be so proud), green bean casserole, rolls, dressing, and THE BEST Red Velvet cake I've ever had made this a Christmas dinner to remember. However, the best part was seeing everyone again and relaxing all afternoon. Chuck - you'll be happy to know that "Nanny's Money Fund" is still alive and well, and best of all - Jenny's the newest member of the club! Winner, winner, chicken dinner...AND we got some of Nanny's candy. I'll let you have some, but only if you finally break down and agree to let Martin sit on your porch when he visits Atlanta.
That evening we finished opening gifts at mom's before rolling back over to dad's for a few brewskis and an evening of catching up. Again, all in all - a VERY good night.
The last three days (December 26-28) have been SO MUCH fun. Mom, Steve, Jenny, and I all rolled to Nashville, where we spent 2 days tooling around the Opryland Hotel. They pull out ALL THE STOPS for Christmas, and this year certainly didn't disappoint.
A true highlight was on the way down (and no, it wasn't the Cracker Barrell dinner...although that was SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD), as we popped into Johnny's place and....wait for it...wait for it...MET SAM!!!!!! Dudes - she is SO CUTE. We are talking absolutely adorable. I held her for about 30 minutes, during which time she sneezed on me about 7 times but never released any other bodily fluids. All in all, I would consider that a success. Can't wait to see her again on Wednesday!
We then pressed onto Nashville, where we checked in and promptly headed to downtown, where we crossed a MAJOR "Tennessean to-do" off the list - THE GRAND OLE OPRY!!!
I gotta tell you - I don't know what I expected, but this FAR EXCEEDED any expectations I had. It was SO MUCH FUN!!! So here's how it works - there are 4 portions, each 30 minutes. Within each portion, you have 3 or 4 acts, and they each perform 2 songs. You get some bluegrass, old stuff, and new country in the mix, and it's an absolute BLAST. And the kicker is that, between each performer, there is a commercial performed live (and woven in very well) on stage! Since it's broadcast on the radio, the commercials help fund the show (much like our $50 a seat, I imagine...).
The highlight of the show HAD TO HAVE BEEN Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Mountain Express. This cat rolls out in a BRIGHT BLUE Zoot Suit, and I am cackling thinking how terrible he's gonna be. However, he then says, "When I wrote this song 42 years ago, I had no idea it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. More than that, I had no idea that, in 1982, it would become the state song of Tennessee." That's right, ladies and gentlemen - on Saturday night, I stood up and sang Rocky Top at the Grand Ole Opry, led by the cat THAT ACTUALLY WROTE THE SONG. As a Tennessean, it will forever remain one of the COOLEST THINGS I've ever done. If you aren't a Vol fan, odds are you just won't understand...
The next day was a GREAT one as well - from one of THE BEST buffet breakfasts I've ever had (can someone say 8 strips of thick cut bacon? Yep, I know what healthy is...) to wandering around the hotel gardens to an hour in the hot tub (since she didn't have her suit, check out JT's make-shift bathing suit) to watching football in Rusty's Bar while drinking Yazoo Pale Ale (and JT FINALLY getting a real Margarita), it was a GREAT afternoon. We had a room with an indoor balcony, and it was SO COOL to overlook all the vegetation and the gardens. And honestly, I'm just SO GLAD that my mom's headache went away!
The highlight of the night was dinner at the Old Hickory Steakhouse, where we ate LIKE KINGS. Picture a 10 oz grass fed filet covered in Stilton Cheese, the Cheese Experience (where a cheese peddler brings them to your table to sample), some GREAT Syrah, and a DELICIOUS creme brulee, and you have a recipe for one of THE BEST (and CERTAINLY the most expensive) meals I've ever had. I can't WAIT to show you guys pics!
This morning was fun as well, as we rolled over to ICE!, an exhibit they do every Christmas at Opryland. This year's theme was "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and they used over 2 MILLION POUNDS OF ICE to put the attraction together. Mercifully they give you kevlar jackets to wear, but it was still COLD AS BALLS in there. That being said, it was AWESOME!
Lunch was (I know you'll be shocked) Cracker Barrell, and then on the way home we stopped off at the land we'd purchased (but still hadn't seen) in Knoxville for a look - well done, mom! And while I'm mentioning it, if anybody wants to move to Knoxville and wants to live near a TVA lake...
Now we're back at home, gorging on Cookies and Creme truffles and getting ready to watch the Heels in action against Rutgers. This is my first Heels game of the season - I'm so excited!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. I am going to try and get 2 blogs out on New Year's Eve - one recapping my day with Dad and Alice & our day with the Rice's, followed by the "Year in Review" blog. However, don't shoot me if only the year in review comes out. Chat on Thursday!
A VERY relaxed, refreshed, and chubby (or should I say "fluffy") Sam and Jenny