A well-rested hello from us to all of you! 

It's Aaron, writing on behalf of the Zenzes.  I thought I'd send another family update and, of course, a few pictures of the kid'os.

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With that out of the way, it's now Vacation-Report time.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a classroom, crouched awkwardly in one of those little squeaky desks.  Show and Tell is now over, and the child with the dead-worms-in-a-jar collection returns to his seat.  The teacher calls my name and I shuffle up in front of the blackboard, pull a compact ball of lined paper of out of my pocket, proceed to delicately unfold the creased little wad, and clear my throat.

When we began talking about a big summer trip, the first plans involved driving to the North Carolina shoreline.  After a brief but meaningful discussion, that plan was, uh, modified.  Upon remembering our two small children, we decided instead to drive half as far and stop in the Tennessee side of the Smokey Mountains.  - Half as far but still a daunting 12-14 hour drive.  This would be the "Grand Experiment": We'd give it a shot this time and then see if we would ever again attempt such a trip before the children were grown and married.

In preparation for Isaac, we began stockpiling libraries of books, mounds of stickers, and numerous new toys like a viewmaster and a toy fire truck.  And looking back on it, I guess we pretty much left little Gracie to fend for herself...

In the spirit of Family Compromise, we split the trip into two halves.  To appease dad, during the first half of the trip we would be camping right in the mountains at a state park which straddled a cascading stream and was minutes away from a trail leading to a 80 foot waterfall.  For mama's sake, the second half would be spent at "Crazy Horse Campgrounds" - home to a swimming pool, laundry room, and 500-foot waterslide.  Two Fridays ago, reservations in hand, dad came home from work and we set off on our grand adventure.

And I have to say, the kids did very well with the long drive.  Gracie coped by sleeping 17 hours Friday evening and 29 hours the following day.  Isaac busied himself by covering his body in stickers and dismantling his fire truck into a thousand pieces.  During Amity's turns driving, she passed the time by seeing how close she could get to the right edge of the road without careening down into a gorge.  During those time periods, I amused myself by gripping the armrests and holding my breath...

We all got a rush of excitement when we finally saw the Smokey Mountains looming ahead of us, signaling the world of beauty not far off.  They seemed smaller than I had remembered them being 4 years ago, but they were still beautiful.  Amity got another rush of excitement when she saw the billboards for "Ripley's Believe It or Not Wax House of Wonder," signaling the strange tourist-trap-world of Gatlinburg was also not far off.  The next rush of excitement came when we saw the REAL Smokey Mountains towering ahead of us and realized what we'd seen before were only foothills.

I must note that the Lord really blessed us tremendously all throughout the trip, in too many ways to count.  From the big general blessings like safety and health to the specific answers to prayer like camp assemblies timed perfectly between rain showers and an unreliable camera that worked when we needed it.

We set up camp at the state park late Saturday night.  The next morning we took Isaac down to the river which had several small waterfalls/rapids in it (absolutely beautiful...).  When Isaac saw it he pointed and excitedly shouted, "Look! Look! The river fallin' down!"

We did see wildlife on the trip: four turkeys, two deer, a turtle, a squirrel named Clickers, and a giant speeding pure white creature the size of a deer but with legs like a dog... (okay, that one was reeealy late at night...)  Isaac also made the startling discovery of "snowman bugs."  One day he started shouting "Come here! Come here! Snowman bug!"  Following the direction of his tiny pointing finger, I smiled as I saw a meandering ant (yep -- three round body sections...).

Laurel Falls was a highlight of the trip.  We hiked a perfectly vertical trail to get to it. It took two days.  The first day we got 45 minutes into the climb and it started down pouring with lightning.  That was the only water falling we would see that day.  We returned the next afternoon to begin the ascent again.  A tenth of a mile from the top, Isaac took a tumble and scratched up both his knees.  Again, not the kind of fall we were hoping for.  This time we pressed on and reached our goal.  During the descent, Isaac fell asleep and Gracie discovered her new favorite game - throwing a toy from her stroller and shouting "Uh-Ote! Uh-Ote!" until someone gave it back.

Our first day at "Crazy Horse" Isaac met a little neighboring boy.  We never did find out his name for sure.  Isaac just referred to him as "my boy."  Isaac was fascinated with his boy.  The first thing he would do in the morning is run outside and call for him: "Boy!!!"  And Isaac's boy was a wonderful influence... within just the first few minutes he showed Isaac how to run up slides backwards, slide down standing on his feet, jump off boulders, and throw rocks.  Oh, boy.

Other highlights included climbing across giant rocks in a stream; daddy taking three hours and one entire roll of paper towel to get a fire started with damp wood; Gracie eating her first entire icecream cone - or rather, Gracie eating MY entire ice cream cone; Isaac's first bee sting (not a pleasant highlight, mind you); and of course the 500-foot waterslide.

And I don't know if I can bring myself to say this -- I have to bury a large measure of pride in order to do so -- but we also went to Dah... we went to Daaahahh...  Okay, we went to d- d- Dollywood.  There, I said it.  But that's all the information you're getting...

And the trip back was pretty pleasant too.  Gracie slept the first 87 hours and screamed the last 1.  On the way home we stopped at Findlay University in Ohio to see the nation's largest collection of children's book illustrations.  WOW! Incredible!  Over 2000 paintings by artists like H. A. Rey, Chris VanAlsburg, David MacCaully, Don Wood, Eric Carle, Bill Peet, Eric Roehmann -- artists whose names I'm slaughtering as I type with no references before me, but whose work I greatly, greatly admire.

Well, there's our trip in a nutshell - a rather large nutshell, I notice.  I'll leave you with this last story that may possibly shed light on what part of the trip made the greatest impression on Isaac.  Upon returning home, we broke out Isaac's souvenir: a wooden riding horse-on-a-stick.  He played with it for a few minutes, imitating some of the riding tricks he saw at a big civil war themed dinner show we went to -- jumping through rings of fire, racing against imaginary opponents, making the horse do a trot-dance...  Then he stopped, and for a lengthy period of time he turned his horse upside down and pushed the stick along the carpet - this way and that, all around the room.  Finally I asked him what he was doing and he said, "Picking up horsie's poopie, daddy."