A Visit to Jungle Jim's

Yesterday, the lovely Robin and I paid a visit to one of the most distinctive grocery stores you could ever shop, Jungle Jim's in Fairfield. It started as a fruit stand at the corner of High and Erie in Hamilton back in 1971 or so, and today is a sprawling assortment of shops and restaurants and the centerpiece, the very diverse grocery selection of Foodies.

You'll find there more cheeses, sorted by country of origin, than you could ever hope for. It's dizzying. There is even an "Adult Oriented Hot Sauce" section:

Robin and I found the Agave Nectar we were looking for, a natural sweetener we're gonna try out. Most stores don't have it. Jungle Jim's had it in light, dark, and other varieties.

And, if you've never used the restroom at Jungle Jim's--seriously--you should go just for that experience:

I'd say more but I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

You can check out the Jungle Jim's website here....and even become a fan on Facebook.

The God of Heaven Thunders

Another wicked thunderstorm passed through the area today. The rain slanted almost sideways at times. The photo above, out our front door, doesn't do the storm justice. But the view off the deck, shown in the two pics below, show it a little better.

Still, there's nothing like being IN it. Always reminds me of Psalm 29: "The God of heaven thunders!" (see also here, on my prayer blog, for "My Psalm 29").

I'm a Believer

A week ago, the lovely Robin and I returned from one of the most awesome and enjoyable vacations we've ever enjoyed. It was at the Westgate Smoky Mountains Resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

We have long avoided investing in a timeshare, because it never seemed really worth the money. BUT NOW, with our kids grown and three amazing grandkids, we wanted a place within a short drive that we could go each year for a family vacation...call it a bribe to get our kids and grandkids to spend time with us. See, a year or two ago, we told our kids that we would rent a spacious cabin or condo within driving distance of home where they could come, bring the kids, and have a great vacation....and live-in babysitters, to boot!

Well, once we started pricing those kinds of vacation spots, we realized it could get very expensive very quickly. But last year we discovered the Westgate in Gatlinburg, and fell in love...and once we weighed the pros and cons, we realized we could never beat the advantages of ownership in a place like this:

We LOVE our two bedroom condo in the Smokies. It's roomy enough to sleep eight, with two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen, a dining area, and a deck also.

On the grounds of our home-away-from-home is an indoor water park that will only get better as our grandkids get older:

There is also a full spa and exercise facility onsite, multiple pools and playgrounds, a great restaurant, general store, and coming soon horseback riding, a movie theater, and more. There's also an ice cream shop next door to the resort. And shuttles into Gatlinburg. And, of course, nearby is the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. And Pigeon Forge. And Dollywood.

We all ended our 2010 Gatlinburg vacation counting the days until our NEXT Gatlinburg vacation! I can't wait.

Oh, and besides all that, being a Westgate owner opens to us an array of other vacation possibilities at Westgate Resorts in Las Vegas, Branson, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Williamsburg, and more. And beyond that, there are literally thousands of resorts we can enjoy in their network, along with "Great Getaways" they offer all year round at amazing prices. But no discount a Krispy Kreme. Maybe some day.

And, because I'm such an important guy, I could get you a four-day, three-night stay at that resort (or others like it) for just $99. Believe me, you won't be sorry. It involves a tour resort and of course a sales pitch, which would take about 2-3 hours one day during your stay. The rest of the time, honest to goodness, you won't believe the beauty and luxury and comfort of your stay. So try it (here's the information below). Let me know if you have any questions:

Now I've Got Even MORE Places to See Before I Die

I've visited some amazing places and seen some amazing sights, like Jerusalem and London and Machu Pichu and the Great Pyramids and Petra and Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon....but of all the beautiful pix in Corbett's post on the FreePursuit blog entitled "Fifty Photos to Inspire Life as a Digital Nomad," I've seen or visited only one: Seattle. And it didn't quite look like that when I was there.

It's a beautiful photo essay and I highly recommend it.

Cuisine of the Smokies

Our recent Gatlinburg vacation with the family may have added a few pounds to our frames. But every bite was enjoyable...some more than others, of course. Here were our dining experiences this past week, ranked in ascending order:

8. Mayfield Ice Cream Shop (pictured, left), just off the grounds of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort where we stayed. Loved the setting and ambience.

7. Smokehouse Grill (at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort). We had breakfast here with Aaron and Nina and the kids on their last morning in Gatlinburg. Loved the ambience. Spent too much.

6. Tony Roma's, Pigeon Forge (pictured left). Robin had shrimp scampi, a little too spicy for her, and I enjoyed the spinach stacked chicken breast thingy on rice. I think they called it something a little more sophisticated.

5. Hard Rock Cafe, Gatlinburg (at left). We made our second visit (I think) to this Hard Rock, and had a great time. But I need to remember to have a burger at the Hard Rock, because I've never eaten a tougher New York Strip Steak, fer sure. But Calleigh (giving Mick Jagger the cold shoulder, at left) had a good time.

4. Ben & Jerry's, Gatlinburg. I didn't eat a bite from here...but don't ask how many Banana Split Royales the lovely Robin had during the course of our week. Okay, okay, I'll tell you. THREE!!!!

3. Bubba Gump's, Gatlinburg (pictured at left). Our return visit this year was delightful. They seated us in record time, and believe it or not, Nina ate the rest of us under the table. I don't think that's the right expression, but suffice to say, she likes her some crab legs!

2. Capelli's Pizza, Gatlinburg (pictured at left). We would never have found this place without a tip from the resort...and we almost didn't stay to eat when we saw it. It just didn't look promising, in an old re-purposed motel kinda setting, and only three small tables inside. But we stayed. We ate. We loved.

And, the number one dining experience in our 2010 Gatlinburg vacation (drum roll, please)....

1. The Peddler, Gatlinburg (pictured at left). The lovely Robin and I enjoyed an early thirty-third anniversary dinner here (since we would be driving home on our anniversary). The setting (right on the river), the ambience (rustic), and the food (prime rib for me and filet mignon for Robin, cooked perfectly) were all wonderful.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

One of our pleasures in our Gatlinburg vacation this year was the Ripley's Believe It Or Not attraction downtown.

I know some vacationers take pictures of the many "Believe It Or Not" wonders on display there. But I have grandkids, so there's no point taking pictures of those things. Above is Miles trying to turn his tongue over.

It was quite a job to get Miles and Mia to be still enough--for long enough--to get a shot of them in this big chair near the museum's end.

The journey through Ripley's ended in a Ripley's arcade (as if we hadn't spent enough on admission), so Miles got to engineer a train.

And cousins Calleigh and Mia had a private conversation while awaiting their ride back to the resort.

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa

While spending Memorial Day weekend and week in Gatlinburg, we are staying at the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Spa, a beautiful and comfortable resort near the Gatlinburg Welcome Center on Hwy 441.

The accommodations couldn't be more comfortable and beautiful (okay, well, maybe with a maid and cook, but other than that...). And what an unspeakable blessing it has been to share this vacation with the three cutest and most wonderful kids in the world. Actually, in the history of the world.

We could not be more blessed by the amazing children and grandchildren we have. We love every minute we spend with them. And among the highlights of the resort is the water park we get to enjoy with them on the grounds:

Laurel Falls

We arrived in Gatlinburg on Friday for our first family vacation with the WHOLE family, kids and grandkids included. At midday on Saturday, we made our way into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of my favorite spots on earth, and set out (with two strollers) on the 1.3-mile Laurel Falls Trail. This wide paved trail to the 75-foot Laurel Falls was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935.

My grandson Miles reeeaaaallly wanted in the water, but the rocks were so slick (and the walk back 1.3 miles!) that the most we would let him do is stand in the water at the pool's edge.

We also managed a full family perfect on the site...though Calleigh seemed interested only in what Mimi was doing.