Walking on Sunshine- Katrina and the Waves
Uptown Funk- Bruno Mars
(Because music is the perfect backdrop for everything...click on the links above to listen)
It's Here! Summer! Well, the kids are officially out of school now and a few weeks ago, we headed south. Adam had a residency for his doctorate to do in Atlanta so two of the kids and I went along for the ride. I figured he had to pay for a hotel anyway, so we might as well tag along and hang out in the sun while he attended his sessions and did his school work. We booked a hotel with a pool in downtown Atlanta, so I was so excited for some relaxation and a suntan. Of course, I figured I would end up burnt to a crisp since I hadn't been out in the sun for what seemed like forever. The forecast said it was supposed to be about 88 all week, so we were plunging head first into the summer season. I thought I would recap our trip, so come along if you like!
We left in the afternoon on Monday, May, 23 and drove from St. Clairsville to Lexington, KY. There, we had dinner and spent the night at the home of one of Adam's best friends who we hadn't seen in about a year. It was a short but long overdue visit. After leaving Lexington, we drove a short distance to Knoxville, Tennessee to have lunch with another of Adam's friends. They had been best friends in school and hadn't seen each other in about 15 years. It was great to meet him and see Adam catching up and sharing memories of his childhood. If we had done nothing else but make these two stops to visit old friends, the trip was worth it already. Why do we lose touch with those who once meant so much to us? Anyway...
Since we couldn't check into our hotel in Atlanta until Wednesday, we had a whole day to figure out something fun we wanted to do. Well, guess where we ended up? Pigeon Forge. Old habits die hard. It's our favorite place to vacation and we were only about 45 minutes away after we had lunch in Knoxville, so we stopped to stay in the Ol' Smokies. We never get sick of it. Our family usually requires two hotel rooms so our options are always limited (along with our funds), but this time there were only the four of us. We ended up getting a great deal on a room at the Dollywood Dream More Resort, which just opened last June. It was beautiful. Our room had a king-sized bed and a set of bunk beds in it, great for parents with two or three children. The pool was awesome; they had a pool party with music and games and a campfire with S'Mores for the kids afterwards. In case you are contemplating a visit there, there are two options for food. One is a buffet that is rather pricey offering food that is a little too fancy for our taste, but we got to eat outside near the pool so the atmosphere was nice. The other is a little shop that offers pizza, ice cream and Starbucks. We got a pastry there for breakfast before we left and wished we would have opted for the pizza the night before. If you are going to Dollywood, this would be a great place to stay as they offer transportation to the park and back and probably package deals on hotel and park tickets. Of course, we had to stop by the Three Bears Store before we left...it is the best store down there and they have awesome samples. I think once we sampled food for about thirty minutes. I'll do a future post with tons of tips on vacationing in the Smoky Mountains since it is such a popular destination. Here are a few pictures of the short time we spent there before moving on.
On Wednesday morning, May 25, we headed out towards Atlanta. Before we left Pigeon Forge though, I had a make a pit stop at the Urgent Care right by our hotel. The kids didn't mind the detour since Adam took them on some go-carts while I waited for a doctor. I had been battling a tough case of bronchitis for weeks and had a particularly bad night, unable to breathe or quit coughing. They gave me two shots in the bum and some antibiotics and we were once again on our way. We took the scenic route for much of the trip that day, driving through the beautiful mountains. Some of the pictures above are actually of our trek from Gatlinburg, through Smoky Mountain National Park, and into North Carolina on the way to Atlanta.
As we neared the Atlanta metro area, the change in landscape and traffic was drastic. I'm definitely not a city girl. Before heading into downtown, we stopped off to get groceries at Publix so we wouldn't have to solely rely on expensive hotel food. We also didn't really want to drive anywhere during the day while Adam was in class, so we wanted to have plenty of snacks available. After driving through some really rough parts of town (notice the sign in one of the pictures below that says "No Valuables Left in the Car") and past about 200 homeless people (so heart-wrenching), we arrived at our hotel. The conference was located at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, so that is where we stayed. It was a beautiful, 22-story fancy, schmancy place that catered to the business class and, needless to say, was not very kid-friendly. In order for us to use the luggage cart, we had to also use the bellboy service and our only option was valet parking at $24 a day. So far, I was way out of my league, but I figured once we got our stuff to our room and got acclimated to the place, we would be ok. That first night (exhausted after driving all day) we sat in our "four-star" hotel room, ate peanut butter sandwiches and crashed. Here are a few pics in the car and of our hotel.
The next few days, Adam attended his seminars for Walden University. There were about 2000 Walden students there, so it was pretty crowded (especially the elevators). Caroline, Dawson and I hung out at the pool. It was sunny and gorgeous for three whole days with no rain. We went down to the pool between 10-11 am usually and stayed out until about 3:30 pm. Our pool had some really nice sectional seating with tables in the middle. Thanks to Hawaiian Tropic's new 30 spf sunscreen tanning lotion, I did not burn like I thought I would and being out in the sun felt SO GOOD. The pool was refreshing and the kids had a great time playing with other kids whose parents were also attending the conference. We saved money by eating peanut butter and chips for lunch, although we did find out that there was a food court (a little sketchy at times) connected to the hotel by a catwalk leading to a "mall." We walked there a few times for Dairy Queen and Chick-Fil-A in the afternoons.
On Friday evening, we ate dinner at Chick-Fil-A and then drove to the Georgia Aquarium. To retrieve our car from valet, we had to pay the parking attendant to go get our car and then pay him again when we brought it back. Did I mention I'm not a city girl? We thought it was well worth it considering the rave reviews we had heard about the Georgia Aquarium being ranked the #1 aquarium in the country. We were so excited and chose this as the only activity we did in Atlanta...well, we were ultimately very disappointed. First off, it was overly expensive to get in (almost $30 for adults and children and only if you go after 4pm, otherwise it is about $40) and the parking ($9.00) was far from the entrance. To make a long story short, it was the worst aquarium I have ever visited. My husband hated it even more than I did. The displays were not very impressive. They did have beluga whales and a few whale sharks, which I had never seen before, but other than that offered nothing new or extraordinary compared to other aquariums. Their underwater tunnel was nothing compared to the one we visited last year in Gatlinburg (Ripley's), and the hands-on stingray area was lame in comparison. Ripley's had tons of different types of sharks, a massive sea turtle, and so much more than the GA. Adam had been to the aquarium in Chattanooga, TN and said it was way better as well. To be fair, they did have dolphins and a dolphin show, which Ripley's did not have; however, with the thousand people in line for the short, 15-minute show, we opted out. It only took us about an hour and a half to view everything there and we were ready to go. I forgot to mention that there was also an anime convention called MoMo Con going on while we were there and everywhere we turned there was someone (adults mind you) dressed up like some sort of bizarre character. Weapons, horns, capes, tales, wigs...you name it. It was weird but oddly entertaining and a humorous distraction from the $150 we had just spent to be a part of it. Perhaps if we had never been to another aquarium or didn't have such high expectations, we would have enjoyed it more. Georgia Aquarium...two thumbs down. Sorry.
Our last night in Atlanta, we walked a few blocks from the hotel and ate at Hard Rock Cafe. It was a nice evening but, like everything else in the city, quite expensive. Anyway, here are a few pictures from the aquarium and the rest of our trip.
Overall, our trip to Atlanta was really fun although it definitely solidified a few things about myself that I already sort of knew. I don't like life in the city for any extended period of time. I could never live in the city or be a business woman who frequents the city often. I hate the traffic. I don't like paying people to do things that I can do for myself, and I don't think a hamburger should cost $14. I know that tons of people love it but it is just not my cup of tea. Compared to some other major U.S. cities I have been to (Miami, NYC, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbus, Cleveland, DC), I liked Atlanta the least. I had been there once before so it wasn't a surprise to me and it didn't damper our fun. It still had some pretty sights and it was definitely hot.
When we left Atlanta on Sunday, we drove straight home to Ohio. We made some great memories on our trip and the kids got to have some new experiences. I love road trips and it is always fun to go away...each time it gives me a new appreciation for walking in my front door at the end. Join me for our next adventure; it is going to be epic. 8 people, 10 states, 10-days. Read about our New England road trip in July. Until next time...
Sara Smile- Hall and Oates
Baby Come Back- Ohio Players
What a Fool Believes- Doobie Brothers
(Because music is the perfect backdrop for everything...click on the links above to listen)
I love to write. It has been something I wanted to do for a long time. It is an ambition I have to write a book someday. Years ago, I even got books from the library on how to write a book. I never knew back then what I would write about but now, looking back on my life, I think I have plenty of subject matter. Although I am not ready to write a book just yet, I am ready to put myself out there in small chunks. In fact, I have an endless conversation with myself going on inside my head that needs an outlet. As my family was going through our battle with my daughter's cancer, I began blogging, which was something brand new to me at the time. The Willow Tree Diaries (my blog) was a good way for me to write about the things I was going through and a way to convey the lessons that God was teaching me through all of it. The response I got as I wrote was overwhelming and I am so thankful that I could be used to touch others in some way. I will never forget what I went through or stop reflecting on my experiences, but I know I cannot continue to write with that level of intensity. Even back then, I knew I wanted to blog about other things, more lighthearted things, but it didn't seem appropriate to use the same venue for both. Now I know that it is time to transition to something new...
I have built websites before and I know just how much work they can be. Once I get engrossed in the process, it consumes me for hours upon hours. I am a perfectionist about my work, so it takes a long time and attention for me to be content with what I am publishing. For many months, I had ideas about what I would like to write about and thus a game plan was formulating in my mind of how to structure a new blog site. Before I fully committed, I wrestled with some doubts and questions like, "Is it worth all that work?" and "Who will actually read it?" I still ask myself if anyone will really care about how I decorate my house or where my family went on vacation. Do I actually think I will be able to write material that will keep people coming back to read it or tell others about it? Who is really going to listen to anything I have to say about the Bible and am I even going to be able to keep up with all the work required to maintain a blog site?
I guess I have decided to step out in faith and try it. I can hear a little voice in my head saying, "If you build it, they will come. " (Hey, it worked on "Field of Dreams.") I would like to think that readers will somehow find their way here and discover a place where they can read about real-life stuff and relate. I have no idea what to expect or where this blog site will take me, but I know that I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it so far. It is a way for me to express myself and get my thoughts out. Assuming websites are maintained far into the future, I look at this as a way to leave a legacy for my kids to know about me. I wish I had more insight into my mom's life and her mom's, that I knew more about them. What an amazing opportunity to document my thoughts and adventures, to create a sort of digital scrapbook of my life. I pray that it becomes so much more than that.
So, here goes nothing...I will build it, but I have no idea if they will come. Until then, I will pretend someone is listening to the songs and laughing at my stories. I will assume I am helping someone organize their house or understand how to study their Bible. Until then, I will write as if I have a million readers and as if we are the best of friends. Until next time...
We Are Family- Sister Sledge
Lean on Me- Club Nouveau
My Wish- Rascal Flatts
(Because music is the perfect backdrop for everything...click on the links above to listen)
I can't tell you all how much I love my family...they are my sunshine. I would like to take a few minutes to tell you about them. We are like a melting pot of personalities and nationalities, each of us carrying scars and characteristics that we have acquired on the way to each other. In some ways, we are like the Island of Misfit Toys but, in other ways, we are just all pieces to a big puzzle that God has been assembling for years. To be fair, we are not all Yates.' Due to divorces and remarriages, we have several last names that represent us and several sets of "other parents" in our lives. Despite all this, we truly threw the lines of division out the window when we became a family eight years ago. The task of blending families was not without complications of course, but I cannot imagine our family being any closer than we are. Let me start the introductions...
My husband, Adam...
Our new blended family...
Lexi is our oldest daughter, whose actual name is Alexa...she is 20 years old, currently a barista at Starbucks and is so good at it! She is a college student and still lives with us but is moving in the fall (tear...) to go to Ohio University main campus in Athens, Ohio. She wants to be an event planner and I think she will be great. I can't tell you how proud I am of her and how much she means to me. I had her when I was 20, so we have been very close as she grew up; we have been through an awful lot together. As she gets older I see more and more that she is so much like me. She is quiet and puts others first and works really hard at anything she does. As the oldest child, she is responsible and dependable, a fantastic role model for her siblings. She is quirky and fun, likes bands with really weird names and isn't afraid to be different. The strength she has shown through times of tremendous adversity makes me so proud of her. I admire her more than she knows and will miss her like crazy when she leaves. I never imagined how tough this stage of parenting would be...it is not easy to let go.
Kacie is our second oldest daughter...she is forever 16 I suppose, but I'm not quite sure how things really work in Heaven. I had Kacie when I was 23 and she was definitely a wild child. She was in her terrible two's for about ten years but she was so full of life. No matter what anyone thought, Kacie would always wear what she wanted, say what she wanted, and stand up for what she believed in. From the time she was little, I knew she would do something big in her life. She was passionate about animals and wanted to be a zookeeper when she grew up. She loved to be outdoors, fishing, catching bugs and pretending. When Kacie was 14, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For two years, she fought harder, suffered more, and lived fuller than anyone I know. She beat cancer by choosing joy each day and using her sickness to tell people about Jesus and then He called her home on May 16, 2015. Today, as I write this, it is the first anniversary of her passing and it still hurts as if it was yesterday. I will never forget her spunk and her tenacity and I wish I could tell her one more time how proud I am of her. I will tell her story as long as I live; you can read more about it in my post "Kacie's Story" or by visiting my other blog, Willow Tree Diaries, which documents our family's journey.
Hannah is our third oldest daughter...she is just a few weeks away from turning 16 and is learning to drive. When Hannah came into my life, she was the oldest child and then got bumped down by more siblings (which had to be tough). She was a very determined yet mostly quiet seven year-old who hated to do her homework and now, she is about to enter her junior year of high school and is working really hard in school. Seeing her grow up so fast is making me feel really old. Hannah is the athlete of the family and plays varsity soccer and tennis. I am so proud when I see her out on the field giving it her all. She is also very talented in doing makeup and hair. I so admire her willingness to speak her mind and to protect her siblings; I wish I could be so brave. I love it when she gets in a silly mood and especially when she confides in me. She has shown great resilience and strength over the past few years and I am so proud of her. It has been such an honor to be Hannah's mom and I am so excited to see where her future takes her.
Caroline is...funny, silly, spunky, talented, and the life of our party. She is the one who is always making us laugh and has a voice that is phenomenal. At just age 12 (just finished 6th grade), she is already acting in the high school plays in our town and is our best hope for fame and fortune. She aspires to be a singer or an actress but is also talented at drawing and is so intelligent. I love how she is emotional and sensitive but doesn't hesitate to put herself out there and take chances. She is not afraid to be herself and different from the status quo; she reminds me so much of Kacie and it thrills my heart to see that independent spirit live on. Caroline was only about four when I met her and there is not a day that goes by when I am not grateful for the opportunity to be her mom. I am beyond proud of her perseverance through all of the trials we have come through as a family and I just know that she will do great things in her life.
Natalie is our youngest daughter, the last of our five girls. She has grown up faster than I could have imagined. It seems like overnight. I had Natalie when I was 29 and walked for my Bachelor's graduation when I was nine months pregnant. She is 11 now and just finished 5th grade. It's so hard to believe. I love the parts of her personality that are changing as she grows. She is more special to me than she will ever know. I am proud of her in so many ways...like her siblings, her strength and resilience over the last few years has amazed me. I can always count on Natalie to step in and help and she has such a keen sense of logic and reasoning. I call her MacGyver because she can always figure out a practical solution or a way to fix something. Every spare minute she gets, you will find her tumbling in the yard; she loves gymnastics and has gotten so good at it (she is now working on a standing tuck). When she is not at our house, she is at her dad's hanging out on the river. A river rat at heart and an excellent swimmer, she is not afraid to try anything. She has always been mature beyond her years and I am so blessed to be her mama.
Dawson is the only boy among five sisters. For that, I give him all the credit in the world. His middle name is Marshall after daddy's favorite college team. He is 9 and just finished 3rd grade. He is Caroline's sidekick, the other half of our entertainment team, and a dancing machine. He is constantly singing and dancing around the house; I think it is in his blood. If we are watching a TV show or movie and a song comes on, he will jump up and dance. His personality is so fun and sincere. I love how he wears his heart on his sleeve and looks up to his sisters so much. He is loving and giving but can also definitely speak his mind (he has to with five sisters). He plays soccer and is currently the reigning champ of the Mattress Wrestling Foundation in which he battles his daddy on a daily basis after work. He is actually starting to give dad a run for his money. He is a very picky eater and prefers his iPad to just about anything, except going to the movies with me (which we do about every couple weeks). I am so proud of him for how strong he has been through the last few years and I am so blessed to be able to be his mom. I thank God for bringing him into my life and I can't wait to see him grow and change.
Rounding out our full house is Alice, also affectionately known as Nana. Yes, we are a family of six kids with a live-in caretaker named Alice. Ring a bell? Alice is my Adam's mom and an integral part of our family. She has helped raise our kids since the start and is always there for all of us. She would drop everything to help or literally give someone the shirt off her back if they needed it. Born and raised in southern West Virginia, it has taken me awhile to get used to some of the words and phrases she uses. She still surprises me with some crazy ones. Over the years, she has taught me to be more assertive and to stand my ground, something I have always struggled with. She has helped make me a stronger person. Having two women in one house has definitely not always been easy, but we have been blessed to have her as a part of our family.
Ralph and Oliver...
I guess I can't forget Ralph and Oliver. Ralph is our 14 year-old Lhasa Poo and Oliver is our 2 year-old cat. They get along pretty much like the Odd Couple. It's a love-hate relationship. Ralph is getting old though and can't do what he used to, which makes me sad. He has a little stuffed dog that Kacie gave him years ago that we call his "baby." He carries it everywhere, takes it outside to "use the restroom" and gets it at night when it is time to go to bed in my room and brings it with him. In the morning, he will bring it back out into the living room with him. It cracks me up. Oliver is so funny too. I have never been a cat person but I love him so much. It is actually my grandcat (Lexi's baby). She is leaving him with us when she moves away. They both bring us a lot of joy...
Our Family Now
Our family has changed a great deal since we all came together eight years ago. We have made more incredible memories than I can count. When I think back to all the travelling we have done, all the holidays and sporting events, and all the silly times we have spent just hanging out, I am overcome with gratitude for all the joy they have brought into my life. God knew that we all needed each other and it is only by His hand that we were knitted together. We have faced the unimaginable in the last few years and have come through it stronger and closer than ever. I am so proud of my family and the way we have persevered. Not only have we kept going, but we chose to live, even in the midst of the heartache. Each of them has taught me so much about myself and about life and I am thankful for each day I get to spend with them. Thanks for taking the time to get to know my family a little...now, when I post about all of our adventures, challenges, or whatever, you will understand my craziness a little more! Until next time...
Hello and WELCOME to my site! My name is Amanda Yates and I am a 41 year-old mom of six children from a blended family. I am a middle school teacher and a passionate follower of Christ. In my "free" time, I love finding and decorating my home with country antiques, organizing, studying scripture, and making every attempt to get my life "just right." I am blessed beyond measure!
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Family & Connections Blog