The Atriums of The Opryland Hotel



My dear, sweet husband is a man of routine. It’s unusual for him to stray from his everyday ordinary rituals. It made me very proud of him to suggest (Friday afternoon, none the less) that we make a quick getaway and head for the country music capital, Nashville, for the weekend.

We have a history with Nashville. It’s an “old flame” for us, of sorts. You see, Robby has an affinity for country music. A passion for writing songs. A love for performing music. So, about a year and a half after we started dating, we loaded down a Penske truck  with his guitars and my shoes and went eastbound and down.  We rented a tiny house on the east side of Nashville and called it our first home together.

Since that time, we’ve moved back to our hometown in Missouri. We hadn’t made a return trip to the city we both love so much until this weekend. I don’t know why it took us so long to be reunited, but it felt so good.

I do feel sorry for Robby. He married a gal who will forever be the rainwoman on any vacation. So of course, it poured all day on Saturday. Lucky for us, we booked our stay at The Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

The Opryland Hotel is an attraction in and of itself. The hotel is composed of 600,000+ square acres of waterfalls, restaurants, boat rides, and synchronized water fountains.

The view from our suite

The view from our suite


I’m actually thankful it was raining cats and dogs all day. If it hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have been so inclined to explore all the thousands of acres of luscious green beauty housed in giant greenhouses.

The "atrium" rooms overlook gorgeous atriums

The “atrium” rooms overlook gorgeous atriums


Hydrangeas! One of my favs!

Hydrangeas! One of my favs!

The light and music synchronized water show.

The light and music synchronized water show.


Hello! Gorgeous!

Hello! Gorgeous!

koi fish and goldfish swim about

koi fish and goldfish swim about


Even if you’re not staying in the hotel, it’ s worth the views to just walk around inside. You can park for free in the Opry Mall hotel or pay $20 to park in hotel parking.

Anyone else soaked up the Opryland beauty?

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru



Long Drives and Small Kids

A couple months ago, Robby, Olivia, and myself spent 12ish hours in the car together making our way from Jefferson City, MO to Colorado Springs, CO. 

Thankfully, Little Peanut had been on long drives before, so she wasn’t totally new to this whole concept. When she was 7 months we drove to Gulf Shores and when she was about 10 months we drove to Colorado. But this trip she was older. Old enough to have the boredom thing going on. 

I came prepared. I had purchased a portable DVD player from Groupon several months back. I hate to encourage lots of TV viewing but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Priceless item. Totally priceless.

Priceless item. Totally priceless.


And don’t forget this piece to your DVD player. 

The car adapter is a must!

The car adapter is a must!

And in addition, I made sure to bring our portable cooler that plugs in. I had some apple slices and milk for O. She can’t go any extended period of time without the milk. 

Toys and books for those times when you yourself are so sick of hearing Dora and Blues Clues. 

My suitcase, halfway filled with O's toys

My suitcase, halfway filled with O’s toys


Be prepared to make more frequent stops with kiddos. I hate the long drives but could you imagine being buckled in with 5 point restraints for 12 hours?? You’ve got to give the little ones butts a chance to get some blood flow. We stopped for most of our meals because anyone who’s tried to feed a toddler going down the road, knows it can be messy and difficult. 

What’s the longest trip you’ve taken with your kids?


Royal Gorge, Colorado

The same day we toured the craziness of Bishop’s Castle, we also drove up to Royal Gorge. They’re about an hour drive away from each other so it’s really doable to push these two into the same day.

Winter is apparently not the “in-season” for Royal Gorge but it was still a great site to see. And we didn’t have to fight many other tourists either. We didn’t get there until late into the afternoon because we had been trodging around Bishop’s Castle most of the morning. Unfortunately for us, things were already closing down for the day.

We took the ride (it’s not really a ride but I can’t think of the dern name of it) down the mountainside to the bottom of the Gorge, which has the river running through it. My sister says they did a white water rafting adventure when they first moved to Colorado several years ago. Apparently it was a good time so you should check it out if you go during the summer.

My beautiful sis and niece, JoJo and Rachel


As we were going down, I tried to yodel the miner’s yodel from Price Is Right. No one got my joke.


The sun is just about to set over the mountains

So, you take this ride (once again, my memory fades as to what the heck they call it) down the mountain so you’re just alongside the river. It’s a beautiful view. But, they only give you 3 minutes down there! For goodness sake, I can’t create a memory in 3 minutes people! That was a little irritating. Especially since we took the last ride down so there was no time for dilly dally. Annoying, Royal Gorge people. Flat annoying.

Once we got back to the top, we walked across the massive bridge. You can drive across it too, which I would really recommend if you go in the winter. It takes a lot longer to drive across than it looks.

I cannot believe Robby actually had the guts to walk out there. He is so terrified of heights.
View from the top
My clan
No doubt she’s the cutest toddler to cross the Gorge. Of all time!
There are crazy people who have jumped from this bridge. This ridiculously high bridge. No. Thank. You.
The view travels farther than the eye can see

I have never been to the Grand Canyon but I imagine this is Colorado’s version. Winter or summer, I’m sure they both offer beauty to see. It’s a kid-friendly place. Olivia was fine traveling in her stroller across the bridge and she did fine when we held her to ride that thing (again, no memory) down the mountain. Go earlier in the day because you’ll have more services than we had available to us. I think it was 20 some dollars per person. I can’t exactly remember but it may have been 30 some too. Either way, I thought it was a little pricey.

The things you do for site-seeing.

Enjoy your weekend!

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

Meadow Muffins: Old Colorado City, CO

Friday afternoon we were headed down to Old Colorado City. My goal, my one purpose in life that day was to find the childrens store where we bought Olivia this ridiculously cute hat last summer. I had to have another one for next winter since she draws so much attention with this one.

You see how cute I’m talking about??? Look at that hat! Look at that face!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get my hat. The store only had infant sizes and bless Olivia’s heart, she didn’t even have an infant size head when she was an infant. Like father, like daughter.

Alas, the day was not completely ruined. I asked my sis where a good local eatery would be close to Old Colorado City. She gave me a couple options, one being Meadow Muffins.

After I picked up the pieces of my broken heart at the childrens store, I was listing off my sister’s picks of restaurants. Meadow Muffins. blah. blah. blah. (I say this because I just can’t remember the other places she told me)

“Meadow Muffins. What a dumb name. I’m not eating there.”- Robby. That’s right. Mr. Judgement himself said that. He had no clue anything about this restaurant except the name and for some reason, he was biased.

He went on and on about how the name didn’t make sense. The name was stupid. On and on.

When my niece, Rach, came down to meet us, we started going through the list with her and asking her opinions.

Twenty guesses as to what she recommended…….. You guessed right. Meadow Muffins. “It’s kind of like bar food. Cozy atmosphere”, she told Robby. Well, why didn’t you say so before? Ugh, do you see what I have to put up with people???

Meadow Muffins it is. Friday afternoon in the off season was a perfect time. Just a few other stragglers about but pretty slow.

Alright, I apologize. I can’t get this stupid picture to turn. Stupid blog site. Just kink your head a little to the right and you’ll be good.

Robby got the Jiffy Burger. Sounds atrocious. It’s not. It’s not the best thing in my book but it’s worth trying. Apparently these peanut butter burgers are the “in” thing now. I got the philly cheese steak. Yum-O. Rachel got the fried pickles. Heart attack? Ah, who cares!
The really neat thing about Meadow Muffins is the relics. And I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill, Applebee’s type relics. Actual cool stuff. From actual places. Sat on by actual people. The back of the menu tells all about it.


Casablanca fans just above the bar


Thanks for the blurry picture, Rach.


Look at that gorgeous ceiling. And let’s not forget about the moose head. Right? Right?!?


The carriage from Gone With The Wind. Oh yeah, and a naked gal on the far wall.
If you’re in the area, I recommend giving it a try. I’m an atmosphere gal, and this definitely has the laid-back, relaxed vibe that I so enjoy. The prices are reasonable and items on the menu are “bar food” as Rachel puts it. It’s a serve yourself joint. You go to the bar for your drinks and go to the walk up window for your food. Right downtown in Old Colorado City.
Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

Vibrant little town: Manitou Springs, CO

Manitou (pronounced man-eh-too) Springs sits just on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, no more than a hop, skip, and jump away.

Our first full day of Colorado was halfway spent getting from Stratton to Colorado Springs, since the highways had shut down for some unknown, unGodly reason the night prior. By the time we took the long way in (because I was jabbering on the phone and didn’t tell Robby to make a turn), and by the time we unloaded the vehicle, and by the time we changed O’s entire outfit (pee all the way through which of course soaked into my sweater), and by the time we sat around the living room chit-chatting, there really wasn’t left of our day.

So just as a ‘something-to-do’, we set out for Manitou Springs. I’ve been here before. Several times. Each time seems different yet the same. It’s honestly one of the cutest little towns I’ve seen. It’s got the small town feel but it’s got tons of life with all the restaurants and shops that line the curvy little mountain town roads.

On this day, we were late in the day so there were a lot of shops closed down for the day. So go at a decent time if you want to actually get your biggest bang for the buck.

Manitou Springs has fresh springs throughout the town. Huh. Who would have thought, right? Each spring is offered for tastings through water fountains built just for this purpose.


Robby helps himself

When one thinks of a freshwater spring, one thinks of something that is colder than ice. Fresher than Dasani. Cleaner than Clorox. Well, I’m here to tell you that these springs taste nasty! Nasty, I tell ya. One tasted (and smelled) like rotten eggs.


“Oh Lord that’s awful!”

Still yet, there’s the novelty in the tasting of the springs.


Or the novelty of just standing beside the dern thing for a photo op

There are shops with handmade pottery and original paintings by Colorado Springs artists. These things are always great to take home and remind you of your vacay. Also good for supporting the local arts! (Even if some of these arts are weird. Very weird)

Manitou Springs feels, to me, like a town of movement. A town where there is always change, always something new, and a town where there is something for everyone. The storefronts are inviting and the streets are easily maneuverable. We had Olivia in the stroller so it is easy to get around even with toddlers in tow.
According to my sister, Colorado Springs resident, there is always something happening in Manitou Springs.
The biggest interest peaker for me was hearing that every year they have the Emma Crawford Coffin Races. Apparently long ago (for the sake of sounding historical we’ll say 1894), there was a woman buried atop the mountain and her casket was swept through the town, right along the streets, when the town experienced a great rain storm. In honor (or something like that) of Emma, there are coffin races down the streets every year. Each team dresses up, has a whole theme, and really puts on a good show for all passerbys.
How much fun does this look like?
If you’re in the area, I highly recommend spending a day in Manitou Springs and checking out all it has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.

Bishop’s Castle, Pueblo, CO: The height of eccentrisism

A couple weeks ago, we had a rocky start to our Rocky Mountain vacation. The day of our departure, Missouri had the first of many snowstorms, bringing our trip to a screeching halt. When we finally left and traveled all the way through the pit of Hell, I mean Kansas, and made it to Colorado, we were suddenly faced with road closures. And lots of them. Instead of getting to my sisters house as planned, we had to bunk up at the Rodeway Inn (more on this horrific night later).

Finally, on day 2, we made it into the Springs. Our first day was pretty non-productive and was spent lounging on my sisters sofa thinking about what we would do “tomorrow”. Tomorrow brought us to Bishop’s Castle, at the suggestion of my niece, who had heard about this place but never been herself.

First step. Google It. And Google we did. It’s hard to find the address for this single-handed man made creation, but look hard and you will see it.

This castle is amazing and so weird all at the same time. Warnings are posted on the Bishops Castle website that if Mr. Bishop is there, he’s quite likely to rant about politics, the world, or the shoes your wearing (ok, that last part is made up but it sounds like he’s a little cantankerous).

The stone castle is definitely beautiful in it’s own way. Mr. Bishop, who bought this land atop a gorgeous mountain when he was 15, started constructing the castle in 19. The website states that he’s most likely to be found there on weekends so I’m assuming he’s had a job all these years. I’m impressed at his drive to continue working on this castle this many years. My oomph would have pittered out years ago.

Word on the street is that Mr. Bishop specializes in steel work. Judging by the pictures above, I’d venture that’s a pretty true statement. Ornate steel designs adorn the exterior and interior of the castle.

Panes of stain glass are placed, each with different sayings, in honor of those who donated money to the cause. The castle is 100% free and open to the public (I think at all hours of the day).

Just as you enter the castle, this signs sits at the bottom of the stairs. There are several signs throughout the castle that Bishop painted that talk about how law enforcement agencies have tried to shut down the castle and are all against him and his work. Mr. Bishop definitely has passion about his castle, I will give that to him.

My expectation was we would be able to use the stroller for Olivia. This was not the case. The grounds are not stroller-friendly nor even kid-friendly. The whole place actually looked abandoned from the road because there was atleast a foot and a half of snow covering the walkways. Can I say snowshovel? I guess that’s what you get for a free attraction. The only bathroom facilities is the outside just at the entrance of the castle grounds. Warning: DO NOT go in there. Just don’t. The side of the road works just fine.

Mr. Bishop is currently building a moat around the castle. How cool is that? ‘Cause you really can’t have a castle without a moat!!

And what would a castle be without a fire-breathing dragon, I ask?!?!

And of course, the Leaning Tower of Bishop……

I was incredibly disappointed to find the gift shop abandoned and snowed it. I was looking forward to buying a Bishops Castle trinket!

The doorways and windows are still not completed, therefore the house is cold and drafty this time of year. Take it from Olivia, bundle up.

It truly is an incredible sight. It’s worth the drive. Mr. Bishop strongly urges leaving donations since he offers viewings of his castle at no charge. I’m ashamed to say that we had every intention of leaving money and completely forgot. My sister plans to return in the summer and will leave an extra $5 for me. Thanks Mr. Bishop!

Colorado: Picture Preview

Me and the fam just returned from a much needed, and much too short, vacay to Colorado. I have lots to tell you, just have to find the time. For now, here’s a little preview…

Made a totally unexpected stop at the Rodeway Inn in Stratton, CO
Wandered the streets of Manitou Springs with my sis and niece
Stared in awe at the Royal Gorge
Went skiing in Keystone with this gorgeous view as the backdrop
Drove through the Garden of the Gods
Toured this eccentric castle

I can’t wait to fill you in on all the details! For now, these few pictures will have to wet your whistle!


The Good Ole Gulf: Gulf Shores, AL

I’m sitting here at my desk. It’s January. January= Dreary in Missouri. We had the most beautiful weather yesterday. It hit 70 something degrees, sun was shining, and of course I had to work. Poo. I should be grateful for my job and blah, blah, blah but seriously…. IT WAS 70 SOMETHING DEGREES IN JANUARY!!! IN MISSOURI!!! I so badly wanted to soak it up because I know for a fact that weather like that doesn’t come back for another 4 months. Ugh.

So, since I didn’t get to enjoy the sunshine yesterday, I’m going to bring back some sunshine memories.

WARNING: I am about to talk about a trip outside of Missouri. Now remember, I never promised I was just about Missouri. I’m mostly about Missouri. But occasionally, I do get to get out of Misery. Ok, that was a cheap shot. It’s not so bad here. Most days…..

Last May, we planned my first-ever trip to Gulf Shores, AL with my sister, her husband, and their 2 kiddos. We booked a house “right on the beach”. Well, we thought it was “right on the beach” but if it sounds too good to be true, it is right? It wasn’t exactly right on the beach but it was close enough. No complaints.


Our view from the deck. Glorious.
Not a bad little house. Not a bad little house, at all.

Most of the homes down there seem to be vacation homes so pretty much everything is available online to rent. Robby’s mom and sister came down during the same week and rented a real nice condo. The house was nice. We had everything we needed. The deck up top was just outside of the 2 master suites and then of course the huge main deck was plenty spacious. The house came equipped with plates, silverware, and the like so we did quite a bit of cooking in.


Bonus: My brother-in-law is an expert griller. Mmmmm.

These were some fresh gulf shrimp my brother-in-law bought from some fresh seafood place down there. Red Lobster, eat your heart out. These were to die for!

Gulf Shores is a GREAT place for family vacations. The guys golfed one day. There looked to be quite a few cute little shops that I would have loved to browse through but I was too busy soaking up every ounce of beach time I could afford. Of course we took Olivia with us but she was 7 months old at the time, so there’s only so much time a baby will tolerate sitting on a blanket in the hot before she is DONE. She did do pretty good though and seemed to enjoy the pool more than the beach.

Apparently, the ocean waves are a bit scary for some tots.

Like I said, we went in May and I highly recommend it. The weather was gorgeous and the beach only had scattered tourists. One of the locals who owned a condo just beside us said the rest of the summer is pretty packed and that we had come at a great time.
I didn’t realize the new thing was to bring an awning large enough to fit a wedding party in! We had our little beach umbrella for Olivia but now people are seriously setting up these huge canopy-tent-thingys and are leaving them up for the duration of their stay. What this means is that when you come onto the beach in the morning, there’s people’s junk all up and down the beach because they’re too friggin’ lazy to take down and put back up. I know it doesn’t bother some people but it did me. I had never seen such before! So imagine the dog days of summer, beach packed, and people’s personal crap everywhere. Yeah, May was a good time.
We did run out to the Fort one day just to give Baby O a break from the beach. It was neat in it’s own historical way. I have been to so many forts and it’s kinda like, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. So I wasn’t real impressed but it wasn’t the Fort’s fault, I promise.


Very Fort-y. Don’t you agree?



There were, however, absolutely beautiful views.


I would have liked to take the ferry to Dauphin Island just to explore some more but Robby talked me out of it. Turd. Oh well, maybe next time…..

You definitely have to take a stroll down the public pier though. The water is so clear you can see the schools of thousands of fish and all the sting rays. It was great to watch sea life performing in their natural habitat.

You can just barely see ’em. The stingrays. See, right there?

We did make a lunch stop at Lulu’s. Lulu is Jimmy Buffett’s sister and this is her famous restaurant. It’s not ocean side but it is harbor side. Open air setting. Good food. Very tourist-y. Who cares?

Favorite Trip Pic:

Look at that sweet, sweet face!

Highlight of my trip:
          Sitting on the beach, alone, book in hand, by myself while I drank several cold ones one afternoon. One never treasures alone time until one becomes a parent. It was fabulous.

Gulf Shores is absolutely kid friendly. Family oriented. Great for small family vacays or large bring-one-bring-all types of vacays.

Pan’s Pick:
           Get up super early one morning and stroll on the beach for seashells. It’s so cliche yet it was so enjoyable for me. Robby stayed in with Baby O while I took a quick jaunt. The sunrise on the beach is nearly magical.


Look at ’em all! Just look at ’em!

**Helpful note: The beach crews scan the beaches multiple times each day to scoop up tar balls left from the huge oil spill. I never saw a tar ball although my sis did. Other than these few-and-far-between balls, there is no evidence that there was ever any damage. Thank God for that!