4 years ago, the school at which I am fortunate enough to teach underwent several changes, including going from multi-grade classes to single grades. My partner teacher at the time, Ashley and I had each been teaching first-second grade for years, and were hoping to stay together on the same team. We were ecstatic to learn that we would both be teaching third grade together, along with Melissa, Brooke, and Julie. When one of our school's substitute teachers heard who I would be working with, she said, "That sounds like a Dream Team to me."
And thus, our team name was born. We called ourselves "DT" for short, and quickly realized that teaching together was indeed a dream come true.
To celebrate a successful first year of teaching third grade together, my colleagues and I decided to take a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. And with that, a tradition was born.
Among the adventures we had driving up (waaaaay up) and down the mountains, I'm pretty sure I laughed harder than I had ever laughed before...that is, until our next year-end trip. At this point, Ashley had decided to take the opportunity to work part time for the upcoming school year. Though we were sad to lose her, we were also blessed to gain another excellent teacher (who just happens to also be my best friend), Ruthie. So the six of us headed to Brown County, Indiana for the second annual DT getaway.
Again, we found ourselves rolling with laughter, learning along the way the true meaning of the "Heart of Nashville", as well as the harsh realization that some restaurants just won't let you buy only one biscuit.
But I'm afraid that not even these past escapades could prepare us for the surprises that this year's trip held in store. As has been our tradition, we left directly from our end-of-the-school-year faculty luncheon, making a quick pit stop at the grocery for essential foods & spirits. We should have known that our little getaway would be anything but traditional after our experience with the cashier (who shall remain nameless)...
Ruthie (in a whisper voice): I think he rang up the ginger ale twice.
Me (loud enough for the cashier to hear): Julie, did you get two ginger ales or one?
Julie: Just one.
Me: I think we got rung up for two by accident.
Cashier (in a British accent): No, it just looks like it because of the discount.
Ruthie (in a low voice): I don't think so...
Melissa then proceeded to look at the receipt and discover that we had in fact been charged twice for the ginger ale. Upon bringing this to our cashier's attention, he quickly apologized and said, "Since you've all been such good sports, I'm going to let you in on a secret: I'm not really British."
I wish we had footage of our faces at this moment because I'm pretty sure we all looked at him like he was flipping crazy. Except for Brooke, who so eloquently said, "Way to have fun with your job."
At any rate, Julie ended up getting a second ginger ale, and we shook our heads in disbelief all the way to Brooke's minivan. I think we all hoped this odd encounter was as weird as the trip was going to get, but in reality it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Keeping with our cabin custom, we decided to visit Patoka Lake in Taswell, Indiana, booking two nights with White Oaks Cabins. From our initial phone conversations with owner & operator, Bob, we knew that an entertaining time lay ahead.
After about an hour's drive (spent jamming out to yet another road trip mix made by yours truly), we arrived at the White Oaks Cabins office, where we were welcomed by Big Red (a giant dog who roamed the property) and Sister Susan (who, for some unknown reason, we called "Sister Linda" the entire time). Sister gave us our keys and linens, and said that Bob would be up to our cabin, "Brigadoon", to soon greet us.
Sister: You're going to want to reverse down past the cabin entrance and then gain momentum to get up the hill. Be sure to stay left to avoid the rut on the right.
We'd been there 5 minutes and it was an adventure already.
So Brooke followed Sister's directions, and after we gunned it up the rocky hill and rounded the curve to our cabin, the second surprise of the trip appeared before our eyes.
Me: What the *&%$ is that?
Now readers, I had imagined our cabin would overlook the woods, maybe even a little bit of the lake. What I never could have imagined though, was that our cabin would instead, overlook a petting zoo. That's right, a petting zoo. I'm talking goats and donkeys, y'all.
Of course, all we could do was laugh. The laughter was short-lived however, as my phone rang, showing Ashley's name on the screen. Ashley had planned to join us at the cabin upon meeting her mother who would be keeping her children while she was on our trip.
Me: Hey girl. Are you close by?
Ashley: Yes, I'm actually down at the office. I need you all to come get me because my mom's car is acting up and I don't think it will make it up the hill.
Me: Oh no! We'll be right down.
So Brooke turned the van around, and we headed back down the hill to get poor Ashley. We decided not to tell her about the petting zoo, so that she could enjoy the surprise just as we had. And surprised she was.
We began to unload the van and head up to what was supposed to be our home for the next two nights. Bags in hand, we waited as Melissa tried to unlock the door to the cabin.
Melissa: Is the entire lock supposed to spin like that?
Probably not, was the group consensus.
But she finally got it unlocked and as we stepped foot inside, our noses were met with yet another surprise-the smell of natural gas.
To recap: up to this point, we had been checked out at the grocery by a fake Brit, been welcomed to our cabin by a nun & some farm animals, rescued Ashley from her malfunctioning vehicle, and quickly developed the fear that our cabin was about to blow up as a result of a gas leak.
So you can imagine that the laughter had subsided (except for the nervous kind). Melissa captured the moment perfectly with the following photo:
The animals looked on curiously as Ashley paced.
Before we could decide what to do next, Bob arrived to greet us. Eyes closed, and arms out in front of him, he walked toward us shouting, "I'm sensing...teachers!"
Me (in a whisper voice): You guys, is he blind?
Ruthie: I hope not since he just drove up here.
Bob jubilantly greeted us on the front porch and could quickly tell something was concerning us. He took Ruthie inside to show her the pilot light was on in the oven, and explained that the smell was from the gas fireplace that had just been turned on. When our faces still looked nervous, Bob offered to move us to a nearby cabin called "Castle Genevieve".
As he lead us on a tour of the cabin, we began to realize that each conversation with Bob would be both educational and entertaining...
Genevieve & Anthony were my grandparents. I built the Tower of Anthony alongside Genevieve so that they could be side-by-side forever.
Everything in this cabin is from Europe.
We have about 8 weddings here a year.
81% of guests return.
I specialize in happiness.
Bob graciously snapped this shot for us on the back deck of our cabin:
We then took a trip up the Tower, and Bob bid us farewell.
Group Selfie in the Tower
Upon closer examination of our cabin, we realized that "jacuzzi" unfortunately did not mean hot tub. It did, however mean a huge bathtub, so we had that going for us.
After all of the excitement we had already experienced, we decided to stay in and cook dinner at the cabin. Ruthie whipped up a delicious meal of chicken parm, salad, and garlic knots (despite the fact that we had purchased "mozzarella cheese substitute" that never really melted). Brooke lead us in a lovely prayer, and then we toasted to each other.
For dessert we had planned to make s'mores. This required Melissa & Ashley to visit Bob at the office to purchase "state-approved firewood". They returned with several gems from Bob, including the facts that he had climbed Mt. Everest, taught in the Himalayas, and gotten frostbite on his feet. He also nicknamed Melissa "Lady Morgan" and Ashley "Panama". Bob was quickly becoming our favorite person.
When we asked them if Sister Susan (aka Linda) was there, Melissa wondered why we kept calling her "Sister". We explained that she was a nun, to which Melissa replied, "I thought maybe she was Bob's sister." Laughter ensued.
Par for the course of that day, making s'mores was no easy task. Ashley followed Bob's fire-making directions to a T, but unfortunately the flames fizzled as fast as they had fired up.
At least the animals were entertained.
We gave up, and I resorted to Plan B: stove s'mores.
We stayed up later than we probably should have, reflecting/laughing about the day. We also wondered what was behind the small door in our cabin...
When we finally settled in for sleep, Ashley and I were alarmed to hear a strange animal noise.
Me: Was that a donkey or a wolf?
Ashley: I wondered the same thing.
We hoped donkey, and eventually drifted off to sleep.
The next morning included donuts & cinnamon rolls, so clearly the day was off to a good start...
Ashley and I declared it Monogrammed Hat Day:
We scared Melissa with the British soldier that "guarded" the Tower as she came out of the bathroom.
Also, Ruthie apparently got stabbed by a statue on the cabin grounds. She shook it off like a champ though.
Lady Morgan, Panama, and Picassa (Ruthie's nickname from Bob) visited the office to get the 411 on things to do in the area. We had hoped to rent a pontoon and spend our day on the lake (because as Bob said, anyone could drive a pontoon: putt-putt-turn, putt-putt-turn), but Mother Nature unfortunately had other plans. And by that I mean, thunderstorms. So we did the next thing: SHOP.
That is of course, after we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge (turns out you don't have to go to New York to do so):
Melissa MacGyvered a tripod out of rocks to capture our group photo on the bridge.
Obviously we had to have fuel before we shopped. Our delicious lunch at the Lucas Oil Golf Course was followed by a large downpour of rain, so naturally we played Beauty Parlor.
Ruthie wasn't about to let the rain dampen her spirits-not when there was unlimited Diet Coke available.
When the rain dwindled to a drizzle, we forged ahead to French Lick, catching a glimpse of Patoka Lake on our way (There it is!). There weren't as many shops as we had hoped for, but we did stumble upon Fox Hollow Gallery, where I fell in love with/bought this ring:
Marcasite is my weakness, and I couldn't resist the red stone. Not to mention the fact that Brooke knows the jeweler, Summer Eliason, who is also from Louisville. I've worn my sparkly souvenir every day since.
After French Lick, we drove to the West Baden Springs Hotel. It was magnificent. So much so, that we felt we had to whisper once inside (which isn't easy for us). We also felt compelled to take this photo:
It was a good thought...
The gorgeous dome inside the hotel lobby.
Clearly the shopping inside West Baden made Ruthie & Brooke happy.
We spent the rest of our time trying to convince Brooke to take the only remaining spa appointment because we knew she really wanted to, but like a true teammate, she would not leave us behind.
Our next stop was the Curb-ette for some ice cream. I had heard they had soft serve chocolate-vanilla swirl, and of course needed to partake in that.
But to my dismay, the chocolate ice cream was out. Also, the worker behind the counter seemed less than pleased that I asked her about said chocolate. So we all enjoyed a treat with some variation of vanilla soft serve, and headed on our way to the Dollar General...which is where things really got cray.
While Melissa perused the beach toys, Ruthie tried on a lovely skirt. Who knew the DG was full of such wonderful treasures?
Brooke & Julie also made a "bev nap purch", because you can never have enough cute bev naps (aka beverage napkins).
We also swung by the Jay C to purchase the ingredients for soft tacos (or as some people call them, shacos). Melissa made it clear to everyone in the store that she did not want any beans, but somehow the black & refried varieties found their way into our cart.
Before making our way to Castle Genevieve, we stopped by the office to see Bob. Ashley had to ask him if she could leave her Mom's car in the parking lot until her family could pick it up. He said of course, and then he said some other things...
Melissa: I have 3 questions.
He was kidding of course, and went on to tell us how he came to own White Oaks Cabins. We also learned that Sister Susan had once worked near the Vatican (Brooke: Wait. I'm having a hard time believing this...)! Bob then told us the story of the angel statue, St. Sylvia, created with only a chainsaw by artist Paul Moon. He insisted that we go see it for ourselves, so see it we did.
The statue lived up to Bob's hype, as did the Prayer House cabin, Betws-y-Coed. We did encounter one little (huge) surprise in the form of a wolf spider. Bob assured us that he would take care of it so future guests could be spared.
When we returned to our cabin, I fired up the taco meat, and for some reason, got fiesty. Seeing that the table needed to be cleared so that we could eat, I shouted, "Look alive, Julie!" since she was the only one sitting there at the time (Sorry, for what I said when I was HANGRY, Jules!).
Simultaneously, this was happening behind me:
Ashley: Anyone know how to open champagne?
Brooke: Face it away from us!
Melissa: Open the screen door! Open the screen door!
This went on for quite some time, but somehow the champagne was opened and no one was hurt in the process. Mimosas were then in full effect. Melissa treated us to a touching toast, and dinner was served.
A quick tick check before dessert:
I'll check your ticks if you check mine. That's true friendship.
Bob hooked us up with some lighter fluid so we could hopefully have legit s'mores around the fire. Melissa felt compelled to feed our leftover beans to the animals: You all get the fire started; I'm going to feed those [donkeys]. Can you guess what she said instead of "donkeys" there?
Thank goodness for lighter fluid, y'all.
Much to Melissa's dismay, the animals were sleeping, and she was unable to feed them.
The next (and final) day of our trip included a slow morning, packing up the van, and Melissa finally getting to feed the animals.
Brooke was "amazed by the grip of the donkeys' lips".
Ashley, Julie, and I bid farewell to the Tower, and then we all said our final goodbyes to Big Red, Bob, and Sister Susan (Linda?).
I think Lady Morgan is going to miss Bob most of all.
Note: Bob said this was closest he'd ever been to Sister before. Blush.
After a round of hugs, we told Bob we'd love to come back some day, and Bob told us he'd have to take a Prozac to deal with the depression of our departure.
To say that we had a great time would be a huge understatement. I love our little travel tradition as much as I love each of these ladies. To work with them, is a treat. But to also call them my friends, is truly a DREAM.