September 30, 2009
Well, I did it. I went to North Carolina to the Type-A Mom conference and took my entire family sans the one who has a 'real' job. We left Daddy, the jackalopes, and the Texas dust behind us and headed to Asheville. It was 1145 miles one way. In a packed SUV. With a baby.
Yes, I am crazy.
The first night we stopped in at my wonderful friend Teresa's house. She cooked me deer meat and the boys stayed up whispering with Kaden all night while us ladies (Chickie, Morgan and me) all tried to get our beauty rest. Can you even believe we didn't get PICTURES with them before we left? For shame on us!!!
We left after breakfast and drove from Little Rock to Asheville on day 2. The people in Knoxville were so kind. They like Texans. That's where we stopped to eat dinner. I won't mention the restaurant, because I'm not in to giving bad press... but it was GROSS food: not worth going off of our save-money-by-eating-out-of-the-back-of-the-car diet.
Unfortunately for us, it was dark after we ate and we missed the mountains between Knoxville and Asheville. As a Texan, I hadn't driven in the mountains before, so it was a thrill (and a little scary) to go through tunnels with big trucks. It wouldn't have been so bad if it were daylight, I don't suppose... but I wasn't going to complain. We were just glad to have a vehicle that could get us there (after the 100$ oil change and fuel injection cleaning). I wasn't able to make enough with sponsorship to afford the rental or the airline ticket, so we took our own vehicle on the trip. That made taking the stroller, the cooler, the box of food, the car seat, and all our various luggage a lot easier. A girl has to have her 'stuff' on a blog-conference trip! Especially the laptop, camera and iPhone!
We checked in and stayed in the room to rest on Wednesday night. Our tour of Biltmore begain at 8am the next morning. We awoke in a misty fog and rode the bus through town until we pulled up at the lawn of the Biltmore Estate. It was grandiose, floating there in the mist as we piled off the bus. I immediately noticed Robin of Penseive and met quite a few other great bloggers during the tour. Our guide was a 20 year tour veteran and my kids loved her as much as I did.
My favorite thing she talked about was how the Vanderbilt family used travel as education. Kind of ironic that my kids were learning through traveling to North Carolina and touring the Biltmore Estate - just as she was saying that. I felt a little less guilty for not making them do 'school' on our trip thanks to her. Hey - there's always the summer and holidays to make up the days we missed. Gotta love living in Texas for something (can't love it for the MOUNTAIN VIEW).
There aren't any words to describe how amazing the Biltmore (a Vanderbilt estate) is. To think that people live in such opulence is beyond me. Kaden and I talked about how the 'great hall' would have been the perfect room for our medieval feast. Morgan noticed the indoor 'winter garden' and amazing woodwork. I lingered on the staircase with its beveled lead glass windows to catch a quick iPhone picture with the baby. Chickie was smitten by the garden terrace, and all of us fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountain view.
I created a story of Biltmore Tour photos on Whirrl to showcase a few of the pictures that you won't see in this post. There were just too many to share. I love going on photo ops that afford you endless things to take pictures of. The Biltmore Estate is one such place. They even provided a delicious lunch on the grounds - pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, turkey sandwiches on wheat, Lay's potato chips, bottled water, a fresh gala apple, and TWO yummy chocolate cookies!
Our next stop was the North Carolina Arboretum. The baby did amazing the entire day. [He really did well on the whole trip (aside from a tiny meltdown on the first night when we were at Teresa's house)] The guides at the Asheville arboretum talked about how they are homeschool friendly and have nature programs for kids. Kaden got to hold a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (oh, joy) and we looked at all the animals in the display tanks (even got a few mugshots to share - which are also on the Biltmore Whirrl story). Time was running out on us to get registered for the conference, so we said our sad goodbyes to the gorgeous flower adorned nature center and loaded up on the coach to return to the Crown Plaza Hotel.
We signed in for the conference and met up with Dawn in the hotel room. After all these years of blogging with Dawn at the Homeschool Post, it was like meeting up with a long-lost sister. I just adore her, y'all. She's a Georgia Peach. [Sorry about the shine, Dawn, I'm no good at Lightroom - yet!]
There were so many other amazing women that I got to meet and know during the weekend. I hate to list them here because I know I'll leave someone out. Melissa of A Familiar Path (pictured at the top above) won the other contest for a free conference ticket and sat with me through some of the speaker sessions. I was glad to have another introverted homeschool mama to hang with. Extroverts like Alli, Janice, and Robin stole the show and moderated and spoke for the panels. There were discussions and open conversations between bloggers and marketers and sessions on helping market your blog and even how to balance blogging and real-life (my favorite other than the photo session by Mishelle). PR firms and companies sponsored bloggers and the event hall was lined with tables that introduced products (and gave away free samples - or 'swag') to the moms there.
Laptops and iPhones lit the room and everyone tweeted notes and highlights as the speakers discussed their topics. If you are interested in learning some tips from the conference, you can look back through the hashtag #typeamom on twitter and see what all the attendees were buzzing about. I didn't have a chance to blog because I was taking 'notes' and pictures when I wasn't nursing the baby in my hotel room or meeting and visiting with other bloggers. It was a blogging geek's dream come true.
I fell in love with this orange Macbook. It's on my wish list - along with Dawn's full-frame camera (the Canon version, of course). Did you notice that my iPhone is orange, too? I heart orange.
I also fell in love with the Photo Walk sponsored by Creative Memories [and brought to ME by Earth Footware - who sold me a half price set of shoes since I had sprained my ankle at the Biltmore shooting pictures and needed comfy shoes to walk in]. While we're speaking of love, let's not forget how much I love Mishelle. She so totally rocks. She showed me how to use my camera. I wish I could pay her more than free cupcakes for her awesome writing skills and amazing photo talent at the Homeschool Post!
I was soooo happy to have my mother and kids there, though. I wasn't able to afford to go on the swanky speaker dinners, so we visited the uptown Biltmore McDonald's instead. They had an automated grand piano playing, but the food still tasted the same. We got lost on the way back and had to go for what seemed like forever until we found an exit on the freeway that would turn us around. My Tom Tom flaked out, so we used the iPhone GPS map to get us back to the hotel. For as much as we balked about the internet connection being slow (poor AT&T), I sure was thankful that it worked at all - or I'd be stuck in the blue ridge mountains eating Little Debbie's cupcakes still to this day!
After the last session on Saturday, they had a BBQ dinner banquet. We said our sad, tired, last goodbyes to our blogging friends, snapped off a few quick pictures, and loaded up the car - in the rain. I managed to leave my business card zipper pouch there (which had all of my cards I had been collecting of all the groovy bloggers and marketers I had met) - and am still on the phone trying to get it back. The kids were tired and the baby was cranky as we pulled away from the hotel following Dawn in the dark to Georgia. We were all upset about missing the scenery again - another set of mountains to drive through in the dark.
We pulled in to Dawn's driveway at around eleven and got to visit with most of her family (her two youngest critters were asleep already) in to the wee hours of the night. She gave me some free Lightroom lessons while we had fun looking through her conference photos. My mom and kids enjoyed visiting with her awesome family as much as I did. We hated to go to bed.
The next morning was Sunday, and the Camp clan was all dressed up so they wouldn't miss church. We shot a few pictures on the driveway before we rolled away. It almost felt like we were leaving family behind. Morgan added another pen pal and future facebook friend to her list for sure.
We stopped in and ate a picnic lunch out of the back of the SUV in the Chick-fil-A parking lot in Alabama. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were lovely. The Mississippi river was at it's best as we crossed in to Louisiana. We all felt it was prettier there than the Arkansas-Tennessee bridge. We loved the green creeping vines and lush landscape - a far cry from our drought-laden homeland. If only we could have brought home the rain.
Georgia is fifteen hours away from our house. Add that to the stopping we had to do with the baby, the potty breaks, the snacks... and you have night setting on you before you know it. As the evening set in, I contacted my friend Renae of Reflective and asked her if she was "serious about really letting us spend the night there". She saved the day and we shaved the last five or six hours off of our trip by staying in Tyler, Texas. Her kids were adorable, her house was precious, and she made me HOME MADE WAFFLES! The waffles were shaped like little cows, chickens, pigs and barns.
Kaden got to play with her son (who also happened to love all things Legos and Starwars). There was even time to play on the tire swing (a new treat for a city boy). Her daughters provided me with lovely portrait subjects. I sure wish she wasn't moving away to Idaho, but I'm so glad we got to visit together before she left.
Six hours after leaving Tyler, we pulled in our driveway and threw our arms around daddy - who was a big help unloading all our bags and swag. Chickie said, "Well, that was a nice trip" as she pulled the emergency break and opened the driver's side door. We took our bags inside and pet the lovesick cats, popped our photo cards in to the reader on the laptop, and recounted trip tales to Kevin.
The lessons and stories and sights are all swimming in my mind. I didn't give you a blow by blow storyboard of the blogging sessions because I know that a lot of you who read my blog are not interested in blogging as a 'job'. I learned new things, had a chance to meet wonderful 'invisible friends' and other interesting people, and we had the field trip of our school year - a cross country trip to amazing Asheville and historic Biltmore. It was a blue ridge mountain memory in the making. Something wonderful to remember for all of us. I'm so glad we got to go.
Thank you so much for sponsoring me. I know that a few of you tweeted, prayed, and donated your own funds for the drive and hotel. We put the rest on the card and are hoping that the next time we go to a blog conference, we can get a company sponsorship to cover the expenses! Until then... here's our public THANK YOU to all who made it possible:
* Chickie (who took off work, drove most of the way, helped with the baby - we heart you)
* Kohen (you are the mostest awesomest baby - and the cutest baby EVAH)
* Kids (Mommy loves you - and I'm sure you didn't miss those math pages)
* Honee (Thanks for letting me have fun while you had to stay here and work)
* To those who donated on Paypal: Tanya, Nikowa, Values-Driven Family, Erica, Shanna, Cathy, Claudia, Imperishable Beauty, Traci, Shannon, Lisa, and Western Carolina Fence [You all rock! Shoot me a link and I'll include it with this thanks - and let me know if you want me to change your name and include a blog name or business name instead.]
* To my twitter buddies - those who prayed and tweeted: Cathy and Frelle being the noisiest! 140 xoxos to both of you!
* Dawn (Shared her room at the hotel with us and talked me in to going in the first place.)
Sending you swagalicious cupcake kisses and hugs from Texas! Thanks again y'all! It was a mighty fine time... and a great conference. Now for those of you who are in to more of the gritty conference details, click the link on Frelle's name and you can get the name-droppin' lowdown. I'm off to read her post myself... as if I needed another thing to do before bedtime. I'm so far behind. I'm packing my suitcases up tomorrow for another weekend trip, too.
I told you I was crazy.
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