One of the benefits of the profession I am in is that I still get spring break. It's not unusual that I have a lot of work to do over the break, but I at least have a couple of days to relax and stay home from work. Well, this year, we spent spring break in Branson, MO, with my parents. I had never been to Branson before, and I had no idea what to expect. A few years ago (pre-children), Gina and I went to Gatlinburg, TN, and I suspected the two destinations would be quite similar. Well, my hunch was correct, but in a good way. The overall tone of Branson is very family friendly and wholesome, and there are literally hundreds of activities to choose from. If anyone says they are bored in this town, they obviously have a very particular taste in entertainment. There were way more shows and other attractions to choose from than we had time to see. Our first adventure was to the Acrobats of China show, performed by the New Shanghai Circus. I really had no idea how the boys would do in this type of venue, and when my mom told me the show was 2 hours a wave of panic swept through my entire body. I had visions of a twin meltdown at exactly the moment the entire theater was silent, probably because we ran out of animal crackers or one of the boys wanted to run around. Well, about 1 min after the show started, my fears were put to rest. To everyone's amazement, Sam and Nate both sat through the ENTIRE show! I only had to get up and leave once, and that's because Nate decided to take his "intermission" about 20 minutes after everyone else did, so we made a quick run to the bathroom. The show was really entertaining, and for the rest of the week Sam would say "Bee-bee-bats" (acrobats) every time we drove past the theater.

Here is a quick analogy for you: Gatlinburg is to pancake houses as Branson is to ____? Do you know the answer? Give up? All-you-can-eat buffets! After the Chinese Acrobat show, we went to a buffet and ate what would be the first of several very large meals throughout the week.

On Wednesday (which also happened to be St. Patrick's Day), we went to see Amazing Animals, but when we got there it was sold out. The theater happened to have an area with games and other activities for kids, so we stayed and let the boys play. This event, however, did not go as smoothly as the acrobat show. The boys were both tired from a late bedtime, hungry and generally cranky from a cold they were both fighting. We tried every trick in the book to get them to play and have fun, but every attempt ended in one, and sometimes two, crying, screaming and kicking mounds rolling around on the floor. So, we went to the condo, had lunch, took a nap and tried again in the afternoon. Our original plan was to ride one of the Ducks (half bus, half boat kind of thing), but they were already closed by the time we got there. We coaxed Sam out the door by telling him he would get to ride a bus, so as a consolation we rode the free trolley a few times and he seemed to be pretty happy. Our day ended at the Fish House restaurant, where we ate some really good food and the boys gorged themselves on cornbread and mac and cheese.

On Thursday, we decided to relax in the morning and not try to see any shows. We hung around the condo, then we took the boys to the playground before lunch. Playgrounds are always a big hit, and this one didn't disappoint. There were a lot of kids (including a set of twin girls), and there were many things to climb on and slide down. There was also a miniature golf course next to the playground, and Sam and Nate didn't hesitate to barge in on other people's games. I don't think anyone really minded.

Thursday night marked the crowning event of the week, when we went to the Dixie Stampede. This is one of Dolly Parton's famous shows (although she wasn't actually there). Again, I was a little nervous because this started at 4:15 and lasted until nearly 8. I kept thinking, if there is any waiting involved the boys will not make it. Well, let me tell you, Mrs. Parton has this show running like a well-oiled machine. The show literally starts the second you get out of the car. You walk past the horse stables into the building, then they whisk you away to a group photo shoot. From there, you watch a warm-up show in the Carriage Room: a half-Japanese, half-Portuguese comedian (David Lucas) who tells really corny jokes but juggles and balances stuff like nobody's business. We then went immediately into the main arena, where we watched an unbelievable show and were fed a meal. I opted to have the boys sit on our laps rather than pay for two children's meals, which I started to second guess. But there was no mind-changing at this point in the game. The show had horses, cattle, pigs, dancers, singers and lots of music. Suffice it to say, Sam and Nate completely exceeded my expectations ... again! They sat and watched every stage of the show, completely captivated by everything. They also ate a huge meal, which was delicious. I could hardly believe how well they did, and it has me thinking we might take them to a movie sometime ... like in 5 years or so. Ha ha. The day ended with the boys hearing a story from their PaPa, which is a pretty good way to end the day.

Alas, the week had to end. We drove back to Springfield on Friday, and despite the fun experience and the quality time with GiGi and PaPa, the boys were glad to sleep in their own beds again. I have to admit, Gina and I slept a lot better at home, too. We are looking forward to the next trip (which I will elaborate on in a future post) ... stay tuned!