Adventures at Pigeon Forge, Dollywood and the Dixie Stampede

Pigeon Forge

I didn’t have any expectations for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee when I arrived there last September. One of the things I like about taking trips with my mom is that she plans everything and I just have to show up. So when I drove down the main drag headed for out hotel I was surprised to see, well, every damn thing I saw.


There was the Titanic.


Complete with iceberg.

Upside-down house

The upside-down mansion.

King Kong

King Kong, of course.

Jurassic Jungle boat ride

And let’s not forget the Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride…

Shark door!

…a shark door…

Indoor Skydiving

…indoor skydiving…

Hillbilly Village

…and Hillbilly Village.

Strangely, I did not see any pigeons or forges, though there were way too many miniature golf courses and go-kart tracks to picture here individually. Basically, Pigeon Forge is a whole lot of WTF. Or as one of my Facebook friends said, Pigeon Forge is like Las Vegas vomited on Tennessee.

We’d ended up in Pigeon Forge because my mom and I had determined that Dollywood was halfway between Indianapolis (where she lives) and Chapel Hill (where I live) which made it drivable for both of us. The carnival atmosphere in Pigeon Forge was a surreal unexpected bonus to our travel adventures.

We stayed at the Clarion Inn, and I don’t normally rave about hotels, but this place was fantastic, especially for the price. The staff was friendly, there was free breakfast, the room was great, and I’m not surprised it’s the #1 rated hotel for Pigeon Forge on TripAdvisor. We even had a balcony with this view:


Yep, a big-ass cross sits on the hill behind the hotel, and in the other direction is the Harley-Davidson store, so they’ve got motorcycles and Jesus covered.



Going to Dollywood isn’t something that’s been on my bucket list, but since it was located in the right place geographically I was like, what the hell, let’s go to Dollywood! Whenever I’ve mentioned Dollywood to someone since this trip they always ask, “What’s it like?” which is not something I’ve heard people ask about Disney World or Six Flags. It seems like most people have heard of Dollywood, but they’re not sure what’s there. I’d say there are four types of attractions at the park: shows, shopping, rides, and food.

When you enter the park you can grab a pamphlet that details what shows are playing at what times. When we went there were at least nine different things you could see, ranging from live musical performances, a couple of movies, and even a birds of prey show.

String band

The string band was my favorite performance because the musicians had good chemistry and cracked jokes during the show. I’m sure they’re sick of telling the same jokes four times a day all season, but I guess that’s how you pay the bills.

Birds of prey

The birds or prey show was great too. We were able to look at the birds close-up before the show perched behind glass in their own booths. Then during the show they flew around above our heads and were generally magnificent as birds of prey tend to be. After the show you could go up to the stage and hand one of the birds a folded dollar bill which he would snatch from your hands and stuff in a donation box. It was terribly amusing no matter how many times he did it. I’m sure it’s also made their fundraising results skyrocket.

I was not prepared for the amount of shopping you can do at Dollywood. There is a section of the park called Craftsman’s Valley where you can buy practically anything that can be handcrafted. There was a blacksmith, a glass blower, a wood carver, and more. Most of these shops had someone on display making new products, so you could watch them practice their craft. They even sold huge items like grandfather clocks that you could have delivered to the front gate to be loaded into your car. I don’t know who would go to Dollywood to buy a $2000 clock, but I guess someone must be doing it. Even outside of Craftsman’s Valley there were lots of stores selling clothing and various souvenirs. It could be pretty easy to spend a lot of money beyond your admission price at the park.

Dollywood has a couple roller coasters and other carnival type rides, but my mom is not the roller coaster type so we didn’t go on any of them. The only one we would have considered was the Dollywood Express train ride through the mountains, but it was closed the day we visited. It seems like Dollywood has enough rides to keep kids entertained for several hours, but if thrill rides are your thing you’re probably better off going to Six Flags or King’s Dominion.

There is food everywhere at Dollywood. There are several sit-down restaurants to break for lunch, but there are also tons of stands where you can grab food and go. A lot of it is typical southern fare. Be aware of the kettle corn mafia though:

Kettle corn mafia

The ducks live in a pond nearby and you will have to fight them for every last kernel of kettle corn.

We spent all day at the park, arriving about an hour after they opened and leaving about 45 minutes before they closed. It was a fun, full, tiring day and I’m glad we went. I don’t feel like I necessarily need to go back, but if an opportunity arose I might.

Dixie Stampede

The day after Dollywood my mom and I climbed a very steep path in the Smokey Mountains. Later that evening we attended the Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction in Pigeon Forge which involved fire and horses and food and did I mention the fire?

Dixie Stampede menu

The Dixie Stampede takes place in a huge horseshoe shaped auditorium that must seat around 1000 people. It’s big y’all. You buy a ticket in advance with a seat assignment, and then every scoots down the bench to their proper spot where a plate and napkin are waiting. Then a waiter runs back forth in front of the table serving food before and during the show. The menu is on your napkin if you’re curious.

Dixie Stampede menu

I must admit the show is rather spectacular just as the poster says. It starts out with a woman riding on the backs of two horses who jumps through several rings of fire. They’re really out to wow you. The show featured several other trick riders, a pig race, and ostrich race (which seemed straight out of Swiss Family Robinson), a lumber jack competition and various other crazy and entertaining feats. All of this while you get to stuff your face with both chicken and pork loin. The show also sets up a competition between the North and the South, represented by the two sides of the auditorium, so you get to root for your side during the races, though not without some hesitation if you’ve got the South and you remember that whole history-of-slavery thing. It ended with a tie when I was there, and I suspect it might always end in a tie so no one feels like a loser.

Even though the fire tricks were amazing, it did cause me slight anxiety because the auditorium didn’t have that many exits and there were lots and lots of people there. So if the place were to catch on fire, I’m pretty sure there would be a massive tragedy on hand, particularly because it was difficult to get out of your seat.


While the show itself was enjoyable, I didn’t like the fact that they tried to milk you for every dollar you had. When you’re admitted to the building they make you have your picture taken in front of a fake background and then try to sell you a picture of yourself before the meal. They also have a one-hour pre-show where everyone gets packed into tables in a large room, which wasn’t that comfortable. It’s also a way to make you pay $4 for a small drink served in a tiny souvenir boot cup when you get thirsty. Then on your way out of the show you have to exit through the gift shop. I definitely got the sense that the owners had bills to pay, and they were going to find any way they could to pay them. I’m sure insurance must be expensive for a show where people are jumping through rings of flaming fire.

All in all my trip to Pigeon Forge was a great experience. I don’t think I’d want to live in that hyperbole of a town, but it sure was fun to visit!

5 Ways to Cope with a Bad Review

A sad little one-star review

So, you’ve written a book and it’s finally been published. There you are visiting the page of your special darling for the 58th time today just in case the rank has increased, and then you see it. A one-star review. A ONE-STAR REVIEW! How? Why? Who would do such a thing? How could someone go online and tell everyone your baby is ugly? It is the most horrible thing ever (after genocide and natural disasters and a thousand other horrible things).

I understand. I’ve been there. Here are five steps I use to cope with a bad review.

1) Lean on your inner circle
It is important for every writer to have an inner circle of at least 2-3 friends who you can contact when someone has been nasty to you. Preferably these people should be other writers who have also experienced attacks on their work, be it as a blogger or a published author. Email these people when something bad has happened to you and they should be able to do several things. First, they will validate your feelings and assure you that, yes, you are completely right to be upset by this and, man, that reviewer is a real asshat. Second, they will empathize with you. They might even tell you their own horror stories which could be much worse. Third, if you’re lucky, they will also have a great sense of humor which they shall use to mock and ridicule your critic, which will leave you both laughing and feeling much better about the whole thing.

It is extremely important that the members of your inner circle keep your communications private. If any of what you say comes out in public you will look like a KRAZY PERSON with a capital K who needs to grow a thicker skin. Engaging a one-star reviewer in public is a very bad, no good idea. Just ask Anne Rice.

2) Read bad reviews of awesome books
Think of the book you love more than any other book. The book you wish you’d written. The book you’ve reread over and over. Now go read the one-star reviews for that book. I assure you they exist. There is someone out there who hated that book with as much passion as you loved it. They are the people who think To Kill a Mockingbird is the “worst book of all time” and that Pride and Prejudice is “a horrible and confusing story.” That doesn’t necessarily mean all bad reviews are without basis, but it does mean that not every critic is in line with popular opinion. Just because someone trashed your book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s garbage.

3) Congratulations! People are reading your book!
Congrats! Someone has read your book who feels absolutely no need to suck up to you or spare your feelings. That means someone other than your friends or family have read it! Of course, if it was one of your friends or family who left the one-star review you’ve got bigger problems than a one-star review. Be happy that your book is out there in the world meeting new people. Yes, some of these people are jerkwads who will feel the need to trash talk your book on the Interwebs, but it is also meeting people who will love it and ask it to hang out with the other cool books on their bookshelf which is where the real party is happening.

4) Your bad reviews make your good reviews look more legitimate
Have you ever stumbled across an page for a book that has forty five-star reviews? Didn’t you think that was kind of fishy? It seems rather unlikely that all forty people who read this book could have loved it that much. It seems much more likely that forty of the author’s friends left glowing reviews to support the book. Whether you like it or not, when a bad review appears on your page it casts the other reviews as more reliable. It makes it look like people are giving their honest opinion, even if that opinion is not a five-star one.

5) Visit is a collection of “Daily Dispatches from the Internet’s Worst Reviewers” and it will make you laugh. It will also make you realize tons of people have gotten much worse, stupider reviews than you. Take comfort in that.

Hopefully after following these five steps you will feel much better about that one-star review that’s marring your page. My sixth unofficial tip about one-star Amazon reviews is this: Don’t read your one-star reviews! Seriously, why torture yourself? There’s nothing you can do about it. Why should you care what an anonymous person with little accountability thinks about your book? It’s better to focus on all the people who do connect with your book and whose lives are a little bit better for having read it.

Vision boarding is much better than waterboarding

2014 Vision Board

Last night I went to a vision board party. Part of me feels like this is akin to telling people I like the band Aqua (which, yes, I do) because they’re both admissions that are likely to provoke the response, “You what?” I’ve decided I don’t care though, probably because I’m getting older and I find myself putting up with less shit as the numbers rack up on my personal age odometer.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a vision board is a collage of images and/or words cut from magazines and pasted on a board which represent the things you want to attract into your life in the coming year. It’s sort of like Pinterest, with paste. It’s partly based on The Law of Attraction which is a concept I have mixed feelings about. The law of attraction hit a peak of popularity when Oprah did a two-part show about the book The Secret many years ago. I don’t know if we can really attract things into our lives by thinking about them and pasting images of them onto cardboard, but I do believe if you make a list of goals and keep those goals in the forefront of your mind you are more likely to take actions that will help you achieve those goals. A vision board is basically a visual to-do list and I’m a huge fan of to-do lists. (In fact, “Make a vision board” has been on my to-do list for at least a year. Not joking.)

Every January for the past seven or eight years I’ve created a to-do list of the top 3-5 things I want to achieve that year which I’ve posted on the side of my refrigerator. (Then I take it down when someone is coming to cat-sit because my goals feel as personal to me as the contents of my medicine cabinet. No snooping!) Which is not to say I’ve been successful at achieving those goals. “Lose weight” has been on there for several years in which I only gained weight. And “make more friends” had been on there for years too, though I only started to succeed at that in 2013. That’s because I started visiting and attending various WordPress and tech meetups in my area, which has led to connecting with lots of interesting people, and lots of boring people too, but let’s not focus on that. It’s also led me to get lost in the dark a lot, which is not a correlation I would have predicted. (Make more friends -> Get lost in the dark a lot.) Most of these meetups take place after work hours when it’s dark and difficult to read building numbers and street signs, so I’ve spent a lot of time circling in on the location or trying to find somewhere legal to park despite the fact that I have a GPS. It’s such a recurring theme that I now add 10 minutes to my estimated commute just so I have time to get lost.

It was at one of these gatherings, Wordcamp Raleigh to be exact, that I met Niki who was hosting the vision board party. So, it was that “make more friends” item on my to-do list that ultimately led me to the vision board party, which seems fitting.

And as you could probably predict, I got lost in the dark trying to find Niki’s house.

Once I located the place, I had a great time. Six of us showed up, though twice that many had RSVP’ed, but that was ok with me because it was the party size that I feel most comfortable at. There were enough people that the conversation kept going, but few enough that I felt like I really got to know the people who were there. Some of the people already knew each other because the vision board party has been something they’ve been doing annually for 6 or more years. But there were also a couple new people like me. It was a really comfortable atmosphere and I felt like I’d been hanging out with these people for awhile instead of having just met them. And I didn’t even have to drink alcohol to feel that way!

After some food and chit-chat we sat down at a table Niki had set up in her living room that had more glue sticks that I’ve seen in one place since I was a Girl Scout. All that was missing to induce a full Brownie flashback were pine cones, glitter, and googly eyes. Everyone brought old magazines with them, so we had a variety of images to choose from and I got to cut out stuff from magazines I wouldn’t have had access to if I’d tried to do this alone at home. I believe vision boarding is more fun and easier to do as a group because of that. And although a small part of me still feels self-conscious telling people I was at a vision board party, I think there is courage in admitting to other people that you want to change things about your life and in committing to visualizing those things even if other people might make fun of you.

I also learned that the vision board parties themselves had led to changes in their lives. One of the women had met a teacher at a party a few years ago which made her realize that being a science teacher was her dream job. And now she’s a science teacher! At the party I attended, one woman mentioned she wanted to find a way to make some money on the side and one of the other guests hooked her up with a possible freelance editing opportunity. So you don’t necessarily need a glue stick and scissors to make these visions happen! I wasn’t immune either because several people at the party were training for either a half marathon or a 10K, but they all admitted they were slow runners which I found reassuring and made me feel more motivated to get back into shape so I could achieve some slow athletic goals too. I also took home lots of fruits and veggies from the food spread Niki had set up for all the people that didn’t attend, so that’s another step to better health that came from the party. (Forget the part where I ate a German chocolate cupcake. At least it was vegan!)

After I’d cut out a ton of images and words, I laid out all my clippings on the floor and started to arrange things. I’d cut out several large images of landscapes, mountains and skies to paste on first as a background so I didn’t have any white spots. Then I pasted my words and other images on top of that, which made a fairly visually appealing board but probably also revealed I’m a freak about planning things in advance even if it’s just pretty pictures glued to a poster. Even my dreams must be nicely organized! I did get several compliments on my board, and one girl joked that now she needed to add “Make a nicer vision board” to her board, which was funny but also made me think, “Yes! My vision board is awesome! I am so good at vision boarding!” But it also made me feel ridiculous and petty for being competitive about it, like I was saying, “My dreams are better than your dreams, and more elegantly visualized!” Oh, dear. I think I need to add “Be less competitive about vision boarding” to my board.

When we were all done we went around the room and explained why we’d included the elements on our boards. There were some common images on several of our boards, like finding love or earning more money, but we all had unique goals as well. I know vision boards are supposed to be more focused on finding the things that will make you emotionally and spiritually fulfilled, but despite that I did include a new car and a pile of money on my board :) I also included imagery about writing more often, creating more things this year, and ultimately being more healthy.

Once the board is complete you’re supposed to put it out of sight and pull it out again in a year to see if anything on your board has happened. For the people who’ve been doing this for years it’s been a good way to chronicle the changes in their lives, or even the change in what they want in their lives. For instance, one woman said she’d found the word “leadership” in a magazine at this party which is something she would have cut out several years ago for her board, but now wasn’t as important to her. I’m kind of tempted to put my vision board up where I can see it so I’m reminded of the things I want to achieve in the next year. I haven’t decided which way I’m going to go on that yet.

All in all I ended up spending six hours at the party, which was way longer than I thought I’d stay, but also did not feel like six hours at all. It was a fun night and I was glad I came instead of staying home to tweet during the premiere of the Flowers in the Attic movie on Lifetime, which yes, I seriously considered doing. I ultimately decided it was better to go and hang out with real people than to stay at home and hang with virtual people (no offense to the virtual people reading this). I’m really glad I did.

Reasons for Regain #1: I stopped cooking

Regain boat

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve regained weight since I was at my slimmest several years ago. The weight started to come back after I got a headache that still hasn’t gone away and I started eating my way through the pain. Chocolate-covered pretzels. Mint chocolate chip ice cream. Krispy Kreme donuts. You kept me sane and I thank you, but you also made me fat again. However, I do not regret what I ate during that first year or two of the headache because it was all that kept me from going nuts. I went for chocolate-covered nuts instead. Eating felt good at a time when I never felt good.

However, I’ve been managing my headache better lately and it’s nowhere near as agonizing as it used to be. So when I look back on the past few years I have to admit that I’ve gotten lazy. I’ve stopped doing the work necessary to keep me healthy and thin. (I realize thin and healthy don’t always coincide, but for me at that time of my life they did.) Sugar may have kept me sane when I was in pain, but it also opened the gateway to bad habits that I’d hope to rid myself of forever. I’m reminded of this every year when the National Weight Control Registry sends me their annual survey asking me if I’m eating low-fat cheeses and how big are my portions and am I exercising regularly and OH MY GOD, National Weight Control Registry, stop nagging me already!! As annoying as it is, their survey does basically serve as a checklist of everything I’m doing wrong, wrong, oh, so wrong.

This year I thought I’d take a look at the different bad habits I’ve adopted since I was at my healthiest and then try to correct them. That way you can learn from my horrible mistakes, and perhaps that’ll give my screw-ups a little bit of meaning. First up:

Reason #1: I stopped cooking

I’m not sure when I stopped cooking, but I suspect it was a gradual thing. When you regain weight it’s usually because of gradual changes, not because of any sudden spectacular moment of change. Ironically, whenever people would ask me about my weight loss they always wanted to know what my turning point was, as if they expected there had to be a sudden spectacular moment of change. I don’t think that’s how people typically operate. For the most part I think we change gradually, like children growing ever so slightly taller every day, not noticing how different you are until the aunt you only see once a year exclaims, “You’ve gotten so tall!”

When I first started to lose weight, I became smitten with cooking. It was an interesting new thing I’d never bothered with before outside of microwaving a pizza or boiling Ramen noodles. (Oh who am I kidding? I usually ate Ramen noodles raw. CRUNCH!) It was fun for the first few years, but then it became more and more like a chore. The same thing happened when I learned to drive. I would have driven anyone anywhere when I was 16 because it was so cool to be behind the wheel. Nowadays driving is just another task on the list of things I do because I am an adult, right up there with complaining about traffic.

I realize there are people who lose weight and maintain that weight without doing any cooking. It’s possible to eat well without owning a skillet, but I think it’s easier when you do.

Cooking requires planning

If I’m cooking my own meals I have to have materials on hand for those meals. That means I have to buy things ahead of time from the grocery store. This forces me to plan ahead which helps prevent me from eating something bad because it happened to be fast and convenient.

When I cook, I control what’s in my meal

If I’m cooking my own food, I know what is in it. I can make a good guess at how calorie-dense it is. I can make sure to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil instead of lard or Crisco or some other trans-fat atrocity. I know it wasn’t drenched in butter, even if that’s what makes restaurant food taste so good.

I can eat leftovers later

If I’m taking the time to cook something, I can cook a large portion. That means I’ll have leftovers later, so I’m getting several meals from the same time it would have taken me to cook just one meal.

Solution: I’ve started cooking again.

Ever since I got back from the holidays I have been doing a lot more cooking. It’s been pretty basic stuff like whole grain-spaghetti that only requires me to boil water and microwave some turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s. I’ve been doing a lot of stir-fry too because all you have to do is stir and fry.

What’s strange is that the cooking thing just kind of happened without me making it an official goal. One day I got hungry, but I was out of TV dinners or anything else I could quickly microwave, and I really, really, really didn’t want to leave the house, so I broke down and was like, “Fine! I will cook something! I’ll probably starve to death in the 15 minutes it takes to prepare it, but I have no other options!” So I grilled a chicken breast and microwaved some green beans and made some couscous and it was all rather delicious. It reminded me that, oh yeah, I used to cook stuff all the time. And yes, it is work, and no, I still don’t find it all that fun, but it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor. So I have been cooking more often and eating better as a result.

It also helps that I haven’t been keeping many just-microwave-it types of food in the house. When microwaving something isn’t an option, I’m basically forced to cook. I supposed I could call for take-out, but I’ve been keeping that off-limits in case of a total food emergency that would otherwise leave me eating the crumbs that collect under the stove-top burner coils.

Although this has definitely been good for me, the downsides are that 1) It’s definitely work, and 2) I’ve noticed I’ve had to run my dishwasher a lot more often. Cleaning up after you cook is not fun and might have been one of the reasons I stopped in the first place. 3) I haven’t cooked anything that takes longer than 10-15 minutes, which is limiting my options. If I don’t branch out I’m going to get really sick of stir-fry soon. Still, it’s better than nothing!

I suspect my improved eating might be a result of the hedonistic chocolate rampage that some people call “Christmas” and I call “sugar-geddon” and is best illustrated by this photo:


Is a Whitman’s Sampler really still a “sampler” when it’s as big as your abdomen? I don’t know. I do know that the box was so big it was difficult to match the items in the chart to the actual chocolates. I had to start counting columns and rows to figure out where the vanilla cream was.

Anyway, I ate so much chocolate and pumpkin pie and cheesecake over the holidays that by the time I got home I had no desire to eat any of it again in the near future. I’ve been eating healthier in January than I have for months, maybe years, and it’s all been strangely easy. I’ve seriously wondered if my lack of appetite is the first warning sign of some terrible disease that is slowly killing me, but also making me thinner. I suppose that’s a sign of how screwed up my natural eating instincts are, that I feel like I need to go to the doctor and say, “Help! I don’t feel like eating chocolate. Something is terribly wrong with me!” It’s more likely that now that I’ve been off sugar for awhile I don’t crave it like I used to. Sugar can cause an addictive cycle that’s hard to break.

So that’s where I am right now. One bad habit down. Several more to discover and conquer, yet again. I will let you know how it goes.

An exorcist gave me chocolate

The Exorcist

To be honest, I normally tune out during midnight mass. I only go to church once a year on Christmas Eve to be with my Mom. Although my body is there my mind is usually somewhere else. I’m also still annoyed that they changed some of the words in the call and response sections of the mass. Is nothing sacred?

So, there I was in la-la land, daydreaming away during the sermon, when I suddenly came careening back to earth because I swear to God I think I just heard the priest say he was an exorcist. (And when I swear to God in church I really mean it.) So I lean towards my mother and whisper, “Did Father Vince just say he’s an exorcist?” and she confirmed that yes, Father Vince is the official exorcist for Indianapolis. Who knew? Well, anyone who watches Paranormal Witness on the SyFy network knew, because Father Vince was recently featured in Season 3, Episode 19, The Exorcist. And he got 500 new Twitter followers after it aired. You can watch the full episode online right now if you’re interested.

What does any of this have to do with midnight mass? I cannot remember, but he worked it into the sermon somehow. Father Vince is actually a rather good speaker who walks around the church as he preaches, asking the congregation questions and drawing people into the sermon even if they’re trying to tune out like I do. Last year he handed out candy to a few people, including me, though I can’t remember how this related to the sermon either.

That’s the reason I can now say an exorcist gave me chocolate. I’ll go cross that off the bucket list.

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Want second helpings? Devour more entries in the archives.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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