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I can’t believe that somehow I forgot to participate in Answer Me This last week!  The ever-awesome Kendra managed to have a baby AT HOME like two days ago and still post this linkup.  Since it’s my last chance for this summer (when AMT goes back on hiatus until whenever Kendra decides to bring it back) I hope no one minds if I go ahead and answer both sets of questions!

Last week’s questions:

1. What’s currently on your To Do list?

I have stopped making super long to-do lists because it depresses me to go back and see the same items week after week.  I’ve started picking one extra task to accomplish each day if possible.  Tomorrow’s task is a multi-part one:  get ready to go out of town.

2. Better type of superhero: magic/radioactive powers? Or trauma/gadgets/hard work?

I don’t want trauma.  And I have to work hard enough already.  So I’ll go for magic/radioactivity.

3. Finding out if baby is a boy or a girl before birth: Good idea? Bad idea?

I think it’s a bad idea and I wish we couldn’t do it.  Back in the day, people would ask if you wanted a boy or a girl, and the answer would always be I don’t care as long as it’s healthy.  Now it’s much more common to express a preference.  I’m not sure what the connection is but I feel like there is one.  Also, I feel like knowing the sex sets up expectations about the baby before it even arrives.  Having said all of that, we found out three out of five times.  John wanted to find out about #1; I didn’t; they couldn’t tell so she was a happy surprise.  We found about #2.  With #3, having one of each already we figured it didn’t much matter so we didn’t find out.  With #4 and #5 we found out.  It’s hard not to find out when you can.

4. Have you ever appeared on a stadium jumbotron?

No.  Sadly, I rarely have the opportunity to go to a UT Vols game, which is the only place that I am going to be in close proximity to a Jumbotron.

5. Are you more book smart or more street smart?

Book smart.

This week’s questions:

1. What’s your favorite grocery store splurge?

Some people might think crab claws are a splurge, but they are one of the few things William will eat so they are actually a necessity.  I’m pretty frugal about the groceries.  I can’t really think of anything I splurge on.

2. How’s your penmanship?

I have very nice handwriting thanks to eight years of daily cursive instruction at St. Joseph School and lots of hard work and practice.

3. Do you have a “Summer Bucket List?”

Not this year.  That’s another thing that leads to disappointment and guilt.

4. What’s the best thing on the radio right now?

I hardly ever listen to the radio.  I prefer silence when I have the choice.  John plays a station with lots of 80s songs that I like a lot.

5. Ice cream or frozen yogurt?

I don’t eat either regularly.  And I’m not sure I can even tell the difference.

The end and thank you again to Kendra for bringing back the linkup for the summer.  Please take a look at the other entries right here.

Today I had the honor to stand by the deathbed of a dear and loyal friend.  Today I had the privilege of being with him to ease him out of this life.  And today I also had the responsibility of deciding that it was time for that life to end. Today we put our dog to sleep. Over 20 years of pet owning, two dogs and eight (at least) cats, and I’ve never had to do this before.  We’ve lost cats, but they’ve had a way of just disappearing.  By the time we realized they were never coming back, we had grown at least somewhat used to their absence.  We’ve never known in advance that today would be the day we would say good-bye forever. Anyone can tell you that I’m no animal lover.  But I loved OUR dog. Balthazar We got Balthazar from the pound almost 12 years ago, when he was about eight months old, because Jake begged for a dog.  We named him for the first Sholly to come to the New World.  We thought he was part German Shepherd, part Shiba Inu, maybe part Collie.  It was a good mix, whatever it was.  He was strong and gentle, smart and stubborn, protective and loyal. Once I had him tied up on the porch while some men were cutting trees in his yard.  When they were done I heard them knocking on the side of the house, because he was so threatening that they were afraid to come to the door so I could pay them.  Half an hour later, I heard him whimpering.  I came out to find this vicious beast crying as he patiently allowed our three-year-old to pull on his ears. He loved to run away so much that we designed an “airlock” on our fence to prevent it, but he always came back.  He loved chicken so much that he jumped a three-foot-high baby gate to steal some once. But last night he lay in front of an open door and would not get up to go out.  And this morning he turned his head away from the piece of rotisserie chicken I offered him. We always said that we never wanted our dogs to suffer, that we would never put them through anything just to keep them alive because we would miss them, that we would let them go when it was time. It was time. They could try to stabilize him, the doctor said.  They could try a transfusion.  But after it was over he told us he was so glad we didn’t try to save him, that we had done the right thing. Lorelei and William came with me.  John is out of town, Emily was working, Jake was too upset.  They were brave.  We hugged him and petted him, and William patted me.  Lorelei told him he was going to a better place. It was peaceful.  It was easy.  It was quick.  His suffering was over as ours was beginning.  Lorelei sobbed all the way home. Dogs are naturally good, Lorelei said later.  They must go to some kind of Heaven, maybe not the same one we go to.  I’ve never been one to assert that all dogs go to Heaven, but now I find my theology is uncertain where my dog is concerned. RIP Balthazar

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Creative K Kids

It’s been a long time since I’ve linked up to What We’re Reading Wednesday, and I’ve missed sharing books with you.  Fact is, I don’t read as much as I once did.  That’s sad but true, and it’s the computer’s fault. Because it would be more accurate to say that I still read a lot, just articles and blogs instead of books.  I read great articles and blogs, and I share them with my Facebook friends.  But it’s not quite the same. So here’s a sampling of what I’ve read (relatively) recently that I thought it would be fun to share.

I got this one via Blogging for Books, and then took forever to read it.  My fault, not the book’s, because it’s engaging, easy to read, and interesting.  And there’s probably not much I can tell you about Paleo that you haven’t already heard, because I’m way behind the times.  I will say this:  people who complain about his ideas without having read the book . . . obviously haven’t read the book. :-) It’s far from being the had-core-you-must-eat-this-way-or-else diatribe people make it out to be.  And a lot of it makes sense to me, even if I would never choose to eat that way full time.

I was given Teardrops That Tango to review by the author.  This is a book that will get your attention from the first page.  It tackles all kinds of rough situations: child abuse, suicide, mental illness.  I know it sounds like a downer but it has a happy ending.  It’s definitely painful to read, though, especially because you know it’s the true story of someone who has suffered a lot.  But that’s not supposed to be the message you take away from it.  Be aware that although it starts out like one it really isn’t a strict autobiography, but also combines resources for those going through rough times with inspiration and advice.  It’s ambitious for sure and that can make it a bit uneven but it’s a story you won’t easily forget.

The above constitute comfort reading for me.  Our whole family loves Star Trek.  We have many, many Star Trek novels, which are some of our few books that survived the destruction of our home by fire four years ago.  We’ve been watching one Star Trek episode each night for months now, and having made our way through TNG and TOS (yes, in that order!) we are now experiencing Deep Space Nine for the first time!  Anyway, those first two books are sequels to the second-to-last TOS episode, which put me in the mood to read them; and having read them, I was in the mood to read more, and the next ones pictured are two of my favorites.  If you like Star Trek, you will like these books.

And I just started the Grisha Trilogy this week, and I am already on the third book!  Emily (grown up daughter) has been urging me to read these for awhile.  Emily reads like I used to read.  She keeps the library busy and she buys books too. Christmas and birthday lists are and always have been full of books.  And of course it’s more fun if you can discuss what you read with someone else who’s read it too.  I don’t know why I was so reluctant to start these.  I think I was afraid they would be demanding or exhausting but they aren’t.  The author has set her world in something resembling Russia in the 1800s and the familiarity makes it easier to immediately relate to.  Obviously the story is engaging and interesting or I wouldn’t be reading it so fast.  Whether I would recommend them I cannot say until I see how they end, and how the romance plot resolves.

Emily has already informed me what series she is going to make me read next, so I’ll have something else interesting to write about next time!

What are you reading? You can tell me in the comments! And for more reading suggestions, visit the other posts in the linkup!

photo_hollywood-wax-museum-hollywood-sign-photo-op-pigeon-forgeWe’re going to Hollywood!

Well, okay, not really. :-)

But we are going here, which is the next best thing, at least if your travel is restricted to Tennessee:

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We drive by these places all the time on our way to Gatlinburg, y’all, and I’ve always been curious.  I mean, who wouldn’t be:

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And now, thanks to my status as a blogger for U.S. Family Guide, we will get to experience these attractions in the near future, and I will be able to share my opinions with you (because I will be provided with some free tickets in exchange for an honest review).

Here are some sneak peeks at what awaits us:

photo_marilyn-monroe-with-guests-taking-picture-pigeon-forge photo_outbreak-mom-son-pigeon-forge girls-with-view-through-window photo_beyonce-with-teen-guests-pigeon-forge photo_castle-of-chaos-action-shot-pigeon-forge photo_hannahs-maze-of-mirrors-dad-and-son-pigeon-forgeAnd here’s what the folks at US Family Guide want me to tell you about these attractions:

Enormous fun awaits you below the Great Ape of Pigeon Forge! But the 40,000-pound primate isn’t the only star you’ll see at the world-famous Hollywood Wax Museum. In fact, you can pose with the biggest stars, while learning about their pets, pet peeves, and accomplishments. Movie buffs, pop culture lovers, and everyone who wants to step into the spotlight with the stars will enjoy the fun, entertainment, creativity and artistry. Plus, with the All Access Pass, you get to take a ride up into the mouth of Great Ape and see the spectacular Smoky Mountains from the VIP Observation Deck (weather permitting).

Are you The Chosen One? In Hannah’s Maze of Mirrors, find your way through the mirrored corridors hidden inside the Castle of Savannah to save Princess Hannah from the curse of Ugly Hetty. You’ll have to make your way through 288 potential turns among hundreds of mirrored walls and archways and several sections where you see infinite reflections in every direction.

Join the battle against evil at Castle of Chaos, the world’s first 5D haunted attraction. Your mission: help the Paranormal Professor find out what supernatural activity is lurking inside. Soon you’ll find yourself in an all-out shooting adventure where the highest scorers appear on the screen.

Finally, in Outbreak – Dread the Undead, you must stop a worldwide viral outbreak! Chemacorp might mean well with Alpha Strain, but the gene-altering substance turns humans into zombies. The challenge? Rid the world of Alpha Strain and prevent a total zombie apocalypse!

My Readers receive $2 OFF ALL ACCESS PASS – http://smokymountainskids.com/coupon.php?regionid=1131&bid=11227&lid=14352&dealid=1362
Please visit HERE for more information.

I’m not sure when we will make our trip, but I will let you know all about it!

When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. ~ Mark 6:34

That’s the last line from yesterday’s Gospel, providing inspiration for me as I respond to this month’s 1000 Speak for Compassion link up.

This month’s topic is Acceptance, which Jesus demonstrates perfectly in the reading above.  See, the disciples had just come back from preaching and teaching and healing.  They were excited to tell Jesus about their adventures, and I’m sure he was excited to hear about them.  But all the people wouldn’t leave them alone.

Jesus knew his disciples needed to rest; they hadn’t even had time to eat anything.  He suggested they withdraw to a “desolate place” so they could be alone and rest.  But the anxious crowds figured out the plan, and pursued them on land as they traveled by boat.  So that when they came ashore, thousands of people (the same 5,000 people who are going to be fed miraculously later) were already there waiting for them.

Now, I don’t know about you, but compassion would NOT have been MY first reaction to this ambush! I would have been irritated, and maybe I would have gotten back in my boat and tried for another, more desolate location.  But this is where ACCEPTANCE comes in.

Jesus accepts his role as shepherd to these frightened sheep.  He gives up his plan of rest and relaxation to care for them.  Can we do the same?  When you are at work, and it’s almost time to leave, and another customer comes in with an annoying concern, can you ACCEPT that this is where you are supposed to be and have compassion for the needs of that person?  When your Facebook friend posts something you disagree with, can you ACCEPT that you have different opinions and have compassion for him? When you are trying desperately to get a moment alone, and your kids are following you around everywhere, can you ACCEPT that your role for this season is to take care of them and have compassion for them?  When your spouse seems demanding and you feel like you are already giving 120%, can you ACCEPT that part of marriage is offering compassion even when you aren’t really feeling it?

ACCEPTANCE is the first step to compassion in these situations.  We cannot “feel WITH” someone without first accepting our role and our call to be of service to that person.  Without acceptance, there is a wall of resentment that prevents true compassion.

#1000 SpeakWant to learn more about 1000Speak?  Start here.  And be sure to check out the other entries in this month’s linkup.

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It’s been a couple of months since I let you know that I would be visiting all of the Ripley’s attractions in Gatlinburg and reviewing them here.  That’s because there are EIGHT separate attractions, and we needed to pick a time that we could visit them all.  Originally we had intended to go up for the day (Gatlinburg is less than an hour away from us) but we ended up planning a weekend trip–just me, John, and the “little” kids (not really so little, but that’s what we call them here!).

We left Knoxville on Thursday evening and couldn’t even make it all the way to Gatlinburg without stopping to eat.  We picked Joe’s Crab Shack.

gburg 2 gburg 1We all love seafood, so this was a good decision.

We made it to the hotel with barely enough time to enjoy the pool for half an hour, but since the pool is the main point of staying at the Glenstone Lodge (a family favorite from when the big kids were small, but where the little ones had never been) we stayed until they turned off the lights!

gburg 59The next morning we got up early and headed to the Pancake Pantry, a Gatlinburg tradition.  Once we were fortified, we headed out for our Ripley’s adventure.

We started with the Aquarium, because that’s where we had to pick up our tickets. (I received free tickets for my family in exchange for my honest review of the attractions.)  Okay, you ask yourself, why is there an aquarium in Gatlinburg? There’s no ocean there.  Is this an aquarium highlighting things like salamanders and crawdads?

But that’s one of the things that’s really neat about Ripley’s–they always find a way to link their attractions to the locale, and I will be showing you several examples of that in this review.  Here’s how they frame Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies:

gburg 3I don’t know about you, but I thought that was pretty clever.

I have a lot of pictures to share with you.  The Aquarium is a good-sized attraction and took us a couple of hours to go through.

gburg 5 gburg 4Every exhibit is accompanied by an informative sign like the one above.  What was fun for me was having William announce what the creature was before reading the sign, and being right about 99% of the time.

gburg 25 gburg 6 gburg 8 gburg 7Y’all, I could not stop taking pictures of the jellyfish.  I think they are magical.

gburg 24 gburg 16 gburg 15It’s probably a good thing that Lorelei kept stealing my phone to make You Tube videos.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

In addition to all the interesting species, we also got to take a peek into the way the Aquarium operates:

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There are also interactive opportunities.  Below you will see Lorelei petting a horseshoe crab and William getting his dead skin eaten by some kind of fish (NOT piranhas, although they had those too!).

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gburg 27These things are scarier than piranhas to me though:

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Apparently they actually EAT spider crabs in Japan.  I know it would amount to a lot of meat, but those things seriously give me nightmares.

The Aquarium is very kid-friendly, with play activities, interactive opportunities like I’ve already shown you, and entertainment (like these mermaids):

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gburg 22At 14, William was not as interested in the kids’ activities, but he was fascinated by this prehistoric specimen, which he of course already knew EVERYTHING about:

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But the highlight of the Aquarium for all of us, and I think for pretty much anyone who visits, is Shark Lagoon.

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In addition to looking down on the sharks from above, visitors have the opportunity to get closer they ever though possible by going THROUGH the lagoon in a transparent tube, being moved along via conveyor belt.

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If it’s not obvious, we loved the Aquarium.  It’s expensive, but it’s worth it, and I recommend it to anyone who is visiting Gatlinburg.

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Now, that would have been enough fun for anyone, but remember we were still getting started at that point with seven attractions left to visit!  We made it out through the gift shop relatively unscathed and then started heading to our next destination, which we picked because according to the map we’d been given, it was the next one we would come to as we walked along the main road.  That was the Mirror Maze, which was pretty much exactly like the one in Baltimore, which I already told you about here.

Our next stop was the Guinness Book of World Records Museum, a place that has been in Gatlinburg for as long as I remember, and which I’m assuming Ripley’s acquired at some point as its most likely competitor!

Here again a lot of effort was expended to showcase records that would be of particular interest to local folks:

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gburg 33Aside from the local exhibits, I was most impressed with the Space area, which included a neat video about the moon landings.

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The exhibit below reminded me of my grandmother and the many, many afghans she made for us:

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There were some fun interactive displays also, like these:

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And of course we all loved this:

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This is just a small sampling of what was available, much of which will be familiar to regular readers of the Guinness Book of World Records–tallest man, fattest man. et cetera.  I think we spent about an hour here.

Our last stop of the day was the Ripley’s Odditiorium.  I remember this when it was called the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.  Or I should say that’s what its predecessor–a much less impressive affair–was called, before it burned in a fire some years ago.  It’s a Gatlinburg attraction I remember from my childhood, although we never went there.

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I’m going to get my complaints out of the way at the beginning: it was crowded and hot, especially the first part, which is a balcony over an area that is open to the street and hence is not climate-controlled.  I much preferred the set up of the Baltimore Odditorium, but there were plenty of new curiosities to see here.

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gburg 48We were welcomed by a holographic version of Mr. Ripley himself, inviting us to come along with him on his adventures.  I thought that was pretty cool!

I learned in my last Odditorium experience that I could expect to see authentic artifacts and I was not disappointed.  This actual piece of the Berlin Wall was a thrill:

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There was a dark and creepy area that showcased instruments of torture and other creepy things:

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gburg 55There was a very interesting prison display, that managed to insert some local color:

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We met an old friend from our last Odditorium visit:

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And here are just a few more interesting sites.  I wish I had more pictures, but I had to fight with Lorelei for the camera all day, as she is an avid filmmaker and needed footage, ;-) and by this time my battery was running low as well!

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The above portrait of Eminem is made of M & M’s, by the way!

Luckily at this point we were right by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  We’ve tried most restaurants in Gatlinburg by now, and frankly most of them aren’t very good now that all the ones I remember from 20 years ago have closed up shop.  But we hadn’t been to Bubba Gump, and we did enjoy it.  After that, exhausted by our long day and the searing heat, we trudged back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the pool and the air conditioning.

Day Two of our Gatlinburg-Ripley’s adventure began with a buffet breakfast at the hotel and one last quick swim before checking out.  We drove down to the main road and found a centrally-located garage and then made our way to our first destination:  Ripley’s Haunted Adventure.

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See that guy in the bottom picture? He leans out of there and heckles passersby! I had never been there–frankly, I’m not big on seeking out scares because life is frightening enough already–but I was a little bit excited about this.

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See Lorelei’s sweet little smile? It was about to get wiped right off her face.

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After we passed by that lovely sight, we headed for this cage-like elevator that you have to board to get up to the top of the attraction.  Along the walls we read the set up for the whole thing which I won’t explain except to say that it was another way of anchoring the attraction to the area.

We were in the elevator with two middle-school aged boys.  When we debarked, our guide gave us such a speech about how scary this was going to be and the need to decide RIGHT NOW if it was going to be too scary that the boys left!  He then told us to grab hold of the shirt of the person in front of us and no matter what happened not to let go and not to run.

You may notice the absence of pictures in this part of my story.  That’s because it was too dark to take pictures, nor did I have a free hand.  The first couple of rooms we were in were very well done.  This isn’t like a warehouse with people jumping out and screaming at you (not that there weren’t people jumping out and screaming too of course!).  It’s well-decorated, well-done, with a theme running through it.  But it wasn’t long at all until Lorelei was sobbing, and then we made a wrong turn and were in a completely pitch-black area, and when our guide asked us if we wanted to leave we were all thrilled to say YES!

Well, John wasn’t thrilled.  And although William was walking through with his eyes closed, he was hoping we would finish and that someone else would tell him what happened!  But Lorelei and I were VERY glad to be out of there.  I guess if a scary house scares you that much, it’s a good one, right?

Happily, this was right next door:

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They were showing the same two movies that we had already seen in Baltimore, and the motion makes both William and me sick, but it was just what was needed to calm Lorelei’s nerves.  So William and I sat on a bench outside and waited while John and Lorelei watched the movies.

The last two attractions were outdoors, and the weather was looking a bit foreboding:

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Still, we didn’t have anything else to do, and I wanted to be able to finish my review, so we retrieved our car and drove toward Pigeon Forge, stopping here:

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This is another place I’d never been.  For years there was another golf place here, Jolly Golf, with a dinosaur theme, and before that there was Mystery Hill, which is somewhere I did visit as a small child and have never forgotten.

Did you know that mini-golf was invented in the Southeast?  So that makes this the most appropriate attraction of our weekend, even though the connection between Davy Crockett and the decor of the course (at least the course we chose–there were two) escapes me!

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It certainly gave off plenty of that hillbilly vibe that visitors to East Tennessee seem to crave.

Anyway, we had fun.  Lorelei was the first to get a hole in one!

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William was a bit sulky at first, but as he proved surprisingly good he began to perk up a little bit.

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Toward the end of our game it–you guessed it!–began to pour down rain!  We intrepid golfers did not let that stop us from finishing, however!

We had one more attraction left to see at this point:  Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf.  But y’all, we were golfed-out, and hungry, and ready to stop having fun, honestly.  We went to a favorite restaurant in Pigeon Forge (Fusion Cafe), and then went home to collapse.

But the awesome thing is that our tickets are good for one year from the date of issue.  And our final destination is in Sevierville, not Gatlinburg–right next to Joe’s Crab Shack. :-)  And also by the Tanger Outlets, if that’s your idea of fun (it isn’t mine).  Anyway, we will head back out there in a few weeks and I will update you then.

So what are you waiting for?  You can go right here to read more about all the attractions.   My readers will save $3 off Adult and $2 off Child Admission to all of Ripley’s Attractions in Tennessee.  You’ll need to make your purchase online and enter the following promo code when you check out: USFAMILYGUIDE  Click here for more information about this offer and about U.S. Family Guide.

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The video below is not for the faint of heart–although it contains no graphic images. But there’s something stomach-turning in watching a doctor discuss the harvesting of fetal body parts over lunch as she takes bites of her salad and sips her red wine.

I couldn’t help thinking about this scene from The Return of the King showing Denethor, Steward of Gondor, munching away as his son goes to fight to his (almost) death at this father’s command.

I’ve always been horrified by that scene but this is REAL LIFE, y’all.  Dr. Deborah Nucatola is Planned Parenthood’s Senior Director of Medical Services, and she was caught on tape thanks to an undercover investigation by this organization.

If any of my pro-choice friends are still reading, what do you think about this? If you are a Planned Parenthood fan, does the possibility of their profiting by the donation of fetal tissue affect your opinion? What do you think of “doctors” who would change the way they practice medicine in order to procure the tissue that is most in demand?

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, here are some choice excerpts:

So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.

[A] lot of people want intact hearts these days, they’re looking for specific nodes. AV nodes, yesterday I was like wow, I didn’t even know, good for them. Yesterday was the first time she said people wanted lungs. And then, like I said, always as many intact livers as possible.

And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex . . .. So I mean there are certainly steps that can be taken . . . Under ultrasound guidance, they can just change the presentation . . . So the preparation would be exactly the same, it’s just the order of the removal of the products is different.

I don’t have the stomach to read or watch any more, but if you wish to, the links are available here.

UPDATE: America Magazine has published a balanced review of the unedited footage from which the above video came, which I would encourage you to read.  My own outrage is less over the question of the sale of the parts than over the successful dehumanization of the unborn evidenced by the doctor’s demeanor.

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