Tag Archives: Tennessee

10 Tips for Your First Cub Scout Camping Trip

Shaking Things Up at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Maybe it’s because I’m solidly in my forties. Maybe it’s because I feel too acutely the never-ending draw of devices that shine and allow me to zone out in utterly unproductive ways. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too much Wordsworth this year. Probably, it’s a little bit of everything.

I keep experiencing moments during which I notice a wistful pang of wonder that I’ve been missing…or maybe not that I’m missing the wonder so much as the opportunities to feel it. We all, the whole family, get busy with being busy and we don’t take the time to appreciate the pleasant little simplicities of life. Sure, we’re learning a lot and we’re experiencing a lot and we’re seeing a lot. But where is the pure delight?

Wooden figures at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Wooden figure shakers.

Yesterday the moment came in the most unexpected way, as is usually the case with these sparks. Visiting some family friends who were vacationing for the week in Gatlinburg, TN, we ended up with some time to kill between the “big” activities of shopping the Arts and Crafts Community Loop and taking in the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. I had stumbled across a spot that seemed mildly interesting, so we took a chance and stopped in to see the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.

The only museum of its kind (aside from its sister museum in Spain), this spot is absolutely fascinating, if you’re attuned to the possibilities for being fascinated. Here we have the most basic of kitchen and dining tools: the humble salt and pepper shakers. They’re everywhere, right? Even the most rudimentary kitchen will have them. We see them so often that we don’t even see them.

Row after row of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Row after row of shakers.

Not at this museum. You can’t help but see them, all 20,000 pairs. Shelf after shelf, line after line, row after row of shakers. The experience is a veritable assault (ahem) on the eyes! Peppered throughout are sets of every shape and size, every color, from throughout history and from across the globe. From cutesy, to kitschy, to macabre; from dainty, to massive, to downright bizarre. The collection reaches meta-collection levels. You’ll see three or four shelves of cattle-themed shakers, then turn around and spot several sets fashioned after playing cards.

Shakers of all colors and sizes at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
Shakers of all colors and sizes.

I was struck all at once by several ideas, the most lucid being the notion that this collection is as close as you’ll get to a truly common denominator. I know that not everyone uses salt and pepper, but the use of spice in some shape or another is pretty much part of the human condition. We crave flavor; we seek it out; we develop entire cultures in pursuit of it.

And what, after all, is that moment of delight that I’ve been missing? Just a little spice, a dash of mental salt to enrich the flavor of my life, a pinch of existential pepper to remind me to savor my wonderfully rich life.

So, dear reader, we come at last to this admonition. If ever you get the chance, get off the beaten path in Gatlinburg and visit the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Take a break from the grind of life and shake things up a bit.

A panorama of shakers at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.
A panorama of shakers.

Another Visit to Ripley’s Aquarium

We went back to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies recently. We’ve been before and have enjoyed it every time, but I’ve come to expect a law of diminishing returns effect for places that we’ve seen more than once. Not so. The whole place has seemed fresh each time that we’ve toured the tanks.

Plenty to see on the lower floor.
Plenty to see on the lower floor.
The kids enjoyed the fish manicure.
The kids enjoyed the fish manicure.

The regularly rotating special exhibits helps a lot with the re-visit factor. This time around you can learn all about swarms: animal behavior in groups. The focus of the feature extends well beyond the fish world, with an installation of leaf-cutter ants, one of mice, and one of halloween crabs. The real draw, though, is the fish manicure. While a knowledgeable staff member educated us on the behavior of the fish, a school of the little critters nibbled gently on our hands, cleaning the dead skin material from our calloused digits. A spa experience at the aquarium! The kids loved it, too.

We just happened to see the same staff member at the horseshoe crab exhibit. I had always considered myself pretty well versed in horseshoe crab lore, but he told us quite a bit that I had never heard, like their number of eyes (did you know that the tail acts as a photoreceptor and so qualifies as an eye?) and the fact that they must move their legs to eat. He had the entire area engaged with a perfect combination of knowledge and ability to talk to everyone without patronizing the kiddos.

Learning a little about horseshoe crabs.
Learning a little about horseshoe crabs.

The best part, as always, was the moving sidewalk under the big tank. It inches you forward at just the right pace to see all the denizens of the deep. If you want to take a longer look, you simply step off and linger until you’re ready to move again. The whole experience is quite relaxing at the same time that you’re moving through a heavy-traffic attraction in Gatlinburg. I left feeling almost refreshed.

Contemplating the fish as we glide through the tunnel.
Contemplating the fish as we glide through the tunnel.

We’ll definitely be back, especially as a part of our science studies in the coming year. What a great combination of playing and learning.

Audrey and Finnian might take up residence in the tanks.
Audrey and Finnian might take up residence in the tanks.



Creative Inspiration at The Muse

The Muse
516 N Beaman St, Knoxville, TN 37914
(865) 594-1494

Our family has been visiting The Muse (formerly Discovery Center) in Knoxville, Tennessee, for many years and it has never been more fun that it was this week. A bright and vibrant place crawling with campers made all the exhibits look even that much more fun. Musical notes and laughter filled the air.

Spin spin spin spin spin
Spin spin spin spin spin
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.
Exploring sound at the whisper disc.

This time we visited with neighborhood friends and that always makes a visit to a local venue more fun. About 20 percent of the inside space is dedicated to toddlers, but since we visited in the afternoon (naptime), our big kids enjoyed exploring the wavy funhouse mirrors and puppet theater areas.

When you visit The Muse, you’ll immediately understand the connection to their namesake.

In Greek mythology, there were Muses who ruled over the arts and sciences and offered inspiration.

Inspired by the Muse of Fashion
Inspired by the Muse of Fashion.

“There were nine Muses according to Hesiod, protecting a different art and being symbolised with a different item; Calliope (epic poetry – writing tablet), Clio (history – scroll), Euterpe (lyric poetry – aulos, a Greek flute), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry – comic mask), Melpomene (tragedy – tragic mask), Terpsichore (dance – lyre), Erato (love poetry – cithara, a Greek type of lyre), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry – veil), and Urania (astronomy – globe and compass). On the other hand, Varro mentions that only three Muses exist: Melete (practice), Mneme (memory) and Aoide (song).” www.GreekMythology.com

Our kids are old enough (ranging in ages 8 to 12) to explore on their own and since this hands-on museum is basically a big open room, the moms were able to sit and visit while still being able to monitor where everyone was in the play space. There’s a giant rocket ship

Enthralled by the floating scarf fan
Enthralled by the floating scarf fan.

complete with control panel, a book nook area, a floating scarf fan, a puppet theater, glow in the dark toys, wavy fun-house mirrors, LEGO car race tracks, microscopes, musical instruments, giant foam building blocks and a scrap materials art table.

Since there are several planetarium movies, this venue is worth a repeat visit. The younger your child is, the more you can take advantage of repeat visits to the play spaces while older children will benefit from the interesting staff-led programs and events.

Activities and exhibits prompted our kids ask engaging questions like how, why and what if. The question that rose in my mind was, why didn’t we have a place like this when I was a kid?

Lifting is easier with pulley power.
Lifting is easier with pulley power.