Randy and I recently returned to Houma from a weeklong New Year's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

We spent some time there with our oldest son, Brian; his wife, Laura; and grandchildren, Isaac (16), Sam (14) and Paige (12).

What an incredible trip to one of the most scenic locations in the United States. We stayed in two condos at the Gatlinburg Summit, which had breathtaking views over both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. We truly felt we were on top of old Smokey. We had a wonderful view of the valley and could see the snow tubing and ski hills at Ober Gatlinburg.

Unfortunately, it was not cold enough even for artificial snow, so we didn't get to enjoy those activities. However, we did get to ice skate, which I had not done for around 50 years. I thought it was going to be like riding a bicycle -- just put on the skates and take off. That's not exactly what happened, but I did manage to to stay close to the bar around the rink and skated around the rink six times. I did have two minor falls, but just like riding a horse, I got back up and started skating again.

My daughter-in-law, Laura, skated too and did a wonderful job. The kids were positively amazing for their first time on the ice. Paige was skating circles around us as graceful as a figure skater, while Isaac looked like a hockey player zooming all over the large rink. Sam was a bit more cautious and rescued me several times from falling by holding my hand as we made trips around the rink.

What a fantastic time. Riding the tram up the mountain was another great experience. Each tram holds 120 people, and being up in the air with 120 people all going up the side of a mountain was certainly an experience. Everyone yelled like they were on roller coasters when we went over the five towers and the tram would rock into space. Unfortunately, the Smokey Mountains were living up to their name and the fog prevented us from seeing the ground, or on second thought, perhaps the fact that we couldn't see the ground was a blessing.

We enjoyed other experiences too, such as Fannie Farkle's Arcade, where Sam hit the jackpot and won 15,000 tickets on one of the balloon-popping games. Isaac and Paige won their share, and the kids had more than 20,000 tickets to spend at the end of the session. They spent as much time shopping for prizes as they did winning all of those tickets.

We spent two days strolling up and down the crowded streets of Gatlinburg, stopping at the shops and museums. We ate at Calhoun's Grill, where we enjoyed some of the best barbecue in Tennessee or anywhere. Issac and Sam mined for gems and discovered a six-carat Smokey Mountain quartz I am having cut for a ring.

We also went to The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, where we again enjoyed an incredible meal, saw pottery being created and watched a blacksmith work. No vacation is ever complete without a trip to the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, and this one was no exception.

But the most fun for us was just seeing and being with our family. We miss living so far away but times like this make up for the time we spend apart. Just spending time with everyone in the evenings eating home-cooked meals in our condo and watching great movies together were worth the nearly 700-mile drive. These times we spend together are the memories our grandchildren will remember as the good old days when they are our age. We are so glad we are able to help make those memories happy and loving.

-- Donna Knight is a freelance writer and artist in Houma.