Well, now that the vacation is out of the way...
Most of the hotels for the trip were booked on hotels.com, which offers a free night for every 10 nights completed. At the end of our trip, I got a lovely email informing me that I had earned a free night. So I began scheming at once.
Long story much shorter:
I booked a surprise trip to Branson for Bob's birthday. He knew nothing until I handed him a card after lunch on the 14th. Inside the card were two papers. One was the receipt for the hotel; the other was the receipt for a show that night. He was more or less in shock as we gathered our clothes, phone chargers, and keys. We left the children with competent supervision, and went to Branson!
Bob's cousin works at the Branson Travel Office, which is apparently owned by her mother-in-law. So, once I decided on a show, I called her and she booked the tickets for me at a discount. I had the choice of going in to get the tickets, or having them mailed to me, and chose to go in. Therefore our first stop in town was at BTO. As it turned out, the cousin wasn't there, but her husband welcomed us warmly, gave us the tickets to the show as well as complimentary tickets to Inspiration Tower, and a few insider tips about where to have dinner.
Next we walked across the street to Dick's 5 and dime. We took our time and found a few gems, including 12-shot caps for Ced's cap gun, a splatter guard for the microwave, and a locket that says "Ella" on the front - she's been wanting one.
Toilets out back which were heated, and then we drove out to the Tower. I wasn't going to go up, but Bob talked me into it (He said, "See you later" and headed to the elevator). I faced the doors in the elevator instead of the glass window, but once at the top I looked around some. It had drizzled on us most of the drive to Branson, but on the way to the tower the sun popped out, so we got a decent view. It was cold though, and breezy up on the hill. I didn't find anything to buy at their little gift shop, but we chatted with the 90 year old lady for a few minutes.
After that, we checked in to the Carriage House hotel, which was decent but not fancy. Very clean and friendly. We freshened up and went out for dinner.
But first, we went to the Shoppes at ... I can't ever remember where. Anyway, the one with Case knives and Corning Ware outlets. I got a skinny scraper/spatula and a 9x13 inch baking pan. Except I actually got a 4 piece set which included a 10x14, and lids for both.
In spite of the cousin-in-law's advice, we ended up at Shorty Small's. It was good food, and most of their fare was wheat-free. The only trouble was that we ate way too much. The plates didn't look that big, but Bob couldn't finish his. I ate my pulled pork, fries, and some of the coleslaw, and we shared an appetizer. By the time we left, we were in pain. We went to the Tanger Outlet mall, and walked for the next hour and a half, with frequent bathroom breaks and more water. Bought Elijah a pair of jeans, and finally started to feel a little better.
It was getting close to show time, so we headed over to the Imax theater complex. Got our ticket receipt thingys and were told seating began at 7:50. That gave us enough time for the "as seen on TV" store, a bathroom stop, and a trip to the concession stand. I wanted a drink, and our Branson guest pass card netted a free popcorn. The popcorn was good, but I was too full to eat much of it.
We were seated in the center of the second row of a very small auditorium to see the Sanders Family Christmas. There were only a handful of other guests, so we moved over one seat to make room between me and another man to put our coats. The show was very good: funny, interesting, and heartwarming.
After that we went back to the hotel to relax a bit in the jetted tub, and sleep in the king-sized bed.
In the morning we got up about 7, dressed, packed up, ate breakfast, and checked out before 8. After life with children, that statement still seems incredible.
The coffee was lacking, so we went to Krispy Kreme to redeem Bob's birthday coupon for free doughnut and drink. The "HOT" sign was on. I was tempted, but not too strongly. Then we headed for the Apple Tree flea market, but they weren't open yet, so we drove back around town to the Amish store, where I bought some candy for me and a dress for Ruth. Then back to the flea market where we walked around until we didn't want to walk any more. Having picked up some items for some children, we felt obliged to get something for the rest of them, and eventually did. A whip, cookie cutter, guitar string winder-upper, puzzle, Lego rounded out the list.
We headed home after that, but did stop in Alpena for the first time, and visited their row of flea markets. One place had some old Tupperware toys still in the box. I got all nostalgic over the kitchen set with cake taker and server, square plates, and little cups, because I used to have the same set in another color. But I didn't buy it because we still have most of it. I did buy, however, a boat set. It was so cute! And Daniel and Ruth both love it. Also picked up a board game called Figaro.
Finally home again, to hand out presents and listen to all their adventures. The dress didn't fit, and the puzzle was too hard, but everything else was well-received. The gift was a resounding success.