Best of vacation

How do you sum up your first-ever family vacation? How do you capture all the memories, especially the ones your camera missed?

For me, the answer is: write everything down! I’m trained as a journalist, which usually means I’m documenting everything that happens on vacation, in word and picture.

Here’s my best attempt at a “best of” list from our recent trip to Florida.


Best: Pelicans. They soared in groups (flocks?) over the beach, apparently migrating north. I have a lot to learn about pelicans, but they were majestic.

Runner-up: Peacock. We visited an exotic bird ranch and saw lots of amazing species. Just as we were leaving, a peacock had spread its feathers (I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing. He didn’t sound happy.) but it was beautiful to see.

Honorable mention: Jake, the cockatoo.  He talked to our kids. Really. He had us at “hello.”


Best: Sea turtles. These “dudes” really are as cool as Pixar portrays them in Finding Nemo. We stopped at the Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia and couldn’t get enough of these fascinating creatures. And these were just the sick ones recovering from injury or illness. I think sea turtle adoption might be in our future.

Runner-up: Wild horses on Assateague Island. I’m not much of a horse person, but driving along the road and seeing a horse minding its own business is kind of cool. I’m guessing the sight of these untamed creatures is even more impressive as spring turns to summer and they gallop along the shores. We did catch a glimpse of a foal, born only a week before.

Honorable mention: A 2-day-old baby bunny at the bird ranch we visited. Tiniest little thing I think I’ve ever seen. The kids were in awe.


Best: (from Isabelle in a very serious tone) “I have something to tell you. We’re going to walk around that pool. It was my idea. It flew into my head.”

Runner-up: (Corban, as we passed the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic, on our way to Disney) “Whoa. Can I climb there?”

Honorable mention: (Isabelle, seeing that we’re eating at Arby’s for dinner) “We’re eating at Hats!” (and if that doesn’t make sense, look at an Arby’s sign.)


Best: In Delaware, we stopped at a rest area on U.S. 13 that had a playground and a koi pond in addition to the usual picnic tables and restrooms. We had lunch, played, watched the fish and had an all-around great time. Not sure if all the rest areas in Delaware are that nice, but this one gave us a good impression of the state as a whole.

Runner-up: At a rest area in western Virginia (not West Virginia), we enjoyed views of the mountains and the rustic feel to the stop in general.

Honorable mention: South of the Border, S.C. While technically NOT a rest area, it is a place to get off the interstate and stretch your legs. And its amenities are incomparable. I mean, where else can you ride an elevator to the top of a 200-foot sombrero tower for $1?


Best: Our 4-year-old daughter meeting princesses.

Runner-up: Our 2-year-old son swimming in a pool. (With a little — okay, a LOT — of coercion from Mommy.)

Honorable mention: Vacationing as parents. A three-generation, two-family vacation could get tiresome and awkward, but it was a lot of fun!


Best: My husband perused a hot sauce stand at the Daytona Flea Market. A very nice woman runs the stand and knows her hot sauce. In normal conversation, because she was telling us the names of some of the sauces, she said things like “a$$ blaster,” “sphincter” and “colon blow.” Yeah, I felt a little bit like Wayne and Garth or Beavis and Butthead. I mean, c’mon, it was like talking to your mother. But the hubby is enjoying the hot sauce and the great advice given!

Runner-up: Apparently you can’t sit at the head of a sofa bed to watch television together like you would in a regular bed. Nope. You will bend yourselves and the bed in half and leave the rest of the family, your children included, laughing so uncontrollably they can’t help you. (At least that’s how I remember it happening.)


I’m giving this a three-way tie for best, so here they are in no particular order.

1. Shrimp salad and crab bisque at SeaJay’s on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Seafood just tastes better the closer you are to its source. Yum.

2. Houligan’s in Port Orange, Florida. Thanks to my college buddy Scott for recommending this place and its grilled wings (he and the hubby ate those) while I had a chicken wrap that was hot and spicy and tasty.

3. BBQ King, Charlotte, N.C. Food Network helped us find this gem of a restaurant (Guy Fieri found it first!) not far from our hotel. Hush puppies. That’s all I have to say. They were even good cold the next day. I had a minced pork sandwich that had cole slaw mixed in. Dee-licious. The kids had the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever tasted. A great food find.


Best: Driftwood beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Pictures don’t do it justice. The kids could have played here for hours.

Runner-up: Daytona Beach. We spent the most time here because our condo was right on the beach. It was not as crowded as I remember, and even though we saw half a dozen man o’wars (ew, but also kind of cool), this was our home base for the week. We loved hunting for sea shells and making sand castles.

Honorable mention: Assateague Island, Maryland. It was cold, cold, cold to be on the beach, but it was our first glimpse of the ocean, so it was magical.


Best: Okay, so there’s really only one instance of this, but it was too great not to mention, and the woman gave me her card, so she deserves some free PR. On Driftwood beach at Jekyll Island, Georgia, a woman offered to take our family’s picture. “I’m a photographer,” she said, “so, I’m qualified.” She lined us up on a piece of driftwood and made some magic with our six-year-old point and shoot that’s survived Iraq.

So, if you live in the Valdosta, Georgia area, check out The Way I See It Photography.

Runner-up: This doesn’t really count because both parties are too young for Facebook, but while in line for the teacups at Disney, Isabelle made friends with an Armenian girl. Like, best friends. They held hands through the entire line and almost got into tea cups together. I was sure Isabelle was going to be adopted and we’d never see her again. We broke their hearts by pulling them apart. If they’d been teenagers, they probably would already be friends on Facebook.


Best: Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, hands-down. A little freaky, yes, but very cool. The kids slept through the whole thing and only woke up when we stopped the car, hoping to grab a bite to eat on one of the manmade islands in the middle of the Bay. The restaurant was closed but we got some great views from the pier.

Runner-up: The Sidney Lanier Bridge over the Brunswick River in Georgia.

Honorable mention: The C & D Canal Bridge in central Delaware.


Best: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. You get to shoot at aliens while you ride. ‘Nuff said, right?

Runner-up: The Barnstormer. Corban was just a smidge taller than the minimum height so we all got to ride this low-thrill roller coaster. It was actually a little more thrilling than we expected because Corban was riding with Phil (who is tall) and they couldn’t get the bar down close enough to Corban. Phil spent most of the ride with arms and legs across Corban to make sure he didn’t fall out. (It sounds more dramatic than it probably was, but let’s just say I don’t think Corban is going to be quick to get on a roller coaster again.)

Honorable mention: It’s a Small World. I know, I know. Now you have the song stuck in your head. But it IS a pretty neat display. That Disney, he was something else.

Thanks for indulging my vacation memories. I’d love to hear about yours. What’s your best vacation memory?


Saturday smiles: vacation scrapbook edition

Looking at vacation pictures, reliving the memories, has been a delight for me this week, especially now, when at the end of the week, I’m ready for a solo vacation — me without my family — or a new life. (I’ll be okay, I promise. Just hit a rough patch of reality this week.)

So, to share the love, here are my favorite pics from our family vacation. Check back on  Monday for a “best of” vacation post.

Girl meets ocean. I couldn’t catch a moment like this on purpose, so I’ll just be grateful that the camera clicked at the exact right time.

Another Kodak moment, save for the guy on the picnic table in the background. Still, I’m lovin’ the look on my son’s and dad’s faces. Precious is an understatement.

Enter land of the princesses. Isabelle is eating her first course at Cinderella’s Table in THE castle at Magic Kingdom. The bliss is written all over her face, and she’d only met one princess up to this point.

What I love about this picture is Isabelle’s imitation of Princess Aurora, right down to the holding of the skirt. Little did I know, the princess magic rubbed off. The day after we got home from Florida, we were grocery shopping and Isabelle said this in a sweet, sing-songy voice:

Well, hello, olives. How are you today? I’m very well. Well, hello, pickles. So nice to meet you.

As if I didn’t already have a drama queen on my hands. Lord, help me.

Thank you, Disney, for allowing me a trip to the future. Twelve or so years into the future. I am NOT ready for my 4-year-old to be a 16-year-old driving anything resembling a car, much less a race car. But we had fun. I worked the pedal. Maybe by then, they’ll have invented a car like that, too.

And the smile moment at the end of EVERY day, not just the fun vacationy, ones.

Kids. Asleep.

Happy Saturday, friends. Hope you’ve found some smiles this week. If not, feel free to borrow some of mine.

Vacationing with kids: top five reflections

So, if you’ve been visiting the blog recently and noticing a blatant lack of new material, I offer you this explanation: we’ve had family in town and were getting ready to go on vacation. We traveled the east coast and are now on vacation.

I have much I want to blog about but who can blog when it’s sunny and 80 degrees and the ocean is literally outside our window? I’ll be back on track soon with some book reviews and other thoughts on life.

For now, though, I offer you my top five reflections from our first vacation as a family.

1. I’ve become my mother. I take pictures out the front window of the car as we drive, and I have vivid memories of my mother’s while-in-motion photography skills. It may not always be pretty, but it gets the job done. Am I right?

We’re crossing the Chesapeake Bay on the bridge-tunnel here.

2. I no longer care about skinny women in bikinis. We’re vacationing in Florida, where I spent several vacations as a teenager. Beach + teenager insecure about her body (okay, maybe that should just read “woman”) = deep hatred of swimsuits. Fast forward 20 years and I have two very good reasons (not to mention the stretch marks) for why I don’t look good in a bathing suit.

You know. These two reasons.

3. Vacation is not about what I want. I’ve never been a big fan of beach vacations because I burn easily and don’t like being overheated. And I’d rather sit by the pool under a beach umbrella and read a book than swim. That’s all changed with the kids. We’ve been here two full days and I’ve spent the better part of both days either in the pool or on the beach. And my skin shows it a little. Confession: I’ve never had more fun in the pool or on the beach. How do you say “no” to a 4-year-old who grabs your hand and begs you to jump into the deep end with her? Again. And again. And again. Her enthusiasm is contagious. And how do you convince the 2-year-old that the ocean is fun if you don’t get out there and get your feet wet, too?

4. In addition to bearing much of the sunburn, my shoulders (and my husband’s) bear the responsibility for pulling off a great vacation. Partway through our trip down the coast, he realized that he’s the dad (he’s had four years for this to sink in) now. He does the driving and the planning and the getting us safely from place to place. At my parents’ condo, I’ve slipped into the role of mom, even though my mom is with us. I buy groceries. I cook. I do laundry. Meanwhile my parents enjoy the grandkids they don’t see often enough.

Oh, how times have changed.

5. I can appreciate how much work my parents put into our family vacations, especially in the dark ages before Google Maps could show you your hotel from a satellite picture or the Internet could help you find an out-of-the-way bird farm in somebody’s backyard in North Carolina. (It’s a real place, the subject of a blog to come.)

Surely we whined and asked “are we there yet?” a million times. Surely they wished we’d just fall asleep so they could have some peace and quiet. Surely they smacked themselves on the forehead when they realized they forgot to pack swim diapers for the toddler. Surely they wondered, at times, if it wouldn’t have been easier to stay home.

But surely, they also would have thought about how great the memories would be and maybe someday their kids would take their kids on vacation and make great family memories.

We’re having more fun than I thought was possible.

How has family redefined your idea of vacation?