EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of the Tylenol #HowWeFamily campaign, however the experiences, thoughts and opinions are all mine.
If you’ve been a trusty loyal follower, drinking the Dad or Alive Kool-aid, you’re fully aware that we’ve packed up and moved (once again) further south, to the coastal country of Virginia. The upside is that we’re back on the water… the downside is that we’re still hours from all of our family and 90% of our closest friends. We spend most of our vacations and holidays traveling back-and-forth between my parent’s house outside of Philly and my wife’s family in Atlanta. As much as it seems like a pain in the rear, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to spend time with family is the most prominent reason that we chose to relocate back east from the City of Angels…
We wanted our children to grow up surrounded by their family; grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and also wanted to be present in the lives of our parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. However, I have to admit that spending all of our vacation time in either of these two places can get a tad claustrophobic. So we decided to entertain a different option last month. In late spring, my father-in-law planted a seed and suggested that we all take an end-of-summer family trip to the lake. My father-in-law grew up in a family with six siblings and his parents made weekend trips throughout their time at home over the summer.
He went ahead and reserved multiple cabins for us at Tugaloo State Park, which sits on the banks of Lake Hartwell, skirting the border of South Carolina and Georgia.
Swimming, campfires and “Big Lou” (aptly named after my wife’s grandfather) sandwiches, stacked to the ceiling with all kinds of fresh deli meats. Bob-o (my FIL) had the most incredible memories from the lake while growing up and wanted to replicate that experience for the entire family.
The idea of getting to experience a vacation with our extended family that wasn’t in one of our hometowns nor was it a cruise (my wife, her sister’s and mom’s preferred method of travel) sounded supremely relaxing. Given how much I love the outdoors (our kids as well), something so potentially mellow was right up our alley.
So we packed up the truck and took the plunge, driving almost seven hours south. At this point, with three kids as young as ours, I’m well-versed in every rest stop through the extent of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and the Northeastern tip of Georgia. Perhaps I’m a creature of habit, but every time we make the trip, I stop off at Abbot Farms in a little town called Cowpens to grab a bag of boiled peanuts and a Coke. And we’re in the south, folks, it’s Coke. Not Pepsi, nor soda, nor pop. It’s Coke. Even when it’s Pepsi.
The biggest hurdle on this vacation was to put down our cell phones, hide the kids’ iPads and abandon social media, which fortunately was made a little easier given the limited coverage on the water. But this was what we needed to let go of the outside world and reconnect on a more personal level.
It was time to pick up the fishing rods and throw a few casts from the dock at sunrise, take the pontoon boat out onto the middle of the lake, cut the engine and take turns jumping or doing flips into the water from the bow taking refuge on inner tubes and rafts – all while my wife reminded everyone obsessively to pinch our noses so that we wouldn’t get ‘brain-eating amoebas’.
It was time to get the kids excited (and show off my skipper skills) by beaching the boat on a secluded island and letting them feel like young explorers, claiming ownership of the shores and debating on a name for their conquest.
It was time to swim in the rain, catch cicadas, caterpillars and frogs – prepare a low-country boil and finish up by toasting marshmallows and s’mores over the open fire.
We rounded out the weekend following closely behind our kids and their cousins, as they deciphered a secret treasure map created by Bob-o, his brother Bill and my brother-in-law, Max.
As we walked through the woods, Ava found two tiny black Labrador puppies that someone had sadly abandoned in the brush. We took them in and my wife’s cousin, Jason and his girlfriend Janeen adopted them. Explaining to Ava that the puppies weren’t, in fact, the prize awaiting them was daunting. “But I found them! I found them first!”
The treasure hunt took the tiny adventurers onto the beach with Bob-o and his brothers, (aptly named Bill-bo and Dick-o) in tow, leading them to hidden treasure chests (assembled by my MIL and Aunt Lee-Lee) buried in a cave along the bluffs. Honestly, this trip was just what we needed – enjoying great food and connecting with family and the great outdoors. Plenty of adventure. Plenty of fun… and a lot of love.