Grandfather Vineyard & Winery

I know that a mountain vineyard and winery is not the first thing that come to mind when you think about the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. In actuality we stumbled on this Banner Elk, NC spot purely by accident. On our anniversary trip earlier this month we were driving to find a pottery shop to look for some plates that John has had his eye on. When we arrived the shop was closed. Who knows why, but COVID19 sure has brought on the unusual. Spotted out of the corner of his eye when we turned around was a simple sign “Grandfather Vineyard”. Why not! Nothing was beckoning us and the kids weren’t in the backseat groaning, so we turned in. The sweet girl near the entrance waved us toward the overflow parking lot.

mountain vineyard & winery

As we walked toward the building there were tracks bustling around the backside of a large, beautiful barn. When we rounded the corner we could see that this was THE place to be on a Friday afternoon. Apparently everybody else already knew that! Tents, tables, and outdoor chairs were set up along the banks of the Watauga River and near the barn for people to gather in socially distanced ways.

enjoying the banks of the river at a mountain vineyard & winery

What to Expect at this Mountain Vineyard & Winery

Stop by this mountain vineyard and winery for a visit Monday-Saturday 12pm to 6pm or Sunday 1pm to 5pm. If you are there on a weekend you may get the enjoy live music and snacks from the Eleven80 Food Truck. We highly recommend the pimento cheese fritters with pepper jelly! Grandfather’s has been growing grapes and making wines since 2003 and offer a selection of dry whites, rose, dry red, sweet and even bubbles. Order your bottle, glass or 4 mini glass wine flight and head on down the river bank to sit back and relax for the afternoon. All types of people will be around enjoying the fresh air and ambience. We saw families with small children climbing out on the river rocks and splashing around. There were friend groups laughing and relaxing after a long hike. A quiet older couple snuggled up next to the river and soaking up their time together could be spotted from afar.

Grandfather Vineyard & Winery was such a pleasant and unexpected surprise. We’ve been telling all our friends to get up there for an afternoon/evening they won’t soon forget. It’s the perfect place to end a day after hiking or biking or driving the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The 20th Anniversary Celebration Trip That Would NOT Give-Up

Celebrating 20 Years of Marriage

An anniversary celebration trip is something every couple looks forward to. It’s a big deal to be married for 20 years; it is definitely a mile marker. But when you get married in the year 2000 that means your 20th anniversary falls in the middle of a pandemic. A lot happens in 20 years! As a very young married couple we had hopes and dreams like everyone. Many of those dreams have been realized and many are still to come.

The ups and downs of every day life in marriage build us up as we choose each other again and again. We have been growing up together in the midst of this marriage. We were married at age 22 and started a family at age 25. Raising three kids is no joke and has shaped us into very different people than 20 years ago, better people. Grateful seems almost too empty a word to describe how we feel about 20 years of marriage, but it also seems just right. God has blessed us with each other and we are ever grateful.

The Big Anniversary Celebration Trip That Wouldn’t

white and gray house on green field
Photo by Jonas Togo on Pexels.com

For years we had been dreaming about where we would travel to for the big 20th anniversary celebration trip. We went through various scenarios and finally landed on Scotland as the perfect place for us. Guide books, blog reading, Instagram photos and personal recommendations gave us all the things we needed to create the best itinerary. We set everything up and began counting the days. Literally 3 weeks later the world came to a halt as the coronavirus swept across the globe. We held onto the hopes that by September we would be in the clear, but it wasn’t meant to be. That itinerary has been stashed away for another time.

Months went by before we even attempted to talk about an alternative. It felt wrong to plan a vacation while everyone else was hunkering down in safety. Travel began to emerge over the summer as families ventured out, first nearby, and then even via airplane. The idea of an actual adventure began to formulate. We waited, watched, and researched. Then we formulated a plan and got so excited and expectant. We chose a place where all of our activities could be outside and we could appropriately social distance. There wasn’t a thing we didn’t think of or have prepared. But…one week prior to the trip we had to cancel because the awful forest fires were bulldozing through the western states and in the area we had planned to visit. I cried and got angry and then was so depressed for about 3 days. That itinerary has been stashed away for another time.

aerial photo of bixby creek bridge on the big sur coast of california usa
Photo by Nathan Moore on Pexels.com

The Little Anniversary Celebration Trip That Could

Honestly I wanted to force a square peg in to a round hole with this anniversary celebration trip. I wanted to make something big happen. John pressed in and made other suggestions, suggestions I was not content with. I had lost sight of what we were celebrating; the trip became the celebration instead of the marriage. Ugh. Why do I always fall prey to my sinful heart? So, I shoved myself out of my pity party and we last minute booked a stay in the Blue Ridge Mountains in NC just a few hours drive from home.

20th anniversary trip

It was a glorious 4 days away. The weather wasn’t perfect and the accommodations were just alright, but we were together and alone and relaxed. We had time to focus on us and talk about the past 20 years and dream about the next 20 years. Reminiscing on the many incredible trips we have had reminded me that we have seen and experienced so much. In the midst of all that talking we did 3 hikes, visited a winery, drove miles and miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, meandered through downtown mountain towns, and ate so much good food! Everything about the long weekend was completely “us”.

20th anniversary celebration trip

Our bucket lists continue to grown and our interests continue to expand, of course. The future is bright and Lord willing we have many more years to celebrate and enjoy traveling together. The lesson learned is that we love to travel because we love to experience new things together. After all we have been married nearly half of our lives already!

The Sassy Girlfriend Getaway Guide

Girlfriend getaways are so much fun!

The Sassy Guide

This post is a sassy guide for a girlfriend getaway, a break from the everyday life at home. This post is not a step by step planning guide. Our focus here at Go Family Adventure is mostly on family and family adventures so this one doesn’t fit the mold. BUT, with everything that has shaken up in our everyday world it seemed like a good time to do a small rogue post.

If you are clawing at the front door and need some time away from the same 4-5 faces/personalities (and I LOVE my family) it might be time to plan a little getaway. If you have cleaned your baseboards more in the past 6 months than the entirety of your life, it might be time to plan a getaway. If you shudder at the 1000th mention of a certain board game or children’s book it might be time to plan a little getaway.

It’s also worth mentioning that not everywhere in the world is allowing this type of thing. I recognize that and don’t want to encourage poor behavior or unruly activities that go against rules. Plan it anyway. The plans may change or be put on hold or be postponed, but at least you will have something to look forward to!

Enjoy the solitude of nature on your next girlfriend getaway

Where to Getaway

Does it matter? My only suggestion for this is to go somewhere that is easily reachable for the girlfriends, but not so easy that you can be enticed away. You want to be close enough to give you peace of mind that you CAN get home if your kid breaks his leg and needs surgery, but not too close that caretakers can woo you away with guilt. Choose a place that has a dishwasher-duh! Make sure you are near enough to restaurants for take-out. Pick a spot that allows for some outdoor activity, but also plenty of relaxation. The bottom line here is to come up with a destination that removes the most amount of stress and work. My most recent girlfriend getaway was to a quiet beach community in South Carolina.

When to Getaway

Does it matter? Just kidding. This part takes a little thought and planning. Depending on the size of your group and how many in the group work full time, etc. you will need to choose a time accordingly. Ladies, this doesn’t have to be a long trip. The last girlfriend getaway I did was only for two nights, but it was so refreshing and life giving. If mid-week makes it easier for caretakers, go then. If the weekend makes life easier for you, go then. Don’t get paralyzed by this part. There is no ideal time to getaway. You will have to make it happen.

No girlfriend getaway is complete with out cute bicycles!

Girlfriend Getaway Guide Packing List

  1. Food to share-easy breakfast & lunch stuff. Don’t forget the chocolate!
  2. Swimsuit-I always pack a swimsuit no matter where I go
  3. Clothing-comfy, 1 or 2 cute casual outfits, active wear for outdoor time
  4. Open ears for listening to each other
  5. Wine
  6. List of books, podcasts, articles, TedTalks you want to share
  7. Portable (and waterproof) blue tooth speaker
  8. Camera

Things NOT to pack

  • stress
  • burdens
  • guilt
  • work of any kind

Make the Girlfriend Getaway Happen

At some point the planning and implementing is going to get tough or seem impossible. The point is to go anyway. You will have to push through to make this happen, but you will not regret it. Communicate with your spouse and children that this time away is good for you and for them. Then run! Forget the dirty dishes in the sink and the half folded basket of laundry. It will still be there when you return, I’m sure. Don’t check your phone 1000 times, limit your interactions with home; and by all means, don’t let their burdens become yours. It’s only a few days!!! Go. Come up with your loose plan, grab your girlfriends and go. They may be the most life giving few days you’ve had in quite some time.

Free time on the girlfriend getaway

Life Between the Adventures

A Typical Day

Over here at Go Family Adventure we spend a lot of time highlighting the adventures we take and the adventures we want to take. During these COVID months our adventures have been fewer and shorter. So today we are focusing on the normal. A typical day in our family life consists of very normal, everyday tasks. The kids attend traditional schooling and John owns a business and serves on our municipal city council which keeps him quite busy during the week. We love our life in our community and we’re dedicated to the life we have in between the adventures. In fact, we appreciate our adventures even more!

Pursuit of Passions leads to Adventures

In the every day moments we encourage each other to pursue passions and interests. Sometimes those interests are short lived and sometimes they turn into full-blown passions. Either way, we celebrate and incorporate them into life. We have even been known to plan an entire adventure around a pursuit-call us crazy! Here’s the thing. When you incorporate pursuits into your daily life those daily tasks become filled with purpose. Working hard means you get to play hard and we get to do it together!

Responsibilities

Yes we expect our kids to take on responsibilities! From an early age we delegate chores and special projects to keep our household running smoothly and moving forward. Here’s how that translates: we give our kids responsibilities while we are adventuring to keep the focus off the negative AND because the kids are used to contributing to the family they work better together while adventuring as a team. Of course this isn’t perfect and we are all human and fail on the regular. But y’all, this stuff works. Put into practice at home what you want to be a reality out in the world.

Making Home THE Place to Be

Life between the adventures doesn’t have be drudgery. Academics and activities take up a lot of time for the kids and John works hard during the week. The down time should be done in a place that is comfortable and welcoming. We are outside people so you’ll find us on our front porch eating, playing, napping or reading just about every day. As the kids have gotten older it’s been harder and harder to keep them home, but we’re working on it. I guess we’ve done too good a job of encouraging them to pursue their own interests!

Dreaming BIG in Between the Adventures

In the midst of the responsibilities we work on our big dreams. Our conversations might sound slightly different than other families. Dinnertime shenanigans include the highs and lows of the day or week, but we also love to talk about the places we are dreaming to explore. A sailing vacation was a big dream for John. We were skeptical we could pull it off with the various other commitments and money constraints. We put in the research and found a way to cut down on our flights costs and hooked up with Sunsail to charter a catamaran for 9 days! Before we knew it we had chartered a catamaran and we were in line to get the kids passports.

Taking Chances & Trying New Things

Some people consider us risk takers. In all honesty, for us, it feels riskier to go with the crowd. We don’t do our adventures to be risky. We do our adventures to enrich our family and build each other up. For some crazy reason we enjoy the challenge of solving problems and figuring something out for the first time. Travel adventures lets us do that together as a family. You know what’s crazy? All those adventures we take together helps the kids courage and bravery here at home too.

When COVID hit and life changed quickly the kids had to adapt. School and activities were radically diminished and altered in the spring and summer. Word got out that school would be face to face for the kids starting in mid-August, but many of the things they were involved in disappeared or changed so much that they were uninteresting. Holland made a massive change and left her ballet training in order to pursue a new sport: swimming. That’s a big deal for a 14 year old girl who had been dancing for 11 years! The truth is that we build each other up in our travels and experience new things together so that life between the adventures is just as exciting.

Keep the Wanderlust Alive

Life between the adventures can feel boring, but we strongly encourage our kids to dream big. We also show them ways to translate those dreams into goals. It is so rewarding to dream alongside them and watch them realize those dreams through achieving their goals. We are in a strange time right now, but we are genuinely learning so much about ourselves and the world around us. Now is the perfect time for us to work on goal setting. Sooner than later we will get around to adventuring and achieving those goals.

Seven Secrets to Successful Family Adventures

Sibling love on a day trip

A Successful Family Adventure

No matter how far you venture from home, there are a few tactics to ensure you have successful family adventures. This list of 7 tips for success follows after a bunch of trial and error, a few missteps and several victories. As always, we hope this helps your family enjoy the adventure and look forward to the possibilities…even with teenagers!

Involve Your Kids in the Adventure Planning

One of the best ways to get buy-in from the family is to involve them in the process. To begin, have everyone come up with a BIG DREAM bucket list of destinations that sound fascinating and exciting. We keep those lists going, occasionally crossing things off that no longer have the same allure, or trips we conquered and get checked off! We have discussions about activities they would like to do or try for the first time and then we research the heck out of it. Our kids are teens so they can do the research themselves, but if you have littles sit them on your lap and spend a few minutes looking at photos on the web. Now you’ve got buy-in.

Sibling love on a day trip

Don’t Over-plan Your Adventure

Adventuring in a new place often times translates to squeezing out every minute of fun that’s possible. Resist. That nagging voice in your head that says, “this is once in a lifetime so we must…” is feeding you a standard that is impossible to reach. There is no way we can DO everything in every destination even with unlimited funds. Allow for plenty of wiggle room in your itinerary to compensate for lost time waiting in lines or lunch taking longer than planned. We can’t control it all.

An easy way to cure the over-plan is to have one big activity/tour a day and then a few others depending on how long the activity is. For example, Shep and I wanted to go canyoneering in Costa Rica, but we were still tired from our travel the day before. We chose an afternoon tour that lasted 3 hours which gave us time to chill in the hot springs in the morning. Create space for downtime where the kids can relax/nap, check their phones and veg out for a bit. If you don’t create it, you will naturally fill it with something else. From the early days we learned to communicate when those down times would be so the kids knew to push through even if their feet were ready to give out (like in Washington D.C.).

Dream adventure sailing in the BVI
Processed With Darkroom

Family Space

You know your family. When you make decisions about accommodations or car rentals I urge you to choose wisely. We have a family of 5 with three teenagers/tweens so needed space is a thing. It’s good for kids to know that sharing beds and sacrificing some space for a great experience is worth it, but if the accommodation has limited beds consider rotating who gets the comfy one each night. Also, we have made the grave mistake of trying to stuff everyone into a compact SUV (along with our luggage) in order to save money. NOT a good idea if it’s a trip you plan to use the rental car a lot. Long trips that require lots of family adventure time together will go more smoothly if you can make space for everyone.

Top activity choice for the win!

Everyone Has a Responsibility

This tip can really help with the squabbling amongst family members. When each person has their own responsibility on the trip they can focus on that instead of everyone else. It’s not foolproof, but it gives everybody some ownership in the tasks of travel. For us, John is the driver and I am the navigator. Rowan is the luggage handler and car packer, Shep is in charge of snacks and the cooler and Holland does the music and is in charge of keeping us on our activities structure. Even your littles can have something they are in charge of. Get creative- music playlists, packing the cooler, setting up chairs at the campsite, collecting firewood, and more are all ideas.

Family time-success for Holland's choice on a morning of murals in Miami

Say YES!

Honestly this one can be tough to adjust to. Fight the urge to say no. It does seem unreasonable to say yes to ice cream right before dinner and it doesn’t always fit into the schedule to stop off at a viewpoint for one more photo. BUT, this is about successful family adventures so who cares. You are not going to ruin your kids or the experience or the budget by doing this. The memories will be heightened and the family will be more amiable. Say yes to the kids jumping in the lake with their clothes on. Say yes to getting up at sunrise so your teenager can get an epic photo. Say yes to one more round of s’mores. This is what building up your family is all about!

Epic Hawaii family adventure

Surprises

This one works well with littles especially. Keep small surprises along the way to really add to the joyful experience of the adventure. Hiking isn’t always a favorite for little legs, but if you keep a surprise for them at the end of the hike they will remember it forever. It’s up to you if you want to dangle the surprise or not. You know your people and how they will deal with that. Just don’t talk it up too much or they may be disappointed! With older kids you can really boost the trip by holding out on one big activity they had their eye on and saving it and watching their reaction is so rewarding.

Red Sand Beach in Hawaii

Something for Everyone

This is the key to successful family adventures. Every trip we take we make sure we all have one thing or one day that is each individual’s choice. Not everything we do makes everyone happy or fulfilled, but if you really want to ensure a successful adventure you need to take into account personalities and desires.

On our recent weekend mountain trip we did zip-lining, which Holland really wanted to do. Shep had done it in Costa Rica and was uninterested. No worries because later that day we went looking for a sliding rock/swimming hole and he was ecstatic. On the Big Island in Hawaii John absolutely did not want to miss visiting a coffee farm. The kids were bored out of their minds, but it was only 1.5 hours. John was delighted and had been waiting for that coffee farm visit the whole trip. Mission accomplished and everyone survived. Make sure on each trip that there is something for everyone!

Create lots of space during long car rides for success!

Cheers to Your Next Family Adventure

You can have successful family adventures. Having a few tips and tricks in your back pocket will help to make it a successful and memorable trip. Now, go DREAM BIG and start planning your next family adventure!

A Weekend Adventure in a GA Mountain Cabin

The Mountains Were Calling

It was time for a weekend adventure, so when the mountains called we decided to hop in the car and get on the road. Being isolated to home for 4 months was not fun. There are a lot of great things that came out of that isolation time-reflections on living an intentional family life and creating healthy habits while in quarantine. Our day trips kept us going and gave us an outlet. BUT, it was time to venture out and explore beyond the nearby outside attractions.

The summer temperatures are relentlessly hot here in South Carolina so we decided to escape to a destination we could get some reprieve from the sweltering humidity. Believe it or not, temperatures still topped out in the high 80’s and it was still humid, but it felt so good to have a cool morning and evening!

We Rented a Cabin in the Mountain Foothills of GA

COVID-19 is still very much a determining factor, so we chose a single home away from others on this trip. We found a cabin within driving distance of our home that was basically in the middle of nowhere but close enough to outdoor activities for us to enjoy as a family. There are several Northern Georgia towns in the valleys and mountain areas to choose from.

We started off by looking near Helen, GA and landed on a cabin between Helen and Clarkesville. It was perfect for our family of 5 to spread out to sleep, but gather together to cook our meals and play games after dinner.

En route to the Mountains of GA

On our way up to the cabin we stopped at a Paris Mountain State Park, which is in South Carolina. We hiked two trails connected by a road through the park and enjoyed quite a bit of solitude. We only saw a total of 10 people on the trails the whole day. Paris Mountain State Park is located just 5 miles north of Greenville, SC. Greenville is a bustling city with a main street full of restaurants with outdoor seating and shops to wander through. The park itself offers fishing, a designated swimming area, canoe/kayak/paddleboat rentals, and hiking & biking trails. Picnic shelters are scattered throughout the park, along with campsites (some with full RV hookups) located near shower/restroom facilities. We spent a few hours here and enjoyed the trails, but barely scratched the surface. This was a great way to start off our weekend adventure.

Activities in the GA Mountains

Our focus was outdoor activity with as few people around as possible. We traveled during COVID-19 times so we chose to be extra careful about this. The morning after we arrived we set out to Unicoi State Park to conquer their zipline adventure. The group sizes were limited to 10 people, and everyone wore masks including the guides. They sanitized all equipment prior to our time on the course to ensure healthy standards were met and kept. It was a stress-free and super fun environment for a family of adventure teens.

After our time zip lining, we drove over to Anna Ruby Falls to do a short hike and observe the beautiful cascading falls. Although the entries were limited and the parking lot was less than half full, it still felt a bit crowded to us. I think being at home for so long has made us hyper aware of masses of people-something we would never have blinked at prior to this global pandemic. Everyone was courteous and respectful, allowing for spaced out pictures and ample viewing time. This is a very easy hike with a great reward. If you have littles or tired legs from a previous hike, this is a great one to add to your weekend adventure.

Hiking in the Mountains of GA

There is no shortage of hiking trails in this area of Georgia that were perfect for our weekend adventure. We did a lot of research to see where we could hop on the Appalachian Trail, where to find easy parking spots for trailheads and where bathroom facilities were open. We used Atlanta Trails for all the information we needed. Not everything was updated with COVID-19 closings, but it was the best resource we could find. Our oldest wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail this summer, so we chose Preacher’s Rock as our family hike. It was the perfect moderate hike and it had the added benefit of amazing views at the end (this is an in & out hike). Per usual the rain chased us away sooner than we wanted.

After our hike to Preacher’s Rock we drove to Brasstown Bald visitors center, which is surrounded by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. This is the tallest peak in Georgia and has some epic views from the observation deck. After you pay your entry and find a parking spot, you will need to hoof it up the .6 mile paved walkway. It’s short, but strenuous as it feels like you’re walking straight up. When you get to the top you’re at the tallest peak in Georgia at 4,784 elevation above sea level. I know for you west-coasters that’s no big deal, but most of us east coasters live at sea level so it’s a jump for us!!

More from our Weekend Adventure

A weekend adventure in the mountains was just what we needed after being cooped up for so many months. The northern GA mountain towns offered all kind of activities and outdoor fun for families with teenagers as well as littles. Most everything was open, but we chose outdoor fun with plenty of space away from others. One of our favorite afternoons was to visit a sliding rock/swimming hole on Wildcat Creek. The creek was very rustic and a bit of a challenge to find, but we practically had the spot to ourselves with only 2 others there. The water was refreshingly COLD and it was perfect for our teens. No pictures from our time there, though, because there was nowhere to set my camera. I was having fun with everyone!

What to Expect from a Typical Weekend Adventure in the Georgia Mountains

While this was an incredibly good feeling getaway for our family, we may have done even more if COVID-19 had not been in full swing. We did not step foot into a single store or shop in any of the towns we came across, which was a shame. These towns are CUTE and have darling shops and restaurants that we would love to return to. Helen, although a bit kooky, is a Bavarian-esque town with put put golf, river tubing and other things. Hiawassee is an outdoors mecca of sorts with lots of outdoor shops, outfitter tour companies and more. Clarkesville is a sweet town we would have loved to wander in. Don’t sell yourself short if you go AFTER the pandemic has subsided. There is so much to do!

Healthy Habits Created During Quarantine

“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, they are a lifestyle to be lived.” James Clear

The Current Situation of Quarantine 2020

Time slowed as the world shut down during quarantine, but it also marched on. We all found ourselves feeling a bit stuck and the rhythms of the days past slipped away. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed to form new daily routines, which is where most of daily life is lived. The truth is that we become what we repeatedly do and we weren’t looking to become professional Netflix viewers. Habit, good or bad, has a profound effect on our daily lives.

What is involved in creating a habit?

James Clear describes a 3 step process to habit formation. Cue-the trigger in your brain to initiate a behavior. Craving-the motivational force behind the habit. Response-the actual habit you perform either through thought or action. You can read more about the process here.

Below are listed a few habits we have developed in our household during the quarantine that we hope to cling to as we move forward toward a new normal. We have no idea at this point when anything will change. There isn’t really any precedent in coping and adapting to a global pandemic, so we are deep into our habits and hope to continue as we crawl toward the next new things.

Sleep Habit

We have all consistently gotten 8 hours of sleep each night. It has changed the entire mood within the household. We’ve all read how important sleep is, but we saw this firsthand through the spring months while school was still going. There is no question that we will fight for this as we approach whatever school looks like first semester.

Getting much needed sleep is a habit worth forming

The Habit of Saying No

There has been an emphasis on discerning what is necessary and what is not these past few months. It’s been a natural shift with the current COVID-19 restrictions and having to decide as a family what we are comfortable with. Too much of what we were saying yes to was merely convenience and what was presented to us in the moment. We have all learned how to say a healthy, happy no, which has lead to saying yes to the meaningful things.

We said a lot of No's so we could say yes to adventures

Time Blocking Strategy

each of us has found bliss in time blocking as a way to order our days and meet our individual goals including work, school, fun, reading, and social. I imagine this will become particularly helpful as our teenagers cope with what will likely be in and out of the classroom this year. Our oldest is beginning to look at colleges and studying for the SAT.

Time blocking for reading and other activities as a habit

Making Family Meals a Habit

If you have teenagers, you get this. We have MADE time to include everyone in meal planning, preparing, and enjoying. New recipes have come to light, and I’m delighted as a mom to see my kids have skills I never knew about!

Outside Time

with little else to actually do for the past 5 months, this has come most naturally. We have all benefited from more intentional time outside no matter the weather. The discovery of nearby places to adventure has been icing on the cake. Working toward 1000 hours outside for the year 2020…and thanks to COVID-19, I think we will be successful.

The habit of outside time together

Practicing Contentment & Gratitude as a Habit

We are speaking out loud what we are grateful for and what we are finding contentment in when things aren’t going the way we want them to. Saying it out loud to one another holds us accountable and bonds us together even more. To be honest, it also makes us more pleasant people to be around, which is important to community. When we come out of this quarantine time, we want to be better and stronger than when we entered it.

Contentment as a habit even when things don't go perfectly

None of this has or will happen perfectly and some will be adjusted slightly as the circumstances change, but we are making the choices and putting in the effort. Consistency has been everything to keep us on track.

Visit Congaree National Park from a Basecamp

Visiting Congaree National Park

Many of the travelers we know are looking to visit as many U.S. National Parks as possible, but don’t have a good basecamp to do so. We propose that Columbia, SC is the perfect spot for a visit to Congaree National Park.

There are currently 62 parks that have made the cut to be protected and managed by the national government. There are around 420 total national protected lands, monuments and parks, though. The full list of parks can be found at www.nps.gov. Families, couples, and solo travelers are looking to the challenge of visiting the U.S. National Parks, and while COVID-19 is a reality, many of these travelers have been limited to U.S. travel and specifically road trips.

If you or someone you know is headed to the East coast, consider South Carolina for a stop for a few days. Congaree National Park sits right now at 51/62 on the popularity scale, which is measured by the amount of visitors per year, just above far reaching parks in Alaska, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands!!! It’s also a free entry, so no pass needed. It’s the perfect time to road trip to one of the least visited of the National Parks.

Congaree National Park boardwalk

Know Before You Go

Why is Congaree not as popular? For one, it is the only National Park in the area and for two it’s not a hikers paradise per se. The park sits at sea level, which will become very noticeable if you visit after a heavy rain or during a particularly rainy season. The boardwalks have been developed in a way that can withstand the rising swamp wetlands that meander through the park. We have visited in every season, but we can honestly say that summer is not the best time to visit-REALLY hot and humid and lots of mosquitos. If that’s the only time you can clear for a road trip, still GO FOR IT. It’s not a park where you need hours and hours to enjoy and you can see the beauty in half a day.

We think a long weekend in the city of Columbia, SC as your basecamp for visiting Congaree National Park give you the whole southern experience in your quest to conquer the National Parks list.

Columbia, South Carolina as Basecamp for Congaree

Here are 5 reasons Columbia, SC is the best basecamp for Congaree National Park.

1. There are several airports you can utilize near Columbia for access

Consider flying in/out of Charlotte, NC or Greenville, SC or Charleston, SC as well as Columbia. With this many options you are sure to find a great flight deal! All of those airports are less than 2 hours drive to get you to Congaree. All have plenty of rental cars available and can get you where you are going with ease.

2. History: Columbia is steeped in both Revolutionary War and Civil War history

The SC State House gives tours and there are many historic homes that conduct tours in the downtown area as well. The SC State Museum and the EdVenture children’s museum also boast fun, interactive exhibits that tell so much about the history of the area. This is the perfect answer to a rainy or super hot day in Columbia.

Columbia SC historical state house for a long weekend of visiting Congaree National Park

3. Art: if you are an art lover, you will find wonderful spots in Columbia to enjoy

First, the Columbia Art Museum is right downtown with a lovely outdoor courtyard to enjoy before or after your visit. There are numerous outdoor murals around town to explore and take photos and you can use the website above that offers an interactive map of all the public art available throughout Columbia. The fabulous hand blown glass gallery at One Eared Cow is another medium that is fun to do as a group.

Columbia Art Museum as a basecamp activity

4. There are a host of other outside activities you can participate in while visiting Columbia.

Soda City Market: Every Saturday, rain or shine from 9-1 on Main Street in downtown Columbia.

Riverwalk/Timmerman Trail system: great for bikers, joggers, dog walkers and antsy kiddos who need a little nature nurture. If you visit in the hot months, you can even tube down the river from the West Columbia location.

Sporting events: depending on what time of year you visit, you can catch a Columbia Fireflies baseball game or a University of South Carolina varsity sporting events.

Riverbanks Zoo: a small enough zoo to see every animal in one day, but with spectacular exhibits and a high ropes course to boot!

Lake Murray: a boater’s paradise with every kind of water activity available. Our kids love to wake board, tube, fish, and sail on Lake Murray. It’s a huge manmade lake with hundreds of coves, several marinas and ample open space for all the boating activities you heart could ever desire. Here is a resource for all the FUN to be had.

Basecamp for Congaree in Columbia South Carolina

5. The Basecamp Eateries are Endless

There are a multitude of incredible restaurants and eateries for every time of day. Columbia is not only the state capital, but is also a university town. We all know that keeping visitors happy starts with their bellies. I promise you won’t have enough time to even scratch the surface. Any of these restaurants can fuel you for a great day at Congaree or bolster you back up after a day exploring. Below is a short list, but our biggest advice is to trust the locals.

Breakfast/Coffee:
  • SmallSugar– incredible pastries! (During COVID pick up or outside eating)
  • Cafe Strudel– hearty sit-down breakfast with Southern flair
  • EggsUp-typical breakfast diner type restaurant
  • Cinnamon Roll Deli-we aren’t huge fans of the cinnamon rolls, but the breakfast sandwiches and the grits are YUM
  • Drip– fabulous pour over coffee and my (Jen’s) favorite honey lavender scone
  • Indah-awesome ambience and great coffee with treats for a light breakfast
Fuel up for Congaree at local eatery Small Sugar
Lunch:
  • DiPrato’s– NY Italian style deli with delicious pimento cheese
  • Small Sugar– healthy, extremely satisfying. The greens & grains bowl is dreamy!
  • The Gourmet Shop– known for their chicken salad, paninis & cheese plate
  • Crave– this place is packed every day. John swears by the hot dog, but I love the Korean pulled pork sandwich. The chef here is something special!! (website does not do the place justice. TRUST US).
Dinner:
  • Terra– our “go to” offering American fare with local ingredients. Mike and crew consistently produce excellent food and Andy at the bar is our favorite bartender!
  • The Warm Mouth– our best description: restaurant worthy camp food. We love the pickle plate and the chicken bog…oh and the ribs.
  • Bourbon– cajun creole cuisine with classics like etouffee and gumbo. (closed until August 2020 due to COVID-19)
  • Baan Sawan– high end Thai food with a fantastic wine list
  • Hall’s Chophouse– just what it sounds like: great steaks. Special occasion spot.
  • Il Focolare– legit Italian oven pizzeria. (take out only due to COVID-19)
  • Lula Drake Wine Parlour- if you are a wine lover, you ought to make this place a stop. John and I love to dine here on snack and small plates while enjoying a glass or two, and we can’t wait to utilize the upstairs space that offers a private booking as well.

SIX Tips for Gorgeous Front Porch Planters

Front Porch Gorgeous Planters

One of the ways we work to make our front porch extra welcoming is by accessorizing with plants and flowers. Over the years we have purchased several large pots to display the beauties of the season. They are a delight to us as homeowners, but our neighbors and friends always comment on how gorgeous the planters are. We have a few tips to get your front porch planters thriving & noticed.

1. Before you start: Know your zone & sunlight

Just for a point of reference, we live in Zone 7b, which means that we typically have about 8 months of a growing season. The first freeze is usually after November 15 and the last by April 15. Most people I know start to plant before April 15 so they have blooms for Easter, but I always wait. Think about the money that would be wasted if you plant too early and then it’s all ruined with one freeze or a bad frost. For me, it’s not worth it. Look HERE to find your zone.

In the summer months (which lasts a LONG time here in South Carolina) our planters receive about 4-5 hours of morning sun, with just a few of those hours being direct sun. Autumn and winter months receive less filtered sun, but fewer hours of sun and only about 3 hours in the mornings.

2. Choose Your Plants Accordingly

After you have done the research to know your zone and your sunlight, you will need to choose your plants accordingly. I know those bright pink Verbena would look perfect in your planter, but if you only get filtered sun or mostly shade, those babies are not going to thrive. If your goal is to have planters that survive and thrive all through the season, you have got to choose the right plants. Utilize those plastic markers provided by the nursery/plant store to inform you of what that plant needs. Again, if the marker says it wants full sun, don’t expect it to flourish in mostly shade.

Overflowing front porch planter

3. Choose Variety in your planter for Impact

Without any formal design experience you can have a planter that absolutely bursts with stunningly eye catching flowers. But you do need to incorporate variety into your pots even if you are looking for symmetry. In years past I have made two of my planters identical, but this year I mixed up all of my planters for a more relaxed feel. Either way, you should consider certain components in each planter. Choose 4-6 plant/flower varieties for large pots and 3 varieties for smaller pots. Look for differences in color, texture, size of flower head, and height to give the pot multiple points of attraction.

4. Stick with one Theme for maximum gorgeous impact

Not unlike your interior decorating, it’s best to stick with one theme in your planters. I would not recommend mixing desert plants with tropical plants. Yes, you want variety, but not by blending themes. A banana plant mixed in with cactus just doesn’t work. You can even take it further by avoiding mingling pastel colors with bright colors. Here are a few ideas for more inspiration. Our eyes just don’t compute those kinds of mixing of aesthetics. Creativity is wonderful, but this is probably not the place to exercise the extremes.

Summer porch planter

5. Choose a Planter Theme that Matches Your Home

The natural flow from exterior to interior should be just that, natural. The overall exterior of the home often dictates the direction you go with your design. A cottage style home might look off kilter with extremely modern planters filled with spiked foliage. Again, there is not a 100% correct way to do this, but the front porch planters that match the home make more of an overall impact on your guests and neighbors.

6. Plant what makes you happy on YOUR front porch

This is YOUR home, after all. Guests and neighbors come and go, but you live with your home every day. All of the above suggestions come with one caveat-you really need to plant and display what makes you happy. If you have a green thumb and can coax tougher plants to life despite the not perfect conditions, go for it! If you need low maintenance for your lifestyle, then stick with that. Ultimately you need to be happy with your planters and that includes maintenance. Now…it’s time for me to get to watering my front porch planters because it is HOT and dry here this week.

Varying planter sizes add beauty

Five Ways to Make Your Front Porch Welcoming

front porch is open!

During this global pandemic quarantine season we are using our front porch more than ever before. Time outside the interior of the home is increasingly necessary as the walls can feel like they are closing in on us. For three straight months all five of us were at the house all day long, every day. The respite location was the front porch and we would alternate who sat out there to read, work, do homework. We eventually began to use the porch as a place to see friends. Social distancing was easy and we were outside with fresh air. This porch has been one of our biggest blessings during this strange and unusual time. Because it has given us so much joy, we want to share a few ways we prepared it to be welcoming to our invited guests and still comfortable for our family.

comfortable seating and table space make the front porch welcoming
  1. Comfortable Seated Furniture: There is nothing more welcoming than to offer your guests a variety of choices of comfortable seating. Extra throw pillows to add color and style while also providing comfort. Think of this as an extension of your interior where you can enjoy the views.
  2. Ample table space (we are still working on this ourselves): Outside of COVID-19 times, you will want to be able to offer snacks and drinks. Tables add comfort and convenience both while you are entertaining and enjoying on your own. We use our tables for games as well as holding books, computers, etc.
  3. Temperature Control: Although we cannot control the weather, we can keep comfortable while appreciating the outdoors. During the summer we run overhead fans and other fans to circulate the thick, stifling air. Morning coffee in the autumn and winter months are made possible with blankets.
  4. Lighting: If you want to gather after the sun has gone down, you will need a lighting plan. Most front porches are built with an outlet available for a lamp, but you can also use string lights to create a specific ambience.
  5. Plants/Flowers: You are outside, after all, so your best accessory should be plants and/or flowers to highlight the surroundings. Anything to add color and texture and warmth will make your front porch all the more welcoming.

The Invitation

So there you have it, five simple ways to make your front porch welcoming. A beautiful and welcoming front porch is only the beginning, though. Your front porch will only be welcoming if you make the invitation for others to enjoy it with you. Yes it’s important for your own family to get enjoyment there, but a truly welcoming front porch is all about intentionally reaching out to your friends and neighbors. We believe strongly in intentional family living and maximizing your front porch for family building and connecting your community can be so rewarding. Put a little purpose behind just being the envy of the neighborhood!

add color and texture with pillows and plants to make a welcoming front porch