What I’ve Been Reading

I’m a reader. I’ve been an avid reader from an early age and have continued to be (with the exception of the early baby raising days). Although this is a website based around adventures and not books, I’ve always found that books provide a temporary escape. Giving myself the opportunity to get lost in a book is a real stress reliever for my busy life. I try to challenge myself to read from a variety of genres and there is no rhyme or reason to the order I read them. Here are a few of the books I’ve read (or listened to on audio during my millions of hours in driving the kids around) in the past few months.

1) Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I love this time period and was thrilled to have a strong female character as the leading role. Picture NYC circa 1935 with jazz clubs and women working in the upper ranks of secretarial jobs. The lead character was not my favorite, but the writing was fantastic and the story moved along well.

Non-fiction from a favorite author/TED talk presenter. Brown challenges her readers to think about how we cultivate belonging in the various arenas of life. “We don’t have to change who we are, we have to BE who we are.” I gave this one 5 stars because of the many nuggets of truth she has in here and I appreciate the way she communicates.

3) Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is a difficult story to describe as it’s set in the days of civilization’s collapse. The story jumps from time period to time period in one man’s life where strange twists begin to tie together several people. The bizarre traveling symphony and those they meet along the way tells such an interesting story about humanity and how it outlasts the collapse of a civilization. The creative story and interweaving of characters is fun and highly recommended.

4) The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

I picked this one up because the story takes place in Charlotte and seemed to have an “ER” quality to it, marrying drama and medicine. I listened to this one on audio while driving and I’m glad I did because it did play out like a tv drama and although I liked the story, I didn’t love it. Some of the stories within the story felt contrite, which is not my typical genre of choice.

Adventures Near

Front Porch Dinner

Do you have childhood memories of specific days or events with your family? I do! There is one specific memory from middle school when my parents took my sister and I to downtown Chicago for an overnight stay. We grew up about 25 miles from the city in the suburbs and had been downtown a handful of times for school field trips, but never as a family. I remember we drove down and had a wonderful day visiting museums and walking up and down the magnificent mile shopping. It was such a great day. I barely remember the night at the hotel, but the next morning my parents had a surprise in store. They took us to the Pump Room, an iconic historical luxury restaurant on the gold coast where celebrities had been dining since the 1930’s. I will never forget the butterflies in my stomach and walking to our table with big saucer eyes as we soaked it all in. It was very unusual for us to even eat outside of our home. Both parents worked and had long commutes with busy schedules. Dinner at home was easier and cheaper. So this particular Sunday morning as I drank orange juice from a champagne flute I filed the experience away in my memory bank.

Greenville SC with kids and family
Walking to dinner in downtown Greenville, SC

The example my parents set by taking us on that “near adventure” has inspired John and I to do the same. Our family lives in SC about equidistant from the Appalachian Mountains where we’ve picked apples in autumn and the Atlantic coast where we’ve splashed in the waves on Sullivan’s Island. We have enjoyed showing our kids some of the most gorgeous places in this country only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

apple picking at skytop orchard in NC mountains
Apple Picking in Zirconia, North Carolina at Skytop Orchard

So what are you waiting for? Whether you live in the city or in the country I’m certain you have incredible places nearby that your family will love. It might not be incredibly exciting, but that’s not what this is all about. These adventures, both near and far, are about building up your family and filing away those memories for the long haul. I know our children will remember the epic trips, but I sure hope the adventures closer to home will leave their mark just as well.

mount pleasant SC at the marsh
We love to make a quick stop at the marsh!

Montreal: The City of Saints

After a busy summer of family adventure, John and I were looking for a quick getaway just the two of us. We like to cross locations off our lists, so we opted for an escape from the southern heat of late August and flew up to Montreal, Quebec. We didn’t know much about the city and didn’t have much time to do research. It felt good to roam free and ask the locals for their favorites.

montreal adventure as a couple
Walking in the Old City of Montreal

We stayed in a boutique hotel, which had incredible interiors and an authentic and beautiful collection of art on display. Great location and great staff! We made our way down to the water and hopped on the ferris wheel to take in the sites from the sky.Walking and shopping our way through Vieux Montreal in the cooler weather was a treat for us. We visited the olympic park area from the games of 1976. It’s amazing to us how nice many cities keep the areas where the games took place. We spent several hours at the botanical gardens and the included insectarium. It was equal parts awe inspiring and breath holding (especially the outrageous insects that exist in this world).

Botanical Gardens in Montreal and Insectarium

Some of our best eats: Bonaparte for dinner, Faberge for brunch in Mile End and a walk around the Jewish neighborhoods to work off all those brunch calories! We did not hire a car while in Montreal, but instead used the buses and taxis along with a lot of walking.

love in montreal
Evening Stroll through old town Montreal

Denver/Rocky Mountain National Park: Mile High; Highway to the Sky

Go Family Adventure Goes West

Family time in Denver
Downtown Denver

Denver

Our first stop on our big west adventure was Denver. We live at sea level here in South Carolina, so we walked downtown for several hours to acclimate to the elevation. Denver is perfect for roaming freely, taking pictures, and shopping. We loved the local bookstore downtown. John is a big Denver Broncos fan so we drove our rental car over to Mile High (Empower now) stadium to take some pictures and did a quick drive by Coors field. The Rockies were playing later that night so we weren’t able to do a tour and the game started too late for our east coast bodies to stay awake. Besides, we needed to keep moving to stay on track.

Being silly in downtown Denver
Having fun and acclimating to the elevation in Denver
Rocky Mountain National Park family
Knocking Off Another National Park

We stayed at Best Western Plaza in Longmont that night so we could have quicker access to the park the next morning. We went up through Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and did the Dream Lake, Emerald Lake,  Bear Lake hike. Not sure how ready our bodies were or how far we would make it, we parked at a shuttle parking lot location. When the park is busy, the parking lots fill up and they use shuttle services to space people out more and avoid congestion of both people and vehicles.

Perfect Day for a Hike

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
Happy Hiker
Bear Lake hike Rocky Mountain National Park
Catching our breath and taking photos

It was a tough hike, but I’m always so proud of the kids as they take on the challenge. We use lots of breaks and snacks and photo opportunities to recharge. Honestly, Shep thought we wouldn’t make it and we were all having trouble acclimating and huffing and puffing hard. We persevered and it felt so good to conquer the hike we set out to do. On the return hike out, John almost got mauled by an elk. It scared the kids big time, which reminds me to warn you of the wildlife. They are indeed wild. We are invading their territory and although John and I are very familiar with how to act in such situations, anything can happen. In this instance, we knew there was a young elk calf that was bedded down well off the trail. The mama was keeping guard and was handling things fine with lots of people trouncing past. For whatever reason, John was the last straw. She hadn’t been acting irritated or agitated in any way and we were walking slowly and quietly, but she charged him and it all happened so fast. He escaped without a scratch, but it was a good reality check that we must always be on guard. The kids and I took the long way around the trail to avoid any more unnecessary run-ins.

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park
Take a break and enjoy the scenery

Highway to the Sky

Highway to the Sky views
Stunning Tundra view on the Highway to the Sky

Don’t miss the drive up high to the tundra on Trail Ridge Road (highway to the sky) where you will see a whole new ecosystem, but bundle up!! Being up there in early June you’ll still find it as a frozen tundra yet to thaw from a long, hard winter. From there we drove to Cheyenne. WY

Alpine Visitor Center Rocky Mountain National Park
We made a much needed stop at the Alpine Visitor Center

Cheyenne & Laramie, WY: Magic City of the Plains; Gem City of the Plains

Road Trip Across Wyoming

As a part of our big western tour we thought it would be fun to drive across the state of Wyoming since it’s unlike anything we live near. We spent little time in Cheyenne, but did enjoy the old west museum there and learned all about Frontier Days. From there we drove on to University of Wyoming in Laramie, which was fun and so neat to see how cowboys are truly celebrated in that part of the country.

Cheyenne Wyoming family road trip
Frontier Days Museum

Our road trip continued across the state through the Medicine Bow National Forest, where we stopped a handful of times just to take in the jaw dropping views and let our kids play a little in the snow. Living in South Carolina we rarely see snow and definitely don’t get to play in it. Driving across the state of Wyoming we saw huge wind farms, trains for DAYZ, and expansive landscapes.

Medicine Bow sign family road trip
Gotta get that sign picture
Medicine Bow National Forest Wyoming road trip
Medicine Bow National Forest
Medicine Bow National Forest road trip Wyoming
Those arctic blue waters

Grand Tetons: (Inappropriate nickname warning!) The Three Breasts

early morning view of the Grand Tetons
Early morning view of the Grand Tetons

It’s easy to combine Grand Teton National Park with Yellowstone, but they both have their own vibe and can be done together or separately with plenty of satisfaction. The vistas alone are awe inspiring, but you can enjoy many days trekking through the park or playing in the lakes. Driving into Jackson, WY is like driving into an updated old west town. We stayed at Cowboy Village Resort that is within walking distance of the town square where restaurants, bars, breweries, shopping and tour companies are within easy reach.

Mormon Row Grand Teton National Park
Mormon row outside of the Tetons

Inside the park you will have ample opportunity to see wildlife, do day hikes or multi-day treks, canoe on Jenny Lake, fish on Jackson Lake, and have your kids participate in the junior ranger program. One memorable night we drove down to Mormon Row to await the sunset and boy did we get a beauty. Definitely take the aerial tram up to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. You can buy tickets and catch the tram in Teton Village and grab a bite before or after. It gets chilly up there even in the summer, but you can stuff yourself with some gourmet waffles and coffee to warm up. 

Family boat ride on Jackson Lake Grand Teton National Park
Family Boat ride on Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake

We had a beautiful spring day on Jackson Lake and so we decided to take advantage of the incredible weather. We were thinking about horseback riding, but the bears were out and on the trails so they had to shut down riding for the day. The next best option was to rent a boat and get out on the lake for a few hours. Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park is a great place to get rentals for all types of water activities.

waterfall hike Grand Teton National Park
There is no one I would rather hike to a waterfall with

Adventure in America’s First National Park

Old Faithful at sunset in Yellowstone National Park

A Special Family Adventure

This was a really special adventure in America’s first national park for our family as it marked the 20th anniversary of John and I meeting…in Yellowstone. That’s right, John and I met in the summer of 1998 where we worked as housekeepers at the Old Faithful Inn inside Yellowstone National Park. We were paired up to work together the very first day, and we haven’t stopped laughing yet! What a wild adventure that summer was and an incredible way to start our life together. We had always talked about taking our kids back there, but the timing was never quite right.

A multi-family adventure in the National Parks

We had 2 families of close friends who really wanted to go and had asked us for tips and advice. So instead of handing it all over, we took them on a guided tour. What a fantastic way for our kids to experience this special place. 6 adults and 9 kids trounced our way through America’s first National Park and even out to Cody, WY. We saw abundant wildlife, waterfalls, hiked a lot of miles, saw (smelled) geysers aplenty, enjoyed the open spaces and fresh air. Ultimately we loved taking our kids and friends down memory lane. 

Lake Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park on a multi-family trip

Adventure in the park: What to know Before

A few things to know about staying inside a national park. Many of the parks have lodging inside the park, but you MUST book these rooms about a year in advance. We booked at 11 months out and had slim pickings. There are no deals during high seasons or coupon codes for the lodges. Prices won’t be better by booking further in advance. There are, however, places to stay outside the park if you need to work within a tighter budget.

The advantage, of course, to staying inside the park is getting more time at locations and better parking options. Yes, the parking lots can fill up by 9:30 am. You also save yourself from having to criss cross the park and be in the car for longer amounts of time. Although the park isn’t huge, the roads are slow and you may find yourself caught in a traffic jam due to wildlife activity.

Family Hike in Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park

Adventure Outside America’s First National Park

We spent over a week moving from lodge to lodge within the park. There are endless trails to hike and so many sites to see where wildlife abounds. If you are willing to take a drive outside the park area, Cody WY is a fabulous town to visit. You could spend all day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West learning about the history of the cowboy/rodeo life. If you have time to spend the night in Cody, buy tickets and get the real rodeo experience each night at the Cody Rodeo Stampede.

Outside Yellowstone in Cody, WY

Check out the rest of our adventures that trip. We road tripped parts of Colorado and Wyoming to visit other beautiful areas of our country including Rocky Mountain National Park and the area of Medicine Bow in Wyoming.

The Beginning

In 2012 I was thumbing through our family calendar while looking ahead at a particular event upcoming. We wanted to block out dates to make sure we could do it and nothing else got scheduled. Sounds typical, right. Well that was our wake-up call. I looked at John and said, “we only have 10 more years with all 5 of us under the same roof.” Gulp. I actually began to sweat and maybe even tear up a little as I realized our oldest would graduate from high school in 2022. It was a great moment for us because as I blocked out those dates, I simultaneously began to plan our first family of 5 adventure.

Where to begin at the beginning

At first I was overwhelmed at choosing the perfect place. Then I was overwhelmed at how much it would cost. Thus began my determined research attack strategy, and before you know it I had come across a great flight deal to Boston. Plans were underway and we were so excited. I know for some of you this probably seems a bit dramatic, but for others of I’m certain you are stuck in the same place we were. John and I had traveled some before the children came along and we loved it when the children were very little we would duck out for a few days of uncompromised time together. As the children grew older, though, it became more and more obvious that we were missing out on building up our family memory bank.

Sharing our Experiences

We have learned a few lessons along the way and have taken some really fun adventures, both near and far that we would like to share with you. Ultimately we have shifted our focus away from the things of this world to experiencing this world. Our genuine hope is that we can inspire, motivate, and guide your family to join in the adventures. If you are a family looking to venture out more, follow along with us as we Go Family Adventure!