Hunting Island: Camping Paradise in the Carolinas

Our impending summer road trip is going to interfere with our annual nephew quality time trip, so Clint and I packed up the car, the dog, and Connor for a little jaunt out to Hunting Island State Park. Our other little family adventures have been well documented here.  Having never been camping, Connor was stoked to see what it was all about, declaring “Today is camping day!” when he woke up. We couldn’t wait to share one of our favorite ways to travel with one of our favorite kids :)

Of course, the little navigator had to point out the way from his car seat. “This way, then that way. Then you’re there!” It’s not rocket science, people! IMG_3537

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the trusty hooligan 3 is just over a small hill, tucked away!

After being greeted by the awesome volunteer hosts at Hunting Island (who even gave Scout a treat!), we scoped out our site. I just booked the place last week, and it was packed with Spring Break vacationers. Site 132 ended up being the perfect place to pitch a tent – wooded with pine trees, palms, and shrubs and blanketed with a thick, spongy layer of pine needles.

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There was also room to set up both of our beloved eno hammocks, which Connor loved! Our first night in, we headed out to the beach for a little photo action and a walk for Scout. Dog and kid alike loved romping in the sand!

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path to the beach

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natural dunes and vegetation

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seashell collection

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doggie pawprints in the sand

We spent the next day walking the beach, making sand castles, climbing across dunes and exploring sandbars (or “salad bars,” depending on who you’re talking to). The campground also had access to several trails for biking and hiking. We loved the Magnolia Forest trail, which wove in and around the marshes to the lighthouse. Connor declared that this place was the best jungle ever. Watch out for lions, y’all!

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Of course, there was lots of time for roasting hot dogs, riding bikes, and cuddling in the hammocks.

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best buds

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scout, chief watchdog

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greeting every camper with a cheerful “good morning!”

We can’t wait to go back to this beautiful island! There is so much more that we didn’t have time to explore this trip. At only around a 5 hour drive from home, I’m sure we will enjoy more weekends there soon.

Book Shelf: Ron Rash

If 2014 was the year of Bill Bryson  (and with 7 of his books under my belt last year, I think it’s safe to say he was a favorite), then this year must be dubbed “The Year of Ron Rash.” I’m not sure how I have somehow avoided the North Carolina native in my years of Amazon and bookshop trolling, but it happened. I have read five of his novels and one collection of short stories this year and they have all been more thought-provoking than the last. Rash is truly one of the masters of great Appalachian literature. I haven’t been a huge fan of short stories in the past, but with just a couple dozen pages, I am drawn into the dark, gritty worlds of these characters. He is somehow able to capture the unique culture of Appalachia – of yesterday and today. If you are a North Carolinian or a lover of Southern fiction, you must check him out. Read “Serena” or “One Foot in Eden” first – both are wonderfully haunting stories.

I was recently able to attend a reading of “Something Rich and Strange,” his latest collection of short stories. The experience made me want to devour this book in tiny pieces, as I savored every single story!

A Year at Home.

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One year ago today, we moved into our little house on a hill. After 6 months of demolition and renovation, moving in felt like a huge milestone. Thinking back on the reno, the things that seemed like a huge deal at the time, like picking the perfect trim color, didn’t really matter. Things that seemed insignificant, like the last minute installation of a recessed light in the shower, are the details that I appreciate every day! The house is still very much a work in progress, especially the yard and exterior, but it feels like home. I love that every tiny detail was chosen by me, for me.

There may end up being other homes for us in the future (and the jury’s still out on that thought), but I doubt that any of them will be quite as special as this one.

PS- For posts on the house renovation, click here! 

Eating my words.

Over the course of the past year, I have become the “owner” and doting mother of two lovely four-legged creatures with whom I share my house. I haven’t had a pet in a loooong time and never as an adult, so naturally I’m eating my words left and right over here. Here’s a list of things I said I would never, ever, in a million years do. Until now.

1. Wake up with a cat butt in my vicinity.
2. Compliment the fuzziness of said cat’s tail in my face.
3. Refer to my pets as “the girls.” Go ahead and barf now ;)
4. Refer to myself as “Mama!” in a high-pitched voice
5. Speak to a cat in baby talk. (ALL DAY.)
6. Allow a 50 pound dog to sleep with me. All up in my space!
7. Encourage the dog to “play nicely with her sister.”
8. Troll the yard at late hours encouraging the dog to do her business and responding with praise “Good girl! Pee pee!” when she does. Absolutely nauseating, I know.
9. Make homemade dog treats. They’re organic.
10. Spend twenty bucks on kitty litter without batting an eye. I have to be in a mood to spend that amount of money on a sweater at Target!

I’ll edit this list as the years go by and I become even more obnoxious ;) And what’s a post about them without a picture?

mama and little

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The Best of 52 Books

I don’t typically engage in the making of resolutions – too inspirational perhaps? This year, however, I resolved to read 52 books before 2015. This was hardly a painful challenge, as reading is my hobby, but it wasn’t easy! With work, lesson planning, grad school, and new homeownership eating up lots of free time, I had to make a point to constantly be reading or thinking of what to read next. These were my favorite books of 2014. Some are old, some are new. I like to mix up my genres, so I’ve picked my favorite from several categories.

Best Young Adult – “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell

The feelings. This book evokes memories of those uncomfortable high school years in the best way possible.

Most Interesting Nonfiction – “One Summer” by Bill Bryson

2014 was the year of Bill Bryson for me. He is truly one of the best authors I’ve read. This book details the happenings of the summer of 1927 – the Lindbergh flight, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Henry Ford, and the impending doom of the Great Depression. Perfect!

Best Travel Memoir – “The Kindness of Strangers” by Mike McIntyre

Travel memoirs might be my favorite. When you are stuck in the 9-5 (or 7-4 as a teacher), counting down the days until summer, it’s good to let your mind wander. This book chronicles the coast to coast journey of Mike McIntyre, a newspaper columnist, who travels with no money and no real plan. He relies on the kindness of truck drivers, preachers, prostitutes, drug dealers, hippies, and just about everything in between to get to the east coast.

Best Biography – “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk” by Ben Montgomery

If you are looking to be inspired, this is a great place to start. Emma Gatewood was the first woman to through hike the Appalachian Trail. In 1955 – when she was 67! Even if you’re not interested in hiking, this is a story of resilience and dedication.

Longest and Most Long Overdue – “The Fiery Cross” by Diana Gabaldon

Man. 1,456 pages! I started the Outlander series several years ago and fell in love with Jamie Fraser. The new Starz adaptation of the first book inspired me to keep on trucking with the fifth installment. I think I’ll keep dragging this series out for years, because I don’t want it to end. That good!

Most LOLs – “The Antelope in the Living Room” by Melanie Shankle

I love reading Melanie’s blog, which I heard about from the Pioneer Woman, another favorite blogger. If you are married, or getting married, you should read this book. Husbands…. sheesh!

Here’s to 53 more books in 2015!

Vacation is for the Dogs

Well, the dog. One of the reasons that I was initially hesitant to adopt a pet (especially a dog!) was the fear that the fur balls would interfere with our summertime lifestyle of spontaneous road trips. Not to worry! After (as in, the day after) a quick trip across the country with my sister, that spark was lit and Clint and I decided to squeeze in one more trip before heading back to school. We toyed around with different ideas about what to do with our 5 month old 25 lb puppy before deciding to pack her in and head out on the open road! After throwing some clothes into a duffle and packing Scout an overnight bag of food, treats, and toys, we were ready to go to New England the next morning.

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Doggie seatbelt is a must!

Traveling with a dog is no joke – especially for brand new “pet parents.” I never thought I would be one of those people who take their animals everywhere, but here I am, dog in tow wherever I go! We chose to camp on most of trip, just because we are just tent-camping kinds of people. This made the whole ordeal easier for us and probably more fun for Scout. New outside smells everywhere, room to road, and lots of long campground walks.

One of the biggest adjustments that we made to our travel style was the speed of the trip – sloooow and lots of breaks! Normally, we get in the car and drive as far as we possibly can before hunkering down for the night someplace on the way. This trip, we stopped in northern Virginia and the Delaware Water Gap en route to Cape Cod. It was kind of nice to travel at a slower pace and enjoy the journey along the way.

Once we neared Boston, we thought it would be crazy not to see the city, so we decided to check out Hotwire (old faithful!) for a hotel. Surprisingly, we were able to grab a room at the swanky Hyatt Regency for an awesome price AND they were pet friendly (with a hefty fee). Initially, I was very unsure about bringing my rowdy dog into some nice hotel, but the staff could not have been any more accommodating. Turns out, a lot of people really love dogs. I would suggest making sure there is a grassy area nearby for your dog to … you know. We ended up walking over to the doggie park at the famed Boston Common to walk Scout in the morning and at night after sightseeing. This was just a minor inconvenience considering that we were staying so close to the action.

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Playing in Boston Common – notice our smiles :)

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We walked the Freedom Trail – dogs welcome!

As far as city life, this country dog was a CHAMP! She loved everyone and really enjoyed the exercise. Restaurants were obviously a challenge. We still love good food, so we hit up some food trucks by the harbor, got takeout Chinese from Chinatown, and splurged on room service.

Once we were out of the city and on the Cape, we used the AllStays app to find a campground that allowed dogs. Most do, but you never know. We stayed at the State Park (always my favorite – mostly tent campers there and usually not a lot of “riff-raff” as my Dad says). We spent a lot of time hiking and letting Scout swim in the beautiful ponds. We did venture up to Provincetown one day to go to the beach, which she loved.

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Campground Pond on the Cape

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Long walk out a jetty to the beach

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Beautiful Provincetown architecture

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Family photo op!

All in all, I feel like the small sacrifices we made were well worth the experience of traveling with our big fur ball in tow. I think that meeting so many new people really helped our puppy with her socializing skills, and it may have helped us too. So many nice folks approached us to talk to Scout. We had an amazing trip, only made better by puppy cuddles in the tent and marshmallow treats by the campfire. I only wish that Little Red the kitten could have made it ;)

In Praise of Small

So apparently the average size of a new house built in the United States is around 2,400 square feet. The average price tag is nearly $200,000 in North Carolina. This is nothing new, and its definitely the norm for newlyweds to dream of living in a McMansion one day. In fact, I think its becoming socially weird to not want this. When we went through our nightmare renovation last year (I can’t believe its been a year!), many people remarked on what a nice “starter house” we would have once it was all over. We’ve lived in less than 1,000 square feet since we got married four years ago, and have no plans to upsize. Sure, everyone is quick to say that when we have kids we will want something bigger/better/newer/nicer. But all of those things come with a hefty price tag, and we are totally happy where we are right now. Do my future children deserve a bigger house?

I will never forget having a conversation with someone about my age during the process of buying our first place. His words followed another comment about the “starter house” idea : “Well, you can upsize because you’ll always have a mortgage.” I understand the sentiment – buy small, sell, and use the equity for a down payment on a better place. But when does this process stop? Should I still be paying a mortgage at 80 years old? Honestly, its just not worth that to me. I would rather raise my children in 950 square feet and use my financial freedom to let them experience the world. In fact, hopefully this quaint little place will be free and clear by the time the kids arrive in the picture. A lofty goal, but not out of reach.

Let me admit, I was once part of the McMansion dreamers. Not long after we graduated from college, Clint and I bought a beautiful piece of land on a pond in a pretty upscale neighborhood. It was a great deal. We purchased the property knowing that there was a 2,400 square foot minimum building restriction in place. It didn’t take us long to realize that this was not our dream, but society’s dream for us. We would have had to work for years to build that “dream house” and decades to pay for it. Sounds a bit restrictive to me… all for a media room, a home office, and a formal living room (all three of which are comprised by my cozy family room here). After a couple of months, we quickly sold the land for a profit that would become the cash that renovated our new place. I hope that other young people can start to see that it’s okay to live small – your starter house can be your forever house :)