Posted in Adventures

Dreher Island State Park

We took a family staycation to Dreher Island State Park just outside of Columbia, SC. The park is 3 islands on the 50,000 acre Lake Murray. We rented a small cabin along the shoreline a few weeks prior, packed the car, and set out on our adventure. Annabeth went on her first sleepover all by herself the night before we left at the neighbor’s house! T.J. and I were able to pack while she was having the time of her life keeping her friends on their toes. Bless them. We picked her up from their house and headed straight for Columbia, only stopping at Bojangles for some biscuits.

As we crossed over the water leading into the State Park, Annabeth exclaimed: This is my dream come true! We checked in at the visitor’s center that doubled as a small convenience store and tackle shop. That island also offered a marina, boat ramps, docks, 3 fishing tournament shelters, bathrooms, and a playground. We made our way to the cabins, which had recently started allowing dogs. We were happy to have Cooper with us for this one! The loop with 10 camper cabins had a private bath house with toilets and showers. Every cabin faced the water and were close to a group picnic pavilion. The cabin was furnished with electricity, an air conditioner/heater, a double bed, and twin bunk beds. A generous front porch with a bench looked through the trees down into the water. Next to each cabin was an outdoor kitchen with a picnic table, fire ring, a bench, and a water spigot. We had more than we needed to make a handful of sweet memories.

Annabeth woke up and wiggled into a swimsuit before T.J. and I could focus. Good thing her energy is contagious. We took a trail out to a cove where you could walk across a sandbar to a tiny island. I enjoyed it but Annabeth was quick to get back to the red clay she’d found and indulge in a spa treatment. One rainy afternoon we went to Little Mountain to check out a two story antique store with a café. Annabeth scarfed down half a BLT, which she proudly carried the remainder in her to-go box but slipped and the LT half fell on the ground. I tried to cheer her up by pointing out that the B had survived but I was informed that a BLT is useless when separated. I enjoyed a PB&J- Pimento Cheese, Jalapeno Bacon, and Raspberry jelly. Back at the cabin, I was able to get some Wi-Fi long enough to download Annabeth’s favorite movie: Isn’t It Romantic with Rebel Wilson and Adam Devine. She finds Liam Hemsworth’s hair mesmerizing and begs Dad to grow his out so it will blow in the wind.

We cannot wait to go back! The park was immaculate. Park Rangers were never far away- buzzing around cleaning bathrooms daily, maintaining the greenery, and tending to the trash/recycle stations. Waking up to the waves and watching the sunset over the water is new to us. TJ was leery to step into the water that first day as I laughed and insisted he get in. He winced expecting ice cold Rocky Mountain water. The expression of awe on his face captured his first experience with warm, as if you just peed your pants, bodies of water. On the drive home, we made plans to rent a villa next time and look into getting a pontoon boat. It was a simple few days but exactly the infusion of energy we were craving.

Posted in Adventures

Beach Refresh

What do you do when you have a few free days in the coldest month of the year? Go to the beach, of course! That honestly had more to do with hotel prices and unexpected time off. We twisted the need for some family time before Dad starts his new job into an early celebration for Annabeth’s upcoming birthday. I found a hotel for $52/night and we were off to explore Myrtle Beach for our first time.

T.J. gave his 2 week notice to Cummins at the end of January. They do not allow employees on their way out to perform repairs in fear of sabotage or subpar work. His district manager even told him that this is “going to be a very long 2 weeks” for him. Instead of letting him go, he worked as a janitor for an entire week while the remaining techs sat around without a single truck in the shop. He contacted HR on the Monday following and was informed that they have no knowledge of his termination of employment. So, he sat down and insisted that the paperwork be filed before he continue to paint lines on the shop floor. I hate to use the phrase but that place truly is a shit show. They had no Branch Manager and no Shop Manager. The truck shop was run solely by a Foreman who had been reluctantly promoted a few months prior, just before the Shop Manager was fired. Once the paperwork was completed, HR informed them that common practice is to let the employee go but his Foreman and District Manager would not. T.J. walked out on Tuesday after an 8 hour day of waiting on them to give him instruction and did not return. When he stopped by to pick up his toolbox, he found out that corporate fired all but one employee in the parts department without notice and gave them one week’s pay. The remaining employee was immediately required to work 10-12 hour days and cover the duties of 5 employees by herself. Cummins has taken a nose dive from their esteemed perch in T.J.’s realm of respect. This is not only a result of his experience as an employee but the refusal to support their pickup truck engines in any aspect.

I had already been peeking at hotels along the coast to surprise Annabeth and T.J. and take advantage of the off season. Recognizing his deflated posture, I jumped to book a well deserved mini escape. We woke up Wednesday morning, packed our bags, and followed Hwy 17 to Myrtle Beach. Check in wasn’t until 4pm, so we made a stop at an Irish Pub for lunch. Best. Food. Ever. Just passing by, it looks like an unassuming biker bar connected to a bright blue tattoo parlor. I’ve always found it strange that there’s a billboard above advertising the best Irish food around. Now I know why. We pulled in and the front of the bar actually faces the parking lot, so from the street all you see is the smoking deck. T.J. had the prime rib sandwich with an addicting horseradish sauce and I shared a corned beef, cabbage, and mashed potato plate with Annabeth. Perfect beginning to our little refresh.

We arrived at the hotel promptly for check in. The excitement began with a goodie bag for Cooper with treats and poop bags, a coupon book, and our room key gave us access to a movie rental box. Dad wanted to rest for a bit but Annabeth was naked before he had the chance to close his eyes. I wiggled her into her swimsuit and we corralled her towards the dunes as she greeted each and every stranger, “I am going to the beach!” She jumped with joyous anticipation and did not slow down until she reached the water. At which point, she pulled me into the ocean approaching the freezing cold waves with a willingness to be drawn into them. She took breaks on her belly imitating a mermaid as the water lapped around her singing giggles. Attempts to lure her away from the water with a search for seashells was a fail, so our path back to the hotel was tearful.

T.J. and I have never been able to envision ourselves as regulars at the beach but this trip pushed us over the edge. We had genuine fun. Even in the off season, there were plenty of restaurants and entertainment options open. We went on the Sky Wheel right on the boardwalk along the beach. Our hotel even offered us a coupon for one free admission! The attendants gave us an extra go-round since we were the only ones on the ride. Wonder Works Museum was a gigantic hit for all three of us. We are eager to go back there. I was expecting the food to be average due to it being a tourist town with few visitors but we enjoyed every meal. We had the most authentic Mexican food since we’ve been here at the cutest Taqueria in downtown Georgetown while browsing a listing for a house built in 1775 on land once owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We may have also tossed around the idea of investing in a condo at one of the adorable beach resorts.

I spent the drive back home babbling about how our 3 night stay transformed my detest for sand&sea into a glimmer of the serenity we formerly sought in the Rocky Mountains. Buckets of memories were made in that short trip. T.J. taught himself how to swim- from flailing to a nearly smooth glide. Annabeth (with a life vest on) swam unassisted across the entire pool! Typically, I spend the entire trip agonizing over how each grain of sand goes that extra mile to find its way into items I didn’t even bring with us to the beach! Instead, I was making a list to prepare a grab-and-go beach gear bag for future exploration. What an interesting parallel to Dad’s return to Penske. A dreaded experience turned refreshingly hopeful.

As I recall the defeating emotions of our transition from Colorado to South Carolina, I am thankful for the resilience we’ve acquired through that painful process. Our leaps of faith have since been taken blindly with open arms. The reward is an immeasurable sense of comfort in the most uncertain situations. We believe this approach sets you up for a future filled with wonder and wander. May you stray from the predictable and catch yourself with a grin that oozes from a joyful heart.

Posted in Adventures

New Year New/Old Job

T.J. is making a comeback as a Maintenance Supervisor for Penske Truck Lease. I am less than enthusiastic about this but T.J. is hopeful. Annabeth’s first years on this planet were tough for me. T.J.’s shop manager was injured a couple of months after Annabeth was born and he was thrown into the position. Zero recognition. Zero compensation. They even demanded that he account for his time repairing trucks to cover the time he spent managing the shop. This meant that he had to do 8 hours worth of repairs plus his management responsibilities every single day in a max of 8 hours! Depending on weather, he would spend up to 2 hours on his commute each way. He was announced as the next Maintenance Supervisor with no consent from him and told that they did not even expect him to be able to fulfill the responsibilities. This also meant 10 hour work days that turned into 16 hour days during the month of December. When I say that he nearly missed Annabeth’s first Christmas, I am not exaggerating. He was coming home at 5pm, going to sleep at 7pm, and waking up at 3am on a good day. I was an exclusive pumping new Mom isolated in a 794 square foot house in a rural town of about 1,500 residents.

Here we are in a new circumstance and T.J. is ready to put back on the Penske hat. I pray this will not be a repeat of the past. Those were the darkest years of my life and one of the main reasons we moved to South Carolina. We are in a different world now. The shop is 5 miles away from our house and T.J. has a fresh perspective to address some of the issues that were within his control. Fingers crossed that the new management makes this job nothing like it was back in Colorado.

January was busy for Annabeth too! We took her to the Pirate and Mermaid event at Magnolia Gardens after swim lessons one Saturday. Dad even made her a pirate hat to complete her requested “Bad Guy Pirate Mermaid” costume. She even got to make her own sea shell necklace. We had a great time and plan on getting a membership the next time we go. They have regular events that are perfect for Annabeth plus it’s a must see place for visitors! Come on down to see America’s Oldest Formal Gardens, a plantation, and a swamp.

The flowers are blooming and we are going to get up to 81° today for the first time since Fall. Bugs come with the warmer weather and Annabeth’s shrieks of terror can be heard down the block. That doesn’t stop me from pushing her outside with a water bottle and insisting she play outside. Maybe I should convince her that I hate when she plays outside… I bet I wouldn’t be able to keep her away from the backdoor.

Posted in Adventures

December Cruisin’

We spent the week after Thanksgiving packing for our first cruise. I read a cruise tip to pack all of your summer clothes and swimsuits instead of storing them for the winter. I never got the chance to do that! Annabeth was splashing around in her pool while Dad washed his car a couple weeks ago. We left for Cocoa Beach the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Annabeth had her first swim lesson at 9:30am. We stopped at Bojangle’s for breakfast biscuits and drove 6 hours to our hotel for the night. Parking was included in our hotel stay, so we took a shuttle to port and boarded the Harmony of the Seas Sunday morning.

We had some fun but 7 nights was a little too much for first-timers. It would have been much more enjoyable if Annabeth were older or if we were traveling with family and/or friends. The weather was gorgeous and we loved the white tablecloth dining. Annabeth could have spent every waking moment in the hot tub or saltwater pool.

We disembarked on Sunday and drove straight home. Cooper was being taken care of by a neighbor and he was ready for us to come back. We felt like Christmas came and went too quickly, so we’ll try to skip December vacations unless they include Christmas. We didn’t even have a tree up until a week before Christmas. Annabeth didn’t mind and that’s really all that matters. We had friends over the Sunday before Christmas to paint pajama shirts and decorate cookies. In Colorado, we got the kids together and painted Christmas morning shirts. The people you thought had zero artistic ability seemed to decorate with surprise talent. The messy paint party has become my favorite newer Christmas tradition and we were happy to have some friends here to share in the fun. Plus, who can pass up wings and sugar cookies?

T.J. had some leftover vacation days and ended up being off for 5 days for Christmas. Honestly, I was ready for him to go back to work and get Annabeth back into our regular routine. Sorry, Dad. We love you but you sure do mess things up! I spent the week of New Year’s programming the “Dad” out of Annabeth and catching a whole lot of mumbling, “Dad lets me.”

Annabeth’s belief in Santa for the first time was a bunch of fun. It was also ammunition to keep her on the straight and narrow. Santa brought small trinkets every night if she behaved for that day. He left a few notes in place of treats encouraging Annabeth to follow instructions for a change. She was genuinely saddened by disappointing Santa but Mom was pleased to see the refreshed motivation to listen. That back-fired on us when it was Christmas Eve and she ran to us in tears realizing that she had not yet sat on Santa’s lap to share her Christmas wishes. Thanks Miracle on 34th Street. I was too busy baking so T.J. brought her to the mall to meet Santa. He arrived just as they placed a sign after the last kid in line that Santa was taking a break in an hour. The line was that long! They ate pizza, went shopping for Mom’s Christmas gift, and snagged a spot at the front of the line. Christmas was a lot of playing with Barbies, a new obsession with Polly Pocket, and a conversation with Santa about those Crayola Glitter Dots in Annabeth’s stocking. Now on to 2020!

Posted in Adventures

South Carolina State Fair

Summer heat is a thing of the past and the cooler fall weather ushers in the active lifestyle we sought in our move to South Carolina. We’ve been a little lax since our return from a short trip to Colorado, so we decided to call our own bluff and venture to the South Carolina State Fair. Ironically, the active lifestyle we crave is not one that comes naturally to us. Our remote location in Colorado and overwhelming demands from T.J.’s job caused us to become stagnant. Experiencing a southern summer was not as intense as we expected but we did find ourselves eating dinner a safe distance from the heat and mosquitoes our porch harbored. Well into October and we are making a late return to our outdoor habits. In an effort to soak up every drop of newbie firsts, we set off to spend the day in Columbia at the State Fair. Plans were to dedicate our Saturday to the event but in true southern fashion, T.J. was called on to help a neighbor. Annabeth was excited by the sudden free time. When asked where she’d like to go, she swung her head around with a wide-eyed grin. My heart sunk and I held my breath as I realized that her raised eyebrows indicated she fully grasped my open sense of adventure. I feared her imagination had taken hold and expected a request to turn into mermaids who swim to a hair salon in the stars. With her fists clenched dramatically, she exclaimed, “We can go to Taco Bell!” Man, if that is the bar she has raised for happiness, the fair is surely going to blow her mind.

We wanted the entire day to be as magical as possible for Annabeth, so we spared no expense. Bojangles was our first stop for breakfast biscuits. Annabeth will turn down every beloved toddler food for a plain biscuit, only trumped by a biscuit drenched in gravy or a straight bowl of gravy with a spoon. I think if she was more familiar with Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell would drop down a notch. Thus began our 1.5 hour trek to the State Fairgrounds. The interstate has a wooded median that prevents you from seeing the traffic going the opposing direction, so it almost felt like we were taking a back road. The sights along the way consisted of several deer that were casualties of passing vehicles, bodies of water peeking through the dense woods on either side, and a handful of homes scattered around. Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the edge of Columbia.

I had kept a secret from T.J. The fairgrounds shared a parking lot with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks Stadium. T.J.’s eyes sparkled as his jaw dropped to gulp down a deep breath of wonder. His child-like heart was awakened just in time for the fair. We pulled into a parking spot and jumped out to spray on some sunscreen before making our way to the entrance. Our enthusiasm was halted when we spotted the line weaving through the rows of cars. I teased about how we should have been more prepared to tailgate for such an event and that was all it took to make quick friends with the family in line behind us. As we chatted about life in South Carolina, the wait seemed nominal.

Williams-Brice Stadium

We set off to find the 150th Anniversary sandcastle. It took two seconds for me to get distracted and I led Annabeth to a face painting booth. Washing off the magical unicorn painted mask after her 3rd birthday party broke her heart in an unexpected way. It was as if losing the decoration demanded an end to the celebration. I shared in her sadness and promised to take advantage of the next opportunity to bring back that magic. She chose a Fairy Flower design and I suggested she select a flower crown to complete the look. The tiny rhinestones embellished by shiny pinks and purples won her over instantly. Impressed by how patiently she waited, we were on our way to the free circus in minutes.

Purple sno-cone kept her busy waiting for the show to begin.

Next we took a ride on the 150th Celebration Wheel in a private air-conditioned gondola. Annabeth got a little nervous the first time we passed the top but anticipation washed away her fears the second go-round. She held on to that bravery and begged to ride on the most daring attractions. Pizza and an Icee distracted her long enough to take a quick break before venturing to the show animals. The pigs won her favor and we stopped to empty shavings from her shoes before going in to see them for a second time. She tried to use her pouty lip to coerce Dad into carrying her on his shoulders for a third pass but the threat of rain trumped her request. We made it over to the carousel instead. I had been eyeing the log ride since I spotted it on our eagle view of the grounds from the ferris wheel. Fond memories of Six Flags Arlington brought a warm smile to my face and a determination to share the fun with my own family. We pushed pass the more intimidating rides coaxing Annabeth onward with the promise of a grand adventure for our little thrill seeker. No one left disappointed. Or dry. We stopped for a bag of cotton candy on our way to one last ride. The Baby Shark song perked her ears and led Annabeth to a fishing for sharks game. With the promise of a prize for every turn, I handed over $5. Annabeth caught three sharks with ease and chose a rainbow striped lobster as her reward. Staying true to the theme, we found ourselves at a whirling sea ship ride. Just like that, our day came to an end.

Annabeth’s star-filled eyes and toothy smile vanished when she noticed we were heading back to the car. It was only 7pm, so I suggested we grab something for dinner before going home. “Pizza?” I met T.J.’s eyes and saw a reflection of my own tilted head and gentle smile. It was as if she was clutching to suck a few more precious moments from this special day. Before we made it to the car, I had found a local pizza joint two miles down the road. Annabeth passed up a basket of fries in anticipation of her pizza but as soon as she caught sight of the blanket of bubbly cheese concealing my chicken parmesan, the pizza was forgotten. With content bellies and full hearts, we were home before we finished reminiscing about our little adventure.

Unlike the countless nights prior, Annabeth’s eyes closed before her bedroom door was shut but she managed to ask one last question. “Can we go back to the fair tomorrow?” Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m already planning our next adventure to the Coastal Carolina Fair just down the road from our house at the end of the month!

Posted in Adventures

First Family Camping Trip

We decided to take the leap and bring Annabeth camping! T.J. and I have been waiting for a chance to start exploring South Carolina’s 47 state parks. With the furthest being only 4 hours away in the Blue Ridge Mountains and 6 state parks within an hour of our house, we have been looking forward to this for months. That’s right, we’ve got mountains out here. The tallest peak is Mount Mitchell bragging about his 6,683′ stature. Considering that he rises from sea level versus a mile high, perspective is probably not too different from a mountain back in Colorado. We shall see. I’m sure that will be one of our future adventures.

The weekend after Memorial Day, we reserved 2 nights at Givhan’s Ferry State Park. 17 miles and only 25 minutes away. Being so close, we could easily head home in a worst case scenario. Annabeth and I spent all day Friday packing the car. Dad came home and she was pumped to see what all the hype was about. We headed straight there, stopping only for a bag of ice and a pre-dinner taco. The site was described as “hike-in only.” A little scary when booking blindly but it just meant that you couldn’t pull your car straight up to the site. There was a parking lot at the end of the loop and we carried our gear along the sandy path to our site #32. Now that I think about it, that was T.J.’s high school football number.

We set up camp in a pit of sand, cooked chili cheese dogs, and headed to bed. The next morning, we made breakfast burritos and set out to explore the park. Annabeth is a magnet to water, so it’s no surprise that she found the river immediately. Turns out, this state park is located at a bend in the Edisto River. Our camping trip morphed into a water weekend the very moment Annabeth set eyes on the shoreline. We ran into a park ranger who told us that the river was unusually low and we could walk across! T.J. and I took turns letting Annabeth drag us down river. Cooper isn’t fond of being wet, so he sat this one out. People started showing up with elaborate floats and coolers. We found out that alcohol is not allowed in the state park but once you’re in the water, the rules are lifted. One guy plopped his chair and cooler down right on a sand bar and popped a top. It was fun watching groups of people celebrating a birthday carrying an inflated peacock with seating for 6 into the river or college kids tying together inner tubes. They sure did take special care of that rectangular float escorting their precious Natty Light down river.

We could not get Annabeth out of the water. She cheerfully greeted every person she came across and befriended a family who shared a floaty with her. It had been about 4 hours, so T.J. ran back to the campsite to grab lunch supplies. Annabeth graced us with her presence to grab a chip and a sip of water a few times but the river was her home now. The beach started to crowd and Annabeth was wearing thin despite her unaltered enthusiasm. No amount of coaxing could stop the tears that streamed down her face as we pull her away. We ran to the store to look for beach gear, a fresh bag of ice, and a Bojangles fried chicken dinner. We were back in the water less than 2 hours later. Annabeth made a friend within seconds and we sat on the beach until the sun began to set.

S’mores and a camp fire were next up on our camping adventure. Dad enjoyed one with a Reese’s thin peanut butter cup but Annabeth preferred plain graham crackers and a raw marshmallow. I ate mine as God intended. Annabeth made a firm request to sleep in her own tent for the night. We tucked her in and sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ crouched down on our knees. She beamed with pride and confidently sent us away. As Dad and I got ready for bed, she asked for a story that eventually led to her cuddling with us. I am glad she did because my night would have ended in some silent tears if she’d fallen asleep alone in that little orange fox tent.

I wish we’d taken a couple more pictures but the weekend will always warm my heart. T.J. and I have enjoyed camping since before we met. The joining of our camping bins was carried out in a ceremonial fashion. Passing on our love for the outdoors and sharing our first South Carolina camping adventure was the highlight of our summer so far. We are so proud to be a part of your story, Annabeth Elise. You have made our lives the grandest of adventures.

Annabeth taking another opportunity to assert her independence.
Just being silly
Posted in Adventures

Magnolia Plantation

Our adventure this past weekend was to explore Magnolia Plantation, just across the Ashley River from our rental condo. We’ve been excited about this visit since we arrived in town and had planned to go for Annabeth’s birthday. The grounds did not disappoint! I was unimpressed by the plantation house but maybe I was spoiled by the ones in Louisiana.

Watching the boats go by

The property has been in the same family since 1676 and is still managed by their descendants. The gardens have been open to the public since 1870, making it the oldest public garden in America. You could easily spend all day walking the gardens and taking tours. They offer a river boat tour of the rice fields, a tour of the plantation house, the swamp tour, the nature tram, and the award winning slavery to freedom tour.

We were there for over 3 hours and did not nearly see everything.  We chose to tour the plantation house because this was TJ’s first ever visit to a plantation! We also did half of the Swamp walk and got to see several alligators, two babies were sunbathing along the path. They offer plenty to do even without the tours.

Audubon Swamp Selfie

The petting zoo was adorable! Goats, geese, ducks, peacocks, and deer freely roamed the area. Quarter machines were at the entry with food for them. A small room housed some snakes and there was even a display of poison ivy! I was so excited for Annabeth to see the pasture with 3 mini horses but she could care less. There was a replica of a cargo boat that would have been used at the time to transfer goods down river to the port. The boat was a research project done by a local university using construction methods and materials of that time. We even found a small cemetery that had someone buried as recently as the 90s.

We will be getting a membership, as soon as we are official residents of South Carolina. Please come visit us and we’ll take you! Plus, they’re doing a ladybug release party in July that I cannot wait to take Annabeth to. She gets a box of ladybugs and brings them to her own special place in the garden, then all the kids set them free at the same time! There also doing a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party this coming Saturday… Complete with life-sized chess and flamingo croquet.

Now I know why visitors to CO think the deer are domesticated.