I'm not sure why it surprised me that when we went South for vacation it was at least 100 degrees...every day. And believe me, I am one that loves the heat. I'm not into ac...I like natural breezes, I like a good hot day, I love the summer. On the flip side, I don't like the feeling of walking into an oven when I open the door at 8am. I don't like feeling like I'm in a perpetual pre-menapausal sweat. I also don't like sweating in places that shouldn't sweat but Virginia did that to me.
At the end of every summer we go out to dinner and I write down the top 3 places that everyone wants to explore the next year. Virginia happened to be on all of our lists for this year. I did my usual research...months of looking at camping review websites, requesting tourism brochures, and getting input from friends, family, and even strangers on the location.
I know I have picked a good campground when Una and Lou have been there. These are my friend Ann's parents. Ann has camped since she was a kid with her family and we first met her parents when they were camped out in her driveway, up for a visit. We got a tour of their RV and picked their brains about everything camping related. We discovered they were a treasure trove of information. Soon thereafter we learned they would be camping at Fort Wilderness in Disney at the same time as us, a few years ago during April vacation. This campground is HUGE and on day 3 when we returned from the park there they were diagionally across from us! That night we shared a glass of wine, swapped tips (okay, we just soaked in all they had to say), and sent pictures of of the four of us to Ann saying "Wish you were here!"
Recently Ann (and Adam's) son graduated high school and we had the opportunity to chat with Una and Lou again as well as tour their incredibly fancy new RV (granite counter tops, island in the kitchen, and double bowl glass sinks in the master bath). We soon discovered we would be camping together again...this time at Beth Page Resort in Urbanna, VA. They pick the nicest campgrounds so I knew we had done alright when I heard they would be going there as well. As a side note, Ann and I tend to only talk in accents...typically our faux English accent. Ann's aunt is from London so she has been able to hone her accent. Imagine my surpirse when I learned that Aunt Marie from London would be visiting and be along for the ride to VA!
Let me go back to our trip for a second...we arrived on Sunday...after a 12 hour ride. Turns out we had come the farthest distance and everyone was taking note we had come "all the way from Massachusetts!" The ride was pretty uneventful (thankfully)...although we always get to a certain point after too many hours on the road when we start looking for some excitement. Like when we saw the crazy motorcycle driver that had a Batman type jacket on and was steering with only one hand and dragging one foot just above the road while he drove at about 70 mph. We find ourselves saying things like "Wouldn't it be cool to see him wipe out and see how that jacket holds up?" Of course we caveat it with things like "But he would be fine in the end..." and "But we don't want him to wipe out close to us so we run him over...that wouldn't be fun." Driving for an entire day, especially when it is 100 degrees out, will do this to you.
The campground had a boardwalk you could fish off of, a pond with a gazebo to jump off of, a trampoline in the middle of the pond, 4 pools, a water park (I'm not kidding - there were 3 different slides), a marina, 3 crabbing piers, a great mini golf course, and an ice cream parlor. There wasn't anything we didn't have, quite honestly. Turns out at this campground EVERYONE had a golf cart. First of all, you needed one because it was a big place and you would self combust if you walked more than 20 feet in the heat. But more than that, they were obviously status symbols. One guy had a golf cart that was a convertible corvette. These were serious golf carts. The kids immediately wanted to rent one. Last year I read a travel tip that you should save $1 in loose change for everyone in your family during the year and it will add up as money you can spend on your annual trip. I wasn't good about saving $4 a day in change but we had saved just over $100. We had a family vote and decided to use that money to rent a golf cart for a few days. Honestly, Mimi didn't want to spend any of it. She still has money saved that her great grandmother Memere had given her when she was a baby. She's a saver....at least one of us is!
Day 1 - Williamsburg: It was about 45 minutes away and 98 degrees that day but we were game. We had a picnic when we got there and then decided to walk through the path from the visitor center to the historic area (we looked like we had gone to a water park in between). On the way, we encountered the "toy barn" where Colonial ladies showed the kids a few games. One was called Bilbo...this wooden eye hand coordination game. Ask me to break it out the next time you come over...it's a great challenge! After sweating out of every possible pore, we then headed back to the campground with the intent of going to the pool. But as soon as we got back, it started to thunder and lightening so instead we hunkered down in the camper and played games. Mimi taught us BS (and also what BS stands for...), we played Boggle, Trouble, and then we taught the kids Rummy...our camping favorite. In between downpours we made stuffed shells and garlic bread on the grill....a new menu idea that worked out great!
Day 2 - Busch Gardens: Again about 45 minutes away and 102 degrees. Good thing they had water rides! Lots of rides, games, and bad carney food later, we were off again, bound for the campground. Although here is what I learned at the amusement park...I can't fully enjoy the rides when I'm with the kids. I love roller coasters. I love being scared. I love challengeing myself. But not when I am with my kids. I have visions of my children flying off the rides (it doesn't help that an Iraqi vet who had lost his legs had recently died on a roller coaster in NY when he flew out of the ride. He hit the first car and then fell 150 feet to his death..while his wife and kids watched). My kids are as thin as a piece of paper so when faced with the inertia of the ride, they can't hold themselves up very well. Now listen, I know people ride on these things every day and it is extremely unusual for accidents to happen but I turn into a kooky irrational mother when it comes to amusement rides (never mind carney rides). Mimi and I ended up not going on the crazy rides and I did the sign of the cross every time the boys got on a crazy coaster. Yes, I'm a nut. And I'm okay with that. When we got back Tim took the kids to the pool while I cooked dinner (fajitas - another new recipe that worked out great). The kids reported back that the pool had a lily pond feature that you try to run across (but can never make) and it had 4 basketball nets... in the pool. It was like they had won $1Million dollars..the pool was that cool. We had dinner, played more games, and then went to bed early for our "big day".
Day 3 - Ocean Kayaking with Dolphins! I always try to plan a secret surprise...and it usually has to do with animals because the kids love that. Turns out Virginia Beach was 2 hours away..I thought it was much closer when I booked the campground. We were out the door at 7 am and a few hours later we were sitting in kayaks making our way into the ocean. We love to kayak but have never done it in the ocean. It's a bit more rocky, harder to get yourself past the breaker waves, and hard to get back to shore but well worth it when you have dolphins swim up alongside your kayak and look at you..or when they jump out of the water right in front of you. We swam against a pod of dolphins...about 40-50 of them. It was amazing! I had Jack with me and he either forgot to paddle or would only paddle on the left side. We were going against the wind....it was tough. I felt like Arnold Schwatzherneager (sp?). At one point, one "non kayaker" fell out of his kayak and couldn't get back in. You could feel his stress across the ocean. I'm not kidding you when I tell you, we saw 4 dolphins turn around and come back towards him. I swear, they were going to help him...they circled nearby while Tim and the instructor helped him get back in his kayak. It was pretty amazing. But there is nothing like seeing the amazement and excitement in your kids' faces when they see something like this. I felt really lucky to be experiencing it. When we made our way back to shore they tell you to lean back as far as you can, go directly towards the shore, and don't stop paddling. Unfortunately for Jack and I, a girl got in our way and we were broad sided by waves. Jack ended up under the kayak and yelled "Help Me!" as though he were drowning. I told him "Just stand up" as he was only in about 3" on water. Oh vey!
After our tour we stayed on the beach for the day. The water was warm like the Caribbean...my kind of water. It was clear, great boogey boarding, and the beach was pretty empty. We had an amazing day in the Chesapeake Bay area...I highly recommend it! We then took off around 4:00 and explored the rest of Virginia Beach. There was a Boardwalk area and then another area called Sandbridge which is just like Sagamore Beach on the Cape if you have been there. We ate dinner on the Boardwalk and then headed home. It was a long drive home...didn't get home til close to 11 because of the distance but well worth it!
Day 4 - Jack's 13th birthday! AAAAHHHH my son is officially a teenager!! How did that happen??! It seems like just yesterday he was 6..we would hold hands when we walked...and he would snuggle up with me at any given moment. Now he has that long hair...he calls it "flow"....I call it a mop. I have to remind him to kiss me goodnight. He wouldn't be caught dead holding my hand in public. Insert sigh here. In our house, when it is your big day you get to do whatever you want. Here's how Jackie chose to spend his day. We slept in til 9 (since we had to get up every day up to this point early). We rented a golf cart with our loose change money. I made him birthday cake pancakes. Literally. I came across a recipe to mix lemon cake mix with sprinkles and cook them on the grill as pancakes. Then I topped them with icing and more sprinkles. I added his favorite, bacon, and let him chase them with an orange soda at 9:30 am. It was like he hit the lottery. He decided to open 1/2 of his presents and then we hit the pool for a few hours. We came back to the camper for his favorite lunch...hot dogs. Then it was off crabbing. Turns out it was too hot for crabs....we caught only one baby one and sweat our body weight out. We headed back to the pool/water park and then drove around in the golf cart before heading back for Jack's favorite dinner...burgers. Then it was off for mini golf and birthday ice cream. Finally we came back and he opened the rest of his presents. The final gift was 4 tickets to the Yankee/Red Sox game this Friday night. His first Yankee/Red Sox game....he had tears in his eyes. It was a great day.
I should also mention that having a golf cart apparently meant that the kids thought they could drive. Here is what I learned: I will not be able to teach my kids how to drive. Tim is much better suited for that, especially when Mimi was about 2 inches from hitting a street sign. Breathe...breathe.
Can I digress for one more minute? I know this is a super long blog but it's been awhile and I keep thinking of all these things to add in! We recently crashed our friend's family vacation in Nantucket. Their son had recently gotten his permit and on the way back from the beach one day, I was in the car with them when he drove. I so admired Scott's approach to teaching his son how to drive. First, I will just say that I think fathers are much better at being calm with driving instruction. But the way he taught his son made me take note. At each opportunity he would say things like "Now, you are coming up to a stop sign. What I would do in this situation is..." and then he would gently suggest a way to approach the next step. He didn't say thinks like "You need to slow down! You are coming up to a stop sign!" And more importanly he didn't pump his imaginary brake. He made his son feel like it was his choice on how to handle each situation rather than telling him what to do. I walked away from that thinking that is how I wanted to approach things when my kids got their permit...but then Mimi almost impaled us on a street sign so I lost the ability to think calmly.
Two other exciting things happened this day. First, we got to chat with Ann's parents and Aunt Marie from London! After driving through the ENTIRE campground on Wednesday looking for them and coming up empty handed, we were very excited to find them diagionally across from us once again on Thursday. We went by a few times but they weren't out. After mini golfing we stopped by and they were finally out there. It was great to meet Aunt Marie, hear her accent, and chat with our camping buds. Secondly, Tim got to stalk some other people. He had noticed a Rubicon jeep golf cart with a Red Sox logo on it one day and hadn't been able to find it since. After going up and down EVERY street, we "ran" into them. Turns out they were lovely people. Originally from upstate New York but now living in Virginia, they were a couple that had lived in Massachusetts for a period of time and they had noticed our plates. Turns out they wanted to chat with us too and find out where we were from. The man had actually lived in Mass while he was treated for cancer at Dana Farber for a few years and throughout his life had owned several jeeps. We talked to them for about 40 minutes....we loved them. It was a good lesson for the kids on how making conversation with some strangers can be a good thing.
Day 5 - Pool Party! We went to the pool all day. It was so hot that the pool water was warm and you couldn't spend more than 10 minutes out of the water, despite it's temperature. In the afternoon we decided to tour the surrounding area (not much to see, quite honestly) in our air conditioned car. Then back to the pool, dinner, and more games.
Day 6 - more of the same - pool party. We were getting a little tired of the heat so we decided to head out for home and get a few hours on the road. We swam, rode around for the last day in our golf cart, got ice cream, and then headed out for home around 6. We made it to Maryland around midnight and called it a night before heading out early Sunday morning.
I always try to look back on every experience - to learn from it and reflect on it. Here's what I learned from this trip: 1. I miss camping. Turns out we camped 12 times last year...but again, I was on sabbatical. This was our 4th trip this year and the summer feels almost over. I miss the simplicity of life when we camp. I miss exploring new places. I wish I was a travel writer. 2. I am a very self sufficient person but over the years I have come to admit that there are some things my husband is better at that me. Teaching our kids to drive is one of those things. I suck at it and that's ok. 3. Meeting new people is so invigorating. As New Englanders I think we tend to not talk to strangers. But opeing yourself up to people can be very interesting and rewarding. Sometimes you wish you never started the conversation, but more often than not, you are happy that you did. Most importanly..4. Don't forget to be Little Kelly. On the second run down on one of the water park slides, I found myself sticking my tongue out and giggling to myself. Honestly, I'm just a little kid in pig tails with freckles that grew up. I can't believe I am 43...an adult...how did that happen so fast? Just like Jack turned 13 in a blink of an eye, somehow I became an adult in a few short years. When I realized I was having this little kid moment, I didn't pull my tongue back in...I embraced it and let it all hang out. Don't forget to be a little kid once in awhile!