A Recap of Our Christmas Travel

Another year. Another holiday tour of the south. 7 days. 1,369 miles. 21 hours on the road. 4 states. 3 houses. 2 extended families. And one packed-to-the-brim car. We woke up on Christmas morning in our own home the previous two years so when we discussed holiday plans in the fall, the idea of coordinating multiple schedules and enduring holiday travel headaches didn’t seem too daunting. However, now that we’re on the other side of this adventure, I’m not going to lie – it was exhausting. We did manage to have some fun along the way though.

On our way to Charlotte, we stopped for lunch at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham. Clay and I both enjoyed craft beers and the kids had fresh-squeezed lemonade on tap. We played Clue and ate a pork carnitas taco (me), a Carolina hot dog (Clay), and the ‘picky eater’ hot dogs (kids). Fullsteam’s mission is to “craft distinctly Southern beer that celebrates the farm and food traditions of the American South.” We enjoyed the rustic and industrial vibe and appreciated the knowledgeable bartender on the various beers offered.

We spent a couple of days in Charlotte with Clay’s sister and her family. While there, we ate at Pinky’s Westside Grill. Their homemade potato chips may just be the best thing I ate this trip – they were delicious! The burgers were really good too.

While at my parents in Gainesville, Georgia, we caravanned up the mountains. We hiked around Anna Ruby Falls and Unicoi State Park. Afterwards we walked around Helen – a once thriving-logging town that decided to transform into a Bavarian alpine town in the late 1960s. We drank hefeweizen and bock and ate bratwursts and jagerschnitzel. The kids particularly loved the Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen.

After saying goodbye to my family, we stopped at our alma mater, Clemson University, before making our way to North Carolina coast. We walked around the empty campus and pointed out special little spots to our kids. We tried to take them into our favorite building on campus but soon realized that it was sealed for asbestos abatement. After picking up more Clemson gear at various shops downtown, we attempted to eat lunch at one of our preferred bars but they were all closed for the winter break – womp, womp.

We celebrated a second Christmas with Clay’s family in coastal North Carolina. Before the celebration, we took Clay’s parents up on their offer to watch the children while we went into downtown Wilmington for the afternoon. We went to Front Street Brewery with Clay’s sister and our brother-in-law and went down to the river in the fog and rain.

The following day, we put on our best Clemson gear and went over to Ocean Isle Beach to watch the Cotton Bowl. But first, we walked the beach. We were a sea of orange (six graduates in one family!) and many people stopped us to wish us luck on our game (as if we had anything to do with the outcome – ha!).

We left the next day to drive back home. We stopped in Richmond for a late lunch at Beauvine Burger Concept. It was as hipster and delicious we thought it’d be – definitely worth checking out if you every find yourself in the river city.

We’re back home now. I am writing this post on our couch while wrapped in my favorite blanket. It will be just the four of us on this rainy New Years Eve with no plans other than to stay up until midnight. While our trip was a lot of fun, it wasn’t particularly relaxing so we are going to spend the next few days reflecting on the past year and gearing up for what 2019 has in store for us. To everyone who has taken time out of their day to read this blog – thank you. And to everyone who left a comment on Facebook, Instagram, or via email – thank you, thank you, thank you.

Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, 
and never thought upon; 
The flames of Love extinguished, 
and fully past and gone: 
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold, 
that loving Breast of thine; 
That thou canst never once reflect 
On old long syne.

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I Believe in Wilmington, North Carolina

When Clay and I make plans to visit our parents, it hardly feels like a chore because both sets have chosen to retire in locations that are geographically desirable and vacation destinations in their own right. Thank you, Mom and Dad! So when we realized that we’d be able to drive down to Clay’s parents for the holiday weekend with only a slight rearranging of our schedules, we hopped into the car and headed south to Wilmington, North Carolina.

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Named after the Earl of Wilmington, Spencer Compton (1673-1743), Wilmington, North Carolina is a port city and considered a gateway to the beaches along the Cape Fear coast.  The most industrialized North Carolina river, the Cape Fear flows 200 miles and empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Southport, North Carolina and served as a main transportation route in to the interior of North Carolina during the colonial era. Downtown historic Wilmington stretches along the Cape Fear, complete with a riverwalk, cobblestone streets, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops.

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We arrived on Friday in the early evening hours. Clay’s parents offered to feed the kids and handle the bedtime routine and insisted that we go out for the night. They didn’t have to twist our arms hard – before we knew it we were dressed up and heading into downtown Wilmington. As soon as we found out that it was the kick off for the Downtown Sundown Concert Series, we paid $1 for wristbands, grabbed some beers, and  watched the sun set as 42, a Coldplay tribute band, performed with the USS North Carolina in the background.

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Afterwards, we walked over to Circa 1922 for dinner, where we had cocktails and the local snapper “escovitch”, which came with a warm bammy, pickled peppers, scallion and chayote. After our late dinner, we walked along the river underneath the stars.

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The next morning, we headed south and crossed the intracoastal waterway to Caswell Beach on Oak Island. This is our go-to beach when visiting Clay’s parents because it is low-key and almost always empty. Dolphin sightings are almost always guaranteed and we even had a blue crab that kept swimming our way in the waves. The kids thought he was cute – Clay and I thought he looked delicious.

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We spent hours body surfing and playing on the beach. As I mentioned in my previous post, we’re really enjoying this phase of parenthood and love that our kids are so adventurous and up for anything. The forecast for the weekend was touch and go for awhile but thankfully, we couldn’t have asked for a better beach day on Saturday. The waves were big, the sun was shining, and the occasional cloud provided much-needed cover.

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After the beach we stopped for frozen yogurt. So healthy.

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We showered and then played in the backyard for a little while before deciding we were hungry enough to head down the road to The Shuckin’ Shack. We had local beers and Saul T’s Steampot, which comes with a dozen oysters (we ordered 6 steamed and 6 raw),  a dozen clams, 1 pound of snow crab legs, 1/2 pound of steamed shrimp (we ordered them Old Bay style), corn, and slaw.

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The next morning, we went to church with Clay’s parents and out to breakfast. Afterwards, we headed over to Ocean Isle Beach. We stopped in OIB Surf & Java and purchased coffee and some gear before hitting the beach.

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The weather was starting to deteriorate but we didn’t let that stop us from going in the water. We made the best of the cloudy afternoon and body surfed until we decided to head back to Clay’s parents for dinner.

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After showering, Clay and I were tasked with picking up the pizza from Pizzetta’s. We stopped next door at Lowe’s Grocery Store and somehow ended up at The Beer Den. We chatted with other customers and the server about our love of beer and ended up taking home a growler for Clay’s parents.

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We headed back home yesterday morning, but not before snapping a picture of the kids with their grandparents. The drive home wasn’t the best – lots of rain but the not-so-fun drive was worth having a great date night out in Wilmington and two days at the beach. It was great being able to spend time together as a family and having four interrupted days with Clay – time is precious and we have made a pact to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do what we love most. Nothing is guaranteed in life. Might as well make the most of it and swim into crashing waves and eat fresh seafood.