It's hard to describe the magic of scuba diving to a land lubber. When I slip beneath the surface and slowly descend down the anchor line, I enter another world. Venturing into the aquatic animal kingdom and weightlessly flying over reefs and wrecks, I’m overcome with the contrasting emotions of both adrenaline and tranquility at the same time.
Autumn was approaching, and with it, the start of my daughter’s freshman year of college and my son’s first year of high school. With so much change on the horizon, our annual family beach vacation to the South Carolina coast was instilled with new meaning. My wife and I had both vacationed with our parents in North Myrtle Beach since we were kids. The tradition had grown to include our children, too. This year wouldn’t be the last, but certainly the last of an era.
You never forget your first bourbon ball. I tasted mine nearly two decades ago. Allow me to explain. Bourbon balls, invented in Kentucky, are chocolate-covered candies infused with real bourbon (another Kentucky creation known the world over) and topped with a pecan. If you can delay your gratification, and that's a big if, roll the confection in your mouth, letting the semi-sweet chocolate slowly melt on your tongue, followed by a hit of the earthy, caramel-like bourbon and the slight crunch of the pecan.
I've called in some favors and scored tickets to the Keeneland Race Course and Breeders' Cup World Championships, the world's leading horse auction house and racetrack. It's the first time Lexington is hosting the event and I've invited my mom. Now there's a hat to buy. Or a "crown" as my 82-year-old friend and "surrogate mom" Edna calls it. Edna may be the single most stylish person I've ever met. Back in the day, she attended equestrian events up and down the Eastern Seaboard. And even though it's months away, I need her help to get a topper worthy of the race.
Though most visitors to Lafayette might sooner associate the area with our more famed Cajun and Creole culinary fare (jambalaya, crawfish, and gumbo), it is the rice and gravy-centric plate lunch that fuels the people of Louisiana's Acadiana region. Consisting of meat, a gravy-covered starch, a pair of vegetable sides, and a simple piece of bread — and often all served on a single plate — the plate lunch emphasizes speed, affordability, and caloric heft.
South Carolina's Olde English District stirs in my imagination scenes of battle-ravaged Revolutionary War countryside, 18th Century plantations, colonial farms, and deep-rooted southern graces. On my first trip here, back when I was a high school student, I was introduced to a centuries-old America, a place to go antiquing in tumbledown homes, sip peach tea on the porches of colonial mansions, and indulge in five-course suppers. When my friend and fellow travel writer, Austin Howard, told me to expect more from South Carolina, "this is a fantastic place for hiking, biking, driving, and riding," I was skeptical. When he offered to show me endless eastern forests, some of the country's best ATV courses, skydiving, soaring, and more, I had to reconcile the South Carolina in my mind with the one Austin was trying to place in my heart.
Ever since our kids were old enough to enjoy the rides, it's been a family tradition to celebrate the end of summer with a weekend trip to Carowinds Amusement Park in Fort Mill, S.C. This year I thought it would be fun to extend our trip by a day or two and venture beyond the park gates to check out some of the more educational sites nearby.
I've challenged my Atlanta-based friend Barb to join me at The Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Kentucky, the bourbon capital of the world. I'm mad for small batch brown liquor, but Barb doesn't "do" spirits. It requires some cajoling on my part, but Barb, who originally hails from North Carolina, is more than a little horse crazy, so I upsell that aspect.
Sometimes the town you vacation in seduces you. You imagine living there: walking the litter-free, tree-lined streets, hanging out in the coffee shop, volunteering at the museum. You eat at a bistro and the couple next to you offers to share an appetizer when you ask if they like what they are eating. You peer at flyers taped onto the windows of realtors' offices and think, "That house looks nice."
Some people travel to see the sights. I travel to eat. The essence of a place comes through the food on my plate. Anyone who has scarfed down asada tacos in San Francisco, or New Orleans gumbo can attest to this truth.
Spring break was upon us and I was determined to do something fun with my two sons and husband. I wanted to make some lasting memories with my family, like my father did for my siblings and me. My favorite memory was when he took us camping in the Great Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I remembered the great times we had sitting by the campfire, discovering new hiking trails and fishing in the nearby creek, and decided a four-day cabin trip to Gatlinburg would be perfect for our family adventure.
"If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies." My friend gave me the magnet when my eldest daughter, Lauren, left for college. She was the first to go, but with three more kids at home, I had my hands full and I managed pretty well. My husband, on the other hand, was a bit of a wreck. Lauren is a daddy's girl, and it had been hard for him to see her go. Every Memorial Day Weekend it was a tradition for the two of them to go camping. But last Memorial Day Weekend, our daughter didn't come home. She had a new boyfriend and wanted us to come to her.
Beaufort, South Carolina is characterized culturally, emotionally and economically by the presence of water. And that is precisely what's been celebrated, every year for the past six decades, at the Beaufort Water Festival. We drink it, paddle and sail upon it, picnic and party beside it. Surely, water merits its own 10-day celebration.
"10 cents?" asked my eleven-year-old in utter disbelief. It's always hard explaining to our kids how much things used to cost back in the "good old days," but for some reason, they had an especially difficult time digesting the fact that a movie ticket in 1936 was only a dime.
Visitors have been flocking to the Golden Isles since General James Oglethorpe brought the first settlers to St. Simons Island in 1736. For years, people have been mesmerized by the sweeping oak trees dripping with Spanish moss that form majestic tunnels with their sprawling branches. The combination of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean and the playful call of seagulls is spellbinding. The fresh seafood, friendly locals and mild weather keeps visitors coming back year after year.
From the moment our alarm goes off in the morning, my wife and I run like a well-oiled machine as we wake, dress, and get the kids ready to be sent off to school. I wake them up, she gets them dressed, I pack the lunches, and whoosh, just like that, they are out the door. However, the cost of being so efficient and regimented with our daily tasks is that if you don't stop every once in a while, it's easy to lose touch with each other. Suddenly, instead of a loving husband and wife, you're just a couple of cogs in...well, in a well-oiled machine.