10 Jul

RVFTA #43: Greetings from The Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains

On this week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas, we are talking about the first stop on our Great Smoky Mountains Summer Tour. We started our explorations at the Cherokee KOA, on the North Carolina side of our country’s most visited national park.

Listen to hear about our favorite park attractions and hikes that are easily accessed from the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains. We will talk about…

  • The Oconaluftee Visitor Center
  • The Mountain Farm Community
  • The Oconaluftee River Trail
  • The Three Waterfalls Trail at Deep Creek Campground and Picnic Area (outside of Bryson City)
  • The Kephart Prong Trail (in the running for favorite family hike ever!)

We also talk about all the things that make Great Smoky Mountains National Park a great place for hiking with young kids.

And we give a complete review of the Cherokee KOA, which offers resort-like amenities with 360-degree views of the beautiful Smokies. It was a challenge to drag our boys away for even a short time from the pool, hot tub, water slide, tubing, and bounce pillow. It is a miracle we even made it into the National Park!

We are on the RVFTA Summer Road Trip and you are listening to Episode #43: Greetings from the Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina!

 

Play
05 Jul

Great Smoky Mountains Shakedown (Part One) with the Cherokee KOA

Cherokee KOA

We have wanted to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park for years, so after spending four relaxing days at the Fancy Gap KOA we were charged up and ready to go.  So why did we spend our first full day on the North Carolina side of the Smokies at the Campground? Because the boys had been terrific sports during our Blue Ridge Parkway excursion, and they wanted a full day of crazy campground fun.  The Cherokee KOA, packed with fun amenities, and surrounded on all sides by mountains, is a destination in its own right, so we were happy to oblige.

Our site was close to the bounce pillow and a gigantic checkers board. Max and Theo have a well documented love of bounce pillows, and they are both in a serious checkers phase.  I’m not the type of dad that lets my kids beat me at games, but they both beat me at this one…regularly.

The huge checkers set was awesome, and we recommend that every campground owner in America install one. STAT.  They can’t cost that much, and they don’t take up much real estate.

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After breaking a sweat at the bounce pillow it was time for a dip in the super sweet pool.  The boys got up to their usual shenanigans pretty quickly.  They also fell in love with the bright yellow slide and the hot tub.

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The kids couldn’t get enough of the Cherokee KOA’s resort like pool area, and we returned each afternoon after hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Mom and Dad couldn’t get enough of tubing on the Raven Fork River, which runs the length of the campground, and we tried to do a few runs every night.  You launch into the river at the end of a row of deluxe cabins and you stop right behind the fenced in pool and hot tub area.  Tube rides followed by some hot tub time? Sounds like vacation perfection to me.

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We started each of our adventurous days in the park at the nearby Oconaluftee Visitor Center.   Even though we research our trips and bring guide books along, we also always ask Rangers for suggestions that are particularly well suited for our family.  The first day a kindly Ranger sent us south to Bryson City and Deep Creek. He recommended a hike known as the “Three Waterfalls Loop.”  It was gorgeous.

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While we were prepared for a great hike we were not prepared for the amazing tubing run at Deep Creek.  A return trip with tubes has moved way up on the family bucket list.

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The next morning we headed back to the visitor center and another Ranger recommended that we take the boys for an adventurous four mile roundtrip hike alongside a lovely stream on the Kephart Prong Trail. Three very narrow wooden bridges cross the stream in idyllic locations.  We were sold. It ended up being one of our two or three favorite family hikes ever.

We parked at the trailhead on the side of Newfound Gap Road and found a magical view waiting for us less than 10 yards from our car.

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The hike only got better from there. The first bridge is not really that narrow, but the next two are.  The boys crossed slowly, carefully, and confidently.  I was so proud to watch them.  We have really raised great hikers.  Wesley was a complete champ too, and he thoroughly enjoyed the views from Stephanie’s pack.

Every step of this hike was engaging and stunning.  The stream was cool and the air was misty.We felt like we were on a great adventure in a storybook.

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We have developed a very successful traveling pattern with our children after five years of RVing.  We head out for adventures in the early morning, beating the crowds and enjoying the trails.  Then we head back to the campground and reward the boys with the pool, the bounce pillow, the checkers board, whatever.  Stephanie and I love to travel to see the great natural wonders of our country.  Our boys love to travel because they get to hang out at awesome campgrounds. After our Kephart Prong hike it was back to the Cherokee KOA for a well deserved swim, dinner at our camp site, and camp store ice cream.

Where to next?  The Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, of course.  The mountains, and another great KOA, are calling our names.  And we simply must go….

We have been frequent customers of KOA for over five years, however this was a sponsored trip.

28 Jul

Robert Lake Park, Montreat: A Playground for the Soul

We were looking for a peaceful way to spend the day, so we decided to return to Montreat, a Presbyterian retreat community on the outskirts of Black Mountain, North Carolina. I don’t know much about the history of this place, but I do know that they managed to build what may just be the most beautiful playground ever.

With rocky streams running through the whole park, the equipment is spread out in little pockets that our kids could discover in bits and pieces, as opposed to the phrenetic but brief enjoyment that most playgrounds offer.

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There is also a nearby lake with paddle boats and canoes, as well as shops, but Max and Theo really just wanted to splash the morning away. When we stopped to look at the waterfall, they asked if they could slide down it. Really?

Back in downtown Black Mountain, Theo pointed out the “Market”, a hardware store that he seemed to think had high potential for landing him a new toy or something. We avoided it like the plague, but someone without the three-kid-crazy might actually enjoy spending some time in the artsy shops that line the streets of this town.

Instead of shopping, we sat down to eat lunch at My Father’s Pizza and Pasta. Now those of us from the New York area usually avoid getting pizza while traveling. At best it is disappointing; at worst–revolting. But the reviews on Yelp! were good, and it seemed fast and kid-friendly.

I apologize for my low expectations. My Father’s Pizza didn’t just make good pizza ‘for the south’. It was just plain good pizza. I had white garlic pizza with bacon and red onions and oh my goodness. Leftovers later that night with a cold beer made campfire nirvana. My husband had some boring meat thing and he said that it was good also. I wasn’t paying attention.

We probably should have gone back to the playground to work off lunch. Instead, we headed back to the campground for naps. Vacationing is pretty hard work after all.

24 Jul

The Campground Inspectors File Their Report….

On the second or third day of our visit to the Asheville East KOA I noticed a a bright yellow fifth wheel adorned with KOA logos and advertising pulling into the campground.  I sleuthed around a little and discovered that the inspectors from company headquarters in Billings, Montana were visiting for the campground’s annual inspection.  I am fairly certain that I also spotted the actual inspectors the next morning at the campground’s pancake breakfast.  Two thoughts came to mind as I saw them munching away.  Firstly, these hardened road warriors clearly have their priorities in order–testing a campground’s pancakes is very, very important and should be taken seriously. These inspectors did just that–after every bite they jotted down a few notes in their journals and discussed their findings.  My second thought was simply–how the heck do I apply for that job???
Here at the Lively Little Campers blog we like to think that we also thoroughly inspect each campground that we visit–and we can certainly slay some pancakes…
So after consulting with Stephanie, Max, Theo, and Wes, we all decided to file our own campground inspection report on the Asheville East KOA.  Here are our findings….
1. The interior roads were paved and good for scooting.  In this photo one of the workers in the yellow cart blows Max away in a grueling race around the lake.
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2. The duck corn was delicious–at least the ducks thought so–and the price was right.  We spent a relaxing morning exploring the banks of the Swannanoa River and feeding them.  However, if you look at the picture of the duck corn bags at the top you will see that there is a cute little drawing of a duck on one of the bags but not the other.  This irregularity should clearly be reported to headquarters in Billings!
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3. The boys enjoyed playing at both of the playgrounds and were very happy when they brought in fresh mulch after it rained.  Hey, whose kid is that climbing UP the slide??  Parents these days!
4. The owner’s daughter made snow cones outside of the camp store on several occasions for a buck each.  The boys enjoyed picking out flavors and watching the ice being transformed into a tasty treat.  Just one of many little touches that made the campground so sweet and fun.
5. They recycle!
6. There is lots of room around the lakes for a pretty stroll.

7. We discovered a secret passage from the campground to the Hot Dog King.  Plus a 10% percent discount for campers!

8. We found a great spot for tossing rocks!
9. There is a charming common area with games which makes for a nice place to meet your neighbors and unwind and relax after a long day of unwinding and relaxing.
10.  When I asked the owner where to disembark when tubing the Swannanoa River on their property she loaded me and the boys onto a golf cart and drove me out and showed me.  The boys were thrilled!  It’s hard to beat that kind of customer service.
I tried to share my report with the inspectors in the big bright yellow KOA fifth wheel, but like the fiddler and his airstream, they were gone.  They had probably moved on to their next pancake breakfast, check-lists in hand.
22 Jul

Chrome Shining in the Sun…the Southern Truck Parade

As I’ve already mentioned, the Asheville East KOA is a delightful campground to stroll through.  I’ve been taking about two walks a day there, sometimes with the boys, and sometimes without.  I enjoy walking along the banks of the Swannanoa River and then heading over the little bridge to walk around the spring-fed lakes out back.

This weekend I noticed another lovely sight while strolling around the campground.  A whole bunch of shiny pick-up trucks–both old and new.  I like the way that chrome looks shining in the sun about as much as I like the way that sunlight looks when its shimmering across a lake.

It’s a well-known fact that Southerners love their trucks more than we Northerners do and here is the proof.  Each truck looked like its owner had staged it for a fashion show.  So here is the view from my front row seat…

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Hey you little campers, scram!!!  Daddy wants some alone time with his truck.

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Now that’s better.  My pick for best in show.
21 Jul

Dynamite Joe and the Caffeine Kids, Black Mountain

When you travel and camp with kids coffee is more important than gasoline.  I would rather be stranded on the side of the road with the tank on empty and a fresh cup of Joe in my hands than be woken up in our camper by my twin boys at 6:15 a.m. only to discover that we’re fresh out.  Our kids are naturally caffeinated but we are not.  So luckily for Stephanie and me, when I noticed that our supply of coffee had dwindled down to the last bean I discovered one of those Great Good Places that make life worth living.  The Dynamite Roasting Company, in Black Mountain, is only 2.4 miles up the road from the Asheville East–a match made in heaven if you ask me.

You see, I’ve become an amateur coffee snob in training over the last year.  I used to look for the independent book stores when we travelled to a new town–but now I look for coffee shops.  More specifically, I look for coffee shops with one of these in them…

The first word out of Stephanie’s mouth in the morning is often “coffee?” but she will drink any decent brew from the grocery store.  But I want my coffee fresh roasted, and I want to know when it was roasted and what region it is from.  The baristas at Dynamite are knowledgeable, accessible, and fun to chat with.  They know their stuff without being snobby.  The overall vibe of the shop is mountain cool without any air of pretension.  Notice in the picture above that even the cops in the greater Asheville area like to drink the good stuff.  No Dunkin’ Donuts for them!  Even though they do look like they are hiding behind the roaster…..

The shop itself is cozy and comfortable, and thank goodness, they had a nice variety of whole bean poundage to choose from.  The packaging of the beans was even aesthetically pleasing…

The barista helped me select two pounds to get us through the next stage of our journey.  I brought home the Honduras Los Pinos and the Suplican Clemencia.  Both were excellent.  Stephanie preferred the darker Suplican which had the qualities of a good French Roast, and I preferred the Honduras, which was brighter and fruitier.  Before we leave town I am going to grab a pound of their Summer Blend which is pictured above, on the right side.

Dynamite Roasting Company may just be the perfect little coffee shop.  I’ve tasted coffee from other roasters back in New Jersey that is equally as good, and my hometown shop, Turnstile Coffee Roasters in Belmar has an equally charming space–but I have never been in a coffee shop that has had such an excellent record collection.

If I lived in Swannanoa or Black Mountain I would spend a dangerous amount of time and money at the Dynamite Roasting Company.  As a fan of the coffee and chocolate houses of 18th century England I would probably even try to have my mail delivered to the shop.

But for now I was just happy to have replenished our supply of whole bean and to have discovered a great new place.  I wish I could have lingered for a while on their front porch and contemplated the view….

But Stephanie was back at the campground and I wanted to go home and brew her a fresh cup.  A great KOA and a great coffee roaster less than three miles apart?  I didn’t think our road trip could get any better, but thanks to the Dynamite Joe, it clearly did.   The Caffeine Kids are forever grateful.
20 Jul

Good Morning Swannanoa! East Asheville, KOA

We woke up on our first morning at the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa, brewed some coffee, and then decided to head out for a stroll, and a scoot, to check out the campground.

I really liked our site.  That is the Swannanoa River rushing by in the background.  The water in the foreground is a small pond that formed after the river jumped its banks a few days before.  A family of ducks had also moved in by the tree.

Over the last few weeks the rain had caused the river to run high and fast.  This is the view from a cute little bridge that crosses the river and brings you over to the other side of the campground where there are two charming lakes for fishing and canoeing.

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They have cabins and RV sites that face out across the water.  What a lovely view to wake up to on a misty mountain morning.

The campground has a lot of cute nooks and crannies for exploring and is much larger than it seems from the road.

After our walk the boys wanted to play at the smaller of the two playgrounds right in front of the camp store.  Max felt like stretching his legs and doing some climbing, so he did.

We were happy to be back in the mountains and looking forward to spending a lot of quality time with our family.  I was also immensely pleased to have such a convenient base camp for the second part of our trip.  We have been looking for a great place to park our camper when visiting Asheville–and now we have found it.

20 Jul

The Fiddler and his Airstream…Welcome to Asheville.

We pulled out of Cape Hatteras at around 8:30 AM.  Not exactly the crack of dawn–but a pretty good departure time for parents with twin four year-olds and a three month old baby boy.  We were making good time on our way to Asheville when Max put down his coloring book and started complaining that his stomach hurt.  We didn’t pay him much mind.

Then he barfed all over the back seat.  This caught our attention.  Then he barfed again.  Now we were down-right focused.  Theo, being his twin brother and all, also barfed all over the back seat.  Now we were pretty grossed out.  Then Theo barfed again.  We both wanted to cry.  Only 8 hours of driving left…

At least Wes looked happy sitting in the back seat, smack dab in the middle of the twins, blissfully chewing on his rainbow colored squish.

After a Nascar-like emergency pit-stop-clean-up things started to improve quickly–despite the lingering smell of double twin vomit.   The highways and interstates (particularly Interstate 40), that stretch from the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains make for some very easy driving–even with our 6,000 pound, 33 foot, Jayco travel trailer behind us.  After the barfing incident the boys settled in and were very good for the rest of the drive (not that blowing chunks makes a child bad)–and Wes went for almost seven hours without a tear.

But eventually he became uncomfortable and the tears started to flow.  The last two hours of the trip were pretty stressful.  The boys sang “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and the theme song to “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” to Wes over and over again–but he was not buying it.  My ears, and my stomach, were starting to hurt.  Stephanie’s nerves were frayed.  Then we pulled into the Asheville East KOA in Swannanoa, our home for the next nine nights, and we had one of those magic moments that can only happen when you get your butt out of the house and go camping.

The windows were down in our Silverado as we pulled up to register and we could hear the sound of a fiddler and his fiddle filling up the warm evening air in the campground.  The music was beautiful and soaring and the fireflies were coming out in swarms (we were later told that it was a great summer for fireflies.) We looked to our left and saw the fiddler playing, really jamming, really leaning into it, while sitting in front of his beautiful silver Airstream.  For the uninitiated, all Airstreams are silver, and all Airstreams are beautiful.  And all Airstream owners are cool.  Cooler than you and I.  Especially when they are musicians.  Especially when they play the fiddle.  No single man deserves that much style.  I wanted him to be my guru–or at least my crazy uncle.

He looked completely entranced by his own playing–not even noticing the magic spell that he was casting over my family and the rest of his fellow campers.  Our road stress was gone.  Our camping Mojo levels were completely restored.  Our camping Mojo levels were Overflowing–thanks to the fiddler and his Airstream.

The poet John Keats once wrote in Ode on a Grecian Urn that, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”  I couldn’t disagree more. His heard melodies were sweeter than honey.

After we parked the camper I rushed back to snap his photo, but he was gone.  The fireflies, however, had stayed, and they were lighting up the night.
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Welcome to Asheville.

 

19 Jul

What It’s REALLY All About: Stephanie’s Boots on the Ground

While my husband was pondering the metaphysical during our third family trip to Hatteras, I was thinking about things a bit more concretely.Sitting on the beach this year, holding a sleeping infant and watching my four-year olds play and splash, I realized I was thankful for three things:1. Four-year olds don’t eat sand.

2. Four-year olds don’t steal toys from random kids on the beach.

3. Four-year olds don’t wear swim diapers.

Next year we will be back in the thick of it when Wes starts shoveling fistfuls of sand into his mouth and taking purple shovels from innocent girls.

But this year I enjoyed the respite.

17 Jul

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: Maybe Third Time Will Be a Charm?

Do they really want anyone to climb?

There was controversy in the wind at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse this past weekend.

Last year the boys were not allowed to climb to the top because they were not the requisite 42 inches tall. I took umbrage at this requirement, since the campers scampered to the top of High Point at the age of three. They have energy to burn and I wouldn’t mind them letting it out by climbing a couple of hundred stairs. However, the rangers wouldn’t budge and turned us away from the ticket booth with rather disapproving looks.

This year I thought we had it made. I was sure Max and Theo were tall enough and I was excited to show them the views from the top of the tallest lighthouse in America. We had them stand next to the measurement lighthouse and it seemed to us that we were in the clear…

Until we again went to the ticket booth. Here the ranger pulled out the official lighthouse measurement tool (I thought 42 inches was 42 inches…), and once again we got the no go.

We were told they could go to the door and look inside. Wow, said the preschoolers.

Still, they took it in stride. I got a few smiles out of them, but you can see the hint of resignation. I’m pretty sure they walked away believing that they would never actually be 42 inches tall. Ever.

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At least we had the Junior Ranger Program to fall back on. The boys remembers getting their “medals” from last year and were excited to dial in a repeat performance. The Junior Rangers entails doing some activities in a book, attending an educational program, and taking an oath to protect wildlife across America.

Someone needs to let these rangers know that no actual power or privilege comes along with the title of “Junior Ranger.” Last year a ranger wondered out loud if my boys had actually completed the activities themselves (of course not). This year, the ranger wondered if my boys were old enough to participate and whether they might poke their eyes out with the little pencils (very likely). Both times I bit my tongue and refrained from pointing out that most children today would rather play on an iPad than visit a National Park, so maybe they should welcome the participation of any young soul. Either way, a simple but pointed raise of the eyebrow and my boys received their activity book and sharp pencil.

The young rangers who run the educational activities make up for their cranky elders by offering the kids friendliness and enthusiasm in spades. Max and Theo still talk about the Sea Turtle presentation from last year where they learned a song to help them remember a turtle’s journey. This year they learned about the National Park “Arrowhead”from Ranger Christie, and although I know they didn’t understand most of what was going on, they thoroughly enjoyed it.

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And yes, they received their badges, again. And it was just as exciting the second time around.

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Fingers crossed…next year we climb.

14 Jul

Buxton Munch: Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

It is a requirement for every employee in a New Jersey surf shop to at all times possess a surly and unimpressed attitude toward their clientele. Not so at the Natural Art Surf Shop in Buxton, North Carolina where the friendly young lads, upon being asked where the best lunch is to be had, will enthusiastically direct you to a sketchy-looking strip mall out back.

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These hospitable locals will inform you that Buxton Munch has the best fish tacos around, and they will be right. In fact, the fish tacos are so good that when you order your children a cheeseburger, it will sit untouched as you assemble the rice and beans and fish in a tortilla for them.

Oh, and the smoothies. Enough said.

14 Jul

They Float Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease….

This afternoon, after a quality nap, and some quiet time in the camper, we headed back to the welcome center at the Cape Hatteras KOA for the “tie dye extravaganza.”  We did this last year as well and the shirts made for great souvenirs that the boys still wear–so call it a new summer tradition.  You could bring your own shirt or pay five bucks and buy one from the staff–they had a variety of sizes laid out on a table in the stage room next to the pool.

After we bought our shirts the summershiners (younger summer staffers) helped us bunch them up with rubber bands before we headed back outside to the buckets of dye.  The boys took their color selections very seriously…

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Of course, mommy did help…

Then, to celebrate our awesome new t-shirts, we decided to take one last swim before dinner and do a spontaneous aerial show…

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Wes watched from the shade on the side of the pool, only mildly amused by his brothers’ hijinx.   He sees this stuff at home all day long…

After our cool dip we were all ravenously hungry.  So we headed back to our site and Stephanie rocked out a delicious chicken caesar salad.  Then we all gathered around and shared a nice meal and talked about the day…

And drank some cold milk…
And played some cards on the carpet…
It was my favorite day of summer so far.  And this road trip is just getting started.
Onward.
13 Jul

We’ve Got Our Mojo Workin’ (and our campers are chillin’)

We have settled into a relaxing groove here at the Cape Hatteras KOA–and it’s official–we’ve got our MOJO working.  Stephanie and I were both a bit nervous (albeit in very different ways) about traveling with such a little camper–but Wes is a budding young star–and a potential KOA rookie of the year.  My big little man really seems to love the beach.  Here he is relaxing with mommy.

And a bit later taking a refreshing nap and enjoying the ocean air…

While I actually caught a few waves on my bodyboard…

And mommy cooled off her feet…

Meanwhile, Max prepared to dig a really big hole with his powerful purple shovel (Theo’s is pink)…

And Theo tried to prove that he brushed his own teeth this morning…

After about 3 hours we headed back up to the camper and I showed off my sherpa skills.  I almost crashed into another dad who also had a double stroller on the wooden walkway coming back from the beach–but we both executed last second pivots to avoid a catastrophe.  I overheard a nearby mom say, “Wow, that was really fun to watch!”

We dropped of some stuff at our site and decided to head to the pool.  Max and Theo wanted to scoot there with their goggles on–and insisted that they were “super spies.”
Pretty incognito, huh?
13 Jul

Most Improved in Cutting: The Campers Create ‘Art’

When the campers’ got their first report cards from preschool last year, their teacher noted that the fine arts was not necessarily their area of expertise. Although Jeremy huffed and puffed, this feedback came as no surprise to me since most artistic ventures in the home lasted about 7 to 9 minutes and ended with me scrubbing something out of a carpet or off of a wall.
Well, preschool worked its magic, and the boys are now capable and willing to sit for long periods of time and create ‘masterpieces’. So for the first time ever, I packed a big bag of craft supplies for our trip to North Carolina.
When the rain rolled in yesterday morning, the paper, scissors, crayons, and stickers came out.
The boys sat for well over an hour making invitations to their ‘popsicle party’ that was to take place later that day. (I had brought those popsicle molds that you pour juice into and freeze. Luckily my boys never have anything like that at home so it was a pretty big deal.)
Wesley, of course, chose to sleep through the festivities.
11 Jul

A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (and the fun that followed…)

So traveling with kids is not all peaches and cream. We don’t want to sell our loyal readers a false bill of goods.  As you know, we have a blast with our lively little campers, but there are also moments when parenthood can almost drive you bonkers.

We left for our sixteen day North Carolina extravaganza on Monday at about 3:00pm.  And just like last year we decided to break up the drive to the Cape Hatteras KOA by staying at Camp Wal-Mart in Onley, Virginia–which could easily be renamed “Lonely Virginia.”  Until our camping buddies arrived we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The six hour drive to Onley was pretty rough. Baby Wes cried the entire time.

Mommy’s nerves were shredded.  (Don’t worry, this photo is not from his car seat.  We do buckle our children in.)

Once we got settled into Camp Wal-Mart the reality set in that the camper was pretty darn hot.  So daddy heroically decided to head into the superstore for supplies and cold water.

Did I dawdle a little bit in the coolness of the camping aisle?  Why yes, I did.  But then I realized that Stephanie and my three little boys were alone in the back of a dark Wal-Mart parking lot.  So I trekked back to the worst night of sleep I’ve ever had.  The boys were sweating and scared, and I had to sleep on the floor between their beds.  The problem with this scenario is that both of the twins still fall out of those beds a lot.  They each crashed onto my head about three times during the night.  I felt a little like Holden Caulfield–The Catcher in the Camper.

Morning came and we all woke up sweaty and sticky.  So I headed outside to talk to camping buddy Joe who was parked next to us.  After we greeted each other he suggested that we get the heck out of Dodge.  He said, “I’m okay with spending the night here, but once the people start shopping and looking into our campers it’s time to leave.”  We packed up pronto and headed back out onto the open road.  Wes did a bit better during the final stretch–despite an explosive seven-wipe poop that found its way down to his toes.  Camping Mojo levels were on the rise as we headed into Dare County and onto the Outer Banks.

When we arrived at the KOA things got fun really fast (as they pretty much always do)–and the stress of the long drive and the muggy night melted away.

We played on the pirate playground…

We splashed in the world’s greatest campground pool…

Then we headed over to the bounce pillow…

After dinner we went down to the beach for wiffle-ball and kite flying…

We told the boys no getting wet–and that seemed to make them a little sad. So they inched down a bit closer to the water…

And then they disregarded our “no getting wet” rule completely.

And I am so glad they did…..

Onward.
29 Mar

Beach Camping with the Comeback KOA: Cape Hatteras, North Carolina


We had one week of summer vacation left and our wanderlust was getting the best of us again.  I was watching the weather reports for three different regions.  Would we spend our last week of summer vacation hiking in New Hampshire? Or visiting family and listening to bluegrass in The Blue Ridge Mountains? Or being beach bums in the Outer Banks?    
It was 72 hours before our planned departure date and we still hadn’t made up our minds.  All of the options seemed awesome and we really wanted to take all three trips.  Stephanie and I agreed that we would make a final decision that night when she returned from teaching a workshop at her school.
When she walked in the door eight hours later she told me that she had some “news” for me.  I thought that she had made up her mind about the camping trip—but instead she told me that she was pregnant!  We were going to have a very busy and exciting year in front of us—so we decided that it was definitely time to spend a week being beach bums in North Carolina.
The Cape Hatteras KOA is my favorite place for beach camping on the East Coast.  The Atlantic Ocean is right on the other side of the dunes and the waves are consistently good for surfing.  I had packed my boards and I was itching to catch some waves.  But when we pulled into the KOA my kids wanted nothing to do with the ocean—they had seen the bounce pillow, the pirate playground, and the brand new pool!  I could hear the waves crashing over the dunes but they would have to wait.
We had camped at the Cape Hatteras KOA before when the boys were toddlers.  But that was before Hurricane Irene destroyed much of the campground.  We knew that much of the KOA had been rebuilt but we didn’t know just how extensive the redesign was.  The new pool was ridiculously nice.  In fact, it is the nicest pool that I have ever seen at a campground.  There are two lanes for lap swimming, an area with slides for the older kids, and an absolutely lovely walk-in low end where my kids spent about three hours every day.  The campground is also filled with brand new elevated cabins that boast views of the ocean and the sound.

 

I woke up early on our first morning and brewed some fresh coffee and walked up to the beach to check the waves.  The surf looked really good.  The waves were about waist high and glassy and there were plenty of them.  The water was warm and crystal clear and I surfed all morning.  When I headed back to our campsite I was completely exhausted.  But when you have twin boys exhausted just doesn’t cut it.  It was time to head to the bounce pillow, and then to the playground, and then to the pool.
We settled into a very relaxing routine at the Cape Hatteras KOA.  We would wake up early every morning and head to the beach—then after about an hour I would head to the pool with the boys and give mom some relaxing reading time in her beach chair.  Mom would steal an hour or so for herself and then meet us at the pool.  We ended our days by taking part in the many activities that the campground offered on-site.  We indulged at the ice-cream social, made new friends on the daily train ride, and had a blast making tie-dye shirts for the boys.

Our week at the Cape Hatteras KOA was exactly what we had hoped it would be–relaxing and easy.  There are plenty of things to do on the Outer Banks, but we spent most of our time having a blast right on the campground.   Daddy surfed, mommy read on the beach, and Max and Theo showed off their sweet new goggles at the pool.   A beautiful double rainbow spread across the ocean on our last night—promising us many great camping trips to come—and another little camper to share them all with.
15 May

Girls’ Night (Okay, Afternoon) Out: Zip Lining in Asheville, NC

Three years ago, the Asheville community was all abuzz about a coming attraction, and it was NOT the impending arrival of our Max and Theo. Navitat, a zip lining company (or “tree-based adventure company” as they like to call themselves), was opening in the mountains. It was the area’s hottest ticket. Everyone was doing it. Everyone was raving. Everyone except Jeremy and me.

Bad timing on our part, huh? We had been traveling down to Asheville for the last five years, and they decide to open this place when I am 200 pounds and pregnant with twins. Way to throw the whole life change thing in my face.

Anyway, the topic kept coming up over the last two years and I seriously considered it each and every time we visited. The hassle of arranging to be away from twin infants was just always a little too much of a hurdle for me. Next time, I would promise myself.

That is…until THIS TIME!!! Because I am now a mother of toddlers and I am capable of anything. No more “Ohhh, babies, how can I possibly leave you for even a precious moment?” Now it’s “There is milk in the fridge, peanut butter in the cabinet, and the rest you can figure out!” The boys (and that includes my husband) have no problem fending for themselves in my absence, and I am determined to make the most of this.

My sister and I headed out with a couple of our friends, and the payoff for this particular event was huge. I had never zip lined before, so I was certainly excited, but I honestly did not think I would have as much fun as I did. Once you got over thinking so much–how should I hold my feet, where do my hands go, when do I brake, should I break now, now, how about now–



it was just breath-taking and exhilarating.  I basically want to go zip lining again and again and again. Not so easy of a hobby to indulge unfortunately.

Navitat is running a first-class operation down there in North Carolina.  The two guides for our group were friendly and good-humored, striking just the right balance between educating us and letting us just enjoy the experience.

In between the zip lines, they had charming diversions like a rope swing, a rope ladder, and a couple of repelling points. The guides also tried to incorporate regional history and botany…again, just enough to be interesting without being overbearing.

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What is the best news? They say that a course is coming to our neck of the woods soon and very soon. Our guides told us that they would be opening a Navitat in the Jim Thorpe area of the Poconos, a favorite weekend destination for our family.

To say that I am excited would be an understatement. By then the boys will be even older and even more capable of watching their father for extended periods of time. Possibilities expand before my eyes.

08 May

Mt. Mitchell: On Top of the World (as far as us East Coasters are concerned)

Seven or eight years ago, Jeremy and I were spending our usual couple of weeks in Asheville during the month of July. The free music festival Belle Chere is held there every year on the last weekend in July, and we had our pre-parenthood traditions that included lots of late nights listening to music in crowded bars, followed by sleeping in until all hours, and then maybe getting around to an afternoon hike.

One of these lazy afternoons was hot and humid enough to chase us up to a higher altitude. We learned early on in our mountain explorations that if you want to escape the heat, just go up a few thousand feet. And bring a sweater…and a raincoat, because you never know.

So we decided to head up to Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of Mississippi. We weren’t up for any of those real hikes (on account of all that music in bars), so we stumbled onto the Balsam Nature Trail, an easy mile loop full of stones and moss and mushrooms and caves.

This has become one of our favorite hikes to do with the boys. We take them each time we are in Asheville, and it is the perfect walk for young rock scramblers. At this point they can walk the whole trail themselves with only a couple of snack breaks to boost the morale.

A brief “Mt. Mitchell and the Boys” montage (sing Through the Years in your head…)

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In the spirit of celebrating the general mouthiness of my boys, I will admit that when we took them up the mountain a few weeks ago, Theo was expressing skepticism about the fabulousness of this particular hike. Basically, we had been to the fish hatchery the day before and so for him, on this particular day, it was feeding fish or bust. He kept requesting fish, and at one point his brother piped in with a request for a beaver. Say what?

So in classic manipulative cheerleader mom mode, I told them that while there would probably be no animal sightings, there might be….wait for it…a WATERFALL!!!! Gasps, smiles, claps. My work is done here, folks.

Okay, so there is no waterfall. There is just a small, trickling fresh water spring that comes out of the mountain toward the end of hike. Vocabulary is fluent at this age and I take full advantage. But it was enough for them, and it is enough for us…every time.

I can’t wait to go back to our waterfall.

19 Apr

Campground Review: Mama Gertie’s Hideaway

Swannanoa, Western North Carolina

The Lively Little Campers are also lucky little campers.  Max and Theo just happen to have two loving grandparents who live in Asheville, North Carolina–surrounded by the stunning beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The boys have visited Ami and BeBop in Asheville many times, but we have never had the pleasure of camping there.  That all changed last week when we kicked off the 2012 camping season with a seven day stay at Mama Gertie’s Hideaway in nearby Swannanoa.
Last summer while staying in Asheville we scouted out the two area KOA’s and were not particularly thrilled–as both were close to highways with relatively small sites.  So when we started planning this most recent trip we had no idea where to stay.  I spent countless hours pouring over my Trailer Life directory and I put on my captain internet costume while I slogged through dozens of campground reviews.  This probably sounds painfully familiar to many of you campers out there, right?
My extensive research narrowed down the options to a couple of spots.  But to make the final decision I felt that it would be necessary to put some boots on the ground.  BeBop (aka grandpa) was given an advanced scouting mission that he tackled with his usual tenacity and style.
The end result: Site 19 at Mama Gertie’s Hideaway.  An absolutely beautiful, quiet, peaceful, and private spot nestled right over a gurgling stream.  The rear bed in our camper (Max and Theo’s “clubhouse”) literally looked right over the water.  The gentle sound of water rushing over rock whispered us to sleep each night.
As an added bonus there was also a Jayco RV dealership and a great diner called The Breakfast Shoppe within walking distance of the campground.  The salesman at the dealership allowed the campers to investigate his complete line of travel trailers and hybrids with no pressure added and the cook at the diner made the boys Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes.  I don’t know about you, but eating Mickey Mouse pancakes and looking at Jayco RV’s is a pretty good way to waste away a morning.
Mama Gertie’s Hideaway was truly a lovely campground, and it was situated in a great location just east of Asheville.  But when you’ve got three year old twin boys who love to run, scoot, slide, and swim–beauty and serenity are not the only qualities that this mama and papa look for in a campground.  The boys have their camping wish list too.  Unfortunately, Mama Gertie’s had no playground, no pool, no open field for play, and the roads were too steep for scooting.
BeBop’s fact finding mission uncovered all of this before we booked but we decided to go for it anyway.  It was too cold for swimming and we would be spending most of our time at the grandparent’s house anyway–and they have the world’s best scooting road right in front of their home.  And to be fair–Mama Gertie’s lack of amenities and activities is reflected in their bargain price.  Our site was 32 dollars a day and they offer discounts for Good Sam and AAA members.  They also offer a free night after six nights paid–perfect for our itinerary.
If we camp in the Asheville area again this summer we have already decided to look elsewhere–somewhere with a little more action for the boys.  I will, however, miss the peacefulness of Mama Gerties.  And if peacefulness is what your looking for then I can suggest no better place.
Onward!