Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Last Stop: Charlotte, NC for Dave Matthews Band Concert

"No, Daddy, I don't want to sit. I want to stand the whole time so I can prove that I'm ready for pit next time." (That was Ben.)

"I'm going to wear my new DMB hat and tshirt to my birthday party so all my friends know I went to the Dave concert." (That was Kai.)

So I think we can count our last stop in Charlotte for the boys' first Dave Matthews Band concert as a success.

Everyone who knows us knows we are huge Dave fanatics, as evidenced here, here, and (the one that started it all) here. We look forward to our annual weekends away in Tampa and West Palm, and it's gotten to the point where friends don't even ask to tag along because, as one friend put it, it's like a "religious experience for you guys." So when the boys asked us last year to take them, we were very hesitant. Not only was it going to be expensive, but the shows are 3 hours long and let's be honest, this is not Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake. There are no fireworks or costumes or dance routines. And what about all the drunk and/or high people? Were we going to have to spend most of the concert shielding their eyes or diverting their attention? And I will admit that we were not jumping at the idea of giving up one of our "Just Us" annual concerts. (I know, selfish parents.)

We decided that rather than take them to one of our sacred Florida shows, we would find one along the route of this trip. And although they were excited, we assured them beforehand that it was okay if they got bored or tired or didn't like the show; we would not be disappointed or give them a hard time. (In fact, we even told them we would give them our phones to play games!)

Well, did we completely underestimate these kids! Angry Birds was not requested even once.

Aidan Kai, who we were sure would be the least into it, begged for a hat and wore it the whole show (and has worn it with his pajamas for most of the 15 hour drive home today). He repeatedly asked for the binoculars and used them with a great intensity on his little chubby face. He would grab me or Daddy over to him and squeeze us, his face all scrunched up against ours, watching and swaying.

Ben actually had 2 of his 3 favorite songs played, and he recognized them and sang along with some of them. He insisted on standing the whole time to prove his pit worthiness. And at one point I spotted him doing some air guitar and air drums.
I couldn't get as many pictures of Ben because he was over in his own "space" and didn't like to be bothered too much during the experience...ah, Mama's boy for sure.

Both of them woo-hooed and clapped and threw their arms up in the air when the songs were over. Those two actually stood the whole three hours, never once complaining about the noise, the lights, the seats, or the ridiculous heat.

And every single person around us was so over-the-top nice and accomodating: people would move over so they could see better, come over and tell the boys they had the "coolest parents," high five and fist bump them when a good song came on... "Your boys are rockstars," one guy declared as he walked past us on his way out.

The truth is it didn't matter to us whether they loved it as much as they did or not. They asked to go, and we wanted to "show them" what this was all about for us. All we care about is that they find things in life--be it a band, a sport, a cause--that they are passionate about, that brings them sheer joy, like this music does for us. And, hopefully, watching us and everyone around us grinning and dancing and hollering will have taught them a little bit more about that.

So because the band never plays the same setlist, you never know what you're going to hear (which is why so many of us go to multiple shows each year). And last year, I had so wanted to hear one particular song, but they didn't play it during any of the concerts we attended. Last night, it was the first song of the encore. And as we stood there, all huddled up, our boys jamming on the seats next to us, listening to the lyrics, we felt like it was the perfect grand finale for our trip:

"...See you and me
Have a better time than most can dream
Have it better than the best
So we pull on through
Whatever tears at us
Whatever holds us down
And if nothing can be done
We'll make the best of what's around
Turns out not where
but who you're with that really matters..."

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stop 9: Rodanthe, Outer Banks, NC (again!)

"I just love the ocean, but I only get to visit it once a year."
That was Samantha, the 9-year-old girl from Virginia with whom the boys played during this second round in Outer Banks. She made this declaration to me, out of nowhere, a wistful and dramatic expression on her face, right before she jumped back into the waves with her boogie board.

I can't imagine.

I could barely function without the ocean after just a few days..!

Once again, I am reminded of how lucky we are to be going back home to a house that is close enough to the beach that we can ride our bikes there. Fortunately, all four of us feel that way. When we decided to skip Niagara Falls and return to Outer Banks, I was a bit worried that we were making a mistake. What if we regretted it? How could we pass up a new, amazing place like Niagara to go back to a beach place we have already been twice? But everyone was so happy and relaxed, that I knew we had made the right decision for us.

This time around, we kept the boys off of their surfboards and in very shallow waters just to play it safe. Being from Florida, shark attacks are not such a rarity, but 8 in a small area in a month was a bit more than even we were willing to gamble. The boys spent most of their time on the boogie boards riding perfectly rolling waves in knee to ankle deep water, or on their skim boards tearing up the shore. Their newest buddy, the aforementioned Samantha, was happy to join in on the fun.

There was general silliness and organized summer play:
Water balloon fight!

Check out what we can do in the hot tub!

Parachute games organized by the on-site counselors

We went back to our favorite restaurant/kite boarding spot from last time, and think we might have found Aidan Kai's future self in 15 years:
Long curly blond hair, tall socks, and glasses...too cute.

This time I was the one who got sick, so we definitely had to lay low a little bit, especially at night, but we were happy to return to our place of bliss.

Next stop: Charlotte, NC for the boys' first Dave Matthews Band concert!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Stop 8: Charlottesville, Virginia

If the last post served as evidence of our badass-ness, then this post serves as evidence of our total and complete dork-ness. We made a bit of a Dave Matthews Band pilgrimage to Charlottesville. Granted, we needed a midpoint to stop and rest before we continued, but it surely was not coincidence that we chose the town where the band was formed, first played, and (the biggie) where Dave Matthews has his own vineyard.

It was a good thing we were not planning on staying long, because the campground we were in was completely and totally claustrophobic. It was sold out due to the July 4 weekend, and the sites were so cramped, that I felt like you could bump someone's camper if you opened your slide-out. And let's just say that most of the people there were really ready to celebrate the good ol' U.S. of A. We had to run the a/c fan all night in order to drown out the noise of everyone around us. Fortunately, we ended up being there only one night. (Although after a 15-hour-drive to get there from New Hampshire, Hubby really did not need anything to help him sleep.)

As soon as we woke up the next morning we drove to the vineyards, passing by the famous Trump Winery, and headed straight to Blenheim, the one that Dave Matthews owns. I will say, in our defense, that the winery has such great reviews that they do not even need to use his name. You wouldn't know it is owned by someone famous unless you were a dork like us, or looked into its history. I had read the kids the riot act before arriving: threatening them with a very long time-out at our next stop if they so much as breathed wrong. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. They played cards most of the time and were perfect.
Picture this face playing poker with a cigar instead of a candy in 20 years?

We did a wine tasting in the gorgeous tasting room and then bought a bottle to enjoy out on the terrace, overlooking the vineyards. We then spent a nearly exorbitant amount of money on the best souvenirs of the trip: lots of wine bottles, shirts, and stickers for the RV. The only way I could have been happier is if there had been a beach nearby and/or the band members had made a guest appearance.
The view from the second floor down into the wine room

Wine tasting!

Outside patio

So we could almost justify that portion of our pilgrimage, because, after all, lots of people go to the vineyards. But then we went into downtown Charlottesville to see the 2 buildings only Dave Matthews Band fanatics will appreciate: the original Warehouse and Miller's. The Warehouse is where they played their first paid performance, and the name of their fan club and of one of their songs. Miller's is where Dave Matthews tended bar and met some of the other band members and formed the band. We took some pictures at both spots and had some really good burgers at Miller's. 
The Warehouse

Miller's--some music history and good food

We decided to pack it up and get back on the road as soon as we made it back to the campground. We drove through a rainbow and a ferocious storm for about 3 hours to stop at a Walmart for the night (a first!). Although I knew many Walmarts allow overnight free parking for campers and trucks, I was still surprised to find three other RVs set up there for the night. After a month of traveling (and some cold days and nights), we are ready for our 5 day (repeat) stop at OBX for some bliss (no sharks, please).

This stop at Charlottesville was such a frivolous, fun day. I'm lucky that I'm married to someone who understands the passion I have for this band and their music, and even feels the same way. It was the sort of day I could only have shared with him, and that is certainly something I will raise my glass to...Cheers!
Charlottesville, check!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Stop 7: Loon Mt., New Hampshire

My kids are badasses.

This is not motherly bias.
It is fact.
And I don't mean sorta-brave, tough little boys.
I mean full-fledged, no-fear badasses. 
If I had better wi-fi, I'd upload a couple of videos here instead of pictures to truly prove it, but unfortunately, I am dealing with campground/on-the-road/in-between-mountains kinda internet service. I'll be lucky if I can get this post completed at all.

We went to Loon Mountain Adventure Park in Lincoln, New Hampshire. And I admit I thought perhaps this side trip to NH was a little unnecessary since we were no longer going to continue on to Canada, and really, how good could this park be that we are going to spend nearly $300 to climb some trees and swing from some ziplines? Well, once again, Hubby proves that he is The Man when it comes to research and planning, because it was one of our best days of the trip. The park is a ski resort in the winter and is converted to an adventure park in the summer. It has activities like mountain biking, rock climbing walls, a log maze, bouncing bungees, and gondola rides up to the summit where you can explore caves. But the main attractions are the Aerial Forest, where you climb and traverse along ropes and bridges suspended anywhere from 9 to 40 feet in the air; and the Ziplines, where you zip 750 feet across the Pemigewasset River.

We arrived when it opened and did not leave until closing time. Four of the hours were spent in the air and in the trees in the Aerial Forest. There were various levels, but I was pretty shocked by some of the stuff on the two easiest courses. When we first got there, we were most apprehensive that Aidan Kai, our 6-year-old, was going to freak out and we would have spent all that money for this ticket for nothing. He kept saying that his heart was “beeping” really hard in his chest. Once we were taught how the safety harnesses worked and how to clip in and out of the different ropes along each platform, we were set free to play on our own. (There were employees on the ground that you could call for help, but once you started, you were on your own.) Both Ben and Kai got the hang of it faster than I did, in spite of the fact that I had done some ropes stuff in the past. And as for Kai’s “beeping heart”….that kid did not hesitate once. I will admit that there were two times I was so intimidated, I wanted to cry (literally), and probably would have chickened out if the boys had not been there. At one point, I stood on this platform that was who knows how many feet up in the air, trusting that these two harnesses were going to stop my fall if I messed up, and faced a trapeze-like swing, which was the only way to get across and onto the other platform. I was terrified. But what could I do? If I chickened out first, the boys would never try it after me. If I let the boys go first, I’d be scared for them and wouldn’t be able to let go of the fact that I couldn’t do something my 6-year-old could. So I did it. And it was way more fun and less scary than it had looked.
One of the platforms in between the ropes

Badass Ben

Badass Kai on the trapeze thing

The original badass

After the ropes course, we went over to the infamous Zipline. I had done ziplining before while on vacation in Hawaii, so I knew what to expect. What I had not realized, however, was that when you are a mom and you are placing your children’s lives in the hands of some mechanisms and people you don’t know, it is very, very scary. Those two little ones climbed the steps of those towers, stepped onto the platform, looked down at the river, and ran off and jumped without a second’s hesitation. And rather than hold on (for a false sense of security, really) to the yellow lanyard attached to the harness (which I did—with a death grip--on my first zip), Aidan Kai waved at us and arched backwards, arms and legs extended, and Ben flapped like a bird and then flipped himself upside down. I have always loved this sort of stuff, and never gave it much thought when traveling back in the Before Kids Days, but it is a whole new level of stress when you have your kids doing these things.
A portion of the zipline over the river

The first shorter tower where we jumped off of for the zipline

After the stressfully thrilling first half of the day, we spent the rest of it bouncing and climbing and riding up to the summit, playing in the glacial caves at top, and beating the kids in a "friendly" maze race.

It was an awesome day, and worth every penny and drop of (my) terror-induced sweat. This was the sort of stuff that we would talk about when they were babies: doing fun things with them as a family as they got older and could do more. Watching the boys (especially Kai, who has historically been the one to panic at the last minute with activities) go out there and have fun, learn how to do scary things safely and correctly, jump off those platforms and soar…it was just awesome. This was definitely a family day filled with adventure.

My family is badass.
New Hampshire, check!

Next stop: Charlottesville, Virginia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Stop 6: Acadia National Park, Maine

Ok, you all know how I said that Cape Cod was straight off a postcard?
Forget that.


Maine is a postcard.
Maine is an entire issue of "Coastal Living Magazine."

Maine is breathtaking.

So breathtaking, in fact, that I did not even complain about the cold. (It was in the 50s a couple of the nights! Can someone please tell that state that is summer!?!)

Everyone who knows me knows that Hawaii is my #1 place ever. In terms of beauty, I gotta say that Maine was right there. (I kept telling the boys: "Now imagine all this beauty, these cliffs, the blue ocean...and add palm trees, warmth, and a beach lifestyle. That's Hawaii.")

I will go ahead and give you the disclaimer right now: in spite of the 400+ pictures and videos we took, I could not find one that truly does this place justice. And it wasn't just the sights: it smelled so amazing there (and no, it wasn't just the buttery lobster). I now understand how air can smell "crisp." Ben even said, "I hadn't realized how much air pollution we have back home until now." And when it wasn't just smelling clean, it smelled like Christmas tree. As Floridians, we were so amused by the fact that we were surrounded by "Christmas trees" everywhere we went.

We stayed at Hadley's Point Campground, just outside of Acadia National Park and about 5 miles from the town of Bar Harbor. We were supposed to be there only 3 days, but within a few hours of arriving, we were discussing the possibility of extending this stop.

We started our first day there with Diver's Ed Dive-In Theatre, a local must-do for the kids. He takes you on his boat "The StarFish Enterprise" with Captain Evil (his wife and sidekick), his Newfoundland dog Leviathan, and his diving buddy Mini Ed (a Lego diver), and dives with special camera equipment so the people on the boat stay dry while learning about the underwater creatures. He then brings a bunch up for a hands-on lesson/stand-up comedy act. The kids (and adults) loved it.

They were allowed to pick up and touch all the sea creatures
The flat screen TV on the boat that showed us everything Diver Ed was seeing,
including his diving buddy, Lego Mini Ed (intended to give us perspective
on the size of things as he found them underwater)

My kids didn't think I'd kiss the nasty, slimy sea cucumber...
(no jokes, please...I don't want to have to put my Adults Warning back on my blog)

After the (freezing) boat ride, we went into the town of Bar Harbor, to hike onto Bar Island. It's an actual island right off the harbor that you can walk to only during low tide, when a natural land bridge becomes exposed. It was the coolest thing and hard to wrap your head around the idea that where you were walking would be covered with water in a few short hours. If we hadn't had the kids with us, we would have been tempted to sit at the nearest bar across the island and drink as high tide comes in and watch the people scrambling to make it over in time. (Kinda like when you go on a cruise and it leaves a drunken port like Cancun late at wait on the top deck of the ship and watch the drunk passengers running to make it on board as the ship is getting ready to depart....oh've never done that? You must. It's hilarious. And no, we were not the drunken passengers rushing.)
That whole area is ocean except at low tide!
Aidan was amazed that "technically, we are walking on the bottom of the ocean."

The view of the landbridge from the island, looking over into the town

We did a very easy hike up to the summit of the island for some beautiful views:

Acadia: one of his Bucket List Places!


That hike, however, was "just walking" as Aidan Kai called it. The next couple of days we did some heavy duty hiking in the main area of Acadia National Park. They were all pretty strenuous for a 6-year-old (Aidan Kai was a little bad-ass on the trails) and a 9-year-old, and some parts were even strenuous for a 42 year old with bad knees (I'd like to think I was still a little bad ass too). The views were spectacular everywhere you looked.

Ocean Trail, Acadia

Thunder Hole, Acadia

Hiking down (and then back up!) Cadillac Mountain

Some of those great smelling Christmas Trees!!


Although some of those precipices look dangerous, we were really cautious and made sure everyone was coming home in one piece. But we did have a little fun with photo angles:

One of our favorite hikes was around Jordan Pond, a 3+ mile loop with planks and rocks that started and ended at Jordan House Restaurant, where you we had popovers and drinks. I don't know what was better: the popovers, the beer, or the views.

No matter how many times I've gone through my photos and debated which to add, it is nearly impossible to truly show the beauty of this place. Hubby and I discussed many times that we definitely want to go back sans kids (gasp!) to do some of the more strenuous hikes and kayaking and enjoy the town of Bar Harbor at night, with its romantic Shore Path walk and great little bed and breakfasts.
Mansions along Bar Harbor's Shore Path

Our "We-are-SO-coming-back-here-for-a-getaway!" picture

What'd I tell ya? Coastal Living Magazine!

Loving my rock cliffs Acadia sticker.
Maine, check!
Our next stop is New Hampshire, where we were supposed to spend 2 days doing some more outdoor adventure stuff. But because we extended our stay in Maine by a day (we loved it so much and had some really bad weather kill one of our days there), the next part of our trip was slightly affected. When we sat down to discuss that, we both admitted we were longing for some palm trees and heat and feeling a little road exhaustion. As much as we are loving this adventure, we are all missing home a bit, and looking forward to turning the RV south. The kids, I think, have had enough of sightseeing, and I have had enough of 60s and below weather. So we've scratched Niagara Falls and are cutting back down to Charlottesville right after New Hampshire, and then returning to our beloved OBX for some more bliss before the concert in North Carolina on the 10th. Although we aren't actually going to be home any sooner, we will be heading in that direction and sitting on the beach along the way. The good thing is that everyone in the family wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to head south. I guess the only thing running through this family's veins more than gypsy blood is salt water!