NC Summer Family Vacation 2016


I love Doug!

We’ve been planning our summer family vacation for about 3 months now, but he did 99% of the leg work, which included fun little surprises for the girls, lots of planning, and coordinating  all accommodations. He poured his whole heart into our summer family vacation and all the adventures along the way, and it was by far more then we could have ever expected. I can’t express in enough words here, how much this time with my family means to me. It’s my favorite time of year; when we leave our world behind, reconnect as a family and enjoy time together playing, laughing, resting and eating. I love it!

We left for vacation early on Wed. June 21st, headed in the direction of North Carolina , unbeknownst to the girls.  The night before they viewed a video that Daddy created, with little hints and riddles that pointed to clues about  our destination. But they were left clueless, believing we were headed south to the beach, as we’ve done on previous vaca’s.

Day 1: We arrived at Ingles around 3pm, the grocery store at the foot of the mountain, in Hayesville, NC. We ran around the store filling our basket with goodies and food for the week, as we anticipated nights of grilling, back porch snacking and evenings by a fire assembling s’mores. When we finished there, we took the 15 minute drive through the little downtown area of Hayesville, and  up the curvy mountain road to the most beautiful and secluded cabin. The girls were thrilled when we finally pulled in the long driveway. It’s a little piece of heaven, and one of our favorite places to be.

We spent a bit of time unpacking our bags and settling in. Doug pulled some wrapped  gifts for the girls from his suitcase, and displayed  them on the dresser along with large envelopes that held information about the excursions he had planned for us. He’s always coming up with great little surprises.

Eventually we made our way outdoors and found the zip-line that suspends between two trees, and glided between the trees for an hour. I managed to cruise for a bit too.

The rest of our afternoon consisted of swinging by the river, grilling hamburgers, running around the huge yard, time on the back porch sipping wine, more time on the zipline and a bonfire with s’mores.The girls got to open some of the gifts Doug packed too.

Day 2: We were up by 9 am and headed back to Ingles grocery. But, this time it wasn’t for groceries. There was a big surprise planned for the girls. Our dear friends Ross and Rhonda and their two daughters Sadie and Maggie, who live in PA, had plans to “bump” into us at Ingles. Because we love time with the Thomas’s, we planned a few days together in NC, without revealing this secret to the girls. While we were shopping for a long list of un-needed produce, the Thomas’s shopped for cheese and baked goods in the aisle right next to produce. Eventually Sara noticed Maggie, and they were shocked that we just “happened to be” in the same store. It was a great surprise, and after the girls realized that we’d be spending a few days together, we did  a little more shopping before revealing the cabin to our unsuspecting friends.

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The girls found their way to the river, where they spent hours searching for rocks, and occasionally dare dunking their heads below the surface of the cold water.

Doug and Ross grilled wings for lunch and caught up on life, while Rhonda and I found a spot on the back lawn for a glass of red by the river.


While the adults  afternoon napped, the girls played in the river, ran around the expansive yard, cruised on  the zipline, and ate peaches.

In the late afternoon, the guys decided to kayak down the foggy rushing river. The river runs rapid in the late afternoon as the dam opens. Rhonda and I drove along the riverside about 15 minutes after their departure to pick them up at a spot that’s best to stop, where the river really takes up speed.

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For dinner, Doug and Ross slow cooked a pork roast on the grill for pulled pork sandwiches. Alongside the pork, we enjoyed grilled zucchini and baked beans. It was a lovely summertime evening meal with great friends !


The girls got to open the first surprise envelope that night, which disclosed a day of tubing in Helen Georgia.

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Day 3: After coffee and breakfast on the back porch, we headed to Helen Georgia for a day of tubing and shopping. We sprawled out on the tubes and coasted down a river shaded by trees that occasionally let the sun peek in. The girls went ahead of us, and eventually found a big rock along the side of the river to jump from. We floated and sometimes coasted for over an hour, before we came upon our exit. After a morning of fun on the river, we walked through the Bavarian style town in search of food for a late lunch, before we headed back to the cabin.



The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging on the back porch sipping wine, while the girls ran around the yard, played on the zipline and worked on their creation of a scary movie trailer. That evening we created a few easy appetizers for dinner, including Rhonda’s amazing feta, tomatoe and greek season dip, Doug’s open faced pork bruschetta, and grilled (on the grill) cheese sandwiches, just to name a few. Indulgence was the perfect word for the food of our evening.

That night the girls got to open their next envelope to reveal the next day’s surprise: A trip to Asheville NC, with a night at the Grove Park Inn.

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Day 4: While sipping coffee on the back porch, Rhonda and I got to witness the making of the scary movie trailer, created by the Whomas girls and starring Ross Thomas. I love it! The quality is poor, but I’m working on obtaining a better video soon.

We were off by noon for our 2 hour drive to  the Grove Park Inn, in Asheville, NC. If you’ve never stayed at the Grove Park, I highly suggest it. This resort was built in 1913, overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is made of granite stones. It’s historic and has welcomed guests from all over the world, including presidents and celebrities, and it is truly a destination. You  can read the history about the resort here.

We arrived around 2:30 and as we drove upon campus, there was nothing but a feeling of astonishment for the beauty this resort possesses. After check in and dropping our bags in the rooms, we took a shuttle to one of the pools, for an afternoon of fun in the water. The girls swam, and the adults enjoyed drinks and app’s.

Around 5:45pm, we headed back to our rooms, to get cleaned up for our  outdoor terrace dinner that overlooks the mountains.

Dinner was amazing to say the least. To start we enjoyed homemade biscuits with butter and honey, and a tomato and mozzarella appetizer. For dinner, I enjoyed scallops and Doug savored every bite of the huge steak he ordered.

We walked around the huge property and found the small shopping mall,  where we bought ice cream, scoped out the spa (where we will visit next time) and  took lots of family photo’s.

We sent the girls back to the room for an evening movie. Maggie is old enough now to babysit the younger ones. The adults ran around the resort checking out the history, illegally rock climbing the hotel walls (Rooooossss!),  and enjoying music at the dueling piano bar.

When we made it back to the room, the girls got to open the envelope that held the next day’s excursion: a trip to The Biltmore Estate.

Day 5: We were up and on the road a little after 9am in search of breakfast. We stumbled upon a great little coffee shop, where we ordered breakfast sandwiches and drinks, before we were on our way to the Biltmore Estate. Doug and I visited the Biltmore many years ago, and we loved our time there. The Thomas’s, and our girls had never been, so it was quite the surprise for them. This mansion, which is the largest privately owned house in the U.S. (178,926 square feet ), was built in the late 1800’s and includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The extended drive in and the expanse of the land is great, but as visitor, you may not have time to see all 8,000 acres in a single visit. The main attraction is the tour of the grande mansion, but beyond that there are luscious and colorful gardens, a winery, lots of hiking trails, shopping, horseback riding, flyfishing and much more to do, while visiting.

The house was the dream and home of George Washington Vanderbilt II. Construction started in 1889 and continued into 1896. Each room was a masterpiece, some of the rooms walls are made of leather. Not only does the home boast of wealth, but the basement (the girls favorite spot) is home to a bowling alley, a large pool, a party room, and a gymnasium.  You can read more of the history here.

After touring the house, we made our way to the gardens.

Then enjoyed a little lunch, before we said our goodbyes to the Thomas’s. We thought about a tour through the winery, but we were ready to get back to the cabin, and we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us. Next time.

Day 6: On Monday, we slept in and decided to have a day of relaxation and fun at the cabin. It was a perfect day! At one point after lunch, we decided to play in the river and search for rocks.

Doug and Soph eventually joined us too. Monday was the kind of day I love, because it was a day in which we did  whatever we wanted to do. I lounged on the back porch and read, we took a long nap, we ate, we talked about life, we watched the girls play and use their imagination, like the good ol’ days before technology. The girls ran around creating their own adventures. Best of all, the cabin is life away from other life. Being with my 3 favorite people, and getting them all to myself is the best .

After dinner, Doug sent the girls up to their room so that we could set up our evening surprise for them. While they composed a list of all they’re grateful for, an exercise Doug thought of to keep them busy, we set up an outdoor movie theater. Doug’s so creative. The pictures don’t do the justice for how amazing it was. A big white spandex piece of material was suspended between two trees. Then we set up the cushioned rocking chairs in the lawn. Of course Doug made sure the sound was perfect too, with a speaker system he brought along. Then, last but not least, no theater is a theater without a concession stand. They were all screams when we went to get them and revealed the surprise. Movie theater night is a summer tradition, and one of their favorites. Candy, popcorn and soda were the options to choose from at the concession stand. The girls had their choice between two movies: Star Wars, The Force Awakens or The Peanuts Movie.  They chose :Star Wars, The Force Awakens. The movie was awesome on the big screen, in the dark behind the cabin, by the rushing night river.

The girls got to open another envelope to reveal the next day’s surprise, after the movie was over.

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Day 7: We drove a little more than an hour to a place called Lakes End Marina. I LOVE LOVE this place. You can check out the website here.

We spent a lovely day on the water in a boat similar to ours, that we rented for 6 hours. Before we boarded the boat, we ordered lunch from the little cafe on property. Then we were off, for one of the best days ever! Traveling over the still and beautiful water with huge mountains on either side was breath taking and inspiring to say the least. It was a completely different experience then we’re used to in our area (which is great too). We cruised around a bit, then found a quiet spot by the ducks where we sat and enjoyed our chicken caesar wraps. Then we cruised around a bit more before we found a spot for the girls to jump from the boat and swim.

The sky grew dark and it began to sprinkle in the early afternoon, so we made our way back to the marina for treats at the cafe, and to wait it out. We let the girls take a tour around the marina near the boats, on their own.

After half and hour, we were back on the boat for a few more hours of fun on the water.

I can’t express in enough words how much this day meant to me. To be surrounded by the beauty of nature and the beauty of my family, it took my breath away several times. The music that played on the jawbone speaker, the speed of the boat through the mountains and over the glassy water, the laughter and smiles on the girls faces, the sense of gratefulness that Doug and I feel for our life and the direction it’s headed, made for the perfect combination of emotions that filled my insides with overwhelming joy, gratefulness and warmth. Sometimes I can’t believe get to live the life I live. I’m so grateful everyday.

We made our way back to the cabin, feeling tired but great. That night Doug composed a mixed grill of meats and shrimp for dinner, a compilation of the leftovers in the fridge. Then we watched one of my favorite movie’s, The Karate Kid Part I, as we roasted marshmallow’s in the fireplace.

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Day 8: Wednesday was another fun cabin day. The girls got to open another one of their gifts this day: 2 waterslides and water balloons. We sat on the back porch as they played on the water slide for hours.

Doug made chicken salad pita’s for lunch, and then a water balloon fight went down:

It was the best, watching Doug and the girls laugh and play together. Theses are the best days!

Do you understand now, why I’m in love?

The day was spent playing, napping, eating and enjoying time together, before we retired for a movie, The Peanuts Movie. 

Day 9: The girls have never seen a waterfall, so this day we decided to take them for a ride through the most beautiful scenery of North Carolina, with our destination marked at Dry Falls, near Highlands NC. On our way there, we noticed a cute little grasshopper chilling on the sun roof. We thought the wind from the speed of the car would blow him away. We thought he’d jump off when parked at the grocery store Ingles, for Starbuck’s on the way. Nope. He made the one hour journey with us, and actually we grew to like him. He was cute, and strong! I think we even gave him a name, which now escapes my memory.

The beauty of the falls, and the trail that leads up to a spot behind the falls is breathtaking. The girls loved this short hike.

We were sad to see our grasshopper friend had jumped ship and made his new home Dry Falls, as we got back into the car. He just needed a ride over, and I’m glad we were able to facilitate that transfer. Our tour of the beautiful NC roadway through the mountains and past many more falls, led us to the great town of Highlands NC. It was there that we found a nice place for lunch at the The Ugly Dog Pub. This is a really unique restaurant, with excellent food, and listed in the top 10 of Highland eateries. Sara gave Soph a new side swoop look in the bathroom but changing the part in her hair, while we waited for our food to arrive ; )

Daddy gifted the girls with $20 each for a little shopping after lunch. Sophia found the cutest little stuffed owl, and Sara bought herself a new makeup sponge.

We made it back to the cabin late afternoon, in time for naps and a little relaxation before our evening movie, The Karate Kid II. No one wants to admit that they love these movie as much as I do. These movies bring back so many good memories…..I am the man who will fight for your honor, I’ll be the hero that you’ve been dreaming of…..

I remember watching these movies over and over again with my siblings. We usually watched them during our summer family vacations, and for some reason, the summer that we stayed at a beach condo, and we all got a new pair of sunglasses and watched The Karate Kid with wet suits and tired bodies, is the time I vividly remember the most.

Of course we enjoyed another night of s’mores over the fireplace while we watched.

The girls opened their last envelope to reveal one of their favorite surprises of vacation: horseback riding.

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Day 10: Chunky Gal Stables is rated one of the best horseback riding stables by the locals. We were up and on the road by 9 am for our trip to the stable. We watched the cowboy demonstrate the how-to’s of riding a horse and even witnessed him do a back flip off the horse, and chatted with the other cute family that would be joining us, before we were hoisted atop our horses. Sara rode Ikee, Sophie rode Luke, Doug rode Star and I forget my horses name. He was cute and cooperative though. We purchased the 1 1/2 hour Waterfall trail. I’m amazed at how sure footed these large horse’s can be. We went up the mountain, through some very narrow and uneven trails, and it was never an issue. The beauty of the mountain trail, atop a strong but gentle horse was awesome. At one point we stopped and went for a walk to a waterfall on top of the mountain.

It was one of my favorite adventures during our vacation, and I think I can say the same for Doug and the girls. The girls begged us for a horse all the way back to the cabin. The rest of our afternoon was spent playing in the river, reading, zip lining, and enjoying time together. Every year during our summer family vacation, the girls and I get dressed up for a fancy dinner out with Daddy. This year, we did something a little different. Doug and I prepared a beautiful steak dinner for the girls, to be served at the SW (Sweet Water) Steakhouse. A handmade menu was designed and created by chef Doug. The menu included:

  • Cheese and meat tray
  • Steakhouse wedge with North Carolina bacon
  • Sweet Water grilled steak with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables 
  • S’mores cookies

After dinner, we attended a movie in the living room by a fire- Mrs. Doubtfire, and we baked s’more cookies for dessert.

Day 11: Our last day at the cabin was tough, but we tried to be in the moment and enjoy every last bit of our summer family vacation. To start our day, we took a walk near our cabin. Sara performed a little dance/gymnastics routine for us.

Then we made our way to Chatuge Dam, for grass sled riding down the big hill. We thought about renting a boat again, but all had been reserved already. So, we went back to the cabin  to play in the river.

We did some packing and preparing for our trip home, but ultimately enjoyed our day relaxing on the back porch and in the yard, enjoying the beauty of the cabin, and the beauty of our life together. The girls got to open their last gift from Daddy, mermaid tails. They’ve been asking for tails for a while, and this gift had it’s place as last gift, right before heading home, as a way to remind the girls of the great place we get to call home. We get to vacation at home too, as we enjoy swimming in the pool and in the ocean, or when we board our boat for a day in the sun, or when we spend a day cooking together and watching movies, or the times we play at Busch Gardens or hit the movie theater.

We made homemade pizza’s that night and enjoyed the movie The Rocketeer, before we headed to bed.


It was apparent that everyone was sad to say goodbye to the beautiful time we shared together at the cabin, but it’s also nice to get back to life as we know it. I think we were ready to just be home when we had mentally decided it was over. We packed more fun into the 11 days of our family vacation, then we did all summer. Thank you Doug for planning most of it, for the surprises along the way, for the beautiful dinner’s, for being amazing, for being you; the thoughtful, loving and creative husband and father you are! I love you. I love you too girls. I had such a great time with both of you.. time that was uninterrupted by the responsibilities of life. I’m grateful for the memories we made over the summer, and looking forward to our next vacation together : )  Mom