Travel Destinations: the New or the Familiar?

Nantucket has been a vacation destination for our family for 21 years. Once, for our tenth anniversary, we lingered for a week in a bed-and-breakfast inn. We've gone to Nantucket for day trips, for overnights, and for longer stays. Julia and I just returned from three days there. From rounding the iconic Brant Point lighthouse to discovering new bakeries or new-to-us beaches, Nantucket never disappoints! There's something comforting...or rather wonderfully comfortable...about returning to one vacation destination over and over again. And I'm wondering how you feel about that? Do you prefer to always explore new travel destinations, or is your heart smitten with a traditional family vacation spot?

My immediate answer would be that I like exploring the new, seeing places I've always wanted to see, and making the unknown known and familiar to me. But Nantucket has me rethinking that. There is an endearing quality to renewing your acquaintance with a distant "friend", getting to know them better, and to part with a deepened love.

But even the familiar family vacation spot is enhanced and enlivened by new discoveries. So while I enjoyed my traditional dawn walks on the island, exploring its quiet streets and slumbering houses with my camera for a couple of hours before everything awakens, I also craved the thrill of new discoveries.

Bicycling to Steps Beach, a hidden gem accessed at the end of a quiet, residential street via a footpath and a staircase, was one such discovery on this trip to Nantucket. When we reached the beach, we almost felt like trespassers who had tread upon land too marvelous to be imagined...the roaring waves on one side, the windswept sand dune with waving beach grass within touch of our fingertips to the other, a generous sprinkling of seashells at our feet, and an ever changing cloudscape overhead. All those trips to the island and we never knew about this glorious site! I fell in love with Nantucket all over again!

How about you? I'd love to hear how you prefer to vacation! Please leave a comment to join the conversation. Do you seek the new or embrace the favorite?

Breakfast Picnic

A breakfast picnic is a novel idea. But a mountaintop breakfast picnic with a view that stretches for miles is even more enticing. Recently, I planned one for Dave and I, just the two of us, on the summit of Miller State Park, the oldest state park in New Hampshire and one whose summit can be reached via an auto road. I experimented with an easy frittata recipe, and we packed it (warm from the oven) and other tasty breakfast foods along to the top of the mountain. 

We took the narrow, winding road to the summit, where we parked the car and walked a very short distance (maybe .10-mile) down a shaded trail to an overlook with a picnic table and the most majestic view of the tree-carpeted countryside and Boston's skyscrapers at the furthest point on the horizon. The sun was warm, but the morning, mountain air was fresh and invigorating, and we were a bit thrilled to have the whole mountaintop area mostly to ourselves for our whole picnic.

In order to keep planning and packing for our breakfast picnic simple, I stuck with my plan (see previous post here) of a menu that was: foraged from the refrigerator, bought at a bakery, and one item that took a little effort.

strawberries and raspberries

assorted baked goods from a local bakery

Easy Breakfast Frittata


Although I make quiche frequently, I had actually never made a frittata. It's an Italian egg dish which is really a crustless quiche. Eliminating the crust saves so much time and effort. This one, made in an 8-in. cast iron skillet, will serve 2-4 people and is the ideal, transportable, picnic breakfast food.

Easy Breakfast Frittata

6 eggs
1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. chopped vegetables (use a mix of anything you'd like: peppers, onions, mushrooms, leeks, asparagus, etc.)
1 T. butter
1 T. flour
1 c. shredded cheese (any type you like: cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper Jack, Gouda, Swiss, etc.)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt butter in an 8-in. cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add vegetables and saute a few minutes until softened. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir for one minute to blend.

While vegetables are sauteing, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together: eggs, whipping cream, salt, and pepper. Add shredded cheese and whisk to incorporate. Pour eggs over finished vegetables, give a very brief stir to mix the vegetables into the egg, and cook until just the edges begin to firm.

Remove skillet from stove top and transfer to oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until center is almost set. It will continue to cook after it's removed from the oven due to the lingering heat in the cast iron skillet.

Transport hot skillet in a towel-lined picnic basket.

Serves 2-4.

After we had polished off half the frittata and more of the baked treats than we should have, we packed our picnic back up and returned everything to the car. Then we turned our attention to the fire tower. It is open to the public to climb, and the park ranger at the entrance had given us a map of the view. I'm always a bit thrilled with a summit map, because they're round, since you're standing at the top and everything you see is 360° around you. With it as our guide, we were able to identify several nearby peaks, as well as Mount Washington to the north, the mountains in Vermont, and Boston to the southeast.

Our breakfast picnic on the mountaintop was a refreshing break from our normal routines, and it was a good reminder to go on dates more often. We decided while we were there that we definitely need to bring friends and visiting house guests back here. I imagine the view in the autumn will be enchanting!

Useful Links and Info:

     - entrance fee per person
     - hiking trails
     - bathrooms at the summit
     - fire tower could be easily climbed by people of most ages, but stairs are steep and treads are narrow


- tablecloth and napkins
- plates and glassware
- silverware, knife, and a pie server (for the frittata)
- bug spray
- sunscreen 
- binoculars

Mountaintop Picnic

My short summer bucket list included "picnic on mountaintops". Picnics are always fun, but if you can picnic with a view, they become a mini-vacation -- a sort of removing oneself from the world for a bit -- but with tasty food! One lazy, Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we packed a picnic and headed to our mountaintop destination, nearly 3,000-ft. above sea level, to the summit of Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire. I had been to the top before (click here) and was excited to show Dave and Julia this unique destination where we could picnic with a view.

Mount Sunapee, which is indeed a mountain, is also a ski resort which offers summer lift rides to the top. To be perfectly honest, heights and chair lifts are not my thing, but I knew the view from the top was worth it. And after some pleading to please lower the safety bar and some admonishments to not rock the thing, I settled in and enjoyed the ride. We could feel the temperature getting cooler as we ascended and the fresh mountain breezes rushed refreshingly over us. Negotiating the on and off of a chair lift with a large picnic basket and a smallish (but heavy) cooler was not as difficult as expected, and before we knew it we were on the top of the mountain with the world before us. What a view!

For once, I think I finally hit on the ideal sort of picnic fare -- simple, delicious, and not too much work. This meant that most of it was purchased from the market, some was foraged from our refrigerator, and an effort was made for dessert.

From the market: rotisserie chicken (sliced), salami, crackers, Brie, Fontina, crusty bread, really good butter, strawberries, plums, French soda.

From our refrigerator: homemade dill pickles (click here), leftover tomato-mozzarella salad.

Dessert: chocolate ganache tarts

We sat there, munching away, having almost the entire mountaintop to ourselves. Julia, at one point, asked, "Is this when bears smell our food and come eat us?" Happy to report that didn't happen! We brought binoculars and playing cards, but amusements paled compared to the simple enjoyment of the view. Occasionally, another group of people would wander close for a good view of the lakes and forests beyond. We'd chat for a few moments. I'd offer them some food. They'd decline and move on. They didn't know what they were missing! The view was great, but the view + picnic was sublime!

By far, my favorite memory of our mountaintop picnic was the several times Dave threw his arms wide to the breeze, smiled, shook his head, and said, "Ahhh...I LOVE this!" I think another trip here in the autumn just might be a good idea!

View on the way down.

Useful Links:

Mount Sunapee  - for year-round fun!

Metal Cooler - This is our absolute favorite cooler! It will pack food for four people tightly, or for two with ample room. All the food you see here that needed to be refrigerated was packed in it (plus room for ice). I'm also quite fond of giving it as a wedding gift!

Grandkids' Camp Ideas: A Useful Guide

Hosting all the grandkids for "camp" at grandma and grandpa's house is a bond-building, family strengthening, and fun-filled (albeit, exhausting) endeavor that will create some awesome summer memories for everyone! It's a great opportunity to harken back to the pre-digital age and fill the grandkids' days with the sort of active, creative, and communal fun we had as kids. But how should you plan "camp" so that it will strike that balance between lazy summer days and busy enough to be fun and memorable? Recently, we hosted all four of our grandkids, ages 4, 5, 6, and 8, for five days of Grandkids' Camp and here are some ideas that should be helpful, if you're thinking of planning a camp of your own.

1. Have a mental game plan. Before they arrive, have a mental (or written) list of a handful of activities and/or excursions to do each day of camp. These are your ideas that will generate the most excitement among the grandkids. For us, these were: a nature program with live animals, a musical production of "Peter Pan", storytime at the library, a movie, and going out for ice cream. If your grandkids are older, they might enjoy: a day at the beach, a hike, a visit to a museum, canoeing, etc. Check your local library, recreation department, and children's theaters for their scheduled programs and see if any of those events will be happening during your "camp" dates.

2. Post the plan. Every day, after breakfast, I would write out "Today's Plan" and hang it up for everyone to see. The grandkids gathered round with great excitement for this each day...eager to know what fun the day would hold! And while having a detailed plan may seem like overkill, it really does help! It keeps anyone from getting bored, because activities change about every 30-60 minutes. And it does seem to accelerate the day for the grandparents, which is helpful when you're no longer used to the daily demands of little ones.

And don't forget to assign chores and switch them up daily. Assigning chores is essential in my book, because nobody needs a free ride, even at Grandpa and Grandma's house, and idle hands get into trouble, and we don't want discipline issues, because this is Grandkids' Camp and it ought to be FUN! So, assign those chores! It's good for them! "Dog feeder" was the coveted chore at our Grandkids' Camp. With older kids, some ideas might be: KP duty, lawn mowing, food prep, some odd jobs around the house you can work on together, etc.

3. Balance is everything. Not everything you plan to do will appeal equally to all kids or to the full age range of grandkids, so try to strike a balance of activities. A full-day of outdoors and competitive games may take all the fun out of Grandkids' Camp for the snuggly introvert, just as a day of book reading and art may make some others quite antsy. When thinking up ideas, I tried to have a nice blend of indoors and outdoors, quiet and loud, individual and all-together. And everyone had a 30-minutes quiet time in the afternoon...mostly because I needed it, and you will too!

For indoors, we: played games, worked puzzles, watched a DVD, had art time, had free play time, did chores, read, etc.

For outdoors, we: walked the dog, colored with chalk, explored the garden, ran through the sprinklers, and more.

4. Keep food simple. Think like a summer-loving kid when meal planning. Think of those great, summer food memories of your childhood...and plan to eat your way through those memories: blueberries, watermelon, hot dogs, pizza, popsicles, chicken fingers, applesauce, and ice cream.

5. Bedtime routines. It's helpful to know their bed time hour and their bedtime routine (baths, books, drinks, lights off, door open or closed) before they arrive. That being said, we could never get them to bed on time. But it's Grandkids' Camp, so staying up past bedtime seems like part of the fun, right? We have found that being firm on staying in bed is important, especially on the first night, because it will set the stage for the rest of the nights. And don't forget that a generous dose of outdoor time each day helps to tire everyone out for a good night's sleep.

By the end of "Grandkids' Camp" at Grandma and Grandpa's house, they should have that good sort of tired -- that "I've run in the sprinklers and chased the sun and eaten watermelon and climbed trees and following the dog all day" sort of tired. And you'll be tired too. You'll have that "I've chased kids for days and I'm not as young as I used to be and their smiles and hugs make my heart melt and I think this was important for us all" sort of tired. And it was.

Useful links:

We loved playing Dog Bingo, which was perfect for kids in the 4 to 8 age range and taught me several dog breeds too! Available here.

The best puzzles EVER for bringing the whole family, of diverse ages, together are Family Hour puzzles, which include pieces in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. The eight-year old could work the smallest pieces, the five-year old worked the medium, and the four-year old worked the largest. Zoom in on the puzzle photo above to see it all coming together in one puzzle. Link here to the one we worked.

Summer Lake Fun with the Family

Some of summer's best memories are made on a lake. Canoeing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, and rope swinging into the waters of a lake are the sort of fun-filled summer days remembered for a lifetime with a smile on one's face! Recently, while my California family was vacationing with us, we visited Pawtuckaway Lake, NH located in Pawtuckaway State Park. Nestled in acres of pine trees, the lake provides a day's worth of summer fun and adventure opportunities for the young and the young at heart. We packed along lunches and planned to make a day of it.

There's a rental office lakeside where we rented one canoe and two paddleboards for a half day. (Julia also brought her own paddleboard.) Dave and I paddled the canoe, loaded with camera gear, towels, and our lunch, hoping we didn't tip over and spill our precious cargo. Everyone else divided themselves among the paddleboards. We pushed off from the docks and headed for one of our favorite small islands.

It's a favorite, because it has that large rock protruding from the right side. Easily climbed from the island side, it provides a great place from which to jump into the lake. We slipped our canoes and paddleboards up to the shore and tied them to the tree roots that lace themselves around the earthen edges of the island. Scrambling up the rock, everyone took turns jumping into the "sweet spot" below -- just beyond the rocks. I thought the water would be chilly, but we were all surprised to find it amazingly warm -- cold enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that you wanted to spend the day in it.

The cousins all swam to some nearby rocks and took turns jumping, diving, and (cover my eyes) flipping into the lake. From our little island, I watched as each one went individually. But it was the trio of them jumping together that really made me smile. They're going to cherish these moments forever! Eventually, they swam back to the island and we all nibbled on some wild blueberries before paddling away for more lake fun on another island.

This island is the best for summer lake fun, because it has rope swings! Ahh...this was truly the day all my childhood summer dreams came true!

Dave and I stayed in the canoe, with him intermittently paddling to keep the canoe in position, and me taking photos. Everyone took their turns climbing the rungs nailed to the tree, swinging wildly out, and splashing into the cool lake water. Every swing was unique -- some high, some low, some twisting, some shrieking -- but all equally delightful to watch!

All of us having worked up an appetite, we tied up the canoe near the paddleboards, and pulled out our picnic lunch. Some people ate perched on rocks on the island. But the water felt so refreshing, I just stood in it, next to the canoe, and passed out sandwiches and handfuls of blueberries, and ate my own lunch.

Before we left, we all had to swing on the rope swing. This time, Dave and I went too! Being, quite naturally, a big chicken, I opted to swing out from a rock protruding out of the water. All the fun and none of the terror of jumping from that height was just perfect! So much fun! But Dave braved the rungs up the tree and made a big splash! Then I had to swing again. And everyone else went a couple times before we headed back to the docks to turn in our rentals. Another great day of family lake fun for the books. Can't wait to do it again!

Links and ideas:

pack: sunscreen, hats, towels, waterproof phone cases that float, water bottles

our lunch: ham and Fontina sandwiches on ciabatta rolls, Cape Cod chips, blueberries and brownies

see more: check out the mini-film I made of this trip (and our swim in the Quechee Gorge) on my Instagram feed (click here).
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