This post has taken over five hours to create. Uploading 500+ pictures, culling, editing, creating collages, then uploading them to the blog is so time consuming! Random fact about me: I am slightly OCD when it comes to straightening horizon lines. At least narrating is quick and easy once the photos are to my liking.
This past weekend was my side of the family's annual beach trip. We began this family tradition eleven years ago. There have been years where not all five siblings have been able to attend, years where we've barely had enough money for the hotel, and years where it's rained or been freezing cold. This year, all siblings and almost all of our kids were able to attend, and the weather was sunny with a high in the upper 70's-lower 80's. It was easily my favorite family beach trip to date.
I convinced Jesse that it was a good idea to leave at 4 a.m. Growing up, we slept in vehicles all the time when my dad drove us all across the country for family vacations. I've always enjoyed driving at night (as long as it's not raining), and our kids sleep soundly in the van. It was an easy transition for everyone. Jesse and the kids slept while I drove peacefully to the beach.
I stopped at a Walmart close to the beach for swim diapers. (Our Walmart only carries them seasonally.) Jesse and I changed and dressed all the kids in the van, which was tricky due to the extremely limited space we had with all the luggage. By 8:30 a.m, we were feasting on $10 worth of McDonalds pancakes at the beach.
Hotel check-in wasn't until 4 pm, so we had seven hours to keep the children entertained. My siblings weren't arriving until later in the day, which meant we had most of Friday to spend as a family of six. We spent the morning at Broadway on the Beach. Neither Jesse nor I enjoy shopping or crowds, so we were especially pleased to find Broadway deserted and the stores not yet open. We parked beside WonderWorks, which has an exterior design of an upside down house. James was so distraught and kept pointing and saying, "Uh oh, trees! Oh no, house!"
Jesse and I knew the kids would have fun feeding the ducks and fish. There are quarter machines for food all over Broadway. We didn't have any quarters, so we brought three $1 bills with the intentions of getting quarters at one of the stores. We didn't know the stores weren't open yet. Jesse pulled four quarters out of one of the fountains. Afterwards, we walked around and saw the sign below, revealing that the change was supporting breast cancer. Oops! I just donated $10 to a friend's race for the same cause, so I don't feel that bad. The most unfortunate part of the whole ordeal was that two of the food machines took our quarters!
There's a lovely playground with several different structures on Broadway. Once again, we were the only people there, so we took full advantage of the safe space to run, climb, jump, and slide. As usual, Amelia left everyone in the dust.
Jesse's mom had given me money for each of the kids to spend. Once the shops opened up, we let Jackson pick out candy from It's Sugar and Amelia picked out headbands from Claire's. The cashier at Claire's was unbelievably accommodating. She gave each of the trio a basket and let them fill it with jewelry, purses, hair accessories, etc. She assured us she would put everything back. She then let them exchange their basket for a DumDum.
Silly photo ops are plentiful at Broadway. We strolled leisurely and stopped at the kids' requests.
Lunch was at Olive Garden, courtesy of a gift card Jesse's mom gave us. There was so much food! We only ordered two kids meals for the trio and split them. We still had enough takeout for lunch on Saturday. It was a delicious meal. The only downside to our dining experience was a rude comment from a stranger. As we were leaving, a couple was being seated next to us. The lady asked, "Are you all leaving?" I confirmed that we were. She responded, "Good. I would have to request a different table if you all were staying. I don't need all that noise while I eat."
We still had a few hours before hotel check-in and we knew we needed to keep the kids busy. Jesse navigated to this lovely park, just a few blocks from the ocean. Some local moms were meeting for a playdate. There was another toddler named Amelia who befriended our Amelia. The kids played hard. All was well and good until James made a run for it, opened the gate, and nearly ran into the busy road.
With a high of 81 degrees, I didn't want to waste the beautiful day at the beach by not actually going to the beach. Our final stop before the hotel was the Boardwalk. In the dozens of times I've gone to Myrtle Beach, I can only recall going to the Boardwalk a couple of times, likely because you have to pay to park. We found a $5 lot and dragged our tired children out to the ocean. Maddie tearfully clung to Jesse and refused to get near the sand. I chased after Jackson, while James and Amelia cautiously followed. Jackson ran straight to the ocean, joyously splashing water on himself. James and Amelia collected shells. The tide had washed up millions of seashells all along the shore. I assume the abundance of shells was a result of the recent flooding. I've never seen so many shells washed up in my life! It felt like walking on broken glass, but that didn't stop James from crawling on his hands and knees picking up his treasures. Amelia would bring me tiny shells and declare, "See! Baby shell!" Maddie eventually made herself comfortable in the sand farthest away from the water.
My phone died after taking photographs and texting siblings for six hours, which meant no pictures of the actual pier. The kids took time to "play" arcade games, chase birds, admire the ducks, and weave in and out of crowds.
We made a quick stop at a grocery store before finally arriving at the hotel. (I waited in the van with three sleeping toddlers while Jackson ran in with Jesse to get a few refrigerated items.) We reserved a suite, which had two rooms separated by a kitchen. I was especially tired after being awake since 4 a.m. Gratefully, Jesse let me nap while he and the kids had downtime in the adjoining room.
I brought the griddle and plenty of food so I could make as many meals as possible. There was no workable counter space, so cooking was a struggle. In fact most everything in the hotel room was a struggle. We could hardly walk through the first room due to three pack-n-plays crammed in every possible space. James made it his personal goal to start a fire. The entire weekend he put random things in the oven and turned it up to 500 degrees. Then he would run back and forth between the different AC units and crank the heat all the way up.
After dinner we prepared to check out the hotel pool. James was clearly eager to go swimming. He brought us the float and made himself comfortable. Amelia and Maddie aren't typically fans of water. Both girls surprised us with their enjoyment of the pool. Jackson swam independently while wearing his puddle jumper. James kicked and splashed water feverishly and repeatedly face planted in the water.
We briefly walked out onto the beach at sunset.
-If we would have thought about it, we would have gone on the beach before swimming in the pool to avoid getting cold. Between being cold and hating the ocean, Maddie was NOT happy.
-The goofy selfie of Jesse and I was Jesse's subtle way of covering my gaping cleavage.
-My oldest brother and his children ran down to the beach. He snapped a family photo of us.
After an incredibly busy, exciting day, we finally got the trio settled down in their pajamas and cribs. Jesse volunteered to stay in the room with the trio while I took Jackson down to the beach and pool to meet up with his cousins. I absolutely love the beach at night. You can't tell where the water ends and the sky begins, plus the sound of the crashing waves is amplified. Many of the cousins had just arrived, so they were full of excited energy. It was so fun to watch all the cousins play together in the outdoor pool.
James and Jackson slept soundly, but Jesse and I ended up in separate beds with Amelia and Maddie. The sunrise was muted by clouds, but it was still a gorgeous view from our hotel balcony. Once everyone was awake, I opened the curtains. The trio suddenly remembered where they were and exclaimed, "Beach! Water!" We ate breakfast on the balcony.
We spent most of the morning together on the beach with our whole family (nine adults and 18 children). The older cousins looked after the younger ones. Siblings passed around kids. We took turns burying one another in the sand and turning kids into mermaids. Everywhere you turned there were smiling, giggling kids. It was the epitome of what a family vacation should be.
We made sure to pose for various family pictures.
We seriously lucked out with the weather this year!
After a draining morning immersed in the sand and water, we desperately needed some downtime. We ate lunch (quesadillas and leftovers), made a quick stop for the traditional doughnuts, then settled down for a two hour nap.
I wanted to do one more fun "beach" activity. Deciding on this activity was much more stressful than it should have been. We eventually selected a mini-golf course. Myrtle Beach is known as "Mini Golf Capital of the World". There are dozens of intricately themed, ornately decorated, significantly overpriced courses. Jesse and Amelia both threw tantrums in a matter of minutes. Jesse had unrealistically high expectations that the four kids would all follow the rules of the game and patiently wait their turns. Amelia demanded a real putter that was much too big for her. James ran one hole ahead the entire time and we constantly had to yell at him to come back. Maddie hoarded golf balls. Jackson put the ball down anywhere he randomly decided and putted from his chosen starting point. It was chaotic, but a new, exciting experience.
Our last family function was the annual spaghetti dinner. All 27 of us crammed into one hotel suite to feast on salad, spaghetti, bread, and dessert.
Unfortunately, I had church commitments that I could not change on Sunday. Jesse and I reluctantly decided it would be easiest to leave late Saturday evening. We packed and took turns loading bags in the van. My extended family was meeting by the pool for another late night swim, which are some of my fondest childhood memories. I promised Jackson we could spend 30 minutes swimming. We swam, dried off, changed, and loaded up in the van. Jesse drove the entire way home, arriving just before 1 a.m.
The weekend was filled with so many highs. It makes me truly happy to know that my family has carried on the beach trip even after mom died. I love that our kids have best friends and role models among their cousins, and that they can look forward to the trip every year!