My bride convinced me to register as a potential chaperone for our 5th grader’s field trip a few months ago, and I forgot about it, because she said lots of folks register for this privilege, but what I shouldn’t have forgotten is that I’m really lucky and win stuff from drawings all the time, so when I found out I was going, I had much to shift in my work schedule to make it happen.  But, on Wednesday morning at 545am, we arrived at her school to board the buses headed southeast.

Tybee is a barrier island just east of Savannah and south of Hilton Head. We stayed at a 4-H center that was like a campground, but on a marsh.  There were cabins that resembled little open bay barracks, but we chaperones had a separate room with our own bathroom (but still had a bunk bed to share–I got the bottom one).

During the day, we learned about marsh ecology, beach ecology, invertebrates, and orienteering.  At night, we returned to the beach for a guided walk that included gazing at myriad stars, hearing stories about pirates, and spending time silently listening to the waves scooting toward us.

We also visited Fort Pulaski and toured its grounds, which was great, except for the continuous whining from one boy about how badly he had to pee (once his eyes were full of tears, and he was lying on his side like a fetus from the pain in his bladder, I reluctantly agreed to escort him to the visitor center restrooms after a “Didn’t you hear the guide tell everyone to use the restroom before we left?” admonition).

After our muddy marsh walk, I decided that the brown leather Columbia hiking boots I bought with my dad during a trip home to Nashville shortly after college graduation should stay with the camp for future use by marsh walkers.  It was a somewhat hard decision, as I’m a sentimental kinda guy, but the boots were nasty, and I didn’t want to clean them up to put them back in my suitcase.  Also, I bought new waterproof Merrells last spring for our Hadrian’s Wall walk and really don’t like duplicity in my wardrobe (our closet’s not that big).  I bid them farewell and smiled at the thought that they’d live on to protect future hikers from sticky black marsh mud and that, maybe, just maybe, they’d be there for my feet if I come back with my 2nd grade boy in 3 years).

On the bus ride home (like the bus ride there), I got to sit with my 5th grader, which was going to be 4 hours of bonding and creating memories we’d cherish for the rest of our lives when I pictured this trip in my head, but instead it was 4+ hours of watching movies at about 130 decibels as I tried to focus on the emails I needed to respond to via my ipad.  When I got home, I immediately ordered wireless, noise cancelling Bose headphones that I will never ever leave home without, ever.

Despite the loud bus rides and the unruly cabin full of 10-year-old boys my co-chaperone and I had to try and quiet each night (I was “good cop”), I loved going on this trip.  I love that I have enough control over my schedule to leave for 3 days during the work week.  I love how sweet, kind, considerate, and innocent most of these little 5th graders are in their last year of elementary school, and how much fun it was to watch them get excited about coastal biology and ecology.  I love exploring a new part of the state I’ve called home since 1997 and learning how diverse its topography can be.  I loved all the free coffee.

When people ask when was the happiest time of my life, I never hesitate before saying 5th through 7th grades, but getting to experience this time with our children as they enter this same time frame is pretty close to being as good.  I can’t wait for the next few months and years.

Just the other day, the postman brought 4 bags of potato soup mix from Idahoan® Foods to try, so I partnered with Life of Dad and the good Idahoans to turn my backyard into a kickass steakhouse with outdoor seating.

We started with boiling water on the stove.

Then, I poured in the potato soup.

The children volunteered to make it into a romantic evening and served as hostess, server, and sommelier. They made name tags and menus, and they set the speakers to the “Symphonic Classical” Pandora station.


It was as nice as a card table on a backyard patio could be.

My boy insisted on heavy pours of the Pinot and then started asking about next year’s Christmas presents before I slowed his roll.

They were most proud of their service, as I was most proud of how the pork chops and soup turned out.

Once we sat down to eat, the fruits of my labor were enjoyed by the fruits of my loins.  It was beautiful.  I’d arrived as the #KingofSoup.

Thanks to Idahoan® Foods for sponsoring this evening, my 10, 8, and 6 year olds for servicing it,  and to Mother Nature for providing the January warm front that made an outdoor dining experience viable!  If you want this for your backyard or kitchen, go to Idahoan.com or follow @IdahoanFoods on social media.

We boarded the train in York and arrived at King’s Cross on July 7, briefly stopping at Platform 9 3/4 before depositing our bags at the AirBnB in London.

Then, I met my distant German relative, Andreas, and his girlfriend to tour the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio, and it was amazing.

I think this excursion was supposed to be for the children, but I was looking forward to it as much as anyone in the family, if not more.

I read all the books (that were out at the time) while in Iraq in 2003 and then finished the subsequent ones as they came out, and I’d seen all the movies.  The children had all read the first book before we let them see the movie and take the tour.  Andreas was also a fan, but his girlfriend had neither seen any of the movies nor read the books.  Nonetheless, they loved it, too.

There was the Great Hall, Diagon Alley, 4 Privet Drive, the Leaky Cauldron, Hagrid’s Hut, Dumbledore’s office, the Griffindor Boys’ Dorm, and a chance to fly on a broom.

It was awesome, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s read or seen “Harry Potter” and finds himself within the vicinty of London.

The next day, we boarded a bus before 5am to see sunrise at Stonehenge.

Our tour bus stopped in Salisbury on the way back to London, so we could explore Salisbury Cathedral (home of the Magna Carta!) and the Church of St Thomas Becket there.

That evening (Friday, July 8), we met up with the 11 hikers who’d be traversing Hadrian’s Wall with me, starting the next morning, when I’d break from my family for our nearly 100-mile hike.

My bride and the children still had a few more days in London to explore the city.  On Saturday the 9th, they went to the National Gallery to take in the art, the Victoria & Albert museum to take in more art and some artifacts, the London Science Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms (something I’d really wanted to do before I left, but the line was too long after our day at Stonehenge) before having ice cream in Hyde Park.

The next day, Sunday, they toured the Tower of London, rode the London Eye, and saw the Prime Meridian in Greenwich and toured the Cutty Sark ship there.  They loved it.

Monday, they rode a double-decker bus around town and visited the Sherlock Holmes museum before spending the afternoon at the British Museum.  Also a great day for them.

Tuesday morning, they boarded an early flight back to the States, very confident that they’d seen all they’d wanted to see in London, and loving every day they spent there!

The days after I’d left were all planned by my 10-year-old, a privilege we told her she’d get for her birthday, and it really meant a lot to her to have us trust her with planning several days of our trip.  Now, of course, the other two are planning where their “big trips” will be when they’re 10!  Many of the ideas came to her from a video we checked out at the library called “Travel with Kids” focusing on London (I believe it’s a series; we’ll be looking for it next time we go somewhere with them for sure!).

I can’t wait for our next international destination with the children:  Paris!