Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Vacation that Made Up Our Minds (Or how we ended up in North Carolina)


Back in July 2016 my husband's contract with his then-client in the Boston area had finally come to a close, and instead of instantly securing a contract with a new client (as my husband had been doing for the past few years as we followed his work from Michigan to Florida to Pennsylvania to Massachusetts) we decided it was time to take a break. We had been married less than 4 years and already lived in 4 different states and were blessed with two babies along the way. 

In short, we were getting burnt out. Our initial plan had been to have my husband continue his consulting career until Gabriel (our oldest son) reached school-age, but after starting completely over (and over and over and over) the thought of doing one more project then settling down left us feeling rather blah. I was yearning for stability, community, and unchanging close friendships we knew we could count on. So, my husband, Michael, agreed to take a break, enjoy a vacation, and we would go from there.

You can imagine that during all those years of moving around we were constantly discerning God's will in regards to our next steps and where we should go, but we were also continually discussing and evaluating what we would look for in a place we could set down more permanent roots. This had been an increasingly frequent topic of discussion as his contract came to a close and we were feeling pretty strongly about a couple of options, but there remained one more part of the country that had plentiful job opportunities for Michael that we had not been and could, for several reasons, consider as a feasible spot to settle down. Perhaps you can guess, but that place was North Carolina.

Knowing how we already felt about the other top contenders on our list, we decided it was important to use our vacation time to scope out some firsthand knowledge and thoughts about North Carolina. The bonus was that we could also easily spend vacation time in Charleston, South Carolina - a city that I had been longing to revisit as an adult and introduce my husband to. 

Thus, a vacation to the Carolinas was born!

Our first stop was North Carolina, where we spent time in Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh. In Durham we enjoyed some good food and visiting the most iconic site on Duke's campus: the Duke chapel.

Next, we dedicated an entire day to exploring Chapel Hill, which reminded me in many ways of my own college town...except without all the gorgeous Indiana limestone and much, much hotter. Still, it gave Michael and me both a sense of the familiar despite having never previously been to Chapel Hill.

In the morning we were blessed to meet up with one of my mom's cousins (who works for UNC) and her children. It was the first time I had seen her since my older sister's wedding in 2009 and the first time meeting each other's kids, who are similar ages and played quite nicely together. Then, we were off to explore the UNC campus!

We found fun souvenirs for the kids, enjoyed a great lunch, and definitely left with a better understanding of what life in Chapel Hill could be like.

The following day we dedicated to downtown Raleigh, which was largely spent at Marbles Kids Museum. The boys had a blast at the kids museum in Philadelphia when we were there a couple months prior, so we knew Marbles would be a big hit. Boy, were they in for a treat!

We quickly concluded that while Philly's kids museum was pretty awesome, Marbles was in a league of its own. Especially considering that admission was only $5(!), which was music to our Midwestern-grown ears. These were unquestionably our kinds of prices!

If you have young children and find yourselves in Raleigh, go to Marbles. You won't be disappointed.

In Raleigh we had the great fortune of meeting up with one of my husband's cousins, who the boys (especially Gabriel, who was almost 3 at the time) adore. More bonus points for Raleigh!

Truth be told, we quickly found ourselves enchanted by the way this place of 440,000 people managed to feel like the friendliest, most comfortable, small town. It's about half the size of Indianapolis, but reminded me of Indy in a lot of positive ways - which made this Hoosier feel right at home. Honestly, we were surprised to discover just how much Raleigh stole our hearts that day. 

Pretty soon, though, it was time to head further South to the Palmetto State!

Upon our immediate arrival we were able to get dinner at Fleet Landing, where we enjoyed ocean views and the company of a dear friend from my volunteer program when I spent a year in Chicago. She is originally from South Carolina and it was such a gift to be reunited in person (I hadn't seen her since our wedding). 

The next day we were more than ready to beach it up!

Thus began the laid-back, oceanfront portion of our trip. The boys were in heaven with all the sunshine, warm ocean water, and plentiful sand for digging. That first day we spent at the beach was honestly some of the most fun I have ever had playing in the ocean, due in part to how gleefully our boys soaked it all in. It's hard NOT to have a blast when you get to witness your children delight in something so simple and pleasant, after all.

After a morning at the beach we headed back to our rental for the boys' naps, at which point the kids slept and I read outside on the patio...which is basically vacation bliss in my book (no pun intended).

After naps it was time for more Charleston fun when we met up with my family (I have an aunt, uncle, and cousin in Charleston) at the infamous Angel Oak tree.

The boys had so much fun being little boys as they ran around the gigantic tree, climbing what they could, or poking it with sticks. Then, it was time for some (more) seafood (one of my husband's requirements for any good beach trip).

I'm tellin' ya, the food we ate throughout the entire vacation had my foodie husband over the moon, which didn't hurt the Carolinas' prospects as a potential place for us to live. ;)

One of MY personal favorite meals took place the following day when we explored downtown historic Charleston. We spent the morning doing a boat tour that cruised us past many of the important, historical locations; afterwards we perused the Charleston City Market. Then, we sat down for a delicious lunch where my husband was introduced to the Southern deliciousness known as chicken and waffles (pictured below) and I had some sort of fried green tomato sandwich (and sweet tea, of course). The fact that *I* remember the food from our trip so well is really saying something about how good it was....

In the Holy City we made sure to enjoy the Battery and White Point Gardens, Rainbow Row, and basically every other landmark we could possibly walk by before needing to cool off with some fountain splashing (for the kids) and some gelato (for all of us).

It looks like I edited this somehow, but I didn't; it was just that hot and humid!

The rest of our trip basically consisted of a lot more beach, more good food, and a bit more family time with my aunt, uncle, and cousin, before we headed north once again.

On our way back we actually stopped by (one of) the place(s) in North Carolina that would later offer Michael a job, because they were practically begging him to stop in and meet (what can I say? My man is pretty much a rockstar at what he does). We took that opportunity to also see more of Durham, since we hadn't spent too much time there on our way down.

FYI, Cracker Barrel tastes SO much better in the South

Before long we were stopping overnight in New Jersey to see another one of my aunts and uncles, and then we were back in Boston with a lot of thinking and praying to do.

The continued time off work also gave my husband the opportunity to finally recognize and feel things that I had been pointing out to him about our lives in Boston for quite some time - things that made us feel more strongly than ever that we would be better off putting down roots in either the Midwest or the South. No disrespect at all to our friends back in New England, but we just aren't New Englanders - which became painfully obvious to us the longer we lived there.

Considering we moved to North Carolina 6 months ago, you know how this story ends and I already wrote a little bit about the prayers and circumstances that convinced us we were following the right path in doing so. Our vacation helped us realize that we could have everything we considered desirable about the other top places of consideration combined (plus warmer weather AND easy access to beaches and mountains!). This place had all the potential we could ask for in regards to jobs, community, arts & culture, Catholic churches, schools, parks, various amenities, and the list goes on and on.

Thank Goodness we took the vacation that we did, because otherwise we may have never discovered a place which we could so easily call our home. More and more I see the intricate ways in which God is continually blessing us here, which I have nothing but gratitude for. It took 4 years of moving around the country, but we are finally home. I can only hope that all of you feel equal amounts of peace wherever the Lord has placed you.

"The breaks you take from work pay you back manifold when you return because you come back with a fresher mind and newer thinking. Some of your best ideas come when you're on vacation."
-Gautam Singhania

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