Vacations we love to remember

Summer’s end can sometimes trigger a twinge of melancholy.  We don’t want to see the good times end.  And yet, though it soon may be time to put away the beach towels and turn up the thermostat, our memories of vacations and the fun we had can sweetly linger for years, brightening our days whenever we call up those memories.
Most likely there are certain vacations that you recall with special delight.  Here are a few of ours.

Some of our favorites



Summer of 1995 my Dad invited me on a Snake River rafting expedition through Hell’s Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border.  This was a 10-day trip with seven rafters on the water traveling about 80 miles, giving us ample time to experience class IV rapids, historical Nez Perce sites, epic natural scenery and encounter amazing wildlife.

We had great fun fishing (seemingly limitless), kayaking and cliff diving.  The cool water made the 95 degree heat seem not so bad! 

Allowed me to see what I was made of

There were a couple of rafting outfits that provided a rather cushy experience, although we went with a small private group headed by a 75-year-old retired game warden.  We had to pack in and pack out all our supplies and set-up rafts, camp, and share food duties every day. 

Suffice it to say the trip was challenging and allowed me to see what I was made of as a young man still in college. Despite having traveled many places around the world, this trip is still one of the most memorable!  I long to go again someday.



One of my most memorable vacations was back in pre-kid days when my husband and I took our bikes and the few necessities we could fit into our panniers (bike bags) and hopped on a plane for an adventure through Tuscany. 

Armed only with a book about bicycling through Italy that I had bought at a used book store, we soon realized we weren’t fully prepared for our bike trip.  It took us a bit before we figured out that street names were on the sides of buildings, talking louder wouldn’t make someone understand us any better and the hills were much steeper than described! 

Pistachio gelato was a must each day

Once we got going, seeing the country by cycling to a different town every couple of days was amazing.  We started in Florence without a set plan, just a general idea of our route, and stopped when we arrived at a place we liked.  It’s difficult to choose a favorite spot – there were so many! – but the Cinque Terre, Volterra, San Gimignano and Sienna were some of our favorites.  Luckily we were burning a lot of calories cycling because we enjoyed the food a little too much. Pistachio gelato was a must each day.  

An unforgettable trip!



Our family started snow skiing when I was 11, immediately after moving from Maryland to Washington state.  After a few years of many lessons and spending nearly every winter weekend on skis, we starting taking trips a little farther from home.  One Christmas, we drove to Sun Valley and skied dry, deep powder for the first time.

Learning to ski in the Cascade mountains, I was accustomed to generally heavier snow conditions, and so was not prepared for the consistent super-light, dry snow and brilliant, sunny days of Sun Valley.  Skiing there that week was like living in a postcard – perfect weather, bright sun during the days, falling snow at night. It was truly dreamlike.  Dad and I hung out in “the bowls” (valleys) off of the Lookout chair for a good portion of the trip.

“Dad, this is like flying!”

As an aside, one evening at dinner, my mom, sister and I were walking through the Sun Valley Lodge, and who would appear behind us, but Andy Williams!  My mom was (still is) a diehard “Moon River” fan, and was smitten when Andy opened the door for her and said some pleasantries – ones I am sure he said to all his adoring fans.  Besides the skiing, this was one of the highlights of her trip, for sure. 

That first experience with true powder got me hooked. Since then, my skis have nearly always steered toward the deeper, untracked stuff.  Later, while teaching my young boys to ski powder at Grand Targhee, Wyoming, my younger son, who was nine at the time and who had clearly gotten the hang of it, exclaimed, “Dad, this is like flying!”  That’s when I knew he was hooked, too.



For the past few summers our family has jumped in our car and hit the road to visit national parks in Montana, Wyoming and Alberta, Canada.  And wow.  It’s hard to come up with words that adequately describe the breathtaking natural beauty we saw there.

While the land was awe-inspiring, I have to say it was the wildlife that captivated me. Buffalo.  Bears.  Big horn sheep.  Elk.  Mountain goats.  All wild and free.

I’ll never forget driving through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, where we came upon a herd of grunting, shaggy (and huge – did I mention huge?) buffalo.  Real.  Live.  Buffalo.  Larger than life, they leapt from my grade school history book onto the road before us.  We slowed the car to a stop and immediately were surrounded.  All we could do was stay put and admire these magnificent beasts (and snap pictures like crazy!) as they loitered next to us, tails swishing, beards wagging, before they trotted past our rolled-down windows and into the nearby fields.

“Hey bear!  Hey bear!”

While I adored the buffalo, I think my family was more interested in spotting a bear. (Okay, I’ll be honest.  Part of the reason I drag my feet on hiking some of the trails in Yellowstone – and Glacier and Banff and Waterton – is because these parks are bear country!  Protective mama bears live here – grizzly bears!  Loudly calling out, “Hey bear! Hey bear!”  – you’re supposed to do this – while scouring the meadows and trees for lumps of black or brown fur and gripping bear spray,  just sucks the hiking joy right out of me.)   

We finally did spy a black bear at Yellowstone.  He was scrambling through the shrubs at a trailhead.  A group of enraptured vacationers (not me!) chased right after him into the woods with their cameras.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Warnings abound at national parks to keep your distance from the animals because they can be unpredictable and dangerous.  A park ranger lamented to us that people often leave their brains outside the park before entering.  He described a dad sitting his toddler on the back of a buffalo for a photo op.

While I love the wildlife at national parks, I love it best from a respectable distance.



One of my favorite vacations occurred several years ago when my husband and I took our adult kids to Australia and then cruised around New Zealand.  It was something we’ve always wanted to do.  Even though cruising is not my kids’ idea of a perfect vacation, as fans of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, we were all eager to explore Hobbiton.  It did not disappoint!  (Although I must say it was very crowded.) We felt like we really WERE in Hobbitland, so realistic were the hobbit holes and The Shire.  And the gardens were beautiful! 

Thousands of tiny glowing lights

We also had great fun hiking at the Three Sisters rock formations outside of Sydney and the Queen Charlotte Track (part of New Zealand’s Trail).  There we saw spectacular tree ferns (picture a palm tree but with fern leaves), a glow-worm grotto (thousands of tiny glowing lights) and the native kiwi birds.

Even with all of the amazing sights in Australia and New Zealand, my sweetest memory took place on the cruise ship, where I persuaded my son and daughter to enter the “Voice of the Ocean” singing competition.  For them it was an, “Ah mom, do I have to?!” moment.  But for me? Seeing them perform on stage (and my son win!) was something I’ll never forget.



Last year for my birthday, my best friend took me to Dana Point in Southern California for the weekend.  It was one of the best mini-vacations I’ve ever had.  As a mom of three kids under 10, having a weekend to relax was amazing!

Pure bliss!

We stayed at the Dana Point Marina Hotel which has ocean views and a great pool.  (Lounging about the pool without having to keep an eagle-eye on the kiddos was pure bliss.)  The highlight of the weekend was a harbor wine tasting cruise.  We had such fun sampling great wines and eating appetizers with the other passengers, while cruising around the harbor looking at all the boats. Because we left in the late afternoon we were on the water when the sun set.  Beautiful!  My friend and I joke that it was a very romantic weekend away – without our husbands!  We cherished the time that we had together with nothing to do but relax and have fun. 

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