Seashells and Shrimp n’ Grits

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My sister and I are only a year apart and when we were children, our parents used to joke that you couldn’t separate us with a fire hose! But now that she lives in Orlando and I work in Boston, finding time to be together can be problematical at best. So I was really excited when she suggested a beach vacation on the Outer Banks, a more-or-less half-way point for meeting up. While our husbands couldn’t make it due to work, I brought my teenage twin boys and Kate her twelve-year-old daughter, making it just a break for the moms and the kids.

This was the first time we had planned an outer banks vacation like this and I have to say it was one of the best vacations of my life. We stayed at Nag’s Head, at the American Beauty, a gorgeous, slate blue and white beach house overlooking the ocean, and the first night we were there, my sister Kate and I took a long, sunset walk along the most beautiful beach I have ever been on, watching the sky turn blue and lavender and the ocean turn silver beneath it. We were both barefoot and walked on the beach just where the water met the sand and let the waves wash over our feet. I could feel the stress melting off me even on that first night and I could understand what the locals meant by “island time”, which seems to run more slowly than it does on the mainland!

Outer Banks

We all spent time on the beach each day that we were there: our kids soaked up the sun while Kate and I went collecting sea glass and shells. We even found an old guide book that taught us some of the names of the shells themselves. Olive slipper. Quahog clam. Scotch bonnet. It was like learning a new language. Sometimes we didn’t even bother with the beachcombing. We just sat on the sand, watching the sleek, pale bodies of dolphins sliding in and out of the waves, following the fishing boats. The air was always filled with the screams of gulls and enormous brown pelicans with bright blue eyes periodically landed in the waves like old-fashioned World War II bombers.

Within a day or two of our arrival, we all became enchanted by the way of life on the islands and on one of our day trips went on a tour to the Bodie Lighthouse. It was built in the 19th century and its tall, black-and-white-striped tower rose up out of a saltmarsh where great blue herons and great egrets hunted for fish in the reeds. There was a dizzying spiral of over 200 steps to the top of the lighthouse and we were both terribly dizzy by the time we got there, but it was worth it for the fantastic view.

One of the highlights of the vacation was a day trip we took to the southern part of the Outer Banks to Beaufort, a little coastal community that dates back to the time of the American Revolution. Its historic downtown was full of galleries and book stores and boutiques. Kate and I spent the morning kayaking the short distant between the town and the Rachel Carson Reserve, to watch the famous wild horses running on the islands, the way they have since the 1940’s when they were put there by a local breeder. When we got back, we got dressed up and went to the Blue Moon Bistro on Front Street, gorging ourselves on salmon served over lobster ravioli and washing it down with more than one bottle of the house white!

Kate and I probably each gained about five pounds just on the shrimp and grits alone, and one thing we both discovered on this trip was a deep love for low country cooking. But the only complaint I have about our stay was that it did not last longer. The American Beauty was a wonderful jumping-off point for our adventures and being able to wake up in the morning and have a private cup of coffee on my own balcony while watching the sun come up over the ocean was amazing therapy for me. Apart from sunburned arms and an enormous collection of shells, I am bringing home with me some amazing memories of the time we got to spend together in a truly amazing and beautiful place.