When was the last time you took a full week off from your regular routine and had some fun?

When I was a kid, we always looked forward to a simple week at the beach, even when all five of us jammed into Uncle Gene and Aunt Eva’s tiny home in North Charleston, making the trek to Folly Beach a whopping 45 minutes long.

In the past several years, my husband and I have enjoyed a few trips to the mountains, including a Christmas weekend there with our sons. I loved the change of scenery and weather.

More recently, I have taken a couple of trips to Illinois with my sister (one in summer 2020 for her son’s wedding and another in spring 2021 for the postponed wedding reception). Both times, we were able to stay for just a few days. But this year, we had a new reason to drive the 11 hours from her house to her son’s house.

A baby was born!

Little Henrik is Shirley’s first grandson and she was ever so eager to get there as soon as possible. We left on a Friday with no agenda except to get to Southern Illinois as quickly as we could safely get there.

Obviously, it was love at first sight when we arrived and met Henrik. I could see on my sister’s face the overwhelming joy of holding this long-awaited child. She finally let me hold him for a few minutes too.

Our primary objective for our trip was to spend as much time as possible with the baby and his parents. But we didn’t expect to stay so busy!

As it turned out, we spent most of every day of the next week doing something different with the kids, other family members, groups of friends, and even the whole tribe at once – including cousins and teammates. They kept us busy, entertained and well-fed.

From a graduation party (for a young man we’d never met) to a full-on family breakfast, then pizza night at the grandparent’s place, to the thank-you spaghetti dinner we prepared for our host family, we ate like there was no tomorrow.

We loved our visit to Rainbow Ranch, an animal rescue and shelter, where I saw my first peacock in full plume, my first Zonkey (yes, a blend of zebra and donkey!), a real live camel and several llamas. I even got to hold a baby goat!

We shopped a little, including a visit to one of the smallest Kroger stores in America, located in Nashville (Illinois, not Tennessee), and one of the largest markets around, Eckert’s in Belleville – which sells all manner of goodies from their many peach orchards, among thousands of other items.

We went to two volleyball games, and a T-ball game. We visited an aunt at work. We were treated to a golf cart tour of the entire town (population 300). In most cases, Henrik was with us, so we were always having fun.

We even learned a lot about farming wheat, corn and soybeans. My nephew married into a family – actually an entire community – that has been farming for generations. We had hoped to take a ride on the family combine during wheat harvest, but alas, it broke down on our last day.

Our view for the week, at both my nephew’s house and his in-laws, where we stayed, was a vast panorama of acres and acres of fields of golden wheat and green corn stalks, with clear blue skies as a backdrop. It was as hot there as it was in the Lowcountry, but somehow we didn’t mind.

It turned out that we stayed a full week! And as busy as we stayed, it was one of the best, low-key, fun times I can remember in the past couple of decades.

All this to say: When you have a chance, go somewhere completely different from where you live. Visit the unique offerings in that community. Watch kids play a sport. Enjoy the vistas. Forget your troubles and just relax.