A Lowcountry Thanksgiving

We are no strangers to the Charleston area, thanks to our dear friends Ali and Bright. We visit them often and have developed friendships with so many fun people in that great city. It’s been four years, however, since we visited Big Survey Plantation with John’s brother’s family. When they invited us to join them there for Thanksgiving, we jumped at the chance. We extended our trip and spent a whole week full of gratitude for friends and family in the lowcountry.

We landed in Charleston late Sunday night and spent the next two days with Bright and Ali, their twin boys (Ben and Henry), and Chief (their floppy dog who is also part goat and cat). We packed plenty into our time with them: a rooftop sunset cocktail party in the Battery with some close friends who also were visiting town, a dinner with old friends who used to live in Utah (complete with a donut skewer for dessert!), beautiful walks in 70-degree weather along the quiet streets of Mount Pleasant, and steamed oyster-shucking on Shem Creek. But first, breakfast with biscuits!

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John got out on the water near Isle of Palms with Bright for a day of fishing while Ali and I went to lunch at Obstinate Daughter and did some baby/maternity shopping. We snuck in a glorious pedicure (John, too!) before meeting yet another crew of fun friends for drinks at the new Spectator Hotel’s bar. Not only is the hotel positively stunning (designed by our uber-talented friend, Jenny Keenan), but the bartender made me scrumptious craft mocktails! Instead of the usual boring combo of juices I get when I ask for a fun non-alcoholic drink, he made me drinks with spiced pear flavors or beet juice or cucumbers and fresh herbs. YUM. After an extended happy hour, ten of us made our way to a rowdy dinner and a few of us landed back at Bright and Ali’s. We did the “swing the ring” game to guess Baby Howe’s gender, and the results were evenly split. Boy or girl? It remains a mystery!

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We hit the road on Wednesday, heading west toward the ACE Basin and Big Survey Plantation to meet John’s brother, Nat, and his awesome family- Mimi, Mackenzie, Henry, and Perry. John stopped at a gun shop for hunting ammunition on the way, which happened to be next to a Krispy Kreme donut shop with the “Hot Now” sign ablaze in the window. A donut (or two) made the pre-Thanksgiving traffic a little more bearable and we arrived at the house in time for a tasty pasta dinner and catch-up time in front of the ever-present roaring fire. So cozy! I woke up to the glorious view from our bedroom window that I remembered from four years ago.

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For Mr. Turkey’s big day, all 7 of us piled into a car and headed to another family property called Cain Hoy to spend the holiday with Mimi’s parents and extended family. Before the feast, the whole crew met near a field for a morning of dove hunting. Camo for everyone! I met person after person, cousins and sisters and nieces and nephews and parents. Some of us split off into smaller groups, positioning ourselves in various blinds to wait for the doves to show themselves. I followed John and Nat, and my first experience with dove hunting told me that it involves a lot of chatting and waiting around. No birds appeared, but it was a beautiful day to be outdoors in the South!

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We gave up on the hunt and drove over to the big house. Cain Hoy is a beautiful plantation that dates back to the 1930s with ancient live oaks draped with southern moss dotting the grounds. A big crew of kids and adults were playing football on the lawn while others chatted in Adirondack chairs in the shade. Off to the side, multiple picnic tables were set up end to end, forming one long dining table. Not one but THREE turkey fryers were sizzling away, full of what would be our delectable lunch feast. I snuck over to the carving table “for a photo” (my cover for sneaking a taste of freshly sliced turkey)– YUM. One end of the extra-long picnic table was the serving zone, full of turkey, some of the best dressing I’ve had, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, a big salad, classic can-shaped cranberry sauce, and biscuits. We joined about 25 family members at the table- what a lovely setting for a holiday meal! I told myself to go small, knowing my belly simply doesn’t have room these days for a big plate. No luck. I even made room for some Red Velvet cupcake for dessert!

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After lunch, John and I walked off some of the feast with Nat, Mimi, and Mimi’s father, Peter. We moseyed to a dock and enjoyed the ridiculously balmy coastal weather, pausing for a baby bump photo or two. When we returned, we said our goodbyes and headed back toward Big Survey for resting, a nap for this Mama, Turkey Day football on TV, and movies with the family. The day was different than the Thanksgivings that I’m used to with my family, but it was super fun with fantastic food and company. Thanksgiving 2015 was in the books!

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Though the big event was over, we still had a couple of days left at Big Survey to enjoy time with family. John’s sister, Frances, drove in from North Carolina and we filled the rest of our time to the brim with activity! There were long walks on the property, visits with the resident (very happy) horses, backgammon and other rowdier games by the fire, and the best BBQ rib dinner I’ve had in ages (served with a side of competitive brother-to-brother ping pong games).

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When in South Carolina, bird hunting seems to be a given. There were multiple quail hunts with well-trained dogs. I joined one crew out in the woods, following our guide closely and watching the dogs do what they clearly love to do. We had a fabulous picnic in the trees with butter-fried quail and all sorts of sides. We were also spoiled with in-home massages by a local masseuse one evening. I snuck in some yoga and a few naps and John was sweet enough to rub my swollen feet at night, tired from so much fun.

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For me, our last day at Big Survey was the most fun because of our activities. First, we hopped into a couple of canoes and paddled our way through a maze of swampy trees. I felt like I was on a real-life version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. I’m used to animals like porcupines and elk and fox and moose around at home, but this is the land of alligators and deadly water moccasins and wild boars- no joke! I’m happy to report that no snakes fell from the trees into our boat and disappointed to say that we saw zero alligators. But what fun to feel immersed in the lowcountry land, laughing with family and trying something new!

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The second activity of the day was the sporting clay course. I had so much fun shooting skeet on this course four years ago and had to defend my title of “Better than John.” The ATV ride felt a little bumpier with my own giant bump this time, but the course was just as entertaining as I remembered. Not only did I beat John’s score, but after being neck-and-neck with Henry for most of the time, I ended up the day’s winner! I’ll thank the baby for my lucky shooting.

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After one last big family breakfast, we spent Sunday packing. We hugged Frances goodbye and John and I posed for a couple of photos, hoping to get a good one for our Christmas card. I didn’t envy Nat’s family’s 12-hour drive back to Princeton, New Jersey. It’s always sad to say goodbye to family that lives far away; the next time we would see everyone, we’d be parents. Whoa.

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John and I headed back to Charleston, this time to check in as guests at the Spectator after lunch on King Street. After a week full of activity and with a serious cold threatening my health, it was bliss to stretch out in a quiet hotel room and rest for a bit. The hotel is simply stunning, modern and classy with gorgeous details. We even had a little balcony with a view!

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We met Bright and Ali in the bar for early drinks (more tasty mocktails!) before hugs goodbye. We always make such amazing memories with these friends, wherever we are! Then, after the only bad meal I’ve ever had in Charleston, John and I redeemed the evening by stopping at the Hagen Daaz shop on the corner near the hotel. The sweet lady behind the counter gave me my cup of pralines and cream for free (“it’s for the baby”) and I ended the evening in my plush hotel robe eating ice cream in bed with a football game on TV. At that particular moment, nothing could have been more heavenly.

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Our last little indulgence before hopping on a plane back to Utah was the complimentary room service breakfast: mini quiches, a yogurt parfait, and Callie’s biscuits! We’d had Callie’s biscuits in Charleston on my birthday in January, and it was fun to end this trip with a classic taste of the South.

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The night before, Ali had mentioned that she thought my baby bump had visibly grown over the week. At the airport, I looked down and I agreed with her. I’d learn in a couple of days that I’d gained 10 pounds in the last 6 weeks- definitely a healthy baby in there! (I’m sure the week full of delicious Southern food contributed, too!)


I tried to doze on the plane, my body’s attempt to fight that cold feeling futile. It was another memory-filled trip to the Charleston area, full of friends, family, food, laughter, new experiences, and a lot of fun…but it was time to be home, snuzzle Cholula, rest and recuperate, and kickstart Christmas!

Bit by the travel bug? See more of our adventures here

Our last visit to Big Survey


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