It always takes me a couple of days to unwind before I can fully appreciate and enjoy a week at the beach.

All I want to do when we first arrive is sit in my low-to-the-ground beach chair as it slowly sinks into the wet sand. I let the ebbing tide work tediously to bury my feet as my entire being synchs with the rhythmic sounds of the surf.

Then, at the end of my first days at the beach, I come in and put lots of aloe gel on my aching, burned skin. Even with sunblock, a hat and an umbrella, my exposed parts glow red after just one day at the coast.

But even my lobster-esque skin tone doesn’t detract from my relaxed state once I’ve been left to breathe in the salt air and stare into the middle distance where the birds dance above the breakers.

Once relaxed, I am ready to take on the obligatory family beach vacation activities, such as the highly competitive putt putt tournament, a ghost walk at twilight, an hour or so in a run down game room filled with retro video games and skee ball, and a boring tour of something historic that the kids will complain about while doing it but never forget as long as they live.

One of my favorite activities, however, has absolutely nothing to do with surf or games or historic sites. What I love to do when we’re at the beach is something I love to do at home—cook. That’s why the house we selected for this year’s vacation had to have a fully-equipped kitchen.

And while fully-equipped makes it sound as if all you need are some groceries, my skepticism after years of finding beach house kitchens lacking meant we brought a bag of cooking necessities with us, such as my biscuit cutters and a set of dry measures. Next year, I’ll be sure to also include a basting brush.

In addition to cooking utensils, I bring food. Not enough for the week, but items I don’t particularly want to buy new at the beach, like baking powder. I also picked lots of tomatoes out of our garden and cooked up a big stockpot of marinara before we left so we wouldn’t have to buy sauce in a jar for our beach pasta dishes.

While our amenities list included a grill, the rusted heap of metal the owners listed as such wasn’t suitable for roasting marshmallows let alone steaks and seafood. As a result, we had to bake, broil and simmer our way through the week. Next year, we might just take Ma up on her offer to pack her patio grill.

One day, my youngest son and I decided to pick up some chips, as we ran out at the beach house even though we still had lots of salsa and cheese sauce. When we arrived at the grocery store, the pile of artichokes in the produce department caught my son’s eyes. Who am I to deny my child a delicious, healthy vegetable?

Since we had artichokes, we decided to ask the cashier where one might buy fresh seafood. She gave us directions to the best seafood stand in town. That evening, my son and I took over the kitchen and prepared a table full of culinary masterpieces. Quality time in the kitchen and at the dinner table with my family—now that’s what I call a great vacation.

We also brought one of our dogs—our newest adoptee, Annie. She absolutely loved all the attention she received, being the only one of our five pets to tag along on the trip. I expected her to frolic in the ocean, but to our surprise, she was not interested in dipping her paws in the surf.

Our Annie did love lounging on the deck, walking on the sand away from the water, eating scraps of amazingly fresh seafood, and sitting in my lap as I made my way through an actual book. She’s put on some weight since we adopted her, so she’s quite soft and fluffy and cuddly—a perfect lazy-day, relaxing on vacation companion.

Rain at the beach is always a possibility. It rained on and off for a couple of days during our stay. However, with the Sponge Bob Squarepants Game of Life, several decks of cards and lots of reading materials, we had plenty to do to keep ourselves in a vacation frame of mind.

Seven days relaxing with the boys, Hubby and Ma is good for the soul. And what’s nice about heading to the beach—as opposed to the mountains, for example—is when the week is over, it’s not so sad to have to leave. The entire ride home, I daydream about that first shower in my own bathroom, during which I will wash away every grain of sand and bit of slimey, salty mist.

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of "Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville." She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com