One last glimpse of Florida on the blog before we move on to Georgia. I miss those sandy white beaches and majestic sunsets already. Dear Family (and anyone else who…
One last glimpse of Florida on the blog before we move on to Georgia.
I miss those sandy white beaches and majestic sunsets already.
Dear Family (and anyone else who cares),
I’m trying to keep up with our adventures but with homeschooling, sight seeing, driving, and life stuff. I’m finding it difficult to find the time. If you have an iPhone or Android I’m posting regularly on Instagram. My instagram name is newschoolnomad_girlhero.
I’m also trying to pin cute dresses places we have gone or want to go on Pinterest.
Road tripping is in my blood. Some of my favorites childhood memories are roadtrips with my family. One particularly memorable experience was when our family vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama…
Road tripping is in my blood.
Some of my favorites childhood memories are roadtrips with my family. One particularly memorable experience was when our family vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama suddenly, due to an unfavorable weather forecast, took a detour to the Florida Keys. I mean what is 800 miles except two days more driving?
I hope our boys remember the six days we spent in the Florida Keys as fondly as I remember childhood vacation.
We almost skipped visiting the keys because the Florida State Parks, which are significantly less expensive than private campgrounds, were booked solid. The private parks are $75 a night and up during peak season. Being the obsessive compulsive determined person I am, I checked the Florida State Park site for cancellations 3-5 times a day. Persistance paid off and we got four nights at Bahai Honda State Park. I was ecstatic.
Brent and I agreed Bahai Honda State Park is one of the most beautiful campgrounds we have ever visited with miles of uncrowded beaches surrounded by aquamarine water. It has to have the best beaches in the keys. You can still see and walk out on the old Bahai Honda Bridge for a stunning view of the island. The bridge was part of the Overseas Highway built by Henry Flagler and finished in 1912. One of the ranger talks was a retelling of the railway’s history by “Henry Flagler” himself (an impersonator). It should be noted that the bridge from Calusa beach makes a stunning backdrop for some of the most gorgeous sunsets I have witnessed in my life. In. My. Life. Dramatic? Yes. But true. I’m still dreaming of those sunsets.
We enjoyed wading out to the sandbar located at Loggerhead beach where I found a large hermit crab living in a conch shell. The boys and I sat in the shallow water for nearly an hour waiting for him to come out of his shell. I named him “Hermie” which Thing 1 informed was “generic”. Humph. Thing 2 was in paradise, quite literally, as he charged down the sandbar, searched for bits of coral, and made “drizzle” castles out of sand.
One evening, we drove over to Big Pine Key to visit the National Key Deer Refuge. The refuge is home to the Key deer which is an endangered animal that only lives in Florida keys. We didn’t have to look long or hard until we spotted the small deer grazing in lawns. We drove a little further out to No Name Key, yes that is it’s name, and found Key deer wandering along the edges of the road. Don’t worry everyone was driving really slow. The deers, living in close quarters with people for many years, have lost their fear of humans. This isn’t good for the deer but let’s be honest, it’s good for a 9 year old animal loving boy. We were delighted when they came up and sniffed our hands. I’m quite certain it was my Snow White-like charm that drew them near and not hopes of food.
Bahai Honda is about an hour’s drive from Key West. We spent the afternoon walking around the streets of Key West taking in the sites, sipping coconut water, and dodging spring breakers smoking cuban cigars. I very much wanted to go into Ernest Hemingway’s home but due to being on a budget, I settled with a picture and my imagination. Our walk ended at Mallory Square. The sunset was less than spectacular due cloudy weather but the street performers more than made up for it. Our favorites were The Catman of Key West who I remember being mesmerized by when I visited Key West as a kid and The Red Trouser Show. Thing 2 was chosen as an “assistant” for the The Trouser Show proving he may have a future as a street performer. Our evening ended with an excellent dinner of Cuban food El Siboney which I still crave.
The one thing the boys wanted to do in the Florida Keys was snorkel. Unfortunately due to windy conditions, the snorkeling trips led by the states parks had been cancelled. We were about ready to give up when John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park had a campsite cancellation the day we were leaving Bahai Honda. (It pays to have a touch of OCD.) We decided to stay one more night in the keys at John Pennekamp hoping conditions would change and there would be a snorkeling trip in the morning.
Our last morning came and at 8:00 am, breath held, I called the snorkeling tour office to find out if they were going out to the reef. They were! After a week of cancelled tours, conditions has improved enough to snorkel. The boys were thrilled. I was scared. Scared of barracudas, sharks, and sting rays. As it turned out I should have been scared of getting seasick. I spent the majority of the time curled up on the boat deck wishing I would have been eaten by a shark. It was worth it though because the boys had a wonderful time.
Our Florida Keys Experience in a Glance
Where We Stayed:
Bahai Honda State Park – Private spots, gorgeous beaches, internet service with Verizon and AT&T, close to Key West. (Our favorite of the two campgrounds) They have snorkeling tours but it’s a longer boat ride out to the reef.
John Pennekamp State Park – Very well maintained campground (the showers were nicer than the ones at my house), great mini-aquarium, very professional snorkeling trips, internet with Verizon and AT&T. There is a beach but it isn’t nearly as beautiful as the beaches at Bahai Honda.
Snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park – I recommend going with the state park snorkel tours as they send someone out to check the conditions of the sea and visibility. In the very least call and find out if they are going out. If not then it’s unlikely that you will be able to see
Where We Ate:
El Siboney – (On Key West) Loved. This. Place. Very affordable and worth every minute of the wait.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Or treasures. Seventy years worth of treasures. When I think of a castles, I think of grand stone buildings surrounded by immaculate gardens…
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Or treasures. Seventy years worth of treasures.
When I think of a castles, I think of grand stone buildings surrounded by immaculate gardens and moats. Aside from a misplaced moat, Solomon’s Castle is non of that but so much more. Solomon’s castle is the lifework and imagination of artist Howard Solomon, a slight soft spoken man who wears a captains hat. Breaking the rules of conformity, Solomon has not only built a castle out of newspaper printing plates in the middle of a swamp, he has spent his life turning junk into whimsical art boasting corny but clever names. “EvilCornEvil”, a motorcycle made out of an old corn seeder? Oh yes and that’s just the beginning.
As we toured his castle (totally worth the $10 admission, $4 for kids) I was struck by not only the vast amount of work he had done in his 70+ years (does he sleep?) but by the intensely playful nature of it all. After an hour of wandering around, I felt lighthearted, content, and inspired to continue to live unconventionally in our RV.
I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it. Brent, my parents, and the boys all had a great time. We all agreed it was worth getting off the beaten path and heading out to the swampland of Ona, Florida.
As you can imagine living in an RV with 4 people can feel a little tight and there isn’t a lot of space for “grown up” time. It’s okay because…
As you can imagine living in an RV with 4 people can feel a little tight and there isn’t a lot of space for “grown up” time. It’s okay because we know it won’t be long before “are we there yet?” coming from the backseat is only a memory.
Still, sometimes when Brent and get the rare opportunity to be alone, we get so overwhelmed by the prospect of being able to do whatever we want – What? No whining from the backseat! – that we we find ourselves frozen in the face of options. We can stop for coffee without spending a small fortune for four people? We can take a long bike ride without worrying about someone riding out into traffic? We can wait for the sunset without being reminded that someone is “hungry”?
When my mom and dad offered to watch the boys and Brent and I loaded up our bikes and headed to Sanibel Island, an island (you figured as much) off of Fort Myers. We parked in the chamber of commerce parking lot and took off down the miles of bike path that stretch over Sanibel.
Joy. Pure joy.
We rode in the warm breeze our hearts carefree and as light as the wind. We shared the best blended ice coffee ever at Sanibel Bean. We found a nearly deserted beach and watched the sunset. We talked. We laughed. We held hands. We hugged. We kissed.
Sanibel swept us off our feet and we enjoyed every minute.
Who needs a campground when you can park in a yard. We spent over two weeks at my parent’s house in Port Charlotte. This is what we will remember. Visiting…
Who needs a campground when you can park in a yard.
We spent over two weeks at my parent’s house in Port Charlotte. This is what we will remember.
Visiting with my Junebug and Papaw (my grandma and grandpa) for four days. We were so grateful to have that time with them.
Going thrifting with my Junebug. What a hoot!
A boat ride across Charlotte Harbor.
Canoeing in the canals. Ooooh there’s a string ray!
Searching for shark teeth at Venice Beach, Nakomis Beach, and Blind Pass on Manasota Key. Blind Pass was the best beach for shark teeth by a long shot. Nakomis was a close second. Venice gets an F. Thing Two found over 500 teeth. I think we better start panning for gold!
Sunsets at Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key. Majestic.
Thing Two and I had a special date. We searched for shark teeth and got a table for two at a Greek dive. Love.
Idling on the boat through the Charlotte Harbor canals at sunset and watching the milky reflection of a tiring sky on the water.
Visiting my great grandma Nell’s home. It was where my family stayed when I was a kid. The current owner even let us in. Amazing how much bigger things seem when you’re a kid. Brought back memories of sunburns, bathing caps, and morning walks on the beach with my dad.
Nakomis Groves where you get tiny cups of orange juice and large cones of ice cream. Backwards and worth it. I also used to visit this Nakomis Groves as a child.
Spending time with my parents. Thank you Papaw and Weewah. <=== Cutest grandma name ever!
This was the conversation that followed our purchase of snorkeling gear in relation to my fear of sea creatures. Me- “Now I feel like I have to go snorkeling when…
This was the conversation that followed our purchase of snorkeling gear in relation to my fear of sea creatures.
Me- “Now I feel like I have to go snorkeling when we get to the keys. (pause) My brother saw a barracuda there once.”
Brent- “Do barracudas attack people?”
Me- “Yes, they are very aggressive. That’s why there is a song called “barracuda”.”
Thankfully, my first snorkeling experience as an adult was with manatees and not barracudas. We rented a boat with three other families and headed to Three Sisters Springs where manatees congregate in the warm spring waters. Despite their appearance manatees don’t have a lot of fat and during the winter they seek out the warmer waters of springs and power plants to survive.
We drove down the river our eyes squinting for signs of manatees. A ripple in the water, a large dark shadow, or a “floating rock” could be manatee. While we passed a few on our way to the springs, we weren’t prepared for what awaited us near the spring’s outlet. At least 50 manatees, probably many more, were lolling about under the turquoise waters.
We put on our snorkeling gear and slipped into the chilly clear water. Slowly we headed over to their sanctuary, a roped off area where the manatees can rest, to swim along its edges. Once near the sanctuary a ranger told us if we stay still a curious manatee was likely to approach us. Not far from us, a group of patient young girls stood with a manatee who had decided to rest in between their feet. So we waited and sure enough it wasn’t long before a manatee found us. He swam right next to Thing One rubbing against his legs like a very large aquatic cat with elephant skin. It was both exhilarating and nerve wracking to watch what I guessed to be a thousand pound giant get friendly with my hundred pound son. Another manatee even seemed to enjoy the boy’s attention rolling onto its back as if wanting a belly rub. Thing One and Two were happy to oblige.
It was magical.
They may be one of the most beautiful and odd creatures I’ve ever seen with their large paddle fan-like tails, small flippers, rotund bodies, square short snouts, itty bitty eyes, rough skin, and quiet nature. Time with these gentle giants passed much too quickly and stepping backing up onto the boat deck, I felt like I was was waking up from a dream. A wonderful dream filled with nonchalance, dancing beams of light, and creatures peaceful beyond my imagination.
I’ll just say it. I don’t like amusement parks. There is just not much “magic” in the Magic Kingdom unless you count how quickly your money magically disappears. I’m an amusement park Grinch. However,…
I’ll just say it. I don’t like amusement parks. There is just not much “magic” in the Magic Kingdom unless you count how quickly your money magically disappears.
I’m an amusement park Grinch.
However, like most kids, our kids love visiting theme parks. When we left on our trip we weren’t sure if Disney World was going to be in the budget. As it turns out it wasn’t but we were fortunate to find out a friend of a friend of a relative could get three of us free tickets. Oh joy. I mean YIPPEEEEEEE! For the kid’s sake, I’m grateful.
So we went to Disney Hollywood Studios. And The Animal Kingdom. And Epcot Center. And The Magic Kindom.
All in the same day.
ALL. IN. THE. SAME DAY.
But believe it or not this amusement park Grinch had a blast even though it rained and our feet felt like we had been tap dancing barefoot on rocks for about three days nonstop.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and after four marvelous days in New Orleans I could write thousands and thousands of words. I could write… About the…
They say a picture is worth a thousand words and after four marvelous days in New Orleans I could write thousands and thousands of words.
I could write…
About the artists, musicians, and street performers like the funny robot man or the homemade Transformer at Jackson Square.
About muffalettas, mules, meltdowns, and Mississippi River sunsets.
About beignets and the mounds of powered sugar that stuck to our finger tips. Our favorite was Cafe Beignet. (Thanks Lynn!) The atmosphere was quaint and the beignets delicious. Cafe du Monde was good but overrated in comparison.
About how much fun it was to sit in the more than a century old building of the Napoleon House for lunch. It didn’t even matter that the food was mediocre.
About, despite what you might think, New Orleans is great for kids as long as you steer clear of Bourbon Street. Trust me, you won’t truly enjoy a whimsical street performer until you enjoy him or her with a child.
About the WWII museum and how Thing Two was dressed ready for “battle” the moment he heard we were leaving. I learned more about WWII in three hours than in all my years of school combined. You don’t want to miss the movie Beyond All Boundaries.
About walking on sidewalks cracked from tree roots in the Garden District where houses that have as much history as beauty line the streets.
About how an all day Jazzy pass for the streetcars is the best $3 you’ll spend. Make sure to ride the St. Charles line to the end and back.
About how after a long day of walking, the streetcar we were riding broke down. So we walked back to the ferry only to be passed by the trolly at our would-have-been-stop. Thing One and Thing Two were troopers that night.
About the pralines and how eating a freshly made praline from The New Orleans School of Cooking is nearly ecstasy and the ones we bought from a lady in the Algiers terminal come in at a close second.
About how our boys practiced haggling in the French Market. Thing One bought a clarinet was a man wearing a beret.
About the music but my words would could never express the magic that filled the streets.
About the armadillos that waddled through our campground every night bringing huge smiles to two boy’s faces.
About how our campground, Bayou Segnette, was a perfect place to stay. It was close enough to the city to be convenient but far enough away to experience a different side of Louisiana. A bit of beautiful bayou, bustling city and free laundry. Yes, FREE, laundry.
About how I will never forget our family trip to The Big Easy.
New Orleans, thank you for the wonderful memories.
When I think of the south I think of plantations, sweet tea, and alligators. I also think of southern charm. And Missy. Missy is a sweet charming southern girl who…
When I think of the south I think of plantations, sweet tea, and alligators.
I also think of southern charm. And Missy.
Missy is a sweet charming southern girl who I met through blogging. When Missy heard we were in the south she gave us some suggestions of what to see. It was Missy who recommended Tannehill Historical State Park. She also recommended we stop in Tuscaloosa Alabama for Dreamland BBQ and to see the devastation left by the tornado.
I was delighted when I found out her town, Meridian, Mississippi, was on our route to New Orleans and we would get to meet in person. Our budget stretched tight, we stayed at beautiful Lake Okatibbee for $7 a night using our Passport America membership. We spent the first part of our day following our typical morning routine, school. Then in afternoon, the boys and I ventured out to downtown Meridian to meet Missy and explore the town. Missy treated us to drinks and dessert at Jen’s Place. Afterwards, we walked around the downtown getting a quick peek into the Meridian Railroad Museum and enjoying the many carousel horses scattered around the city as part of public art project. The proceeds from the Around the Town Carousel project benefit Hope Village for Children. Why carousel horses? Meridian is home to the last remaining Dentzel Carousel House, a national landmark, located in Highland Park.
The next morning, we decided to visit Highland Park before hitting the road. Unfortunately, the carousel is closed on weekdays during the winter but Missy called the park just to be sure. Much to our delight, the carousel was being shown to someone who was planning an event there and the planner said we could come on down for a peek. The peek turned into a private tour and ride! Talk about southern hospitality! The carousel is beautiful and as we spun around I couldn’t help but think of the generations who had ridden before me. It is definitely worth a stop for those traveling through Meridian.
Thanks Missy for your hospitality and recommendations. Thankful you could be a part of our adventure!
We’ve been busy and a little bit lazy. I think it’s the Florida sun. It’s hard to stay indoors and write when there so much beauty outdoors. Except I miss…
We’ve been busy and a little bit lazy. I think it’s the Florida sun. It’s hard to stay indoors and write when there so much beauty outdoors.
Except I miss you.
I miss sharing our adventures with our little circle of friends.
So here we go. Catch up time. This week. For sure.
After we left Tennessee, we headed to Alabama but not without a stop at Chickamauga National Military Park. We are in hot pursuit of the special Junior Civil War Historian Badges which requires completing 3 Jr. Ranger programs at participating parks or 2 Jr. Ranger programs plus an online activity. Chickamauga is a participating park and we were ready.
Except we weren’t.
The time change. We drove as fast as we safely could to the park thinking we had an hour to browse the visitor center. As it turned out we had about 2.5 minutes before it closed.
Still we drove around and read the brochures I begged the ranger to give us before he locked the door to the visitor center.
The next day was better despite waking up in a Walmart parking lot.
We rolled out of Wally World and 20 minutes later arrived Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. It was early, leaving us with a whole day for school and exploration. Tennehill Ironworks Historical State Park is a home roadschoolers dream. It’s hands on history complete with a museum and numerous old buildings in a beautiful setting. We took off on our bikes for the Iron and Steel museum of Alabama. Afterwards we checked out the cotton gin and made our way to the old furnace. I watched as the boys explored with excitement.
Yes, these are the days I dream of.
Feeling overly ambitious, I suggested we take another route back to our trailer.
We headed over the bridge to what looked, on the map, like a short trail back to our campsite.
All was well and lovely until I looked back and saw this…
Somehow Thing 1’s back wheel had gotten out of alignment and it was sticking on the break making it extremely difficult to peddle.
And extremely difficult to stay calm. Notice the distance between Thing 1 (in the top right corner) and his bike? I’ll let you guess how it got there.
We carried on because “according to the map” the campground must be right around the corner. Wrong.
We rode and rode.
And I had some very unhappy, hungry, thirsty, tired, little boys.
What felt like miles later, we came to the end of the trail except there was no campground in sight. Uh-oh. Thankfully, there was a maintenance man and he explained to us that we had missed the short loop and had ended up on a different trail. He also offered to take us back to our campsite.
What started off like this.
Ended up like this. Thing 2 won’t even look at me.
At least there were deer right out our window. That always makes for smiles.