Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sanibel Island, and as Laurel would say, Shell Heaven

Yes, there are as many shells as the rumors say...but be prepared to shell out the dough too ($6 toll and $4 an hour to park). 

Sanibel is gorgeous.

There are many easy to access, beautiful beaches, and a good variety of shells. The visitors center was very helpful, and the free shell guide not only showed us what to look for and what they were, but also had a guide for caring for the shells you find. 

We were only to be in the area for one day, so we decided to make the most of it. It turns out that the day we were there was to be a negative tide at 5:30 AM. And as we learned in Alaska...if there is a negative go. Amazing things will be found. So we dragged our booties out of bed at 4:15 to make sure we were there in time. 

With flashlights and headlamps and blankets (it was chilly!) and baskets we set out. We spent about 2 hours at the first beach (Lighthouse Beach, touted by many as the best for shelling...and it did not disappoint,) before deciding to warm up at a local coffee shop. After that we did a quick driving tour of both Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Then we headed back to Sanibel for beach number two. We spent about an hour here, and then feeling tired and needing to go potty we decided to take a break.

We headed over to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum...located on beautiful Sanibel Island. We ended up spending about two hours looking through their collection, watching documentaries and listening to a marine biologist give a talk. 

After that we headed back to yet another beach, this one was much better suited for playing. So we spent another hour or so playing in the surf, tossing a football, and just hanging out on the beach. By then we were pretty wiped out, and the kids were excited to go back and look through all the shells they found. 

It was just one of those really good days.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Encore RV Resorts: An Introverts Nightmare

Laurel wanted more than anything (in Florida) to go shelling on Sanibel Island...but like the rest of Florida, RV reservations are nearly impossible to get. Unless, you are willing to stay at one of the many overpriced and overcrowded private RV Resorts. This was our first attempt to stay at one of these..and it was truly a last ditch effort to be able stay near Sanibel.

First impression, yuck.

Second impression, holy crap, we'll never get the camper into that spot.

Final impression, after really trying hard to give it a chance...never again.

Just to really show how poopy I thought this place was, 
I took a picture of the dog poop that kept magically appearing outside our camper.

 There are people who come back here year after year, and people that live here full time. I don't know why any one would...granted, as an introvert, the last thing I want is to be crammed in like cattle with a bunch of strangers (who you can see and hear at all times) that want nothing more than to come talk to me about nothing in particular. This is also the kind of crowd that wants to heckle you about anything, offer unsolicited advice, and generally tell jokes that are either stupid, offensive, or both. 

A view of the tightly squished in campers.

Yes, I know I sound very negative. Just to be clear, I am being negative. This was the worst place I have ever stayed...and that includes the hotel in Louisiana where you could hear the vermin moving around when you turned out the lights.

We were so tightly packed in that we couldn't even open our slide all the way.

Thankfully, despite the RV Resort being awful, our trip to Sanibel was wonderful. I'll post that by itself...I wouldn't want to taint the good with the bad!!!

*As a final note, on the morning we were to pull out, we could not. We were so crammed with RVs, cars, tables, dogs, and tight roads that we simply couldn't get out. We were near desperate and ready to just walk away and forget it all...when two very nice employees stopped to help us. Without them we simply could not have gotten out. So to Kevin and George, the bright spots on the otherwise dim view of this Encore Resort in Ft. Myers...we thank you! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Myakka River State Park

Myakka is basically a swamp or  prarie, or both...depending on what time of year you visit. Mostly it was a swamp, including our campsite. I remember hearing a story of John Muir taking off across the country, and when he got to this swampy area in the south he contracted a horrible illness and nearly died. I don't remember where exactly this area was, but I could certainly picture it being here.

Watching for birds and looking super cool.

Now, that sounds like a didn't like it. Swamp, swamp, swamp...blah blah blah. And that isn't a fair picture, because I REALLY liked it. Not that I'm partial to swamps in general, but it's one of the first places in Florida where you could just relax and be in nature. There was plenty to do, including just hanging out at your campsite. (not every campground is like that, as you will see in one of my upcoming posts)

If you look close you can see the three alligators!

We walked, biked, birded, saw alligators, went to the visitors center, watched a man net a bunch of invasive fish, hung out in our hammocks, read, relaxed...we just chilled. These are the kinds of parks I like the best because they lend themselves to the art of being not-busy, which, as a great side effect has taught us how to unschool. (We are still schooling as well, though in no regularly defined schedule of time) But the point of unschooling is to let the world be your inspiration, and learn not because someone is making you, but because you want to. Parks like this are perfect for that...we stop at every sign and give it's due. We learned to differentiate between a palmetto palm and a palm tree palm. We learned about the invasive tilapia problem, and watched a fisherman yank out 5 or more fish per net throw! We learned how to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile and about the importance of burning the forest every once in a while to let new growth set in. 

The canopy walk allowed you to see above the entire park.

We had to walk through 5 inches of mud and muck, 
and then up 5 flights of stairs, but it was worth it for the view.

I especially love that my kids get really into this stuff. We watched every documentary the visitors station offered. We spent hours looking for, and identifying birds on the bird boardwalk. (By the end, most of the other visitors would stand by Laurel and wait for her to identify them)

Despite the mud, and the smell, and the bugs...this was one of my favorite parks so far. (And just so you know, it is certainly not just was VERY crowded in the visitor areas, the campground was filled, and the ranger said they are one of the busiest parks in Florida. But despite that, there was room for all and it was really lovely.)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

8 Years of Unbridled Boy

I can't believe that my baby is 8. His body is stretching, lengthening and broadening. And I just can't believe that this witty and athletic young man was once my chubby bumbling baby.

His walk around the sun had to be a walk around 
the camper-kitchen due to high winds outside.

He is constantly testing his independence (and my patience), but still wakes early every morning to snuggle with me. I cherish every morning snuggle, knowing that at any time this can end.

Trying and mastering his new Ripstik he got 
for his birthday.


On this, your eighth birthday, you have floppy hair, a short temper, a big heart and lots and lots of energy. You love Harry Potter, Minecraft, Playmobil and sketching. You play guitar like a rock star, and write lyrics for your band (that currently includes only you and me).

Luke and Laurel decorated the camper for the party.

Laurel surprised him with a Minecraft Birthday, 
complete with Creeper cake that she made herself.

He wanted a salad bar for his birthday dinner.

You picked Florida for your birthday because you wanted to see Winter the dolphin again. I know that before long you will be grown, and those things won't be so awesome anymore. (And I'm so very glad that you aren't quite there yet.)

Happy Birthday my sweet baby.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Alafia River State Park

I made the reservation for this park a year ago, and honestly couldn't remember what was supposed to be special about it. (every park seems to have something it's known for) On day one we set out for a quick trip to the store...and came back 8 hours later. 

So it wasn't until the next day when we took the bikes out to see what was around that I's popular for it's mountain bike trails! We spent the next few days testing our biking abilities on the easier trails in the park. 

We also saw an alligator, and watched a turtle lay eggs. So all in was a pretty awesome week. (We also got to watch the new Star Wars movie, so, yeah...we were pretty happy folks)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Stone Mountain Christmas

We actually stayed at Stone Mountain twice in December. It was our very first stop with our camper. That being the case, we didn't want to be far away from my parents, Wal-mart and a camper place. (You never know, right?) We nearly hit a tree, we were able to mostly level the camper, and it was really we learned we needed a space heater. All in all, we did ok I think.

About a week after our first stay, we came back. This time it was much warmer, we did not almost hit a tree and we were able to completely level it, despite being in a very unlevel spot. What a difference a week makes. (It was also the first time we had to dump the camper...that was it's own experience.)

This time we did the Christmas package, which allows you to do almost everything in Stone Mountain Park for one price. We did EVERYTHING. We took the skyride up to the top of the mountain, we toured the plantation, we went to the Christmas Village and played and ate and bought candy at the old fashioned candy store. You'd think the train or the 4D theater would have been the favorites, but no, not my kids. They preferred the plantation. In particular, the barnyard on the plantation. They got to tour the antebellum homes, do some antebellum era holiday crafts, pet the animals in the working farm, see the garden (still growing, thanks to Georgia and it's warm winters).

The only thing we skipped was Snow Mountain, which is where they turn the big grassy slope from the summer laser show into a sledding course. The cost was not worth it. The reviews were AWFUL. Look it up online, it's a wonder it's even in business still! But everything else was great, and we had a blast, and we went on a Friday avoiding most of the crowds that came on Saturday. And boy did they come...the front gate was 20-30 cars deep all day long.

At night you can go back to the Christmas Village and see the thousands of lights, including Snowflake Lane that you can drive through. It really was lovely. The campground was ok, thankfully we went at an off time. If it was busy, I can't even imagine how crammed in you would feel. But we were right on the lake, and it was quiet and peaceful.

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