Thursday, March 30, 2017

East Coast = Rain

Our timing on the East Coast isn't the greatest.  Fall.  Hurricanes.  Rain.  Let's try spring.  April showers bring May flowers.  That's ok.  I like flowers.  And this time we have a trailer.  We got some monster rain, though.  While we were out.  Which meant we had to bust a move to get from the van into the trailer with minimal drenching.  I talked to the kids, we had our plan.  Except that I failed to EXPLICITLY mention the groceries we had JUST bought.  So those weiners all bailed on me and left me hanging out in the rain to collect the groceries.  Those kids are so rude.  I'm raising rude children.  Sigh.  
NS hanging out under the awning.  We've got sandy dirt at our campsite, which became sandy dirt.  Which is now my floor in the trailer.  Blech.  Oh, and G left his towel outside from his shower, and our dish mat was outside from cleaning up from breakfast.  And we had left vents open.  Oh, and our Sprinter leaked from the roof.  Known problem.  Class action lawsuit.  For years prior to ours.  Let's hope that they just lump us into that one.  Oh, and it's time for our next checkup, too.  A day at the dealer, we love it.              
This is the lake at our current park, Sesquicentennial State Park, in Columbia, South Carolina.  Beautiful park.  This was our first stroll around the place, trying to get our bearings.  There are playgrounds here, a splash park, the lake, several hiking trails, a Jr. Ranger program, and a variety of watercraft for exploring the lake.  We're pretty pleased with this find.                
I do so love a good tree.  And I love a good bunch of trees even more.  I'm not entirely sure what kind of trees these are, but I love the broad, sweeping motion of the branches.                                      
We were greeted by ducks along the path.  Unlike geese, these guys were pretty chill.  I really don't like how aggressive geese are, and so I'm psyched these ducks didn't attack.                    
That's a turtle.  Can you tell?  I kept seeing these stick-like objects in the water, but they would eventually go back down.  Thus the label, "turtle."  Hard to tell.  But that's my story, and I'm stickin' with it!                    
  The Jr. Ranger book had the kids looking for animals or plants you can find in the park.  So we took the nature trail, which is a short little trail that has signs along the way.  We learned about poison ivy, pileated woodpeckers, dogwood trees, flying squirrels, and more.  All in a half mile!                
It takes us a while, but we start looking at smaller things, things that you don't spy if you're just busting your butt to get through the hike.  NB showed me a bunch of bright pink/purple leaves.  Just down the path from that, G showed me this collection of helicoptor leaves.  After I took this picture, he tried to get them to spin down as a group, but that was a no-go.                                  
As a group, we are noisy.  Stomping through the forest, constant chatter.....just noisy.  I hung back with NB while he told me about some stuff, and in a moment of silence, we heard a rustling through the leaves.  This guy was impressive to see on the move.                  
And this is how the kids spent their down time during the rainstorm.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mayfield Dairy

We took a tour of Mayfield Dairy yesterday.  It's in Braselton, GA.  Taking tours of places across the US has been fun.  We haven't done a ton, but we've enjoyed the ones we've taken.  
To take this tour, we all had to have hair nets.  And Bill needed a beard net, too.  He looks good!  We showed up for the first tour of the week, so we were the only ones on the tour--YEAH!!!!  The tour cost us $4.50/adult (G counts), and $3.50/child (NS still counts), but we got ice cream at the end, included, so it was a fair shake.                  
The kids got to "milk" a cow afterwards.  It actually sprayed water at the kids, too!  The tour took us about 45 minutes, which was a good amount of time.  We spent way too much time in their gift shop before the tour, but we did manage to leave everything right where we found it.                                    
Sitting around after the tour, just enjoying our ice cream. Bill actually upgraded his to a milkshake, because they offer a pecan pie milkshake.  I got turtle tracks.  A very good flavor.  Mayfield is a massive operation, thousands upon thousands of gallons of milk processed every day.  Just got me thinking about what I want to do with my own land someday.

Changing It Up

K's hair has always been a fighting point between the two of us.  I like her to brush it, she does not.  It gets knotty and quite messy, and so she protests.  So one morning after asking her to brush her hair, she just said she wanted a hair cut.  Notice that her hair is down to her shoulder blades or so.  Maybe a little past them.                  
This is how she brushes her hair.  There are still a bunch of knots.                                        
I brushed it out right before we started the haircut.  That is some long hair.  Not Rapunzel, but not short.  We went through pictures on the internet before starting, and she wanted a pixie.  That's a huge change.  I didn't want to warn her about any potential regrets, I just didn't want to put any thoughts in her head.  Possibly a mistake.                                    
I googled a step by step instruction, and this is how our initial cuts turned out.  So far, I like it.  I'm no master hair cutter, for sure.  I usually like my initial cuts, but as I work my way up, it gets less awesome.  This was no different.                  
This is the finished cut from the front.  She may actually have made me cut it a wee bit shorter after this one, just to get the hair more out of her eyes.                      
Initially she really loved it.  After a few hours, remorse set in.  She spent the evening very upset about not having long hair any more.  She woke up this morning cheerful again, so I think her short hair is really what she wanted, she just has to adjust to it.  I think if she wants to go shorter, though (she wants spikes or a mohawk or something), we'll have to take her somewhere.  I've gone outside my comfort zone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blue Springs

Blue Springs State Park is a manatee refuge.  When I mentioned going there to Aunt Beth and Uncle Chuck, they highly recommended it.  So even though we saw a bunch of manatees at the wildlife refuge, we took to the road again to see the manatees at the state park.  There were only two manatees there the day we went, but the water was so clear, we got to see a ton of other wildlife.  
We loved seeing all the gar.  We got to see catfish, as well.  With the water so clear, we stayed around and stared at the fish quite a bit.                      
We got up close and personal with this manatee.  He's an unusual color.  Hahaha!  We only spent a half day at the park, then headed back to our campsite for lunch.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

While we were in Clearwater Lake, we were only a couple hours away from my Aunt Beth and Uncle Chuck.  Beth had suggested checking out Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, since that's a place they've been wanting to check out for a while.  So we packed up early one morning and headed out to meet them.  
One of the things we did was head out to Bairs Cove to check out the manatees.  We had seen several at the Everglades, but this little cove had a whole bunch.  The water was still murky, so we really only got a view of them when they came up.  But they brought way more of their bodies out of the water than the ones in the Everglades did, we even got to see a few tails!                
K has been wanting to see an otter in the wild for such a long time.  This was the best view of it I ever got.  But Beth and I walked away to check out the observation tower down the trail, so the others may have gotten a much better view than this.                  
We all ate lunch together at the visitors' center, and got this group shot before heading our separate ways.  A few of us were wandering elsewhere, but we have proof we met up with them.  It was a good day!

Clearwater Lake Recreation Area

Our final campground in Florida was Clearwater Lake Recreation Area, in the Ocala National Forest.  Since we were on a lake, and with the prospect of future lake campsites on the east coast, we went ahead and purchased a small boat from Wal Mart.  
The kids were super psyched to have a boat, and since the four person boat came with a pump, it was a better deal than the two person one.  This made everyone VERY happy!  We got to the lake on a Sunday (a day earlier than originally planned, but we left the Everglades early because of the mosquitoes), but only had two full days at the campground for the kids to get on the lake.                
The four youngest all liked going out together.  They would also break into twosomes, and sometimes do solo trips.  G liked mainly to do solo trips.  I took my two trips and called it good.                    
We also picked up some equipment to make sand castles. We were trying to collect food packages that could be used, but they didn't work out nicely.  So we picked up the 98 cent special at Wal Mart and hit the sand.  I was amazed at how much the kids really enjoyed building sand castles.                  
We also had a heron come to our campsite every morning.  The kids normally didn't wake up early enough to see him, but this was the morning we left, so all the kids got a glimpse of him.  He's clearly accustomed to humans, as we did not frighten him off, even though the kids walked around him to get to the bathroom.  We enjoyed our time at Clearwater Lake.  It's forested, so our solar didn't produce as much as we needed.  Our five nights there were good, but it was time to head out and recharge our batteries.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Animal Encounters

When we first arrived at Highlands Hammock State Park, this little guy was just a couple campsites away from ours.  So while Bill got the trailer parked and leveled and such, we spent time communing with nature.  You know, taking pictures.  This was our very first spotting of an armadillo, so we were very excited.  This was also not our last encounter with his kind, which was equally awesome.                
As we were headed out of Highlands Hammock, just across from the dump station, J pointed out this beauty.  He was hanging out on the volleyball net pole, just waiting for us to observe him.  He hung out for quite a while, too, just letting us take pictures of him and such.                  
We were very excited to get a chance to see a gator or two at the state park.  My, but we were inexperienced.  Everglades National Park opened our eyes.                      
It was hard to capture the vast number of gators at this one location.  Along the Anhinga Trail, down the boardwalk, there is a sunny location that the gators gather for some sunning.  The first day we visited this trail, we counted more than 20 (there were differing accounts of how many gators there were, but we all agreed there were more than 20).  And that's just the number we saw at this one spot.  There were plenty more gators throughout the walk, some in the water, some just a short distance off the trail.              
In addition to alligators, the Everglades are also home to the American Crocodile.  We went to the marina every day we were in the Everglades in the hopes of seeing these guys, but it took until our final morning there for us to see this guy.  We saw another, but he was hiding, so I was far more fascinated with this one.  There was quite the gathering at the dock to view the croc.  I'm glad we got to see one.                
Also at the marina (though inconveniently located far from the croc dock), we spotted manatees!  Every morning we saw one or two, but our last morning there, we spotted a whole bunch.  Now, normally you'll see a manatee surface once or twice, then they're down underwater for 15-20 minutes.  Not great spotting conditions, if you've only got one or two manatees.  Our final morning, I must have spent 20 minutes just watching the manatees surfacing.  When I started watching, I was alone on the docks.  The crowd was pretty big by the time I left.  Manatees still are hard to snap a picture of, though.  They only surface for a few seconds at a time, and they don't necessarily resurface where they've been before.  Sometimes they make a huge mud cloud when they surface, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes they make a mud cloud but don't break the surface.  But they're fun to hang out with, just because you don't often get to see these animals.    
We've gotten to see many osprey on our journey across this great land of ours.  Once again, on our way out (in the car, pulling out of the visitors' center, towing our trailer out of the park), we spotted this fascinating look at nature.  I even managed to get video of the beastie eating his breakfast.  This was our first time watching an osprey eat.                
Cormorants have become Bill's favorite bird.  They have webbed feet, but they'll park themselves in trees with no hesitation.  They're just gorgeous flying, they dive beautifully, and the ones on the Anghinga Trail simply aren't afraid to pose for pictures.  I love the water running off this guy's back.  He just lets it all roll off his back.  Hahaha.                
I love all the herons around Florida.  Just love them.  I bought a book on waterbirds at the visitors' center, and I think this is a tri-color heron.  You don't want to see all the pictures of the herons I have.  Love them.  And the Anhinga Trail has tons.  Honestly, if you're hitting the Everglades, make sure the Anhinga Trail is on your list of things to do.                                  
The purple gallinule fascinated us.  This guy can walk across lillipads with ease, hangs out with the gators, and is just stunning.  He also sports a monster hooked claw along with his short toes.  Pretty wicked looking.                    
We didn't spot this guy until we went to Biscayne National Park.  We love brown pelicans.  We first saw pelicans in California, where we were mesmerized by their awkward diving.  We never saw one dive at Biscayne, even though I kept chanting for one to, "dive, dive, dive!"                  
We went on the Gator Hook Trail at Big Cypress National Preserve.  While all the animals we saw while on the scenic drive are ones we saw elsewhere, we did get some good pics of plants at Gator Hook.  I love this flower.                    
One final picture.  This ibis was also on the Gator Hook Trail at Big Cypress.  There are just so many animals and beautiful sights that we recorded from these three parks at the southern end of Florida that it's too much to put them all here.  But because we've spent the last couple of months in the southwest, the difference in environments is compelling to us.  Had we spent the last several months seeing a few tropical birds here and there, coastal animals out and about, I'm sure this would not have struck us quite so strongly.  But we have truly enjoyed our time in the Everglades.  Even though the mosquitos drove us out after only three nights.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Highlands Hammock

Our first campground in Florida is Highlands Hammock.  I had started to really worry a couple months ago, because I had no reservations.  All the campsites in FL that I checked seemed to be full.  So when I finally found a couple that had spots open, I made the reservations.  Having reservations is a blessing and a trap.  Knowing where we're going to rest is a wonderful thing.  Knowing we have to be somewhere at a given time means we have to keep to a schedule, no matter if things become challenging.  We left CO a day later than we had originally intended, which meant that if we wanted to stop at Hot Springs on our way to Highlands Hammock, we had to have a hugely long day one day.  And then on our way to Highlands Hammock, we had to have two long travel days.  Busting your butt to make it somewhere is exhausting.  Plus we've missed out on parts of our country that we've not really spent time exploring.  But I knew I wanted to go from Florida through Maine on this part of the trip, so we blew through parts that didn't help us do that.  I'm hoping on the way home in August that we have enough time to check out places like Minnesota and Wisconsin.   Back to Highlands Hammock....  
We saw a gator!!!!!  We decided to go hiking while Bill was working (ok, I decided, and got much pushback from kids, but I dragged them along anyway).  The trail that the rangers told us would be a good place to see alligators was closed, but the family who told us that also told us of an alligator hanging out on the side of the road near the CCC museum (another cool feature of the park).  We saw a guy looking out into the stream near the side of the road, and sure enough, we was checking out the gator.  Pretty cool!  And I'm sure we would not have spotted it if that gentleman weren't there, because we were on the other side of the road.  So thank you to the anonymous sir.          
We got to see some amazing landscape.  This is very different from what we've been surrounded by for the last several months.  While the humidity isn't truly welcome, the lush environment really needs it, so we'll suffer through it.  Simply amazing.  We'll be here for another day, then we'll head out to the Everglades and Biscayne.

Chick Fil A

Drivng down the highway in Georgia, we noticed a sign for Chick Fil A's Dwarf House.  We had read about it before, and since it was lunch time, we decided to take a pit stop.  It's a cool little restaurant.  We ate on the fast food side, since we wanted to be fast (didn't work out that way), but they also have a sit down side where you can get your meal served to you on nice dishes and such.  Even though a part of me really wanted to eat on the restaurant side, we just didn't want to add more time to our day.  Our order took super long, though, so we probably could have eaten on the sit down side.                              
Bill had a little sit down with S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick Fil A.  It was a fun little stop for us.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hot Springs

While on the way to Florida, we decided to stop only one time.  Well, only one campground.  So we've been parking in Wal Mart parking lots after some very long travel days.  But we decided to hit Hot Springs National Park for two nights so that the kids and I could check out the park while Bill worked.  
We took the hike from the campground to the visitors' center.  We got to cross the water very early on, just past the amphitheater.  We all managed to keep our footing, YEAH!  The weather was so nice.  It was a bit overcast and chilly before we headed out, but the hike warmed us up quite nicely.                  
The trees are beginning to awaken from their winter naps, but there's still enough bare limbs to make the ocassional flowers really catch your eye.  The white flowers were just beautiful, though the purple flowering trees were my favorites.                  
In the NPS store, they have this replica tub.  The store manager pointed it out to us as a great photo spot, so in the kids climbed.  Love it.                      

So while we only kicked around for a day, I think we spent as much time here as we needed.  On to Florida!


In the three months that we've had the trailer, we haven't had the time/opportunity to do much in the way of personalizing.  We've collected souveniers along the way that are displayed and we've hung a couple things, but we've not done a whole lot.  Not to the degree that we would like, since this is our full time home right now.   We changed that while at my parents' house.  The kids all wanted curtains, so I made curtains for the four in the bunks in the back and got those hung up.  You'll notice that only two of the four sets are hung up right now.  We had some difficulties as we were going to bed last night, and those were the two sets that remained up.  We're still working on solutions.  We also permanently hung the sign that Bill's aunt bought for us.  We had tried command hook hangers, but they didn't like the surfaces, so I picked up some locktite and stuck that baby up there.

 I also ordered a moon for the bathroom door.  Bill was looking for an outhouse sign, he thought that would be great to put up.  Amazon has some cool stuff, so this is now hanging on our bathroom door.  I did all of this while everyone else was away on their ski trip, so the kids came back to a different looking trailer.  J thought this was just great.                                
The one thing I was looking forward to the most is the one that is giving us the most difficulty.  I bought adhesive chalkboard stuff and put this on our wall next to our pantry.  My thought had been that it would be a great place to put up our chores list, leave up math explanations, write notes to each other, keep ourselves accountable for our Lenten promises.  I bought chalkboard colored pencils to go with this.  The adhesive on the chalkboard isn't great, so every morning and throughout the day we have to rub it down and get the bubbles out of it.  And the colored pencils that are "bold, vibrant colors"?  Not so much.  Sigh.  I thought about using washi tape to hold down the sides, and I need to pick up some actual chalk.  I'm hoping that once these things are done, this will be a functional space that makes me smile.      

I also went to Ikea with my mom and picked up some spice racks to use in each of the kids' spaces to use as a shelf for their stuff they want to keep close (books, alarm clocks, Legos...whatever) and a kitchen bar to hang things.  The kitchen still has stuff all over the counter, so you'll just have to imagine how cool it all is, and the kids' shelves have not all been hung.  Hook up with us along our journey, and we'd be happy to give you a tour!