Cheeseburger in Paradise?

After a restful sleep at the TravelLodge we headed down historic Route 1 through the Keys all the way down into Key West.

We arrived in time to treat ourselves to a late lunch at the “Eaton Street Fish Market.”  A find through the Urbanspoon app.  While it derives most of it’s business from selling fresh caught local seafood and fish to those residing or staying in rental residences on the island, they serve a seasonal fresh menu.  On this day we sampled the lobster roll, crab cake sandwich, seafood sandwich and salmon (the only non-local caught fish) sandwich all served with plantain chips. The food and the price was a delightful and delicious surprise.

We proceeded on our Key West adventure after lunch.  We walked from the Gulf side of Duval Street to the Atlantic side.  On this journey we treated ourselves to homemade ice cream, Historical Buildings (such as St. Paul’s Episcopal Church), many art galleries, and the obligatory tourist stop at the “Hog’s Breath Saloon” for a cool beverage and slice of Key Lime Pie.

 

We did not take a trolley ride, as Embug was feeling the effects of motion sickness from the congested drive down Route 1.  However, if we ever venture to Key West again, that is something that I believe would be a great way to get to know more about the home of renown American author Ernest Hemingway.

Allligators, Mosquitos and Airboats, Oh my!

After a long evening drive the night before from Kennedy Space Center.  We ended up at an unlikely motel.  The TravelLodge recommended both on price and quality by Booking.com was a surprisingly great find.  Many may have turned away as it is a one story true 70s style motel, complete with drive-up-to-your-door-and-park access.  It looks very much like it probably did when these one-story temporary home-away-from-home motels were built.  However, for $75 a night, including microwave, refrigerator and free hot breakfast it is the deal of the week if one is wanting to explore the Everglades.

travellodge florida everglades

On the morning of our planned Everglade adventure we stopped for the necessary Starbucks (mom always feels better about an outdoor adventure if it is prefaced with a cup of Starbucks!) and then headed to the Alligator Farm.

At the Alligator Farm there were threats of storm looming in the distance.  The occasional boom of thunder and lightening didn’t deter us from our airboat ride.  We saw alligators and cranes as we progressed through the Everglades.  It is amazing how the boats glide over six inches to a foot or two of water and it is everywhere.  During the airboat excursion we were given the thrill of high speeds and 360’s.  The kids and adults loved it.  I think we would have stayed on them all day if we had the option.

Once we finished the airboat ride we got to see the alligators being hand fed.  This was a weeee bit daunting as the ‘gators’ seemed to have no problem crawling up the 3 foot chainlink fence that separate us from them.  Of course, we and the 100 other people didn’t back away from the fence either.

Within minutes of the conclusion of the hand feeding a downpour commenced.  In Arkansas I call it a “toad-floater.” We waited for a bit for it to die down enough to make a dash to our rental car and then we were off to find lunch.

One of the fun things about vacations is finding those not-so-common eateries.

Today was no exception.  On our way from the Alligator Farm to the Everglades National Park we found “Gator Grill.” A little road side foodie stop.  It had a lot of the feeling of a food truck.  To our delight we were able to get grilled gator tail and frog legs.  To Kritterman’s delight he was able to procure the best 1lb. bacon cheese burger he has ever had in his life.  It was so delicious we returned at 5:30 for an early dinner.  We knew it was the best ever and didn’t know when we might be back.  On top of it, we were able to teach the kids the #1 rule of dining on vacation… “The hole-in-the wall places make the best local food.”

It was still a downpour when we finished our lunch visit to “Gator Grill.”  Eric always knows if you throw in some wine tasting in with the nature hiking, momma is always a happier camper.  So we drove down to “Schnebly’s Winery.”  There we sampled wines made from avacado, guava, mango, and passion fruit.  All fruits common to South Florida.  It was a delight and we ended up taking two bottles from this most southern winery in the United States with us to enjoy later on the vacation.

Finally the rain let up and we were able to head into the Everglades.  The forest and swamps are lush with growth.  The Gumbo Limbo trees with their smooth bark, colorful crickets and quiet alligators were an astounding sight.  Unfortunately the mosquitoes were out in mass after the rain and ate us alive.  After walking two trails and attempting a third we jumped back into our rental vehicle. Mosquitos- 1, Wilson family- 0.

We then headed back to “Gator Grill.” The owner recommended we check out “Robert Was Here Fruitstand” where they graciously cut up a ripe mango we purchased.  We also bought star fruit and passion fruit to enjoy on the next part of our journey.  It was quite a lively fruitstand with a bit of an animal farm, John Deere Tractor collection and a dog who liked to stand on his dog house to get a better view.

Finally we ended the night at a FroYo shop near our hotel.  Surprisingly, FroYo shops are not easy to find in SoFla and with my family that can be dangerous.  Happy to locate our cool creamy FroYo, we were content and exhausted from an exciting day in the Everglades!

 

 

 

 

“One small step for man…”

The first full day of our vacation in Florida it only made sense for us to spend the day at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

After the flight from Tampa and drive across state to Titusville the day before, we were refreshed and eager to see what KSC had to offer.  This was a bucket list item especially for me (mom) who loves anything to do with NASA, space and Astronauts.  (I secretly hope someday to become an astronaut or at least participate in the NASA Educator program.)

As we drove into the facility we were met with a huge sign that was overshadowed by a large ominous building that we would learn soon housed the Atlantis itself and the interactive exhibit dedicated to the NASA Shuttle Program.

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When we arrived shortly before 10 we headed straight to the Atlantis exhibit.  As you enter you wind your way up.  Along the way on the walls are the quotes of astronauts from the many missions flown for the Shuttle program. (I love quotes and all of these were incredible that I couldn’t just do one.)

Space quote 1 Space Quote 2 Space Quote 3 Space Quote 5 Space Quote 6

 

You then entered a room where the history of how the Shuttle program began was shared.  All I can say is that you have to see it.  The story of the birth of the Shuttle program made this 80’s baby tearful and proud.  The introduction into the exhibit was breathtaking.  When the magnificent production concluded the screen lifted and at eye-line you were met with the actual Atlantis Shuttle in all of its magnificence.

There were many points of interest in the exhibit.  The kids loved the unusual facts that were part of the entire exhibit.  They also enjoyed the interactive displays, including the touch screens and simulators.  Kritterman loved the slide that took you to the bottom floor as well as the toilet.  Emmarie enjoyed the opportunities to sit in a model of the cockpit and see how astronauts ate in the Unity room of the the Space Station.

The time flew by and before we knew it we needed to be at our very special planned lunch with an astronaut.  This is something that can be purchased as part of the visit to KSC.  It was a great day to select this opportunity, as KSC was celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11’s walk on the moon.  Their contemporary, Jack Lausma, entertained us with stories and his own mission experiences, including being the only astronaut to land at the alternative White Sands, New Mexico location as lead on Columbia. Kritterman even got to ask the astronaut a question during a brief Q and A at the lunch.  His question, “On one of your flights did anything get damaged where everything shut down?” Fortunately, not for Lausma, although he did mention others had not been so lucky.

Following lunch, we took a tour of the various points of interest that NASA utilizes for the space program including the famous launch pad where it dons the largest American flag in the world.

After the tour we had one last opportunity to see Astronaut Jack Lausma again.  This time we got to speak with him and get his autograph.  He mentioned in the brief conversation he had recently eaten dinner with Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and his wife.  He also encouraged Kristopher to become an astronaut and stressed to me as an educator how important it was to continue to foster a love and pursuit of the study of math and science.

This was an experience the whole family won’t soon forget.

 

…Getting There

Every summer we plan a family vacation.  Sometimes they are more along the lines of a “stay-cation” and sometimes they are a full on travel-agent like planned event.  This year we were met with a dilemma.  This July was our 20th anniversary.  Eric and I usually take a “big” trip every 5 years for our anniversary.  We also wanted to take the kids on an adventure too.  Time off and money dictated we couldn’t do both separately.  So here we are now.  Taking a trip together and celebrating 20 years of marriage.

The plane tickets were bought, lodging reservations made, car rental reserved and Pinterest packing list downloaded.

With 4 carry-on wheeled bags in tow, backpack for each of us and a large suitcase full of vacation necessities we were ready to go.

We flew Southwest, which is always a great experience… especially if you upgrade to the Early Check-in Status!

We left from Dallas-Love Field with a lay over in Houston on our way to Tampa, Florida.

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It wasn’t long before our adventures began.  While in Houston waiting for our connecting flight Emmarie and I made a stop at the ladies room.  After a lengthy wait for Emmarie who did not exit from the stall, I went to check on her.  Evidently her stall door stuck and she could not get out.  Luckilly she’s 11 and can make her way under a bathroom stall door!  To commemorate the event we took a snapshot of her with the stubborn stall door.

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The trip continued.  One of the sweetest things about my kids is the way they interact and play with one another.  Today’s plane ride was no exception.  Instead of being consumed with their own devices they opted to play card games to pass the time.  Not once was there a disagreement over the rules or accusations of cheating. Made this mama’s heart proud (and secretly happy I packed the deck of cards)!

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The adventure continued.  Upon completing our paperwork for the rental car we went to retrieve it.  Somehow we managed to get lost… IN THE AIRPORT! All was not lost, the car rental agency did  not have the Explorer we had upgraded to, so in it’s place the only option was a 2015 BMW X5! Who knew it was Christmas in July!?!?!?

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There were a few more mishaps along the way as we drove from Tampa to Titusville.  To protect the innocent I will just let the readers know it is a very good thing to have leather seats and ziploc baggies when one is on vacation.

While there were some hiccups, the drive was enjoyable.  It was especially enjoyable when an afternoon heating shower treated us to a full rainbow.

DSC05487

By the time we arrived in Titusville it was time for dinner.  As I have done on many other vacations I used the Urban Spoon app on my iPhone to help choose a local restaurant.  The app led us to Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant. The restaurant is surrounded by water and while you wait to be seated customers can see close to 3 dozen red-eared slider water turtles of various sizes actively swimming, a surprisingly large soft-shell turtle, multitudes of tilapia and one lone bright pure orange koi fish. The meal was decent in taste and price.  I do think the Wilson family prefers their seafood with a Cajun flair and that may have skewed our opinion.

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Following dinner we drove out to a barrier island, where, to our surprise about a dozen cats were hanging about, perhaps to feast off the fisherman’s throw backs.

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It is so good to be on the trip and ready to embrace the adventures of the upcoming week as a family and as a couple.  Stay tuned as more posts will follow sharing the much anticipated adventures this week will bring.

 

 

 

Crazy Hat Birthday Party

Kritterman wanted a crazy hat birthday party for his theme this year.  Frankly it had me stumped.  The first thing I did was do a full search on Pinterest.  Lots of Dr. Seuss themed birthday ideas with the red white striped hat and lots or Halloween witch hat ideas… but epic fail on crazy hats.  I, by nature, am not creative when it comes to an ORIGINAL idea.  What I am decent at is being an #ideabandit and augmenting the idea to suit my ideas and needs.

Panic began to set in.  What am I going to do? Then it hit me.  What is the whole reason he wants a crazy hat themed party? To have fun and be silly with his friends.

So, then it was about focusing on him and his targeted goal.  This involved getting his favorite cupcakes from Mugs Bakery. He doesn’t like just any cupcakes… this boy likes “Dark Chocolate Grenache Raspberry Filled Cupcakes.” Ordering sub sandwiches from the Walmart Deli (which was a deal: 6 foot long 2 meat, 1 cheese with lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard and mayonaise for $32!), which was his request with Puff Cheetos and sliced watermelon.  Finally, all I had left to plan was the main event.  I decided to go with a game truck, but when I went online I discovered that they would set up a laser tag even on your property.  I once again consulted the soon-to-be birthday boy what he would prefer.   Hands down he chose the laser tag through a local affiliate of the Game Truck company.

My panic turned to peace.  This was going to be a great crazy hat birthday party after all.

I had Kritter fill out the invitations (post cards provided by Game Truck) and he added for every attendee to wear a crazy hat.

I did forget a few things along the way.  Balloons, matching plates and napkins for cute birthday decor for whatever reason escaped my to do list.  Did it ruin anything?  You decide…

It turned out to be a great party. The Game Truck Laser Tag was amazing (Eric, my husband was very impressed and gave them a generous tip).  Kritter loved the sub sandwiches and cupcakes.  Was it a crazy hat birthday party?  If you ask him, it was.  Did he have a great time having fun and being silly? 100%… MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

You want proof?  Here’s a video slide show capturing some of the fun:

Moral to the story: Focus on the fun, don’t stress the details and don’t let Pinterest rob your joy.  Simple and silly is always better than cute and matching.

Spur of the Moment Spring Break Road Trip

Spring Break started off with no plans to go anywhere and lots of plans for house cleaning and organizing. Not what Embug and Kritter would declare exciting, by any means.

Thanks to my somewhat addictive relationship with Social Media and a recent re-connect on Facebook with my former student Lance Carpenter, an unexpected road trip was planned to Northwest Arkansas.  Just before spring break I learned that Lance Carpenter would be performing at a local bar in his hometown, Ozark, Arkansas… the first town Eric and I lived in as a married couple and where we had our first jobs out of college.

With this event happening at the end of the Spring Break, it was a perfect reason to make a trip to our favorite haunts in the Northwest Corner of my home state.  We left Texas and started this adventure by stopping just inside the Arkansas/Oklahoma border for dinner at LaHuerta Grill and Cantina on Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A favorite authentic Mexican Food Restaurant for Eric and I. Their white cheese dip and cheese enchiladas, while unattainable in Texas, were all I craved when I was pregnant with Emmarie.

LaHuerta

We spent the next day at the University of Arkansas.  Eric met with colleagues at the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, while I dusted off my “Orientation Leader” skills and gave the kids the “real” tour of the campus. We met my best friend from High School and College Roommate, Michelle Parks for lunch at Farrel’s where Kristopher, to his amusement, had the “Hangover Burger.” I think he still giggles when we recount the outing.

After lunch we were lucky enough to catch my Cousin Bret Bielema in town. He graciously made himself available to show us around the Razorback Football facilities. It was an amazing and awesome experience that I catch myself doubting it actually happened… it almost seemed too good to be true!

After our tour of the Football Athletic facilities we stopped for a custard at Andy’s Frozen Custard and then on to my sister’s family in Farmington.  There we met up with my parents, niece, nephew, sister and brother-in-law to celebrate my nephew’s 10th birthday.

Kristopher loved his time with his cousin, we watched “Nacho Libre” and sang Happy Birthday to a boy it seems like I was holding in  my arms in the hospital after his mother’s long and trying delivery just yesterday.

Silas' bday

The next day we left the Fayetteville area and headed for Ozark.  We stopped at Ozark Upper Elementary (Go Hillbillies!) where I taught the first 4 1/2 years of my career. We also visited turkey growers Eric had provided support to as a Flock Serviceman and showed the kids what it was like living in a small town.  We spent a large amount of time at the Roxin’s farm where we got to meet several friendly dogs and hold puppies from 3 litters of French and English Bulldogs.  I still am not sure how we managed to NOT walk away with a puppy picked out to take home once it was weaned!

Roxin Puppies

We finished the afternoon excursion by going by Post Winery in Altus, Arkansas to pick up some of our favorite wines and grape juice. Since it was close to dinner time we decided to take the kids to a local Irish Pub called “Kelt’s” where Eric and I used to have “date night.” The dark, candle lit metal fabricated make shift building that houses the restaurant that serves traditional Irish dishes made for the perfect end to a rural Arkansas day.

Post Winery Kelt's

The next morning we took the kids through the intricately winding roads of the scenic Highway 23 to the trail-head of the Ozark Highlands Trail north of Ozark.  We hiked down the side of a hill to a stream.  It was so good to be back breathing the Ozark Mountain air, steadying my feet along the path as I walked, and sharing what is a part of my inner fabric with my flatland Texan bred children.  There is such a peace in the woods and rolling hills of my home state.  To share this part of me with my family completes me in a way no other adventure or excursion does.  It seems strange to travel away from what I now call home and when I go to describe it, to want to call it home… I guess it is truly where my heart is.

After our hike we met Marty and Penny Baker and their children for a late lunch at Cracker Barrel.  Marty went to school with Eric and I, came to Ozark and worked in the same department as Eric when we were first married.  Shortly before we moved to Texas, Marty met and married Penny.  Hard to believe that was 15+ years ago!

After heading back to the hotel to clean up, we then met up with one of my former students Erin (Warden) Hamilton and her family.  Such a wonderful sweet family and what joy it brings me to see my students full of joy, passion and happiness.  So good to see your former students successful in life… and full of contentment!

Finally, Erin watched Embug and Kritter, who enjoyed playing with her boys. Eric and I went to see Lance Carpenter.  Lance being the whole reason we did this spur-of-the-moment-road-trip.

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I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to share our adventure.  A few things I have realized after reflecting on this adventure:

1. Planning sometimes ruins the fun.

2. Sharing your past with your children by taking them to the actual locations… even if the physical building is no longer standing is the most powerful way to share your memories.

3. Holding tiny warm wiggly puppies on any trip makes a good trip great.

4. Being passionate about something (like the Razorbacks or Springtime in Arkansas) can only become a family passion if everyone gets to experience it.

5. Good food, ambiance and time for stories is what brings a family closer.

6. The fabric that makes you who you are isn’t made just from your experiences and successes but in the leisurely hikes and the natural beauty around you.

7. Reconnect with your past, share your present with your past connections and make those past important connections part of your future.

8. Every road trip needs a great playlist… your 80’s  music is your kids Disney Movie’s soundtracks!

  • Road Trip Top 10+Playlist:
  • Ice Ice Baby- Vanilla IceBilly Jean- Michael Jackson
  • Legs- ZZTop
  • Devil Went Down to Georgia- Charlie Daniels Band Final Countdown- Europe
  • Dreams- Cranberries
  • Hungry Like the Wolf- Duran Duran
  • Kick start my heart- Motley Crüe
  • The Sign- Ace of Base
  • The Tide is High- Blondie
  • Wannabe- Spice Girls

9. Be sure to talk with accents in the car as you travel… sounds crazy, but trust me it makes everyone giggle.

10.  Everyone needs to take a spur-of-the-moment trip at least once a year that requires driving across at least one state line and an overnight stay with enough time to make unforgettable memories.

Who knows when our next spontaneous adventure will occur, but I am so glad I fought my tendency to need to plan and jumped at the chance to take a trip… unplanned.

The Modern, Growth Spurts and Lego Movie…

Spring break comes early in Texas and often it isn’t very “springy” yet.  Usually a trip out of town to warmer climates isn’t doable with Eric’s schedule.  So, we find ways to enjoy our much needed week off right at home in Cowtown.

Of course ideas are solicited from all “stakeholders.” Embug didn’t hesitate to remind me of our trip last spring to Fort Worth’s premiere modern art museum “The Modern.” As luck would have it, “The Modern” (normally closed on Mondays) had opened with free admission on the Monday of this wonderful Spring Break week.

Both Embug and Kritterman loved viewing the artwork.  Some works are part of the permanent collection that they enjoyed revisitng, and some works were new.  We especially enjoyed the multimedia visiting works on display from Fred Tomasellli and the rich and folksy qualities works of showcased Texas native David Bates featured on nearly the entire second floor.

modern

Spring Break Visit to “The Modern”

The next day over breakfast I announced it was going to be a day of shopping.  One thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the immense growth spurts both Embug and Kritter went through this fall and winter.  Since last year this time
Embug’s foot has grown from a 5 to a 7 1/2.  Kristopher quickly moved from a 7 to only briefly visit size 8. If there wasn’t a quick intervention he would be sporting the ankle pants only popular in women’s fashions.

Of course the two “growing weeds” were less than excited about a shopping trip… that is until I baited it with an afternoon matinee to “The Lego Movie.”

The shopping was tolerable for all at best. But the movie was surprisingly enjoyable for all.  I even inappropriately laughed really loudly at a scene… and got “the look” from my kids. I highly recommend the movie and it will more than likely find its way into our permanent home movie collection.

lego movie

We made it home with a lot of new “one liners” from the movies and a sufficient wardrobe for both to make it into the summer.  What they weren’t expecting is that our relatively un-eventful Spring Break was about to get exciting.  Stay tuned for the next episode in our Spring Break adventure.

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