Key West, FL.


DSC_0029 (1)

DSC_0009 (1)

DSC_0056


DSC_0021

DSC_0059

DSC_0085

IMG_9696

DSC_0059 (1)

DSC_0035 (1)

We drove to Key West three times. It is about an hour drive from Marathon, but is such a hub of shopping, eating, and activities, that it was worth it. Not to mention, it’s THE southernmost point. It would be silly to not go the extra distance to make the claim. (My deepest apologies, this post is ridiculously long, but I can’t figure out what to trim. I tried to bundle it by topic in the order we did them. I just thought three separate Key West posts would be overkill.)

Pie.

Our first trip we booked an evening glass bottom boat tour. We arrived a bit early so we could stop in for Key Lime pie (dipped in chocolate and on a stick to boot). I’m not really a Key Lime pie sort of person, but the chocolate gives it a nice sweetness, and frankly the pie was very good. The employee (owner?) was incredibly nice. He came over to ask what we thought and explained how Key Lime pie must have a certain tang. He then took time to answer our question about how to get to the “90 Miles to Cuba” buoy. I bet that poor guy gets asked the same thing time and again, but he was nice enough to not act so. We headed on foot, in a bit of a rush, to make that 14 block jaunt.

Chickens.

On our “hurry up let’s try to get there now” mission I noticed chickens…. out front of the post office. I giggled, looked around to see where they belonged, and tried to keep pace with Dear Husband. I noticed more chickens, and we noticed chicks. It started to dawn on me that chickens are wild here. I’ve never been to Key West before and didn’t even do research before we headed in, so they surprised me.

I did read locals can get annoyed and humanely trap them for relocation on the mainland at ranches where they act as pest control. I’m not going to mention how odd that is, considering the amount of chicken most likely shipped in as FOOD for the restaurants and hotels in Key West, but I digress. Anyhow, I liked seeing them alive, for sure. They add a very unique feeling to the bustling town full of traffic, people, and bicycles.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour.

We started to realize we couldn’t make the 14 blocks. So we turned around and hustled back to the dock for loading. Too early. We had 45 minutes to wait, so we meandered around the docks, through Mallory Square (saw more chicks) and had some pizza. We thought it would be good to invest in some seabands too. Finally, we docked and looked down through the glass bottoms. That was truly interesting.

The weather was rainy for a short stint, but we got lots of dry time on top of, in front of, and in back of the main boat inside area. It was beautiful looking at the turquoise water ahead, waiting for our glimpse at the third largest coral reef in the world. When we stopped, we sort of drifted across the coral as the tour guide pointed out the names of the fish we saw (and someone mentioned they spotted a cell phone, to which the guide replied that was not funny!, to which they replied, it was NOT a joke), why we need to save coral, and so on. The boys dangled their feet and listened to the presentation. Well, little fella didn’t make it all the way to the end, but he did pretty well. Meanwhile, Dear Husband was feeling a little, shall we say, seasick? Then, I was feeling a lot seasick. I did NOT hear the whole presentation, instead I hunkered down in the back of the boat and tried to pretend the boat and my stomach weren’t spinning out of control. I’m so happy my poor children didn’t feel what we felt. It was miserable and didn’t go away until after we docked and I sat down for a bit. Dear Husband ran and grabbed some Dramamine, which tasted so completely awful it shocked the seasickness right out of me. I did see some coral and enjoyed at least half of the tour so I call it success.

Parasaililng.

The second trip to Key West was to get on another boat. It scared the living daylights out of me. I took two pills to prevent seasickness and the coral reef misery feeling.

We are not a thrill seeking sort of family, however, little fella decided we should parasail when looking through our local “things to do” guide. I read it was the lowest price in the whole country, which made me think, well, if we were EVER to parasail, now is that time. We told him we’d go for it…. before that first boat ride. After, we asked him if we could pass to save our stomachs, he cried. I wasn’t about to have everyone blame me for not trying, and truly I thought it would be fun. We booked it.

Parasailing is awesome. I have never felt like time stood still more than the moment we were up in the air. It felt like we were on a  gentle swing. I felt like we weren’t moving at all, but saw the boat below zig zagging madly back and forth while we floated like a bubble above. Little fella and I got to ride together and go first, Dear husband went with older son, last, after a few others.

I hate this, but Dear Husband and I were very sick, again. I held it together for a long time, and took another pill while on the boat, but yup, it didn’t work. We vowed we needed a break from ocean vessels for a while. It was still worth it. (Oh, and we did snap that “90 Miles to Cuba” pic before the boat ride.)

Air Show.

Our last day in the Keys was on a hot tarmac at the Navy base for an air show. (Dear Husband read the show coincided with our final day there and it was free! Heck ya.) We saw the Budweiser Clydesdales, a woman standing on the exterior wing of a plane IN FLIGHT, (YES, she was!), the Firebirds, and the Blue Angels. It was hot, there was a sliver of shade where everyone elbowed each other for room, and the boys asked when it would be over. Then the Blue Angels wrapped it up and impressed happiness back into us all.

Key West is beautiful, bustling, chicken-filled, bicycle-busting, high-end shopping filled, people-loaded, and full of things to try. I loved it. I didn’t want to leave. Then I remembered we had reservations at a fun place where dreams come true….

Congaree National Park, SC.

congareenationalparkpailandpie1

congareenationalparkpailandpie2

Large. I just don’t know how to express this besides, large, huge, mega, something along those lines. Congaree National Park has this little entrance and little signage, but when you enter you start getting this picture, it’s one of feeling really small. Or that your surroundings are really big.

The visitor’s center has a fabulous movie that made me feel even smaller. They have helicopter footage flying over their immense park and it’s just prehistoric looking. Then they show researchers climbing the trees and your jaw just drops. Sadly, it’s a kind of feeling I get where my eyes glaze over and I can’t grasp the size. Like when I think about space or how deep the Grand Canyon is. Still I tried. In this location where trees max out due to the nutrient rich swamp and flood plains, where champion trees are made and found and still being found, where you can walk along boardwalks and feel tremendously small and peaceful, our family looked UP and UP and UP.

Loblolly pines reach 100 feet, Cypress trees are WIDE, and even the echo of the singular owl we heard while hiking seemed huge. Ironically, Congaree was owned by a logger who kept it in case he needed to harvest it. Due to the consistent flooding it was too difficult for this. And it grew. And it was saved. And my boys and Dear Husband and I could look up and up and up and remember what a spectacular thing an untouched wood could be.

Bledsoe Creek State Park, TN.

bledsoecreekstateparkpailandpie1

bledsoecreekstateparkpailandpie2

bledsoecreekstateparkpailandpie3

BledsoeCreekStatePark1Pailandpie

We wrapped up our eleven nights at Bledsoe Creek State Park. This was our base camp while Dear Husband finished up his last weeks at work, we visited with friends we won’t see for a while, and we ran some last errands. The weather was back and forth from awful to excellent to awful. We had cold, rain, warmth, sun, snow,  you name it. On the best days we rode bikes ( from across the lake we could see our Tracy), fed the ducks (our camping chickens), played at the park, swung in the hammock and so on. On the cold or rainy days we ran errands, knitted, organized, and watched movies. Of course laundry and schoolwork don’t care about the weather and I wove that into our days as well.

Bledsoe Creek State Park is full, and I mean crazy full, of wildlife. Deer stared at us as we walked past them to the park, ducks raced up to see if we had treats, even a heron waited patiently on the dock as I walked Mack on by. I guess they enjoy seeing the people as much as the people enjoy seeing them. I’ve never seen such diverse wildlife in one state park and I wonder if I ever will again. It made our camping and waiting for our big departure delightful.

Our truck, trailer, and spirits are ready to roll. Off we head to explore.

Sorting it Out.

sortingitoutpailandpie1

sortingitoutpailandpie3

sortingitoutpailandpie

Dear Husband is finishing out the month at work, so we are living “on the road” locally. That’s actually worked out fabulous for us. We have had our share of kinks to work out. For instance, my muck boots failed miserably. Who knew they were so leaky? New muck boots located, check. We realized our wheel chocks were a big fail, as Tracy literally hopped forward while we had the jacks setting down. It wasn’t as scary as it sounds, but, yes, we had new wheel chocks shipped in.

Plus, the closet situation is failing. It has a “false” floor with a hidden storage bucket underneath, but darn it, that lends no support for actual “stuff” because it’s not solid. I had two plastic drawer storage containers in there that were just weighing too much. They shoved into the bucket, pushed that down, it collapsed. I removed one unit, it collapsed, I removed more,  it collapsed, well, you get the idea. I had to switch some things around. I think I found something that will work. Let’s see, our Berkey water filter broke too. Then I’m also adjusting to Dear Husband’s laptop computer. It’s been very hard for me to check photos for clarity, because every time the screen moves, the photos look different. Well, that wraps up most of the fails.

It’s not all tragedies though, in fact it’s been pleasant with this wave of warm weather coming in. Waking up with the sweet flock of ducks (including unique Muscovy ducks)  has been a treat. My youngest son said they take the place of our chickens and requested we have some ducks when we resettle. I washed dishes outside the other day while a dozen or so ducks had their heads tucked behind their wings and rested just at the shore beyond our site. It was darn adorable. The boys are on their bikes more than they ever have been (me too and my thighs are feeling it!) and the park is the favorite hang out as of late. The weather warmed up so much that the barren campground awoke and flooded with campers and campfires galore. I sure do love checking out those fellow Airstreams! (I think I’ll be sharing sweet rig photos in their own posts.) We also got the hammock up, but the boys are in it so much I still haven’t had a chance. I think we may need another hammock. In fact, I think that will happen quite soon.

At night, Dear Husband and I are planning our trail and revising as needed. We are also planning a fun upgrade to the trailer this week. (Dear Husband was checking some wiring for said upgrade.) The boys are getting anxious to “really” start the trip. Just a few more nights and we’ll be heading out.

Mammoth Cave Bats.

mammothcavebatspailandpie1

mammothcavebatspailandpie3

mammothcavebatspailandpie2

mammothcavebatspailandpie4

mammothcavebatspailandpie5

Loaded with snacks, water, and light coats, late Saturday afternoon we went to Mammoth Cave National Park to watch for bats. The National Park had a special night connecting the public with the scientists who study the bats.

We arrived when it was light to browse the museum and walk around the main area. I always love looking at the old train cars that brought the visitors of yesteryear. We also walked to sunset point and saw the old (new to us) cemetery. After we walked, snacked, and explored we were ready to see some bat research.

Atop the walkway to the natural cave entrance Rangers prevented us from the activities until precisely 7 PM. To keep us occupied they presented facts about bats (their M&M jar featured 1000 candies, about how many bugs a bat eats per HOUR) and answered questions guests had (we enjoyed the preschool boy’s musings about sharks eating bats). This was the hardest part for the boys. They just wanted to get to the night vision goggles.

Finally they were set free to descend upon the cave and see some bats. We were the third group to step down  into the natural entrance and try the night vision goggles. I do think the boys could have stayed there the night. The goggles were fascinating, probably more so than the bats they were seeing. We did have to move on and decided to see the volunteers set up “mist” nets to catch the bats. (That does not involve water, it’s actually just a very fine net).

Here is where we waited. It wasn’t quite dark enough to set up the nets, so we talked with some friends and waited some more. I wanted to see this whole process. The boys must know me well enough by now, because they didn’t complain or ask to move on. They waited and chatted. We saw the net roll up and almost a minute later they caught a bat.

The volunteer displayed the wings, explained what type of bat it was, and put it in a brown paper bag to transfer to their research set up. We hustled over to get a great view of the scientists as they identified, collected samples of fur, tagged, searched for white nose syndrome (a very horrible fungus rapidly diminishing their bat population) and so on. My younger son gave me stink eye when I put the camera down, “Mom, they are getting the fur! Take a picture.” I laughed and told him I took about seventy.

Knowing this was a one night per year adventure, I asked the kiddos if there was anything they’d like to try one last time. Night goggles. We went back into the cave and looked for a longer turn as it was the end of the night and the crowd had thinned.

Hiking back up, snacking and drinking, we talked about our night. It’s really fun to stay out late and chat with the boys about what we did. We finished up our audio book on the drive back and settled in for a good nights sleep. Hopefully then the bats got some peace to dine by.

Cicada.

cicadapailandpie1

cicadapailandpie2

It never really hit me, until this week, that the underlying hum outside is from cicadas. When I wake up in the morning, I hear a low rattle in the trees. When I hang out the clothes I hear it. Frankly, up until I shut the chicken coop at night, it’s that rattling hum in my ears still.

We’ve found the vacant shells clasping to tree trunks. We’ve found the large insects too. They aren’t troublesome, and they are very interesting to look at. But, mostly we hear their consistent rattle and hum.

Baby Bat.

 

babybatpailandpie3

babybatpailandpie4

babybatpailandpie1

babybatpailandpie2

babybatpailandpie5

babybatpailandpie7

babybatpailandpie8

babybatpailandpie6

Dear Husband volunteered to help demolish a vacant, dilapidated, uninhabitable, just very sad house in Wisconsin this past weekend. Naturally, we all packed up in the Airstream and headed out anxious for the adventure. To say that Dear Husband and the boys enjoy large equipment, heavy machinery, trucks, and the likes is an understatement. When “excavator” and “demolish” and “help” enter a conversation, well, you already know. We went.

With the house doomed, we salvaged some detailed and special innards. We now have four (thickly painted) solid wood doors, amazing kitchen hardware and door knobs, cornices, and other special bits. We also let the boys get a little destructive. Why not? Donning safety glasses, they were allowed to pound the hammer into walls upstairs and down. Uh, yeah. I joined in too!

The actual crushing via excavator took about an hour. I have over 200 photos of the ordeal, (which oddly when clicked through quickly look like a little stop motion movie. I was a bit trigger happy I suppose.) It was dusty, hot, and something I never thought I’d witness in real life. It was cool! For the bats, however, not so much. Their presence was never made, until the excavator bucket tore off an eave. Then, holy cow, at least forty bats flew out, quickly relocating their babies to the neighboring oak. The boys and I just stood and watched them fly in and out. I have never seen an excavator demolish a house. I have never seen baby bats carried by their mothers. I have never seen a baby bat clicking for its mother in the grass. But, this past weekend, we all saw it.

I feel I should state that the bat is not baring its teeth at us. Instead, it’s like a little baby bird, expectantly waiting for mother to return (with food). The mother picked up her baby in the night. We felt the mother would return, but did double-check to make sure. I’m certain the bats have many other options and will be fine. There is a vacant chicken coop and several monstrous oak trees for them to move into.

For those interested, we own and love a beautifully illustrated book called Stellaluna. It’s about a baby bat who loses its mother, but finds her in the end, after being raised with baby birds. I kept calling the bat Stellaluna to the boys because of this favorite book of ours.

 

Limax maximus.

limaxmaximuspailandpie1

limaxmaximuspailandpie2

limaxmaximuspailandpie3

We had another critter encounter, on the driveway, this week. This guy is known as Limax maximus, a leopard slug. While I can’t help but think it looks like a pile of snot, I must give it props for its amazing print. I included the black and white one to really highlight that feature. That shot shows off how it moves too, something the boys were intrigued by.

I read online that David Attenborough has a program that includes their very unique mating dance in his Life in the Underground program. What wild creatures surround us. I’m always surprised by the variety here.

Luna Moth.

lunamothpailandpie1

DSC_0035

lunamothpailandpie3

The neighbor boy was too freaked out to ring the doorbell so he just yelled through to the boys to see if they could play. They all shrieked about a huge, ugly bug. Expecting a large spider, we’ve had those out front before, I didn’t check it out. The next day I went out front to swing on the front porch while talking to Dear Husband on the phone. Then I saw it.

The boys were all scared of a beautiful luna moth! I thought it was dead because it was still there 24 hours after the boys’ silliness, but when I touched it (after shooting some photos of it under my front porch door), it took off, weakly. It then landed on the front porch floor. Some more photos and it decided to flit over to my swing. Some more photos, a gust of wind, and I lost my luna moth. So now the boys can use the front porch in peace again. Sigh.

Opryland and Visiting

DSC_0018

DSC_0014

DSC_0025

DSC_0012

Version 2

We had lots of full days this past week, very few with my camera in hand. Visiting requires 100% of my attention and efforts. It’s rare that I can include shooting photos in the mix. I feel like visitors may become easily annoyed if they have to wait for me…all the time…taking photos. So, the camera gets tucked away most of the time.

We had fun walking the lush gardens at Opryland Hotel. There was plenty of eating out (a rarity for us) including a fabulous lunch at the Grilled Cheeserie truck and our very first home delivered pizza in our boys lives! (We kept saying we needed to do that at least once.) We also did the flea market, plenty of antique malls, and of course chatting at home. My sister is always a fabulous new music resource and her pup provides plenty of antics for the boys.

Right now I’m trying to catch up on laundry (now wrinkle free thanks Mom), move some furniture (Sis always has great spacial ideas-creating more chaos, short-term), and, oh yeah, un-pause my day-to-day routines.