Frost.

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It’s close to one year ago we started getting permits for our house, which means spring is approaching. Temperatures are forecasted to 60 this weekend. We are planning on getting our chicken coop ready for new chickens. That doesn’t seem very far off now.

We did not get as much snow as we hoped for. I wanted to spend a day sledding with the boys. When it snowed, it melted off so quickly we never made it. Time marches on.

Now it feels like a 70 degree day when it’s 40 out. I laugh about that phenomenon every spring. Even Mack feels it. He wandered out into the middle of the farm field the other afternoon before we realized he was gone too long.

So, I’m slowly pulling myself out of the winter-cabin nesting into the spring garden feel. Today I’ll enjoy the frost and get ready for our first spring here.

Light Art Fireworks.

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For the past couple of years I’ve had the boys shake the camera around at fireworks and see what we got. This year I didn’t ask them. Sometimes it’s hard to know if they are truly enjoying something or are just doing it because I ask. I decided to leave them comfy in their chairs. Behold, Little Fella popped up and came over asking to do our light pictures. I was happy to oblige. My older son joined in readily. It’s so fun to see what comes of these shots! (It’s also nice to know they really enjoy it as much as I do.) Next year I’ll be sure to ask.

 

Russell Cave National Monument, AL.

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Down few winding roads, on a lovely spring day, we stopped to visit Russell Cave National Monument. The beautiful setting looks like a lovely spot for a picnic and a nice spot to linger, and I suppose that must be what many, many, many generations of people before us thought as well. Russell Cave is just this, a spot many chose to stay and live from prehistoric times through early Native Americans. We are talking 10,000 BC to 1650 AD. Excavations reveal ample tools, supplies, and details to the daily lives of many on these very grounds.

As always, the boys participated in the Junior Ranger program. We ran into a fellow Junior Ranger-er who had a vest chock full of badges. Thumbs up gal! What we did find was this was one of the most detailed, intense booklets we’ve encountered yet. I suppose with SO much history they wanted to cover it all, but phew, the boys were getting a bit restless with this one. In fact, said Junior Ranger gal’s mother and I were puzzling and pouring through our pamphlets trying to assist with downright detailed questions. I did mention this to the Ranger, and of course it’s no harm done. We just feel we really earned those badges this time.

The spring dogwoods were blooming, the caterpillars were everywhere, and the water was flowing. It was such a peaceful place, but the Ranger told us there will be much activity soon. They intend to excavate again, now. We were just shy of their start date. I’d love to have seen that in progress, but again, the quiet we enjoyed was so appealing, too.

 

Key West, FL.


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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….

Anna Ruby Falls, GA.

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“But, you promised after yesterday we would have NO more hikes,” was the fun start to our Anna Ruby Falls adventure. Actually, he snapped out of it quite quickly when I then promised I’d talk to him about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on our ascent. He just saw the movie on his tablet this week. Alas, this is diverting too quickly.

Back to the falls. Of all the hikes we did in the Chattahoochee National Forest, this was the loudest. High Shoals is loud when descending, but Anna Ruby has gobs of water thrashing just aside the paved trail. It’s roaring, rushing, carving, and was a great final hike for the area. We learned it’s a Cove Forest, basically, that we were hiking through a ravine, hence the water sloshing just aside. We were rewarded for our uphill climbs with two falls, which was unexpected. They were really huge too. Tall.

This short hike had us up and back within an hour. The boys got some Smoky Bear booklets, pencils, and other paraphernalia from the visitors center which brings back old commercials. Dear Husband and I chanted in unison, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” I’m sure there was some eye rolling in the back seat. Alas, they celebrated our final hike in GA for now and we went back to Tracy to tidy. Our stay was fabulous, but we are moving on.

Brasstown Bald, or a Funny Name for the Highest Point in Georgia.

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(Special thanks to my older son and his steady 10-year-old hands for the panoramic photo!)

Sitting at the campfire with neighbors, they asked what we had seen and what we had planned. Then they said, “Hey, you should take the boys up to Brasstown Bald.” Hmmm. That sounded a bit weird.  But then they said, “It’s fabulous, it’s the highest point in Georgia.” Ding! Years ago we took the boys to Cheaha State Park in Alabama, which was the highest point of that state. We all enjoyed that trip fiercely. This seemed right up our alley after all.

It took two tries, a little grumpiness, and one heck of a steep climb to get to that tower. In fact, my older son and I left Dear Husband and our littler fella in the dust as we were anxious to reach the top. Man alive our hearts were thumping. We all arose victorious to freezing cold wind. Dear Husband mentioned the 20 degree temperature drop and sadly only had on a vest and shorts. My older son said he spotted a hat, and I about leapt to get and keep it. When he pointed it out, though, it was sodden. Bummer. I swear I would have worn it if it was dry.

Brasstown Bald is fabulous! The visitors center was closed due to the season, but the lookout area was open for us to roam (and hide from the wind behind.) That view helped my carsick belly settle for a while too. We were atop with fellow camera enthusiasts until the sun set, and then we all ran downhill to our heated vehicles. Not to compare, but I’d say Cheaha is the better option. We were literally camped walking distance from that tower and went back and forth to it many times with the boys. However, Brasstown Bald is nothing to complain about, save for our poor choice in sweatshirts. Heck, if you see undulating mountains anywhere, it’s a darn good day.

High Shoals Falls, GA.

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With a concentration of falls hikes that encircle us, we went with the easy choice, the nearest one to the north, High Shoals Falls. We did read that it is one of the most impressive, so that solidified our choice. What we didn’t read was that the “road” (and yes I put that in quotes for a reason) to the “parking lot” is really a swollen kick butt hiking trail. In fact, my older son about lost faith in us as parents as we swung back and forth up this gravely, bumpy “road”. We reassured him that there were still indeed rustic parts in our country, and surely as a forest road this would pass. We were right. We landed in a parking lot where he promptly exited the truck and declared we should just get on with it.

The descent was fine. The terrain was much more well traversed than our first GA hike, and the loud rumble of the falls helped reassure us we were on the right track. I noticed the abundance of Galax leaves which was very cool because as a florist I used those time and again. I always love to see the flowers and greens growing naturally, as I’ve only seen them wrapped and rubber banded.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting with my phone time lapsing. I filmed us pulling Tracy up into the Chattahoochee National Forest. Check out my instagram for the time lapses.

Helen, GA and Hiking.

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We pulled Tracy up into the Chattahooche National Forest to settle near a replica Alpine town, Helen GA. We had no idea how much amazing hiking was abound. It only makes sense the Appalachian Trail starts not too far away. Our first day here we hiked a private trail connecting to our campground. We later learned it’s not allowed to be improved anymore, due to the current ownership, but it was probably one of the best hikes we ever did. This is because it included ropes to pull us uphill, involved multiple creek crossings, kept our minds sharp as we constantly had to search for blue tagged trees, not to mention all the ducking and climbing. The boys LOVED it. Truthfully, Dear Husband and I agree, it was one of our favorites as well. It was quite a challenge.

After that morning hike, our day just sort of faded away. We had some plans to hike to a local waterfall (I do believe there are over a dozen), but that earlier 2 miles really did us in. We were so wore out, we decided to dilly dally in Helen for the afternoon instead.

Little fella found a new friend in the form of a stuffed koala. He’s saving up money for a future stop, but couldn’t peel away from said friend. I suggested he call him “George” because we got him in Georgia, but he said he needed a better name. Mr. Kooky, he announced, was that better choice. Of course, he conceded that George could be his middle name, to not hurt my feelings.

We stopped at Hofer’s Bakery where the boys were allowed to choose anything they wanted until we heard the prices. Then we kept swaying their choices to the frustration of the people behind us, until we just pretty much forced them to get chocolate creme puffs. Then we ate half of their puffs. They were darn huge, but I’m sure we did a fail parent move here, with the offering choice, denying choice, then taking half anyways. Apparently they are used to this or the sugar was enough, because they didn’t complain. Or maybe their payback was the mess…

Congaree National Park, SC.

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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.

Myrtle Beach State Park, SC.


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If you are going on a long trip and you get to choose anywhere to start, how would ocean not be near the top of that list? Exactly. After our Bledsoe Creek stay we headed east to said ocean, Myrtle Beach State Park to be exact. None of us have been here before so as we headed in we did not know what to expect. How bad could it be?

With 60’s and mostly sunny weather, the beach was inviting, not too hot, not too cold. Probably nearer too cold, but we were giddy enough that it masked any discomfort. The boys wore sweatshirts and shorts and were happy with a little wet feet, but not too much. The water was mighty cold. They made lots of forts and fortresses and dirt bike and NASCAR tracks in the sand. Dear Husband was on dog duty most of the beach time, actually most of the time, and I wandered with either a camera or metal detector. I found a quarter while searching, but sadly not due to the detector, I saw it before the beeping. Ah well, I found some pretty shells (and a sea urchin?) as well.

We rode our bikes plenty, but there weren’t many trails so it was around the same places. The beach allowed bikes on the sand due to the season. We drove up along the ocean to the fishing pier one night to see how fun that would be. Hmm. It was dirty, wet, and the kickstands just sunk. Somehow that didn’t ruin anyones moods. I told you, we were giddy.

This park is an amazing little snip of nature among the bustling seashore city. Dear Husband did venture out to grab some graham crackers for smores (duh, we forgot them!) and an RV part. Mostly we did our part to stay beachside because that’s the best spot. (One tiny drive to Camping World landed me with a sweet new bike basket though!) With two little stores and a fabulous fishing pier that just keeps drawing you over, somehow filling the day with laundry, eating, biking, and digging in sand was utterly exhausting and time -consuming. Emails were forgotten….

I’m finding working school work into the day is harder than I imagined. Peeling boys from the sand to read and do spelling isn’t their cup of tea. I’m hoping to figure out something that flows better. Clearly there are ample opportunities to learn as we go, but there are some things that will still require sitting at the table. Fortunately  I don’t feel like we are behind, just a little unsure of how to create a routine that isn’t annoying or awkward.

Oddly enough, when we headed out the boys moods were terrible. I’d like to say it was because they were sad to leave, even if they didn’t claim that. After a little gloomy road time everyone sort of settled in. I’m hopeful most transitions aren’t so blue.