Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Silver Springs

Last Sunday after church, we changed our clothes, packed some lunch and dinner, and headed up to Silver Springs State Park in Ocala with some friends and their pontoon boat. 

Some history on the area:
In the 1820s, the springs became a tourist attraction for adventurous visitors who poled their way along the narrow stream through overhanging cypress and Spanish moss. With the invention of the paddlewheel, Silver River and Springs became a distribution center for Central Florida. Plantations growing vegetables, tobacco and oranges sprang up along the banks as nearby Ocala grew. In the late 1870s, Phillip Morrell fixed a piece of glass in the bottom of a rowboat and a new enterprise began. Silver River's glass-bottom boat tours have been world famous for more than over 100 years.

It was a beautiful, super sun-shiny, slightly cool day, and we were able to see a LOT of different wildlife.

One of the main reasons we drove up to this river and spring was to see the monkeys. Did you know that there are Rhesus monkeys living in Florida? I never knew that. And two different arguments seem to circulate about how they got here. Either way, they were super fun to see.

From Huffington Post
One popular story says they escaped while Tarzan movies were being filmed here (as were TV shows such as "Sea Hunt" and movies such as "Creature from the Black Lagoon"). Other say nope, no monkeys in the six Tarzan films shot here. Tour boat operator "Colonel Tooey" turned 'em loose on an island in the late 1930s, and the skilled swimmers quickly spread out. 

We found this guy chilling in the marshes, and got close for a better look (which means I wanted to get some pictures of him). "Hey alligator! Smile!"

"Oh! Thank you!"

"Ok, really, you can stop smiling at us now..."

"That's better. We'll be going now. Buh bye. Have a nice day..."

We also got to see a little family of dear, (dears?), and that was fun.

Once we got to the springs, the water was SO clear. It was absolutely beautiful.

We had such a great time. 
Thank you friends for a wonderful day on your boat! We loved it!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Camping: Anastasia State Park. St. Augustine, Florida

So a few weeks ago, we went camping. We planned this little adventure, after our last camping trip (a one night stay, on a warm night in December), and thought, "Well that was really fun. Let's do that again real soon, but for a longer time." And so we booked three nights and four days in February, on the beach in North Florida. We invited Bryan's parents, sister, brother-in-law and their baby along as well.

As it got closer and closer to the time of our departure, I was getting worried. The weather was forcasted to be rainy and cold. Cold, as in lows in the low 50's and upper 40's, and highs in the 60's. And maybe that's not cold where you come from, but this Florida girl thinks that is FREEZING weather! And then mixed with rain?! We decided to brave the conditions anyway, and set off for our trip.

We got to our site around 4pm, set up the food tables and pop-up tent, hung some decorative lighting, started the fire, and put up our tent, all while it drizzled off and on. Bryan's family arrived not too long after we did, and soon enough we were all starving and ready to eat. We roasted hot dogs, had baked beans and coleslaw to go with it, and s'mores for dessert. And we all sat shivering around a blazing fire.

We went to bed, extremely thankful for a little heater that one friend  let us borrow, and an entire tree's worth of firewood from another friend. Both of those wonderful blessings kept us relatively warm.

It continued to rain during the night, and into the morning. We woke up, emerged from our tents, huddled together under the food tent trying to stay dry, shivered through breakfast, and finally got in the truck and went for a drive. I didn't really care where we went, I just wanted some coffee, and to be out of the cold rain. We ended up at Chick-fil-a, seriously looking like a family of vagabonds. We were all wearing dirty rainboots, about three or four layers of clothing, and topped with messy sticking out everywhere hair. Plus, I hadn't yet had any coffee, as we couldn't find my coffee filters in the rain, so I was probably looking a little wild-eyed and crazy too. We loitered at CFA, as long as we could, filling up on coffee refills, and letting the kids play in the play place, until we decided to head back to the camp.

We checked out the inside of the tent, and found puddles of water and wet blankets and sheets... So we stripped the beds, cleaned out the tent, and headed for the Best Western on the beach. Meanwhile, Bryan's family had packed up and gone home.

Words can not even convey how wonderful it was to walk into that room. We turned on the heater, and lined up for hot showers.

We had lunch, and then this happened... Oops.
"HOORAY for hotels!!"

After we were nice and warm, we went to St. Augustine to walk around a little. Bryan and I had such a great time when we where there for our anniversary, and were looking forward to showing the kids around a little.

Lilly slept through most of our St. Augustine experience.

After a while little legs grew tired of walking, and we decided to go back to the campsite to check it out. We started the fire back up, cleaned some more water out of the tent, and just hung out there for a little while. 

After that, we had dinner at one of my favorite places in St. Augustine. It's called GAS, and it is so good. Their burgers are my favorite, the meat is fresh from a local cattle ranch, and so, so good! As we walked out, we were greeted by this beautiful rainbow and amazing sunset.

I did find it interesting that the rain stopped pretty soon after we checked into the hotel. Truth be told, I didn't care. I was so happy to be able to launder all of our wet camping sheets and quilts, get nice hot showers, have a good night's sleep (because there is no such thing as a good night's sleep in a tent), and enjoy a full breakfast at the hotel in the morning. It was wonderful.

The next morning after a nice big breakfast, we checked out and headed back to Anastasia State Park. We put the tent back together and tidied up around the site. It kinda looks like an Amish farmhouse in our tent.

We asked each of the kids what they would like to do while we were on our trip. Bella wanted to have a picnic, Grady wanted to go fishing, and Lilly wanted to go to the beach. Oh, how Lilly wanted to go to the beach... Even when it was freezing cold and raining, she was asking to go to the beach.

There should be a color for "Ridiculously Cold and Windy".

I have to say, it is really fun having a daughter that is old enough to be responsible with my camera, who enjoys taking pictures, and who does a great job. Every now and then it's nice to see that I was actually on the trip! Thanks, Bella!

After the beach, we found a fun little spot in the sun to have our picnic lunch. It should be noted, it is illegal (for minors) to sit in the back of a pick-up truck, but it sure is fun!

And after we made beach and picnic dreams come true for Lilly and Bella, we were off to go fishing. Bryan bought bait shrimp, and asked where a good fishing spot would be. We walked and walked and finally found a scenic spot... not so good for fishing though. But we had a fun time.

Ohhh, mama's sweet little loves.

And these two...

Thankfully we weren't depending on fish for dinner! We made chicken fajita salads with cheese quesadillas. Yum! (And yes, I know that is a lot of chicken. I had originally planned to eat it while our family was with us, but figured I should go ahead and cook it anyway.)

One of my favorite parts of our trip: After dinner, while we sat around the fire, we went through each member of our family, and listed things we love about them. For example, when it was Grady's turn, we all went one at a time, and listed things we love about Grady.  

Then little loves went to sleep, and grown-up loves sat hand in hand in the peaceful, dark, quiet night, under a clear and starry sky. 

The next morning, the vagabond family was back, wearing as many items of clothing as possible, and rocked breakfast in 38 degrees. Whaaaaat? That is just crazy for us. None-the-less, everyone was full of happy camping smiles and ready to start the day.

We packed up and headed home, and said goodbye to our little campsite. 
And while I would love to plan another camping trip, it's probably not going to be until I can bank on "normal" Florida weather!