Think Southern Florida Is Just For Old Folks? Think Again…

While continuing on the Road Less Traveled we traveled south from Ft. Pierce a few miles and explored Bathtub Reef.  Located at the south end of Hutchison Island, Bathtub Reef Park is a must for snorkeling.  Tubeworms have built a reef by cementing bits of sand and shell creating reef rocks that look like honeycomb.  The reef creates a shallow swim area with very mild waves.  Which makes for a great day of just wading and looking at all the see life.  We picked up shells with our toes and took turns snorkeling out to the reef.  If it weren’t for the amazing sea life that we watched such as sea urchins, clown fish, and brightly colored coral, this would have just been a lazy day at the beach.  But the underwater world we got to be a part of made this no ordinary day at the beach.

Bathtub Reef Park, Florida

 

 

We were told to go early as the parking lot fills up quick- so we did.  We arrived about 8:30 and had the whole place to ourselves.

What happened next might have scared off the faint of heart- we watched a group of sharks feeding.

Here’s the thing- sharks don’t like to eat people they like bait fish.  Bait fish swim in schools that do not stay in one place for long.  We simply waited till the schools had moved on till we played in the sea.

Two sissy-boy fishermen walked past and were all freaked out telling us that we were crazy to swim there that day.  Whatever- any real fishermen would know that there are sharks in the ocean each and every day.  We had a blast and returned to our condo with all of our limbs and digits intact.

 

picnic at Bathtub Reef Park, Florida

We took along our lunch as this area is not jammed up with tourists and restaurants.  Dinning Alfresco is more fun, anyway.  Another thing this beach did not have much of was sea gulls- we have tried many times to picnic on the beach only to have to hide in the Excursion until we were done as the gulls would dive bomb our sandwiches.  But once again we thought it would be a good idea- I can’t explain why we kept thinking it would work but I guess it’s just that hope springs eternal in the human heart.  And this time it did work!  And it was just as great as we thought it would be.

Sierra Reading at the beach

Napping on the beach

Of course, after you eat you should definitely take a nap.

Bathtub Reef Florida

birds Bathtub Reef Park

There may not have been gulls, but there were lots of these birds.  They enjoyed the bread we tossed to them but were very polite and never approached us much less bullied us like the sea gulls would have.

We really enjoyed ourselves.  Dakota, Savannah, and Jonathan returned to the reef before we came home.  The snorkeled for hours and Jonathan got to break in his new gear that he bought with his spending money.

Surrounding the beach are some very nice homes, we were all discussing what it would be like to live in one and see this sight everyday- would it get old?  I doubt it , beauty is timeless.  I do think I would certainly be inspired to write a novel.  I just don’t see how you could resist.

This is a free park and it is so nice.  I can’t say enough about the fun we had and the unique little gem of a reef sitting just yards off the beach.  If you are looking for a great place for families this it one.

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The Road Less Traveled- Round Island, Florida

Round island, two paths, florida

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 
 
 
When you take the road less traveled in Florida, it will lead you away from the condos, tourist packed beaches, resorts, and retirement villages and what you find at the end if that road is breath-taking, simple, and beautiful.  We made many stops on this journey- the first to be shared is Round Island Florida- located just North of Fort Pierce, Florida.
sisters on round island Florida
 
looking for manatees
Looking for manatees- Round Island.  What a great find this place was, how grateful we are to the new friends we made in Florida that told us where to go!  This is the Indian River, a place where the manatees like to hang-out.
kayaking on Indian River
Cheyenne and I are in the kayak and you can see the manatee swimming up to us.  He was so very friendly and kept coming to check us out.  Tony took the pictures from the bridge that connected the shore line to the island.  This was a great view for watching the manatees.
Indian River Florida
You can paddle all around these little islands in the Indian River.  Cheyenne and I saw several manatees and on around the backside of these islands we watched a group of dolphins hunting for fish.  One thing we did not see was an alligator and for that I am grateful!  These islands are filled with mangrove trees, these trees have roots that grow down from branches to the water.  These masses of roots make for excellent nurseries for the marine life.  Jonathan and I paddled around before Cheyenne got in the kayak.  Every time I got close to the trees, he kept getting anxious.  I asked him if he was concerned about a snake dropping out of the tree into out boat, he said, “No, I am afraid you are gonna pop our kayak.”  You see, these were inflatable kayaks loaned to us by our new friends.  Given how durable these things are he needn’t have worried about popping the boat.  I, on the other hand, was quite concerned about the snake issue.  Not that we ever saw a snake at all, but given my irrational reaction to snakes I would have rather met an alligator.
 
round island
For those not interested in the water, there are wonderful trails, bird watching platforms, and views all around the island.  Also, across the highway on the ocean side, Round Island has a great beach.  The waves are great, the water beautiful and the sands are almost white- but there are no real crowds.
The Crew, Round Island Florida
Another view of the overlook bridge and my wonderful family- this will forever be my greatest accomplishment in this life.
 
 

Arizona…

Tony & Holly in Sedona Arizona

I must say that in all my daydreaming concerning travel destinations- Arizona never really made the list.  To some of you that will seem strange.  But, arid places have never really struck my fancy and I just am not crazy over cactus. But a week in Phoenix changed my mind about Arizona.

Now, I am still a southern girl who loves trees, camellias, and sweet tea so I have no plans to move there, but it is a great place to visit.  Tony spent three weeks in Phoenix training for his new position with Amazon.com and I flew out and spent the last week with him.  What fun we had!  We didn’t have a honeymoon when we got married and this week, unexpectedly, was like the honeymoon we never had.  I missed him desperately while he was gone, so seeing him waiting in the airport lobby made my heart go pitter-patter.

Most of the week was spent hanging out in the hotel, eating dinner at a different restaurant every night, and shopping, and swimming.  You hear all about the “dry” heat in Arizona, but until you have laid out by the pool and felt your skin shriveling up and crackling- you just really can’t grasp it.  Needless to say, my skin was happy to feel the humidity in Texas again.  On the last Friday there Tony had the day off and we drove up to Sedona for the day.

All I can say is “WOW”, God was really showing off when he made Sedona, Arizona.  We loved the drive, seeing all the huge cacti, and watching the terrain change so drastically.  I took plenty of pictures, but the pictures just didn’t capture the breath taking beauty that lives in that area.  We hiked to the Devil’s Kitchen and gazed into the most active sinkhole in Sedona.   It is so amazing to see nature so raw and rugged.  Tony and I love to be outdoors and hiking is one of our favorite pastimes, so this day trip was a highlight of our time in Arizona.

Lunch was delicious at Ken’s Creekside with a great view of the “Snoopy” formation and a great view of the handsome man I am fortunate enough to call my husband.  Tony had the hamburger which was served on a homemade bun and really huge, I had the crab cake with tomato soup and arugula salad.  The salad had pickled lemon rind mixed in and that was about the best thing I ever tasted.  Like I said, it was delicious.

Tony in Sedona

After a full day, we headed back to Phoenix did a little more shopping and then packed it up to head home.  What a great trip, I really did need and enjoy all that rest.  Our marriage is even better than before.  With all the demands on a person and a couple- it is imperative that you take time wherever and whenever you can to focus.  This was an unexpected blessing and it could not have turned out better.

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tony devils sinkhole

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wre1If you ever get the chance to see Sedona, Arizona jump on it- you will be glad you did.

Our Favorite Pancake

We can now eat out without any tears.

We can now eat out without any tears.

I love traveling with our kids.

I love traveling with our kids.

There was a time when Tony and I gave up eating breakfast out while traveling with our children.  The night before we left on vacation I would make up a batch of sausage & biscuits, pigs in a blanket, and breakfast burritos.  Most trips began before dawn and we would pile our four children, my nephew, and often times my cousin- Stephanie, aka the nanny- into the Excursion and a way we would go.  Then we drove and ate as we wanted.

This sounds crazy given how much Tony & I love to eat breakfast, but when the kids were little it was a bad experience.  The problem was that they always wanted to order pancakes.  I would tell them, “Now , these won’t taste exactly like mine.”  They would then swear up and down that they wanted pancakes.  So, Tony would order them pancakes and the food would come.  Then, they would take a bite and cry, “These don’t taste like yours!”  Refuse to eat anymore and drive Tony crazy.  Therefore, we gave up breakfast on the road.  Once at our vacation destination which was usually a house or cabin rental, I would resume cooking breakfast and all would be good.  I guess I should take it as a compliment that no one ever measured up to me.

Below is the recipe for our favorite pancakes.  When Cheyenne, now 19, was a preschooler she would know what I was cooking by the ingredients that I got out.  If I varied the recipes she got very upset.  One morning I decided to add vanilla to the batter and pour the pancake batter over a super then apple slice that I had browned in the pan.  She had a fit and went without breakfast that morning- a very good breakfast I might add.  I never tried to change up the pancakes again.  With her will of granite and flair for drama, there were plenty of battles to fight and the pancake recipe was simply not a battle I cared to fight.

Our Favorite Pancake

1 1/4 cup flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoon of olive oil

1 egg

Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Mix the liquid ingredients in a smaller bowl, beat slightly.  Add liquid to the dry mixture and mix.  Batter will be slightly lumpy.

Heat large skillet over medium heat.  Add a small amount of olive oil to pan, once hot pour in batter to make the size of pancake you want.  Once there are lots of bubbles popping on the pancake and the bottom is browned, flip pancake over.  Cook another 1-2 minutes- until center is cooked through.  Repeat until batter is gone.

The batter above make for a thin pancake.  I like them thin so that I can have nice crispy edges that are golden brown.  If you like a thicker pancake, reduce the amount of milk and cook over lower heat.

That is it.  So simple and so good.

Galveston Island State Park & Huntsville State Park- Great Places To Enjoy His Creation

Galveston Island State Park

It was not our plan, but camping at Huntsville State Park was just what the Ross Family needed.  When we set out on Saturday, August 4th we had every intention of camping on the beach at Galveston Island State Park.  Savannah had spent the week at Sea Camp, Texas A&M Galveston.  It made sense then to take the opportunity to spend some time by the sea.

Well, I don’t know if you have been to Galveston since they have recovered from hurricane Ike, but they have not only bounced back but have done so with some gusto.  There was not an open spot to be had at the state park, or any hotel room from League City to Kemah to the coast.  So, it looked like our few days of sunshine and sea were not going to be.  We were disappointed, but so happy for the people of the Island who dug in and rebuilt their homes and businesses.  So, we decided to have one heck of a day and see what came next.

Me & Sierra- hard to believe she is 13!
Tony and Jonathan- he has been eating at Casey’s since he was a baby
The Ross Bunch- lovers of nature and good food.

We certainly had a great day.  After picking up Savannah, we headed to Casey’s for some lunch.  As always, the food was great and we cleaned our plates.  I highly recommend this as a place to hit when in Galveston.  It is a family owned place that has been around for a long time.  This family was instrumental in feeding the workers, crews, and residents that were involved in the clean up after Ike.  We ate there for the first time when Jonathan was 3 weeks old (he is eleven now) and ate there every summer that Sunny lived in Conroe.  I had my first shrimp poorboy there and have been smitten ever since.  This summer I had a poorboy and shrimp gumbo- oh so good.  Fried zucchini is on the menu as an appetizer and it is perfect every time!  Sierra had calamari and a shrimp platter was shared by the big girls.  Jonathan and Tony shared the poorboy and then said that although it was very good, mine was better.  Now, that is a compliment.

My sea creature- Bana

After the yummy lunch it was time for the beach.  We had a blast playing in the water, digging up hermit crabs & clams, and eating watermelon on the sands.  For the first time ever, Sierra and Jonathan got sunburned.  It seems that while Tony and I were sorting out plan B since our stay on the beach wasn’t going to happen, the kids ran off to the beach without putting on sunscreen.  Now, if I had done this I would have been burned to the point of being ill, but given their Turkish genes, they only had a light burn.  Of course, to them who had never been burned, they whined pitifully.  I told them to suck it up, they did not even know what a real burn felt like.  I, on the other hand being a white girl, have had plenty of experience.  I put on sunscreen and still got a bit of a burn, but nothing too bad.  God bless the Aloe Vera plant, it made it all better.

Sierra loves watermelon
You can’t see it, but we caught a tiny little fiddler crab
Cheyenne has the sun in her eyes!

Once we had our fill of the sun and the sea- which was many hours later- we decided to clean up and head to Kemah.  The last time we were at this state park was 2 weeks before Ike blew through.  At that time, there were no outside showers, only a water faucet.  Now there is a great deck with several showers and really large bathrooms to change into your dry clothes.  I cannot say enough how happy I am with the way the state park and the city have come back.  The state park is a great place to visit, you will be glad that you did.

What a lucky man!

After dinner at a great steakhouse called T-Bone Tom’s (see the next post) we had fun on the Kemah Boardwalk.  Savannah, Sierra, Jonathan and I road the roller coaster.  I have determined that these are just not as fun as they once were.  I think that ride will be my last of the intense variety.  The boardwalk is really neat with all the lights and music.  I would not want to make a whole trip of the boardwalk, but it definitely worth seeing.  I then searched again in vain for a local hotel room and when none were found, we headed north.  There were several state parks on the way home and we thought we might give them a try.

It’s not a trip with out a pool!

It was about 1:30 in the morning when we made Huntsville.  They, not being the tourist magnet that Galveston is, had plenty of rooms.  Sierra, Jonathan, and I had a great morning swim in a great pool (the room was not so great but we were so tired we did not care).  Huntsville State Park was just up the highway a bit, so we went there thinking we would spend the day.  Well, we spent two nights and three days.  What a pleasant surprise this state park turned out to be.

Jonathan is mixing meat for burgers

You see, I am not a big fan of lake swimming unless I have a boat and get out to the deep where I never have to touch any vegetation or the mucky bottom of the lake.  However, the lake in this state park is really clear, the swim area was clean, no muck and no weeds.  Couple this with the beautiful views from very pretty campsites and you have one the best state parks we have stayed at- and we have been to many.  Being only two and a half hours away, this would make a good place for a day trip as well.

Never too old to roast marshmallows…

After morning walks with Tony, hours spent hanging out with my kids, playing cards, reading books and eating simply good food, I was completely unwound.  We all relaxed and enjoyed our time away.  We came home refreshed and tanned.  As it is so often with God, we knew what we wanted, but He knew what we needed.  We wanted to stay at the beach, but what we needed was quiet time with Him in His creation.  While the ocean is His creation, Galveston is not a quiet place.  We could not have planned a better trip.  Memories were made and a family was bonded stronger than before.

So, check out the great state parks of our state, God is alive and well there and He will meet with you.  When you study and observe the work of an artist, you will learn something of the artist, it is the same with God and his Creation-his work of art.  We never come away with less when we unplug and take time to spend time with Him.  My children will look back on their childhood and these will be the things they remember.  When I look back on their childhoods, these are the things I remember.

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

Savannah showing the kids a horseshoe crab

If you are looking for a fun and educational outing for the family, I highly recommend the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park.  In the recent years it has undergone some major renovations and the change has been great.

The touch tanks are full of sea life that you would not normally be able to see much less touch.  Horseshoe crabs, slipper lobsters, and sea anemoneas to name a few of the creatures that call the touch tank home.  There are volunteers there everyday to explain details to the kids and the adults a like.  Savannah is there on Wednesdays from noon till 4 pm.  She loves the work there and has learned a lot for herself.

The touch tank in the foyer has lots of small animals to touch and feel.  The second tank is located in the back with many cownose rays for touching, now those are something.  Shrimp or small fish can be purchased to feed the rays.  These little fellas love to eat and if you put your hand in the water, on most days,  the rays will swarm around and run under your hand.  This past Wednesday there had been a lot of school groups and the “snack” bar was sold out by 3:00.  This is unusual and when I got back there and wanted to pet them, they wouldn’t give me the time of day.  It seems they were taking a nap at the bottom of the tank, picture the family after the Thanksgiving meal and you will get the idea.

Jonathan & I are sitting in front of the shark tank

Also in the back, but not a touch tank, is the shark tank.  There are several varieties of shark out there and a couple of Southern Rays.  The guys get fed every Wednesdays at 2:30.  This is fun to watch and the keepers always have a presentation for all that are watching.  There is a very tall window on the second level that makes it easy to watch the sharks swimming.  Because of all the passes the animals make in front of the window, you can see all sides of the sharks and rays, it is very cool.  Savannah really wants to swim with the sharks, but that is not allowed.

Savannah and Albert the Alligator

All the tanks and displays have been done really well.  My favorite tank indoors is the jellyfish.  It is just mesmerizing to watch them swim under that black light.  Those are just so cool- unless you encounter them while swimming in their natural habitat!  Another fun attraction is Albert the Alligator, Savannah really likes getting him out and showing him to the kids.  He is a little guy, only 18 months old, but he will bite if he can, but the handlers don’t let that happen.  So, check out the Aquarium and the rest of the museums at Fair Park, parking is free and the Park itself is very nice with lots for the kiddos to see.

Jellyfish are so cool.
All the characters from “Finding Nemo”
One of two Seahorse tanks.

Hot Springs 2012

In 2004, our family vacation was to Arkansas.  Hot Springs was the second stop on that journey, Crater of Diamonds was the first stop- it was awesome.  While in Hot Springs, we stayed at the Arlington Hotel.  We were smitten and have wanted to go back ever since.
The Arlington Hotel as viewed from our hike.
So, this past week we skipped town for a mini-vacation before our busy season with the nursery really gets rolling.  The older two were so excited when we told them we were going and began to tell the younger two how great this trip was going to be.  It was pleasantly surprising to see how much they remembered and what they remembered.  Jonathan was 3 and Sierra was 5, so understandably they didn’t remember a whole lot.  However, once there one of the younger two would say, “Oh, I remember that, that was here?”
We didn’t even try not to look like tourists.  This is on the main street.
The Arlington Hotel is a landmark in Hot Springs, in his day Al Capone was a frequent guest.  The hotel still has that feel of a bygone era- one gentleman we met described Hot Springs as “the town that time forgot”- that pretty much sums it up.  I found out about this place from my good friends and former employers who took their kiddos there on vacation. Kids from both families believe the pool at this hotel to be second to none.  After all, how cool is a double decker pool hanging off the side of a mountain?!  The hot tub was great too, and heated by the hot springs.
They go together like peas and carrots. 
We left Friday morning and reached Hot Springs by afternoon.  The first order of business after check-in is always to swim.  That we did, well some of us swam, those with all of our faculties just sat in the hot tub.  Then we dressed for dinner.  It was great fun getting dressed up and walking down the busy street to a really nice Italian place for a wonderful dinner.  Everything we wanted to do was in walking distance, even the national park is across the street.
The upper level  of a really cool pool.
Of all the hot tubs I have been in, this is my favorite!
Beautiful Ladies and a beautiful meal.
On Saturday after a really good breakfast at Granny’s Kitchen, we set out to find the old fellow blowing glass in Santa’s Workshop.  Tony and I could remember finding him near the Alligator Farm- another attraction that is fantastic for the family- but that was about all the details we could recall.  As we headed to the alligator farm, we passed Dryden pottery.  We stopped in and took in the really fine art of clay pottery going on there.  We choose a lovely vase as our souvenir and asked the grandson of the founder about the glass blower.  I am sad to report that Old Bill, as he was called, had passed away and his shop was no more.  We were pretty bummed, Savannah and Sierra had planned to get their keepsakes at his shop.  Old Bill will never know that his handmade ornaments go on our tree every year and his picture is in our scrapbook- he lives on.  He was Savannah’s favorite memory from the first trip.  To be some one’s favorite memory would, in my opinion, be a sign of a life well spent.
The World’s Largest Wheel-thrown Vase by Dryden

With the task of finding the glass blower completed, however sadly, we set off to see the rest of the shops.  Lunch was simple burgers and fries and then, more swimming.  I must have given birth to 4 tadpoles, because they could live in the water.  When the swimming was finished, Tony, Sierra, Jonathan and I went hiking.  Seeing the hot springs running out of the mountain into little pools was a wonder.  The water coming out averages 140 degrees.  Jonathan is a rock hound and he had a ball finding many crystals along the paths.  His backpack was considerably heavier on the return hike.  The views from the top of the mountain were incredible.

The rock hound
With all the hiking and swimming, we had worked up quite an appetite.  Papa John’s delivered pizza for the kids and Tony and I headed out for dinner alone.  There are certainly some perks to traveling with older kids.  We had a wonderful dinner at The Porterhouse.  The last time we came, we enjoyed a date night as well, but that was because we had brought along our cousin, Stephanie, who was an awesome nanny!  Our nephew, Stephen was with us, too.  All those kids prompted many a person to ask “Are all those yours?”

Sunday was time to head home.  We were ready and sad at the same time.  I was a bit grumpy.  Our sleep had been interrupted due to a fraternity booking a lot of rooms.  It seems pie beta stupid had some pressing business to attend to at very early/late hours.  Anyway, it was a great trip overall.  If you are looking for a family friendly vacation spot, Hot Springs tops my list.  No need to worry about frat parties in the summer- they only come out at spring break!

Lecompte, Pie Capital of Louisiana

Sweet Cherry Pie

Maybe you don’t know this, but Lecompte is the pie capital of Louisiana.  I don’t know how these towns get these designations, but the little restaurant, Lea’s, did have great pie.  It was, as far as we could find, the only pie shop in town, but apparently that is enough.

The place has been open for decades and was like walking back in time to the 1950’s.  This little town is one that we pass through going to the growers where we buy our nursery stock.  We had wanted to eat there for awhile, but never seemed to be passing through when they were open.  However, this last trip we made it.

There are no menus, what is served on any given day is written on the chalkboard.  Tony had fried chicken with peas and rice with gravy.  It was really good, home cookin’ kind of food.  I had the roast beef sandwich with peas.  I never pass up the chance to eat good southern peas.  In order to be called good and southern, the peas must be made with bacon fat, period.  These peas were really good.

As for the pie, Tony had cherry- his favorite.  He said it was good, I will have to take his word for it, as I do not like cherry pie.  But the ice cream served on top was excellent. When asked how the pie was, he did say that this pie was good, but  not as good as mine, I have better crust.  I know he is biased, but I do make good crust!  If I had not been so full, I would have gotten a piece of the chocolate pie, it had a 6 inch meringue on top!

So, if you ever find yourself traveling down Hwy 49 in Southern Louisiana, stop in at Lea’s- you will be glad you did- just do so before 5pm, that is closing time.   If you want to try your hand at your own great pie crust, check out the link below or click on the “Recipes” catagory to the right.

http://homesteadblogger.com/farmonthehill/269/

Like stepping back in time....

Tony loves fried chicken