Monday, January 25, 2016

John Deere Pavillion- last day of our RoadSchooling trip!

If the Pirate & Treasure Museum was "Alex's Stop", then Moline Illinois and the John Deere Pavillion was "Justin's Stop".  Alex was a bit hesitant to enjoy herself, but after we played with a stop-motion animation display, she warmed up.  We ALL had a great time!

After the visit we headed home to Minneapolis, by way of Des Moines to switch out the Denali for the Odyssey.  It was a VERY long day, full of bad weather (why, oh why is my mom ALWAYS right when she tells me that a roadtrip is not the best idea in January because of the weather in the midwest??).  Luckily Rorie and I could switch off driving, which totally helped to stay alert and focused.  We were SO tired when we finally arrived home that night-- but it was a very successful  and eventful road trip.  One we will always remember!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Our Way! OR ..... How we were almost killed and eaten by hilbillies in Kentucky......

We had a long day of driving ahead of us.  As soon as we were out of Tennessee, the driving conditions got MUCH better.  To stay in the 'road trip' spirit, we got back into our groove by stopping at a site recommended by my Road Trip USA website.  It was simultaneously the strangest and coolest spot ever the Apple Valley Hilbilly Garden and  Toyland
We pulled in to a deserted 'parking lot' in front of a sculpture garden.  The door to the house opened and a lady came out to see if we wanted the tour.  Since it had just snowed, we told her we'd take the 'truncated' version (just the toy building).  Meanwhile, this lanky, long-haired dude was scurrying from building to building-- Rorie was pretty sure he was going to murder us all, but I was totally getting the 'artist' vibe here...... lol!   We DID enjoy his tour and unique artistic vision!

 Yep-- that's a squirrel in a cage.  He's a pet.

After that educational and entertaining stop, the kids and Rorie BOTH vetoed my bid for the National Quilt Museum.  Instead we stopped at a McDonalds that had a "B" health rating (as advertised on the health code paperwork displayed on the door) and took our lives in our hands that way.

Once in Illinois, we tried to stop at the Rabbit Ranch to see the VW Rabbits AND the rabbit rescue that the owner runs, but they were closed :-(

Nevertheless, we had smiles all around---

 Almost...... lol.  Rorie and I really DID have a fun time together--

Finally! A pool to swim in- Moline, Illinois, our LAST stop!  What tomorrow morning holds........

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Miracle in Atlanta

The trip just got some twists......
We woke up this morning and the city was about 1-2" of snow.  Nothing for us Minnesotans, so we packed up our stuff and headed to the car.  Which is where things took a swift downhill turn.  As we approached the vehicle, I heard someone shouting-- "Hey-- be careful!".  I looked around and saw a man in another car gesticulating at our vehicle.
As we made our way around it, our hearts sunk when we saw Justin's passenger window had been smashed.  Immediately I thought of the snowstorm and assumed someone had taken shelter inside the vehicle.  I hoped that he/she had at least only taken the quilts that we were traveling with.  We soon found out that they had left the quilts, but had stolen Rorie's backpack (which was full of her electronics, digital photographs and wedding-planning things).  After saying a  prayer for help, I started to call Honda dealerships in the Atlanta area to see if anyone could help us.  After hearing "no" and "you're probably going to want to go back to the hotel and wait a few days" from two different people, I took a few deep breaths, said another quick prayer for help and promptly found someone who said if we could get in before 11am (it was about 9), they could fix it TODAY.  We had to wait around for the police to arrive to file our report (took a LONG time), but we ended up making it into the repair shop in time.  My knights in shining armor at Lightning Glass saved the day!!
Poor Justin was such a trooper-- We cleaned out his seat as best we could and wrapped the quilt around the window/door frame while we drove on the freeway to get to the shop.  The gentlemen there made us as comfortable as we could be as they fixed the window (praise God that they had access to our exact window in stock!).  Rorie started the process of filing a claim for her stolen items and we ended up getting back on the road in just a few hours.  We picked up Kolachi and drove (slowly and carefully, for the roads were a bit slick) to Nashville.
As we arrived in Nashville, NOTHING was open.  It was not great driving once we got off of the freeway--  People were all over in ditches-- No restaurants, no tourist spots, no gas stations.  We checked into our hotel, which was being manned by a 3 person team who had been on duty during the storm for the past 36 hours, and ended up eating a bunch of the snacks we had in the car for our dinner.  By this point the trip was getting to be a BIT long and we were all ready to head home!

Friday, January 22, 2016


Here's where the trip starts to get....interesting....  There was a big storm *hurricane* blowing in to the Florida coast, so we had perfect timing getting out of Florida.  However, this same storm system brought snow to Atlanta. Which is unheard of in Atlanta.  By the time we dropped the dog off at the boarding kennel (another Best Friends, but unfortunately NOT up to WDW service levels) and made it downtown, the snow was beginning to fall and people were FREAKING out.  The lobby of the hotel (which was beautiful-- thank you Dave for traveling so much that we could stay for free) was crowded with worried travelers and business people trying to get rooms for the night.  

Our vehicle (a Denali with a rooftop cargo bin) was too large for the attached parking garage, so the valet recommended a street parking lot for Rorie to go to.  The kids and I unloaded our stuff and she went to try and find this spot while we checked in and got to the room.  At the front desk I inquired about GA Aquarium hours and they looked at me like I was crazy- "they are going to be closed because of the weather!" the concierge assured me.  I called the aquarium and was assured that they were, indeed, open for the evening, but that they would most likely not open until noon the next day because the storm was coming.  After Rorie made it to the room, we talked and decided we should go to the aquarium this evening so we didn't miss it completely! (The World of Coca-Cola, which was another one of our stops, WAS closed and we ended up missing it :-(
So, to a chorus of "Girl, where you think you're taking those chidren?" from concerned guests in the foyer, we put on our down coats, boots and hats and walked the (GASP) five or six blocks to the aquarium.  Hey.  We're Minnesotans.
We made it to the Aquarium, and it WAS amazing.  I definitely need to go back to Atlanta, because watching those whale sharks was another once-in-a-lifetime experience!

 Justin got to pet an Epaulette shark.
 The kids are DWARFED by the whale shark aquarium.  An upside of heading here in the face of an oncoming blizzard is that the place was deserted!

 After enjoying our evening we walked home in a beautiful snowfall-- THIS was the blizzard they were all worried about?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

St. Augustine, Florida

We headed from Crystal River Springs across the state to St. Augustine today.  Along the way we found a nice little stop for some fresh juice at The Orange Shop.
Mmmmm....fresh juice always hits the spot during a drive!
 Upon arrival at St. Augustine, I discovered tiny, tiny streets (well, to be expected in the oldest town in America) and VERY limited parking.  We circled for about fourty minutes before finding a spot outside of the National Park of the Castillo de San Marcos.  The dog-friendly restaurant I'd found was a bit of a walk, but it was a nice day out, so we headed over there and were seated on the patio.  After ordering, the kids both proclaimed to be chilly, so Kolachi and I walked back the car to grab some sweatshirts (about a 20 minute trip!).  We encountered SO many 'city' distractions, it was an excellent training walk!  Groups of school kids, soldiers in uniform, buses, bikes, you names it!
 We arrived back just as the food was coming out-- perfect timing!

After sharing a beignet (oreo, no less), we walked to Alex's request for our Roadschooling trip- the Pirate & Treasure Museum.  Kolachi was not invited inside, so she hopped back in her crate (in the climate-controlled remote-started car) while we explored.  There was SO much to see!  We bought tickets to both this museum and the living history open-air museum next door, but we ran out of time (and energy) before making it to the next.

 We did have to check out the Castillo, as long as we were right next to it!  So fun to get to climb in and around (within measure) the fortress.

 Dogs are allowed around the OUTSIDE grounds of the Castillo, so Justin and I took Kolachi for a little walk while Alex and Rorie finished up working on a Jr. Park Ranger project.

 Tired, we checked into our hotel near the beach (incidentally, I had originally planned on camping here as well, but it was best I changed my mind-- we were too tired to do any of that 'camping' stuff!).  We had dinner at a nice little place down the street and pretty much collapsed right afterwards!  The beach was literally across the street, but we were all too tired to even walk over!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Manatee Magic!

I'm just going to leave these here with the forward that this was one of the most magical mornings of my life.  From the exceptional customer service (thank you Crystal River Watersports) to the beautiful scenery and the majestic manatees, I will never forget our day.

 (watching the safety video-- for  OUR safety, but mainly for the safety of the manatees)
all geared up and ready to rock and roll!

 Since we had four people in our party, we ended up with a private guide and captain.  Talk about AWESOME!!
 Alex encounters a manatee.  (The following photos were not taken by me, but by Brit, our guide.  The CRW staff bring an underwater digital camera and document your encounter!!!! I was so happy and totally willing to pay the reasonable charge for a USB of our photos!)

 Justin was a bit nervous, and didn't quite 'get' how to use the snorkel, but there was a three year old manatee calf who seemed to just know he was a little guy, and was so interested in playing and getting belly rubs from him!
 There she is-- how sweet!!

 Rolling over for belly rubs-- Rorie and Alex got to play too!

 There's Mama and baby--

 The kids got tired, and I was ready to escort them back to the boat so Rorie could keep swimming, but our guide volunteered to take them back for me.  I was shocked and so grateful that she and Cpt. Katie got them changed, dried and filled with hot chocolate so Rorie and I could swim a little longer.
After the kids went back an even SMALLER baby came up and was curious about us.  Mama made sure to check us out first, and once she got a few pats she was content to hang back in the distance while her calf explored these strange yellow and black things that were floating in his spring.

After our encounter-- smiles all around!!!  What an AWESOME morning learning about and visiting one of God's incredible creatures!