Pics from JC KidsFest

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This year was our first to attend the JC Kidsfest downtown. It was a beautiful day and I’m always desperate to find something fun for my toddler to do (especially if it’s something outside).

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There were apparently a lot of parents thinking the same thing. Several blocks of High Street were crowded with folks and their kiddos. Booths lined both sides of the street and some of the side streets as well.

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Our local law enforcement were offering “self-guided tours” (aka letting kids run amuck) through their official vehicles.

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There were two bounce houses but I was disappointed that were no set age requirements for each (none that I saw anyway). There were “big kids” in both and I while I knew Olivia would have had a blast I was unwilling to let her get plowed over by the bigger kids.

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There was hula hooping, kettle corn, face painting, and sand bag throwing to name a few.

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Olivia was a bit too young to really enjoy most of the activities offered but as we were leaving, we happened upon the petting zoo. And that was the highlight of the day. (For Olivia and for Mommy; I so love baby goats!)

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Confession: This post was pretty well nothing but self-promotion of my adorable little girl (and my little buddy) and I’m not ashamed to admit it:)

 

 

Graham Cave State Park

Several weeks ago, I jokingly referred to Sundays as “State Park Sundays” after the hubs and I had spent the past few exploring two of Missouri’s finest. Since then, it’s actually become somewhat of a household (well, our household anyway) term and something that we’ve come to look forward to.

With almost an entire month of having our weekends riddled with chores (we just started building a house), we had been robbed of our Sunday fun days until this past weekend.

Not wanting to haul the kids for too long of a drive, I chose a state park within an hour of home. It’s a place I had been to as a child when we took my oldest niece and nephew, and a place I remembered fondly without actually having much memory of it at all.

Graham Cave State Park is located just off I-70, at the Montgomery City exit. The website boasts features such as hiking, the cave, camp sites, and boating. Robby and I are both water-lovers and so the river attraction attracted me.

Which way to go?

Which way to go?

Of course our excitement all week for this short day drive was muffled down by the overcast skies and certain forecast of rain. We went anyway hoping we could at least get a few hours in.

Mommy (I mean Olivia) came prepared for the impending storm.

Mommy (I mean Olivia) came prepared for the impending storm.

 

Since we were sure we were going to be pressed for time, we started the day with the cave trail. I use the term “trail” loosely as the cave is a mere 0.2-0.3 miles up the path.

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If you've ever taken a pic with a two year old, you know it's rare to get them actually looking toward the camera.

If you’ve ever taken a pic with a two year old, you know it’s rare to get them actually

looking toward the camera.

 

Father and daughter.

Father and daughter.

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After our short cave-viewing party, we moseyed on through a small path in the woods.

 

Which way to grow?

Which way to grow?

 

Just barely into the woods, we came upon this crooked tree. I think he’s confused.

 

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DSC_1873Um, hello cacti. What on earth are you doing here in Missouri? No, seriously. What are these cacti doing in Missouri?

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I’m not really sure what the Missouri State Park authorities are up to, but there was mass chaos in the woods. Fallen trees and purposeful cutting of trees (possibly the result of Big Foot, who knows….) littered the landscape rendering the view ugly. Sorry to say this but it truly was unpleasant to look at.

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Not only were there fallen trees at every glance, they crossed the walking paths as well. No big deal except when you have an infant strapped to your chest. Thankfully, Robby was there to lend a hand.

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We hadn’t been in the woods long when Robby quickly spotted some much-sought-after morel mushrooms. Our sister-in-law gave us plenty the night before but there’s a certain gratification one gets from finding them yourself (or so I gathered from Robby’s reaction). The best part was getting Olivia in on the action.

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Thankfully my mommy instincts told me to haul the giant umbrella on our trip because the rain did come while we were still in the woods.

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At this point, we figured we had exhausted all the “good” (and again, I use that term loosely) weather for the day and better head back to the truck. The storm that was heading in did cut our day short, but I can’t say I was really saddened by such. The little I had seen of the park really hadn’t drawn me in by this point (and we never even got to see the river) so we loaded the little ones up and started back home.

We’ve got many more of Missouri’s beautiful state parks to visit, but I’m crossing this one off the list, probably never to return.

As always, to learn more about Missouri’s State Parks, visit their website at mostateparks.com.

 

 

 

Rock Bridge State Park; Columbia, MO

After visiting Ha Ha Tonka State Park last Sunday and then exploring Rock Bridge State Park this Sunday, I just may have to dub Sunday’s to be “State Park Sunday”. Thankfully, it was another semi-gorgeous weekend. I could have tolerated a little bit warmer temps but after the 18-year-long winter we just had (no, I’m not exaggerating) , I’m not going to complain. At least the sun was sparkling and the wind was down to a bare breeze.

If you’re not familiar with Rock Bridge State Park, it’s located just at the southern edge of Columbia, MO. It sounds to be fairly popular among the locals and I can now understand why. Countless hiking trails, commanding rock formations, soothing sounds of the gentle creek, and a playground are just a few of the awesome features of this park.

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The actual rock bridge is the main feature of the park and of course, it’s namesake.

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The shallow creek flows under the bridge and winds through the park. If you’re equipped to get wet (or even if you’re not), you might as well hop on in. Even with the cool temperatures on Sunday, there were several people sloshing through the creek, daring enough to be under this mega rock bridge.

The second main feature of the park is what’s known as Devil’s Icebox. Many, many feet down (I don’t know how many because I didn’t pay attention), lie the waters of the Devil’s Icebox.

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According to the history given, people actually go “caving” through here. There are pictures showcasing people crouched down in canoes just to maneuver through this area. The cave systems appear to be very lengthy, as the picture shows the cave to cover the entire length of the information board.

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I know it’s hard to tell from a picture but come on! This is how long the cave runs. And people take canoes through it! Insane. Insane. Insane.

DSC_1707If this wouldn’t give you a severe case of claustrophobia, I sure don’t know what would. Interesting as it sounds, no thank you. I’ll just be pleased to enjoy others pictures of this adventure.

There were several things about this park that I noted to be different in comparison to other state parks that I’ve been. Firstly, several of the hiking trails are actually that. Hiking trails. Not paved walkways. Now, there are still some of those but how fantastic to actually get to hike through the woods on the very ground God placed there.

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Secondly, people take advantage of literally, everything this park has to offer. To heck with staying on the trails, I’m just going to climb up this steep hillside.

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Or down it…

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Which I regard as being super awesome. Here’s to truly enjoying all the beauties of nature.

If you read my post from Ha Ha Tonka, you know there’s a trail in which you have to trudge up 316 stairs. So, imagine my surprise when we came upon this…

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Ugh, more stairs. Actually, it was good for me. I’ve got to get this post-partum body back into shape stat!

And the most joyful part of my day was seeing the hard evidence of impending life.

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Wait, wait. I take that back. Seeing the green buds on the trees was the second most joyful part of the day. This was the first.

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And who doesn’t love a daddy that takes his little girl hand in hand to help her explore the world?

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Happy Trails! Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

For more information on Rock Bridge State Park, visit their website here.

 

 

Ha Ha Tonka State Park; Lake of the Ozarks, MO

Oh gorgeous day! Yesterday, of course, not today. No, today is a bleak and dreary (yet warmer than it has been) Missouri day. Yesterday. Now, yesterday is where it’s at. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping (Literally. Olivia pointed it out to me first thing in the morning). It was the kind of spring day that nobody spends indoors because we have all been waiting MONTHS for this.

Even though Robby and I have two children now, (Which still seems weird to me-I’m a mom of two. How’d that happen?) we are the people who are bound and determined to have some fun and make the utmost of a beautiful day at all costs.

After my first idea of hitting up Warm Springs Ranch in Booneville got smashed (they were already booked up with their tours the day before), Robby suggested heading to a state park. Ha Ha Tonka is one we’ve been to before and know and love quite well. We even took Olivia there when she was about 6 months old. So, we decided to make the trek up to the lake area and do some exploring at one of Missouri’s finest state parks (in my opinion of course). DSC_1593

Ha Ha Tonka (meaning “laughing waters”) was named such because this area was populated by Native Americans (the Osage Indians). As many know, this beautiful locale sits right on the Lake of the Ozarks. In addition to the stunning lake views, there are castle ruins, an old water tower, remains of the carriage house and post office still in existence on the property. Around 1900, a man named Robert Snyder purchased 5000 acres at this site. Can you imagine? 5000 acres? That’s massive on today’s scale. I can’t believe how much 5000 acres was at that time. (Of course I realize, 5000 acres then is still 5000 acres today but you know what I mean. Right?)

DSC_1575Poor Mr. Snyder didn’t even get to enjoy his monstrosity of a castle. Only one year after the beginning of building, he was killed in a car accident. After many years went by, his children saw fit to continue building the castle only to have it ruined by a devastating fire.

DSC_1561DSC_1562DSC_1564Even Olivia, who knows nothing about castles or the significance of this monument, was so excited to take in the views and hiking here at the park. Her excitement was so contagious that strangers passing us on the trails were even hit with her enthusiasm. Witnessing her pure wonderment at everything new was an amazing feeling as a parent. It was a good reminder to Robby and I (after we had a horrible week with the new baby) why we became parents in the first place.

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DSC_1641The grounds of the park are a photographers paradise indeed. From the “mountain top” views of the lake below, to the stately castle remains, to the trails winding through the woods, there are a bounty of opportunities for coveted nature shots. I’m no photographer by any means (although I have been trying to learn more about my fancy SLR camera and how to take “good” pictures), but I could have spent many more hours there. It was a little difficult to get some of the shots I wanted, since I did have a ten pound baby strapped to my chest.

DSC_1634Hiking the trails was what we could call slightly difficult with a two year old but Robby was steadfast in his resolve to not let that stop us. Even when he had to carry 33-lb Olivia up 316 stairs.

DSC_1639That’s right. 316 steps. The Spring Trail (which you have to hike if you go here) connects the castle to the river-turned-lake below. It’s quite the climb by yourself, even more so when carrying kids.

DSC_1613Don’t worry, you can still see each portion of the park without climbing the steps if you’re not up to it. There were several more trails than we were able to explore in the few hours that we were there.

DSC_1589DSC_1659Spending the day with my little Pan-made family (Okay, okay. Robby helped a little), became a day that made my heart happy. The adults got exercise. The baby slept. Olivia smiled, wide-eyed in astonishment, all day.

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At the end of the day, as parents, that’s what it’s all about.

I hope you take the time to visit this gorgeous state park. There is a cave trail and a playground that Olivia would have loved but we didn’t have time for. To find out more about Ha Ha Tonka State Park, visit their website here.

Joys of the Creek Bed

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Some days I get to thinking. Nostalgia comes into the forefront of my mind and I’m whisked away to a different time.

I grew up off a gravel road out in the country on a small horse farm. During the summers, I remember waking up and heading outside first thing, eager to get the day started. I would hop on my 10 speed Schwinn and pedal up the road to my friend’s house. Together, we would ride the gravel roads, skip rocks in the pond, play in the dirt, catch fireflies, or whatever else would keep us entertained for the day.

Hours, we would spend outside. No cell phones in our pockets. No need to rush home. No one worried about you, because there was just no reason to be back then. Sun up to sun down was spend outside playing.

There are days where I wish that for my children so much so that it makes my heart hurt. I know that times have changed so much that my kids will never get the luxury of being out from under my thumb, my kids will have to check in with Mom so much that it will be a bother, and they will have to be back home before sun down. That’s just the reality of the world that we’ve come to live in.

This weekend, however, I felt like we got a chance to give Olivia just a small taste of the kind of country life that we know we want for our children.

On Sunday, after O woke up from her nap, there wasn’t much left of our day but it was gorgeous and we knew we had to take advantage of it somehow. The Hubbs had a great idea to take O to a creek.

We drove up to Hartsburg and through the super-cute town, down a gravel road, until we found the perfect spot to play.

Just off Jemerson Creek Rd is a creek (I assume it’s called Jemerson Creek??) that was perfect for a Sunday afternoon play day.

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The water was much too chilly for my liking but it didn’t seem to bother O in the least.

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Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting in to play with my little girl.

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Aaaaahhhh. Gettin’ ’em wet.

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Olivia definitely had a blast. For that short while of the afternoon, I felt like she got to experience a little of what my childhood was like. Finding joy in the outdoors and freedom in the country.

This little creek has several great spots to stop at just off the gravel road.

Tell me, do you have any favorite little swimming holes?

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

Our Suite at Opryland Hotel: Nashville, TN

One weekend ago, we had just departed from our super, luxurious suite at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, TN.

The hubby and I had meandered through the gorgeous atriums of this high class resort several times before but we had never gotten the chance to actually be a paying customer.

We decided to go all out and get a room with an atrium view.

The view from our suite

The view from our suite

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We checked in early afternoon and were excited to get to our room so we could enjoy the balcony overlooking the greenery. We were saddened to find our room on the 6th level (the very top), which meant we had beautiful windows but no open balcony.

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Wouldn’t ya know the 6th floor is the ONLY floor that DOESN’T have a balcony?!?! Just our luck!

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We walked into our room to find this crisply made, king-size, come-hither bed. We were impressed at first sight. Wait……. What’s that?

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Holy smokes! When we reserved a suite, they really gave us a suite! We thought the high dollar price tag was simply for the enjoyment of the view. Oh no, friends. We got a room with 2, count them TWO, full bathrooms. A kitchenette, full living room, and a separated sleeping room.

Hey there handsome, what's to drink?

Hey there handsome, what’s to drink?

Cozy and clean. What more could one ask for?

Cozy and clean. What more could one ask for?

Where's Sweet Baby O? Where is she?

Where’s Sweet Baby O? Where is she?

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Both bathrooms have vanities conveniently located outside of the toilet/shower area.

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Baby O getting settled in. This pic is blurry because at 18 months, this sweet girl is ALWAYS on the move.

 

The hot shower felt so good after spending all weekend in the rain.

The hot shower felt so good after spending all weekend in the rain.

Couffered ceilings. Gorge.

Couffered ceilings. Gorge.

Of course one never spend too much time in their hotel room while traveling, still yet, we enjoyed our gorgeous views, inside and out, of our suite at Opryland.

Have you ever been to the Opryland Hotel?

Pan

 

Long Drives and Small Kids

A couple months ago, Robby, Olivia, and myself spent 12ish hours in the car together making our way from Jefferson City, MO to Colorado Springs, CO. 

Thankfully, Little Peanut had been on long drives before, so she wasn’t totally new to this whole concept. When she was 7 months we drove to Gulf Shores and when she was about 10 months we drove to Colorado. But this trip she was older. Old enough to have the boredom thing going on. 

I came prepared. I had purchased a portable DVD player from Groupon several months back. I hate to encourage lots of TV viewing but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

Priceless item. Totally priceless.

Priceless item. Totally priceless.

 

And don’t forget this piece to your DVD player. 

The car adapter is a must!

The car adapter is a must!

And in addition, I made sure to bring our portable cooler that plugs in. I had some apple slices and milk for O. She can’t go any extended period of time without the milk. 

Toys and books for those times when you yourself are so sick of hearing Dora and Blues Clues. 

My suitcase, halfway filled with O's toys

My suitcase, halfway filled with O’s toys

 

Be prepared to make more frequent stops with kiddos. I hate the long drives but could you imagine being buckled in with 5 point restraints for 12 hours?? You’ve got to give the little ones butts a chance to get some blood flow. We stopped for most of our meals because anyone who’s tried to feed a toddler going down the road, knows it can be messy and difficult. 

What’s the longest trip you’ve taken with your kids?

Pan

Biking the Katy: From Jeff City to Hartsburg

When I was a young lass, the Katy Trail wasn’t nearly as popular or highly regarded as it is now. As a matter of fact, it’s so “new” that in 2010, they just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the trail. The trail system is made up of the old railway byways, and now is used strictly for recreation by Missourians all year ’round.

Which way? Which way?

Which way? Which way?

Up to this point, I really haven’t spent much time exploring the Katy Trail. In high school, Coach Branham pushed me to run miles and miles on that thing every night after school for track practice. I was the only female long distance runner so I spent many lonely miles on the trail. Long miles. By myself. All by myself.

As I’ve grown older, my friends and colleagues of outdoor enjoyment have told me many-a-story about biking from Jefferson City to Hartsburg. This was always amazing to me, as it seems like such a long way to bicycle. I know when the Hartsburg Winery was down there (RIP. You will never be forgotten), people would stop for a glass of the good stuff before heading back to the capital city.

Several years ago, before I was a Mommy, Robby, myself and some friends took advantage of a nice, spring day and made plans to bike from Jeff City to Hartsburg. This DID NOT HAPPEN. Well, for me it didn’t happen. The April winds were so full of ridiculousness that day that it took all I had just to make it maybe halfway there. Part of the group did make it all the way and caught up with us on the way back but I tell ya I just don’t know how in the world they did it.

A couple weeks ago, when God teased us with that delightful ball of fire in the sky, Robby, Baby O, and I went for a bike ride. We got on at the trailhead in Jeff City and just started biking. I’m happy to announce that I BIKED ALL THE WAY FROM JEFFERSON CITY TO HARTSBURG! Woohoo. Go me!

"Oh sweet Jesus, I made it!"

“Oh sweet Jesus, I made it!”

 

It really did give me a feeling of accomplishment. It’s not that long of a bike ride (20.8 miles roundtrip to be exact) but I felt so proud of myself. All these years of hearing people who biked the Katy from Jeff to Hartsburg and I’d never been able to say that “I did”. But now I can.

The ride was enjoyable and was a good distance to get exercise but not too long that your toosh has worn out. We did take that sweet little Olivia but she didn’t get bored or cranky during the ride. She actually even got a little shut eye.

So happy to be outside!

So happy to be outside!

Father and Daughter. My heart-stealers.

Father and Daughter. My heart-stealers.

Bring your water-the only place to get refreshed in between is the Claysville Store. If you’re a lady and you’re traveling alone, I hate to tell ya this but you really should bring your pepperspray. I remember a story of a woman that got kidnapped (or something along those lines) when she was jogging by herself years ago.

There’s a nice little restroom facility when you get to Hartsburg and Dotty’s Cafe offers free refills for your water bottles. How nice, huh?

Not too shabby.

Not too shabby.

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What’s your favorite section of the Katy?

Pan, The Gravel-Roadin’ Guru

The Good Ole Gulf: Gulf Shores, AL

I’m sitting here at my desk. It’s January. January= Dreary in Missouri. We had the most beautiful weather yesterday. It hit 70 something degrees, sun was shining, and of course I had to work. Poo. I should be grateful for my job and blah, blah, blah but seriously…. IT WAS 70 SOMETHING DEGREES IN JANUARY!!! IN MISSOURI!!! I so badly wanted to soak it up because I know for a fact that weather like that doesn’t come back for another 4 months. Ugh.

So, since I didn’t get to enjoy the sunshine yesterday, I’m going to bring back some sunshine memories.

WARNING: I am about to talk about a trip outside of Missouri. Now remember, I never promised I was just about Missouri. I’m mostly about Missouri. But occasionally, I do get to get out of Misery. Ok, that was a cheap shot. It’s not so bad here. Most days…..

Last May, we planned my first-ever trip to Gulf Shores, AL with my sister, her husband, and their 2 kiddos. We booked a house “right on the beach”. Well, we thought it was “right on the beach” but if it sounds too good to be true, it is right? It wasn’t exactly right on the beach but it was close enough. No complaints.

 

Our view from the deck. Glorious.
Not a bad little house. Not a bad little house, at all.

Most of the homes down there seem to be vacation homes so pretty much everything is available online to rent. Robby’s mom and sister came down during the same week and rented a real nice condo. The house was nice. We had everything we needed. The deck up top was just outside of the 2 master suites and then of course the huge main deck was plenty spacious. The house came equipped with plates, silverware, and the like so we did quite a bit of cooking in.

 

Bonus: My brother-in-law is an expert griller. Mmmmm.

These were some fresh gulf shrimp my brother-in-law bought from some fresh seafood place down there. Red Lobster, eat your heart out. These were to die for!

Gulf Shores is a GREAT place for family vacations. The guys golfed one day. There looked to be quite a few cute little shops that I would have loved to browse through but I was too busy soaking up every ounce of beach time I could afford. Of course we took Olivia with us but she was 7 months old at the time, so there’s only so much time a baby will tolerate sitting on a blanket in the hot before she is DONE. She did do pretty good though and seemed to enjoy the pool more than the beach.

Apparently, the ocean waves are a bit scary for some tots.

Like I said, we went in May and I highly recommend it. The weather was gorgeous and the beach only had scattered tourists. One of the locals who owned a condo just beside us said the rest of the summer is pretty packed and that we had come at a great time.
I didn’t realize the new thing was to bring an awning large enough to fit a wedding party in! We had our little beach umbrella for Olivia but now people are seriously setting up these huge canopy-tent-thingys and are leaving them up for the duration of their stay. What this means is that when you come onto the beach in the morning, there’s people’s junk all up and down the beach because they’re too friggin’ lazy to take down and put back up. I know it doesn’t bother some people but it did me. I had never seen such before! So imagine the dog days of summer, beach packed, and people’s personal crap everywhere. Yeah, May was a good time.
We did run out to the Fort one day just to give Baby O a break from the beach. It was neat in it’s own historical way. I have been to so many forts and it’s kinda like, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. So I wasn’t real impressed but it wasn’t the Fort’s fault, I promise.

 

Very Fort-y. Don’t you agree?

 

 

There were, however, absolutely beautiful views.

 

I would have liked to take the ferry to Dauphin Island just to explore some more but Robby talked me out of it. Turd. Oh well, maybe next time…..

You definitely have to take a stroll down the public pier though. The water is so clear you can see the schools of thousands of fish and all the sting rays. It was great to watch sea life performing in their natural habitat.

You can just barely see ’em. The stingrays. See, right there?

We did make a lunch stop at Lulu’s. Lulu is Jimmy Buffett’s sister and this is her famous restaurant. It’s not ocean side but it is harbor side. Open air setting. Good food. Very tourist-y. Who cares?

Favorite Trip Pic:

Look at that sweet, sweet face!

Highlight of my trip:
          Sitting on the beach, alone, book in hand, by myself while I drank several cold ones one afternoon. One never treasures alone time until one becomes a parent. It was fabulous.

Kiddos-a-go?:
Gulf Shores is absolutely kid friendly. Family oriented. Great for small family vacays or large bring-one-bring-all types of vacays.

Pan’s Pick:
           Get up super early one morning and stroll on the beach for seashells. It’s so cliche yet it was so enjoyable for me. Robby stayed in with Baby O while I took a quick jaunt. The sunrise on the beach is nearly magical.

 

Look at ’em all! Just look at ’em!

**Helpful note: The beach crews scan the beaches multiple times each day to scoop up tar balls left from the huge oil spill. I never saw a tar ball although my sis did. Other than these few-and-far-between balls, there is no evidence that there was ever any damage. Thank God for that!