Monarch Butterfly Migration Festival

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Did you know that the annual monarch migration south to Mexico is happening right now?  By instinct, monarch butterflies fly south (sometimes as far as 2,500 miles) to Mexico every year reversing the path that their ancestors took the spring before.  The monarchs arrive in Mexico sometime in November and then sometime in March they make their trip back up north to the United States and Canada. 

Every year, usually sometime in mid October, these amazing butterflies make their way through Navarre, Florida which is neighboring city.  We will see these beautiful butterflies around the city for several days.  The bulk of the butterflies came through about a week or so ago but we are still seeing them around.  In celebration of this journey, the Panhandle Butterfly House puts on a great festival called Monarch Madness.  

The Panhandle Butterfly House is an educational outdoor science center and vivarium that is home to many beautiful butterflies.  You can visit the butterfly house in the summer months or for Monarch Madness.  During Monarch Madness, the Panhandle Butterfly House puts on a great festival.  There was a bounce house, a craft area, and the great park it is located next to for lots of playtime.    But the best part of the butterfly festival for my daughter?  That was becoming a young lepidopterist or butterfly observer. 

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There were stations set up where the children could learn more about butterflies.  They started in one area and worked their way to each station collecting stamps along the way.  Each station was a stage in the butterfly’s life.

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Once they completed their booklet and had all the stamps, the children were able to participate in a butterfly tagging.  They also got to release a butterfly. 

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For my Monday Dream, I am dreaming about the journey that these little guys get to make.  For more information, children’s activities or to find out how you can participate in the migration, visit Monarch Butterfly Journey North.  You can also see a map of where the monarchs have been spotted this season.

Visit Mara at Mother of All Trips to see other Monday dreams.

Fall Family Fun in Northwest Florida

We have been enjoying the lovely reprieve from the hot and humid weather.  It seems like the humidity might have gone to her home to hibernate for the winter and we are thrilled.  Yesterday, we went through the winter clothes to see what fits and what doesn’t.  The weather cooling off a bit can mean only one thing…time to find fall family fun in Northwest Florida!

Corn and Hay – There are several corn and hay mazes that vary in cost and activities available.  The activities range from shooting corn out of a cannon, riding a cow train, and, of course, running through the maze!

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Pumpkins – Holland Farms has a real pumpkin patch where you can go out and pick a pumpkin.  Many of the churches and organizations around town will start bringing out their own pumpkin patches soon!

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Festivals – Festivals abound in Northwest Florida in the fall time.  Recently, we were able to eat fish at the Seafood Festival and boiled peanuts at the Jay Peanut Festival.  Soon, I will be eating spanakopita at the Greek Festival and walking through the booths at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival.

We also like to get out of the house.  The weather is so beautiful that it just calls our name.  It is the perfect time of year for a nature walk, a stroll on the beach, or to stargaze.  Please visit Go Explore Nature to see my Favorite Places to Explore Nature in Pensacola

What do you do for family fun in the fall?

This post is part of the Trekaroo Spotlight.  Be sure to visit Trekaroo to see where other bloggers are spotlighting!

Water Park Fun at the CoCo Key Orlando Hotel and Water Park

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Screams of children on water slides and splashing in pools and the roar of the International Drive traffic are just a few sounds you will hear when you wander around the Coco Key Hotel and Water Park in Orlando, Florida.  The hotel and water park opened just a few months ago and we were very lucky to be guests of CoCo Key on our last trip to Orlando, Florida.  Orlando’s hot, humid weather makes it the perfect home to water parks.  And a water park in which you can stay the night?  My kids thought that they had hit the jackpot!

The CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park are located in the heart of the touristy area of International Drive.  I had actually never been to this part of International Drive before and was fascinated by how much it resembled the Panama City strip or Gatlinburg’s main tourist drag.  Within walking distance of the hotel, you will find many restaurants and activities; however, there is plenty to do on the hotel grounds so you might not want to leave!

When we arrived and got checked in, I was disappointed to find that our room was located on the outside of the hotel near the main road.  It turns out that this was a great location because we could have thrown a football at the Dunkin’ Donuts that we got our breakfast from and it was much quieter than being next to the pools and splash areas.  The hotel room was large compared to other typical two double bed rooms we have stayed in and had plenty of room for my family of four.  It was clean and brightly decorated.  I believe I spied furniture from my favorite store!  When we realized that our room only had hand towels in the bathroom (surely they can’t expect us to dry off after a shower with these?!), I called the front desk for towels and they were delivered about ½ an hour later. 

We decided to skip the water play the first evening we arrived because everyone was exhausted from the drive.  The kids popped out of bed bright and early the next day ready to hit the water.  We were surprised to find the water park incredibly crowded later in the day.  We visited over Labor Day weekend after my kids had already started school.  I forgot that lots of people hadn’t started school yet!  There was plenty to do and I never felt like my kids weren’t able to play, but it was a crowded Sunday afternoon at the park.  We kept Little S in a life jacket the whole time and I was thrilled to see that after a few months of constant use by lots of children they were not showing any wear or tear.  We started our day in the Minnow Lagoon and Slides which is under the canopy. 

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The kids spent an hour splashing around, shooting water cannons and sliding down the little slides.  After they tired of that, we went to the area that I was dreading…the Parrot’s Perch. 

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As a slightly nutty mom, I openly admit that I think the worst of things and this was no exception.  How would I find my child?  Can they escape the area without me noticing?  What if they slip and fall?  I was happily surprised that none of this happened.  Both kids spent almost an hour and a half going up and down the stairs, sliding down the slides and waiting for the bucket to dump its 400 gallons of water on them.  To make this more fun for me, Daddy J and I stationed ourselves near the exit gate so we could see the kids at (almost) all times so we didn’t have to worry as much.  It helped that parents are welcome to play too so Daddy J and I were able to walk up with the kids for the first few times.  Little S and Big S both had strict instructions to wave at us every time they went down a slide and were ready to run back up to the top of Parrot’s Perch. 

There are also three very large slides.  Little S was too small to check them out and Big S didn’t want her to feel bad (which was sweet but I think he was secretly a little frightened!).  We saw many tweens and teens getting off of the slide and heading straight back up again.

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The water park is not just limited to guests.  You can purchase day tickets or even have your birthday party at the water park. 

Besides the water park, there is also a large pool that is open late into the night (one of the reasons I was glad our room was on the street side).  We hung out there after dinner for awhile before going back to the hotel and collapsing from water logged exhaustion. 

The hotel has a restaurant that offers kids eat free and there is a Pizza Hut Express.  There is also an arcade available full of state-of-the-art interactive video games.  The hotel has free wifi available but we could never get it working in the room.  We were traveling with two laptops and neither one would pick up the wireless in the hotel room.  Luckily this doesn’t happen often when we travel, but when it does it is incredibly annoying.  We had to spend time working in the lobby because it was the only place our computers would pick up the wifi.  The lobby is huge with plenty of comfortable seating.  There is even a children’s play area with a TV turned to children’s shows.

The room prices are reasonable and for a fee of only 19 dollars more, you add the cost of water park admission for four.  I think that we would stay at the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park again because of its proximity to the theme parks, the price, the clean hotel rooms, and the friendly staff. 

Disclosure: We were guests of the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park resort for two nights.  Our water park admission was included.  We paid for everything else including food and gas to get there.

Today we are linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday.

Orlando Hotel Review on raveable

I am a Southern Transplant.

I was a military brat for many years.  I was lucky enough to complete the last three years of high school in the same school located in the suburban town of Irvine, California.  When I walked across that stage, I was a California girl ready to embark on an adventure.  A few weeks later, I packed up my little 1980s Toyota Corolla and drove across country to Pensacola, Florida where four years later I walked across a different stage at the University of West Florida as a California girl turned Southern transplant. 

When I first arrived in Pensacola, this California girl was shocked by the polite (and very good looking!) Southern gentlemen who opened doors, offered to carry your bags, wore their baseball hats properly turned to the front and said yes ma’am to your mother.  I fell in love with the South immediately.  That was in 1996.

I didn’t just fall in love with the Gulf Coast, I fell in love with one of those Southern gentlemen.  When my friends were caught up with quick romances, this man slowly courted me at various functions and school activities, before we went out together officially.  We married shortly after college in 2000 and have been here in Pensacola ever since.  We contemplate leaving and, someday, jobs or other circumstances might take us away from the Gulf Coast, but for now we are satisfied with where we are and appreciate what we have. 

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We travel all over the place and when we return to the Gulf Coast, as we get closer, we can feel ourselves slowing down a bit more, looking for the first sign of tea that is already sweet, and the humidity that quickly heals dried skin and chapped lips.  Pensacola is rich with culture.  We claim to be the oldest city (though not continuously inhabited).  We are the home of the Blue Angels.  We celebrate things like mullet (the fish, not the hair do) by throwing them back and forth over the Alabama/Florida state line, crawfish with a low country boil complete with corn and potatoes spread over this morning’s newspaper, and we throw beads and moon pies to celebrate Mardi Gras.  We are also one of those cities that has been through a hurricane. 

Every summer we make sure that our hurricane kit is stocked with items that are not near expiration, plenty of water bottles, canned goods and batteries.  Then we sit back and watch and wait hoping that it is not us this time but praying that it isn’t our Gulf Coast neighbors either.             

We had been through minor storms before.  Since we have lived in Pensacola, we had storms that escalated to tropical storms and then to hurricanes.  They always veered off or were categorized as 1’s in the Saffir Simpson scale.  Minor storms that were cause for a party because the next day it was beautiful, school was cancelled, and we got to spend the day on the beach.  In 2004, we watched the news and listened to the radio as Hurricane Ivan barreled right towards us knowing that this time it would be different.  My 4 week old son, oblivious to what was going on, spent the night in the hall closet where I curled around him hoping that our roof would hold and that we would get power quickly afterwards.  Finally we all fell asleep so exhausted we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. 

The next day, I met my neighbors.  We lived in this house for two years and were friendly with our neighbors but we were wrapped up in our own lives so there was never more than a wave hello and a how are ya.  The morning after Hurricane Ivan hit, we were outside helping several other people move trees out of the street, checking to make sure no one needed help, saying hello to people coming to help us, patching roofs and fences, and passing out food that we couldn’t possibly eat before it spoiled.  Once it was done, we turned and reintroduced ourselves. 

In 2005, we watched our New Orleans neighbors devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  At the time I was teaching at a high school where we welcomed student upon student.  Students who lost everything in Katrina and were coming to live with a relative or family friend so they could attend school.  I was so impressed by our students welcoming them with open arms.  They had been there last year, after all. 

After Hurricane Ivan, a few of our friends and acquaintances gave up and moved out.  But we stay.  Right now, I can’t think of any better place to be.  A place where I live less than 20 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (and believe me I have been to lots of different beaches!).  When most of you are still trying to dig out of your snow covered driveways, my family is sitting at the beach watching the little waves roll in.  In October when you are looking for long sleeves and pants sewn into a Halloween costume, I am looking for tank tops.  A place where I get to start working on my flip flop tan in March.  I can set my watch by the 2:00 rainstorms that bring lightning and thunder like no other place I have seen.  The Southern Magnolias are only around for a short time but these dinner plate size flowers make me giddy with excitement when I see the giant bulbs ready to bloom.  The fried chicken in the school cafeterias is some of the best you will ever try because it is made with love.  Restaurants will give you take out cups for your soda and the sweet tea is divine and made perfectly no matter where you are dining. 

A place that has become as much a part of me as it would have been had I been born and raised here.  That is why this Southern Transplant remains.

This post was submitted to the Hope Remains carnival at Storybleed.  Be sure to visit and read the beautiful stories written by others who love the Gulf Coast.

Dreaming of Movie and TV Locations

I am going to spill one of my travel secrets. 

I love to find television and film locations when we travel.  Any film.  Any television show.

 There I said it. 

Not only do I love to find television and film locations when we travel, but I photograph them.

And I film them.

I have stood on the hill in San Francisco where the Full House family has a picnic in the opening credits.  I did a little jig and sang a little I am 16 going on 17 in front of the Von Trap Gazebo in Austria (although it was not in its original location…this did sadden me!).  I have peered into Hell’s Half Acre where part of Starship Troopers was filmed.  I visited the cemetary in New Orleans where Double Jeopardy was filmed and you know I totally looked for the original Real World New Orleans house!  And speaking of MTV, in my younger years I even visited the Panama City Beach spring break location…during spring break (though I am a little ashamed to admit that one). 

We happily took our children through each scene of Night at the Museum Smithsonian while in DC.   We saw the stage on the Riverwalk in San Antonio where Miss Congeniality was filmed.  After reading Banner in the Sky and watching its movie counterpart, Third Man on the Mountain, Zermatt, Switzerland went to the top of my must see list.  We loved visiting the city and the Matterhorn.

My husband and I stood quietly in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock where the actual and filmed event occured in Valkyrie

When I first found out that TBEX11 is going to be in Vancouver, my first thoughts were about how I could make it a family trip and then how to get my husband to tour all Twilight locations (hey…I am an English teacher…I am allowed to like the books with no shame!).  When we head to Hawaii in October, I fully intend to locate various film locations from the Lost and Magnum PI series.

Today though, I am dreaming of heading to the sleepy town of Seaside where parts of the Truman Show with Jim Carey was filmed.  We have lived an hour and a half away from Seaside for years and the most we have done is drive through it.  In the next few weeks, I would love to take a little trip to Seaside and spend the day wandering in and out of the airstream food vendors, spot the Truman Show house, and sit in the snow white sand.  We tried to go yesterday but the rain thwarted our plans.  Hopefully we will make it before school starts back up.

Don’t worry.  I will take pictures of Truman’s home for you! 

Stop by Mother of All Trips to see what other travelers are dreaming of today!

Monday Dreaming – Appreciating What I Have in Front of Me

Today I am dreaming about appreciating what I have in front of me in my own hometown.  This post was inspired by a recent post at Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish.  Lucia posted a picture of her holding some of the teeny tiny shells that she found on an Italian beach.  That picture called to me. 

As I looked at those beautiful shells, I thought about all the times that we decided that we were too tired, too lazy, or too preoccupied to head out to the beach.  I thought about all the times we walked right over the perfect shells and sand dollars as we tried to get a good spot on the beach.  We love to travel (obviously!!! :-) and we spend lots of time planning our trips and dreaming about the far away places that we want to visit.  We do a pretty good job as a family to explore our hometown and surrounding areas, but we often forget to revisit some of our favorites. 

Oil is beginning to wash ashore.  I am so glad that last weekend, despite the pouring rain, we decided to head to the beach.  We wiggled our toes in the sand (don’t be too jealous of the Florida flip flop tan!).

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We ran around the sand soaking in the snow white color.

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We stared at the rows of news trucks.

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And of course, we hunted for shells.  And of course I had to take that picture!

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We have a couple of trips planned for this summer, but for now I am appreciating what I already have right in front of me.  Thanks, Lucia.

Stop by Mara’s at Mother of All Trips to see what others are dreaming about.

Pictures of the Beautiful Gulf Coast

I wrote this Photo Friday post about the containment booms being put in the ocean in my hometown of Pensacola on April 29. Then I shared with you our experience helping with trash pickup at the beach in preparation for the oil spill on May 2.   I am absolutely disgusted that it is now June 4 and that oil spill is still flowing and we are still waiting and watching for the oil storm to arrive.  On top of that, June 1 marked the beginning of hurricane season which could make matters even worse should a hurricane make its appearance.  This oil spill is affecting lives, jobs, and the environment.  I am not going to turn this family travel blog into an “I hate BP” blog or the “Oil Spill” blog but this is a major issue in my community right now and I feel like I need to continue sharing what is happening. 

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Al Roker of the Today Show was on our beautiful beach yesterday morning.  We often say how if Jim Cantore arrives in Pensacola, then we know it is time to batten down the hatches for the hurricane.  Little did we know that other television stars mean doom and gloom as well.    Many of the visitor centers have beach cams set up and are posting daily updates to their websites, twitter streams and facebook accounts.  If you have a vacation planned on the Gulf Coast, consider coming anyway.Volunteer with the spill cleanup if it does beach on the areas you are visiting.  Visit the other attractions in the area.  We have plenty of other great activities up and down the Gulf Coast that do not involve the beach!

Instead of dwelling any more on the inevitable, I want to share some of our favorite beach photos.

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Stop by DeliciousBaby to see where everyone else is traveling this week!

Gulf Islands National Seashore

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If you haven’t been following Trekaroo’s blog this past week you should drop by.  They have been showcasing National Parks and have had some great articles lately about Yellowstone, Yosemite and other great National Parks.  I can’t believe that I have never shared one of my favorite things about living on the Gulf Coast!  Being close to the Gulf Islands National Seashore!  The Gulf Islands National Seashore is located in parts of Mississippi and Florida.  Here are just a few of the things that you can do at the Gulf Islands National Seashore:

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1.  Visit real forts – Visit Ft. Pickens and Ft. Barrancas and see how the Pensacola area was protected.  You can take a self-guided tour or join a ranger for a guided tour.

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2.  Go camping – There are several options for both primitive and developed camping at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  Our favorite camping spot is Ft. Pickens. 

3.  Play in the sand and the surf – The Gulf Islands National Seashore is full of miles and miles of beautiful powdery white sand.  Play in the sand and then cool off from the humidity in the surf…mild as it may be!

4.  Go fishing – No one in my family is a fisherman so we don’t have much experience with this but there is always tons of people fishing throughout the seashore.

5.  Go for a walk or a bike ride – There are so many trails for walking and biking.  It can’t get much better than watching a sunset while biking on a trail or walking hand in hand along the water.

Stop by Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday to read about other national parks.

Pensacola Family Vacation

Monday Dreaming: Clean Beaches on the Gulf Coast

Poseidon is angry. 

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Whenever I see the ocean looking grumpy like this, it always makes me think of my favorite piece of literature, The Odyssey.  In the Odyssey, Odysseus maims Polyphemos, the cyclop and son of Poseidon.  This angers Poseidon and he makes Odysseus’ return home a long and difficult journey.  These waves might not look like much compared to other parts of the world, but these waves are a sign that Poseidon is angry.

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We spent Sunday afternoon at Pensacola Beach cleaning up trash, debris and large shell pieces along with hundreds of other people.  It was amazing to me how many people were at the beach on an awful day like Sunday.  The wind was blowing and there were so many clouds in the sky that they formed one big cloud cover.  The mood was heavy as people picked up trash and debris with their trash bags whipping around them in the wind.  Families were snapping pictures of toes in the sand and the water crashing behind them.  The seafood restaurants had lines out the door all day long.  Everyone wanting to eat that last Gulf caught meal…just in case.

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 Big S, who just finished an Earth Day unit in school, announced that we were doing a good thing for the “Erf” and Little S was fascinated with all of the pieces of driftwood and large shell pieces. 

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We collected a bag of trash and a bag of shell pieces.  Some of the debris was probably still leftover from Hurricane Ivan over five years ago.  As my children ran around innocent of what was going to happen in the next few days, my heart was breaking. 

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My kids love the beach.  The sand, the water, the seafood whisper my children’s names like some pied piper.  We can be grocery shopping or doing something else completely different from a day at the beach and suddenly one child will ask when we will return to the beach.  Is it warm enough, mom?  We don’t even have to go in the water, mom.  Can we just go for a walk on the sand, mom?  Do you remember when we saw all those fiddler crabs, mom?  As I watched my children run around, pick up trash and shells, all I could think about was whether or not we took full advantage of living near these beautiful beaches and the fact that there is a chance that we will not be spending the summer traveling to and from the beach as I had thought. 

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The impending doom is much like it was during Hurricane Ivan.  How bad will it be?  Who and what will be affected?  As I write this, no one is exactly certain how this area with be affected.

If you would like to help, there are several ways.  Continue to pick up trash and debris from the beach before the oil slick reaches us.  BRACE, United Way and First Call are organizing volunteers for cleanup after the oil reaches the shores.  There is more information on how to volunteer here and here.

Stop by Mara’s at Mother of All Trips to see what others are dreaming of.

Photo Friday – Gulf Coast Preparations

I had a Disney post ready to go for this Photo Friday.   Then, I drove past this today…

The Gulf Coast is preparing, watching, waiting…

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Stop by DeliciousBaby to see other Photo Friday participants.