Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sanibel Island

Day 29:Saturday, August 14, 2010
Sanibel Island

On our second-to-last day on the road, we pointed our RV toward one of our favorite campgrounds, Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island.

Along the way we stopped at another highly-recommended dive, J.R's Old Packing House Cafe in Sarasota, Florida. Despite the word "cafe," this place is an honest-to-goodness dive.
We would not recommend touching anything that has fallen on the floor.

Andrew was just confused from the minute we set foot in this fabulous place - which is more of a live music venue than a restaurant. The tables don't match, the chairs really don't match (April sat on a padded wicker outdoor chair and Mark a wooden bar stool), and the menu doesn't really match the rock-out decor (they specialize in Cuban sandwiches). Either way, the food is good and Drew staked his claim on these black beans much like an Astronaut would do on the moon - but with a little pirate flag.

They were really good... we couldn't blame him.

Behind the restaurant, we encountered a collection of homeless folks who had set up shop in an abandoned apartment complex with a huge front porch. They had a little cafe of their own going with a beer fridge, a "no shirt, no shoes welcome" policy, and a general appreciation for hanging out. They also seemed to really appreciate our rig and couldn't seem to know enough about it or our trip. Sometimes you can feel the most blessed in the muddy backyard parking lot of the dirtiest restaurant you've ever eaten at as you climb into your second home, step over an assortment of shoe choices, and place your baby in his premium designer car seat.

Sanibel welcomed us with cooler weather, amazing bike paths, and some quality beach time just before sunset.

For dinner we visited the always welcoming Lazy Flamingo, which just might be one of the friendliest places to take your kid out to eat ever. They even say so on the menu. It's so nice not to feel like an ass when you walk in the door to spend money somewhere. Maybe airlines should try this sort of thing. If you're ever in the area, we can't recommend it highly enough - and all of the waitresses will flirt with your kid to keep him entertained. They might flirt with your husband too - which is fine by both of us as long as they keep the beer flowing. Tomorrow, home...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Camping... When Everyday Pleasures Become a Chore

Day 28: Friday, August 13, 2010
Camping... When Everyday Pleasures Become a Chore

A favorite line of April's Uncle, we've been wanting to use "Camping... When Everyday Pleasures Become a Chore" for a while now. We jest... but Friday the 13th seemed appropriate - as tropical storm rains pounded our little Winnebago at every turn and we headed back to the grind... less than 400 miles away.

The RV affords us a lot of camping luxury, but we still laugh at the extra mile we have to go to just to do simple things "on the road." No dishwasher (except Mark), no oven (just microwave and stove), no laundry (except what we drag in to our friends' and families' houses), etc... More importantly, once we get camp set up and realize we don't have butter, for example, we are stuck using olive oil on raisin bread for breakfast. And we don't have a toaster... so it goes in a pan if you want it toasted.

Physically, the space constraints can be challenging as well. Andrew sleeps in the dinette area of the RV, so once he retires for the night April and Mark have to stay in their "master suite" or creep around quietly to get to anything in the kitchen. During Andrew's waking hours, he is one hundred percent focused on getting into, onto, or around the steering wheel. This means we have to keep a ten foot baby gate at the front of the RV to keep him out of the cab. Don't fool yourself into thinking that's enough - he breaks through it at least once a day because he's smarter than us.

When he can't get past the gate, you can usually find Drew chilling out on the floor - playing or watching Cars, Toy Story, or Bee Movie while he examines maps and plans our route for the next day. Our little navigator has been a big help this trip - especially when navigating tricky intersections.

That being said, we certainly still feel very blessed to have had this family time on the road - and don't want it to come to an end.

Today drove from Live Oak to Hillsboro River State Park in
Thonotosassa, Florida. The place was hoppin' with families that knew how to get their camp on, a plethora of bike and hiking trails, and some seriously cool Florida greenery. Surprisingly, less mosquitoes than that damn Arkansas...

Mark mastered a fabulous T-bone on the grill while Andrew passed out almost immediately after his dinner and a visit to the neighbors' dog. Note: take baby over to meet dog before he eats - not after - dogs like to lick extra food off of babies and babies do not like that.

So, although chores might take much longer on the road, it seems everyday pleasures these days are just hanging out and listening to our little man discover the world around him.

Andrew (from front seat): "Cracker! Cracker!"
April: "Alright, you want a cracker buddy?"
Mark: "I think he actually wants two crackers - he said it twice."
Andrew: "Three crackers!"

We're so proud. Before you know it he'll be counting olives...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Donut Hole

Day 27: Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Donut Hole

As our friend Heidi can tell you, Mark loves donut holes. We could hardly believe our luck when we found this little gem resting right outside of our campground. Little did we know that everyone else in the Panhandle was also looking for donut holes this fine Thursday morning. The Donut Hole is, in fact, a rockin'...

The Donut Hole serves us all sorts of treats, but they specialize in cake donuts that are really just mini cakes. Our sampling included a Boston Cream Pie, Red Velvet, and Key Lime, and a few standard glazed for Andrew's first donut experience.

Believe it or not, they were out of donut holes... what the??

Continuing to eat our way across the panhandle, we ate lunch at the famous Hunt's Oyster Bar
in Panama City, FL. Like the reviews promised, it was phenomenal.

Of course, like all of our great finds, it was next to a strip club. Who are we to judge? A girl's got to eat...

Night found us in the famed Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Located on the Suwannee River, this is a year-round destination for traveling music festivals.

With hiking paths like "Jam Trail", a permanent stage area, and a building dedicated solely to guitar picking, it's a musician's dream camping destination. The facility is more or less built to be a permanent Woodstock and has some sort of musical event every night. As they say, it's "where the music lives". And for tonight, its where we are living as well. Tomorrow we will continue our trek through Florida. Is that a roach on the ground??

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gulf Coast

Day 26: Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The Gulf Coast

Morning in beautiful Biloxi found us packing up and trying to get out of the way of the impending tropical storm. As Dad readied the RV, Drew got in a quick visit to the playground.

Lucky for us we still had the beautiful Gulf Coast drive ahead of us - and plenty of fun stops along the way.

First, we visited the famous Felix's Fish Camp Restaurant for a phenomenal lunch- maybe the best we've had on this trip. Andrew loved the endless crackers and house macaroni and cheese.

Another well-known stop, the USS Alabama, was next door. It's a fabulous adventure in and of itself - but especially for one-year-old and twenty-nine-year-old boys.
Drew loved the ship and the airplanes, as well as the gift shop... full of ships and airplanes (and hats).

Nightfall brought us to Santa Rosa Beach, FL and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. As far as campgrounds go, this place is tops. Beautifully maintained, lots of amenities, a fabulous beach location, and a working fountain on our campsite lawn.

Whoomp, there it is.

Nice campgrounds inspire us to get our grill on. Grill Master Mark went to town on these chops and some "Dada Pasta."
This ain't your grandpappy's camper, folks...

Bellies full, we sat back with our Chianti Classico to plan the last leg of our trip. It will be hard to say goodbye to Central Time tomorrow, but Naples calls...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cock Of The Walk

Day 25: Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Cock Of The Walk

The toddling continued around the Otto house this morning as the boys were off to the races with Ever's Cozy Coupe. The perfect pair, Andrew loves to ride and Ever loves to push.

We couldn't leave town without hitting up the Ottos' most recommended eatery, Cock Of the Walk.

The fine folks at Cock of the Walk fry everything - and there are only two main items on the menu - fried catfish or fried chicken. Everything comes with "flipped" jalepeno cornbread (flipped out of it's skillet by your server), french fries, hush puppies, and two additional fried sides of your choice (fried corn on the cob, for example). Oh, and fried pickles. The boys loved it.

When it was time to leave, Andrew and Ever shared a little high chair hug - and then went off to nap in their respective vehicles.

Sleeping baby in tow, we headed down US 98 en route to Biloxi. Local delicacies were a plenty... Mark rolled out of this particular shop with a abundance of sausage.

Beautiful Biloxi allowed us to camp across the street from the oil-free beach. We were happy to have beat this week's tropical storm to the Gulf Coast. We were not so happy when we discovered that our perfectly beachy campsite was located between a very active fire station and awfully noisy railway. The noise didn't seem to bother Andrew, so we made the best of it and concentrated on the eighty-eight cable channels at our fingertips. Tomorrow - back to Florida.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Legend of Otto

Day 24: Monday, August 9, 2010
The Legend of Otto

Morning found us searching for two things - a roadside veggie stand and the home of the Otto Family.

We were driving along the back roads of Sardis, Mississippi when Mark suddenly brought the RV to a screeching halt after spotting this empty fruit stand and the attached sign instructing, "Honk Horn for Service."

Certain that we were about to be murdered and wondering why her husband would choose to stop at an obviously empty stand, April held back in the RV with phone and baby in hand - ready to call someone at a moment's notice to defend her family. She's not really sure what she would have done with the baby in the case of such an emergency - though he could be wielded as a weapon of sorts after eating the proper combination of berries and peppers? Of course, Mark was right after all and trotted gloatingly back to the RV with fresh produce in hand. The total price: $1.50. When Mark handed over two dollars the man replied, "I'm alright with it if you are."

We had worked up quite an appetite after our morning produce stand project, so we pulled into a local favorite of Winona, Mississippi called Woody's Old Town Grill. The reviews we had read were both mouth-watering and enticing, however we most easily identified with their credo...

While Mark and April were on the same page, Andrew was somewhere else entirely. He had been right in the middle of his morning nap when we abruptly woke him for this lunch stop. Apparently during a month on vacation the simple basics of parenting had escaped us. What were we thinking!?! A toddler train wreck proceeded to unfold before us as our little man went from happy to all out meltdown mode. Andrew was dedicated to screaming hysterically and sobbing from the minute he was taken out of his carseat. Once in the restaurant, heads turned and eyes rolled. "That child is fit to be tied", muttered a Dom DeLuise look-a-like who was obviously dining with his grandmother and her bridge club friends. As we settled in to our seats, Andrew decided to hurl a full iced tea across the table into Dad's lap. Shattered glass and sweet tea flew everywhere. Mark and April met each other's gaze with a quiet intensity reserved only for two people who have no idea what to do but know that what is happening is totally their fault somehow. Things get fuzzy here - but we basically ate and packed up as fast as possible amidst comments from the house peanut gallery like "Lordy, Lordy, that baby there is upset."

Needless to say, Andrew received one stearn "talkin' to" from Dad and we got back on the road. Soon we arrived in fabulous Jackson, Mississippi - home to the Otto Family and fellow blonde baby, Ever Otto.

Musician and stay-at-home dad Casey Otto not only bakes homemade banana bread - he also cooks, cleans, and cuts the grass. Easy ladies, he's married to a hot doctor. In his spare time he rocks out with his many bands all around Jackson AND attaches this gadget to aluminum cans to create a drinking-friendly "handle." This guy has it all figured out...

Casey is also a genius decorator of HGTV proportions. He anchored the playroom with a five foot bean bag chair that creates a great look and a lounging utopia. Mark wasted no time settling in...

Andrew and Ever got down to the business of playing together, eating together, and even bathing together (now we have pictures to embarrass them with in twenty years). Thanks to Ever and his many baby secrets, Andrew was once again happy and playful. Look out Spring Break 2030 - these two are a gruesome twosome.

Exhausted from hours of toddling, the boys went to bed as Mama Otto (Dr. Otto) arrived home from surgery just in time to hang out over bottles of wine and Mark's steaks hot off the grill. Love hanging out with the Otto Fam - wish we could do it more often! Thanks Ottos!

Snarfs and Snoozes

While driving the 1772 miles home from Bar Harbor, April looked and Mark and said... "What should we call our last blog of the summer?&...