Photos courtesy of Ryan Prouty

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Break 2011: Our first official staycation

We are not the indecisive types. Usually we make a decision and stick with it. I decided to take the week of spring break off since work owed me 4 days off and we hadn't taken a family vacation in a few years. We had a few options, some friends offered up their homes for us to visit: Dan and Kate May in Charleston North Carolina, a family at church with a cabin in northern Georgia, a pastor's retreat in North Carolina, plus we have been wanting to visit Key West for some time now. We looked all the options, how long the drives would be (all 6-10 hours), and what there was to do and what the weather would be like. The cost of gas gave us pause. We started to think of all the fun things there are to do around here that we don't ever do because we live here. By the way, we still marvel that we actually live somewhere that people travel to for vacation. We discussed with the kids the options and all agreed it made the most sense to stay home (no packing, trying to sleep in someone else's bed, no long drive, no eating out for every meal and trying to keep it healthy...okay, we still did that one!) Our plan was to get all our "work" done over the weekend and then not do anything we didn't have to (in other words, no cleaning, no projects, just fun!). So we did our cleaning on Saturday and I went through all the kids clothes and got rid of things they won't wear and things that don't fit any longer. That ended up being a big project and we got rid of a big box and two trash bags of clothes and all the closets and drawers got organized! One of my favorite things to do! Then we went to Home Depot and got mulch and Paul and I put it down while the kids played Wii. We had uninterrupted project time together and made quite a difference in our front yard. Amazing what a little mulch will do! Now we just need some plants and flowers! That will have to be another vacation though!

What we came up with may be one of my favorite vacations ever and its not over yet, though I think the majorly fun things are behind us. Here is what we have been up to on our staycation:

We went up to some stables about an hour from here to go horseback riding first. The kids were really excited about this! I had to take this picture because just to Gabe's left is the office. Seriously, the trailer was the office. We were cracking up! There was also a petting zoo there and lots of animals, goats, ponies, an emu, llamas, and of course horses.

Holden and Alayna got to pet the Emu. She was very friendly and soft. It wasn't long before they were bringing out our horses to us and instructing us how to ride.Riley and Alayna waited for everyone to get their horse and line up. They got to have time to pet and love up their horses. Alayna was in heaven loving on her horse Daniel who we learned was the oldest of the group at 19 years. Riley's hose George was only 6.

Our horses waited in line very obediently. They were very well trained and did what they were supposed to. So much so that Riley's horse would not move up like he was trying to get him to so that everyone could use the cement block to climb onto their horse. He was trained to follow and was not willing to head out on his own even for a few feet! Gabe and Paul could get mounted in the proper place, but Holden had to be lifted onto his horse.
The horses followed each other down the trail. My horse Eden was a bit slower than the rest and held everyone behind us up. Riley and Alayna and our guide had to keep stopping to wait for my horse to catch up so there wasn't a big gap or lost family members!

Riley had one camera and I had another, so here are some pictures from his perspective. I just climbed onto my horse right behind Alayna. She had just bitten my shirt (it was sparkly, so I didn't take it personally).

Gabe moving into position to climb up on the cement block behind Alayna and I.
Holden figuring out how to climb on without the benefit of the step up.
He is a comedian...

The ride was one hour long and we were SO glad we didn't do the three hours instead. My saddle was  not soft and I felt like I had been sitting on hard bleachers all day after just one hour. Paul and Holden were able to hang back a bit at the end and then convince their horses to canter a few yards for some added fun. I don't think any of our other horses would have cooperated with that. My horse pretty much did whatever she wanted. I tried to steer her around some low branches and she turned her head that way but kept her feet going where she wanted. Alayna's horse tried to eat every time they stopped and she was pretty much powerless to make him stop! It was comical but very safe and the kids really enjoyed it.

We had to drive right by the only ice rink in the area, so after horseback riding, we stopped to ice skate on the way back home. For some reason, the kids love to ice skate. Maybe its the cold weather that they miss. I don't know, but they were thrilled for this activity as well.

I was very impressed at how they stayed together and kept track of each other. Holden was having trouble turning for a bit and the all were trying to help him get it figured out.
It took Alayna a bit to warm up, but she got really brave and got up some speed and only had a couple falls. She has come a long ways from the kid that needed someone on each side of her just to keep her upright!

It proved to be an exhausting day as all but Gabe fell asleep in the van on the way home!

Tuesday, we went fishing in the Gulf with our ex-landlord Frank. Such nice people from Missouri. Frank put up with all of us on his boat and didn't even get to fish for helping us with our snagged lines, lost bait, fish that swallowed the hook, or knotted reels. We met at the dock and got loaded, i.e. took over the place:

Then went to the bait shop on the water for some live shrimp:
We were fishing for sheepshead fish and they eat barnacles, so we set up shop near all the leftover pieces from a railroad bridge that you see in the foreground of this picture. The background is the swing bridge in the area. as you can see it separates from the road and swings out perpendicular to the road to allow big boats to pass that wouldn't fit underneath it. It was fun to watch.
Alayna got the first bite but her ladyfish got away before she could get her reeled in all the way. As I was exclaiming loudly how well she kept her composure and was trying to reel her fish in (the other people fishing were completely thrilled too, I am sure!), I got a bite on my hook and reeled in my first sheepshead! It was a keeper at 14 inches! No, I didn't touch it or the bait in case you were wondering :o) They had huge teeth, like our human incisors! See all the people on the railroad bridge behind me? They knew I had caught a fish too! I am sure they were thrilled again for us.

It looked bigger when Frank was holding it:
Next, Holden and Gabe caught little bitty fish that they hoped they could keep on the line and use as bait, but gave that up after a while too. They were fishing off the opposite side of the boat from Alayna and I.

As I was taking this picture of Gabe's fish, I got another bite and reeled in a keeper size Spanish Mackerel. I had already thrown back a ladyfish. Apparently they are not good to eat.

I quickly caught another Spanish Mackerel. By now everyone is tired of me catching fish and I am squeezed out of my fishing position on the boat...

Then Paul caught a bigger sheepshead. This was the best picture I managed of his fish. That is Riley's foot for size comparison:
Then Holden had a very hard time reeling this beauty in. When we got her in the boat, we knew why all the struggle. She was HUGE! He was just a bit proud of himself. He declared he was going to eat all of his own fish.
We called it a day shortly after that. Frank cleaned all the fish for us. Here are the sheepshead we were able to keep. Holden's in the middle, mine closest to Holden and Paul's at the bottom.
After fishing, we headed home and got cleaned up and changed and headed out to the gulf to jet ski. A friend from church loaned us their 2 jet skis for a few days. Gabe and Riley rode with me:

Holden and Alayna went with Paul. We had such fun jumping waves. Riley was screaming in my ear almost the entire time and Paul said Alayna did the same. I guess you could say they had fun. Tuesday was cooler but calm. Wednesday was warm and we headed out a bit earlier, but it was windier and the waves were much bigger, lots more jumping and less speed and we got much wetter too. We took breaks on the beach a couple times.

This was a tiny island in one of the bays where we stopped to warm up and play. The kids dug in the sand, explored, and learned to skip shells. It was so beautiful but just a bit too cool for me. I don't know what the water temperature was, but it felt about 33 degrees! I turned a corner too sharp once while we were barely moving and dumped us all off into the frigid water. I learned my lesson!

Gabe was thrilled that he was finally old enough to drive the jet ski with an adult on board. I was happy to let him drive it to the dock. It was unbelievable to me how tired my fingers got from squeezing the throttle.

Alayna found a cute hermit crab in the water just as we were leaving. Paul was holding it and it started to come out of its shell, but when it saw me it pulled itself right back in. So funny. Paul put him down and he was in a major hurry to get back to the water. I haven't seen them move much before on land, but he had it figured out how to use the shape of the shell to roll him faster into the water than he could run. It was comical to watch him scramble.

So, we are almost through our staycation and we have checked out  a few movies from the library and gotten new books to read and plan to go out for lunch and make Molten Chocolate Lava cakes for dinner (yes I am serious, we are planning on eating cake for dinner...Paul might fry up some boneless chicken wings too if the guilt becomes too much to bear) because it has been raining all day today here. The kids are enjoying a good excuse to play Wii as well. They didn't even have to do any chores to earn play time since we are on staycation. Oh, how we are not going to want this week to end!