Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lake Dunes at Last...

This morning we woke up and headed to Grayton State Park to take a leisurely hike among the rare coastal lake dunes in the area.  They are only found in Florida, Oregon, Madagascar, New Zealand and Australia so we figured they would be worth seeing.  And we were totally right!  We spent several hours communing with the palms and pine cones in the area.  We all agreed the terrain was totally unique and unlike anything we'd ever seen before.

Following our memorable hike we took in another round of mini-golf and cooked a healthy dinner at home.  
We are looking forward to having some warmer temperatures in the coming days, but that won't keep us from fighting it out one last time on the course!

Kicking it in Rosemary...

 Cooler temperatures didn't keep us inside for long.  We headed to Rosemary Beach on Tuesday morning so Leif and Finn could play some soccer on their pristine lawns.  Emma and I shopped, walked  and shared a coffee while the boys played.  Emma even bumped into one of her friends and classmates from OPRF while crossing 30a!  It really is a small world.  Later in the afternoon we played a round of miniature golf and enjoyed a casual dinner out.  We've already agreed that we would love to vacation here again!


Finn is quite an adventurous eater, but nothing and I mean nothing makes him happier than indulging in his favorite vacation meal.  Sure Emma and Finn clamor to eat their sugary cereals from tiny boxes like most vacationing kids do, but somewhere along the line Finn decided to dabble on the culinary dark side and added Hamburger Helper to his list of must have vacation foods.  This tickles me to no end and we are happy to oblige...sort of.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An Almost Hike, Sleepy Time and Oysters

It appears we brought some unseasonably cold weather with us from the windy city.  Not that I am complaining; I'll take temperatures in low sixties over a snow storm any day.  Since it was too chilly to hang on the beach we decided to go on a hike.  We made our way to Topsail Beach Preserve State Park's trail-head in hopes of  tackling the difficult Morris Lake Loop, but found ourselves walking for miles in search of the trail.  It was a very pretty area, but we were on more of a walk than a hike and all of us wanted to see the rare lake dunes in the area.  Just as we were starting to feel kinda stupid, a  park ranger informed us that we'd be walking for miles and miles more and suggested we get into our car and use the alternate entrance to the park to make sure we were closer to the trail.  We back tracked, drove several miles only to discover it was closed.  We returned to the main entrance and the park ranger told us we should rent bikes for the first leg of the journey, walk the second, and finally hike the Morris Trail on the third leg.  Adding the $18 per bike rental fee to the small park admission fee meant our planes, trains and automobiles themed hike was starting to get a little expensive, but we are a committed bunch!  We made our way to the bike rental shop where we were promptly informed that we would never make it to the Morris Trail because it was underwater.  At that point we bailed on the costly hike with a multiple transport requirements and a potential for drowning and laughed all the way home.

Back at "In the Clouds" we had a cozy lunch and a couple of hours of full on relaxation.  I took an honest to goodness nap, Emma laid on her favorite window seat and read for hours, and the boys played games.  I think it is safe to say we all needed a little quiet time and this house is just perfect for that.  Once we were up and moving again we decided to go out for dinner at the popular Hurricane Oyster Bar in Gayton Beach.
After an hour wait spent talking to other friendly patrons, we started our casual dinner with a dozen raw oysters with Japanese flavors.  A little wasabi, sweet and spicy sauce, and wakame made these little buggers down right delicious.  Finn is a big oyster fan and skeptical Emma was there to show her support as the three of ate them with gusto!  The restaurant walls are covered with dollar bills to bring good juju to the place.  The first dollar was posted years ago by a cook who had cut himself while shucking oysters who wanted to bring himself a little good luck.  Subsequent cuts led other cooks to follow suit and then patrons started posting dollars, too.  The unique decor adds to the fun atmosphere at Hurricane Oyster Bar, but the food stands up on its own.  My oyster po'boy and Leif's fish tacos were really yummy!
So basically we went on a walk, spend some much needed time being catatonic  and slurped back some super delicious oysters. Not a bad day at all!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Up and Down 30A

We were all up bright and early the next morning.  To get our bearings we decided take a drive up and down 30A. The scenic highway links all of the adorable little communities littered along the coastline in the South Walton area in Florida.  When the kids starting asking how we knew to bring them to such a beautiful place we decided our first stop had to be Rosemary Beach.  The neo-traditional town is a true paradise and Leif and I attended the wedding of our friends Scott and Ali there several years ago.  We showed the kids the lawn where they held their reception, the grassy flats where Leif and the boys played soccer and the beach where the gorgeous couple took their vows.  Emma and Finn thought it was very cool that their wedding guests  enjoyed some late night pizza and beer around a roaring bonfire on Rosemary's stunning beach, too!

 After strolling through Rosemary Beach we stopped in Seaside for an easy lunch at the food trucks made from converted Airstream trailers, Ali recommended we check out.  Emma's friend, Jack K, who also vacations in the area, insisted that Emma visit the grilled cheese peddling trailer called The Melt Down on 30A while Finn opted to visit Wild Bill's Beach Dogs.  Emma and Leif thought their grilled cheese sandwiches were perfect and Finn and I loved our hormone-free, nitrate-free, antibiotic free, all natural hot dog with mustard, relish, onion and kraut!

From there we put on our swimming suits and hit the beach!  With temperatures in the mid 70's we couldn't resist getting our feet wet and finding sand between our toes!  Despite slathering on the sunscreen, we all ended up with sunburns in strange places.  I guess our sensitive Chicago skin was shocked by all the sunny exposure it had today.

 A quick stop at Goatfeathers fish market ensured we were able to cook up some pristine shrimp to enjoy after a day filled with fun in the Florida sun!

Junk Food and Waffles and Traffic

It is no secret that we all love jumping in the car to experience a good old fashioned road trip adventure!  All four of us were in desperate need of a vacation and heading south for spring break seemed like the perfect solution to our collective winter, homework and deadline related blahs.  With the requisite junk food purchased and packed we settled in for our sixteen hour journey to South Walton, Florida.We were all tickled by Finn's suggestion that we should get one chicken wing from KFC in Louisville, Kentucky because he was pretty sure they would have to taste differently than they do in other places.  We've put that on the "to do" list for our return trip. After an otherwise uneventful first leg and stop over outside of Nashville, Tennessee we woke up bright and early to make it to our destination in the mid afternoon.  
Working off of a recommendation from my friend Sue, we were sure to stop at one of the many Waffle Houses tucked away near gas stations in the south.  Waffle Houses, located under iconic yellow signs, are open 24 hours per day 365 days per year and churn out a vast array of breakfast fare.  We were all tickled by our first ever Waffle House meal and Finn especially loved his chocolate chip waffle.  I probably shouldn't  mention that Leif had a Texas toast sausage, egg and cheese sandwich AND hash browns covered with sausage gravy, but I thought his order particularly embraced the spirit of southern breakfasts!  He was unsure, however,  how to make use the packet of mayonnaise that came with his meal.

 It was probably a good thing that Leif ordered such a ridiculously hearty breakfast as the second leg of our journey was more that a little challenging.  While, the addition of three hours onto our expected eight hour drive time had the rest of us nibbling walnuts and licorice like mad, Leif's meal kept him full all day long!   We witnessed no less that nine accidents between Birmingham, Alabama and South Walton, Florida.  The stopping and starting was not only frustrating  but down right dangerous, too.  Finn forced himself to fall asleep because he couldn't imagine how we were going to avoid getting in an accident ourselves.  With well over forty years of driving experience between us, both Leif and I cannot recall managing  a more challenging drive in our lives.  Needless to say we were all totally delighted to see the top of our vacation home peaking out from the tree tops.
Our home sweet home, called "In the Clouds" is like a little ladder in paradise!  The kids sleep in nests on the third floor, Leif and I have a comfy bedroom on the first floor and we cook and hang out in the middle.  It is the perfect house for our family!  Since we arrived much later than we had anticipated  we cooked an healthy dinner with loads of raw veggies to make up for all of our road trip indulgences.
 I am certain we are in for a memorable week!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What the BRAT?

 A Sunday morning caravan led us to celebrate a birthday surprise at the world famous and legendary Brat Stop in Wisconsin!  We loaded up a cake from the Oak Park Bakery and met the Pfour and a bunch of our best friends to raise a glass to Brian on his birthday.  Chi-town lost them to Packer-Land a while back and we've never really recovered from the loss so finding excuses to get together is always fun. Beer and Bloody Marys were flowing, the kids spend way too much money in the arcade and there was a heavy scent of sauerkraut in the air!  There is nothing like celebrating Wisconsin style!

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