The Emerald Coast

I’m just going to start right in and say that these are the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen! (sorry Tom and Amy in Bermuda-you get a close second!) We almost didn’t even come here. We’re only here to say “hi” to some friends we know from Ottertail Lake. And from here we’re headed back to Texas. But man am I happy to see this place in person!

We had originally wanted to go out to eat last night after we settled in to the state park, but we were all exhausted and huffy after a stressful setup. I’m especially happy for new days-aren’t you?! Anywho, we had lunch at Pompano Joe’s, a fun seafood joint on the beach-we wouldn’t have even seen the view last night! God works in mysterious ways! We all had amazing seafood and Andy had oysters for the first time. You guessed it, he loved them!

Afterwards, we went out to the smooth sugar sand beach with Gunner. He could just run free and he was so happy-that made all of us happy too! He didn’t care for the salt water but loved running and digging. Even dogs love to feel the sand between their toes!

For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out at our friends Peg and Clancy’s house where the boys could pick oranges and grapefruits right off the trees in their back yard. Peg had a great juicer so we had tons of fresh juice! We visited with another couple from OTL, Nancy and RC, and it was just a blast hanging out. We ate 2 more King Cakes and Andy and RC were declared Kings for the night!(and have to buy the cakes next year!)

The weather was in the 50’s but sunny today so it felt good in my jeans and sweatshirt. 70 degrees would be perfect but I don’t think that’s gonna happen for us. One thing I know for sure though, I’ll be looking at Destin and the surrounding area for my next tropical vacation destination!(MT)

I forgot to say that Woody became a Floridian Junior Park Ranger today. He now has a challenge to be a junior ranger at as many parks as he can this year. All involve doing some research, filling out a packet of questions about the park, and some have him taking an oath.

Louisiana to Florida

Starting in Louisiana, we set off this chilly morning for Destin, Florida. Our first stop was in Biloxi, Mississippi where we made a stop at a national seashore. We weren’t there for long because we wanted to have enough time for the USS Alabama in Mobile.

The USS Alabama was really cool because it was surrounded by tanks, small boats, and many aircraft. Our favorite helicopter was the odd looking CH-21, or the flying banana. Our favorite plane was the A-12, which looked just like a SR-71 Blackbird. My favorite part though was when we actually got to go on this massive battleship.

We were able to see almost every part of the ship. From the ice cream parlor to the inside of one of the giant naval guns. My favorite part was the view from the deck on the 9th level. Next, we were able to go inside the large submarine that they have there. It’s named USS Drum. Inside the sub, things were very tight. The doorways were only 3 feet tall! We finished off our time in Mobile by checking out all of the artillery and armored vehicles they have. I had a lot of fun here and luckily I only banged my head on the metal ceiling once. I think I may end up being too tall for the silent service.

The Black Hole…AKA Our Campsite

Today was a great day traveling from NOLA to Destin, FL. Andy will fill you in on our pit stops along the way. Let’s just say they were great enough that I wasn’t in a hurry to get to our final destination. I mean, we had made it through the emptying of the…shall we say latrines without getting anything on ourselves!!

In our adventure of lessons, I’ve learned that it’s best to get to your campsite prior to it becoming pitch dark! We pulled into Topsail State Park and the campground looks great! The sites look amazing, but they are back in only. Not a problem if you can see so you know where you are headed!! As I began to back, Maureen was doing her best to guide me. We haven’t mastered the back in sites in pitch dark situations yet. A helpful neighbor (who has a camper van) came out to help. As I’m backing, his instructions included “go the other way”… most of you reading this know I was biting my tongue hard enough to actually taste blood!!! Once I was actually able to get mostly into the site, we got it straightened out and into the site. The neighbor redeemed himself when he complimented me and Maureen with a “you guys look like you know what you are doing.”

Now we were on to what we know how to do…hook the water up and turn it on. Well, someone left the faucet on and if someone else happens to put the sink cover on, the water has no place to go except the counter, stove and floor!! They all needed a good wash anyway, so all is fine there!! Lesson learned…have someone in the camper as you turn on water!

Only one more lesson needed! When opening your slide out, don’t let the kids do it on their own. Let’s just say, if anyone has seen the movie “RV” with Robin Williams, we may have tried to recreate a scene! I’ve been missing home projects, so now I have a little work to get things back to how I want them!

Oh-one more item. Don’t trust Siri with directions, he is crazy (I gave mine a male English voice). Early in the day he took us into a residential area to a hiking trail which would have eventually taken us to a National Seashore. Trouble was that we had “The House” and our truck too!! Nothing like backing the rig up in a tight residential street!!

Lessons, lessons, lessons!! Good thing Maureen and I have learned early on that a well stocked fridge is important!

World War Two Museum

We started our day off by driving over lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans again. We brought Gunner to a boarding place for the day so we wouldn’t have to worry about him at all. We then went to the WW2 Museum where we would spend the rest of our day.

I had a lot of fun at the museum where I saw things like the M1 rifle, the C-47 Skytrain, and the Higgins landing craft, made in New Orleans. In the building full of planes, I saw a B-17 Flying Fortress, that reminded me of the true story of a plane called “Ye Olde Pub.”

Charlie Brown was flying his plane on a bombing raid over Bremen, Germany when he fell out of formation and went on his own. A dozen Nazi fighters were attacking it for nearly 10 minutes when his plane went into a flatspin, causing everyone onboard to pass out. Luckily, Charlie was able to regain consciousness and keep the plane in the air. Everyone onboard was injured and their tail gunner was killed. Thinking they had downed the plane, the Nazi fighters went back to their base. That’s when Luftwaffe ace Franz Stigler comes in. He came up behind the plane and faced a big decision. Shoot down the crippled bomber or let it fly away. Franz Decided to help. He flew up on the side of the plane and caught Charlie’s attention. He escorted him back past a coastal flak battery. After that, they saluted each other and each went their own ways. After he landed in England, Charlie told others about what happened but it went against almost all propaganda teachings of the time so it was covered up for almost 40 years.

In the mid 1980s Charlie was at a combat pilot reunion where he was asked to share some of his stories. He thought for a minute but then he decided to share this story. When he got home, he decided to look for that pilot that saved his life many years ago. He searched through records upon records to try to find out who that pilot was but he wasn’t turning anything up. He then decided to write a letter to a combat pilots newsletter and a few months later, he received a letter from Stigler saying he was the one. When they spoke on the phone, Franz recalled what happened and that was all Charlie needed to know. They met up and became good friends until they both died within weeks of each other in 2008.

In all, I had a great time at the museum and I would definitely go again.

The WWII Museum

Today we started the day off by dropping Gunner off at a nice dog kennel so that we could do the stuff you can’t have dogs for. Next we went to the National WWII Museum. I learned that Normandy was bigger than just one beach. I also learned that the Allied Forces set up fake tanks, planes, and radio signals at the Pas De Calais, which was the narrowest spot between England and Hitler-ruled Europe, to fool the Germans. It definitely fooled them too. They had most their power and defenses there waiting for an attack. My favorite part of all though was learning about the huge battles going on in Asia, because I had always learned so much about what was going on in Europe so I didn’t know about what was going on in Asia.

Also at the end of the day we drove through a traditional NOLA cemetery with a whole bunch of beautiful mausoleums.(WT)

A Dog’s View of NOLA

Gunner here. I decided I wanted to be the one to tell you about our trip to New Orleans. First thing we did was drive over the world’s longest bridge, the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway Bridge. Our first stop in NOLA was my mom and dad’s favorite, Cafe Du Monde. Everybody but me ate something that made theirs mouths turn white! After that, we did a ton of walking. I think we passed Brangelinas old house, a voodoo museum, a good smelling post, pretty architecture, good smelling curb, 2(!) National Parks, a good smelling sidewalk, Louis Armstrong Park(they wouldn’t let me off my leash all day. I just wanted to run and sniff stuff in the park!) a good smelling street, a good smelling cemetery wall and a good smelling fence that overlooked the Mississippi River! I couldn’t go into many stores, but one store was made just for me! They had dog treats and millions of squeaky toys-doggy heaven!

My mom had talked about going on the streetcar and doing a walking tour to look at the pretty houses in the garden district. But she found out dogs aren’t allowed in the street car, and realized we can just drive through the garden district in my dad’s truck! Which by the way, he’s not so excited driving in the city.

My brother Woody could not stop talking about going to eat at a place he saw on Diners, Dives and Drives. Apparently Mahoney’s is famous for Po Boy’s. They got an oyster one, a shrimp one and a chicken liver one. Can you guess which guy got what?

I’m tired after putting on over 5 miles today. I was sniffing up a storm all day, I was a country dog in a stinky city dog’s world! (Gunner)

Rainy Morning in the Bayou

We arrived at our campsite at about 5pm last night. The temp was a comfortable 60ish degrees, and we were loving it! At about 8pm, the rain started, and it just poured all night long! I think we got about 2-3 inches of rain, and we woke up to our very own bayou in the morning! We were told by the park ranger that we probably won’t see alligators here, but we might see wild boar. AND WE DID! Tonight as we were coming back from the library, a large black boar and a bunch of baby boars(they were sooo cute!) ran across the road from us and just waddled into the woods. Both Jesse and I thought they were bear at first, this was just crazy! We now know that we really can’t let Gunner off his leash!

Our park states that they have wifi but actually they have “wifi”. Which we think is worse then nothing. Sooo slow and spotty. As much as we love nature, we need wifi for the boys schoolwork. So we spent the afternoon at the Mandeville public library. Shout out to the helpful librarians there-they were extremely happy to help the boys continue learning! Normally there is a 60 minute limit on the computers, but if you are actually studying or taking a test, they’ll extend the time infinitely. While they love to be a haven for kids afterschool, they were probably sick of kids playing games on the computers.

Another thing I spazzed out about today was the laundry facilities. We’d been wearing our NDSU gear 3 straight days in a row so we all needed to freshen up. Get this, the washers were free and the dryers were only $1. But as I was waiting for the last load to dry, someone came in and told me the dryers were actually free, just push the button and it’ll turn on! Soooo, I’m pretty sure we’ll be wearing clean clothes everyday this week-yippee! (MT)

Entering Louisiana

We woke up this morning in Marshall, Texas, still tired from cheering on the Bison the day before. We started driving and after we had been on the road for a while, we saw a sign about Cane River Creole National Park. We hadn’t heard about it before but because we love national parks, we had to check it out.

The park contains two former plantations: The Magnolia and The Oakland. We went to the Oakland plantation just to check it out. The Oakland, formerly known as the Bermuda, was founded in the mid 18th century as a indigo and tobacco farm. Later on, when the U.S. made the Louisiana purchase, the farm became a cotton farm and slaves could be seen picking cotton out on one of the fields of this Creole farm.

The Civil War drastically changed life on the plantation. When the Confederates were retreating, they burnt the farms cotton gin and all of their cotton to prevent it from getting into Union hands. Many slaves also escaped to the north during this time. After the war, Freedmans Bureau labor contracts made it so that skilled workers like Solomon Williams, the blacksmith, could negotiate wages and hours. For unskilled workers, sharecropping was another option.

During World War One, many workers moved north to work in war related jobs. They were replaced by machines. By the 1960s, instead of seeing people lining the fields, you saw a mechanical picker being driven down each row. Throughout this time, the Creole traditions created almost 300 years ago still endure today.

After this, we hit the road, traveling through Baton Rouge to stay the week at Fontainebleau State Park, just outside of New Orleans. -AT

Experiential Education

When we kicked off on this adventure, I knew Andy and Woody would have fun, I knew they would like seeing new things and I knew Maureen and I would enjoy the change of pace. So far, what my boys have learned:

1). Sometimes things may be culturally accepted but aren’t morally right. It takes courage to do what’s right and sometimes that courage shows up in unexpected ways. We’ve had the chance to talk about slavery while at a National Park Service plantation, segregation while at Central High School in Little Rock, and all the crazy harassment stuff being talked about on the radio.

2). Family are not only an important part of who we are, they are those who we can rely on! Family can be blood or even those close to us. We had the chance to spend Christmas at Lucy’s, camp in Frisco with my parents, tailgate at the NCAA Division I FCS Football Championship with our Bison friends and family, and establish a bit of a routine as we move from one location to another.

3). Control the things you can and respond rationally to everything else. As they’ve experienced, sometimes things don’t go as planned. We didn’t plan to break down in Joplin, but as we dealt with that, we had to work through issues, wait for information, change our plans and ultimately buy a new truck. As they’ve grown up, they have learned that I am very frugal with cars. Sometimes reliability is more valuable!

4). You’ll never regret having more power(or as Rick Giesel said–Ummpapa)! After we decided to trade in the truck (which ended up needing a whole new engine courtesy of Ford), I started looking at F250’s. Given that our new house is on wheels, it only makes sense that we ensure we can get our house to go where we want. After almost 1,000 miles, I can say I’m happy with the purchase!

After we’ve gotten through the “planned” part of our travels, we’ve now set off on the unplanned part. We made it to Fontainebleau State Park just outside of New Orleans. Those of you who know me well know that I like to plan. I like to know what’s happening next and what’s planned for after that, all while having contingency plans in place. We don’t have any of that. We know we just reserved this spot for seven nights. We begin the exploration tomorrow!