Sunday, August 31, 2014

Our Anniversary Weekend

In honor of 17 years of wedded adventures, Steve went to a conference for his career in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Just kidding...  He did go to the conference in Michigan, but it had nothing to do with our anniversary, except that he flew back the day before it. :)  

Since we had to pick him up in Pensacola on Saturday, we took advantage of it & spent the day afternoon there, thanks to a delayed flight. At Steve's urging, we went to Philly's, a pretty authentic philly cheesesteak hoagie place. Beware, there's no atmosphere here, but if you like authentic philly cheesesteaks like you get in Philly, it's a good choice. Then, we went to the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum.  Jake & Katie weren't allowed to climb up (or go up in any sort of carrier), as the rules are 44 inches tall at least, no exceptions. Honestly, it wasn't so tight as to prevent babies in slings & other soft carriers. Jake could have totally done it, too, and burned lots of energy in the process; nonetheless, Steve & I took turns because rules are rules. Afterwards, we walked out to the beach just opposite the lighthouse and discovered that just because a beach is in Florida does not mean that it is spectacularly beautiful, with light blue & green water & pristine sand. The water was rough & not safe to go in, so the kids just played in the sand while Steve took a nap.  

The lighthouse basement had some kid exhibits
The lighthouse mirrors
On Sunday, we decided to go to the beach in Navarre because the two best things to do around here are to: 1) hang out at Navarre Beach & 2) do something on the Blackriver. When we arrived, the red flag was flying, meaning the surf is rough &/or there are strong currents, so we decided to just head over to the no surf area.  I'm glad we did because we hadn't been there yet, and it was great for building sand castles (much wetter sand than on the "better" beach). It was super shallow, too, although it was a little too warm & a little smelly, for whatever the reason. We decided to go check out the rough surf side of the beach before leaving & discovered it was indeed rough!  We didn't let the littles go out at all because it just wasn't safe for them, but Steve & I took turns with Shanan & Alyssa. It was fun, but the water was so rough that it wasn't the usual pretty, crystal clear blue & green that it normally is.

It was quite windy at the top of the lighthouse
Three happy girls
We headed back to Holt to deposit a few kiddos safely while Steve & I went out for our anniversary. We were starving after a day at the beach, & Steve enticed me with promises of going to the best restaurant in Crestview, a mediterranean restaurant with great reviews. Alas, remember the saying that goes, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail..." It turns out, pretty much everything in Crestview in the restaurant realm was closed! We might not be in Utah anymore, but we are in the Bible belt & not big cities, sooooo....there was a lot of driving around, until Steve decided to go to this Mexican restaurant right off of I-10 called El Rumba. The food wasn't very memorable (and what's with the Floridian custom of giving three small tortillas with your fajitas and then charging you for extra when it's needed for the rest of the fajita filling??). However, Steve splurged & ordered a margarita to share. We noticed it didn't have the usual salted rim, so we asked our waitress if that was the way they're usually served in this restaurant; she acted flustered & said she'd bring another one. Not exactly what we were aiming for, to be honest. It took her awhile, but she did indeed bring another margarita, with a poorly  lightly salted rim & apologized, saying it was her first margarita she'd ever made. Sooo...we had two large margaritas...and there *may* have been some giggling, especially after Steve announced as the fifth thing he loves about me that I'm good in math, lol. So, our 17th anniversary will go down in history as the year of the margaritas??

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rivers Edge RV Park, Holt, Florida

Change---a common theme around the Zavocki household. Even when we think we have a reasonably clear picture of what is next, it seems to morph into the not-so-clear. After moving to Alabama to work just across the state line at his job in Pensacola, Florida, Steve learned that there was a good chance he would be moved to Milton, Florida. That good chance turned into a certainty, so we had to surrender our opportunity to stay for a month or two at a really awesome RV park with a waterpark and be content with our 5 days/6 nights there.  Steve explored the area near his new office (far from new, just new to him) & tried to find an RV park that would work well for our family and still be a not-so-bad commute for him. And so, we moved to Holt, Florida and settled in at RiversEdge RV park. The great things...very spacious sites & not an excess of rules, plus river access if you fish and/or have a boat. The not-so-great things...electric is not included, the bathhouse is definitely not awesome, and there are no amenities. There is a clubhouse onsite that we had hoped to be able to use for homeschooling, but we discovered it is only used for coffee, doughnuts, & news in the wintertime. I'm pretty sure that the coffee, doughnuts & news is not targeted towards our demographic!  

Katie being her cute self
Jake loves dirt
Nonetheless, we did end up with a really sweet site in the end, with a spacious yard for the littles to play in.  It helped it feel a lot less RV-parklike. And the sand??? Wellllll, as Jake would say, it was completely awesome. For those of us that like to keep the inside of our place reasonably clean, not actually so incredibly awesome. But, I will say that watching Jake & even Katie have sooooo much fun playing in the sand & at the edge of the river was, in a word, fantastic. :)

Playing by the Yellow River
Jake teaching Nathanael how to be rowdy, but he seems to have it figured out already
We also met another fulltime family with a little boy a year younger than Jake. Jake & Nathanael made friends & played trucks together almost daily. Daniel & Toni and Steve & I enjoyed swapping stories from our experiences on the road & sharing homeschooling wisdom. We were sad to see them leave but happy to know we have new friends on the road!  

We did really enjoy our time here, but we ended up only staying one month...mostly because of the lack of clubhouse use & nice bathhouse combined with the metered electric. I still sometimes miss those big sites though.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Katie's First Birthday

It's hard to believe that Katie's first year has already flown by! Of course, we couldn't imagine life without her! Not much warms a mama's heart more than seeing the older kids fall in love with their new siblings. I think it's safe to say that everyone (even those who were a little less enthusiastic about the idea of adding to our family) has fallen madly in love with Katie! Even the darkest of adolescent moods improve with some of her soft snuggles, warm smiles, hearty giggles & sticky kisses!

Life's too short to miss out on a chance to celebrate, so even though Katie would have been none the wiser, we ate ice cream cake. And she was a fan, of course! Dessert is generally a rarity in the RV, so everyone was happy for a little sugar!

Here are a few highlights of Katie's first year:

2 and half months
Learning to climb the stairs at 10 months, just before leaving Utah
Loving the baths in the kitchen sink at 7 months
Six months old and eating kale chips and making a mess of it
Thinking about crawling already at 5 months
Dressed up for a photoshoot by her big sisters (3 months)
Held by her beautiful mom at 3 months

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Canoeing the Blackwater River

(Written by Shanan age 13)

It was a Saturday morning. We had packed a lunch the night before, in preparation for a day of fun.

Today Dad was taking Alyssa, Genna, and me canoeing on the Blackwater River. Genna’s excitement was as clear to see as if she had “I’M EXCITED” in all caps printed on her forehead. She was literally bouncing off the walls in anticipation. Before too long, we set off in the truck to drive to Blackwater Canoe Rental. We reached the place on time, but had to wait a short while for our ride. The shuttle was an old school bus, which we rode to the drop-off point.

One EXCITED little girl

Once we arrived, Dad spotted an Old Town canoe, which we quickly claimed. We loaded ourselves into the canoe and pushed off into the river. Dad told convinced us to paddle upstream first, and that definitely got us sweating! We had no reservations about taking a dip in the cool water after such a workout. Alyssa and I enjoyed our ice cold sodas (a special treat from Dad) and regained our strength before starting off once more. Dad told us that we would turn around after the next bend, and finally, after going around several more bends, we changed our direction.

The water felt great on a hot day
We cruised along, pausing for breaks occasionally, until we stopped for lunch. We ate the sandwiches we had brought, and then set off again. Soon after, we came to a sandy spot where we pulled over. We noticed a group of people who had crossed over to the opposite bank playing in what appeared to be clay. Dad, Alyssa, and I went over to investigate, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. Dad and Alyssa started throwing it at me, so I swam back over to the canoe to escape.

It took me a while to warm up, but eventually we all ventured over and made a great time of it. Alyssa and I made face masks for each other, with Alyssa sporting a hook nose. I’m sure we looked a bit like monsters!

All too soon, it was time to paddle the last leg of the journey, so we washed off the clay. However, Alyssa and me decided to keep our face masks on for the rest of the journey down the river. It was definitely a good idea! We got lots of comments on our attractive appearances :) Before long, we reached the end point, and our day of fun was coming to a close. Alyssa and I washed our faces, and then we took the short shuttle back to the parking lot. I think I can safely say that everyone had an awesome time!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Shanan and Alyssa go to Colorado for Summer Camp!

Mom's Perspective

Steve & I were super excited to be able to send our big girls to summer camp this year. Attending SEP, both as campers & as workers was definitely a highlight for both of us. Getting the chance to provide a similar experience for our kids has been really important to us!  Having moved from Utah to Florida since making plans for them to go definitely complicated the process of figuring out the logistics of getting them to SEP Rockies in Colorado. Our initial plan of just flying them turned out to not be so awesome either because of the escort fees required since Alyssa is still eleven. Steve's persistence paid off though, and we were able to secure a spot for them on a van leaving from East Texas.  Still, we are living a looong way from East Texas!  Steve had the genius idea of seeing if someone might be willing to come pick them up from the Welcome Center in Mississippi at Vicksburg & drive them to East Texas to catch the van. Soooooo....despite my initial misgivings, we found the perfect couple to grant them safe journey from Vicksburg to Big Sandy....all I had to do was drive 330+ miles with all 5 kids to drop them off & another 330+ with the remaining three littles back to Florida. After 2,000 miles from Utah to Alabama, that should be nothing, right??  

I think they missed each other
It was a little crazy getting them all packed up, & I know they (& I) were both excited & nervous! The drive to Vicksburg was uneventful, and we met up with Doug & Bonnie Strub without incident. It was kind of hard to say goodbye, but I knew we all had a lot of miles yet to cover!  I have to be honest & admit that I missed the help of my bigs every time I had to stop for gas & bathrooms on the way home! See that picture of little feet dangling off the toilet?? Yeah, this happened while I was in the middle of changing Katie's diaper, and of course, he locked the was a bit of an adventure getting him out & cleaned up & such, but hey, we managed!!

This was what he was up to when I was changing Katie's diaper

Shanan's Perspective

The reality that we were actually leaving home first hit me after Mom dropped Alyssa and I off at the welcome center with Mr. Doug and Mrs. Bonnie Strub. Until then, the whole camp thing seemed a distant event, but I realized that it was really happening during the drive to Texas. This was the first time I had ever been away from home for such an extended period of time, so I didn't know quite what to expect. Alyssa and I stayed the night with Mr. George and Mrs. Sarah Strub. It turned out that we really got along well with their daughter Rebecca. 

The crazy boys on the van...
The next day we got up at 4:30 am and drove to the Strub's church, where we then left in a van to make the journey to Colorado. I will admit I was a bit taken aback at the large quantity of boys aboard the van, but I managed to survive ;) After a full day of car time, we finally arrived in the Denver area, where we stayed a few days before the camp started. We had a whole Saturday of free time, so we took the opportunity to go to the mall where we played glow-in-the-dark mini golf. 

Girls Tea Party
The next day we drove to Conifer, Colorado, the home of SEP Rockies. Naturally, I was intimidated by the large crowd, but it didn't take too long for me to acclimate myself to my surroundings. I didn't even have time to be homesick because of all the activites! The camp sported riflery (one of my favorites), dance, tracks, volleyball, soccer (another of my favorites), ultimate frisbee, drama, and more. Alyssa and I both had Miss Brittany Egbert as our counselor, which was an adventure in it of itself :) I think camp was a great experience and I can't wait for next year! I feel like I grew my relationship with God and I enjoyed spending some time around quality people and some great kids, too!         

Alyssa's Perspective

When I think back on camp three emotions come to mind:

 #1. Apprehensive -- I was overwhelmed by the fact that I would be staying with and spending time around so many strangers. I also felt unsure about the fact that I was an "exception" and everyone else would be twelve (or older), while I was still eleven.

The girls' crazy counselor
#2. Awestruck -- I don't think that it's very easy to describe this emotion in one word, but this is the closest one I came up with. At camp they devoted one of the nights completely to worship. One of my new friends was telling me how powerful it had been to her and how you could just feel God in the room. She also told me that everyone was crying and hugging each other. At that point I thought she was slightly crazy, but I so happened to be one of "those people" who were crying. It really was truly amazing, and she was totally right. I could just feel God's presence. I've never felt so secure and yet so torn up at the same time. It was a great experience and I think everyone was slightly shocked at themselves when it was all said and done.

Alyssa and her counselor Ms. Egbert (Brittany)
#3. Melancholy -- I've never experienced real depression (the mental illness kind, you know), but this was as close as I've ever been. I was glad to see my family and all, but I had been none too impressed with our current situation when we left Utah, and now it seemed twice as bad. After the inital joy & good feelings of being reunited with my family subsided, I had to come to terms with my real life again. As amazing & awesome as summer camp is, it's just one week, and my whole life can't be like summer camp all the time!  I really missed my friends from camp and I was constantly lusting after  the way things used to be in Utah. It's kind of odd, but at this point I began to miss *all* of the friends I've ever had. It occurred to me that I really love spending time with other girls my age, and I was really disappointed when none of my friends from camp responded to my emails and contact requests.

I feel like I've finally made peace with my life right now.  I miss the camp experience & the friends I made there, and I can't wait to go again next year, but I'm learning to choose contentment in the place God has for me right now. Now I understand why my parents told me that camp had the potential to impact me for always. Some things that I've learned and experienced there will be with me for the rest of my life.

And back again!!! (By Mom)

I have to admit that it was a wee bit nerve-wracking to not hear anything from our girls all week!  I knew that no news was good news, but still...  I was praying for them, and the other campers & staff, for the week. I know how life-changing camp can be, & I was praying that for all involved! Steve & I were excited to see how Shanan & Alyssa were impacted. I was admittedly a bit afraid that they would be quiet as a mouse when I picked them up, & information would filter out slowly.

It was so awesome seeing them come running across the parking lot when I picked them up! Watching Katie's reaction, especially, was so cool! She was clearly enchanted with them, and it was so obvious that she'd missed them...& the feeling was mutual! And...they were bubbling over with all sorts of tidbits about things that happened!  It was awesome to see how good the whole experience had been for *both* girls! Totally worth all the complexities of figuring out how to get them there! And, we're happy to make it all happen again next summer, complexities & all! :)  A big thank you to all of you who helped make SEP possible for Shanan & Alyssa this summer -- you know who you are! :)  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Visiting the Crestview Zoo

We decided to take the Littles to the zoo while our big girls were at summer camp. Zoos never seem to be cheap, and the zoo here in Crestview isn't big, but we still had a lot of fun. It was a hot, sticky day, typical for this area in the summer. Nonetheless, the zoo is pretty well shaded, so it wasn't so bad. The mosquitos were kinda vicious though, at least for Katie who gets big welts when she's bitten.

Our favorites from this day would have to be the tiger, Koda, and the baby patas monkey in the gift shop. Steve was drawn in by Koda's interactive self, but the kids & I were enchanted with the baby monkey who was so animated & putting on a great show for us in her pack'n play!

They never seemed to grow tired of the goats, and vice versa
As soon as he saw us, he came over and kept rubbing his scent on the fence
It was unusual to see one of the big cats so active and friendly
He then sat down and acted like he wanted to be petted
This is a Korean golden pheasant
Katie tried to put her foot on the goats head
The baby pig was friendly
Genna was liking the attention
The little seven week old monkey was lots of fun