Sunday, March 29, 2015

Visiting Tallahassee Day 2

After checking out of the hotel, we drove to Wakulla Springs to check out a glass-bottomed boat tour to see manatees, as recommended by a friend. We were disappointed to hear when we arrived that the waters were too murky for the glass-bottomed boat tours, and that the weather had warmed up too much for it to be likely that we'd see manatees. But...we were still able to go on the 45-minute riverboat tours. So, we did! And we found out that the glass bottomed boats haven't run for 3 years, so it's not like we just missed them.

The littles had a blast on the riverboat tour. Jake was sooo incredibly excited, & the guide quickly learned his name & helped make sure he saw all the biggest gators. Katie was enchanted with the guide as well & endlessly waved at him, pretty much the entire time!

Jake was mesmerized by the abundant wildlife
Another big gator
This smile tells us the trip was worth it
This smile as well
After the riverboat tour, Steve told the big girls he'd give them each $5 if they jumped off the high observation/diving platform into the cold springs. Although there was a bit of wavering, they did it--not once but three times! And earned their $5.

We were a bit bummed to not have seen a manatee, but we still made the most of our visit here & had good times.

Back on the road again, we made our way to Falling Waters State Park. We took the hiking trail to the sinkholes. Jake, poor guy, has an exceedingly great fear of heights. It's actually slightly amusing. He kept encouraging us to turn back & head to safer ground. Mind you, it was entirely safe--the fence was positioned far away from the sinkholes & there really was to fall in. He survived. :) And, if it was a foraging for food in the forest contest, he would have totally eaten everything he could get his hands on, without regard for safety or possibility of being poisonous. He is definitely a daredevil in other ways...but heights reduce him to quaking in his boots.

We continued along the trail to the waterfall, not impressive really, except Jake's fear that prevented him from really even looking at the waterfall, much less getting anywhere close to it. But, since there had been rain, there was at least water flowing. We continued walking the trail until it looped back to the parking lot & playground. These days, we try really hard not to pass up a playground since they're just not as commonplace here in Florida as we were used to from Utah & Texas. We all had fun & burned a little energy before making the trek back to Milton!

Another great getaway making fun, family memories!!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Visiting Tallahassee Day 1

As it's been awhile since we went on a "true" family vacation, it's been such a big blessing to be able to get away sometimes for the weekend. We decided to explore Tallahassee, about a 3 hour drive from where we're staying.

Since we were driving right past Ponce de Leon again, we decided to stop for dinner at Sally's Restaurant as a nice way to break up the drive. We arrived & checked into the hotel & enjoyed some lightning fast wifi. ;) 

Katie did the slide over and over and over again.
We spent Saturday morning at the Tallahassee Museum of History & Natural Science.  It doesn't really feel like a museum--it feels a bit like a cross between a small zoo & a living history venue.  It was a great place to enjoy on a cool morning, with painted dinosaurs made out of old car parts that delighted Jake, people dressed in period costumes, & old buildings to explore. We took advantage of the playground, too! A ropes course runs through the grounds, & it enticed us to consider returning for a chance to try it! They even have a small course designed for the little ones.

Can I hold your hand
Beautiful Alyssa
Friendly Cow
Jake making cornmeal
Very cool to see this Florida panther active
After working up an appetite, we went in pursuit of food. Steve had told everyone we'd eat pizza slices as big as our head for lunch, but alas, Momo's near the University was simply impossible for our crew. There were some sorely disappointed children! Our second choice, also recommended by a friend, Vertigo's Burgers, was also absurdly crowded, but we were able to get in. We did not anticipate it would take sooo long to get our food, but no one passed out from hunger while we waited. Well, Jake did fall asleep in his chair, & Katie finished her nap she'd begun in the car. The food was worth the wait, I in, the food was yummy, but the wait was ridiculous. Shanan & I tried the Thai chicken burger, & it was really good. Steve ordered the vertigo, & when he took his first bite, the egg burst & literally shot out the side of his burger, somehow nailing Katie's nose & cheek, as well as the front & sleeve of my sweater! Seriously, what are the chances of that happening??!! I was so tired & hungry, I *might* have overreacted, but I quickly saw the humor in it.  

Feeling better from food & rest, we decided to bypass the art museum on the Florida State campus that we'd initially planned to go to, and we headed toward Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. It's kind of like an arboretum. The Maclay family came here from New York each winter, so most of the plants flower from January to April. The azaleas & rhododendrons bloomed early this year, so the peak was already over, but it was still really pretty.  

The gardens were nearly perfect
We spent a lot time relaxing and building up an appetite for pizza 
As we were leaving the Gardens, we decided to try one more time for pizza at Momo's, the location *not* by the University. This time, success! Jake was hopelessly asleep at the table, but that worked out just fine because he was exhausted, & we had to wait awhile for our food.  The crazy huge 30" pizza was super yummy, a great ending to the day. And no, we couldn't finish it all, but it is kind of crazy how much food this family of seven can consume when starving!

Genna having fun exploring the gardens
Love that smile
Jake in front of the rhododendrons

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Weekend Trip to Montgomery, Alabama

We decided to get away for a weekend to Montgomery, Alabama & take advantage of all the Civil Rights Movement learning opportunities.  We were happy to find a hotel with an indoor pool as it's definitely still too cool for outdoor swimming! We carefully planned our Saturday as most of the sights are closed on Sunday. And, we were all delighted to have Steve get off work early on Friday! He's been working so much that it was a real treat to have him come home early, so we could get an early start on our adventure!

After our arrival on Friday, we checked out the local restaurant with great reviews, Southern Comfort.  It's just a little place, and we clearly timed our arrival just so, as it got crazily busy after we were seated. As the name implies, it's not a place for gourmet offerings; it's a place to enjoy what is deemed typical Southern fare. (And how, after moving away from the South, did I not remember how much fried food is *the* staple fare???) Since the chicken fried chicken got rave reviews, Steve & I both tried it.  And, it did not disappoint! It was by far the most tender, moist, & flavorful chicken fried chicken I've tasted. The gravy on it was just the right amount (I'm not a fan of drowning it in gravy), & it was not heavy & greasy! Out of all the things we ordered, it was definitely the best!  

The kiddos sitting on the front steps of Martin Luther King's home for six years
We got an early start (for our crew) on Saturday morning & began our day with a tour of the MLK parsonage. It was really neat that our tour guide, Ms. Foley, was actually a member of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church that Dr. King pastored, while he was pastor! For some reason, that helped bring home the reality that all of these events took place in the not-so-distant past! It was also neat to be standing in the very kitchen where Dr. King, considering the possibility of stepping down from his role in the Civil Rights Movement, felt like God was telling him to stay strong & not give up!

After touring the parsonage, our next stop was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor. Our tour guide, Ms. Wanda Battle was amazing. Seriously, she embraced the verse in the Bible that tells us to do everything as unto the Lord. She is such a people person & did such a phenomenal job of not just telling the history behind the church, but also of loving on & ministering to the people on her tours. What an amazing lady!

Our family (except Dad) with Miss Wanda inside the sanctuary of the Dexter Ave Baptist Church
Peeking in the mail slot of MLK's former church while we wait for our tour
Our next tourist stop was the Rosa Parks Museum. We were rapidly running out of time, so we didn't have time to see the children's museum section, just the main portion, and we couldn't linger after the "tour" was over. It was indeed very well done, but it was also a bit pricey! And? I couldn't help but think that a certain brown-eyed spunky girl of ours (whose name begins with A) has a similar combination of bravery & sense of justice as Rosa Parks...

We hastily made our way to the Little White House of the Confederacy, where the littles had great fun exploring as each room was set up like the days of old. I spent my time chasing after them & making sure they didn't push past the roped off areas, so I couldn't tell you much about the place! But...I bet Shanan could because she's such a thorough sign reader & learner!

A Liberty Bell without the crack in front of the Alabama state capitol
We rushed out & made tracks across the street to tour the Capital building. Sadly, after arriving, we learned that only guided tours are offered on Saturdays, & we had already missed the last one. However, I wasn't too disappointed because, by this point in the day, a guided tour didn't seem like it would have gone all that well. Instead, the kids had a blast exploring the well-manicured grounds around the Capital. And?? Someone discovered that the steep, grassy slope leading down to the sidewalk served very nicely as a slide. Only one child didn't participate in the festivities...

The Zavocki Family First Lady
Cute kids grow on trees in Montgomery
Thanks to Steve's research, we ended up at Taste of India for dinner. After living in places with a plethora of Indian restaurants, there are none where we now live, so this was a really special treat! Our waiter said they close one day a week in order to travel to purchase goat meat & the spices they need. The samosas, tandoori chicken (best I've ever had), chicken biryani, and tikka masala were so incredibly yummy & enjoyed by all!

Might be the best Indian Food we ever had
After more swimming & sleep, we packed up & headed to the Modern Art Museum, pretty much the only thing in Montgomery open on Sundays! It is free, always a bonus with a crew our size! I *think* a prerequisite for working here might be to make sure you never smile at the patrons & never, *ever* give the patron the impression that you're glad they're visiting... Seriously, we walked in the entrance, & the guy manning the front desk literally just stared at us (none too warmly, I might add) & never opened his mouth to say anything except, "Children are not allowed to push strollers!" He did not welcome us, nor did he explain the layout of the museum or tell us where we might find maps of the museum; he didn't even brief us on the rules, except that children are not allowed to push strollers. When I asked one of the guards whether pictures were allowed, she told us they were allowed everywhere except the room we were in, but when we took pictures in a different room, she found us & informed us that pictures weren't allowed.

Love this painting, photo doesn't do justice
We mostly had the place to ourselves
In spite of their lack of warmth at the museum, we still stayed for quite a long time & thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The children's section was fantastic; the kids played & played & Steve stretched out on the floor & caught some zzzz's. His ability to sleep anywhere, at any time, is clearly a gift that I simply don't possess!

The littles were super bummed to leave. Genna even shed a tear or two when it was time to go & announced that she wanted to come back on her birthday! High accolades, I say! The weather was crummy when we were there, but on a beautiful weather sort of day, you could totally make a day of it by packing a picnic lunch & enjoying the surrounding park area!

We definitely made good memories in Montgomery!

Don't know what to call this wood donut, but it was very impressive
This is a close up of a mototcycle

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shanan's 14th Birthday

(Written by the birthday girl Shanan)
The Zavocki family has several venerable birthday traditions. On a typical birthday, the birthday personage chooses the menu for the day, including a meal out at a restaurant of their choice. They are allowed to schedule the activities of the day, at least to a certain point. The birthday cake is per their desire. In past times, the birthday girl would go on a special outing with her father to pick out a bouquet of flowers, and when she was younger, an accompanying balloon. A day off from chores is an added benefit. 

Now for the reality! Hypothetically, it all unfolds without a hitch, but sometimes real life throws a bit of a monkey wrench. Each year my birthday (and everyone else's) has its own twist. Thankfully, in spite of the stomach bug that knocked down everyone but Genna just days before my birthday, this year's birthday experience turned out to be outstanding! 

My birthday started out on a great note. Dad made my day by helping me set up my own Facebook account, to my utmost pleasure. The festivities quickly accelerated when Mom and Dad presented me with a purity ring decorated with the Bible verse "True love waits," and my birthstone, Amethyst. 

Stomachs rumbling, I and the rest of the Zavocki clan piled into the van for the remaining birthday activities. In my search for a comparable substitute in place of my favorite Vietnamese Pho, I decided upon Wasabi House in Pace. I ordered a shrimp tempura, per Dad's recommendation - and boy was it heaven! I don't have to be a genius to tell that everyone highly enjoyed the restaurant experience. 

Enjoying my birthday lunch!
My tasty shrimp tempura.
It was my lucky day! Alyssa's sharp eyes spotted the Sally Beauty Supply a few stores over from Wasabi House, and that promptly became our next stop. I think it's safe to say that beauty stores are generally girl paradise, and although I'm not quite as enthusiastic about them as the majority, Alyssa easily makes up for whatever I lack. Alyssa, Genna, and I happily browsed the clearance section, scrounging for any sign of a good deal. As we exited the store some time later, I carried the rest of my birthday presents - even Jake had found a gift for me that was to his liking. I believe I am now equipped for a hearty nail painting spree! 

Our following occupations were mostly uneventful, until Dad made a surprise stop at Village Inn, a common Saturday evening dinner haunt for us. But this time we weren't there for dinner! Dad and I went in alone to pick out my special treat. I couldn't help choosing the heavenly key lime pie, with its fluffy cloud of whipped cream!

This was the delicious key lime pie that had entranced me.
I determined to postpone my homemade birthday dinner of chicken posole and chips with guacamole, so I could save the delectable taste for my fully recovered stomach. Instead, Mom cooked tomato soup and cheese quesadillas, which was a tasty alternative.

That evening we got to test Village Inn's promise of "Best Pie In America." Was it true? you ask. Nope. Homemade always beats store-bought. But if you think that means the pie tasted awful, you're totally wrong! It was divine. Thanks Dad, for buying it for me! 

I couldn't wait to taste it!
About two weeks after my actual birthday, Mom baked the miracle known as my birthday cake. Now, I've had birthday cake before. Many times. But this birthday cake was another story. Let me rephrase myself: It was another book! This year I couldn't resist choosing a white chocolate cheesecake, because the one Mom made for my 13th birthday was so amazing. I am so glad I did! Mom used a no-bake recipe (with an Oreo crust) this time around, and we served it up with chocolate chips and sugared strawberries - there is positively no way to go wrong with that! 

Doesn't this make your mouth drool?
Everyone was excited for the cake!
Blowing out the candles...
Because we barely escaped getting caught in the worst of sickness over my birthday, I consented to spread out my birthday meals instead of having them all on one day like usual. Although I wouldn't choose this option every year, I must admit it was a real treat to enjoy the last remnant of my birthday a whole 2 weeks after the date. That's one long birthday celebration! 

Wow. I am so unbelievably grateful that I have a Mom and Dad who love me and are willing to put such effort into making me feel loved and special. I love my family and wouldn't ever want anyone to take their place! Thank you all for such an incredible day, there's no one I would rather spend it with! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Meeting the Hubachers in Savannah

Our friendship with the Hubachers goes all the way back to our time spent traveling full-time.    How our kids formed great friendships in just the blink of an eye is nothing short of miraculous! they have actively maintained those friendships over the last two and a half years is amazing!  When Katie was born, they made the trek cross-country to come see us & meet our little miracle.  Now that we're living much closer, we decided to meet up somewhere in the middle over a long weekend. Having agreed upon Savannah, we began to make our plans.

When the Hubachers finally arrived on Saturday afternoon, it was so cute to see how some of their kids were amazed that we had coincidentally ended up in Savannah, at the same place, at the same time as them! ;) They had opted to completely surprise their kids about meeting up with us, while we had opted to tell our kids in advance. Both ways worked for both families!

The remainder of Saturday & Sunday consisted of much, much play! Thanks to Shannon's Marine status, she was able to secure a hotel room for us on base, which was super nice! Unfortunately, while she & Steve were getting checked in, Katie threw up in her seat.  The remainder of the weekend for her was spent on the puny side, with more puking & generally not feeling herself.  Fortunately, that didn't ruin the fun for the other kids! Jake, Genna, Philip, Levi, & David all played war endlessly outside the hotel rooms, while the big girls holed up in their own hotel room getting reacquainted & doing girly stuff!

While I stayed back with a sick Katie, everyone else took a drive around base & got the chance to do a little rope climbing. Steve offered monetary rewards for those who climbed. There was a frayed rope hanging about 2 feet from the top. Anyone who could touch the frayed rope would earn $5. Most everyone tried, but Rachel and Alyssa were the only ones who won the reward.

Later in the day we met up at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens  with some of the Hubachers' old friends who live in the area.  It's definitely still in the planning stages, but it will be amazing when it's complete! The kids had a blast running around, but their favorite part was climbing the giant dirt piles! Watching them all scramble when Shannon cried, "Snake!" was pretty priceless. ;)

After breakfast on Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes. It was a short but fun visit! 

Sleeping beauty at the park while waiting for the Hubachers
The girls were excited to see each other
Shannon helping Phillip and Genna copy what the big kids were doing
Dwight and Phillip relaxing after dinner in their hotel room
Drawing and makeup were the main activities in the girls room
"Someone" loves playing with makeup
Phillip and David in front of a Vietnam-era attack helicopter
Nearly everyone took the rope climbing challenge
Shannon showing off the proper technique to rope climb, leaving her with some battle wounds on her feet
Rachel touched the frayed rope and won a $5 dollar reward
Alyssa also won a $5 reward
The fruit of the child tree is almost ready for harvest

Climbing dirt piles was the kids favorite thing about the botanical gardens