Cape Coral & Captiva, FL

We took a quick detour from Gulfport by car to Cape Coral. We were heading to Looperpalooza in Ft. Myers and my mom and Jim rent a condo each year in Cape Coral. So we packed up the car and drove down to stay with them and run back and forth to the conference. It is absurd how full our car was for 5 quick days (school work, swim bag, snorkel gear had to come, luggage, etc). We’ve been coming here for as long as they’ve been renting and the girls know their way around. They were in the pool as quickly as they could get changed!

The next morning we all headed to the conference in Ft. Myers. Ben was speaking on marine electronics and the four of us did a quick presentation on the story of our Loop. As usual, people had quite a few questions for the girls! We love having them involved and getting comfortable with speaking to adults (and a room full of them at that!). After the presentations it was great to walk around the marina and catch up with so many people we hadn’t seen in awhile. We ran the girls back to stay with my mom and drove back to enjoy dinner and the evening with fellow Loopers.

Sunset on the Caloosahatchee River

After the conference wrapped up my mom and Jim kept the girls and Ben and I headed to Captiva Island for the weekend. It was great to get away and have a little adult time as we are used to being with the kids 24/7. The weather didn’t cooperate too well however! It was cold, damp and blustery! But in between rain we were able to dart in and out of the car and walk around a bit. We even managed to get a couple of quick walks from our hotel in.

What we couldn’t do outside we made up for with meals. We had a number of good meals, some more interesting than others! We went to this place called The Bubble Room. Unique was one way to describe it. But it had great food, fun drinks and amazing desserts!

On a rainy Sunday we checked out the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. What a great find. We ducked into the visitor’s center and learned so much. Immediately I knew I wanted to bring the girls there when we moved the boat down to Ft. Myers. We sat through a talk with one of the volunteers and learned about the animals living in the estuary. We took the driving tour around the grounds and again decided we wanted to come back….when it was sunny! We darted through a quick path down to the water to look at the mangroves. And we climbed up to one of the lookouts. I can imagine how pretty it must be when not raining. So we look forward to taking the girls and learning new things all over again.

A big thank you to my mom and Jim for keeping the girls so we could have a couple of days away. We picked the girls up Monday around lunchtime and headed north to Gulfport. Ben’s parents were our next guests arriving that afternoon!

Gulfport, FL – Part II

The next couple of weeks brought more visitors. First up was a visit from Ben’s uncle Geff. Geff plays oboe in a traveling band that performs twice a year. The group he was performing with played in conjunction with the Sailor Circus in Sarasota.

We learned all about the Sailor Circus history and the Circus Arts Conservatory in Sarasota. In 1927 the Ringling Brothers moved their winter headquarters to Sarasota. The Circus Arts Conservatory pays homage to the circus history. It provides a number of classes and outreach programs to students in the area. The concert was all circus themed music and we all greatly enjoyed it. A different member of the band comes up and directs each song. There were a number of styles of circus music including many well recognized upbeat marches.

Once the concert was finished Geff joined us in the stands while the center ring was reset for the circus performers. We had so much fun watching the gymnasts. Bikes, unicycles, tightropes, gymnastics, hoops, giant swings, etc. I had to hold my breath and close my eyes quite a few times. The girls absolutely loved it. They would beg to take classes there if we lived here!

After the performance we headed back to the boat and cooked dinner for Geff and Barbara. They rented an Airbnb in Gulfport so we got to spend more time with them the next day. We took them to the Cuban restaurant in Gulfport for lunch. The girls had just finished their unit on Cuba and made travel brochures for a final project. They brought them along to show Geff and Barbara as they went to Cuba with Ben’s parents a couple of years ago.

Random picture of a homeschool project. The girls had to design a water filter. They chose to use a double layer of coffee filters, twine and some rubber bands. They gathered up sand, dirt, rocks and some grass to test it out. It was VERY slow but worked really well! The water it filtered through was quite clear. And yet none of us was brave enough to try drinking it. The girls have learned plenty about water filtration over the last couple of years. When we went to the Bahamas they took an active role in testing all of our water when we used the water maker. That water was the cleanest water we’ve ever had. We like to grab the tester here and there and test the water in various cities we are in. Our friends the Zeeffs have our tester right now so we weren’t able to test out the girls’ water!

Next visitors….the Wilsons! They moved from Clearwater to Gulfport for a few days. We were all too happy to meet them at the Gulfport farmer’s market and then take them to….the island! They’d certainly heard us talk about it long enough.

We all gathered at our boat and took two dinghy trips out to the island to drop everyone off. Nina and the first load of girls found a dead pig on the other side of the beach! What?! After my shock wore off I realized likely someone had a pig roast and then left all the remains. Nina gave the girls a science lesson while the other half of us were on our way out. Head. Spine. Pelvis. It was pretty gross and yet cool.

Poor pig’s head

Next up was showing them the tree houses. The girls went from tree house climbing to spending a long time chopping coconuts open. Someone left an axe by one of the tree houses. We were a tad nervous letting them use it but no one lost any fingers. Nina, Wendy and I hung on the beach with Mia while the girls worked away. They were so excited when they broke it open. We all nibbled a tad but none of us actually like coconut that much!

We watched a beautiful sunset on the two dinghy trips back to the marina. While we were at the island Bobby and Ben were working on replacing Bobby and Wendy’s fresh water pump. We got the better end of the deal. Nina kept all of the girls that evening and Bobby, Wendy, Ben and I got to have a date night out for dinner! It was then time for another goodbye. Ben and the girls and I were heading to Cape Coral/Ft. Myers for Looperpalooza and to visit my mom and Jim and the Wilsons planned to leave Gulfport before our return. I was skeptical because of the wind forecast! Turns out I was right…they were still there when we returned and we got one more dinner together before they did indeed have to head south while we were staying put for a couple of months. But we’ll see them again in April when they head north!

Gulfport, FL – Part I

We just spent 2.5 months in Gulfport, FL on Boca Ciega Bay. It was our second time there by boat and fourth time visiting. We’ve been lucky enough to stay at Mike and Leann Rowe’s house in St. Pete Beach on Boca Ciega Bay the two times we were not on our boat. And at their marina the two times we had the boat. We settled into boat life there. We love downtown Gulfport. It’s funky feel, it’s fantastic farmer’s market and great restaurants. It’s a less than 10 minute bike ride with the girls to the library where all three of us were able to get library cards. We opened a PO Box so we could easily get shipments of products for Ben for work and some mail. It really felt like home. And since we were stationary we had a lot of visitors! In an effort to keep my blogging from carrying on and on I think I’ll group blogs from the last couple of months by visitors.

The first thing we did after we arrived (and school work was done) was head to the island! Anyone who has come through Guflport has either been told about the island by us or taken there by us. My girls first played there in 2016. They discovered an awesome tree house and had such fun exploring. This year they discovered three tree houses! They were excited to sign their name like so many others. Not a clue why my image is upside down.

Molly is part monkey with her climbing skills and she clambered right to the top. Maddy is a little more cautious and not as agile so I encourage her to just hang with me and only climb as high as she is comfortable. Thankfully she doesn’t try to keep up if she doesn’t think she can. I even let Molly scramble up with my phone and take a selfie. She didn’t drop it…

After some playtime in the sand we called it a day. The pool at the marina was closed the first 5 weeks we were there so having the island to zip out to was wonderful. It was also cold most days the first 5 weeks we were there so it was again great to have somewhere to run and climb and play in the sand when it wasn’t warm enough to swim.

Our first visitors were the Zeeffs! We managed to jam our water maker in our car when we drove back to the boat in December. They borrowed it to take to the Bahamas (we’re glad the water maker could make the trip…we’re sorry we didn’t get to go too this year!). The Zeeffs were docked in Ft. Myers so they drove up to see us the Saturday after we arrived. They brought some warmth from further south with them and we had a great time trekking out to the island with them, hanging out on the boat and taking them into town to O’Maddy’s for lunch.

We were super sad to say goodbye to them as we knew they were heading across Lake Okeechobee as soon as they got decent weather (and the water maker) to make their way south for a Bahamas crossing. So, on a whim a couple of days later the girls and I hopped in the car when we were done with school work and drove down to Ft. Myers to spend the day with them. They were docked on Ft. Myers Beach so we went across to the beach and played in the powdery sand and flew kites.

After some hang out time on their boat we checked out their pool and then headed to dinner before we really did have to say goodbye. Our plan is make our way across Lake Okeechobee and meet up with them on the east coast of FL after they are back from the Bahamas!

When we weren’t driving to Ft. Myers to see the Zeeffs or Clearwater to see the Wilsons we got to see Gabi and John right there in Madeira Beach. We kept super busy our first week in town. Gabi and John have a lovely heated pool so when the sun was shining on Sunday we headed over. Gabi took the girls for a swim and then we took a walk on the beach.

The girls and I also got the bikes out and zipped around the neighborhood and Molly was welcomed into the Grades 6-12 craft night at the library. I was proud of her that she wanted to go. Our girls are the best of friends but they are both often nervous to do anything alone. Molly was excited and didn’t let herself get worked up over it. We had to leave our visit with the Wilsons to make it in time and she was determined. In she went and she had a blast. They made adorable key chains out of clay. They even used a toaster oven at the library to bake them and applied glaze.

Clearwater, FL

We spent two nights in Clearwater so that we could have a day to check out Clearwater Beach.  The girls and I headed that way right after school work was done the next day.   It was windy but we wanted to give it a try. We settled on one side of the boardwalk and the kids got busy playing in the powdered sugar sand.

Pretty soon a family showed up, walking back from lunch. One of their boys was holding a bag of chips. Immediately the seagulls descended. It was awful. Maddy was terrified. They went away for a few minutes and Maddy went back to playing. We brought a cooler of food as well but made sure not to open it on the beach after that craziness. Maddy had one more close call with one chasing her. She threw her sand toys and dove into the sand hysterical. I felt so badly for her. Molly and I got to her as quickly as we could. We then packed up our stuff and moved up to the playground area away from the beach. The girls had their lunch there and then we tried the beach again on the other side. The beach is supposed to be fun! They went back to playing until more seagulls appeared on that side too. One lady was under attack. She was on a beach chair. She had an umbrella up blocking the front of her and towels wrapped all around her. It is a beautiful beach but we had had enough. We packed up and headed back to the boat.

That was it for us and Clearwater, but we promised we’d come back when the Wilsons arrived. Molly and I took a long walk early the next morning and spotted the boat from the causeway.

Beautiful morning (except again windy!) to move the boat to Gulfport. Mike met us at the slip to help us get settled. Gabi came by next and drove me back to Clearwater to pick up the car. We had a great reunion dinner that night with Tim, Mike and Leann and Gabi and John. All friends from our first Loop. It was great to catch up with everyone! And since we planned to spend at least a month at Mike and Leann’s marina in Gulfport we knew we’d get to spend plenty of time together.

As promised, when the Wilsons got to Clearwater we came back to visit! Twice! The first time the girls and I drove up for the afternoon for a playdate. We took the girls to the beach and spent a lot of time at the playground. We finished off the afternoon with ice cream before we had to head back to the boat.

We were able to make one more trip over that weekend so Ben and Bobby could hang out as well. We headed to the beach for an hour or so and then took a long walk around and ended up at a great restaurant further down on the beach. After walking back to their boat it was time for goodbyes again. But….we knew they’d be coming to Gulfport and we’d get to show them our island and hang out a bit more before too long!