Gulfport, FL – Part VI

Ben headed to Chicago at the end of February to deal with some things there. The girls and I were dreading the cold so we spent an extra week in FL before we had to fly home. It was a jam packed visit spending time with both families and our good friends. We squeezed in a couple of dinners with Ben’s family, a last minute road trip to Detroit for a couple of nights, a visit with my cousin and his wife and their precious new baby, and a 70th/40th birthday party for my uncle and sister. Ben and I even managed to see a play we had tickets for. Amazing the tickets fell when we happened to be home. And the girls made it to their cooking class. Maddy’s orthodontist appointment was canceled a half hour before she was scheduled to be there and it was on the day we flew out so that was the one frustrating part of the trip home. Phew! It was time to head back to the warmth and sunshine.

We made it back to the boat mid March and started watching weather to move south. It was finally time to leave Gulfport and head down to Ft. Myers. Our friend Ron from Chicago came down to visit and join us for the travel days. As fate would have it the wind didn’t cooperate and we didn’t move a bit. When the wind was decent in Gulfport, it was going to be kicked up further south before we would get to Ft. Myers. We had stops planned that we didn’t want to rush through so we decided to just wait it out until we had a stretch of good days. But we felt awful that we didn’t travel as planned with Ron!

Instead we continued to enjoy the pool, played in the dinghy and at the island and just enjoyed hanging out.

First up was taking on the task of cleaning the dinghy. We had to leave it in the water in Gulfport and with Ben gone for two weeks it didn’t get moved at all. And we forgot to lift the motor….oops. Big oops! When we got back we found it completely covered in barnacles and mess. It would hardly move. We made it out to the island with lots of tools, beached it there and went to work. We all pitched in, Ron complained a lot about how we told him to come visit and then put him to work (all our evil plan, and yes, he was mostly joking) and Ben did the lion’s share of the work when we all got tired.

Once the dinghy was cleaned enough to actually move we took it and headed to John’s Pass. We tied up at John and Gabi’s marina and all walked over to the pier for lunch. After having lunch there we promised the girls we could head out to the sandbar right there. John and Gabi joined us in their dinghy. We tossed out the anchor and hopped out in 2 feet of water. We spent the afternoon hanging out, playing in the water and visiting with other boaters. Once we were finished there we took a long cruise back wandering through back canals and under low bridges just to see what we could see.

Sunday was a gorgeous day. Just beautiful. We were so frustrated not to be at Cayo Costa anchored as was planned. But we knew that night the winds were kicking up and we would have been miserable at anchor. I suggested we take the big boat out! We hadn’t moved since arriving over two months prior. And with a third set of hands we figured why not. We just headed out for about an hour but it was good to be on the water. We headed towards the inlet and got out on the Gulf for a bit. It was a quick cruise so we didn’t spin the stabilizer and Maddy was unhappy when fishing boats started whipping past us tossing us around so we turned around and headed back in.

When Ron arrived he casually mentioned his 50th birthday was Tuesday! Say what?!?!?! We maybe needed a bit of time to prepare for that news! Molly baked him some scones (he said no cake), we got cards, and hung the Happy Birthday banner and lit candles and sang at breakfast. It was a rainy, cool, kind of crummy weather morning. It cleared up a tad and we headed out for a nice dinner that evening.

It was time for Ron to head home the next morning since the wind was howling and we still weren’t moving. As he was leaving, Ben spotted a mom and baby manatee in the harbor. We gave hugs and said our goodbyes and then the girls and I watched the manatees for ages.

We kept watching the weather and made a plan to finally head south in about three days. Stay tuned…we might actually move!

Gulfport, FL – Part V

Time for our next visitors! But first, I completely forgot about the amazing eclipse we witnessed back in January. So, a little out of order but wanted to mention it here. Ben and I stayed up and waited to see it around 11:30 PM. We promised the girls we’d get them up. It was incredible. Around midnight we got them out of bed and all went outside in the cockpit of the boat. The clouds had cleared and we had a perfect view. Melissa on Livin’ the Dream had texted and said to use our binoculars for a better view. They had a telescope as well. We settled for Ben’s good stabilized binoculars. This sounds kind of ridiculous but through the binoculars you could see the spherical shape of the moon. We all know that’s the moon’s shape, but to actually see it was really really neat. The girls each took turns as well, wrapped in blankets but enjoying the view. Ben tried for awhile to take a better picture with his good camera but we settled on these as the best we could get. Very cool experience.

Back to our next guests! My friend Debbie and her two kids, Laurel (Molly’s age) and Nate (Maddy’s age) were supposed to fly down on a Wednesday morning in February. It was snowing in Chicago and I was up watching her flight status. As they arrived at the airport the status flipped to canceled. They couldn’t get rebooked until Saturday! So, we anxiously awaited Saturday afternoon. We have a lot of visitors and the girls love them all, but it’s always special when kids their age come!

They arrived and we got swim suits on as quickly as we could (ours were probably already on) and headed to the pool for a late lunch and swim. Then spent the rest of the day just hanging out and relaxing.

Sunday we awoke to clouds and fog but no rain. Just sort of gloomy. We piled into the dinghy and took them out to the island. Fog never stopped anyone from playing in the sand.

Another boat showed up with kids and a paddle board and the kids all played together and took turns swimming and paddle boarding. This led us to head back to the boat after the fog burned off and grab our paddle boards. The kids did 2 and 2 on the paddle boards switching up who was on which board for the next couple of hours. They had so much fun. Laurel wins the contest for most times in the water….although many of her “falls” were self inflicted. They all had a blast.

We headed into town to O’Maddy’s for dinner that night. And who can resist a big chair? They’re everywhere and require a picture.

Monday was cool in the morning so we headed to the library and then the playground for a bit and then drove over to St. Pete Beach when the sun warmed us up. We took a windy walk on the beach to see the Gulf and collect some shells. And see dolphins!!! They were right there in the swimming area. Always fun to watch. The kids did some rock climbing and posed for some cute photos and we headed back for an afternoon at the pool.

No one ever tires of the pool. Debbie and I had a great time sitting poolside and visiting while the kids took turns between swimming and poolside giant Jenga.

Goodbyes are always tough but we are so thankful that people want to come visit us and make the effort. It means a lot! Right after Debbie, Laurel and Nate left for the airport it started storming. It rained the entire rest of the day and night. When it finally stopped the next day we got some beautiful post rain pictures. We were guest free for a bit as we had to head back to Chicago again. So I will end with a collage of sunset and sunrise pictures from this beautiful location. They just never ever get old.

Gulfport, FL – Part IV

In between guests and the quick Chicago trip we had a couple of weeks on our own in Gulfport. The girls and I have been working through a long Marine Biology unit. Way back at the beginning of the unit we studied all the various levels and pelagic zones in the ocean. The girls built their own tidal pool up on the fly bridge. They collected some sand and built a tide pool and the various levels of the ocean. They demonstrated what happens when the tide comes in and goes out. And then we let it bake in the sun for a few days and watched how much water evaporated!

Ben headed to Miami for the boat show during our downtime. He had a busy week and my mom was sweet enough to come hang on the boat with me and the girls! We caught some beautiful sunsets, I caught some beautiful sunrises, and we checked out the fabulous St. Pete Beach Community Pool. The pool at our marina still wasn’t open and this one had mushroom fountains and water slides!

We had a little excitement…one of Maddy’s not even week old brackets came loose while at the pool. I found an amazing orthodontist in St. Petersburg who fixed her right up. I am so grateful to have stumbled upon her. She got Maddy in immediately and was so sweet to her.

We continued to pass the days with school in the mornings, walks, bike rides, roller blading and swimming in the afternoons. It was fun to have grandma staying with us. One night for dinner we got to share the fish Jim caught that day. Yum. She also spent Valentine’s Day with us and Jim brought us all treats to celebrate!

After Ben was back we had a few extra days before our next visitors arrived. Their flight was canceled because of stupid winter weather in Chicago so we had a few extra days to kill before they could get rescheduled. We had a fun dinner on the boat with Gabi and John. We really enjoy having friends local. We introduced them to Little Beers! It’s a “looper” drink that someone first gave us in Niceville. Gabi and John liked them as much as we did.

Countdown is on for our next visitors: my friend Debbie and her kids, Laurel and Nate, from Chicago!

Gulfport, FL – Part III

The afternoon we got back to the boat from Captiva, Ben’s parents arrived. Gulfport was still chilly and didn’t feel much like FL but there was a huge polar vortex happening in Chicago so we all put on our thin packable down coats and dealt with the stiff FL breeze and on and off rain. They arrived on a Monday afternoon just in time for the Tuesday farmer’s market in downtown Gulfport.

As soon as the girls finished up school work we headed over to the market. Stocked up on some goodies, ate lunch at the crepe cart and then headed to the playground to burn off some energy since it was too chilly for any swimming or dinghy rides.

Never too old for a push on the swings!

The girls had just finished up their Cuba unit for school and we were interested in taking a day trip to Ybor City. Ybor City is a neighborhood in Tampa where many Cubans settled years ago. During the Cuban Revolution many Cubans fled first to Key West and then to Tampa when they realized Key West still didn’t have basic necessities. Ybor City turned into a melting pot and built an amazing community. The Cubans brought cigar making to Ybor City.

Ben’s parents and the girls and I headed that way to check it out. We parked in the historic town square. The girls loved all the roosters running around. They commented it felt like Key West. Fitting since many of the Cuban settlers first started in Key West before moving here.

We toured the Ybor City Museum and learned all about the history and culture and what each set of immigrants brought to the table. The museum is set in a 1932-era bakery. We started with an informational video about the settling of Ybor City. We learned that the Ybor City flags represent the first settlers to the area – American, Spanish, Cuban and Italian.

After touring the museum including the bakery exhibits and the cigar making exhibits, we walked around town a bit. We loved the old streetcars that are still running. And we spotted a number of the old buildings we learned about at the museum. We found the Stein building! The Jewish immigrants were merchants – providing clothing more upscale goods to Ybor City citizens.

Ben was able to meet us after finishing work for the day. We decided on Cuban food for dinner. We hesitated on going to the typical touristy place, The Columbia Restaurant, but Nikki’s second cousin was with us and assured us it was the right choice. We had a fantastic meal! The restaurant is huge, but we were lucky to be seated in the original dining room. We had incredibly good mojitos and really great Cuban sandwiches. Topped it all off with perfect flan. We loved our little side trip exploring Ybor City!

Next up with the grandparents was heading into downtown St. Petersburg and going to the Dali Museum. We went two years ago and the girls still remember the self guided tour that is led by Dali’s mustache! So we did it again and enjoyed a new exhibit with Magritte and Dali.

And then….it was finally WARM! The girls and I hopped in the dinghy with Fred and headed to the island. Molly and Madelyn were excited to show him the tree houses and play in the sand with him. It stayed warm and we were able to inflate the paddle boards. We hadn’t used them in months and the girls had so much fun getting back out on them.

I caught a gorgeous sunrise the next morning and then anxiously awaited my college roommate Denise and her husband John to arrive. They have a condo in Tampa and it’s often simpler to get together in Florida than Chicago! We wanted to take them out in the sunshine for a bit so we went to none other then the island yet again. They brought their adorable dog Champ with them so the girls played with Champ and we had a chance to visit for a bit.

Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday. My mom joined us and we had a mini watch party with my mom, Fred and Nikki and the four of us. We made lots of goodies and Molly, Nikki and my mom baked a Key Lime Pie for dessert.

Monday morning brought another round of good byes. Fred and Nikki began their drive north. Tuesday Maddy and I flew to Chicago and actually arrived by air just before Fred and Nikki arrived by car. We had a quick 28 hours on the ground – ice storm, cold, and a mini set of braces put on and we high tailed it back to Florida!