Category Archives: Rob

Four Foto Friday – End of the Road

The big news this week: we’re home! Arrived back in Connecticut on Wednesday after several days of travel through upstate New York. For 22 years, I grew up in  this region, so in many ways, it was a stroll down memory lane. I really loved sharing these places with Jen and the boys, who heard plenty of old stories along the way. It was great final leg to our historic Gold Family Road Trip!

Midvale Road – Home for 20+ years!

Vestal, NY: Our first stop was in my hometown of Vestal. For Jen and I, this was our second visit since my parents moved in 1992, but for Miles and Owen it was their first. Needless to say, we attempted to squeeze in as much as possible. Food was a top priority, and we savored the fine flavors of Little Venice and Mario’s Pizza. We also caught up with a couple of old friends, including longtime next door neighbor Eric G. It was great to see him and his three girls. Touring the neighborhood, we saw the house in which I grew up, former schools, the houses of old friends, the JCC and temple, sports fields, locations of past jobs, and many other storied places from my youth. I even dragged us all through the woods in search of the old tree fort (which has gone to the ages). Overall, it was a very nostalgic visit that brought back great memories. Our tour of America just wouldn’t be complete without a stop in Vestal!

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Owen and Jackie Robinson

Cooperstown, NY: By Monday, we were on our way to Cooperstown. This quaint, lakeside town has so much to offer: scenic farms, old homes, and a vibrant arts community. Our main interest, however, was the Baseball Hall of Fame, where we enjoyed the historic glimpse into our nation’s pastime. They had good exhibits on important figures like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and many top players from each of the teams. The Hall of Records was especially interesting, seeing the different ways in which leaders of the sport have achieved their fame. We ended the day with some classic viewing: Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First and the terrific movie, A League of Their Own. The Hall of Fame got us excited for all things baseball; hopefully we can catch a game or two this summer.

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Miles mining for Herkimer Diamonds

Clinton and Herkimer, NY: On Tuesday, we traveled to my alma mater, Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. It was great to be back again and share this part of my life with Jen and the boys. The campus looked great, with several new buildings and senior students enjoying their last week before graduation. Like Vestal, there was plenty of nostalgia at every turn; fond memories of my time on the Hill (Go Blue!).

Our last stop in New York was the town of Herkimer, which is famous for a unique rock, the Herkimer Diamond. Actually a type of quartz, the Herkimer is the so clear, hard, well-faceted, and sparkly, that it’s valued amongst jewelers and collectors. Mining for Herkimer diamonds was great fun; we attacked the rock ledges with sledge hammers and pick axes in hopes of discovering the next mother lode. The boys kept it up for about an hour, until they were exhausted and learned the simpler method of sifting through the dirt to find stones which has already been dislodged. In all, we came away with several small Herkimers and other cool pieces of crystalized rock. I found the whole experience to be a metaphor for our trip… hard work and a slog at times, but great fun, good memories, and several nice jewels to take home.

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We made it! Whoo-hoo!!

West Hartford, CT: Yes, there’s nothing better than arriving home after a long trip. As much as we loved being on the road, and there are many things we’ll miss about this year of travel and togetherness, it sure is great to be back. Our return to the neighborhood has seen a few friends and family, with more to come this holiday weekend. The RV and truck are back in the driveway, with “For Sale” signs on both coming (please send us any leads!). It’ll be hard to say goodbye to Jake Jr. (the truck) and Harvey (the RV), but they’ve served us well and gotten us home safely. For now, we’re appreciating the comforts of home: soft beds, full-sized bathrooms, free laundry, good wifi, a regular kitchen, and the space of a real house. we’ve reunited with Little Grey Kitty (thanks, David and Marna, for taking care of her!) and are happy to just sit back, relax, and declare, “mission accomplished!”.

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This may be our last Four Foto Friday, but the blogs will continue for a few more weeks. Our “school” will wrap up with a bit of reflection, final projects, more books and movies, and a trip to New York City (without the RV). Please stay tuned for more postings and photos. And, as aways, thanks for following us on this great American journey.

Four Foto Friday – Black Hills and Beyond

As you may have heard, we’re trying to “Live Below the Line” this week. This is a challenge to raise money and awareness to fight global hunger, and we set out to eat on just $1.50 each per day. We’ll plan to write more this coming week on how it all went (spoiler alert: we survived!).

Despite limited food rations and lower than normal energy levels, we also managed to complete one of our most active weeks thus far! Turns out, this corner of the US has many great attractions and, with several days of sunny weather, we were able to pack in a lot.

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Owen amongst the boulders of Devil’s Tower, WY.

Montana and Wyoming: OK, I spoke too soon about the nice weather. Last weekend was pretty cold and rainy as we headed east on Route 90. Sunday found us passing over rolling hills of the high prairie with strong winds and freezing rain. We opted to make an unexpected stop in the town of Gillette and wait for better driving conditions. Despite the slowdown, we still managed to salvage the long drive with stops at the Little Bighorn Battlefield (site of “Custer’s last stand”) and Devil’s Tower National Monument. Both marked our entrance into Plains Indian territory, and it was interesting to learn the significance of these two sites to the local Sioux. A good perspective as we entered their most sacred region, the Black Hills.

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Cubs at Bear Country, USA.

Rapid City, SD: Our first full day in Rapid was a slow but enjoyable one. We explored the downtown area and discovered a really cool store called Prairie Edge, which was filled with Native American artwork, a fine arts gallery, and an extensive collection of western books and music. In the afternoon, we went to Bear Country USA, a drive-through game park that featured over 100 black bears. Normally, we try to avoid such touristy stuff, but this one was surprisingly well done. We had a great time passing through the bear pens, which also contained wolves, buffalo, big horn sheep, and many other large mammals. The highlight, however, was in the walk-through area (more like a zoo) which had a number of new bear cubs that were born this spring. We loved watching these little guys wrestle and play (not unlike a couple of active young boys we know!).

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Our American Family

The Black Hills: On Wednesday, we drove into the heart of the Black Hills with our first destination: Mount Rushmore. This seemed like an obligatory stop for our trip, but we all left highly impressed by the artistry and craftsmanship behind this audacious project. The visitor center did a great job of showing just went into creating the monument, and the spectacular viewpoints gave us many opportunities to appreciate both the sculpture and its natural setting. From Rushmore, we passed by the Crazy Horse Memorial (still in the making) and on to the National Museum of Woodcarving in the town of Custer. Owen, especially, loved visiting this place and seeing the many fine pieces of carved wood. This definitely reignited his interest in woodcarving and gave him a few more ideas for his own projects. To cap off the day, we drove back to the RV park via Wildlife Loop Drive in Custer State Park. This scenic drive through prairie lands featured many animals (buffalo, elk, pronghorn, deer, etc) as well as newly born baby buffalo, which were super cute to see.

On Thursday, we returned to the Black Hills to visit the Old West mining towns of Deadwood and Lead. Deadwood’s wild past (think outlaws, saloons, brothels, and gunfights) has largely been replaced by a modern casinos and staged performances for summer tourists. We found, however, an authentic historic record of the town in the Adams Museum. Nearby, we also visited the town of Lead, home to the largest gold mine in the western hemisphere (Homestake Mine). The good folks at Black Hills Mining Museum gave us a great tour and we left with a much better understanding of the South Dakota gold rush and the history of mining in this area.

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Climbing around the Badlands.

Badlands and Minuteman: Today, we traveled east of Rapid City and found two very different national parks. First was the Badlands, whose landscape was desolate, but beautiful. We only had a few hours here, but enough time to hike over and the through the otherworldly formations. Nearby, we also visited the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. This included a very interesting tour of the underground control station (given by a man who had actually worked at the site) as well as a look into a defunct nuclear missile silo that is inconspicuously surrounded by acres of grassland. This experience gave us a good opportunity to share with the boys what it was like to grow up during the Cold War and the nuclear age. Both both parks were interesting sites that we all enjoyed.

One last pit stop for the day was Wall Drug. Like South of the Border in the Carolinas, this store’s billboards stretch out for hundreds of miles in both directions. We appreciated the 5 cent coffee (which fit into by “Live Below the Line” budget) and the boys picked up some fudge that they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Wall Drug is a great story a great story of persistence, luck, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Looking ahead, our plan for this weekend is to make some progress across the plains and make it to Chicago by the middle of next week. We’re still on target for a return to CT on March 20, but have the Great Lakes and upstate New York still to come. Thanks for following along!

Four Foto Friday – Death Valley to the Vegas Strip

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Miles on Devil’s Golf Course

Death Valley: We started the week in the lowest, hottest, and driest place in America… Death Valley National Park. Fortunately, the springtime temperatures kept things relatively comfortable at a dry 100 degrees. We had one day to see some of the most accessible sights: Golden Canyon (where portions of the original Star Wars was filmed), Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the valley), Artist’s Palette (a scenic drive through colorful mesas and foothills), and Furnace Creek (an oasis town that’s home to the main visitor center.). This photo was taken at Devil’s Golf Course, where the land is so parched that it forms small mounds encrusted with evaporated crystals of borax and salt. Death Valley was otherworldly (NASA testing grounds for the Mars rover, in fact) but also diverse and colorful under the shifting sun.

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Scenery of Zion Canyon

Zion NP: From Death Valley, we drove the RV straight on through to southwestern Utah. Our plan was to see Zion National Park for a couple of days before finishing out the week in Las Vegas. Our two days in Zion allowed us to see the main canyon, where the Virgin River has spectacularly cut through 3,000 feet of brilliant red sandstone. We hiked along the river and also to the seasonal Emerald Falls. We also took advantage of the warmish weather and tent camped in a nearby campground. Zion was amazing and we really just scratched the surface there. Fortunately, we’ll be heading back for more at the start of next week.

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Those tiny specks are rock climbers!

Red Rock Canyon: On Thursday, we left the RV in Utah and backtracked to Las Vegas for a little fun. The big attraction for us: seeing our ISB friends, the Merritts! Our first destination with them was Red Rock Canyon, an incredible natural formation just on the outskirts of town. The visitor center had a great display of desert ecosystems, and then we headed into the hills for an afternoon of hiking and family fun. 

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On the Strip with the Merritts

Las Vegas: Friday night, we hit the Vegas Strip. This first foray into town was a family affair, so we stuck to kid-friendly attractions like the Bellagio Fountain and Hershey’s Chocolate World. Some of our best entertainment, however, came from people-watching on the street, which was filled with costumed characters, street performers, and partygoers of all varieties. This was a different kind of “educational experience” for the boys, but one that’s uniquely American. Viva Las Vegas!

We still have another day here and are looking forward to a visit to Hoover Dam. It’s been great catching up with friends and experiencing this amazing city in the desert.

Four Foto Friday: Spectacular Sierras

Our final week in California was filled with great scenery, warm weather, and loads of fun at two incredible national parks. Here are the details:

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Reflections on Mirror Lake

 

Yosemite: Saturday was our last day in Yosemite National Park. With plenty of sunshine, it was a beautiful day for hiking in the valley. Our morning destination was Mirror Lake, a seasonal pond that forms at the base of Half Dome. The reflection of a few thousand feet of granite towering above was truly impressive. After a picnic lunch and a quick trip to the visitor center for Junior Ranger badges, we set out for Vernal Fall (a fitting destination for this first day of spring). The hike was another steep one, but the view of this thundering waterfall was a great reward. Yosemite is a magical place — our favorite national park thus far — and we hope to return here again.

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The biggest living organism in the world.

Sequoias: A few hours south of Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park is another highlight of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With names like General Sherman, Sentinal, and President, it’s trees that are the rock stars here. Giant Sequoias are the largest living organisms on the planet. They can reach heights of 300 feet and form a base circumference of over 100 feet (that’s 36 feet in diameter — large enough to park our RV on!). Walking through the Giant Forest is like walking back in time; some of these trees are 2,500 years old. Giant Sequoias can only be found at 6,000-8,000 feet in elevation. Our campsite was in the valley at 800 feet, so the drive back and forth to the groves was an adventure in and of itself.

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High Sierra view from Morro Rock

 

Other Sights in Sequoia: Along the way (a.k.a. straight up the mountain) we made a variety of stops: a picnic lunch near river rapids, a hike through an alpine meadow, a visit to the tree museum, etc. One of our favorite side trips was Morro Rock, a granite outcrop which afforded great views of the High Sierra peaks, as well as the San Joaquin Valley below. What made this most special, however, was our first bear sighting. We spotted the mama bear and her three cubs on a hillside not far from the trailhead. Downwind and quietly, we watched for about 20 minutes as they foraged through the brush and fallen trees. Eventually, they cuddle up together for a snooze (we were told they were still groggy from the light winter and a short hibernation). Altogether, Sequoia was another incredible national park.

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Enjoying the campfire and stream.

 

Camping: Rounding out the rest of our week, we slowed down a bit and enjoyed some good old-fashioned camping. Our campground sat in the foothills just outside the park and was surrounded by orchards and horse ranches. Our actual campsite sided up against a pretty stream, providing lots of privacy and the relaxing sounds of nature. The weather was warm enough to be outside in the early mornings and late evenings. Jen enjoyed her cup of tea by the gentle stream and the boys loved making campfires each night. This campsite was one of our favorites thus far, a good place to take a deep breath, enjoy a slower pace, and reflect on our many good fortunes.

We’ve seen a lot of California this month: deserts, coastline, cities, mountains and forests. It’s been a terrific adventure and we’re sad to say goodbye, but it’s time to start heading back East. Nevada and Utah are coming up next, and both look just as promising. Stay tuned!

Four Foto Friday – Amazing Arizona

I think someone from the northeast heard we were in Arizona this week and sent a little wintery weather our way. Fortunately, the recent snow storms didn’t slow us down too much and we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon.

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Hiking into the painted cliffs of Blue Mesa.

Last weekend, we arrived in Holbrook, AZ for what we thought was going to be a quick swing through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. These two national parks straddle Route 40 in northwestern Arizona, and a 25 scenic drive through the middle of the parks makes for a great day of sightseeing and hiking (on several 1-mile loop trails). We had good sunshine, which made the landscape colors really stand out. We also learned all about area geology at the interpretive centers and an awesome rock store; Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood.

Not wood, but 200 million year old stone trees.

Not wood, but colorful stone in these 225 million year old trees.

On Monday morning we awoke to 3 inches of wet and heavy snow. Our first snow day! Miles and I hopped in the truck and drove back through the Petrified Forest, hoping to take some great photos (it turned out to be just so-so due to the clouds). Back “home” we celebrated with a game/movie day. Unfortunately, our one snow day turned into two, as bad weather in Flagstaff kept us from moving further West. Much to the boys’ chagrin, our second snow day was spent catching up on Math and other school work. Oh well, such is life with a couple of teacher/parents!

Sunset over the South Rim

Sunset over the South Rim

On Wednesday, we made a break for the Grand Canyon. Due to another winter storm (which is scheduled to bury them this weekend) we knew it would have to be a quick visit. We made good time and were at the park’s South Rim visitor center by 3:00PM, which gave us time to attend a ranger talk on how the canyon was formed. Following this, we explored the Rim Trail and drove out to Mohave Point for an incredible sunset view.

Jen and the boys on the Blue Angel Trail.

Jen and the boys on the Bright Angel Trail.

Thursday morning found us hiking down below the rim on the South Kaibob Trail. This short hike was a little tricky, given the recent snow and steep decent. But… the views were AMAZING. Our destination was the aptly named Ooh Ah Point. We ate our picnic lunch with a near 360 degree of the canyon, and then hiked another portion of the Rim Trail above. In the afternoon, we relaxed at an IMAX movie on canyon explorer John Wesley Powell, took a short hike on Bright Angel Trail, and drove to Pima Point for another great sunset view. It was a full couple of days, but entirely worth the effort to experience the Grand Canyon.

This morning (Friday), we awoke to freezing temps and snow showers. So, we packed up quickly and hustled our way out of the mountains towards California. Our Grand Canyon campground was at 7500 feet; now we’re at 500 feet on the eastern edge of the Mohave Desert. The temps were in the low 70’s this afternoon, a welcome change from a wild week of weather in northern Arizona. Let’s hope there’s more of this sunshine and heat in Southern California!

BTW… if FFF has captured your interest, be sure to checkout the Gallery page on our website to see more pictures from our travels. We hope to have a new February gallery posted in the next few days. Enjoy!

Four Foto Friday is Back!

It’s been quite a while since our last FFF back on Florida’s Space Coast and we’ve been pretty busy since then. Much of this time was spent at our home in Connecticut (we stored the RV in Georgia and drove back up for the holidays and a nice long “winter break” from our travel). We resumed our roadtrip  2 weeks ago and, just yesterday, we crossed the Mississippi River! This quick swing through the south took us to some terrific cities: Atlanta, Nashville, and New Orleans.

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Mural outside MLK National Historic Site

Atlanta: Jen and I lived, met, and got engaged in Atlanta, so in many ways, it still feels like home. We had the good fortune of spending a few days with our dear friends (Shannon, Annie, and Richie), and it was great seeing their families, too. Our boys enjoyed (I think) getting dragged down memory lane and hearing stories of the people and place in our past. In terms of educational activities, we attended a gallery opening, climbed Stone Mountain, visited two excellent museums (Atlanta History Center and Center for Civil and Human Rights), and explored the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. It was MLK Day while we were there, so the Civil Rights Museum and Historic Park were especially lively and poignant.

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Outside the Honky Tonks on Broadway

Nashville: Nashville was a destination for us for a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to visit our niece, Maddy, who is a senior at Vanderbilt University. We loved seeing this impressive campus and hearing about her college life in the Music City. And music, of course, was the other big attraction for us. We toured the historic Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry from the 1940s-1970’s. We also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame which charted the course of country music from its roots to the present. We enjoyed live music at the Honky Tonk bars on Broadway (well, the ones that had music during the day and allowed for kids). All this, combined with great eating (BBQ and Hot Chicken) made for a fun couple of days.

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Detail of Mardi Gras Float

New Orleans: From Nashville, we followed the same path as the 1960‘s Freedom Rides through Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Jackson, reading and learning more about these civil rights landmarks along the way. New Orleans, however, felt like we had arrived in a different country altogether. While there was still some evidence of the devasting blow recieved from Hurricane Katrina, the city seemed vibrant and alive with color. In this week before Mardi Gras festivities begin, the mansions of the Garden District were decorated in purple, green, and gold ribbons and beads. We visited Mardi Gras World, where hundreds of floats received their final touches before parades that will happen in coming weeks.

One unexpected highlight from New Orleans was the National World War Two Museum. We didn’t really know about this until our arrival, but we were certainly impressed with the scope and depth of this very important museum. The exhibits included a great variety of first hand accounts and the multimedia presentations throughout kept us engaged for the entire day… a must-see for any visit to the Big Easy.

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Street musicians in Jackson Square.

The streets of the French Quarter were also bustling. At the national park visitor center, we saw performances from a ragtime pianist and a jazz ensemble. In and around Jackson Square, we listened to brass bands, acoustic performers, and even an opera singer. Local foods attracted us as well, especially in the French Market, where we found spicy jambalaya, savory po’boy and muffaletta sandwiches, and sweet beignets. We topped off our visit with a Cajun dinner and performance, and Jen impressed the boys by getting up and dancing the two step (with the help of an 83-year old couple who really knew how to move!). Good fun in New Awlins!

It’s good to get back to Four Foto Friday, and we’re looking forward to many more posts between now and early summer. For those interested in our winter break, which included time at Walt Disney World and Connecticut, I’ll also be posting December and January photo albums within the next few days. As always… thank you for following us!

Four Foto Friday – Space Coast

Following a great Thanksgiving weekend in South Carolina, we decided to skip St. Augustine and drive directly to Florida’s space coast to catch NASA’s biggest launch event of the year: the maiden flight of the spacecraft Orion. This launch marks the start of a new era for NASA, one that they hope will eventually take humans to Mars. Needless to say, there’s a buzz of excitement around here.

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Kennedy Space Center (KSC): On Wednesday, we took a full day to explore this amazing museum/theme park that’s entirely dedicated to the US space program (thanks, Jen A, for setting up the tickets!). The exhibits were really interesting, interactive, and inspiring. The boys had fun with simulations that tested their skills at take off, docking, and landing of space vehicles. KSC also had a great exhibit on space shuttle Atlantis and many older rockets, like the massive Saturn V of the Apollo era. At every turn we experienced space, science, technology, and some incredible history. A terrific educational experience!

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Astronauts: One of the best parts of KSC was hearing from former astronauts. In one of their regular “shows”, an astronaut spoke about what it was like to train for and live in space. It was really great to hear his stories and to get a personal feel for what space travel entails. We met Jon McBride (pictured above) and also heard from another astronaut who spoke quite extensively at the launch of Orion.

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Orion Launch: Our second day at KSC started at 3:00AM, as we made our way to the a launch viewing site for the Orion launch. Our special tickets entitled us to an up close vantage and running commentary from guest astronauts, NASA TV, and mission control. We learned a lot from them but, unfortunately, the launch was “scrubbed” due to problems with weather and a fuel tank valve. Everything was re-scheduled for the next day.

Our third day started at a much more reasonable 5:30AM. Rather than fight the traffic and crowds of KSC, we opted for a more local experience at Kennedy Point Park in Titusville. It was a bit further away, but we still had a direct view of the launch pad and could follow the countdown on NASA’s mobile app. And Orion did not disappoint; the takeoff was an awesome site to behold against the early morning sunrise. It traveled slowly upwards before ducking behind the clouds. About a minute later, we could hear and feel the earth rumble. Incredible!

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Cape Canaveral National Seashore: One unexpected treat from this area was our discovery of this National Seashore and Wildlife Refuge. On Thursday afternoon (in part to keep us awake) we hiked and drove around this area on what amounted to be an animal safari. The marshlands were filled with birdlife: egrets, ibises, eagles, herons, spoonbills, ducks, shorebirds, and many more.  We actually spotted 4 different bald eagles!  In the water, we saw dolphins and alligators, and even caught our first site of wild manatees. This little alligator was just a few feet from the boardwalk, and he seemed keen on striking a pose for the camera.

This weekend, we have a couple more days in the area. We may zip back up to St. Augustine or take a trip to Cocoa Beach. We also have some “homework” that the boys will be doing, so look for more from them on their blogs. Of course, everyone is excited for this coming week, as we’ll spend the whole week at Disney’s Fort Wilderness!

Four Foto… Tuesday? Thanksgiving Break Edition

Yes, I know I’m late again, but it was a busy and exciting week with travel, our job search, and Thanksgiving. We spent the last 10 days in the mountains of western Carolina, first in Asheville (NC) and then in the Greenville (SC) area. It’s a gorgeous part the country, made even better with friends and family to visit.

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Asheville: Last weekend, we hung out with the Freemans, our good friends from AES in New Delhi. Much of the time was relaxing at their house and letting the boys enjoy some much needed kid-time. We also took in some local hot springs, the National Gingerbread House Competition, and a holiday tour of the Biltmore, the Vanderbilt family estate and a masterpiece of 19th century American architecture. The Freemans even joined us for a campfire cookout down at the RV park. A terrific weekend with friends.

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Travelers Rest: The big attraction in this small SC town is my parents! It was great to see them and enjoy a full week of catching up and time together. The boys loved staying at their house and getting pampered and well-fed by their Grammy. We also enjoyed swimming at their clubhouse, fishing and hiking, and a really interesting “guy’s trip” tour of the BMW manufacturing plant in nearby Greer, SC.

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Zip-lining: Another highlight of our time in Travelers Rest was a daytrip to the Green River Gorge for zip-lining. Even though it was late in the season, the day was sunny and perfect for the fastest and steepest zip line in the America! The course took us on 11 zip lines and 4 rappels, all with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. A super adrenaline rush (to aid digestion).

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Thanksgiving: Of course, the main event last week was Turkey Day. Here, you can see the boys (with turkey head attire) helping Poppy carve the cooked bird. Our meal was a classic, complete with all the fixings and followed by lots of football. We have so much to be thankful for this year, but amongst them all, it’s the extra time with family that we hold most dear.

Our time in South Carolina extended into the weekend, but we’ve just arrived at our destination for this week: Cape Canaveral in Florida. We plan to tour the Kennedy Space Center and, hopefully, catch an actual launch. Stay tuned, and I’ll try to get this next FFF out on time 🙂

 

 

 

Four Foto Friday – Deep in the Southeast

This week, we took the opportunity to venture even deeper into the Southeast with several cool side trips in the region. Here are some highlights:

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Beaufort, SC: Just an hour south of Charleston lies the beautiful city of Beaufort. This quaint place is full of southern charm, with historic homes, shaded avenues, and a lovely waterfront. It’s been used as the set of several movies, including Forest Gump. During the Civil War, this area was controlled by the Union and was a focus of the country’s Reconstruction efforts. We visited the home of Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who rose to status of US Congressman following the war, as well as the Penn School, one of country’s first freedmen’s schools.

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Okefenokee, GA: Continuing down I-95 for a couple more hours, we came to the Okefenokee Swamp. It was really interesting to learn about this unique environment (plus, it’s just fun to say Okefenokee!). This National Wildlife Refugee had a nice interpretive center, auto tour, and boardwalk hike. We also took a boat trip into the swamp with a guide who pointed out the various plants and animals.

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Although it was unseasonably cold (high of about 50 degrees) we had good sun and some bright autumn colors. We saw several alligators, egrets, herons, hawks, and a very large but sleepy snake with a big lump in its belly. Cool stuff!

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Congaree National Park: By midweek, we started our inland trek toward the mountains of western Carolina. Along the way, we stopped just outside of Columbia, SC to visit one of our newest National Parks. Congaree is also swampland, but it’s cooler and at higher elevation (thus no gators). We spent our day canoeing through the narrow waterways and enjoying the sights and sounds of a bald cypress forest. We saw a raccoon and heard what we think were wild boars squealing in the distance (really, I’m not just referencing the movies). It was a beautiful place, in a primordial sort of way.

The weekend has us visiting good friends (the Freeman family) in Asheville, NC. From here, we’ll drive the short distance to my parent’s house. They live in the town of Traveler’s Rest, SC which sounds like the perfect place to turn off our engine, enjoy a home cooked meal, and spend time with family. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Four Foto Friday – Sweet Charleston

From Virginia last week, it feels like we’ve taken a much deeper dive into the South this week with Charleston, SC. It’s definitely a city with a fascinating history: proud colonial roots, a prominent place in the Confederacy, and an unsettling legacy of slavery. We’ve also enjoyed the distinct change in climate and surroundings. The air is warmer, the forests are deeper, the pace is slower, and people are even more friendly. We love Charleston!

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Fort Sumpter: This first stop took us to the middle of Charleston harbor, where the Civil War began. The boys have been learning about slavery and the Civil War, so it was powerful for us to see where the military hostilities started. Closer to town, we also visited the Old Slave Mart, which served as an auction ground in the domestic slave trade, and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which served as a jail to pirates and revolutionary soldiers alike. A carriage tour through the original streets also taught us about the unqiue architecture and many prominent people here in Charleston.

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Plantation: Our tour of Magnolia Plantation captured for us the lifestyle of the antebellum South. We saw both sides of the coin. First was a row of simple huts that housed over 140 slaves (many of whom stayed on as sharecroppers through Reconstruction). Then, we explored the ornate home of the Drayton family who, on slave labor, made their wealth growing lowland Carolina Gold rice. Most impressive were the 600 acres of gardens (camellias and azaleas) and forests (live oak, Spanish moss, bald cypress, palmetto palms, and a variety of marsh reeds). This was at one of many scenic bridges that dotted the property.

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SC Aquarium: Along with the historical sites, we also visited this small but impressive aquarium. In addition to the deepest saltwater tank in the country, this aquarium had excellent displays on the plants, reptiles, and birds of that are found in this region’s blackwater swamps, tidal marshes, and coastal marine environments. We loved the many hands on displays, especially with baby alligators!

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Beaches: Of course, no visit to South Carolina would be complete without going to the beach! We were very fortunate to have several days in the high 70’s… still too chilly for some (Jen) but warm enough to get the rest of us in the water. Folly Beach was great for the surf, while the beach at Kiawah Island was tranqil and lovely. We saw many wild dolphins swimming just off shore, and the boys enjoyed swimming, tossing the frisbee, and skim-boarding. Gotta love beach time in November!