Destin(ation) Wedding – Part III

So, the morning of June 3, we were on the beach for awhile in Destin, yet later that day, we were due to hit the rehearsal dinner a few miles from the condo. Again, traffic was ridiculous down there, so any trip back and forth wasn’t trivial. We hit the venue late-afternoon and, considering it was early June and we were all mostly dressed up, the temperature wasn’t all that crazy. Definitely warm, but not unbearable.

The venue was pretty cool! It was a building with plenty of space, and a kitchen (that we didn’t need), as well as another out-building where the bridal party could get ready the next day.

The rehearsal didn’t take all that long, of course, so we got some pictures, met the other half of the family, and kind of went through the motions so we’d be ready for the next day. After we were done, we went to a very nice restaurant called Marina Cafe for seafood that had a lovely ocean view. The dinner was mostly uneventful, but everyone had a great time!

The next day involved a lot of back-and-forth, as Meg and Brooke needed to be with the bridal party at points, so Calvin and I had to shuttle people back and forth, and get lunch to take to them while they were all getting their hair done. Calvin went to the arcade with Uncle Jimmy for a bit, so he was entertained well enough, whereas I just had to field text messages and load stuff up when requested.

The wedding itself was lovely, of course! The weather was (again) surprisingly beautiful, despite being in Florida in June. My one complaint was that there were quite a few folks off partying in the bay while the wedding was going on, which obviously no one could do anything about. The wedding only took 20 minutes or so, but being able to hear everything was a challenge at time. Still, everyone looked and felt great, and that’s what matters most!

Calvin didn’t have any duties for the wedding, really, but Meg was handing out bubbles to folks as they came in, along with the groom’s niece. She was happy to help out, but Calvin was just happy to wear a jacket and tie. And getting super cool sunglasses as a wedding favor was extra special. 🙂

The dinner was mostly standard fare, with the speeches, cake cutting, etc. Rachel’s speech was really good, as was the Best Man’s speech, which was a pleasant surprise compared with other weddings we’ve attended! Again though, the food was good, the cupcakes were good, and everything came out really well!

The reception moved outside for dancing under the lights after dinner was done! Steve and I had gone to Sam’s a few days prior to stock up the bar and, though lots was had that night, we still didn’t go through nearly as much as we bought. I can only assume that they’re still working on it post-wedding.

The next day, we all convened at the beach one last time before we took off. The rest of the family hung out another day or so, whereas we had to head back to Marshall so Brooke could start her new job in a few days!

We loaded up and headed out by noon-ish that Saturday and took off for Tennessee, heading on a different route than we did on the way down. The plan was “speed” this time, rather than a more lackadaisical fashion as we did on the way down. We made it as far as Franklin, TN that day, after stopping at a Panera for dinner (turns out both kids found things to eat there, so we need to add that to the list as a place to stop on road trips).

Sunday, we pushed it and made it home by mid-afternoon, giving us enough time to reset a bit and get some laundry started before Brooke’s new job started the next day. In the end, Yellowstone was probably more the vacation for 2021 whereas Destin was more of a trip, but both gave us a wide variety of experiences within a month of each other! In retrospect (as I’m writing this quite awhile after we actually went…obviously….), we’re glad we took these trips in May/June rather than now, because it sounds like just about everywhere in the US is inundated with tourists. Hopefully it calms down by next year when we go to the west coast!

Destin(ation) Wedding – Part II

So after we left New Orleans, by this point it was nearly lunchtime, so we hopped on the road and figured we’d stop on the way to Pensacola (which we did). Traffic ended up being more of a consideration on this leg of the trip, though. There were tons of cars, all over the place, so we could just feel the population in the region swelling.

It was Memorial Day, after all, so we could tell folks were either heading back to Georgia from Louisiana/Texas, or going in the other direction. All roads led through Florida, apparently.

Now, the original plan was to get to the beach that day in Pensacola, but that beach we were heading to was on an island! Apparently, the bridge to that island was crazy, though. It could easily take an hour to cross the bridge due to all the traffic. The Baumann Clan struggled to get dinner the night before because of how long it took to get off the island to the mainland, and then get back again to where their condo was.

In the end, though the kids were disappointed, we just went to our hotel on the outskirts of town. This hotel, again, wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we had to go to a grocery store nearby to get some food and such. When we got back, the kids went swimming and I went for a run….around the hotel… There were no go running areas around where we were and I was trying to keep my miles up, so I did what I could. And it was rather boring.

This hotel room was pretty nice, though! It was actually a suite, so two rooms that were connected, each with their own balcony, bathroom, and TV. It was a nice break, for sure! So yeah, the room wasn’t that bad compared with other things, but it just took a bit to get in there.

The next morning, we got breakfast downstairs and then left to go to the condo. We got down there soon enough that I could go for a longer run along a trail close to the beach. It was pretty nice, but the wind was brutal!

We mostly hung out at the beach for the rest of the day, then! The crowd had mostly subsided after Memorial Day was over, so it really wasn’t all that busy down there. It was kind of cloudy and it wasn’t particularly hot, per se, but we were pretty comfortable. The sand was nice to work with and Brooke’s Dad made a very convincing alligator.

That evening, we went to Peg Leg Pete’s restaurant a short walk from the condo. They apparently wanted to go there for a few nights, but it was always crazy busy. We had to go down in person to get on a waiting list, then they called when we needed to be there to actually claim our table. The food was great, the atmosphere was very “you’re eating at an open-air restaurant right near a beach,” at overall, we had a good time!

It was so busy, in fact, that we even witnessed three people try to sneak in and claim a table without being seated, so they were politely asked to leave. Again, it was nuts down there!

The next day, we made it to our condo in Destin. This drive also took forever because, apparently, Destin, FL is like the Lake of the Ozarks times a million. Cars everywhere. Stoplights everywhere. People making U-turns where it should probably be illegal.

And, wouldn’t you know it, we got there and our rooms weren’t ready yet. To be fair, this time we were actually pretty early. The condo we were staying had 3 rooms, so the kids got a room, Brooke and I got a room, and Brooke’s parents got a room. The rest of the Baumann Clan got a separate (and similar) condo in a different building on the same premises.

Still, it was a really nice place! The living room area and kitchen were all connected; there were three bathrooms; the balcony wrapped around the main space, so there was plenty of room out there; it was within walking distance of a private beach. Pretty cool! They also had a rec room in our building that I visited a few times to use their treadmill, so that helped. There were multiple swimming pools around the resort, though we didn’t use those and mostly stuck to the beach.

Our room was a good size and had its own bathroom and balcony. It was nice to be able to spread out for a few days, where the kids could go to bed at a reasonable time, and the rest of us could get up and come and go as we pleased. Overall, it was a nice set-up!

The one downside is that there wasn’t much food within walking distance. One night, we stopped for ice cream at the complex next door to our condo, but if we wanted to get dinner, for example, you had to drive somewhere…and turning left out of that condo was mostly a nightmare. We had to take a right and pull a U-turn multiple times just to get to where some things were.

The beach attached to the property was also pretty nice. White, sandy beaches abound, for sure, and a tiki bar of sorts nearby with reasonable prices on drinks and food, so once we got to the beach, we could mostly just hang out there.

The serious downside was the economics of how this beach operated. We had access to the water, of course, but all of the chairs and umbrellas present were at the front, while the “riff raff” like us had to set up in the back

…and as you can see, the view wasn’t exactly “spectacular” from back there. Chairs were $35 a piece (I think?) and you usually couldn’t pick-and-choose the one(s) you wanted. It was first-come-first-serve, so to speak, so some folks would come down early that day to secure their seats, then not even show up until later in the day.

That night, we ended up picking up Mexican from a restaurant nearby (that we had to drive to), which was pretty good. I won’t say it was mind-blowing or anything, but Brooke and I went and grabbed it and brought it back to the condo. When we got there for pick-up, apparently there was plenty of space in the facility, so we could have all gone and just eaten there, but ah well.

The next day was the start of more craziness, though. Stay tuned!

Destin(ation) Wedding – Part I

We found out months ago that Brooke’s sister was getting married (yay!), but the wedding was going to be in Destin, FL on June 4th. Of course, when we found out about this, we’d already begun making plans for our Yellowstone trip. It was a lot of driving (and we ended up with two cracks in our windshield between these two trips, for the record), but made the most of it!

Brooke ended up starting a new job in early-June, so we timed things where she could end her previous commitments and take the time off where we could make our way to Florida without having to do it in one shot.

As such, there was a lot of driving that we tried spreading out over a few days. The first target was New Orleans, but we stayed in Natchez, MS that first night. On the way down, we stopped for dinner at a place called The Dock for some seafood. The experience was….fine, though the folks out on their boat docked at the literal….dock…were rather “impaired,” so we didn’t stay outside very long. The food was pretty decent, though the parking lot could have been better…

The hotel also could have left a bit to be desired. The hotel itself was alright, but it wasn’t the cleanest we’d experienced and, more importantly, we rolled in to find out the TV didn’t work and couldn’t be fixed until after Memorial Day (um…days after we would be there…). So yeah, we arrived late enough that it wasn’t a huge deal, but still wasn’t great…

The next day, the drive to New Orleans took maybe 4 or 5 hours, so it was a relatively short hike for us, giving us some time in Louisiana before we’d head to Florida. When we arrived, we were too early for our hotel to be ready, so we made plans to hit up Central Grocery to grab muffalettas (for Brooke and me….the kids got other stuff we’d brought along…).

We parked maybe 5 blocks away from the French Quarter, but passed Louis Armstrong Park on our way, so we figured we’d return there to actually eat. It was a nice respite from a long drive, and a beautiful, albeit warm, day.

Walking around the French Quarter was something of a rude awakening. We’ve only been around a lot of people a few times in 2021 and, well, New Orleans sure felt like 2020 never happened. TONS of people. Everywhere.

Anyway, after we finished off lunch, we had an appointment just outside of town at an alligator farm, which wasn’t really a “farm,” per se, but more of a preserve where alligators tend to live. We went off on a boat (kind of a pontoon, but not really…) and saw a ton of ‘gators out in the bayou. The dude running the tour was tossing big marshmallows out toward the boat, drawing in multiple alligators and giving us some of the history of the area. Apparently, the tour company bought some acreage in that area, and they try to maintain it in order to privately take folks out while also preventing randos from coming in and hunting alligators (by the way, “alligator season” is a thing down there).

The tour was pretty cool! It wasn’t horrifically expensive and lasted at least an hour and a half. The tour guide definitely had his schtick , but it was an entertaining experience and we all got to hold an alligator (something I never thought I’d say/type).

We returned to New Orleans to get our hotel in order, only to find it wasn’t ready yet (not the first time this would happen on this trip…). We killed 45 minutes by walking to the Mississippi River (pictured at the top) and generally getting our bearings.

After we finally got into our room, we found a restaurant to visit a few blocks away. We went down, found out it would be a 45 minute wait (again, the aforementioned “metric ton of people” in town…), and decided to hang out. Calvin and I walked down to Bourbon St. to grab some drinks to bide our time a bit, leaving Brooke and Meg in the virtual line…

….that ended up lasting 2 hours…. Again, there were tons of folks in town, so just about everywhere had a long line, but this one was quite a bit longer than we were expecting. Calvin and Meg did the best they could, of course, but eating dinner after 8:00 is something they are most definitely not used to.

The next morning, we got up in the 7:00 hour and headed toward Cafe du Monde for beignets for breakfast….and got in line…for another hour and a half!!! We’d been seeing headlines about Yellowstone and how lines were 50% greater than 2019 numbers, but I guess we weren’t expecting New Orleans to be this crazy.

In the end, the kids said it was “worth it,” though. And we ate a lot of beignets.

After breakfast, we headed down the road to Pensacola to meet up with more of the Baumann clan. More on that later!

Yellowstone NP Vacation – Part III

For our last full day at Yellowstone, we first took a trip to an area called Artists Paintpots. We were looking for somewhere to hike where there wouldn’t be a ton of folks, so this looked like it fit the bill. We ended up having to park at the entrance to the parking lot because it was still blocked off for winter.

The “trail,” as we’d seen in other places, was mostly boardwalk. Still, the weather was beautiful and we were alone with the surroundings, so it was a nice change compared with what else we’d seen.

The “paintpots” name came from the bubbling pools of travertine (read: calcium carbonate) that looked like a white magma of sorts. There weren’t that many examples, per se, of this particular formation, but the ones we saw were still pretty impressive! They were also relatively loud, as it sounded like bubbling goo moreso than the other pools we’d seen before (again: magma).

After that, we didn’t really have much of a plan, but since the weather was so great, we figured it was worth a return trip to Grand Prismatic. The sun was shining, the temperature was above freezing, and we hoped we’d actually be able to see things a bit more clearly.

First we got stuck behind some bison, though. This was not going to be the last time….

As we’d hoped, the weather was much better, so we could see things much more clearly! Seriously, it was a night-and-day difference.

We did note, though, that crowds were starting to heat up a bit. It was Thursday, by this point, so now we were getting close to the other arms of the park opening up to let in more people. This traffic came in the same way we did, but the line to get into the park each morning was getting longer and longer. Grand Prismatic definitely had more people there than we’d seen earlier that week.

Of all the sites we saw, Grand Prismatic was probably my favorite. Sure, Old Faithful is impressive, but all of the varied colors and pools at Grand Prismatic were a bit more memorable for me, personally.

See? Look at that happy family. 🙂

As we left Grand Prismatic, we were stuck for 20 minutes behind 3 bison heading in the same direction. In our lane. And because we were going around a curve, all of the cars heading in the opposite direction had to slow down and take pictures of the bison…each and every time…. It was truly infuriating. Still, can’t visit Yellowstone without a story like that, I suppose.

The next day, we left through the East Entrance near Cody, WY. We got to pass by Lake Yellowstone on the way out, which still had a great deal of ice on it. We also passed by some vistas where we hoped to see some bears, but alas, we’ll have to try again our next time out. We actually wanted to leave through Lamar Valley, where there should be all kinds of wildlife, but it would have added an hour or two to our trip due to road construction, so we’ll have to do that next time, too.

The trip home was mostly uneventful and took up a lot of driving time, but we did stop in Thermopolis, WY for a few hours that afternoon that we left the park. It’s an indoor and outdoor pool set with a few slides that have hot spring water piped in for patrons to swim in. Pretty neat, honestly, though it didn’t smell particularly great! The kids went down the large slides multiple times (20 times or so for Meg…which may or may not have made her feel sick in the car later that afternoon…). It was a relatively cheap excursion on the way home that will hopefully stick in the kids’ memories for years to come!

I think that’s about it! More happened, of course, but I’m wordy enough as it is, so we’re going to stop there. As a brief side-note, the month of May got kinda busy for us (the kids went back to school for two weeks and I had to prep for my summer classes), and then we went to Florida for another long trip.

More on that later, though. 🙂

Yellowstone NP Vacation – Part II

The next day was Wednesday, which normally back home would be a “distance learning day.” As we were in a different time zone, we brought a Chromebook (or two…) along so Calvin and Meg could join in on their morning calls if they/we were available. It turned out that Calvin was the only one needed that morning. He had a good time telling his classmates about what he’d seen so far, but then he had to do some math problems, so his fun was short lived.

We hit the road to explore another end of the park, aiming for Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped at a few hydrothermal features on the way, as the brisk, cool air of the morning made for some nice views. There were relatively few clouds in the sky this time, too, so the weather overall was substantially better for viewing the park!

Mammoth Hot Springs provided some interesting rock formations called travertine (which is, well, calcium carbonate…), where minerals bubbled up from beneath the surface for years, leading to neat terraces. There were a decent number of folks at Mammoth, so it started getting more difficult to avoid people. Thankfully, we were outside, so we weren’t all that concerned about the ongoing pandemic.

There was limited hiking around Mammoth, most of which was on boardwalks (some of which got kinda steep), but we did find a trail/road combo that took us away from all the people.

The kids dealt with it well initially, but grew tired as the morning drew on. We were also fighting with the weather changes a bit, where we had layers on like the day before, but this time we felt the heat of the sun, so we had to lose some layers and carry them with us. Not a big deal, but somewhat unexpected given the weather experience from just a day before!

After we finished up at Mammoth Hot Springs, we went into the nearby town for a picnic lunch and some ice cream from the general store. It was a beautiful day, so it was a nice opportunity to regroup a bit and decide what the rest of the day would entail.

While we were at Mammoth Hot Springs, we also finally saw some elk. We saw one when we first approached the initial travertine formation, but we saw more in the town outside of the formations. In all, we probably saw 6 or 7 elk while we were in that area.

While we were out in the northern-ish part of the park, we figured we should head toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which gets its name for obvious reasons. Given that we’ve actually been to the Grand Canyon, the Yellowstone version wasn’t quite as impressive, but we still got some great views in!

Unfortunately, due to the fact that half the park was still shut down, we were limited in what we could do. Brooke wanted to hike down to the bottom of the canyon, but sadly that wasn’t an option. To be fair, the trails around this area were pretty slushy still, so even if we had gone, it would have gotten messy…

Still, the view of the waterfalls was pretty nice. 🙂

That night, Brooke had the idea that we should do “TV dinners.” We had a microwave and fridge, so it provided a relatively cheap option while also giving everyone something, er….different…for dinner on this trip.

Calvin had fish sticks and Meg had a rigatoni dish. They were pretty pleased with this arrangement, though personally, I feel like my chicken alfredo wasn’t all that impressive. It was fine, but…not really as much as I’d want for dinner. Maybe lunch. Not dinner. Ah well.

As with the other nights on this trip, we capped off the evening playing Hearts. It’s a game that I’d played before, though it’d been years, but we figured Calvin would be old enough to handle it. For the most part, he could do it, but keeping his attention (and dealing with strategy…) was still challenging. Brooke was winning by a lot for the first night, but Meg took over and ended up absolutely destroying everyone in the end. She still won’t tell us what her strategy was…

More next time!

Yellowstone NP Vacation – Part I

Last year, the plan was to go camp at Yellowstone National Park in mid-June, and then stay at an Airbnb near Grand Teton National Park for a few days after that. As you know, last year kinda became a whole thing, so our reservations were canceled and we couldn’t go. We’ve still got a vacation timeline planned for the next few years, so if the Yellowstone trip was going to happen, we had to fit it in this year along with a trip to Florida in June.

I’d never been to Yellowstone, but Brooke went many times over the years when she was growing up because her grandparents worked there for multiple Summers. Brooke did the research for this trip and decided that early May was probably our best bet to see things without having to deal with ridiculous crowds. The country is opening up and a lot of folks are ancy to get to vacationing, so Yellowstone (among other places) is likely to get all kinds of crazy as the Summer progresses. Therefore, we opted to leave the day after graduation and take the kids out of school (which, by the way, Meg wasn’t all that excited about because she’d miss MAP testing…that kid is ridiculous….).

We packed up the car on May 1st and hit the road around 6:00 am on May 2nd, planning for a pretty lengthy car ride to get out there. It’s a ~20 hr drive and some of the entrances to the park were still shut down for the Winter, so we had to drive to the Western side of the park in order to even get in. Our ultimate destination was West Yellowstone, MT, but we stopped in Rawlins, WY at the end of Day One to maintain our sanity. That only left a 7 hour drive on Day Two, though we took a bit of a detour into Grand Teton National Park for part of the day. We didn’t get to see all that much in Grand Teton, but at least we can say “we went.”

The only thing we did in Grand Teton was stop off at an old cabin near the foot of the mountains. Granted, it wasn’t all that exciting, per se, but the view was excellent and we got our first taste of the region.

After that, we opted to stay at the hotel in West Yellowstone rather than dip into Yellowstone. We had the time, but figured checking out the swimming pool would be good for the kids’ morale.

The next day, we first hit Old Faithful. It was pretty snowy and cold, though we were prepared for the weather. We weren’t necessarily prepared for the lack of visibility, though. Old Faithful went off like clockwork and the crowds were minimal (like, 20 people? Shockingly minimal….), but because the geyers was hot and the surrounding air was cold, the steam was pronounced and difficult to see through. It was still pretty cool, though! We took a walk to see some of the other features around Old Faithful and tried getting used to the smell of sulfur.

After Old Faithful, we went to the Grand Prismatic Spring. When we arrived, it actually started snowing pretty heavily, so we folded the chairs down and just ate lunch in the car. The snow only lasted a few minutes, so we were able to get out and walk around just in time for lunch to be over. Again, while it looked pretty cool, the cold air caused all the steam to be extra thick and hard to see through. I wouldn’t say it was disappointing, but it wasn’t ideal.

The last thing we did that day was to visit Norris Geyser Basin. By this point, the sun had come out and the weather had improved dramatically, so visibility got better along with it. This basin wasn’t as exciting as the other features we’d already seen, but we’re glad we went because it gave Meg a chance to read the map and describe multiple other features along the basin to us. Both kids were pretty tired of riding in the car by this point (it’s a solid 20-30 minutes between different sites in the park, and it can easily take hours to traverse the whole thing, so two days of driving kind of turned into three. Meg’s mood wasn’t….great….so giving her a job of reading geyser descriptions to us ended up making things better. Again, there weren’t all that many folks there, so we were able to take our time walking around the boardwalk, so it turned out to be a good way to end our first full day in the park.

Stay tuned for more!

State Park #15: Wallace State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Each Winter for the past few years, we’ve tried to get out to a local state park to let the kids play in icy creek beds. So long as we’ve had a good freeze, sometimes they can walk out into the marsh at Van Meter, for example, which is a a unique experience they enjoy.

This year, it had gotten so cold for so long that we couldn’t really do much outside, but we needed to get out of the house to do something, so we figured a longer road trip to a more distant state park than we’d usually visit as a one-off was a good idea. After poking around a bit, we found Wallace State Park near Cameron, MO.

To be honest, there really wasn’t much there. This park is north of Kansas City, so we suspect it gets visited quite a bit by that crowd as a day trip to swim at a lake and get some light hiking in. The camping facilities look fine, but as it was still covered in snow, it was difficult to get a good sense of how populated (or popular?) it tends to be. Some of the camp sites we passed were primitive, but interestingly, they were far enough away from the parking area and roads that it almost felt as if they were back-country sites. Those are the kinds of places we’d probably consider, though they’re further from our car and from firewood.

The primary attraction appears to be the lake. I say “appears” because, well, we couldn’t really see the lake as it was frozen over and covered with snow. We think we have a sense of how big it is, and I bet a hot, summer day there playing would be fun. It looked like there’s a beach, but it doesn’t look as large as Long Branch has, so it’s tough to say how crazy it gets around there if folks from KC come up to go swim.

We walked out to the middle of the lake, which frankly, made me a bit nervous… Still, it had been so cold prior to that day, and others had walked out seemingly recently, so we took the chance. Again, a unique experience for the kids!

The last thing we did before leaving was check out a hiking trail. There are a few trails on the property, but none of them seemed particularly long. We only went about 0.8 mi that day, but considering we were walking in snow, it sure felt like we were doing more than we actually did. The trail looked interesting, at least, but again, with all the snow, it was difficult to get a sense for how “good” the trail was.

In all, it was a fun excursion and the weather was perfect for it! I can say I’ve walked out onto a frozen lake now, too! Hopefully something I never do again…..

Blizzkrieg 2021

In some ways, the title of this post isn’t deserving of the “Blizzkrieg” title, as I’ve used it back in 2011 when we got almost 11″ of snow, and again in 2019 when we ended up with 12″ here in Marshall. Perhaps we’ll end up with a ton of snow another time this year but…

Today is not that day.

Indeed, the snow hasn’t been the problem this time around. Instead, the utter ridiculous extended cold temperatures are the problem, and I hereby propose that the relentless cold is worse.

Since last week in Marshall, we have spent most of our time in single-digit temperatures. Last week, we occasionally made it to 14 F, but that that was usually later in the day and due to cloud cover locking in something resembling “heat.” Over night, it always got crazy cold again and stayed there until mid- to late-afternoon. The wind chill has been consistently in the -10s F, and right now, it’s -26 F. Heck, it’s bad enough in the Midwest that Texas is fighting single-digit temperatures, and it’s causing brown outs with their power grid.

More locally, for this reason, the kids have been effectively off school for over a week. They were out on Monday and Tuesday last week outright, and then had remote learning Wednesday through Friday. Brooke did her best to get them started in the mornings, and then I came home and did my office hours remotely so I could keep an eye on them in the afternoons.

Because the temperatures have been so terrible, my running routine has been mostly shot to heck. I broke out the YakTrax I got for Christmas so I could try and put in some miles before the weekend arrived, but those only did so well. The roads actually improved a bit, but the YakTrax were really only useful on packed down snow and not so much exposed asphalt or slush. I’ve been relying on our kettle bell sets and the rowing machine downstairs to keep things going in the meantime…

Once this past weekend arrived, however, we were plunged into low single-digit weather with a high of 1 F multiple times. Right now, it’s still -1 F, which is the warmest it’s been all day. The kids are off school for President’s Day, but tomorrow will be another remote learning day for them. Things got so bad that Missouri Valley also went remote for these two days, which was fine for my lectures this morning, but less helpful for the lab days I’m supposed to have tomorrow.

The snow that’s been falling the last few days hasn’t been that terrible, but that’s only because it’s been so dry. I can go out and use a broom to sweep it off, but I’ve been doing that 2-3 times a day, with about an inch or more each time. I don’t know how much snow we’ve officially accumulated at this time, but I’ve got some pretty solid piles going next to the driveway and sidewalks. Out in front, with a ruler, I measure 4.5″ with it still falling, but the official total could be off from that due to the wind blowing it around.

The kids have largely taken to it all okay. We’re having to keep the heat cranked in the house, and I closed the curtains to try and block the drafts into this old house. Mom came to town on Friday to give the kids a break from me being around the house, and we think that helped them get through the weekend without any “attitude issues.” Brooke scheduled some activities for Valentine’s Day like making sugar cookies, waffles for dinner, and a family game of Hearts later in the day.

They also got a new game for the Switch to help entertain them a bit. It’s one of those times where it would normally be great to have a few snow days, but since it’s so cold outside, we can’t in good conscience send them out there!

As the forecast above indicates, later this week should get better. I’ll certainly be a lot happier when the kids are back in their routine, and I can go for a run without having to wear temporary cleats and long underwear. Believe you me, I’m ready for Spring!

State Park #14: Long Branch State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

I think Brooke discovered Long Branch State Park when she was looking for beaches in Missouri for us to take the kids to last year (Edit: She used to go there when she was growing up, so she remembered it!). Strangely, I didn’t post anything about it at the time, but we re-visited the park again this year during the Summer, so I’ll include pictures from both trips (although, the kids were wearing the same stuff on both visits.

The park has quite a bit to offer, including camping, hiking trails, picnic areas, a playground, and a marina. But again, the only reason we go is to use the beach! The park is also close to Macon, MO, so it’s about an hour and a half from our house, giving us a bit of a “road trip” vibe to get there.

The beach area has a nice set of bathrooms and changing rooms close by, so it’s pretty easy to shower off before you get back in the car (I do not like sand in my car……especially when it’s new…).

Other than that, frankly, there isn’t that much more to say! We go for the beach, and as such we do beachy things, like let the kids do their thing while we read a magazine or listen to a baseball game. The first time we visited in August of 2019, it was a nice, hot, sunny day. When we visited in August of 2020, however, the clouds were out and it wasn’t quite as pleasant (also, pandemic….). Still, I suspect we’ll go back each year, as it’s a nice little excursion for a Saturday or Sunday!

State Park #13: Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

The final State Park we hit on our “Staycation 2020” trip this past Summer was Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Technically, this was Meg and my second trip, as we stopped by there (and Elephant Rocks) in the Spring of 2019 during a visit with my college, but this was our first trip as a family. This place is formed as part of the Black River, and features a shallow portion where kids can play in, as well as deeper portions where bigger folks can float around. There are also plenty of rocks to climb on (carefully!), as well as water falls that you can interact with if you want to (as in, climb down there, get underneath them, and more).

The State Park has camping available, as well as a pretty new visitor center. Normally we would have visited their offerings, but as part of the pandemic, we wanted to isolate ourselves as much as possible.

Speaking of which, there were way too many people there that day! We had waited until Sunday afternoon to go, thinking that folks from St. Louis would be heading home, but apparently….not. Frankly, we were pretty disappointed with the experience when we went. We know it can be fun to go, but we had to park about a mile away and walk. Because of that, we couldn’t really take much stuff with us, and even the stuff we could take didn’t include water bottles, aluminum cans, food, etc.

Still, after the kids were done complaining about having to walk so far, they had fun floating in the Black River, letting the flow of the river take them over short distances, and trying to find fish under rocks. It was less fun for Brooke and I because the areas more appropriate for larger people (i.e. adults) were populated by way too many people, so we didn’t venture far from the areas where younger kids can hang out.

Next time we visit, we will be able to plan it out more effectively. Also, we will get there earlier in the day so we can leave food at the car and go back and forth when we need something. Obviously, by the time we make it back there, the kids will be older too (and there won’t be a pandemic….hopefully….), so we won’t have to keep an eye on them quite as carefully. It was a disappointing visit, for sure, but we know it’s a cool place normally. It just wasn’t “normal” this time!