Our family likes to go to the beach on weekends.  It’s Dave’s and my little indulgence on Sunday mornings these days: we head out around 10am and come home in time for a late lunch around 1pm.

You never know how the Gulf is going to behave on a given trip to the beach.  Sometimes there’s a ton of seaweed, sometimes there are jellyfish, sometimes the water is really deep at our favorite spot, sometimes it’s really shallow.

On our last trip, two weekends ago, the seashells were out in force and we enjoyed collecting several.

The kids have brought home buckets full of small seashells before, and they’ve mainly sat in our garage awaiting an idea.  This time the kids begged me to help them do something more fruitful than have them sit in the garage.

So I offered to buy the kids a vase and they could fill the vase with the shells.  I went to Walmart and took a look at the glass vases in the craft/candles section and thought to myself “That’s going to take forever”.

I found a hurricane glass and chose a sand-colored candle to add to the glass.  The kids filled the hurricane glass with the shells and it now sits in the bathroom to match their surf-shop bathroom look.

First we washed the shells and sat them out in the sun to dry.

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15. August 2012 · Comments Off on More Camera Fun…in Humid Florida · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

This is my favorite of the batch, really capturing the rainbow colors as the sunlight refracted through the ice clouds. The blueness of the sky really comes through also.

On Tuesday morning at about 8:30am when I let the dog out in the backyard, I saw a thunderstorm building towards the east near Hurlburt Field and Fort Walton Beach.  The rising sun was behind the storm clouds and shining through some ice clouds, causing some pretty diffractions.  This gave me some good opportunity to play with our new camera.

I ran inside, grabbed the camera, ran back outside, uncapped the lens…and everything fogged up.


This is an issue here.  Bring a 75F camera outside into warmer 100% humidity and you will get condensation on the lenses.  After last week’s adventures at the butterfly house with the fogging lenses, I had ordered some anti-fog lens cloths from Amazon (along with a spare battery and some other maintenance supplies).  I hadn’t received that order by Tuesday morning (it arrived 6 hours later), so all I could do was stand outside and wait for the lens to clear up.

I was getting impatient, hoping the clouds would continue to cooperate for me…it took about 3-4 minutes before I could get clear pictures.

What I was attempting to photograph were “iridescent clouds“, which occur when ice crystal clouds are between your eyes and the sun.  Learn more about atmospheric optic phenomena here.  There’s all kinds of great stuff to see!

This storm moved east of us, but later that morning we had our own thunderstorm come in from the Pensacola area.  Right after I took these pictures I had gone out for a run (with the kids on their bikes) and we had come home right when it started raining.

Enjoy some of the color variations I could get from my viewing spot in my backyard.  No post-processing was done with these pictures, they’re coming to you straight off the SD card.  The first picture is my favorite of the batch, zoomed in…

The full storm, this is facing east in my backyard. You can see the ice clouds on the right.

Playing with the settings some. I think this was the silhouette setting.


Low saturation.

The refractive effects have nearly dissipated…as the thicker clouds began to dominate.

12. August 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 33: A Visit to Tallahassee · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

After a 3 hour car ride, the kids were ready to do some running around!

It had been on my to-do list all summer: to take the boys to Tallahassee to visit the Museum of Florida History and see the Capitol Complex.  It’d also be a chance to try out my new camera in some new settings.  We had put it off numerous times, and last Friday — our last Friday before school orientation — we made it out the door nice and early for the three-hour drive.

Except I forgot a critical planning factor: the one-hour time change.  So we were out the door at 8am and I was thinking we’d get there in time to enjoy lunch somewhere and then get in 4-5 hours worth of sightseeing.  We were on the outskirts of Tallahassee when I noticed that the clock on our truck was reading about 11:55am instead of 10:55am and I thought to myself, “Oh crap…”

So we blasted through a Taco Bell drive-through just off of Florida State’s campus and then as the kids ate I negotiated my way downtown and parked in a garage next door to the Museum.

This is a nice overhead shot of the Gray Building from the 22nd floor of the New Capitol building…the museum is only on the ground floor of this building.

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11. August 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 32: Cajun Specialty Meats, Pensacola · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

A “turducken”, which is a chicken in a duck in a turkey. Cajun Specialty Meats always has them on hand, and they also ship these throughout the Eastern Seaboard, from here to New York.

The family spent Wednesday in Pensacola, enjoying one last trip to the Pensacola MESS Hall before they close for the school year. After our time at the MESS Hall, we looked for an inexpensive — but not fast-food — lunch option.  There are typically numerous restaurants along Gregory St. near the Civic Center and we wandered up and down the main drag for something appealing. Nothing jumped out at us.

When I took a side street to make a U-turn, down an industrial-looking street, we discovered a place called Cajun Specialty Meats. It appeared to be a warehouse, but we noticed a small restaurant in front. It was still open for our late lunch so we decided to check it out.

You can read here the story of how a Cajun meat packing facility ended up in Pensacola.

The lunch menu was great (and inexpensive), and you could shop in the store while you waited for your red beans and rice, po-boys, muffulettas or etouffee.

Here’s what goodies we found at Cajun Specialty Meats!

  • One of the original national retailers of “Turduckens“.
  • Many of their traditional Cajun lunch fares are available in vacuum-sealed bags: red beans and rice, gumbo, and etouffees, for about $5-8 per 24 oz.
  • Savoie’s pre-made roux from Opelousas, LA.
  • Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup from Abbeville, LA — an alternative to corn syrup when making pecan pie.
  • Meat, meat and more meat!  Seasoned steaks, chickens and sausages galore!
  • Crawfish and seafood pies
  • Natchitoches-style meat pies!  This one really caught Dave’s and my attention, since we loved going to Lasyone’s in Natchitoches when were stationed in Louisiana in the mid-1990s.

If you’re looking for something completely different the next time you’re looking for a restaurant in Pensacola, just head one block directly BEHIND McGuire’s.

06. August 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 31: Steve’s Farm in Walnut Hill · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Steve’s Farm is in Walnut Hill, Florida, just below Atmore, Alabama (home of Wind Creek Casino).

This past Saturday the family headed to the northwest corner of Florida for some catfish fishing.  I know that sounds strange, hauling so far up north when we have amazing fishing all around us, right?

We’re first heard about Steve’s Farm through our Cub Scout pack, they had an outing up to the farm earlier this spring.  We had other plans on that day, but we had promised the kids a trip up to the farm.  Especially since Timmy had won a brand new Shakespeare fishing rod and reel as a door prize from the May Cub Scout meeting.

The farm is about an 90 minute drive from our house in Navarre.  It’s run by a Mennonite family and everyone who helped us out was so incredibly nice.

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30. July 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 29: Morrison Springs Park · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tucked away in the middle of nowhere, Morrison Springs Park is a jewel of a spot near Defuniak Springs. It’s a very popular freshwater snorkeling and scuba-diving location.

After nearly two weeks straight of having steamy-hot mornings and thunderstormy afternoons, it was time to simply take a gamble and head outside on a day trip.

This is the time of year in northwest Florida when the Gulf of Mexico water temperatures get so warm, trips to the beach become somewhat unpleasant.  Even swimming pools aren’t cutting it.  Many folks will head north towards places like the Blackwater River to legitimately cool off.

A fellow AF spouse shared a recent trip she took to Morrison Springs, a county park about 75 miles east-north-east of Navarre, and about 10 miles east of Defuniak Springs, not far off I-10.  It looked very interesting.  The cold water certainly caught my attention.  Today I decided to pack a lunch, our swim tubes and swim noodles and headed out with the kids.  None of us knew what to expect.  I warned them that if the place was icky enough, we’d turn right around and I’d take them to a cool lunch spot for their trouble…but it was quite nice.

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I could have sworn I had heard about the Pensacola MESS Hall from the Pensacola With Kids blog, but I can’t find the reference article.  Oh well.

Trust me when I say that I had first heard about it through Pensacola With Kids, but I can’t find the original review now.  But what I did find was this story in the Pensacola Digest that came out not long after the facility opened in June.

This facility currently is only scheduled to be open through the 3rd week of August (August 18th according to their Facebook page).

So what is the MESS Hall?  Well, for starters, MESS = Math, Engineering, Science and Stuff.  It’s a science center unlike anything I had ever seen.  And trust me, I have been to many many science museums and explorer-type centers in my days.

The MESS Hall is in downtown Pensacola just a block off Palafox Street near the center square.  After spending time here, the family can adjourn to a nice dinner nearby.

The MESS Hall has attempted to capture the feeling of a traditional mess hall, which is a military term for where servicemembers eat on the base or on their ships.  The kids will walk in (after paying the $5 per person admission), and are greeted with a open space with tables and assorted areas for free play with wind tunnels, marble run parts and pendulums.  The walls are covered in posters featuring optical illusions.

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18. July 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 27: Destin Parasailing with the Kids · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

Coming in to land after their ten-minute trip.

Last weekend we took advantage of another Groupon: $35 parasailing with Destin Parasailing. By buying two for “myself” and gifting two more to Dave (per the terms of the Groupon), we were able to swing $35 parasailing for the whole family!

We were scheduled for last Saturday, but due to poor weather, we rescheduled to this past Sunday and the weather was fantastic!

You can read more details about a parasailing experience here from our trip last year, but with the kids we were really happy they enjoyed it. There was another 7-year-old on our boat and she was much more high-strung. She went up before our boys did, and she shrieked and hollered most of the time. We didn’t know if she was happy or sad about the experience. When she came back, she seemed to be giggling, but then said “It was scary!”. So I was nervous that the kids might get nervous themselves.

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15. July 2012 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 26.5: Now We’re Olin Marler Spokespeople! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

Where are our royalties?

Today we took the kids parasailing (new blog post coming soon!) and we used the same business, Olin Marler Fishing Service, that we did for the deep sea fishing earlier this month.  So when we were checking in, Jacob pointed out that Dave and I were in one of the pictures in the window.

This was with other pictures of people showing off their catches.

A professional photographer took pictures of each group and this was the one she took of us, but we didn’t purchase…although at $10 for the print, it was a relative bargain.

But we didn’t have to buy the print because the same photographer had taken this picture with Dave’s iPhone at the same time.  See?  We’re even posed the same way.

I’ll refrain from the more gory pictures of chum and cigar minnows with their eyes stabbed out, ha ha. But here’s the boat’s catch. There were 10 of us fishing, so we each were allowed to take home two red snapper and many other kinds of fish as well.  Dave’s biggest red snapper catch is on the farthest right of the top row, and my lesser amberjack is right next to it.

Yep, I’m quite a bit behind, but I wanted to share Dave’s and my latest Florida adventure.

While the kids were in the northeast visiting with the grandparents, on July 3rd we booked a half-day (6 hour) fishing trip out on the Gulf of Mexico.  We had SO MUCH FUN (yes, I’m shouting this).

Our boat, the Gulf Breeze.

We chose Olin Marler Charter Boat service for our trip, since that’s the same company we used for our dolphin cruise in April.  The Marler name is a fixture in Destin: “Uncle Billy” Marler was one of the founders of Destin and served as the fishing village’s first postmaster.  The founding families’ names are everywhere in Destin: street names, company names and even tied into the names of the boats.

Olin Marler offers several options for deep sea fishing trips: the “party boat” which holds more people on the boat but costs less, the group charter: a smaller boat experience that accepts an assortment of smaller parties, and the truly private charter, where a single group pays for the full cost of the boat trip, regardless of how many people are in the group.

We chose the middle option, since we didn’t want the chaos of a large group but weren’t about to pay for a full boat all to ourselves.  Our group charter was able to accomodate up to 30 people on board, but there were only 10 of us.  It felt very fortunate to not be on such a crowded boat.

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