Weeks 9 and 10: Manatees. Everywhere.

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You might have noticed that we never got around to updating the blog last week. On one hand it feels like nothing is going on, yet we find all of our time taken. Looking back over the last couple weeks, though, I see that we really did do a lot of things after all.

Most of them involve manatees.

Manatees are a big deal in this area. They’re on tons of signs, there are statues of them, and, of course, plenty of places to see real, live manatees. If you’re not familiar with manatees, imagine a large, swimming animal that looks like a really big sweet potato with flippers and a face that is a cross between a hippo and a dog. Or maybe read this Wikipedia page instead.

Unfortunately I missed the first manatee encounter because I was working when Kelly took the kids on a field trip to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. They got to take a boat ride from the parking lot to the gate where they got to walk around the wildlife refuge. The kids were excited to see a bear like the one we missed at the last campground. Louis the Hippo was also a big hit. And of course, there were manatees in the spring. This was the first time any of us had seen a manatee.

There was one thing Kelly really wanted to do on this trip: she wanted to go fishing. We bought a couple cheap poles at Wal-Mart before we got to Crystal River and we finally got out one night. It was windy, though, and none of us really have much experience fishing. I’ve been enough to know the basics and how to put all the pieces together, but don’t have enough experience to keep things from being a mess in the wind. Eventually we, and our knotted up fishing lines, gave up for the day and vowed to try again another day.

Then we headed to a local dive restaurant that a fellow camper referred us to. The Freezer Tiki Bar is pretty much what it sounds like. The restaurant looks like it was built in the remains of an old commercial fisherman’s freezer on the edge of a river. The back opened up to a river view with tiki torches. It was cash only and there weren’t many choices on the menu, but one caught my eye. For just $10 you could get a 1.25 pound order of boiled, seasoned shrimp. No sides. Just shrimp. It was delicious. The only problem was that it was peel and eat shrimp, so it took a while and was a little messy, but it was worth it. It would have been nice if they offered potatoes or fries or something as a side, but that wasn’t an option. I still think I might like to go back once before we leave anyway. Maybe I’ll take a bag of chips with me.

If you’ve read our About Us page or the Facebook post where we announced that we were going on this trip, then you might remember the phrase that has become our motto.  Someday is now.  If you haven’t read them before, then take a minute to read them now.  This little phrase is exactly how we feel about this trip.  We’ve let too much pass by and are making an effort to do the things now that we want to do “someday”.  Before we left, we custom order a decal with this motto.  We intended to hang it above the door of Paradise (our trailer’s name) so we could see it every time we left the trailer as a reminder of why we’re doing this.  It turns out we don’t need that reminder.  We remember everyday why we’re here and acknowledge how blessed we are to be able to make these kinds of choices.  Instead, at the suggestion of Kelly’s brother Keith, the decal has finally found its new home on the back of our trailer this week.  We’re hoping that as we drive down the road, someone else might see a young family living out a dream right now, and that it might give them a little inspiration to not wait for “someday” to do their own thing, whatever that is.

That Saturday we headed down to Tampa to visit the Lowry Park Zoo. I have to say that is one of the nicest zoos we’ve ever visited. In addition to the Starbucks and Krispy Kreme donuts, they had a number of rides and attractions for the kids included. It wasn’t huge, but there were a lot of animals there. One in particular was interesting to me. They have a couple bald eagles, and I had never (that I can remember) seen one in person. That was pretty cool. Several of the animal cages also included a couple of chickens. It turns out that chickens are good at keeping the insects under control. And of course, they had a bunch of manatees. The tickets we bought are good for a full year, so we’re planning to head back down there once more before leaving the area.

On Sunday we decided to find a new church to attend. The previous week we attended a small church in Crystal River. We arrived right when service was scheduled to start and we were the 4th car in the parking lot. I admire the pastor and the members for their faithfulness, but there was nothing for the kids — no Sunday School or kid-focused class. So this week we found Living Waters church in Inverness, which is about 15 minutes from our campground.  It’s a fairly small church too — I’m guessing around 40-50 in attendance — but everyone was very friendly and there are several kids there. In fact, the kids at Living Waters were so kind to our kids that Charlie and Brytan begged us to go back later in the week for a mid-week service.

That afternoon we wanted to try our hand at fishing again. Not knowing the area we drove around close to the river. We finally found a boat tour shop that was open and asked for some advice. They gave some helpful directions, but by the time I got out of the shop, the kids had found a large playground and didn’t want to leave. As Kelly walked the dog along the edge of the river just a few feet from the playground she suddenly called out to us. We all ran over and swimming alone up (down?) the river was a huge manatee. These things are everywhere down here.

By this time it was starting to get dark so we opted to give up on fishing for the day (strike two) and go find some dinner. Instead we got sidetracked again on the way when the kids saw an even bigger playground. Even I thought this one was pretty impressive. It was huge — probably at least a quarter acre of climbing, swinging, handing, spinning and running, if not bigger.

We stopped to let the kids play for 15 minutes and 30-40 minutes later after a few pleas for “just a few more minutes?” we finally rounded everyone up and made our way to Charlie’s Fish House. We mostly stopped because of the name (Charlie is our daughter’s name). To be honest, The food wasn’t especially great, but it wasn’t terrible. I had ordered a steak, and about half of it was inedible fat. The part that I could eat tasted fine, but it left me a little disappointed. We’re trying to limit the number of times we eat at familiar chain restaurants in favor of trying something local, or at least a chain we aren’t familiar with. You win some, you lose some.

The next day, after I finished working, we finally got out to do some fishing. We had been referred to a particular bait shop and when we got there, the man told us what kind of bait to buy (shrimp) and suggested a pier that would be fun for the kids. Of course, we didn’t catch anything, but by the end of the day Charlie was finally getting the hang of casting. She couldn’t toss it very far, but it wasn’t getting tangled anymore and was going in the right direction, more or less. We never did catch anything that night with two lines in the water, but when we were about to leave for the night, Kelly met a retiree that was pulling in the trout. We might head over there again and let someone who knows what they’re doing show the kids a trick or two.

So some friends of ours from back in Wisconsin have a snow bird home in Florida. I didn’t know it before we came to Crystal River, but that home is only about 15 minutes from where we are staying. As it turns out, the Carinis (Nick and Donna) were actually coming down to the area while we were here. We’ve always really got along well with Nick and Donna as well as the rest of their family so we were really excited to get to see some familiar faces. These are some good people, and our kids really like them too. Aside from family, Brytan doesn’t just give hugs out to anyone without being told to, but when he saw them he ran up and gave each of them a big hug. We went over to their home one night after dinner and hung out there for several hours chatting while the kids played with the toys they have for their grandkids. It was really a great time and we made plans to see them a few more times before we leave the area.

Saturday we saw more manatees — a lot of them actually. Crystal River has an annual Manatee Festival and it happened to be going on while we were here. It was mostly just a bunch of vendor tents similar to what you might find at a state fair. The first thing we did, though, was take a boat tour out into the bay to do some manatee spotting. As weird as these things look, it’s pretty cool to see the giant animal swimming along with the boat. We probably saw a half-dozen manatees on the boat tour before heading back to the docks.

As it turns out that dock was the same one where I had asked about fishing and the kids found a playground. So of course we had to let them play again. 🙂 We had some lunch from one of the vendors and all agreed to never eat there again. I tried to be positive but eventually reality set in and I agreed that it was pretty gross. But the kids were having fun so it’s all good.

From there we found the bus that would take us to see Three Sisters Springs. When Kelly told me about this place earlier in the week, I couldn’t picture it. The name kept making me think of a catholic hospital. Well, it’s nothing at all like that. The “three sisters” are the three huge natural springs in this park. And guess what animal loves to come and rest in the springs. If you said anything other than “manatee” then you haven’t been paying attention. If I had to guess I’d say there were at least 75 manatees in the area, if not more.

Saturday was also the day before Brytan’s 7th birthday and he was getting REALLY excited. There were presents from Pops and Nana and Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Katie and, of course, Mommy, Daddy and Charlie. It was all he could do to wait for Sunday morning. We may or may not have let him open a small one on Saturday afternoon.

Don’t judge.

That afternoon/evening, Kelly and Charlie went back over to Living Waters church again. They were having a picnic and had invited us to come. Charlie really hit it off with some of the girls previously, and Brytan really wanted to play with the new birthday present we may or may not have let him open a day early, so he and I stayed home while the girls went to the picnic. Everyone had a good time. Charlie got to play capture the flag with all the kids, and Kelly got to make friends with some of the ladies of the church.

So, while it seemed like we didn’t have anything to write about, it turns out we really did a lot over the last couple weeks after all. Our goal is to update this blog every week, but obviously we fail at that sometimes. If you do any have questions for us, though, please let us know. We’re thinking of starting a “what’s it like” series on the blog where we talk about how different some normal thing is as a nomad. If you’re wondering about anything, please let us know.

Until then, enjoy some of the pictures we’ve taken over the last couple weeks.

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