For the Camping Enthusiast: Tomoka State Park

Tomoka State Park located in Ormond Beach, Volusia County is a must! We have camped here twice and although we got rained out, we still had a great time. The Tomoka and Halifax intersect at this park, providing over 12 miles of shoreline.  There is plenty of water activities at this park and we personally want to go back again.

Our experience with the park was that it was a positive, family-friendly place with plenty of outdoor activities including bird-watching, biking, boating, geocaching and hiking. The trails are cleaned out and maintained well; and there were paved path ways as well, great for little kids to ride their bikes on. The campsites were clean and well kept and the bird watching was awesome! We saw Peregrine falcons, egrets, herons, and white ibis. My kids have gotten so good at distinguishing these native Florida birds it brings me such pride. ūüôā
Although we didn’t personally get to fish (due to inclement weather) we know that spotted trout and red fish are regularly caught off the Tomoka River. There is a boat ramp to launch kayaks and canoes, as well as access the Intracostal water way for saltwater fishing. This is our biggest reason for wanting to go back- my son didn’t get to fish on either trip.
The history of the park I found really interesting too. The Timucuan Indians occupied the area when Spanish explorers stumbled upon them. Shell middens can still be found from the 1700’s! After British occupation however, the land that was given back to the Native Americans and the land officially became a park in 1945. The park is filled with history including the chief Tomokie statue and indigo plants that still grow there from when the natives used the land for indigo and rice. My kids really enjoyed the live oak canopy that provided lots of shade (and helped temper the rain) as well as the Fred Dana Marsh Museum that offered crafts and a short historical lesson.

Pros: Very clean restrooms/showers with laundry facilities and a large washbasin to clean your larger pots in.

Cons: I have no negative comments about the park itself. Just a bit of advice, I wouldn’t recommend going in the summer when the bugs are at their worst and the rain is likely, especially being right at the intersection of two waterways.

Two weeks of camping, numerous lessons learned

We went camping for TWO weeks and this is what we learned:

Not surprisingly, we learned that Mom over-packed the clothing. Fourteen days sounds like a loooong time, but how many outfits do you really need? ¬†We spent whole days in our bathing suits and wore our clothes for only a small portion of the day and thus re-wore them. ¬†As the planner of this adventure, I knew washer and dryer facilities would be available to me at every stop along the way, yet I still packed 14 outfits. Why?! Because I’m crazy. ¬†I would’ve been better off just packing six outfits and using the extra bag space for more towels. ¬†In fact because I was able to do laundry, my kids wore only half of what I packed! Me too! I came home with four outfits that were never touched. Lesson learned: no more than one weeks’ worth of clothing, especially if you can do laundry!

We also learned I didn’t pack enough….of towels and toiletries. ¬†I packed four towels, for four people, but didn’t account for the lack of dry time when you use those towels for the beach, the pool and then need to shower. ¬†So we went without showers ahem, for several days. ¬†(No judgement!) I also only packed one soap, one bottle of shampoo and not nearly enough sunblock. ¬†This may not seem like a huge deal, but when budget is a factor (and really it’s always a factor), buying these items at camp stores or other places along the route is an unnecessary cost. ¬†Pack extra and then you won’t have to spend the extra. ¬†Extra sunblock was a no-brainer that I really should have checked prior to leaving. ¬†I just grabbed our beach bag and didn’t check any of the bottles or spray, which were all nearly empty. ¬†So I had to buy a $10 bottle ūüė¶ ¬†The one bar of soap/one bottle of shampoo was more of an irritation than a real problem. ¬†And I didn’t really discover this until nearly the end of the trip when we ALL wanted to get showers….at the same time. ¬†My daughter and I were able to shower, but then the boys had to wait until we were done so I could pass off the toiletries to them. ¬†If I had packed extras, we all could have been done at the same time. ¬†Like I said, minor irritation, but good to note for next time. ¬†Lesson Learned: pack more essentials and triple check!

The next lesson came in regards to food. ¬†Not too much or too little packed, in fact we did just fine, but we learned that you get what you pay for with coolers. We own three coolers, all of the same quality level, but took only one on this two-week endeavor. Knowing that I would be able to replenish and restock our food (and ice) at each stop we made, I only needed one cooler. However after having to buy two bags of ice every day, we decided to invest in a higher-end cooler that kept our ice and food cold for days at a time. We had previously talked about investing in such a cooler but this trip solidified the need to finally do it, and now that we have I can’t believe how long we’ve survived without it. ¬†One website helped us narrow down the size and price range to fit our families needs. ¬† ¬† Once said cooler was purchased, we only had to buy ice one more time and it lasted over five days. ¬†To say that we should have done this before we left for our adventure, is an understatement. ¬†But, lesson learned!

We also learned how to work together as a team. I don’t mean to sound hokey, but we really leaned on each other and as the days passed, we gelled as a team, not just as a family. It wasn’t the long drives, although those were great bonding times over the Hamilton, Moana and Trolls¬†soundtracks, but it was the camper that made us a team. ¬†Everyone had responsibilities and jobs and that made us gel as a team. ¬†No one yelled for help; no one was off playing while the others were stuck doing the grunt work. ¬†Campers have to be broken down and set up in a specific sequence and it takes many hands to help make it happen. ¬†When we first got our camper, my husband did all of it. ¬†Then I started to see the steps and started pitching in. ¬†Eventually, my son wanted to help and now everyone has a specific job. ¬†We’ve grown as campers, but we also grew as a team.

We streamlined our break down and set up sequence for our pop-up. Breaking down our camper can be done in under 30 minutes including hitching it to the truck. Setting up our campsite and the entire pop-up camper (with everyone pitching in to help) can be done in 30 minutes flat. Everyone pitched in and was given particular tasks-including the five-year old! ¬†This is integral because my husband and I should NOT be doing all the work. We firmly believe in order to have fun you have to contribute to the work that goes into the set up and clean-up of camping. ¬†And although we have been camping many many times before, this trip was different. ¬†We were stopping and setting up camp every 2-3 days. ¬†That means set-up on day one, break down two days later. ¬†Set up again that same evening and break down two days later. ¬†It’s tiresome and we told our kids, you have to contribute. ¬†We want our kids involved in the process of camping and all that it involves; you can’t just tag along for the fun stuff. ¬†We want them to learn how to set up the camper so that one day they can borrow it for themselves. ¬†And we were thrilled as parents that they rose to the responsibility. ¬†Lesson learned: Make them accountable by giving them a responsibilty and it’s a win-win for whole team.

Finally, we learned that we are in, what many refer to as, “the sweet spot.” ¬†This is a new revelation we only recently discovered but was cemented on this trip. ¬†The “sweet spot” is defined as a short period of time where kids are not helpless, but aren’t yet ditching family time for their friends. ¬†This trip crystallized for us that we are entering “the sweet spot” and we have a very short window in which to make these memories. ¬†Our kids are in this age range where they don’t need us, but they want us around. ¬†They don’t need help wiping their butt, or their noses, but they genuinely like being with us. ¬†We are not uncool, boring parents yet. ¬†My son even said unsolicited, “I would want you as a friend, even if you weren’t my mom.” ¬†Seriously? ¬†(Way to make me cry kid). ¬†And I am keenly aware, he will be the first to leave that sweet spot and move into being a sullen, moody, independent teenager who thinks his parents know nothing. ¬†So this trip was more poignant, not just because it was our first long road trip, but because we realize our time is short-lived with our kids. ¬†Our chances of making these memories is fleeting and we must seize them! ¬†Lesson taken to heart.

Florida Natives

I was 19 when I moved to Florida.  I knew virtually no one, had no historical knowledge of the state and really only associated it with the vacations I took with my grandmother to her time share in Buena Vista.  But in the sixteen years I have lived here, I have explored more of Florida than any other state I lived in, and learned more about its history so that my Florida native babies will know the lineage they come from.

Despite the length of time I have called Florida my home and the loyalty and love I have for it, I’ll never be a true native. ¬†(My father-in-law just recently stopped calling me a Yankee). ¬†But I married a native Floridian (and his entire clan) and have learned a thing or two about Florida natives that I feel are singular to this group.

Prior to marriage, I marveled at my to-be-husbands’ choices of entertainment and just how Floridian he was; I had never met anybody who spent as much time outdoors as he did. ¬†Seriously, not a weekend went by without him asking, you wanna go surf? ¬†You wanna go fish? ¬†Kayak? ¬†Knee board? ¬†I mean, we never were indoors while the sun was out. ¬†I can honestly say it was one of the main things that attracted me to him. ¬†He took me out of my comfort zone and I loved it.
But I still wondered, are all Floridians like this? And he would nod his head and say, “everyone I know.” ¬†And he was right of course, they may not all have the same exact outdoor interests as he does, but every Florida native I have met loves being outdoors.
Here are a few things I have come to learn about native Floridians:
1. All Floridians, no matter what part of the state they live in, are immensely proud of their state.  In their eyes there is no better place to live in the world than Florida.   Despite living in central Florida his entire life, my husband would rather travel inside the state lines than go explore another state.  When we set out to plan trips I always ask, what state do you want to see?  And he always picks Florida.  With a miriad of water sports, to lakes and beaches, to caves and historical sites, this state has something for everyone. And each area is vastly different, despite what some tourists might believe.  The panhandle has a completely different vibe than St. Petersburg than the Florida Keys, but all take pride in their neck of Florida.
2. All Floridians LOVE the outdoors, especially IN their state.  Whether they like to hog hunt, fish, hunt deer, go to the beach, go offshore fishing, or go hiking, they want to do it IN their state.  Floridians have an appreciation for the natural beauty of old Florida that is unparalleled.  They scoff at the photo shopped pictures on a vacation brochure because in their eyes nothing will ever compare to Old Florida beauty.
3. True native Floridians are pirates. ¬†Now, this doesn’t mean they steal or attack or plunder. ¬†But rather, they like doing what they want, when they want, and in their own way. ¬†This falls in line with number two; if a Floridian is into fishing, they want to do it their way not how some wrangler on TV is telling them to do it. And chances are the way they learned was from their dad or their granddad. ¬†Likewise, if they have a favorite beach they have been going to for years, you are not about to talk them into going to a different beach; they want to do it their way. ¬†The way it’s been done for years (or generations for some families). ¬†Don’t mess with a Florida pirate.
4. Floridians take pride in their work, because they know their vacation IS their back yard. ¬†I don’t mean to say others don’t take pride in work, but rather that when your backyard is a destination place for so many, you work hard to keep it a destination for you. ¬†No one wants to bring the rat-race to their happy getaway, therefore Floridians work hard to keep both in balance.

5. A follow-up to #4, the majority of Floridians, don’t like tourism. ¬†Now let me be clear, I don’t mean they don’t like tourists. ¬†No, it’s not about people; in fact they want to show off all their state has to offer, it’s what the tourists represent. ¬†Floridians don’t like tourism, as defined by the tear down and build up of their land for the expansion of certain amusement parks. ¬†Or the onslaught of chain restaurants that are giving mom&pop, hole in the wall (awesome!) local restuarants too much competition. ¬†But what really bothers native Floridians is that there are thousands of people each year who choose Florida as their vacation destination, and the only thing they ever see is the inside of the hotel, a monorail and an amusement park. ¬†Visitors don’t truly get to appreciate all Florida has to offer and that upsets native Floridians.
6. Finally, the last thing I have learned about native Floridians, is that no matter how serious or stressful their job, all native Floridians know how to have fun without an amusement park. ¬†This doesn’t mean that they’re not used, it’s just that they know to get back to the simple life. ¬†They don’t need the high energy, fast paced, thrill-seeking amusement park to have a good time. ¬†Floridians know how to kick back, relax and de-stress in nature without external stimuli. ¬†The water, the trees, the animals are their stimulus and it relaxes them.

I didn’t know how to do this before I met my husband and his family. ¬†They have taught me the joy of being on the water, taking a hike in a nature preserve, fishing, laying in a hammock under a canopy of Spanish moss, and bird watching.

Floridians are preservationists of their state, they love to be in it as well as share it .

The next time you decide to visit Florida, ask a Florida native what you should do. ¬†Or message me for a list of off the beaten path places to visit,¬†sights¬†to see, or even local eateries. ¬†I can tell you what beaches fit your needs and where to find the best surf, fishing holes, camping spots, kayaking, paddle boarding and more. ¬†Don’t let Florida escape you; escape to Florida like a native.

Why we bought a Pop-up Camper

We have just returned from a two-week long vacation in which we camped our way up the eastern seaboard.  The number one question we got from campsite neighbors and family we visited was, why did you by a pop-up camper?

To us, it seemed very obvious, but I began to see things through others’ eyes and realized, not everyone thinks like we do. ¬†Most family assumed we had a full size pull-behind camper and were surprised to learn how few amenities and creature comforts we really have in our pop-up. ¬†(I think they thought I was a “glamper.”) ¬†And in some ways, we are glampers because the number one reason we bought a pop-up camper is its hot in Florida!! My husband said, “I’ll camp with you, but I need A/C.”
After one memorable camping trip three years ago in which no one slept because of the gnats and heat, I finally relented. So we set out to find something to fit our families’ needs.
My husband’s requirements were simple: “It needs it to be dry, bug free and have A/C.” After talking about what we were willing to pay, how serious we were about camping and how much work we wanted to do, I pointed out a pop-up at our campsite. ¬†A pop-up! My husbands eyes lit up. ¬†A pop-up is a cross between a full pull behind camping trailer and a tent. Aside from remembering that an uncle owned one once, I never had any experience with a pop-up before.
So research we did! The more we learned about them the more we were convinced this was the right recreational vehicle for our family. ¬†Pop-ups offer the comfort and features of a camping trailer but in a lighter much more towable, compact option. ¬† I learned that there are different floor plans and styles with varying features and specifications, but all come with a stove and fridge. ¬†Only some models have toilet and indoor showers. ¬†None of this appealed to me however. Now wait! Before you think, what is she crazy?, let me preface this with saying that I took many summer trips with my grandmother in her full size pull-behind camper and cooking inside left a residual smell that I hated! ¬†I did not want to deal with that! Plus, we already had a camping stove and griddle, why do we need one inside? ¬†We like grilling. ¬†We like eating outside. ¬†We wanted this pop-up to be our sleeping area, nothing more. ¬†And the indoor toilet/shower? Let’s just say indoor plumbing is not worth the hassle given that all campgrounds and State Parks have facilities available for use.
Once we settled on a pop-up style, we set a budget and went to craigslist.  The make of the pop-up was not important to us, but the condition of these four important things were:

  1. The canopy had to be in excellent shape.  No holes, no patch repairs, no rips or broken zippers.
  2. The A/C had to be in working condition.
  3. The bearings and seals had to be new. (Tires we can always get, but replacing  the whole hub on a trailer is time consuming and costly).
  4. The frame of the trailer had to be sound.

Anything after these four essentials, we could deal with. ¬†A broken fridge? ¬†Ok, no problem. ¬†The plumbing needs to be replaced? ¬†No worries, we won’t use it anyway.

The second most important reason we bought a pop-up was that it was affordable! Not just in the cost of the camper, but in the usage and maintenance of it. Pop-ups do not require a special car to tow them or special equipment other than a tow hitch. My husband’s truck and my small SUV could both tow a pop-up, and that knowledge alone made this option so much more convenient for us. We also did our research and learned that maintaining a pop-up and/or upgrading it was far more pocket-book friendly than a fifth wheel or full size RV. We ended up buying our pop-up used which was even more budget friendly!

The third reason we bought a pop-up was storage. We can park our pop-up in our driveway without it taking up a considerable amount of space or having to pay for parking at a storage facility. It sits low, has a short wheel base and takes up the same amount of space as a car.  Our particular pop-up is a pull behind trailer that collapses to no more than 4 feet off the ground and 12 feet long.  Once opened though, it extends to 16 feet long and rises to 10 feet high.

Since purchasing our pop-up camper three years ago, we have had many memorable camping trips and couldn’t be happier with our decision.