November 2013 Florida road trip

As if one week-long road trip to Florida with two small boys this year wasn’t enough, we went and took another. Corresponding to my new blogging style of more words and less photos (there’s a reason for that which I haven’t elaborated on yet but will soon…), I’ll recap our week in one post rather than stretching it into seven this time…

Day 1: Friday, November 1

Raleigh to Tallahassee

The easiest way to begin a road trip is to wake the boys up at their usual time, dress them, and load them into the car to eat breakfast on the road. This is precisely how our day began at 7:30. After a break for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Walterboro, South Carolina and roughly nine hours of driving, we ended up in Tallahassee around dinnertime. Mom and Kristen made the same journey and we passed them around the Florida border. Both cars arrived at the Tallahassee hotel around the same time. We ate our sandwich dinners in the room before Kristen and I headed out to the Garnet and Gold store in the Governor’s Square Mall for some Seminole gear.

Day 2: Saturday, November 2


It’s gameday! Kristen and I noticed years ago that the Seminoles’ football schedule for 2013 did not bring them to any of the Triangle-area universities for the first time since the Highsmiths moved to Raleigh. We decided this would be a great year to see a game in Tallahassee and finally cheer on the home team. After receiving Gavin’s school assignment this summer and reviewing the home games that coincided with his fall break, the Miami game was the definite choice. Little did we realize then that this game would be fought between two undefeated teams with national title implications! It was the premiere game of the week, covered by ESPN Gameday, and airing in primetime.

Only Kristen and I had any interest in attending the game, but everyone tagged along for a walk around campus in the morning. The boys still have little interest in watching football (or any sport for that matter) but love Renegade the horse so I piqued their excitement for the day with the promise of Renegade stuffed animals. Serendipitously, the school bookstore was opening just as we walked by and the boys were happy to carry around their new lovies for the rest of the morning.

We arrived at Doak Campbell Stadium with the ESPN Gameday broadcast underway on Langford Green. We circled the stadium, taking photos at the “Unconquered” statue of Chief Osceola and Renegade, the Bobby Bowden Statue, and the football sod cemetery. Whenever FSU wins a big game on the road, one player brings back a piece of the opponent’s sod. The most recent addition to the cemetery was a clump of Clemson sod from the game two weeks earlier in which #5 FSU beat #3 Clemson by 37 points. This “casket” was still open with a ribbon. All of the stones commemorating Miami games were adorned with simple green and orange carnations. We couldn’t get over how clever and hilarious the whole cemetery was!

After a long walk to the opposite side of campus for a Westcott Building photo opportunity, we eventually found our cars and drove to Boston Market for dinner. We rested at the hotel in preparation for a late night before Kristen and I left for the game with hours to spare, which ended up being just enough time! We arrived just as the band was marching into the stadium just as we had hoped (we love hearing the drums reverberating under the seats!).

The game was exciting and the crowd was spirited throughout the entire game. After a close first half, the Seminoles easily pulled away in the second while the Hurricanes didn’t score again and FSU easily won the game with a final score of 41-14. Crazy party girls that we are, we hopped on the bus and pulled out of the parking garage into light traffic for the drive back to the hotel and were in bed not much past midnight. The home game that we were expecting years earlier turned out to be the most exciting game we could have ever imagined!

Day 3: Sunday, November 3

Tallahassee to Gainesville to Sanibel

Day three would be another long one. The goal was to end the day in Sanibel with stops in Gainesville, first to visit the Dukes and then to spend some time with Beth. The boys had so much fun, as usual, playing with Logan for several hours. As with all our visits, we wanted to stay so much longer!

Around mid-afternoon, we drove to Beth’s new house which was only a 20-minute drive away. We enjoyed touring her property, giving the boys wheelbarrow rides, and ____.

After enjoying Beth’s pasta dinner, we were only the road for the 4.5 drive down to Sanibel, already after dark. The boys slept the entire way to Casa du Highsmith.

Day 4: Monday, November 4

Sanibel and Cape Coral

Ah, Monday morning! Finally a day to sleep in a be lazy! Jeff and I woke up to find the boys already awake and coloring on the coffee table while watching cartoons with Grandma and Grandpa Highsmith. We played at the house in the morning before I took the boys to Cape Coral to meet up with Kristen and Gmummy at church where we were joined by Michael and Nancy, our music director and Christian education friends. Our old church is again under construction, for a sanctuary expansion this time, so we quickly toured the work being done before deciding on a restaurant. We chose Ford’s Garage, a super cute car-themed burger joint. The boys ate their first-ever chicken burgers (and liked them!) and I took pictures in the bathroom because it was THAT memorable!

After bidding farewell to our dining group, I took the boys to Four Freedoms Park to meet up with an old high school friend, Sam, who I hadn’t seen in 15 years. We chatted for well over an hour like no time had passed at all while the boys played. Jasper was even comfortable enough to stay with Sam while I accompanied Gavin on a trip to the little boys’ room. I attribute this to Jasper becoming a little more independent over the past few months and more to Sam being so wonderful with kids!

On the way back to Sanibel, we stopped in Publix for some groceries and who do we run into? Kristen and Gmummy! What a coincidence! They were stocking up on some food, too, before driving across the causeway to spend a few days biking and beaching as typical Sanibel tourists. Although our trips were in tandem, this would be the last I’d see them on this vacation.

Back on Sanibel, Aunt Cindy and Uncle Chuck arrived and the whole Highsmith clan dined at the original Cheeburger Cheeburger.

Day 5: Tuesday, November 5

Sanibel and Naples

This is the point where Jeff should take over blogging! I hadn’t worked at my company’s office or seen any of my coworkers in three years since there wasn’t time during our February trip. So, it was time to show my face in the office again and I got up bright and early for the hour-long one-way commute to Naples. After a long day of work, I stopped in the Loft Outlet (I repeat: a LOFT OUTLET! I want one of these in Raleigh!) just before the causeway for some much needed solo-mommy-shopping-time. Sweaters sold in Florida contain no wool. It’s a wonderful thing! The day ended with a wonderful home-cooked meal and sleepy Scrabble game.

Day 6: Wednesday, November 6

Sanibel and Naples to Port Charlotte and Cocoa Beach

Wednesday was work day #2 for me. Jeff drove me halfway to work while a coworker drove the rest of the way so that Jeff could keep the car for the day. Jeff and the boys picked me up and we headed up to a Cracker Barrel in Port Charlotte to meet Jeff’s friend Hal and his wife Jan. We had a lovely time despite this restaurant’s apparent goal to win Cracker Barrel’s Worst Service award (public service announcement: Never visit the Cracker Barrel in Port Charlotte on Kings Highway). The day ended with another late night driving across the state to Cocoa Beach for the night.

Day 7: Thursday November 7

Cocoa Beach and Kennedy Space Center

I hadn’t visited the Kennedy Space Center in over a decade so I’d been itching to go for a while. With the new Atlantis museum opening during the summer, I knew that now was the time to finally go! I wondered if the boys would be interested for an entire day, but planned on leaving early if they grew bored. Well, an early departure certainly wasn’t necessary! We arrived shortly before the gates opened at 9:00, left after the official closing time of 5:00, and still didn’t see all of the attractions!

Upon arrival, we headed straight to the Atlantis museum. It. Is. Incredible! Following a pair of stand-up movies that take you through the history of the shuttle’s development and a typical launch, the screen opens to the real Atlantis on display, nose first, payload bay doors open, remote manipulator arm extended, rolled on a 43.21-degree angle. The presentation from the movie to the actual shuttle is absolutely breathtaking.

The entire museum is incredible. There are countless simulators, artifacts, and models, culminating in the launch experience simulator.

Gymnast Jasper

This morning, I was able to see Jasper in action during his new gym class for the first time since it began two months ago. Jasper is doing so well, pays attention to Ms. Gayle, and enjoys going to the gym every week.

I snuck into the gym following the warm-ups at the back of the gym so that I could get close-ups of the two circuits of the day. Circuit #1 began by making a “candlestick.” Jasper’s candlestick stand apparently holds two candles.

Ms. Gayle assisted the kids with backward somersaults on a wedge.

After leaping over two parallel ropes (and a pumpkin – pumpkins were everywhere in the gym today!), Jasper held an impressive handstand.

Next up was a forward roll while holding a stuffed pumpkin between his feet. “Take your friend for a ride,” Gayle told them.

After several rounds on circuit #1, they were off to the balance beams of circuit #2. First, climb into the red doughnut and toss one of the pumpkins inside into the nearby green doughnut.

Climb out of the doughnut and walk down a low beam…

Walk down the next beam, lifting the loops and walking underneath.

Walk down yet another beam, stepping over four small pumpkins…

Anyone care to guess how many of the four he knocked over the first time down the beam?

Three! Ha! Twenty-five percent ain’t that bad, right? He put them all back on the beam as instructed.

Next, Gayle helped him make a V-sit and knee scale on the high beam…

For these little toddlers, she says to “make your doggie tail.” This explains why Gavin started acting like a dog around the house while kicking his leg out behind him around two years ago when he was in this gym class!

Walk down the rest of the beam with “airplane arms.”

Aaaaaaaaand JUMP!

After a few rounds of the beam circuit (and only knocking one of the pumpkins off the low beam the second time around), it was time to walk through the special dark maze that is set up for Halloween. Gayle invited Gavin (who is currently tracked out) and another big sister to join the little ones.

Jasper insisted on holding Gavin’s hand. Awwwwww!

As soon as they disappeared into the maze, I heard Jasper yell, “Woah! It’s DARK in here!” Gym mats were set up on their edges to form the maze and a thick black tarp was placed on top which made the maze completely dark inside. Small holes were poked in the tarp along the maze route and the kids were told to “follow the stars.” Mommy and Daddy also went through the maze and can confirm it was completely dark in there and difficult to navigate even while following the stars! Very cool.

The maze exited at the stone steps up to the playset and down the slide.

Back into the maze again!


Preschooler in Action

Jasper has adapted to preschool FAR better than we ever expected. His teacher shared these photos from school last week. This photo of crazy Jasper conveys his comfort with the whole preschool transition rather well.

Chicks dig guys who love puzzles.

Jasper says he plays in the sand at recess every day. Yep.

This is the second photo where a girl is looking at Jasper like he’s just … well … weird. Nice to know he acts the same way at school as he does at home.

Jasper and a whole group of little people! I can’t handle this!!!

Jasper says he plays with “quiet toys” and “loud toys” in the classroom. I guess cars count as “loud toys.”

Do you mind? I’m far too classy to have my picture taken during a meal.


Summer Mountain Getaway

After starting kindergarten in July with one staggered start day followed by two full weeks at school, Gavin tracked out for three weeks in early August. We escaped to the mountains for a few days during the last week of his break before school began again in earnest and we became busy with our fall schedule.

We packed up the car on Monday, August 12th and spent an hour at Marbles on the way out of town for Jeff’s follow-up job interview. Three hours later, we were in mountain country and stopped at the Earth Fare in Boone for groceries before driving up to our rental cabin in Seven Devils. The cabin had four bedrooms on three levels with an upstairs loft, an open living room and full kitchen on the main level, and a pool table with family room on the lower level. The boys slept on the bunk beds in the bedroom on the lower level and were quite excited to be sharing a room.

We stayed at the house for the rest of Day One. I lazed in the hammock on the back porch while Jasper played with the toy crane truck that was left on the porch by the cabin’s owners. Jeff played pool and taught Gavin a few drills. Chicken with pesto pasta was on the dinner menu and we shot some pool together after putting the boys to bed.

Grandfather Mountain view from our back porch

On Tuesday morning, we ate a breakfast of fresh pancakes on the back porch with a view of Grandfather Mountain. We relaxed at the cabin most of the morning while the boys played in the living room with the Duplo blocks we brought from home. Following positive internet reviews, we ate lunch out at the Old Hampton Store and Grist Mill in Linville, dining on Carolina pulled pork barbecue sandwiches and buying the requisite ground corn meal which is a must whenever visiting the mountains. Bellies full of pork, we hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and drove up to the Stack Rock parking area where the Tanawha Trail passes by. The trail had just enough boulders, exposed tree roots, and elevation changes to keep the boys’ attention and we hiked until the boulders became too large to safely navigate. The only thing the trail was missing was open views of mountain vistas.

Back in the car, we drove up the parkway a little further in search of sweeping vistas, but ended up dodging raindrops and decided to drive back to the cabin after stopping in just a few overlooks. The boys played with Lincoln Logs in the living room while I made homemade pizza in the kitchen. While I missed my familiar kitchen utensils, I could really get used to cooking in that big kitchen with plenty of black granite counter space! It was a beautiful evening on our mountain, so we ate dinner outside. There was a fire pit on the limited lawn space so we brought ingredients for making s’mores but neither of us felt like building a fire and then babysitting it until the embers stopped glowing long after dark, so we tried a recommendation for microwaved smores instead. They were PERFECT and so quick to make!

The morning air on Wednesday was too chilly for eating breakfast on the porch, so we enjoyed our pancakes at the beautiful timber dining table and benches. We absolutely loved this table and want one for our house! The cabin didn’t have air conditioning and although the weather was cool for summer up on the mountain, the upper level loft was too warm to comfortably spend much time until this morning. I lounged up in the loft with my iPhone for most of the morning while Jeff played pool down below. The boys warmed up for the day’s hike by scampering up and down both sets of stairs countless times, running away from “the monster” in the basement and “hiding” from me.

After lunching at the cabin, we drove back out to the Parkway and met Faye at the Linn Cove Viaduct visitor center. Jasper was immediately distracted by the viaduct construction model in the building and wouldn’t stop talking about the cranes and flat bed trucks for the rest of the day. This trail leads to the quintessential view of the viaduct which is used in so much advertisements and publications for the Parkway. I knew the view would be spectacular, but we hadn’t walked this trail since before Jasper was born and Gavin was still in the Kelty carrier, so I hadn’t expected the trail to be so much fun for the boys. Nearly the entire trail is walking up and around boulders. Their stamina is incredible and our biggest revelation from this trip was that they enjoy these strenuous trails so much more than flat, straight, easy-rated trails.

This trail is actually part of the same Tanawha Trail that we’d traveled the day before. We hiked to the huge boulders overlooking the viaduct and then back to the parking lot where we purchased a Blue Ridge Parkway construction book at the visitor center and said our goodbyes to Faye. Jasper quickly became obsessed with the book and all of the small, black-and-white pictures of vintage construction machines.

As we drove south on the Parkway past Linville in search of more outlooks with vistas, we ventured into cell phone coverage areas (cell phone coverage was spotty throughout the mountains and non-existent at the cabin) and Jeff answered a message from Marbles. At a Grandfather Mountain overlook, he learned he got the job! Back at the cabin, he celebrated with some cheese and beer that he’d been saving just for this occasion. We dined again outside, enjoying chicken quesadillas on the porch, rested on the hammock for a while, ate another round of s’mores with hot chocolate (although Jasper requested no marshmallow this time – too messy!), and I treated myself to the jacuzzi tub after the boys went to bed.

Thursday morning was our last at the cabin. We ate a quick breakfast, finished packing, loaded up the car, and were off. We drove south to Linville Falls and walked an easy trail that led us to several viewing spots along the gorge. The boys were tired on this trail and proved that they enjoy the strenuous trails so much more. When trails are flat and easy, Jasper asks to be held while Gavin gets bored and distracted by dirt. The falls were beautiful, though, and views were spectacular.

We stopped at one more attraction before leaving the mountains – the Linville Caverns. We took the half-hour guided tour inside the caverns and along the stream teeming with trout that flows inside the mountain. By mid-afternoon, we were ready to head home and meandered our way out of the mountains to I-40. Following dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Greensboro, we arrived home just in time for the usual bath and bed time, and not quite ready to return to our usual day-to-day routine following a wonderfully beautiful and relaxing week in the mountains!

1 down, 19 to go

On May 26, 2008, this little blue-eyed cutie cut his first teeth.

And today, July 28, 2013, he lost one of those little chompers. The other will undoubtedly fall out sometime this week.

This tooth has been loose for weeks and it wasn’t until we discovered his first loose tooth that we learned both Jeff and I are completely squeamish about loose teeth and pulling them. Fortunately, Gmummy is not. While I know that it’s best for teeth to fall out on their own, this one was really lose and still not falling out. I could see it move when Gavin merely rubbed his lips against it. *shudder* Gavin was starting to avoid it while eating and change his tooth brushing patterns, so I thought it was best if he had a little help removing it if all it took was a gentle tug.

So, during a break while playing Rummikub with GGma this afternoon, Gmummy got a hanky (gosh, this brings back so many childhood memories!) and Gavin allowed her to give it a tug. Voila! His first tooth was out! While he rinsed his mouth at the sink, GGma found an envelope in which to place the tooth and labeled it. In doing so, she created a keepsake that will go in Gavin’s scrapbook. I love the fact that Gavin’s great-grandma was able to witness a memorable developmental milestone in his life and that he’ll always have an envelope with her handwriting to document it.

The tooth fairy is paying a visit tonight. Her going rate is $2. By the end of the week, Gavin should have enough money to buy a new Cars car at Target with his own handful of quarters.