Beautiful, Bustling Banff

Our first real stop on this journey to Alaska we stayed at Tunnel Mountain II in Canada’s first National park, Banff. The campground was gorgeous with views and full hookups. Loads of activities around the campground too. Our sight was lovely and we enjoyed a 5K hike that circles the campground.20140803-170018.jpg

In the town there was so much activity that it was difficult to find a parking place. The streets and buildings resembled a Swiss ski village with adorable little shops. We enjoyed the local brewery and a wonderful ice cream shop called Cows with possibly the beat ice cream in the world. Or so the sign said.

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The visitor center was extremely helpful and the girl who sold me my can of bear spray was entertainment in her own right.

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We hiked Lake Louise, which was unexplainably beautiful even in the rain and mud. And on our way back to the campground we took the old 1A Parkway and spotted bear just past the huge traffic jam. The cars piled up being a sure sign there is a bear within view.

20140803-171222.jpgBanff was a beautiful stay. We enjoyed finally being in one place for more than just a day and I think we all fell in love with hiking especially on the trails next to waterfalls like Johnston Canyon.

Where to stay, Chicago

We spent the Fourth of July holiday in Chicago. A super fun and very busy place to be for the summer in general and the Fourth of July is no exception. Next time you are heading to Chicago and looking for a great place to park your house, and you don’t mind boon-docking, look up McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard. We had a blast staying there. It is really close to everything. We felt very safe inside the gated and guarded parking lot and even enjoyed a fun Zombie Run around the place for exercise. My mother, sister and the four of us all stayed here and even set up chairs in the parking lot to watch the trains go by. This place is right across from the lake and easy access to all things Chicago. On the day my sister left we watched her train whiz by and waved at her for a funny family memory. While we were in Chicago, some very good friends we met in Bahrain happened to be in the area during the same weekend and stopped in for a visit and to see our new home. It was just an all around thumbs up kinda stay. My Mom and sister even gave me the much sought after approval to my lifestyle by saying they can see now why we love this way of life. Our stay here included shows, museums and a local neighborhood Rib Fest. The McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard is a parking lot, so no frills, but for location and price it more than makes up the difference.


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Pick your own citrus grove and more.

We spent one afternoon IMG_2123at Showcase of Citrus just up the street from Thousand Trails Orlando Campground. It is a you pick ’em citrus grove and more. They have a cute little shop where they prepare freshly squeezed orange slushies that are perfectly delicious and wonderfully cool on a hot day. They also sell fresh produce and a wide variety of other items varying from honey sticks to salsa to baby chicks. Toward the back of the shop before heading out to the groves there is a sample stand where you can try the different varieties of citrus that are currently ripe for picking. This allows for picking favorite flavors to scout out on your gathering time.

There is much to see and experience here including a monster truck ride out in the pastures to see more wildlife and pastures too far away for the walk. We ventured out on foot collecting a variety of oranges, tangerines and a few lemons. There are handy signs at the beginning of each row of trees informing you what is in season and safe for gathering. They also have plenty of animals roaming around to give the picker a true farm feel. Chickens, and pigs and goats, oh my! We even saw our first live alligator in the water on the property near the entrance complete with a sailboat anchored out in the middle of the water which made my boys wonder if the gators live out on that old abandoned sailboat.

Out in the grove our group gathered oranges with long sticks that have little orange baskets on the end of them to help you pick your fruit from heights not easily reachable without very tall ladders. Although at first we thought we may not be able to fill our large mesh bags, we managed to gather enough after a little practice with the the picker contraptions and our bags were over-flowing with our finds.

All in all this was a fun and interesting experience. Word of warning… our oranges were not peel-able and had so many seeds that I ended up just juicing them for our personal use. Not sure if this is normal as this was our first experience, but it makes me wonder if super market oranges are also bred to peel easily and have less seeds too. If this is true, does it make them less healthy? I would love to hear from any one out there what your experiences with citrus has been.

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Thoughts on Thousand Trails

IMG_1974We joined Thousand Trails at the Fulltime Family Rally. Thousand Trails is a membership that allows you access to a network of campgrounds at incredible discounts. The way it all works is beautifully explained here. Our decision to join was swayed by the fact that we had no place to go after the rally in Tampa and Florida is very full and very pricey this time of year. Lots of smart folks escape to the beautiful climate in Florida to wait out the winter, so we are one of many and places are full and rates are at a season high. Many of the families we met at the rally were moving to Thousand Trails Orlando after the rally to continue their stay in Florida. After looking at all the options we decided this would be a good move for us as well even if we only used it for this season. We bought a Zone Pass, explained here. Thousand Trails Orlando was our next stop and we landed there for the maximum time of two weeks before we needed to move on.

The crowd at Thousand Trails Orlando is varied but there is a definite kid friendly atmosphere and loads of the little buggers running around. We met new families and really enjoyed our stay here. The campground is very large and has options to stay near the activity center, which is always bustling with activity, and then some more distance sites that are a bit more secluded. The location is very close to Disney and the fireworks can be seen at night over a nearby pond. Fulltime Families are known to travel all over throughout the warmer months and end up back here in winter for homeschool co-ops and loads of activities for kiddos of all ages. Plenty of outside activities include Lake Louisa State Park, cycling, farmers markets and “u pick em” citrus groves. Clermont, Florida is a short drive away with loads of shopping and choices of eateries. The park is large enough to support several onsite laundry facilities a workout room and a nature trail. They also offer seasonal sites and annual sites for longer stays that are very reasonable. All in all a wonderful destination for us and I hope to return someday. If you have any questions about Thousand Trails or our experience with them, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section. Look for a future post on the citrus grove we visited nearby. 😉

My Father’s Ranch. Stop Two.

Our next stop on our journey was to visit with my dad and grandmother. Not being sure when we will return to Texas, we decide to stay a little over a week and really enjoy the visit time. My favorite part of this trip is having our home with us every where we go. Often times when we are in a place that otherwise may be uncomfortable to my family, we have a place to retreat, to just relax and lay our head on our own pillow and fall into a sound sleep. It makes visit time with friends and family more pleasant for eveIMG_1703ryone involved. At least from my perspective it allows for the folks being visited to prepare less and feel less pressure to clean, feed and otherwise care for us and it allows us to let our children’s picky palettes always have food outside and when we need our space, it is just a few steps outside the back door. We had such a visit at my dad’s place and it was an easy way to enjoy our first days on the road. We also managed to clear away a few more unnecessary items and clean and organize with my dad’s help.