Road Trip to Colorado – the long way

After saying goodbye to our friends Richie, Katy and their two kids – Chloe and Ollie, we hit the road on Saturday, August 8thIMG_0023Just as we’d planned and exactly 3 months since arriving in Florida.

Our plan was similar to the one going down to Florida from Chicago – break up the trip into manageable chunks along the way:

  • Day 1: Make it halfway to Austin, Texas – someplace in Louisiana
  • Day 2: Drive to our friends Tim and Andrea’s house in Austin and stay a couple of nights.
  • Day 4: Head toward Denver and go as long as we could – stop in New Mexico?
  • Day 5: Make the final drive to my brother Dustin’s house in Denver for 3 nights
  • Day 8: Arrive in Breckenridge and start living the dream!

 

Austin Bound

Overall, we stuck to plan with a few exceptions. Since we were headed for Austin, Texas we drove across the southern states – many of which we hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, the interstate was carved out through trees, so we felt like we were in a tunnel most of the trip and didn’t see much; except for the occasional bridge, etc.IMG_2369

We also hit some torrential rain as we left Florida and again in Mississippi. So, we called it a day after 8 hours in the car near Gulfport, Mississippi. We found a nice hotel with a pool for the kids and got some much needed sleep.

This meant that the next day we needed to make up some time, so we hit the road early. As we hit the Texas border we noticed a few things.

  • The speed limit increased to 75 mph.
  • Half of the Texans drove over 90 mph.
  • The other half drove 60 mph – in the left lane.
  • Everyone’s blinkers were broken.
  • We hate Texas drivers.

After another 9 hours of driving, we finally arrived at our friend’s place. We were visiting my college buddy Tim, his wife Andrea and their four children – Claire, Oliver, Fiona and Alistair.IMG_0024

We were greeted with comfortable beds, homemade pizza, and the most well behaved kids on the planet. After the long day, we happily called it an early night and saved the fun for the next day.

We woke up to the hottest day we’d had all summer! I guess everything IS bigger in Texas, including the mercury in the temperature gauge. Thankfully, we planned a pool day to stay cool. The kids jumped right in and all of them had a blast swimming, shooting squirt guns and trying out the snorkel gear.

After a few hours in the sun, we went back to the house to let the kids get some rest and recharge for the evening. That night the kids started a dance party in the living room. Everyone seemed to have a favorite song and signature move!

The kids ate before the adults so we could enjoy ourselves after they went to sleep. We had a few cocktails, ate some of the best gyros we’ve ever had, and washed it down with a couple bottles of wine. It was great catching up with old friends that we just don’t see often enough.

 

Denver or BustIMG_0003

The next day, feeling a bit hungover truthfully, we loaded up our trusty White Shadow again and hit the road by 7:30 AM. We
changed our plans – Denver or bust in ONE DAY.

We’d had enough of road tripping so we set our GPS for Denver. 9 hours later – we were still in Texas. Not because something went wrong, but because that’s how damn big Texas is!

14 hours later we finally made it to my brother Dustin and his girlfiend Lara’s place in Denver. We felt accomplished. We felt excited to be in Colorado. But mostly, we felt TIRED. We unloaded the car, had a beer and went to sleep.

 

Taking time to acclimate to altitude

Kelly and I had both experienced some altitude sickness during previous ski vacations to Colorado, so we wanted to spend a few boysdays in Denver not only for ourselves, but also for the kids. We weren’t sure how they’d react to their new home at 9,600 feet in Breckenridge.
Especially after coming from 0 feet in Florida!

So we took it easy our first day in Denver. We slept in. We walked Dustin and Lara’s dog, Maverick (Mav) at the nearby City Park. And we began the monumental task of going through all of our stuff.

Remember that 6 x 8 foot trailer we packed up back in Highland Park? Yep, it had made its way to my brother’s basement (thanks Dad, Dust & Lara!). We’d survived 3 months without it all, but it was time to peel back the lids and see what remained.IMG_0013

It took the full three days (off and on) of re-deciding if we needed this item or that item. One thing was clear to us though. Even though we’d purged most of our items – clothes were the culprit! Especially for the kids who are between sizes and between the weather seasons.

We did have some fun too, of course. Dustin and Lara took us to Vine Street Brewpub for dinner one night and we shared our previous month of adventures over late night, quality, Colorado brewed beers!

We also stayed overnight on Thursday at Kelly’s cousin Kim’s house – also in Denver. It was strange packing such a small bag and driving only 15 minutes to get to a destination – a welcomed change!

Kim and her husband Mike treated us to some good BBQ food from a local restaurant that was delicious. The kids had fun running around their big house and playing at the schoolyard playground just half a block away.IMG_0017

The next day we swam at their community pool, which was a lot of fun. It had large, palm tree shaped sprinklers that they kids loved splashing around in. It was obvious we weren’t in southwest Florida anymore. It was warm in the sun but the base temp of 80 degrees wasn’t what we were used to.

It was fun catching up with Mike and Kim. It made us realize even more that we had arrived in Colorado. But, more importantly that we already had family here and weren’t alone!

 

Moving to the Mountains

Finally the day arrived – Saturday, August 15th. We loaded up White Shadow again – we even threw in a few boxes in my brother’s Jeep – and set our sights on Breckenridge!

Of course, we couldn’t make it that simple. As we couldn’t get access to our place in Breck until 4 pm in the afternoon, Dustin, Lara, Mav and us planned to spend the day making our way up slowly.IMG_2421

Our first stop was an alpine slide just outside of Golden, Colorado at Heritage Square. The kids were really excited as we started our drive out of Denver and you could start to see the Front Range Mountains. They loved the alpine slide too as we got to go up a chair lift and ride “super fast” down the mountain.

After the slide we drove to Mountain Toad Brewery near downtown Golden. We sat in the courtyard trying some of their great beers and waiting for the food truck to open for lunch.

After lunch it was the final push. We were about 1 hour or so from our new home. As we drove up we were looking forward to seeing the kids reaction to the big peaks, driving through long tunnels and seeing snow on tops of the mountains.

Well, we didn’t get any of that because the both fell asleep!!! We couldn’t blame them. It had been a long adventure up to this point. We were all tired, but as we pulled into Breckenridge – we were home.

Our first few weeks in Breck

Truly Homeless

So, we were finally here – Breckenridge, Colorado – or as the locals call it Breck. What we didn’t tell you in our earlier posts wasIMG_0002 that once we arrived in Breck we weren’t quite home yet.

Long story short, the place we had booked way back in March this year, the place that we had pictured ourselves living in for months, the place we loved so much – was no longer an option for a long-term rental.

We found this out the day we moved out of our condo in Ft Myers Beach back in July. So, the whole time we were at SeaWorld, Disney, Madeira Beach, traveling through Texas to Denver – we didn’t have a signed lease or a permanent place to live.

Lucky for us we were able to find another wonderful place just 2 blocks away and even a few steps closer to Zoe’s school. But, we didn’t finalize it all until we arrived in Breck. It was a nerve-wracking way to spend a few weeks to say the least.

 

Early DaysIMG_2539

Our first week or so was spent exploring the town as a family. We walked down to the Riverwalk area just off Main Street and let the kids wade in the Blue River, or as they now call it, “Super Cold River”.

It also just happened to be the inaugural Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA) put on by BreckCreate.org. It was a 10-day long festival that had live bands every night just a couple blocks from where we were living. The kids loved dancing and running around in front of the stage almost every night.

The other cool thing was that the trunks and branches of a number of the aspen trees around town were painted blue. It was to raise awareness of the deforestation that his happening across Colorado – and the “paint” used was safe for the trees. Zoe and Alex loved pointing them out every chance they got.

We also started the kids on some beginner hiking trails around Breck. They loved being outside, finding pine cones, picking up walking sticks and walking through the trees. You could especially tell Alex loved it as he would talk non-stop for the entire hike, which could be up to 2 hours long!IMG_2486

One of the days we took the gondola up the Breckenridge mountains from downtown. It took us to Peak 8 where they have a summer activitiy area. Each of us got the day pass and we were off to explore the mountain. There were bouncy houses, super trampolines, putt putt golf, MTV’s Dan Cortez, a maze, a scenic chairlift to the top of Peak 8, and the kid’s favorite – panning for gemstones. It was a great way to introduce them to the fun we will have in Breck.

As if that wasn’t enough, Breckenridge also hosted a section of the USA Pro Challenge – a bicycle race from Vail to Breck. The whole town was shut down and the finish line was on Main Street just a block from our place. We spent the morning exploring the exhibit area where the kids tried Cliff bars, saw stunt bicyclists, they hula hooped, and even got to try out their own skills on Strider balance bikes on an obstacle course.IMG_0011

In the afternoon, we watched the racers from the finish line. We pounded on the barriers, rang our mini cow bells and cheered on the riders as they flew by us. It was all very exciting for us and the kids. Seems there is never a dull moment in Breck.

Kelly and I were even able to find a babysitter so we could go to the Breck Beer Fest one Saturday.  There were over 50 breweries from across Colorado and beyond handing out samples of their best beers.  My brother Dustin also joined us a bit later after a mountain bike ride.  It was a perfect sunny day and the beer was great.  Dustin even let us stay later and went back home to watch the kids!

On Labor Day weekend, we went down to the Riverwalk area again to watch the Great Rubber Duck Race.  We’d purchased a couple of ducks for Zoe and Alex for the kids race.  There were over 800 ducks in the kids race and we had fun cheering them on as they came to the finish line.  Neither of them won, but they were able to go get their rubber ducky afterward.  Kelly and I entered into the big race where over 11,000 ducks were dumped into the river.  We didn’t win either, but it was a great day spent outdoors with the kids.IMG_0018

Another thing we did in our early days was set up playdates for Zoe and Alex – through the power of facebook. Both of them have been extremely resillient through all of the changes during the summer. We wanted to keep in that way so we met up with some other parents with kids at the parks.  We met some really nice families and are looking forward to meeting even more.

 

Start of School

During our second week in Breck, it was time for the kids to start school. It was with mixed feelings that we prepared for this week. On one hand, Kelly and I needed a break. We had been with Zoe and Alex almost every moment for 4 months now. And, while rewarding – it was also time for some distance. On the other hand, we were used to them being around and sharing each moment of our day with them. We were going to miss them like crazy the first few days of schoolIMG_0009.

Alex was the first to start on a Tuesday morning. We toured the school the day before to familiarize him. He is going to be at a Montessori school 3 days a week (2 of those being ½ days). The school seems perfect for him as his favorite things are cleaning, cooking, and doing things on his own in general – just what they let them do at his new school. As he would say… “my school is awesome”.

Zoe started kindergarten the next day. She was admittedly nervous, but we found out the day before that one of her new friends she had a play date with was in her class. That made it easier for both of them to hold hands, smile and wave to us as she went in. Also, her teacher’s name was ironcially Ms. Kelley. Guess it was meant to be!

So far the kids are doing great in school. They are making friends, getting good feedback from their teachers, and are just generally happy. We can’t believe Zoe is a kindergartner and Alex is in school 3 days a week, but they were ready. Even if Kelly and I weren’t.IMG_0010

 

Home… finally!

After the first week of school, we put the kids through their final big change for now – moving house one more time. We were able to move into our long-term rental as of Monday, August 31st. Zoe was in school, so Alex was our little helper.

The moving of our stuff wasn’t too bad as our landlords were great to let us store some boxes in the basement (thanks Phil and Diane!). So, that meant our remaining clothes and other few items needed to make the 2 block trip up the road. That was the easy part.

The hard part was unpacking it all. It is amazing how much stuff you have when you think you don’t have any stuff. It took the better part of the week to figure out where to put everthing.

We also didn’t do ourselves any favors by making some furniture changes in the rental house. We put a futon in the basement for IMG_0012guests, made the basement space into a kids playroom, bought a new couch and rug for the living room, hung new shower curtains, etc.

It took some work, but in the end we feel like we made it our own. We are home… finally!

Visitor Extravaganza!

Until we published the Zoe and Alex – The Pink Day Interview post, it had been 31 days since our previous posting. Why? What IMG_0057_3could the Opheims possibly be doing that was so important? Entertaining guests of course! That’s right, we’ve had a bevy of guests while living here in Florida.

In fact, of the 93 days we will spend in Florida during Project Pink Day, only 31 of those days have been WITHOUT a visitor. That’s 62 days of family and friends –  and we wouldn’t change it for the world.

And, it’s not over! We will pack up our (minimal) stuff into our SUV yet again tomorrow and head to Sea World & Disney World for a week. Then spend another week at Madeira Beach, FL. All with our final guests, Zurich friends, the Longs (Richie, Katy, Chloe and Ollie).

So, you’ve already heard about our first guests and our first road trip. Here is the next chapter in our Visitor Extravaganza!

The Puls Fam VisitsIMG_0085_2_2

John (Kelly’s brother), wife Mandy and two boys, Jack & Charlie, came to visit us for over a week. They were traveling and arriving on Charlie’s 6th birthday, so we planned a special welcome.

First of all, it was Jack and Charlie’s first plane ride. The birthday boy got to sit in the cockpit of the airplane before take off, wearing his “Goose” shirt. Jack had the Maverick shirt, of course.

Uncle Travis picked them up from the airport on Thursday afternoon. After a quick stop at Publix, we headed to the condo for IMG_0008_2some presents. Charlie loved his Gizmo shirt (apparently The Gremlins movie is making a comeback), his boogie board with flames, but he was most excited about… Sprite! Yes, the kid loves the lemon-lime goodness.

That night we went out to Junkanoo for dinner. It is right on the Gulf so we played on the beach while we waited for a table. Afterward, it was home for cake (from Publix of course) and ice cream. Great first day!

Friday was all about the beach! It was the boys’ first time at the ocean and sandcastles had to be made.   We hit up the pool for a while afterward and then to Pincher’s Tiki Bar that night for the sunset. It was a blazing red ball of fire – just the way Travis likes it.

On Saturday morning, The Puls fam and Kelly chartered the Chew On This fishing boat. John is an avid outdoorsman and wanted to get some fishing in while down herIMG_0082_2_2e. Turns out the “salt water” fisherman and the “northern lake” fisherman have some sort of friction. The captain of the charter gave John a hell of a time – yelling at him and giving jabs when he could.   But, that didn’t stop them from having a good time and catching some nice fish – snook, Spanish mackerel, jack, etc.  The boys got a kick out of some dolphin visitors by the boat.  The rest of Saturday was spent at the beach and pool.

Sunday was Father’s Day and what better way to spend it than on a pontoon boat. Yep, we loaded up all the kids and took them out for a 4-hour tour in the bay. We scored two free fishing poles earlier in the summer from Fish Tale Marina, so John bought some bait and other essentials and we hopped on the boat.

It was a great day of fishing (John caught a flounder), swimming off the shore of Lover’s Key and sandbars, and looking for dolphins. We saw plenty of them in the bay and even a couple of manatees. Who needs a dolphin tour anyway!

We also rented a jet ski one of the days.  John and I took turns taking out the kids for a ride.  I even took Alex for his first jet ski IMG_0155ride.  He wasn’t scared at all and loved going in circles just like his sister.  Now every day we go to the beach he asks if we can go on the “motors” (as the kids like to call them).  If he only knew how much I’d like to go every day too!

The rest of the visit was filled with sun filled beach and pool days, good food and great fun with the family. We miss being only a couple hours away to see each other more often – one of the few downsides of living out of the Midwest.

Final note: I have to say it was by far the hottest week of our time down in Florida; so hot that the water in the pool and even the Gulf of Mexico were well into the 90 degrees – it didn’t cool us off, only got us wet. Ew. Let’s meet up in cool, crisp Colorado next time!

Grammy Returns

The very next day after John, Mandy and the boys left, the Opheims drove to Tampa. The purpose of the short trip was to pick up Travis’ mom (aka Grammy) from the airport.IMG_0057_2

We made the most of it by getting some pictures taken by our favorite photographer Ashley Wendt (Blushing Fawn Photography). She always takes the most amazing pics of our kids and us.  So, we had to take advantage of her being on vacation down here.

Afterward, we met up with one of Kelly’s besties, Marta, and her two girls, Maddy and Emersyn who live just north of Tampa. We chilled out by their house, hit up the community swimming pool, grilled dinner and caught up with each other. The kids loved playing and dancing together too.

The next morning we went to Busch Gardens with Grammy. We thought of it as a test run for Disney to see how the kids would do, but it was much more than that. The kids loved the rides, the animals and the Sesame Street characters. They loved the roller coaster, tigers and Elmo the best! It was great that Grammy was able to join us – she did buy us the tickets after all!IMG_0113_2

After Busch Gardens we headed back to Ft. Myers Beach for the rest of the visit. Grammy came prepared with over 20 projects to do with the kids. Every day there was something new and exciting to do. I haven’t seen them that into arts and crafts in a long time.

Elly comes to visit

Just a couple of days after Grammy left, Elly arrived. We’ve known Elly since she was a wee baby – she is the oldest daughter of our good friends, Alison (who sadly, passed away in 2011) and Corey.  Having Elly here was really special, as her mom’s story is a big influence on our decision to do Project Pink Day.  We promise to share more about Alison another day.

Elly’s flight arrived at midnight, so we took the kids out to dinner, did some shopping and took them to see the Minion movie. The kids barely made it through the 9:45 PM movie start time, but were excited to see Elly. On the way to pick her up, we saw a panther crossing sign – we didn’t see one.IMG_0036_2

Elly’s first full day was a Saturday. It was a perfect beach day and we spent most of the day there. Then it was to the mandatory pool visit before heading up for dinner. Afterward, we hit the beach again to watch the sunset and it was a great one – one of the best we’ve seen since living here.

On Sunday we rented a pontoon boat – this time for a full day. Elly likes to fish so we brought out the gear. We fished mangrove islands, saw a few dolphins, swam off the shores of Lover’s Key and did a cruise around the bay area. The most exciting part of the boat ride was when we spotted a family of dolphins. At least 8 of them playing around in the water with plenty of time for photos and videos. So cool!

That night we headed out to a Ft Myers Miracle minor league baseball game (minors for the Minnesota Twins no less). Kelly scored free tickets (thanks to her Facebook addiction) so we decided to try it out. We had a blast with seats right behind home plate, ate hot dogs and Zoe loved chasing foul balls even though she never got one unfortunately. The kids even ran the bases after the game.IMG_0040_2

Kelly and Elly rented stand-up paddle boards on Monday morning. Elly got her money’s worth when she paddled over a manatee and it started bucking and flapping its tail at her. She held on and was able to recover, but it was a shock to say the least!  People could hear the girls’ screams for miles!

That night Elly was nice enough to watch the kids, so we went to Lani Kai for some rooftop views during the sunset and ended up spending the night at the beach side bar listening to an awesome rock & roll cover band. Meanwhile back at the condo, Elly had the kids doing projects, eating popcorn and watching Pocahontas.

On Tuesday we did more beach/pool action and walked around downtown Ft. Myers Beach for shopping and ice cream at Zoe’s favorite spot that sells cotton candy flavored goodness.IMG_0076_2_2

We kept our normal routine on Wednesday morning and took Elly with us to the “amazing Library”. The kids read about farm animals and played Farmer in the Dell. Afterward we booked it to the Naples Zoo. The kids had fun showing Elly around since they’d been there before. No tiger fights and no honey badger this time though. It was a hot day too, so after a couple hours we headed back for some much needed rest.

Thursday morning Elly watched the kids again while Kelly and I did a dolphin tour on jet skis (my favorite!). I was definitely in it more for the jet skis as we got to cruise across the Gulf and head into the bay area at full throttle. Kelly drove her own jet ski and did well until the end. A storm rolled through and we got caught in the rain with 5-foot waves crashing all around us. Our guide Joey had us stay on the edge of the rain for a few minutes while it passed. Oh, and we got up close and personal with some dolphins and a couple of manatee too.IMG_0079_2

Since it was raining on Elly’s last day we decided to make the most of it and venture to Sanibel island for some shell hunting. We got lucky and the rain held off while we were at the beach.   We had a blast finding big shells and floating in the strong current up and down the beach.

That night we tried a new place for dinner so Elly could get some grouper, but she wasn’t feeling well and had to settle for some of the bread. Poor Elly!  She didn’t miss much as we didn’t like the food at Nervous Nellies.

Kelly drove Elly to the airport on Friday morning early so we said our goodbyes that night. We had such a great time and we didn’t want her to go. We don’t know of any other 17 year olds that are as caring, responsible and fun to be around. We’d love to have her back anytime!

Marta, Maddy & Emersyn visitIMG_0095

After one night to ourselves, Marta and her girls came to visit. They arrived on Saturday afternoon and we hit up the beach and pool.  The kids played so nicely together that it’s as shame we weren’t living closer to them.

Sunday called for more beach and pool. It was a beautiful day and we got our fair share of sun. That night it was time for some SOB (Smokin’ Oyster Brewery) for dinner. This is the best food in town (that we’ve experienced) and it didn’t disappoint. After that we stopped by time square for some ice cream and balloon animals for the kids. The pier was busy on Sunday, but worth it as we were treated to great sunset views.

On Monday we headed back to Sanibel so Marta and the girls could experience the bounty of sanibel shells.  We went to our favorite IMG_0093spot (Blind Pass Beach). The current was strong again so I took turns with the girls floating down the beach.

One of our trips a woman from shore started yelling, “manatee!” I asked her, “Where?” Her response, “Right behind you!” So I took the girls to the shore and turned around. Sure enough a manatee came up for air about 10 feet away. Glad I didn’t see him when I was IN the water!

That night Marta and Kelly had a girls night out and headed to Pinchers Tiki Bar and Castaways across the road.  They did lots of chatting and catching up. I watched the kiddos. We had popcorn and watched movies. Such a great trip and we hope they can come see us in Colorado too!

Phew – last of the visitors!

So, that’s what we’ve been up to. Lots of quality time with so many people we love. The Longs are next. It was certainly more visitor time that we’d expected, but we wouldn’t change a thing!

We will see who visits us in Colorado. Fair warning – August and September are already filling up. Haha!

Zoe and Alex – The Pink Day Interview

Since Project Pink Day is all about the kids we thought it’d be fun to video them “interview-style” to see what they would say.  Kelly took videos of them separately while she asked them the same questions.  What we got back was cute, funny and a bit bizarre.

Here’s what they had to say…

Our New Normal

IMG_0006_2Routines can get boring. We knew that when we set out on Project Pink Day that our normal routine would be replaced with something new and different. But, to be honest, we had no idea what that new normal would be – until now.

Each day begins with breakfast and home brewed coffee. No more Starbucks (we were addicted, gold card carrying members). Kids still have cereal, but the store brand stuff. Kelly and I still have Belvita breakfast bars (so delicious!).

On sunny days (most of them), we head to the beach. Only decision is whether we go to the main beach to the north that is more of a touristy spot, or south to a more secluded place.

IMG_0003_2Usually we go north so Zoe and Alex can find some other kids to play with. Regardless, we always make sand castles. We’ve seen dolphins swimming the shoreline about once a week and it never gets old seeing them out in the wild.  Although a few days ago, some newbie on the beach thought the dolphin was a shark and started screaming for everyone to get out of the water – solid entertainment.

After the beach we jump in the pool. It is a salt water pool (meaning no chlorine), which as been great for the kids. And, always feels good after being at the sandy beach and after the hot walk home.

Lately, in the afternoons, there are the typical Florida thunderstorms. Hearing that crack of the thunder across the water is bone chillingly cool. It pours down rain in buckets and afterward it is calm, cool and fresh.

IMG_0956Just in time for spectacular sunsets!  They have come in all shapes and sizes since we’ve been here. Kelly loves the bright yellow ones that light up the sky in pinks and purples bouncing off the clouds. I like the big, red ball of fire sunsets.  We love watching from our balcony or over a beer at Pincher’s Tiki Bar just a couple of doors down.  Zoe and Alex like to call it “the MA-Tiki bar”.  Not sure why!

On the cloudy days (had only a few) we have found some local things to do; like the Naples Zoo, Jumping Jack’s bouncy house or grocery shopping. We’ve also enjoyed just driving around the island to see what else there is to do in our adopted beach community.

IMG_0009_2We are cooking almost all of our meals now. Partly due to budget, partly due to watching our waistline, but mostly because we simply have the time. We do a couple of trips to Publix per week – or as we like to call it the “Best Grocery Store Ever”! They’ve got all you need, friendly staff and, of course, the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Yum!  Sorry waistline!

We have a couple of “obligations” that we have for ourselves. One is going to the “amazing library” (another Zoe phrase) on Wednesday mornings for story time. A volunteer (usually a retired teacher) reads books to a group of kids and they do a project of some kind. Zoe and Alex really enjoy it and we let them get a few books and DVDs too. Kelly has signed up for yoga 3 times per week and takes hour long morning walks on the beach almost daily and I got a gym membership so head there most afternoons.

IMG_0663What hasn’t changed much is the fact that the kids still have at least one daily meltdown. They are kids after all and beach living can be tough on the little ones with all the activity. But, we knew that was what we signed up for on Project Pink Day – lots of family time so when those meltdowns come, we know we were also there for all the good times too.

 

 

It’s Hard to Have a Bad Day Here

Beach life so far has been wonderful.  We’ve had a lot of great memories already.  The key reason why we are writing our blog is to document this time with our kids. We want them to read it someday (and hopefully) spark their memories.  This entry captures our first month in (Kelly’s) paradise.

The Arrival

When we finally made it to Fort Myers Beach it was surreal. Likely because we were IMG_0613delirious from being on the road for 5 days, but when we first walked into the condo and saw the view of the Gulf from the balcony we danced a jig. We felt a great sense of accomplishment mixed in with a bit of “what the hell did we just do” panic!

We quickly unpacked and began our new lives on the beach. The first couple of days we hung out with our friends Helen and Mark (our new awesome landlords). Lots of catching up, grilling and downing the very necessary margaritas.

Kids would demand pool time each morning, snubbing the beach.  We’ve discovered our kids are part fish!  Within a couple days Zoe swam the full length of the pool. Alex simply amazed us though. He took a few IMG_0012_2swim lessons before we moved, but within 4 days of us working with him he was swimming half way across the pool. We were so excited to be able to actually teach him something!

We celebrated Mother’s Day with breakfast at Skye’s Restaurant across the road.  It was that same day that Helen and Mark headed back north to Chicago. We are so grateful to them for letting us make their new beachfront condo our home to start our adventure. We also felt sorry for them as they were leaving for much less favorable weather conditions!

Helen and Mark’s departure marked the day that we’d be alone as a family and settled.  IMG_0001_2It felt good. It felt relaxing. It felt right.

Our First Guests

After a few days alone as a family, my brother Dustin and his girlfriend Lara arrived.  A day later my mom, Debbie (aka Grammy) joined the fun. It was our 2nd annual beach vacation together. But his time we wouldn’t have to head back to Chicago (and work!) after Memorial Day weekend.

We enjoyed being in complete vacation-mode. Mornings were spent at the beach (usually listening to Zoe whining to go to the pool), afternoons actually in the pool and followed up by grilling for dinner. The weather was perfect; the drinks were cold; the food delicious.  The company wasn’t too bad either.IMG_0014_2

One of the nights we went out for dinner and drinks with Lara’s brother Paul and his family. Conveniently they live in Naples (about 30 minutes south). We went to Matanzas on the Bay. The live band, good food and bay views made for a “chill-axing” (a Zoe word) night. We even saw some dolphins during dinner.

Lara’s family was so much fun that we decided to have everyone over for dinner the next night. I cooked up some sliders made with chorizo (thanks McMorrow’s for the recipe), Paul and fam brought the sides and dessert. Grammy brought balloons and glow sticks that made for a fun project and lots of laughs.

This was also the day of the jet ski ride! I had a blast taking Zoe out for her first ride (while Kelly practiced mediation on the IMG_0010beach to calm her nerves!). Zo Zo loved making circles in the water and going fast.

My mom stayed for a few extra days so we drove across the bridge to Sanibel and Captiva Islands. As Kelly said, “Holy shells Batman!” We had no idea the entire beach would be made up of mounds and mounds of shells. We came; We saw; We shelled like hell and even made a stop by “She Sells Sea Shells” shop to get a couple of extra special shells for the kids and a plastic toy shark, aka “Sharkie” for Alex.

The First Roadtrip

Our first road trip was to visit our friends Chad and Bree from back in Chicago-land as they vacationed in Stuart, IMG_0007_2Florida with their family. Their daughter, Riley, and Zoe have been friends since they were just a few months old. And their other daughter Addie is good buddies with Alex.

When we arrived early afternoon it was straight to the backyard pool and we cracked some beers. The kids swam until dinnertime and we headed out to Conchy Joe’s restaurant. It was a perfect night with a nice breeze, good food, and even better beers. The kids fed catfish and two small kitties some bread from the balcony.

I got up at 5 AM to head out fishing with Chad and his cousin Tim. Turns out I was not prepared for what was ahead. These guys were serious fisherman. We headed out in Chad’s dad’s fishing boat, grabbed some live bait that were the size of fish I’d expect to catch in the lakes of Wisconsin, and after 30 11392857_10206938318041075_5421276930403924160_nminutes of heading straight out into the Atlantic ocean, they cast out 4 different fishing lines and continued to drive the boat at about 10 mph looking for fish bigger than my 3 year old.

Did I mention that I easily get motion sickness? Now, the water wasn’t that rough, but it doesn’t take much with me, so yep – got seasick out there. Unfortunately that didn’t help our chances and we came home without any fish that day. Amusing side-story is that while I was yacking off the side of the boat, my poor wife was in rough shape from too many IPA’s the night before back with the kids – the Opheims were down for the count!

Aside from the seasick part, I had an amazing time out on the water. Watching the IMG_0916
sunrise over the Atlantic was just as beautiful as the sunsets I’ve seen on the Gulf. Being out on the open water, learning about big time fishing, and seeing 7 sea turtles that were so big you’d think they were fake made the seasick part all worth while.

The next day we took the kids to a water park. Zoe was brave and went down the BIG slide. She was so cautious at first the lifeguard had to tell her to use her hands to get going again. She went much faster the next few times. Alex loved the big bucket that dumps a ton of water or as he calls it – “the woosh!”

We said our goodbyes not knowing the next time we’d see our friends. It was a reminder that our adventure does have some downsides, but we know we can always make plans for another get together… hopefully soon.

 

The Unforgettable

Of course the whole idea of Project Pink Day is going to be unforgettable, but there have been some moments that stick out so far.

The first one is Zoe losing her first tooth. It started to get wiggly about a week before IMG_0849we got to Ft Myers Beach so it didn’t take long to pop out! She was really brave as I wiggled it free. I was so proud of how she handled it. The tooth fairy brought $5 (a few bucks extra than the going rate of $1 for the occasion).

Another great memory was seeing 4 pelicans at the pier downtown Ft Myers Beach (aka Times Square). They were in the water at first just floating like we’ve seen them any other day. But then, they started getting active and diving for fish. They kept diving and gobbling up fish. Pelicans are officially Alex’s favorite now.

IMG_0008_2The next couple of memories happened in 2 consecutive days. The first was at the Naples Zoo. It is a fantastic, little zoo where you can get closer to the animals than any other zoo I’ve been to. Funny part was seeing the honey badger – ‘cuz you know it just don’t care.

The unforgettable part was when we said goodbye to the tigers. Alex’s favorite animal is a tiger and he had to see them one more time. We are sure glad he asked as we saw these two, male, brother tigers fight. It started when one of the tigers jumped on top of the other, who was sleeping. The fight between the two kept flaring up so we were able to get it on video. Amazing!

The very next day while at the beach we had an up close and personal encounter with a dolphin. It kept swimming up and down the shoreline chasing a snook fish. This allowed us time to get some pictures, video and even get in the water as it swam right next to us. This is where we live!

 

I Love Jet Skis and 9 other things I’ve learned

After one month off of work Kelly posted about the top 10 things that she’d learned.  I think most of them ring true for me too, but have a few others that I’ve personally experienced.

So, here are my top 10 lessons learned since leaving my corporate job and moving to an island.IMG_4192

  1. I Love Jet Skis!!! – When my brother visited over Memorial Day weekend we both rented jet skis and played around in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the most fun I think any human can experience on the water (right Daniel Tosh?). Even more exciting was that I took Zoe with me for her first ride. Now she loves jet skis too.
  1. The Great Outdoors – There is something about being outside the majority of the day and not behind a desk, in an airport, on a plane or god forbid a meeting room that is good for the soul.
  1. My name is Travis and I too am a Cellphone Addict – I knew Kelly was an addict, but thought I was much better.  I’m not.  Email checking has been replaced with checking Facebook and the blog responses (thanks to all who are reading and commenting).
  1. Days go by too fast (still) – When working there was never enough time in the day. Guess what? Still not enough time. Granted I get more sleep now and no longer outsource household chores, etc. It’s just that the days are filled with quality time with the family and I still can’t find time to do it all.  IMG_0157
  1. We were being wasteful – We used to justify all sorts of ways to spend LOTS of money on food. Either by going to restaurants (“I just can’t handle cooking tonight”), Meez meals (“I’ll cook but just don’t want to prepare it”) and Sunset Foods (“they put the groceries on the belt, bag it and put in my car”). Now we buy store brand generics whenever possible (which are great from Publix by the way), we clip (digital) coupons, and rarely have we gone out to eat.
  1. Maybe I’m Julia Child – Now that we aren’t being so wasteful I have really enjoyed cooking. Mostly grilling fresh seafood, chicken or utilizing all our friends great recipes. Can’t wait to keep learning new meals to create.
  1. I’m Comfortably Numb – For you Pink Floyd fans – not that kind of comfortably numb. I’m talking about being so relaxed and laid back that I sometimes can’t put a sentence together. It is becoming the type of break that I wanted (and needed) to reset.
  1. I actually enjoy reading – I have never been much of a reader. While in High School I tweaked the same book report 3 times to avoid having to read something new each year (Call of the Wild if you’re interested).  I have only finished one book thus far, but did it in one day. I read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams and I laughed out loud (thanks to Keith for the gift).  I’ve got a small stack lined up and plan to get through them all this summer.ZTooth
  1. Oh the things I would’ve missed – Zoe lost her first tooth last week. She was so brave as I helped her wiggle it free. It made me so proud. I then immediately thought, “If I was working, where would I have been?” It was a Tuesday. Best case I would have been in the office, but more likely I’d have been traveling, probably to the UK for another meeting. I love not missing these moments!
  1. Parenting is a Job – …and that’s enough. Don’t get me wrong.  Our lives are much easier today compared to juggling dual careers, homeownership, and the kids. But, the kids still have their melt downs, freak outs and simply don’t always listen.

I still can’t fathom what else we will learn, but the good news is we still have many more Pink Days to find out.

Beach Life – First Week Impressions

From our point of view, Project Pink Day didn’t really start until we arrived to our new home in Ft. MyIMG_0001ers Beach. That means we’ve been “living our dream” for about 1 week.

So, what is it like to live on an island? Here are our top thoughts thus far:

  • Lots of Nakedness – for Zoe and Alex that is. As soon as we come back from the beach or pool, the swimsuits come off and all we see are little, white butts running around.
  • The Pool Rules – We have been here a week and been to the beach only twice during the day. Yep, twice. The kids are so in love with the pool that we just can’t pull them away. We have, however, made a habit of walking the beach during the sunsets almost every night.
  • We LOVE our kids – Of course all parents love their kids, but we love hanging out with them too.  They are our favorite people and we want to spend all our time together. They play together nicely and we make each other laugh throughout the day.
  • No More Outsourcing – We always felt like we were missing out on raising our own kids. Whether it was pre-school, nannies or even swim lessons, we had others IMG_0003teaching our children. Now WE are the ones working with them on letters/reading, playing card games, working on projects and teaching them how to swim. We’re engaged in their everyday and love it.
  • Cleaning Sucks – We rarely cooked at home. Our nannies would do most of the dishes and washed the kids’ (and sometimes our own) laundry. Guess that’s over now and, frankly, it sucks. But, it sucks a whole lot less than working!
  • We can live with (even) less – We arrived with an SUV full of items. It was all we “needed” for living at the beach for 3 months. After 1 week we haven’t worn half of the clothes we brought. We stuffed closets with toys and other items. Most of it we haven’t even looked at.

What we HAVE looked at are Zoe’s and Alex’s tiny hiny tan-lines, the surf, the sand and some amazing sunsets. We’ll get to all that self-improvement
stuff later.

 

Our Road Trip to Paradise

After 2 great weeks of crashing at our friends’ and family’s homes in the MidwesIMG_0073t, it was time to head south to Ft. Myers Beach, Florida.

The plan was to break up the trip into manageable chunks along the way. After all, we have nothing but time on our hands. Here was our game plan:

  • Day 1: Book it to the area of Lexington, Kentucky
  • Day 2: Venture to Grammy’s house (Travis’ mom) in Charlotte, North Carolina and stay for Day 3.
  • Day 4: Head to the Jacksonville, Florida area
  • Day 5: Arrive at our new home in Ft. Myers Beach!

We left a day after our friends’ wedding from a hotel in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on Monday morning around 10:00 AM.  We were giddy with anticipation as we loaded up with fuel and snacks and we were on our way!

We drove through downtown Chicago to say “goodbye” and began our adventure. As we saw the skyline fade in our rear view mirrors, reality started to sink in. We are really doing this!IMG_0117

After a great day in the car (thanks to Kelly’s great preparation and “surprise gifts” for the kids – paper bags filled with silly putty, pipe cleaners, art projects, etc.) we were able to get as far as Williamsburg, Kentucky – nearly an hour further than planned. The kids were pumped to jump into the pool.

Turns out we stopped just in time as the next day was filled with curvy, winding roads through the Great Smoky Mountains. The scenery was beautiful and we couldn’t get over how green everything was compared to the brown landscape of Chi-town.

Once we arrived to Grammy’s house we were able to relax. The kids loved playing with Auggie the Doggie and playing in Grammy’s beautiful back yard. The most fun (apparently) was using squirt guns to drench me! I got them soaking wet too.  Then again, I really enjoyed the squirt guns as well.  It was also Cinco de Mayo so we partied with some sombreros, ‘stashes and margaritas!

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After the wonderful visit, it was time to get on the road again. We said goodbye to Grammy and Auggie and headed to Florida. The drive went quickly and the kids were well behaved this time, thanks to all of the DVDs

IMG_0114 loaned to us by the Puls family (thanks John & Mandy). As we crossed the bridge into Florida we saw it… the “Welcome to Florida” sign. The kids cheered, we looked at each other, smiled and knew we made the right choice for our family.

That night we stopped in Ocala at a Holiday Inn. Nice place and the kids loved that we could swim outside… no more indoor pools. They got to see lizards for the first time, running around the pool area. Somehow Zoe is TERRIFIED of a fly, but loves chasing the lizards. Bizarre but true!

We woke up the morning of the 8th of May. This was the day we’d been working towards for months – the day we’d finally arrive to our new “home” for the summer.

But, of course, we needed to stop in Tampa at Cigar City Brewing; one of IMG_0062my favorites and something that you can’t get up in Illinois. Lunch at the brewpub and drinks were delicious! Even took a few along with us too.

Back on the road for the last time, the kids started to talk about what they wanted to do first, beach or pool. Pool was the resounding answer. As we arrived to Ft. Myers we had “the feeling”. The feeling of relief, excitement, accomplishment and a twinge of “is this really happening?”

At about 4 PM we pulled up to Terra Mar at 7100 Estero Blvd in Ft. Myers Beach, Florida. Our amazing friends, Mark and Helen, greeted us in the parking lot. Big hugs and carts awaited to make quick work of unloading all our belongings.

As we walked into the condo… there it was – a view of the Gulf of Mexico. As far as you could see up and down the coastline of Estero Island. Oh and the sound – waves hitting the shore, wind rustling the leaves of the palm trees. The Opheims were home.

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View from our new home’s balcony.
IMG_0063
On the beach for our first sunset!