"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Calling (from) Baton Rouge

I'll leave the country music fans to "get" my title!  If you are at all familiar with geography you will have figured out that we are, indeed, heading west.  Our plans for hanging out in GA and then mosey-ing through SC, NC, and VA abruptly changed after my last posting.  We went as far as Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base last Tuesday and then ended up staying due to some repairs needed on the pickup.  Nothing major but it caused a delay in plans and cost a good chunk of change.  I'm wondering if Donald should become a mechanic.  Mom, I can hear you laughing!
Georgia Pines at King's Bay
From Kings Bay we went to Savannah, home of Ellen Robillard's people.  We spent an entire day walking the cobbled river front streets and admiring the antebellum architecture as well as the dripping Spanish Moss and all the flowers in bloom.  We also ate at the Lady and Sons, Paula Deen's restaurant.  While we thought the prices were fairly reasonable given her star status we were not terribly impressed with the food.  Some of it was really good but I don't think I've ever had a worse crab cake.  I did have fried collard greens and they were delicious.  #1 had straight collard greens in all their slimy state and declared them delicious.  So I had to try them and I agreed.  #2 nearly killed himself eating corn pudding from the buffet and we all agreed the peach cobbler was worth the trip.
She's pretty cute for cardboard!

Here's where it started!

We left Savannah yesterday morning, stayed in Pensacola last night and now we are in Baton Rouge.  Our plan is just to keep heading west, planning our route according to campground availability, warmth and whatever sights we want to see.  Oh, and also to keep blogging so you'll know where in the world those Twist's are!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Crossroad

Have you ever truly faced a crossroad in life? You know, one of those places where you are faced with two options, both of which are good, but each incredibly different from the other, and the decision affects not only you but those for whom you are responsible.  I personally know people who always seem to have their lives sorted out and there never seem to be any hiccups that get in the way, never any crises.  Job goes well, kids are perfect, health is great, marriage happy, plenty of money, year after year after year.  I don't know many of these people but there are a few and I can tell you, Donald and I are not those people.  We seem to face various crises, good and bad and almost always life changing, on a regular basis.  Maybe we aren't learning the lessons God has for us the first ten times around and those other people pay better attention than we do.

The crossroad at which we find ourselves standing right now is a ripple effect from being retired from the Navy about 10 years sooner than expected.  Donald has before him two possible job opportunities, one on each coast, and each just about as different from the other as could be.  Before I go further, let me clarify that I am certainly not complaining about this because we feel blessed to have any job offer in this type of economy.  It's just tough having to  decide which option is best and more importantly, where does God want us to be?

The first job is back in Virginia, training to be a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) Supervisor at a Veteran's Affairs hospital under a man Donald truly admires and has under during his own CPE year in 2008.  The job pays very little during the training period of 3-5 years but eventually would open up into a government contract position (read:  well paid) at hospitals worldwide.  The worldwide part is important because it would provide opportunity to live overseas again, something I long to do.  CPE is something Donald is very good at and he is quite interested in training other chaplains.  The boys and I are not terribly thrilled about living in VA again, especially since my household goods are currently in MT, but it is, at least, familiar.  If we go to VA we are talking about putting the boys in private school with me possibly teaching so there would be some major changes.

The second job has not officially been offered but is a retreat/camp called the Refuge in the Olympic mountains in Washington state.  Because of an email several days ago we are turning our nose west (we are in Kings Bay, GA) tomorrow and heading out there to check it out.  So heads up, Virginia folk, we won't be showing up next month like we planned.  We don't know much about the job but based on what we have read it looks we would be running the place and without any remuneration except, perhaps, a place to live.  Again, we have zero specifics until we meet with the folks who are looking to retire and who want a younger couple to take over.  The reason this is appealing is multi-fold: we both have extensive camp experience, both as campers and counselors (I'm not sure I ever missed going to camp from 3rd through 12th grade and I spent two summers in college as a camp counselor in WY and MT); we are gleaning a lot of information from the many campgrounds we are staying at during the Big Adventure; and, years ago Donald wanted to build a retreat center for folks in ministry who needed a place to refresh.  The idea got scrapped because we were in seminary and broke.  However, we wonder if now is God's time for us to have a retreat center.  Also, Washington state is the only place in the US we have ever considered settling in permanently; the boys are dying to go back which is why all of these factors make this job an interesting proposition.

So you see, both are great choices but would have very different outcomes for how our lives would look.  We know exactly what to expect in VA and have no idea what it would be like in WA.  Our crossroads in life have always, always taken us on Frost's "road less travelled;" many times the road less travelled has been the more difficult, but ultimately the best, option.  Those of you following the blog who are praying sorts, we ask that you keep us in your prayers over the next few weeks as we discern which choice to make.  The job in VA needs an answer sometime before April so there isn't a lot of time.  We don't want to rush anything but want to fully explore both options and to hear from the Lord where He wants us.  He has always shown us in the past and we are confident He will do so again.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Everglades

We decided, on a spur of the moment, to stop at the Everglades on our way out of the Keys Sunday morning.  I figured we would check out the visitor center, get a stamp in our National Parks Passport, the boys would complete a junior ranger program and we'd be on our way.  The first surprise was encountering our first panther crossing, which stunned me.

The center is actually a museum regarding the past, present and future of the Everglades complete with a short, informational movie.  The most important thing I learned is that the Everglades is not a swamp, which I had always assumed.  It is completely freshwater that is constantly moving through the Glades.  Then we discovered the Everglades is disappearing at an alarming rate and we all learned ways we can help, even from far away.  When we discovered there was a 1/2 mile walk through the Glades we knew we had to do it but figured we'd be lucky to see one alligator.  As we ventured out to the walk start point several park rangers came up to Donald and informed him that taking his service dog was his choice but that two days ago someone had a non-service dog in the park, illegal to begin with, and an alligator actually ate it!  Can you imagine the horror?  I have to admit though, as we walked, I would like to have seen an alligator chomp on one of the myriad birds or even each other!  Donald did the sensible thing and took a nap in the truck with Holly and Shakespeare, who was happy to not be alone anymore!

We saw about 50 alligators; I felt like one of those tourists I used to laugh at who have never seen antelope before.  They were so cool!  The informational movie told us that gators can run up to 30 mph for short bursts.  There were times at the beginning of the walk when we were on level ground with gators no more than 10 feet away.  Like this guy:

These next few photos are taken from a wooden boardwalk suspended, maybe, five or six feet above the alligators.  We were also pretty impressed with all the varied bird life and how they seem to live symbiotically with the gators.  When do they become lunch, is what I want to know?
Can you spot all the gators in here?

This guy seems a bit satisfied, if you ask me.

Having heard of sawgrass, I was pretty excited to see it and to carefully feel it.  Rubbing down the blade it just feels a bit rough but rubbing up the blade could actually cut you, the teeth are so sharp.  Sawgrass grows in what they call a prairie but there is water gently running through it at all times, making it vastly different from any prairie I've ever seen before.
They boys in front of the sawgrass prairie
And just a few of the birds:

A couple of turtles and an Anhinga, also called a snake bird due to its long neck

An Anhinga

And a few more gators:

Almost kind of cute, right?

As if going to see alligators in the Everglades wasn't cool enough, this morning when we awoke in our beautiful campground in West Palm Beach we got to watch the sunrise which was, as my youngest put it, "misty sherbet" colored.  Shortly before that, though, Donald called me outside to see what was gliding seamlessly through the lake, 25 yards from the RV.  It was 12 foot gator.  And I used to think deer in the front yard were pretty beautiful!  It's unbelievable the things we have seen on this adventure and every day I feel so blessed!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saying Farewell to Island life

Tomorrow we are headed north.  It's been a long time since we headed that direction and it feels a bit strange after all our work at getting south.  It's just a state of mind though, because when you've been 90 miles from Cuba, everything in the US is north!  Up till now I have never (well, not since high school when I thought I could get a tan for cheerleading) been a sun seeker or been remotely interested in anything resembling a tropical island.  I have always been more inclined toward rainy, chilly islands like England.  It goes without saying that England will always be my first and favorite love but I finally understand why people head south in the winter.  It is so relaxing, laying on a beach in the warm sun, watching your children play in the surf, knowing the rest of the country is under ice, snow, and frigid air.  Hard to believe it is only mid-February when you are down here!

We've been having a difficult time determining our next travel plan.  We are definitely headed to West Palm Beach in order to see a friend from graduate school and we intended on being at Cape Canaveral for the shuttle launch on the 24th.  Apparently everyone in the country is going to the shuttle launch because every RV park between Miami and Jacksonville is booked for that same reason.  Sadly, we may have to scrap the launch idea.  In our internet searching of RV parks we did determine, however, where we will not be staying, a very innocuous sounding Sunsport Gardens Family Naturist Camp.  Naturist turns out to be a  gentle euphemism for Nudist.  The salient point is that whenever we've looked up an RV camp, people are never, ever shown on the website.  Not so with the "Naturist" camp.  We innocently opened up the site, read it with jaw agape and left it with tears of hysterics rolling down our cheeks.  No kidding.  It is a family camp (read:  all ages of nudist are welcome) and large groups of them were photographed and displayed on the website.  Even now, typing this blog, I am laughing at the craziness!  Because laundry facilities are quite expensive here in the Keys we have an inordinate amount of laundry stacked up.  We decided that the Sunsport Gardens would not be the place for us since they do not have a laundry facility on site.   Not to mention that we are most definitely not nudists!

An interesting topic that has been broached from time to time is the idea that we are on "vacation for a year."  I haven't really thought of what we are doing as a vacation.  The last vacation I took was in October when I had the fortune to visit England and France with a dear friend.  We stayed in hotels and we ate all our meals whenever we felt like it, in restaurants.  It was the ultimate girls getaway - no children or spouses for a week.  That, to me, was a vacation.  Yes, we may be traveling more extensively than a normal year but when travel entails hauling the entire house to each destination there will always be housekeeping whether it is setting up the house upon arrival, battening down the hatches for take off or the inevitable house cleaning in between.  Then there is the matter of teaching school, which happens every day, in various, but scheduled, forms.  If we are traveling, there is a certain amount of school happening in the truck, on the road.  When we are parked we have regular school hours and the boys have regular jobs they must accomplish before school begins.  The boys have to show competency by taking achievement tests each spring which means I can't let them slack off in their regular school work, regardless of our travel schedule.  On top of all this, I regularly exercise, cook meals and bake yummy things just as I would be doing in the suburbs, which means that other than parking my house in some really great locations, everything in the Twist house is business as usual.  The only real difference to any of this is that Donald is home all the time.  He has his own responsibilities dealing with the truck, RV, and school, and yes, sometimes we want to kill each other from living 24/7 in a small space but even then we have managed to work things out fairly admirably!

My final thoughts are of Shakespeare.  Some of you have queried his results with the herbal calming medicine.  I will preface that thought by casually mentioning that when he was 9 months old our vet gave us tranquilizers for his travel needs.  We gave him three (one over the max dose) and he never even closed his eyes until six hours into the trip.  Even then he only rested for 30 minutes and was back up again.  So you see, I really had small hopes for the herbal stuff.  The max dose was five teaspoons.  I gave him three with his breakfast.  Less than an hour into the trip I was pouring the remaining two teaspoons down his throat.  Not only did it spectacularly NOT work, I decided to keep a tallied score of how many times I had to tell him to either sit or lie down during the six hour drive from Orlando to Marathon, FL.  The total?  106.  That's an average of 17 times an hour.  This does not take into account the fact that I fell asleep for nearly an hour of the trip.  I really think there is no hope for this dog.  All I know is that on tomorrow's trip there will be no more tallying or drugs.  He's just going to have to be his freakish, neurotic self while Holly sleeps the day away, just as a good dog should.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hangin' in the Keys

Holly, the service dog, goes to the beach

Yes, that's my pasta strainer!

"An owl and a pussy cat went to sea, in a beautiful pea green boat" 
Mr. Lobster
The weather is so unbelievable here.  I've never had a sunburn in February before, EVER!  We've been going to the beach nearly every afternoon and almost feel like locals even though we know don't blend in.  We are recognizing the same people day after day and we can tell who lives here and who is just visiting.  The pasty white folk, i.e, the Twist's, are definitely visitors and the older, leathery-looking folk come to the beach every day for an hour or so just to catch a nap in the sun or to walk off their lunch, ensuring the continuance of their nut-brown skin.  I wish I had the presence of mind to take a photo of Diego, which is the name that Donald gave him.  This guy walked onto the beach wearing a tight, red, European Speedo and a white bandanna.  Nothing else.  While this is funny enough to people like Donald and me it was his coloring and his behaviour that really made us chuckle.  We are positive he is Caucasian but he was the darkest tan I have ever seen, only it was a dark, burnished red-brown like a shiny chestnut.  He looked like he'd been polished, which was helped by the fact that he took a good 10 minutes to, not rub but sm-o-o-o-o-th, on his suntan oil, all the while standing not 20 feet from two scantily-clad, attractive 20 Somethings who took zero notice of him.  Donald and I watched Diego pose himself on his blanket so that he could watch the young girls and we kept sniggering softly and making jokes.  Unkind, yes.  Funny?  Definitely yes.

Meanwhile the boys had the cool opportunity to see much sea life in its natural environment by way of an uncovered but very sharp coral reef at the edge of the beach.  We poked at some sea anemones just to watch them pull their fingers away, they caught dozens of crabs of varying sizes, they used my kitchen strainers to catch some tiny yellow and black striped fish and they discovered a huge lobster.  No exaggeration when I say it was the biggest lobster I have ever seen.  He was stuck in a fairly large tidal pool and hiding under a chunk of reef.  His big antennae were easily two feet long, each.  If you look carefully at the photo you can see them, along with his eyes.  Donald tried to catch him for supper and it's a good thing he didn't because we found out later it would have been illegal.  There go those Twist's, being rebels again!
He's so excited because he thinks Don is actually going to catch the lobster

Just a block or so from the Coast Guard base is the world's only state certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles.  How can you pass up that kind of opportunity when you home school your kids?  We couldn't!  In an average year the Turtle Hospital receives as many as 70 injured sea turtles and to date, the hospital has released more than 1,000 back into the sea.  We learned all about the five types of sea turtle and the various injuries they received, mostly at the hands of humans but some from nature.  Many times they have a flipper so entwined in fishing line it needs to be amputated.  Or they have an intestinal impaction due to swallowing all sorts of man made items, like plastic or balloons.  The turtles get fixed, rehabbed and then released.  I love being able to incorporate this type of thing into our school day and the boys enjoy it.  I'm just hoping that one day they will appreciate what we tried to do for them on the "Big Adventure."
A very ill, but recovering Loggerhead

#1 measuring up to a Leatherback and #2 to a Loggerhead

A recovering green turtle, name for its green fat, not its outer colouring

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day in Key West

No idea what type of tree this is but it is huge!
We spent yesterday in Key West and enjoyed soaking up the local culture, wildlife, seafood and sunset.  One of the interesting aspects of Key West wildlife are the wild iguanas and the Gypsy chickens that have been roaming the island for the past 150 years.  They apparently came from Cuba and cause no small debate among the island residents.  Many folks are fond of the beautiful birds and want to keep them free but others think they are noisy and messy.  Of course, the animal rights folks won't actually let anyone eat them which I think is utterly ridiculous.  Eggs and meat all over the island makes for a cheap Sunday brunch!  Donald kept joking that the chickens are part of Key West's "feed the homeless" program.  Not a bad idea!

We visited the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum which was so fascinating.  He spent 16 years finding and bringing up the wrecks of two Spanish galleons that sunk, full of gold and silver, just off of Key West in the 1600's.  We saw real doubloons and pieces of eight, huge silver bars and ingots of gold stamped with their governmental taxation stamps.  We also saw many artifacts rescued from the bottom that survived amazingly well, like plates and silverware, daggers, rapiers, cannons and shot.  

After the museum we had an outdoor supper of snapper (me), mahi mahi (the boys) and my Montana man had a steak!  Of course, we had Key Lime Pie for dessert and my youngest son had fried banana cheesecake.  I'm not sure I liked it but it was definitely different.  Then we walked to the southernmost point in the United States and watched the sunset which was very beautiful.
Going. . . 

Going. . . 


The boys played in the water for quite awhile after sunset, even though the water was quite cold.  They didn't seem to mind!  

Since I was in a "color" frame of mind after yesterday's blog I took a lot of photos trying to capture local colors.  I don't know what these blooms are except that I believe the last one is a type of orchid someone grafted into the branch of a tree.  It was gorgeous, just glowing in the dark in someone's yard.  Feel free to let me know what the rest of them might be; also, they are actually tree blooms, not flower blooms.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dathan (not pronounced the way it looks) is the Scottish Gaelic word for colors.  I've recently taken up learning this language for fun.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy.  I also made homemade crab ravioli yesterday, in an RV, without a pasta roller.  Three hours to make and seven minutes to eat but it did garner rave reviews from the men.  I'm a girl who doesn't like to be bored, needs a challenge and is goal-oriented.  However, this is not what I want to blog about.  Back to colors.

I'm not talking about the boring eight count box.  I'm talking about the fresh, flat-tipped, comes-with-its-own sharpener, all of them lined up like soldiers, made in America, old-fashioned 64 count Crayola Crayons.  Can you smell them?  That comfortingly waxy smell of hundreds of childhood hours spent creating refrigerator masterpieces?  Can you see them?  Can you remember the names?  As a child I had no frame of reference for the mysterious sounding names like sea foam, burnt sienna, raw umber, blue green and green blue.  Since learning my Gaelic list of colors I've been thinking about the colors I've seen.  I think it also has something to do with being in Florida where I have seen, for the first time, some of those Crayola colors.

I've seen the Atlantic from every side of Iceland and it was nearly always slate, the horizon sometimes meeting a sky the same shade, one becoming nearly indistinguishable from the other.  I've seen emerald in the grass of England and Scotland in the spring.  I've seen waves of daffodil yellow along the highway of France leading into Paris.  After living in Washington for two years I know why it is called the evergreen state.  I've seen black in a thunderhead rolling across the prairie and I've seen pure white clouds in a sky blue sky over that same prairie.  I know what marine blue is when I look at the ocean in southern California.  I now know what sea foam is, since coming to Florida.  It is the pale green water close to the shore line and just beneath the surface you can see tan sandbars and darker green seaweed.  I also understand why there were two different crayons for blue-green and green-blue because they are also shades of the sea as it progressively gets deeper.  I think whoever came up with burnt sienna and raw umber must have seen the various color striations in the bark of a coconut palm.

I found myself ruminating on the astonishing amount of "dathan" in the world as I ran over a two mile bridge this morning, the Gulf on my right, the Atlantic on my left and both meeting somewhere underneath me.  These colors are no "accidental design" and I firmly believe they were intentionally created for our visual pleasure.  Today we are headed down to Key West (the southern most point in the US) where I am certain to see more unmet colors as we plan to have supper there and then take in what we hear from the locals is the most spectacular sight in the Keys, a sunset.  I look forward to receiving this Valentine's love token from the Master Designer.  You, too, take a minute to look around.  It's a 64 count Crayon box out there.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I am quickly falling in love with Florida.  I really enjoyed Pensacola; January thunderstorms on the beach are incredible.  On the drive to Orlando we all saw our first orange groves, mile after mile, and loved the cheerful orange globes on the heavy green branches.  Orange trees look, to me, more like huge bushes.  I'm not a botanist so someone out there let me know if I'm right or wrong.  Yesterday it was in the mid-70's and Donald took the boys to the pool.  Last night I went out to meet Donald who was walking dogs in the balmy evening air and he handed me a freshly picked wild tangerines from a tree in the campground.  While tiny in size and containing many seeds, man, what a flavor explosion!  I've never tasted anything like it.  He and my youngest son picked a grocery sack full this morning.  We all had some with our breakfast and still have about 50 left!  As Donald and I watched the sun rise over the palm trees this morning we realized why so many people head to Florida for the winter.  Wherever we settle down after this traveling, we know our next winter will not beat this one!

We decided today to head to the Keys tomorrow, to somewhere right in the middle between Key Largo and Key West called Marathon.  We have reservations for 9 days at a small Coast Guard RV campground with only, count 'em carefully, four RV spots.  I can't imagine calling yourself a campground with so few spots.  I have been hesitant about visiting the Keys.  Donald is the one who really wants to see them.  We lived on a large island in the Atlantic for nearly four years but being on a tiny one in a place where hurricanes hit sounds a bit unnerving to me.  Keep in mind I grew up in landlocked Wyoming with very little water in sight.  Then again, I'm so surprised at myself because I've never wanted to visit tropical places like Florida.  Look what I've been missing all these years! I told Donald we should have no regrets when this adventure is over and if he wants to head down there, I'll just get over myself.  Although, at the rate my opinions keep changing, I'll probably want to settle down in the Keys and never come back to the mainland.

My only beef with Florida, and it sounds absurd, I realize, is all the sand!  I swear, I sweep a ton of sand off my floors about once an hour.  It is so fine and comes in on everything, even if you leave your shoes on a mat or brush off the dog's feet before they come inside.  I even find sand on the counters.  Yesterday I dumped about a 1/8 cup of sand out of each of the boy's pockets and their shoes.  It's crazy!  We are 75 miles from a beach but I'm sure the entire state is sitting on sand.  I think I'm just going to have to deal with it until we leave Florida!

My final thought is about Shakespeare.  I have mentioned before that he is completely neurotic.  Those of you who know him are now chuckling.  The night before we left Pensacola the weather cleared enough for a walk on the beach.  He thought it would be a good idea to protect us from a pelican so he sprinted into the water to teach it a lesson.  Apparently he has no idea that pelican's have about a 7 foot wing span and very little patience or that the pelican was farther out than he really wanted to swim.  The pelican flew away but not very far and then spent the rest of our walk chattering to us in what I am positive, in bird language, amounted to some very rough swearing.  All this is to say that Shake drank a fair amount of sea water during his swimming attempt to discipline a seabird about 3 times his size.  Then he thought it would be a good idea to try to test-taste some seaweed on the beach.  Consequently he spent the rest of the evening throwing up.  We thought he was alright when we left the next morning.  Not so much.  He won't relax in a moving vehicle under the best of circumstances and he threw up no less than five times IN the truck during our six hour drive.  The first couple of times he threw up on something that could be wadded up and washed.  After that it became a nightmare.  Do you know how hard it is to force a dog to vomit into a plastic receptacle?  I'll tell you.  Nearly impossible!  I'm not sure how I didn't throw out my back in trying to twist around in my seat in order to chokehold his head into a container while he heaved and retched.  I was a bit sore the next day though.  Tomorrow we are trying something new.  Providentially, there is a Petsmart near the campground and I marched in yesterday looking for a miracle.  I'm hoping I found one in the form of a liquid that contains Chamomile, St. John's wort, Melatonin, Tryptophan, Peppermint and other calming, sleep inducing herbals.  He can have up to five teaspoons of the stuff and I plan on loading it into him before we leave the house!  It smells minty and yummy and I'm praying it works!  I'll let you know in the next blog.  Hmmmm, I wonder, can give it to my kids?!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Hogsmeade Village
Hogwarts Castle, from down in Hogsmeade Village
If you are any sort of Harry Potter fan at all then the Twist family wholeheartedly recommends you hop on the nearest Nimbus 2000 and fly yourself to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. The second you enter the gates of Hogsmeade Village you are immediately immersed, not only in an exact replica of everything you see in the movies, but also in the feeling of an authentic English village, complete with quaintly crooked chimneys.

The first thing we did in Hogsmeade Village was try the Butterbeer and the Pumpkin juice.  Pumpkin juice tastes like liquid pumpkin pie and is delicious.  The Butterbeer is reminiscent of cream soda with more buttery than vanilla flavor and a creamy, mustache making foam.  Mmmmm.

The second thing on our list was Ollivander's, making fine wands since 382 BC.  They herd you in a group of 20 or so and we all had the expectation that everyone would get a chance to have a wand "choose the wizard" but this was not the case.  Only two people were chosen and then we were shuffled into Dervish and Banges in order to choose our own wands. The store was packed with folks buying entire outfits of robes, scarves, wands and other HP paraphernalia.  The boys were a bit disappointed after waiting so long in line but Ollivander was kind enough to pose for a photo.
Along with wand selection was purchasing sweatshirts as the boys were freezing.  Our 60 degree and sunny weather turned out to be 50 and very gray, until 3:30 in the afternoon when the sun came out.  I hated the unexpected expense of theme park sweatshirts (translation:  cost way more than they are worth) but I had a couple of really happy and warm boys so, oh well.  By this time everyone was ready for food and with The Three Broomsticks right over the street we decided a Harry Potter style feast was in order. Everyone actually loved the food, deeming it better than expected.  Plus, it was hot so we were able to warm up a bit.  Donald and I tried a Scottish beer called Hog's Head Brew.  Although not quite as dark as we like, we agreed it was tasty.
The entrance to The Three Broomsticks (look carefully for a triangle of brooms over the door)
Looking up, in The Three Broomsticks
My menfolk around their food
The Feast:  salad, chicken, ribs, roasted potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and corn.  
After eating it was time for some rides.  We toured Hogwarts Castle but as I'm not a great photographer none of my pictures turned out so well because, being a castle, it was pretty gloomy inside.  However, the castle is amazing, complete with moving pictures.  Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione all appear, speaking to the crowd.  And speaking of crowds, when we got to the castle the wait time was 30 minutes.  We groaned a bit when all of a sudden an official wizard saw that we had a service dog.  She whisked us into our own entrance into the castle and gave us our own private tour, including a few things that aren't generally seen by the public.  After the tour she took us to the Forbidden Journey ride where the boys and I were put, immediately, into our own car.  No waiting!!  The Forbidden Journey is a 4D simulation of flying on a broomstick with Harry as he plays Quidditch, battles Gigantic Spiders in the Forbidden Forest who sprayed water at us from their huge fangs, fights a dragon who puffed smoke right in our faces and then faces off some Dementors.  The ride was AWESOME!!  We really felt like we were flying as we twisted and turned, that is, until the ride experienced technical difficulties and stopped for about 10 minutes while we were upside down in the car.  I wasn't too worried but I was ever so thankful that Donald was not with us.  He would not have done well being strapped in upside down.  As it was, my youngest was the only who panicked so we all held our upside down hands and sang "Jesus Loves Me."  And froze.  We were right under an air conditioning shaft.  The ride continued and we were all fine, only #2 was a little shaken by the time we exited the ride.  The attending wizard asked if we wanted to go again (how's that for service!) and my inner child would have gone again but the responsible mother ushered her pale child off to his father.
At the beginning of the Forbidden Journey

My oldest son and I are mostly peas in a pod.  Being fairly reserved people by nature we have a wild side that loves the thrill of a roller coaster.  The Dragon Challenge coaster is hands down the best roller coaster we have ever been on.  It's the sort where your feet hang free and comes with multiple corkscrews and loopy loops.  We tottered off the ride on a speed high and it was several minutes before our equilibriums righted themselves.  It was crazy good!

The porch of The Three Broomsticks

Wands at the ready, Hogwarts in the background

Hogwarts Express
We spent some time wandering in the Hogsmeade shops and trying to warm up in the sun.  Honeydukes Sweet Shop and Zonkos Joke Shop are well worth the experience.  #1 bought Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans (he deemed the sausage flavour the worst) and #2 purchased a Chocolate Frog.  Both were ridiculously overpriced but they had allowance money burning holes in their pockets so what can you do?  By this time we had exhausted all that Harry Potter had to offer so we decided to check out the rest of the park.

The best part of the rest was definitely the Marvel Superhero Area.  It looks like a cartoon version of Gotham.  #2 got to meet some of his favorite Superheroes.  Cyclops told #2 that he wanted to be him because he gets to travel the country in an RV.  That made #2's eyes shine!  My thrill seeker and I went on the Hulk roller coaster and rated it as the second best ride ever for its sheer speed, drops and the way the cars roar, sounding just like the Hulk himself.  The Jurassic Park area was a bit of a let down but I did manage to take this photo of a T-Rex trying to eat my children.  

And, of course, what would Florida be if we didn't end our day with a little surfing?  We drove home, cold and exhausted but exhilarated.  We have talked about this day for months and even though there was no real magic, the day provided its own and was everything we imagined, but better.  How often does life give you that kind of day?