To start, this trip would never have happened, Destin would not have popped into my mind, had our dear friend Megan casually mentioned last year that her 2013 family reunion was happening there. To which I excitedly replied, "Wow! Well if we're back in Florida by then, I'll come meet you there!" It was a hope, and, well, fast forward a year with lots I'm talking lots 'o changes...and there we were. Crashing poor Megan's family reunion. There are not many friends I would drive 17 hours round-trip for with a toddler and 9-month old in tow; Ruengie is without a doubt one of them. We met in Alaska (in a supply closet at the hospital we were both working at) and together Steve, Megan and I rafted the Colorado River in 2007 and again in '08. We love her. Ask me in 30 years how she's doing and I'll have an answer for you. She is for certain a lifelong friend.
My high of the trip: seeing Ruengie for the first time in the parking lot as she came in from the beach to meet us--and just like that, it was as though I had seen her yesterday. Those are the best friendships, the ones that pick up right where you left off. Mila's high of the trip: holding Ruengie's daughter Gabriella's hand while they walked. Side note, sweet Gabriella has been relegated to hero status at our house. And scroll down to see the pic of the two of them side by side on the lounge chairs. Ain't life grand when you're almost 2 and almost 3?!
And is it just me, or is Mila suddenly all leggy now that the bulky swim diaper isn't in the equation?! My God, a teenager! She still has the toddler belly, though. I will hold onto that toddler belly like a shipwreck survivor clinging to a raft. My last bastion.
During the day we were beach bums as lazily and unrelaxed as we could afford to be. We pretty much parked it on the beach in front of Megan's condo. Dani Dee Lu napped (or didn't nap, but held up amazingly well) on the go. Goodness she is SO patient with us. Unfortunately the water was really only swimmable with the babies one day--one stinkin' day, can you believe that? That's one point for the Atlantic coast, if you're keeping score. Luckily we hung out poolside at Megan's condo another day and another was spent at the Gulfarium...which I didn't think Mila was wild about at the time but the entire drive home she could talk about nothing else. Clutching the folded-up Gulfarium map and anxiously pointing out that we hadn't seen the birds there, and clearly she could see on this map that there were parrots, and we needed to go back. We need to, you guys.
There were things we would do differently. We had the bright idea to forego the house/apartment/condo rental this time around and just get a suite, so that we'd have a separate area in the evenings but would all end up in one king-sized bed at night. Um, no. Not because of space, but at the girls' bedtime Mila would turn into this shouty wildwoman (big-time bucket-dipping going on) and keep Dani from being able to stay asleep. It was frustrating and got to the point where we wouldn't let Mila nap just so she'd be sufficiently easier to wind down at the end of a long, full day. And naps whilst on vacation are pretty much the best thing ever, no? Oh well. I wouldn't trade any of it.
Once the kiddos were in bed each night we would do crazy and wild things like...watch Shark Week shows, watch a zebra send police on a wild goose chase on Cops, eat key lime pie that I had dropped on the ground TWICE and Steve *said* he scraped off the bits that touched the ground and I ate it anyway (desperate). Aaaaannnnd room service, watered-down complimentary hotel drinks (I say watered down because by the time I got to them after babies were tucked in all the ice had melted and it was, well...sad. but sad in a yummy way.) And not working out like I had planned. There was lots of not exercising, not even looking once at my sneakers I had brought along. Sorry sneakers!
And not that eating was a huge focus of our trip, but you know it's never far from our mind. Here were some standouts:
Louis Louis in Santa Rosa Beach for a nicer dinner with kiddos. They only make like six things here but they make them really well. Steve loved his blackened grouper and my crab cakes were perfection.
Graffiti & Funky Blues Shack in Destin..Steve picked up food to go and we ate it back at our hotel. Lobster ravioli. It was delicious.
Donut Hole for breakfast/brunch. Worth the wait snaking out the door and down the steps. This was the key lime pie that I dropped on the ground and still ate! And you know what...worth it! Steve rated his breakfast here in his top 5 of all-time favorite breakfasts. Just sayin'.
Aaaaand, if you happen to be celebrating a birthday while in Destin (or while you're driving the 8 1/2 hours to Destin, sorry Steve!) I highly recommend the yummy ones that Bon Appetit in Fort Walton Beach will customize for you. They were very gracious and patient with me and for that I thank them.
Also. See that sign picture up above? Steve whined and whined when I hauled us all out of the car and into the 4:00 blazing afternoon sun to take it, but I had a vision, see. Someday when grown-up Mila and Dani are in Destin with their families, their little babies in the car napping and snacking and playing I Spy, they'll make their husbands find the sign so that they can recreate this exact picture. And they'll hang it up next to this one in their home. It will be such a sweet suspension of time. I can't even. Complete sentences are just lost on me when I think about such sentimentality.
I was going to do a separate post about road trips with littles; I had packed 'special' snacks with a little more intention and effort and a little basket of books/toys to be distributed one per hour (and really that part worked out great). Honestly though, it boils down to snacks, lots of snacks, the books/toys that are different from the ones they see every day, boobs (if you're a Dani), the occasional surrender of the iphone (Mila's favorite app right now is Peekaboo Forest), and did I mention snacks. Also don't be afraid to stop in creepy one-road towns to use their playground. You know, to "get the wiggles out." Yes, Steve and I say that phrase in public now. My how the times have changed.
Thank you, Ruengie, for letting us tag along on the beach with you and your wonderful, wonderful family's reunion. It was such a lift. Destin, we'll be back! And Ruengie, girls' rafting trip 2025! Dani, Gabriella, and Mila will be 12, 13, and 14 respectively and I'll spare you the deets on mine and Ruengie's ages by then but who cares! We'll be rafting at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Steve says he'll be a stowaway on the groover boat ;)
p.s. Those last 4 photos were taken by Megan...and I so appreciate with all my heart anyone who will take pictures of us with our littles. No small task when it's just the 4 of us. Thank you!