Clan Dillingham does the Sunshine State. Fun-filled vacation details below!
After wrapping up our final day of CC on 3/22 (woo hoo!), we headed straight to Great Wolf Lodge in Concord to hang with some of our favorite homeschool families, Granny, and cousins Kelly and Ella (double woo hoo)!
Los gemelos were finally tall enough to take on the Howling Tornado, so all the boys frolicked about the waterpark in free and happy fashion, sharing rides with whomever wanted to take part in each thrilling descent. I think it’s safe to say that Stephen’s now an official GWL fan, too!
The following afternoon, we hit the road for Florida. And after a quick overnight stay in Kingsland, Georgia, we arrived in Fort Myers, where my old Madison pal, Jenny, welcomed us into her home and family.
The 3 Amigos & Ian climb on driftwood on the beach near the Sanibel Lighthouse.
See, Jenny and I never fully lost touch since I left Wisconsin in ’99. We probably chatted a couple times a year over the past couple decades, that is, till she reached out to me more consistently last fall to talk about homeschooling. Within those more frequent conversations, a fire lit under the both of us to get together in-person.
Sadly, there are plenty of people from UW “daze” who probably want nothing to do with me due to evolutions since college, namely my non-leftism and my faith. And that’s okay by me ’cause deeper friendships are built sturdier than that.
But Jenny never worried about those details. In fact, she said, “I never knew you were an atheist, Beebs.” To which I replied, “Well, I guess we were always partying too much back then to talk about it.”
Longtime friends together again: Jenny & I get ready for the hour-long boat ride from Capitva to Pine Island. What an incredible day of history, nature, & some silliness, too!
I suppose even back then, our relationship was more solid than some of my other ’90s friendships, which relied more on political likenesses than on deeper connections and appreciations of each other as unique individuals. I guess you could say it was more about fitting in and conforming, than it really was about letting your freak flag fly.
Now that’s not to say that Jenny and I don’t have some similarities these days. She’s a Christian, a stay-at-home mom, a woman in a committed relationship, an informed citizen, and a common-sense chick all around. Of course, there are still ample differences to keep things interesting.
One of our biggest distinctions is Jenny’s super-casual, island-time personality and my type-A, always-organized temperament. It was interesting to see how we rubbed off on one another, meeting on a happy, healthy middle ground. And that’s exactly what a good friendship can do!
Jenny’s apartment complex is filled w/ ultra-grumpy old people, who complained to security about the kids “splashing” & “jumping.” What geriatric killjoys! Good thing this beach-side hotel was cool about the boys swimming in their pool. Live it up while your young, fellas!
Besides rekindling my thang with Jenny, we got to meet her 4-year-son, Ian, and her boyfriend, Bill. I dubbed Ian “Mr. Proclamation” due to his wont of making sweeping and authoritative statements about most everything, but not in a whiney, annoying way. He was one funny little dude for sure.
Fortunately, Ian and the dudes got along splendidly, as did Stephen and I with Bill. In fact, Bill and Stephen hit it off. They could often be found smoking cigars, drinking bourbon, and talking late into the night. He was definitely a cool guy who enjoyed waxing philosophical with Stephen.
But I think Stephen’s biggest fan was Ian. He called Stephen “dat man” and loved holding hands with him whenever possible. So all in all, other than Ian hating Lexus (Zeke’s lemur stuffed animal) for some toddler-rationalized reason, Ian really clicked with “doze boys,” and they with him. Great success!
After our families devoured half-price pizzas, pitchers of Florida craft brews, & the best homemade mozzarella sticks I’ve ever eaten, Bill gives Houston pointers on how to play pool.
Our big vacation splurge was a boat-trip from Captiva to Pine Island. En route there, we cruised by barrier islands along Florida’s intracoastal inland waterway. Many were keys uninhabited by people, but their mangroves and the surrounding waters teemed with wildlife. We even saw a few ospreys and dolphins!
Some had fancy inhabitants and fancy homes, however, like one of North Captiva’s islands, where there’s no electricity or running water. So it’s like camping, but in a mega-lavish, super-expensive rental house.
Our tour guide said the lone store on the island sells milk for $15 a gallon, so really the only reason to visit there is to try to undercut the competition with $10 milk. As long as we had a kickin’ generator and/or a ton of dry ice, now there is a good business idea for early retirement!
Zeke & Gabriel pose for a shot on the Sanibel Island Pier, while Ian proclaims, “No, I don’t wanna be in dat picture.” Then all our sassy boys got to watch the local anglers fish for snook off Point Ybel, as well as witness a hungry osprey circling above, tenaciously in search of scraps.
There’s also Cabbage Key, which novelist/playwright Mary Roberts Rinehart bought for her son and his wife in 1938. It’s rumored that Jimmy Buffett based his iconic “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” song on an experience he once had at the Cabbage Key Inn.
And then there’s Useppa, another private island that had been a vacation retreat for such notables as the Vanderbilts, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, Herbert Hoover, and Shirley Temple for decades after WWI.
But in May 1960, the CIA took over the island as a secret organizing site and pre-training base for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Crazy, huh?! It is again under private ownership and is back to being the stomping grounds of the rich and famous.
Houston sits atop Brown’s Mound. Although archaeologists say the Calusa mounds were originally much steeper, today this one is just shy of 30 feet.
We arrived on Pine Island, and our kids and a few other boys amused themselves by playing with “Mr. Coconut” off the dock landing at Tarpon Lodge. This “Old Florida” waterfront hotel dates back to 1926, and served Stephen and I our only vacation seafood fix: Mahi-mahi paired with white wine and asparagus. Delish!
One of the main inspirations for this trek was that the 3 Amigos learned a bit about ancient mound-building civilizations this year, and Pine Island once had their own: the Calusa Indians, who lived in southwest Florida starting in about 500 BC.
The Calusa didn’t farm or make pottery like other regional Indian tribes. They were fishermen and are the first known collectors of shells, using them as tools, weapons, and ornaments, as well as discarding the shells (and bones) of their food into huge heaps.
Zeke uses one a gag gift on Jenny (what a great actress!), while we kill time @ the Mucky Duck during a fierce beach storm.
And its these raised-earth masses that became the Calusa mounds. From the tops, the “Shell People” could view their village below, possibly using this vantage point in religious ceremonies. But these strong, warring peoples most certainly used the mounds in defense of their lowland homes.
Fishing, of course, was a much quicker and easier method of getting food than was hunting and gathering. So, this gave the Calusa the extra time needed to do other cultural things. For instance, they eventually established their own complex system of government, which involved nobility, commoners, and slaves.
The Calusa, whose name means “Fierce People,” eventually died out in the late 1700s. It was due to a mix of invading enemy tribes from the north, and smallpox and measles brought to the area by European explorers. It’s thought that the few remaining Calusa fled to Cuba when the Spanish turned Florida over to the British in 1763.
Gabriel, Zeke, & Ian view a turtle in the pond behind Jenny’s mom’s house, that is, until an alligator makes his way on to the scene. With 2,200 acres of freshwater wetlands on Sanibel providing a habitat for a sizable gator population, interaction between humans & these cold-blooded reptiles is not an uncommon thing. Yikes!
On the boat ride back, we passed a slew of adorable, rustic fishing shacks sprinkled throughout Pine Island Sound. Then our tour guide cast a net into water, pulling up all sorts of critters, including puffer fish, sea horses, and even a small sea turtle. The boys were delighted to check out all the strange-looking sea life up close and personal.
After we docked, we headed over to the Mucky Duck, a laid-back restaurant where Jenny used to work. A huge, violent storm rolled in, and we caught wind that traffic returning to Sanibel and then into Fort Myers was extremely backed up.
So, we chilled there for a while, drank a bunch, played the ring toss, and got silly. Jenny also took us on walk-through of the quirky restaurant, the Bubble Room. (Side note: the establishment was started by the Farqhuarson family — the namesake of the Scottish clan from which Quate is derived. Small world.)
Although we caught this nice sunset on our first trip to the beach, the Sanibel no-see-ums (a.k.a. biting midges) ate us up this evening. Luckily, we made it back to la playa on another bug-free day for shelling, playing in the sand, swimming in the Gulf, & then poolside hangin’ @ the West Wind Inn.
Our Easter in Florida was filled with blessings. We attended Jenny’s church, St. Isabel, on Saturday night. It was a much lengthier service than what the boys are accustomed to, but they were quite well behaved, I must say. They did get to light and hold candles as part of the mass, so I think that helped in keeping their attention.
Then on Sunday, Stephen took the four boys to a nearby park (even paid for them to jump on an Easter bounce house), while Jenny cooked, and Bill and I got the house ready for dinner. Jenny’s Aunt Marie came over for the celebrations, bringing all the kiddos chocolate bunnies and even eggs for an Easter hunt. What fun!
And if you can’t tell by now, we had an utter blast visiting our good buddies in the Sunshine State, and we look forward to going back again. Maybe next Easter, right Jenny?!?