This summer started with Finn’s first family road trip. Rather than fly up to visit family in Michigan, we decided on a slow drive with lots of stops. We loaded up the Prius with suitcases, a cooler of snacks, a couple of ipads, and lots and lots of books.
Our first destination was the Kennedy Space Center, where Finn stood tall in front of a rocket garden,…
…saw the inside and outside of the Space Shuttle Atlantis,…
…went back in time to the Apollo mission and unbelievably large Saturn V rocket,…
…and touched a real rock from the moon!
After we left Cape Canaveral, we headed up to St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos, a masonry fort in the oldest city in the country. The stones were hot. Our visit was short.
We spent our second night in Savannah. The early evening was beautiful and as the sun dropped in the sky, Finn kicked a soccer ball around under the moss-covered trees with Daddy and a fellow soccer-lover who just happened to be walking by.
The next morning we drove from Georgia into the Smokies — Finn’s first-ever glimpse of real mountains. He loved the roller-coaster feel of the roads and the tall, shadowy trees that lined them.
We drove along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, first stopping to watch a mama bear and her cubs:
Then we parked for a hike up to Grotto Falls — a hike that ended up being over three miles round trip. Finn walked the entire way, climbing over tricky roots and rocks.
We kept thinking we were almost there since we heard the water long before we arrived at the waterfall. I think the wait made it better.
We took some photos, ate a snacky lunch atop a big rock, and then explored.
Our other Tennessee stops were less idyllic (while more expensive), but Finn enjoyed them all the same. Rock City had some pretty overlooks, but was seriously blighted by garden gnomes. I specifically framed my shots to avoid them.
We also hit the touristy Ruby Falls, where we took an elevator into an underground cave to a waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. Finn pretended he was going back in time to a prehistoric cave and searched for ancient fossils from the Cretaceous time period.
He “panned” for fossils again in Pigeon Forge along one of the cheesiest, most commercially-oriented streets I’ve ever seen (imagine putt-putt golf venues lined up next to gift-shops with Godzilla heads sticking out of them). But it was well worth it to see Finn so excited to “find” an ammonite, nautiloid, brachiopod, and fossilized tooth.
After five days of driving and exploring, we were eager to arrive in Michigan, where Finn spent over a week with his Aba and Abuelo and enjoyed time with his cousins and other extended family.
We took walks and waded through creeks…
…and spent lots of special time at the lakeside cottage where my father grew up.
Finn visited the cottage in 2009, 2011, and 2012, but this year he was much more independent — a boy off doing his own thing with a net or a bucket or shovel, a boy running around with some of the cousins he hadn’t seen in two years.
At the end of our last trip to the cottage, it was hard to leave.
It was also hard for Finn to say goodbye to a new little friend he’s not likely to see again — a baby raccoon he discovered one afternoon, chirping away desperately under a tree. When we checked back later that night and found the young animal still alone, weak, and very hungry, his mother still nowhere in sight, my father brought him in.
We called him Rocky. A few days later my father managed to find a proper and caring place for him — one that would allow him to socialize with other raccoons and then release him into the wild when he was old enough. Before Rocky left for his new home, Finn held him close to say goodbye, listening to him purr.
A short time later, we said goodbye to all of our loved ones in Michigan, loaded up our Prius, and crossed into Ohio.
First we drove past corn. Lots of corn.
Then we made a very important stop at Caesar Creek Lake Visitor Center to pick up a bona fide fossil hunting permit. We had plans to embark on a real fossil hunt in a 450 million year old Ordovician Sea bed.
Although the finds weren’t as impressive as those found in our $25 “fossil bucket” back in Tennessee, the experience was far more authentic. In fact, it was so authentic that after a little over an hour, Finn was reconsidering his long-held goal to be a paleontologist.
The Tennessee Aquarium evoked more excitement from Finn, particularly because the animals there were a little more, well, alive (except for the penguin he’s hugging below).
But then it was fossils and prehistoric animals all over again at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, where we saw a giant Woolly Mammoth skeleton and other prehistoric mammals, as well as a Megalodon jaw:
Even more jaw-dropping for Finn, however, was actually something a little LESS real: the 200+ life-sized replicas at Dinosaur World in Plant City. I think I have a picture of him with every known species of dinosaur (but won’t post them all here, don’t worry!).
Finn even won a “game show” contest, and corrected the “paleontologist/game show host” on one of the questions, which asked which animal was NOT a dinosaur, a tyrannosaur, a pterodactyl, or a Woolly Mammoth. Finn protested, “A Woolly Mammoth isn’t a dinosaur, but neither is a pterodactylus! It’s a flying reptile!”
As if that weren’t enough, we stopped in Orlando to celebrate fourth of July and Gram’s birthday with Keith’s family. There were stellar fireworks, decadent desserts, and lots of horseplay with Finn’s cousins.
When we finally got home sweet home, we had been gone for three weeks. While we were away, Finn sometimes cried at night that he was homesick, but upon entering the house again, he cried because it seemed so strange to him. “I’m hotel-sick!” he wailed. “I’m abuelo-house sick!” Then he he walked up to the magnetic board in his room and pulled off an old picture of Willow, Abuela’s dog. “I’m Willow-sick!” he said, real tears down his face. I understand that transitions are difficult for him, and that three weeks is a greater chunk of his life span than it is of mine. Time goes so fast for me these days, it seems.
But it didn’t take long for life to fall into a normal pattern for Finn again. We’ve still spent much of summer doing what we always do:
…exploring the prehistoric world of dinosaurs…
…and just spending time with people we care about: