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Every few years, Jack’s family tries to have a family reunion. Easier said than done when it currently consists of coordinating housing, meals, and activities for nearly 30 people. That’s a big family! The last one was over the 4th of July 2014 in Nebraska, where we also made a trip down to Worlds of Fun and it was a blast but this year, my mother-in-law asked if we could return to her childhood vacation spot in Florida.

Holding a crab about two seconds before it pinched her.

After a lot of planning and a loooooong countdown, the time finally came. Though some of the family decided to fly, most of us took epic road trips through several states. Personally, we traveled through Kentucky, stayed in Tennessee…

…then on through Alabama…

…before we reached Panama City Beach, Florida, just a half hour before we were allowed to enter the amazing beach house that was rented. That was good timing!

We made it!

It didn’t take us long to settle in and figure out rooms. That beach house was big enough that every couple got their own and most included their own bathrooms. We were at the top of the house, with the best view and a closet big enough to stick Henry’s bed in. After quickly eating dinner, we hit the beach.


Basically, every spare moment we had, we were at the there, living as beach bums. There were sandcastles to build, waves to surf, animals to find, kids to bury, shells to find…it was a neverending adventure.

Look how clear that water is!

Initially, I always feel a bit awkward when I show up at a place where I’m going to be traipsing around in a swimming suit. I have a farmer’s tan, my bikini body has been masked by the fact that I’ve had four kids and my stick-straight hair is anything but beachy. It doesn’t take long to acclimate, though and for the entire week, we all basically lived in our swimsuits and worked on our tans. Meaning, Jack, Evelyn, Kate, and Henry tanned while Claire and I burned to a crisp, no matter how much sunscreen we doused ourselves with.

Jack caught one of Ariel’s friends, Flounder.

Also, for some reason, our sleep schedule was off THE ENTIRE vacation. We were in bed at ridiculously early hours (even though we were in a time zone after our usual one) and were up before dawn had even cracked. It wasn’t so bad, though. I’ve always been a morning person and it was always nice to get up and take a stroll before breakfast. The girls quickly began their prolific shell collections by snatching up everything they came across.

Walking the beach in our jammies.

One of the awesome things about the timing of our trip was that almost no one else was vacationing while we were there. With so many people going back to school, Panama City Beach was practically deserted by typical standards.

The cutest hermit crab I ever did see!

While we might have had to wrestle our way to a good spot on the beach had it been a few weeks earlier, we merely had to walk a minute down a boardwalk and plop our stuff on the white sand.

Three little kids buried in a row.

The entrance nearest us just happened to be amazing, too. Monday was a teensy bit rough and seaweed-y from a storm but the rest of the week, the surf was forgiving and shallow enough that the kids could swim in a sort of tidal pool surrounded by a sandbar. We could easily walk out a hundred feet or so and it never got very deep. That is always reassuring when trying to watch four kids, added into a mix of other cousins.

Kate’s ready to hit the waves!

Being born in California, Jack has always kind of had that surfer-dude vibe (nevermind that he was born in a desert in California), so it wasn’t a surprise that he spent a good deal of his time sliding toward the shore on a boogie board. Then, he turned around and taught the girls how to surf, too. They were immediately hooked and though there were a few epic failures, tumbling head-over-heels in the water, they got the hang of it pretty quickly and had some good rides.

Henry felt bad for Jack.
Jack had some of his own tumbles too. Just comes with the territory.
Henry enjoying the sand.

I had debated before going if I should invest in some full-faced snorkeling gear. They were a bit pricey but finding one that the girls could use, too, I decided to try it. They were one of the most-used items we brought. After a little trial and error, everyone figured out how to putter around in the water with them and were able to watch fish and find shells on the bottom. I wondered if the girls would be able to swim with them and interestingly, the masks were just buyout enough that they were able to float. We all spent hours snorkeling–Jack boogie boarded and snorkeled so long that basically, only his back got tanned.

Claire paddling around in the gulf.
(In case you want to buy one of your own, here’s an affiliate link to one of the ones we bought. We love it!)
Henry taking a turn on the board with Jack’s help.

Though we could have easily enjoyed the beach and only the beach, we all had a few other adventures. Jack and some of his siblings took a deep sea fishing excursion. He wanted me to come and though I would have loved spending the day with him, I know myself well enough that I am positive I would have spent the entire trip hanging over the side, seasick.

Nervous, Jack?
They were out for about eight hours, fishing like mad…
Jack’s Titanic shot.
 …and being a tad ridiculous in between.
Some of their catch. I think Jack’s dreaming about sushi.

At the end of the day, they came home with a nice haul and breaded, smoked, grilled and/or fried the fish fillets. They managed to get nearly every fish-hater that it was actually quite tasty.

We can’t not feed animals when the opportunity arises.

While Jack was out living his fantasy of being a fisherman, the kids and I had some fun of our own. The beach: check. The pool: check. Dip ‘n’ Dots: check.

Vacation is the only time I’ll splurge on overpriced, gimmicky ice cream.
Watching some of the equestrian sports of the Olympics while some of the kids napped: check.
The ONLY times I watched television all week. It was worth it!
Hair wraps: check.
Kate almost fell asleep when it was her turn.

Probably the most excitement I had all week was when the neighbor watching the animals asked if our horse was missing. It was a tense half an hour waiting for her to send a photo:


Thankfully, not mine. And, from what I hear, it’s still wandering the area. Maybe I’ll come across it while riding my bike…I’d better bring a halter and some grain, just in case. I can’t say no to a pretty Palomino!

The original Elikers.

Other than that, we had some fantastic boat trips, a visit to shell island, a horseback ride on the beachA SWIM WITH DOLPHINS–EEK! (I’ll tell you about it soon), and feeding some pretty frantic seagulls.

Spotted lots of interesting lizards!

One thing we took advantage of were the willing babysitters. Nearly every day, we got the kids in bed (and because of our weird sleep schedule, they were konked out by 7pm), we enjoyed some adult time. We stormed a small ice cream shop and probably doubled their profits for the day on one evening…


Another night, we used pool toys as flashlights and walked along the beach to see if we could spot any nesting sea turtles. Mostly, we only found ornery and very determined crabs.

We played some pretty hilarious games with the siblings, too.
Let’s just say we don’t have a lot of artists on that side of the family, haha!

One morning, we got up early and watched the sunrise while spotting dolphins swimming in the distance.

Jack and all his goofy siblings.

The week was incredibly fun and though one day bled into another, there are a lot of cherished memories we’ll have. Like getting to know cousins better, especially since they all live so far away.

 Really getting to know them well.
Henry loves his cousins!
Being able to relax (in a private pool with cool color-changing lights, no less!).
A little Mormon humor for you.

It was an incredible trip and Jack’s already planning the next one. Any suggestions where to go are welcome! 🙂

Waving goodbye to some of the family who left earlier.
We left sunburned on one side, with weirder tans than farmer tans, tangled, beachy hair, practically penniless, dusting sand off unceasingly, and worn out and wet (I seriously don’t think my hair completely dried for an entire week) but so pleased we got to have such an incredible vacation.


Several INCREDIBLE goals crossed off our 2016 list in one trip!

So hard to get 30 people to look at the camera…close enough!

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True stories of raising children, remodeling, braving the elements and plotting out life, all while living on a humble acreage in central Indiana.

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