Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 7

Today we were homeward bound!

We didn’t rush out of the hotel this morning, but took our time and left the Comfort Inn by about 10:30 am.

I should say that last night I beat Mom at a game of Cribbage, and that was the highlight of my evening!

From our hotel, we headed downtown New Orleans to return our Kia Soul to Hertz at the Loews hotel drop off point. This ended up being not as easy as it should have been either. We paid another visit to our mobile hertz kiosk to check in our vehicle and Isiah in who-knows-where America was not able to print out our copy of our car’s return slip (He printed someone else’s instead and would not reprint!). The valets at Loews would not take possession of our vehicle without seeing the slip!

So, back in my Mom and I went and thankfully James was able to get us sorted and print out the proper documents. But of course at this point our anxiety levels had already risen.

We got in a van taxi and headed to the airport. Our flight home was a connecting one through Atlanta, but thankfully it all went smoothly. I’m always anxious about connecting flights because of layover time and being concerned that my bag makes it to my final destination, but all went well this time.

We arrived in Detroit at about 6:50 pm and took the airport shuttle bus to the parking lot where we left the Escape. We decided we would enjoy a quick meal at Bob Evans before heading out on our final leg of the journey.

Now, it’s almost 10 pm and we are on the 401 at a service centre by Tilbury. I’d already written this post once and then my WordPress app crashed! So, this is my rewrite and if it posts smoothly, then we will be in luck! I knew I’d be too tired if I wait and post when we reach home.

The week sure went by quickly but I am glad to be headed home. I really enjoyed our family vacation, for all its ups and downs. It’s always great to spend time just us 4 together. I really do love my family and I wouldn’t trade anyone in it – Id consider making a few additions though….I’ve always thought I’d have been a great big sister.
But anyways, we are back in Canada, I’ve added 3 states to my list, and it’s been a wonderful holiday.

Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 6

This morning, we packed up and left our temporary home in Gulfport, Mississippi, as it is our last full day here on the Gulf Coast. So, we were out of the house by about 10:15 in the morning, with our three bags and four people packed into our Kia Soul to head back to Louisiana.

We were taking a scenic route back west to the New Orleans area this time, as we wanted to go over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a bridge that is 23 miles long (about 38 km!): Here’s a map!

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We are spending the night at a Comfort Inn southwest of the city of New Orleans. So, we headed right there and we actually able to check in to our two rooms early (it’s about 12:30 pm at this point). We still had some groceries left, so we made do with that for lunch, supplemented by some goodies from Wendy’s next door. Sadly, Dad went back to bed as he is still feeling pretty rotten. I guess the plus side is at that at least Mom has us with her on this trip, and Dad has been to New Orleans and this area before.

After our lunch, we headed for some nature walking at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Some of you might be saying “Nature walking, Kate, really?” Ya, I know, it’s not usually my thing but on vacations I tend to make an exception!

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First, we did the Visitor’s Centre trail, where we didn’t see any wildlife but we did get a good taste for what a swamp and marsh are like here in Louisiana’s Bayou. I took some Swamp Selfies too!

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The trail was like a wooden bridge path through the swamp.

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Then we headed on the Bayou Coquille Trail!

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The photo on the far right actually is of an alligator that we managed to see! It’s hard to tell, but if you look closely in the centre of the photo you can see it’s head poking up above the water. If there hadn’t been a group of 3 who spotted it taking pictures, we probably would have missed our only alligator siting!

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From left: Some palmetto leaves, two herons in the swamp, and it’s hard to tell again but there is a Nutria hiding!

We spent about 2 hours at the preserve and that was it for our swamp adventure!

We got back in the Soul and headed for a drive to the nearby bayou town of Jean Lafitte. Here I was able to take some photos of the popular style of house in the Gulf Coast area that I have been describing throughout this trip. You can see the outdoor staircases, and how the houses are built up on platforms and stilts. As well as the outdoor greenery used for holiday decorations.

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                 This one is my favourite 😉

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It was starting to get dark so it was time to head back up the highway to our hotel. Our plan was to order pizza from Papa John’s and eat in the room (we had seen a pizza being delivered on our floor earlier). So, we made a quick trip into Dollar Tree next door (and bought a 3 Litre bottle of Root Beer for $1 – Clint figures, who cares if we drink it all, it’s only $1!). Even the cap is bigger on a 3 Litre bottle! Then, we came back to the room and ordered our pizza, and it was tasty!

Tonight, we’re just going to spend the night in and maybe play some cards together. It’s sad that tomorrow we head back home, but I’m also looking forward to it. I actually miss home and my work and my MINI! ❤

Until tomorrow…good night from Louisiana!

Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 5

Just a rainy, but warm, Saturday here in Mississippi. But, since we didn’t really have any definite plans for the day, we did let the rain dampen our mood too much. Dad still isn’t feeling well and has sadly spent the day in bed, and Clint, Mom, and I didn’t get up to too much, but we tried to not let the “guilt” of not doing much get to us.

I’ve been wanting to see the new Annie movie since I knew it was being filmed and would feature Mr. Jamie Foxx, so knowing it was being released last week, I had suggested it as potentially something my Mom and I could see during our trip, if there was some down time or the opportunity presented itself.

So, after a relaxing morning of reading and coffee-drinking, Mom and I decided that we would go see Annie at an afternoon matinee, since there was a movie theatre less than 10 miles away.

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So, we saw the 1:40 pm show and after 20 minutes (that’s no exaggeration!) of movie trailers and commercials, the feature presentation began! And I will say, I loved it! Quvenzhane Wallis, who portrays Annie B, is too cute for words, and a super talented singer, dancer, and actress. (I say that knowing she was in award winning movies – 12 Years a Slave and Beasts of the Southern Wild). She definitely shines and you can’t help but smile at her! Jamie Foxx is his handsome self, and needs no explanation of my love for him. It was different to see Cameron Diaz in a role as Ms. Hannigan, but I thought she did great and was entertaining. Plus, its nice to be so established to just be able to do movie roles that seem fun and different, and not worry about a paycheque! I’m not as familiar with Rose Byrne, but she did a great job as Grace and I enjoyed seeing her character open up after Annie came into her life.

I think critics and people are so busy comparing this version to the original version made in 1982, but you have to remember first of all that this is not the first re-production of Annie. In 1999, Disney did a TV movie version, which I’ve never seen but it definitely does exist. I grew up watching young Aileen Quinn in the 1982 film, and I loved it. I still do! But this production makes the songs more contemporary and puts a different spin on the story that I would definitely say helps make it relevant and relatable to the young people of today. And if you are a fan of the 1982 film, you will recognize some of the ways they mention the film in this version (such as the band that plays during the Easy Street number, which actually is called “The Leaping Lizards” – something that 1982’s Annie often said to express her excitement!).

If you love musicals, or if you love Annie, or if you are just young at heart and can enjoy a heartwarming story with a good message, I recommend you watch Annie at least once and enjoy it, without comparing it and critiquing it too much.

For the rest of the evening, we plan to make dinner here at the house and have a relaxing night in together. I definitely feel that vacations do need some downtime, or else you come home more tired than you were before you left!

Tomorrow we leave our house in Gulfport, so the adventure will continue!

Oh, and Waffle House count after today, = 23.

Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 4

Today’s the day that Katie gets her 35th State!!

We left the house just before 11 am and headed towards the Alabama State line! We had planned to stop at the Welcome Centre, but when we approached we found that it was closed for renovations (and major renovations too, considering there was only a shell of a building there!). So, we kept driving and our first stop ended up being a Walmart store outside of Mobile, Alabama.

Here we picked up a few things to add to our picnic lunch, and it was meant to be a quick in-and-out trip, except we got stuck in a check out line behind a gentleman who had used the wrong credit card and wanted to cancel his transaction…However, not much we could do and we were out of there as soon as possible!

With Dad feeling a bit under the weather, Clint took over as navigator and Mom became the driver and we headed to the USS Alabama Battleship Park on the coast of Mobile for our picnic lunch. Now, I actually had no clue this place existed, seeing as I don’t really do much research or trip planning, so to come across a huge battleship as my view while I ate my lunch was pretty awesome!

The Battleship!

The Battleship!

Really makes you feel tiny, when you stare at a huge ship. And I couldn't help thinking what it would be like to see a dozen of these ships in the ocean during the Vietnam War.

Really makes you feel tiny, when you stare at a huge ship. And I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like to see a dozen of these ships in the ocean during the Vietnam War.

The Submarine!

The Submarine!

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Selfie by the Plane

This plane, also very large (and the thought of these flying over heard dropping bombs really makes you grateful you don’t live in a war-torn area), is named Calamity Jane!

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After walking around the park grounds, we headed into Mobile to explore the downtown.

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Mobile is not as large of a city as I was expecting, and has less than 5 tall buildings in its downtown core. But, it was still neat to explore. I loved seeing the holiday decorations in to of the parks in the downtown area. Plus, Mobile offers free public wi-fi in downtown which is really neat!

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This is the house where the first Church Bishop lived, Michael Portier. It’s a cute little home, and I really like the front centre staircase. This type of look is very common in houses in this area, although a lot of houses are up on stilts and have even higher front staircases! The outdoor garland, wreathes, and greenery decorations for the holidays are common too.

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I didn’t realize that this area of the Gulf Coast was first founded and discovered by the French, and therefore has a strong French background. Mobile has actually been a city under six flags, as this sign describes.

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Here is a view of downtown Mobile, taken at a park by the Mobile River. This was our last place of exploration in Mobile, before we got back in the Soul and carried on with our day.

The next part of the adventure was navigated by Clint, while my Mom drove and my Dad and I rode in the back. I often find that I remain less anxious about directions, avoiding getting lost, and basically everything involved in navigating an unknown place if I ride in the backseat and listen to my iPod. On family trips, that generally keeps me calm and I have learned to just sit back and enjoy the ride (and not get caught up in how the vehicle gets from Point A to Point B).

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For us, Point A is Mobile (the downtown core is the point where the green highways on the map) and Point B was Dauphin Island, the most southern point of Alabama.

I will say that I definitely enjoyed taking in the scenery from the backseat while I listened to One Direction’s FOUR album.

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We did make it there! Welcome to Dauphin Island, The Birdiest Place in Alabama!

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Looking into the Gulf of Mexico!

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A heron on the Birdiest Island!

After driving around the Island a bit, it was close to 5:00 pm and was starting to get dark, so we began our journey back to our home in Gulfport. We did find a pharmacy to pick up some Cold & Flu medication for my Dad, so hopefully he will be back up and at ’em soon!

After dropping my Dad off back home and sending him straight to bed, Clint, Mom and I set out to find some dinner! With the help of UrbanSpoon and Google, we chose a place called the Blow Fly Inn, which was not too far from our house. Turns out Guy Fieri has eaten there, and gave it good reviews!

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My mom and I enjoyed Mississippi Catfish – it was melt in your mouth good!, and Clint had a side of Gumbo with his Shrimp & Grits. We all agreed that it was mighty tasty and really friendly staff too! Plus, when a place is busy and parties of people are coming in and out, you know it’s good! The original Blow Fly Inn was destructed 28 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina, but the new building is doing a mighty fine job of keeping the taste alive!

The weather was beautiful today too, with lots of sunshine and a temperature of about 18 degrees. Unfortunately, it looks like rain coming for the next 36 hours or so, but it will still be in the high teen’s as far as temperature. So, who knows what tomorrow has in store!

Please note: The Waffle House count after today = 21. Craziness!

Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 3

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I was up this morning again at 7 am, but I did not get right out of bed. Seeing as it was Christmas, I figured I might as well relax and read a bit first (and for those of you wondering, I did sleep on a top bunk last night haha). After awhile, I got up and had some breakfast – decided to have a piece of toast with my Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter spread. Yum 🙂

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Now, before I get further in to the day, I wanted to take the time to provide a map and visual of where exactly in the United States I am (Denise, this is specifically for you – my geographically challenged but amazing bestie).

Here is a photo, you can see that Toronto is on the far right, and I am located down at the far left in Mississippi.

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So, that roughly is where I am. Now, for specifics, here is another photo that shows the Gulf Coast line and basically the different locations that are a part of this trip. We started on Day 1 in New Orleans, then travelled yesterday over to Gulfport. And today, we will venture over to Biloxi.

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Okay, now that we have that sorted, let’s continue…

The plan was to have a bit of a relaxing morning, allowing all of us to have some time to do our own thing. So, I spent some time reading and then my Mom and I decided to venture down to the beach for a little walk and to take some photos. My brother was relaxing at the house and Dad was heading on a bigger exploration walk.

Here are some photos from our walk…

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Beach Selfie!

                 Beach Selfie!

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A man, with a dog named Old Henry (from Minnesota) came by and offered to take our photo!

We headed back to the house, and soon enough it was time for lunch!

Here is our house!

Here is our house!

This is how Clint spent some of his morning, relaxing on the upper level balcony!

This is how Clint spent some of his morning, relaxing on the upper level balcony.

We left the house by 2:00 pm, and drove down the Gulf towards Biloxi. (Please note, that on this short 10 mile drive, the Waffle House count went from 5 or 6 to 8!)

We even drove on to the beach, where I was able to take in the view of the Gulf and get a picture of our KIA Soul! I only wish that my MINI Sherry was the vehicle in this photo, because how awesome would that photo be!

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We got back on Hwy 90 and headed into Biloxi, where we saw the Casino area (our destination for the evening) and carried on to a small town of Ocean Springs. I didn’t take any photos here, but we parked and got out, walked along the beach and out on a pier, and explored a small park nearby. We also took a little drive through the town. Oceans Springs definitely had the small town charm, and I thought it was a really cute, beach side, town. We saw some beautiful houses too!

We headed back West on Hwy 90 towards Biloxi, and we ventured through a bit of the “downtown”, although Biloxi really isn’t that big of a city and part of it that we drove through, well, let’s just say I think we were on the wrong side of the tracks…

We got back to the Gulf Coast Beach and parked, and my parents and brother got out and did more walking, but I stayed in the car and did a bit of reading (I just knew I was needing a bit of rest and personal quiet time at this point).

By about 4 pm, it was time to head in to the casinos. Biloxi has a number of casinos, and it is famous for it’s entertainment and resort hotels. We planned to go in to two different ones, The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.

First, was the Hard Rock.

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Inside, we re-energized with some Starbucks and Ben & Jerrys (that was for me, I had a hankering for some Chunky Monkey!). Then, we hit the slots! My mom and I like to play the Quick Hit machines, so we scouted them out and my dad went to play on the Poker machines. Clint isn’t really into gambling, but my Mom actually managed him to put a $1 into one of the machines (Quick Hits are 1 cent, so you can really get a lot of fun for a $1!). And Clint actually had some of the best luck of the 3 of us! My Mom and I lost our $5, but we had a lot of fun and since we aren’t high spending gamblers, we don’t get too disappointed if we lose $5, because we still get some entertainment. My Dad had luck on the poker machines, almost doubling his $10.

we left the Hard Rock Casino by 5:30 pm and walked over to the Beau Rivage. We wanted to have time to get some food before the show my Mom and I were seeing at 7:00 pm.

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Fun Fact: This is the tallest building in the state of Mississippi!

The lobby was beautifully decorated for Christmas!

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Now, I haven’t spent a ton of time in my life in casinos, but I have come to learn that I can only take the environment in small doses, and that there is an aspect of American casinos, or atleast the 2 I ventured in here in Biloxi, that I am not a fan of. For anyone who has been in an Ontario casino, you probably know that the entrance to the slots and casino games is separated from the resort or lobby of the building. Plus, at the entrance you find a security agent waiting at a desk to check your ID. Well, here in Biloxi, the casino blends in with the entire venue and the security agent is standing, and at times blending in to, the middle of the busy crowed aisle! I am not someone who likes being caught of guard, and I like to know when I will need to have my ID ready so as to avoid the feeling of being ambushed in a crowded hallway! So, needless to say these experiences made me a little edgy and at a level of high anxiety for a bit of time afterwards.

Soon enough it was time for our show, Santa & Friends on Ice!

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My mom and I really enjoyed this ice show, and I am glad we decided to see it on Christmas Day, because it made the day feel just a bit more like Christmas. It featured figure skating, christmas songs, Santa, Mrs. Claus, and a couple of his trusted elves. Definitely enjoyable and a great way to end Day 3!

Now, before I sign off for the night, I leave you with a holiday song that may just be a blast from the past (think 1996 or so). This may be a bit different than the version we heard twice today on the radio in the Soul, but it’s close enough. Add in the image of my Mom and I dancing in the Soul, and I just know it will be on your Christmas playlist next year. 😉

Christmas On The Gulf Coast – Day 2

Well, the day started off bright and early at 7 am. It was not my plan to get up this early, but never the less I was awake so I thought I’d get a workout in at the hotel’s fitness centre.

After getting some exercise, I came back to the room to get ready and head down to enjoy our continental breakfast. Nothing super fancy, just your regular hotel scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, yogurt, orange slices, and coffee (of course!).

Now, normally breakfast doesn’t usually make my blog unless its super scrumptious or noteworthy, BUT this little bit of funny is worth remembering and sharing.

My dad chose a yogurt, and opened up the package and because it was a bit watery and frozen still, asked my Mom if it was okay to eat. She said yes, it’s just that it had been frozen and kept on ice, so it would need a stir. And “Tell your teeth it’ll be colder than normal”. Now, anyone who knows my Mom can imagine the innocent, genuine way that my Mom would say this and realize why my Dad and I found it hilarious and have basically been joking about “telling our teeth” all day!

Also, one of the ladies from the front desk of the hotel announced to everyone in the breakfast room that at this evening’s dinner, children were invited to wear their pyjamas down for a special Christmas Eve pyjama party! Now, I thought this was a really cute and fun idea, and that it makes being in a hotel for Christmas that much more special for kids! Here is the invitation:

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If I was 2.5 or 7 instead of 25, I would have loved to attend!

After breakfast, we figured out our gameplay and decided that we would pack up our bags, check out of our room, and store our backs at the hotel while we went for a walk, because guess what? Today the sun was shining!! There was lots of cloud cover, but no more torrential rain or thunderstorms…hallelujah! We would be picking up our rental car at 11:00 am, so it was a good chance to get a morning walk in.

We headed towards the Mississippi River, and the sunshine felt amazing. It was maybe only 13 degrees but when that sun is beaming down on you, it just feels so warm and you instantly feel better!

We walked past the Riverwalk Outlet Collection, and I didn’t feel the need to go in (I’m actually still shopped out from my Erie trip in November!) But, I thought this wall decor could easily be a silhouette of me, with a quote that basically describes my shopping philosophy:

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Then  we came to the river – not the nicest looking water I’ve ever seen, but still cool! Oh, and this is a good time to say that Louisiana is my 33rd state! Ka-ching!

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It was perfect that we also saw a picturesque paddleboat, just like the ones you picture when you think of New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

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Then, we ventured back through the French Quarter towards where we were collecting our rental car. So, I was able to take a couple photos of some other French Quarter type architecture, which I missed last night because of the pouring rain!

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We got back to Poydrus St, where our Homewood Suites hotel was located, and the location of a rental car pickup was. Clint ventured back to the hotel and I went with my parents to get the rental car, and I can say that I had a gut feeling it was the better decision.

The Hertz location was inside of the Loews Hotel. And not only is this a strange place for a rental company office, but low and behold the strangeness got stranger because it was actually a Hertz mobile kiosk!

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We had a call with a live agent for Hertz, who was actually in Oklahoma City, who looked at our booking and reservation (Very 2014, wouldn’t you say?) You scan all your documents in the machine and there’s a phone receiver to speak in, and you can see the agent and they can see you (so you must be mindful of your facial expressions!). Now, this is where the adventure gets interesting. There is no car waiting for us at this location. Turns out, all the cars are delayed coming from the airport location and because it’s Christmas Eve and there’s few cars and few workers, things are delayed. He ends up sending us to a Hertz location about a 10 minute walk away to get our car.

So, because Clint is waiting for us at Homewood Suites and not aware of any issues, we ask the Loews hotel concierage if we can call over to Clint. Our wish is our command!

Then, we set off to the other Hertz location, detouring through a pedestrian market walkway and spotting a beautiful Christmas tree and a photo opportunity!

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Then, we keep going. We get to Hertz and there are a few people in line ahead of us, so we wait patiently and then the young man (who was very friendly and provided great customer service I must say), let us know that our vehicle still wasn’t there yet and would be about 15 minutes. More waiting! Keep in mind by this time it is after 12 pm and hunger is starting to set in and affect, everyone’s mood. But, in this situation I chose to remain positive to keep my parents’ moods elevated! We were a bit concerned about all of our luggage fitting into the mid-sized vehicle that we had reserved, but at this point we just had to cross our fingers and pray we could fit in 3 bags and 4 people.

Finally, our vehicle arrived! A Kia Soul, which is a hatchback, crossover, type of vehicle (and it’s not the most attractive vehicle either, but I’m biased to MINIs and BMWs…). I didn’t get a chance to take a picture today, but you can google a picture if you need a visual.

We headed over to Homewood Suites, grabbed Clint and our bags, and the packing challenge began! We managed to get all the bags in, BUT we had to lift up the spare tire cover and use the extra space there, and remove a styrofoam type compartment, which was full size and road in the backseat with us (I nicknamed it Bud.)

By this time, it’s 1 pm and the hunger is still evident in everyone but all we wanted to do was get on our way to Gulfport, Mississippi which would be our home away from home for the next 4 nights and 3 days.

We started out on the Interstate, and I enjoyed looking out the window taking in the scenery. It’s different to see houses built on stilts. And I felt very reflective remembering what I had seen of the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

We made it to Mississippi and decided to get off the interstate and continue on a more scenic highway.

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We still haven’t eaten at this point, and have pretty much decided that we would keep going the 25 miles or so to Gulfport because all we were seeing were fast food restaurants and Waffle House. Seriously, we passed 5 Waffle House locations!

We arrived at our rented house in Gulfport at 3 pm, although there was a bit of confusion as to the location because there is no street sign that specifies the street it is actually on. We just had to determine it based on the location of the street before and the tracks after, and pray our code worked to open the gated entry, but thankfully, in we came!

After a quick stop to check the place out and unload, we got back in to the Soul and headed a mile west to IHOP and Walmart. Our plan all along had been to get food and snacks for the next 36 hours at the Walmart when we arrived in Gulfport, since it is Christmas and stores and restaurants are likely to be closed.

So, I had my Christmas turkey dinner at IHOP.

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I figured, if I wanted to have turkey I needed to have it then, because no one else in my family really likes it that much! At this point, it’s probably 3:30-4:00pm and I am hungry to the point of being emotional and on the verge of tears, so I was thankful to have the food!

Then, after we were fed, our Walmart trip began and we managed to get all that we needed without too much chaos and trouble. The only thing I couldn’t find were the Hershey Cherry Kisses that I had found in Erie, which I really wanted to have again, but maybe I’ll see them in the next few days or so.

Then, by 5:30 pm we were headed back to our house and this is where we are currently relaxing and enjoying some downtime on Christmas Eve, 2014.

Before I go, here are some photos of our house. I’ll try and get one of the outside tomorrow. In total there are 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living area. I am lucky enough to get the bedroom with 4 beds, and I may very well sleep on a top bunk.

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My bedroom & my bathroom

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IMG_3265  The living area

IMG_3264 The kitchen

So, as we enjoy a quiet, low key night, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday! Goodnight 🙂