Saturday, January 29, 2011


So, technically after the Bay Area I spent four days in San Diego. But in the interest of post consolidation (not to mention the fact that this is my blog and I can do whatever I want), I'm going to skip that for now and jump to my fabulous visit to my old hometown, Pensacola, Florida!

At seven years, Pensacola still holds the title for the place I've lived the longest. And on top of living there for all those years, I also spent many more weeks vacationing there when I was younger. It was the perfect place for our family to travel: world class white sand beaches, fresh local seafood, and best of all, our extended family on my mom's side all lived here, making it easy to catch up with everyone. Visits were spent fishing in Bayou Chico off the dock in my grandparents' backyard, body surfing and beach combing on the beautiful Pensacola Beach (above), and large family meals around my grandparents' dinner table. It was the perfect place to be a kid, and my grandparents were particularly amazing at making my sister, my two cousins and me feel special.

In recent years, since no longer making the drive between Gainesville and Houston, Pensacola has been a hard place to get to. I've been to visit a few times, but the most recent few have been for imminent goodbyes and funerals. In November I got the news that my grandfather had a health change, significant enough to prompt me to leave my second job and begin making arrangements to travel there in January. It was this trip to Pensacola that spurred my entire adventure back to the States. And specifically, it was to visit with my grandfather during a time when all is well. And as luck would have it, it just so happened that my visit would coincide with his 81st birthday.

The background of this picture gives a glimpse of the library of books and music on display behind my grandfather's favorite chair. If there were two symbols that summed up my grandfather, books and music would be it. My grandfather was in the Navy Band back in the day. He also deployed on the USS Midway after WWII. He later served as the band director of the high school I went to in Pensacola (long before I went there), and when education around him started to crumble, he started his own school. For nearly 40 years he has been offering an alternative education program for middle and high school students in Pensacola. In doing so, he has influenced tens of thousands of lives.

He has also influenced our family through the art, music, and philosophy he has always been so passionate about. I love all of the random things you can find at my grandparents' house. For one, he owns a viking ship. More specifically, it's believed to be the only working replica of a viking ship in North America. Well, "working" might be a bit of a stretch since Hurricane Ivan took its toll, but this icon has certainly been a part of my family history from as long as I can remember.

Continuing on with the viking theme, I found this scary cat statue (?)

His walls are covered in interesting art, including this giant Picasso replica.
Boats are the other thing my grandfather has always been passionate about. Maybe a little too passionate. He currently has more boats than I can name. Rumor has it that one of them works. But when we were growing up, I remember so many days going out in boats with my family, cruising in the wind in the Valkyrie or motoring the Viking Ship to a restaurant near the state line that you could pull up to dockside. My grandparents are definitely to credit for my own love of sailing. They put me through sailing camp two summers in middle school and ever since then, it has been part of who I am.

To celebrate my grandfather's birthday, our family got together at his house. My cousin Erika and her fiance Andres drove up from south Florida, and my aunt Wendy and uncle Dan joined us from down the street. Every time I step foot in his house, I am flooded with memories of being a kid. Where my family moved every 18 months growing up, my grandparents' address has been the same my entire life, so it has always felt like home in that unique way. It has always been the place I traveled back to, and I was thrilled to find myself here again, especially with so much to celebrate this time :)

An awesome bonus of this trip to Pensacola was getting to reconnect with my cousin Erika (her blog) and meet her fiance for the first time. They are off and running on the wedding planning (in Colombia!), and I am so excited for them. We threw them a little engagement party out on Pensacola Beach the next day, which was a great opportunity to spend more time with them and the rest of my family. Our dear friends the Winns offered us their beachhouse for the weekend. Because it has an elevator, it is the perfect place for my grandfather to join the party. I got this picture of the two of us, which is hands down, my favorite picture of my entire USA trip!

I also got to catch up with Danika, my best friend from middle school, and her sweet daughter Delaney.  I find it kind of ironic that growing up her dad was (and still is) in the navy and my dad worked for an oil company. Now I'm the Navy wife and her husband works out on the rigs. It's funny how many similarities there are between the two career lifestyles with our husbands gone so much. Always great to catch up with an old friend.

The next day my mom and I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous day. We were all packed up so we used our extra time before our last family lunch to take a walk on the beach.

No matter how many new coastlines I explore anywhere in the world, I still have yet to find a beach as beautiful as Pensacola's.
You all heard about the horrible oil spill that paralyzed the Gulf Coast last summer. The oil did wash up on these shores, but six months later, there was very little evidence that I could see. The waters and sea life are still recovering and will for some time, but the beaches, at least, have been cleaned up. The only evidence of the spill that I could see was this eyesore of a work crew on the beach.
Mom calls this my picture "with Nick" because he called from Sri Lanka during our walk. All in all, it was a wonderful visit to Pensacola full of people I loved dearly and had dearly missed, a beach that rivals the world's best, and a visit with my grandfather I will never forget. So thankful to my mom for making it happen and to the Winns for such a peaceful place to stay. For the last few years I have left Pensacola dreading my next trip back. But after this wonderful visit, I am so hopeful I can make it there again soon. It's one of the few special places on this planet where I truly feel at home. And after traveling so far away, it's always nice to go home.


  1. Peyton, I loved your entry about your grandfathter. Grandparents are very special people and you have a very special one. It was wonderful to see you here in Houston. Hope you have a great trip back to Hawaii and Guam.
    Love and hugs

  2. If your grandfather is ever thinking about selling his viking ship, let me know...


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