Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sombrero Beach in Marathon

FULL DISCLOSURE: We are home from Florida. Looking at these pictures is already making me sad because it feels like a distant and much missed dream. It is cold here. I have been chilled since we got back. 

I am going to continue to update the blog with our vacation pictures anyway. Why? Well, in our family, if we didn't blog it, it didn't happen. Bear with me. Or ignore these. 

Sombrero Beach in Marathon is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. It is a great mix of recreation, clear water, white sand and palm trees. Love, love, love. 

We spent two great days playing on this beach.

There was a lot less surf than at other beaches, which made it less exciting for the adrenaline junkies among us...but the swimming was less stressful for our lifeguard (that's me).

We dug in the sand and played in the water.

We built castles.

We played games.

These girls were hard core in their beach volleyball lesson from Eric. Aside from a few complaints that bumping a soccer ball hurts. And it does.

Lukey is crying in the picture below here. He also found out about the painful soccer ball.

Everyone made up, though. His sisters pushing him on the swing was all it took for Lukey to forget his pain.

Despite my best efforts, I have fallen behind in blogging. 

I am in our hotel room in Fort Myers and tonight is our last night in Florida. We leave tomorrow morning bright and early. 

Somehow, however, the blog is still in Marathon at our rental house. 

I will do a couple of catch up posts. 

Our rental house for the week was right on the ocean. The pool was only a couple of feet from the waterline. In order to swim in the ocean, we had to climb down a ladder off the dock, since the shoreline was protected by a concrete slab.

The kids only swam in the ocean in front of the house once. We kayaked a few times, too. 

Here's Finny ready to snorkel.

Eric was the dive master, ensuring the kids didn't drown or get attacked by a giant fish.

The water was really clear and warm, but you had to keep your shoes on in the water because there was some coral and lots of barnacles.

Finny quickly got the hang of the snorkel. She used the pool noodle to stay afloat. She saw hundreds of  fish, including a few big ones.

The kayak was fun to paddle up and down the shore. Finny and I saw a turtle while we were out one afternoon.

We spent some time one afternoon cracking some of the coconuts on the property. They were tough nuts to crack. Eric used a drill, but they still took a beating. It would be a way better activity if the end result were better. I have to admit that despite all the purported health benefits of coconut water, I think it's disgusting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We went back to our good friend the Hampton Inn in Fort Lauderdale. The breakfast buffet and super-reasonable Hotwire rate proved irresistible. 

I checked out while Eric and the kids had a swim. Then it was off to meet my parents at Costco to get some shopping done for our week in the Keys.

It turns out that Costco on a Saturday is a bad idea in any city, not just Richmond or Vancouver. The place was packed, but we still scored great food and an awesome 1.7 litre bottle of Malibu rum. It was like a holiday in a bottle.

I was excited for the drive to the Keys. Despite spending quite a bit of time in Florida as a kid, I have never been to the Keys before.

One of the first things I noticed was that the Keys are reminiscent of how I remember most of the rest of Florida. It was more eclectic and beach-oriented. It had the little tacky stores I remember. The strange small towns. I love it.

We made our way to Marathon and then found our house. Oceanfront, with a pool.

Here is a shot of the kids int the house pool.

And here is a shot of the house from the dock.

These two huge pelicans were hanging out at the end of our dock.

We settled in and made our official drink of the week: the Yellowbird. It consists of ice, Malibu rum, orange pineapple juice and a squirt of coconut cream. Blend and consume...

Sunday morning, we decided to make the drive to Key West. After driving through Key Largo, which seemed like an extended mobile home park (really, Beach Boys? Your lyric about Key Largo in Kokomo threw me off...), Key West blew my socks off. I can't remember the last time I fell in love with a town like this. We were planning a quick afternoon there, but I knew right away that we had to come back.

Here we are in front of the Southernmost Point in the USA. We were 90 miles from Cuba. I noticed a couple of people sitting behind this red marker, looking out to sea with tears in their eyes. I imagine it is a natural gathering point for homesick Cubans.

My mom and dad. You can see the lady in the blue dress beside them. She was crying.

Most of the Keys don't have great beaches, which makes this gorgeous beach in Key West even more special.

The sand, the water...the sun and palms...sigh.

The temperature was perfect. There was a breeze. There were a couple of little shelters...

Then we went back into the city to walk around a bit. The first thing you notice when you get out of your car is the number of CHICKENS running loose all over town.

They are crowing, squawking and pecking on every corner.

If you know me at all, you know that I am no fan of birds. I braved it out and got close enough to get these pictures. Please appreciate it because I faced my fears to get these.

We stopped for a coffee and my new favourite thing...the NYT Sunday paper.

We already knew that we were coming back another day, but things like this old building made it impossible for me to just walk away from Key West. This hotel was a temporary home to both Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. In fact, Williams penned some of A Streetcar Named Desire RIGHT HERE.

More on the literary history of Key West to come. I made a pilgrimage to Hemingway's House. It was divine.

MR Callender

In the middle of this wonderful holiday, we have had a day coloured by sadness. Today Eric and I lost a good friend, Mantia Callender.

Mantia and his wife Becky were in Europe with us. We lived next door to them for a year in Kapfenburg, Austria. We ate meals together, went out together, traveled together and just plain old hung out together. Eric and Mantia were teammates for a season and a half, but then played against each other in the same league for another couple seasons. In that time frame, I probably spent more time with Becky than with anyone else, except Eric.

We have kept in touch over the years. In fact, on our month-long trip through California exactly two years ago, we stayed with the Callenders on our way through Idaho. It was like no time had passed. We had a great night together.

The four of us came from different backgrounds, but we shared a unique experience. Becky and Mantia were an incredible couple. They were a perfect compliment to one another. It is exactly because I know how great they were together that my heart absolutely aches for Becky tonight.

Mantia was a gentle and kind person, a great basketball player, a terrific friend and a true family man. He was devoted to Becky and his two daughters, Jalen and Tamar. He wouldn't have ever wanted to leave them, which makes his passing even more difficult to accept.

Eric and I will miss him too.

Mantia's sudden passing is a cloud in the sunshine of our trip. But, it's also a stark and heartbreaking reminder of why trips like this are important. You can't put off living. You can't wait for the perfect time to take advantage of plans. We need to soak up every moment.

Tonight's sunset.

The Key to Miami (actually...it's our trip from Miami to the Keys...just a really lame pun)

The only day of trip without a bright blue, sunny sky. We woke up in Miami Beach to an overcast horizon and the promise of rain.

Undaunted, we headed out. Our plan had been to tour the city, not hit the beach itself...so, no the weather barely registered.

Until...the monsoon.

We planned a nice walk along the pedestrian mall of Lincoln. For lunch, we bought things for a picnic. We didn't anticipate the deluge we got. Instead of the urban chic, open air picnic I imagine...we huddled under a Pottery Barn awning and scoffed down peanut butter sandwiches and ice cream sandwiches.

We still had a really nice walk. And, since it is Miami, the temperature remained warm and toasty in spite of the clouds and showers.

The beach itself, however, was deserted.

After a few hours of touring Miami, we headed up the coast to the Hollywood area to meet up with my mom and dad. They'd arrived the night before, but were staying in a different hotel from us (and...a little nicer). We hung out in their room for a while, then headed out for dinner to celebrate the next part of our trip: we were heading to the Florida Keys the next day for our week together in a rented house in Marathon.

We went to the Cheesecake Factory. I had never been there. Wow. The meals were so tasty and the portions were huge. Eric said his salad was one of the best he'd ever had. And, he couldn't finish it.

Next stop: Marathon in the Florida Keys!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

E- I love Florida

I have always found November to be one of the worst months in Vancouver.  It's not that the weather is much worse than January or February, but it is the knowledge that the days are getting even shorter, colder and even rainier before they get any better.  So when I started working as a fire fighter and realized that, because of my low seniority,  I wouldn't get to have holidays in the middle of summer for many years, I wasn't too disappointed.  I would get to have some great November holidays.  

However, for the plan to work, as parents Les and I had to be willing to take the kids out of school in the middle of the year.  With a very supportive principal and teachers, as well as an unfulfilled interest in the idea of homeschooling, it hasn't been hard for us to play hookey for almost the whole month. The kids, particularly Finny, have made it even easier on us.  She was given 20 pages of her math book to do during our absence and was finished them all less than 2 hours after her last day of school.  

Both of the girls love reading and writing so much that we're not too concerned with the language arts.  They will spend hours writing in the journals, drawing in books and reading chapter books.   Molly recently finished A Prairie as Wide as the Sea and Finny just finished The Littles yesterday. 

Math however, has been a bit more of an issue in our house.  Although both of the girls are getting better, neither of them have a natural affinity for numbers.  It almost seems like they have never needed to calculate anything so they don't have any context for what they are learning.  As they get a context, they seem to be getting a lot better.

In order to make a month long trip financially feasible, we needed to make some compromises to our travel itinerary.  The first part of that was flying out of Seattle even though it added an extra 3 hours to our trip....bringing our total travel time to 21 hours. 

Here we are in Seattle airport, with everybody still fresh and eager to start our trip.

Lukey started chatting to the pilots on his way by the cockpit and was invited in to try flying the plane.

The next compromise was having a stop in LA for 4 hours before catching a red-eye to Orlando.  Although many people would consider this living hell with 3 youngsters, our children were so excited to get to "sleep" on a plane that we knew we could expect good behaviour....or threaten that a trip like this would never happen again.  Apart from a mild meltdown when Molly wasn't in a prime position to rub one of her parents arm, the kids were fantastic.  We slumped together in two rows and all managed to get a couple of hours of fitful plane sleep before arriving in Orlando early Monday morning.  

While most of the rest of the trip has been well documented by Les, the one thing she didn't post was the pictures from our anniversary date on November 10th.  My mom took the kids for the day and hung out around our hotel, swimming and shopping at local gift stores.

Our first date was November 11th, 1991 to the Laser Zeppelin show at the Planetarium.  We have been somewhat negligent celebrating this date over the years, but we weren't about to let the 20 year mark pass unnoticed as well.

We headed for Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure.....because 5 straight days of different Disney parks weren't enough for us!

Luckily we had a beautiful day because there were plenty of rides that left us drenched.

We had heard a lot of hype about the Harry Potter/Hogwarts part of the park, so were pretty intrigued to see if it lived up to our expectations.  I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan, having stopped reading/watching any of the episodes after the 3rd part.  I have to say though, I was really impressed.  The village was very authentically done and it had a great roller coaster.  The real highlight though, was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  As a connoisseur of great amusement parks, I would have to say that this is the most original, mind blowing ride I have been on in my life.
All of the ride takes place inside this castle and mountain. Imagine riding in a man lift that moves around the castle, slams you from 60 feet in the air to the ground in a flash, puts you into omni max type of surround screen where it looks and feels like you are playing Quiddach with Harry Potter for 30 seconds before moving to a hallway where realistic animatronic figures interact with you.....etc, etc.
It's an unbelievable ride that is worth the price of admission on it's own.

We had a fantastic day, just the two of us getting to play together in the sunshine.....like life used to be for the funseekers. We went out for a nice steak dinner in Orlando before calling it quits in time to get ready for Hollywood Studios the next day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Welcome to Miami...

We woke up in our nice Fort Lauderdale hotel, crammed in as much breakfast as our free buffet could offer, and headed to...what else...the beach. (As an aside, I am pretty sure we are not the hotel occupants they have in mind when they offer the breakfast buffet...five hungry people can eat a fair bit. Plus, we book our hotels for cheap on Hotwire. Yeah, pretty sure we aren't what they are looking for...)

The beach in Fort Lauderdale was really nice, but it made me miss the more untouched and less urban beaches further up the coast.

It never gets old for these guys...

Sweet beach babe.

And this little mermaid...

We pulled out the snorkel, mask and fins for Finny. Even though she had the best that Walmart could offer, the equipment let her down. Despite that, she saw a giant fish.

I just noticed how nice the water looks in this picture. It was exactly that nice.

I love this one for the pose Eric is striking in the background. He and Molly were playing...something...in the ocean.

The kids were finding all kinds of cool things on the beach. This was a piece of coral, but there were tons of shells for the kids to sort through.

Lukey isn't too big on swimming in the ocean. He's a beginning swimmer and the waves alternately fascinate and terrify him. He is attracted into the water, then something happens that makes him a bit scared and he retreats up the beach. Actually, as a parent, it is quite nice. He is a sensible guy and I don't have to worry too much about his judgement. He is almost as conservative as I am, as far as what I feel comfortable with him doing.

When it all gets a little hairy out there in the waves, he comes up the beach and plays by himself in the sand.

While Lukey and I were hanging out on the beach, we saw this crazy thing wash up. Lukey picked it up and we investigated it together. It was a strange water filled sac with soft sides. There were funny flakes of stuff inside.

We decided it was very mysterious. I have looked it up on the internet but can't figure out what it is...maybe an unfertilized egg of some kind.

If anyone has any ideas...let me know.

After a couple of hours on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, we hopped in the car and headed further south to Miami.

We read about a pool called the Venetian in Coral Gables. It was made out of an old limestone rock quarry in the 20s. The pictures called to us. We had to go there.

It did not disappoint.

We got there at 3 pm. It was THE MOST perfect temperature. We had the whole place to ourselves.

The only person who wasn't thrilled was Lukey. They had a rule that under-fives had to wear lifejackets. He. Did. Not. Like. That.

There was sulking and there was crying. Then, there was a protest. Then, there was capitulation. It was very dramatic.

As you can see, he came around.

One of my favourite things was the old pictures lining the pool building. The pool itself really feels like it is out of another time. Seeing the photos brought the pool to life for me.

Look at these beautiful ladies and their fantastic swimsuits.

Thank goodness the high dive board has been removed. Finny would have been off that thing in two seconds flat. Literally...flat.

We ended the night with a great treat. Our good friend Lukas from Austria happened to be in Miami on business. We met him at his hotel and had a couple of beers and dinner together. We haven't seen him since Finny was a baby and he has never met Lukey.

Big Luki is a big reason we went with the name Lucas, so they were both happy to meet each other. We felt really lucky to get the chance to spend a few hours with Lucas. Happily, he is coming to Vancouver to visit in May.

We ended a very late night by heading to check in at our hotel in Miami Beach.