Florida Keys

Florida

Recently while sitting at a Starbucks in Tucson, AZ I overheard two women about my mother’s age having a conversation.  I couldn’t help but to overhear them because they talked so loudly – ok maybe I eavesdropped a bit.  Most of it was about online dating younger men, something about their ex-husbands and they kept on referring to each other as cougars.  One said while referring to a mutual friend, “yes can you believe it, she gets so excited when her grandchildren come to town, she drops everything…you would think that is all she cares about…” The other woman clicked her tongue and they went on to discuss some of their other friends. Well they could have been talking about my mom (and if they are reading this blog, I want them to know that my mom is the kind of grandma that I want to emulate!)  My mom came to be with us after each child was born and most recently after Ila was born and stayed with us for a month!  She was instrumental in helping us prepare and sell our house and helping us to manifest this year.  She somehow makes each of her 9 grand kids think they are the apple of her eye and time spent with her feels priceless.  These are the reasons why we planned to spend the month from late November through late December in Florida with my mom and her partner Michael.

As we drove from Cumberland Island to Coconut Creek, Florida, the boys read off their food requests on the phone to my mom, watermelon, lox, cream cheese, bagels, mangos, hamburgers, ice cream. We arrived tired, filthy and so happy. Our time in Florida spanned Thanksgiving, Chanukah, my birthday and Christmas.  After months of traveling mom and I kicked off our time with a (much needed) massage and facial, so funny going from wilderness camping to spa and such a delight.  We visited the Keys right after Thanksgiving and upon our return we headed to Orlando.

 Now, we visit Florida a few times a year and rarely go to Orlando.  Elias and I just finished reading Harry Potter: The Sorcerer’s Stone and our family was set on visiting Universal Studio’s brand new Harry Potter World. This too is pretty funny after spending the last few months in the wilds of America but it was a blast! If you ever visit one of those big Disney like parks you may have had the experience of having to wait on line forever. We timed our visit just right – off season and before the December holidays as the lines were only 5 minutes or less.  This may not be worth mentioning except for the fact that Joseph and Jacob must have ridden the roller coasters 20 times literally doing laps!  Hogwarts was awesome and I felt like I was a riding a broomstick which was totally cool (although the 3D action slowed my mom and Michal down for a bit.) Ila rode on her first carousel in Dr. Seuss Land and was over the moon riding it 3 more times with her brothers and daddy.  Day two we visited the part of Universal with the movie rides. I think the highlight for Elias and Joseph was the live animal show where the animal “actors” do a bunch of tricks.

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As if roller coasters and Harry Potter weren’t enough excitement, we met Jeremy, Joseph’s friend who is now a helicopter pilot in Orlando. In all of my 39 years visiting Florida, I rarely see manatee. I have one memory from when I was a kid seeing the manatee amongst cruise ships in Fort Lauderdale but not a close and clear viewing of these gentle huge animals. Jeremy took us to a spring where the water stays a constant 70 degrees. The manatees float in and hang out as the river water gets cooler, leave to eat in the nearby river and then return to the spring. The clear blue spring was beautiful and stocked with fish and manatee.

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On our way back to Orlando Jeremy surprised us and offered to take the kids and I on a quick helicopter ride!  Jacob and Jeremy in the front, Elias and I in the back with Ila on my lap. Totally felt like Top Gun…I know they didn’t ride helicopters in Top Gun but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  It was a great end to the mini north Florida adventure.

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Between Orlando and the rest of our visit we focused on school, writing, sea turtles, beaches, family and exploring all sorts of cool animal sanctuaries. We spent many days with Mimi my almost 93yr. old grandmother and the boys went on countless dates with Aunt Libby my dad’s sister, always coming home with trinkets and smiles.  As my 39th birthday approached I really had everything I wanted and needed shy of my brothers.  My birthday wish came true as they came to visit and celebrate –  Simon and Susan and the kids from Asheville and Jack fleeing cold Long Island, New York sadly without his kids.  My heart was full!

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Florida was an important anchor for each of us. After months on the road even with family and friends we were a bit tired and the boys needed a sense of predictability and structure. Grammy (my mom) represents this as well as unconditional love and support. We have spent important time with her over years especially since my dad passed away 4 years ago. Somehow she makes sure that she is present in our life and in my brother’s lives at all of the most important times. The long visit also gave us a chance to improve our Rumikub game and hang out with and get to know Michael.

Right before we left Florida we celebrated Christmas.  Growing up Jewish my first experience with Christmas was with Joseph’s family when we were dating.  I love celebrating with him and with his family in Charlottesville.  The years of celebrating Christmas in Bellingham and having our own tree still feels weird to me and against the grain. The kids are growing up with a sense of Jewish identity and we celebrate Christmas as well.  For us these celebrations are more about family and coming together than it is about religion.  We see Christmas as more of a welcoming of a winter celebration. So here we are in Florida where my mom has NEVER had a Christmas tree but as she said “there is always the first”. We enjoyed a “Jewish inspired” Christmas, stockings and gifts in the morning, movies in the afternoon followed by a great Chinese dinner…take out!

 Gifts packed up, hugs and kisses all around, Dec. 26th we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the warm humid air, pulled up the anchor and hit the road…destination New Orleans!

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Categories: Car camping, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Play | 1 Comment

The Keys

As we drove south of Miami we passed the last turn offs to Everglades National Park and continued south.  Eventually the road kept going but the land did not.  The Over Seas Highway continues traveling 127 miles jumping from island to island or key to key via a series of very long bridges all the way to Key West.  Instead of a landscape panorama we’d been watching through the windshield up to this point now it was all Ocean Blue.  “Where are we?” “I want to live here!” Elias hollered out as we cruised along like a ship at sea.

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The lower Keys are technically part of the Caribbean in several respects.  The climate is considered tropical and is the only tropical climate in the contiguous United States.  The history is well tied into that of the infamous pirates of the Caribbean which included Key West’s strategic location as an ideal staging ground for the US military to fight and eventually defeat piracy in the region.  Then there are the people and pace of life which is totally Caribbean, meaning laid back and friendly.

We had reserved our camp 6 months ago which was for the next 7 days.   It was located around mile marker 95 which is below the 25th Parralel on Bahai Honda key, a quiet and undeveloped State Park reached soon after the Seven Mile Bridge.

When we pulled into Bahia Honda State Park the gals working behind the check in desk were stoked to hear about our trip, very friendly.  Our camping spot was just perfect on a very quiet lagoon with the back side of our camping spot tucked aside mangroves.  The Mangrove forests that make up the bulk of the trees in The Keys actually extend throughout much of southern Florida’s coast and estuaries’ making up the most extensive Mangrove forest in the western hemisphere.  During high tide at night, the sea came in just shy of camp surrounding the site by water on either side.  There was definitely an organic sea grass odor that wafted in and out of the tent and our dreams.  Even with the highs every day in the low 80s there were no mosquitoes.

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We began each day sipping coffee and watching the many different types of shore birds on the Lagoon and in the Gulf but then spent most of the time on the beaches on the other side of the island in the Atlantic Ocean.  We would home school, cook and eat dinner right there next to the beach as well.  Lovely.

Through the entire week we made one trip to Key West  for an evening of wacky sunset fun with Grammy and Michael (our Key guests for a few days) and a one day trip to Big Pine Key to see the tiny Key Deer species endemic to the area.  Other than that we stayed very busy with an intentional meditation of soaking up the tropical sun during the last few nights of Hannukah… We called it “B’Chai Chanukah” on Bahia Key.  Bathing suits were just about all we wore for the week…snorkling, throwing frisbee, swimming, home schooling , learning about the place and so on.

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To the north the entire country was cold.  We heard about snow in Asheville, we heard that it was even in the teens in Bellingham, which is rare.  We heard that temperatures were getting well below zero  in parts of the Rocky Mountains.  Places through Montana and Wyoming where we began our trip were under a blanket of frigid air.  The important thing is that we weren’t there.  We were here where cold only existed in form of an evening beer and an afternoon ice cream.  Not that I don’t like cold.  I’ve made a career of being in the cold.  But I seemed to have hit a threshold, perhaps it was last winter and I haven’t been able to warm up.  It was not sudden though.  It was year after year –  there I am in the snow, in the winter, year round.  Granted, there’s always the reward of cold smoke spraying my face, there’s the crystal sublime landscape that’s all mine, but there have been one too many arctic chills setting in further than my down clothing could protect.  Too many hours, days trudging in white out, snow, rain, wind….lots and lots of wind.  Not normal wind, wind that bites and doesn’t care. Then there’s the cold rain.  The rain soaks in beyond my gortex jacket and this is my second jacket….the rain should only last for two more days; day after day of cold rain; drizzle; snow ; blizzard; My fingers are still numb, numb from cleaning out gear with cold, numb fingers that make me want to scream….and barf; But I can warm up.  I am slowly warming.  Here in the Keys the water and the air temperature are both in the 80s.  The wind is warm and tropical and I am starting to thaw.

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At the end of the week as we drove back towards Grammy’s house we were gritty from sand and browned from sun.  The mood in the car was quiet and happy.  It was a satisfied quiet that comes from days spent slowing down time.  The evening sunsets with pelicans drifting by and the boys wrestling on the beach while we make dinner are forever imprinted on my mind.

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Categories: Bahia Handa State Park, Camping, Car camping, Ecosystems, family, Family camping, Florida Keys, Homeschooling, Snorkling | 1 Comment

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