Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Dear Lord,

Thank you for Jacob, Brie and Gavin.

I started a Bible study class a few weeks ago and I am enjoying the weekly lessons very much. I also started keeping a prayer journal. I know God knows all things, but in my journey to learn to pray more and talk to God more, I am keeping a journal also.

I struggle with finding the time to stick to my commitment with daily “Gavin” activities, household chores, therapies, art and dance classes, etc, etc. I’m determined to finish what I started though! Three weeks down, ten to go.

We all know the struggles families face trying to get it all done. Throw in double ear infections, your husband being out of town and a school project and things quickly fall behind. I would love to write a detailed summary of all the wonderful things going on in our home, but one of my prayer journal entries will have to do.

Dear Lord,

I come to you today with a heavy heart about so many things, but you already know what these things are and I know you are holding me firmly through them. Today instead of laying more of my grief into your hands I want to say thank you for a few of my many blessing you have given me. Given us.

I am so thankful for Jacob. He is an inspiration to me and to everyone he comes in contact with in his life. He constantly amazes me. I am so proud of his recent advancements in Boy Scouts. Jacob is now a First Class ranked Boy Scout! He also earned his Carpentry and Forestry merit badges over the past few weeks. These are difficult accomplishments that took a lot of time and effort. Thank you for the wonderful group of men and women at Troop 23 who put so much time into working with Jacob and thank you for Thomas who puts in countless hours making sure Jacob gets to Boy Scouts and works with him to make sure he gets everything finished and understands what he is doing. I am also extremely proud of Jacob for making the A/B Honor Roll on his recent report card. Eighth grade is not easy and he is working so hard. I am very thankful, Lord, that you brought both Jacob and Thomas back home safely to me from their trip to Pensacola to see the Blue Angels. They both said they had a wonderful time and were able to have some much needed time together to remember what it is like to be best buddies and enjoy boy stuff. I worry so much about us growing apart from our children as they get older. Times like TD and Jacob shared this weekend are so few and precious. I am thankful they were able to spend this much needed time together. I was also very proud to watch Jacob march in the Veteran’s Day Parade last week with his troop. I pray that all three of my children will always appreciate their freedom and love our country.

Thank you, Lord, for Brie. Wow, she is so bright and shiny! Even in our moments of clashing I can feel the beautiful force she carries inside her all the time. I am also extremely proud of her for making the A/B Honor Roll. Her Math and Science Magnet classes are very hard and I know at times she thinks she can’t do them. Thank you for helping us push her and encourage her to do well. It is so hard at times. Please help me remind her everyday that she can do it, that she is smart enough and if she continues to do her best she will come out at the top. I am thankful that Brie was brave enough to enter her first oil painting in the Fine Arts Youth Competition at the North Florida Fair this month. Even though she didn’t place I was incredibly proud to see her art displayed in a public place to be shown off to everyone we know. I love her apple. It would be the one I would want to eat for sure. I love all of Brie’s artwork. I thought it was the best apple by far, but I know it is always about doing your best and not being afraid to jump in with all your heart. Putting yourself out there. If you don’t take the chance you will never have the experience, regardless of whether you win or lose. Thank you for creating Brie with creativity and color in her spirit, heart and soul. She truly is so beautiful, inside and out. I can’t wait to see the piece she is working on now. I am also enjoying watch Brie dance every week. I’ve always thought she was built to be a dancer, but I was worried about her giving up soccer and going back to dance, especially after being out for three years. I think it was a good choice for her. She is working hard and doing a great job and once again I can see that she loves to dance like she did when she was younger. I am very thankful for that hour each week when I can just sit and be entertained by only her. It feels good to be able to give her all of my attention.

Dear Lord, thank you for Gavin. He is a true blessing for us all. It is hard to believe he will be 19 months this week. The time seems to go by faster and faster the more I wish for it to slow down. As Gavin grows and changes with new discoveries every day, I could write a book of all of the little things he does that make me proud. Like starting to sing his A B Cs or counting. He counted to ten twice now! He knows all of his shapes and is doing well learning his colors. Thank you for making him so vocal. There isn’t much he can’t say and say fairly clear. A child without good communication skills would get lost in the circus at our house. Gavin can very much hold his own in any conversation we are having! I was very proud of the recent results of Gavin’s “First Words” evaluation through the Florida State School of Medicine. He scored on and above a two year old level with his speech and communication skills. I am also very proud of him for successfully moving from his crib into a toddler bed. We are on day 11 and he has not climbed out once. Lord, more sleep is really a blessing!

I am so thankful for all three of my children. I am thankful for every kiss, every hug, every text, every sigh, every good and bad moment I have with them. You have truly blessed me with very unique and special children. Please continue to help me be a better mom to them and always show them love. The unconditional love that you show all of us.

Thank you, Lord!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something no one wants to talk about....

Pregnancy loss. 

The loss of an unborn child. 

The loss of a baby.

No one knows what to say or how to handle a Mom, a Father or a couple that has suffered the loss of an unborn child. 

After suffering an ectopic pregnancy at 6 weeks in 2006, and a miscarriage at 9.5 weeks and another ectopic at almost 7 weeks this year I am still trying to figure out how to feel much less how to react to others.  I wanted and loved all of my babies and I am heartbroken that I have to wait until I get to heaven to hold them.  I know how very blessed I am to have Jacob, Brie and Gavin and do not take them for granted.  It doesn't stop the hurt of what I have lost.

Every loss has been different for me.  I have dealt with them each differently.  I am coping now with the most recent loss and the fact that I may never be able to conceive another child.  My miscarriage in May was not as 'scary' as internal bleeding and emergency ectopic pregnancy surgery, but it was by far the hardest.  I saw my baby's heartbeat.  I had dreams for my baby.  I had names chosen and I had plans. I am still mourning the loss of my baby due December 8, 2010.  One of my close friends gave me a book called A Rose In Heaven.  It is a Christan based book of hope and healing.  It has helped me.  I would recommend it for any Mommy dealing with the loss of a baby.         

Also, I received this letter recently and it brought me to tears.  I may not agree with everything it says, but I was very moved by it.  Another mom who has suffered the great loss of an unborn baby shared it with me.   

I wanted to post it on our blog to share with all of you, to share with everyone that may come across this blog.  Not necessarily for me, but for anyone in your lifetime that you may encounter that is living with or through the loss of an unborn child or a baby born stillborn.

When trying to help a woman who has lost a baby, the best rule of thumb is a matter of manners: don't offer your personal opinion of her life, her choices, her prospects for children. No woman is looking to poll her acquaintances for their opinions on why it happened or how she should cope.

• Don't say, "It's God's Will." Even if we are members of the same congregation, unless you are a cleric and I am seeking your spiritual counseling, please don't presume to tell me what God wants for me. Besides, many terrible things are God's Will, that doesn't make them less terrible.

• Don't say, "It was for the best - there was probably something wrong with your baby." The fact that something was wrong with the baby is what is making me so sad. My poor baby never had a chance. Please don't try to comfort me by pointing that out.

• Don't say, "You can always have another one." This baby was never disposable. If had been given the choice between loosing this child or stabbing my eye out with a fork, I would have said, "Where's the fork?" I would have died for this baby, just as you would die for your children.

• Don't say, "Be grateful for the children you have." If your mother died in a terrible wreck and you grieved, would that make you less grateful to have your father?

• Don't say, "Thank God you lost the baby before you really loved it." I loved my son or daughter. Whether I lost the baby after two weeks of pregnancy or just after birth, I loved him or her.

• Don't say, "Isn't it time you got over this and moved on?" It's not something I enjoy, being grief-stricken. I wish it had never happened. But it did and it's a part of me forever. The grief will ease on its own timeline, not mine - or yours.

• Don't say, "Now you have an angel watching over you." I didn't want her or him to be my angel. I wanted her or him to bury me in my old age.

• Don't say, "I understand how you feel." Unless you've lost a child, you really don't understand how I feel. And even if you have lost a child, everyone experiences grief differently.

• Don't tell me horror stories of your neighbor or cousin or mother who had it worse. The last thing I need to hear right now is that it is possible to have this happen six times, or that I could carry until two days before my due-date and labor 20 hours for a dead baby. These stories frighten and horrify me and leave me up at night weeping in despair. Even if they have a happy ending, do not share these stories with me.

• Don't pretend it didn't happen and don't change the subject when I bring it up. If I say, "Before the baby died" or "when I was pregnant" don't get scared. If I'm talking about it, it means I want to. Let me. Pretending it didn't happen will only make me feel utterly alone.

• Don't say, "It's not your fault." It may not have been my fault, but it was my responsibility and I failed. The fact that I never stood a chance of succeeding only makes me feel worse. This tiny little being depended upon me to bring him safely into the world and I couldn't do it. I was supposed to care for him for a lifetime, but I couldn't even give him a childhood. I am so angry at my body you just can't imagine.

• Don't say, "Well, you weren't too sure about this baby, anyway." I already feel so guilty about ever having complained about morning sickness, or a child I wasn't prepared for, or another mouth to feed that we couldn't afford. I already fear that this baby died because I didn't take the vitamins, or drank too much coffee, or had alcohol in the first few weeks when I didn't know I was pregnant. I hate myself for any minute that I had reservations about this baby. Being unsure of my pregnancy isn't the same as wanting my child to die - I never would have chosen for this to happen.

• Do say, "I am so sorry." That's enough. You don't need to be eloquent. Say it and mean it and it will matter.

• Do say, "You're going to be wonderful parents some day," or "You're wonderful parents and that baby was lucky to have you." We both need to hear that.

• Do say, "I have lighted a candle for your baby," or "I have said a prayer for your baby." Do send flowers or a kind note - every one I receive makes me feel as though my baby was loved. Don't resent it if I don't respond. Don't call more than once and don't be angry if the machine is on and I don't return your call. If we're close friends and I am not responding to your attempts to help me, please don't resent that, either. Help me by not needing anything from me for a while.

If you're my boss or my co-worker:

• Do recognize that I have suffered a death in my family - not a medical condition.

• Do recognize that in addition to the physical aftereffects I may experience, I'm going to be grieving for quite some time. Please treat me as you would any person who has endured the tragic death of a loved one - I need time and space.

Please don't bring your baby or toddler into the workplace. If your niece is pregnant, or your daughter just had a baby, please don't share that with me right now. It's not that I can't be happy for anyone else, it's that every smiling, cooing baby, every glowing new mother makes me ache so deep in my heart I can barely stand it. I may look okay to you, but there's a good chance that I'm still crying every day. It may be weeks before I can go a whole hour without thinking about it. You'll know when I'm ready - I'll be the one to say, "Did your daughter have her baby?" or, "How is that precious little boy of yours? I haven't seen him around the office in a while."

Above all, please remember that this is the worst thing that ever happened to me. The word "miscarriage" or "ectopic" is small and easy. But my baby's death is monolithic and awful. It's going to take me a while to figure out how to live with it. Bear with me. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keys Adventure 2010

One of my most favorite vacations my parents took me on as a kid was the Big Pine Key Campground week-long Keys visit. Snorkeling at Bahia Honda, swimming in a school of HUGE tarpon under the Big Pine bridge, visiting Key West… I loved it all. Tammy was fortunate enough to go on a sailing trip in Key Largo when she was younger too, having many of same feelings towards the Keys as I have. But she had never been south of Key Largo, and the kids had never been south of Miami. When I first met Tammy, we tried planning a trip to the Keys, but never made it happen. After I graduated FSU and took the position I have now, summer vacations were not doable, so the Key West trip sat on the back burner for a few years. This year, though, my wonderful boss let me have a week off in June so I could take my family on our first family summer vacation! Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done so many cool things over the past few years, and the kids’ summer schedules are packed constantly, but we’ve never taken an extended trip with just us during the summer. And I must say that our trip lived up to every expectation that we had, and SO much more!

Jacob and Brie got out of school at noon on June 4, 2010. We picked them up from school, van packed to the roof, and left to spend the night in St. Pete. Mom and Dad agreed to watch the dogs for a week, and we wanted to break up the trip as much as possible (not to mention, I love being in St. Pete with the fam, and it’s always nice to spend some time with the ‘rents and for them to get to see the grandchildren!). We, or at least I, went to bed fairly early since I wanted to get on the road early. Like 5am early. I woke everyone up on Saturday morning, put them in the car and started driving. I’ve driven to the Keys several times, most of which were in college, and I can say that I honestly didn’t remember a thing about getting down there. Maybe it was the construction, maybe it was me… Anyways, I thought it would take 7 hours or so. To my surprise, as the sun crept up at 7:45, I was already on Alligator Alley, past the Miccosukee Indian Reservation exit and well on the way to Miami, everyone but Tammy still sleeping!

Day 1: Islamorada and Marathon

Day 1’s destination was the Kingsail Resort in Marathon, but there was a lot on the agenda before we’d see Marathon! Our first stop was the World Wide Sportsman (Bass Pro Shops) in Islamorada. A little smaller than most Bass Pro’s, but it was the perfect way to kick off our Keys adventure! They have a marina so you can get to the shop by water. Before we went inside we headed to see the crystal clear water on the docks. Not 5 minutes into the first stop and we got to see our first monster tarpon circling the docks! This would be a theme we’d come to love by Day 7! As would the wild chicken running around out in front of the store! We went inside for a little while, saw the tank, bought some fishing stuff, like the barracuda tube that we never got to use, a shirt for Jacob and a Mahi Mahi pillow for Gavin, and relaxed in the A/C. When in the Keys, A/C is heaven. It is hot. Extremely hot. Wicked, melt your skin off hot.

After looking around, it was about lunchtime, Gavin was hungry (as were the rest of us), so we headed down the road a few miles to our next stop, the Hungry Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina. A nice little diner type restaurant that advertized “award-winning” Cubans. The kids got Cubans, Tam and I split some fish tacos and a salad. The Cubans were ok, the fish tacos were out of this world! Loved ‘em! After lunch we went to the docks to see the commotion, the reason for stopping at Robbie’s. For a few bucks, you got a bucket of baitfish to feed the HUGE tarpon right off the dock! It was Jacob and Brie’s (and Tammy’s) first time feeding fish like this and it was AWESOME! Some of tarpon were as big as me, some much smaller, all with equally voracious appetites! We bought a bucket, then another, then another. We spent a good 30 minutes out there feeding the tarpon, laying on the dock and reaching down to the water until they blasted out of the water to grab the fish! What a great time! Brie was the bravest of the three, though Tammy did get down there once or twice herself! Gavin loved watching everyone. We walked around the open market for a while, until we were too hot to think! We loaded up and headed to Marathon. Kingsail Resort, baby!

For those of you who have never been to the Keys, most hotels/motels (with the exception of the Hilton’s and Hyatt’s) are more or less mom and pop places. Nothing was too lavish, especially in the middle Keys. Pulling in to the Kingsail, Tammy and I looked at each other like, “Really?” It would come to be the best place we stayed, hands down. Our room had a kitchenette, it was clean, all tile, near the pool. It was everything we asked for. We had a little screened in porch which kept Gavin from running around the place, which was nice. Laid back for sure. After getting settled in, we drove around to see Marathon. We rode the 7 Mile Bridge to a little park where we got in the water for a minute. We saw the research facility (I think that’s what it is, halfway down the bridge) and loved the clear water! We stopped at some little shops, tourist places, and then headed back to the Kingsail. We had a cooler dinner (sandwiches and fruit) and relaxed for our big day at Bahia Honda!

Day 2: Bahia Honda State Park

I remember Bahia Honda being the coolest place I’ve ever been. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t swim under the bridge like I had when I was younger, but it was a great place to start the underwater adventure! We went to the _____ beach first, on the gulf side, north of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. It was our first snorkeling destination, and although it wasn’t the reef like I remember, it was pretty cool. We tested the new Canon Powershot D10 here for the first time, and thank god it worked! We snorkeled the rocks and saw some snapper, grunts, lobster and some little colorful fish and got some great underwater pics of all of it! We found a crazy little sea robin, a funky crab (a leopard crab, maybe?) and some little Sergeant Majors. Pretty good for the first site. We took a walk around the park, ate some lunch and went to the south side of the island for round 2 of snorkeling. Tammy and I switched between sitting in the car with sleeping Gavin and hangin’ with Jacob and Brie in the water. It worked out great. Again, more great pictures underwater. Couldn’t have been happier with the camera (until last week, but that’s another story).

We left late afternoon, went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and find a place to eat. We checked out several places. We wanted to go to the Island Fish Company, but all seating was outside, and it was hot. We drove back into Marathon. One of the places I looked up before we went down was closed down, another wasn’t open on Sundays. We ended up at Fat Buoys Bar & Grille. It was, hot. And not very good for a seafood restaurant on the water in the Keys. Tammy’s grouper sandwich looked like a piece of ham, so thin and tiny. Sad looking, with a slice of yellow American cheese. Very disappointed. After eating, we drove down to Sombrero Beach to check it out for the next morning. We were leaving Monday to head to Key West, so we wanted to do something small in the morning. Tammy tried to do laundry Sunday night, but laundry was a DISASTER! Hotel washing machine was broken, laundry mat wasn’t open, and when we finally got to it when it was open, they wanted $20.00 a load it seemed. Laundry was an issue that went way beyond the two or three sentences here, but just know that it really bothered Tammy NOT to do laundry. Withdrawals! It rained that night, so we were packing up in the morning, wet, but ready to head on down to the fun!

Day 3: Big Pine Key and Key West

We woke up and tried to do some fishing at Sombrero Beach before we departed for the Lower Keys. No luck. Saw some tarpon not too far off of where we were, but they were out of casting distance. We tooled around for a little bit (Tammy took Brie and Gavin up to a shop they wanted to go to) and then packed up the poles and headed out!

We didn’t make it very far from the park when Tammy said she thought she saw an iguana in the road. Thought she was crazy. She most definitely wasn’t! We turned around and sure enough, there was a big iguana, ridges and all, sitting in the middle of a side road. We turned down the road to see him and found a little iguana invasion! There were 5 or 6 iguanas on the sea wall, jumping in the water, running. It definitely had our attention for a few minutes. We got our iguana fix and returned to the mission.

So, Big Pine is famous for its Key Deer, a little species of deer native to the one key. They are about the size of dogs and are protected since there aren’t very many of them. Large fences line the Overseas Highway throughout Big Pine Key to keep the deer away from motorists. We drove by the Big Pine Key Campground where I stayed with my family 10 years ago… how nostalgic! We caught a glimpse of one of the deer, but I wanted everyone to get a close-up. We kept driving and got to a small residential area where there were Key Deer in the yards! We stopped and watched for a minute. Cute little animals, but Daddy was ready for some Key Lime Pie from the original Key West Key Lime Pie Company on Big Pine Key! We actually passed the KWKLPC to go to Blue Hole, the only freshwater pond in the entire Keys! It was only a minute or two walk to get to the pond. We didn’t see any of the alligators, but we did get to see some rather large fish swimming in the hole. Apparently, tidal floods a few years back brought some fish into the pond where they became locked. Most died, but several learned how to survive in fresh water. Blue Hole is now home to freshwater tarpon, and we got to see them! They were crashing the top of the water like big bass, eating bugs that were landing on the water. It was really cool to see. On the way back to the KWKLPC, we pulled over and took some pictures of the fire station down there. It had a really great mural on the side. Thought dad would like to see it!

We got to the Winn Dixie shopping center, home of my Key Lime Pie heaven! Oh, there was a chicken running around the parking lot that Jacob swears he touched… It was really fast, and Jacob was a little chicken himself! Tammy and Brie went in and got us all a slice of the good stuff while I stayed in the car with Gavin. We ate our pie and after looking for another laundry mat (this was the point where we gave up looking) we continued our journey to MM0.

Lots of beautiful water, and beautiful houses as we got closer to Key West. The Keys themselves were getting smaller. There were several that were as wide as the road and not an inch wider! We stopped in Stock Island to eat some BK (authentic Key West cuisine, I know), and ventured to the city to find our hotel. We finally made it to the beginning of the Southernmost city in the U.S.! Roosevelt splits at the beginning of Key West, so went right, as I’ve always done. The GPS was losing signal, and obviously MapQuest had never been to our hotel either. Needless to say, we drove around, taking in the sights for a little while until we got GPS service. We drove down to Duval, took a quick driving tour of some of the more traveled streets like Simonton and White, and headed back to our luxury pad!

The Days Inn Key West. Well, it was a Days Inn. With a Waffle House. The people were really friendly, which was more than I expected. The non-smoking room sign was obviously too inconspicuous, because it reeked. No fridge, small, but with a pool view… YEAY! As much as I disliked the place, it was what it was, a place to crash. We didn’t spend very much time there, and although it would’ve been nice to have nicer accommodations, it suited us for the next 3 days. We unpacked, got dressed and cruised right back down to Duval!

It wasn’t as crazy as I remember, which was a good thing. There were quite a few strollers out other than ours, which was nice to see. We stopped at art galleries, t-shirt stores and souvenir stands. We shopped until we were hungry, and then we found one of the must-do’s while in Key West, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Restaurant! I must say that Jacob was the most excited about it, with the rest of us coming a close second. I ordered a frozen strawberry margarita (yes, yes I did). Tammy got a margarita on the rocks, Brie got a frozen pina colada (sin rum) and Jacob got a coke. Typical Jacob style! Tammy’s Calypso Snapper was great, and I think mine and Jacob’s Cheeseburgers in Paradise were the best hamburgers ever made. Ever. Even had the Heinz 57. Whoa. Brie got a Cuban and G got some shrimp… I think. It was a delicious meal! We went into the Margaritaville store and got some goodies, and then made our way to Mallory Square for the famous sunset. The sunset was a disappointment at Mallory Square because we couldn’t see it! There’s an island off the tip that blocks the sunset from the docks. We would search for a better place (which we found on the last night!), but it was to the room for some sleep after the sunset. We had a busy day ahead of us on Tuesday.

Day 4: Key West- Attractions!

Jacob had asked numerous times before we started if we were going to see the Southernmost Point. I guess there’s a story on his dad’s side of the family that he loves. It was a beautiful morning, and it was in the area we were heading, so we decided to go to it first. We parked in front of the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (that’s where we were headed next!) and walked down to South and Whitehead to get our famous “Southernmost Point Photo!” Conch Tour trains passed us, people were everywhere, smiling and snapping pictures. We passed all sorts of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts on the walk, which were really neat. We stayed a few minutes, took in the area, and headed back to Duval for the Grand Opening of our day!

As many times as I’d looked at the website, you’d think I’d have a pretty good idea about what we were going to see at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Wrong again, my friend! Walking into the entrance/gift shop was amazing! Butterfly stuff everywhere! Post Cards, jewelry, mobiles, bells, toys, books, stuffed animals… You name it. There was a room dedicated to these absolutely beautiful glass display cases that were designs made out of butterflies (Sounds cruel, but it isn’t. Did you know that the adult lifespan of a butterfly is 10 days? They farm these butterflies to live in the gardens somewhere else and they use them once they die to create the displays.).

Note to self: Christmas comes in December. Tammy loved the butterfly displays.

We all loved the garden. Tammy the most. There were all sorts of butterflies, big and small, colored, dull. And there were birds! Finches and canaries, and these little Chinese Dwarf Quail. Gavin LOVED them! A coi pond, brick walkways, running water. Really well done. The humidity killed me, I must say. I could’ve just hopped out of the shower and you wouldn’t have known the difference. Gavin was a little grumpy, so he and I sat down and watched people pass and watched the little quail while Tammy and the kids wandered. It’s good luck for a butterfly to land on you, and Brie had one land on her leg! We found a baby quail that was the size of a half dollar, maybe. Tiny little thing. It was cute. I haven’t seen Tammy smile that much for that long in quite some time. I love seeing my family happy, and they were. Tammy got a snow globe to add to her collection and Brie got a necklace. Both very nice choices!

We spent nearly 2 hours at the KWB&NC. We left around noon, found our trusty metered parking spot on the 300 block of Whitehead Street, and headed down Duval towards Mallory Square. We stopped and ate lunch at Big ‘Uns, an open air bar connected to a pizza place and… fully equipped with A/C! The pizza was great, the rum runners were cold, and we were out of the sun for a little bit. What a great place! Gavin got a few minutes of sleep in before we left sanctuary for the brutal sun. Next stop, FuryCat Glassbottom boat tour!

Our tour started at 2:00, and we were there early, waiting. The Cat was a pretty cool boat, and it held a ton of people. Gavin was super grouchy from the beginning, so we did what we could to make the best of the situation. Jacob wasn’t feeling well either. I think we were all pushing ourselves pretty hard. Cramming all that Key West has to offer in a few days is hard work! We rode on the bow of the boat out 6 miles or so to the reef. Tammy, Jacob and Brie went up top to get a better view at one point. We passed the Royal Caribbean cruise ship… It was rather large! The viewing area was in the bottom of the catamarans, so it was like 10 feet below where we could stand. We got to listen to the narrator tell us about the Queen Angels, Parrotfish and all sorts of other reef fish for about an hour. The other side saw a sea turtle. We didn’t. I ended up having to take Gavin outside during the viewing. He wasn’t havin’ it. We went out on the bow, by ourselves, which ended up being a great thing. I got to see a shark, 2 Tripletails, a ‘cuda, and lots of other fish as we passed over shallow parts of reefs. Another successful activity! I’m glad the kids got to see the reef. I think we’ll do a snorkeling trip to the reef next time we come down!

The boat returned exactly when it said it would. Guess they had a schedule to keep! We took a different route back to the car, passing by the Aquarium (which we were visiting the next day) and the mall. It was time to head back to hotel for naps. The kids got to swim in the pool, Tammy and I got to relax… No, wait. I got to relax while Gavin slept. Tammy did laundry! We had another busy day on Wednesday, so we opted to eat at the Waffle House at the lobby. The downtime was nice. The kids went back in the pool. Tammy and I walked Gavin around the hotel grounds. There were rocks, and Gavin loves rocks, so we sat and played with rocks for a little bit. This was the extent of our relaxing vacation! We went to bed with thoughts of another full day ahead of us.

Day 5: Key West- More Attractions!

Just a t-shirt didn’t help. I think naked with a fan wouldn’t have helped either. It was hot. We found our trusty Whitehead parking spot (where I ended up getting a ticket at on Day 4, but I really did pay and sent the proof to the Traffic Division who rescinded the fine, I guess, because I haven’t heard from them since), kicked it down Duval, did some early morning shopping at Ron Jon’s and Guy Harvey’s Restaurant and Gift Shop (AWESOME!), and then made it to the Conch Train Depot for our Key West Conch Train Tour!

It was another rough morning with Gavin, who was obviously starting to wish for home. We boarded the train at Mallory Square. Tammy, Brie and Gavin sat in a forward facing seat and Jacob and I sat in the rear facing seat in front of them so we could see each other. The tour was very informative, and if I wasn’t worried about Tammy the whole time (who was worried about Gavin being in the sun and dealing with the temper tantrums and screaming), then I think we would’ve all enjoyed it much more. We made it through most of the tour (the first hour out of the hour and a half), getting to ride by Hemmingway’s house, The Pelican Poop Bar (I think that was the name… It definitely had “poop” in the name.), and the Southernmost Point and learning all sorts of cool historical and architectural facts about Key West. I finally heard the entire “Conch Republic” story, which I had only heard bits and pieces of in the past. I get it now! The train made one stop after an hour, back at the depot, before departing for the remainder of the tour. We thanked the conductor and high-tailed it to the Key West Aquarium, looking forward to the indoors, and most of all, our friend, A/C!

It was a sick joke, building an aquarium without air conditioning. How do the fish survive? The aquarium was small, but for what it was, there was a lot to see, and it was very entertaining. There’s a touch tank as soon as you walk in the door which the kids loved. Sea turtles and nurse sharks were in the next two tanks in the center of the room. Small aquariums lined the walls and had all sorts of cool stuff. Loved the Goggle Eye! There were 2 outside exhibits, one with sharks and one that was a mangrove estuary with tarpon and reds. Gavin ran around, back and forth from the center tanks to the wall tanks. Tammy and I took turns chasing him and walking with Jacob and Brie. We sat outside at the estuary bench and planned our afternoon.

We wanted to visit the Toy Shop in the mall for Jacob and then we were planning on grilling out at a state park we heard about when we were on the Glassbottom boat. We left the Aquarium and walked to the next door (which was great) into the mall. The Key West Toy Factory reminded me of The Rainforest CafĂ©. There were trees making an entrance way that led into a ship that had huge animals hanging from the ceiling! It was designed really well, and the kids loved it. There was a kiddo play area for little ones, an area for bigger kids, a magic room, a boy section and a girl section. If you want to kill some time, it was worth seeing! 

We got in the van and headed to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, which was the nearest place with a grill. I’d had the hotdogs in the cooler since Day 1 and was determined to eat them! We had a picnic in the sun, which was actually very nice. We checked out the beach and noticed some huge rock piles off the beach (And because I haven’t mentioned it yet, here you go: Beaches in Key West are not beaches as you think of beaches in Florida. They are rocks. Very misleading to use the term “beach.” There was nothing wonderful about having to say “ouch!” every step just to get in the water. Sharp, big rocks,) that people were swimming at. We decided to check it out. BINGO! We had found the coolest place to snorkel yet! Tammy took the first Gavin watch, driving him around until he fell asleep, while I went with the kids (Yeah, I know. I won that time. It was awesome! But Tammy got to snorkel too, so we were both happy.). We got lots and lots of great underwater pictures here too!

It was amazing. We saw Grouper, Angelfish, Parrotfish, lobster and tons of little reef fish. We were swimming in a huge bait pod that surrounded the rocks, and it looked like one of the Discovery Channel shows where there are tons of fish that get spooked and all dart the same direction… So cool. We even saw a huge Starfish off the second rock pile! I set up the sun shade for Gavin when he woke up and we played on the beach (Rocks, remember? Gavin loves rocks.). Tammy and Brie found this little fish that was protecting his territory. They would swim up to it and it would attack the mask. Little napoleon fish! We all had a great time. Someone (maybe the guard at the entrance?) told us that this was the best place for a sunset in Key West. We stayed. It did not disappoint. Some of the most memorable pictures from the trip came that night when we watched the sunset. Tarpon were rolling, a few sailboats were cruising by, the sun was perfect. Jacob and Brie played on the rocks, Tammy and I watched them and Gavin. It was beautiful. The perfect end to a wonderful night, and a wonderful Key West adventure!

We ate at Outback and went back to hotel to pack up. We were still debating what we were doing on Thursday (driving home or trying to find a spot to stay in Key Largo), but we tabled the discussions until the morning. We had a lot of work to do to get ready to come back to reality.

Day 6: Key Largo

We got up, happily checked out of the Days Inn, and began the drive east, back towards Miami. We decided not to stay in Key Largo, but that we’d stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for a short visit to break up the trip. Glad we did! We went on a nature boardwalk when we got in the park, then headed for Canon Beach. The park sunk some canons and anchors to make a wreck that people could snorkel around. Not impressive. The water was really murky and the “reef” was covered in silt. It wasn’t a very pretty “beach” either. Tammy kept telling me that she saw stuff on the top of the water, but I was too busy trying to find the wreck that I didn’t notice. Right out off the beach the water dropped off to somewhere around 30 feet. There were scuba divers under us (I knew because I went down to find out where the bubbles were coming from, and they were really far down!). I swam out into the hole after seeing the fin that Tammy kept seeing. TARPON! A whole school of tarpon. Sitting in the hole, chillin’. I grabbed Jacob and Tammy first after I made a few rounds to make sure there weren’t any other big swimming creatures around me and brought them out to swim in the school! It was AWESOME!!! It was still murky, so I don’t think Jacob saw the ones I was pointing out until a huge one swam right in front of his face. Inches. They must’ve felt like centimeters because before I could say, “WHOA!” he was back at the surface. He did great though, and I’m so glad we got to experience that. Swimming with the tarpon with my dad in Big Pine Key is one of my favorite outdoor memories. I hope Jacob will remember it forever! Tammy and Brie came out too, and both did excellent. Swimming with fish that big is intimidating, but everyone did it. It was a great way to end the trip!

We started on Saturday. Six days and 1,258 pictures later, we ended our vacation on a great note. I wish there was a road sign that said, “If you want to avoid freakin’ Miami at all costs, drive this way.” I would’ve taken it. After a slight detour and some zig-zagging through Homestead, we were put on Krome Ave. by the GPS. N-I-G-H-T-M-A-R-E! We eventually made it back to a real road thanks to my wife’s navigation (seriously, she did awesome). The trip back to St. Pete felt twice as long as it did coming down! We stopped at Cracker Barrel for some down home cookin’ that we’d missed over the past week. We made it back to Mom and Dad’s around 10pm. Not terrible, but definitely ready to get out the van!

This might have been the best trip we've been on as a family.  We're still talking about the things we did, and I have a feeling we will be for a long time to come.  Thank you to everyone who helped make it possible for us (Mom and Dad, that's you two!  Thanks for taking care of the dogs, letting us crash and everything in between!).  Maybe next year we'll be coming back in August... with a cooler full of lobster!

(Written by TD)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Art Attack Camp

Brie went to camp at The Brush and Palette this past week.  She took The Art of Collage class and made some really beautiful pieces. 
Brie learned to work in several mediums and made 5 different collages. 
She loved everything she made, but her favorite piece she created was The Peacock.  

She plans on attending Art classes there in the fall and hopes to learn "Drawing" and "Sculpture."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Gavin's 15 Month Old Photos from Casey Yu Photography

In May of 2010 we entered Gavin into an "Adorable Kiddo Tallahassee" photo contest with Casey Yu Photography and he won 1st Place!!!!

On July 10th we met Mrs. Casey Yu at Dorothy B. Oven Park and she followed Gavin around taking pictures of him while he explored the park.  She was very sweet and did a great job, interacting with Gavin and keeping up with him.  Below are my favorite pictures from the photo session.

Thank you so much to those of you who took the time to vote for Gavin.  TD and I think he is the most adorable, but it's nice to know others do too!!  Thank you, Casey, for a wonderful experence.