Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Florida! - Where the Wild Things Are

We love zoos! After all, our house often resembles one. But there's just something about going to the zoo that is exciting and adventurous. And every zoo has a different set of animals, a different atmosphere.

That's why we were so excited to get to visit Disney's Animal Kingdom.

And just guess what the very first creature we saw when we walked in was.

It was that stinkin' grasshopper we saw back at the preserve! Having done his own research just days before, Jacob was quite an expert. An audience gathered as he gave an oral dissertation on the lubber grasshopper.

Once we got past the bugs, we headed straight for the Kilimanjaro Safari. Our first African safari!

OK, maybe it wasn't actually in Africa, but Disney did its best to make us believe we were.

While we were waiting in line (dang bugs slowed us down), I snapped a few pictures. When visiting a zoo or amusement park, I like taking pictures early in the day before the heat, humidity, and long-lines zap our energy.

Obviously, it had already been a long vacation and Big Dude was tired of having his picture taken. (I love his subtle hints.) Little Dude, on the other hand, made sure I took a few extra snaps of him. "Mommy, over here. Take a picture."

As for the safari? Awesome!

It was really, really humid that day. This guy had the right idea...

If I was wearing a fur coat, I'd probably just want to lay around all day too.

Between visiting Africa and Asia, we did manage to spend quite a bit of time visiting with Mickey and other Disney characters. But that's another post.
He posed himself and made me take a picture.

Feeling like globe-trotters, we headed over to Asia. Disney really made the place feel like Asia... it was jam-packed with people! I'm sure the Imagineers worked some special magic into making sure all the people converged somehow to make Asia feel so much more crowded than Africa.

It was a fabulous day. But like I said, it was extra humid. By late afternoon, even our own little Tasmanian devil was starting to run out of energy.

Or maybe he was just posing for another picture.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Florida! - The Last Shuttle Launch

One of the most exciting things our family has ever done is watch the final space shuttle launch!

We gathered at Titusville with 1 million other spectators to watch Atlantis leave for its final mission - delivering equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.

The streets of that small town were filled with people, cameras, and vendors. (My dad almost got run over by a ice cream truck... twice!) Excitement and humidity filled the air.

After claiming our spot in the crowd, my mom and I went over to Space View Park where news crews, families, and vendors selling frozen lemonade and tacos walked over plaques embedded in the sidewalk dedicated to various NASA space missions. We also went over to the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, which had a happy little gift shop filled with customers.

There was some worry that the launch would be delayed because of the cloud cover and the possibility of a storm on its way. NASA was going to proceed as planned and wait until the last minute before delaying anything. So when someone announced to all of us in the gift shop that the mission was a go, the place erupted in cheers!

Me and Mom
Ready with our cameras!

As it got closer to countdown, the crowd raised their cameras in anticipation. Some people actually let families with children move in for a better view (what a nice crowd!) and others had radios to let us all know when the countdown would begin.

Everyone counted down in unison.. ten... nine... eight... seven... six...

Five... four... three... two... one...

Titusville is 8-10 miles across the water from NASA's launch pad, and you could still hear the boom as the shuttle leaped into the air.

I doubt if Little Dude understood the significance of what he witnessed, but he was pretty excited about watching a shuttle blastoff.

It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event!

Another shuttle shot!

After lunch, we finally join the million other cars crowding the highway leading to Orlando. Traffic was so slow that we watched a minivan let out a mom and kid so they could walk up and down the highway (the kid was burning off some pent-up energy with his scooter). Little Dude fell asleep and the rest of us were still talking about the exciting event we just watched.

What a day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Florida! - Walks Like a Duck

Being the charmer that is, Little Dude made a friend while we stayed at Papa and Grandma's place.

Friends of a Feather

Little Dude looked forward to feeding the ducks almost as much as the ducks did! He was especially fond of the black duck, who was the more outgoing of the two feathered friends.

These ducks had Grandma trained before we arrived. They would waddle up every morning and evening for breakfast and dinner.

Sometimes the black duck would wait for us to return home after one of our outings. When Little Dude saw him, he would excitedly shout, "My friend! My friend!"

However, not all of us were fond of the ducks.  Maggie was quite duck-intolerant and tried to keep them away when she could.

The ducks share the pond (and the bread) with a bunch of box turtles and soft shell turtles. We had fun feeding them too!

There were also a few ibis that liked to hang around... especially when there were bites of bread being thrown around.

The RV resort also had resident iguanas who lived just a few spaces down. They were very fond of one of the ladies there and actually came up to her and licked her like some sort of scaly, reptilian puppy!

For the rest of us, the iguana kept their distance. Thank goodness! I'm not sure I could take being licked by an iguana!

We were happy enough with the ducks.

Now that he's back home, Little Dude misses his friend... and even calls Grandma to check on how the ducks are doing!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Florida! - A State of Differences

Since my parents live on a shelter island, we had to cross at least one bridge (usually several) to get anywhere. Several of those were drawbridges, which was exciting for us - although probably annoying for the locals.

This is something we're not used to where we live. No drawbridges here.

And the bridges weren't the only things that were completely different from what we categorize as "normal" at home.

For one... McDonald's Happy Meals. Seriously.

At home, the red box with the yellow smiley face on it no longer has cookies inside. In fact, I can't remember the last time it did. But down in Florida, we were shocked to see Little Dude pull out a bag of cookies! Our minds were racing: What?!? We're getting cheated out of cookies back home! Should I write a letter of complaint? How can I get some cookies?

Luckily for Hubby and I, Little Dude didn't want his cookies. We wandered down memory lane as we split the pack. They were just like we remembered. Yummm...

Another thing we had to get used to was how we ordered our tea. The following conversation took place at a few locations:

"We'd like one sweet tea and three regular teas."

"We don't have regular tea."


"We only have sweet tea and unsweetened tea."

It took a few times before I figured out that "regular" to us is unsweetened, but we were in the south where sweet tea is "regular." We probably confused them as much or more than they confused us.

One other linguistic difference we encountered involved what we call "Early Bird Dinner." At my parents' favorite restaurant - Panama Hattie's - it is romantically called "Sunset Dinner." The fact that it happens several hours before sunset wasn't lost on us. But that didn't keep us from enjoying our seafood.

Us at Panama Hattie's

Plus, Panama Hattie's was on the waterfront and had a view of one of those drawbridges.

And yes, we did order our tea correctly there!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Florida! - Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous

Since Hubby restores historic homes, my mom thought he would enjoy a tour of a historic mansion while we were in Florida. So we headed off to the Flagler Museum.

This charming, little bungalow for two was built as a wedding gift for Henry Flagler's 2nd wife. All she wanted was a cottage by the sea. I hope she was happy with the 75-room, 60,000 sq. foot winter home he created for her.

Top: The foyer. I think my entire house would fit in this room!
Middle Left: Even the ceilings were extravagent with detailed, gold-leafed moldings.
Bottom Left: More gold-leafing detail along the top of the stairwell. Not only expensive, but time-consuming too! And time is money!
Bottom Right: Marble staircases. Marble columns. Marble walls.

Flagler, who co-founded Standard Oil with Rockefeller, had quite a bit of spare pocket change. So he hired the best architects and designers.

Top Left: One of the 12 guest rooms.
Top Right: Each bedroom had a thermostat like this one.
Bottom Left: Every room had beautiful, ornate lighting fixtures. This one is simple compared to others.
Bottom Right: Even the servants rooms were nice.

Flagler ordered Whitehall to be "more wonderful than any palace in Europe, grander and more magnificent than any other private dwelling in the world..." And when it was finished in 1902, the home definitely was. It also had the most advanced technology of the time - electric lighting, central heat, telephones, and 22 bathrooms.

Yet, despite having 22 bathrooms, Mr. and Mrs. Flagler shared the master bath!

Top Left: All the bedrooms across the front of the house had adjoining doors.
Top Right: The veranda wrapped around the 2nd floor and looked down onto the courtyard.
Bottom Left & Right: The extra large master bathroom (complete with shower).

Flagler's 2nd wife, Mary Lily, was a musician. So, of course, they had a beautiful music room with several pianos and a pipe organ. She also had a grand piano in her sitting room, where she received her guests. And they employed an organist who lived at the mansion. Any time Flagler wanted to hear music, he would ring for the organist. Hmm... I think I'm in the wrong line of work!

My favorite room - the Music Room!

At some point in the tour, a small child awakened me from my stupor of looking at all the pretty things. Little Dude and Grandma had been making their own way through the museum armed with an activity book the museum created for kids.

Seriously, it was the BEST idea I've seen from a museum in a long time. Each page featured a different room in the museum and Little Dude had to search the room to find the pictures shown on the page. It was a live Seek-and-Search puzzle (Little Dude's favorite puzzle)!

The book kept Little Dude so busy that several people complimented him on how well-behaved he was.

Left: Papa reading about the mansion to Little Dude.
Right: Little Dude took Grandma for a spin (literally) in the foyer.

The mansion wasn't the only thing to see at the museum. Flagler also had his own private railcar. Since he built the railroads down to Florida (and hotels such as The Breakers) all the way to Key West, he needed his own railcar so he could oversee construction. It had an office, a space for the news reporters who travelled with him, a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and even a copper-lined shower!

Top Right: Little Dude showing off his 1st smashed penny.
Middle Left: Would you like a spot of tea? Little Dude is ready for kitchen duty!
Middle Right: Where the reporters stayed.
Bottom Left: The shower.

Top Left: Flagler used the lion motif throughout the property.

It was a perfect way to spend a rainy day.

Yours Truly with Little Dude and Hubby.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Florida! - A Tale of Turtles and Fish

One day in the middle of our fabulous trip to Florida, we dropped off the men so they could go deep-sea fishing. Then, my mom, Little Dude and I headed over to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. It's a non-profit dedicated to protecting sea turtles.

I've always had a soft spot for sea turtles, but they really cemented a place in a my heart a few years ago when I had a close encountered with one of these endangered creatures. My wonderful mom-in-law took us to Hawaii and my niece and I were swimming in a lagoon when I saw a strange head pop up just a few feet behind her. My protective-aunt instinct made me swim over to her to make sure some weirdo wasn't following her. But when I got to her, no one was around. As we started snorkling to the jetty again, I saw something moving in the water... a turtle! It was big! And I quickly realized it was the turtle's head I saw. Wow!

Now back to the LMC... when you first walk in, they have an educational display where you can learn about sea turtles and why they need our protection. Outside, they have some fun things to do...
He loves a good photo op!

...and rescued turtles to look at. Their sea turtle hospital was full while we were there.
Top Left: Kahuna, adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle - She is a shark attack victim.
Top Right: Twister, adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle - He was found ill and covered in barnacles.
Bottom Left: Princess, juvenile Green Sea Turtle - She was found washed up on the beach ill and covered in barnacles.
Bottom Right: Ryker, adult Loggerhead Sea Turtle - He was also beached and covered in barnacles. He also had an old injury that looks like he caught a fishing hook in his mouth and had it yanked out. Ouch! He was scheduled to be released on 7/20/11!
Each turtle has a plaque with listing its name, injury, treatment plan and prognosis. Little Dude liked looking at the sign showing how they repair broken shells by cleaning the bacteria out of the injured section and then filling it with a graft - much like how Little Dude's leg was repaired last year!

Kahuna and Little Dude

One turtle had a really sad tale. A Green Sea Turtle named Andre was brutally injured after being struck by several motor boat propellers. He had been a patient at the turtle hospital for over a year because his injuries were so severe. While we were there, we watched as they attached an IV to the poor guy.
Andre is a lot luckier than other turtles. He's going to survive what would have been a fatal injury. His release date is set for August 3rd.

The turtle hospital also takes care of hatchlings that don't make it to the ocean. There are many reasons the hatchlings don't make it to the ocean - the odds are stacked against them. Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings makes it to adulthood!

Next to the turtle hospital, there is an area for kids to have hands-on learning and for story and crafts time.
Little Dude checks out the trap door built for turtles to escape fishing nets.
Before long, it was time for us to go pick up the men from their deep-sea fishing adventure. (I hope they didn't snag any turtles with their hooks!) They came back victorious... well, at least one of them did. Hubby caught four fish! It was his first time fishing! He hooked a big "fake tuna," which wasn't worth anything so they tossed it back. Then he hooked one of those sucker fish that lives on sharks, which was also tossed back. Then finally, he caught two nice-sized yellow fins. And what did my dad bring home? The memories of spending a day with his son-in-law.
Top Left: Ready to be picked up.
Top Ready: "I caught one this big!" (The size of his first fish.)
Bottom Left: Successful fisherman.
Bottom Right: Catch of the day.
Actually, we all brought home pretty good memories of the day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Florida! - InvestiGATOR

There's a thrill you get when you find something that you searched long and hard for. Even if that something isn't the biggest or the strongest or the greatest, you still savor the fact that you finally found what you were looking for.

Our alligator hunting crew was thrilled when we finally spotted a wild gator!
It was only a baby gator, but I still wouldn't want to mess with this little guy!

After we had finally found our prey, the fun didn't stop!
Top Left: Little Dude loved checking out the microscopes back at the learning annex.
Top Right: Running off some energy on the boardwalk!
Bottom Left: Thankfully there were rocking chairs at little stops along the boardwalk. Perfect for sitting and enjoying the wildlife.
Bottom Right: An Anhinga dries its feathers giving Big Dude and Grandma a show!

Back at the trailhead there were lots of large grasshoppers. On our way in, Papa had caught one and let Little Dude touch it. On the way out, Little Dude finally had the courage to hold one!
The grasshopper was the size of Little Dude's hand!
There was so much to see - beautiful scenery, peaceful settings, wildlife, amazing texture and colors - that I was glad I brought two cameras on my vacation! I realized I had a shutterbug problem when I was worried about possibly filling up both memory cards!

Still, no amount of pictures could truly capture the beauty of Grassy Waters Preserve!

It was an adventurous day!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Florida! - Gator Hunting

We went alligator hunting while we were in Florida. We couldn't resist!

At the edge of the Everglades, there's a beautiful preserve called Grassy Waters, which was our hunting ground. We were hoping to spot a couple wild gators. Of course, we don't hunt with guns, but with our eyes... and cameras!

The alligators have a beautiful home.

We didn't see any gators in the marsh near the trail head, so we ventured along the wooden pathways further into the wetlands.
Our alligator hunting crew... ready to find wild gators!

Safe to say, we had no plans to "molest" any gators!

There was a lovely little learning annex not too far down the trail where Jacob spotted his first gator.
Sure, never smile at a crocodile, but you can grin at a gator all day long!

Although the real alligators were pretty elusive, there were still many interesting things to see along the trail.
Top Left: There were some spectacular spider webs to see.
Top Middle: The green lizards are the only ones native to Florida. Unfortunately, they're being overrun by all the other lizards, which are descended from pets that were let loose in the Everglades.
Top Right: Little Dude loved seeing all the dragonflies! They were everywhere!
Bottom Left: It was fun watching the Anhinga (a.k.a. American Darter) dive under the water to catch fish.
Bottom Right: Flying crane.
Left: The boardwalk where we finally caught sight of our prey!
Top Right: They are trying to breed more apple snails like this one, which is important to the ecosystem.
Bottom Right: A non-native lizard sunning himself.

So did we finally get to see a wild gator? I'll tell you in my next post!