Florida

You might well ask what kind of mad people would choose to vacation in Florida in June. These are the faces of mad ladies and gentlemen:

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Well, Ba Noi isn’t crazy – she stayed safe and sound in Massachusetts.

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But this one is clearly crazy. We’re having landscaping work at our new house, and Linus is quite taken with the man who’s doing it. Whenever he’s here working, Linus runs right out to get his wheelbarrow and work alongside him. And of course he’s protecting our investment with diligent watering each evening. I suppose he figured that if some water helps the plants grow, maybe it will make him taller too?

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But I didn’t explain our trip, which I assume you’ll realize is a bit out of charater. Florida? But everyone goes there! In June? No one goes there then! Well, maybe you remember our friends, Peter and Cindy (and their son Jamie), whom we met in Costa Rica eight years ago, and with whom we’ve recently visited the Azores and London. They decided that Jamie is up for a bigger trip (i.e., out of Europe), and selected Florida. It made sense: big and varied enough to travel around for three weeks without having to spend more than three hours in the car between destinations. They invited us to join them, and we selected the “left coast” (as Peter called it), and headed down to Tampa.

Linus and Mina were immediately happy with our selection when they discovered Tampa has a long tram at the airport.

Here we are at dinner the first night, a Cuban restaurant. Everyone looks normal except our children!

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They’re no fools, these Floridians, so they’ve installed pools and spray decks all over so you can get the kids outside and away from air conditioning. Of course the spray decks always have playgrounds next door.

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Mina seems confused. “Wait, I’m not supposed to get wet?”

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There’s Jamie! I really enjoyed watching him run around with the other kids at the park. It never ceases to amaze me how little kids care if there’s a common language. Play is universal, I suppose, and you can mime, “It’s my turn next with the giant water cannon” fairly easily.

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This is next door to the spray deck/playground. There are signs all around warning about alligators and manatees (don’t get hurt and then don’t hurt), but we never saw either during this trip. I believe it’s the wrong season for the sensitive manatees.

The building in the background with all of the umbrellas is an old warehouse that’s been turned into a giant dining hall full of different restaurants, seating, and live music. We ended up there for dinner two different nights.

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When Mina looked at these photos with me, she said, “Oh, that’s the place where I spilled tea.” Yep. All over Cindy.

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After dinner Yen took all three kids to buy ice cream. I think Peter and Cindy nearly had heart attacks when they saw what an American “regular” looks like.

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After lunch we found a shaded park. I’ll never understand why most parks – here, in Florida, and really everywhere I’ve been – are designed without shade. Mina and Jamie seemed to have some kind of super resistence to the heat and played nonstop. Linus crawled onto a picnic table and tried to melt.

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This park was in an affluent old neighborhood and had beautiful trees draped with Spanish moss.

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Linus and I followed the path through the trees and discovered a fountain. He couldn’t resist.

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Meanwhile, it looks like my hat was getting some good use!

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Eventually all of the kids ended up in the fountain (of course).

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Check out Jamie’s moves!

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The next day we made our way to Caladesi Island. This is potentially the least flattering photo I’ve seen of myself in a while, but I wanted to show the whole gang on the boat. It’s not 100% my fault (just 80, I’d say). We forgot our suitcase at home and had to buy all new clothes at Target, which isn’t exactly where I usually shop. Oh well.

Anyway, we spent the 15 minute boat ride trying to keep the kids from launching themselves over the side, and then arrived at the island. It was… hot.

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After a banh mi picnic, we headed down to the beach.

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Jamie has a brilliant contraption that allows him to snorkel without having to learn actual snorkeling. He can put his whole face in the water and just breathe normally.

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The water was really warm, but the waves were just a little higher than the kids were really comfortable with.

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Linus wanted to try the trick he saw Jamie do earlier.

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Mina finally had enough of the waves and got to work with some sand construction.

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And some beach yoga.

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The island is home to rattlesnakes (not pictured) and gopher tortoises. We saw this guy on our walk back to the dock. I was really surprised how quickly he was able to move.

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Back on the boat!

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As I said before, we headed back to the same place for dinner. This time the kids stopped at an astroturf area nextdoor and practiced gymnastics.

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We took a walk along the river to settle our dinner.

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The next morning we said goodbye to Tampa and headed toward Ft Myers. We stopped along the way in St Pete to see the Chihuly Collection.

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It’s a bit nerve-wracking to visit a glass museum with preschoolers, but they had a good time pointing out what each of the pieces looked like. Mars! The Earth! Fungus!

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Afterward we walked around downtown St Pete and realized we might have enjoyed a little more time there. It’s full of cute little shops and restaurants. The kids stopped off for gourmet ice pops (Mina had strawberry, Jamie had blueberry cheesecake, and Linus had honeydew green tea).

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Mina thought we should trade glasses.

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We stopped behind the museum to see a woman making glass. Hot!

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The next day we drove over to Sanibel Island, which had the beach the kids were waiting for. Warm water, almost no waves, shallow for ages, and shells everywhere.

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Jamie and Cindy found lots of sand dollars.

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We only bought an hour on our parking meter. I think we probably could have stayed another hour, but we’d all be even more brown than we already are. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re always in hats and long sleeves. And of course, we’re covered in sunscreen. But still we came home browner than before, especially Yen.

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Here’s a tiny lizard on a banana! We saw lots of them in the evening, running around outside the house. We also saw a tiny frog when it invaded the Cuban restaurant on the first night and had to be escorted out by a waiter while the hostess held back tears. Other fauna included iguanas on the side of the road on Sanibel, Roseate Spoonbills, herons everywhere, pelicans, and even a little colony of burrowing owls near our house in Ft Myers.

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Here we are at lunch after the beach. We earned those taco salads.

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We found a playground after lunch that – shocking! – had a little roof over part of the structure.

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That’s a mighty yawp, I think.

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Linus cooled his feet in a fountain.

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We headed back to Ft Myers and stopped off for alligator, beer, and ice cream (really). It was so nice to just sit on a covered deck and relax with our friends. It’s such a shame that Peter and Cindy live so far away. Or rather (as we discussed) that we live so far away. I blame myself and my inabiliy to speak more than one language. Loser!

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Here’s Linus, lounging back at the ranch. The kids were excited that our house had a pool. I was a nervous wreck because none of the doors to the pool locked. I wonder how many times I reminded them that they couldn’t go out there without me or Yen.

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I will never, ever own a home with a pool (for myriad reasons, not the least of which is maintenance), but I admit it was nice to come back at the end of the day and cool off. Linus’s confidence in the water increased incredibly in just three days. We’re looking forward to seeing how he does when he starts swimming lessons again in two weeks.

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The last day, we decided to take it a little easier and headed to a park. It would have been completely ideal except the little train museum was closed for renovation. We found a lot of things were closed during the summer months (“Open October to May!”), making Florida almost exactly the opposite of Bar Harbor, I guess.

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The museum even has a mini train that goes around the park. Linus was so disappointed that he couldn’t ride it, so instead spent quite a long time walking on the tracks.

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We wanted to rent boats so we could paddle around and look for alligators, but we couldn’t find a configuration that worked for four adults and three kids. We landed on a bicycle surrey instead. Never mind that it was 98 degrees with a heat index of 110.

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Oops! Wrong turn.

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We found this snapping turtle along the way. He wasn’t terribly interested in us.

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And then we had to say goodbye to Peter, Cindy, and Jamie. The good news is it looks as if we’ll all be together again in Paris in September. They headed down to the Everglades and then the Keys, and we stopped off at a science museum before heading to the airport. This is a good reminder that if you have a science or children’s museum membership, you should always travel with your card. We got in free because of reciprocity with the Boston museum!

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This is, erm, an exhibit on different poops. Please don’t touch the poops.

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I loved this exhibit that lets you play with topography.

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Mina was baffled by this – even more so when I explained that this is how people used to talk on the phone.

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And here we are at the airport with our little world travelers!

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Bonus photos! I mentioned significant landscaping at the start of this post. Well, that includes removing some trees. You can imagine how excited Linus was.

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Well, theoretically excited. Mina picked up some kind of bug during the vacation, and was very sick. In fact, she vomited three times during the night, so I was not at my best at work the next day.

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Eventually she rallied and was able to enjoy the show.

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Linus wanted so desperately to help, but these guys weren’t as willing as our landscaper is to have the assistance of a four-year-old boy.

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And there’s the front of our house, so bare now. We’re trying to think of it as a blank slate for what’s to come. Unfortunately one thing that’s coming beyond our control is the new house going up next door. I hope we like the new neighbors.

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