Sunday, February 9, 2014

Florida in Midwinter

Our humble little Christmas.
Early January is always a tough time for me. It means the end of all that pre-Christmas excitement, holiday preparations, and special family time. I'm finished with all that manic last minute crafting. Christmas lights come down. Colorful decorations find their way back into boxes and suddenly the house looks drab and depressing. The bleakness of winter sets in as snow continues to fall, roads continue to be iced over, and temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit become the norm. Grey and brown dominate the landscape. 
For me, it's an all around yucky time. 

Cold Feet.
Warm Heart.

As a Floridian I feel like I was raised on COLOR. I NEED it. I grew up on a tropical tree and fruit farm with a Photographer/Botanist father and a mother who specializes in special events, costume making and all around seamstress-ing. 
I was surrounded by color everyday. 

My mother always took care to decorate and there was never a time some lovely colorful craft project was not taking place. Heaps of glitter, paint, thread,  fabric and clay were a common sight for me growing up. I remember once telling friends I couldn't go out until I helped my mother making the miniature lobsters. She provided to me the love and the need to craft. 

My father lives for the trees and the delicious fruits they provide us. I spent many hours outside with him grudgingly helping care for the fruit trees in our nursery ... Weeding, grafting, transplanting, picking. Picking coconuts was always my least favorite activity, high ladders and the inevitability of snakes napping between the cool coconut bunches was something I dreaded at the time. Looking back though i am glad for the experience. Of course, it wasn't always like that. My father took me on several of his tours throughout Southeast Asia to collect seeds and visit farms and markets. Exposing me to other vibrant other cultures, delicious fruit and exotic foods.  All of this was just part of growing up for me. A life filled with color.

Rainbows were a common sight for me as a child.  Large water trucks were frequently hard at work in the vegetable fields surrounding my house. Huge jets of water rocketing high up into the sky and then falling gracefully back to the earth. when the sun hits the droplets just right, rainbows seem to be pouring out from these curtains of water. Such a beautiful sight.

It's always in the bleakness of winter I search my mind for memories like this. 

This year things worked out in such a way that Ernie and I were able to take a trip down to Florida to visit my family. It had been over a year since I had been and even then it was for just 3 days. This time it was for a little over two weeks of pure blissful, sunny, sandy, colorful, yummy warmth. The only thing that could have made it better was if my husband could have come ... But he had to work. 

We spent time in St. Petersburg and Homestead. Ernie loved swimming  in the pool and playing on the beach. I ate as much seafood and Cuban food as i could, wore shorts and sandals, and almost instantly my skin felt wonderful. It was a very relaxing time, just what this pregnant momma needed!

So ... I wanted to share  a few photos from some of our adventures on my trip! 

Ernie and I at the Fruit and Spice Park enjoying a festival with my Dad.

My father doing what he loves, sharing the exotic fruit from the park with festival visitors. For those of you who I know are going to ask, the gentleman with the blue gloves is cutting into a fruit known as the Jackfruit. One of my favorites! The sap and juice will do a number on you, hence the gloves, but the flesh that surrounds the seeds is sublime. 
The flavor is like if a banana, mango, and pineapple had a baby. Mmmmm...

Granddaddy and Ernie hard at play!


One of the more exciting days for me was a trip to the Zoo! It had been ages since I'd been and it was Ernie's first time. He's still a bit too young to care much about the animals but he loved being outside among all the activity!
The obligatory flamingo picture. Not the best shot, sorry, but there they are pink and ridiculous as ever!

It was a bit cold for the animals that morning, which was good news for us because the typically napping tiger was up and about! 
It was such a treat to see this beauty roam around his large enclosure.

Seriously, who can resist a meerkat? They are too loveable!

The Asian elephant. My favorite. One of my favorite memories was riding one through the forest with my father in Thailand. But more on that some other time ...

Sandhill Crane, they mate for life and stay together in their family units. I like 'em.

Ernie's favorite part of the whole day was the splash park area of the zoo. It was cold, but he didn't care! He was so happy playing in the water, and I had a change of clothes with me so he went to town! 

I can't remember what type of frogs these were, but I love them. The Amazon area of the Zoo was really incredible and inspiring. 
So many animals with such brilliant colors, some deadly some not.

These reminded me of little ghosts. Probably my favorite!

This Zebra literally spotted us, walked directly to us and then let out the silliest noise ever. Similar to an elk bugle for those of you who are familiar with that. I think he mistook us for a zookeeper ... But it was pretty awesome. I've seen these guys in huge herds in Ethiopia (NOT TO HUNT!), but never had an encounter like this. 

The other super fun day for Ernie and I was a trip to the beach! It was in the high 60's low 70's ... too cold for the locals, so we had the whole place to ourselves!
 It was blissful and how I spent my 31st birthday.
Crystal clear water 

Homestead Bayfront Park. A simple little beach/park, but absolutely perfect for our purposes. 

Ernie discovered his love of the sand.

... And his shadow!

We did so many other things while visiting; a mini water park, movie, trips to the beach, the Florida keys, and lots of amazing cuisine. 

I would have to say my favorite thing about this trip was the time I was able to spend with my dearest friends and family and the memories they made with Ernie. While in Homestead, my parents were able to see Ernie for a whole week and learned so much about him. My sister, in St. Petersburg. and her family doted on Ernie and even babysat one night while I had dinner alone with a friend! We saw lively, hilarious and kind cousins and my amazingly wonderful aunt! I spent time with all three of my best friends. Of course, there still wasn't enough time to visit with everyone, but when you are 5 months pregnant and travelling along with your toddler that makes things much more complicated. I hope to get a chance to visit with more friends next time we make the trip down! Maybe next winter? 

No question, it was an epic trip and my heart is full!

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