Just a heads-up: this is a llllong post. It was an action-packed week.
The MVP of Team Arnold was out of commission on Christmas Eve. That’s right: Amy was sick in bed. Amy planned to make one of her signature meals that night, so it was up to Aunt Sue and me to fill in. How hard could it be?
Harder than it sounded. Our lasagna turned out more like a soupy casserole, but it was otherwise darn tasty. I’m calling that a ‘win.’
Fortunately, Amy bounced right back and we had Christmas morning as planned in the RV:
After opening all the gifts from Santa, it was fun to have a few more boxes to open from friends and family that were shipped to us in Florida:
I had accidentally left our eggs and milk at my Uncle Walter’s and Aunt Sue’s house the night before, so Amy couldn’t make our traditional breakfast. Natalie, however — armed with a spiffy new cookbook — whipped up a batch of banana muffins and saved Christmas:
Early Christmas afternoon at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, my girls opened their presents from grandma:
That afternoon we had dinner at my cousin Josh’s and his wife Lottie’s house north of Tampa. It was a full house, but we got to meet new relatives:
It was a big day, and a very fun Christmas. Everyone was ready for bed when we got home that night, but we had to spend some time cleaning up the Christmas mess:
The day after Christmas, we hit the road and headed south with my mom in tow. My mom loves her maps; she studies them as we travel like a mariner navigating the open seas:
We drove most of the day before getting caught in the single line of traffic leading out to the Florida Keys:
Our campground on Ohio Key was nice enough, and we got there in time for a sunset walk:
It was a strange feeling to stand barefoot in the ocean the day after Christmas:
There were some cool fish (like the kind you see in pet stores) swimming freely in the marina by our campground.
A few pics from sunset:
The next day we visited the Dolphin Research Center a few miles up the road:
As the name implies, they do a bunch of dolphin research, advocacy and education here, and do the dolphin shows and “swim with a dolphin” type stuff to help fund the place. It was interesting, but also pretty touristy.
Since my mom is with us, we have to double up in the back seat when we take a side-trip, which means Natalie has to sit in a lap:
My mom and Nat admiring the fruits of their puzzle-solving labors one night last week:
Amy and I went for a run Friday morning. The weather and the view were fantastic (it was very humid, however.)
We saw a lot of this in the Keys: sections of decommissioned bridges and walkways, cut off from access on both ends and no longer serving any purpose:
The view from another former on-ramp of a road to nowhere:
The beaches of the Keys tend to be very small. I believe this beach on Bahia Honda State Park was one of the larger ones, and it wasn’t very big at all.
By late Friday morning we had made our way to Key West, the most Southern part of the United States:
As the local merchants like to advertise, we were closer to Cuba than to the nearest Walmart:
A couple other notable sites that we strolled by while in Key West: Ernest Hemingway’s house…
…and the original Margaritaville. (Just you try not to get “Margaritaville” stuck in your head now…See? You can’t stop it.)
Instead of pigeons, the Keys have chickens roaming the streets and parking lots:
I’m not a huge Key lime pie fan, but we couldn’t NOT get some:
On Saturday we visited the Sea Turtle Center, a hospital that rescues, rehabilitates and — when possible — releases sea turtles back into the wild.
This place used to be a motel, and during the 80′s when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were popular the owner wanted to add a sea turtle to his motel-pool-turned-exotic-aquarium. Turns out the the only way to legally possess a sea turtle (an endangered species) was to make it a sea turtle rescue.
I guess the guy found his calling, because he shut down the motel and turned the whole operation into a hard core sea turtle rescue and hospital. Here’s one patient who will soon have some nasty tumors lopped off:
Instead of squirrels, the Keys have iguanas.
On Saturday we left the Keys and headed north, making our way toward the Everglades. Don’t let the golden light fool you — our campground in Florida City was a rat-hole:
Sunday was Natalie’s 9th birthday. We drove into Miami and hung out on the beach for a little while…
…Amy took in a short run…
…and then we stopped by Miami International airport. This was sort of a big deal for Emily because she got to see her first Airbus A380 in person. It’s the largest airplane in the world. I can’t believe it actually flies:
We hung out near the airport for a little while so Em could take in some more plane spotting:
That evening back at the RV, Natalie opened her birthday presents:
…and we all enjoyed some birthday cupcakes:
This morning, we visited a couple spots in Everglades National Park as we continued our travels back north. I’m not sure why my girls were holding hands as they walked along this boardwalk — just being silly, probably — but it was one of those moments when I was struck at what special times these are, our little family traveling around together. I’m soaking it in while it lasts.
We sure saw our share of gators today. They were everywhere, and fortunately pretty docile.
At least that’s what my girls were hoping:
Natalie, especially, was not taking any chances and stayed close to Amy:
These aren’t captive gators in some cheesy tourist trap…these are wild. We continued to see them off the side of the road as we drove.
The last stop of the day was an airboat ride through the Everglades:
Natalie liked it at first:
But then we went pretty fast:
Emily and Carrie loved it:
Natalie did not:
We made it back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in St. Petersburg FL today. My mom flies back to Indy (and to the cold and snow) in a couple days, and then shortly after that we’ll be moving on down the road again. Where to I am not sure.
It’s been an absolutely wonderful Christmas vacation, but I’m kinda ready to get back to the ol’ grind in a brand new year. :)