Florida –> dawn till dusk + some fireworks!

Can 3 kids under age 6 endure a 22 hour drive with the promise of unlimited sunshine, swimming, bike rides, time with family and a visit to Disney? They can, and they did.

These images aren’t all from the same day, but I chose them because they crystallize moments of our trip, and I’m arranging them dawn to dusk (and a lot in between) for the sake of narration.

Below is my grandma’s back yard around 6:45 am. I tiptoed out at sunrise one morning before anyone was up, including the fire ants. I haven’t seen the sunrise (without a baby in my arms who didn’t realize that only vampires like to be up all night) in I don’t know how long! This morning will stay with me for a long, long time:

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Behold the textbook toddler. This little man learned that he could escape outside into the warm air as soon as he opened his eyes, which he did in his pj’s around 7 am every day. He learned how to free dogs from their pen, drive his cousin’s Barbie jeep like a boss, pin the pedal on an electric golf cart, and how to commandeer his great-grandma’s Jazzy.

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This is the ONE and only Disney photo of the pumpkins and their cousins. We went the day after Christmas, undeniably the busiest day in the ENTIRE year to go. “The” camera was under wraps (meaning Phil had to lug it around in his lap top bag all day) since I could have zero distractions. No children were temporarily lost during this visit. Win! Oh, and if you visit, don’t take small children to the Haunted Mansion first. Parenting learning curve.

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Oh palm trees, how I love you.

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All hail the Punta Gorda splash park!

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The Peace River

 

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This little girl learned how to swim in the “deep deep” end of her great-grandma’s pool. She was very, very proud of her new skills, and we are too. She wanted “everyone” to know she can swim, so now you know!

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Green plants and flowers: northerners, do you remember what this looks like!?2014-132014-12

This kiddo told her Daddy to take off her training wheels without ever having them off before. He did, and she took off without looking back. (Insert tear emoticon!)

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Sanibel Island seashells

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Sanibel Island mermaids!

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These two little ladies are part of mom’s dachshund collection that made the NJ –> Florida trip. Ginger and Bella soaked up the rays.

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Oranges and grapefruit all picked from my grandma’s yard!

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Christmas lights sewn to a sunset.

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~ Clouds on fire ~

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New Year’s Eve sparkled on its way out.

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…And 2015 came in with a BANG! (Many bangs because Phil and my cousin put on QUITE a show.) Good thing the neighbors like my grandma.

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We filled our paper lanterns with wishes and sent them up, up and away into the night sky. Here’s to hoping all of yours come true too.

sunshine, silence and oranges

One of my oldest, closest friends of all time lives on the opposite coast. From time to time, she’ll text me a picture of a view from her “happy place,” a gorgeous point overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s serene, it’s peaceful, it’s everything a place to re-center should be. For a half a second one fairly recent day when I read her text letting me know she was there, I got to thinking that I didn’t have a “happy place” of my own, and just as quickly as I thought that, I forgot about it.

Fast forward a few weeks later to the beginning of a snow storm. If you know me, you know how I feel about fall and winter. I’ll spare you my rant. The closer to the sun I can get, the better. As the snowflakes began to fall and we headed deeper into yet another snow day, I told my husband the highlight reel of childhood winter escapes to Florida: wind chimes sounding like daytime lullabies paired with the whirl of bike tires, warm air all around, palm trees swaying above me, the sun on my back, in my eyes, hours in the pool – and the smell of oranges. Lots of oranges.

I guess I was convincing – (did I get you?) – that coupled with the man being a spontaneous optimist, ready for adventure at all times. On top of  that, we got news that my grandma, a New Jersey ex-pat who’s been soaking up Florida’s rays since 1984, was hospitalized. That was 11:30 am. By 2:00 pm, our family of 5 (Gwen sporting her beach cover-up) was packed and heading south. We drove all night, taking turns on and off at the wheel, and working on our laptops (working remotely has major perks!) Every hundred miles or so, the temperature jumped up about 2 degrees. After months of cold weather, topped off by a hideous “polar vortex,” that was a glorious sight.

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We had a blast that week, our family of five. We played in the aqua water, collected seashells, jumped in the pool, dipped in a hot tub, rode bikes on the beach and counted stars from the boardwalk. My girls learned that “jungle trees” are really called palm trees. They soaked up sun they hadn’t felt on their skin in months. My babies played with their cousin for hours, and bonded with their great-grandma, great-aunt and great-uncle. Their aunt took them on “safari” in an electric golf cart, dodging through palmettos and under towering pine trees.

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On our last day in Florida, I hopped the fence behind my grandma’s property and found a clearing between two trees into the orange groves that back up to her 5 acres. My grandfather, who we lost in March of 2013, introduced me this orange grove when I was just 13.  As I stood there 20 years later, alone, listening to nothing, overwhelmed with gratitude for sun and overtaken with the smell of these ripening oranges, time folded in on itself and stopped. This place wanted me to remember it. How could I forget my “happy place,” the place where I did nothing else but admire the beauty around me, freeing me from the responsibility of all other thoughts? Easily. I’ve been too wrapped up in life to remember. Since I last visited, I’ve graduated college, grad school, started a career, got married, lost my father, three grandparents, had three babies, moved five times…I’ve been living, and living fast. We all are.

So much life stands between me and that 13 year old girl – so much learned, lost and infinitely gained. If I could whisper in her ear, I’d remind her of what I tell my kids, (who you may see sniffing flowers whenever they have the chance): stop and smell the flowers (or the orange blossoms). All of them.