Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sneezy in Cincinnati

We made it to Ohio! Nothing of note to write about, except that I have a cold. Casey is at Uncle Danny's house with Paige, and Grampa went to bed at 9:00. I'm off to find some chicken soup and will post again when something exciting happens here. Don't hold your breath! :)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fort Desoto Beach

Monday was the last day we were to see the ocean, so we chose Fort Desoto Beach. It is a #1 ranked beach and it also had a Paw Park. We drove an hour to get there (again over the bridge from hell), spent about an hour at the paw park/dog beach, then drove an hour to get back home. It was kind of overcast, and neither of us were really in the mood to swim, so it was ok that we headed back early. I think we've had our fill of sight-seeing for a while.

Good bye Florida. We're going to miss you!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Almost time to go :(

Wow, it's been over a week since I've posted. That's due to a combination of exhaustion, depression, work and play.

We got back to Sarasota last Sunday and did nothing for three days. I don't think we left the house, or even got out of our pajamas for that matter. We were worn out from all of the running we'd done this month and were very happy to veg out.

Then Wednesday rolled around and it dawned on me ... we leave in a week! So rest time is over.

It'd been a while since we'd been to a beach, so we packed lightly and headed for Longboat Key. We drove the entire island and didn't find a public beach anywhere. But right across the northern bridge was a great place to play: Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island. There were facilities there, parking, picnic benches, lifeguards, tons of shells and great surf. Casey tried to skim board, but apparently Hollie's family broke it in Tampa. Oh well, what's $50 between friends? (grrrr) Still we had a nice afternoon playing in the water (which is insanely warm here). We stopped in Armand's Circle on the way home and bought Mango Wine and Tortuga Rum Cakes (woo hoo!!!!!) from St. Armand's Winery, then had lunch at Lido Grille (which was out of Mojitos, Sangria, and Key Lime Pie, but that's another story).

On Thursday we finally visited The Mote Aquarium and had a wonderful time - AND they had a similar cruise to the one we missed in Clearwater! (where they drag a net and show the kids all of the wildlife they pick up) We got to see blue crabs, seahorses, lots of different fish and sand-dollars... it was the best excursion we've done in Florida I think. I took like 200 pictures, but don't you know, my flash card is somehow corrupt and I can't get a single image off of it. But at least we have the memories. (Word of advice, that seemingly useless feature that allows you to "stop" an external device really does have a purpose - USE IT!)

Friday we went to the G Wiz Science Museum (after buying a new camera). It was an ok way to spend the afternoon, but the Children's Museum in ABQ is better. There were a few exhibits that kept our interest, though, and Casey spent a good hour building this contraption with a little boy. I sat and talked with his very nice mother who filled me in on schools, etc. in the area. She also told me the horror stories of hurricanes, tornados, red tide, etc. Florida is a sort of scary place to live :)

But my new philosophy (thanks to a video I saw on You Tube) is:
Don't be afraid of death, be afraid of a life half-lived.

So Saturday we drove around Lakewood Ranch for several hours, checking out all of the for sale / for rent signs and what was available. We liked the Summerfield subdivisions the best. Every once in a while I would pull over and ask a passerby some questions about the area. That's how I met Mark and his wife Happy (yes, Happy).

Mark was walking down the road so I stopped to ask him where the kids were. Next thing I know we're following him to his house around the corner. There were like five houses for sale on the cul-de-sac street, one rental, and kids EVERYWHERE! This is the kind of street I wish I had in ABQ. Family after family after family and incredibly nice neighbors (who aren't retired!). For the first time, Casey softened to the idea of staying in Florida longer (despite the alligators, sharks, hurricanes and jellyfish). She was in awe of all of the children riding their bikes and playing in their front yards without fear of abduction!

There was a house for rent directly across the street from the "Happy Family" (boy I'll bet that's the first time they've been called that). It is 2000 square feet, has 4 bedrooms, a screened lanai with a small in-ground pool, and a lake in the back yard. It would be perfect if I wanted to move everything I owned and commit to Sarasota, but the $2,000 a month rental agreement is a bit more than we need (although that includes furnishings and lawn/pool maintenance). I'm going to look at the inside on Monday to see if it's worth the high price tag. Who knows... if God wants us to be here maybe a miracle will happen and it will include utilities too :)

In the meantime, it is Sunday again. We were going to be ambitious and get up early enough for church but as usual, our laziness prevailed. It's looking pretty ugly outside, so I think we're going to spend today packing, cleaning, and getting ready for Ohio so we can hang on the beaches Monday and Tuesday, weather permitting.

Oh, and Casey lost another tooth this week! She was being a good little flosser when it popped right out. So Florida has been rather lucrative for her (as far as the tooth fairy is concerned anyway).

Next stop, Cincinnati.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Out of underwear in Naples

Every day I look around and I can not believe I am in such a beautiful place. Each city we've visited has been more wonderful than the last. Well, except Fort Lauderdale, which I may go back to next week for a meeting of the minds.

Now we're in Naples, probably the most beautiful city we've seen yet. I thought Sarasota was nicely manicured ... this place looks like one big post card for the rich and famous! If I could afford to live here I probably would.

We reserved one night simply because I didn't want to drive five hours straight from Miami to Sarasota (did I mention that I hate driving?) We ended up staying two because we were having a good time. We checked in on Thursday, unpacked, and ate BBQ sandwiches at the hotel's happy hour. The plan was to watch the sun set on the beach, but we had a couple of hours to kill so we went to the pool. There was an 11 year old girl there! It took about 30 minutes to get those two to speak to each other, but once they did they were inseparable. Since Casey hasn't been around kids very much since we came to Florida, I didn't want to pull her away to watch a boring old sunset with her mom. She and Kylie hung out until dark and we went on to bed.

I've been told that when you're in Naples you should get up early and go shelling. When the tide goes out I guess you can find incredible shells here. So we got up early (8:00 ... early for us) and were out the door by 8:45. By the time we stopped at the store (three times) and left two beaches that we didn't like at all, it was noon. So much for shelling, but at least we'll get some beach time in.

The "Naples" you see on all of the postcards is in Old Naples at Naples Pier. If Naples has some of the best beaches in the world it must be there, so there is where we headed. The sand was white and wide, but the water was full of sea weed like Wiggin's Pass and Clam's Pass were. What is it with this place and sea weed?

We decided to stay anyway and Casey jumped right into digging in the sand. Every so often we'd brave the sea weed and go swimming in the 85ยบ water, but it was just too gross. We made the most of it by tossing ball, playing a tennis-like game, and walking the Pier. We even picked up a few shells.

This place is a fisherman's heaven. The Pier has some umbrella license that covers everyone who wants to fish there. People were catching mackerel like there's no tomorrow (have you ever seen the teeth on one of them? OUCH!) We watched them and we watched a tv crew record them. One lady was particularly chatty and she told us about the red tide.

We saw pelicans diving for their supper. WE SAW DOLPHINS PLAYING IN THE WATER! We saw sting rays hovering the sand bar, and we ate hot dogs. All in all it was a pretty great afternoon.

On the way back to the hotel we passed another Skyline Chili! So I don't have to tell you where we ate dinner (my poor arteries). Now that Casey had a full belly I figured it'd be easier to drag her 20 miles north to the biggest outlet mall I have ever seen: The Miromar Mall (I was wrong).

Now *I* was in heaven! We bought a bunch of clothes in the Ralph Lauren Factory Store, a little bit at Harry and David (cherries, yum!), and stopped in a few other places before it was closing time. I may have to revisit Naples at Christmastime just so I can shop here again!

That pretty much wraps up our time in Naples. We'll be checking out of our hotel and heading back to Sarasota within the next couple of hours. We'd stay longer, but we're out of underwear.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I love Florida

Wednesday was our last full day in Miami, and we spent it with Bob again. (In case you can't tell, we love him and have adopted him and his family.) We met him at the Stork Avenue office and took off for South Beach, baby! First we had lunch at Gloria Estefan's restaurant, Bongo's. We had a pu pu platter (yes, Paige, a PU PU platter!), mojitos (OMG sooooooo good) and Cuban sandwiches . After eating ourselves into a gastrointestinal stupor, we decided to walk it off on famous South Beach. Word of advice, next time you eat yourself sick, don't go walking amidst the most beautiful bikini-clad people in the world unless you want to feel like Roseanne... So anyway, Bob and I sat on the beach people watching while Casey played in the ocean. You can walk out forever and only be standing in two feet of water. It was stunning ... just stunning.

Because of the aforementioned protruding stomachs, combined with heat that surprisingly did not melt us, we didn't say but maybe a half an hour. After a quick stop into Sephora we found our car, and headed to the offices of Shutterbug, Sue Hunter's baby. We got a tour of her warehouse and she showed us all of her lovely designs. We even custom made Casey's build a bear birthday cards!

Next stop, Biscayne Bay and ... drum roll please ... the opening scene from CSI Miami. That's right folks, I stood where... where ... where someone stood before me and said, hey, that's the same shot from the opening scene of CSI Miami! Yeah, I know, I'm a dork. Still, I was thrilled to have taken this picture.

After that we went to the Hunter house to meet up with the rest of the family. We probably over stayed our welcome but we were having too good of a time to care. Casey swam, played pool, and we all sat on the patio and chatted. We watched a totally cheesy Kung Fu Fighting movie and tried to figure out why the neighbor's back yard was emitting a smell very similar to horse manure (funny how many times the subject of horse manure came up this week). All in all just a nice evening with good people. heheh, I hope they feel the same way!

And that wrapped up Miami for us. I don't think we'd want to live here, although we had an absolutely fabulous time. We have one question in closing: can anyone please tell me what the hell this sign means?

We're headed back to the sandy white Gulf beaches tomorrow. Will keep you posted on our whereabouts!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


So Tropical Storm Alberto put a damper on our east coast Florida trip. We were scheduled to leave Miami on Tuesday for Cocoa Beach and the Kennedy Space Center before going further north to Jacksonville, then Orlando, and back home to Sarasota. We canceled that portion of our tour due to weather and decided to spend a few extra days in Miami.

So Miami, for us, started on Monday, when we finally met Bob Hunter of Stork Avenue fame! He has a great office on the top floor of the Bank of America building in Coral Gables. Bob is so interesting! His office wall is filled with pictures of people he's met and places he's been ... what a golden life he's lead. It is good to be Bob Hunter :) And he truly loves south Florida, so it's great to see this part of the state through his eyes.

He took us to lunch at the diner next to his office where I was served the largest cobb salad on earth. After that Casey and I walked around Grand Avenue and did a little shoppin'. Later that night Bob, his wife and two kids took us to dinner at Cafe Tu Tu Tango (an artsy tapas restaurant) in our new duds. It seems like we've done nothing but eat since we got here. Really we've done lots of other stuff too, but we did eat fried alligator on this night! And more surprisingly, it was good! For the first time since we got to Florida Casey actually felt like she was in control of the gator situation :)

Tuesday rolled around and Casey and I went to the Miami Sea Aquarium on Biscayne Bay per Bob's advice. We had a spectacular time. They don't have many dolphins and Killer Whales in Albuquerque you know. So we looked at a few exhibits (including the Manatee pool - these are amazingly graceful creatures) and saw all of the afternoon shows that we could squeeze in ... my favorite was the Dolphin Show. They played a little Ozzy Ozbourne during the "let's get wet" portion of the show and took me back to my roots :) Oh Oh Oh, and we also saw the original flipper, from the 1964 tv show. A real live celebrity sighting!

After that we went home, ate dinner at the hotel's happy hour (they have free breakfast and light dinners here ... nice) and spent our evening writing post cards and relaxing on the couches (and of course updating you on our blog). We were thinking about going to the Keys tomorrow, but I think we're going to skip that. It's supposed to rain :(

So we've got two more nights in Miami, then we need to figure out where we're going to go next!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Half Over

Today is the midway point for the Florida portion of our summer vacation. It is officially half over :(

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto

We dropped Paige off to Danny & Teri this morning and headed south to Miami. The last time I was here I was 12 years old, so needlesstosay, I don't remember much about it. Thank God it's a Sunday! The freeway here is six lanes, with route this and state route that branching off in any direction every mile or so. I can not imagine what this place is like during rush hour! Today the traffic wasn't bad. It was the weather that almost took us out.

We drove right into a big black cloud and horrendous rain storm, I assume because of Tropical Storm Alberto, while on I95. The visibility was about 10 feet it was raining so hard. I was afraid I was going to go deeper and deeper into the storm, but as it turns out we got out of it after about 10 minutes.

About ten minutes after that I95 dumped us onto Dixie Highway, and on to the Residence Inn in Coconut Grove (which is SE of Miami). Our efficiency wasn't ready when we got here, so they upgraded us to a 2 bdrm suite for $30 more. We've got a lot of room here. Good thing, too, since we'll probably be spending the majority of our two days here. Forecast: Tonight, Rain. Tomorrow, Rain. Tuesday, Rain.

So we got settled in and ordered carry-out from a local Cuban resaurant, Las Culebrinas. Casey and I split Bistec Empanizado Con Moros y Maduros (breaded steak with mixed rice/beans and fried plantains). My first Cuban food! I felt like I was back in ABQ when we went to pick it up, though - no one at the restaraunt spoke English. It was a little scary, actually, but we got our food and it was fabulous (at least I thought so, Casey might tell you differently). We topped dinner off with a slice of Rum Cake that Danny brought us from Grand Cayman. Yum!

We told Bob from Stork Avenue that we'd get together with him tomorrow (boating today was out of the question), and goofed around all night. I caught up on this blog, Casey watched tv, we walked down to the Marina, went swimming ... a whole lotta nothing. Tomorrow we'll finally meet Bob, and I don't know what else. It's supposed to rain all of this week, so I think we may cancel Jacksonville & Orlando and just go to Cocoa Beach for a couple of days (spending a day at the Kennedy Space Center) before we head "home" to Sarasota. I figure we'll have ten days after that to go to Orlando or back to Tampa if we want to. I won't die if I don't see Jacksonville this time around.

Oh and we heard from Casey's new soccer coach ... we are now The Wildcats, playing for Rush (assuming we go back to ABQ in time for soccer season). So Go Wildcats!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fort Lauderdale with the Fam

I am so not slim, cute, or cool enough to be here. Fort Lauderdale is bustling with young people barely covered by their swim suits. You can tell this is another party town. Not like Clearwater - there were still plenty of families there. Lauderdale is like fly boy central ... I'm sure they party a LOT more here.

We left Sarasota around 9am, passing Ft. Meyers, Marco Island, the Everglades, and the Ralph Lauren outlet on the way. Too bad we're not going back the same route, I would have liked to spend a little time in all of those places. But we had a mission, and it was going to take us four hours to complete it.

We were just getting to Fort Lauderdale when my GPS started going crazy. I forgot to install the Miami maps!!! I discovered how dependant upon electronics I really am when this little fact dawned on me. Without the maps all the GPS knows is major roads. So while I saw the hotel waypoint 2 miles to my right, the GPS was telling me to go up I95 about 20 miles, then to make a uturn and come back down A1A to get there. Um, not. So we had to wing it. We got held up waiting on a draw bridge for a little while, which was actually fun. Casey had never seen one before.

The Geocaching we've done eventually paid off. We found the hotel! It just took a little longer than we had hoped. Unfortunately Danny was sitting in the parking lot expecting us to pull in at any second while we were finding our way. Ooops!

We would have liked to stay at the same hotel as the rest of the family, but the Ramada doesn't allow pets. So we hung out at their hotel for only an hour (there was a big party at the pool/beach), then we drove 4 miles down the street and checked into our room at the Sheraton.

[Danny, Teri, and Paige were returning from the Caribbean on Princess Cruise Lines (blog link to follow). They had just visited Princess Island, Grand Cayman, Jamaica (mon), and Cozumel. They're all very red and very sore, but still glowing from a great vacation. They brought me a rum cake from Cayman, and the exact same coffee mug that I had broken on our trip home from the islands last spring! Thanks, brotherman!]

When we got here it was windy, cloudy, and threatening rain, so we popped open a beer and plopped onto the beds in our room. All of us wanted to veg (nice change from the week before!) so we bought the movie Failure to Launch for $15 on PPV and stared at the boob tube for a couple of hours. (Cute chick flick, btw.)

After our movie ended we changed into our swim suits and headed down and across the road to the beach. Casey and Paige played for quite a while in the turbulent waves, while off in the distance Danny's cruise ship left for sea again ... I thought Teri was going to swim after it for a while there.

Once she realized the ship was gone forever, we headed back across "The Strip" (A1A) and let the girls swim in the pool for an hour or so. The grown ups sat at the abandoned pool bar, watched re-runs of Friends, and discussed our achievement of having quit smoking (three years for brother and wife, almost one for me!) Amazing how we all still love the smell of second-hand smoke ...

Our evening wound down with enough Chinese food to feed an army, another PPV movie (She's The Man) and an empty 12-pack of beer bottles. It's a full moon up there somewhere but we couldn't see it through the clouds.

I don't much like Ft. Lauderdale. The beaches are coarse and brown (not like the powdery Gulf side), and I'm over the whole party mentality. But I had a great day chilling out with the family. They vacation like I do ... so I think next year there's going to be an Anderson Family vacation.

I wonder if Danny agrees ... I guess we'll find out when he posts his blog about today! :)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Welcome to Florida

My Aunt Karen sent this to me the other day ago. I thought it was pretty funny, so here you go!

To: ex-Floridians, present Floridians, and future Floridians or those who know a Floridian.

We're about to enter the peak of the hurricane season. Any day now, you're going to turn on the TV and see a weather person pointing to some radar blob out in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic and making two basic meteorological points:

(1) There is no need to panic.
(2) We could all be killed.

Yes, hurricane season is an exciting time to be in Florida. If you're new to the area, you're probably wondering what you need to do to prepare for the possibility that we'll get hit by "the big one.'' Based on our experiences, we recommend that you follow this simple three-step hurricane preparedness plan:

STEP 1. Buy enough food and bottled water to last your family for at least three days.
STEP 2. Put these supplies into your car.
STEP 3. Drive to Nebraska and remain there until Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, statistics show that most people will not follow this sensible plan. Most people will foolishly stay here in Florida. We'll start with one of the most important hurricane preparedness items:

HOMEOWNERS' INSURANCE: If you own a home, you must have hurricane insurance. Fortunately, this insurance is cheap and easy to get, as long as your home meets two basic requirements:

(1) It is reasonably well-built, and
(2) It is located in Nebraska.

Unfortunately, if your home is located in Florida, or any other area that might actually be hit by a hurricane, most insurance companies would prefer not to sell you hurricane insurance, because then they might be required to pay YOU money, and that is certainly not why they got into the insurance business in the first place. So you'll have to scrounge around for an insurance company, which will charge you an annual premium roughly equal to the replacement value of your house. At any moment, this company can drop you like used dental floss.

Since Hurricane Andrew, I have had an estimated 27 different home-insurance companies. This week, I'm covered by the Bob and Big Stan Insurance Company, under a policy which states that, in addition to my premium, Bob and Big Stan are entitled, on demand, to my kidneys.

SHUTTERS: Your house should have hurricane shutters on all the windows, all the doors, and -- if it's a major hurricane -- all the toilets.

There are several types of shutters, with advantages and disadvantages:

Plywood shutters: The advantage is that, because you make them yourself, they're cheap. The disadvantage is that, because you make them yourself, they will fall off.

Sheet-metal shutters: The advantage is that these work well, once you get them all up. The disadvantage is that once you get them all up, your hands will be useless bleeding stumps, and it will be December.

Roll-down shutters: The advantages are that they're very easy to use, and will definitely protect your house. The disadvantage is that you will have to sell your house to pay for them.

"Hurricane-proof'' windows: These are the newest wrinkle in hurricane protection: They look like ordinary windows, but they can withstand hurricane winds! You can be sure of this, because the salesman says so.

He lives in Nebraska.

"Hurricane Proofing Your Property: As the hurricane approaches, check your yard for movable objects like barbecue grills, planters, patio furniture, visiting relatives, etc.; you should, as a precaution, throw these items into your swimming pool (if you don't have a swimming pool, you should have one built immediately). Otherwise, the hurricane winds will turn these objects into deadly missiles.

EVACUATION ROUTE: If you live in a low-lying area, you should have an evacuation route planned out. (To determine whether you live in a low-lying area, look at your driver's license; if it says "Florida" you live in a low-lying area.) The purpose of having an evacuation route is to avoid being trapped in your home when a major storm hits. Instead, you will be trapped in a gigantic traffic jam several miles from your home, along with two hundred thousand other evacuees. So, as a bonus, you will not be lonely.

HURRICANE SUPPLIES: If you don't evacuate, you will need a mess of supplies. Do not buy them now! Florida tradition requires that you wait until the last possible minute, then go to the supermarket and get into vicious fights with strangers over who gets the last can of SPAM. In addition to food and water, you will need the following supplies:

23 flashlights. At least $167 worth of batteries that turn out, when the power goes out, to be the wrong size for the flashlights.

Bleach. (No, I don't know what the bleach is for. NOBODY knows what The bleach is for. But it's traditional, so GET some!)

A 55-gallon drum of underarm deodorant.

A big knife that you can strap to your leg. (This will be useless in a
hurricane, but it looks cool.)

A large quantity of raw chicken, to placate the alligators. (Ask anybody who went through Andrew; after the hurricane, there WILL be irate alligators.)

$35,000 in cash or diamonds so that, after the hurricane passes, you can buy a generator from a man with no discernible teeth.

Of course these are just basic precautions.

As the hurricane draws near, it is vitally important that you keep abreast of the situation by turning on your television and watching TV reporters in rain slickers stand right next to the ocean and tell you over and over how vitally important it is for everybody to stay away from the ocean. Good luck and remember: it's great living in paradise! Those of you who aren't here yet you should come. Really!

And besides the alligators we also have sharks!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Another one bites the dust...

My mother once told me that all being married is, is having to do something you don't want to do 50% of the time. This past week I feel like I was married to a family of six.

I was supposed to spend one more day in Indian Rocks. The plan was that we were going to go on a cruise with the kids that was put on by the Marine Aquarium (back at Clearwater, again). It takes you on a dolphin watch, and it drags a net through the intercoastal to catch wildlife to show the kids. It also tours the little aquarium/animal rescue they have there, then finally you get to go shelling and snorkeling (if you so desire). Casey hadn't been able to do kidstuff with Alex and Christine since the first day, so we were very excited to go on this kid-friendly tour that didn't go 1,000 mph. . So we packed our things and moved them to Hollie's room (they don't check out until tomorrow) and got ready to go. It was a fairly slow morning, until out of the blue Hollie decided that we must go NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW so we started heading for the cars like good little tourists. As I reached for my keys I was informed that we are not doing the boat thing, but we are going to go to a bird sanctuary instead. Um, I don't remember discussing this...

Now, if you know me at all you know that I am hot headed, bossy, and want to do what I want to do. I spent my last four days trying to keep nine other people happy, and I was trying desperately to do it with a smile. But this was too much. I really thought my head was going to explode while I tried to process this latest development.

You should be proud of me. I didn't throw anything. I didn't hit anyone.

I didn't even go off on the people who just pissed me off. I just packed my stuff into the car, vented to Stacy for a minute or two, then drove back to Sarasota. (I admit to a little more venting by phone, but by the half way mark I was far enough away from Indian Rocks to start feeling calm again).

So there goes one of the last (unmarried) friend I had in Albuquerque. The last three have been picked off over the past couple of years ... The first one to go got written off for stealing from me. The second one dissed me for a relationship, and the third ... well, you read my rant :) ... my reasons for staying in Albuquerque are becoming fewer as I write this blog.

It is so good to be home now. I mean it's good to be home away from home again. I started this vacation to lower my level of stress ... the past few days were pretty intense, rushed, and even painful at times. I'm really looking forward to getting back to the slower-paced lifestyle I had been enjoying. Besides, I'm sure you're tired of listening to me complain by now :)

We spent the rest of our evening unpacking, swimming at the community pool, and relaxing.

Next stop, Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Clearwater, again

Hollie wanted to spend another day at Busch Gardens. Since Casey and I had no desire to be dragged from attraction to attraction again, we decided to do our own thing. We'll still have Thursday to spend with Alex and Christine. So we enjoyed a lazy morning, listening to the sound of the backhoes pushing sand in the distance.

Around 2:00 we took Olivia back to the groomer and headed north to Clearwater Beach. (I told you we'd go back!) We bought our tickets on the Thriller (Yes, the Sea Thriller. They convinced me to give it a shot), then walked around for an hour waiting for our departure time. 4:00 rolled around, we took our seats on this boat, and we were off. The first thing our driver said was: This is not a dolphin tour - this is a speed tour. LOVELY. As we cruised through the no-wake zone we listened to a prerecorded safety precautions tape about how we should keep our hands inside the boat and remain seated if we want to survive the next hour. Then came Michael Jackson singing Thriller and we were off, driving 50mph on the Gulf of Mexico. It felt like our chairs were going to rip out from under us and send us hurling to our fate as fish food. An hour later he slowed down. I actually saw one dolphin for about 1/2 a second. When the driver noticed that it was playing in our wake he stopped the boat. (huh? Is he related to the Ericksons or something?) So the dolphin went away and we got to see homes owned by Derek Jeeters, Hulk Hogan, and a bunch of Scientologists. $50 later we were happy to back on land.

We stopped at Crabby Bill's for dinner and split a steamer bucket (had our pictures taken too). Then it was off to Clearwater Beach to walk off the excessive amount of calories we had just consumed. As we were walking toward the beach we found one of those pedal taxis, and hopped on for a "free" tour of the area (the pedalers work for tips only). Our pedaler's name was Andy. He is an aspiring chef from Littleton, CO and he reminded us of Robert, Cassidy's dad, a whole lot. He drove us past Captain Bligh's Landing (Miniature Golf) so we jumped off there for a quick 19 holes.

We took a cab back to Pier 60 and walked through the sand, watched the sunset, chatted with street vendors, listened to music, and Casey did the bungee jump trampoline thing since the rock climbing wall was closed. All in all it was a very relaxing evening and a nice time for Casey and me.

Kathie's house was on the way to our motel (she lives in an apartment on the intercoastal), so we stopped by to pick up Olivia. We got home around 10:30 and the construction was going full blast. We contemplated getting a room at the Holiday Inn for the night, but I couldn't bring myself to pay for 2 hotel rooms, so we roughed it out. The AC served as white noise for us, so that combined with the fact that we were very tired allowed us to sleep right through the night.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Today started like any other day that carries the number of the beast ... we woke up, had coffee, and sat out on the gazebo discussing what we were going to do with our day. The general consensus was that we would hang on the beach here in Indian Shores, then drive to Clearwater Beach (about 30 minutes north on Gulf View Drive) to do the Sea Screamer dolphin tour at 6:00pm; we are to leave the motel at 4:00 to give ourselves time to sight-see first.

So I helped set up the beach umbrellas and sun tent (amazingly it works much better when there isn't any wind), woke princess Casey from her slumber, then went inside to work for an hour or so.

That hour of work turned into three, so Casey played with the kids in the ocean until Hollie announced that since her sun screen doesn't work, her children will only be in the sun for two hours today. I'm really trying to destress, so I didn't spend any energy questioning that line of thinking. When those two hours were up she rustled the kids out of the water and sent them to shower, get dressed and eat lunch, after which she promised they could go with her to Walgreens to pick up her prescription. Why that excited our children I don't know, but it did. Unfortunately just minutes after Casey left for the Walgreens tour she returned to tell me that she couldn't go because Alex cut his finger.

The person who made this decision is the same one generating all of the 's today, so whatever, "Casey, watch TV while I finish working. [knock knock] Come in!" [Hollie] "Alex sliced his finger to the bone on a coke can, we are taking him to the hospital and I'm going to faint. "

So I guess I should stop working now.

She didn't faint; instead she lit a cigarette and hyperventilated on my patio for a while. After that she and Gabe took Alex to the Urgent Care. He didn't get stitches despite needing them. The doctor felt that the stitches would hurt too much so he's going to let the finger heal on its own. Doctor's instructions: Don't get the finger wet. There goes Adventure Island tomorrow.

They stopped at Walgreens on the way home to pick up Hollie's Rx. Pharmacist's instructions: Stay out of the sun while taking this medicine.

The rest of this vacation is going to be fun.

When they got back to the motel at 5:15 to tell us all of this, Hollie also informed us that we still had time to make the Sea Screamer so we should get ready; we're leaving in five minutes.

So we ran around like maniacs, jumped in the car, wrote the phone number on our hands in case we got lost, and we were off. I lead, Hollie and company followed. We got there in time, but the Sea Screamer didn't have enough passengers to do the tour. It was canceled. The excursion next door, The Sea Thriller, was soliciting passengers, so they decided to go on that instead. Casey and I didn't like the name or the fact that they boast 40 mph cruising speeds, so we chose not to do the adrenaline tour with the rest of the junkies. Instead we thought we'd try the restaraunt we drove passed on the way to the Marina: SKYLINE!

We didn't believe it at first, but sure enough, we had just discovered Cincinnati Chili in Clearwater, Florida!

Casey ordered her typical coney and a three way, but half way through she spit a huge mouthful of food back onto her plate. What was she doing you ask? She was trying to find the molar that had just fallen out. That's right - not only had we struck gold, but we lost a tooth in it! We dug it out of the chili and put it in a to-go cup to give to the coveted Tooth Fairy later that night.

An hour later the Sea Thriller was scheduled to return, so we paid our bill and headed back to the Marina. Hollie's mom enjoyed rubbing our noses in the fact that the boat ride was fabulous. That's what we get for being wimps I guess :(

We walked across the road to Clearwater Beach ... this might have been Sand Key, I don't know. (It wasn't - it was Clearwater.) I do know that the beach is like the one at Siesta Key ... white, soft, and seemingly never ending. The big difference is that this place has some hustle to it. Big buildings, thousands of people, street vendors, jungle gyms for the kids. If you want to party, this is where you'd want to go.

They have a Sunset Festival there every night from 7:30 to 10:30 and it was a lot of fun! For us it started off with this guy doing a fire show. He was very funny and we took a bazillion pictures of his various acts.

After that the kids saw the playground equipment and ran squealing across the beach. Hollie had to shop, though, so Alex and Christine had to go after they went down the slide. Casey and I didn't have a lot of desire to wade through the masses on the pier, so we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. And what a beautiful sunset it was. This is the first one we've seen without a sand-sifting barge blocking the view!

The deal was if Casey let me enjoy the sunset, I would let her do the rock climbing attraction that was set up on the beach. So she did, and she made it all the way to the top! She looked like Spiderman up there. By the time she was done with both trips up the climbing wall, Hollie and family were done shopping and ready to go out to eat. So they went in search of a restaurant and Casey and I drove home with our ever-faithful GPS. We have two more days in this part of the state, so I think we'll be coming back to Clearwater very soon.

When we got home we noticed that the construction had made significant progress. Now they were directly in front of the resort, and the barricade has moved farther south. Our beach access is now 1/4 of a mile away. I wonder if they give inconvenience discounts here?

In closing, 6.6.6 was an interesting day. Not entirely catastrophic (Did I mention that Chris almost choked to death at lunch?); even enjoyable at times (see sunset photos). I am glad it's over though, and I hope I'll be able to sleep with the heavy machinery outside my bedroom window.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Busch Gardens

Today the whole gang, including Hollie's cousin Stacey from Ocala, went to Busch Gardens. I used to live right around the corner from there almost 20 years ago, but I never went because I hated amusement parks. Still do, but when you have kids and eight other people to keep happy, whaddyagonnado?

We planned to leave the motel at 11:00. We left at noon, and got to the park around 1:30. Due to the size of our party we drove separate cars. Unfortunately not all of the pre-purchased tickets made it to its rightful owner, so when the minivan portion of the group tried to get through the gates we quickly realized that we didn't have Christine's pass. She and her Grammy waited for the rest of the group (and tickets) outside, so Casey and I decided to do our souvenir shopping. What do you think ... do we look like tourists or what?

Hollie et al made it about a half an hour later and we were off.

Chris noticed the primate encounter so that was our first stop. This drove Hollie absolutely crazy, since she just saw monkeys at the zoo the week before, so the 15 minute trip through the Myombe Reserve was rather tortuous. It was quickly apparent that our mission for the day was not to spend a relaxing afternoon enjoying all that Busch Gardens has to offer. We were to run from ride to ride so that Hollie's adrenaline level never drops below supercharged. I at least got to snap this picture before we had to be off and running ... I love it. You must click to enlarge this just to see the expression on Casey's face ... she didn't appreciate the photo opp as much as I did apparently

The quickest way to get to the rides is the train, so our next stop was the Serengeti Railway, which lead us through the Serengeti Plain, past giraffes, rhinos, ostriches, and many other (very uncaged) animals. About half way through it dawned on me that we were inside the fences! I was certain that it was just a matter of time before one of these animals snapped and charged us, but we made it to Stanleyville (where the rides are) safe and sound.

First ride of the day: Congo River Rapids. The signs say you may get wet - even drenched - but we didn't think much of it. At least not until we went under the waterfall. Stacy and I took the brunt of it, and were wringing out our clothes for the next hour! (note to self, don't wear a thin white t-shirt if you plan on riding this ever again).

The rest of the day we walked, ate, rode rides ... all typical amusement park stuff. Casey rode her first corkscrew rollercoaster, The Python, and thought that was an incredibly good time (although when she was waiting in line for it we realized she had thrown her retainer away with her lunch trash). Believe it or not we found the retainer when the ride was over! After that we rode Stanley Falls (the log flume) despite my fear of heights, watched the 4-D movie Pirates (with Leslie Nielsen!), and the kids got to play in the Land of the Dragons, an awesome kid's playground! We tried to ride the Tidal Wave but it was closed :( The boys rode a couple of coasters that were way bigger than Casey was going to get on, and Casey and I posed for a $50 caricature that looks absolutely nothing like either one of us. Oh! If you've never been to Busch Gardens you are missing at least one amazing attraction .. FREE BEER at the hospitality house. Yes, you read correctly. Freeeee - Beeeeeer. They call it free samples, so I got an 8oz sample of some Surf brand beer. It was pretty good, but it was close to closing time so one sample is all us girls had time for.

Eight hours and $300 later we collapsed into bed with aching feet and severe cases of heartburn, and watched the series finale of Roseanne as the forklifts lulled us to sleep with the beep beep beep noises they make when they back up. Another day in Florida now gone.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Indian Shores

Sunday we drove up to Indian Shores to meet my friend Hollie and her family for vacation. They chose this area because their cousin manages a small beach motel called the Sun N Fun. This is by no means a resort. It was built by the current owner's great grandfather like 150 years ago. Casey and I are staying in the efficiency apartment ... what it lacks in sophistication it makes up in location. The views are spectacular.

At least they were spectacular last week.

Someone decided to rebuild the beach the day we got here (they're dredging the ocean and putting the sand on to Indian Rocks Beach), so there is a construction zone right outside. But at least we can walk around it pretty easily ... up until now we needed a car if we wanted to go to the beach.

So we unpacked and spent the rest our first day on the beach playing in the ocean and hanging with our friends. I got to break out the new telephoto lens for my camera too. This thing is awesome. It takes the most amazing pictures despite the fact that I don't have an eye for photography. I took photos of the kids playing in the surf and drank Coronas until dinnertime, a backyard BBQ that we all contributed to. Now THIS is the way to vacation!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Kent's House

We've been here a week now and I haven't posted any pictures of Kent's House, so here's a little photo montage of our summer home away from home...

The main entrance from Whitfield
(this is sooooo pretty at night when the lights are on)

Kent & Joanne's Villa (on the right)

Just their side of the townhome

I don't know what is living inside this little entryway, but Olivia is scared to death of it

The Bedrooms

The master suite connects to the office, so that's where you'll find me the most

The second bedroom
Kent stayed here so we could have the master

The living areas that Casey and I spend the most time in

I know you're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition ... get over it :-)

The Office

The view from my chair
(just in case you want to pretend you're me for a bit)

The formal living and dining areas

And last but not least ... the sewing chair

I told you she was exceptionally cute, Joanne

Ok, so it's not an actual montage, per se, but photo montage is just a fun phrase to say. Try it ... photo montage... photo montage ... I feel like Bob Sagat from America's Funniest Home Videos or something :)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

And on the fifth day - We went to Siesta Key

My poor co-workers. They know I have so much to do, and so little desire to do it much of the time. Today was definitely one of those days.

The sky outside my office window was blue, the temperature was moderate, and I thought to myself what a perfect day to visit Siesta Key. So I dragged Casey out of bed (that seems to be the norm lately), again packed up the car with a few necessities, programmed the GPSr and we were off.

It took us about 30 minutes by car, but we found the pubic beach parking lot without difficulty.

Now, we had been told how beautiful this place was. We've seen it on television, we've read about it on message boards, and our relatives had delegated it a must see attraction. Still, we were not prepared for how truly breathtaking Siesta Key Beach is.

The shores are mostly mineral quartz, ultimately derived from the southern Appalachian Mountains. Over millenniums, sand grains were carried by rivers into the Gulf and down the coast (at least that's what the sign said). What does this mean? It means sand so white and so soft it's almost surreal. As soon as we walked on to the beach Casey dropped to her knees and started digging in the sand. It almost feels like silk! It's cool to the touch, too, despite the sun beating down on it. Immediately we decided that we will visit here again.

So we set up camp next to a life guard station, and jumped into the green water. The water was calm and warm ... it was great! You could wade out forever and only be waist deep - perfect for playing catch. There were lots of little fish, too, but we forgot our snorkel stuff in Albuquerque. Still it was fun watching them swim around in the shallow water.

It wasn't long before we noticed all of the skimboarders again. Some of these guys are pretty good! Not much longer after that is when we noticed the surf shop. As you can tell from the photo, our newest piece of sports equipment that we will never use again cherish forever is this nifty skim board (see how to skim board at eHow).

Casey practiced and practiced and actually did quite well! Everyone who noticed her offered words of encouragement and advice ... she must have been the youngest person out there trying to break their neck. You know it's a tough sport when a major accomplishment is not falling down for three seconds!

It ended up clouding up after three days of forecasted showers, and when the thunder and sprinkles started we decided to take a break and grab lunch. Per our life guard's recommendation, we drove about a mile up the road to the Old Salty Dog. The menu is good if you like fried food or fried food (they had fried macaroni and cheese on the kids menu for goodness sake!) Casey ordered the BLT, I got the blackened grouper sandwich, and we collaboratively decided that the lifeguard is taking kickbacks for referring wet behind the ears tourists to them.

It stopped raining at some point, so we decided to go back to the beach before heading home. It didn't take long for the dark clouds to roll in, but she got a little more practice time in at least. And then something incredible happened - IT RAINED! It waited until I was trying to drive home during 3:30pm traffic (is that when the early bird specials start here or something?) but at least it rained! So we're home now safe and sound, and getting ready to settle in for a night of Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

See you tomorrow!