Thursday, April 26, 2007

Outdoorsy Girl Grows Up (or not)

Working with kids, I have often wondered what they will be like when they grow up. I have heard that most of one’s personality has developed by the time you reach age 7. Certain factors, such as experiences and environment, affect and shape the personality later on but the foundation is set. This is both great and disturbing to me as there are a few kids that I know who are just great little people and are full of kindness and also a couple of them that I fear might turn out to be serial killers.

I don’t believe that the formula (or any formula, for that matter) is set for everyone, but for me it seems to perfectly apply.

Here’s some trivia about Little Outdoorsy Girl….

(Keep in mind that my dad and I are the family jokesters.)

While visiting with my parents one weekend, my dad was sharing with me his baby book that he had somehow uncovered. After making a few jokes about how this documentation, nearly as old as Dead Sea Scrolls was still in pretty good shape, I began to look through the pages that my beloved, late grandmother had written down about my father. Suddenly I read something that cracks me up. “Oh my God, Daddy! You were a fat two year old! It says you weighed nearly as much as the five year olds in my class!”

“What!” he exclaims. “I think that is normal. I’ll bet you weighed that much!”

“Oh puh-lease! If I weighed that much then it’s no wonder you moan and groan so much about your back nowadays!”

To solve the dispute, my mom steps in and pulls out my baby book and I learned quite a bit about the little me. Not only did I find that my hair color, smile, and chipmunk cheeks were nearly the same, but also a few things personality-wise are pretty much unchanged.

For example, I apparently was born independent. When I was two I didn’t want anyone to have to put me to bed like a baby. I insisted that I go to bed on my own after my parents so I carried my own little lantern down the hallway to my room each night (most likely only about 30 seconds after they turned out their light.)

I was a tomboy then as I am now. There is a picture of me at age four with hair spilling out of my ponytail proudly holding up a fish that I caught on the lake with my dad. This weekend I will be trout fishing with my dad, by the way.

I was a born talker. For those of you who know me, is this really a shocker? I was blabbing about my pet cat before I was two. And it turns out that I never met a stranger while we were in the grocery store or wherever we happened to be. I had no problems telling people my name, that I was two years old, and then showing them my M&Ms I talked my mom into buying me.

Oh and now that food has been mentioned…I began having cereal added to my formula when I was only 3 weeks old! I cried and cried until the doctor told my mom that I must be hungry and to add the cereal. Right away, I began to sleep all night and started smiling and laughing and doing the other cute stuff. Once a pig, always a pig!

I did like to stay up rather late and watch some Johnny Carson. I still stay up late. TOO LATE.

I used to sing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kikki Dee when I was taking my bubble baths. I still sing (off key) while taking showers and yes, bubble baths! (But it's on to better songs nowadays.)

I always loved to go, go, go! Unlike my wimpy brother, I loved when my parents took me somewhere away from home to spend the night. I loved staying at my grandparents’ home best. I used to hurt my parents’ feelings because whenever they left me, I simply waved and said, “Bye! Bye! See ya!” I never cried. Maybe this was the beginning of the travel bug for me? I can still be easily detached from my home and easily fit right in new places.

Now I have to confess that I did read something disturbing in my baby book. It was right after I had looked through my old report cards and teachers’ comments about my “above average work” and I was feeling like the genius that I still am. Then I flipped to the page that listed my accomplishments. I walked early. I talked early. I proudly scrolled down my list of acts of brilliancy and came to a halt. Right beside the entry “First Began To Read”, in my dear mother’s handwriting was written “Age 7.” WHAT!?!

Mama!” I exclaimed. “I could read before I was seven! What are you talking about!?” I am clearly unhappy about any future children I may have reading in their mother’s baby book that she was a dumb, slow reader and in turn, making fun of her as much she did of her own father for being such a fat baby.

“I know you did. But that’s when you began to really get into those Weekly Reader Books,” she said.

With a scowl still upon my face, I reply, “Then why didn’t you write that? You need to go back and add “proficiently” next to it. I began to read proficiently at age seven!”

She laughs at me and promised to add it. I’m going to check on that this weekend!

By the way, my dad was indeed a fat baby as we discovered I was much lighter than him at age two. We even pulled out my dear brother’s baby book to compare the numbers.

Looks like you were fatter than Brother,” Daddy says with a smirk.

I compared the two pages and exclaim, “What are you talking about!? He is three pounds heavier than me at two!"

He looks again and laughs at his mistake. I couldn’t resist the open invitation to slam him once again. “You apparently never learned any math. Now that you should’ve picked up by this age!”

Looking at me with the same smirk and using the same sarcastic humor that so frequently flows from my own mouth, he says, “Yeah, yeah! But at least I could read before I was seven.”

Hmmm. Maybe one’s personality is formed by many various factors. I will always stick by the theory that the majority of it is by genes.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Day 4:Paradise Lost and Found...then lost again.

The day I had been looking forward to the most had finally arrived—the day we were to take a boat 70 miles to sea to be in the middle of nowhere on a beautiful island in the Dry Tortugas. The original plan was to camp one night and return the following day. However, the National Park Service has other ideas as to how many campers they allow to stay in the Dry Tortugas. (Six per boat!!! Next time I will book reservations way ahead of time!)

Waking up at 4:45 a.m. happened as planned. The storm the night before was still lingering around threatening to ruin our day of fun in the sun (as if it and those damn kids didn’t do enough damage stealing my precious sleep!) And speaking of those pesky kids and their loud family…We rolled out of the campground at 5:15 a.m., but not before I stopped my car right by their tent and laid down on my horn (I drive a Honda Civic, by the way, which has one of the most annoying horns on the planet!) and rolled down my window and yelled at the top of my lungs, “BOOOOOOOO! AND THERE’S YOUR WAKE UP CALL! HOW DOES IT FEEL?!?” Man, that felt good.

Arriving in Key West, and seeing that a gray sky and random raindrops were still lingering, made my spirits sink just a bit. After we were allowed to board our boat, we had a breakfast buffet of which I took full advantage! I sat staring out the windows and praying for clear weather despite the announcement from the Captain of expectant inclement weather. About 30 minutes after departure from Key West, a storm hit. The sea churned and swirled and threw us about. My stomach lurched and my heart fluttered as if I were on a rollercoaster at Six Flags. It was so much fun! Best Friend and I laughed so hard! After about 20 minutes, it was not so much fun anymore. Too much of a good thing, ya know—like being stuck on the Six Flags coaster.

Way over half of the people on board began vomiting. It was horrible. Tortugas Jack, our colorful and fun crew member began passing out motion sickness bags. I looked at Best Friend who took one from him. I wanted to comfort her, but just looking at her pallid face made me queasy. I took deep breaths and prayed for mercy (later I asked for death but…) and tried to convince myself I would be okay. Then my mouth began to salivate and I knew what was coming I wanted to yell for a bag, but it came out as a whisper. Luckily, a nice lady cried out for me and Tortugas Jack rushed me a bag just in the nick of time. I thought I would need another bag before we reached land again. I buried my face in my hands. All of those visions I had of white sand, snorkeling with the fishes, and wandering an old fort began to slip away. I doubted any paradise would be worth this price.

After an eternity, (about 1 ½ hours later) I heard some lucky bastard who didn’t get sick yell out “Tortugas! Land ho!” I glanced up and saw a horizon that was slanted too much for my taste and buried my face again until I actually felt the boat bump the dock. After a few minutes of deep breaths and re-composure, I stepped off the boat into the warm air. Like a miracle, the gray clouds parted and warm sunshine fell from blue skies. It didn’t take long for me to feel like exploring once I saw the clear, turquoise waters.

Because I’m a bad friend, I left poor Best Friend lying on the beach recovering from the vomit-fest and took to exploring the awesome Fort Jefferson, which took up the majority of the island. It is enormous! In fact, it is the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its construction began in 1846 but was never finished and was deemed obsolete with the invention of the rifled canon. The fort became a prison for Civil War deserters and such. The most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, after setting John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Dr. Mudd was pardoned of his crime by President Johnson after helping and saving numerous lives after a huge Yellow Fever epidemic at the prison.

Later Best Friend felt better and we walked Dr. Mudd’s cell together. We also walked the narrow wall along the moat surrounding the entire fort despite the waves’ attempts to knock us over into the water. Though the skies showed no sign of the early storm, the water was wild and choppy.

It was so choppy that we couldn’t snorkel for the risk of the seas slamming us into the brick moat wall, though we did try. After nearly having my fins and attached feet ripped off by a freak reverse-rip tide, I gave up on seeing the coral reefs and settled for a swim in the water. After lounging, swimming, walking, and exploring in paradise, it was time to leave....via that Godforsaken boat a/k/a The Vomit Comet. I wanted desperately to send for a seaplane except there were no phones. I wanted to just live there permanently but the park rangers said no. ANYTHING but get back on that boat. I jealously watched a beautiful seaplane land on the water as I took my seat on the deck of the boat. I hoped that the Dramamine and ginger ale that Best Friend and I purchased and shared would pull me through the next 2 hours.

It turns out the sea was glass smooth all the way back. It was beautiful and I was amazed at the Flying Fish I saw. I wanted to see more of them but the Dramamine I had (unnecessarily) taken had knocked me out. I slept most of way. I slept so hard that I didn’t even know that the guy whose cooler I had passed out on had come and taken some drinks from it.

I walked in a fog back to my car in the parking garage in Key West. I handed my keys over to Best Friend. I was not capable of driving. This was worse than me on Benadryl. I slept most of the way through the Keys and up to Florida Turnpike waking up only as we stopped to pay tolls and cursing about how this was highway robbery literally and arguing with Best Friend when she said, “It is a little ridiculous but it’s better than hitting that crappy traffic around Miami on 95. Plus it’s not as bad as you think because you are only waking up when we go through the toll plaza.” I mumbled that I thought it was going to cost us $20 before we got off the damn road and began fading back off to the foggy turquoise waters in my mind. The last thing I remember saying was, “That sign says Monkey Jungle. I wonder what is this money jungle. Is it really a jungle and are there really monkeys? Haha. Monkey Jungle.” And I fell back into unconsciousness.

...Until my head was suddenly slammed into my passenger window, where I had happily drooled for hours. I jolted awake to my windshield wipers madly zipping back and forth and Best Friend yelling over and over, “Oh my God! I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” I blinked and asked, “It’s okay. What happened?” She replied, “I think I wrecked your car! I think I hit the wall. I didn’t know I was that sleepy, too!” We stepped out and neither of us noticed any damage. I’m awake now and take the keys. The alertness didn’t last for long. I pulled into the very next travel plaza (which are the benefits of paying the ridiculous $20 in tolls) where I planned to refuel and fall immediately asleep in the adjacent rest area. While refueling, Best Friend noticed the huge bulge in my tire. We asked one of the mechanics on duty if he thought it might blow out before I reached Atlanta. Not only did he think it would blow out when it heated up, but that I would slam on my brakes and have a horrendous crash that would kill us and everyone else around us. Not that I needed that much of a visual, but I got the picture and bought a new $100 tire. The mechanic who changed the tire out commented that it looked like the tire had hit a curb or something. Best Friend sighed, “Yeah that would be me.” I couldn’t help but laugh.

Let me just say that the nap in the parking lot was the most refreshing ever. I felt pretty good after that and drove happily along until we made our first stop in Georgia and nearly froze to death as cold winds attacked us when we stepped out of the car. Where did this cold front come from? It was enough to make me want to turn around and head south again. Well, that and the crazy looks I got from everyone when I stepped into the arctic air in my shorts, tank top, and bikini top that I was still wearing.

My first look at the island.

Walking along the moat wall was fun as along as... watched out for attack waves!

View on top of the fort looking to the opposite side. See how huge it is?

A grim reminder of prisoner's life over Dr. Mudd's cell.

Inside the fort...

Cuban Refugee boats. Can you believe they risk 90 miles of open sea in these shabby things? It's so sad.

I wanted to take it, but the rules were you can't. I was a good girl for once and left it alone.

Da plane! Da plane! Oh how I wish it were coming for me.

But instead, I got this! :(

At least it was smooth sailing back home.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Day 3: Snorkeling, Sightseeing, and Not Sleeping

We started Day 3 off bright and early with a drive up to Key Largo for a snorkeling trip from Pennekamp Coral Reef Park. I was really looking forward to snorkeling among the reefs and it was the main reason that I decided to head south for the warm waters of Florida for my trip.

The boat we boarded at Pennekamp took us out to North White Banks Reef. This underwater world was amazing! I saw so many colorful coral and tropical fish out there. The water temperature was in the low 70s, so my wetsuit came in handy. I did begin to feel the chill right before we climbed back aboard the boat. We were out there an hour and a half but I refused to come out of the water until I had to. I just gave way to the pulsing and swaying of the water and all its creatures. Back on board, people were discussing the animals they saw and I was so sad to know that I missed seeing a Tiger Shark who swam up to and skirted the reef! Boooo to that!

Before leaving the park, I went over to Canon Beach and swam out to the buoy that marks a Spanish Galleon wreck. The wreck didn’t actually happen here (130 ft. offshore) but was moved and recreated here so that snorkelers could easily enjoy it. So what did I see when I swam out there? Nothing! Not even my hand! The nearby mangroves had fogged the water into a reddish muck! I learned something about myself, too. If I can’t see underwater, I can’t breathe underwater, either! I guess it’s a form of claustrophobia, but whatever the case, I quickly removed my snorkel and mask and swam right back to shore.

It was late morning when we left Largo for Key West again. We further explored the island and took in all the sites. We weren’t able to tarry there for very long after sunset as we needed to go to bed early so that we could get up extremely early. When I say early, I’m talking about 4:45 a.m. early! We needed to take down our tent, get dressed and ready and leave by 5:30 so that we could make it to back to Key West (Yes, again!) by 7:15 to check in for our trip out the Dry Tortugas.

The only stop we made on our way back to camp was by the Key Deer Refuge. The Key Deer is an endangered sub-species of the Whitetail Deer that live only in a small section of the Keys. What makes them unique is that they stand only 2 ½ feet at the shoulder full grown! They are so cute! I wasn’t expecting to see one, but we pulled the car in a turnabout and there she was! I wish that I could’ve gotten better picture, but I didn’t want to scare her away, so I took this through the windshield of my car.

Driving across the many bridges back to the campsite was long and tiring. I can’t explain how excited I was going to be to get a nice shower and fall immediately asleep—I’m talking still with wet hair kind of immediate!

Back at camp, showering's done. I’m feeling wonderfully tired and settle into my sleeping bag. It’s about 10:15 p.m. and I can still hear the noise of other campers despite the passing into the quiet hours, which began at 10:00 pm. I try to tune them out. I almost fell asleep three times…except that every time I am nearly there the squealing and screaming and yelling of these kids in the playground jolted me awake. I yell out the tent, “STOP SCREAMING!” and try to fall asleep again.

It was no good. The brats were being brattier than ever! I looked through the tent’s window and to my total dismay and raging, high blood pressure, I see the IDIOT mother playing with them! It’s nearly 11:00--an hour past quiet time began--and this stupid excuse of a mother was out there encouraging her children to be a distraction! I was so pissed off! No one interferes with my sleep!

I slide on my shoes and storm out of the tent. I am hardly to the playground fence when I began to yell, “Hey! Quiet hours began at 10:00! There are people trying to sleep here and no one can with all this yelling and noise! I have to get up very early tomorrow and I don’t think you would like it if I were as disrespectful of you by being loud while you’re trying to sleep! MY GOD! BE QUIET!” Can you believe that this pitiful excuse of a parent didn’t even respond to me!?! But at least they were quiet after that. As soon as my blood pressure dropped back into the normal range, I found sleep at last.

...And that’s when the storm blew in with the thunder and high winds. And as heavy a sleeper as I can be, I just might have slept through it all if I had the time to fall into a deep enough sleep--like if I had fallen asleep when I planned to before all the racket! Damn kids and their dumb mom!

As I plugged my ears from the thunder (and blamed my alertness to it on those kids) I began to plot my sweet revenge. Stay tuned for the excitn conclusion of my trip. For now, here's some photos...

Isn't this a sexy picture of me sporting my snorkel? It's pretty hot, no? I should've bought the tee shirt that said, "I think your snorkel is sexy." haha.
Come to think of it, the picture up top of me sweating away in my wetsuit is a good one, too.

Here's best friend. At least she doesn't look quite as bad as the closeup shot of mine.

Click on these next three and you can see all the fishes hiding in the coral.

Here are some Key West sights...
A typical house you would find in Key West complete with the typical cats you find there.
I'm not sure why, but Key West is full of cats everywhere.
It's also full of...

Chickens! I don't know what is up with all the chickens! I swear I don't remember seeing this many the last time I visited. They were everywhere this time!

Yay! It's the original Margaritaville! I love me some Jimmy Buffett!

The "new" Sloppy Joe's Bar. I am planning on writing a post about the place that was the original. It's a very cool building and full of colorful history.

This Ernest Hemingway's home. I was SO sad that we didn't have the time to tour the home. I did see a few of the famous 6 toed cats that are all descendants of his cats.

Here's Mallory Square, home of the Sunset Festival, where you can see singing dogs, cats jumping through hoops of fire, men juggling knives while standing on stilts, drunkards, gypsies, fortune tellers, and oh yeah...a great view of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet another stunning picture of myself. For the life of me, I can't understand why I didn't hook up with a hot man while on vacation! It must have been that I was soooo busy. No time for that. Yeah, that's it. I am a mere 90 miles to Cuba. I was closer to Havana at this point than I was to Miami or anywhere else on the mainland of the US.

The lovely Key West Lighthouse rising above the Banyan trees that suround it.

Just looking at these pictures helps me to forget about this freak cold front we are now all dealing with on the East coast.

Wish I were still there. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Day 2: From the jungle of the Everglades to the jungle of Key West

After a good night’s sleep in Homestead, Best Friend and I started our day out quite early. We had hoped to enter Everglades National Park in the morning when the animals would be active. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Florida Panther, but he was a no-show. What I did see were countless alligators, many types of birds including mother and baby Screech Owls, turtles, and lizards.

We took the main road through the Glades from Florida City to the southern tip of the peninsula in Flamingo. I was actually more impressed with the Everglades than I thought I would be. I remember passing through several years ago and only seeing the saw grass prairies, or also called the River of Grass. The road we traveled did pass through the River of Grass, but also through hammocks of tropical trees that grow nowhere else beyond the Caribbean other than Florida. We passed by canals, brackish swamps, and finally to Florida Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, I enjoyed it most when I got out of my car and did what I love best—took a hike through a few trails. I was praying wildly that I would not see a snake. I had heard the horror stories of people dumping off their pet Pythons into the Glades and such. I also remember seeing a very disturbing picture of one of these released Pythons that attempted to swallow a full grown alligator. It killed the gator but the gator was so large that it caused the snake to split wide open, killing it, too. Eeek! Thankfully, I did not encounter any slithery nightmares on my way through the mangrove trails. But I did see too many gators to keep count.

With all the animals and thick tropical vegetation, I felt like I was in a jungle.

After leaving the jungle behind, we continued south to the almost-Caribbean little islands known as the keys. Shortly after leaving Florida City, we hit the Overseas Highway that connects the islands via dozens of bridges, one of those being 7 miles long. The sea was so beautiful and blue-green. Nothing beat having the sunroof of my car open and the windows down as the 80+ degree winds blew through my hair as I crossed the blue sea.

We camped at the Fiesta Key KOA off Long Key. (Because there were no other accommodations available; plus camping is cheaper!) It was a really nice place to camp. The beach had a tikki bar and kayaks available for rental, but we had too much to see and too much to do to tarry there very long, so we quickly set up our tent under a stand of palms and continued down the Overseas Highway toward Key West.

We made a stop before reaching our destination at Bahia Honda Key, which was twice rated one of the best beaches in America. It was so pretty there. I searched for Bahama Starfish, but didn’t see any. Still, I got the chance to practice snorkeling with my new gear. I wanted to get back in the groove of breathing correctly and working those fins before we headed out to one of the reefs off Key Largo the next day.

After some snorkeling and soaking up rays at Bahia Honda, we made the rest of the trip into that crazy little island the Spanish named Cayo Hueso (Island of Bones) and we later renamed Key West!

We strolled along Duval Street (the main street) and checked out the sights and then we headed down to Mallory Square for the daily Sunset Festival. (You gotta love a place that makes up every excuse under the sun—literally—to have a party. The Sunset Festival takes place at sunset 365 days a year!) The sunset was beautiful and all the festivities were entertaining and fun. The only problem was it was hard to distinguish the drunk people from the plain crazy people here.

I felt like I started my day out enjoying wildlife and ended it by watching wildlife of another variety.
More pictures from Key West will follow in the next post.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Florida Trip, Day 1

I’m back from my beachy fun in Southern Florida and back into the real world. I am glad to report that I survived my first day back at work. It seems that first day back is usually a killer. Yet I'm alive and have tons of photos and tales of the trip from snorkeling in Key Largo to sunsets in Key West, so I will begin with Day 1 of the trip.

Now just to put this into perspective, the drive directly down to Key West from my home is 846.2 miles away. (New York City is 880.8 miles!) Of course, I did more than just drive the direct route. Adding St. Augustine, a drive through the Everglades, and all the island hopping from Long Key to Key Largo and to Key West came to a grand total of 2148.7 miles driven on this trip! That’s a round trip to Boston, Ma or a one way trip to California!

That being said, Day 1 of my trip was mostly just the drive to Homestead, Florida where Best Friend and I spent the night. We did make a stop for a couple of hours in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US. (founded in 1586) I fell in love with the place when I first visited there about 15 or so years ago, but Best Friend had never been there and I was looking forward to showing her around. The city has that Savannah/Charleston, SC feel about it except that the architecture is rich in Spanish influence whereas the other two cities have that old English and French feel about it.

I didn't take that many pictures here (at least not many for me) on this trip because I have so many of them from previous trips. But here are a few of them...
This is the Castillo de San Marcos Fort, built by the Spanish in 1672. This is one of my favorite coastal forts, not only because it it is so old, but because it is built of Coquina (a locally quarried limestone formed from little sea shells bonding together) rather than the usual red brick.

Here's the Old City Gate which leads down St. George Street. This street is comprised of restored buildings of the old town. While quite touristy, it's still very charming and I always enjoy a stroll down this street.

A view of St. George Street.

Further down St. George Street.

The oldest wooden school house in the U.S. (Don't you just love it when people step right into your pictures even though they clearly can see you are about to snap a shot?)

The Old Mill which is now The Old Mill Tavern. They have pretty good burgers and sandwiches here. (Or at least from what I remember. It's been a long time since I have eaten here.)

<---And this was the upsetting part of the visit for me. This bridge is the Bridge of Lions, a beautiful draw bridge graced with lion statues that guard the entrance on either side. It wasn't just the construction that upset me, but the fact that the lions weren't there! Where did the lions go? I'm sure that once construction is complete, the lions will be placed back in their rightful spot. But where are they right now? I was very sad about this!

Here are some boats on the harbor. I'll bet they were all sad that the lions aren't there anymore, too.

After leaving St. Augie, we pushed further southward for Homestead. We would've been there much earlier than we actually arrived IF IT WEREN'T FOR ALL THE FREAKIN' TRAFFIC and road construction between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami!!! It is not a hidden fact that I detest Atlanta traffic, but the mess I ran into on this night made being stuck on I-285 or the downtown connector feel like a cruise through the country! I am sad to say that on this very night I began to understand and identify with road rage.

But alas, Best Friend found us an exit and got us onto US 1, which lead us to our cozy hotel in Homestead. We needed all the rest we could get because Day 2 was going to be packed with adventure.

Details (which are much more interesting) from Day 2 are coming soon!