Tag Archives: florida

Day 1 – Seminole FL to Walterboro SC

We left an hour and a half past what I had planned. I knew my leaving time was aspirational at best, but I’d still hoped we would leave close to that time. But we made it out of our nearly clean house and survived our first travel day.

Some tears before leaving home.
All packed up!
Buckled up and ready to go!

Keith is a champion at driving. I drove to Ocala and he drove the rest of the way to Walterboro, SC. The kids ate the dinner of their dreams at McDonald’s (I know, we’re so fancy). They rarely eat it, and I always tell them it’s vacation food. Since we’re on vacation, they get to live their best fast food life.

We stopped in North Jacksonville at Oceanway Park (12215 Sago Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32218) to run off some steam. Located less than a mile from I-95, it was an easy stop. The playground had a tent over it, keeping it cool. Slides, tunnels, and ladders galore; the kids loved it. We didn’t love the lack of bathrooms or the ants surrounding the picnic table like our food was the Last Supper. Keith took a short walk around a natural area and saw a snake!

Adios, Florida!

The kids predictably had a million of the same questions, asked over the course of our 6+ hour drive:

  • How much longer?
  • Where’s the hotel?
  • Are we out of Florida yet?
  • How long are we driving?
  • How many miles?
  • Can I use the iPad?
  • How long to hotel?

They fell asleep before we made it to the hotel, and easily continued sleeping once we carried them inside.

Hen got a map!

Miles driven today = 416.

Epic Walbolt Road-Trip Vacation

Tomorrow we leave for a 17-day great American road trip as a family. That’s right, we’re taking our 3 and 6 year olds with us in our Toyota Corolla up the East Coast from Florida to Maine and back. You’re probably thinking we may be crazy, and as I pack, clean, and do last minute preparations, I’m thinking you may be right.

Just kidding, we’ve got this.

I’m mostly sure.

Our idea for this trip was planted when we realized how many people we loved lived from the mid-Atlantic to New England and we missed them so much we knew we needed to schedule a visit. Flying four people anywhere costs a fortune, and then we’d have to rent a car anyway once we arrived. So we drive!

Each kid has a tote bag of car distractions that include a whole lot of Melissa and Doug, coloring books, games, and building toys like Legos and Tegu magnetic blocks. I also have another tote with school-type stuff for Henry – reading and math workbooks as well as books to read aloud so he can get to Home Base for Reading with the Rays (and fill my only official summer learning requirement of reading 30 minutes a day). He’s going to try to read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which will be incredibly challenging so wish him luck and persistence. Finally, we have iPads for each kid to watch movies and play games when the time on the road becomes too intense.

H’s Car Distractions
E’s Car Gear (don’t worry, I have more things for him for later in the trip)

The kids expectations regarding our trip are mixed at best.

Henry thinks it will take 3 hours to get there, and that time frame is entirely too long. “Why aren’t we flying?” is the main question he’s been asking. Such a privileged kid, mostly flying everywhere since he’s been alive. He’s most excited to visit Vermont, for reasons involving a horse and ice cream.

Elliot thinks we are visiting Spain and chose it as his top state on this trip because it’s like church. I wish we could drive to Spain, buddy. He has also asked when and how we are seeing Marlon Bundo while we are in DC…Tia Nesa is somehow making that difficult request happen.

I’m excited to see friends and family who we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. So is Keith. Overnight stops include:

• Walterboro, South Carolina

• Alexandria, Virginia

• Spencerport, New York

• Bristol, Vermont

• Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

• Jamestown, Rhode Island

• Rockville, Maryland

• Yemassee, South Carolina

We’ll be stopping at least every three hours so the kids can run around at parks and playgrounds along the way. Hopefully, that will break up the monotony of interstate travel and let them get their energy out. And nap. So no one goes crazy.

Playgrounds Around Pinellas – Caldwell Park

I don’t know about you, but it’s been just so hard to make it to playgrounds this summer with this crazy heat making it unbearable outside. But last week I got our act together and we made it to a park a little before 10am and it only felt like 87 degrees. Or something like that.

A couple weeks ago, I spied a park that had SHADE on our car tour of South Pinellas! So it was totally worth it to make the 23 minute drive into Gulfport for a mostly shaded playtime adventure at Caldwell Park (Gulfport Blvd and 64th St, Gulfport). Pulling into this small neighborhood park, Elliot exclaimed, “This is so cool!” He wasn’t wrong.

The boys loved spinning themselves silly on the multiple spinners, climbing up the fun webs (and laying in their hammocks), racing cars down the slides, and of course swinging on the swings (which were also partially in the shade – a Pinellas park miracle because there’s rarely any shade cover for the coveted swings!)

The playground abuts the busy Gulfport Boulevard, but the park is fully fenced and set back behind the trees. Kids can watch cars, but you don’t have to worry about them running out in front of them. It’s nicely mulched and well-kept with and adjacent adult fitness area so you can work out while your kids play. There’s also benches and a picnic table for you to sit back and watch your kids when they aren’t asking to be spun like maniacs. The only drawback is no bathroom facilities, so it’s not the best if you’re potty-training. Everyone agreed we had to go back this summer.

Playgrounds Around Pinellas – Northeast Park

Northeast Park (4630 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33764) is a City of Largo park tucked away from the busyness of East Bay. I can imagine the playground gets more use when parents are playing basketball or roller hockey on its concrete-jungle courts (they close at 11pm), but on a weekday morning we saw no one. Pine trees provided needed shade cover for the playground equipment, which varied from the usual swings and slides.

We loved the zip line swing that is the focal point of the playground. A challenge to get up the platform because of its steepness (teamwork with Henry allowed the ramping up to happen; he did a running Superman and then leapt and grabbed onto the rail, which allowed me to haul him up the rest of the way), it was totally worth it to hear the boys’s giggles as they swung down the first big drop and were whipped around the corners. They did a great job of taking turns.

They also ascended the yellow mountain climber, which required help for Elliot and panicking by Henry that he couldn’t do it (even though he did). It was a different type of climbing because they had to move sideways without great handgrips. A small jungle gym that looked older than the other equipment was quickly climbed, then forgotten. The boys liked the merry-go-round (safer than the one at Largo Central), but didn’t ask to be lifted up for the bigger kid spinner. Elliot, of course, loved the swings, but didn’t like only having baby swings as an option. I guess the zip line swing is supposed to provide all the swinging fun needed for bigger kids. Finally, my kids tested the workout equipment made for adults, which looks like it was recently installed.

Dislikes: On our most recent visit I saw an abandoned car in the overflow parking with a lot of gear (plus a bike). I saw no one else at the park while I was there. Previously (more than 3 years ago), the trails were overgrown and littered with needles and other trash. I didn’t try to take a stroll this time around because of that. Additionally, my kids ended up getting filthy dirty from the park because there is no mulch or other ground cover. It’s pretty much pine needles over Florida black sandy soil. Dirtiness doesn’t really bother me, but it was a LOT.

Overall, I’m sure we will return this summer because that zip line swing was so unusual and fun, but I don’t think we will regularly go (unless the boys ask).

Amenities:

  • Restrooms and (Cold!) Water Fountain
  • Dog Park (“Paw Place”), closes 9pm
  • Lighted Basketball Court
  • Lighted Roller Hockey Court
  • Paved Trails
  • Picnic Shelter, but no table
  • Exercise Equipment for Adults

Independence Day with the Littles

Our holiday has been pretty poppin’:

  • We went to the YMCA today, decked out in our red, white, and blue, and I practiced yoga this morning.
  • We swam with Uncle Brent and friends during our regularly scheduled naptime resulting in too-late naps for everyone except Keith.
  • We ate hot dogs, tater tots, and applesauce for dinner.
  • We threw poppers on the ground, making tiny explosions with the force of our throws.
  • We lit sparklers, creating designs in the air.
  • We ate popsicles because it’s July in Florida and it’s too dang hot even with the evening’s (relatively) cool breeze.
  • I heard the fireworks outside celebrating our Nation’s birthday, and watched my boys’ smiles as they glimpsed them over the treetops. They raced Keith to see the smaller ones in our neighborhood, first on bikes and later on foot. Amazement shined brighter on their faces than the fireworks themselves.

We lived our best lives of freedom and happiness today, yet when I think about life, liberty, and happiness* in the United States today, I come up short. How can I reconcile the conflict in my head that comes with having a pretty great day with my family while knowing many people living in the United States do not have these guaranteed freedoms?

I can’t right now. Not with families forcibly separated from their children by our government. Not with the criminal justice system imposing harsher sentences on those with darker skin tones. Not with public education being attacked by our leaders under the guise of test scores and grades. Not with the people in power continuing their destruction of health care protections, including preexisting conditions. And on and on it goes.

I’m trying not to let the political actions of our government get me down. I’m a dreamer and a fighter. So I’m combining my hope for a better world with personal action by making my resistance known. Because as the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton emphatically stayed at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, “God’s resistance is love…And [I am] God’s resistance.” *Footnote for anyone who wants to reread my favorite part of the Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson.“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

My Mother’s Day Morning

Mother’s Day morning is…

Getting woken up by a newly turned 2 year old with a giant hug, followed by snuggles with a 5 year old.

Those two boys demanding breakfast for themselves because they are sooo hungry before I put my contacts in my eyes.

Forgetting to make a birthday cake the night before (because one little is TWO) and throwing a boxed brownie mix in the oven the day of the birthday.

Trying to sit down and eat my own breakfast and having my littlest ask for bites.

Breaking up a zombie chase that ends in one brother getting a gigantic bump on his head after crashing into his high chair.

Getting up from breakfast every one to two minutes because someone needs something immediately.

Watching my boys play Legos together for several minutes in a row, allowing me to finish my breakfast even though it’s cold.

Buttoning 12 tiny buttons that small hands cannot yet do for themselves.

Putting on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Wild Kratts” so I can shower in peace by myself and get ready for church.

Chugging most of my coffee on our car ride to church.

Being late to church.

Sitting with the kids at Children’s Time and watching them love on their Dad and friends.

Chasing a toddler around church and ending up in the nursery for the readings and message.

Wishing to worship as an adult without being responsible for two littles who are all consuming in everything.

Walking up for communion and having E dip his fingers in the baptismal font and do the sign of the cross on his forehead then mine.

Taking communion and asking forgiveness for being quick to anger and frustrated so often at things I cannot control.

Supervising a instrumental dance party to “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”

Baptizing Fisher Price figures in Jesus’ name with the toddlers at Faithworks.

Taking a moment to breathe after Faithworks ends and I’m alone in the sanctuary.

Knowing that one day, when they are older, I will want to have my kids with me all day, but now I just want space.

Dreaming about how I can possibly spend the rest of my day alone, reading a book or napping.

Realizing that my boys love me too much to let that happen so I’ll have to settle for only a bit of solo time.

Needing all the hugs I can get from my boys because I love them entirely too much, no matter what.

Being a mama is complicated and exhausting, but my love for them is steadfast. Always.

Life Moves Pretty Fast – Do Better

Confession: one week into this year’s Lenten season, I have done absolutely nothing regarding my spiritual practice. For those of you who attend churches that do not recognize Lent, it is a liturgical season of the church and begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter Sunday. It’s a time of soul-searching and preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I had a plan. I had an intention to practice living in the moment, the way Ferris Beuller summed things up in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

You may be thinking, how can one of the greatest 80s movies (or really, one of the best movies of all time) be the tentpole for a spiritual practice? Like many people, I am usually attached to my iPhone or iPad. It’s so hard to put these items down, not because I may miss something uber important on the interwebs (although that’s part of it), but mostly because I feel addicted to knowing things. Quickly. And it’s not necessary. So the plan was to strive to capture Ferris’ joie de vivre.

I had concrete steps to take to execute this plan.

  • Daily meditation.
  • Looking at my phone at set intervals.
  • Practicing more yoga.
  • Doing things I enjoy with the people I love.
  • Reading my way through a Lenten bible study.

Then, everything went to shit on Ash Wednesday.

The day started off lovely, Valentine’s Day and its hype made my four-and-a-half year old super loving and full of hearts and hugs for the world. We found out that same 4.5yo had been accepted into two Pinellas County Schools lottery programs – Perkins Center for the Arts and International Studies and Mildred Helms, an IB Primary Years Program. Today, we accepted the invitation to Perkins, and we couldn’t be happier to have him attend this wonderful school where he will have Spanish every day plus art, music (including instruments like violin and keyboarding as he progresses through the school), theatre, and dance as part of the excellent academic curriculum. Life was sunshine and rainbows.

And my heart broke as I scrolled though my Facebook news feed and one friend after another in the Coral Springs area were posting about the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. At the beginning, the news reports were inconclusive since it was a developing story. I ran through a list of names of kids I know who attend Douglas, and checked with their parents to see if they were all right. And the ones I know are physically safe. Psychologically, however, I can’t imagine they are okay. Seventeen people at their school are dead because of a school shooter who used a semi-automatic weapon to kill his former classmates.

This is not okay. Schools should be safe spaces for kids. They should be able to learn and thrive, and grow into the people they will become. That’s my hope for my kids. And it is the reason I’m taking action to ensure they become safe spaces once again. I should have done better after Newtown, CT, but I’m here now and I demand action.

Our elected leaders must develop legislation limiting the sale and ownership of weapons that can fire multiple rounds without reloading ammo. To me, these seem to be used only to kill people, and the majority of us have zero need to kill others on the regular. Our elected leaders should look into placing limitations on ammunition, through taxes or quantities available to purchase. Our elected leaders should make it more difficult to buy a gun (and ammunition for that gun) than getting a driver’s license or obtaining a prescription. Our elected leaders should stop cutting funding to mental health care services, and instead provide services covered by insurance to all who need it.

Do better Mr. President, members of Congress, and the Senate. Do better Governor Scott and members of the Florida House and Senate. It is your job to protect the people of the United States, not serve the NRA. If you won’t, we the people will, starting with voting you out of office when your term is up.

Doing better is now added to my Lenten practice plan. I’m holding myself accountable to action, and you too.

Playground of the Week – Philippe Park

Philippe Park (2525 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor 34695) is a Pinellas County Park located on Old Tampa Bay and shaded by gloriously large oak trees draped with Spanish moss. This combination makes the park particularly lovely for family photos, if you’re looking for a picturesque, Pinellas location.


The main playground (I haven’t made it to the climbing one) is mostly shaded and overlooks the water from a distance on a hill. It has many of the same features as the other county parks, most noticeably, the rideable green and purple dinosaurs. There are 2 infant/toddler swings in one section and at least 4 regular swings in a different area.
 
Henry liked the variety of slides to climb up (& then slide down) on the older kid (5 to 12) set, and both generally liked the equipment. We spent the most time accumulating sticks and climbing the centipede, which Henry mastered the art of dangling by our second trip. He still needed a touch of help climbing down the centipede after he rapidly ascended.
 

Dislikes for us include the distance to the park (it takes us about 30 minutes from Seminole), especially since there are closer county parks to us, and the lack of kids playing on a weekday morning. My boys love playmates, and often immediately judge a playground as lame if no one else is there.

History

Around 1,000 years ago, Tocabaga Indians feasted on clams and oysters, leaving the remaining shells which comprise the still-visible Indian Mound that is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. You can climb to the top of the Mound for a fantastic view of the Bay.
 
This 122-acre park is the oldest county park in Pinellas, having been acquired in 1948! Named after Count Odet Philippe, the man who introduced grapefruit to Florida, it covers the site of his citrus plantation (St. Helena). Philippe has the distinction of being the first permanent, non-native settler of Pinellas County (he took the land in 1862), and is an ancestor to the prominent McMullen and Booth families. His grave site is located somewhere within the park.

Amenities

  • 9 picnic shelters
  • Restrooms
  • 2 playgrounds (one is a rock climbing playground)
  • Boat launch ($6 with trailer, $2 without)
  • Tocabaga Indian Mound
  • Softball field
  • Fishing (saltwater permit may be required)

Hurricane Irma Musings

Waiting. I feel like we have been waiting for Hurricane Irma to make landfall in Florida for always. In reality, it’s been 5 days. Tomorrow (Saturday) we are supposed to (finally!) know where she is going to turn to the north and by extension where she is going to hit. I keep praying it isn’t the Tampa Bay Area. Because our lives, family, and home are here.

Irma is a monster storm. A Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph (maximum gusts at 190 mph) is no party. As a native Floridian, I’m used to the threat of hurricanes. Tropical depressions or storms are no big deal, even Category 1 or 2 storms are an excuse to throw a hurricane party (at least that was the case when I was in college, the last time I experienced a hurricane). Once they hit Category 3 we take notice and by Category 4 or 5, we prepare and often flee.

This time around, I know we are all on edge because of the mess Hurricane Harvey wreaked on Texas. It is scary. Rationally, I know Irma is a faster moving storm, bringing less rain damage, and more wind damage with her. And she is supposed to be a Category 1 or 2 when she hits us after moving up the state.

Then the model shifts west. Again. And again. And remains unpredictable. But we are still home. No plywood for our windows made of the tough stuff (hurricane wind-resistant). Sitting about 17 feet above sea level in an unlikely evacuation zone (D). I’m taking a break in preparations to write this because if I somehow get all my feelings out in writing perhaps my anxiety about having to weather the storm with two littles will subside. (It helped earlier this week to create a reminder list about all the preparations we had to make.)

I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions (glass cage of emotion?) this week ranging from panic to reassured, to anxious to calm. Sometimes all within an hour. I talk to someone who plans to evacuate and think, maybe I should go. Then, I talk to someone else who says that if we aren’t in a mandatory evacuation zone then I should stay to keep the roads clear for those who need it. Don’t tell me what I should do, people! Did I mention I also feel frustrated?

Keith and I have a Plan. We have a Plan B. We have a Plan C. We have a Plan D. As a planner, I like to make ALL the plans. But I can’t plan for ever scenario and can only do what I think is best for me and my family.

So I wait. And pray. And go to Body Attack before the gym closes (yesterday) to be reopened on an undetermined date. And I pack and buy supplies and clean and take pictures. And, and, AND! The list is never ending. But the storm will come. And all the ones I love across Florida will hopefully be safe and protected. I hope.

Going Home to Jacksonville Part 3 – Arlington

In college, whenever I told someone I met I hailed from Jacksonville, and they also came from there, they would become interested and ask me, “What part?” Jacksonville is the biggest land area city in the country, so your neighborhood served as an identifier. When I responded, “Arlington,” mostly they looked shocked. Unless they have been there, Arlington is portrayed on local news as a decaying neighborhood whose heyday in the 1950s through the early 80s is long past.
 
Arlington became the first automobile-dependent suburb and flourished following the construction of the Matthews Bridge in 1953. My parents’ home in the Fort Caroline Club Estates was built in the late 60s, and they’ve been its owner since 1977. It’s always been a nice, middle class neighborhood within walking distance of the St. John’s River.
 
To me, it’s home. I spent entire summer days swimming at the Fort Caroline Club pool. I rode bikes around the neighborhood without a helmet. I played softball at Arlington Little League. I snuck into my first R-rated movie (There’s Something About Mary) at the Gazebo theater. I attended the local (non-Magnet) schools and received a great education thanks to committed teachers and my involvement in after-school activities.
 
I’m feeling nostalgic about Arlington lately because my parents are preparing their house to sell within the next year and move closer to my brother in Kissimmee. We’ve been trying for years to convince them to move closer to me or Scott and now they are actively moving forward in their process. And it kinda scares me. I’m not entirely sure why; I rarely visit Jacksonville because (a) my kids do NOT sleep when we aren’t at home and (b) my parents visit us on a monthly basis. It’s the change that’s intimidating…my parents will be moving from the place where I grew up, the only one, and all its familiar idiosyncrasies. I have to make sure to get back at least one more time before they move, sleep be damned!

Back to our visit…my kids had a blast at Grandma and Grandpop’s house – playing with new (but seriously old, like my dad’s old) toys, splashing in the sprinklers, and walking to and terrorizing Gerrie’s Park, just like my brother and I used to. It’s a small, neighborhood park with a few climbing areas, some swings, and space to run around. They boys’ favorite was helping Grandpop pick up tree debris from a recent storm. Who needs an actual playground when there are sticks bigger than your body? It was the best!