So, I've started mystery shopping again, as of last week. You may remember I stopped in about May or so when I applied for Social Security Disability... but I got denied, and I just don't have the mental fortitude to appeal. So, working is back on for me, and I'm back with a vengeance.
On Tuesday, the 26th of November (a week ago; I'm a naughty blogger!), I stacked a bunch of mystery shops in the Florida Keys together. We decided to take Thanksgiving week easy on schooling, so the plan was to work my way down and get the shops out of the way, and then play in downtown Key West. For once, all went according to plan.
We stopped twice in Key Largo for mystery shops. They were quick and easy, and I was able to get us right back on the road according to schedule. We did have to make a few pit stops, naturally, since it's about a seven-hour round trip down to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. (in Key West), but we made good time. I had to buy the children a blanket on the way there - they were freezing in the air conditioning! I stopped, too, to get post cards for my gal pal who collects them, and also to get stamps and send one with a Keys postmark.
Then, of course, there was the stop at the Key Deer refuge and wildlife center in Big Pine Key. You know how some people love to travel by car with their families and make unexpected and unplanned detours when they come across places of interest? In theory, I am one of those people. In practice, I am more of a planner and scheduler. I like Theoretical Me a bit better, so when we were discussing the Key Deer, specificially, and all endangered species in general, with the kiddos, it was just serendipitous that - at just the right time - we came across the refuge.
So, we went.
Here's a tip, if you ever go there: don't expect the volunteers in the center/gift shop to know anything about... anything. Because they don't. The kids kept asking them various question about artifacts in the museum, and they would either provide incorrect information or hedge until Marine Biologist Mom or Outdoorsman Dad would jump in and drop some knowledge. Why, Rob even busted the two older, married vollies for having a pheasant feather from, what?, New Hampshire or somewhere they recently relocated from, in with the Keys fossils and such. Really? What?! Who does that? Nervy. Hopefully they'll remove it now that they've been discovered, because that's just wrong if you ask me.
Which you didn't, so on with our trip:
There's this gas station we've stopped at several times on our various runs to the Lower Keys, and each time, chickens were running amok in the parking lot. I do so love that. Do you know how hard it is to take a decent Instagram of the roosters while they're running away from you?
After finishing my remaining three shops, one in Marathon and two in Key West itself, we were monstrously hungry. Of course, when one is in Key West and is of a certain age and not exactly a teetotaler, one expects there to be some alcohol paired with one's meals. I had a rum runner, one of my favorites, and Rob... I don't know. Maybe he had a beer. I can't remember.
Also, of course, when one is in the Keys or any other coastal area, one generally partakes in the local seafood fare. We shared a plate of peel-and-eat shrimp (delicious), and Rob had one of his favorites, conch fritters. I've tried so hard to get back to total vegetarianism this year, but when my protein requirements are so high, it's difficult. And shrimp are some tasty, tasty people.
(The yummiest shrimp I have ever eaten, by the by, were at The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key in Sarasota. I worked in Catering there while doing my internship at Mote Marine Lab. I could wax poetic about the food we served there... but I digress, as I am wont to do.)
Chloë ordered her dinner - mac and cheese for my girl - and promptly fell asleep the minute our awesome server at Caroline's Café walked away from our table. She had fallen asleep the day before over her schoolwork, too, but I wasn't concerned since I'd gotten all three kiddos out of bed both mornings to get on with our day(s)!
(Apologies for the darkness of these next few photos; I just now realized there is an option to turn the flash off on Instagram and I had utilized it at some point. Whoops.)
Anyway, we roused sleepy Chloë from her slumber and decided to walk around for a bit while time passed until I could finish the "Return" portion of one of my nearby mystery shops. It has long been a topic of conversation amongst the young trio of Odettelettes in our household that there are six-toed cats at the Hemingway house in Key West. Y'all know about that, right? So we decided to hot-foot it over to Hemingway's place and make a tiny dream come true for them.
The nearby residents must grow so weary of all the people meandering around, looking for that property. I'd been there in college, back in the 90s, but of course I didn't remember exactly how to get there since I was never in charge of directions. As it should be. I had Siri giving us walking directions while Rob looked around at the hilarious signage various Hemingway neighbors has posted, like the one above.
In the words of George Takei, "Oh, myyyy!"
(Side note: my nearly-14yo neice follows my instagramography, and she "liked" this picture. Kind of embarrassing.)
Thankfully, we arrived at Hemingway's home after 1700, so there was no need to explain to the children that I lacked desire to cough up the $44 it would have cost us to go in there to find cats that, naturally, you're not allowed to pick up or touch. We were left standing outside there on the sidewalk with the other author's pilgrims, peering through the wrought iron gates. Would a cat come see us, oh, would one please?
One would. Of course, by the time I got the iPhone raised and steady, the kids' clamoring and squealing had scared the poor thing off, so I didn't get a picture. No worries. You've seen one cat with an extra toe, you've seen 'em all. You get a glimpse of the house instead. Very Keys-y. Ernie loved him some Key West, he did.
We've been down to the Keys some three of four times during our 8+ months in southern Miami-Dade County, and we have yet to make it to the Southernmost Point that is the subject of so many pictures, postcards, and bumper stickers. (I've been there several times myself, but not with my little family.) So, too, is Mile Marker Zero a stopping point, so Rob pointed it out to me to snap when we happened on it. I don't know that I've ever captured a photo of it before, so here it is now. That's the end of the line for US1 (which comes out of I-95 South down the East Coast and is AKA South Dixie Highway in Miami and Overseas Highway in the Keys). You can't go any further than that, folks!
We followed Duval St back toward my remaining shop area and came across this giant cone prop for an ice cream parlor. Hello, photo op!
I left Rob with the kids after that, to go finish my requirements, and this is the scene to which I returned. Jack was still awake, but the girls were Knocked. Out. Cold. Passersby varied between amused and enamored of the girls' napping on a public bench! Good thing Rob didn't look TOO terribly homeless... ;)
On that note, we decided to make our way back up north to Homestead. Our homestead. The kids were all zonked out in the back of the truck SUV whatever-the-hell-a-Chevy-Trailblazer-is, so Rob and I kept each other company through the miserable storm that was blowing a deluge down upon us during the long, somewhat treacherous drive home. It never got quite to the point where I had to pull over and stop, but we came close a few times!
One time, I stopped to pee and raced from the, er, vehicle to the store. Soaking wet, I stood there looking around until an employee came up and offered help. I asked if there was a bathroom, and she was torn between devilish laughter and sheepish apologies, having to tell me that the restroom was, in fact, outside. That's the first time I put the heat on since we've been in Florida!
Welp, speaking of being cold, I'm going to go soak in a warm bath. I have much more to post about this early morning, so I shall return. If things again go according to plan, at least...