So two weeks ago, the kids and I left for another hotel & resort mystery shopping spree, this time in Florida. The trip had been on the books for months, before my grandpa died, and I had planned on staying longer and going all over the state, including an extended visit to see him before... before I didn't have much time left with him. I tried not to be depressed the entire time and dwell on his absence, and in reality, I didn't have to try too hard because I kept myself so busy with the work I had piled on myself before I left.
We stopped overnight Monday at my dad's in South Carolina, to break up the long trip for the kids' sake - and my sanity. On the way there, we visited with an old friend from back home, J:
We connected in a way that we never had before, so it was pretty great, and I'm really glad we were able to stop in and see her - and her younger son and four poochies!
J has three "weenie dogs," as my kids love to call them, and an older dog, Daxton (I think?) who was just a love. My kids wore those poor doggies out, and I complimented J on just how zen she was about the whole kid-under-ten infestation in her overly lovely home. I'm the very tense-all-the-time sort, and I hadn't remembered her as being so... calm. I wish I could be that way. Especially when strange children are tearing up my beautiful house!
Anyway. So we got to Dad's much too late for his liking, and he was annoyed with me. Meh. What are you gonna do? I don't know when I'll be able to see J again, so it was worth the side trip to go.
That night didn't go over so well with Dad, because Sophia was up half the night, getting into things. She does that. It's the reason we have locks on half the things in our house that normal people don't have to lock up, like the fridge and the pantry and the bathrooms and things... She's extremely active, and he's neither used to it nor fond of it. I woke up around 0430 with him shouting at her, "What kind of kid are you? What the hell is the MATTER with you, anyway?!!" and her absolutely in hysterics, halfway to hyperventilating, and just broken.
I cuddled her and calmed her, tried to calm my agitated father, and resolved not to stop there as planned, on the way back up a week later. And we didn't. Nope, we didn't. But I don't want to get much more into that.
We were on the road to Florida by 0520.
And we were pulled over so Mommy could nap a little in the front seat by 0600! Hey, I was tired.
The kids woke me up about half an hour later, but by 0730, I was drowsy again, so I pulled off the road once more. This time, they let me sleep for two hours, while they sat in their car seats and watched a movie on the DVD player. After that, I was good to go, so aside from various rest stops and an emergency oil change in South Georgia, it was a straight shot into the Orlando area.
Where we sat. And sat and sat and sat in the bumper-to-bumper crazy traffic that has always made me loathe driving through the Orlando area. I did it quite a bit when I lived in the St. Pete/Tampa region, and I hated it then. Anyway, blah blah. At long, long last, we made it to our first hotel, in Maitland, outside of Orlando. There wasn't time to do everything Disney-related that I'd planned for entertaining the children (all free, too! Check out the DisBoards if you're headed there and have questions), but we were able to head to Downtown Disney for a couple hours.
When we got into all the Mickey-themed scenery and the lights and the action, the kids were beside themselves. They wanted to GO! GO! GO! and as it was packed, I wanted them to Wait! Wait! Wait! It was a bit hairy trying to keep my eye on three of them at once as they went off in all different directions to see what there was to see, and it was getting dark, to boot. Ahh! Fun times. But they were having a ball, so it was all good.
See Stitch, up there? He squirts water out at the passers-by. My kids noticed this right away and spent at least five minutes standing there, getting wet. My kids LOVE to get wet. Thankfully, it was warm, and they could afford a little soaking.
I told the kids they could each spend $5 at Downtown Disney (DTD), so we went into the shops to look around. When she arrived at the silly hats department, Sophia wanted to try on every.single. one. And she tried! Here she is looking rather... goofy.
I'd told Jack there was a Lego store in DTD, so he wanted to make a beeline for that inmediatamente. We tried. We got sidelined a billion times by things the girls saw, and he wanted no part of delays. Poor thing. He has a skewed sense of fairness sometimes. He doesn't realize it's not always all about Jack. Anyway, we eventually made it to Lego, and he went absolutely crazy looking at every brick, set, and display in that store.
I tried like mad to convince him to do the "fill a cup with all the Lego pieces you can fit in it" deal that was a huge bargain, but he wanted NONE of that. He was bound and determined to get a small set. In the end, he wound up with a boat set for $4.99 (woohoo), but the next day, he was asking me, "Hey, Mom, next time we go to the Lego store, can we do that thing where you fill the cup..." Uh-huh. It sunk in, just a little too late!
Meanwhile, the girls were not bored in the store. There were plenty of build-it stations for them to play with the Legos on their own, and they enjoyed that. I was so thankful for them, too, as I had to follow Jack 'round and 'round until he settled on his boat set.
Chloë outside the Lego store
We walked and walked, looked and looked, shopped a teeny-tiny bit for the girls and my souvenirs, and when it was all said and done, we stopped for a short breather. I sat next to Chloë and admired her curls blowing in the wind, not for the first time in her life.
When we got back to that night's hotel and I had done my mystery shop work that I could do, it was time to settle down and get the kids to bed. This is how that turned out. Not unusual. My kids have stayed in a LOT of hotels in their short lives, yet they never lose their enthusiasm for it!
Sophia doing pull-ups on the bell cart - she did about a dozen without stopping!
We checked out the following morning and headed over to Sarasota for the remainder of our trip. Along the way, I did a lunch shop at a popular chicken chain, so we visited a park to eat it. Apparently, Jack wasn't so thrilled with something, but I can't remember what it was! This time...
After we checked in to the first Sarasota hotel, and I did the shop stuff I needed to do straight away, I let the kids have a swim in the hotel pool. Boy, were they ready for that! They could barely wait to get in the water and have a swim. It was difficult to get them out for dinner later in the evening.
I just noticed Jack kept his shoes on in the pool, looking through these pictures. Silly boy!
Bright enough for ya, kiddo?
Here's something you rarely see: Sophia LEAVING the pool. But then, maybe she was just standing there splashing on the top step and then turned around and went right back in. Yeah. That's probably it.
Later on, when it was getting dark, an old friend of mine from St. Pete, D, met up with us for some fun in the beach area of Sarasota. First, I had to go for a drive. In 1998, I'd done my Biology internship here at Mote Marine Lab, so I needed to go by the old place and see how it looked. Unfortunately, it was dark and closed up for the evening, so I couldn't see a whole lot. But it felt good to be back, even for just a few minutes!
This was going on right across the street. I had to send a pic via SMS to Rob right away. He wanted me to win one. Ha! Fat chance.
Down the road apiece, we stopped at The Colony, where I used to work at night during my internship. I worked in the catering division with my friend M (who was also a University of Miami alumna as well as an intern at Mote), and we had an absolute blast. Sadly, I found The Colony to be closed down and in a sad state, which I didn't expect, considering how glorious a place it was back in those days. According to their website, they shut down last summer over property disputes. Bummer.
After The Colony, we drove back to St. Armands Circle, where there are all kinds of cool must-see shops and restaurants. If you're ever in Sarasota, don't miss St. Armands. Just... leave your wallet at home! We spotted this leaf dress in the window. I thought it was cool! We had ice cream at Scoop Daddy's and walked around, chatting with various tourists and locals, window shopping, and having ourselves a grand old time.
Sophia, being Sophia - she is forever on the move. It would not surprise me to see her in the Olympics in the future! Watch out world, here she comes!
My friend D wanted to walk down by the beach, so that's what we did. The kids couldn't wait to peel off their shoes and run toward the water. I had to give them a stern warning about getting in too far, because of the very real danger of sharks at that time of day. They heeded the warning and stayed up in the bubbly surf. D was macking it with some girls from North Dakota when he wasn't insisting on taking pictures of me:
Me, protesting the photo-taking of The Self
All right, fine. Here's your picture. I ain't perfect, not by a long shot. All I see is the yucky stuff. Judge if you will.
Later, while Jack was busy burying Sophia in the sand,...
...Chloë was making sand angels. And then they were on the move again, toward the water.
Jack claims not to like the beach. Do you believe him? Yeah, me neither.
Sophia loves to write in the sand. Chloë, too.
I believe this is the, "Get out of my face with that camera!!!" look.
I know. I have ugly feet. I've been told. But there they were, in the sand, so a picture was taken.
By contrast, here is a thing of great beauty, looking inexplicably sad.
A classic Sophie face
Rinsing off in the showers as we left the beach. Oh, did you think I had brought towels with us, so we wouldn't soak up the van? No. No, I didn't.
Jack doing his monkey face as we sat down for a very late dinner that barely got eaten
Dinner was delicious, but like I said, not much was eaten. D isn't into "raw fish," as he called the seared ahi tuna I love so much, so he grimaced over my choices. Oh well, more for me later! We did enjoy a healthy portion of our adult beverages, however, so there was more walking before it was time to drive back to that night's hotel.
The next day, we checked out of the second Sarasota hotel and moved into a resort on Bradenton Beach for two nights. The first thing the kids wanted to do was swim, so I did what I had to do and then got them right into the water. The resort was small, compared to the other ones we've been doing for this company the past 8 months or so, but they had lots of pool and beach toys for the children. The kids love their pool noodles, so they were delighted about that.
Even Jack gets in the water when floaties are involved!
Lunch that day was leftovers. Why should you care? Well, I don't know, but that tongue just makes me giggle, and I thought you might like it, too.
Just to show I fed the girls, too, here they are eating leftover mac & cheese and heavily engrossed in some television cartoon or other. When we travel, they get to watch "regular" TV, as opposed to whatever's available on Netflix streaming to the Wii. (Which, more often than not, we require to be educational, like Nova features, for example. But they're fascinating, so check 'em out!)
After lunch, they wanted more swimming, but this time at the beach that abutted the resort property. We forgot buckets, so how nice that they provided those for us, too!
We were initially prepared to stay the rest of the day at the beach, but as you can see from the sky behind Chloë, Mother Nature had other plans. We managed all of ten minutes or so before the downpour started in earnest.
The boy-child made the most of it. He may complain about the water - as with everything else - but he gets in there with the best of 'em! We always wanted to have water babies for children, and for a while, it didn't seem like we were going to have ANY. Now, it seems, we have three. Phew!
Sophia started a seashell collection during this trip. She proudly showed me each and every one, ad nauseum, while I acted like they were all more beautiful and amazing than the last. The teeny ones captivated her more than the most colorful or the most interestingly-shaped. She is the baby, and she likes baby things.
See that color there, the middle level of blue-green? That's my favorite color in the world. Always has been.
It might be hard to see here in this picture without enlarging it, but she has such a muscular, athletic body. And she is so strong. She's a physical girl, has been since birth six years ago, and she'll be a force to reckon with when she finds her sport(s). I think I've said it before here, but it would not surprise me in the least to see her at the Olympics one day.
Meanwhile, this girl has skills of her own.
After the rain, during which the kids complained bitterly about being cooped up inside during their vacation, we walked down the road a small ways to catch the free trolley that ran around the beach and next-door neighbor, Anna Maria Island.
Chloë desperately wanted to take my picture, too, so after much coaxing, I relaxed enough to hand over the Nikon for a moment.
The closest trolley stop was in front of a Circle K, so we stopped in there to get some Diet Coke for Mama. To my supreme happiness, all drinks, all sizes, were only 69¢ each, so I bought the kids their own drinks, too. That's a rare treat for them, getting lemonade or punch instead of milk or water. They don't look thrilled here, but maybe that's because they were sick of waiting for the trolley. It did seem to take forever!
These two insisted on sitting next to each other. It's how I know they really do love each other, though they fight like nobody's business. I'd be more worried, except I did the same with my own sister, and yet we've always been close.
We rode the trolley around the beaches until we spotted a playground at the oceanfront. "Let's go there!" they insisted. So we did.
I don't remember ever having to learn to pump my legs to ride the swings, but I guess I did. Anyway, it seems like it's taken forever to teach the kids, and they still want that "get me started" big push. Except Jack. Can't get him near swings.
Love the look of concentration on my little boy's face
"Mom, over here!"
Before long, they tired of the playground equipment and wanted to go back to the water. Which was fine, except we weren't at the resort and still had a long ride back on the trolley. I cautioned them, "Don't get your close all wet! You'll freeze on the trolley!" but they refused to heed my warnings and, before long, were soaked. Absolutely soaked.
Happy beach babes
I love this picture. It's just so... authentic. Real. Joy.
After a long time, the sun went down, bellies grew hungry, and it was time to go wait for the trolley to take us 'home' to the resort. And yes, they froze. And yes, they complained the entire time. But they survived.
The first thing they did when we got back, therefore, was take a hot shower. That's another thing my kids love about staying in hotels: I let them take all the hot showers and baths they want. Until they get piggy about it, that is - otherwise, I'd never get them out!
A quick dinner, and then bed. It wasn't long before, for once, these three kiddos were knocked OUT. They're so sweet when they sleep...
And then, your faithful blogger, here, (or not so faithful, as the case may be lately), chatted via Instant Messenger with the patriarch of Team Odette for hours and hours, until I couldn't take it anymore, missing him so much. I woke up the kids around 0500 and checked out of the resort about five hours ahead of schedule, to get home to him that much faster. And we drove straight through, about 17 hours, stopping only when necessary, to get home to Daddy.
And so, Florida, until next time...