Tag Archives: travel

Enjoying the beauty of Ohiopyle

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On day 2 of our two-day anniversary getaway we headed over to Ohiopyle State Park. Despite finding myself in this area of Pennsylvania every summer for girls camp, I never made it over to Ohiopyle.

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This weekend getaway gave Toby and I a perfect opportunity to visit this beautiful park and see what the hype was all about.

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It didn’t disappoint!

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This diverse park offered beautiful biking trails,

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Breathtaking waterfalls,

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Natural waterslides,

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Rocky crevices to explore,

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And stunning vistas.

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It was a beautiful park!

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It was a perfect day to soak up the beauty of the Laurel Highlands and enjoying some one-on-one time with my favorite person. Happy anniversary, my love. The last 23 years have been quite the adventure…

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Here’s to 23 more!

 

Celebrating 23 Years!

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This year Toby and I are celebrating 23 years of marriage.

Our original anniversary plans were killed by Covid-19 when the Alaskan cruise we had been planning for years was canceled. It turns out this year isn’t the year for a big celebration, but we couldn’t let the weekend pass by without celebrating 23 years of marriage in some way. Never has the need to get away and just be us been greater than this year. We have dealt with un-precedented amount of struggle in 2020 and Toby and I were both wanting to run away for a bit. Last weekend we decided that we would keep our anniversary getaway short, local, and safe by heading 90 minutes away to the Laurel Highlands for a few days.

Many of the local sites and attractions were still shut down, but this area of Pennsylvania offers an abundance of beautiful state parks and outdoor fun, so it was the perfect place to get away.

We stayed at the Log Cabin Inn and Suites. This motel boasts log cabin themed rooms with rustic charm, which made us feel like we were vacationing in the mountains.

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It also offered the added perk of being connected to Living Treasures Animal Park (Donegal).

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We love Living Treasures Animal Park in New Castle, Pennsylvania, but had never visited this location…and it was one of the few attractions in the area that was open!

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All overnight guests receive 1/2 off the cost of admission so we headed over there on Saturday to explore and enjoy the animals.

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This Living Treasures location isn’t quite as big as the one near us but it offered a wide variety of animals to observe and/or feed.

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We had so much fun interacting with all the critters that clambered near the fence, eager to be fed.

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It was a photographic feast.

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We especially loved all the baby animals!

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Can you spot the baby turkeys hovering near mom?

It was a zoo filled with prolific breeders!

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Babies, babies…everywhere.

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Day 1: Living Treasures Animal Park…

Day 2: Ohiopyle State Park!

The first week of May…Thank God it is Over!

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There is no role I value more or invest so much of myself in then the role of mother. It is the title I hold in highest esteem and one I feel has been divinely assigned. Whether my child came to be through biological channels or delivered into my life through a series of “God-incidences,” I know that the children under my care were divinely delivered. Because I hold the role and responsibility of mother in such high esteem, Mother’s Day has always been a cherished holiday for me…

At least it was in the beginning.

In recent years Mother’s Day has become a day that we white-knuckle our way through. Mother’s Day week is our “Hell Week” at Patchwork Farm.

In the world of Navy Seal training, the fourth week of training is dubbed “Hell Week.” 

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This is when students train for five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. Hell Week begins at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday. During this time, trainees face continuous training evolutions. 

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Pretty much every evolution during Hell Week involves the team (or boat crew) carrying their boat — inflatable rubber Zodiacs– over their heads.

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Timed exercises, runs, and crawling through mud flats are interspersed throughout the five-and-a-half days. The largest number of trainees drops out during Hell Week.

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This extreme training is critical, though. SEALs on missions must be able to operate efficiently, oblivious to sub-zero temperatures and their own physical comfort. Their lives, as well as the lives of others, may depend on it.

This is what the first week of May has become at our house. Triggered by significant traumas, the anniversary of past losses, and the complicated and tangled emotions connected to the title of “mother,” Mother’s Day week is by far the most hurt-filled for my adopted sons and the most challenging week of the year for our family as a whole.

It is understandable.

For a child who has experienced neglect and/or abuse at the hand of the one person who should be their lifeline and source of greatest security, the perception of “motherhood” is skewed. This is a reality I have come to experience firsthand over the last seven years. When raising children with attachment disorders there is no greater threat and no larger villain in their eyes then the mother of the house.

It doesn’t matter how different I may look from the mother that failed them, or how different I act from the mother that hurt them…

Because I am “mother,” I am the enemy.

Gaining a greater understanding of attachment disorders and the effects of early childhood trauma has helped me gain an understanding of why I am public enemy #1. It has helped solidify the reality that, despite all I give and all I do, it will never erase the damage done in those early years. The more I study, the more I understand this on a cerebral level…and that helps…but it doesn’t take away the sting when the attacks that are intended for the woman who hurt my sons are targeted toward me simply because I bear the name of “mother.”

Over the last seven years Mother’s Day has gone from being my favorite holiday to being my most dreaded. Once filled with childhood drawings and burnt toast in bed, delivered by sticky fingers, it is now a day filled with misplaced rage, deep hurts, and destructive behaviors. It has become our “Hell Week.”

It is the most trying week of the year at Patchwork Farm. It is the week we all brace ourselves for, knowing it will not only fall short of the Hallmark image of Mother’s Day, but will more closely resemble a documentary on Navy Seal’s “Hell Week.” It is a week of “minimal sleep and continuous training exercises” in which our fortitude and inner strength are tested to the extreme. It is a week of slugging through emotional mudflats and fighting the emotional fatigue of hefting the heavy weight of trauma above our heads for days at a time. It is a battle of endurance and more that once I have considered just not showing up for “Hell Week.”

This year was one of those years.

This year I had a pass to skip out on “Hell Week.” A year ago Toby and I began plans to take a trip we have been dreaming about for two decades. We were taking our long-dreamed about cruise to Alaska and we were planning on leaving the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Needless to say, that trip was canceled as the cruise industry shut down in the wake of Covid-19. I was disappointed on many fronts. As we entered into Mother’s Day week I mourned the loss of our long-anticipated trip, but I also mourned the reprieve from the abuse so closely connected to Mother’s day week. It was the “Hell Week”  we have come to expect from our kids that have suffered so much hurt, heartache, and loss in their short lives, but the chaos playing out at the hands of the hurt were countered by the efforts of my children who haven’t experienced trauma at the hands of a mother.

We lost our opportunity to escape to Alaska, so they brought Alaska to us.

On Saturday, following a quick run to the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, Toby and I returned home to this:

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We were sent to our room to dress for dinner, as the kids finished transforming the dinning room into an Alaskan escape,

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Complete with mountains and evergreen trees,

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And wild animals!

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By raiding the camping supplies in the basement, they created recreated the Alaskan wilderness in our own home.

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Their creativity and efforts made me feel incredibly loved and cherished.

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Grace cooked a delicious dinner of Alaskan salmon, lemon pepper green bean, and croissants, with mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert,

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While Molly served as our onboard waitress.

It was a perfect night and such a gift of selfless love after an especially hard week.

That is the wonderful thing about “Hell Week.” It doesn’t last forever.

It is a season of extreem challenges and intensive training. It builds muscles that are otherwise untouched and reveals to us inner abilities and our strengths. It is a time when our will is tested and we demonstrate, through our fortitude, that we will stand by our commitments and stay true to the cause.

It is choosing to fight when giving up would be easier.

It is giving our all when we feel completely spent.

It is choosing to endure rather than “ring out.”

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And it is holding on to the hope and the promise that this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

 

Over the Falls

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Our jaunt north to visit Ozzie for his birthday was extended to include a trip abroad. Since Ozzie’s birthday falls on President’s Day weekend we had Monday off school. This allowed for an impromptu trip over the border. With Molly leaving in a month, and everyone itching to get a little more use out of their passports, we made plans to head to Canada, following our visit with Ozzie. Ozzie didn’t have permission for an overnight excursion and Braden didn’t feel capable of managing the emotions of the weekend, so that meant we were down to four family members for our impromptu adventure into Canada.

We had 24 hours free to explore this neighboring nation and planned to make the most of this mini vacation.

After dropping Ozzie back off at his residential facility (following his 16th birthday celebration in Erie) we drove two hours north to Niagara Falls, New York. We found a motel for the night with plans to cross the Rainbow Bridge in the morning.

The next day we headed across the border, ready for some fun on the Canadian side of the falls. I must admit that the trip across the border was met with some anxiety… anxiety that was justified given my last Canadian adventure with Toby three years ago. For those who’d like to relive that excitement see the link below:

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This wasn’t our first time visiting Niagara Falls, but it seems that no matter how often I visit, it takes my breath away. No picture or video does justice to the overwhelming sense of awe that you feel as you stand beside this magnificent wonder of the world.

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The roar of falling water, the spray of the mist, and the view of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge of the rock face is powerful and it soon becomes evident why this view…this experience…draws 12 million visitors each year.

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We decided to start our day at the falls, enjoying it first from the front, and then from the back.

By signing up for “Journey Behind the Falls,” we were able to take an elevator down 125 feet to explore the 130 year old tunnels that run behind the falls.

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The lower observation deck was closed due to ice,

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But we were able to get a great view of “the backside of water” through the viewing portholes behind the falls.

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It was a wet excursion, and we were grateful for the complimentary ponchos we received.

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As we walked along the underground corridors we were able to learn more about the history of the falls thanks to the informative signs posted throughout the halls.

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Here are some fun facts about the falls:

  • Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls, from largest to smallest, the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls), American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
  • Niagara Falls’ vertical height is over 176 feet in some sections.
  • The American and Bridal Veil Falls were turned off in 1969 by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers to study the effects of erosion. There are plans to “turn off” the Falls again to rebuild two, 115-year-old bridges.
  • Niagara Falls’ current erosion rate is approximately 1 foot per year and could possibly be reduced to 1 foot per 10 years due to flow control and diversion for hydro-power generation.
  • The water that flows over Niagara Falls is at 25-50% capacity at any given time.
  • The first person to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel was 63-year-old school teacher Annie Edson Taylor. She is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls in an area called Stunters Rest, along with other Niagara Falls daredevils.
  • Cave of the Winds, located at Niagara Falls State Park is torn down and re-built every year.
  • The birth of Niagara Falls can be traced back more than 12,000 years to the end of the last glacial period.
  • Despite myths to the contrary, Niagara Falls does not freeze in the winter. However, the flow of water was reduced to a mere trickle for a few hours on March 29, 1848 because of an ice jam upstream in the Niagara River.
  • During periods of peak flow in the summer and fall, more than 700,000 gallons of water per second pour over Niagara Falls.
  • Four of the five Great Lakes drain into the Niagara River, (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) before emptying into Lake Ontario. These five Great Lakes make up almost one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply.
  • Niagara Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world; however, the beauty of the falls comes from the height and the incredible volume of water running over the falls at a given time.
  • Fish travel over Niagara Falls and most survive because of their ability to flow with the water

When we emerged back at the surface, we headed outside to get some pictures by the falls. The blowing mist made photography a challenge and our efforts resulted in some cold fingers and noses!

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But we were  blessed to catch a glimpse of a spectacular rainbow that had formed as a result of the sun shinning down on that blowing mist.

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From there we headed over to Clifton Hill to spend the remainder of our day, before our four hour drive home.

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We started with a stop at the Hershey Store…

Which we found to be a bit anti-climatic after our visits to Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but we were able to nab a picture with Kiss in front of the falls.

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Before we began exploring Clifton Hills, we stopped for lunch. In addition to Subway sandwiches, we order a bowl of poutine and a Mr.Big bar to share as part of our Canadian cultural experience.

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Then it was on to Clifton Hill!

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 Clifton Hill is one of the major tourist promenades of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Reminiscent of Las Vegas, this street contains a number of gift shops, wax museums, haunted houses, video arcades, restaurants, and themed attractions. Unlike the Vegas Strip this touristy street is completely G-rated and popular with families.

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Although this area of the falls is touristy and tacky, there was something fun about strolling among the neon lights and crazy buildings that made us feel like we were on vacation.

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What drew us to Clifton Hill was a coupon we received for a discounted Fun Pass. This Fun Pass offered admission to six different Clifton Hill attractions for $25.00, an incredible discount when compared to the cost of paying individual admission prices. 

One of the attractions that was included was the Movieland Wax Museum.

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The laughs we enjoyed at the expense of some very sad looking wax figures made the cost of the passes worth every penny.

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I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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While there were a few realistic representations of famous stars,

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Most of the wax figures were only recognizable because of the signage or the staging.

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Our next stop was The Great Canadian Midway where two more of the attractions included in our pass were located. The first was the Wild West Coaster, which was a fun 4D ride.

We took our seats. This unique theater had seats that moved with the 3D cartoon, taking us on a rollercoaster ride with a cowboy and his horse on a cute and kitschy adventure through old abandoned mines.

Also located in the midway, on the opposite side of a room filled with hundreds of arcade games, was Ghost Blaster.

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This was an actual ride. We climbed into our cart and entered a world of black lights and glow in the dark ghosts that we had to shoot with our laser guns. Our ride kept track of the points earned by each target we successfully hit with our laser beam. 

Our next stop was the Niagara Skywheel.

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The Niagara Skywheel, which opened in 2006, stands 175 feet tall and offers visitors magnificent views of both the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls.

We got in line for one of the 42 enclosed passenger cars. I am terrified of heights and there is no amusement park ride I hate more than Ferris Wheels. I will ride the most thrilling of coasters and love them, but that slow crawl of a Ferris Wheel passenger car up to the heights of this one, terrifies me…

But the promise of amazing views and great photo opportunities, propelled me to set aside my anxiety and climb aboard. Molly and Tyler were excited by the prospect of the thrilling views and exciting ride, but Rusty was firmly seated in my camp, wondering if the views were worth the anxiety…they were!

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The views were even better than promised.

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And because my heart health hadn’t been tested enough on the Skywheel, we decided to elevate my heart rate even more with the final experience included in our Clifton Hill Fun Pass…

Zombie Attack!

This, like the Wild West 4D show, involved sitting in a moving seat that took visitors on a ride while immersed in a 3D movie. This experience differed a bit though, as we were also armed with laser guns that allowed us to interact with the 3D movie on another level as we battled zombies that were popping out of the screen at us.

I know it sounds horrid, but as a closet fan of zombie thrillers, I LOVED this attraction. It was like stepping into The Walking Dead.

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I can’t handle most horror movies. Zombie shows are the only horror films I can handle, and only because I believe that zombies are one threat I could actually outrun. 😉

It was a blast… by far the highlight of the day for me.

We competed against the other visitors that filled the theater. Rusty represented magnificently, earning 1st place in the tally of zombies killed.

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I spent more time screaming than shooting and came in second to last, earning a score only slightly better than an 4-year-old boy whose hands were pressed against his eyes the whole time. 😊

It was a magnificent day of fun in our neighboring nation’s backyard!

Swimming With Pigs

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The final stop to our five days cruise was Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. This was the excursion we were all most looking forward to!

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We woke that morning to sunshine and blue skies, excited for the day ahead.

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After breakfast we disembarked and walked a few blocks to Senor Frogs, where we would be meeting our tour guide to catch a 30 minute boat ride to the island where our excursion was taking place.

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Our walk through Nassau was stimulating, with the sights and smells of the island filling our senses as locals called out to passing tourists, hoping to hock their wares and services.

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We arrived at Senior Frogs and settled in for a long wait as we became intimately acquainted with the concept of “island time.” 45 minutes later our guide strolled in, unconcerned by her tardiness,  and we headed to the dock to load onto our transport boat.

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It was filled to capacity and the rocking of the waves left us all wondering if this 3-hour-tour would turn into a life of coconut phones and Gilligan’s follies…

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But we arrived at our destination no worse for wear, and with plenty of time to participate in our scheduled excursion.

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Our plans for the day: Swimming with pigs!

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Yes, you read that right. In the Bahamas you can swim with pigs, and that is just what we planned to do on our last day of vacation!

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After signing safety waivers and being briefed on the guidelines of our interactions with the pigs, we were set free to love on some swimming swine.

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We were given bags of apples to feed the pigs as we splashed in the water with them.

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It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I was thrilled to share with my family. I mean, how many people have the opportunity to swim in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean with pink pigs coated in sunscreen.

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It was just too cool!!

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After our time with the pigs, we headed to the boat that would take us back to Nassau. There we had two hours to stroll through the streets before having to re-board our cruise ship.

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Everyone was eager to check out the Straw Market,

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A collection of local vendors all situated in a warehouse, selling their trinkets and treasures to tourists.

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The kids quickly learned the art of negotiation as they bargained for the best deals, finding joy in the game of haggling. They were all wanting to get the best bang for their buck with the last of their souvenir money, and everyone walked away from the Straw Market with Bahamian treasures to remember the trip by.

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Tyler opted to spend the last of his dough on a conch shell that had been turned into a horn with the removal of its tip.

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It was just the sort of treasure that appeals to Tyler. Once Toby showed him how to make it “sing the song of the sea,” Tyler couldn’t be stopped.

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He loved the noise he could create and we had to make a deal that he could play it until we boarded the ship but then it would be put away until we arrived home.

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I was afraid that left unchecked, a fellow passenger might not be able to resist pushing Tyler and his shell overboard!

Nassau was a perfect ending to an amazing trip. It is hard to believe it was only a week-long vacation. It felt as though we had been gone from home for a month.

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(I’m sure this extended retelling of the trip is making you all feel that way as well!)

But it was just what we needed. We returned home to find life escalated as we stepped into the fire of some particularly trying challenges unfolding on the horizon. It was a gift to be able to pull together as a family and fortify our walls before stepping into the fire. God knew just what he was doing when He prompted the plan for this year’s Christmas gifts, and I am forever grateful for the healing, connection, and fortification that time away from home offered our troops.

Thank you for tuning into to the most drawn-out recounting of a vacation, EVER!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programing.

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Stormy Seas

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On Friday we woke up ready for a day of sun and sand on Cassaway Cay, the private island owned by Norwegian Cruise line. We met up with the kids at breakfast, gathering on the top deck to eat our breakfast. Everyone was busily lathering up in preparation for our trip to the island on small transport tenders, when an announcement was made over the load speakers. Due to an incoming cold front that would case chopping conditions, it was deemed unsafe to transport guests to and from the island on the small boats.

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This port would have to be bypassed.

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Although disappointed at the lost opportunity to snorkel, our crew quickly rallied, embracing the adventure of a day at sea and a full day of fun on the ship.

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We headed back to our rooms to change out of our swimsuits, take some motion sickness meds in preparation for some choppy seas, and grab the new daily newsletter that listed the day’s “at sea” activities.

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The ship offered hourly activities throughout the ship, including: classes, games, movies, trivia competitions, poolside parties, athletic competitions and live shows.

Knowing we had a free day ahead of us, Braden headed straight to the basketball court where he participated in a free thrown competition and a three-on-three competition,

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And Tyler headed to the teen lounge to enjoy a full day of fun planned activities with the teen councilors and his new friends.

The cruise ship adjusted its course and began skirting its way around the storm on the way to our next port. While we traveled, the rest of the family enjoyed a full day of fun, taking advantage of many of the offered activities.

Documented below is a pictorial of our day of fun at sea:

The kids headed to the library to play board games,

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And then attended a few classes together, including a napkin folding class.

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At dinner they showed off their newly acquired skills!

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We also all enjoyed the ice carving demonstration offered poolside in the afternoon. It was amazing watching the ice artist race against the Caribbean sun to carve a block of ice into a swan before it melted away.

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The middle of the day was spent poolside, as everyone enjoyed the luxury of unlimited ice cream cones and many free hours to read or nap in the sun.

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In the afternoon we met up in the lounge to participate in a trivia game as a family. The game host displayed childhood photos of celebrities and we had to write down who we thought they were. Zach and I were particularly adept and brought home a second place win for our team.

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Before dinner we took part in the Deal or No Deal live show offered on board. Some were more actively involved then others. Braden and Tyler were the loudest voices in the audience as they shouted to the contestant the case they felt should be opened next. You would have though it was their money on the line with how emotionally involved they were in the outcome. Their commentary was more entertaining than the show itself!

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That night we enjoyed another amazing dinner and a fantastic comedy show.

It wasn’t the day we planned, but it ended us being a lot of fun. After all, who can complain about life making waves when you are riding them out on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

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Exploring Key West

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We woke Thursday morning to find ourselves docked in Key West.

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With a day full of sightseeing ahead of us, we ate a quick breakfast and prepared to disembark. We walked off the ship, ready to explore the city of Key West, the first stop on our five day cruise.

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Key West is an island city in the Straits of Florida. The city lies at the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States.

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Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys.

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The island is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its main street, is 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block-long crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba at their closest points.

The island is popular for its eccentric, wild and laid-back vibe that is highly inviting to most cruise passengers. So popular is the island that it has provided seasonal homes to notable figures such as the 33rd president and one of the world’s most prolific writers.

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With the exception of Toby, the rest of us had never visited this southernmost Floridian city. Toby had visited Key West as a teenager, and had fond memories of the area. We were excited to take in the sites and learn more about this unique city. We decided that the best excursion to accomplish this was a city-wide scavenger hunt. We thought it would be a great way to learn about the area in a fun and engaging way.

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We walked to the starting location of the scavenger hunt and logged onto the website that began our hunt.

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By using a cell phone, we were given clues to follow and puzzles to decode that led us on a three hour foot race around the island.

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We had to seek out monuments and places of interest by relying on general knowledge, problem solving, keen observation and by utilizing the knowledge of the locals.

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It was a blast, and we were a pretty great team.

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It helped that we had a myriad of strengths between our team members, with some serving as the navigators, some were especially good at the puzzles that had to be decoded, while other’s had a strong knowledge of US history that we could tap into.

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Then there were our extroverts who boldly approached anyone and everyone to help weigh in on the questions we were seeking answers to.

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As we moved around the island, seeking out the next clue at the next location we learned much about the island’s history and soaking in its unique culture.

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Combining 19th-century history with its vast tropical charms, Key West is a haven for adventurers and historians alike.

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Its unique beauty mashes together brightly colored picturesque colonial houses with lush tropical gardens.

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Its narrow streets are lined with vintage shops, eateries, and watering holes. The coastline as well is breathtaking and is graced by the azure waters of the Atlantic and Gulf stream that boards the island on either side.

And then there are the chickens…

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Can we talk about the chickens?! They wander the streets like they own the place, something I found charming but that Gracie found terrifying.

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They are her greatest phobia. But like them or not, they are definitely part of the Key West ambiance!

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As we walked around Key West, the scavenger hunt clues led us to the following fascinating locations:

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If mystery is your thrill, visit Key West Cemetery to learn the interesting part of the town’s former times. The gravestones of fallen soldiers and townsfolk go into depth about the life and death of the individual. Epitaphs like “I told you I was sick” among others can be traced in this location, making it a twisted but interesting fun thing to explore. Here we had to seek out certain tombstones then add up the combined years of life to unlock our next clue.

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Key West, Florida, has a wild nightlife. One of its most iconic bars includes Sloppy Joes. Sloppy Joe is an old vintage bar that brags of Ernest Hemmingway as a longtime patron. Here we had to figure out whose picture was on the wooden sign out front. (It was Earnest Hemmingway.)

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Then we headed over to the Hemmingway House, an 1851 Spanish colonial building that hosted one of the world’s greatest writers of all time. The most intriguing thing about this home is that the famous writer lived here for almost a decade.

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The house is located in a picturesque, lush, peaceful environment and is easy to see why Ernest Hemmingway was inspired to write some of his masterpieces here.

Another home that required our attention was the Little White House. This home was originally a naval station’s command headquarters during World War 1 and World War 2. Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, called this house, home for several winters. Truman visited Florida 11 times and used to reside in this little white house. Our mission at this location was to figure out what other U.S. presidents had visited the Little White House.

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Our hunt led us to another iconic location. This one however was not historical but rather culinary.

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Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe is one of these popular restaurant destinations and has been for over 27 years. Being a signature dessert for Key West, Florida, Key Lime Pie is a taste visitors don’t want to miss!

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We entered Kermits with the mission of solving the riddle asking us to name the ingredients in a key lime pie, but ended up doing some shopping and spending time loving on Pirate, the shop dog.

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We continued our hunt, seeking out 20 different locations by answering 20 different clues, to win the hunt…Woo hoo!

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We ended up returning to Kermit’s at the end of our hunt to indulge in one of their famous Key Lime Pies.

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We just couldn’t leave the Keys without tasting their most iconic dishes. It was AMAZING! Best Key Lime Pie I have ever eaten!

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We were done at 2:00 and had until 4:00 before we had to be back on the cruise ship. We debated as to what to do with our remaining time. Tyler and Braden were eager to get back on the ship so they could get in the pool and cool off. That sounded good to Zach too, so he took the boys back to the ship.

Toby expressed a desire to revisit an attraction that left an impression on him as a teenage boy: Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

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There is a well-known treasure hunter called Mel Fisher, who made the discovery of “Atocha” the sunken vessels.

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Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Spanish: Our Lady of Atocha) was a Spanish treasure galleon and the most widely-known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. At the time of her sinking, Nuestra Señora de Atocha was heavily laden with copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana, bound for Spain. 

Beginning in 1969, American treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Ricard and a team of sub-contractors, funded by investors and others in a joint venture, searched the sea bed for Nuestra Señora de Atocha for sixteen and a half years. In 1980, Fisher had earlier recovered portions of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita. He also proposed the idea to several other potential helpers, who were discouraged by the fact that this dangerous professional diving job would be paid at minimum wage unless the ship could be found. The Nuestra Señora de Atocha wreck and its mother lode of silver, gold and emeralds was finally discovered in July 1985. 

The treasure is on display at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, a place Toby was eager to visit again, so he and Grace headed to the treasure museum for a daddy/daughter date.

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One of my bucket list items was a visit to Southernmost Point Monument. It was a 25 minute walk from the port, but despite the hot and humid weather, we thought it was worth the hike!

After all, how else do you let the rest of the world know you have been to Key West? One must take a photo of onesself at the Southernmost Point Monument. This monument is a giant buoy built in the ’80s to represent the southernmost point of the United States.

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Molly and Rusty opted to join me. We enjoyed our stroll, then patiently waited in line for our chance to snap one of these iconic photos.

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We returned to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. I fell in love with Key West and hope to return again for a visit someday!

All Aboard!

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After two days of play in Miami the day had finally arrived to board our cruise ship.

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We were booked for a five day cruise to the Bahamas aboard Norwegian Sky. Everyone was pumped up and eager to get to the Port of Miami where we would be boarding the ship, but before we could start phase two of our adventure, we had to take care of some business. Namely, returning our rental car to the airport.

So, at 10:30 am Toby dropped the seven of us off at the port with all our bags and left to drop off the car. We knew that it would take Toby an hour or two to drop off the car and catch a taxi back to the port to join us, so we planned accordingly. We found a spot of ground where we could set up camp, and pulled out the games Rusty had packed in his bag.

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We kept ourselves entertained for almost two hours with endless rounds of miniature UNO and LRC. While we played we enjoyed people watching, as guests from the last cruise disembarked and the new guests lined up to go through security.

When Toby arrived we gathered up our gear and joined the throngs of other vacationers in line. After wending our way through security and check-in, we found a bank of chairs in the massive waiting room where travelers are held until the ship is ready to open its doors to the next group of guests.

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We didn’t have to wait long before our group was called to come aboard. As we walked up the gangway to the ship, everyone got their first glimpse of what would be their home away from home for the next five days. Despite how impressive the cruise ships appear from a distance, nothing really prepares you for the enormity of those “floating cities” until you are stepping aboard.

For Rusty, Molly, Braden and Tyler…all first time cruisers…the impact was even greater.

We boarded the cruise ship sporting our new t-shirts, “Cruise Squad 2020.”

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We were ready to get this vacation started!

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We began by snaking our way to the top deck where a buffet of food was waiting.

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It was the kids’ first glimpse into the unending smorgasbord of food that would be enjoyed over the next five days. Everyone made a plate and we found tables outside where we could soak up the sun and take in the view while feasting.

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All the kids were blown away by the vast variety and quantity of food that was available at no cost, 24 hours a day.

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They had a hard time believing this was reality. When we confirmed that this was indeed the case, Rusty looked at us with awe, asking, “You mean I can come up here anytime I want and get a plate of fries?”

We nodded our affirmation, “Yep!”

He thought he had died and gone to heaven, and he wasn’t alone! All the kids were enamored by the unending ice cream station, pizza shop, crepe station and the endless desserts offered in between their Hobbit meal schedule of eight meals a day.

After everyone was feeling full, fat, and sassy, we headed out to explore the ship. The individual guest rooms were still being cleaned from the guests that had disembarked hours earlier, but we were allowed to explore the common areas of the ship. We walked around, acquainting ourselves with the layout of the ship, and taking note of the many areas we wanted to return to over the next five days.

We wandered from floor to floor checking out the many attractions scattered across the ship including: stores, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, arcades, spas and even libraries on the ship.

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While we wandered we stopped at Entourage, the teen club, to sign Tyler up.

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This hang out is equipped with activities for guests ages 13-17 to enjoy. As we looked over the activity schedule Tyler expressed a desire to join the teen club, despite the fact he would be on his own. The other two boys were too old to join him, so while they spent the week taking part in other activities throughout the ship, Tyler took full advantage of the awesome activities planned by the teen staff.

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He made friends and spent many hours a day away from the family, hanging out with other teen guests on the cruise.

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It was such a great opportunity for Tyler to step outside his comfort zone and he loved the freedom of coming and going at will, hanging out with peers.

This was also nice for Toby and I, as we were able to enjoy periods of non-parenting relaxation.

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After touring the interior of the ship we headed back to the top deck where newly arrived guests were congregating around the pool where live music was playing in preparation for our sail away celebration.

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Braden migrated to the basketball courts, an area where he would spend MANY hours over the next five days!

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He and Tyler shot baskets while the rest of us headed to the shuffleboard area to play…

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Soon after we had enjoyed a few competitive games of this classic shipboard game…

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an announcement was made that guests could now access their guest rooms. We headed to the 7th floor where Rusty and Braden were sharing a room,

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Molly and Tyler were roommates,

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And Grace and Zach were shacked up.

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Our room, which had been booked in the same hallway as the kids, had been upgraded to a window suite on the 10th floor. What a lovely surprise!

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At 5:00 we left the port and headed to sea.

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After the mandatory lifeboat drill we were free to begin enjoying the ship.

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Our evening began with dinner in the formal dinner where we enjoyed an AMAZING dinner…one of many over the next week.

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We were seated by the window were we got to watch the sun sink behind the ocean as we ate.

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At each meal in the formal dinning room we were given menus to peruse.

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Guests could pick out an appetizer, main course and dessert.

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Some items on the menu were staples but many changed from night to night and it was always fun to see what new fare was being offered that evening!

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The food was UNBELIEVABLE…both a feast for the taste buds, as well as for the eyes. I couldn’t resist documenting our plates all week in pictures. I could make a foodie scrapbook with all the pictures I took of our meals. Is it sad that I have more photos on my camera of the food I ate then of myself?! I couldn’t help it. The presentation was so appealing.

After dinner we headed to the first show of the evening.

As the week went on we fell into a sort of daily schedule that included meeting for breakfast every morning at 8:00 am where we went over the day and the excursions we would be doing as a family, and then again at 5:30 for dinner in the formal dinning room. This allowed us to have set “connection times” as a family, while allowing for individual activities apart from each other during other times of the day. Usually at dinner we would look over the evening schedule of activities and take note of what events everyone wanted to attend, pairing off accordingly. For many of the bigger evening shows we would all meet up and sit together in the theater. On that first night we all went together to two, back-to-back interactive game shows where we competed as a family against other teams.

One was a “Family Feud” type game show where we had to guess the most popular responses to certain questions. Braden was our team’s runner, racing to make sure we weren’t the last team to submit an answer. It was so much fun!

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The next game show was “Name that Tune.” The crowd was split into two groups that competed against each other by being the first to name the song played by the band, and secondly by have team members finish singing the words to the song. Grace and Molly killed it with their Mama Mia knowledge, but we all ended up pitching in, pushing our team to victory.

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It was an awesome start to what would be an incredible week.

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Day two: We would be headed back into port.

Key West, here we come!

 

Cycle Party Insta Tour

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Robert’s Fruit Stand

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As we were leaving the alligator farm we passed a fruit stand that looked interesting. The 1st thing that caught our eye was the size of it. The 2nd thing that caught our eye were the throngs of people waiting in line to check out.  It was a Monday morning and certainly not prime tourist season in Miami, so we figured there must be something special about Robert’s fruit stand.

Boy were we right!

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This novelty fruit stand boasts a wide selection of exotic fruits from around the world. We stopped to get some Florida oranges and ended up leaving with a buffet of sweet fruits from around the world. Most of the fruits for sell were not ones we had ever heard of before. In noting our confusion, an employee kindly handed us a fruit guide to help educate us as we considered which fruits to try.

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We wandered through the outdoor isles, reading the descriptions of different fruits.  In addition to each crate of fruit listing its name and price, it also listed where the fruit was from and an informative description of its flavor, texture, and appearance.

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We decided that we would get a variety of different exotic fruits to bring back to our rental to try as part of our Florida experience. Rusty was especially thrilled. Just last week he was requesting (for his time treat) some sort of unusual fruit that we could snack on during his one-on-one time. After perusing the aisles of Walmart’s fruit and vegetable section, I came up with the nothing more exotic than an apple, orange, or grapes. The pickings were slim, so this was especially exciting for Rusty who had just been talking about wanting to try some new fruits. He ended up not only trying a new fruit but trying 7 new fruits from around the world that we had never heard of before, much less tasted.

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Here were our choices for our taste testing smorgasbord:

Apple Bananas: “They usually look like an over-ripe banana. These bananas are great for pies and fruit salads, as the fruit does not discolor.

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(This was the favorite fruit of Zach, Toby, Tyler and Molly)

Canestel (Egg Fruit): “This fruit is yellow and shaped like a Hershey Kiss. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft (like room temperature butter), then cut it open and enjoy the sweet egg custard flavor inside.”

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(This fruit had the texture of cooked pumpkin and tasted like egg custard. We all agreed it would be a better savory side dish to a meal, than a fruit eaten independently.)

Carambola (Star Fruit): “It is a five-sided yellow fruit. Slice this fruit crosswise into little stars and eat all but the stem and seeds. It tastes like a cross between and apple and an orange.”

(This crisp, refreshing fruit was Rusty’s favorite.)

Guanabana (Sour Sop): “This fruit is in the same family as a sugar apple but tastes different. Known as Sour Sop, it is anything but sour. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft, break it open with your hands, and then eat the pockets from around the seeds inside. Tastes like cotton candy.

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Kent Mangos: “Wait until the fruit is moderately soft. To cut the mango, hold it so that your hand is holding the widest part of the mango. Slice the right side of the fruit from top to bottom then flip it over and slice on the left side. The beautifully rich yellow fruit inside has a peachy-pineapple taste.”

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(Best Mangos we have ever eaten!)

Passion fruit: “This is a round, dark red or deep yellow fruit about the size of a plum. Wait until the skin is wrinkled, then slice and eat the pulp and seeds inside. It tastes like fruit punch.”

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(Gracie couldn’t get over the appearance of this fruit when sliced open. She said it was too reminiscent of toddler snot, but the flavor was delicious and tasted like a very strong fruit punch.)

Sapodilla: “It looks like a large kiwi without the fuzz. Wait until the fruit is very soft, then slice and enjoy. It tastes like a pear with brown sugar.”

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(Mmmm…delicious! It truly did taste like a brown sugar pear with a hint of cinnamon. This fruit was a favorite of myself, Grace and Braden.)

Well there we opted to cut in to the Guanabana (Sour Sop) fruit, which was advertised as “the world’s most delicious fruit.” The sign said that it tasted like cotton candy. We gave it a try. It did indeed have the flavor of cotton candy, but we found our group had very mixed reactions to this unusual fruit.

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Most agreed that while it tasted good, the texture was a bit hard to embrace. We decided that in the end we would have been better off buying one of the smoothies made out of this fruit rather than the fruit itself so that we could enjoy the flavor without the stringy, slimy texture of the Guanabana.

After eating that fruit we decided to use the Apple Bananas we purchased as a chaser. They were delicious. We all enjoyed them immensely!

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Before leaving we took a stroll out back to love on the farm animals that call Robert’s Fruit Stand, home.

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It was the most bizarre menagerie of animals I’ve ever seen.

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There in the pen there were zebu,  geese, emu, tortoises, iguanas, and goats all frolicking together like some sort of  Floridian Noah’s Ark.

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We could have stayed all day. Robert’s was a delightful roadside find in Southern Florida.

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Next stop was Jet Boat Miami…

Hold on to your hats!