Monthly Archives: December 2013

Jumping Jellyfish & Peaceful Panthers on Jupiter Island

tim hunter on rocksWe headed north the other day for a family road trip. Uncle Andy was off to go marathon canoe training with a group of people on Jupiter Island so we all jumped in the car to tag along. After a MUCH too early start for some of us (up at 6:30 and out the door by 7:00) we all managed to wake up and get into the fun.

tim over beach rocks

After dropping Andy off we headed over to Blowing Rocks Preserve. It is a Nature Conservancy site that has a great reputation for successfully modelling full scale coastal habitat restoration. There is a coastal limestone ridge that runs along the beach that makes it a neat place to explore at both low and high tides. At low tide you can run along the beach and check out the structures from underneath. At high tide, they turn into blow holes with the surf pushing through them. We were aiming for the low tide experience but unfortunately it was a high wind day so the tide never went out as fully as anticipated. As always, we still managed to have fun – we ran along the beach avoiding the jellyfish and then ran along the tide trying not to get wet (some were more successful than others…).

We headed back into town to meet up with Andy and have a lunch picnic at the Jupiter Island Lighthouse. It is a really well maintained historic site. We had hoped to just walk up the stairs and check out the view but that’s not an option and we all voted that the tour price was a bit steep.

We decided to head west over to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary and check out the animals. It is by donation only and a great place to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon. The trails are easy to walk and the animals are well displayed. We found the above bee hive on the black bear trail (makes sense and all – bees… honey…). In addition to having animals for engagement and education, the sanctuary also does rescue and rehabilitation.

All of their animals come from rescues or seizures. They have 6 panthers and they were all seized from people that were trying to keep them as pets or for other purposes???

Christmas in Florida – all part of the adventure

opening stockings

 

We have all agreed that the holiday season does not seem quite as festive without the snow. Having said that, Tim and I are NOT missing the snow 🙂 Having a different Christmas this year is just one more piece of our 8 month adventure. The important part was that we were with family and friends – oh, and that Santa found us…

Hunter has been sleeping in every morning until 9:30 or 10:00, at which point in time we go and actually wake him up. With that in mind, we figured it would be safe to assume the pattern would be consistent for Christmas morning. With a house full of adults (Grandpa Bob, Grandma Liz, Aunt Shannon, Uncle Andy + Andy’s mom Otti), it was suggested that present opening start at 9:30. Hunter agreed and even asked me to come and wake him up at 9:15 so he could get his stuffies organized… Well – he ended up waking up at 4:30 and was so excited that he couldn’t go back to sleep. He was wide awake when Grandpa got up at 7:00 so he got hauled out for a bike ride to kill some time (this is when we round the firetrucks Christmas morning).

new bike from santa

Once we got the rest of the adults up and moving, we launched into PRESENTS… Santa came yet again this year and brought a new skate park/trick bike, some Star Wars action figures and some movies for the road. Hunter also pitched in and helped everyone else with their present opening.

Other fun gifts were the annual Hess Truck from Grandma & Grandpa and the pogo stick from Mom & Dad.

At home we have a tradition of going outside to play between presents and Christmas dinner. It stated with running the dogs and then evolved to just “playing”. Keeping with that theme, this year we went Gator Hunting in the everglades with Grandpa Bob and Uncle Andy. Referred to as “Gator Dynasty”, Hunter got in the spirit by dressing in some of his new camouflage wear and bringing his new binoculars from Santa.

searching for gators from shore

 

We paddled for two and a half hours and saw well over 20 alligators, ranging from 18 inches to 10 feet in size. The 10 foot ones are really LARGE – especially when they charge you from the bank and come much to close to your boat (referred to as the LEE screaming incident). I have a 5 foot gator-free comfort zone and there were a few times when this was violated. The scream came when a large alligator charged off the bank just as Bob & Andy’s went by. It dove into the water and came up to the surface, somewhat agitated, just to the left of me in the front of our boat. I screamed which caused Hunter to scream 🙂

Boxing day was family “cut down a tree” day to help work off all the turkey and sweets. Andy had a large tree in his front yard that needed to come down and it turned into a full family project to cut it down, cut it up and get it to the curb in time for the large hauler truck to come and pick it up.

In between all this fun, we have been playing in the pool and having fun with the local wildlife…

While we didn’t have snow, a big tree and hot chocolate this year, we still had family and cheer and never ending food and fun. Thanks to everyone for a memorable Christmas in South Florida!

Fire Trucks, Fire Trucks, Fire Trucks

fire truck fire hall 4

To say that Hunter is “into Firetrucks” is a significant understatement. Thanks to Tim having worked as a volunteer fireman for Mount Lorne Fire Department for 5 years, Hunter has experienced Fire Trucks in an intimate way. He has also extensively studied the Mighty Machines Fire Hall episode.

The Parkland, Florida Fire hall is right on our bike route so we have been checking it out on a daily basis. Some days the trucks are out and some days they are not. Hunter quickly noted exactly what kinds of trucks they have, the colours and features etc. We were puzzled with their colour – why were they green? On one of our daily bike rides we stopped in and chatted with a fireman and learned that the government doing the purchasing gets to pick the colour. Parkland is very focused on the aesthetics of the municipality and therefore all of their municipal vehicles are Green. From a fireman’s perspective, this is not great as you are not as noticeable and recognizable…

One day as Tim and I were returning from our morning walk we came across a whole host of emergency response vehicles for a small car accident. We went home and hauled Hunter out of bed to check it out – he was quite thrilled…

Christmas morning we were lucky to catch the Firemen pulling the truck out for their daily run through. They were fabulous with Hunter, letting him climb up into the firetruck and giving him a thorough tour and run-down on all the pieces of equipment. Even Grandpa Bob had fun!

Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre

hunter turtles

 

The Gumbo Limbo Nature Centre in Boca Raton is a wonderful stop for families. It’s a non-profit, with entry by donation, and is part turtle rescue sanctuary, part research facility with the Florida Atlantic University and part aquarium with wonderful sea tanks to check out.

We arrived in time to watch the feeding at the deep water tanks. It was fun to watch the frenzy of fish as they all grabbed for food and yet managed not to grab each other!

We also checked out the Sea Turtle Rehab centre and learned some neat facts about all the different kids of turtles!

turtle rescue

 

turtle rescue 2

They also have a short boardwalk trail through the mangroves, along with a 40 foot observation tower where you can see both the beach and the inland waterway.

family photo

If you paid attention on the boardwalk, you could find lots of little critters… You even got to see Gumbo Limbo, which are red barked mangrove trees.

Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery & Science

science centre entry

 

The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery & Science was such a memorable experience from our visit last year that it was top of Hunter’s list for us to do again. Downtown Fort Lauderdale is about 30 minutes south of where we are staying so we headed out for our “day in town” on Wednesday, thinking it would be relatively quiet as other kids are still in school.

We pulled into the parking garage across the street just after opening and had to burst out laughing as we could see 6 school buses in front of the entry way and more pulling up. Turns out this is a great place for field trips just before school lets out for the holidays!

hunter flying wings

 

Hunter’s favourite area is the flight & space section. They have 6 flight simulator for different air craft and other activities that teach you about aerodynamics. The above photo is Hunter wearing airplane wings with the wind blowing at him so he can sense the different angles and impacts.

tim fighter jet

 

The museum has some other cool exhibits like the Florida Everglades simulator, a fun group of river otters, a section on emergency medicine & health that lets you try out robotic surgery and a section of other local snakes, spiders & alligators from Southern Florida. We spent 4 hours there and at least 50% of the time was up in the airplane simulators – boys and their toys 🙂

patio lunch

We made the most of being downtown and enjoyed a late patio lunch in the sunshine. Thinking about all the snow and cold at home and being grateful for the break…

24 Hours of Disney

disney lights 6

 

We caught up with Patricia, Simon, Isabella and Charlotte on the last 2 days of their Disney vacation last week and had a blast… We spent 24 hours at Disney and didn’t step foot in any of the theme parks, but still felt the magic!

walt disney world

 

We drove from Grandma Liz & Grandpa Bob’s on Friday morning and got to the land of dreams at lunch time. Disney has a full range of accommodations to fit different budgets. With this being a quick visit, we opted to stay at the Disney Campground, also known as Fort Wilderness. We’ve stayed there before in their cabins and are impressed with the amenities.

fort wilderness

 

We got ourselves checked in and received our “mickey bands” – they hold all of your reservation information and are used to charge things etc. Totally impressive how they are personalized, both in the box and on the back of the band.

mickey bands

 

Then it was off to Magic Kingdom and the Polynesian Hotel to find the rest of the gang!

magic kingdom

 

the gang at lunch

 

It was great for Hunter to have some quality Cousin time as he is starting to miss friends from home. The kids enjoyed the pool all afternoon, even though it was a bit of a cool day. They even participated in some of the pool side games.

hunter isabella games

 

We did the luau dinner & show at the Polynesian Hotel and the kids enjoyed the dancing, although it was a bit late for Charlotte… Hunter’s favourite part was the fire twirler – it was impressive!

tim & charlotte

 

The hotel was decorated so beautifully for christmas that we had to take photos of everyone.

Hunter spent the night at the hotel having a sleepover and Tim and I headed back to the Campground, after a short contemplation of just sleeping in the camper where it was parked at the Polynesian parking lot. One of the amazing things about the Disney Campground this time of year is the festive decorations that are put up by individual campsites. This is not a Disney corporate thing. We took a walk around to enjoy the lights and I was in awe of it all.

Saturday morning the kids all hit up a character breakfast with Aunt Patricia and it was a wonderful treat for Hunter, who is still a major fan of the characters. We were able to fit in another swimming session before it was time to say goodbye.

We are looking forward to seeing them in March in California for another cousin meet-up!

Horse Riding at Lady Hawk Farm

the group photo

 

Ever since we were at the Haunted Headless Horse Farm, Hunter has been asking to go horseback riding – “and not one of those places where they walk you around!”.

welcome sign

We had some downtime at Grandma and Grandpa’s and I was able to find a great place for us to go – Lady Hawk Farm. It is a small farm just north of Brooksville, Florida located right next to the Withlacoochee State Forest. They have 10 horses and specialize in small groups.

hunter getting to know the horse

It was a fabulous day. They welcomed Hunter with open arms and he got to help brush his horse Poncho as we got ready to go.

We were out for 2 hours and it was full of smiles. They have wonderful horses and it is a true testament to how well Susan has trained them that we were able to trot and gallop when out on the trails. Hunter was beyond thrilled. There were even times that he and Poncho were out front leading the pack.

The experience continued once we were back at the barn – we all got to feed the horses their reward carrots and then Hunter helped with the horse bathing to get them all cleaned up and ready to go out to pasture.

hunter washing down Poncho

 

We thoroughly recommend Lady Hawk Farm for any equestrian experience. They even have a small cabin that will sleep up to 8 people for overnight stays.

Turtles Turtles everywhere….

box turtle

Florida is a wonderland for turtles. We’ve seen lots of painter turtles when we are out canoeing and discovered gopher tortoises when out biking along the trails. They are very slow moving and dig holes in the dirt to live in.

turtle underside

We’ve found them on the side of the road, on the side of the bike path and actually on the road trying to cross… We have one just at the end of the campground road that we check on every day.

In search of manatees in central Florida

hunter tim swimming platform2

 

Last year we came to visit Grandpa Bob and Grandma Liz at their place in central Florida for an early Christmas. Grandpa took us out canoeing to some local spots to check out the Manatees and it was a HIT. Over 3 outings, we probably saw and experienced over 100 Manatees. With that memory in mind, we were all very excited to come back this year!!

The two local hot spots are the Weeki Wachee springs and the Crystal River springs. When the ocean and air temps start to cool down in the winter, the manatees head inland to these springs as they are a constant 72f.

the gang with canoe crystal river

Unfortunately for us this year, the air temps are warm (sitting up in the 80s during the day and only dropping down to the high 60s at night) so the manatees are staying out in the ocean. We got lucky and found this mom and baby headed out towards the ocean as we were leaving Crystal River Springs.

manatees beside boat

We took 2 trips to the Weeki Wachee as it is only about 20 minutes away. We park down stream at Rogers park and then paddle up the river about 45 minutes. With no manatees to be found, we decided to make the most of the hot weather and enjoyed the rustic swimming park features…

Our total Manatee count this year was 3 – a definite drop!!! We felt we should at least get a token photo to remember our canoe adventures by 🙂

family manatee photo

In search of alligators in the everglades

water lilly 2

 

What to do on a sunny afternoon in southern Florida? Take your canoe into the everglades and go searching for alligators of course!

lee tim hunter canoe

Uncle Andy and Aunt Shannon live just on the edge of the everglades so we loaded up 2 canoes and went for a short drive. At the put in it was us in our little boats and a handful of tourist swamp boats that made alot of noise!

bob andy canoe

The temperatures were a little cool (for southern Florida – us notherners were still quite happy) and some of the Alligators seemed to be quite lethargic. We got within a foot of one before it noticed us and swamp away.

aligator

 

aligator 2

 

lee tim hunter canoe 2

 

We paddled for about 2 hours and saw close to 15 Alligators which made for a fun afternoon!