We just returned on Tuesday from a week in Naples, Florida at my grandmother's house to celebrate her 81st birthday. My Grandma and Grandpa bought the Florida house when I was a wee two year old. All my Christmas and Easter childhood memories are tied up in that house. There was the year the house was so full of relatives I had to sleep on a sofa out by the pool next to the Christmas tree. I remember all the Christmas Eves that we ate at the Registry Resort's holiday buffet, and I went to bed with an achy tummy because I took my parents' instruction of "Eat whatever you want!" quite literally and ate six desserts. I remember the turquoise blue shag carpet in the living room, which was followed by the short peach carpet, and has now been replaced by beige.
Since my grandfather died in 1998, I have been traveling to Naples to spend Grandma's birthday on February 1st with her. In the beginning, it was all about shopping, eating out (The Pewter Mug was a must with its salad bar and prime rib), walking the beach, and laying by the pool with a fruity frozen drink in hand. This went on even after I got married in 2000. He said, "Go ahead. Go by yourself and have fun with your Grandma!" And we did.
Then, the kids came along and the dynamic changed. Going it alone was no longer very appealing. The house is not child proofed by any stretch of the imagination (think lots of glass and expensive knick knacks) and the sliders from the main living area lead straight out to the pool. From 2006 until last year, I was in constant fear of a kid falling into the pool and drowning. This was the first year I felt like the kids knew not to go near the pool without an adult and there were six adult eyes watching them at all times to make sure that they didn't.
While the trip is no longer about how many new restaurants we can try or how many pina coladas we can drink, we had a grand time. The weather was a bit cool (60-ish), but far better than the snow and cold we were facing at home. When I asked Red before we left what were her top things she wanted to do while in Florida, she rattled off this list:
1. Go to The Best of Everything. This is the one shopping destination that she insists upon. It's like a sparkling princess palace of jewelry. This year Grandma bought her a headband that looks like a tiara, and I bought her a necklace with a fairy pendant on it. When The Best of Everything is mentioned to any female member of my family, the immediate response is, "Oooooh! If you see something I would like, buy it for me. I'll pay you back. I promise!"
2. Go to the library. While not anything more special than any other library, it is a must. Red and Tom Thumb pick out a giant pile of books that I must then carry. Next, they check out what's new in the children's section's aquariums. Finally, we must ask the librarian if she can help us find the book about the girl who takes her dung beetle to school for show and tell. Every year we check it out and every year we can't remember the title and have to pester the librarian figure it out. Amazingly, every year she figures out the title of the very book we want. This year it was checked out by someone else (oh no!!!) so we had to find a different book. Just in case you're wondering, this is the infamous dung beetle book!
3. Go see the trains. The Naples Depot and Lionel Train Museum is a place we discovered last year. The Naples Depot is a train station turned museum owned by the city that was built in 1927. While the inside of the depot isn't so interesting for kids (although I got a kick out of the Swamp Buggy Queen memorabilia), the place to go is the model train museum out back. Staffed by a bunch of old retired guys in train engineer hats, this place is kid heaven. There is a large Lionel model train set up that the kids can run themselves. We were there for about two hours during which time the kids were making the planes and helicopters fly around, running the drive thru at McDonald's, unloading logs and running them through the sawmill, and loading chunks of ice into a freight car. There are dozens of buttons to run many of the different locations in the set. Tom Thumb was glued. Outside the museum part, there is a small train to ride that circles the perimeter of the museum. The volunteers take turns driving it and running the crossing gate that prevents cars from coming into the depot's parking lot while the train is going around. Right now, it's open Thursday through Saturday from 10AM to 2PM. It's a must see if you're in Naples with kids.
4. Go to the beach. We didn't make it there for the first time ever. While trying to take photos of the kids making orange juice (see photos below) I smashed my big toe on my left foot into the kitchen cabinets. Don't ask me how I did it because I still don't know, but it was violent enough that I crushed and bloodied my toenail. I had to deflect suggestions to go to urgent care the rest of the day, and I got to use some Neosporin that expired in 1994 (I didn't notice until after I used it. My sister teased me that it would have graduated from high school by now!). So needless to say, I was in no state to be walking on the beach and the Cobbler didn't want to go it alone with the kids. Better luck next year. This is where we normally go. It's free, it's nice, it's got sand. Ah, the memories. Like the year when Red was a toddler and I took her to that beach and locked our keys in the trunk of my Grandma's car. Some random guy in an SUV gave me and the very sandy Red (the towels were locked in the car too) a ride back to her house for the spare key. Thank goodness for good Samaritans. Don't you love the juicing contraption? My grandparents bought it at Williams-Sonoma years ago.
5. Swim in the pool. Red had a break through while we were in Florida with swimming. Last summer she was so afraid of water she wouldn't even put her face in it. With a lot of swim lessons, we managed to get her to the point she would go in the pool, but she still wouldn't go in water over her head without someone holding on to her even if she had a flotation device. She now will swim by herself in deep water if she has a noodle to put under her arms. This is a HUGE improvement. She was so proud of herself and we were so proud of her.
Also on the trip, we met up with some old friends from Massachusetts at the park so the kids could play and then went to their house for dinner (Thanks Nancy and Mike!).
And my wonderful husband celebrated his 38th birthday on January 29th with a chocolate carrot cake made by me and Red with ingredients we found around the house. We had the ingredients for the chocolate frosting recipe that was on the outside of the can of Ghiardelli cocoa so we made that instead of the frosting in the cake recipe. The cake and frosting were delicious!
The kids arranged the candles all on one side of the cake. Don't look so scared---40 is still 2 years away!
Unfortunately, Grandma came down with the runny nose/sore throat/fever that's going around the last two days we were there so we didn't get to do really anything official for her birthday. We did get to give her her gifts, sing "Happy Birthday", and I taught her how to shoot videos with her digital camera.
We beat out the blizzard on Tuesday and made it home. Now I just have to go through the whole unpacking/laundry/cleaning ritual that happens at the end of every vacation...and I'm happy to say it was a good one.