On making the world a better place

I just sat and read through 18 Girl Scout Gold Award projects, and as I was reading about the incredible work that these high school girls accomplished, I had a thought.

Why do we not focus on all of the great work that’s happening in our community?

Why don’t we rally around change makers and positivity? Why are we so focused on inciting rage and throwing blame and negativity?

It’s no secret that I find the state of our community to be disturbing. Gun violence haunts us, there’s mounting tensions with many of our international allies and people are more divided than ever.

How did we get here? To a place where you can’t have conversations without insults and anger?

I think it’s because we allow ourselves to be permeated by negativity. We create silos and people who don’t look like us and think like us and act like us are viewed as the enemy. Or we look to what others are doing and use that to further a sense of self-hatred as a country. That’s heartbreaking to me.

I wonder if we focused instead on the positive community impacts from those around us, if we would start to break down those barriers. To see that even those who are different than us share the same values. And maybe then we can have civil, productive conversations that lead to a better world for all of us, instead of hatred and anger.

When I see what these girls are doing, just in my community, it gives me hope. Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers aren’t sitting and playing the victim game. They are standing up and taking action in a thoughtful, community-oriented way. And I can’t help but think that maybe we aren’t so bad off after all.

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The Frost Science Museum with Toddlers

Now that my girls are older, mobile and all over the place, I’ve been searching out new experiences to entertain them (and wear them out. Let’s be real, twin toddlers are a handful.) So when my friend asked if we’d join her and her daughter for a play date at the Frost Science Museum in downtown Miami, I jumped on the opportunity.

We had yet to visit the museum because of tales of long lines and crowded rooms, but now that the buzz started to die down, we’ve been itching to go.

Now, I’m usually wary  about taking the girls out to places because they are the quintessential definition of toddlers – they shout when excited, run everywhere and attempt to climb the world. So when our playdate fell on a weekday morning, I figured that at the very worst, there wouldn’t be so many people around to get annoyed.

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The Frost Science Museum is amazingly family-friendly.

We met up with my friend and her daughter in the parking lot and walked up the ramp to the ticketing counter – an open space area with the breeze from Biscayne Bay wafting through. The girls happily kicked their feet in the stroller while leaning out to take in the surroundings.  With tickets in hand, we walked through the buildings, past the 6 elevators and tried to get our bearings.

“How do we get into the museum?” I asked a nearby employee. “You’re already inside,” he politely said. “There are six floors, I recommend you take the elevator to the top and work your way down.”  Oops. I felt a little silly, but I’m sure he’s answered THAT question a hundred times (at least.)

Now that we were inside the museum…

We turned our strollers around and pushed our toddlers towards the elevators. We discarded the employee’s advice and started on the second floor. Catching up with my friend as our girls waved at each other, we walked into an exhibit building. Or tried to, at least. My one beef with the Frost is that the doors have to be pulled open. If you don’t push a stroller then you might not realize what a pain this is.

We pulled the strollers up to an animated short, featuring a kid swimming through the inside of a monster fish. It was well-told, and not nearly as terrifying as it sounds, but my girls started to get antsy.  “Get me OUT of this stroller! I want to run and touch everything,” their body language cried. I glanced over. My friend was in the same boat. Wordlessly, we started moving.

This exhibit was neat, but we didn’t see much. These toddlers needed to run around and explore. So we moved on.

Now we decided to take the employee’s advice.

As we waited for one of the six elevators to arrive, a crowd of school kids joined us. “That’s awesome to see because you know this is a place that welcomes kids,” we remarked to each other.

We hopped on a glass elevator to the top floor. The girls quieted in their stroller, staring at the view. As we walked off, onto the solarium, we got our first glimpse of the aquarium on the fifth floor that Frost is so famous for.

We strolled around the rooftop, taking in views of government cut (surprisingly empty of cruise ships), the solar panels and native vegetation.

That’s cool, but let’s be real. We want to see the aquarium.

So we jetted down the fourth floor (the fifth floor only has classrooms and conference space). As we walked towards the aquarium, we spotted an exhibit called “River of Grass.”  But more importantly, this is made for kids 6 and under.  We swerved over and walked inside. And we almost never left.

We stepped into a small room with pictures of native animals on the walls, and the curator informed us that it was nighttime and immediately picked up large, stuffed flashlights.  Nighttime?

We stepped into the main room and immediately understood. The girls wriggled as I unsnapped them from the stroller and they ran into the center of the darkened room with a projected scene of the Everglades on the floor, wall and ceiling.  The “flashlights,” which were almost the same size as my girls, illuminated all sorts of native Florida wildlife skulking around in the dark. As they walked around the room, the water and grass moved with them as they delightedly yelled “gato” as they spotted the Florida panthers and deer.

Then the night turned to day and the flashlights went away. The sun came out, the palms swayed in the breeze and fish and frogs swam around in the water. Or so it was projected. Our three toddlers had the room almost exclusively to themselves and they ran around, staring at the animals, watching the water move with their feet, sitting on logs (and pushing them around) and giggling as rain drops splattered across the water. I’m not sure how much time we actually spent, but according to the day/night transitions, we were there about a week.

After the River of Grass.

As we wrestled our tiring toddlers back into the strollers, I decided I need a membership to this place. And then we walked outside into the daylight to find a water table overlooking Biscayne Bay. So out went the girls because there’s no way we could keep them away.

The water table was multiple levels and showcased the concept of currents and downstream water flow. But my girls just wanted to grab the animal toys, splash their hands and throw the rubber balls around. At one point I looked over and Emma got sprayed in the face with a bit of water from the breeze and she was smiling with every tooth and then some. The pure joy on that girl’s face was indescribable.

But once we saw eye rubbing start, it was time to head out.

Finally, the famous Frost Aquarium.

If you’ve seen any pictures of Frost, you’ve probably seen pictures by the aquarium. And it’s no surprise. The aquarium is 5 floors and pretty impressive.  On the fourth floor, you see the top of the aquarium, as well as the aviary. You can pet stingrays (no thanks), ogle baby alligators, or scream “PEZ” at gigantic fish swimming around. I’ll let you figure out which of these things my girls did.

As we made our way down to the third floor, we saw more of the aquarium from inside the building. Here we were able to see sharks, barracudas and brightly colored fish darting around the coral reef.  Pretty cool stuff but with three tired toddlers, who were starting to get cranky, we didn’t tarry much.

As we got to the bottom two floors, we found the bottom of the aquarium. A giant blue globe that’s made for pictures. It’s pretty impressive and we had to stop to look before winding down a ramp to the first floor.

The Frost gets it’s Miami on.

On the first floor there’s a dance floor that lights up as you step. Upbeat dance music was playing and once again we let the girls go.  Zoey immediately starting dancing, jumping and running around the floor as Emma gazed at her feet in a mixture of exhaustion and fascination. Harper, my friend’s daughter, ran and danced around the floor. And I wondered how it was possible for that much energy to come out of such tired girls. But then again, who can resist a light up floor and dance music? Come on.

We’ll be back.

This time there was no fight to get the girls back in the stroller. They were spent. And I definitely need a membership. Watching them all play and explore was my favorite part of the entire experience. It more than made up for the ridiculously expensive parking and the annoying door situation.

But as I payed the $16 parking fee, I committed to street parking the next time. Because we absolutely will be back.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday – Travel Style

So, I don’t always jump on the #TBT bandwagon, but this morning Facebook served up such a fun memory, I couldn’t help it. It’s no secret that I love traveling. Even if it’s just in my proverbial backyard.

It’s also not a secret that many Miamians like to get out of town on Memorial Day. Long story short, Miami Beach throws a hip hop party every year, and it gets crazy packed. Parking and traffic are even worse than normal and it’s virtually impossible to find a good spot on the sand. I always planned my vacations around that weekend for these reasons (plus an extra day that I don’t have to take PTO on? No brainer).

Back in 2009, El Hombre and I headed down to Key West for our first Memorial Day weekend trip, and it still ranks as one of my favorites of our trips together. Our friend had just moved back in town, and we spent the weekend on bikes, exploring side beaches, boating and listening to music. I’m pretty sure our uniforms were flip flops, bathing suits, shorts and sunscreen. I fell hard for Key West that weekend. I can still smell the coconut sunscreen and taste the saltwater.

Here are a few pics of that weekend:

The Barnacle: A hidden Miami gem

Yesterday I woke up with the urge to explore. I’ve never been good at sitting still and I swear I am driven by wanderlust. Being 7 months pregnant, hopping on a plane isn’t exactly an option for me. So instead of moping around the house, I decided to get out and explore Miami.

When I first moved here, I was never inside. I was intent on discovering all the nooks and crannies of this city. I used to blog pretty heavily about my adventures until I started commuting crazy hours for work.

One of the places I’d never been is the Barnacle State Park and I’ve always been curious about it. So off I went!

The Barnacle was built in 1891, when much of Miami was still covered in hammocks (the tropical forests, not the woven swings.) As you wander back in to the park, you walk through what remains of the Miami Hammocks in Coconut Grove. The live oaks, strangler figs, palms and other native growth intertwines above the path, creating a shady walkway with Spanish Moss gently flowing above you. The hustle and bustle of Coconut Grove quickly melts away and is replaced by the sounds of wind through the trees.

Barnacle State Park Hammocks walkway

The walkway to the Barnacle State Park in Coconut Grove

As the path drew to an end, I found myself approaching Ralph Munroe’s home, built in 1891. There are several other historic homes in Miami, but this one is the oldest home in the county that still stands in its original location. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to go in, as you can only go inside as part of a tour, but I did take the opportunity to sit out on the porch and appreciate the bay view and the cool breeze.

House at the Barnacle State Park

The view of the Barnacle House from the park entrance.

View from the Barnacle House

My view from the Barnacle House Porch. Look at that perfect sky and bay view!

Barnacle House from the bay

The view of the Barnacle House from the bay end of the property. There’s obviously a bit of renovation going on.

Once I caught my breath (lugging around an extra 30 pounds of babies and placentas is exhausting), I meandered down through that green yard towards the bay. Along the way I passed families playing and couples picnicking. At the end of the property is the old boathouse and a dock that’s referred to as the “Railway to Nowhere.”  The name came from the fact that Munroe used marine railways to bring boats out of the water so he could work on them. Otherwise there was no other way to transport boats.

You see, Munroe was a yacht designer, so he needed access to the bay. The boathouse was actually his first home on the property – built in 1886.  He lived upstairs and worked downstairs. This is actually not the original building – it was rebuilt after a hurricane destroyed the original boat house in 1925.

Barnacle Boat House

The replica of the original boat house.

Railway to Nowhere

The Railway to Nowhere – Ralph Munroe’s mechanism for pulling boats out of the water. AKA the original boat ramp!

Barnacle State Park dock.

The dock, jutting out in to Biscayne Bay, is closed to foot traffic. More than likely to keep people from jumping in for a swim on hot days.

 

I definitely enjoyed this park. It’s not especially big – which is perfect for me at this point – but it’s pretty, calm and not too far off the beaten path. Admission is only $2 and totally worth it. My only caveat is it’s probably easier to go on a week day, or early on weekends so you don’t have to fight for parking in the grove.

Time for a girls trip!

It seems that the first quarter let-down has hit some of my friends pretty hard. Now that I’m not stuck in a cubicle or traffic for 10-11 hours a day, I’ve taken advantage of talking with my friends more often. And sadly, it seems a lot of them had a rough start to this year.

Since I’m a transplant in a largely transient city, I often lament that all my friends have moved. (Yes, I know I’m being melodramatic in these moments). But I do still have people here. So in my texts, chats, etc. with one of my friends, I came up with an idea. Why not take a vacation day from work, drop the kids at school and then head to Miami with me? The ultimate goal: Islamorada. Since I can’t drink for awhile, I volunteered to be designated.

It didn’t take a lot of persuasion.

So a few weeks ago, two of my friends and I hopped in my car and headed south. We picked up some Cuban coffee and pastelitos for some fuel and then headed straight down toOverseas Highway.

If you’ve never driven through the Florida Keys before, I highly recommend it. As you are passing through narrow strips of road, with endless blue water on either side of your car, it’s virtually impossible to retain any level of stress. It’s often ranked as one of the most scenic drives in America and there’s truly nothing like it.

I’m pregnant so that means I am hungry and thirsty all the time. Our first stop? The Key Largo Conch House. All I have to say is Conch Fritters. Get them. While this place isn’t on the water, it is tucked away so you aren’t right on the highway. It’s in a quintassential Florida Keys house and you can sit inside or outside on the porch. We grabbed an outside table and split a bunch of food. Service was great and the food was on point.

After that, we headed south. The girls wanted to stop at Tiki Bar so we made a pit stop for rum drinks and water. Since we couldn’t hang on the beach, we headed off to the marina dock, where we dragged chairs in to the sun. As we lazily sipped our drinks we watched boats coming in and going out to the Sandbar. Admittedly I’m not a huge fan of this place because it’s a little too “Spring Break” for me, but it was a good first spot for some sun.

After we got too hot, we hopped back in the car to cool off with some A/C and headed to our next spot: Anne’s Beach. This beach is one of the more popular beaches in the middle keys – partially because there are not many public beaches in Islamorada but mainly because it’s beautiful. But parking is minimal so if you go on the weekend you have to get there early… even on weekdays it can be tough – we got lucky with a spot in the second lot.  We found a cozy little nook of beach where we spread out our towels and immediately waded in to the ocean. The water can still be a little cool (by Floridian standards) but because it’s so shallow the temperature was perfect.

We took selfies, laid out for some much-needed sun and chatted to our hearts’ content. And Instagrammed it all for our people to admire from their cubes and offices.

Once again, it got a bit toasty so we hopped back in to the car to head to the bar at the Islander. I love this place and El Hombre and I will often stop to get food and drinks at the bar on our various trips to the Keys.  It’s beautiful, laid back, great service and a pretty view. It’s also a great place to stay because unlike Tiki Bar it’s not full of annoying Spring Breakers.

The girls sipped on more rum drinks while I drank my soda and we all dried out. One of my friends started surfing Islamorada Real Estate listings for investment properties while my other friend and I split a dessert (it’s for the babies.)

As the day came to a close, we decided to go for dinner before getting on the road. I originally wanted to go to the Lorelei, but it was packed with no parking. So we ended up at the Green Turtle Inn. Again, amazing food. My favorite? Lobster Mac & Cheese. I ended up with a salad for my main course, while the girls split a bunch of plates that I nibbled off of. While a tad pricy, this restaurant is worth every penny.

After we finished dinner, we had one last stop. The Blond Giraffe in Tavernier. Normally El Hombre and I never stop at these places because he’s not a key lime kind of guy. But one of the girls wanted to pick up some treats for her family. While she picked those out, my other friend and I split a piece of pie. All I can say is, “Yes”. Have you ever taken a bite of something so good that you half close your eyes in sheer bliss? That was me at that moment. It was also the sugar burst that got me home.

All in all, it was a good day trip. When life starts to give you lemons, it’s time to gather your girls (or guys) and head out for a day of beach hopping and good food.

The Conch House.

The Conch House. Get the Fritters I tell ya!

Key Largo Conch House

Key Largo Conch House sign. These signs are all over the Florida Keys

Tiki Bar Marina Islamorada

The view from our spot at the Tiki Bar. Clear blue water for miles.

Anne's beach, Islamorada Florida

Anne’s beach – so peaceful

Beach selfie in Islamorada

Selfie time at the beach!

The beach at the Islander Resort.

The beach at the Islander Resort.

Islander Bar Islamorada

The view from the Bar at the Islander. Nice and shady after a day in the sun.

Cannoli

Cannoli. I’m all about that toffee.

Pool time

A bit of pool time before our day was done.

Day tripping to Jupiter

Sometimes you just need a change of pace.

Yes it’s true. I live where many vacation… but since I do things like work for a living I need a break too.

Miami is great and there’s no place like it. But you are always on the go. People are hustling all day, every day. Traffic can be a nightmare and things can get expensive. Fortunately, Miami is a good hopping off point for day trips around South Florida. Typically when we feel like we need to slow down, we head to the keys, but I have been hearing good things about the Treasure Coast from my friend, so we decided to drive to Jupiter today instead.

Jupiter is about an hour and a half from Miami. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the keys, only more based in Reality. It’s definitely a slower pace, and everything is really close to each other. People are nice and the whole town is beachy but not overrun with tourists.

We hit a few parks – Jupiter Inlet Beach Park where you can swim in natural tide pools or the beach, and the Blowing Rocks Natural Preserve. Guys, both are beautiful, but Blowing Rock Natural Preserve is awesome. It reminded me of Costa Rica, with the rocks jutting in to the ocean. We climbed and crawled all throughout the mini caverns that have been carved out by the tides. We studied shells that have been embedded in to the rocks, and we watched kids run and shriek with the excitement of “discovering” a new crevice where they could hide and play.

It was totally worth the drive. I can’t wait to go back and see what else the Treasure Coast has in store.

 

Roll your sleeves up

Sometimes there’s nothing more relaxing than throwing on my most scruffy clothes and spending an afternoon in the garden.

We’ve had a lot of work done on our condo, and as a result my back patio turned in to a bit of a disaster. So today we rolled out of bed late, fired up the grill to make lunch and something sparked.

Hours later, my nails, hands and lower legs were black from dirt and I’m feeling so buoyant. They say that gardening lifts the spirits, and I swear it’s true. Creating small pockets of beauty where I can sit and read while sipping Pimms Cups gives such a feeling of accomplishment.

We still have a ways to go, but here are some progress shots: