Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Cheer

 2016 has nearly come to an end which means I'm on a deadline to blog about our Christmas. My own deadline of course. The New York Times has not been calling me daily asking for it.
We never made time to do any pre-Christmas outings such as the year we visited a camel or to go see spectacular Christmas lights. But on December 23rd I did receive a phone call telling me that I won an Xbox One S from this sweepstakes I'd entered: 

I've decided to make that our new pre-Christmas tradition because it doesn't require any major physical movement. I guess I did pace all around the living room during the phone call. But I was inside where it's warm.
On Christmas Eve we attended the service at our church and then came home so that the boys could enjoy their Christmas Eve tradition of opening their Christmas pajamas and a Christmas movie. That was a whole lot of Christmas in that paragraph.
There's always a new way to pose in Christmas pajamas.
They received Arthur Christmas.
We waited until Christmas morning to put the presents under the tree because midnight rolled around and Dawson was too hyper to sleep.
Evan and Dawson slept in on Christmas morning. Mostly because at about 2 a.m. our house alarm was beeping (beeping -as in a battery was dead or something) which woke up Dawson and he woke up Jason which woke me up.  Jason investigated and we have no idea what the beeping was from. The alarm is hardwired so there's no battery. I think this should be an episode on 20/20. The Christmas Eve Mystery. I'd tune in for the title alone.
When we finally go around to making Christmas happen, we had Dawson and Evan take their traditional picture at the top of the stairs.
Then we let them go do their stockings. There's something strange about seeing a fish on a mantel with stockings hanging under it.
Evan got a BB8 (or "baby 8, as he says it) ornament.
Dawson got an out of focus Stormtrooper.
The much anticipated moment finally arrived when it was time to open presents.
I believe the Star Wars franchise made billions this year. I mean wrapping paper?
Evan showed us that he can effectively use his new baseball bat.
He also demonstrated that Darth Vader can wear Christmas jammies and still use the force.
Dawson asked for this Lego set. And he got it.
Evan did not ask for a Hatchimals. However, this crazy toy was like the Cabbage Patch doll of the 80's and I the very last one in Colorado Springs at Target. For days leading up to Christmas I saw this toy selling for hundreds of dollars on ebay and on the local Facebook selling group that I'm a member of. I even took a screenshot as evidence:
So I threw around the idea of selling the one I bought at Target for a nice profit like all of the other folks in my area were keen on doing. I could treat myself to Starbucks. But then I realized that this Hatchimals was the craze of the 2016 Christmas year and I had the golden ticket! I didn't even have to wait in a line! So I kept it and Evan got a Draggle Hatchimals.
Here you can watch it try to hatch:
The obsession with BB8 was far and above any Hatchimals craze for my boys. They both asked for a BB8 this Christmas.
So they each got their wish. I wish BB8 was a kitten though. But this way I'm less allergic.
Dawson almost didn't get his BB8 for Christmas. But thanks to my OCD, the week before Christmas I told Jason I wanted to take an inventory of all of the gifts we'd purchased for the boys to make sure they were EVEN. Parents the world over know exactly what I'm talking about right now. In that process, I picked up the box containing Dawson's BB8 and the box clearly said "EMPTY BOX". I thought it felt a bit light. So I opened the box and there was nothing inside! I called Bed Bath & Beyond and told me they had known it happened but didn't know how to contact me. They assumed they wouldn't hear from me until after Christmas. On Black Friday when they had the deal on those BB8's I had taken the display box to the counter and paid for it, never realizing it was a display only box and it was empty. The cashier didn't know that either, however. So he let me leave with an empty box. Once I called I was able to bring the box in with the receipt and they got me the box I was supposed to receive (which was locked in a vault upstairs at the store!) with an actual BB8 inside. They're nice like that.
Jason got me a New China set, which I have been wanting since we first got married.
Now I can have my friends over and make cucumber sandwiches and drink tea. We couldn't do that before. No China Set, No Tea. I'm sure there's a bumper sticker with that slogan out there somewhere.
I got Jason a cold brew coffee maker. I don't have a picture of him with it though because it can't be used to make cucumber sandwiches.
When Christmas was officially over and every present had been unwrapped, Evan walked up to me and said "Where are the rest of my presents?" like Christmas is an unending day of unwrapping. So I had to explain that Christmas is 5 minutes long. Just like waiting an hour for dinner and you eat in 5 minutes. Same thing.
I wish I had unwrapped a maid:
To finalize our Christmas day, every year we take family pictures in front of the tree. 
Merry Christmas from the Wilkins, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marco Island FL, Tigertail Beach & Sand Dollar Spit: A Vacation

Over the past several years of vacationing in Florida, I've come to the conclusion that the decision to retire there is met with ample food and lack of exercise -with no shame. This helps me know that Florida is in my top 10 options for retirement. St. Lucia is number 1 of course, because I've never heard of any shark attacks occurring there. 

This year we decided to embark on a vacation journey to a new destination: Marco Island.
The trip began with selfies on a plane. Which would have made a much more entertaining B rated movie than "Snakes on a Plane" in my opinion.
Jason took this picture while I was engrossed in the in-flight movie "Love & Friendship". I actually put down "Seabiscuit" - a novel worth every minute of your reading devotion - to enjoy the movie but I was dying inside without subtitles. You might also notice that that the trip had only commenced and my hair was already stripped of curl and flattened by the earth's atmosphere. That line should go in a book. I'm calling Laura Hillenbrand to tell her she can use it.
Marco Island met all of our expectations. We stayed in South Seas Northwest Tower 3, an imposing building placed 1,000 miles off of the coastline. At least that's how it felt to my lazy legs. We stayed in the condo on the 15th floor which led to marvelous conversations when Dawson discovered that the elevator didn't have a button for the 13th floor. Superstition has a way of evoking stupidity -even in the world's best architects. Who knew?
I always make it a point to take photos of the inside of our condo. I especially anticipate the view from the balcony.
Walking in from the front door we had a glorious view:
marco island fl, tigartail beach
The view taken while standing on the balcony was stunning.
I'll confess that the view of the pond brought me great angst throughout the week as I pondered alligators that could be frolicking in it, waiting to gnaw off my legs.
The boys didn't seem to be bothered by the prospect of alligators from the balcony.
This is the kitchen where no cooking took place. Wait. Microwaving popcorn counts as cooking so I take that back.
 Our bedroom had a balcony view as well, so I kept going back and forth between looking outside and watching American Pickers. The one great anticipation of vacation is cable.
The boys' room was just so clean. Until they moved in.
This particular condominium association caters to retirees. Apparently, the old people who land here are cantankerous and as a result, there were strict rules to abide by at the pool. Among them were: No food or drinks allowed in the pool area, no jumping, diving or swimming (just kidding on that last one) and you most certainly weren't allowed in the pool if you had diarrhea which led me to question the adult diaper situation of many of the residents here. Finally, there was a decibel level limit. One group of kids playing in the shallow end were asked by the manager to quiet down while they were playing a rousing round of Marco Polo.
 The pool was where we spent most of our time. The boys swam for hours for days on end.
 While they swam, I spent my time lounging and either reading Seabiscuit or people watching. People watching is how I can come to such astounding revelations such as knowing that diet and exercise heads south along with retirees.
 Every once in a while I'd look up from my book in order to indulge Jason in conversation.
 Native birds made themselves at home at the deep end. Which promptly inspired me to make the decision to let Evan pee in the pool. How sanitary can it be if birds gather there?
 This is the view from the front door of our condo, peering out over the parking lot:
 Finally, we made the long trek to the beach.
Straight through this gate and to the left is a sign that nearly ruined me.
We were never told the distance from the condo to the beach but we knew it was long enough to provoke Evan to meltdowns. So we tried to encourage him by making it into a game saying we'd race him.
That didn't last.
If he wasn't bumming a ride on the chair cart, he was getting one from us.
To put the distance in perspective, here's a shot of our condo taken from the beach. Ours is the second condo from the left.
Dawson found a turtle crossing from the snake infested dunes in front of the condo over to the reptile infested pond. It was so fast that several times I had to pick it up and move it back toward the dunes so that I could get a picture of it before it was lost in the pond area. Since I was so completely immersed in Seabiscuit during the encounter I had an incredible urge to keep the turtle and enter him into a race. The idea was struck down by the general majority.
I was actually disappointed when we saw the ocean. The water was brackish and the beach was covered with stinky dead fish.
We learned from the locals that this was caused by a phenomenon called Red Tide. Red Tide is a discoloration of seawater caused by a bloom of toxic red dinoflagellates. Now you know. Every time my dinoflagellates get out of control like that, I take Tums, so you'd think Florida could get an upperhand in this situation. 
Red Tide causes the death of fish, but also causes respiratory irritation in humans as well as watery eyes in some cases. We noticed these symptoms and continuously remarked that anything even remotely bothersome was caused by Red Tide. Evan was whiney? -Red Tide. Dawson tripped over the chair in his way? -Red Tide
The Red Tide situation was brought in by Hurricane Matthew. Remarkably, that was the only issue caused by Matthew in this area. As a matter of fact, the last time Marco Island was hit by a hurricane was hurricane Wilma in 2005. 
If I can just interject here and ask that when we roll back around to the D's, could we name that hurricane Dinoflagellates? Thanks.
As the week progressed, the water cleared up.  
This encouraged me to actually go in the water. I was too terrified before, on account of how I wasn't able to see sharks in attack mode.
On our first night, we found a little place called DolphinTiki Bar & Grill  located on the marina where we ate seafood. I gagged my way through dinner though, because the marina was filled with dead fish. Red Tide.
 On the following day, we set out to find shells and sand dollars. You might remember from a previous vacation blog post how it important it was to me to find a sand dollar.
Directly to the right as we left our condo was the path to Tigertail Beach.
This path was lined with crabs that would run away as people walked by. I saw this as a challenge so I asked Dawson to catch one for me.
That's right crab! You got caught! I was too scared to hold him because he looked angry.
As we were trying to lock down ideas of things to do during the week, Jason repeatedly asked if it would be fun to do an everglade air boat tour. To which I repeatedly said no. So when he found out we could rent a kayak that would take us through the lagoon on TigerTail Beach and get us to the other end of the island I was fine. I'm not sure why though, considering I was much closer and more vulnerable to an alligator or poisonous water snake in a kayak than an air boat but sometimes I'm not rational.
We floated through the lagoon (which we later crossed on foot and I thought I was going to die a thousand deaths, but Dawson loved it) and docked at TigerTail Beach where we encountered our first interesting sea creature. A Horshoe Crab. That was dead.
I asked Dawson to give it mouth to mouth and he emphatically said no. Evan just picked his nose. I think that's his go to reaction in crisis situations. 
We also came across this awkward man taking video of a bird perched on a sign.
 This is where I found my first sand dollar and Dawson found tons of shells.
 That night we ate at a pizza joint called Joey's.
 And then found an ice cream shop called Sweet Annie's. This is the only ice cream place that I can recall ever finding dog magnets.
 I also found a great souvenir I could have purchased to bring back for all my friends. But the taffy was actually made in China so I passed.
 Friday we went to Naples. This area is inhabited by wealthy retirees. I'm pretty sure they wear gilded diapers. After driving around for a bit, we went to Naples Pier.
The boys saw that I wanted a picture of the mosaic turtle so they ran over to it and stood there without budging. Make no mistake, that ornery smug look that Evan has is caused by Red Tide. Dawson's get his look naturally from his father.
The sand here is imported from North Dakota. I just made that up.
We found a nice British couple who was willing to take our picture because we offered to take theirs. This was the start of Evan flat out refusing to take family pictures with us the rest of the week. Red Tide.
On the way back to the condo we stopped at Tin City, fully expecting to eat at a dive called Pinchers. After we were seated, we waited 15 minutes and no one came to get our drink order so we left. That's how important water is to us.
We ended up at a Mexican restaurant called Tacos & Tequila Cantina which was excellent.
Saturday was my favorite day of vacation. We took a dophin watching & shelling boat tour through Marco Island Water Sports.
The boat was a mid-sized pontoon with surprising speed.
They took us around the island and the weather and water were perfect. Of course I mean perfect in the objective sense.
We found 3 dolphins that played in our wake. I couldn't believe how shallow the water was. This led me to believe that I could keep a dolphin as a pet in our bathtub with no issues.
One of the tour guides came around and offered to take our family picture. Evan is such a stubborn stinker.
After we gave up, a gentleman standing behind us said, "here let me take your picture from behind. He can't do anything about that". 
The goofball wouldn't pose. Red Tide.
We came around a corner to approach Caxambas Island where we were going to stop and go shelling. That's when we came across the Cape Romano Dome Houses. I found a fascinating blog discussing the history of the houses along with pictures of them in pristine condition and fully furnished.
cape romano dome houses
This area is so beautiful, I can see why they built a home here, though why not square? A dome is not symmetrical. Clearly the man was not OCD.
We approached the island and had an hour to walk around, looking for shells.
Jason caught a sea creature and we took turns holding it. I'm going start collecting creatures to keep my pet dolphin company.
Most of the island is made up of shells. I don't recommend walking around barefoot, as I would compare it to walking on Legos. Only the Legos are made of jagged glass.

I had read about an area adjacent to Tigertail Beach called Sand Dollar Spit and I was determined to find it. So on Monday we set out.
Jason saw a sandbar and walked out to it, then immediately yelled to me "Honey!  Sand dollars!" so I ran to the sand bar risking life and limb. Even though it was only about a foot from the beach. Shark attacks occur on the shore sometimes!
Here they are, the blessed sand dollars. They weren't alive. It's illegal to remove live shells from the ocean. Someday I plan to be a live shell cop.
sand dollar spit
Jason stumbled upon a giant Conch shell with a slug in it. I think Conch is a weird word.
My final hope during our vacation was to get a picture of a sand dollar where it lay on the beach so that I could share the experience with all of you. Thankfully, I found 2 on the day we found Sand Dollar Spit. Can you see it?
I was so excited about this that I made 2 videos! You will notice in this first one that I completely forgot what on earth I was presenting to you.
The second time around I thought I could do a better job than the first video, but no.
I blame Red Tide.
I found the last sand dollar mixed in with a heap of rotting fish. A diamond in the rough my friends. 
On our final night at the island we ate at Skyline Chili. Yes, Jason can find a Skyline Chili on the moon if it's there.
You can order sarcasm for just $52.1249¢ at this particular location.
The whole week we were too lazy to make the long walk to the beach to catch the sunset so when we got back to the condo we huffed it.
I chased the sun until it nearly slipped right down into the ocean.
We took a few family pictures which makes it seem like they were taken at a different time of day but they weren't. Red Tide.
And that was it. We turned right around and headed back to the condo. On our walk back, a friendly lady saw us and offered us a sand dollar. (I realize this sounds like code for a drug laden brownie, but it really was a sand dollar). I told her she could keep it, that we had found plenty and then we struck up a conversation. She told us she and her husband were from IN which made me squeal. I asked her what part of Indiana they were from and she hesitated, then spit out "Kendallville". I just stared. How could that even be possible? Meeting someone from the tiny town where I went to high school?  She knows my cousins Paul and Jim Sprandel. She graduated from East Noble High School. Imagine that. Nancy & Joe Taylor.
We didn't fly out until 5 pm on Tuesday so we had time to spare. We went to the zoo.
We got to see a show presented by the amazing Evan who inspired us with his crayon balance act. He named his show "Red Tide".
 This zoo is small and rather uneventful so we completely forgot to take pictures. Well, I took a picture of a flower in a tree that reminded me of The Lorax.
 Then we headed to Sanibel Island passing through Fort Meyers Beach and I'm going to tell you something. That Beach is neglected. It's completely run down and we got struck in construction traffic which didn't help my impression any. We never did make it to Sanibel because it would have required us to pay a toll. I blame Red Tide. We did however, get to pass Shell Point -a retirement community and non-profit ministry of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Since I work for the organization, I felt it was necessary to log this in my travel journal, like a trophy stamp.

I'll leave you with a profound image. Something I needed to ponder for at least 5 minutes.
A Jaguar in line in front of us at the McDonald's.Drive-Thru. Even the rich are cheapskates.