Old Town-Kissimmee, Florida

It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.

This was one of my many, many thoughts when the road trip to Florida took many hours longer than I originally planned.  But I made it there and now I’ve made it back home.

Vacation!  Ah….bliss!

The first few days after returning home….not so much 🙂  I’ve been playing catch up with my normal home life.  Which, in the summertime, is not normal at all.  I haven’t found my groove with the kids home full-time.  It’s highly doubtful that I’ll actually find it before it’s time for them to return to school.

The vacation I just returned from was just me and 4 kids.  Yes, Four!  We allowed the oldest to bring a friend this time.  The first segment of the trip was to Old Town in Kissimmee, Florida.  My family started going there some years back because they have the Saturday Nite Classic Car Cruise, America’s longest continuous running car cruise.  My parents have participated in the cruise on some occasions, but this time was just a family meet up for the weekend.

Since today is Thursday, I’m including some of the interesting doors that I passed.  I included the top one because it’s just too amazing to not be included in this post.  The other sets are shown to consider the WordPress Photo Challenge this week of partners.  If you want to see some other amazing doors, you can check out Norm 2.0, the host of Thursday doors, found here.

There were some other really neat doors for future posts, but I’m going to diverge at the path and continue on with the partner theme.  We met my parents, my brother, sister-in-law, and my two nephews.  My kids have a total of six cousins.  Due to the way life works out sometimes, there are mostly large age gaps.  However, my brother’s oldest son is only three years younger than my daughter.  My daughter and my nephew had a day of play on Saturday.  Located next to the walking area of Old Town is Fun Spot America.  It has carnival like rides and go-karts.

I loved watching the two of them race along, laughing as they moved from ride to ride. It was a typical, hot day in Florida.  The sun beat relentlessly as the storm clouds gathered in the distance.  They paused in shade only long enough to drink some water before dashing away to the next piece of fun.  They took time out to go through the obstacle fun house where the three-year old could tag along.  Then on to bumper cars, roller coasters, and go-karts….over and over.  Even when the rain rolled in, it couldn’t diminish their fun.  They moved to the arcade and battled each other in air hockey.  When the rain passed, they were out again.



It made my heart so happy watching them.  I grew up with a lot of cousins that were close to my age.  There were large family gatherings where we would spend hours outdoors creating new worlds, exploring the woods, and chasing fireflies. Late in the evening, we would lay underneath the stars dreaming of far away galaxies.  Every now and then we would be convinced that we had seen an alien ship passing by.

I always wanted that kind of childhood for my own children.  While life can’t be predicted and it didn’t turn out that way, I am so happy for these moments.  Glimpsing the kind of love and camaraderie that can last a lifetime.  I still have cousins with whom I can pick back up where we last left off.  We can reminisce about our lives and they know me in ways that so many others don’t.

Family has always been an important component of my life.  These two would pick back up on their fun when we traveled back to my hometown of Naples on the third segment of our summer trip.  They already have years of memories to reminisce about and many more to create.

Let your light shine!



*also submitted for weekly discover challenge


Thursday Doors -Everglades City, FL

This week for Thursday Doors, I dug back through some old photos.  I’m heading out for vacation tomorrow morning before the sun comes up. I’m supposed to be packing, but was looking in photo albums instead.  I really wish I wasn’t in the photo so there wasn’t proof of how I dressed in the 90’s.  But, such is life!

Given that Thursday is also a throwback day, I thought I’d throw it back to one of my first dates with the hubby.  For our first “official” date we decided to go over to the Miami MetroZoo (now called Zoo Miami).  It is listed as the only zoo in the continental United States located in a subtropical climate.  Why we decided to do that in the middle of July, I’ll never know.  We lived in Naples…Florida, so it was just a day trip.  As to be expected, it was very hot.  This was in 1998, so a lot of trees that would have provided shade had been demolished by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

There are two main ways to travel to Miami from Naples.  One is the stretch of I-75, known as Alligator Alley, that connects the two places together.  The other is by taking U.S. 41.  The section of 41 that runs from Tampa to Miami is also known as Tamiami Trail.  The section of Tamiami Trail from Naples to Miami is where the road begins running East-West as opposed to the other part being North-South.

It is a slower route since it is only two lanes, but is definitely more scenic.  We decided that we would come home that way and stop in Everglades City for a bite to eat.  We ate at the Rod and Gun Club (built in 1864) because we wanted to check out the nostalgia associated with it. It was beautiful inside, but I still remember that my “well done” burger was raw inside.  Future hubby asked if I wanted to send it back, but 20-year old me felt uncomfortable with that.  38-year old me would have sent it back since it wasn’t edible.

After we ate, we walked over to those doors!  I wanted my picture in front of the building because….THOSE COLUMNS.  This is not standard Florida architecture. It’s built in Neoclassical Revival style.  This building is the Old Collier County Courthouse.  It was built in 1928 by Barron Collier.  If you couldn’t guess by his name, he is the one that gave Collier County (which includes my hometown of Naples) its name.  The county seat was moved to East Naples in 1962 (after damage by Hurricane Donna), where a new courthouse was built.  The Everglades City building later served as their City Hall and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The photo is from 1998. The building was damaged during Hurricane Wilma in 2005 (which left my yard calf-deep in water, damaged trees, and ripped some fascia from my house) to the point of them considering demolition, but was restored.

My family has been in Collier County since the 1940’s.  It has seen a lot of changes.  A lot of landmarks in Naples have been torn down for “bigger, better, newer”, so I’m happy when I see something historical being preserved.

Let your light shine!



Check out more Thursday Doors, hosted by Norm 2.0 here



Purely Captivating 

Very little grows on jagged rock.  Be grounded.  Be crumbled so wildflowers will come up where you are. -Rumi

The weekly photo challenge this week is “Pure”.  The photo could convey wholesomeness, something undiluted, or simplicity.  Since contentment and simplicity are two of my top endeavors this year, I knew that I’d be able to find some photos I thought were representative of this sentiment.

And you?  When will you begin that long journey into yourself? -Rumi

While at my mother-in-law’s on Saturday, I went for a little walk.  I have been walking those woods for almost 18 years.  This was my first journey since I’ve began taking more photographs.  It was a very hot day.  In fact, on the ride home, the car would register 95-97 degrees Fahrenheit.  I kept thinking about my trip to Florida in a week and how quickly I’ve forgotten what intense, breezeless heat feels like!

I rode to the top of the driveway with my husband since he was replacing the mailbox.  I walked back toward the house, along the edge of the driveway seeking out the simple beauty that bursts forth.  I wanted to see if I could capture the underside of a flower with the macro lens that attaches to my Iphone.  I was happy with the shots achieved.  Two of which I’ve included on this post.

I also brought my Nikon D3200 (and the two lenses that it came with).  The sun was searing, but there was lots of shady areas to meander through.

You have escaped the cage.  Your wings are stretched out. Now fly. -Rumi

The driveway starts at the top of a hill and descends to a creek before climbing again to the house.  When I reached the creek, I left the driveway for one of the many trails. The water was low, just barely trickling over the tiny waterfall that my father-in-law had built by strategically placing stones from the property in such a way to create a cascade.  I remembered back to the summer we visited when the waterfall was the new feature at the creek.  I stopped to admire the ferns creating the feeling of an enchantment as they raced along the forest floor.  I spied the concrete raccoon and alligator nestled into hidden areas, a surprise as you strolled along.  Each one, slowly showing up like a little treasure when I would make my annual trips to Virginia.

I sat on the little garden bench beside the creek and watched what I assumed was a dragonfly.  In looking it up, I discovered that this one was actually a damselfly.  They are both in the insect order Ordonata.  As a child on summer nights in Florida, I would hold my finger out very still and often a dragonfly would land on it.  The ones that would perch on my finger would have glasslike wings.  Not only were they beautiful, but they are said to eat those pesky mosquitoes that love the swampland of Florida.

The black wings of this one caught my eye.  They looked like soft velvet as it flittered from fern to fern and then onto a blade of grass hanging delicately over the creek.  It’s iridescent body shining against the current flowing below.  Every so often it would open its wings, as if to catch its balance and then fold them neatly away again.  I sat there mesmerized by the beauty.  I looked it up and believe this is a Ebony Jewelwing.  I imagine it stayed there long after I left, playing in the shade of the enchanted forest.

What you seek is seeking you -Rumi

I began my ascent toward the house, once again looking for the simple beauty.  I couldn’t quite capture the beginnings of the wild blackberries that grow along the edges of the forest.  I was taken back to the summers where the children and I would rush out each morning to gather any ripe blackberries before the birds found them.  Popping them into our mouths as quickly as we could.  Fingers stained red by the juice that would escape during the plucking.  One summer, our trip would time out to a bounty of blackberries.  Enough that we gathered them in a large bowl and made a pie.  Sugar, crust, and wild blackberries all coming together so perfectly that each bite sent you back for another forkful.

Our trips to that land come more often now that we are here in Virginia.  It is not the same as spending two weeks day in and day out each summer, exploring what new sights nature has to offer.  Seeking beauty in the simple, but magnificent.  It is still the same land, the same sunrise and sunset, the same breeze that blows and creates ripples in the creek.  So much is the same and yet so much has changed.

I have changed.

Do not worry that your life is turning upside down.  How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? -Rumi

Let your light shine!


Thursday Doors -Greatness Enters Here

This week for Thursday Doors, I opted for a field house.  These door lead to the locker rooms that are filled with students almost year round.  Now that school is out, I took advantage of getting down to photograph them before they are once again bustling with children/young adults going in and out of them.

This field house is located at Dwight Bogle Stadium (usually just called Bogle or Bogle field) in Cave Spring, Virginia.  One of the things that I found interesting when we moved here was that the stadium is actually located at the middle school.  There are two high schools in the Cave Spring area. A second high school was needed in Cave Spring due to overcrowding, so in addition to Cave Spring High, Hidden Valley High School was opened in 2002.

I was a little surprised by this because some large high schools have the same amount of students as these two combined.  It also means that you are in school with the same students from 6th-12th grade.  I am used to a multiple middle schools feeding into one high school.  Both of the high school football teams play on Bogle field.  During football season this means that the field is in constant use between JV and Varsity.  Cave Spring Middle also has a football team that plays on the field

Cave Spring Middle School Squires -Fall 2014

Because the fields get such heavy use, in 2007 the County opted to put in turf.  We moved here in the summer of 2013.  This was one year after the middle school had been completely rebuilt.  The boys both wanted to play football and played the 2014-2015 school year.  This was with the middle child as an 8th grader and the oldest as a freshman.

Cave Spring High School Knights – JV scrimmage Fall 2014

And even though they both decided after a season that football was not for them, they learned a lot during that time.  They learned about teamwork, about respect, and about leadership.  They learned about hard work and brotherhood.  One of them witnessed the bonds of a team when a teammate was very ill.  They took away friendships that they still have to this day.

It was a hard decision for me to allow them to enter that field.  If you’ve been following along for a while then you know that my oldest has suffered a brain injury in the past.  Football has constantly been in the news about concussions and injuries suffered. But I also  knew that I couldn’t stop them from living just because of my own fears.  I can’t say I was overly sad when they opted not to continue playing the next season; however, I was happy it was their decision to make.

These are the doors from the parking lot side.  One for the Cave Spring Knights and the other for the Hidden Valley Titans.  Whichever team is playing, the other locker room is available for the away team.

I’m not sure when this specific field house was built. Cave Spring has produced some football players that have gone on to play professionally.  Ronde Barber (retired-Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Tiki Barber (retired- New York Giants) graduated from there in 1993 and Danny Aiken (won the 2015 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots) graduated in 2006.

In the spring, these doors welcome the middle school track and soccer teams.  The Knights side being used by the girls and the Titans side being used by the boys.  I’m a little hazy on what other teams use the fields as we just entered middle school soccer this year.

Only 7th and 8th graders are eligible to play middle school sports.  As a 6th grader, my daughter was able to be a soccer team manager.  She was able to practice with the team and was assigned to work certain games.  At home games, some of the managers are at the sideline to get the ball and some are in the tower doing the announcing and running the clock.  At the away games, the managers  keep track of who has been subbed.

She had a lot of fun and was happy when she found a manager jersey in her size with the number 21 (her travel soccer number).  This was the only picture she ended up letting me take in her manager uniform!

One the back side of the field house, the doors again have signs denoting the team, but they are double doors in the team color.  I found this photo in my archives.  My middle school child was getting water during practice while the JV player was on the field for a scrimmage.  The field is locked when not in use.  Even if I could find a place where the fence is short enough to take a photo, it would be on the opposite end of the field and I don’t have that kind of zoom lens.  You can see the Titans blue doors.  To the left are a set of red doors that the Knights emerge from.

I titled this Greatness Enters Here because I believe it does.  Whether it’s entering on the front side before a game or entering from the back side as they take their leave from the field, there is greatness in those locker rooms.

It doesn’t matter whether they are the victors or the losers.

There is greatness.

They are there putting in the hard work. They are there showing up for each other.  They come out and leave a lot of drive and determination on that field.

Never underestimate your own strength.  You were born for a purpose and are blessed with the power to achieve it. -Leon Brown

Obviously this isn’t the only place where these lessons are learned and this isn’t the only place where greatness enters.  We should never underestimate the greatness in all children and young adults.  Or in all human beings for that matter.

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.-Vincent Van Gogh

Let your light shine!


*Thursday doors is hosted by Norm 2.0.  To see more great doors, check them out here

I am also linking up to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge as it is DOORS and drawers this week!


What’s in a number?

Numbers are used in so many areas of our everyday lives.  We use them to name streets and to give an identity to the location of a home or building.  We use them to convey the worth of something by placing them in an order to identify how much something cost.  Our age, years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds are all things where numbers are used to show a passage of time.  I have some numbers that are my favorite, one of which is 21.

Why 21?  Not for the obvious reason that in America it is an age that is considered a right of passage.  Legal drinking age.  Three years after you can join the military, vote, get married without parental consent, and other things that require you to be 18.  No, the number 21 is special to me because that is the day of the month that my last child was born.  I like the numbers belonging to the other two also, but have singled out 21 because my daughter also chose that as her soccer jersey number.


My daughter started asking to play soccer around the age of 4 or 5.  We moved to area where she started playing on a co-ed rec team at the local YMCA when she was 7.  We knew nothing about the sport (and, honestly, I’m still learning), but she loved it.  She had been in dance prior to this and the schedule was such that she needed to choose between the two.  She chose soccer and has never looked back.

She is number 10 in this earlier photo.  When she started playing travel in the fall of 2014, you were able to put in your top 5 requests for a number.  Number 10 was her first choice and number 21 was next.  She has worn the number 21 on her back for the past two years.

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Since she is a lefty, she typically plays a left forward.  This means that she is close to my camera for a half the game and on the complete other side for the other half.  The two years that she has been on this team have been a wonderful experience for her.  Most of the girls stayed the same both years, but they embraced the new ones as if they’d always been there.  I love to see that kind of welcoming.  As a parent who was new to the town, the club, and the sport, it was nice to feel included somewhere.

There was a big struggle here to find my place when I moved.  Nobody tells you how hard it is to meet people when you are a stay at home mom with kids that are school age.  There isn’t story time or something similar to MOPS.  You aren’t meeting people at work.  So I was happy when the parents of the girls were so friendly and genuine.  They have been a bright spot in my week when I would see them at practice or the games.

We spent Memorial Day weekend at a soccer tournament in Greensboro, NC.  My daughter plays on the U12 team.  They play two 30 minute halves with 8 players on the field.  The first day, Saturday, the girls had two afternoon games.  It was very hot!  So hot that the second game had mandatory water breaks every 15 minutes.  The girls won both of their games and would play again at 9:15 Sunday morning.


There was a tropical depression that  was bringing in lots of rain.  They moved up the game time to 9:00.  Luckily, our hotel was only about 15 minutes from the fields.  The field was a muddy mess.  The refs told us that the girls would be playing two 20 minute halves and in the event of a tie would go straight to penalty kicks instead of overtime.  The parents stood under umbrellas and tents while the the girls ran through the drenching rain.  I watched my daughter try to stomp the mud off of her cleats whenever there were pauses in play.  The ref on our side was running back and forth along the sideline when his feet slid in the mud and he was suddenly on his back.  The ball was slick, the girls all covered in mud and the game ended in a tie.  They moved on to penalty kicks and won the game, advancing to the championship.


The rain was much lighter for their championship game, at times completely holding off.  They were still to play 20 minute halves which ended in a tie.  They went to penalty kicks, winning the championship.  It was such a great ending to their season.

Next year everything changes.

The U.S. Youth Soccer Association is moving to teams based on birth year.  Up until this point, she has played in a way that keeps grade levels together.  My daughter was born in 2003, while a segment of her team was born in 2004.  This makes her skip U13 and jump straight to U14 next year.  I am going to miss the girls and parents that we are leaving behind, but so thankful that some will be moving up with her.  A new team means the possibility of a new number.  I’m sure that 21 will move to her first choice since it has been such a part of her for the past two years.


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Let your light shine!



* The Weekly Photo Challenge this week asked us to consider Numbers and the Discover Challenge was Adventure ,which I’d consider these past two years to be 🙂


Signs of Summertime

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Summertime is basically upon us.  My boys are finished with school, having high enough grades and low enough absences to be exempt from finals.  My daughter is on the countdown with half days to finish out the middle school year (exemptions are only for high school credit classes).

We are starting to make our summer plans.  Yes, I am a slacker when it come to planning far out into the future.

For me, one of the signs of summertime is watermelon.  Cool, refreshing, and, if picked just right, so sweet!  According to this chart by the  USDA-Florida, Georgia, California, and Texas account for over half of watermelon production. I used to pass watermelon fields all the time as a child.  Picking a good one is key!  Watermelon does not ripen after harvest so it is important to look for a bright skin.  You should also look for a cream colored area on its “belly” where it sat on the ground.  You can also thump it and listen for a hollow sound.  For me, this is the best indicator of ripeness.  I’m far from an expert and hate when I pick wrong.  Too pale, and there is no flavor at all.  Too ripe, and it feels like gritty mush in your mouth.  I learned how to look for one that when cut open would be deep red and dripping with juice.  Messy, yes…but, well worth it!


When I was a child, we used to have watermelon seed spitting contests amongst the younger relatives.  I went on vacation with my grandmother when I was about 10 or 11.  It was me, Jami, and a friend of hers.  We went to Ohio and have lots of crazy tales for another day.  We stopped to visit my Great Aunt on the way home.  She lived in Lake City, Florida.  We had been in the car for a long time and were a little antsy.  The adults gave us some watermelon and sent us outside. In hindsight, this was to get us out of their hair!

We went outside to eat watermelon and our cousin, who was 15, joined us.  We decided to have a seed spitting contest.  I’m actually pretty good at sending them a good way, but I wasn’t really a match for a 15 year old.  Somehow, the game began to evolve into spitting seeds at each other.  The sun was beginning to set and we were barefoot, running through the sand and grass, spitting seeds at each other.  The 15 year old had an unfair advantage of this being his home.  We lost him somewhere in the twilight, until chunks of watermelon began raining down from the sky.  Following the arc of the projectiles, we could just make out that he was high on a branch in the giant oak tree.  We declared this an unfair advantage as we were not tall enough to grab the lower branches.  We decided to join forces, the three of us sending chunks of watermelon high into the sky hoping that one would connect with him.  He scrambled out of the tree and we scurried after him, a trio on a mission.  We were filled with such exuberant joy at the freedom of being a child on the run.  We were filled with a hidden satisfaction that we were deemed cool enough by the 15 year old for him to join in on our escapades.  In the end, our hair was sticky and matted and dirt covered our feet from running through the dusty sand.  The adults laughed as they took in the messy sight and it was a wonderful end to a magnificent day.



My kids have always liked to eat watermelon in hand held pieces, cut from the rind.  Over time, I found a method that made it most efficient for me.  I quarter the watermelon. Then, I make slices through the quarter.


After this, I slice lengthwise through the peak (hence the large knife)


Then, I am able to slice the watermelon along the bottom to release it from the rind (by the way, I’m a lefty if the knife direction seems strange to anyone)


And then I can just slide it off the rind and into a bowl.  I try to always keep some in the fridge for the kids and their friends to grab after a day in the hot sun.


What are some things that signal the beginning of summer for you?

Let your light shine!