Holiday time is family time, and here aboard AfterMath, we love our holidays and our family. For everyone, I suspect, once November arrives, life becomes a whirlwind of activity and fun. This year, as we were even closer to our previous home in Bradenton, and an easy drive from most places in Florida, we were able to visit with friends and family. Topping off the excitement was a family vacation for Thanksgiving in Isle of Palms, SC. We couldn’t have been happier to spend this past month with those we love so much.
Saint Petersburg, FL is a beautiful city with so much to offer for everyone. There are museums, parks, a farmers’ market, restaurants, grocery stores, and so much more right within walking distance. Also in St. Pete are our good friends, Ned and Anne. The night after our arrival at the Municipal Marina, we were able to catch up with them at their house for cocktails and then a great dinner at a local restaurant.
On November 9th, we were thrilled to have our daughter, Kelly, and our grandchildren, Michaela, Carter, and Madison, come from Jacksonville for a weekend visit while, unfortunately, Craig was stuck at home working. We had lots to do during their time with us. First stop, on Saturday, was at Great Explorations, the children’s museum in St. Pete. It had been about four years since I had last taken the kids to this fun museum, and they are older now, but they had just as much fun as ever. Here they can climb, build, play store, see what it is like to be on TV as weather forecasters, pretend to be veterinarians (they were pretty practiced at this part), make “pizzas”, play music, and so much more. It was a great place to spend a long morning before heading back to the marina. On the way we stopped at a farmers’ market and picked up some produce and, of course, ice cream before lunch.
Soon after we arrived on the boat, Meredith, Kelly’s roommate for three years when they were both undergrads at the University of Florida, visited us. It was so nice to see Meredith again; Madison was quite taken by Meredith’s long hair and spent a good portion of the visit brushing it for her.
While visiting, Meredith mentioned the Ringling Museum in Sarasota and told the kids about the wonderful circus exhibits. Fans of “The World’s Greatest Showman” movie, all three children were taken in by her description, so, on Sunday, John and I and Kelly and kids drove south to see the sights. Everyone enjoyed the day, visiting the gigantic circus in miniature, seeing the antique circus trains, playing in the hands on displays, visiting the playground, seeing Ringling’s summer home, and climbing through the huge and gorgeous banyan trees that cover the property. After a very late lunch stop on the way home, the kids discovered a great playground near the airport right next to the marina. We topped off the day with a trolley ride around St. Pete before everyone made it back to the boat, exhausted but happy.
Monday was the day they had to go home, but not before a trip to Clearwater Aquarium where Winter the Dolphin and her friend Hope live. If you have seen the movies about Winter and Hope, you will know that the aquarium is not fancy! Even now, after the amazing popularity of these two dolphins, the area is small and not particularly spectacular, but Michaela, Carter, and Madison really wanted to visit with the tail-less dolphin, Winter, and they were thrilled to see her swimming around in her tank.
Jason, Lisa, and Jace met us for lunch in Clearwater and we all went to lunch on Clearwater Beach before Kelly left and Jason drove me back to St. Petersburg. It was a great visit all the way around and they only thing that made parting easy was the fact that we would all be seeing each other so soon again at Thanksgiving time.
We stayed at St. Petersburg Municipal Marina until November 15th, and then made the short trip to Bradenton, our home for 12 years before moving onboard AfterMath. It was nice to be back in familiar territory again, and, as we rented a car for a while, we were able to get around to Publix, the mall, and other places easily. It was a busy time during our visit there before Thanksgiving, as we were preparing to drive to the Isle of Palms where we would gather the whole family for the first time in over five years. So, on Saturday, after a quick breakfast with my buddy, Susan, I headed for the store to buy a turkey, a ham, and as many groceries as I could fit in the car for our road trip, while still leaving room for our bags and Kirby.
Monday morning found us in a car fully loaded and heading out for the drive to the Isle of Palms, SC, where we had rented a house right on the beach. We dropped Kirby off at a “resort”, stayed in a hotel on Monday night and picked up the keys early Tuesday. Jeff and Sarah and family had the same plan, so they were there to help us open up the home and start to get settled. Jason, Lisa, and Jace followed just an hour or two later, and Kelly and family arrived later that afternoon. Meanwhile, while everyone was getting settled at the house, Sarah and I went to Wal-Mart to pick up more groceries. Soon the house was fully stocked with more food than we could possibly eat, and was buzzing with activity and fun. My heart melted every time I heard the little cousins calling out for each other and playing together so beautifully. Of course, no one could stay off of the beach for long, and, even though it was cool, there were lots of wet, sandy little bodies running around.
When the grandchildren were not in the ocean, they played happily on the lawn, at the putting green, digging in the sand on the bridge that led to the beach, doing crafts, playing pool, and, especially in the hot tub. All of the adults seemed to love the hot tub as well, and countless hours were spent there both day and night.
Wednesday, though, was cooking day for me and I got plenty of help from others. There was lots of activity both in and out of the house and it was just the way we envisioned it. Perfect.
Also on Wednesday, the adult kids hired a professional photographer to come to the house to take family photos, so, in the afternoon, the “getting ready” began. There was great discussion about what everyone was wearing, lots of displays of clothing on the master bedroom bed, and then plenty of time for Lisa, our resident hair stylist, to conquer Kelly’s, Madison’s, Michaela’s, and my hair. Lisa even made sure the little boys looked their best. She barely got time to do her own hair! Beach sand was scrubbed from children, everyone was dressed, and the photographers arrived. The resulting pictures were beautiful and we will always appreciate and treasure that kind gift from our own children.
That night, the children and adults worked on Thanksgiving bags to continue a tradition that Jeff and Sarah have started with their family. Brown paper bags are decorated and stuffed with goodies in preparation for delivery to those in service positions who have to work on Thanksgiving Day. Thursday morning all of the younger generations headed out for deliveries of the bags while John and I stayed home to monitor the turkey in the oven and to set the table for the main event. The children loved visiting the fire departments, a Coast Guard Base, and the local hospital, handing out their bags to those who were working. As always, they surprised the recipients who were thrilled to have visits by those cute kids and to get the unexpected treats.
By the time they got back, the table was set with very meaningful dinnerware. When we lived in Connecticut, I collected odd plates from anywhere I went – thrift stores, flea markets, Salvation Army, etc. We all loved those un-matching plates and everyone had their favorites. It was always fun to get the plate you liked best, and at Thanksgiving dinner, we were never short of plates no matter how many guests we had at the table. This year, the kids came up with the idea that we should have un-matching plates, so Kelly shopped for them and brought them to South Carolina. What fun is was to have the tradition continued! The table looked perfect. After another trip to the beach, dinner was served and it was wonderful. Everyone was stuffed, of course, so it was time to head back to the beach for a scavenger hunt before warming up in the hot tub again.
A whole caravan of us left for Charleston early on Friday as we had reservations for a private horse and carriage ride. I was so excited to think that our whole family would be together on this ride around town and it was as much fun as I had hoped for. Although it was cold, and we were cuddled under blankets, it was a great family event and everyone seemed to love it. Afterwards everyone went their own way for an hour or so before meeting back at the house and getting ready to undertake the next project: tie-dying shirts. Of course this was an outdoor activity! With kids set up on the ground, shirts readied, and dye mixed, it was a fun and crazy time for all. After all of the kids were done with their shirts, they abandoned Walter, who kindly did not leave until he made sure that there was shirt for every adult to wear as well.
That night, the children had the TV on for the first time all weekend, and they relaxed as they watched a movie before falling asleep, again, tired and happy.
Saturday morning brought big waves to the shore and everyone was happy to go to the bridge and watch them roll in with the high tide. As the tide subsided, boogie boards were brought to the beach, and the ones willing to brave the cold water had a great time playing in the surf.
The next family event was the big bottle rocket competition. The men in the group were challenged to make a rocket using a two-liter soda bottle and duct tape. The approved means of propulsion were vinegar, water, baking soda, and air. They were allowed to prepare a launch pad at home if they liked, but the soda bottles could not be readied before arrival at Isle of Palms. As always, a healthy competition between brothers, brother-in-law, and a dad is fun and not always rule-following. Jason had prepared a great launcher at home, Jeff bought Kevlar for his rocket (which somehow was made of two soda bottles instead of one), Craig followed the rules of simplicity, and John, well, John cheated the most, but did get a big reaction. Jason’s launcher proved to be wonderful and could be used over and over. Everyone loved it. Jeff’s rocket might have been a little heavy, but he launched it using Jason’s launcher, Craig, with the baking soda and vinegar rocket, got his to go off the ground after a few tries, and John….well, he substituted a firecracker for the bottle at the last minute and made quite the impressive explosion. Everyone had a great time and the kids had fun later making their own rockets to try out.
Jeff and Sarah left soon after the rocket launch as they had a long drive and both had to work early on Monday. After a trip to see a 400-year-old Angel Tree, the rest of us relaxed while the kids played and thought about the amazing weekend we had together. Sunday morning was a scurry of cleaning up and clearing out of the house, leaving to pick up Kirby and to head back to Bradenton. The whole way I couldn’t stop thinking about the time we spent together and how wonderful it was to have all of our family with us for the holiday.
Back at the boat, we spent a couple of more days at Twin Dolphin Marina, visiting with friends and planning the month of boating. We are heading farther south now in an effort to stage our trip to the Keys and the Bahamas after Christmas. Friday we arrived at Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda, FL. There, we enjoyed the shops and the restaurants just steps away from AfterMath, and we especially enjoyed the beautiful Christmas decorations that abound.
We have moved farther south now, to Fort Myers Beach after a quick visit with Jim, Julie, Al, and Joan in Cape Coral last night. We will leave on the drive to Annapolis on the 19th, and then to Jacksonville on the 23rd. It will be time to spend Christmas with our family again. Always, we wish we could all be together, but we will be able to think of the beautiful Thanksgiving we had this year and forever be grateful for it. For now, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all of you. We hope you all get to spend time together with those you love and we wish you happiness and joy throughout the season.