Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween 2013: Under the Sea

Halloween 2013

Happy Halloween from the W. family!

In following with a tradition started last year, allow us to tell you a little story in celebration of this rather fun holiday.

Once upon a time, there was a little mermaid named Ariel. She was beautiful and charming and had a lovely voice.


She was also obsessed with All Things Human, and she and her best bud Flounder were always swimming off for great adventures in search of knowledge about this forbidden world.


One day, a ship carrying a handsome prince encountered bad weather. As the ship went down, Ariel bravely rescued the handsome Prince Eric and brought him safely to shore.


However, no matter how much she loved him, she had to return to the sea.


Her longing to return to land and her beloved prince overcame her, and with nowhere else to turn for help, she swam straight to the arms of the Evil Sea Witch.


She struck a deal with the witch, trading her sweet voice for human legs, with the stipulation that her Prince had to kiss her in order for her to remain human permanently. Despite the objections of her friends Flounder and Sebastian, and father King Triton, Ariel opened her mouth and sent her voice right to the Sea Witch.

DSC_0204 - Version 2

Now human, Ariel returned to land to seek out a kiss from her Prince.


Naturally, the Prince was swept off his feet by our adorable mermaid princess and a kiss was not hard to come by.


And so, having defeated the Evil Sea Witch, and thus obtaining permanent human status, Ariel and Prince Eric lived happily ever after.


And that was one happy mermaid indeed.


Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Our Elmo-O-Lantern

On Sunday night we really kicked off our Halloween festivities by carving our pumpkin. Last year we carved a lovely Pooh Bear in honor of Ellie and her love for the silly old bear himself, so this year we thought we should do another homage to Ellie's current favorite guy: Elmo. Or, as he's known around these parts, "Melmo."

Normally I would have Googled for an image to use as a pattern and printed it out to trace onto our pumpkin, but alas, our printer is ink-less. So this year, I drew that bad boy free hand. That's right. Be impressed.

After dinner on Sunday we got to work. Eric lopped off the top and we dug in to remove all the seeds. Ellie was actually pretty interested this year, and was really into "scooping out" the seeds with a spoon (really, putting the spoon into the pumpkin). After a while she even worked up the courage to touch the insides, but didn't love it.

Checking out the innards

Putting the kiddo to work

"Looking good, Mama!"

Bravely touching the pumpkin guts

Ellie was pretty excited overall though, especially considering her new favorite word is "pumpin." That kid loves to point out "pumpins" these days. "Hi, pumpin!"

VIDEO: Ellie carving the pumpkin

Once we had the insides all on the outside, it was my turn to poke the holes to outline the design. (Again, please marvel at my freehand sketch.) Then Eric did all the heavy lifting and carved us a great jack-o-lantern.

Tracing my drawing onto the pumpkin

Master carver at work

At last, ta-da! "Melmo" in "pumpin" form!

2013 W. Family Pumpkin!

We figured the real test would be to see if Ellie recognized her BFF as depicted on a pumpkin. Sure enough, as soon as she caught sight of him lit up, she was all, "Melmo! Hi, Melmo!"

VIDEO: Ellie sees her Elmo pumpkin

She right away went in for a closer look, and even gave him kisses. He was a hit.

Checking it out

She gave the pumpkin her Elmo doll!


Reading by pumpkin light

Ever since that first Elmo Pumpkin encounter, Ellie remains pretty obsessed. She's forever asking me to turn it on ("Melmo? Hot? Please?"), and I ended up buying a battery-operated candle just so she could have it on more often and in a child-friendly way (I tried telling her it was "hot" but all that did was make her get up really close so she could blow on the candle). By now Elmo is starting to wither a bit but she still loves him.

I'm glad we were able to choose a design this year that really got Ellie interested in the whole thing. It's so much fun to have her be so into it, too!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ellie's Family

I have said time and time again that the one thing that Florida can offer us that New York just can't compete with is proximity to family, especially as Ellie grows up. In the nearly 11 months since we've been back (how long now, say what?!), it has been so wonderful to watch Ellie forming such loving and close relationships with her extended family. It has been obvious all along how much they love her, and now as she's getting older, it's starting to become clear that the feeling is mutual.

Last week Ellie and I went back down to St. Pete for a couple of days so I could see my sister's latest show, Hello, Dolly at the Show Palace Dinner Theater in Hudson (which, by the way, is fabulous, and runs for two more weekends - so Tampa area friends, get on it! Book your tickets at and use promo code HEATHER1 for 20% off!). While we were in town, naturally we made some time to see as much family as we could, which really was everyone, thanks to a lot of willingness to rearrange and accommodate schedules on the part of our loved ones. So thanks for that, all of you!

This visit was the first time that I really saw just how many family members Ellie knows by name, and how she loves them. We all know she can say Papa very well (that's my dad), but I spent our drive home trying to get her to say "Aunt Heather" to impress my sister when we arrived. Alas, she stayed mute. Until we pulled into the driveway and she saw Aunt Heather, that is. Then it was all, "AUNT HEATHER!!!!" as she ran into her open arms, and she hasn't shut up about Aunt Heather since.

Similarly, when we had dinner with Eric's side of the family that evening, it was like she had been saying the names of these people her whole life. "Hi, Nonnie! Hi, Kelley! Hi, Ronnie! Hi, Charlie!" She was delighted to see everyone and gave out hugs and kisses like they were candy.

Again, the next day she spent the day at Grammy's house, and started talking about Grammy as soon as we pulled up. She had a blast running around with the chickens, playing outside and hanging out with a new Elmo my mom bought her. Grammy knows the way to Ellie's heart!

It just warms my heart to see Ellie showing such an interest in her family. When we got back, I wondered if her family recognition was just a fluke and Ellie was all high on adrenaline from actually being in the presence of these people at the time. I wondered if it would really stick. But yesterday we went through a stack of pictures of family members, and sure enough, Ellie named each of them off with ease. We got most of it on video, minus a few notables (I'm talking about you, Grammy, Gramz and Aunt Molly!), but what we did get sure is sweet:

VIDEO: Ellie naming off family members like it's her job! (Make sure your speakers are turned up so you can hear her sweet little voice!)

I love how much Ellie's family loves her and how much she loves them. I am so grateful that she has had this time to get to know them and form relationships with them. Family is so important and I love that she's already figuring that out. She is the sweetest.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Fountain of Youth

I've already told you about two different trips we have made to St. Augustine since we arrived in Jacksonville (one for historic sightseeing and the other for the World Golf Hall of Fame), but another St. Augustine attraction we wanted to check out was the Fountain of Youth and surrounding park. For the past month they have been offering a substantial discount on admission to Florida teachers (teacher gets in free and all guests are 50% off), so we took advantage last weekend and spent our Sunday morning at the Fountain of Youth.

Fountain of Youth time!

Upon arrival, our first stop was the fountain itself, where we heard a little history from the guide stationed at the spring and sampled the water for ourselves.

This isn't what the "Fountain of Youth" actually looked like, but this water is flowing from the same spring.

Display depicting what the original "Fountain" would have looked like


I'm not going to lie, I fed Ellie all that youthful water she could drink in the hopes that it will keep her frozen at this age forever, because she is AWESOME right now.

We then spent some time exploring the grounds and checking out the other exhibits they had set up, including a model shipwreck, model Native American village, and a weaponry demonstration. We also checked out the planetarium, where Ellie adorably said hello to all the stars.

Model shipwreck

Ellie enjoying an Ellie-sized doorway in the Native American village

Checking out the scenery

Ponce de Leon himself

Watching the weaponry demonstration

Eric and Ellie exploring the grounds

Hanging out on a tree limb

Replica of an old church

Ellie wanted to share her Wall-E toy with the local peafowl


It was a beautiful morning and we had a very nice time exploring the park. When we had enough, we exited and stopped for some lunch at the on-site "snack bar." I say "snack bar" because it's just a little walk-up food hut with picnic tables surrounding it, but the food is not what you'd expect (far more than just burgers and hot dogs) and was actually really very good. We had a blackened chicken quesadilla with black beans and rice and a pulled pork sandwich with fries and both were quite tasty. We may stop there again for a meal next time we're in St. Augustine - that's how good it was!

After lunch we headed back to Jacksonville. It was just a quick morning excursion but we had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


One thing that we were very excited about upon returning to Florida was the possibility of spending some occasional time in Gainesville, where we both went to the college at the University of Florida. The last time we visited Gainesville was in 2008, on our way to Florida from D.C. just weeks before making the big move to NYC. We haven't been to a game at the Swamp since 2006 (we did, however, make it to the National Championship Game in Miami in 2009!). We knew we wouldn't be able to catch a game this year, but we were excited to get back to our old stomping grounds to see how things have changed, take a walk down memory lane and introduce Ellie to her future college town.

So, on Saturday we made the hour and fifteen minute drive to Gainesville, and as soon as we got into town I got so excited. We drove right past all the nightclubs on University Avenue where my college self formerly danced the night away, and soon ended up on campus. We found a parking spot right in front of the door to my old dorm room. I used to live in Murphree Hall, which at the time was a steal because although the rooms were big (two-room suites with a sink) and the location was top-notch (literally steps from the football stadium, right in the middle of campus), Murphree was the oldest dorm building on campus, and as such, it was not air-conditioned. So, sure, your make-up melted off your face before you could even finish applying it, but what a bargain! Now the rooms have been renovated and boast luxurious air-conditioning, as evidenced by the fact that not a single window was open and there was nary a box fan to be seen on this visit. Oh, kids these days. They have no idea how good they have it.

Heat aside, I loved my time in Murphree Hall and I made some incredible friends there, most notably my friend Kristina, who was a bridesmaid in my wedding and now we're raising kids about the same age. I'm lucky to have met her in Murphree Hall!

My first dorm room in Murphree Hall, circua 2000

The view of the stadium from my freshman dorm room

It was pretty surreal to sit on those steps in front of my old dorm with my daughter, that's for sure.

In front of Murphree with my Ellie

Eric showing Ellie the callbox he used to use to call up to my dorm to let me know he arrived (oh, pre-cell-phone era! I wonder if those boxes are ever used anymore.)

After our quick stop at my dorm, we went over to the football stadium, which was obviously the location of many great memories. I remember the football season ticket lottery, and dialing and redialing over and over again on both our house phone (because we had one of those, because it was the early 2000's) and our cell phones (early Nokias for the win!) to try to get through to secure our tickets. The years we didn't have tickets, we camped out on the stadium sidewalks to try to get leftovers each week. The Swamp is loud and beastly hot and was the scene of the crime for many a terrible sunburn. The students would stand through the entire game so by the time it was over, your feet ached, your voice was hoarse from yelling and your ears were ringing from the noise, and you were so hot, sweaty and crazy tired. Man, was it awesome.

At a game! I think this was probably in 2001?

The Gators were away this week, so the stadium was quiet and we were able to roam in peace.

"Hey guys, I'm going to try to catch a game."

Welcome to the Swamp!

Someday we'll bring her here to really watch a game.

I think she'll enjoy it!

In the Swamp with Ellie

Go Gators!

We also stopped for some pictures in front of the stadium, including with the Gator where I took my graduation photo:

Graduation, 2004

Hey there, old friend.

Gator gals

She's not scared.

Gator looked thirsty, apparently.

My favorite people

Class of 2034!

Gator family

Ellie has done her part as the child of two proud Gator parents and has already learned the Gator chomp, and she recognizes the Gators logo and gives an upbeat "Go Gators!" every time she sees it. Needless to say, she was pretty busy around campus, but she didn't seem to mind one bit.

"Hi, Gator!"

We also walked around the stadium to see the new Heisman Winner trophies, The Promise, and we wanted to see the Trophy Hall but it wasn't open. Ellie got her first look at Tim Tebow (albeit in statue form) and she was as awed as I am.

Statues of the Heisman winners

She's starstruck.

Danny Wuerffel

The Promise

From there we just continued on through notable sights on campus: the Reitz Union (where we entered through a back way, because the former main entrance is now a huge construction site!), the Hub, the "French Fries" (really a sculpture entitled "Alachua"), Turlington Plaza and "The Rock," Century Tower and the library.

What used to be the main entrance to the Reitz Union!

Ellie under the French Fries

The Rock

Reading the latest issue of "The Alligator" in Turlington Plaza (not my first time for that!)

Taking a break, or choosing a major?

More campus exploration

After all that wandering we were ready for some lunch, so we drove over to what used to be Calico Jack's, an oyster bar I worked at for my last year in Gainesville. However, as of May it no longer exists, and has been completely redone inside to be a much fancier establishment. I barely recognized it. We decided not to eat there and instead ended up back near campus at the Copper Monkey, where we watched the Gators losing yet again (get it together, Gators) while we ate. Then, we hit the road back to Jacksonville.

Riveted by the Gators on TV during lunch

We had a wonderful day in our old home town, and it was so fun to both wander around with Eric as we reminisced, and to watch our daughter explore it for the first time. I have said it before, but it means so much to me that Eric and I shared our college experience, because we both loved it dearly and it is great to have that awesome time in our lives in common. I hope that as she grows up Ellie sees that appreciation and fondness for our college years, and I hope she feels inspired to seek out that experience for herself, too. Even if she doesn't end up at Florida! Hey, I'm sure Harvard is lovely too. Can't fault her for that choice.

But regardless, at least for now, we are one happy Gator family!

Go Gators!