Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two Bits! Four Bits!

Six bits! A dollar! All for the Gators, stand up and holler!

It's that glorious time of year again, my friends! College football is BACK! I'm so thrilled to be able to be excited about college football (and thus, the return of fall) without the inherent dread of winter accompanying it. Mark that as a "pro" in the "Living in Florida" column!

I'm also giddy about the possibility of actually seeing the Gators live and in the flesh this year. We don't have anything officially planned, but given that we now live just an hour and a half from Gainesville, AND the Florida-Georgia game is played here in Jacksonville every year, the odds seem to be in our favor. We haven't seen the Gators play live since we saw them win the National Championship in 2009, so I think we're due.

I have to say, I love that Eric and I went to college together. It's so fun to share those memories, traditions, and general fandom. And now we're passing it all along to Ellie, who has already perfected her Gator Chomp and if you ask her what a Gator says, she signals for a touchdown. Smart cookie, that one. I can't wait to see her graduate at the O'Connell Center in 2034!

VIDEO: Ellie shows off her Gator knowledge!

Suffice it to say, the Florida Gators are a big part of our history and our present family, and we're psyched to have them back with us on Saturdays once again! It's great to be a Florida Gator!

A look at our Florida Gators pride through the years!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friends and Family

This post may be a bit long and picture-heavy, but it will officially wrap up my St. Petersburg recaps, which means that we're all up to date and I can finally start talking about things as they happen in real time again. Well, after I catch up on all the stuff that has been happening while we were playing catch-up. IT'S NEVER-ENDING.

In our last days/weeks/months of our time in Florida, we did a lot of visiting with friends and family. That was the nice part about living in St. Petersburg: we had the ability to reconnect with old friends and see family much more than we have seen them in a long time. I am particularly thrilled to see the bonds Ellie has formed with her extended family. She is a lucky girl to have so many people who love her and want to spend their time getting to know her.

The first visit I wanted to be sure to mention was from my friend Megan and her husband Andy in early July. They were down in Sanibel from Cleveland for a week-long family vacation, but took a day out of their trip to drive up to St. Pete to hang out with Ellie and me. We grabbed lunch and did a little wandering around downtown, then hung out at the house. I loved spending that time with them and showing Ellie off to them again now that she's so much bigger!

Left: Ellie and Megan; Right: Andy and Ellie doing some sightseeing; the whole gang!

In mid-July, Ellie and I went over to my friend Fran's house so Ellie and Fran's daughter Hailey could share a little playtime. It was fun to see them together now that they're both walking, and I think they had a good time playing together. Future BFFs in the making, I'm sure!

Top: Ellie and Hailey at play; Bottom: Ellie and Hailey on Jon's lap; giving each other a hug!

We also had lunch at Olive Garden with Gramz and Toni, which was quite nice. Ellie tried her hand at coloring and tasted her very first Olive Garden chocolate mint, and after lunch we went for a nice walk over to Target.

Ladies' Day Out with Gramz and Toni!

Heather came over one afternoon on her day off in the hopes that we would be able to go to the Dunedin splash park together, but alas, inclement weather closed the park just as we got there. We hung out on a blanket in the park for a while, hoping it would blow past, and Ellie had fun with Auntie Heather's hat while they both snacked on Cheerios. Ultimately, the weather turned from dark and slightly rumbly into an apocalyptic monsoon before we knew it, so the splash park was a bust. The afternoon was fun anyway, though!

Let me in!!!!

Feeding Auntie Heather some Cheerios

And vice versa!

No, YOU eat it, Auntie Heather!

We also spent an afternoon at my mom's house a couple of days before my birthday, where Ellie did her very best to feed the chickens (much to her disappointment, the chickens don't want to eat out of her hand like Achilles does), splashed in the fountain and did a little skinny dipping in her kiddie pool. Then we all went out to dinner and Ellie discovered the joy of ketchup on french fries.

Chasing the chickens

VIDEO: Trying to feed the chickens!

Having SO MUCH FUN in the fountain!

VIDEO: Splashing at Grammy's House


We were also able to grab dinner with Aunts Kelley and Phyllis at Grimaldi's at Countryside Mall. Before dinner we also did a little playing in the play area and had some fun in the Disney Store, where Ellie quickly befriended the cashiers. Girl wants a discount, what can I say?

In the play area with Auntie Kelley

Just a gang of Minnies, hanging out

Peek-a-boo, Aunt Kelley!

Being loved on by her aunts

And last but not least, right before we left for Jacksonville we had dinner with the majority of Eric's family (missing my sisters-in-law Stephanie and Phyllis) at Toni's new home. It was particularly nice to see our sweet nephew Charlie again, as we hadn't seen him since Ellie's birthday. He's getting so big! He's crawling now and is just as cute as can be. His eyes are so striking! We're very excited to see him (and the rest of the family!) again next weekend in celebration of his first birthday! I can't believe he's almost one year old already!

iPhone time with Auntie Kelley


Our handsome nephew!

Kissing cousins!

"State your business, kid."

Playing with the kiddos (I really was happy to be doing so, even if it doesn't look like it!)

Gramz with her great-grandson

Kisses for Nonnie

And that was it! It sure was nice to have that time with loved ones, although even that didn't seem like enough. There are always more people we want to see or more time we want to spend with the ones we did see. Isn't that just the way it goes?

But that's the appeal of being back in Florida at all, even if we're not in St. Petersburg. By being just a few hours' drive away, we'll be able to be around family much more regularly and with much less hassle. As it is, we've already had a couple of visitors here and more who have expressed interest in coming up, and, as I mentioned, we already have plans to head back to St. Pete next weekend for Charlie's birthday party. I still miss New York like crazy, but this is the one thing that the Big Apple couldn't offer us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Very Splashy Birthday

The day after Eric returned to St. Pete from Institute in Jacksonville, we had a birthday party to go to at the Dell Holmes Splash Park. The party was in honor of the first birthday of Ethan, the son of our friends Ryan and Amanda. We were so happy the timing worked out so that we could go to the party, and we had a blast!

Upon arrival, after saying our hellos, we got right down to business and took the kiddos a-splashing.

Poor Ethan got a face-full of water right off the bat and wasn't sure he necessarily loved it.

Ellie, on the other hand, was unfazed...

...and quickly took to doing it to herself...

...and to Daddy.

Rest break!

Loves it.

When we had our fill of splashing, we returned to the party pavilion for mingling and food. Amanda and Ryan did a great job with the monkey-themed bash, and it really was a lot of fun! They had lots of good food and drinks, and in addition to the splash park itself, they had tons of lawn games set up around the pavilion.

The happy birthday family

Before long it was time for cake, which Ethan dug right into. Best live cake smashing I've seen yet! Way to go, Ethan!


Squishy cake fingers

Now that is how you eat a birthday cake.

Then, it was time for presents. As seems to be the case at parties with lots of kids in attendance, there was no shortage of gift-opening helpers.

Everybody get in here!

Ethan's biggest, fanciest gift was a Batman Power Wheels-type bike. Now, you may recall that at her cousin Santiago's birthday party in June, Ellie commandeered his favorite gift (a big toy truck) and made it her own, leaving poor Santiago confused and crestfallen in her wake:

Her face says it all. Girl's got 'tude.

Well, I am ashamed to say, it happened again. Ellie got one look at that Batbike and was all "YES. AWESOME. THIS IS WHY I CAME TO THIS PARTY." For a while, she and Ethan pushed it around together...



...but Ethan couldn't quite keep up, and before long, Ellie was leaving him in the dust.

Gotta move faster than that, kid.

So, apparently Ethan moved on to other things, leaving Ellie alone with her prize. Eric then showed her it was more than just a push-toy.

Driving lessons from Daddy

She caught on pretty quickly...

Figuring out how to make it go all on her own

...although she kept taking her feet off the footrests and dragging them in the dirt as she rode, so we devised a solution:

Bam. Problem solved.

Our biker babe

The whole thing was pretty funny to watch, and naturally there is accompanying video:

VIDEO: Ellie learning to drive!

By that time, things were starting to wind down and the thunder was rolling in so we grabbed a cupcake, said our good-byes and hit the road. We had a wonderful time, though! Thanks for a great party, Ryan and Amanda! Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Me with the birthday boy!

The whole gang! Happy birthday, Ethan!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sunken Gardens

On our last day of our Twosome Summer, the day before Eric returned from TFA Institute, Ellie and I had a Girls' Day Out at Sunken Gardens, a lovely 100-year-old botanical garden in St. Petersburg. Sunken Gardens was another place I planned to take Ellie all summer, so I thought squeezing it in at the last minute was a nice, fun way to wrap things up. I hadn't been to Sunken Gardens since Eric and I looked at it as a possible wedding venue in 2006, but I thought Ellie would enjoy exploring and seeing the flowers and such.

So, we headed out there, paid the admission price and slathered ourselves in bug spray. Then we were ready to go.

Ready to see some flowers!

Come on, Mom. Let's do this.

Of course, things got off to a rocky start when, literally two minutes into our walk, Ellie tripped over the stroller wheels and did a (very graceful but rather traumatic) faceplant into the sidewalk. She started wailing and her mouth was bleeding and I was all upset, of course. Luckily all this happened right in front of a poor family trying to enjoy a lovely picnic lunch, which was not great for them but worked out well for us because they had ice cubes and water bottles they quickly offered to us to apply to Ellie's mouth. In just a few minutes the bleeding stopped and Ellie was happily sucking on ice cubes, and I am forever indebted to that family.

Ah, miracle ice.

So, we were on our way. It was beastly hot that day but we still had a lovely time. We watched lizards, saw some birds, admired the flowers and even sat on the Growing Stone, which is supposed to grant all who sit on it inner harmony and tranquility, and the ability to grow things. I don't know about the ability to grow, but Ellie was 0 for 2 on the other two. So, lies! But the rest of the walk was delightful.

Sunken Gardens scenery

Ellie on the Growing Stone. Yeah, inner harmony and tranquility. Uh huh.

Stomping through the gardens

When it's really hot and/or humid, Ellie hair gets curly and I LOVE IT.

Ellie and Peabody, off on an adventure

She is the cutest.

Ellie and I sure did miss Eric all summer, but we did have a nice time together, too. She's such a sweetheart and she's so much fun right now. I'm so lucky to have this little girl, and we had a great Mama/Daughter Day Out!

Proud Sunken Gardens visitor!