family vacation

we made it through our family vacation without a visit to the  hospital! that's noteworthy in itself.  our vacation time was as close to perfect as this family will ever get. no one ingested poisonous fruit or sliced a body part. there wasn't a single scuba emergency, tropical storm, hurricane or mechanical failure! this vacation is one for our record books; everyday was calm, relaxing, and fun... like vacations are meant to be.

i decided since i am already so behind blogging, i would create one post with a lot of details, a few pictures and a highlight (set to what else... jimmy buffet's banana republic.)
now for my details. this was our first family vacation with boy/girlfriends. chase and elizabeth are just the sweetest and we are so happy they joined us. even though i think the sudden transparency of our family 24/7 for almost two weeks may have led to some post traumatic stress disorder.

elizabeth was able to see bennett relentlessly aggravate his sisters and chase caught a glimpse of anna katherine's extreme messy side. mary claire (when not being tormented by her brother) sat back and soaked it all in. 
with schedules going this way and that, our vacation week got shifted to the very end of summer. this week in the keys is also known as lobster mini season. which is also known as peak season! thankfully we were able to find a house. the kids and i got a few days head start and managed to find a "resort" available in key largo. we quickly learned that in this neck of the woods the term "resort" is used very loosely. 

i may have to pop back in and write about our time at the "resort." the cats, the view, the guests, the crocodiles, the mosquitoes, the busiest tiki bar located practically outside our door ... it was a doozy. but very very clean... we know because we inspected it up, down, and sideways! who knew that our time here would hold the funniest stories!?
the drives flew by. my husband who is a funny guy will keep everyone entertained. bennett and jeff together will keep you in stitches.

we settled into our house and thankfully it was light years from our "resort."  this year we switched rental companies because we wanted one that included boats.  because it was lobster season, this was the last house they had. which made me nervous taking the "only one left." 

we were pleasantly surprised.  so much so, that we already booked it for next year. walking out and seeing a boat waiting at the dock was something dreams are made of. the stress of jeff + boat + hundreds of mile... stress wise, this boat was worth it's weight in gold. once jeff  made sure it was mechanically sound and included life vests, flare guns, satellite phones, life rafts, and a weeks worth of emergency food  ;)  it set the calming tone that would be our vacation. (we are thankful for his cautious nature)  
vacation days melt away. 
here's what a typical day looks like;

  • exercise 
  • shower #1
  • breakfast
  • pack the boat, pack the boat, pack the boat... forget something and run back to pack it on the boat. 
  • leave on the boat around 9am
  • fish, dive, snorkel, bake your skin, eat some kind of dip... boat time
  • return around 2 or 3
  • wash the boat
  • lunch and shower #2
  • back on the boat until dinner
  • dinner and shower #3
  • some nights we sat on the dock watching the fish and sharks, some night we went out on a sunset boat ride. 
  • shower #4
and to me, that's what a perfect vacation day looks like. 

 i complained about the massive amount of people in the keys. going to any one of the two grocery stores was like participating in a contact sport. (imagine walmart at christmas.)  but i wouldn't have traded it for the experience of watching the kick off of commercial lobster season. this is their livelihood and of course a very big deal.

 at the stroke of midnight it started. this small key would process and ship 10,000lbs of lobster to miami every day until march. (then miami ships most of the lobsters to china) 

trapping and keeping a lobster out of season will result in probation and jail time... the locals warned everyone, lobster rules are for real. hours before the boats would set out to claim their trap territory, helicopters scanned the waters with spot lights... making sure not a single boat left a minute early.

at the stroke of midnight,  hundreds of lobsers boats  filled to the brim with traps, sped into dark ocean beneath a huge fireworks show. over the next week we watched as the boats made repeated trips back and forth. no matter the weather forecast, they seemed to never stop. 

bennett... our own  life sized version of a GI Joe. he rarely does anything the normal way. he loves to spear fish. elizabeth and mary claire couldn't get enough of snorkeling the blue waters. anna katherine and chase loved the thrill of fishing for sharks.

except all of this didn't blend well together when we all went out at once. anna katherine huffed that we couldn't chum the water. (here chum pretty much guarantees sharks!) i was petrified of a loaded spear gun near snorkelers. bennett was annoyed that we were casting too much or moving our hooks and frightening the fish... 
jeff and i become bennett's personal staff when he is un scuba gear.  

hold this, unspear this, twist right here,  watch that...
"yes, master."

it did not take us long to realize that our activities were not  blending well.  we made an executive decision to take the scuba boy, snorkelers and shark fishers out at separate times.  bam ~ worked like a charm. 

the new plan meant that i chewed motion sickness pills regularly and we made frequent trips to the gas station. it also meant that jeff and i spent almost our entire day on the boat. we lost count of the bottles of sun screen we used. 
we saw more sharks this year than ever. at night we would chum the water by the deck just to see a shark show. they are strangley  peaceful looking creatures. not scary like i imagined. then again, i am on land and they are in the water...  this way i am still on the top of the food chain. 

there's something in florida called  a "lion fish derby." lion fish, as pretty as they are and america's florida's most wanted predatorial, poisonous  fish. there are tournaments and derbies with prizes for the most lion fish killed.
the weather was awesome! yes it was blazing hot and windy on a couple days. but the waters were calm and we didn't experience a hurricane! even the evening showers were peaceful. 
everyone took turns cooking dinner. chase and ak knocked our socks off with their hawaiian bobs!
this is dale. we  met dale because we went through a lot of gas. he was a character. so funny to talk to. at the end of our trip we all agreed that he was messing with us or always intoxicated. when we asked him bait suggestions, he told us bacon. smoked bacon to be exact. seriously?! we had to be the only people trying to deep sea fish with smoked bacon.

my phone ended up going for a swim, so i cannot share the pictures of the wooden hearts plastered everywhere from key largo to key west. we tried googling the meaning of these large hearts. we guessed that they may be for the victims of orlando or a celebration of same sex marriage.

so we started asking around and quickly learned that no one was in agreement. a waitress told us it was a story from the angels. another waitress said it was for a breast cancer. one person local said in a surfer accent, "ohhh man... it's for ewahtever you want it to be."   we think the guy at the bait store was the most honest. "i have absolutely no idea. a lady showed up and started nailing them everywhere." 

it was becoming a game. so elizabeth and i decided to start asking everyone.  dale's heart story won hearts, i mean hands down. "those hearts are for all the locals who are killed every season by tourists. tourists are crazy drivers. texting, not looking at the road, killing the locals. that road out there... i don't step foot on it during tourist season, because people from ohio and up north will kill you... and then they put up a heart. sometimes the heart is nailed to your favorite bar stool. you all be careful out there."

allrightythen. we never got a clear answer and we never caught a single fish with smoked bacon!

we visited an amazing state park.
last year we bought floats at the camp store. this year i brought our own. on a scale of 1-10 on how dorky we looked in our water shoes  carrying our neon inter tubes along these majestic shores... definitely a ten!

pretty sure this is mary claire's BFF.
this day was so nice. (after trudging through the marshy, fish smelling marsh nasty) we floated and swam while stingrays, fish and a small shark swam around us. it was one of those times you catch yourself taking a snapshot so your memory can remember exactly what this moment felt like.

after the park, we drove an hour to key west. such a quaint town (if you stay in the pg rated area) we consumed so much key lime pie! (on vacation desserts have zero calories.)

we made a point to stop for pictures. 
something i have always begged my family to do.
she's a hoot!

we finally made it to the reef! we have attempted many times. it is located 10 miles out on the atlantic side. until now, we have never been fortunate enough avoid rough waters. this reef looks just like a disney film. everyone snorkeled and bennett saw an 8 foot tiger shark!

and just like that... it was time to head home and get ready for the start of school!

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