Monday morning came too soon, but we were ready to move on to our next destination on our list of people and places to see. We loaded up the rental car, said our good-byes to our Miami family and headed out on the open road, taking the Tamiami Trail (State Route 41; a 2 lane highway that leads you through forest and the swampy Everglades) across southern Florida and up the Gulf Coastline, watching for 'gators, unique birds and admired the landscape along the way. We were on our way to visit with more family members, John & Kay, in Englewood (along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico), at their vacation home.
Families can be an intricate web, a tapestry of designs, stitched together by marriage, children, siblings, branches that extend outward, stretched by sheer love. I count myself among the fortunate to have the direct experience of loving family members that have accepted me as part of their own on those far-extended branches. You know you've found the gold thread in your family tapestry when new members enter in and, without so much as a double look or the blink of an eye, they turn to you and call you "daughter."
When my stepfather, John (a loving man who helped to raise me and my sister from very early on) and my mother's marriage dissolved late in my teen years, I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken both for my parents and for myself. Fortunately, for all involved, hearts are resilient and heal and go on loving. John remarried a woman I would soon come to know as one of my closest, dearest friends, another mom for me to love and cherish, and another grandmother for my girls. I don't know how Kay does it, but I am certainly grateful that she hasn't wavered from her commitment to her ready-made family, not only taking on a step-motherly role for me and my sister, but also a grandma for our children, seemingly without ever questioning and diving in with a heart wide open, and the sincerest devotion to all of us. Kay is one of those rare gems in life that sparkles with the utmost of patience, humility, loads of terrific wit and laughter, and, above all, Love. She's a keeper!! I'll share her, but won't ever let her go!
We arrived late in the day, just in time for more 'gator hunting, a beautiful sunset, delicious dinner and then s'mores with John & Kay's neighbors, Katie & John!!
Tuesday was my birthday! I had mentioned to Kay that it would be great to spend some time playing in the ocean with the girls, catch some sun and surf, just relax - that's really all I wanted for my birthday, to have my toes in the sand, listen to the surf on the shoreline, let the girls play in the waves and do some shelling. My birthday wish came true!!!
Kay took us to Boca Grande beach on Gasparilla Island, just north of Sanibel/Captiva Island on the Gulf. It was a gorgeous beach day, with light winds and mid 80 temps. The water was a bit cool, but the girls didn't mind and had a blast! They have never seen so many different shapes and variation in colors of shells before! This definitely is not the Jersey shore we are accustomed to visiting during our summers. Check it out...
It was hard leaving this beautiful beach, but there were more celebrations coming up! So, we packed up for the afternoon and headed back to home base to prepare for our adventurous evening out.
John & Kay treated us to fine dining at Rum Bay Restaurant on Palm Island! We took a ferry ride to reach our destination, and along the way the captain allowed each of our girls to take the helm for a bit. Their reaction was priceless! They both handled it well, but weren't too sure they knew which way they should set their course! Haha, too cute!
Plus, there was a sweet bonus for us to enjoy! Dolphins!! A small pod of dolphins playfully swam along the rear starboard side of the boat, leaping and splashing. It was yet another fantastic birthday gift! Alanna & Emilia were thrilled, too!!!
Here we are, happy, satisfied bellies full and our to-go boxes. Our waitress kindly snapped a few pics for us to remember this wonderful evening together. Coincidentally, we were not only celebrating my birthday, but also our 20th wedding anniversary. Kurt and I married the day after my birthday so we'd always have double the reasons to celebrate our life together! So far, it's worked out wonderfully!
Kurt caught this moment for me back at John & Kay's home where we finished the night with birthday cake (gluten-free no less!) and ice cream! What a fabulous day it was! And I told John & Kay this was the best birthday I ever had! If birthdays keep getting better and better each year, I'm up for that!
Wednesday morning came too soon, and yet again it was time to pack up the rental car and hit the road. This time we were headed to Disneyworld and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando! More on that next up!
It was sad saying good-bye and I felt that choked up feeling, wanting to say so much, how grateful we are to have them in our lives, how much they mean to us, and how thankful we are for all the magical treats, experiences they bestowed on us during our visit. Thank you, Papa John & Kay! Your loving kindnesses and generous nature are appreciated beyond any words I could ever write. I hope you feel our love from across the miles, just as much as when we are together! We love you.
And, I knew Emilia and Grandpa John would be best buddies. They're 2 peas in a pod! ;)
Thanks so much for taking time to stop by, and hear about our happy trails, friends! I promise, just one more blog on our Florida vacationing journey! Here's to more adventures and joyous celebrations to commemorate!! Cheers!!!