The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Looking For The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I've had a couple of crazy weeks which have prevented me from posting my normal number of blogs; but, I don't want to keep everybody hanging until I have my laptop back again. Here is a quick re-cap of our wild adventures in the last two weeks (full detail will be following in the next several weeks).

We went camping with the Outlanders in Northern Florida. I somehow managed to loose my car key in the Itchetucknee Spring on a Saturday and couldn't have a new key made until Monday. The big problem was, Justice was scheduled to fly out of PBI the next morning with his father. They missed their flights and the missing key snowballed into a huge mess for his father. Again, I'd like to say I'm an idiot and I'm so sorry!

Justice and his father were not able to leave town until Thursday of that week and as luck would have it I had to put my car in the shop on Friday. Several hundred dollars later I had a working car once again and drove to Panera Bread to use the Internet, only to find my wireless capability has stopped working. GRRRRRR is all I have to say at this point.

To make a long story short I had to take my laptop back to Circuit City and leave it there for evaluation. Hopefully they can fix it, as it's still under warranty. If not, it will have to be sent to Toshiba and I will be unable to post for a couple of weeks.

To make matters worse I am a mommy without Justice right now! He is up visiting his father in Delaware and will be gone until July 20th. I'm stressed out and missing him terribly. When I get stressed, I become very scatterbrained. I even forgot my carefully packed lunch today, which I placed so carefully by the front door!

So there you have it. Things are crazy right now and I need to go look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I know it's there somewhere.
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posted by Mary Gerber at 6/23/2008 0 comments

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend With The Outlanders

We usually go out of town for Memorial day and spend the holiday in the theme parks of Orlando; but, this year we were stuck in town due to Justices father. With only a few weeks warning he decided to take off for Delaware for an unspecified amount of time and stick me with the full cost of Justices child care. That puts a HUGE financial strain on me and sadly I had to take back certain things I had promised to Justice due to his fathers selfishness and lack of stability. Going to Orlando for Memorial day was one of those things.

Luckily, we had the Outlanders to rely on. They held an almost free ($4 entrance to the park) picnic and beach day with free kayaking and snorkeling. The weather did not look promising; but, we went anyway and hoped for the best. The best is what we got. Great weather, good company and lots of natural entertainment.

McArthur Beach State Park

Justice and I arrived earlier than anyone else because we wanted to go on the guided nature walk at 10:00 am. Our group consisted of us, another couple and a seasoned guide. It was small, which is nice because you get more one on one time and the opportunity to ask more questions. We hung in there for about 40 minutes before Justice got a bit too antsy and I was a bit too overheated. The sun was sweltering and I had worn a pair of Capri sweat pants which I was rapidly coming to regret, so we politely broke away from the tour and made our way back to the picnic area.

On the shuttle

By this time a few Outlanders had arrived and we were ready for a cold drink of water. As we sat down we said our hello’s and Scott, the leader of the group drove off to see if a better spot was available. Within a few minutes, he came back and announced there was another area available closer to the kayak launch, so we gathered up our things and made our way over to the new spot.

Once we got there Justice began digging in the dirt for worms and the rest of us helped Scott unload the supplies from the truck. As the outdoor kitchen was set up, Justice kept showing us all the slimy creatures he was finding. Sandy suggested he take a cup and put them in there with some dirt and leaves and he thought that was a great idea.

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More people began to arrive and Justice seemed to enjoy regaling each newcomer with his worm story.
“I ate a worm in daycare before and it didn’t even taste like ANYTHING!”, he told everybody. It seemed to amuse everyone he told to his pure delight. Honestly, I can’t quite relate to this. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, or maybe it’s because I have no desire to be like Andrew Zimmerman; but, whatever the reason, lets just say it’s not my cup of tea to eat the creepy crawly creatures of this earth.

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Eventually we had cooked all of our food and filled our belly’s and were ready to get onto the kayaking and beach. In true Outlanders fashion, everybody helped clean up and put away the kitchen, then we split up to head off to our activities. Scott and another guy choose to kayak, while the rest of the group choose to swim at the beach; however, a few of us decided to take a quick detour and check out the snakes at the nature center. The air conditioning was a welcome respite from the heat and the marine life and snakes were just an added benefit.

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The center was small, so it didn’t take us long to see everything and we made our way to the beach in the beating sun. We had to walk down the long wooden pier with no shade, then up and down a few flights of stairs before reaching our oasis in the lush desert. It didn’t take us very long to set up our umbrella, kick our shoes off and jump into the cool water. There were hardly any waves and no drop offs or rip currents, which made swimming very enjoyable.

For a while Justice played on a boogie board and the rest of us floated about talking from time to time. It was as nice and relaxing as anything I could have imagined. Soon, Lynette and another Outlander arrived and we got a good game of Nerf football going in the ocean. We had a good time tossing the purple and orange foam ball about while splashing in the salty waves of the Atlantic Ocean. For a slice of time it didn’t matter what any of us were dealing with in our personal lives. Our worries and trials were far off in the horizon and we were living in the moment. This is what I like the most about the Outlanders.

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When we had tired of our game, we migrated onto the beach where Justice had set up his buckets and pails. It didn’t take long for the rest of us to wind the clock back a few years to a time where we enjoyed building cities of sand and shells and we all joined in. Lynette made a curious volcano while I worked on decorating castle shaped buildings and a city pool. At one point we had a real city going; however, King Kong, aka Justice had other plans. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP went his feet as he crashed down on the cities buildings. We all laughed lightheartedly as our city met it’s demise as it would have in the impending tide.

By this time we had been at the park for most of the day and the storms predicted for that day seemed to be converging on the beach. The walk back to our cars was quite lengthy, so we all decided to pack up and head off to the safety of our vehicles. As luck would have it we saw a starfish on the way back. It was the crowning jewel of a perfect day, but as they say “All good things must come to an end.”

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posted by Mary Gerber at 6/08/2008 1 comments

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Trip To Solomon's Castle

The drive from Zolfo Springs to Solomons Castle was quite enjoyable even if there wasn’t much to see. The roads were long and lined with orange groves, cattle ranches and an occasional house. I didn’t think we were going to see anything surprising or eye catching until we came upon a one way bridge. Signs warned us to slow down and we approached cautiously.

As we came upon the bridge, my jaw dropped when I saw it was wooden and had two raised tracks, meant for our tires.. In all my life I had never seen anything like this. It was like something out of a movie. Regretfully, we had a friend following us, so I didn’t stop to take a picture; but, I wont make that mistake next year. In fact I’m looking forward to it.

We made the turn onto our final road and according to mapquest we had .9 miles to go. After a few miles, I realized mapquest was a bit off. I drove on for a bit, hoping for a country house where we could ask for directions; however, I didn’t see anything after another mile and decided to pull over and let Art, one of the Outlanders know what was going on.

He checked his atlas, which didn’t provide much help, then suggested we go back to the last turn and clock the .9 miles. We would try whatever driveway we reached at that point. It seemed like as good an idea as any, so we turned around and headed back. Suddenly I saw a man standing outside his truck at the gates to his ranch. I decided to stop and ask for directions.

The rancher could have jumped right out of a picture. His skin was weather beaten and he wore a cowboy hat. His jeans were blue and his button down shirt was typical. I pulled up behind him and he waited for me to get out of the car. “Excuse me, but we’re from out of town and we’re looking for Solomon’s Castle. Do you know where it is?”
He chuckled to himself and said, “You know where you was pulled over at….if you went another 400 yards you would have been there.” He was right and when we came up on the sign, I could see why he was laughing at us.

When we reached the parking lot, we quickly got out and walked towards the castle. Immediately I noticed the road had been painted yellow in the shape of bricks, no doubt a tongue in cheek reference to the yellow brick road. It felt somewhat magical to walk down that road with a shining castle in sight. I felt like Dorothy walking down that road. Just like her, I knew that castle held something special, just for us.

Solomon's Castle

Our first glimpse of the shinning masterpiece was resplendent in the Florida sun. The whole thing had been covered in shinny tin plates, discarded by the Wachula newspaper. They used the tin’s to print pages and after that, had no use for them. Howard Solomon took the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to a whole new meaning when he recycled those tins and covered his castle with them.

Solomon's Castle

We walked through the front door and found ourselves in a small gift shop where we purchased a magnet, pet block and tickets to the castle tour. The next tour didn’t start for a few minutes so we looked around in amusement at the trinkets and artwork of Howard Solomon. It was just a taste of what was to come.

Soon the tour guide gathered us together and walked us into the first gallery. He told us the story of Howard Solomon and all about how he bought the land in Ona. When he purchased it, he didn’t realize it was a swamp. Being a resourceful man, he decided he needed to build up, not out, thus the castle was born. In addition to that he built a levy to pump the water out during the rainy season.

The galleries were filled with all sorts of art, mostly by Howard himself. Like the castle, his art is created out of discarded items, of no particular use to their previous owners. He often copies famous artists and pieced of work; but, always adds his own, unique flair to the finished product. His artwork is interesting and thought provoking to say the least. It also shows how much can be done with what most people would consider mere trash in this day and age of “Going Green” Howard Solomon should be a role model to us all.

During our tour I managed to take a few pictures of some of my favorite pieces. This one was entitled Where’s Waldo.

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I was also quite taken with “Do You Want A Hawaiian Punch”

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And my personal favorite, Howard’s Redneck Neighbors

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My favorite part of the tour took us into part of Howard’s personal living quarters. I found it wildly interesting to see where this artistic genius sat down after a hard days work or fixed a sandwich when he was hungry. The only modern thing I saw was a modest flat screen television. Everything else was somewhat older and there were signs of artistic inductions everywhere.

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Our favorite was the green lady under the stairs. The tour guide told us about Howard’s’ children and how they were told that they would have to go to the dungeon with the green lady if they misbehaved. He asked us all to step back and pulled up a section of the carpet. Below we could see the famed dungeon keeper and Justice’s eyes grew wide. I offered to buy her if Solomon was selling. Justice wasn’t too keen on that idea.

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The tour continued onto the grounds where we learned a bit more about the multitude of stained glass windows and the Boat In The Moat. We were taken through the boat and listened to the tail end of the tour while our nostrils filled with the sweet smell of warm apple and cinnamon mingled with home cooked pot roast and mashed potatoes‘. It was the perfect marriage of the sweet and savory.

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Art and I looked at each other and decided we were all hungry. The aroma of home cooked food and southern Florida kitsch was too much to resist. We decided to dine in the Spanish boat in lieu of the outdoor patio. As we sat down I was distinctly reminded of the many German club’s I used to eat at in Philadelphia while growing up.

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Both Art and I had chocolate Coke’s to drink and picked home cooked favorite’s. He choose the pot roast and I had the meatloaf. Justice was happy with the kids hot dog and chips. To my delight our food was served on green plates accented with scalloped edges and small flowers. I noticed the dishes on neighboring tables and realized that not everything matched. This only added to the feeling of a real “home cooked meal”.

We were all thrilled with the quality of the food. It was a nice change of pace from the typical Sysco branded chicken strips and fries served at most restaurants. It was country cooking at it’s best. The portions proved to be more than we could eat and I ended up packing up Justice’s food and mine for dinner later that night. We paid the bill, then decided to take a short walk to explore the rest of the grounds before heading home.

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As we headed down the short path, we came upon Howard’s large workshop. I was hoping for a glimpse of the famed artist; but, didn’t get what I was looking for. Next we came upon The Chocolate House, a soon to be open bed and breakfast run by Howard’s family. It was obvious that they were getting close to opening day and we could see random pieces of furniture inside the windows.

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Finally we reached “The Alishemoe”, which is Howard’s newest creation in the making. Apparently he took a trip to Texas and was quite taken with The Alamo and decided to make his own version of the famed historic site. It was in the construction stage when we visited; however, we are looking forward to visiting next year to see the finished product.

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The castle itself had a one bedroom suite, The Blue Moon Room which can be had for about $120 a night which seems to be quite charming according to the internet research I’ve done. I would love to spend one night there and one night in The Chocolate House before the next year comes and goes. It’s something we would really have to save for; but, I think it would be the opportunity of a lifetime- something to be treasured for years to come.

Here's Justice with Howard Solomon!

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As we headed back down the yellow brick road, which this time led to our dusty cars we were all happy with what we had seen. The side trip to Solomon’s Castle was well worth the time and money. I only wish we had more time to spend there and can’t wait to plan an overnight trip there in the next year!

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posted by Mary Gerber at 6/01/2008 0 comments

An Adventure On The Peace River

Although we’ve spent a-lot of time out of town recently, when I heard about the Outlanders Peace River Camping trip in April, I just couldn’t resist. My cousin Michelle had told me about a trip she went on a few years ago and it sounded like so much fun, I was anxious to go myself. It’s in an area of central Florida I had not previously explored and had a very unique attraction on the Peace River- fossil hunting. Unfortunately, due to our 4 hour canoe trip, we didn’t have the time to hunt for fossils; although, a few members of our group did manage to find some sharks teeth. I am going to make it a point to do some fossil hunting there sometime in the next year. How cool would it be to come home with a fossilized piece of a woolly mammoth? Pretty cool.

Our trip started around 6:30 on Friday evening. We had packed the car, got some cash from the bank and gassed up our little Honda Civic. We were ready to go. Mapquest had given us a route I was unfamiliar with. The back road highways of central Florida. I soon found that much of the way there we would be on two lane, high speed, country roads. Every so often a car would pass us by swerving into the oncoming lane and pushing the pedal to the floor. We were already going 5-10 mph over the speed limit, so I didn’t feel too bad about that. I think the cars who were passing us were asking for a ticket, or an unfortunate accident.

Around 8:30 we rolled into town, otherwise known as Zolfo Springs. Although we had a light snack before we left, we were both pretty hungry and I have to tell you, once we had driven 20 minutes west of our house and 95, we hadn’t seen a single Mc Donald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Hardees’s, Sonic or any other fast food joint you can thing of. Central Florida is a very strange place. It’s almost like being in another world; so, we had to settle for the next best thing. Gas station food.

Now in these type of areas, gas stations are much more than a place to fill up your tank and grab a soda. They actually have small hot food take out. I think it’s to make up for the lack of the usual fast food restaurants. Luckily the Stop-N-Shop had a small Hungry Howie’s in the back. Hungry Howies is a very cheaply priced pizza joint typically found in low income areas. We ordered a pepperoni pizza and filled up a jumbo, anti green, Styrofoam cup with Mountain Dew before heading across the street to Pioneer Park.

When we first pulled up to the gates, we found them closed and padlocked. I wasn’t sure if I needed to be let in, or if there was another unlocked gate somewhere else, so I decided to call Scott, the leader of the Outlanders. Sandy, a member of the board answered his phone and after a few minutes was able to give me some directions. We had to enter from another street.

In no time at all we found ourselves inside the park and after a short drive, I spotted the Outlanders truck. We parked the car, grabbed our pizza and soda, then headed towards the campfire for dinner. We didn’t really know anybody there; but, Sandy was very friendly and made us feel welcome right away. Scott was Kayaking on the river and as it turned out, he was the only one we knew on this particular trip; however, that didn’t matter much to us. The Outlanders are a very friendly bunch and we always seem to make new friends every time we camp with them.

After pizza, friendly chatting and roasting marshmallows, we all decided to work our sleeping arrangements. Sandy asked us if we minded sharing a tent with another single mom and of course I said that would be fine. One of the things I like most about the Outlanders is making new friends and this trip met all of my expectations. Sharon was great and Justice really liked her son Dustin. It was a perfect match.

I don’t normally sleep well at night and camping makes things even harder. I never expect to get a great nights sleep in the woods; however, Friday night was worse than usual. The smoke from the fire really aggravated my asthma and I was just getting over a cold. As we laid down to rest, Justice was tossing and turning due to the excitement and I was tossing and turning because I couldn’t breathe. Fortunately somewhere around the middle of the night or early morning, I mercifully drifted off to sleep.

All to fast, the sun rose and our day began. We walked over to the bathrooms, brushed our teeth, then made our way over to the “kitchen”. The kitchen was a blue and white Coleman canopy, a couple of folding tables and a few hard plastic containers which held various pots, pans, cooking utensils and more. Sandy was helping Scott get things going and after asking what there was to do, I decided to help prep the lettuce, tomato’s and onions for the subs. Of course we didn’t have subs for breakfast. We had fluffy, scrambles eggs, grilled bacon and toasted bagels and English muffins. The subs had to be made and packed into coolers for our 4 hour canoe trip.

Everybody did their part to help make breakfast and lunch as well as clean up, then we were on our way. We had a 30 minute drive to the Canoe Outpost and decided to carpool. Justice and I rode with Art and another fellow. It was an uneventful trip and everybody got their in one piece.

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Once we were there it seemed to take forever for us to get started. All of us with small children had to check in up front and fit them with special life vests, then make our way back to the group. After that we stood around for a bit longer while the children shot each other with a few over sized water guns. Of course they were not paying close attention to where they were shooting and had to be chastised from time to time. Soon the bus arrived and the guns had to be put down- at least for a little while.

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We all loaded onto a blue and white bus which strangely resembled the prison buses of central Florida. If you’ve never been to Florida, that’s where we keep the prisoners. In the middle of the state. We keep the ocean front property for the law abiding citizens. It works out better that way.

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Once we were all sitting the bus got underway. BUMP, BUMP, BUMP we went as the bus lumbered down the country road, past the orange groves and cattle ranches. It was packed to full capacity and everyone was eager for their adventure to begin. After about 30 minutes we reached our destination and the bus came to a stop. Everyone jumped out and almost instantly the trailer holding our canoe’s was unloaded.

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The boys who worked for the Outfitters slung the heavy aluminum canoes over their heads and schlepped them down to the river bank with more grace than I could muster on my best day. We all grabbed paddles and cushions for our bottom’s, then a few members of our group brought our lunch filled coolers down to the canoes and placed them carefully in the middle.

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Justice and I ended up sharing a canoe with another Outlander and with a little protest, Justice sat in the middle while I took the front and our friend manned the rear. He gave the canoe a little push we were on our way. Our adventure had begun. The river was shallow in most spots which was encouraging because I could see the bottom, which made me feel much more secure. I don’t like not knowing what’s beneath me.

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As we paddled along, we had to be very careful not to run into any logs or extremely shallow areas for fear of being tipped over. The river was beautiful and the houses that lined it ranged from large to small. A few of them were real eye catchers like the one below. It was shaped like an octagon and it was built on stilts.

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After what seemed like a long time, we all pulled over to have some much needed lunch. We had undoubtedly burned off all the energy provided by our eggs and bacon that morning and were in need of a refill, if we were going to make it through two more hours of strenuous paddling.

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We had missed our designated lunch spot, so we decide to crash another Canoe Outpost spot. Apparently they also offer overnight trips where you can canoe to your camp sight, sleep, then finish your trip the next day. That’s a little more outdoorsy than I like to engage in. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hot showers and toilets.

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After lunch, we piled back into our canoes and began the second half of our trip. This half was much more eventful; but, not in a positive way. We were paddling along minding our own business when we heard the hum of an engine growing closer and closer. Soon we saw a large redneck in an airboat.

At first I was excited to see something so different; but, my excitement quickly gave way to fear and trepidation when he geared up and sped past us. Almost instantly I saw large waves coming towards us. We all braced ourselves and hoped for the best. The first wave came and went and we almost tipped over. The second wave came and we went with it. Well, not all of us went, just the grownups.

Justice was sitting in the bottom of the canoe and the Outlander who was paddling in back said he was holding on for dear life. He was convinced that if the canoe had gone completely over, Justice would have been stuck to the inside just like Spiderman. We were not so lucky.

My first thoughts went to my digital camera. I had brought it on our trip to try and get a few shots along the way and was sure it had been destroyed. It took me a few seconds to realize that the canoe was still upright and the camera might not have been ruined. Our paddler in the rear, who was now standing in four feet of water, called out to me and said to bring the canoe to the riverbank. We needed to get the water out and regroup.

We were all pretty ticked off at this point and a couple other members of our group had stopped to check on us. The offered to call the police; but, we didn’t see much point. We hadn’t caught the numbers on the boat and did not think the police could do much without more information. It was a bad situation; but, we had to keep going.

As we continued to paddle, I kept looking over my shoulder nervously. I was on edge and it showed. At this point Justice really wanted to paddle; but, he just wasn’t old enough yet. He made his little voice heard; but, I kept telling him no. I don’t think he was thrilled with that answer; but, he didn’t have much choice in the matter.

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The 4 hour trip proved to be very taxing and by the last half hour, we kept looking anxiously around each bend hoping for the end. After passing under the railroad track’s we found what we were looking for. The end. It gave us a small burst of energy and we paddled faster to reach the dock. It felt good to crawl out of the canoe and walk on dry land.

Justice and I headed up to the outpost and mingled with the group while we waited for the rest of our group to reach the endpoint and disembark. We were sharing our tale of horror with the group when I heard Scott calling for me down by the river. I heard the familiar hum of the airboat and came running. This time we got the numbers off his boat.

The woman who ran the Outpost had made sure to get the numbers as well. As she wrote them down on a sheet of paper, she told me about this boater. Apparently he has been running up and down the river recklessly for a while and the authorities in Tallahassee have been wanting his registration number, so they could do something about it. I vowed to write letters and call anybody and everybody who would listen to me after my final on Wednesday

With a little bit of satisfaction, we headed back to the campgrounds to shower and get dinner underway. At this point I was exhausted; but, Justice was anything but. I decided to relax and let him play while I watched him. Of course, things didn’t stay calm. The boys spotted an alligator in the river and in no time at all a small crowd had gathered.

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It was a thing of beauty on the river. It’s eyes and snout were just above the surface and it was watching us intently. The boys and men were making noises, trying to coax it a bit closer to us. Slowly, it inched forward. I think it may have been fed by campers in the past which is a big no no. It teaches them to associate humans with food. Nothing good comes from that.

The oldest teenager began throwing sticks into the water and at that point, I decided to get Justice out of the area. I didn’t agree with what was going on. After doing some volunteer research work with chimpanzee’s at Lion Country Safari, I gained an awesome respect for wild animals and want to keep them that way. Wild.

Luckily nothing bad happened and dinner was served. We had a real feast with fettuccine Alfredo, Italian grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, garlic bread and salad. As Scott would say it was the “usual camp food”. Because I had not helped prepare dinner, I decided to chip in and help wash and put away the dishes.

Not long after that, we all gathered around the campfire by the river and got ready for service. Kelly handed out song sheets and we were treated to a guitar and saxophone duo. We sang 5 or 6 songs then Brian gave the message. It was really nice even though Justice and I were so tired we were fighting to stay awake.

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As soon as things ended, I gave Justice a ten minute warning. He could eat all the marshmallows he wanted; but, when time was up, we were going to bed. I think we were the first one’s in the tent that night. I didn’t mind.

This night was much better than the previous night. My airways were clear, the night air was cool and crisp and we were snuggled up on an air mattress beneath a velor blanket and a down comforter. Our heads were laid down on memory foam pillows and the lull of trucks from a nearby road provided all the white noise I needed to sleep soundly.

The next morning we woke up happily, well rested and ready for another adventure. Everybody gathered for pancakes, bacon and ham then pulled together to get the campsites packed up. It didn’t take long to get the tents packed up and the kitchen put away, then most of us headed over to the wildlife preserve within the park.

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There was a nominal charge of $2 per person to enter and it proved to be a very nice little attraction. There was a nice boardwalk with a few covered platforms for us to walk on and some well placed plaques informing us about the animals we were viewing. The ostriches were tall and proud and the raccoons were quite active. Further along the boardwalk we saw a panther sleeping in a tunnel and a few bears playing in a pond. The whole park was covered with vultures, who were no doubt squatters hoping for a free meal.

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We saw a bobcat hiding behind a log, enjoying a morning siesta and across from there were a few peacocks up in a tree. None of us knew they could climb trees; but, I’m guessing they flew up there. After that the tour ended with a real Florida bang. Alligators. There was a large algae covered pond with a plethora of gators and turtles. The were motionless on the water edge. They were like majestic statues in the warm sun. It was easy for me to see why Steve Erwin found cold blooded creatures like gators and crock’s to be so beautiful.

With that, our camping adventure came to a close and we were headed off on another small trip. We were going to Solomon’s Castle. Although a few members of the group had expressed interest, only one decided to join us; but, you’ll have to read the next post to find out what happened.

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posted by Mary Gerber at 6/01/2008 2 comments