Saturday, February 27, 2010

Leap Of Faith

Hurrying to get to work, I put the bloggerette down by standing her against the couch next to Kelly, who was sitting on the floor nearby. I turned for a second to scan around for my coat, when Kelly suddenly exclaimed "Tony! She just walked over to me!"

"Wha? No way!" Then Kelly faced her the other way, and sure enough, an excited bloggerette took three more freestanding steps back to the couch! We both erupted in praise and yays, and like a dummy I even applauded instinctively, flush with pride.

She sensed the excitement and beamed up at us, tightly holding on to the cushion and swaying.

We should have left it at that, and allowed the little girl a few minutes to take in what just happened, to contemplate her successful leap of faith in her new abilities.

But unfortunately, Kelly and I swooped in like a pack of excited little league coaches; pointing and prodding the bloggerette in every direction, and cojoling her to "Come this way! Go to daddy! Go to Mommy!"...way too enthusiastically and probably for way too many minutes.

But try as we might, she wouldn't attempt it again, always reverting to the ol' crawl. Maybe we over did it, I ruminated. Maybe she refused to perform like a trained seal. Aye, we probably set her back in the realm of walking for months, if walking means being poked and prodded endlessly as reward for the attempt. Thus a small lesson in overparenting was learned.

But, perhaps sensing the dejection of ourl folly she finally decided to dole out just one more step, kind of a lunge actually, as a sop to placate her two rabid fans...

All was good. We'll try it again later, when she's ready.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Open The Pod Bay Doors, Hal

Our outings lately have been fewer and farther between compared to some past winters. Usually cabin fever would have settled in by now. But for whatever reasons and circumstance, this winter has found us (me) content to just laze under the glow of the all seeing eye of the tv receiver...

...or tend to other domestic pursuits.

Not sure why, but lately it just feels good to kick back after work with the fam, and while the long winter nights away.

Recharge the batteries. Watch the bloggerette grow, strengthen her mind, balance and agility. Conserve resources, save money and energy. We'll attack the coming spring with both barrels. Or so I imagined.

Then Kelly pulled a surprise move on a recent, particularly lazy afternoon -suddenly taking up the cause; deriding our complacency and leading the charge for the outdoors -and whatever adventure awaits us, Out There.

Fine...lead the way.

We packed and bundled and crammed the whole crew into the car, and set out in a generally northways direction. Cruising up through a sleepy Easthampton...

...and then onto the streets of a more commercy Northampton.

We pit-stopped there for a hot coffee...

...but before long Kelly was whipping us up and foward again; now on a quest for more challenging terrain. Calorie burning, yet baby stroller friendly.

We found it a little further up route 9 in the form of a new section of bike trail leading into Look Park.

After a harrowing scramble up a steep embankment near a route 9 parking area, we accessed the new rail trail and followed it into the park.

There wasn't too much greenery to be had that afternoon and even less bird and wildlife, but there was fresh air aplenty. The cold gusts occasionally mixed with the crisp smells of half frozen pine needles and dried leaves crumpling under foot and stroller wheel.

(The breeze also carried faint guitar strains of Nirvana and the Pixies, drifting over ever so gently from the kid's iPod buds, forever jammed into his teenage ears...)

We circled the park and about three quarters of the way around we got to the playground, where the bloggerette got her first taste of flight via swing and slide...

By now the chilly afternoon sun was just about done, and it was time to scoot back to the warm comforts of hearth and home.

It felt good driving home with that fresh breath of life on our red cheeks and thawing fingers that comes from a winter walk. Kudos to Kelly for getting us up and out...we needed it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Whether Channel

Hardly a week has whipped by and our trip south already seems like a long lost memory. Things are back to the way they were when we left; Kelly furiously studying while the bloggerette tears up the joint...

Me, back up on various rooftops in the blistering cold or in dungeon basements; trying to ensure people's tootsies stay warm.

Meanwhile, just a mere three hour flight away is climate change for the taking. Just days ago we were contentedly face to face with the colorful denezins of more sensible climes.

It's a nice place to visit, but would I want to live there? Each year the answer gets a little more skewed to the affirmative.

But with each year, it also seems more difficult to yank up roots and start new somewhere else. Aye, that's the rub.

We're dug in here. Here, we usually know what to do and what to expect. Here, we stand and weather the storms...

...or not. never know; there is always the possibility that those warmer climes will decide to pack up, and move here...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Manatees, Man

We've seasoned our vacation travels this week with some samplings of Florida's state parks, as we encountered them along the way. Each time (3 so far), we came away happily surprised at what a great experience it was. Florida has a first-rate state park system; impeccably maintained and well manned by curteous, informed and uniformed staff.

They charge a bit more for entry than Massachusetts does, six bucks per carload instead of our meager two. But it's still a very reasonable price and more importantly, they're obviously putting every cent right back into the parks...

In their full color, magazine-sized park brochures the state touts their park system as the 'Real Florida'. It's an ingenious angle and so true. You don't neccessarily have to pay the sickening 80 dollars per person, plus parking, at the mega-theme parks to enjoy a visit to the state.

Take our word for it, we checked. 3 times.

Fridays visit topped them all with a look at Blue Springs, where the water is 73 degrees year round. The steady water temp and state park protection makes for a perfect and safe winter home for the beleagured manatee. And the crystal clear spring water makes for some perfect viewing of the big, gentle creatures.

It's got to be one of the best spots anywhere to see these animals in the wild. (Jaques Cousteau thought so, when he came here back in the 70's to document them; influencing the state to purchase the land).

We saw that some of the manatees sported heavy, concentric scars on their backs and tails, consistent with the damage we've heard motorboat propellors inflict in less protected waterways.

Like the other parks we've seen, there are long sections of winding boardwalk constructed above and through the forest and wetland for minimal damage to the environment.

At this park the walkways are particularly long and run parrallel to the spring fed river, all the way to it's source where the warm water bubbles up from a dark opening below.

Cormorants, egrets, kingfishers and turtles are everywhere along the way, and the clear water is positively teaming with a half dozen varieties of large fish. All this wildlife and abundant nature in February; it's really amazing to a northerners' eyes...

The mammoth manatees gently rolling in the clean, clear current seemed to give off an aura of quiet peace and contentment. We could have stayed there all day...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Space Truckin'

I made my 3rd pilgramage (Kelly's 1st, the bloggerette's 1st, obviously), to the Kennedy Space Center, where our proud nation launches her proud astronauts into orbit around this beautiful little blue orb spinning silently in the black vacuum of the universe.

The Space Shuttle is locked and loaded, with the program's second to last launch scheduled for 4:29am on Sunday.

Just one more launch after this one, and it'll be the end of this chapter in this particular volume of the book of the human race's long story of exploration. A chapter that argueably peaked with the setting of a human foot on the dusty ground of the Sea of Tranquility, on the surface of the Moon.

Almost unbelievable, still.

But after viddying a stunning IMax feature about the Apollo program and what it was like to be on those missions and walk on the moon, there are now two and a half more uber-enthusiastic moon-shot boosters for a contemplated return by 2020.

...3D will do that to you.

This particular visit was the best of my three, as we packed in as many of the features, displays and tours as time permitted, ending with a strapped-in, thunderingly realistic launch simulation contrived by real shuttle pilots, and sporting the gut shaking excitement of a theme park ride.

After that ride, you'll be more aware of where the flab in your body is, believe me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Shotgun Shacks

We were headed directly west on Wednesday, towards the Ocala National Forest where we were hoping to get a little nature walk in. It's a tremendous swath of green on the map, with many smaller state parks subdivided in.

Just before we reached the outer limits of the great green, there is a small town named Barberville. You'll know you've reached Barberville when you see a house brimming over with rusty iron artifacts, giant chickens and ceramic everythings.

The owners seem ok with tourists stopping in to gawk at their wares.

After a good eyefull of all this...stuff; we set our sights across the street and just up a little ways, to a sign inviting us to come and see The Pioneer Plantation.

It's a small collection of original houses, public and commercial buildings from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. (think miniature sturbridge village). We paid the six bucks to ckeck it out.

The handful of buildings turned out to be packed with a surprisingly good collection of period stuff, both in furniture and artifacts.

The old Central High School's single classroom appeared to still be in use...

And the other side rooms were converted to museum space, sporting the devices and contraptions of life back in the day.

Back outside were great examples of southern backwoods architecture in the form of shotgun shacks...

...a train station, engine and water works...

a country store, a blacksmith, cobbler, and church.

All the buildings were saved and brought in from the surrounding towns except the high school, the only building originally on the property. All the buildings still looked funtional and it was easy to imagine what it was like to pull open the sqeaky screen door and clomp into the old country store for say, some coffee beans or flour.

The whole operation appeared to be a private venture, no state money, and run by a handful of folks who obviously were working at a labor of love.

We met one of them tending to the small stable of farm animals they keep. He had a name for every lamb, goat, chicken and turkey. The peacock roaming freely out of it's cage had the ability to fly away, but he wouldn't, the old man assured us. He won't stray far from his dinner.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


We stumbled upon a local botonical garden and park on Monday.

The park, apparently managed by the county, was a little weak on flowers and other botanicals; but this was kind of expected since Florida has just come out of a rare deep freeze that killed or damaged many of the state's crops and more delicate flowering plants and also because of it being, well, winter.

But there was plenty of green tree coverage and walking along the wooded trails we began to see that there was also some history afoot.

We began to come zcross several cane-crushing contraptions from the early 19th century.

It seems this property was a sugar plantation/factory back in the day. And that day was in the early 1800's: No real roads, no town, no friends. Just wilderness all around, teaming with angry Seminoles.

A few daring enterprenairs had established the operation here just the same, with predictable results. According the the info kiosks one partner was lost in a "stunning" fashion to the locals, if you can imagine what that means.

His ever doubtful wife and her brother hung on to the enterprise for a few more years until she also succumbed to the wilderness.

The Seminoles burnt it down one last time, and the brother bid it all a fond goodbye and good riddance.

From there, the plantation changed hands several times over the course of 60-70 years or so, until the 1950's.

Enter the dinosaurs.

A doctor got hold of the property in the 1940's and came up with the idea of making a tourist attraction out of it. He and some partners had several concrete-over-wire-frame examples of dinosaurs constructed, according to the anatomical knowledge of the day. Then many trail lined gardens were planted, a restoration of the sugar factory ruins, and a baboon named Bongo, to top it all off.

Spectacle for the masses.

The park acheived some notoriety for a few years but alas, the doctor and his sponsors were ahead of their time.

They went under and had to close up, just a couple scant years before the theme park craze really gripped America.

The park is now the ward of the state or county, the old factory ruins now have a sturdy roof over them, the place is dotted with info boards telling it's tale; all making for a surprisingly interesting visit for this small gaggle of tourists.