The next morning the kiddos got up about 9:30 (I am sooo thankful my kids sleep in) and we commenced with the Christmas story, stockings and Christmas presents. After that we all lounged around a bit and ate the most delicious french toast casserole ever to cross my lips. Angie made it the night before while we were wrapping presents, it was amazing! And that was my favorite part of Christmas. The calm after the gifts and sitting around with family having coffee and breakfast and just enjoying being together. Then there were showers and packing up and heading to my brother's house.
He text messaged me *and* called me to see when we were going to get there so I knew he was excited. And when we drove up he was outside waiting for us. When I got out of the car he gave me the biggest bear hug I think he's ever given me. And I realized at that moment that my brother is huge and I am very small. It sounds funny but he's my little brother that I used to beat up on a daily basis. I regret those days now. Anyway, when we walked into his house my parents jaws dropped. I'd told them all the reasons that we couldn't make it but everything changed and Jon and I just decided to keep it a secret and surprise them. None of his kids knew either and it was really fun to be able to do that. I can't even really put into words how important I think this trip was. My brother has changed so much (without his big sister interfering) and I just really miss being around him.
This trip was also different in that we were able to meet up with some friends too. Which is really astounding since we are usually there for more than twice as many days and don't have time to meet anybody. But I got in touch with Christy, who I know from Lakeland a little but have really kept up with her blog for the last year and a half or so. I've actually known her husband for a long time now because we had freshman English Comp. together. It's so weird the place I was in then and the place I'm in now. I was going through a divorce that semester (at 19) and I couldn't have been more different than the other fresh faced, excited to be away from mommy and daddy for the first time kiddos around me. Well, except Chris. He was nice but quiet and though I didn't get to know him very well, I have a sneaking suspicion that he was born an adult. I met Christy at my then best friends house (coincidentally also named Christy) at her wedding shower (best friend Christy not this Christy, she was already married. confusing, no?). I knew who she was from school but hadn't met her. And she was bubbly and outgoing and had this energy that made you want to be her friend. I thought she was really cool. So fast forward about, um, 12 years? 13, maybe? And I've been reading her blog which I found through Mary. We'd e-mailed each other a few months ago and said we wish we could have gotten together while we were in town and maybe next time. So I got in touch with her and she said she'd love to get together. We decided to stop by her house (because I really wanted to see her sweet little historic cottage) and I could tell that Travis was excited (did I forget to mentiont that they'd been friends since Trav was a teenager? Because they've known each other forever) to see her because her put the van in park and ran to the porch to give her a hug. I felt like a dork because I was still putting away the laptop that had been somewhat navigating us. But I finally got the girls out of the car and saw Christy and Chris and admired her amazing front porch. And beautiful floors, and built-ins, and creative use of space. And Christy had a little gift of handmade whipped beeswax and raw honey lotion. I'd seen that she was making it but I didn't think I'd be on the receiving end of it. But I'm very glad I was, I love that stuff.
Next was a trip with the two families to Hollis Garden and Barnett Park and the Lake Mirror Promenade. There was much gabbing, and laughing-as though we'd known each other forever. I'd also had a sneaking suspicion that Chloe and Emma would be very good friends, and I was right. The two of them were joined at the hip from the moment they met. And Andrew just sort of hung out and listened and added a witty comment or a zinger when it was appropriate. You gotta love it when there's a tween hanging out with you that acts like he wants to be there. He didn't really want to pose for pictures though. And Amanda found out that Christy's brother is in one of her favorite bands. She was very excited. Two hours flew by (in 85 degree weather) and we invited them to join us for lunch at our favorite BBQ joint- Sonny's. Which apparently Chris isn't too fond of, but he was kind enough to say yes. On the way over, Christy called me and said they were going to be a few minutes behind us because she'd stopped by her brothers and had gotten something for Amanda. An autographed tour pass! Amanda was so excited and it was so sweet of Christy to think of that. Lunch was fun and there was more catching up and story telling and we finally bid adieu to our new/old friends.
Then we met my whole family at Carter Road park to jump off of some sand hills, then we all took my nephew Ashton to Lake Morton. I love Lake Morton. At one point around the lake (which is about a mile around) we came across a drowned cat. Well, Chloe was very upset and was crying as you can imagine how horrible that was. But by that time it was dark and the Christmas tree's lights had come on (in Lakeland, they put Christmas trees in the middle of the smaller lakes around town). I squatted down next to her and showed her the tree and there was a breeze coming off the lake and I told her to take a deep breath. If you're not from there you wouldn't understand but there is something about the cool, humid air that is soul cleansing. And she calmed down....until she was approached by some crazy looking storks. There's lotsa wildlife at that lake.
Yes, it was as full a day as it sounds. I was dead tired by the time we got back to my brother's house and an air mattress never, ever felt so good.
So here's my picture tour....
The Sorosis club on Lake Mirror. It was built as a women's sorority in the '20's, I'm not sure what they do now but I love the Italianate style of the building. You'll see lots of mediterranean and contemporary styles but this is the only building I know of like this in Lakeland.
Amanda and Ashton at Lake Morton. My nephew is becoming very handsome.
I think this is a crane. I got lots of pictures of this guy but I won't bore you with them all.
This is the mandatory shot of Amanda wrestling the alligator at Barnett Park.
And this is what she was trying to get to. These gates have been locked for decades but my parents told me there used to be underground shops in there.
I was in the middle of a conversation with Chris when I spotted this awesome butterfly. I think I interrupted him with something intelligent like "ooh, butterfly" and ran off. Thankfully he wasn't offended. Apparently Lakeland has added butterflies to it's collection of swans around the city.
All of my girls with little miss Emma, who was more than willing to do any posing asked of her.
Chloe and Emma...fast friends with lots in common.
Halle on a picture perfect Florida day. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Florida sky and you won't see anything like it anywhere else. It is absolutely breath taking. And Halle's scrunchy face isn't bad either.
All of our girls and Emma....
Cameron kept sneaking into the room we were opening our presents in to show us what he got. He was finally warming up to us...just before we left :(