We went to Tampa for the annual Smith family "Christmas at the Lake" on Saturday and for all the younger kids, this was the happening place. Family, football, fishing and food - the essentials for any festive holiday gathering. Ellison was in heaven as the oldest and she (along with all the other cousins) spent the entire day playing outside. Much to the delight of every parent there.
The kids ran around in the woods, played pick-up games of soccer and football and fished off the dock (where they caught two turtles, but no fish. Don't worry- they let the turtles go!). Trevor's grandfather has been hosting this get-together for over 40 years and the fun times had here at the lake have become some of the most treasured family memories. Watching Ellison and her cousins continue the tradition, creating memories and stories of their own, warms my heart. Even though we see each other throughout the year, there is something about all of us getting together at the lake that sets it apart from other times of the year. I hope as Ellison looks back on these visits she remembers being surrounded by the love, support and encouragement that has been passed down through generations.
Wishing you a holiday filled with peace and love and, of course, some super silly family moments you'll remember for years!
Ellison and I are on a botanical garden kick these days and are pretty much in love with everything about their soothing tranquility.
Our Thanksgiving visit to Bok Tower made Ellison and I realize a few things. First of all, there is something very relaxing about gardens that is different from the relaxation felt in more wild surroundings. Second, that we wanted some of that relaxation. All of it, all month long. And third, that we live a few miles from Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville and we hadn't been there in years. It seemed about time for a visit.
We decided that a Sunday picnic seemed appropriate for the setting so this morning we packed a lunch, threw the dog in the car (they allow dogs on leashes as long as there isn't a public event taking place) and headed to Kanapaha.
The gardens are run by the North Florida Botanical Society and first opened in 1987. Trevor and I have been here a number of times in the fifteen years we've lived in Gainesville, usually for the annual Spring Garden Festival, but sometimes we went just to give Ellison a pretty place to run around when she was little. But it had been about 5 years since any of us had been and all of us (including Waylon) were looking forward to a return visit. I will admit that December isn't the best time of year to go if you are wanting to see all of the flowering plants in bloom, but so much of the gardens are made up of interesting non-flowering plants like cycads, catcti and bamboo that it is beautiful year-round. If you do want to catch the gardens at their blooming best then the summer months are your best bet.
There are 24 different areas of the gardens and each of them offers something unique. Our favorites were the bamboo forest, the walk through the camelias, the Children's Garden and the herb garden (it's the largest in the Southeastern US). A paved path winds through each of these areas, with benches and gazebos tucked away allowing you a chance to relax and take in the surroundings. We are moving into a new house on January 1st (an exciting way to start 2016!) and Ellison and I got really into deciding which flowers we would plant in each area of the front yard and what herbs could grow in the courtyard. This is the first time we have had any sort of green space of our own and both of us have been waiting for the chance to have a garden. It's been a long time coming and a walk through Kanapaha gave us some workable ideas about what would grow in this part of Florida. Honestly, we'll see if the garden actually happens, y'all, but regardless it was fun to talk about it and know that it could happen. But it will. I almost promise.
We spent the better part of this afternoon just laying in the grass and wandering through the gardens. It was relaxing in a very different from when we are hiking or doing something more active. This isn't the wilderness, but it's still natural (and you still need to be somewhat aware of your surroundings, as indicated by the Cottonmouth snake we almost stepped on as we headed to one of the gazebos. They blend in well to the ground cover and stay really still, making Cottonmouths even more dangerous than your average poisonous snake because you're far more likely to step on them). The level of preparedness required drops considerably, you aren't on a mission to cover a certain number of miles, or summit a particular peak or check off another trail completed. Botanical gardens are specifically designed to foster contemplative relaxation and both your mind and body are encouraged to calm down. While Ellison and I both love adventurous times on the trail, we also really enjoy just being outside. Without a destination. Without having to push ourselves. And being in a garden full of gorgeous flowers usually helps, too.
We hope that you all are getting a chance to relax and enjoy the holiday season, whatever holiday you may choose to celebrate. Things at our house are getting crazy as we wind down the year. We are moving in two weeks, we're trying to fix up and rent out our condo and this marks the start of the busiest time in the school year for me. But amidst all the chaos, we're trying to get in the Christmas spirit. I am trying to foster in Ellison a generous, open heart and always get a little worried that this time of year she gets too much. But days like today go a long way in reminding me that we might be on the right track. She's a pretty great kid and she is absolutely one of my favorite people.
So how about you - are your outdoor activities always active and adventurous or do you make time to just hang out and relax? Are parks and gardens your speed or are you always looking for ways to amp up your outdoor game?
See you back here next weekend!
My family and I love to get outside and explore every chance we get. My daughter and I started this blog as a way to chronicle not only the places we have visited, but also as a way to preserve our time together. We hope you enjoy it and will make a little time for a hike with friends!