Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving, Toys for Conch Kids, and a little kayaking

November 22-25, Marathon, Florida

We had originally planned to have several members of my family at our Thanksgiving gathering in the Keys but plans changed and we celebrated with just the four of us—my brother and his wife and Vic and me. With a surprise gift of Florida lobsters on Wednesday, we decided to start the day with a lobster quiche, an Oregon berry medley from our summer harvest, cranberry nut bread, and mimosas with freshly squeezed orange juice.

This indulgent breakfast meant we would have Thanksgiving dinner at sunset rather than mid-afternoon, so we would have time to be hungry again.  Of course, the day wouldn't be complete without watching some of the Macy Parade and catching some of the NFL games in between cooking. Even though Vic and I have been trying to eat more vegan meals than carnivorous ones, we opted for the traditional turkey with all the trimmings dinner. It was beautiful day in the Keys with highs in the mid 70s and we were thankful to be spending it with family rather than strangers in an RV park.

My brother Mike and his wife Bonnie

The whole idea of holidays full-timing in the motorhome has been a little unsettling to me as these were times that our home seemed to hold more importance as a place for family and friends to gather around our big dining room table and create special memories together. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am an incurable romantic, so these Norman Rockwell images I envision as part of holiday celebrations often fall short of what actually occurs. The first challenge is the reality that our children come from previous marriages. Our own marriage occurred after Vic's two children were already married adults living far away from us, and mine were already teenagers, so, other than our wedding day, our four children have never gathered together holidays or otherwise.

Vic talking to his daughter Mindy on Thanksgiving morning. 
All of Vic’s family is in California, my two sons are in Oregon, and most of the rest of my family happens to be in Florida, yet we did not come to Florida for that reason.  We have discovered we genuinely love it here—something I never expected as I often visited and never wanted to linger. We planned to spend winters in Mexico when I retired, but the drug violence in Mexico and failing American economy led us to Plan B--the idea of traveling in a motorhome.  Our original plan definitely included leaving Oregon in the winter for a warm, sunny climate with a beach which we thought would be Mazatlan, one of our favorite places in Mexico.  For us, spending time on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the Keys has exceeded our expectations, especially since the purchase of our kayaks. We do, however, really miss the Latino culture—the music, food, traditions, and lively spirit of daily life in Mexico, but we have been happy to discover that life in Florida has a varied and colorful culture all of its own. (Think Buckingham Bar Bluesfests, wing nights at Hogbody’s Grill, pressed Cuban sandwiches in Ybor City, tiki bars blaring Jimmy Buffet songs throughout the Keys, soul food at Farmer’s Market Kitchen in Ft. Myers, cracked conch sandwiches and dollar tap beers in Marathon, mullet throwing contests at the Flora-Bama, lounge dancing at the Red Rose Inn and ballroom dancing at the Fred Astaire studios, and something I have yet to experience that is high on my list: beating down the sun drum circles. I need to get a belly dance coin skirt for that one. . . . And so I ramble. We had no set plan in terms of travel when we started this journey 15 months ago, but the weather and presence of water plays a significant factor in where we choose to spend time these days.

Speaking of water opportunities, the Keys is the place to be. We took our kayaks to Sombrero Beach, just a few miles from my brother’s house, where they have a great launching area which leads to a popular kayak and canoeing area that meanders through mangrove canals via Sister Creek. (Sorry about the quality of these few photos below as I had my camera with no memory card in it, so had to use my phone camera.)

sombrero boat launch

I was a little disappointed that we did not see much wildlife in the mangroves, but on the way back we had a big surprise as we glided right over two large manatees which were cavorting around near the fishing pier at Sombrero beach. Of course, it happened so fast there was no way to get photos.

vic in mangrovessister creek private beach

We also fulfilled a desire of mine to watch the sunset on the ocean side of the Keys from our kayaks. The trick is to hurry in before it gets too dark to see and to be sure to carry flashlights (it’s the law) just in case you underestimate the time due to the currents.

sunset with pam in kayak2

sombrero sunset3

sister creek sunset2

Sunday the 25th was a busy day for us as my brother and his wife are active members of a motorcycle club called ABATE and Sunday was their annual toy drive called Toys 4 Conch Kids. In addition, it was my brother’s birthday and my middle brother and niece would be arriving from Tampa that evening.  Vic and I attended the end point of the motorcycle gathering—talk about varied culture—and were impressed with the results of their efforts.

The generous donation of toys and gift cards all go to children in the Keys, which some like to refer to as the Conch Republic. (I learned from ole Wikipedia that the term derives from a “tongue-in-cheek secession of Key West from the United States on April 23, 1982 and has since  been expanded to refer to all of the Florida Keys" and that "the original protest event was motivated by a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint which greatly inconvenienced residents and was detrimental to tourism in the area.” As a result, Key West has an annual Conch Republic independence day celebration on April 23—as if they needed more reasons to throw a party.

Flag of the Conch Republic

Since the toy drive was in Islamorada, about 20 miles north of Marathon, we took the kayaks with us in hopes of getting in a “pedal” on the drive back home. We decided to check out Long Key State Park and discovered they had easy launching points on the ocean side from several spots in the park.  For a nominal entrance fee of $6 we were in and pedaling away within 10 minutes (a shorter launching time than usual because we slid the kayaks into the bed of my brother’s 1974 Chevy 354 pickup rather than having to secure them on our Jeep’s rooftop rack).

The water was amazingly calm and clear and we enjoyed seeing the park’s RV campsites from the vantage point of the water.  We would love to stay here but you need to plan way ahead to get reservations during the winter months.

Again, we didn't see much wildlife except for Vic’s first sighting of flying fish. Good thing they weren't too big as there was a national news story a couple years ago about a kayaker in the Keys being critically injured by a flying fish which punctured her lung and knocked her out of the boat! Thankfully, our kayaking adventures so far have been considerably more tranquil.

Before leaving for the day, I prepared shrimp kabobs for the grill, sun-dried tomato and artichoke fettuccine  and salad so when we returned it would be easy to throw together a birthday dinner. I even had homemade bread all ready to warm in the oven, and my sister-in-law made a fabulous New York style cheesecake which she drizzled with Drambuie (a family favorite). My other brother and his daughter arrived from their Tampa to Marathon road trip hungry so my efforts were doubly appreciated. The only bummer part of the day, especially for the birthday boy, was the shellacking of the Green Bay Packers by the Giants.

No sooner had Thanksgiving weekend drawn to a close, than Christmas lights began to appear throughout the neighborhood and on the waterfront vistas.  I never feel remotely ready to think about Christmas until at least December, nor do we participate in any of the black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies. I have to admit, it still feels strange to be in a warm climate for the Christmas  season, but we will do our best to generate the holiday spirit and be fully appreciative of the many, many blessings in our lives. Gracias a Dios.


  1. I had to wipe the drool from my keyboard before I could comment. Weeks in the Keys....if only. I've been trying for EVER to get reservations at any of the state parks there and it is IMpossible IMO. So enjoy enjoy having a brother who lives there. Lucky, lucky him.

    I am with you all the way about forgetting Black Friday and Blue Monday or whatever it's all called. I want Halloween to be Halloween and Thanksgiving to have its time and Christmas to start AFTER my early December birthday. But it's all about money. Everything seems to be sadly. And full timing has taught me that for sure it is NOT really all about money.

  2. Too many of the holidays are being mixed and mingled ... I mean, i enjoy Christmas carols, but to have them 24/7 on the radio channel I usually listen to starting before Thanksgiving is overkill. Looks like you're having a grand time in the Keys ... not on the books for us this year ... but perhaps next year.


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