Alligators, a Lighthouse, and the Warm Atlantic: Thanksgiving in Miami

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The following post is by guest blogger Lisa (lisabay), an old friend that I met in college and fellow WordPress blogger. I asked here if she would do another guest post for me since I am finishing this blog in a few days. This is her 3rd posting on Jardin Luxembourg.


True story:  We got the idea to go to Miami for Thanksgiving, because a three year old accidentally texted me…  Let’s back up.  My husband was itching to take a vacation, since he had some temporary help with his job.   He hadn’t taken off more than five days in almost ten years.  He had his eye on Maui.  But Maui wasn’t meant to be, with the astronomical ticket price.  We had talked about going to Miami before.  Alex had been there for work on a few occasions.  But I had never been to Florida.  We had dinner with our neighbors one night who are from North and South Florida.  “You should really see Miami someday.” they said.  Yeah, someday.

Then just when we were about to book a trip to a more local West Coast spot, our neighbor’s son accidentally sent me a video text of himself.  He was playing with his mom’s phone.  He somehow made me think of Miami.  Hey, I thought, Florida is the same distance as Maui, warm, and has a much better ticket price.  And I’ve never been there.  Of course this is what excited me most.  I absolutely love to visit new places.  I believe we are only on this planet once, and you might as well see as much as you can of it.    So we took the plunge and booked the trip.  “Do you have family there?” people would ask.  “None whatsoever.”  It was probably the most random thing our family has ever done.

Now the only thing I knew about Miami before this was from CSI Miami and the movie Scarface. (I wasn’t really allowed to watch Miami Vice as a kid, though I hear it was good.)  I set out to do some research.  Along with scouring the internet, I read novels set in South Florida.  I think if you really want to get a feel for a place, find an author who loves where they live and writes about it.  Even though it might be fiction, you can get a sense of a place.  I read a couple of books by Carl Hiaasen.  He has been writing about South Florida since the 80’s.  Many of his books are funny over-the-top crime novels.  He has a line of children’s books as well.  I also read part of Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.  Stiltsville is a real place, which I will get to later.

After all this research, I had big plans.  I wanted to see the Everglades, go to the Florida Keys, see the lighthouse at Cape Florida, eat some good Cuban food, and go on an Art Deco tour in South Beach.  And oh yeah, spend some time on the beach and pool.  (I’m not really a lay-out, sit-by-the-pool kind of person, so eventually, I have to move around.)  With a family of four, which includes a young child, we didn’t do it all, but we did have fun.  Miami is an exciting city.  It’s also very big and spread out, with lots of traffic.  The reality was, once we got to our hotel, we really didn’t take our car out that much.  Dinner was always somewhere local, because there were so many options nearby.  We were fortunate enough to be within walking distance to Lincoln Road, which reminds me of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, with shops and restaurants, and closed to traffic.  I can tell you where the most highly recommended Cuban spots are, but we didn’t end up going there.  We did eat some Cuban food though.  It is pretty much everywhere.  If you like pickles and mustard, that’s a good thing, because it’s in the sandwiches.  My kids and I also love black beans and tostones, which are twice fried plantain chips, marinated in garlic and lime.

P1000325One day we decided to take an airboat tour of the Everglades.  It was a perfect day, not too hot, without rain.  My Florida friend recommended Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.  This was a great choice.  It was very informative and exciting.  I knew what to expect, since I saw some You-Tube videos, but my family weren’t expecting to get so close to the alligators like we did.  This place had an interesting story.  Buffalo Tiger was once the chief of the Miccosukee.  Back in the 60’s, the US government wouldn’t recognize his tribe, so he went to Fidel Castro, and somehow got the government’s attention.  He then created casinos to raise money and help his people.  Later he retired and wanted to educate visitors about his land and people, so he started the airboat tours.  They can go out much farther than the other tour companies, because they don’t have to worry about running into national park land.

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photo (2)After our drive out to the Everglades, which was a bit tough with traffic, and the kids in the back seat, I realized I had to sacrifice the trip to the Florida Keys.  Even though, I am fascinated by them, we would be driving all day where I wanted to go.  That would not be pleasant for my husband or kids.  Instead, I suggested University of Miami.  This is only because I wanted to get out and see a different part of the city, but I knew there would be space for the kids to run around, and it would peak my husband’s interest since he is a long time college football fan.  We had a very pleasant time there.  It’s a beautiful and unique campus.  I’ve never seen so much water at a college before.  But there’s tons of water all over Florida.  It rains so much, the ground is squishy.

P1000382On Thanksgiving Day, we went to the lighthouse on Key Biscayne, about 40 minutes from South Beach.  It is in a state park, and very picturesque and peaceful.  The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Dade County.  Most things around it were destroyed in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew.  After that, they fixed it up for tours, and painted it white.  (Scenes from Miami Vice show the lighthouse with brown bricks.)  From the lighthouse, you can see Stiltsville, a group of seven houses on stilts, about a mile off the coast.  Stiltsville used to be a thriving party/ vacation community.  Back in the 50’s there were casinos and clubs with mob ties.  Ted Kennedy had his bachelor party out there.  As the years went by, hurricanes destroyed most of it.  Now there are only seven structures left, and are part of a preservation trust.  I think you can rent the houses for events, or be invited by a member of the trust.  You can also take boat tours out there to get a closer look.

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Stiltsville

On our last day in Miami, we opted for no car excursions, just beach and pool for the kids.  My husband played tennis in the morning at a local park, then we switched off with the kids, and I walked to the Art Deco walking tour, and learned about some of the old hotels in South Beach.  The next day it was time to go to the airport and take the 6 hour flight home.

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Oh what a trip!  It was definitely something we don’t usually do, and led us somewhere very different from home.  Almost every night, we went out on the beach, ran around in the sand, and touched the water.  We were the only ones out there, by the way.  Those crazy Northern Californians couldn’t get over the warmth of the Atlantic.  Will we go back?  Maybe someday.  I still have to see those Florida Keys.

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(day 362) Guest blog by lisabay. Lisa, thank you for your contribution to my blog and I look forward to you writing on my new blog too!


Thanksgiving week

It is time for another holiday already. Wasn’t it Halloween just last week? We had plans of going to the amusement park on Thursday, but it is supposed to rain. Who knows, we might melt. But seriously Matteo and I have been fighting a bad cough so we will not brave the rain. What will we end up doing? That is still to be determined, but I am sure whatever we end up doing will be enjoyable.

For now we still have school and work – and homework. Homework is so hard. I never knew 2nd grade could be so challenging. Studying for tests is hard too; I can’t imagine how we will figure this out for the next 11 years with Malina. I take it back, I know the answer – we will hire a tutor at some point. A friend was telling me about a task that she has to do help her daughter complete. It is a rather complicated family tree project that must be done in Spanish. I was thinking immediately that I am glad that I will not have to tackle that project! Then I came home from work and saw that Malina has a project for the holidays as well – still not as hard as the family tree, so I will not complain!

Parent teacher conferences are coming up next week- already. I continue to be challenged with Malina’s school and it looks like we’ll be here for a while longer since there are no openings at the other school we like. So the Thanksgiving break is coming right on time. Today is a half day for her and she has the rest of the week off. I treasure these family moments because I know one day the kids will be much older and out of the house. How did my parents manage it all?

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I found this old photo searching through my archives last night. Both of the kids can’t sit in this small laundry basket anymore – but they do still fit in separate baskets. I enjoy the holidays… it is a time to make memories with my family and I look forward to making those memories this week. Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate this holiday.

(day 351)