Sunday, May 24, 2015

Solomon's Castle in Hardee County, Florida

I recently saw Solomon's Castle on a [short] list of castles to visit in Florida. We woke up one free day and said, "What do you want to do today?" Having just visited Cedar Key and Crystal River, I was still in the adventurous mood. I suggested a day trip of Solomon's Castle and Bradenton beach. Zane was down, so off we went! 


From our house in north Brandon (or west Tampa), it took about and hour and fifteen minutes to drive there. We drove through some beautiful Florida countryside! Lots of semi trucks and farms. We even passed a 6ft alligator road kill, which I was really tempted to photograph, but it was pretty gruesome. 


So the short story is that this man, Howard Solomon, is an artist and an upcycler. He works with basically any medium. He created a castle out of his home and opened it to the public for tours and events. 


He sculpted this horse from left-over cement from a different project. He makes cool things from the materials that he already has, which is something I like to do, so I was totally into it! 


He has lots of rebar sculptures, including this cute fence made of soldiers. Behind the fence, you can see a massive mural on the side of his house/castle. 


We went into the lobby, where there's also a gift shop. We chose not to do the tour because they only accepted cash, and we didn't have cash. But it gives us a reason to come back. We actually ran into old friends (totally random!) who did the tour and said it was pretty cool.



He even does mosaics. 


There was a pretty nature trail that we walked along around the backside of the castle. It started with a cute covered bridge. 


Then moved to a more open area where metal "Trail" signs directed us where to go. 


We crossed through a beautiful field. It was pretty hot in the sun, but it was really nice to be out in the peaceful Florida nature. 


I loved this little chair out by the creek and would love to sit and reflect for an hour or so.


The trail ended with a skinny boardwalk back to the castle. Somewhere along the way I lost my sunglasses, which was a bummer. 


After the trail we took a lunch break at the on-sight restaurant, which is in a giant ship (and not cash only). There we ate a really yummy lunch. Zane got a reuben sandwich, and I had the taco salad. We were both very happy with the food, and the portions were big! Also the service was very good and hospitable. We had a hard time figuring out seating with a baby and toddler, and ended up changing tables, but they were so helpful the whole time. 


Solomon did all the stained glass windows and made all the little wooden sugar boats too! 


Here's a view of the backside of the ship from the patio dining area. It was a bit hot to eat outside that day. They recently added a lighthouse dining room behind the back patio which was so cute! It would be perfect for a private event. It wasn't as "themed" as the ship. 


After lunch we walked up to the other part of the property where Solomon built his own replica of the Alamo. I think it's on the backside of one of his workshops. There's also a beautiful house up there with a lovely garden. 

On our way back down we stopped into the restaurant to meet Howard Solomon himself. 


We got a fan photo. I was actually a little star struck, haha, after seeing all his work. It's definitely not mainstream, but I love that he works in every medium and makes art out of the materials he has, and he's made a little business from it all. 

He was so humble! Instead of talking up himself and his accomplishments, he showed us a newspaper article about the fifth anniversary of the local school that his granddaughter started.

It was a great little day trip and worth the drive if you're looking for something totally different to do! After the castle, we drove straight west to Bradenton and hit up the beach in the afternoon to make a full day of it. We were all exhausted at the end of the day, but what a great family adventure!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mom of Two: Seven Months In

This past month was filled with travel. We went to Atlanta, Cedar Key, Solomon's Castle, and explored parks around the area. We are blessed with great traveling kids. Daisy and Amy both enjoy (or at least happily tolerate) car rides, waking and sleeping.

Here's a little of what happened this month.

Personal Changes

I quit Facebook this month. I've written about my struggle before, and I finally just called it quits. That's the short story. I may write a longer post about it in the future.

This month marked one entire year since I quit my day job and moved towns. I have been a full-time stay at home mom for over a year. I feel all the feelings of SAH parents which I have blogged about previously in my "Mom of Two" series. I don't intend to go back to regular work anytime soon.

This month I also discontinued selling custom pillows in my Etsy shop. I was just bored of it. I knew that would happen, because I like change. The pillows were such a great extra income the last two years, but the idea of zig-zag sewing another outline of Kentucky just makes me want to whiny cry. I have other projects coming down the line, but no more pillows (I may still make exceptions for friends).

I have several creative goals for the next couple months, so I really hope I have time and energy to pursue them: drawing, voice-over, and learning a new instrument. I'll keep you updated.


The Baby Keeps Growing!

Amy is chunky and adorable at 19 pounds. She started legitimately crawling on our trip to Atlanta. She can now get around the house pretty well, and we've had to officially move all small objects to higher surfaces.

She also sits up on her own, which makes eating at the table easier. She's a champ at being spoon-fed pureed food and has even started eating Cheerios, kind of. Most of them end up on the floor or stuck to her arm, but every now and then she gets a couple in her mouth and gnaws on them until they're soggy.

She sleeps well through the night, but doesn't have much of a nap schedule. I think this is because we're often on the go, so she sleeps in her carseat and at home when she can.

She had been nursing every 3-4 hours consistently. Every once in a while, I'd let her go 5 hours when we were driving, but that was causing a drop in supply on my part. Last Sunday she nursed every 2 hours, which was WAY out of character for her, but significantly helped my supply. She nursed like that every 2-3 hours for a few days straight, but I think she's back to her previous schedule. My guess is teething, but they haven't popped out yet.

Now that Amy can crawl around and sit up, she's much happier exploring and playing by herself, which makes mommy happier too.


This last month has been the least stressful for me since Amy's birth. I really think that six months is the magic age for when a mom and baby fully acclimate to new life - at least in our family!

I even did a beach day with a few moms last week without Zane. Amy cried through most of it, which was stressful, but she finally fell asleep in her carseat under a tent on the beach. Even with all the extra work to get kids on a beach playdate, it was very fun to be with other moms and get out and about. I rode with another mom, and the toddler conversation in the backseat was to die for! "I fly something green. It's the trees!"

I think that the main reason last month was easier for me is that we were out a lot. Every morning Daisy says, "Where are we going today?" The few days we have at home are the hardest and longest. The extra effort to leave is worth it for happy kids.


As you can see, my photo shoots have changed from the blue chair (sold on Craigslist) to the floor, where Amy can now crawl toward me. She likes shiny objects like cameras and cell phones. Also, it looks like I'm going to have two brown-eyed girls!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Spontaneous Trip to Cedar Key and Crystal River

Driving back from a great trip to Atlanta to see my sister, we realized we weren't ready to end our vacation. Instead of continuing south on I-75 at Gainesville, we went straight west to Cedar Key. Zane's parents had gone there recently, and we thought we'd explore a new area. Neither of us had ever been to that part of the state, so it was a really fun drive for both of us. 


Cedar Key

We arrived in Cedar Key around 4pm, when we would have been getting home. We already had beach stuff in the car, so we changed clothes and went to the shore. Cedar Key's "beach" is a man-made beach that's part of a city park. There's a nice playground, basketball court, and bathrooms there too. The water is more like lake water though, slimy and dark, and there's basically no waves. 


Next we changed back into our clothes, kept our car parked at the city park, and walked down Dock Street, where there's lots of restaurants, shops, and even a B&B, all on docks over the water. 


We strolled down the whole street perusing the menus to decide where to eat. We walked through a little alley to this cute dock with a potted garden. It's a courtyard that's part of the Harbour Master Suites where you can stay overlooking the water. 


We chose to eat at an upstairs pub out on the dock. I can't remember what it was called, and all I can find online is that it most likely used to be the Pickled Pelican (um...maybe it still is?). All their burgers were named after Dave Matthews Band songs. Zane and I split one and liked it. The view was great. It wasn't very busy though for 6:00pm on a Saturday night. 


After dinner, we walked down to the fishing dock and back to our car. We drove around a little bit as the sun was setting and just took in the peaceful beauty of Cedar Key. Everyone was out to watch the sunset, but it was far from crowded. 

It would be nice to come back and stay when our kids are a little older and can enjoy kayaking and other water sports. It's not a good town for the beach, but there's plenty of boating fun to be had. 



Crystal River

That night we got a hotel in Crystal River. The next morning was Mother's Day. We ate our free hotel breakfast and headed to the beach at Crystal River. 


It was still cool and breezy when we arrived fairly early, so I didn't change into my bathing suit. I should have. It got hot FAST. Oh well. We explored a little and found this beautiful rocky beach. 


We should have learned our lesson at Fred Howard Park, but didn't, so Daisy ended up cutting her finger on a shell. There was blood, but not much, so we told her to just rinse it off in the water. 



Amy loved the sand. She was happy for the first 30 minutes, then got really fussy. Nothing was making her happy, which didn't make it very pleasant for me. I was already getting sweaty, then add in a cranky baby....not a happy Mother's Day. Daisy and Zane played in the water a little longer, then we headed out. 


Again, I'd like to come back when we can kayak or paddle board. There are lots of fun rivers and places to explore that can only be accessed by water. On our way out, I saw a manatee swimming toward the bridge we were crossing. I'd love to see Cedar Key and Crystal River from a canoe. 

From there, we spontaneously dropped into a small RV show in a parking lot (why not?), had lunch at Applebee's with cranky kids, then headed back home for Mother's Day dinner with family. The girls slept very well in the car, so everyone was happy for dinner. 


Here we are, all the moms. I'm so blessed to be a mom and part of this great family.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Atlanta History Center and Fun with Family

During the break between Zane's spring and summer semesters, we went up to Atlanta to visit my sister and her family. May 8 was National Public Gardens Day, and the Atlanta History Center had free admission for their gardens and houses. 


We started with lunch at the Swan Coach House for lunch, where we received the most amazing service! The hostess and waitress were both so sweet! The food was yummy too. I can definitely recommend the quiche! 




Daisy loved the cool benches in the ladies' room. 



Next we walked over to the Swann House, which is recently famous for its use in Catching Fire as the President's mansion. 



There were lovely little trails along the way... 


...and lovely little gardens around the mansion. 



The most spectacular view is from the far edge of the front lawn. 


You can go inside too, where there are several actors who will tell you about the family that built it. Also, every room is still decorated in the original 1930's style. The children's bedroom is set up for kids to play in, so our kids did just that. 




After the Swann House, we walked the grounds over to the Smith House, which is an old Civil War era house that was transported to the History Center grounds. There were actors in there too. It was a really cool experience, and I'd love to bring my kids back when they're older. 



We had a great time with Lydia and Kevin, just hanging out. Now that we're in an apartment, it's extra nice to be outside in a backyard. Kevin made a campfire one evening. 


Daisy got to taste her first s'more. 


There was plenty of flower-picking...


...and plenty of baby time!



I was nervous about the drive from Tampa to Atlanta with two kiddos, one potty trained and one breastfeeding. It wasn't bad at all. We had zero meltdowns. Maybe it's because we've taken them on road trips since they were born, but our girls are great travelers! Amy even took a turn driving. 



We had a great time visiting family including our little day trip to the Atlanta History Center. There was so much we didn't get to do there, so I definitely want to go back. Maybe next National Public Gardens day! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fred Howard Park Beach Day

We're slowly making our way through all the great beaches in the Tampa Bay area. Saturday we visited Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, and it was a perfect day!


We were going to go back to Sand Key Park in Clearwater, where we have gone twice already and loved. But Zane wanted to try something new, so we scanned the map of the gulf coast and chose this park. 


It was only a little over an hour to drive there from Brandon, which is basically the same time it takes to get to any beach from Brandon. 

It costs $5.00 for the day. I like beaches that cost a little something, because the bath houses are usually better maintained, and the parks are usually a little less crowded, because many people don't want to pay to go to the beach. 


We set up camp under the shade of a palm tree (didn't have to set up our umbrella), and Zane and Daisy explored the small island while I ate snacks and played with Amy. 


Soon Amy and I joined Zane and Daisy to see some of the cool spots they found. There was almost no one on the north side of the beach on the other side of a little walkway. It was a beautiful little secluded part of the island that reminded me of parts of Maui that felt very secluded. 


The water was also very clear and shallow, and we enjoyed walking around the rocks. However, we all came out with scrapes and cuts on our feet from the shells and rocks. If you choose to wade through this part of the beach, I recommend water shoes. 


One problem we've had with our six month old and beach trips is that she doesn't like to sleep on the blanket. I saw a couple other families bring their carseats onto the beach (I don't know why I didn't think of that). When it was time for her to nap, we tried the carseat, and she fell asleep almost immediately. 


While Amy napped, Zane and Daisy explored and played in the water some more. I lay down with Amy and rested. It was so relaxing under the shade of the palm with the sounds of the ocean and this beautiful view: 

We had arrived around 10:00 AM, and by noon there were lots of people and a full parking lot. We decided to head out around 12:30 PM and get lunch on the way home. Someday, when our kids don't need naps everyday, we'll enjoy longer beach days, but for now, a morning is sufficient fun.


Another successful beach day!