Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Back in August, relatively early in my current path to fitness, I wrote this post, in which I articulated some secondary goals related to my fitness.  These are not goals about the fitness itself – they are goals that address a theme I’d call “How I Want to Live My Life”.  For the record, though I couldn’t have done so when I wrote that post, I can sum the answer to that up in one word now – Adventure.

One of those goals is worth quoting in its entirety:

Start keeping track of bag nights.  I love to hike and camp, and I don’t do it enough because it can be hard.  I don’t have the energy, and the physical work is just exhausting.  It has been on the order of years since I’ve done even minor camping.  That has to change, if for no other reason than that I’m committed to introducing my kids to the outdoors.

And so last weekend I took my oldest son on his first camping trip. Read more

No, seriously – LEGO DINOSAURS

I mentioned at last Friday’s weigh-in that we had a plan to visit Legoland Florida over the weekend – and visit Legoland we did.  The tickets are pretty expensive (and don’t include parking!), so we found that it made sense to buy season passes.  All we have to do is go one more time and they more than pay for themselves.   I ordered them online last Friday, and off we went.

Legoland Florida is in a town called Winter Haven, and has only been in existence since 2011.  I’ve been coming down here now for 9 months, and from the beginning I’ve thought that Winter Haven was a weird place to put a major amusement park.  It turns out, though, that the site for Legoland is the site of an old Florida institution called Cypress Gardens.  Cypress Gardens went bankrupt in the 2000s (9/11 and the three-hurricane year of 2004 did them in), and Legoland bought the whole shebang and fixed it up.

Our first impression was that the administration of the park, and in particular the lines, feels like an old, somewhat rural, amusement park.  Disney World is famous for how well than handle a huge number of people and their line management.  Busch Gardens is also quite good at it.  Legoland?  Not as much.

Not that this is going to be a negative post – that’s pretty much my only critical comment.  We had a really good day.

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Right inside the gates. This little chef is amazing, and is just a tiny taste of the Lego creations…

Two things really stood out early in the park.  First, the large-scale Lego “statues” are unbelievable.  The chef in that picture above is almost an afterthought, and had to have taken hours and hours to build.  Second only to the grandeur was the attention to detail – there were little Lego details everywhere.  Squirrels in the trees, stop signs made out of Legos, just every detail.

Right inside the park there is a carousel.  In retrospect, we should have headed straight to the back of the park and worked our way forward – the line was long and the rides were short.  But we got in line, and rode the Lego horses.

He was already anti-picture
He was already anti-picture

And then we came to the most amazing thing.

They call it the Mini-City.  They have all of these scenes and cities that they re-create … with Legos.  The attention to detail is mind boggling.

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
On the pirate ship
On the pirate ship
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The grandstand at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500
The infield at the Daytona 500

They have the Florida State Capitol, Washington DC, Times Square and Grand Central Terminal in NYC, just an unbelievable spread of Lego detail.  We were amazed.

Just up from that is a sandwich place for lunch, and then we split up so I could take a look at a couple of different things.

Lunch time is the best time...
Lunch time is the best time…

The original Cypress Gardens Park had been built around a big botanical garden, which itself was built around a big banyan tree that was planted back in the 1930s.  As the park started going through financial distress and started changing hands in the 80s (and all the way through 2011), there was some concern in Florida about the “old Florida” elements of the park – and particularly the botanical garden – being dismantled and swept away.  At one point either Polk County or the State of Florida actually owned the property and just leased it out, to make sure that this didn’t happen (not sure how that ownership works now).  As part of that, in the middle of Legoland and on the edge of the lake, the old Cypress Gardens Botanical Park still exists – and I needed to go take a look at that.  So my wife took the bigger kid and they went looking for rides, and I took the baby and we went for a walk.

Obligatory alligator, because Florida
Obligatory alligator, because Florida

Right inside the gate we saw our alligator, so we got that out of the way.  Little guy, but he was there.  And then we started winding through the grounds.  Because of the middle of the day and the fact that I couldn’t chase birds and butterflies (babies, you know – plus people waiting on me), I didn’t get a ton of pictures.  But let me tell you, the place is beautiful … and then you walk up on the banyan tree.

Pictures do not do it justice
Pictures do not do it justice

This thing – wow.  As the limbs grow, they send out their own roots that, when they find the ground, develop into their own little trunks to support the limbs.  Over the course of 80 – 90 years, it develops into this massive system of limbs and trunks and roots and just an amazing piece of nature.

Just past the banyan tree
Just past the banyan tree

We walked around a bit more, and then hurried back to meet up with the other two.  When the weather breaks a bit here, I’ll go back during the day (I only work 15 minutes from Legoland) and get some good pictures.

And then came the rides and the ice cream.

He got a driver's license for this.
He got a driver’s license for this.
This is his
This is his “don’t take a picture” face
Coastersaurus - and his first roller coaster!
Coastersaurus – and his first roller coaster!

At this point, the day was hot and we were starting to lose our children to tiredness and crankiness, so after that dinosaur roller coaster we mostly just pushed through.

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One thing we had missed, though, over by the Mini City, was the Star Wars section.  They had scenes set up from the movies, but the cool things were the statues.

Darth Maul is apparently a short guy
Darth Maul is apparently a short guy

Here I will say that Darth Maul is an under-rated Darth, I feel.  There was also a Darth Vader, but the line for him was several people long.  We waited zero minutes at Darth Maul for the opportunity to take a picture – and he was really cool.  #nerdalert

We really had a great time, and we learned some things.

  1.  11am on Saturday morning is not an ideal time to arrive.  Chaos entering the park, but it was calm and quiet by the time we left around 4pm.  Either get there early or go ahead and wait until after lunch.  This may change when the weather gets better – if the park fills up, all bets are off.
  2. When it is busy, head straight to the back of the park and work forward.  You’ll be working the opposite way of the crowds.  This is a good thing.
  3. There are lots of scheduled things – shows, etc. – that, now that we’ve seen the whole park, we will be sure and make time for next time.

Will let you know how it goes when we take our next trip.

Coins Damage Fountain

I’ve been looking for a jumping off point for this post, and today’s Daily Prompt provided just that starting line.

As I’ve now said multiple times, I was in Washington DC last week, and was reminded every day why DC is one of my favorite cities.  There are the obvious things, of course – the monuments, the buildings, the museums.  And then there are the more subtle things – the energy, which is rivaled only by New York City for me; the men and women in suits that look like they’re on a mission to save the world; the guys in black that are patrolling the roof of the White House and that you can see if you look really closely.

I share my birthday with Abraham Lincoln (Charles Darwin, too, though that doesn’t get us anywhere in this post).  Since I was small I have had a fascination with Mr. Lincoln, almost an obsession.  One of the manifestations of that interest involves visiting the Lincoln Memorial any time I am in DC, and preferably at night.  The walk this time took me through the WWII Memorial;

Three states I happen to be very familiar with...
Three states I happen to be very familiar with…

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (which really is stunning at night);

No picture can do this scene justice
No picture can do this scene justice, particularly a crappy iPhone shot…

And then finally to see Mr. Lincoln:

The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is ... striking
The juxtaposition of how big he is up close to how big he is compared to the temple is … striking

My time spent at the Memorial always leaves me feeling both invigorated and melancholic, if that is even possible.  I am inspired by his life and his work ethic, and being there makes me feel that I am a part of something much larger than myself, something grand and glorious.  But I get melancholic both at the sense that my life is passing and with each day it becomes less likely I’ll ever change the world, and also in that way melancholia always creeps up when you’re in a temple to remember the dead.

This trip, though, introduced a new introspection and thought process centered on the idea that Mr. Lincoln would disapprove of us today.  That he’d look at all of the fighting and bickering and gridlock and lack of progress and he’d get his hackles up and tell us all, in that high nasal voice of his, to knock it off.  Knock it the hell off.

What does this have to do with the Daily Post prompt about coins in a fountain?  I did not take the below picture, which is almost certainly from the FDR Memorial (which I visited but didn’t photograph), but I saw these signs everywhere, as well as the clear evidence that they were being ignored:

Coins Damage Fountain
Coins Damage Fountain

This illustrates my point better than I ever could with words.  This thing we have – the United States of America – is a precious thing, and a startlingly young thing in the grand scheme, and no guarantee exists that what we have must endure for ages. Instead what we have is an experiment that will only ever be as good and as successful as we make it, each of us.  Sure there are big decisions every day that we don’t understand – things like the budget, and health care, and military involvement around the world – and that we can’t influence.

But there are millions of small choices made every single day, the sum of which decides whether we have, for example, a clean and poignant fountain or a broken puddle full of loose change.  I want to live in a country that has the former, and the only way I know to do that is to learn, and care, and teach.  I’ll be bringing my sons to these places, and I’ll be teaching them that these are THEIR places, and that those places deserve our respect. That’s the least we can do to pitch in and make this whole thing work.

To make it a place I’d be proud to show Abraham Lincoln around.

Also, keep your pennies in your damn pockets.