My 52 Things Project

When's the last time you did something for the first time?

The Ringling Experience

20150725_150425Last year I was fortunate enough to have a handful of first time experiences while visiting Sarasota with my family. It was our annual family beach trip, but I didn’t want to get lazy on vacation and miss out on opportunities to try new things in a totally different town! Glad that I decided to venture out of my beach chair because I got to try dancing in a beach-side drum circle, beginner parkour, and the Salty Dog challenge from the TV show Man vs. Food. Those are among my favorite experiences of the past year, and that is saying something because I had a GREAT year! Even after spending every weekend of an entire month in Sarasota last year, there still was one more thing that I really wanted to try and didn’t have an opportunity to do yet. While I am sure that there are at least a million and one fantastic things to do in Sarasota, I have been most excited about checking out one of the most iconic area attractions; one that I had never experienced in my 30 years of going to the Gulf Coast. But now, I can finally say that I have experienced The Ringling!

My Aunt Maria has also always wanted to see The Ringling, and this was actually the first new experience that I was able to share with her since I started this project.

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I always knew that the Ringling family was super rich and very attached to Sarasota Florida. I knew they had a beautiful mansion on the water. I also knew that there was a museum that was open for public tours. What I did not know was just how huge their property actually was, or the magnitude of their influence on Sarasota, Florida. Ever spent time in St. Armonds Circle? You can thanks the Ringling’s for that. How about Midnight Pass? Again, it was the Ringling’s. Now, to put the size of the property into perspective, my aunt and I hustled everywhere we went so that we could see everything in the day that we planned to spend there, but four hours later we had still not seen half.

When we pulled up to The Ringling last weekend it was pouring rain. This is pretty much the only kind of day that we would be willing to do something like this — I refuse to sacrifice good daytime beach weather for activities that do not involve the outdoors during my annual beach trip — but a rainy day leaves us open to experience countless local indoor attractions. We packed our umbrella and banked on spending the majority of the day touring the big house and museum. But boy were we wrong! We totally underestimated this place. As soon as we saw the giant map at the entrance we got our first idea of just how much there is to do there. We approached the ticket. The admission cost was $15.00 a person, not so bad, but I did my normal “Hey, do you have a military discount?” thing anyway. Turns out that they DO have a military discount — I love those — and my aunt and I both got in for free! I love that they do that, and I felt like I had to mention it. Way to go Ringling!

We had no idea just how much walking would be necessary before we got to The Ringling, but there was a lot to see that day. There were beautiful gardens all over the place, 2 circus museums, an art museum, and the Ringling family mansion on the bay to tour. Our first stop was the Tibbals Learning Center where guests can view the worlds largest miniature circus and try their luck on the tight rope. Just think I should mention THIS girl is a tight rope master! Just saying. 20150725_121427

I think that I can pretty safely say that I have never seen any work more detailed than this miniature circus. You get a way better perspective of the extent of this mini circus from the second floor, but even from those windows you still couldn’t view the entire circus without walking around it. Every piece was hand painted and assembled by one man named Howard Tibbal. This entire exhibit is a 3/4 inch-to-foot replica of the early 20th century Ringling Brothers circus. I tried to say a few words to Mr. Tibbal, but I got weirdly shy. My Aunt asked him if I could get a picture of him once she realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get the words out. How embarrassing!

And here is Mr. Howard Tibbal himself!

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Fun fact: He buys most of the stuff he uses for this exhibit at the Dollar Store!

From there we watched a 30 minute video of the family history in what is called the “Original Circus Museum” before moving forward to the Ringling Mansion called Ca’D’Zan (House of John) which was unbelievable and picturesque!

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I have to share some more fun facts, but these are about Ca’D’Zan. For one thing, it was built in 1919 for a staggering 1.65 million dollars. Translate that in to today’s money and you are looking at just about $25 million bucks. The sad, not so fun-fact, is that the Great Depression wiped out Ringley, and he actually died with only $311 in the bank. Thank goodness he had the foresight to gift Ca’D’Zan and the museum to the State of Florida in his will. That is probably the only reason that we can still tour this beautiful piece of Florida history. He had no kids, so I guess he figured gifting it to Florida was better than his other options at the time.

20150725_150256I could not stop thinking of The Great Gatsby as I walked up to tour this home. Maybe it was because the tour guide talked about parties and the reckless spending that eventually got the family into trouble. Or maybe it was because I kept imagining the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock when I looked across the bay. Can’t you just picture it? The Ringling’s were living the American Dream but maybe they were still searching across the water for more? Whatever, it is what I saw! Ha Ha.

We had an amazing experience at The Ringling. The story of John Ringling working his entire life, probably not taking a rest until his death in 1936, was inspiring. The ending may be tragic, but his life up until the Great Depression was a moving story of what can be accomplished if a person refuses to give up on their dreams.

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The Hang Gliding Experience

Hang glide 3So, a MONTH ago (super late…I know, I know) I went hang gliding, and I gotta say that it was one of the coolest things that I have ever done. Just to have this brand new profile picture seriously would have made the entire experience worth it if I didn’t love it as much as I did.

Oh but wait, I got about 5 other super cool pictures too! I will add them to the bottom of the post so that you can check them out.

The weird thing is that I didn’t freak out about this experience. If you have been following this blog then you know that there is nothing that I fear more than heights. I cried doing the flying trapeze, the picture of me on the sling shot about sums up how that experience went, and the Dare Me for Charity jump left me nauseous for hours after it was done. I would just like to point out that the trapeze was 30 feet, Dare me was 37, and the sling shot was 400. Wanna know how high the hang gliding experience was? It was 3,500 feet off of the ground, and I did not freak out at all! Heck, I even flew the thing for myself at one point.

I am working on two theories about this. The first is that I was so scared that I couldn’t even feel fear anymore. This is likely. It reminds me of a time that some of the guys from my squadron decided that they wanted to eat the spiciest sushi in the country. It had ghost peppers in it and you had to sign a waiver to participate. I went for purely moral support because I can’t even stomach Texas Pete sauce on a good day. I even volunteered to be driver so that the boys could have celebratory drinks after their success. Well, when the guys started vomiting and couldn’t finish their sushi I got a pretty good laugh. This irritated the guys and they somehow convinced me that finishing their sushi was the only appropriate punishment for my lack of empathy. I loved it! As we drove away we all determined that the sushi was so so hot that my taste buds could’t even sense the heat anymore. Is that a thing? Is that possible? I can’t eat mild salsa at a Chili’s restaurant, so it must me. I think that this is like flying 3,500 feet in the air for me. It was so unendurably high that my mind couldn’t even panic anymore. The second theory is that the 52 Things Project has somehow cured me of my fear of heights. This is unlikely since I had a hard time standing upright on a chair the other day to hang Independence Day decor on my house. Who knows though. Perhaps I can test my hypothesis by trying the sling shot out a second time, but I would rather not. Hey Katie, up for trying it again?

So what now? I did my 52 activities, and I had a great time, but is that the end? Nah, I thought it would be, but it’s not. I think I am just going to keep going, but without the budget this time. I want to keep having new experiences. It is actually pretty addictive and hard to stop once you start.

Update you next time I do something new!

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The Hang Gliding Experience Movie

Cost: $100.00

Remaining Budget: $147.86

 

Coolest experience of the year!!!

Check out their website: http://questairhanggliding.com/

If you live in town you should go try this out!

 

 

The Unexpected Experience

Cost: free

Remaining Budget: $247.86

I have great news, and then I have even better news. I DID accomplish all 52 activities over the course of the year. Now the better news, I have been so busy (good busy), and have been enjoying my 30’s so much that I haven’t managed to sign on here and tell you all about it. So sorry! I will make up for it now.

I remember a party. It was probably the mid-early 90’s, so it is all getting a bit blurry because it is so far back, but I was probably around 10 or 11 at the time. My parents were part of this dinner club with a bunch of their longtime friends, and there was going to be a surprise birthday party for a woman that was turning 30. Of course I thought that they were all ancient, but there was something cool and sophisticated about the woman turning 30; at least that was my appraisal of her at 11. I haven’t really seen her since then, so I can’t tell you how accurate my judgement was. I do remember she preferred red wine, and there were silver balloons, and a wonderful dinner was prepared. It was a small gathering, probably about 12 adults. Who knows! Like I said, this was a really long time ago. Anyway, that probably was when my fascination with the age 30 began. I wanted to be like the trendy girl with the red wine and silver balloons when I turned 30. Well, here I am 19 years later; clumsy, flexible to a degree but particularly adaptable, and sometimes (usually) awkward.  I do love red wine, but I am far from trendy. I am ok with that. I am really happy with who I am, and what I have accomplished. That’s what it’s about!

So, about the “unexpected experience.” Well, it was about to be my 30th birthday, and I had no plans whatsoever. Pathetic right? I wanted to have plans, but I didn’t know how to go about asking my friends and family, so in the end I just didn’t ask. I mean, my family has been so busy, and all my friends are all far away, pregnant and/or married…I felt uncomfortable asking anyone to join me for anything that day, so I just sucked it up. I wasn’t like that sleek girl in my memory; I wasn’t going to have that trendy 30th bday blowout. Well, I can be pretty resourceful when I want something. I decided that I was going to buy the stuff to make Cosmopolitans, and that I would watch Mama Mia that night with my tiara on. Not a half bad plan right? I was excited about it. Anyway, that was the game plan, and I was looking forward to it for the two weeks leading up to my 30th birthday.

Inspiration hit again about a week before I turned 30 while I was cooking dinner for the family.

I asked my brother, “Hey Mike, do you think you could make me a homemade pizza on my birthday?

“Of course! What do you want on it?”

“Olives, roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, and onions.”

“And pepperoni?”

“No!”

I don’t like pepperoni. I also don’t like bacon. Stop Judging Me Reader!

“Ok, and pepperoni” he decided for me.

This was a fabulous addition to my otherwise dull evening. My own personal party was getting more and more awesome every day! But then my mom chimed in, “Hey Celina, what day of the week is your birthday on?”

“It’s next Friday.”

My moms face went into complete shock.

“Oh Celina, you are not going to believe this. The little girls down the street are having a birthday party that night and they wanted you to come. I said that you would.”

I used to baby sit these little girls when I was in college and I absolutely adore them both.

“Shit mom, that’s my 30th birthday.”

“It’s ok Celina, I am sure that I can explain…Of course they will understand.”

“No mom, don’t worry about it. I want to go. It’s not a big deal, I had no plans.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure. But let’s do something after. Maybe we can go to the Willow Tree (best German place outside of Germany) after and try out Das Boot? I can make it a blog experience. I have never drank Das Boot!”

I started to get really excited about this new addition to my plan. I have always wanted to try Das Boot.

“Oh, that sounds great. Let’s do that!”

On the morning of my birthday I drove to work pretty pumped up about my evening plans. Amy was the first to call and wish me a happy birthday, followed closely after by my grandmother, and Tara. My Facebook exploded with amazing friends that I have made over these past 30 years, and I was overwhelmed by the number of people willing to take time out of their day to make me feel special. Work was rough though. I was really slammed that day, and had a hard time catching up. I have to say that I worked pretty relentlessly, even working through the majority of my lunch break just to get through it all. By 5pm I was the last person in the office (everyone had taken a vacation day or left early) and I was pretty exhausted.

My brother called me up:

“Hey, who is buying the stuff for that pizza tonight.”

“I don’t know Mike.”

“Oh, did you want me to go get it?”

“No of course not, I can go now. I pass a Publix on the way.”

“Oh man Celina, I don’t want you to have to buy your own birthday dinner….”

“No, it’s cool. I pass Publix on the way. Not a big deal.”

So there I was, buying my birthday dinner. New levels of pathetic… Disappointment that I didn’t even realize I had been feeling for weeks built up, and my temper was getting a bit short at this point.

I pulled into my driveway, dropped $35.00 worth of organic pizza ingredients on the kitchen counter, and started getting ready to go to the little girls party.

“Hey Celina…?”

“Yeah Mike, what’s up?”

“You forgot the pepperoni.”

“I don’t like pepperoni! It is MY birthday dinner. Can I please have pizza the way I like it this one damned time?”

“I will make two, but I am not eating this healthy crap you bought. I am going to Winn-Dixie.”

“Do whatever you want Mike. I don’t even have the energy to care anymore.”

And with that, my brother was off to the grocery store to change the ingredients I picked for my birthday dinner. Now, anyone that knows me knows that I am pretty chill. I very seldom flip out, but I was definitely getting to that point, and my brother got a bit of it before he raced out of the house to buy different ingredients.

I started slowly re-applying my makeup; most of it was worn off from my day at work. The little girls party started at 7, and it was already 6:55, but I felt no rush. I had ZERO intention of being on time to a kids party. I thought that I would look awkward if I was one of the first people at an 8 year olds birthday party. Fashionably late is what I was shooting for. My dad had picked up a nail in his front passenger tire that day, so he was in the kitchen waiting for me to drive him. He kept sighing out loud, and trying to hurry me.

“Dad, why are you in a rush? Why are you even going? No one expects you to go to this.”

“Your mother expects me to. Let’s just go. I can’t stand being late.”

“Are you coming to the Willow Tree after?”

“No, why would I go to the Willow Tree?”

“For my birthday beer…”

“Oh, why don’t you ask your brother to go? I am tired Celina, I don’t want to be at a bar all night.”

And with those words, it was officially the worst 30th birthday evening I could have ever imagined for myself.

The birthday party was going to be held at a museum in downtown Sanford. We pulled up, walked in, and the first thing that caught my eye was that there was a huge bar full of alcohol. Why would they have a bar at an 8 year olds birthday party?

And then… SURPRISE!

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My family had thrown me the greatest 30th birthday party that has ever taken place in the history of 30th birthday parties.

 

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My mom is an artist

11406771_10100374182811621_7757355454155117429_nDo you recognize friends from previous posts? Amy, all the way on the left, and Christina, all the way on the right, were both in my first post about karaoke singing. Amy was also in the Rocky Horror Experience. Katie and I rode the sling shot and watched soccer together. Mike was in about 99% of my posts.

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I didn’t get to drink Das Boot as #51, but instead I had my first ever surprise party! It was the greatest evening of my life. I never expected it; I never had any idea at all. And now I am 30. Life is amazing.

I wanted to be like the trendy girl with the red wine and silver balloons when I turned 30. Well, here I am 19 years later, and surrounded by people that I love. My childhood desire to be that trendy lady is not even pertinent anymore. I am really happy with who I am, and what I have accomplished. That’s what it’s about!

The Casino Experience

Cost: $30.00

Remaining Budget: $247.86

My across the street neighbor is a World War 2 vet and an accomplished poker player. When I deployed to Afghanistan I had a TV, Skype, and a Burger King at my disposal. In the 1940’s they had playing cards…That is probably why so many older veterans are amazing at card games. 70 years later and he is still playing, and winning at, casino tables all over the country. He plays poker; his wife runs the slot floor; they always come back with a ton of money. Impressive!

I should have probably walked across the street and asked for advice before my first casino experience, but I didn’t.

11272229_10204236130199089_492293131_nI have wanted to go to a casino for a very long time. I refused to throw away too much money on a bunch of games, so I went in with a budget of $30.00 set. I refused to bend on this. My original plan was to split is up evenly so that I could experience a little bit of everything. Black Jack was what I was most excited about, but I was also interested in the slot machines and roulette. I don’t think that I would actually be good at any of these games, but I was interested all the same.

To do this I had to travel all the way to The Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa Florida. Seriously, that is the closest place. The two hour trip down I4 led to a giant parking garage with zero parking whatsoever in it. It was packed! We had to wait around for someone to pull out before we could find parking on any level of the garage. That is probably because the parking garage seems to be an extension of the party going on within the casino. As we walked across the garage to the elevator we saw people stumbling through the garage drinking beers as if there was no problem with being within the vicinity of your vehicle with a drink in your hand….C’mon now, that has got to be illegal in at least 2 or 3 different ways!

As soon as the elevator doors opened we were totally encompassed in heavy ash tray aroma. Second hand smoke is so nasty smelling! It caught me off guard. I mean I wasn’t expecting it at all. That is probably my only complaint; well, that and the fact that I lost all my money! Where is the comment box?  I have complaints to file!

At first it was completely overwhelming when I walked in. It was a complete sensory overload, and I was starting to feel the excitement really build up. I probably spent my first 20 minutes or so just walking circles around the place trying to see everything. I doubt I saw everything at the end of the day. There were bars, premium rooms, cigar rollers, slot machines, and tables everywhere. Bells were ringing all over the place. Actually, it kinda sounded like an arcade. Imagine Dave & Busters, but waaayyyy more expensive.

11355363_10204236129399069_1787512462_nThe cheapest minimum table limit (smallest bet a gambler can make at a table) I found for Black Jack was actually $15.00. That was out of the question. Like I said before, I was sticking to a $30.00 budget and I refused to go over. That budget would have allowed 2 card games, and I just didn’t see the value in that. I decided to go with slots the entire time not realizing that the low limit slots I was playing ($.01) probably have the worst odds in the entire casino. It is pretty much impossible to win that thing! I really didn’t understand the game either. Is there seriously no strategy? How is that fun? There are all of these different “lines” and the game doesn’t actually cost $.01, it ends up more like $1.00.

I gambled my $30.00 away in penny slots over the course of an hour. Well, I was left with this:

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You know what; I don’t regret a single game! There are probably worse ways to blow $30.00 over the course of an hour if we are going to be honest. I have done it at Dave & Busters countless time, and I only walk away from there with a handful of tickets and a temporary satiation of my skee ball addiction.

I won’t be making a habit of gambling, I would be just as well off throwing my money down a toilet for all I gained from it, but the casino had a really cool atmosphere. I think it is something that everyone should experience at least once.

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The Stray Cat Experience

Cost: 0

Remaining Budget: $277.86

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” -Sigmund Freud

The single cat-lady thing is a pretty established stereotype all around the world these days. An image of an old spinster woman surrounded by dozens of cats was something that I actually used to laugh at. So, when did I willingly become the cat lady cliche? It was May of 2012. I came home from a long deployment in Afghanistan and found that my parents had an adorable kitten living in their house. My dad found her on a construction site when she was just a little ball of black and white fur. She was completely indifferent when she met me, but I was completely in love. That cat has had complete control over me since that moment. The first thing she ever did was scratch my arm and I didn’t even care. Our relationship has not changed in the least since then. 

Fast forward three years and you find me at Spay n Save Sanford learning about TNR (Trap Neuter Release) programs, and fighting for cat rights. There is an amazing woman in our neighborhood that goes out ever single night of the week to feed to stray cats in our town. She also humanely traps free-roaming cats and has them neutered before returning them to their outside homes. This is a great thing for many reasons. For one thing, euthanizing hundreds of thousands of healthy cats every year is simply inhumane. Another reason is that TNR programs have been proven to reduce the amounts of free roaming cats in a community. Right now it is the only effective way to reduce the number of feral cats, and it is also the only humane method.

OKay, off my soap box. I promise not to preach any more today.

What does any of this have to do with my blog? Well, I have taken over cat lady duties for the week! Barbi, the kind woman who feeds the neighborhood cats, is on vacation and asked if I would mind driving to all the colonies at dinner time while she is away. This is definitely a first time life experience that I can get behind and really be proud of. Each day I am having the opportunity to feed about 20 cats, and I am excited to have a direct impact on so many tiny little lives!

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If you look very closely in this picture you will see three cats from my first stop. There are actually about 9 cats at this stop, but they are camera shy. These cats names are Izzy, Bashful, and Ash. So friendly!

Barbi drove me around my first run to the four cat colonies at 8pm so that I could meet all the cats along the way. Unfortunately, the majority of these cats will not come out during the day time, and the only way to meet them is if you travel out at night.

The process is simple enough:

1. Go to where cats are

2. Pour food and water into bowls

3. “Here kitty-kitty-kitty”

4. Leave

This experience is both new and fun for me, but even more importantly, it makes a huge impact on the lives of these cats. This is one of those activities that really makes you feel good about yourself at the end of the day. And the cats appreciate it. Yeah, I know most cats are stuck up, but these cats know better. They lead a tough alley cat life, and they are grateful when you help them out.

I have had a couple misadventures so far. My first day feeding cats I was dressed in dark clothes while feeding a group in the woods. Well, I guess one of the very feral momma cats didn’t see me standing there and I ended up getting body slammed by a tabby cat. She was terrified; I was terrified; it was a mess. I now wear bright enough clothes that I don’t have to worry about getting slammed WWE style by a cat again.

The next day I got a little lost looking for the cats and ended up attracting the notice of a cop. He curiously followed me around for a while. I didn’t want him to find the cats and then send them all to the bad guys (animal services) so I had to drive around aimlessly for a while until he left me alone. I can’t even imagine what that cop must have thought I was up to….I have no doubt that I looked like I was up to no good while searching through bushes for the cats.

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This is my cat!

(I swear that she is not evil…)

Even if you are a “dog-person” (I totally get it because I love dogs too) make sure to look out for the cats. They are being euthanized at an unspeakable rate, and most of them just want a little love. 🙂

The Orlando Eye Experience

Cost: $22.00

Remaining Budget: $277.86

WOOOOHOOO!!!!

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If there was one thing that I have been excited about trying all year, then riding the new Orlando Eye for the first time was it! For those of you not from around here, it is a 400 ft observation Ferris wheel smack-dab in the middle of International Drive. It was modeled after the London and Atlanta Eyes. I remember reading newspaper articles about the construction of this project back in 2013 and thinking to myself that I could not wait to get on this thing. I did get my undergrad degree in hospitality from the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, so the steady evolution of our local tourism industry genuinely excites me to this day. My next obsession will probably be the “Skyscraper” that they are building next to The Eye. That one is going to be a 600  foot roller coaster, but it’s not done until 2016.  For now, The Eye is the tallest thing on IDrive, and it opened this week!!! I took my earliest opportunity to jump on, and I was not disappointed.

 20150508_175830Gorgeous, right? I am in love! As if this all wasn’t great enough, there is even free parking! It is the only free parking on International Drive, and the garage was HUGE. As I pulled into the FREE parking garage my phone started going off. It was my brother, and he was racing from work to meet me at the Eye. I had had no idea that he had any desire to ride the Eye whatsoever. I mean, I didn’t even bother inviting him. He only found out about it because he had called my parents that afternoon, and they mentioned in passing that I had planned to ride the new Eye that night. Well, Mike freaked out, and called me immediately after he hung up on them to tell me he would meet me there. I am glad he caught me in time because it was way more fun with another person.

We were both pretty blown away when we walked through the entrance of this attraction. Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can give this place is that the standard of hospitality at the Orlando Eye matches that of Disney (I even wrote exactly that on my online Google review!). The entire staff was all smiles and helpful.

Speaking of Disney, one thing I thought was strange is that Disney was noticeably left out of the 4D film you watch before you are loaded onto your capsule. Does anyone know why? Message me if you do because it has been bugging me. I mean, they even featured Gator Land at one point… The film was without a doubt the worst part of this entire experience. It was just a long, poorly produced commercial for the state of Florida. I tried to see if I could find a copy of it on youtube so I could show you just how bad it is, but it doesn’t look like they released it there yet. Not surprised. I would be embarrassed to release it too if I were them. Just be prepared for that if you ever decide to ride The Eye.

 After the REALLY BAD ( I seriously can’t express how bad it was enough) 4d “adventure”, Mike and I were placed in a capsule with a family of 6 from Michigan, and one creepy loner guy with a giant camera. He wasn’t creepy because he was there alone, I had been planning on riding along only an hour before, but was very creepy because he kept trying to take pictures of the little family in the Capsule with us.

 

“Would you like me to take a picture of you and your family?”

“No thank you.”

“If you give me your email address I can email them to you.”

“Uhhh…No, really. Thanks.”

It was pretty weird. Oh well, Welcome to Florida! We have some bizarre people.

The first ten minutes or so was really peaceful. We had a “guide” with us, but she didn’t seem to know all that much about Orlando. Actually, she even admitted that she had only recently moved to town for this job opportunity. She was hilarious though! You know who she reminded me of? She reminded me of the actress Emily Bett Rickards. She didn’t look anything like her at all, but they have a strikingly similar sense of humor. It was a sarcastic, self-deprecating humor, but not overly dark or harsh. It was more lighthearted, carefree, and witty. It is actually a perfect humor match for the hospitality industry. She would need that humor once the Michigan kids started using the capsules center safety post like a stripper pole. And the parents just let this happen! Then the screeching started and blah blah blah. I hate kids sometimes. It was a very small capsule to be stuck in with obnoxious stripper children. Parents, take care of your kids! This was like the Bear Building thing all over again.

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Mike took a selfie. At a colossal 6’1″ Mike has long arms. Long arms are optimal for selfie picture taking.

Meanwhile, I look goofy as hell in my selfie. At a squat 5’6″, I have shorter arms and inevitably fail at Selfies.

Oh, and Mike is a professional photographer. That too…

It was a pleasant 20 minutes on the Orlando Eye (kids aside). We had a great view of giant downtown Orlando buildings in the distance, and empty fields up close (Florida is still growing). We were actually high enough to see both Cape Canaveral and the EPCOT ball at one point. That was pretty cool.

I really enjoyed this experience, and I am SO glad that it opened in time for me to include it on this list. If you are ever in the Orlando area you need to check out The Eye because it is pretty awesome.

Here are a few more pictures:

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The Springs Experience

Cost: $4.00

Remaining Budget: $299.86

This is my favorite time of year. I don’t know how to better explain this, but you can actually taste summer in the Florida air once May comes along. It’s kinda citrusy, salty, and warm. It is just an amazing time to live here. Actually…I may have a change of heart in August when it is regularly 100+ degrees out everyday, but for now it is all perfection.

Throughout this year of blogging I have been truly surprised by how many true Florida experiences I haven’t had yet, and I have lived here all my life. Everything from air boat rides to drum circles on the beach are pretty traditional Florida stuff, and I have been pleasantly surprised by how awesome all of these unique local experiences have turned out to be. One of the hot spots that I have been missing out on is swimming the Springs that are found all over our State Parks. I only live about a half hour away from Blue Springs, but I am such a beach girl I always ended up skipping over this trip in favor of New Smyrna or Daytona. Shame on me! The Springs are amazing, and it’s sad that it almost took me 30 years to get out there.

I didn’t really have plans for this weekend, so when my mom called me up at work last Friday and asked if I was interested in going on a boat trip out to the Springs Sunday I jumped on the opportunity. Not only had she found me a new experience for the week, something I have been actually wanting to do for years, but the weather was projected to be perfect for outdoor activities all weekend. I couldn’t think of a better way to pass a lazy Sunday than out on a boat in the St. Johns River.

I headed out to meet the boat around lunchtime at a restaurant in Debary. My parents had taken the boat out early that morning, but I wanted to go to Church and hit the gym before I joined them. The place they stopped at is called the Swamp House Grill. It is kinda Volusia County famous, and has a really fun atmosphere out on the water. It is about as stereotypical as it sounds. The guy cooking burgers was doing it out in the back on a giant grill, and his friend was standing right next to him smoking cigarettes. I was a bit grossed out by this, don’t necessarily want ash in my burger, but I have seen worse in the past so I just let it go. I don’t think the cook was really paying attention at all actually because my burger came out dry and hard as a rock. It was waayyy overcooked even though I ordered medium. Sad day! The food was OK. The location was convenient. I broke my recent no-carb lifestyle to eat a burger. Otherwise, not really all that exciting. The next part is where it starts to rock!

We never bothered taking the boat to full speed because it was such a nice day out. Definitely not a high-speed day. Plus we didn’t want to hit a manatee. That would suck.

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I took the wheel and drove a bit. Aside from my experience as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disney (Yes, the Jungle Cruise has real boats driven by real skippers) I have never actually been behind the wheel of a boat. It was more or less the same as Disney except the St. Johns is just a bit bigger than the Jungle Cruise River. Oh, and the wildlife is not made of plastic on the St. Johns.

Once we tied off our boat at the springs and picked up a few floaties at the gift shop we headed out to the water. So, the water is 72 degrees year around. That doesn’t sound bad, but it is really friggen cold! Like, really really REALLY cold. Your body will adapt to it pretty quickly, but getting in that water was really uncomfortable. Once you conquer that obstacle the next problem (for me at least) is actually getting onto the floaty. I made horrible and embarrassing attempts at this, losing my bottoms on at least one of my many tries. I was surrounded by watching people while I tried to get my act together and sit on the float. I really can never accomplish anything gracefully on the first try, so this struggle didn’t come as a surprise to me or my family. The other problem, I rented myself a child floaty. I grabbed an adult one for my brother, and grabbed a child floaty for myself without paying attention. This meant that once I finally was in the float I had to maintain a crunch position the entire time just to stay inside it. My abs are still hurting…

Once up on the floaty, the water picks you up and takes you on a lazy river ride. The water was crystal clear, and I spotted all kinds of life under my tube. The best moment was the giant fish that seemed to follow my float along the river. They were HUGE!

The park is also home to the historic Louis Thursby House. The house was closed off for renovations, looks like they were rebuilding the entire foundation, but it was still a beautiful site to see from the outside. I think that the sign said the old Florida mansion was built in 1870, right in front of the spring. I can’t imagine how wonderful it must have been to live there.

I really enjoyed this experience. It was AWESOME. I am going to highly recommend this for anyone that hasn’t tried it yet.

Here are my tips:

1. Wear a  one piece swimsuit, or shorts, or anything that will cover your behind if you epically fail at jumping onto your tube like I did, because nothing is more embarrassing than loosing your bottoms in front of a ton of tourists.

2. Wear the dorky water shoes. I had been told that before I even went and I ignored the advice. A decision that I immediately regretted. Seriously, just wear the dorky water shoes because those rocks are like thousands of little knives on the floor of the spring.

3. Save a few bucks and bring your own floaty or noodle! I am taking a noodle next time I go because they are so much easier to get on.

The Scenic Boat Tour Experience

Cost: $12.00

Remaining Budget: $303.86

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I work full time and am pursuing a graduate degree. It can be exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I just need to kick back and unwind a little, so last week I decided to make the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour my activity of the week. http://www.scenicboattours.com/boat-tours 

Nothing says procrastination like enjoying a boat ride through the Winter Park chain of lakes when you have a final due for ENC6306…

It was a hot, I mean HOT, day last Saturday when I decided to go for a ride on the boat. That should shock no one, it is pretty much always hot in Florida, but it seemed especially hot on Saturday. Maybe it had something to do with the sun reflecting off the lake water, or maybe it just really is hot as hell down here 10 months out of 12. Seriously, hot water comes out of both taps in Florida, it is ridiculous.

Ok, so I had a time budget for this entire project. I had a lot I needed to accomplish on this day and I couldn’t really be messing around if I was going to get everywhere I needed to go before the day ended. And it was Amy’s 30th Birthday (Amy from the Karaoke Experience http://bit.ly/1HU3dca) and she was having a party!!!! I DID NOT want to miss that, so I had to jump on this boat and get the heck out of Winter Park.

I didn’t really do much research on it. I just wouldn’t have thought that I owuld have needed to. I have been hearing about this tour from friends and family my entire life, so I thought I had every detail down. WRONG, as usual because apparently the Scenic Boat Tour is a cash only tour. How did no one ever mention that?!?!?!

I made it just in time. The last of their five boats were about to leave the dock and there wasn’t going to be another tour for an hour. I ran up to the window with my credit card in hand.

“Sorry, cash only.”

“Oh, all right. I guess I can just ride the 2 o’clock then. I will go to the bank.”

As I started to walk away he called me back, “Wait Wait Wait, come back! You can ride. Just come back and pay us later. We have a spot on the boat, so you might as well ride now.”

Well, I was pretty darn excited because if I had to wait another hour it would have KILLED my schedule.

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I jumped on the boat and we were off! My initial thoughts were This is Wonderful, but that was short lived. Because I had gone solo, I ended up having to sit next to a stranger. Sitting with strangers is as not as big of an issue for me anymore as it used to be. If anything, this blog activity has made me more comfortable around people that I do not know, but this stranger was yappy. She droned on and on while I pretended to smile, and tried futilely to hear her over the loud pontoon motor. This went on the ENTIRE HOUR. I would love to tell you more about our one sided conversation, but I can’t. I couldn’t hear anything she was saying over the sound of the boat. She kept looking at me expectantly, as if I was supposed to laugh or comment, but I just stared blankly without a clue how to respond. Usually I can guess well enough to play along. Nope, not this time. I have no idea what her lips were flapping on about.

I became good at tuning my neighbor out, and just nodding my head with my eye brows raised (trying to indicate interest through my facial expressions) so that I didn’t appear super rude.

The scenery was beautiful enough to make tuning my neighbor out easy actually. Winter Park is its own world. What an amazing city. The lakes were calm, and we glided through at least five canals while learning the history of the old mansions that sit along the shore of all of the lakes. According to the tour guide, there is one buildable lot of land left on the chain of lakes, and it is on sale for $2.5 million right now. Like, wow… Just for the lot. Wow.

But I totally get it. If I had $2.5 million I might be willing to give every penny of it up for this view.

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Do you think that the neighborhood would have an issue with a permanent tent or trailer on that lot? Because if I am spending $2.5 million on a lot of land, then I probably am not going to be able to do much more than camp on it for a little while….That’s a hefty investment!

One of my favorite moments of the tour was seeing the childhood home of Mr. Rogers. Seriously, I want to be his neighbor… Mr. Rogers has a long Winter Park Florida history. I think he even went to Rollins College when he was a kid. By the way, during the tour we learned that Rollins College is the most expensive private university in the college at a whopping $68,000.00 a semester. Is anything cheap in Winter Park? Probably not.

 Mr. Rogers Childhood Home

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Not too shabby

The Winter Park boat tour was easy like Sunday morning. I mean, I went on a Saturday, but it was as easy as a Sunday. I think it was the ideal way for me to chill out for an hour and take a break from exams. I actually jumped back into my books right after this tour and had a way better focus than I had had all week.

Sometimes when you are really stressed out it is easy to forget to do good things for yourself. I did not want to take an hour out of my studying to do this tour, but would I have been as productive as I ended up being if I had denied myself some time in the sun? Probably not. If you are freaking out about a tight schedule, and you don’t know how to handle it all, then take a break! That is my theory at least. 9 times out of 10 I find that I had more time to spend than I thought I did, and doing a leisurely activity like this every now and then puts a bit of perspective into whatever is causing the stress (grad school).

 

The Rock Climbing (indoor) Experience

Cost: $15.00

Remaining Budget: $315.86

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I have been wanting to go to Aiguille Rock Climbing Gym since I was about 15 years old. What stopped me? Mainly my extreme fear of heights. A fear of falling from heights is one of the most natural and basic human instincts. I suppose it is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is bad because it is responsible for the sick shaky feeling I personally get whenever I am more than 5 feet off the ground. It is good because, for the most part, I think that it keeps humans from doing stupid things like (1) harnessing themselves to a 400+ foot slingshot (2) flying through the air with the greatest of ease on the flying trapeze (3) and completing a 37 foot high free-drop stunt jumps. Well, since I have already tried all of those other semi reckless activities this year I figured that I may as well go ahead and knock rock climbing off my list too. Heck, I only have a few weeks left and I gotta live them up!

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My friend Jessie and my brother joined me on this adventure. One thing I feel like I must say is that rock climbing is BRUTAL! It is a much more difficult workout then it looks like. I was not prepared for that. The staff was friendly and their instruction was helpful, but nothing can prepare you for the amount of strength it takes to be up on top of that wall. I assumed that climbing would be the hardest part, but I was very wrong. I got to the top of the wall pretty quickly, and without my fear setting in at all. Once I got to the top I even pulled my cell phone out of my sports bra and took that selfie you see above. Are rock climbing selfies allowed? Not completely sure. Once I got that picture and looked down for the first time the entire situation changed. Yup, I started to freak out. My brother was belaying me and he had never belayed anyone in  his life, so I wasn’t 100% confident in his ability to keep me alive (no offense little brother). My body started to feel paralyzed, and I could feel myself about to start crying. Since I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on top of that wall I started to slowly make my way down. It took a while for me to reach the bottom, but I eventually got there. That shook me up for a little while. It almost took an hour of belaying Jessie and my brother before I built up the courage to climb again.

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This was not Jessie’s first time rock climbing, so she climbed like a pro.

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My brother is way more athletic than I sometimes give him credit for. That was an advanced wall, and he climbed it in no time at all.

I belayed for my brother and Jessie while they climbed the walls over and over again. They seemed to trust me completely. This made me feel pretty bad since I was freaking out on the rock while they were belaying me. It made me realize that I had been a pretty big jerk for not trusting them at all. It took a lot, but I eventually strapped up and started climbing again. This time I was determined to not freak out at the top though. You see, if you fall while climbing the rock wall you can only get hurt if you are not using the equipment correctly. That’s the only way! Well, we were all keeping focused and checking each other’s equipment for safety, so there was really nothing to fear. Based off of my experience I would have to say that trusting your belayer is the most important aspect of rock climbing, while physical strength comes in a distant 2nd.

I climbed the wall another 6-7 times before we were done for the day. We spent a total of 3 hours at the gym, and we had the muscle stiffness to prove it. It was real fun though. I am glad that I had this experience with my friends. If nothing else, it was a great lesson in trust.

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