Things to Do in Florida: Manatee Viewing Center

When people travel to Florida, one popular activity is trying to spot the local sea life, such as dolphins and manatees. Dolphins aren’t too hard to find. Stand on just about any pier or drive over nearly every bridge and chances are good you’ll spot one or two out in the water. Manatees, on the other hand, are much trickier to spot in the wild.

Manatees are endangered, so you’re working with a small population. It can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. However, manatees are mammals, so they need to stay in warm waters to keep their body temperature up. During the winter months, this means they tend to congregate in areas that typically have warm water. One such place is the Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend Power Station at Apollo Beach.

Manatee Viewing Center
Manatee Viewing Center

Here, water is taken from Tampa Bay to cool one of the power units. It’s then pumped back out into one of the canals, warm and clean. This area is now a designated manatee sanctuary and provides protection from the cold during the winter. When the waters of Tampa Bay get 68 degrees or colder, plenty of manatees retreat to this area.

Manatees
Image via Flickr by USFWS/Southeast

After you’ve walked along the boardwalk and taken some time to watch the manatees roll and play, continue down the 900-foot tidal walk. This boardwalk leads you through the mangroves and out into the estuary where you can sometimes view birds, rays, and fish. Once you walk back, explore the butterfly gardens and head into the learning center to find out more about manatees and how they survive.

Finally, take a hike along the half-mile nature trail out to the 50-foot-high observation tower. Climb several flights of steps and take in the beautiful views of Tampa Bay. Along the way to the tower, you might spot several different species of wildlife including birds, raccoons, and turtles.

View from Observation Tower
View from Observation Tower

Things To Remember Before You Go:

  • Since manatees just need the warm water to survive during the winter, the Manatee Viewing Center is only open from November 1 through April 15.
  • The Manatee Viewing Center is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter).
  • The nature trail is open from 10 am to 4 pm every day, weather permitting (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Easter).
  • Parking and admission at the Manatee Viewing Center are both free.
  • Since manatees are endangered species, it is against the law to harass them in anyway. This includes touching them, feeding them, or riding them. Please look, but don’t touch when observing manatees.

5 Things to Do in Florida Over Christmas

Palm trees decorated with lights and Santa in shorts and a t-shirt. While Christmas in Florida is different than what most people are used to, it has a unique charm all its own. Whether you want to escape the cold and snow, or you live in Florida and you’re simply looking for something new and exciting to do, check out these activities that are fun for the whole family.

Christmas at the Theme Parks

Disney Hollywood StudiosWalt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and Busch Gardens in Tampa all bring holiday cheer to the Sunshine State. Head to Disney where Cinderella’s Castle shimmers with cascading lights. Or, check out a live show of Grinchmas and the classic tale of the Grinch trying to steal Christmas from the Whos at Universal. During the month of December, Busch Gardens transforms into Christmas Town. Guests can enjoy millions of lights, holiday treats, festive music, and special night rides on everything from trains to roller coasters.

Gingerbread House Extravaganza

Every year in Jacksonville, bakers, chefs, engineers, architects, culinary school students, and families come together to build amazingly creative gingerbread houses. From historical buildings to famous landmarks to traditional houses, builders of every age and every skill level make beautiful and edible creations. Visitors can even own one of these sweet treats by bidding on their favorite one in a silent auction.

The Town of Christmas, FL

Every year, thousands of people flock to the post office in Christmas, Florida so their Christmas cards can be postmarked “Christmas”. The town always has a permanent nativity scene and a large decorated Christmas tree up all year. The town is also home to Fort Christmas Historical Park, where a replica of the original fort that started the community stands. The park also has picnic areas, a playground, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a basketball court, and a volleyball court, so you can enjoy Christmas outdoors without all the snow.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest

Even Santa sometimes needs a break from the ice and snow at the North Pole. When he does, he heads to Santa’s Enchanted Forest in Miami. This holiday theme park, which is open from the end of October to the beginning of January, has rides, games, food, souvenirs, and millions of holiday lights. Take photos with Santa, sing along with some Christmas karaoke, and check out the tallest Christmas tree in south Florida.

Nights of Lights in St. Augustine

The oldest city in the nation celebrates Christmas with a festive and sparkly display of lights. Throughout the city, homes, buildings, and trees are lit from the ground up with thousands of twinkling lights. There are many different ways to tour the city and take in all the displays. Park in one of the city parking lots and explore the area by foot. Or, rent a bicycle and traverse the old brick streets. However, perhaps the best way to see everything the city has to offer is to book a tour with one of the buses or horse-drawn carriages.

Even though Florida is known for year-round warmth, these Christmas attractions will help you get in the holiday spirit.

AskAwayFriday with Domain of the Mad Mommy

Welcome back to another edition of #AskAwayFriday. This week, I enjoyed swapping questions with Echo from Domain of the Mad Mommy! Echo has a funny and happy personality that really shines through on her blog as she talks about her adventures of being a wife and mother.

What is #AskAwayFriday? It was created by Penny from Real Housewife of Caroline County and Amber from Bold Fit Mom. Every Friday, two bloggers will swap 10 questions for a fun and unique way for bloggers to get to know each other and make new friends.

Once you’re done reading the questions Echo sent to me, please check out her blog for the questions I sent to her.

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1. I love the name of your blog! Can you explain how you came up with it? (I know, but my readers don’t!)
Gladly! 31 Million Seconds stands for the 31,536,000 seconds that are in one year. I was going through a time in my life when so much was changing, and I was marveling about how much your life can change in just one second, let alone one year. That’s how the idea behind this blog was born!
2. You have two fur babies, what is your favorite thing about each of them?
Callie is my cat and she’s basically my first child. She’ll be 16 years old this year, so yeah, she’s been with me through thick and thin. I love when she jumps up on my lap and curls up to go to sleep. Of course, because she’s a cat, this usually happens at the most inopportune time, like when I’m trying to work or eat.
Pepi is the chihuahua and, well, he barks. A lot. Oh, but you asked for favorite thing? Ummm… he makes me laugh when he’s really excited and tears around the house at top speed (which isn’t all that fast since his legs are about 3 inches long).
3. You are expecting your first baby in June. What has your pregnancy been like so far?
In one word? Stressful. I’m not very good at handling things I can’t control and I quickly learned that you control pretty much nothing when it comes to pregnancy.
4. What are you most excited about when the baby comes?
I can’t wait to ‘meet’ him. I’m excited to see what his personality is going to be like. Will he need a ton of sleep like his mom or be able to get by on just a few hours like his dad? Will he be stubborn like both his parents? Will he have control issues like his mom?
I’m also excited to see what he looks like. Which parts of our DNA won? My hair and his dad’s eyes? His dad’s complexion and my nose?
5. If you could make time move faster right now, would you? Or would you wait it out?
No, if anything, time needs to slow down a little bit. I’m not ready for the baby to show up yet. There’s still so much to do!
6. What is your favorite thing to do in the spring?
I love to enjoy the weather. Springtime in Florida has PERFECT weather. Not too hot, not too cold, and low humidity. If we had weather like this every single day the whole entire world would live here. I enjoy it while I can because in just a few short months it’s going to be unbearably hot.
7. What is your favorite thing to do right now?
Sleep! Although, truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed sleeping. But right now, I’m trying to get as much sleep as possible and I’m trying to enjoy it while I can. I know it’s coming to an end.
8. If you could eat at any restaurant in the world where would you eat?
My favorite restaurant is a place called Columbia Restaurant. They’re a Cuban restaurant that serves great food. They used to have a location in my city, but the building where they were located closed down and they haven’t reopened a new restaurant. They have 7 other restaurants around the state and I’ve been to 3 of them. I want to go to the other 4, not only for good food, but just to say I’ve been to all of them.
9. Where do you see your blog in 2 years?
Hopefully, I’ll still have time to blog and I’ll be sharing the ups and downs of motherhood. I absolutely love to write about travel and I’ve been kicking around the idea of working more travel related posts into the mix, so we’ll just have to see where that goes!
10. What is your favorite movie quote of all time?
True confession: I’m not much of a movie person. Movies don’t seem to hold my attention very well. People will say movie quotes to me, and then look at me like I have two heads when I don’t know where it’s from, even though it’s probably the most popular movie in the world.
That being said, when I’m going through a difficult time, I sometimes picture Dory from Finding Nemo in my head, and I think of her saying, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” And that’s exactly what I do.
If you’d like to join the #AskAwayFriday fun and meet other bloggers, make sure you check out their Facebook page!

AskAwayFriday with Talbert Zoo

Welcome back to another edition of #AskAwayFriday. This week, I was lucky enough to swap questions with a super woman who manages to keep her sanity while raising 5 kids in Chicago. Is there any wonder why Cascia calls her blog Talbert Zoo?

What is #AskAwayFriday? It was created by Penny from Real Housewife of Caroline County and Amber from Bold Fit Mom. Every Friday, two bloggers will swap 10 questions for a fun and unique way for bloggers to get to know each other and make new friends.

Once you’re done reading the questions Cascia sent to me, please check out her blog for the questions I sent to her.

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1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a small rural town in the mountains of Maryland.

2. How many siblings do you have?

None! Yep, I’m an only child. My mother said she decided to stop at perfection but I say it was because she was afraid she’d have another one just like me.

3. I’ve moved a few times and hated living far away from my family and friends.  Recently, I moved back closer to where I grew up and I am much happier. Why did you move so many miles away from your friends and family?

Living away from friends and family really is incredibly difficult. The honest truth is, I moved because I hated winter so much. I lived in an area that got hit pretty hard with blizzards every winter. The 2009/2010 winter was particularly bad. We ended up with a total accumulation of 22 feet of snow. No, that wasn’t a typo. 22 FEET.

We vacationed in Florida at least once a year and I always loved the area where we stayed. My parents were snowbirds, and I remember calling them up after one big dump of snow and saying, “I don’t care what I do, I’m not staying here another winter. I’m moving to Florida.” We ended up finding a retail business that was for sale, and I moved down here to run it with my parents.

4. When did you start blogging?

This particular blog is actually my second one. I originally had one when LiveJournal was a thing. (Remember LiveJournal? Man, I’m dating myself.) I kept that going for a couple years and then slowly let it fade away in obscurity. This particular blog has been in existence since February 2012 (with a couple of breaks along the way).

5. Why did you start blogging?

I’ve always loved to write. Even before blogging, I was the little girl who kept a diary in her nightstand to jot down daily thoughts and happenings. I had two main reasons for starting this blog. I wanted to use it as therapy to work through the pain I was feeling from losing my father to cancer, and I wanted a way to keep my friends and family back home updated on all the changes that were happening in my life.

6. What is one bit of advice you would give to someone who just started a blog?

Stop looking at your stats! When I first started blogging I was obsessed with growth and would check my stats every day to see if I was gaining readers. It really stressed me out. Now, I just write because it’s fun and I feel much better about it.

7. If you went on vacation would you rather relax on a beach or tour a big city?

Definitely tour a big city. I love cities and I find their character fascinating. Each one is uniquely different.

8. Have you ever traveled outside the United States? If so where? If not where would you like to visit?

The only country I’ve been to outside of the US is Canada. I did travel through there very extensively though. But my travel bucket list outside of the US is VERY long. I’d love to see pretty much every European country, Australia, plenty of islands in the Caribbean, and a whole heck of a lot more.

9. What is your favorite thing about being pregnant? What do you dislike the most about pregnancy?

Most favorite: Feeling the baby move. I honestly thought I wouldn’t like this feeling at all and it would creep me out, but when I’ve been awake for awhile and I suddenly feel him move it’s very reassuring. It’s like, oh, there’s my boy. Now he’s awake, too.

Least favorite: First freakin’ trimester. I didn’t really have morning sickness but I felt nauseous 24/7 for about 3 or 4 months straight. I mean, just imagine feeling like you’re going throw up every single day but never actually getting the relief from being sick. Yeah. It was miserable.

10. Quick favorites:

  1. Book – Harry Potter series
  2. Movie – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  3. Food – Mashed potatoes
  4. Season of the Year (Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall) – Spring
  5. Holiday – Halloween
  6. Music/artist/song or genre – OneRepublic
  7. Celebrity – Harrison Ford
  8. Historical Figure – Susan B. Anthony
  9. State in the United States – Hawaii
  10. Animal – Dolphin

If you’d like to join the #AskAwayFriday fun and meet other bloggers, make sure you check out their Facebook page!

A Beautifully Busy Week

I had so many different plans for posts this week, and before I knew it, the day was over. Now, I’ve barely blinked and the week is halfway over. It’s not a bad thing though. I think this week has been going fast because it’s been a good week.

In fact, yesterday was an especially good day. It was my birthday!

Of course, I feel as old as dirt. Does anyone else have to stop and think about how they old they are? I’m at that point. And then, I think I’m wrong. So I do some quick math, and crap, I’m not wrong. I’m really that old.

It was still a good birthday though. I received some maternity shorts and t-shirts (which  I both desperately needed since it feels like we’ve totally skipped spring and have gone straight to summer). However, my most awesome gift was a star.

Literally, I now have a star. My awesome husband bought me star and named it after me! Yesterday, I said I hope I have a cool star that has some planets orbiting it, and I hope if those planets have aliens that they know what an amazing name their sun now has.

Star

Now, I’m hoping things will calm down a little and I can get back to normal life!

A (Sorta) Update to Baby’s Appointment

I say this is a sorta update because I really don’t have much of an update from our appointment earlier this week. The spot is still on the baby’s heart, but the doctor described it as a calcium deposit and said they almost always clear up on their own.

The baby is also measuring a little smaller than normal, but not alarmingly small. With the issues I’ve been having with my blood pressure, I guess that shouldn’t really be too shocking. However, as the doctor pointed out, being small doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. (Maybe he’s just taking after his short mama.)

Andre and I both agreed that the doctors are much more concerned about my blood pressure than anything else. The good news is, my blood pressure has been steadily decreasing at each appointment and at my Thursday appointment it was exactly 120/80. Boo-ya! I’m pretty sure my blood pressure has never been THAT perfect.

So, for now, there’s not much else I can do. There’s no special diet to make the baby grow and no special medication to get rid of the calcium spot on his heart. I just have to sit here and hope for the best. And that kills me. My type-A super control freak personality doesn’t do well when I have no control over the situation. But I guess this is an important lesson to start learning as I start this parenting journey: there are going to be MANY things out of my control and I just have to deal with it.

We did get to leave the Tuesday appointment with a little souvenir though. Say hello to our baby (he’s got his dad’s nose).

3D Ultrasound

What My Unborn Baby Is Teaching Me About Anxiety

Tomorrow, we go see a specialist about a spot they saw on the baby’s heart during the last ultrasound. While the doctor tried hard to reassure us that this usually turns out to be nothing more than a muscle that hasn’t quite developed yet, it’s hard not to stress out.

In fact, this baby has made it super hard to not stress out from literally day one.

The day after I got the positive pregnancy test I ended up coming down with a nasty virus. My fever spiked very high and I felt absolutely miserable. I was able to see my family doctor that day, but because I was pregnant, they couldn’t do much for me. She gave me a small dose of antibiotics, told me to rest, and said do everything I could to keep the fever down.

Here’s the thing about being sick in bed: you have too much time to Google what happens when you’re pregnant and have a fever of around 102. Google always gives you worst-case scenario.

Then, I started bleeding. I Googled that too even though I knew better. I was convinced I was going to lose this baby.

Thankfully, I didn’t. But then I went to my checkups and found out my blood pressure was too high. The doctors started throwing around words like “pre-eclampsia”. Do I even have to tell you that I immediately went home Googled the hell out of that one? I didn’t think so. Someone should really take Google away from me.

Now, we have this spot on the heart. All I can think about is the stress and worry this child has put on me before he’s even been born. However, it has been a learning experience.

I’m learning that I can’t freak out like I normally do. If I do, I’ll be nothing but a constant ball of nerves and I’d probably end up in a fetal position in the corner before the kid even turns one.

24 Weeks Pregnant

AskAwayFriday with This Momma’s Ramblings

This is my first-ever #AskAwayFriday and I was so excited to swap questions with Stacey from This Momma’s Ramblings. What is #AskAwayFriday? It was created by Penny from Real Housewife of Caroline County and Amber from Bold Fit Mom. Every Friday, two bloggers will swap 10 questions for a fun and unique way for bloggers to get to know each other and make new friends.

Once you’re done reading the questions Stacey sent to me, please check out her blog for the questions I sent to her.

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1. What’s one thing you’d rather pay someone to do than do yourself? Why?

Vacuuming! I can handle doing pretty much every other household chore but I absolutely hate to vacuum. I desperately want a Roomba. My mom has one, so I know you have to empty it pretty much every single day to keep it working properly, but I don’t care. I would rather have to do that than vacuum even once a week.

2. If you could go back in time and interview any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

OK, true confession time. This is actually the last question I worked on. I kept coming back to it, but I couldn’t come up with a good answer. And then it hit me: I’m much more interested in simply observing how daily life worked in the past than picking out one particular person to interview.

I think it would be fascinating to see how the ancient Greeks and Romans went about their daily lives. I’d love to watch the Egyptians build the pyramids. I think it would be awesome to be a fly on the wall in Victorian England and I would get some weird fascination with watching the Salem Witch Trials unfold. But in all those cases I would just like to hang out in the background and observe rather than participate. I guess that says more about me than anything else, doesn’t it?

3. If you were given 1 million dollars, what would you do with it?

I’m a saver, so my initial reaction would be to plop the whole thing in a savings account and never touch it. I guess I would use some of it to fix up the house a little, and pay off debt like the mortgage, but that’s it. I would feel so comfortable just living my regular life knowing that money was sitting there just in case we needed it.

4. What does your dream vacation look like? Where do you go?

I love to travel, so this is a really hard question for me. There are so many places around the world I dream about seeing. I think number one on my list is Ireland and England though. Might as well throw Scotland in there since I’d be so close.

I see these breathtaking pictures of the Irish countryside and I want to see it in person so bad. I’d also love to see London, and just soak up all the history in those amazing castles. Yeah, I’d definitely say this is the top of my travel bucket list.

5. I am a super music junkie…What type of music gets your groove going? What are the top 5 songs that are rockin out your playlist?

Music and I have this weird love/hate relationship going on right now. Basically, I love to complain about how much I hate the songs that are coming out today. However, there is one band who I have loved since the first time I heard them and I never seem to be disappointed with a song they release: OneRepublic. Therefore, here are my top 5 favorite OneRepublic songs:

  1. Apologize
  2. All the Right Moves
  3. Counting Stars
  4. Good Life
  5. Love Runs Out

6. Do you have a favorite book that you will read over and over? What is it?

I tend to not read the same book over and over because once I know how a book ends it doesn’t hold my interest anymore. The only book I can really think of that I’ve read more than once is French Silk by Sandra Brown. It’s a mystery/suspense/romance novel all wrapped in one and I really liked it because I thought I had the ending all figured out and then it completely threw me for loop.

7. What type of books are your favorite kind to read? What is your favorite book/author?

Well, as you can probably guess from the previous answer, I like romance novels but I like them even more if they have some mystery and suspense thrown in. Sandra Brown and Nora Roberts never seem to put out a bad book. I also really enjoyed the Suspicion series written by Barbara Parker. Unfortunately, she passed away so it will never get continued.

8. As spring is hopefully around the corner…what are you looking forward to as spring/summertime fun?

That’s the funny thing about living in Florida, the weather we’re having now is probably considered springtime weather (and possibly even summertime weather) in other parts of the country. I keep thinking how nice it will be to take walks outside once the baby is born, but then I remember that he’s not due until the end of June, which means by the time we’re actually ready for walks it will be July and insanely hot outside.

9. I am a lover of tattoos! Do you have any? Would you get one if not?

I don’t have any tattoos although I SERIOUSLY considered getting one when I was younger. I wanted to get my astrological symbol on my back. I had researched prices and designs and was this close to getting one, but pain and I don’t get along very well at all and I chickened out.

10. What dessert will you go for above any else?

It used to be coconut cream pie, but this little baby I’m carrying does NOT have a sweet tooth and he pretty much forces me away from desserts. Right now though, all fruits taste absolutely amazing, so I guess that’s my dessert for the time being!

If you’d like to join the #AskAwayFriday fun and meet other bloggers, make sure you check out their Facebook page!

Florida’s Wild Parrots

On days when I don’t work my regular job and I need to catch up on my freelance writing, I tend to find myself working in the kitchen even though I have a perfectly good office space set up with a desk and a chair.

I think one of the reasons I like working in the kitchen so much is the beautiful and natural sunlight that’s always pouring in. I like sunlight even though it tries to kill me. If I’m closed off in a dark room without any sunlight coming in, I start to feel depressed.

Another reason I like working in the kitchen is because I can listen to the wild parrots that live outside. Yep, that’s right. We have parrots that live in the wild here.

Parrots

People always seem shocked when they find out these birds are parrots. I remember one guy who asked me what kind of bird they were, and when I told him, he seemed completely perplexed.

He asked, “Well, what are they doing here?”

Ummmm… they’re birds, buddy. They just doing whatever in the world birds do all day.

I’ve always loved the parrots. Now, don’t get me wrong. They’re not exactly the prettiest sounding bird here. In fact, when a whole flock gets together their screeching can be a little hard on the ears. But, I mean, come on. They’re parrots. How often can you say you have parrots living in your backyard?

Something I’ve Always Wanted to Do

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with fixing up old houses. When I was a young kid, my school bus used to drive by two old Victorian houses that were side by side and in major disrepair.

To everyone else, I’m sure they were an eyesore, but I dreamed about buying them and bringing them back to life. When other people would look at them, I’m sure they saw the broken windows, white paint that had long ago turned gray and was cracked and peeling, and a collapsing porch. I saw the detailed woodwork, unique architecture, and character that you just don’t see in homes today.

Image via Flickr by frankieleon

I was heartbroken when we drove by one day and I noticed they had started tearing down those houses. Of course, I was still in high school, so it’s not like I could have saved them anyway. The last time I was home I drove by to see if they had put anything where those two beautiful houses had once stood. It was still an empty lot.

When I got older and discovered the joy that is HGTV, I was hooked on shows about flipping or restoring homes. OK, fine. I’m still hooked. I live vicariously through shows like that.

Sometimes, when I’m really bored, I’ll get on real estate websites and look at old homes that need some extra love. I picture how I would redo the kitchens. I imagine what I would keep and what would need completely replaced.

If my dad was still alive I might actually consider tackling a house that needs restored. He was very handy and could fix almost anything around the house. I’m not nearly as handy as he was, and if I ever attempted a fixer upper I would probably have to hire out every single job. I feel like that completely defeats the point, especially if you’re trying to flip the house.

Instead, I’ll continue to watch my shows on HGTV and mourn those two beautiful homes that no one else saw the beauty in but me.