Friday, December 26, 2014

Orange You Glad I Didn't Say Banana Again?

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

If you're not familiar with the title of the post it's a knock-knock joke.

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Banana who?

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Banana who?

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Banana who?

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Orange who?
Orange you glad I didn't say banana again?

And it's completely irrelevant to this post.

Last week we took an afternoon and went and picked oranges at a local grove. Straight off the tree.

We do this every year or two, always trying to go before Christmas because the Pineapple Oranges are our favorite and are ripe in December. This year we tried Arizona Sweet Oranges and found those to be sweet and juicy too.

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

A full five gallon bucket of fresh oranges costs just $13. A five gallon bucket will fill two plastic shopping bags full ... a pretty awesome deal for $13.

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

The oranges are grown organically, without pesticides. Yes, they have some seeds and the skins aren't super duper orange and waxy, but the insides are "to die for" and picking it yourself makes it even more special.

One delightful bonus of orange picking is being able to eat while picking, which makes a visit to the orange grove a little sticky but the kids love just tossing the peels on the ground as they wander about and randomly picking and sampling the many varieties of oranges, limes, grapefruits, and other citruses. Be warned: not all citrus fruits are as they seem, Ian tried a lovely little very orange orange that turned out to be a sour lime.

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

This year at the grove the kids were given Citra Sippers to take home. Apparently, everyone in south Florida but me has a pile of these mixed in with their kitchen utensils. I'd never heard of them. After 30 years in Florida. I guess I've been living under a rock. Sad, because these things are pretty dang cool. All you do is stick the sipper into the top, where the stem was, squeeze the orange, and sip. After enough squeezing and sipping the orange is juiceless and the sipper is happy. Pretty darn cool, and they're causing my stock of oranges to dwindle pretty quickly ... we may just have to hit the grove again before spring.

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

The grove is heavily guarded by Bob, their slightly chubby beagle (there's a picture of Bob here) and the pond in the back has banana trees and a wild alligator known as Hannah, who wasn't visible the day we were there.

So .. we don't get to go out into the woods to pick our own Christmas tree, we can't stick things into trees for maple sap, and we don't go apple picking, but we do get to hang out in an orange grove when it's 80' in the middle of December so I think we're doing alright.

Orange picking in Southwest Florida

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Busch Gardens Tampa Christmas Town

 I received tickets to Busch Gardens Tampa from Sea World Parks and Entertainment in exchange for writing a review on this blog.

 We had so much fun at Busch Gardens that we went back. :)

The only thing missing from our last trip was a chance to see Christmas Town, Busch Gardens' holiday extravaganza with over a million lights and holiday decor throughout the entire park.

While we were able to see the decorations during the day we weren't able to experience the magic of the lights. Luckily, we were able to go back, and to bring Ian and Mia with us now that they're on Christmas break from school. Cassie had to work and couldn't go (bummer!) but it was great having the other five kids there.

This week the park is open from 9:00-9:00 most days this week, with most of the Christmas Town festivities beginning at 6:00 pm, with some things like the Christmas Caroling train beginning earlier. Of course since we'd just been there we didn't hurry to get there by 9:00 ... yeah, right! At 6:30 am everyone was up and getting ready for an awesome day.  We arrived shortly after 9:00 am and stayed until 9:00 pm. Let me tell ya, we got our walking steps in for the day.


No, falling straight down doesn't do it for me. Yikes.
After a terrific day of roller coasters (not me, definitely not my passion), playing, eating, and watching some shows it was time for Christmas Town.

It was amazing. My pictures do not suffice, at all. I did my best but didn't have a great lens (or tripod) for capturing the lights and activity.

I believe every tree in the park was wrapped in lights or had lights hanging from it. Christmas trees were everywhere decorated in every color of the rainbow. In total, over 1,000,000 lights were used to create Christmas Town.

In addition to the lights there was "snow" blowing, specialty shops set up, holiday music, and a variety of performances to watch.

There was also a huge Christmas Tree in Jungala with lights that changed color and flashed to music. While Adam, River, and I watched the tree do it's show four times we missed the marriage proposal that occurred when the rest of our party was watching it (she said yes)!

The roller coasters and most of the rides stayed open at night, as did the restaurants and shows. The roller coaster lovers had a great time riding them in the dark, apparently they are even scarier when you can't see where you're going ... as if they weren't scary enough already!

I can happily say that for this visit, quite unlike our last visit, we had perfect weather. We did bring in our sweatshirts but didn't need them until late at night. Had we wanted to we could have easily rented a locker for the day to store them.

Because we were there all day we opted to get the All Day Dining Passes. They are wristbands that you simply show the cashiers when you get your meals. With the passes we were able to get one entree, one side, and one beverage each time we went through the line. We drank enough water to get our money's worth out of the passes. The passes cost $35 at the park, but they can be purchased online for $3 less.

Christmas Town runs through the end of 2014 at Busch Gardens Tampa and admission is included in regular day admission.

We've visited Busch Gardens three times in 2014, which got me thinking about annual passes. I used to like the annual passes because the kids could play and cool off in the water features all summer long; yes, the younger ones would still like that but now that they're older the kids really like the roller coasters, shows, and animals and they'd be thrilled to go back more than 3 times a year and continue to discover something new each time. We were able to cover a lot of ground during our 12 hour visit this week but there were still things we didn't see (the kangaroos, Sesame Street Safari of Fun) even though we wanted to. After three visits we were not at all tired of the park and would love to go back a few more times ... yes, annual passes would be a very good thing.

Have you been to Busch Gardens Christmas Town? What were a few of your favorite things?

Going to the Birds

Because I'm Me bow and neck tie

Such sweet ties, check out these and more bird themed ties in the Because I'm Me shop.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Love

Check out these handsome gents in their Because I'm me red plaid ties.

Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful images with us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Tie Ordering

It's too late to order for US Christmas delivery. Buy now and use coupon code PIN10 to save 10%

Working around the clock to get all orders out as quickly as possible!
US orders can be still be sent for Christmas delivery.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What do you love about Christmas?

New ties have been added to the shop, including these gorgeous gray on black medallion print cotton ties.

The kids had to write a Top 10 list of things they love about Christmas. I thought I'd do the same, given that it's the middle of this awesome month of December and the holidays are fast approaching.

1. The tree. I love our Christmas tree. It's overfilled with ornaments, most of which have memories attached to them. Each year each of the kids get an ornament from Santa, so each year 6 new, special ornaments are added to the tree. The kids are the ornament hangers at our house while I'm the unwrapper. We have some fun disco globe ornaments leftover from window displays at Ditto Kiddo, as the kids put those on the tree they have to sing "ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive, staying alive", how can you not have fun decorating with that kind of silliness going on?

2. Christmas lights. On houses, stores, light posts, other trees, boats, campers, whatever. They're beautiful.

3. Baking cookies. We do less baking at Christmas than we used to but we still make enough types of cookies to have a great deal of variety on the platter after Christmas dinner. I remember baking with my mother when I was little, then picking the cookies and arranging the tray for our big family get-togethers. I love that that's something my children now look forward to and that we do together.

4. The music. Once Thanksgiving is over I'm all about the Christmas music.

5. Our annual tradition of visiting The Holiday House in Fort Myers.

6. Business is good, very good. November and December are good months for my shop, I like that very much.

7. Christmas dinner. I love big family dinners - not big foodwise but big people wise. The more the better. Pre-divorce we had meals that filled both our dining tables (each seats 12) as well as a small kids table. I loved it. Now our meals are smaller, there will just be 9 or 10 of us this Christmas, but equally as wonderful once the conversation and love start flowing.

8. Christmas Eve Church. Even though Silent Night on Christmas Eve always makes my cry a little (no idea why, but it always has) I love going to church on Christmas Eve. It's so peaceful and filling.

9. Christmas morning with the kids. The morning starts with them waking me up, then I check to see if Santa has come and take a picture of the kids at the top of the stairs. They come downstairs and whoever find the pickle ornament on the tree hands out the gifts, which we try to do slowly ... organized chaos is the goal. After that we enjoy a cheese danish and some eggnog before the new gift exploring begins.

10. Celebrating the birth of Christ. Understanding that the real meaning of Christmas isn't about getting gifts and commercialism, but instead about rejoicing in the birth of Jesus.

What's on your list of Christmas loves?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Busch Gardens Christmas Adventure

 I received tickets to Busch Gardens Tampa from Sea World Parks and Entertainment in exchange for writing a review on this blog.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

The other morning, bright and early, we - Adam, Kaden, River, me, and a family friend - headed up to Tampa for another visit to Busch Gardens.

Before leaving the house I checked the weather report - partly sunny and 75. Not "hot" to us (please don't throw things at me), but warm enough that we all thought we'd be fine in shorts and tees. By the time we got to Tampa it was drizzly and about 63 but still the forecast said 70's, so we pressed forward. As soon as we got out of the car I started digging for a sweater or jacket; it was chilly! As soon as we got into the park I bought River a sweatshirt (for just $12.50 - very reasonable for a very nice comfy, warm sweatshirt). By the end of the day I'd bought Adam and Kaden sweatshirts as well. It never got over 65 and it rained until after 3 pm.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

We had so much fun! Let me tell you, if you ever have the chance to go to Busch Gardens Tampa on a cool, drizzly day go for it. Really, go. There were no lines for anything. The park wasn't empty, by any means, but was so perfect crowd-wise (probably not great for Busch Gardens, but great for us!). No long waits, no peering around people to see things - the park was just so relaxed and comfortable. I'm not sure if it was the weather or if it was because it was a Monday, but it was a perfect day for Busch Gardens. Other than planning ahead and dressing more warmly our day couldn't have been any better.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

I opted to visit Busch Gardens in December so we could see all the Christmas decorations and lights. Busch Gardens celebrates the holidays with Christmas Town, evenings of lights and activities throughout December. We happened to visit on a day that the park closed at 6 pm and Christmas Town wasn't open, I'd like very much to go back and enjoy the events and lights sometime as the employees we talked to said it was wonderful and well worth seeing. Even without Christmas Town the decorations were stunning. It was a perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.

On our last visit to Busch Gardens we made a counter-clockwise circle from the entrance but ran out of time and were hampered by rain before seeing and doing everything we wanted to so for this visit we traveled clockwise.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

Our first stop was the Bird Gardens and Walkabout Way, a wonderful kangaroo habitat. The kangaroos were like adorable, loving puppies, begging for chin scratches. We listened to one of the animal caretakers tell about the kangaroos and also watched him give a few of them bottles of apple juice.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

After leaving that area we heard music, followed it, and found a show going on at Sesame Street Safari of Fun. River enjoyed the Sesame Street Christmas Show, Elmo's Christmas Wish, and all three boys liked the climbing treehouse and play elements. Had there not been roller coasters beckoning I think we may have stayed there all day.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

The roller coaster riders among us, Kaden and a family friend, couldn't wait any longer so we moved forth to Stanleyville and Sheikra, the Stanley Falls Flume, and the Tidal Wave. River and I rode the log flume, which was the highlight of the day for me. He's a funny kid and he made it clear he wasn't overjoyed that there were two drops, one of which was kind of big, that no one had warned him about, as much as I wasn't too sure about the big drop either I was way too busy laughing to worry (and he's agreed to go on it again next time).

Next we visited the tigers in Jungala, as well as the Treetop Trails. When River was a baby he and I would spend hours in the tot water play area while the big kids played in Treetop Trails, this time he was off with the big kids. I couldn't help but reminisce about all the fun we've had at Busch Gardens over the years.

Adam always requests the Bumper Cars. Always. We spent a long time there, as always. The roller coaster riders ran off to ride Kumba a few times (again, no lines) while Adam and River practiced their crashing skills. I can say, without a doubt, that the roads will never be safe with them on them.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

Lunch was next, in the Pantopia Grill. We managed to time lunch perfectly and caught the Christmas Celebration show, with singing, dancing, Santa, and gigantic inflatables. Lunch itself was really good, the kids had kids turkey sandwiches which came with fries and applesauce, and I had no problem substituting steamed veggies for fries for the non-fry eater. The kids meals were about $6 each and included a drink.

Falcon's Fury followed. Kaden decided to pass on this one, even though he'd been talking about it for months and the ride is new since our last visit. Our friend went on it alone and lived, which was all the proof Kaden needed ... he rode it and loved it. Falcon's Fury is the tallest free-falling drop in the United States and, apparently, it's a lot of fun because the guys went on it again. And lived to tell about it, again. I'm pretty sure they'd have done it a few more times if we hadn't been moving on.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

Off to see the animals! My favorite part of Busch Gardens.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

The animals were followed by a relaxing train ride around the park, traveling through the Serengeti Plain. The round trip train ride lasts about 35 minutes and is a great time to get a little rest and "reboot" for the rest of the day. Our "conductor" was a lot of fun and his commentary made the ride even better. As you can see from the image above, the boys were ready for a little down time; they were then ready to go again at full speed as soon as we got off the train.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

After completing our train adventure the roller coaster riders rode a few more and then we took in the Christmas on Ice show, which was beautiful. There were some amazing skaters in the show, including a young girl, and the show was really well done, with pretty costumes and lighting.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

Our last stop for the day was one more show, Christmas from the Heart, a very spiritual, moving show and a perfect way to end our visit at Busch Gardens.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

One thing we noticed throughout the park and in all the shows was the Christian aspect of Christmas that was presented. There was a nativity scene crafted from living plants and each show contained at least one song about the birth of Christ. We noticed other little touches as well, and we appreciated and respected the park's desire to share a little faith-based Christmas love and to be true to what they believe.

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

The Christmas from the Heart show brought us back to the beginning of the park. We were able to do everything we wanted to do throughout the entire park and we were able to ride every ride at least twice and we saw four shows. I don't think we could have possibly asked for any more than that! The kids had a great day and are are asking if we can go back NOW.

The only negative, from any of us and it was from me, was that Christmas Town wasn't open and we didn't get to see the Christmas lights. I've heard such wonderful things about it and it sounds perfectly magical. Of course, we have until the end of this year to go back for that and we just might have to!

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014

Right now the Busch Gardens 2015 Fun Card is available and is good today through December, 2015, giving you the rest of this month for free (and a chance to visit Christmas Town).

Have you been to Busch Gardens Tampa lately? Have you ridden Falcon's Fury? Have you visited Christmas Town? I'd love to hear about your Busch Gardens visits and experiences.

Oh, and by the way, I'm on the nice list. :)

Because I'm Me, Busch Gardens Tampa, December 2014