Friday, May 31, 2013

Bay Vista Park

When I was a kid my parents used to take me to this Bay Vista Park. This is where I learned how to ride a bike, roller skate and swing as high as I could to try to touch the clouds.

As a teenager, my friends and I would hang out there with our boyfriends or girlfriends. We carved our names in a picnic table. I remember one afternoon just hanging out on the viewing pier as a teenager with 15 of my closest friends ever just laying on the floor and laughing.

Bay Vista Elementary is where I went to school. The shared name adds a little warm nostalgia for me. It is fair to say that I am very fond of this space.

As for my kids they loved it too. This park is an oasis of South St. Pete as it is located at the tip of the county overlooking water and a perfect view of the Skyway Bridge. My folks are only minutes away so they joined us on this excursion. You can see that both seniors and infants can find activities to do at this park.

There is brand new playground equipment that a very intrigued Lydia inspected. The park has a fence between the parking lot and the rest of the park which provides a safety feature for kids that may run into possible traffic. There is a recreation center that has various activities which did not exist when I was younger making the park seem slightly smaller now than it did then, since there is a good size building at the end of the front of the park. My mom had mentioned several years back that my dad and her were going to take up canasta when they retired and play at that rec center. My dad wasn't into it.

There is a great viewing pier that has always gotten the most delightful breeze. We sat out there for a bit and played a couple of circle games which we have on video. Lydia is a super fan of ring around the rosy at the moment.

After our games and family fresh breeze fun, Eliot and Lydia played in the sand. There is a small beachy area that has a patch of sand and you can play right in a very clear shoreline of water. We brought the sand toys. They made sand sea creatures and captured little crabs nearby.

Our last stop was the boat dock which is always fun because it moves with the flow of the water. It was slightly choppy out there on this day but it added to the fun. Plus it made for a great father daughter picture op.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Maximo Park

Yesterday morning was the morning of all stars. It so was gorgeous we headed on to check out another park. I put everyone in bathing suits because it appeared that Maximo Park in the Southern St. Pete had a play area right next to the water with sand, sort of like a mini beach park. Maximo Park is huge! The primary area I would say is for boaters. There many very nice boat ramps and trailer parking.

Sadly we found the play area was under construction. And though, it looks like it will be a fantastic play area some day, today was not the day. As you can see the picture alone shows this massive area is covered by shade, which is terrific on a shoreline park.

There are lots of picnic shelters and the water is right there but because of the construction we didn't get out of the car with the girls, I can see the water is right there but I am not sure about the sand play area. You can see the Skyway bridge which is definitely a great vista.

This park also has a rare but coveted Disc Golf Course, biking and hiking trails and even a historical area which I couldn't quite find. We will try again towards the end of the summer to see if there are any changes to this facility because the prospects are great. The overall feel of the park is that you are there for business. You are a hiker or biker or boater but not really a hangout location, perhaps that will change one the renovations are complete.
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Ballast Point Park

During my traditional exam period at the end of the school year, I have to be accessible to work and proctor some exams but I have some days off. On this particular day, the girls and I headed to the splash park at Ballast Point Park to meet a couple of friends to a great afternoon of fun. I packed some lunches. The one below is Lydia's. It's a bento lunch knock off but I think it worked. She had cheese, crackers, carrots, cucumber, ranch dressing, blueberries and chocolate graham fish as dessert.
This park is located at the edge of southern Hillsborough county, only a few minutes over the Gandy Bridge for me. It is compacted on the corner of the bay which makes this park breezing and cool even on a 90 degree day as it was on this day.

The splash park has partial fenced in area, really more in order to separate the water space from the other areas that this great area has to offer. As you can see from the picture below, there is a great view of the bay, some shady places to squat and have lunch. There is a small walking pier and boat docks for the water sport enthusiast. There is even a bait shop and small restaurant if you would like to pop in and make a day of it.

The play areas are multiple. There is a 2-5 playground area and a 5 and up area. They are huge, spectacular really. The one for the bigger kids is very elaborate and high. So high that our little ones which don't read the signs of age appropriateness are way to high to reach as they climb. Being as short as I am, sometimes a little nerve racking, but I try to be calm and let her try. Both areas have shade built in, but the park does have plenty of trees  for natural shade if needed.

The day was a splash ton of fun. Even Vivian got into the fun. Though I will say that the splash park itself was a little too much for her baby age. Next time I will wear a bathing suit and sit on the ground with her. Our friends brought buckets and they had a ball filling them up and sticking their feet in them and just spilling them over.

The park also has several picnic areas and a giant gazebo with tables. We took shelter there when it started to sprinkle a little. The larger park area isn't fenced in and it is next to a road which means you have to keep your eyes open. There are restrooms which is a new great thing for me as we continue to potty train. This a gem. Go and enjoy! It is so close to northern area of St. Pete there is no reason not to venture across the Gandy bridge.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crescent Lake Park

Crescent Lake Park is probably one of the most used parks in the eastside of St. Pete. The lake is filled with ducks, a fantastic family of geese, and turtles that were out by the droves yesterday. There is a sidewalk running path which is about a mile and a quarter all the way around. There are tennis courts, two dog parks a little pup and a big pup one, and a baseball diamond. Where you see a lot of action is near the playground and a large open field that seems to always have something going on. Yesterday there was a stroller mom class, people playing freebie, people kicking the soccer ball around and a family flying a kite. The day before we were there, they were filming a movie about bearded men. They host an a semi-annual garage yard sale one of which is in September and several other events throughout the year. It is a hub of activity.

I have written about Crescent Lake a lot over the years. I claim it as Baby Friendly in 2011 and as an asset in the St. Pete versus Tampa in 2007. It was the place Lydia first went to the playground and had a first swing. A place I meet up with friends to chat and walk or watch badminton. It is really is a treasure.

The feeding of the ducks can be a challenge. We have feed ducks at Crescent often. There are lots of hungry birds there including seagulls, lots of them, and what can only be their first cousins these little white birds with orange bendy beaks that are just as pushy and overwhelming. Lydia has gotten slightly more brave but the bread comes out the birds come flying from all over taking food right from the ducks and if the geese are there that is a whole other dimension of intensity.

However, there are a few things that could be a little better. The playground equipment is mostly one big structure that all connects. There are 5 slides on it and really just a lot of ways to get up to those slides. There are some swings and a couple of riding cars. The 2-5 year old area has one baby swing and a plastic blue car; nothing else. The park isn't fenced in which allows for little ones to run a little too far too fast. I wish it had slightly more to do for the kids because we frequent this park so much. The playground is placed perfectly in a shady area which makes it great most of the year.

That being said kids seem to find other things to do in the great outdoors even when they seemingly have limited equipment, whether it's viewing the turtles sun, chasing the birds, making new friends climbing the roots of trees or just being a little silly with old friends.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Little Jaws

One of the things that stresses me out more than anything about being a parent is when my kid does something that is so far outside of the social norm that I cringe with shame. I am working on it. It's hard to compartmentalize to understand that your children are their own people and as they grow older they have the ability to make their own choices. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

I certainly do not my encourage child to smack a kid or bite a child or pull someone's hair, but when she does I feel like the worst mom in the world. I feel like I am being judged and people are saying things about how awful and out of control my kid is. Of course all of that is learned from her  misguided parents that are clearly doing something wrong. The reasonable rational part of me understands that other parents likely understand, but the emotional part of me feels badly.

On Saturday at the splash pad party, Lydia bit someone. It's the first time she has done that. She got mad. I didn't see it happen, but as everything unfolded I heard her name as the biter. I asked her. She admitted to it immediately. She said she wanted her balloon, and though balloons are a high commodity at 2 1/2, it was not okay. She apologized and sat in time out. We talked about why that was wrong. She cried. She sat some more. Later that night before bed, I asked her about it again. She remembered what she had done but I am not sure she really understood that it was wrong. I had the same conversation again. Biting is wrong. We do not bite friends. Teeth are for eating. Teeth are for smiling. Teeth are for brushing. If we feel upset, come find mom.

The lingering fear now is that it will happen again. That this is the beginning of an epidemic. She is starting school in the Fall and I imagine the music track of a horror film with a mini little 21/2  year old Jaws eating all her classmates. How do I ensure that it stops there? How do I know if she really understood? What is that balance between talking to your child about appropriate behavior and giving her ideas? I always struggle with wanting to over do it. Wanting to talk more about whatever the situation is, but having to remember that she is only 2 1/2.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dell Homes Park

We visited Dell Homes Park on Saturday to celebrate a very special little girl's 3rd birthday, Lydia's bestie, Holland. The park is located on the shores of Lake Maggorie on the south side of St. Pete.

It is a huge park with picnic areas and shelters with grills. There is a ginormous playground area that is fenced in. There is every kind of equipment imaginable for younger or older kids. There are fun climbing things and little huts for kids to sit in under the shade.

Litdell Holmes Jr. served as the city's park director for 20 years. The memory of his dedication to the city was encapsulated by this enormous cutting edge park. The quiet neighborhood that houses the park also has a gazebo, fishing pier, putting green and fitness trail.

The park is also the home of the only splash park in St. Pete. The kids loved it. Squirts, sprinkles, showers all over! This is a huge draw to families which was evident on this hot day by the bunches of people that were there today.

It's a great park. The only downfall is that it is THE splash park for the southern half of Pinellas county. And the next nearest one in Pinellas is Largo, or Dunedin. The other option is Tampa. Splash parks are a sort of new hip trend but its a brilliant idea in Florida. Because of the location of Dell Homes I would rarely go there to fight crowds for some splashing, but for those close by it is a really nice recreation area.

At the end of our visit the Polar Cup guy was near our car which made Eliot's day. He loves an icy. I have admit it was a delicious end to a fun hot day.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Pier: Not Stopping the Lens!

All over St. Petersburg people have planted signs in their yard that say "Stop the Lens!" Periodically over the last few months outside of various shopping establishments there has been people asking if I was registered to vote in Pinellas County so I would sign the petition to "Stop the Lens!" For a significant chunk of time, Eliot and I didn't even know what the Lens was and would make a menacing voice when we saw the signs. We looked it up and decided we didn't really care about the Lens and continued with the funny voices mocking the signs propped up all over town.

The Pier is not a historical monument. It wasn't built as a memorial. It was the best idea on the table and opened in 1973. 40 years does not make a reason to keep a structure that is actually sinking for all intents and purposes. The patch of land that holds the pier has held a pier of some kind for a long time, 1889 was the first to be erected. To be honest, I wish the new plan was more reminiscent of that structure than the space aged looking thing that is on deck, but I don't really care that much.

There are some things that define a city that are iconic like the Arch of St. Louis, the Empire State Building in New York, Washington monument in DC, but the pier isn't our thing. For most of my life which began, 1976, only a few short years after this building was built, downtown St. Pete was a high crime, high homeless area of town. That wasn't always the case. My grandmother worked 30 years at Maas Brothers, a beautiful 3 story with a basement elite department store, but the store died with the death of the downtown. So the pier that is there now, has gone through hundreds of vendors and several dozen restaurants. It has an over priced tiny aquarium. Therefore, it isn't our thing. St. Pete has a charm and majesty to it that isn't represented by foe boat building that hasn't really meant much to most people, evidenced by the lack of frequent visits the residents have made there.

I am excited for the opportunities that the new structure will bring. My hope is that it will reflect the growth and prosperity of our current downtown. I hope that it enriches the life rather than posses some small iota of nostalgia. And though I am hopefully for the new, I did want to take a second to appreciate a piece of hometown that has been there since my childhood. I remember that in high school my boyfriend took me there on a date. He was being sweet and a was a little nervous so he accidentally locked his keys in the car while it was still on. It still makes me smile. He wasn't too happy about it. I remember Alessi bakery being there and going with my parents to get ice cream and walk around looking across the Bay.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Albert Whitted Airport Playground

God has blessed our patch of Florida with what can only be described at unprecedented exceptional weather. It has been sunny and warm during the day and down right pleasant some, being me, may even say charming in the evening. In our attempt to continue on our Summer Park Quest we ventured out to downtown. I also wanted to take a few pictures of the Pier before it's flattened which will be the subject of another blog along with the Stop the Lens movement that failed.  Regardless, we ended up at the Albert Whitted Airport Playground.

This playground shares the land on the famous site of the Albert Whitted Airport which is the home of the very first scheduled flight in 1914. This remarkable historical treasure now serves recreational pilots, the Honda Grand Prix,  and the home of the restaurant the Hangar that has floor to ceiling windows allowing for a great view over your meal.  On a corner of the land the created a park with a playground. A spectacular playground with a very fun airport theme. I have to say, Lydia loves the playground, every time we have been there. The mix of traditional elements like slides, swings and climbing apparatus plus the tall watch tower, vehicles to ride and your own flight track makes for imaginative play and an all around fun time.

The playground is fenced in and there are several areas that have shade for grown up or babies. Yesterday we took a blanket and Vivian and I played on there for a bit before she was clearly ready to explore more options. There are two play structures, one for 2-5 year olds and the other for 5-12. Both are in the shape of airplanes.

The view is spectacular with the marina and pier in the distance. At this time of day, it was refreshing to be there. In the middle of the day, the shady areas are quite a bit less shady and the heat is intense, but on this May evening night there were no complaints. Other than from Lydia, who really didn't want to leave.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mindful Moments

Being mindful isn't always easy. I have been working on this quite a bit this year, putting down the cell phone, having the electronics turned off and enjoying the moment. Obviously the most significant moments are with my girls but lately I have been thinking that the moments also include my parents and friends. When the time comes that my parents are no longer here, I can look back and feel that I appreciated the collection of moments that life did give me and the ones with my kids with them.

The challenge is not so easy. I can turn off the physical television just fine, but it's turning off my head or turning off the desire to look something up quickly on the phone that is the hard part. I remember in the 90's when it was okay not to have the answer to something. We could go on with conversation without knowing right then who the lead singer of Wham! was off the top of our heads. We would wake people up before we would go go, now we just send a text before we head out. We have changed culturally. The intention to slow our minds down is a difficult one.

Last night, after we had gone to an appointment, then to swim, back home for dinner, then baths, we had a little time to sit. Together. Lydia was sliding on the couch laughing and Vivian was cruising on the edge. She would pull herself up and walk from one side of the couch to the other trying to catch Lydia. They were both squealing and giggling. I would take these profound deep breaths hoping to use their laughter as part of the oxygen that would pump through my body. Soaking in the moment. Hoping that their silliness would become one of those memories that would flash in my head for ever.

There is literally a difference between how I feel when I am being mindful, then when I am being thoughtless. The Buddhist principle of mindfulness is a practice I share with my students. We take tangerines and smell them. We look at their orange color and round shape. We notice their weight nestled in the palm of our hands. We peal them open and listen to the wrapper of the tangerine being removed and eventually we taste them. Enjoying every second of the tangerine. Thinking only of the tangerine. Until the sweet fruit is gone. I feel relaxed and whole when I do this with my students and fruit, but I feel fulfilled when I do this with my family as they are my very own breath of life.

Thus the challenge is a real one. One to consider everyday. Every moment. Watching them learn. Watching them grow. Listening to their laughter and making it into the life force that resonates within, even when the world surrounds you immediate demands.