"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Visit to The Swampland

This. is...MIAMI
(Bonus points to those who know what song that's from!)

Aka The Endless Flat Swampland.
Fan boats, anyone?

On Black Friday we boarded a plane to The 305: Miami, FL. One of Charles's close cousins was getting married on Saturday and we had made plans to be there for the occasion.

As usual where Charles's family is involved, it was quite the adventure.

I worked the day shift on Thanksgiving and finished the day so wiped out that I cancelled plans to go to a friend's house for dinner and drinks and just dragged myself home, where Charles made picadillo (ground beef, Puerto Rican style, with rice) for both of us before he had to go to work himself.

I crashed at 9:00 pm to wake up at 6:00 am so I could go check on Lily before the trip. I discovered a puffy left hind leg fetlock (I swear she has a different swollen leg every week, always due to some cut or scrape). She was not lame at all and the fetlock didn't seem to bother her on palpation. I couldn't find a cut/scrape anywhere, so I gave her some bute, swapped her midweight blanket for her lined sheet, which I knew she'd live in for the next 4 days (it would be in the low 40's during the day, high 20's at night), set up her grain/forage/supplement baggies for 5 days, and took off to go home and shower so Charles and I could be on the Metro by 11:00 am.

Hanging out by the run-in storage area while I set up her baggies. :)

This is why Canadian geese are so unique.
Look very closely at this photo. Some of them are IN the water...some of them are ON TOP of the water!!
THEY CAN WALK ON WATER!!(Ok, part of the lake was frozen. But still...how cool is that?)
While on the Metro, we discovered something absolutely amazing...something SO 21st century that our jaws dropped...something that we never would have discovered without smart phones...

Electronic boarding passes!!! 
(Sorry guys, we hadn't been on a plane in 4 years...we're behind on the technology).

Which meant we arrived at the airport 2 hours before our flight, and with nothing to do except kill time.

We walked around the entrance to our terminal and took our sweet time deciding where we'd have lunch. We discovered a place named Cosi. The food was so, so, so good...

Adobo Chicken with Avocado Bowl

Charles checked out the drinks menu, but 1 beer = the price of half a six pack.
He decided to not get a drink after all.
Charles had his sights set on Panda Express, which was after the security checkpoint. He kept hoping I'd leave some of my food, but I scraped that bowl clean. Mmmmmm....

Stations for charging all the things!

Charles and the iPad.

Another charging station.
Hanna Barbera never imagined this when they visualized the 21st century in The Jetsons.
I fought for the window seat, so I was able to take these photos for y'all.

I was pretty impressed with how much everything has changed in 4 years.
They now have these little screens where they play movies, TV shows, and the mandatory flight security film before take-off.
Peanuts on the plane are now $5. This is what Charles thinks about that.
At least they're good brands??
The Potomac!
DC from the air.

The Jefferson Memorial in front of the Tidal Basin
(the little white square building with the long rectangular pool of water in front. This is where we went to see the cherry blossoms in spring of this year.)

Curve of the earth and lens flare.

I heart that river so much.
I hate selfies, but here's a creative one.

Rain in the distance above the clouds. Interesting.
I love flying. As a kid I used to dream of having wings.

2.5 hours later, we landed in the Endless Swampland. 

It was 74 degrees, humid, as usual. The Miami International Airport was a clusterfuck, as usual. The airport is huge, is constantly getting upgraded, and could stand to have better labelling. It took us a minute to find the way out!

Miami airport.

Charles on the phone with his parents, trying to figure out where they were outside of the airport, and where we were inside of it, so we could all meet up...

Charles's parents picked us up; we'd be staying at their house in Fort Lauderdale.

We were taken to Charles's brother's house first so we could see the nieces (Charles's brother, Xavier, has two daughters; one is two years old and the other just turned 5 months old) and some of our friends from the area. 

Xavier sells auto parts for a living, but he has a couple of side jobs. One of them is picking up clunkers at auctions, fixing and pimping them out, then reselling them. 

We were going to a local BBQ place, Scruby's, to meet up with Mark, Dianne and Diana, my friends from the barn in South FL. Xavier let us borrow his current project car, a 2010 Nissan Altima that "survived" Hurricane Sandy. It's still a work in progress.

Meet Destruction!!

This car has some serious superpowers...

All of them.
They stay lit up, too.
Other special superpowers:
1. The passenger side door wouldn't open. Which meant I had to jump into the backseat so I could get out of the car. Or exit through the driver side door.
2. We were told to never, ever lock the doors upon exiting the car or otherwise we'd never be able to get back into the car. We were welcome to set the alarm so at least we'd know if the car was being stolen...
3. The grip on the gear shift was optional.
4. The transmission was having a party.
5. The gas gauge was accurate. Hey, at least one thing told the truth, right?
We made it safely around the corner to Scruby's to meet up with our friends.
Me on the left (duh), Diana in front of me, Dianne next to her in the middle, and Mark.
Mark was my #1 trail buddy on his QH Beau, whom Charles would borrow every once in a while to ride.
Diana is my FL bestie. We boarded together at two different barns. We became best friends when she arrived at the barn where I had Cloud. She was 7 months pregnant at the time. I shared my feed/tack room with her, and took care of her Percheron/QH mare, Bali, the first three weeks after she had her daughter. She was just one of those people that you're drawn to, you know? I remember the first time I laid eyes on her, thinking, "I REALLY want to be friends with her!" She had the same reaction. It was friendship at first sight. She followed me to the barn where I kept Lily at much later. It would not have taken her so long to move if the BO at her barn (the rescue) hadn't been such a PSYCHO. Diana was the last boarder remaining when she finally lied about putting Bali up for an off-property lease (she actually posted ads on several websites to make it seem real!), packed up her things and Bali and left.
Dianne is one of the most hard-working women I have ever met. She took over the barn after Judy hightailed it out of FL for Michigan. Her and Mark have been friends for 20 years; Mark helps out with the harder physical labor around the barn. Dianne is the owner of the fabulous Pink that I mentioned in my Best Rides Ever question. Diana and I hung out during the week when we stayed late at the barn after work to clean stalls. We got creative when we really wanted to hang out outside of the barn - grocery shopping after barn chores was one thing we did together. We also went to Chili's a lot because her brother was the restaurant manager and would get us free drinks. Mark and Dianne were the ones I hung out with on the weekends - after morning chores and riding, we'd go out to lunch together to have BBQ and to Kohl's to shop their sales. I am incapable of walking into a Kohl's, listening to country music, or seeing a BBQ joint without automatically thinking of them. 
Mark goofing off.
I heart them.
These people are my barn family, my best friends, the best thing other than our wedding, my career and my horse that I got out of the 6 years living in South Florida. It was a big deal to be able to see them during our visit. We all still e-mail and talk on the phone often. 

We stayed talking and catching up until Scruby's closed for the night. Then we moved out to the parking lot, where we took some more photos while repeatedly saying good-bye.

Mark was so serious.
With the two Dianas.
With my bestie.

I don't remember what Charles was saying but I finally got one of Mark laughing.
He has the best laugh!
Charles and Mark are good friends. They were always up to no good, as you can tell by their faces. Haha!
I miss them.

Diana was going to try to meet up with us wherever we ended up. She had met the in-laws when we were packing for our move North.

Destruction got us safely to the in-laws' house after that.

The next day, Saturday, was the wedding day. We had Cuban coffee made by Charles's dad, and breakfast at the house - turkey and cheese sandwiches made with pan sobao. You have not lived until you taste pan sobao. It is the softest, most delicious bread (it literally means "rubbed bread"), and you will only find it in Puerto Rico. It requires a special oven to bake; you won't find it anywhere in South FL. The in-laws had a couple of rolls of it thanks to the cousins and family that had flown in from the island for the wedding. 

We then went over to the Fort Lauderdale Beach Sheraton to help out with the wedding preparations. They had everything under control and flowing in a timely manner, so Charles and I caught up with some of his family, then went upstairs to his cousin Bea's (the bride) room, where the entire bridal party was getting beautified for the wedding.

Charles and all of his cousins were born within the same 10-year span, so they are all very close. They also all happen to share the same adventurous spirit. I love hanging out with them because there is never, ever a dull moment! They're very open-minded free-spirited people with a knack for getting into trouble. The perk of being grown-ups now is that, as long as the trouble is legal and not life-threatening (of course), no one can really tell you, "Don't do it!" Case in point: we talked about choosing the music for the introduction of the bridal party during the reception. Bea decided she wanted The Imperial March, and we were all laughing at the idea. Bea was completely relaxed, at ease, and having a ball with her bridesmaids (all of her best friends from Puerto Rico!)

After visiting with Bea, Charles and I escaped down to the beach for a quick walk by the ocean.

Ready. Set. DROOL!
The beach was gorgeous.
And you think this is pretty? You haven't seen Puerto Rico's beaches.
They set the bar way, way high. There is nothing like them in the continental US.
We always liked Fort Lauderdale Beach, but give us our island's beaches any day.
I always have to run by the shore when I first meet with the ocean again.

Happy feet.
Don't envy us too much. See those clouds rolling in? This was the last bit of sun we had all weekend.
"Sunshine State" my ass.
He was trying to see the phone to take the pic despite the wind blowing hard in our faces.
Poor Charles ended up being everyone's Everything Holder for the weekend...you'll see what I mean.
We returned to the hotel ballroom where the wedding reception would be held to continue catching up with Charles's family. I don't know about you guys, but I always enjoy seeing how other people plan their weddings, and Bea, Charles's cousin, had some made some really beautiful and unique choices.

Bea lives in VA with her now-husband. Like Charles and all of his cousins, she was born to Cuban parents in Puerto Rico. When Charles was a kid, he thought all children were born Puerto Rican and became Cuban when they grew up. His whole family on both his mom's and dad's sides are Cuban expats that moved to Puerto Rico when Fidel took over.

Bea wanted to have the wedding on the beach in Puerto Rico but due to some complications with logistics, it was decided it would be easier to have it in Florida, where a similar setting could be found in terms of the beach and weather.

The ceremony was supposed to be outside by the ocean, with the reception to follow in the Sheraton's small ballroom overlooking the beach. If the weather was bad, there was an area inside the hotel where the wedding itself could be held instead.

There was one hell of a view from the ballroom.
Check out the palm trees - the wind REALLY picked up once Charles and I were back indoors.
The bride and groom's table.
View from the dance floor.
I lovelovelovelovelove this!!!
And this!
Write a message on a piece of paper for the bride and groom, and put it in a bottle!
The cake.
The storm. :(

We returned to the in-laws' house to get ready for the wedding.

Like I said above: hate selfies, but I had no intention of being at a standstill later that night and wanted you guys to see The Dress. I LOVE this dress!! Originally purchased for my brother's wedding 4 years ago. It was the last one in the store, in my size and the price reduced enough to make it within the budget at the time. I have never seen anything like it before or since. The colors and the shimmer of the fabric make it look like water when you move.
The ceremony ended up being indoors after all. All of Bea's family was Cuban/Puerto Rican, while her husband's family was North American/Russian. A very interesting mix of cultures. Bea and the hubs have been living together for a couple of years now, so they each know what they're getting into!

The rain had stopped by the time the ceremony was over, so Bea was at least able to have her wedding photos taken outside on the beach. We all went with them.

The sign in context. Inside the red chiffon baggies were flip-flops for everyone!
Each person picked a baggie and swapped out their nice shoes for flip-flops to wear on the sand.

The pool by the beach.
Below are my cell phone photos, taken at the same time as the rest of the fam and the photographers.
Bea being Bea, and everyone laughing with her. :)
Hubs :)

The stormy ocean was a gorgeous background for the photos!!
This was a cute photo.

Love their mutual adoration :)

Hubs gets carried too!
Charles, and his opinion of being a pack mule. Lol
My shoes in the red baggie, my purse on his back, and Leanne's (another cousin) purse on the other arm (she was in the bridal party.) The camera on his finger belonged to his aunt. Yup, the Everything Holder.
The wind was insane!
He was afraid of stepping on the dress accidentally.

The photographers dressed in black, taking the official wedding pictures.
The reception was AWESOME. Charles and I were the first on the dance floor and we continued dancing until our feet couldn't take it anymore. 

(And regarding the background music for the entrance of the bridal party, Bea ended up not using the Imperial March after all; she used Pitbull's Give Me Everything instead.)
Bea had the best bridesmaids. Whenever she was on the dance floor, they were there with her, surrounding her, celebrating her happiness with her.
Charles's brother, Xavier. He was supposed to be getting a picture of us...
And we danced...

...and we danced...

...and we danced!

And then we danced some more!

And then the family joined in on the fun
(that's Leanne, the cousin whose purse Charles was carrying earlier, in the red dress, and his dad peering behind us.)

And this is what happens when you have 50 Puerto Ricans and Cubans together under the same roof: insanity! :)
We had such a great time!!

That's Charles's eldest niece on the left. The family is multiplying. Charles pointed out that history repeats itself: all of the cousins are having their babies within the same time frame. The little ones are all around the same age (1-3 years old right now) and are already best friends!

And then the pleneros arrived!
These are the songs of my people. Please listen! This is our version of carolling. It's not Christmas in Puerto Rico without a parranda! (Go to the link for a very good explanation of what a parranda is.)

The song is "Ya Llego La Navidad" = "Christmas is Here!"
This one is a classic.

The group with the Panama hats and instruments are called pleneros, performing plena music. Plena music is a modern version of bomba - plena instruments are more portable, allowing more spontaneity so that this kind of event (the singing at the wedding) can occur. Bomba is THE oldest Puerto Rican music - it is our heritage from the African slaves from over 500 years ago, and it's still alive and well today. Puerto Rican children are taught to dance bomba y plena in school; I learned in the third grade. The beat of the music runs in our veins and is brought to life by the beat of the drum and the panderetas

This is one of my favorite plena songs.
It's called La Pelua, which literally means "The Hairy One". It's a really fun song where the group forms a circle and people are called out to dance the La Pelua dance in the center of the circle. The focus is usually on the girls and them showing off their moves, but guys will often be called in to the center and it's always hilarious to watch them improvise. Sadly, Charles failed to film the guys that were called into the circle to dance at the end of the song!

It's not a parranda without a snake dance!
The bride and groom were dancing.
Even those that chose to not dance were playing instruments from their seats!
The table center pieces: beautiful!
All danced out.
And no, I don't have a foot fetish! Haha.. But I give thanks to my feet for not complaining when I run around on them for 12 hours a day at work, for keeping my weight in the irons while riding, for being able to carry me over 10+ miles if I want /need them to, for letting me dance for 5 hours nonstop.
The in-laws stayed to help clean up after the reception, so none of us left until after midnight. We all slept like babes that night. Charles's parents were getting up early to go to church (they are Catholic and fairly active in their community church. Charles and I are spiritual but not religious, which has always been hard for them to understand. When we lived in FL we'd go with them to church for special occasions to make them happy, but it's just not our thing.) Charles was able to bow out of it, allowing us to sleep in until 10:00 am, which is unheard of for me especially - I'm usually up and at 'em by 8:00 am at the very latest on my days off. 

Charles had been feeling funky the day before - on and off headache and nausea, and no appetite whatsoever. He didn't eat at the wedding reception, but he felt okay enough to dance. On Sunday I woke up with a splitting migraine. It was hard to open my eyes in the morning, it hurt so much. I don't get migraines. I just don't. So this was epic. (And no, I wasn't hungover - I'd only had a half glass of red wine all night and ate well.) I dragged myself out of bed, happy to discover that Charles's dad had left some coffee made for me, and had two cups with 800 mg of ibuprofen, and the migraine subsided somewhat, but it was still hard to keep my eyes open from the pressure. 

I'm pretty sure the migraine was a result of this:

More rain. More stormy weather. More low pressure system.
When the in-laws returned from church, we all packed ourselves into their car for the long drive to Wellington to visit another one of Charles's cousins. 

I had a weird sense of displacement. I had no sense of direction when we lived in South FL due to the flatness and sameness of buildings from one area to another if you threw me in an area I didn't know, or if I arrived at a familiar area from a different route. But the Turnpike was the route I took everywhere and I realized I knew exactly where we were without looking up. (There is almost always traffic on I-95, the alternate route everywhere. South Floridians are stingy and they'd rather sit in traffic than pay the tolls on the Turnpike.) We drove past the exit to our old neighborhood and I had a pang - I hated South FL, but I loved the townhouse we lived in, the neighborhood, the little mall within walking distance (with its World of Beer! It was our hangout on date nights), and the barn less than 2 miles away. I found myself falling into old thought patterns, "I have to do Lily's stall after all this," and shaking myself awake to the present. 

The cousin we went to visit in Wellington is named Hector. Hector is the twin brother of Charles's closest cousin. Judith lives in Germany with her hubs, while Hector moved to South FL from Puerto Rico a year ago. His wife was pregnant when we moved to Maryland, and we finally got to meet their son, who is now 10 months old! Man, time flies.

The in-laws stayed in the house watching over the baby while the three of us went to get lunch to-go at La Granja. We all ate at the house.

The day continued to be dreary.

The weather got worse as the day went on, and my headache continued on and off. At least Charles's appetite was back, but he was having body aches. I don't know what weird bug we picked up on this trip. I'm still NQR and Charles has had what seems to be a mild cold.

We stopped by the Sheraton to say good-bye to all the family that had flown in for the wedding, and from there went to La Carreta, a Cuban restaurant, to meet up with a family friend for her birthday celebration. We were still stuffed from La Granja, but you can't say no to plantain soup and mariquitas.

aka homemade plantain chips.
Cubans call them mariquitas, Puerto Ricans call them platanutres.
Mmmm...can't. stop. eating!

And the desert at La Carreta is amazeballs...

It probably doesn't look appealing, but that's cuz you don't know what it is.
This is called natilla catalana. Aka creme brulee over a layer of pound cake. That top layer is crunchy caramel.
(Ok, I shared with Charles's mom. BUT NO ONE ELSE! Haha...)
We talked, laughed and had a good time. 

Then we returned to the in-laws' house to pack. Because we had not stayed in one place for long and the plans were constantly changing, Diana had not been able to meet up with us, but she will hopefully be coming to visit before the winter is over!

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:50 am Monday morning, but we were leaving through the Miami airport, which meant we needed to be hitting the road before 7:00 am if we wanted to have time to spare.

On Monday we woke up to another cloudy...foggy?...day. It's never foggy in South FL, but it sure was the day we were leaving. 

Foggy South Florida is foggy.
And rainy.
We made it to the airport with time to spare, and got in line for the security check.

Thank you technology for electronic boarding passes. It took us an hour to get through the security check. Miami International Airport continued to be as much of a clusterfuck as it always is. Here's proof:

They finally got three officers working at the beginning of the line, and things started moving along.
These three were very pleasant, but a lot of the other airport employees we encountered were being downright nasty to other people for no good reason. That's the general South Florida attitude for you. Our friends and family there are amazing people. But the rest of the people in that part of the state are just mean and rude in general.
The line behind us.
We had breakfast from Starbucks and I got a cortadito from Versailles. Versailles is an awesome Cuban restaurant on 8th St (the famous Calle 8) in Miami. They have a little booth in the American Airlines terminal at the airport, mostly selling just pastries and coffee (the restaurant sells Cuban food in all its splendor.)

A cortadito is hard-core Cuban espresso served in a short cup with sugar and just enough milk to lighten the coffee. This stuff will wake you UP!
If you ever order one in South Florida, let whomever is making it add the sugar and milk, especially if they're Hispanic. They always get the sweetness just right!
And then we were on the plane, and within no time we were riding the Metro home. The cool crisp air up North was a welcome change to the muggy Florida swamp air. I felt 75% better and my head cleared instantly the minute we stepped off the plane. 

He looks adorable in his winter clothes.
We unpacked, ate, and Charles took a nap while I went to the barn to see Lily and squeeze in a quick trail ride with Kathy and Queenie before it got dark! The perfect ending to a very fun trip!


  1. WOW! What a fun trip and oh my gosh, your dress was stunning. I am so glad you had a good time and congrats to Bea!

  2. You and Charles looked so good together at the wedding. The dress was unbelievable and you looked so happy and beautiful. (I wondered where you were for the weekend, since you hadn't blogged.) The ocean made me sigh (I've never seen the Atlantic ocean, but the sight made me miss the Pacific.)

    We danced in our chairs to the Pelua, which my son loved. I've always wondered how my life would be different if I had grown up in a household with music. I didn't dance before I was in my late twenties and have never felt comfortable moving to the music. It has been an experience to have a child who is so music focused (plays the trombone, loves music, beatboxes, sings all the time) when music has never been a part of my life. I covet that.

    I wish we had the little bottles and notes at our wedding. What an awesome idea. Hope you had a great time. Looked like a party.

    1. Oh I'm so happy you and your son enjoyed La Pelua! Your comment made my day. :) Charles got those two video clips for me specifically so I could share them on the blog.

      I can see music not necessarily being a part of someone's life growing up if your parents don't play the radio all the time-I hadn't thought about that before until reading your comment. My family was huge on music; there's soft rock in the background in my earliest memories, especially songs like Bertie Higgin's and Kenny Rogers, which my parents loved. When we moved back to the island, my aunts played a lot of 60's and 70's music on the weekends when we were all at home, especially The Beatles, alternated with records by Spanish singers like Chayanne, Ednita Nazario and Ricardo Arjona. We were exposed to traditional music in school and of course just being on the island at Christmas time. And then when I was in college I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar...it was so, so hard! Having always drawn and painted, and coming from a family involved in the arts, every other form of art had always come easily. Not music. I still enjoy listening to it, but have a new appreciation for just how hard it can be!

      One of my uncles started out like your son when he was a child and retained it as he grew up. He's one of those gifted people that can pick up any instrument: piano, guitar, drums, bass, and just start playing, without having ever taken a lesson in his life. It's a true gift. It's wonderful that your son has it! They've found a direct correlation between being good at music and being good at math.

  3. Dat food! My mouth is watering sosososo bad. Damn you. And I was getting an absolute kick out of all the middle fingers from a certain someone! LOL

  4. Looks like so much fun, and the FOOD! AH! Also, that dress is amazing! Love!