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Trip to Florida or trip to library, spring vacations are great for kids
By Sammi King | Columnist

Marissa Mirallegro, 3, of Batavia raises her hand with a smile after calling bingo during a game in the children's department of the Batavia library.


Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer, 2008

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Published: 3/29/2010 12:08 AM

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When I was a kid, this was the time of year that I hated the most.

It wasn't because of the snow or the world shaded in monochromatic shades of gray. Nope. I hated this time of year because of spring break.

I learned at an early age that the word, "Florida" was in the vocabulary of many of my elementary school classmates. During February, for those who were planning to visit the sunshine state, the word Florida was dropped more often than pencils on the classroom floor. Florida, the land of pea shaped swimming pools filled with heated water, was a place that eluded me, the child of a divorced mom.

Then one day, my grandfather got a new Impala, a slick, two-toned one with back fins that shot up higher than a dorsal fin on a great white shark. The shiny turquoise and white car needed to be broken in and my grandfather thought it would be appropriate to wrangle that heaping hunk of horsepower by taking it to the land of sea shells and sand.

We were going to Florida.

With the most direct route provided by the American Automobile Association, we loaded up the car and headed south. My grandmother had one eye on the gas gauge and one eye on the restaurants, always on the lookout for a truck stop that didn't attract a lot of truckers, just enough to be good. The front seat gourmand insisted on choosing restaurants with clean windows and no blinds. To my grandmother, that meant a clean kitchen, run by a cook with nothing to hide. Somehow, the offer of good food didn't seem to matter.

My grandfather kept track of the mileage and the gas stops. "Seeing the USA in his Chevrolet" was secondary to how the car performed on the open road. He only used quality regular gas often passing up a Clark station in search of a Texaco. He also made regular glances to the back seat to make sure that sticky fingers weren't putting permanent imprints on the windows or the new upholstery.

While my sister filed her preteen nails my mom and I looked out the windows and marveled at the scenery, knowing the best was yet to come - the warmth of the Florida sun and the spiny shade of palm trees dancing in the ocean breezes.

I had promised souvenirs to all my friends who had thought of me on previous trips and I had saved over $30 to spend on trinkets for many in my fourth-grade class. I even planned to get some candy for my teacher. Anything but salt water taffy. She was a woman who found joy in being able to remove and replace her two fake front teeth. However I didn't want to take the chance that a gift from me would result in those teeth being lost forever in a piece of chewy taffy.

My grandfather passed souvenir stands with such zeal that I thought he just might be practicing for a stint at the Daytona track. My grandmother insisted that I save my money to put in the bank upon our return. The only thing I was able to buy was a wax orange filled with orange juice at Cypress Gardens. Once I had drunk the fresh squeezed nectar I hid the wax orange under the front seat so that I would have something to show my friends.

Our hotel the "Florida Oasis" was far from anything that you would find in the desert since the temperature was 32 degrees. It did have a neon palm tree and a pool in the shape of a pea, but the water was a little green and looked like it was ready to freeze over. We didn't care. We needed our pictures taken in that pool so that we could show our friends. My grandmother talked the manager into letting us take a dip and my grandfather got out the old brownie camera to snap the picture. Then we draped our bodies in beach towels and ran to our motel room for hot showers to remove any toxic algae and restore our body temperature.

I didn't find any good shells at the beach but I did get to ride in a glass bottom boat and later meet my first alligator.

I also had the good fortune to see my first jalousie window.

When we returned home, my grandmother got mad at my grandfather for jeopardizing out safety and taking the AAA route past the Joliet penitentiary. My grandfather got mad at me for stashing a wax orange under the front seat-an orange that melted away into the carpeting. But it was the best vacation ever because the nest year, I could say, "Been there, done that."

I spent a lot of spring vacations at the library, checking out books to read. Now our libraries don't just offer a variety of books to read, they also offer special programs during spring break.

At 2 p.m. today, the library will have a special showing of the movie, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

It promises to be fun, but there won't be any meatballs served.

"We won't have food falling from the sky either," said Joanne Zillman head of children's programming.

According to Zillman, the library has had an increase in family programming with the down economy.

"Normally we have 90-100 families sign up for our winter reading program, but this year we had 151 families participate," she said.

On Wednesday, March 31 at 11 a.m. there will be bingo for ages 3-14.

"Bingo has always been popular," said Zillman. We have small prizes and we make sure that everyone wins."

On Friday, April 2, there is a board game challenge at 11 a.m. and a poetry slam at 2 p.m. in honor of poetry month.

After the programs, kids can wander into the library and discover a world of enjoyment through books. Truly, the best journey of all.