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destination: key west

I like traditions. Jeff does, too, so we've come up with a few during our many travels. For example: We always take home a piece of art from the new places we see, and Jeff gets a new sticker for his beloved Yeti. And we always spend at least one night in, eating too much and watching a ridiculous reality television show.

I'm going add one more tradition to our list. Last year, I wrote a poem when we were in the mountains of Virginia. It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment thing, but it ended up helping me remember that trip in a special way. So I figure our other trips deserve poems, too.

Especially Key West.

Close to Perfect, Far From Normal

Our first trip as a family. Vivi's first plane ride. She's greeted with (mostly) friendly smiles. Jeff and I quickly discover that she's the worst possible age for traveling because she's heavy, she can sprint and has no interest in listening to us. We get faster.

We arrive in the key and find a simple, two-room cottage near the shoreline with a bed just big enough for the three of us. There's nothing quite like the look of wonder on Vivian's face as she watches roosters cross the street. She masters their sound by the end of the week.

Our schedule is toddler-friendly schedule: short swims, chasing butterflies in the conservatory, cooling off in water parks, trying key lime sweets, brunch at Sarabeth's (where Vivi demolishes the salmon and cream-cheese scrambled eggs), visiting Ernest Hemingway's house -- for Vivian, his docile cats (all fifty of them) are the best part. I like his lofted study. It's either hot or raining or perfectly overcast, or a mix of all three.

Evenings are spent in Mallory Square watching men juggle knives, balance bikes, and eat fire. Jeff dreams while Vivi naps, drawing up plans for our new house in Kansas. My grandparents lived in Key West for a few years when they were raising their children, and once upon a time I thought I could live there, too. It's that kind of place. It makes you wonder what was and what could be.

Of our seven days in paradise, the best one is spent celebrating Tita and Doug's wedding on the beach, with cousins, champagne, and Cuban food. Later, Vivi naps hard, and Jeff and I finish reading our long put-off books.

It's a bit cliche, but you know it's been a good vacation when you're ready to go home. That means you've spent enough time in the unfamiliar, that you're ready to take on the day to day again. On our last day, we stumbled into an outdoor art gallery and found the perfect piece to add to our collection -- a pair of brightly painted houses shaded under flowering trees, with roosters grazing in the foreground. It became Vivian's favorite new possession for a few hours, and she cried when it was time to pack it up.

She won't remember this vacation, but we certainly will.

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