Bluegrass and lions and family – oh my!

Bottles of sugarcane syrup for sale at the Ortonoa Cane Grinding Festival

I’ve borrowed the title from my beautiful and creative daughter Emily – though hers was “Concerts and Lions and Family. Oh my!” Emily spent all day Friday doing set-up and tear-down for the Sanctus Real/Matthew West concert in Ft. Myers and didn’t get home until well past midnight before we woke her up early Saturday morning, dragged her from one side of the state to the other, and subjected her to two adorable but very busy nephews – who adore her, by the way.

We began that trek across the state with Nick and his family, who joined us at the Cane Grinding Festival in Ortona, a tiny community just north of the Caloosahatchee River between LaBelle and Moore Haven.

The annual festival is held in the historic Indian Mound Park on Lake Wobegon amid scenic moss-draped oaks, cabbage palms and clusters of saw palmetto.

We walked through the woods on a short catwalk, watched local farmers grind stalks of sugarcane with an old-fashioned grinder, drooled over the sparkling red strawberries for sale and ate scrumptious barbecued chicken and pork lunches while a bluegrass band kept us entertained. It was perfectly delightful.

Fresh strawberries for sale at the Cane Grinding Festival

More photographs of the festival: Ortona Cane Grinding Festival

The black muck of a sugarcane field near Belle Glade ready for planting and a processing plant in the distance

After lunch, we headed for West Palm Beach around the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee — past frost-bitten sugarcane fields and black muck ready for planting.

Our original destination was the beach on the east coast, but the second wave of arctic air to make its way south this week had lingered long enough to chill the air more than we were comfortable with on a windy beach. So Casey, Jessi and Mason met up with us instead at Lion Country Safari just west of West Palm Beach.

Emily – aka Auntie Em and “minna” – on a kiddie ride with Mason
I’m not a fan of amusement parks, but Lion Country Safari turned out to be the perfect place for two very busy two-year-old boys – and their photography buff “mimi”. After the long ride through the safari part of the park, the boys enjoyed a variety of rides, fed sheep and a giraffe, and could run, run, run while their daddies chased them.

The Hunter men and their families: Nick, Gavin and Kristin — Jessi (and Austin), Mason and Casey
More: Lion Country Safari with the Hunter Clan

What joy it was to be together with Nick, Casey and their families. I have the two most adorable grandsons in the whole world. We just wish the circumstances had been different. Casey’s family flew in from Texas Friday evening to spend time with Jessi’s grandmother on the east coast who had been battling cancer. Unfortunately, before they boarded the plane for Florida that evening, Jessi’s grandmother passed away. Prayers for Jessi and her family are much appreciated.

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