Sunday, December 26, 2010

Serious Overdose

Is it possible to overdose on chocolate? I'm considering the possibility that it is indeed entirely likely.

Here in this house it's always feast or famine when it comes to that dark, creamy brown stuff. Either I have it in the house in obscene abundance, or I have none at all for months at a time. I made a quick trip to Walgreen's a couple of weeks before Christmas to buy some non-Christmas related items but walked out of there with a trove of chocolate goodies: Mint M&M's, Ghirardelli chocolate squares in several flavors, and the ever-popular (at least in this household) Ghirardelli peppermint bark....two bars!

Then a week later, in an attempt to capture that elusive holiday spirit, I made some strawberry cream cheese sugar cookies with dark chocolate drizzle.

This emboldened me to attempt a very good recipe given to me by a friend: Toffee saltines with dark chocolate. I gotta say these are my all-time favorites, far surpassing previous favorites and holiday "staples" that have long held onto their spots on my "favorites" list, such as gingerbread cookies, Spritz cookies, and those powdered sugar 'snow balls' my mom made so well.

I gave away a little plateful of my cookie creations to a neighbor last week, thinking, "Good! Fewer cookies for me to eat!" But then she showed up on my doorstep with a little reciprocating plate of some ridiculously decadent dark chocolate bark containing M&M bits and dried apricots.

So began the "feast" portion of that "feast or famine" syndrome I seem to suffer from.


It is now the day after Christmas and the strawberry cream cheese sugar cookies are mostly gone. Thankfully. The chocolate-covered toffee saltine cookies are still in abundance in my fridge, however. The plate of my neighbor's dark chocolate bark still sits here mostly untouched, despite how decadent and delicious it is.

As to all of that store-bought high-end chocolate: The Ghirardelli mint chocolate squares and caramel chocolate squares are gone, but the raspberry chocolate squares sit unopened on a shelf of the pantry, and may continue to do so for months. The bag of mint chocolate M&M's are gone but the bag of cherry chocolate M&M's are unopened and don't even tempt me anymore. But those two Ghirardelli peppermint bark bars?? Well, let me just say that at least one of them has "football bowl game" written all over it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Well-Meaning Folks - Running Chronicles

Admittedly, much of what I have to say today has to do with where I live: In an over-55 gated golf course community, perfect location for a runner whose ambition and obsession seem to baffle the rest of the residents. In the mornings, when I head out for a run, I meet armies of walkers and bicyclists and dog-walkers, all with cheery greetings of "Good morning!" I can assemble a variety of running routes with only minimal repetition (at most, two) to achieve the long distance miles needed to train for a half-marathon, even a full marathon.

So it's to be expected that I'll hear some well-meaning but misguided comments from my neighbors, most of whom are older than I am - some much older - and for whom a 1 mile walk is "serious exercise."

"Can I give you a ride?" This comment came from a kind and friendly older resident in our enclave. She was heading toward the Carriage House (our large and beautiful community center) in her golf cart. It was raining, sometimes raining very heavily. I was in mile 8 or 9 of a long run and was totally soaked but thoroughly enjoying myself. I love running in the rain. "No thank you," I responded. "I appreciate the offer, though."

"How many miles will your next marathon be?" This was asked of me by a very nice fellow while we were standing back-stage during rehearsals for the musical South Pacific. My neighbor had shared with the group that I ran marathons and half-marathons in response to a compliment one of them had paid me for being so slim and fit at an age old enough to collect Social Security. This question always gives me pause to consider how to answer nicely. "Well, a marathon is always 26.2 miles."

"We just added the new Jane Fonda "Walk" workout DVD to the library. You should borrow it, it's very good." This was offered by a nice older woman after I exited a stall in the ladies room at the Activities Center, mid-point in one of my long runs. Seeing my sweaty attire, she asked if I had been using one of the treadmills in the fitness center and I replied that, No, I'm not using the treadmill, I'm running outside. This is what solicited her well-meaning yet persistent suggestion regarding the Jane Fonda DVD. I politely thanked her for that information as I washed my hands and splashed water on my face, and then headed back outside to finish my run with a smile of bemusement on my face.

"I bought you some chocolate to reward yourself." A fellow neighbor was backing out of his driveway as I ran by and we waved. He returned about half hour later and saw me still out there. About 30 minutes later he headed out for another errand and passed me again as he exited the enclave. When he returned from that errand, he passed me yet again. At this point his curiosity got the better of him, so he turned around and, as he approached me, powered down his window and asked, "How many miles are you running?" To my answer he replied, "You go, girl!" and, rooting around in his shopping bags, came up with a Hershey bar and insisted I take it as my reward. I thanked him but had to decline, as I had nowhere to put it while I finished my run.

And then there's the priceless comment made at a recent get-together of fellow MTF members at this year's Founder's Feast: "Never ask a skinny runner if a place is within walking distance."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bald Eagles and Key Lime Pie

Another absolutely terrific Wizard's Wild Weekend is now just a memory...but what a really great memory it is!

My trip to Florida, using up another excess week of time-share, was carefully planned to coincide with Wizard's Wild Weekend, a get-together assembled by LD rider Kevin Healey and held at Cedar Key FL the first weekend of December. This year's was the fifth annual event and we were blessed with perfect weather.

The timeshare unit at Marriott's Sabal Palms was just about the most luxurious unit I've encountered in all my years of timeshare ownership. It was equal to the unit I had at The Ridge in Sedona for opulence and luxury.

But all good things must come to an end, and on Friday I packed up the bike and departed Lake Buena Vista, aiming the bike toward Gator Joe's on Lake Weir enroute to Cedar Key. A fellow MTF member sent me a most excellent route to get me to Gator Joe's, a route which had plenty of curvy, hilly roads and not much traffic. Perfect!!

Our group pretty much took over Gator Joe's, totally overwhelming the two wait-staff and probably sending the kitchen into a tizzy, despite Kevin's having called the restaurant a few days earlier to give them a heads' up. I had a most excellent crawfish chowder with a hunk of some of the best cornbread I've ever eaten. Very soon, though, the parking lot emptied out and many bikes headed northwest toward Cedar Key and the weekend adventures.


Compared to the luxury of the Marriott Sabal Palms, the "condo" at Cedar Cove in Cedar Key was a little run-down at the heel but clean. I got checked in, unpacked the bike, and then headed toward the dock in search of a sunset view. In a couple of hours our group would be getting together for its first meal of the weekend: Dinner at The Rusty Rim.

I met up with a small group of MTF folks and we sat and chatted for an hour or so before it was time to walk across the dock street to the restaurant. It was here that I learned that I'd been elected to break a land speed record in the 350cc class. !!! More on this in a later blog (maybe).

It was a nice-sized group taking up nearly every available table in the upstairs dining room and I had a good-sized plate of fried scallops. I also had the opportunity to tell my "mudslide" story (Mud Slide) to the group, under the category, "Incredibly stupid things we've ever done on a motorcycle."

I love coming to Cedar Key because it offers yet another opportunity to get a long run in, along roads that are quiet and mostly free of cars. This is a rarity when I'm traveling. It really breaks up the monotony of doing those long runs on the same ol' roads back home. So Saturday morning I got 6 miles in, running along 2nd Street to G Street then north and west along some nice rolling hills formed by ancient indian shell mounds. Cedar Key State Park is along the way and, if it's open, gives me a bathroom and water break at mid-run. My original plan was to do 9 miles, but I swapped the running schedule around a bit to get those 9 miles in the day before leaving for this trip. This uncomplicated things a bit for me, not needing to wear a hydration belt or bring carb gels along.

My return run route brought me right by Annie's for breakfast, where I joined a few of the latecomers and had an English muffin and coffee. I returned to the hotel - stopping briefly at the little market to buy bananas - just in time to get cleaned up and walk over to the dock area where a few dozen of our group were staging in preparation for their lunch ride to Horseshoe Beach.

Me?? I'm opting out of this lunch ride, having eaten enough in the last 24 hours to hold me over for days. There is such a thing as TOO MUCH FOOD!! Besides, I wanted to wander over to the artist coop and spend some money. I love this little shop and always buy a few small items while there. It's become a tradition for me.

Kicked back, lazin' around town a bit, I wandered into one of the nicer little restaurants on the dock, the Pickled Pelican, thinking I'd get something light for a late lunch. Oysters! I had a half dozen raw oysters last night with my dinner and am now craving them again today. Then a slice of key lime pie for dessert.


The riders started returning from their lunch run and I met up again with the same little group that feel I'm the ideal rider to break that landspeed record on a vintage Honda CB350. Yeah, right. As we sat outside on the dock chit-chatting, my friend Steve came towards me like he was on a mission. Actually, he walked past me, heading directly for the little bar Coconuts on the first floor of The Rusty Rim. He was headed for the outdoor deck in the back, about the best place on the dock to witness the sunset. We ordered beers and sat out there until the sun went down and I was shivering from cold.

Dinner this night is at the restaurant Seabreeze, on the other end of the dock, so I walked over there and joined a group already seated...a great group of riders and just plain great folks. And a good meal, too...butterflied shrimp and field peas.


I wanted to get on the road fairly early Sunday morning, but when I awoke at 5:00 AM I knew just how early I would be getting on that road. Light misty rain and some foggy patches greeted me as I pulled out of the parking lot at 6:45 AM in the dark to head towards home. With such a good early start, I might as well ride straight through towards home, not stop for the night as originally planned. So at some point along the way I would need to call the hotel and cancel my reservation.

After being on the road for about an hour, I was riding up US 19 when I spotted a very large brown bird on the shoulder. As I got closer, it leaped into the air, spreading its wings and lofting up toward a tree nearby. It was then that I got a very good view of its white fan of tail and white head. An American Bald Eagle!! Very cool! And so close! Where's that camera when I need it??


The further north I got on US 19, the colder it got. I stopped to put on my electric jacket liner as I passed through Cross City. At the junction with I-10 I got gas and, as I pulled out of the station, friend Steve rode by on his unmistakable yellow Gold Wing. I mentally wished him well on his ride up to north of Marietta GA, as he has no GPS. (I later learned that he also lost power to his Gerbing heated gear and heated grips).

Somewhere along I-10 west of Tallahassee I stopped at a rest area so that I could put the quilted liners into my riding pants. The cold was a damp chill that seemed to be permeating all of my gear and was challenging my heated jacket liner. Temps along the panhandle never got higher than 48 degrees, sometimes dropping lower as the road dipped into hollows in the terrain.

I pressed on across the panhandle and stopped in Milton for gas and to call the hotel to cancel, as I was certain at that point that I would make it all the way home - all 875 miles - in one day and sleep in my own bed that night.

In Gulfport, MS I stopped again for gas and had a quick burger for lunch. It's not warming up at all! I had hoped that as I headed west it would get warmer, but no luck. A gas stop in Rayne LA and next thing I knew, I was riding across the state line into TX. Only 100 more miles and it's just getting dark. But....bummer!! Traffic was coming to a complete halt and I was now trapped between Jersey barriers and in among a few 18-wheelers!

We crept along, stopping, going 20 feet, stopping again, all the way to just east of exit 873 in Orange. This was very ugly for me, as the darkness, the brake lights, the headlights in my rearview mirrors were all very disorienting. At one point, the 18-wheeler to my left slowed down enough to create a gap which allowed me to slip over to the left lane. Thank you!! I think he did it just for me. Once I got in front of him, he and a truck in the right lane fell back, creating a rolling roadblock of sorts, giving me some breathing room and reducing the glare of headlights in my mirrors. Again, Thank you! as I feel they were doing it to help me out. It took me 35 minutes to go 6 miles, according to the GPS.

Once we merged into one lane we came up to where they were resurfacing one of the two lanes on the overpass. That's it. All of that stop-and-go for 6 miles just to get past this little merge and bottleneck. Once past this, traffic was wide open and I could fly to my next and final gas stop in Beaumont. Whew!! On the home stretch!

Nothing is sweeter for me than to come home from Wizard's Wild Weekend every year, turn the corner on to my little cul-de-sac to see all of the houses brightly and colorfully lit up with holiday lights! It happens every year. Leave in the dark, return to festive brilliance!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Could Get Used To This

An embarrassing glut of timeshare weeks have accumulated and now I'm concentrating on chipping away at this glut by incorporating stays into my motorcycle travels whenever I can. When I can't do that, I just pack up the car instead. So, for 2010, I've managed to use up a week visiting Sedona AZ (in May), Lake Havasu City (in early November), and now Lake Buena Vista, FL this week.

I'm in a very nice timeshare unit at the Marriott World Center Resort, in Lake Buena Vista, FL. It's a very well-appointed 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom unit with full kitchen, large living room, screened-in lanai, and absolutely decadent master suite. The linens on the beds are exquisitely luxurious, and the master bathroom...oh, my! Giant walk-in shower with multiple shower heads and one of those really cool rain-shower overhead shower heads. Flat-screen TV's in every room.

A friend joined me on this trip, taking advantage of the spare bedroom/bathroom and the opportunity to meet my friends and fellow MTF riders.

When we arrived here Monday late afternoon we unpacked the bikes and ate dinner at one of the many resort restaurants. Returning to the unit, there was a giant frog just hangin' out on the railing on our front porch. Awesome!

A nice 3 mile run the next morning, even though it was warm and humid, got the day started well, after being folded up on the bike for 1,000 miles. Breakfast'ed, showered, caught up on emails, and the first order of business this day was to solve an electrical problem on my friend's bike: His heated jacket liner wasn't heating up and swapping out the controller did not solve the problem, so obviously a wiring problem.

That problem now solved, we geared up and headed out to the Walmart to stock up on some groceries for the week. While eating at the resort restaurants is tempting, it's also very expensive. We had fun cruising the aisles trying to put together a few meals for breakfast and dinner and getting some lunch items just in case. Fortunately we both ride bikes with lots of luggage space and we divvied up the groceries between the two bikes and headed back to the resort to unpack the goods and then chill out for the afternoon. We'd had a couple of long riding days to get here so we deserved it.

Steaks, baked potatos, tossed salad and wine for dinner that night.

There are quite a few MTF members located in FL, and one of them called a ride-to-eat (RTE) for Wednesday at a place called Cherry Pocket Steak & Seafood Shak [sic] on Lake Pierce, near Dundee FL. So today we headed south the 37 miles to meet up with a group of MTF'ers for lunch. The weather was glorious today. Sunny, dry, cool in the 60's. Ten of us showed up for lunch and we all sat outside on the deck to enjoy a great lunch and some good visit time.

Tomorrow we may ride up to St. Augustine, get a FL national park stamp for me, which will finish up my fifth IBA National Park Tour, and my friend can get his Senior Park Pass.