Sunday, December 25, 2011

Rainy outside....cozy Christmas inside

This is the time of year when damp, chilly days replace "hot and humid" in Houston.  Very often it's the norm for Christmas day.  Certainly this was true this year.  The rains moved in the Friday before Christmas and stayed with us all weekend.  But the rain is most welcome here in parched, rain-starved Texas.

Saturday I thought would be the perfect day to turn the oven on and start baking.

It made the house feel so good and smell so wonderful that I followed up with a pork loin roast in the oven and had a grand dinner Christmas eve.

As I was shuffling cookie pans in and out of the oven I remembered the little Jack antenna ball I'd purchased on my way home from Florida a couple of weeks ago.  It was in the center console in my car so rescued him and added him to my Jack ball collection.  This one is especially cute...a little elf, pointy ears and all!

Christmas morning should have been a long run morning for me, but the cold rain was a big deterrent and I finked out.  Just means I'll need to get it done on Monday.  Instead, I lingered over a pot of good coffee and moved a couple of laundry loads through the washer and dryer. 

Then I headed over to visit stepson Bruce and his family for the afternoon.  Two of his three daughters were there, along with their husbands.  One of the daughters has two adorable little girls.  The younger one greeted me with a "knee hug" and proceeded to show me all of her new things and those of her older sister. 

We visited over cake, and I got a little bit of lap time from one of the little girls, while the other, older one shyly told me about her play horse and about the Christmas lights.  I pulled out my cellphone and showed her some horse photos I'd taken in the past. She's definitely into horses right now!

The day is almost over, I'm watching Going My Way with Bing Crosby, and in another hour, I'll watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Dangling Carrot

Always looking for ways to motivate myself out the door, the distance to McDonald's is about 3.6 miles.  And it's all on beautifully new, safe sidewalks.  It's an easy target to aim for and this morning seemed like the perfect morning to reach for that carrot.   Cool and foggy...very foggy.  Damp and drizzly.  The perfect morning to reward myself at the far end with a McDonald's holiday drink.

What will it be?  A peppermint hot chocolate?  A caramel mocha?  Or maybe a peppermint mocha?  I thought about this the whole way there.  The fog was ridiculous!  Visibility was - at best - 100 yards, and in some stretches it was much less than that.  It plays tricks on a runner.  Accustomed to judging distance by landmarks up ahead - mostly those key "landmark traffic lights" - I was running "blind" for much of the outbound leg.  But I knew that I had that reward waiting for me...eventually.

When I finally arrived at the McDonalds I was feeling righteous and opted for a plain cappuccino.  No high-calorie, delectable peppermint or mocha drink for me this time.

While waiting in line to order, a man turned to me and asked if I had been running.  I love it when this happens!  Turns out he just ran the New York City Marathon, and we talked about that a bit, and he encouraged me to apply.  "You simply must do it once, while you still can."  I told him I was a bit intimidated by the logistics of the event, but he assured me it was easy, although his describing it to me didn't sound easy at all and was about as involved as I imagined it would be.  Well, anyway, it was an interesting and nice chance encounter. 

When I stepped up to the counter to order my drink, it was the same nice woman who was there the last time, the one who made the comment to me about my running and who said that I made her feel guilty, that she should be out there running, too.   I remember making the observation in a previous blog entry that she looked like a runner, so no doubt she meant it.  Well, this morning, when she took my order, she didn't take my money, so I thought, she'll finish ringing it up once she's made the drink.  But she returned with it, handed it to me, and said this one was "on her."  Oh, my!  I thanked her profusely and wished her nice holidays.  That was so nice!  And she didn't need to do that.

I half ran, half walked those 3.5 miles back home:  Run for a bit, slow down to a walk to take a sip of the wonderful, foamy cappuccino, then run a bit more.   It didn't even matter that it began to rain lightly as I ran along...the warm and welcomed drink was carrying me along toward home.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Back to Panama City - Back to Old Friends

Last March I came to Panama City and spent the week leading up to the IBA party in Jacksonville.  It was a great opportunity to meet up with a long-lost high school friend and to reconnect after many, many years (story here:  2011 Panama City Visit). 
It was such an enjoyable time, I made plans to do it again this year, staying at the same Marriott Grand Vacations resort as last year.  A bonus week through Interval International made this possible.  It dovetailed very nicely with my weekend on Cedar Key. 

I decided to take US 98 from US 19 in Perry, and was nicely rewarded by great views and quaint towns along the coast...Carrabelle, Apalachicola, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach.  Some of the inspiration to take this route came from Alan Leduc's new book, "Passion in the Wind."   I served as his editor for this book and, as I read his description of riding this road, I was struck by how much of Florida I still had not explored despite having lived in this state - two separate times - and having visited the state countless times.

Being in a car this time, rather than on the motorcycle, greatly streamlined the process of stocking up on groceries and getting to the resort.  On the bike, I'd had to check in, unload the bike, then suit back up again to head to the grocery store.  I was checked in, unpacked, and settled in by 4:00 PM.  Nice!  The resort is, as always with Marriotts, quite comfortable and luxurious.

While I was on the road, enroute to Cedar Key, Alan had emailed me all of the InDesign files for final edit and review, one for each chapter of the book, with the plan to have all of the editing completed and files to the printers by the end of the week.  Therefore, my top priority for Monday and Tuesday was to work my way through all 16 chapters of Alan's book and have the editing complete by Tuesday night.  This is a process I enjoy and I appreciated the excuse to relax in comfortable suroundings for a couple of days after being on-the-go quite a bit the last four days.

Monday afternoon I made contact with friend Sandy, and we made plans for the balance of the week.  I spent most of that day working on Alan's book.   Tuesday late morning I took a little break from editing and drove over to St. Andrews State Park and walked out onto the piers and enjoyed the views before letting the GPS lead me to Schooner's right on the beach for some fried oysters and a beer.  That afternoon I returned to finish the book chapters and to send Alan my own personal congratulations on his job well-done along with lyrics to a song that I thought he would enjoy.

Wednesday morning I got a nice 3 mile run in and then cleaned up and drove over to Pier Park to meet her for lunch.  A nice bowl of crab and corn chowder, then a stroll through the shops and a cappucino at Starbucks.    Sandy then had me follow her to the house she shares with her mom, so that I could visit with her mom, who I haven't seen in decades!  She's chipper and reasonably spry for her age and we did some reminiscing and got caught up with each other's lives.

When I returned to the Marriott, I had an email from Alan, sent to all on his private book-update distribution list, letting us all know that the book was official done and the files had been delivered to the printer's.  Excellent news!

Thursday I totally chilled out and did absolutely nothing.  Good for me!  But on Friday morning, I got up, braved the cold temps, and got a nice 5 mile run in.  By the time I'd finished, the sun had warmed things up considerably.    That afternoon, I met Sandy and her sister Marcia at a convenient point enroute to the historic district of St. Andrew, and I parked and locked my car and joined them in theirs as we headed for an early dinner. 

I've been craving oysters on the half shell ever since I arrived in Florida a week earlier but have had no joy finding any.  I have eaten more than my share of fried oysters this week, but nothing beats large, moist, succulent and slightly salty oysters, topped with horseradish and slurped off of their shells.

They took me to Hunts Oyster House, the perfect place - rustic, well-worn, and efficient.  When we arrived on the waterfront, there was a small open air market underway and we browsed the vendors a bit, I bought a very unique book and chatted with its author for a bit.   It was then time to cross the street to Hunt's before it got too crowded.  We found three stools at the bar - exactly what we'd hoped for - and proceeded to eat ourselves silly, stuffing ourselves with oysters.  The two young men doing the shucking were pleasant and efficient, as they placed a tray in front of me and proceeded to place the oysters on the tray, one by one, as they shucked them.  Can't get any fresher than that!  They were large and juicy...and they really hit the spot!  After eating a dozen raw oysters, I ordered a half-dozen baked.  We each had a glass of pinot to wash it all down.  

There's a pretty park just down the street called Oaks By the Bay Park, and the town puts up lighted decorations.  According to Marcia, they've only been doing this for a couple of years, but it was a very nice display, revealed gradually as we walked the loop through the park.   

Afterward, we went to a delightful wine bar called The Purple Grape (they need to update their website - it still shows their old location).  The interior decor was very well-done, with cozy group seating areas, some high tables with stools, low tables that seat two.  We sat at the wine bar.  The menu was a bit overwhelming with choices.  I ordered from the "new arrivals" section of the menu and had a glass of Adelsheim pinot gris from Oregon and it was wonderful!  This place used to be down on Panama City Beach but recently moved to this location.  The gal working the wine bar told us that business is much better at this new location, getting much more walk-in traffic.  I can see why. 

On the way back to the car, we poked our heads into one of the funky shops along the main street.  I couldn't tell what merchandise was new and what was second-hand.  It was truly a bargain-hunter's treasure-trove of unusual women's clothing...definitely not my kind of clothes, nor my kind of shop, but Sandy and Marsha were having fun and the very nice proprietor eventually came over and joined us to chat. 

The evening over, they dropped me off at my car and we said our goodbyes, with promises to visit each other in Texas, New Orleans, Panama City...We'll work it out.  Somehow.

Saturday I'll watch the Army-Navy football game, start packing, and then I'll hit the road for home on Sunday morning.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Great Reason to Head Back to Florida

"Wizard's Wild Weekend"...There's not much better reason to turn around two weeks later and head east, back across I-10, to Florida.

I was just in Florida two weeks ago, and now I'm heading back east...again.  But Wizard's Wild Weekend - an event that has become an annual tradition - was being held the first weekend in December.  As always.  Kevin Healey and his wife Deborah put this event on every year and it usually draws an interesting group of riders.  It's held on Cedar Key, a quaint island just off the gulf coast of Florida, up near Chiefland, where the state of FL takes a bend and becomes the part of the state referred to as the panhandle.

In the years that this event has been held, I've only missed one year, and that was two years ago when I was in Hawaii visiting son and family for Thanksgiving...definitely a good reason to miss it.  But not too many other reasons could keep me away.  It's so kicked back and relaxed.

I arrived Friday afternoon, early, and checked into Seaspray, a small apartment building with just a half dozen or so two-story condo units...two bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, full kitchen, living room, dining room, and a nice second story balcony with sunset views.  I was in need of a run, so got changed into running gear and headed out for a 5+ mile run before the others starting to arrive.

Friday night group dinner was again at the Rusty Rim, a neat place on the dock, sitting out over the water.  The group was noticeably smaller than in previous years, but no less enjoyable.  A group were gathered outside at "Richard's Corner" on the dock.  One member of our group is named Richard and it couldn't have been more fitting that this corner be named as such.

Saturday morning I was able to join the group for breakfast at Annie's Cafe for the first time ever.  There was a good reason why I got that run in the afternoon before...normally I get that run in Saturday morning and miss the fun and chatter of the group breakfast. 

While the rest of the group rode over to Horseshoe Beach for lunch, I stayed behind with friend Ray and had lunch at the Pickled Pellican, on their outdoor deck overlooking the Gulf.  I ate here last year and knew it was the place to go for lunch this year, as well.   I wanted fresh oysters, but had to settle for fried oysters, which were a little disappointing...dry and overcooked.   But the red velvet cake ice cream from the ice cream parlor down the street made up for it. 

Saturday night dinner is the main attraction and was again held upstairs at Sea Breeze.  The smaller group allowed us to all eat at the same long L-shaped table.  It was a quieter bunch this year, and Kevin told only a few short stories about some of the attendees.  This is usually the highlight of the evening, since Kevin is such a great storyteller. 

Sunday morning I got another good run in - about 3.5 miles - and passed by Annie's Cafe only by chance to see Ray's bike parked in front, so I went inside and joined him for a cup of coffee before he hit the road and I headed back to the condo to clean up, pack and hit the road myself.

Another great - if a little quieter - Wizard's Wild Weekend is done.