Monday, March 28, 2016

The "Rome Trip" Piles Have Started

I don't know why I do this. It's really not that different than taking a trip here in CONUS.  But there it compulsion. Piles of stuff start to form on the kitchen counter, my dresser, the blanket chest in my bedroom, this time in preparation for my trip to Rome in less than two weeks.

I've been "packing" in my head for this trip for weeks. Been shopping online for a few things for this trip, too. I began digging out various things whenever I'd have an "oh yeah, can't forget to bring that" moment.

This was the first pile to grow. It's on my dresser and includes all of those small little things like the converter devices, ear plugs, eye mask, books, Euro stash, passport, money belt, scarf, and many other smaller items. Even the supplies I'd need for a new knitting project were added to this pile.

Odds and ends gathering on my dresser.

The odds and ends pile grows

Then I got busy pulling things from the closet and the dresser drawers and piling them up on the blanket chest, just an assortment of clothes that I'd like to take. A wish list of sorts. Not all of this will come with me to Italy, but going through this exercise forces me to give thought to what would be the most useful "mix and match" wardrobe for the trip.

The clothes pile: the Wish List, waiting for final weather forecasts and  subsequent culling.

I'll sort through all of this next week, after the weather forecasts are a more sure thing. But in the meantime, the piles serves as a "quarantine," moving these garments out of circulation so that there's no last-minute panic and late night load of laundry.

Well, okay...another day of mental packing pushed me to go ahead and pack my carry-on bags. This includes my little roll-on tote and my nice leather shoulder tote. About half the items on my dresser and a few of the items in the clothes pile made their way into either the wheeled tote or the leather shoulder tote.  Things I'd need on the plane, important items I don't want to check through, a couple of changes of clothes in case my checked bag doesn't make it, and of course the very important running shoes and clothes.

The carry-on is packed! Running gear, two changes of clothes,
a change of shoes, toiletries, rain jacket, cozy sweater for the long plane ride

This activity greatly diminished the pile on the dresser and the "Wish List" pile on the blanket chest.

What's left of the Wish List clothes pile

All that remains of the "stuff" pile
Just nine more days and it's lift-off!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Running the Seabrook Trails

There are some really beautiful trails in Seabrook, TX. They skirt along bayous and salt marsh and along the shore of Galveston Bay. I have really fond memories of these trails, going back to when I first started running, first joined the Clear Lake running club back in 2001. We'd sometimes get our longer Saturday runs in on these trails. Arriving before sunrise, we'd gather in the Meador Park parking lot, our club organizers setting up snacks and drink on tailgates, ready for us as we passed by after each 3- or 6-mile loop. If we got there early enough, we were rewarded with a fabulous sunrise at Pine Gully Park, our turnaround point. It was tradition to run out onto the fishing dock, all the way to the end - almost 800 feet - to slap the railing, and then head back toward land. Such great times back then.

Pine Gully Park, with its 800 foot fishing pier

I brought a new running friend David to that park to get our 18 mile run in as we prepared to run the 2003 marathon together. I remember, as we were in the last 3 mile stretch, he challenged me with a math problem to see how fried my brain was at that point. I laughed as I struggled with it, mostly because it was a math problem I would have struggled with even if I'd not just run 15 or 16 miles. It was a fun, chilly December morning. And a fun run together a month later in the Houston Marathon.

David and I near the finish line of the marathon

David and I post-race with finisher medals from 2003 Marathon

A year after that 2003 Marathon, some members of our running club organized a marathon/half marathon race event called Seabrook Lucky Trail Marathon, starting and ending in Rex Meador Park in Seabrook and running these trails out to Pine Gully Park...two laps for the half marathon, four laps for the full. That was the last time I ran on these trails.

But then, this past summer, a running friend told me she planned to fly into Houston to run this race and would I be interested in doing it with her. I offered to pick her up at the airport and let her stay with me for this event. She planned to do the two-day event - half on Saturday, full on Sunday. I planned to do only the full on Sunday, at the time needing to get that full marathon to qualify for Marathon Maniacs, and maybe volunteer at the race on Saturday. As we drew near to the race date, I learned that she was no longer planning to come to do this race. So, since I no longer needed this full, having already qualified for Marathon Maniacs, I contacted the race organizers and changed my registration from doing the full to doing the half on Sunday.

I was curious, after all these years, to see if the trails were the same as I remembered them. Crushed gravel over sand for much of the distance, plus some boardwalks near the bay as the trail passed through salt marsh. Back when I last ran on those trails, there were a few stretches that passed through fairly dense forest and we sometimes had to duck to pass under low branches or skirt low-lying spots that were sometimes muddy, sometimes filled with tree roots.

Race day morning I got up at 5;00 AM, ate breakfast, and then got in the car at about 5:45 and started my drive to Meador Park in Seabrook. I estimated about a 30 minute drive to get there and I planned to park about 0.6 mile away at a strip mall parking lot, one we were told would serve as overflow parking if the elementary school parking lot closer to the park was full. So rather than take my chances at the school, I decided to just park at the overflow. The walk would do me good as a warm-up and also help with post-race recovery.

It was plenty early, not even light yet, and it was very chilly, the winds 25 mph straight out of the north. I had a long, cold wait to the start. The full marathon runners were turned loose at 7:15 and then the half marathon runners at 7:30. I'd forgotten about this little detail, thinking the race started at 7:00.

But finally we were crossing the start line. The first mile or so was on local streets, a good idea since it was still barely light. We ran north up N. Meyer Ave and then turned right onto E. Meyer Ave toward Toddville Rd, where we picked up the gravel/sand trail. I have so many memories of running on this trail. I remember the parking area about half way to Pine Gully Park where our club used to set up a table with snacks, water, Gatorade, the parking lot and turnaround point at Pine Gully, the traditional run out to the end of the pier...

The trails were greatly improved over the interim years since I'd last run on them. Wider, smoother, vegetation cleared at the narrower points along the way. Just as beautiful as ever, and we were treated to that sunrise as we got onto the boardwalks through the salt marsh near Pine Gully. It really makes the miles go by, and even though a half marathon required running the loop twice, it wasn't boring and I didn't mind it at all.
Seabrook Lucky Trail Half Marathon, two loops, data from my Garmin GPS watch

This race has grown enormously over those 12 years since our club first started it. It has gone from being a "locals" race within the Greater Houston running community to one where runners come in from all over the country, even outside the country, to run it. Its reputation is widely known for being an excellent race with great organization and support, super race swag - a hat, socks, nice technical fabric shirt - and kick-butt after-race party with beer, red beans and rice, wide assortment of chips, yogurt, ice cream, hot dogs and hamburgers grilled on the spot, and with all the condiments and trimmings to go with.

Really great race "swag" including nice tech fiber hat, shirt, running socks

With that growth however comes a downside for the Sunday races. A half marathon is held on Saturday, and then a half and a full marathon on Sunday. I ran on Sunday and found the trails to be very congested, with runner traffic heading in both directions, sometimes four abreast - two in each direction - as faster runners tried to overtake the slower ones. For us very slow runners it sometimes meant getting pushed off the trail as the very fastest runners sought to maintain their pace and line of trajectory no matter what. And of course, the faster marathon runners passed me a total of 7 times as they made the four loops. It is my only complaint for an otherwise really excellent event.

When our club first instituted this race, it was a one-day event with a very small field of runners, only 317 runners total between the two distances. Today it's grown enormously and even though there is a runner cap for each event it is now perhaps too high for the Sunday combined event, almost 600 runners this year.

But I survived, got jostled just a little by the swifter runners, and then I was crossing the finish line and getting my really cool work-of-art finisher medal.

Really great finisher medal with beautiful ribbon

What's so really cool about this medal is that it stands on its own!
Under the large picnic pavilion there was ample beer - dyed green for the! And so much food, I didn't know where to start. The red beans and rice were excellent. Cookies galore! I sat down to start digging into my beans, when one of the race directors, a long-ago friend from our running club, came over to greet me. I was wearing the shirt I'd received from that very first year of this event and he wanted to get a photo of me in my shirt and my finisher medal in front of one of the borrowed pelican statues from town. Seabrook has 6-8' tall pelicans scattered about town, painted and donated by local artists and businesses. Seabrook Pelican Path

One of the many Pelicans scattered around Seabrook

It was so great seeing him again! He was thrilled that I chose to wear this vintage cotton t-shirt, pre-dating the now-vogue tech fiber shirts, clearly a collectible item these days.

My vintage Seabrook race shirt from the race's first year, 2004.
Note the #1 on the pelican's race bib, signifying the first, inaugural year.
I sat and chatted a bit with a gal who was also in that running club many years ago and whom I have run into at various local races over the years. But beer downed, beans and rice finished, and cookie nearly done, it was time to start heading toward my car, 0.6 miles away, and get home.

Nice race, extremely well-organized, and glad that I came back and did it 12 years later. Now to start looking ahead to the Rome marathon!

Monday, March 14, 2016


When I moved to Texas way back in 1990, I was a newly divorced mom with a 13 year old son and a cat. I tried my hand at meeting and dating men, getting introduced through friends or co-workers or through the predecessor to online dating, the personals ads in a local weekly news-magazine called The Greensheet. It was tough and time-consuming without the screening and anonymity that dating through the internet now provides. A lot of time was spent on the telephone, a process I found grueling and, quite honestly, distasteful. But it was the only way to safely get to know someone a little bit before agreeing to meet in person.

Fiddle, accordion, thumping bass, a washboard...all key elements to Zydeco music

One guy who seemed interesting and a possible good match dumped me during the early phone-dating stage when he learned I didn't know what Zydeco was. He assumed I was a boring homebody who never got out of the house which, if any of my readers know me, is truly a ridiculous assumption. Why is it that we never think of the good come-backs until it's too late?

For instance, I could have asked him if he'd ever been to Brugges, or slept in a Cornish castle, or listened to Mozart opera while sitting in the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, or quaffed a pint of beer during Oktoberfest in Munich, or had succulent game hens roasted in a centuries-old brick oven in a walled monastery on a Tuscan hilltop, just a small sampling of the many wonderful things that I had done. He didn't know that I'd lived all over the country growing up as a military dependent and had seen things and been places in my childhood that most Americans never experience in their lifetimes. He never bothered to find out that I'd just moved to Houston from Boston where life goes on blissfully unaware of the narrowly regional Zydeco music genre of the Acadiana prairies and swamps of Louisiana. Heck! Back then, country music wasn't even popular and was rarely played on the radio in New England.

Just as well that this not-so-worldly-after-all fellow blew me off, because I did meet the man of my dreams which led to a wonderful and loving marriage.

So, anyway, odd how this memory suddenly came to mind as I prepared to drive to Lafayette to run the Zydeco Half Marathon this past weekend. I had registered for this race last year in combination with the Beaumont Gusher Half Marathon held the day before. The two race organizers had gotten together and created a combo medal for runners who did both the Gusher and Zydeco races. I ran the Gusher in Beaumont but had to bail out on Zydeco so that I could help with the sound booth last year.

This year I was determined to finally get to run Zydeco Half Marathon. It's an easy drive - or should be - and I figured I'd get there in time to go find a good Cajun lunch somewhere, then get my race packet at the Cajun Dome before checking into the nearby hotel I'd booked using loyalty points.

But Mother Nature conspired against my best-laid plans. I got on the road just before 10:00 AM and should have made it to Lafayette by 1:00-1:30 PM easily. Heavy rains the day and evening before had cleared out of Houston by morning and the sky was beautiful with puffy white clouds and crystal-clear air.

Traffic moved right along until I got close to the LA border. Then things started to slow down a bit. As I drove through Lake Charles, things seemed to open up again, but soon it began to rain and soon traffic slowed to a crawl. I was stuck in stop-and-go traffic on I-10 all the way to Lafayette. It took three hours to get from Lake Charles to my exit in Lafayette, a distance less than 75 miles. It was maddening. The accordion effect was continuous. We'd start to get up to speed and then suddenly come to a complete stop. When I did finally make it to my exit, I could see that traffic was backed up ahead of me for as far as I could see. At one point along the way, I decided to go ahead and get off the interstate to take a bathroom break and since I was taking a gas stop, get a McDonalds lunch, as well. So much for enjoying a nice leisurely Cajun lunch in Lafayette!

When I got to the Cajun Dome about 3:30 PM, it was absolutely pouring rain! Despite my jacket and an umbrella, I was pretty much looking like a drowned rat when I made it into the convention hall to get my race packet. I didn't even bother to take my usual photos of the race packet pickup area, normally a tradition of mine. I got that packet pickup business done quickly and then made a mad dash back to the car, getting even wetter, if that's even possible.

The hotel was right across the street so I didn't have far to go to get parked, get rained on again as I walked from the car to the hotel lobby. By now it was 4:30 PM or so and I just wanted to get dry. I ordered room service, used the hair dryer in my room to tame the wild, wet, and woolly mane, and then settled in for the evening. Because of the change to Daylight Savings Time, it was going to be a short night.

I had faith in my smartphone knowing that at some point overnight we went onto Daylight Savings Time. Hoping that this faith wasn't misguided, I set it to wake me at 5:00 AM, plenty of time to have an in-room breakfast of cereal and fruit brought from home, and to check e-mail and browse others' pre-race posts on Facebook a bit, before getting dressed. But this also gave me enough time to still quickly get ready, just in case my Smartphone wasn't savvy to the overnight time change. I had everything I'd need all laid out so that getting dressed wouldn't require too much thought and would ensure nothing was forgotten.

I had a 1.5 mile walk to the start line. Way back last summer when I first registered for this race and booked my hotel using Hilton Honors points, the start/finish was to be at the Cajun Dome where it had always been. But then, this past fall, the Race directors changed the route and changed the start/finish line to be on Jefferson Street in the little downtown area of Lafayette. Well, crud! There are no hotels within walking distance of this changed race venue. I was booked at what would be pretty much the closest hotel. What to do? I decided I'd do nothing. My hotel was better than the alternatives, all of which would require driving into town and finding parking or dealing with shuttle buses. So I stayed pat and decided to just walk to the start and then walk back to the hotel afterward, a total of 3 miles round-trip.

At 6:15 AM I was waiting for the elevator to take me down to the lobby and then I was out the door and walking in the dark toward Jefferson St. As I got onto the sidewalk and headed east, I could see the participants in the "early start", maybe a dozen of them, carrying flashlights or wearing headlamps. Those who registered for the full marathon were granted an hour's early start if they needed more than 6 hours to finish. So having greeted them and wished them all a good race, I continued on in the dark toward Jefferson Street, avoiding the rugged and sketchy sidewalks by walking in the street, since there was a coned-off lane already for the race.

The start line was on Jefferson Street, with an inflated start-line arch over the timing mats and gates cordoning off the runners' chute. I picked my way through the congested sidewalk, dodging official race crew equipment, cables, electrical cords, and tons of other people to work my way to the back entrance of the corral. I immediately spotted several others in their Half Fanatic shirts and the time went quickly as we waited and chatted about where we were from. Some had a difficult time getting to Lafayette because of widespread flooding throughout the state.

The national anthem was sung and then the runners were released in waves, based on their estimated pace. I'd positioned myself in the last group, the >13 minute mile pace, which is where our little Half Fanatic group was stationed. So it took several minutes after the official start for us to work our way up to the start line.
Zydeco race route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

The race route was very pleasant, made interesting with lots of turns and lots of very nice shaded neighborhoods and the LSU-Lafayette campus. At a couple of points along the route we could see the faster runners pass us in the opposite direction, always worth a bit of entertainment.  The early morning sunrise and the fog rising up from the water-saturated ground was beautiful. The race route was pancake-flat except between miles 8.5-10, where there were rolling hills along the river.

I started out running, kept it up for the first 6 miles, but then as the sun got higher in the sky, it got warm and the humidity was very high.  I slowed to a walk and then, in the last couple of miles, slowed even more to a stroll. But in the last mile I seemed to be able to re-group a bit and picked up my pace a bit.

I crossed the finish line, collected my finisher medal and a bottle of Powerade, and then exited the finisher chute and had no idea where the finisher's party was. I was truly perplexed and in my fried-brain post-race state, simply could not figure out exactly where to go. There were no signs and no volunteers to point me in the right direction. Not sure where that finisher food was, and not wanting to wander around any more than necessary, I just gave up and headed west on Congress Street toward the hotel 1.5 miles away.


Finisher medal for Zydeco

Back at the hotel, time to shower, get dressed, check out of the hotel and get back on the road toward home. 200 miles, sunny skies, fast moving, light traffic and I got home around 3:30 PM. Another medal to add to my medal rack and another race to add to my race count.

Now a week of recovery and then Seabrook Lucky Trail Half Marathon next weekend.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Waiting For Spring to Happen

Winter for me means pots of homemade soups simmering on the stove and pies and pastries baking in the oven. Even though our winters here are very brief - sometimes non-existent - I still enjoy spending this time in the kitchen preparing traditional "winter" dishes. I like to make large 8- or 10-cup batches of soups and then freeze them in 2-cup containers so that I can reach for one and defrost it whenever I want a nice filling hot bowl of soup.

Pot of homemade beef barley soup, January 30, 2016

Meyer Lemon pie, made from scratch, January 24, 2016

Blueberry muffins, warm out of the oven, February 7, 2016

Homemade split pea and turkey soup, January 14, 2016

Wintertime is also when my little pomegranate tree sets fruit and my neighbor's tree groans with the weight of Meyer lemons.

Little pomegranates from my little pomegranate tree

This year's Meyer lemons...not as plentiful as last year, but just as large and juicy

Wintertime is also time to maintain our weird, kooky fashion sense...sandals and socks.

Highly practical, not so stylish

And then it happens! Signs of spring suddenly appear in my back garden:

Bulbine going crazy in back bed

Indian Hawthorn just starting to bloom

Jasmine just starting to bloom

My little resident reptiles become active again, as they seek out places to sun themselves.

This not-so-little guy catching some rays on the fence
The Chinese Fringe Tree is in bloom, the rose bushes are putting out new growth and starting to set buds, and the Clematis has little tufts of leaves sprouting on the wiry vines.

Spring is my favorite season!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gulf Shores Half Marathon

Way back when I planned this trip, it was going to include running a half marathon on the second weekend in New Orleans, the Rock n Roll Half Marathon. But then things got complicated. I don't usually like doing races where the start line and the finish line are in two different places. This means either a shuttle bus to the start or, even worse, a shuttle bus back to the start from the finish line. When I was trying to complete my 50 states goal, I sometimes didn't have a choice but to sign up for a race where this was the case. But this was only because there weren't many good alternative races to choose from.

With my 50 states goal complete, I can now be very picky about what races I want to run. Easy to say, but sometimes the hype takes over where the brain leaves off. This was the case for me in signing up for the New Orleans Rock n Roll race. Only afterward did I have second thoughts about the really distasteful logistics of getting from the finish line back to the hotel. First of all, it meant staying another night in New Orleans because I wouldn't get back to the hotel before check out time. Then there's that $200 a night price tag for the hotel.

So why not just blow that New Orleans race off, cancel the two nights at that expensive hotel, and find another race somewhere between Panama City and home for that day. And that's how the Gulf Coast Series Gulf Shores, AL race ended up on my calendar at the last minute.

Gulf Coast Series is a fun set of races...there are three of them, one in Pensacola Beach, one in Mandeville, and this one in Gulf Shores. I ran the Pensacola Beach race back in 2012. They're small races, but very well done. This was going to be a very low key race. I found a $59 a night motel within walking distance of the start/finish line, which was at Lulu's, a fun restaurant on the ICW.

I got to Lulu's around 3:30 PM, picked up my race packet, then backtracked about a mile to a Subway Sandwich shop I'd spotted on my way in. Then I got checked into the little motel, Country Hearth Inn. It was small, an older property with exterior entrances, but the rooms were all freshly remodeled and spotless. I ate my sandwich, watched TV, then set my alarm for a 5:30 AM wake up.

It was just a short and easy walk to the start line. Clearly it was a very small race. I met up with a couple of other members of our Half Fanatics running group for a group photo just before the race started.
Me, Karen, and John at the start line

The route was very pretty despite the huge bridge we had to cross in the first mile and then in the last mile. After that first bridge crossing, the race route took us around a really pretty lake, along the seacoast for about a mile, then back toward the finish line and over that colossal bridge one more time.

Bridge over the ICW. We had to cross it in mile 1 and again in mile 12.
View from top of bridge, looking down at Lulu's

Because the race was so small, and because I am older and slower, I found myself pretty much out there by myself. I could see a person about 1/2 mile ahead of me, and a fellow just 1/4 mile or so behind me.

At one point along the route, as it took us away from the beach and back along the lake, I could hear an osprey call, ringing loud and clear. I began to look for a nest and then, as I rounded a slight bend in the road, there it was directly in front of me! I could see the female osprey sitting in the nest calling, and soon the male swooped in, in response to her calls. Awesome!! The next race water station was nearby and I commented to one of the volunteers. She told me there were two other nest platforms nearby and the osprey had been fishing all morning in the water just across the roadway. Sure enough, just as she said this, an osprey swooped down and snatched up a fish out of the water. My day was complete!!

Race from my Garmin GPS watch

I finally got to the finish line, collected my finisher medal, and then headed over to the outdoor bar to collect my free beer. I sat on a bench to chat with my new Half Fanatic running friend Karen and to drink my beer. It was a very pleasant and fun morning! Then I remembered to check with the race staff, see if I'd placed in my age group...and sure enough! First place in my age group!

Gulf Shores finisher and practicality

I'd asked for leniency on the 11:00 AM checkout when I'd first checked in. Thankfully the motel agreed. But I was quick, and managed to get back to the motel, showered, dressed, packed and out of the room by 11:30 AM.

Good stuff!

I had another free room booked in Lafayette, LA and that's where I headed. I'd be there by 5:30 PM. I was pretty tired and even though I briefly considered not stopping in Lafayette but driving straight through to home, I knew I didn't have it in me, I stuck with my plan, stopping at the Racetrac gas station across the street from the Hampton Inn and picking up a very good turkey sandwich, chips, a can of Wicked Ale, and some M&M's for dinner. The next morning I hit the road toward home with just 200 miles to drive before pulling into my own driveway.

Now I can add the Gulf Shores finisher medal to the Pensacola Beach finisher medal...two out of the three races in the Gulf Coast Series of races!

Gulf Shores and Pensacola Beach race medals

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Panama City Visit

Gasparilla Half Marathon is done. Now it's on to Panama City and Marriott's Legends Edge, my favorite place to "hang out" for a few days. I have local friends to hang out with, go out to eat with, scarf down oysters with. And the little area of Bay Point is a nice, safe place to get some running miles in.

I had a large, late lunch on the road from Tampa to Panama City, thankfully, because I really didn't want to stop at the grocery store before checking into my Marriott condo. Fortunately, I had some snack foods and fruit with me in the car. But I did buy a bottle of wine at the little marketplace on the Marriott property. I was wiped out! Poor night's sleep the night before, 4:30 AM wake-up, a half marathon, then a 400 mile drive to get here. So sipping some wine and snacking while watching TV was the perfect way to end a very long day.

The next morning I slept in until 10 AM! I finally dragged myself out of bed and to the grocery store. I was motivated to do not much else for the rest of the day.

But on Tuesday morning, I met long-time high school friend Linda for brunch at a really cool cafe. I had avocado toast and "basted" eggs, which are sort of like shirred eggs. We chatted and lingered over our meals for a long time, until she finally had to leave to run some errands. Later that day, I walked over to the "happy hour" at the center and brought a beer back to my room to go with my dinner.

We had such a nice visit on Tuesday, we decided to get together again on Wednesday for lunch. She met me at a nearby parking lot where I could leave my car and then we drove, first to the Humane Society and Operation Spay Bay, where I dropped off a big stack of old towels I'd brought with me from home. They'd posted at their Facebook page that they were in dire need of towels. Then, just because we were there, we went in and checked out the cats waiting for their forever homes. Afterward, Linda took me to a cute little tea room in the historic Panama City district, Willows Tea Room.

Linda and me at Willows Tea Room

It was a pleasant little place and the menu offered some traditional English pub-style food (not really tea room fare). I had a Cornish Pastie and Linda had their carrot soup.  Afterward, we drove along the piers in Panama City and then followed the coast through historic Saint Andrews before returning to my car. Before parting company, I mentioned that I was having lunch on Friday with a running friend and asked Linda to join us.

I'd made plans to join Linda's younger sister Sandy for a late lunch at Pier Park on Thursday, and to stroll along the pier and poke around in some of the shops at the south end, near the water. It's something she and I did one other time while I was here and I really enjoyed that leisurely pace.  I got a short little run in and then drove over to Pier Park to meet up with Sandy. We ate at The Back Porch and then brought our leftovers down to the beach to feed the seagulls.

This photo is not zoomed or cropped; it's exactly as it appeared
in person, the gull's relationship to me exactly as it appears. . I could have reached up and
petted these gulls, they were so close and so unafraid of me.

What was so fun about doing this was that not one single seagull was in sight but once Sandy started tossing a few pieces of food into the air, a seagull floated in from the land side, followed by a couple more, then a few more, and then soon we had a whole flock of them.  They were literally floating just inches over my head, kept aloft by the offshore winds, effortlessly, hovering in place and swooping in each time Sandy tossed a tidbit into the air.  So cool!

Sandy feeding the gulls
Gulls fed and happy now, we went back up to Pier Park and bought a Starbucks to enjoy while we browsed the shops a bit. I'm not much of a shopper, but it is fun to poke around with Sandy, see what's for sale and chat up the shop owners who are eager for the company.

The next day - Friday - was my last full day in Panama City. A fellow runner and friend who lives in nearby Santa Rosa Beach made plans to join me for lunch at St. Andrews Bistro on Friday. But first, I must have oysters with Marcia, the third of the three sisters. She has a very busy schedule but we agreed to meet at Hunt's Oyster Bar in St. Andrews at 11:00 AM, right at opening time. There was already a line waiting to get in before 11 AM, which is typical. But we got in, bellied up to the oyster bar, and downed a dozen oysters each while getting caught up with each other. It was too short a visit! But I did have two large bags of cat food and two giant tubs of kitty litter in the back of my SUV to give her. She's very active with local cat rescue programs, including Operation Spay Bay, and I'd rather donate items to her, knowing they'll be very appreciated.

Me, Linda, Marcia at Hunt's Oyster Bar

The oysters were only the appetizer. At noon, I met my friend Linda and my running friend Sally at St. Andrews Bistro just a couple of blocks down from Hunt's for lunch. As much as I tried not to let the conversation veer off onto running topics, it was inevitable. My friend Linda was truly amused by our cult-like conversation. She had to leave to go visit her grandson, so Sally and I stayed and enjoyed each other's company for another hour over cups of coffee.

Short 2 mile run; data from my Garmin GPS watch

My visit in Panama City was coming to an end. I returned to my Marriott condo and started packing up my things. Saturday morning I got another short run in and then loaded my car, checked out of the Marriott, and drove to Gulf Shores, AL where I have another half marathon the next day.