Saturday, December 24, 2016

Holiday Miscellany

Time to wrap the year up with some random notes and photos from this year's holiday season.

Our community has a golf cart Christmas parade every year and this year's was the biggest yet. I walked about a half mile west on our little gated community's main street and found some ladies sitting out in their driveway, waiting for the parade. I joined them and we had a good time cheering and waving and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Some neighbors really went all out to decorate and light their carts. Click below to watch the video.

My next door neighbor and I always watch each other's houses while one or the other of us is out of town. This Christmas she flew to Cincinnati to be with family, so I offered to babysit her two houseplants. She brought them over the day before she left, and gave me watering instructions. It's almost like being a pet sitter! Nice to have a bit more live greenery in the house.

Chinese Ming on the left, orchid on the right. The Ming is decades old!
 I knew that my son and his family had been out of town for a week visiting her family in northern California, so I had to plan my gift shipments to them very carefully so that they'd arrive before they left. I also knew they'd be arriving home late on the 23rd to spend actual Christmas at their own home. I debated whether to order some goodies from Omaha Steaks or to just order a large floral centerpiece for their dining table. I decided the centerpiece would be safer, since my son's dad would be arriving at their house about the same time and spending a couple of weeks and he doesn't eat meat.

So on Thursday I logged into my USAA account and ordered FTD flowers (USAA members get a very deep discount), a nice large centerpiece with roses and candles. I arranged to have it delivered Dec 24. Fast forward to today, Dec 24, and my doorbell rang. I received a very nice delivery!! Great minds think alike!

Floral arrangement from my son and his family!
A couple of weeks ago, as soon as I got home from my Florida trip, I got busy and dragged out the holiday decorations. Mine was just about the only street on our cul-de-sac without any decorations. I pulled out the 6' artificial tree and got it set up.

Tree is up and lightly decorated.
My cat Nyla immediately found her favorite spot under the tree!

She waits 11 months for this day every year!

Every day during the holidays I can find her here under the tree.
Then I dug out the cute little two-foot tree that I bought to take to Orlando when our family went to Disneyworld for Christmas a few years ago. I didn't pull out all of the tree decorations for the big tree....just a few meaningful ones.

The cute little tree that I brought with me to Orlando the
year the family all did Disneyworld for Christmas.

Then I dragged out the box of exterior lights and draped a few strands onto the hollies in front of the house. I have an ancient little string of lights that keep expecting to die, but it still lights up whenever I plug it in, so I wrapped it around the branches of my Ficus tree on the front porch. It's finally beginning to look like Christmas at the house!

I ordered myself a meal from Omaha Steaks - Turkey Roulade wrapped in prosciutto, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, molten lava cake - so I'll feast like a queen tomorrow with very little preparation required. I'll miss being with my family, but I had the holidays with them last year. This year it's other family members' turns.

Then I'll have a week to think about the first race of the new year, the Texas Metalsaw Marathon on New Year's Day.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Race That Went On Without Me

December weather in Texas can be "iffy" at best.  It epitomizes that expression, "Don't like the weather, just wait a minute." I know other states or regions lay claim to this saying, but trust me when I say that Texas represents it the best. In December it is typical to experience temperature drops of 40-50 degrees in just minutes as a "blue norther" roars in from the north. As my late husband used to say, "There are only a few strands of barbed wire between Texas and Canada to block those cold winds." It can be a wild roller-coaster ride the entire month as temperatures swing wildly between the 80's - even the 90's - and the 30's.
Packet pickup at San Luis Hotel

And so it was this past weekend as I got ready to drive down to Galveston on Saturday to run in the Santa Hustle Half Marathon on Sunday. I packed a little overnight bag with my running stuff, and then left the house early afternoon to make the 35 mile drive down to the very nice San Luis Hotel in Galveston to pick up my race packet.
Cute inflatable display at packet pickup

Cute "elf" volunteer at packet pickup

From there I drove a few blocks to the very elegant and historic Tremont House Hotel on Mechanic Street, just a block off the famous Strand. I love this hotel, having stayed here a couple of times in the past. It's richly restored into a luxurious hotel, with all of the very historic architectural features mostly preserved, including the beautiful hardwood floors throughout, including in the guest rooms.

Historic plaque for Tremont House Hotel

It was a lovely and warm 80 degrees as I walked the Strand after getting checked in. I stopped at the Starbucks, got a chestnut caramel latte, and then sipped and strolled. I was a little surprised at how shabby the Strand had become. Hurricane Ike did a lot of damage to this thriving tourist area, but it appears now that it's not really recovering very well. Many shops were still boarded up 8 years later. All of the nice shops I remembered from years ago are now long gone. Galveston is a major cruise port, so this is surprising.
The Strand in downtown Galveston

I returned to the hotel, had lasagna for dinner in the hotel restaurant, then went up to my room to get my things laid out for the next morning's race. A cold front is expected. Temperatures will drop more than 50 degrees, down into the low 30's in the early morning hours, and winds are forecasted to be 35 mph and gusting to 40-45 mph. Yuck! I ran another half marathon in Galveston a few years ago in very similar weather conditions, perhaps 10 degrees warmer but just as windy.

Giant gingerbread house in lobby of Tremont House Hotel

So...Sunday morning I got up, got dressed - bundled up, really - and started out on the 1.7 mile walk to the start line. I chose to walk rather than drive so that I could add approximately 3 miles to the half marathon race distance as I prepare to run a marathon on New Year's Day. It was 40 degrees and winds were blowing 35 mph out of the north.

It didn't feel too bad as long as I was among the buildings on the Strand, but as soon as I got south of the downtown area and out into the open, I felt the full strength of the wind. As I got closer to the ocean, the winds were stronger and even colder.

As I neared the start line, I thought to myself, "Why in hell am I doing this?? I don't need to do this race!" The route will be 6 miles south along the seawall, and then will turn around for 6 miles north along the sea wall, with that cold northerly wind directly in my face.

And then I did it. I bailed. I turned around and walked right back the way I came. I had my Starbucks card in my pocket so I stopped there, got a cappuccino, then walked the rest of the way back to the hotel and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant: an egg and ham croissant sandwich and a lovely plate of fresh fruit. Even if I had second thoughts on my renege, it was too late. The runners all left without me.

There will be other races....and this race will be here next year if I decide I want to try it again. In the meantime, it's almost Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Nice Race and Sojourn in Orlando

My trek across I-10 to Florida is pretty much an annual event. Every year I head east the first week of December. For several years a while back it was to attend a get together on Cedar Key, now most years it is to stay at one of the very nice Marriott timeshare properties in the area.

This year I put together a trip to Florida to include a half marathon in the very beautiful downtown Orlando, followed by a week at my favorite Marriott property, Marriott's Cypress Harbour. I love this particular property for its beautiful forested grounds, wonderfully spacious and modern apartments, and very nice amenities on-site, including a Starbucks. It doesn't hurt that it's a very nice distance for many off-property amenities, easily reached by comfortable running distance....good way to get a nice 3-6 mile run in.

Suitcases and car packed, it was off to Florida! Enroute to Orlando I stopped for the night at a Quality Inn in Crestview, FL, had dinner at Cracker Barrel, then got up early the next morning and drove the rest of the way to Orlando and my lovely room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in the historic Orlando city center.
Tree-lighting in Orlando

Beautiful holiday at Lake Eola in Orlando

It was a fabulous location!! I could walk to the race start, walk to all of the great little cafe's in the area, even walk to the Christmas tree lighting and concert Friday night on Lake Eola, just a block away from the hotel.

Saturday, race day morning, I walked to the race start on the north side of Lake Eola just in time for the national anthem and then start of the race. Temperatures were in the high 50's, perfect for running a half marathon.
Brick-paved streets of Orlando

The race route started and finished along the north shore of Lake Eola, and took us through many beautiful neighborhoods in the near downtown area. Most of the streets were brick-paved and lined with oaks dripping in Spanish moss. It was a really beautiful race route!

Brick pavers and old Live Oaks, dripping with Spanish moss

Race route through Orlando

Finisher medal

On my way back to the hotel after crossing the finish line, I took a slight detour to a Starbucks to grab a Vente triple-shot cappuccino to bring back to my room. Showered and rested, I walked to a very nice pizza cafe and ordered a pizza - pepperoni, mushroom and anchovy - then bought a bottle of beer and brought it all back to my room to eat in front of college football on the TV.

Christmas concert in Lake Eola Park

After dark, I walked back to Lake Eola Park to browse the lights and listen to the concert for a little bit.

The next morning after breakfast I walked back to that Starbucks shop and then, as I returned to the hotel, noticed a farmers market taking place in Lake Eoli Park. I sipped my cappuccino and browsed the vendor stalls, taking time to sit and enjoy the views of the lake and the beautiful swans.

Market in Lake Eola Park Sunday morning

There were many vendors lining the beautiful shaded walking paths through the park. This orchid vendor was the most intriguing. Too bad I was on the road. I would have bought one or two to bring home with me.
Pretty orchid plants at the market in Lake Eola Park

There were so many swans on this lake! Mostly white swans but a few black swans as well. They were very tame, since there were vending machines selling feed for the ducks and swans and they were very accustomed to humans. It was fun and relaxing to just sit and enjoy their presence.

Pretty trio of white swans

Lake Eola

Then it was time to return to the hotel, pack up, check out, and retrieve my car to make the short drive south to Marriott's Cypress Harbour.

I delayed as long as I could checking out, knowing that I would be "homeless" for a bit before I could check into the Marriott. I dragged my feet as long as I could, took my time driving down I-4 and expected I'd be having lunch at the resort before I'd be able to check in, but fortunately they had a unit ready for me and I was able to check in by 1:00 PM. I drove to my unit, brought my luggage in, and then headed back out to the grocery store to stock up for the next few days.

Now for a relaxing few days in this very luxurious and spacious 2-bed, 2-bath condo-style unit with full kitchen, screened in balcony. I had everything I needed. Food. Wine. Beer. Comfortable digs, nice resort grounds on which to get some walks and runs in over the next few days. And, of course, a Starbucks!!

Tuesday morning run at the resort

On Wednesday I drove up to the Deland area to join a few friends for a lovely laid-back lunch at the very nice St. John's River Grille. It was a nice mid-week change.

My plans for leaving Florida are loose at this point. I may leave on Friday, or I may leave on Saturday. We'll see....