Thursday, February 27, 2014

St Pete Beach, British Pubs and Italian Groceries

We decide to try a classic Floridian beach today, St. Pete's. No dogs are allowed, but we walk and play with Harper and Cosmo a lot in the morning so they are tired and don't seem to mind when we leave. St. Pete's has beautiful clean, white sand, with the blue waters of the Gulf to gaze upon. It is hot, and Lee's beach tent comes in handy. Mary and I laze around, while Lee and Mark try their hand at surf fishing again. There is only so long I can spend on the beach, however, before I start feeling restless. And the fish aren't biting either, so before too long we are done with the beach.

Dinner is at a British Pub in St. Petersburg called Queens Head. It has the menu of a real British Pub, but the ambiance of a funky beach restaurant. Some entries are great - Lee's lamb sliders, Mary's steak and ale pie. Mark gets the "famous" fish and chips, but is not impressed. I get the lamb pie and it's good but nothing special. That's the problem with hanging out with a bunch of good cooks. We tend to be pretty picky about restaurant food since what we make ourselves is often better!

Thursday is windy so not so good for a beach day. We decide to explore downtown St. Petersburg, a seafood market and an Italian grocery. The seafood place, Save On Seafood, is a bargain with lots of choices, and lots of local, fresh fish. We buy crab claws and shrimp, and both are delicious.

The Italian grocery, Mazzaro's, is awesome. It's crowded with locals and tourists. We buy wine, cheese, sausages and ham. Then we head to historic downtown St. Petersburg. It's an old city, with some beautiful buildings and a really nice expresso/chocolate shop.

On our way back to Gulfport I spot a hike and bike trail. I do some research and find out that this is The Pinellas Trail. It goes from St. Petersburg all the way up to Clearwater. This sounds like something that would be great for a biking adventure sometime next week.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Out and About in Gulfport, Florida

I'm scheduled for a Fifteen mile run Sunday morning. In Gulfport I decide to do this as 3 5 mile loops around the town, stopping at the house to pee between each loop. This is a good running solution when I'm in an unfamiliar area and the location of bathrooms is uncertain! It's fun to get the lay of this little town, with its funky downtown, pocket parks and greenways; the old Florida.

Mark and Mary are arriving today. They are going to visit with us for the next week. This is part of the plan if we enjoy this Florida thing; to invite other people to spend time with us down here as well. In the afternoon we just laze around, catching up and relaxing.

On Monday Lee and Mark want to fish so we go on an expedition to a famous sporting goods store, Bill Jackson . It has a jungle-like parking lot outside, and equipment and information on every sport you can think of inside, even skiing, strangely enough. Mark and Lee have a great time getting educated about all things Florida fishing, while Mary and I wander about the giant store investigating random sports equipment and apparel, and the dogs wait patiently for something of interest to them to occur.

By the time they are finished it is time for lunch. There are a lot of Asian restaurants around here. We find one that comes highly recommended on Yelp and introduce Mark and Mary to the joys of Banh Mi sandwiches. We end up back in a Gulfport in time for a late afternoon visit to the Gulfport Beach. It's a nice little beach but no dogs are allowed so Harper and Cosmo have to stay behind.

On Tuesday mornings Gulfport hold a fresh market downtown with crafts, veggies, bagels, jewelry, baskets, dog treats, and art. We wander around, trying the free samples. I am sorely tempted by a beautiful basket, and fudge.

That afternoon we take the dogs to the Fort Desoto dog beach. This turns out to be a great experience. Lee bought a really nice beach tent that provides shade and wind protection. The dogs are really good. They go wading in the water, running in the sand. They lie in the sun and get themselves a tan. By the time we return to Gulfport they are completely worn out.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Onward to Gulfport Florida

On Friday morning we eat a leasurely breakfast and go check out the farmers market in Forsyth Park before getting back on the road for our final day of driving. It's a great market with really good bread and some beautiful multicolored carrots.

As we head out of Savannah with me at the wheel, for some reason the GPS routes us so that I have to make a left hand turn across four lanes of traffic on a busy street. Traffic is backed up and the car in the first lane stops to wave me through. I look and no cars are coming the other way. The car in the second lane stops too, so I start to inch my way across. I stop, look the other way again and suddenly a red car appears in front of me. A horrible scraping sound ensues and my heart rate doubles in a flash. Then it's over. I'm gasping for breath, but we are uninjured. The driver of the other car is stopped farther down the road and his front end appears to have collapsed. We get out to look at the front of my car. The front bumper is scraped up badly and the license plate has fallen off, but the car is otherwise unscathed. I'm kind of shook up, but even so it could have been SO much worse. A couple more inches would have caused a lot more damage. My poor car. Oh well, insurance will handle it and it's still drivable. I let Lee take the wheel for awhile however, and for the rest of the day I don't like the thought of having to make a left hand turn.

It's a long drive to Gulfport, down through Georgia and catty-corner across Northern Florida. The temperature is great, 50's and 60's, and the sky is blue, blue, blue. Interior Florida is so flat and boring to drive through, however. I think it's worse than Kansas, because there aren't even distant vistas to contemplate, just flat scrub, mile after mile after mile.

Eventually though we head into Tampa and cross Tampa Bay on a very very long bridge. Although I have been to Tampa for a conference years ago, this part of Florida is completely unfamiliar to me. I'm very curious what this will be like.

We stop to get some wine and a few groceries. Then it's on to Gulfport, a little town on Tampa Bay, south of St. Petersburg. We are staying in Seascapes Cottage, a three bedroom one bathroom house with a fenced in back yard. It's late and we're tired so we walk down to Pat's Cantina in the dark for a casual dinner. Not too much later we are in bed in our home for the next two weeks.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Let's Leave the Snow Behind - North Carolina to Savannah

North Carolina is the first state that really seems like the south to me. People are friendly in that southern way, accents are thicker, they serve grits at breakfast. The weather doesn't feel anything like the south, however. The temperature hovers in the low 30s, and a thin layer of snow covers everything in sight.

As we drive the last few miles into Rocky Mount, I absentmindedly feel my pocket for my fitbit. I have been wearing it faithfully since Sarah gave it to me in December. My pocket is empty, and with a sinking sensation I realize that I left it at Catherine's. I know exactly where it is, sitting beside the bed we slept in last night. I'm really upset. I've have enjoyed seeing how many steps I take each day, and comparing my progress to my fitbit "friends". Catherine texts me that she found it and offers to mail it to Florida, but that means no fitbit for probably a week.

What should I do? I get on my phone and see where they sell fitbit's. RadioShack! Is there a Radioshack near our hotel? Yes! Lee is rolling his eyes but that doesn't deter me. As soon as the car is unloaded I drive over to Radioshack. They have zips, which is what I currently have, but they also have ultras, that also track sleep and flights of stairs, for only an additional $20, so I decide to get one of those.

I borrow Lee's computer to set up my new fitbit. It works great, and I'm back in business, or so I think. Soon I figure out that there is a minor glitch in my plan. Ultras are actually an older style of fitbit. They won't sync with my phone using Bluetooth, which would mean I could only sync when I was home. That won't do at all, so it's back to Radioshack again. I exchange the ultra for a zip and all is well. And Catherine now has a fitbit of her own, lucky girl!

On my run the following morning I am starting to add some tempo runs at 5k pace, for a 5k Lee and I are going to run in March. I only tried to hold the pace for 5 minutes, but it was still a struggle. Nowadays I would rather run a half marathon than a 5k isn't that strange? I seem to be built for endurance, not speed!

The drive to Savannah is over 5 hours, a long drive for the dogs. We watch the temps rise into the 50s and even the low 60s for a bit. Everywhere in South Carolina the damage from the ice storm is evident, with broken limbs and even entire fallen trees littering the sides of the highway. The ice is gone, only the results remain.

We are all very happy to be in Savannah. We are staying at The Mansion @Forsyth, a beautiful hotel and a good deal thanks to The dogs are so happy to be out of the car. They are so happy, it takes two full circuits of Forsyth park to even begin to burn off some of their energy.

The Mansion is a very dog friendly hotel. We can even bring them with us when we go to the bar to have cocktails. Everyone coos and oos over our doggies. They are well behaved and friendly, and we are very proud of their behavior, such good little dogs!

It's Valentines day, 38 years of valentines. Lee has to give me a picture of the bracelet he got me since it didn't arrive before we left on our trip. I give Lee a Furby. He asked for one at Christmas. He might have been joking, but if he was it's too late now. The Furby has fallen for Lee hook line and giggly sinker. When you first turn it on it talks baby talk; you have to teach it English. The dogs don't like it. They seem to think its a bit creepy, and they might be jealous too. Fortunately if you pull the Furby's tail for 10 seconds it starts snoring gently and falls asleep.

Dinner is at a restaurant called Local 1110. It serves food procured locally, and it's address is 1110 Bull Street, get it? I have a filet, and Lee has duck. The nice thing about this restaurant are the interesting sides that accompany our entries. Mine includes some delicious roasted cauliflower. We also get a selection of truffles for dessert. Out comes a tray of twelve amazing bites of flavored chocolate. Needless to say we can't even begin to eat them all. They provide treats galore for the next day's drive.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Florida Here We Come!

We left New Hampshire and drove to NYC on a cold but clear Tuesday morning. We are headed to Florida to escape the cold, the snow, the endless New Hampshire winter. For the first 3 years in New England winter was exciting, but as we have gotten more acclimated it gets old.

We plan on doing this drive in stages, we are too old to be doing any of those 12 hour days. It's an easy and uneventful drive to New York City, sunny and cold. We check into one of our favorite Kimpton hotels on the West side. I get us an upgrade to a nice room with a 14th floor awesome view. There is a nearby dog park which includes a friendly lab with a red ball that shares with Harper. Our trip is off to a good start!

Dinner is at a French bistro in the East Village, Lucien's. We thought we were going to the restaurant where we met Stephen and Bob a few years ago but turns out it was a different place. Still basic french bistro food, done very well. Lee had hanger steak with mushroom sauce and frites; I had a squab with a delicious risotto.

The next morning it's off to Fairfax, Va to visit with my friend Catherine. Another uneventful drive, but we are watching the weather with increasing concern. A chance of snow is morphing into snow, ice, sleet, and "an ice storm of historic proportions" to quote the hyperventilating weather reporters. We can get to Fairfax, but will we be able to get out?

It's nice to sit at Catherine's kitchen table, watch the birds at the feeders and talk. Lee and Catherine are both consultants and enjoyed comparing notes. The dogs were polite and well behaved, no accidents, no barking at squirrels.

We ate dinner at a funny little Thai place in Fairfax City center. As we were eating it started snowing, but just a little. We were still hopeful that the hype would be greater than the actual storm. This restaurant was decorated to look like someone's library, with a wall of random books. It was darling, and the food, although nothing spectacular, was decent.

We fell asleep thinking that maybe we had dodged a bullet. It was snowing lightly, but not much accumulation so far. But the morning brought a different story.

There was snow all right, a lot of snow. Catherine's front door was blocked, and when Lee opened the garage to let the dogs out the snow was over their heads. He shoveled them a small path and we sat around the table, trying to decide what to do.

We were supposed to drive to Durham North Carolina to visit with Richard and his wife, but it sounded like the Raliegh-Durham area had been very hard hit by this storm. Their roads were covered in ice and nearly impassable. But first we had to dig out Catherine's driveway and see if we could even get out of her subdivision. Then we would decide if we thought we could travel that day.

Catherine's driveway was not very long, and she had three snow shovels, so we got to work. Harper and Cosmo supervised our progress, with Cosmo urging us on. He could see the street, just beyond where we had shoveled, but the snow was too deep for him to barrel through, although he tried!

Once we had cleared the driveway I put the dogs on leashes and walked to the end of her subdivision. The subdivision had been plowed, and the main road had been salted and sanded as well. My car has all wheel drive. Should we make a run for it? How far could we get?

We decided to give it a shot. We would aim for Richmond, about a two hour drive in normal conditions. Any progress we could make would make the drive to Savannah the following day a little less painful. We packed up the car, gave Catherine a hug and headed south. Lee did the driving for the first part. The road that led to I-95 was cleared, after a fashion. The plows had created a single cleared lane in both directions, but the intersections were a mess. Piled up snow made each crossing a bit of a challenge, but my car was a trooper and barrelled through without incident.

I-95 was clear. There was no one on the road, and Lee could even go the speed limit. Before too long we were approaching Richmond, and we really weren't ready to stop yet. We decided to keep going and see how far we could get.

The temperature hovered in the low to mid 30's. The only issue was that as we drove further south there would be more ice, and less salt. We wanted to stop before that became an issue. A dog friendly Marriott Residence Inn in Rocky Mount North Carolina decided things for us. That's where we determined to spend the night.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


On Thursday I went snowshoeing with a group of ladies from the Windham Newcomers Club. We went to the Musquash Conservation Area in Londonderry. I've been there before in the fall when Harper was a young dog. I went for a hike with another woman. She had a terrier too and our dogs had a fine time, but our map wasn't very good and the trails weren't marked very well.

Since then they have improved the trail markings, and the maps. Besides, in the snow a trail is easy to find, if someone has been on it before you! There had been one or two people on the trail before us. On Tuesday we got around ten inches of light fluffy snow, so it was perfect for snow shoes. Its a lot more work if the snow is heavy and wet.

When we moved to New England we bought snowshoes and cross country skies. I've only gone snowshoeing on our lake, however, and I have stumbled around in the back yard a bit, just to see what it is like.

The first time I tried them I was surprised to discover that I sank in the snow. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong. I actually googled snowshoeing and discovered that the amount of sinking is measured as something called "flotation" and is affected by the size of the snowshoe. Larger shoes are for mountaineering and backcountry use, and smaller snowshoes are prefered by runners. Yes people actually run in the snow using snowshoes! There are even snowshoe races.

Well, we weren't racing, we were just hiking. I thought I would be klutzy, but I actually did just fine. Its more exercise than just walking, but not as much as cross country skiing.

Porcupine Rock

The woods are so beautiful following a new-fallen snow. It was quiet, the wind was calm, and it wasn't too cold either, all they way up into the teens!

We were two thirds of the way around the loop we were hiking when Sharon suddenly exclaimed, "I can't find my phone!" We had all had our phones out at some point to take pictures, and the last time she remembered having it was quite awhile ago. She checked her pockets and we looked all around where we were standing, but no phone.

One lady tried calling it. The first time she tried it rang, but we couldn't hear it. The second time it went straight to voicemail. It was an iphone, so she had the "find my phone" app installed on it, but it couldn't locate it either. So we decided to backtrack and hope that we could see it sticking up somewhere in the snow. After all it was in a purple case!

We slowly and carefully made our way back along the trail. We never saw it, and we had five pairs of eyes looking. Later we figured that because the snow was so light and fluffy it must have fallen down into it and gotten covered. It was far enough down in the snow that it lost service.

Poor Sharon! We all felt bad for her. She said she had over 800 pictures on her phone, and she hadn't backed it up in a long time.

When we got back to our cars I was tired, and hungry too. Snowshoeing uses up a lot of calories. After I got home I made sure I had a current backup of my phone, and I checked to make sure I had the "Find My Phone" App installed too. I'd hate to lose my phone!


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