Friday, March 28, 2014

Skating the Marginal Way

Lee and I have joined a couple of Meetup Groups. The one we really seem to like is in the Seacoast area near Portsmouth. They are called The Striders and they like to go on walks and they like to eat. Right up our alley!

We were supposed to walk a path along the ocean in Ogunquit, Maine called the Marginal Way. It was about a 3 mile walk, followed by brunch at a local restaurant. It was a brilliant, sunny, windy, cold day, 25F with a strong wind along the ocean. The Marginal Way makes its way along the cliffs overlooking the coast. The water was blue and green and clear, with whitecaps on the cresting waves. This group enjoys their walks, and everyone was bundled up appropriately. However, there was one little problem.

The weather has been very unsettled lately. It is cold, it is warm. The snow melts, and freezes, and melts, and freezes. It rains a bit, it snows a bit. This was a cold day, after a warmer afternoon the previous day. The Marginal Way was as slick as a skating rink. But this is a gung ho group. We all strapped on our big boy shoes and did our walk. Two ladies fell; most of us stayed upright, but walked slowly, took small steps, and walked a bit like penguins. I had my camera so I was doubly careful. I told myself that if I had to fall, I should fall on my butt and protect the camera at all costs.

When it came time to turn around most of us elected to return by the road. It wasn't as scenic but it was a whole heck of a lot easier to traverse. A few brave souls, including Lee, penguin-walked all the way back to our starting point.

Ogunquit was a really cute town, just starting to wake up from winter. The restaurant where we ate, Five-O Shore Road, had just reopened for the season. I like Maine, but its just cold up there. I had on long underwear, and lots of warm layers, but I didn't feel overdressed until I stepped inside. Then I had to peel off my layers as quickly as I could before I started sweating.

This was a fun day and I got some nice pictures of the sunny Maine coast.  There will be more Strider walks and restaurant adventures in the future, and I plan to join them as often as I can.

Friday, March 21, 2014


Last Thursday I went to see the Broadway show Flashdance in Boston. It was fun, although it was really cold. It had rained cats and dogs the night before, then the rain turned to snow, and although it didn't snow very much, Thursday morning was pretty icy and there was some question about whether we would be able to go or not. But by Thursday afternoon the sun came out and the roads were clear, so off we went.

I went with a group of ladies from the Windham Newcomer's Club. Although a lot of us aren't really "new" anymore, the club is a great way to meet people and have some fun things to do. We drove down in carpools together and I was very grateful to not have to drive into Boston by myself, or try to drive home in the dark. I still think Boston is one of the most confusing cities to get around in I have ever experienced.

It was bitterly cold outside, with a strong wind blowing. Where is spring? Not in New England, at least not yet, that's for sure. We ate dinner at PF Chang's, right down the street from the theatre, and the lady that drove knew her way around so she parked in a lot that was close to both the theatre and the restaurant. I can find my way around Boston now, after much trial and error, with a lot of the error part, but I'm not very familiar with the theatre district. Its kind of tucked into a spot in between the Commons, Chinatown and South Station.

PF Chang's is pretty standard Asian-fusion fare. I did have a yummy cocktail that the waiter steered me toward when I said I was interested in saki. I had a Yuzu Ginger Mojito that had saki, yuku liquor, lime, mint and ginger beer. It was good! I would mix sake and ginger beer again. Then I had their lettuce wraps for dinner. They are listed as a starter but the entrees at PF Chang's are huge, so it was a good choice.

Now, full confession time. I've never seen the movie Flashdance. I knew it was from the 80's and involved a lot of dancing, big hair and sweatshirts slipping off of shoulders, but that's about it. The 80's are my lost decade, not because I was busy doing coke and drinking in bars, but because I had two babies and a full time job.

I love musicals, but I'm a bit snooty about them. They have to either be funny, or they have to make me think, or they have to tug at my heartstrings. The story has to make at least some sense. So, some of my favorite musicals are Sweeny Todd, South Pacific, Rent. Carousel pisses me off, Oklahoma bores me, Hair frustrates me. I've recently seen both Once and Book of Mormon, and enjoyed them both.

So, what did I think of Flashdance? Its interesting to be at a show where a significant portion of the audience obviously adores it, knows it by heart and really gets into it. Girls were dressed in 80's costume and screamed at the appropriate points in the show. That part was fun. Secondly, the dancing is really, really good. I love that kind of energetic street dancing. It's thrilling to watch, and the dancers in this production were wonderful. Third, there are a lot of good songs in this show. Maniac, I Love Rock and Roll, Gloria, What a Feeling...everytime one of those songs would start, the groupie part of the audience would scream, and I would go "Oh! THAT's from this show!"

But the story? The story itself annoyed me to no end. First of all you have a small young girl working as a welder in a steel factory in Pittsburgh in the early 80's. That's not impossible, but its certainly a stretch, a big one. She's a dancer, working in a bar at night after welding all day. But she wanders by a dance academy and longs to go there and really learn to dance. This is the part that drove me crazy. Why why why would she want to go to a place like that and learn ballet? And please, I don't care how good she is, you can't start learning ballet at 25, that's just not happening.

I don't mind the part where the steel mill boss falls in love with her, or quits his job so that he doesn't have to be the one to lay people off. I actually really liked the one scene where Harry, the owner of the bar, does a little dance number with some of the other dancers. Its cute, and for some reason I love watching a large man move gracefully. Just a little quirk I have.

But the dance part bugged me, and that took away from my enjoyment of the show. I kept comparing it to Billy Elliot, which dealt with similar issues, but dealt with them more truthfully I thought. I kept thinking how meaningless it was for the boss guy to quit; it wasn't going to change anything, those jobs were going overseas and that steel mill was going to close. I guess its just as well that Alex, the welder girl, got into the dance academy. Her welding job wasn't going to last much longer anyway.

Overall I had a good time. Like I said, I love musicals, so even if I didn't love this particular musical, I still enjoyed myself. In fact I was a little irritated with myself for being so critical. Lighten up, Lynn! Its just a musical!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Goodbye Gulfport

Our last night in Gulfport we celebrated by going to Pia's, a nice Italian restaurant downtown. We didn't plan ahead and get a reservation, but we were able to wait at the bar until a table became available. It was a chilly evening but we were able to sit on their beautiful patio next to one of those heaters. We were quite comfortable.

Lots of people had told us that Pia's was good, and it was. It would be worth going to even if you weren't staying in Gulfport.  But we enjoyed one last time of just strolling the 5 blocks to downtown to eat at a nice restaurant in this cute, funky little town.

Its a long drive the next day from Gulfport to Charleston, South Carolina. We stop along the way to buy large five pound bags of Florida oranges and grape fruits. They are so incredibly sweet and citrusy.

Charleston is a beautiful place. We don't get there until after 5 pm so we only have one short evening to get a taste of what it is like. We decide quickly that we will have to come back, maybe during our drive to Florida next year. I am very curious about the history and culture of the town. It seems very prosperous and well preserved, or perhaps restored.

Cabell House, our dog friendly b&b, welcomes us with a bottle of wine. We take the dogs for a walk along the nearby river and watch the sun set. Then we make them comfortable in our room and walk to the Charleston Grill for dinner. This is a fancy restaurant in a hotel. The food is good and the service is great. There are some highly recommended restaurants in Charleston but I didn't plan ahead enough to get reservations at one of them on a Saturday night. Oh well, this is fun anyway. We are seated in a banquet, which is perfect for people-watching. We seem to be surrounded by businessmen and rich southerners. I wonder where this town get it's money?

In the morning I run in 40 degree weather along the Ashley River. This seems seriously cold to me after two weeks in Florida but I warm up quickly, stripping off my hat and gloves. That won't be the case on Tuesday. Another big snowstorm is coming through Virginia on Monday. We've already changed our plans to stay in Durham, North Carolina for two nights. We can't outrun this storm so we might as well outwait it. Now we just have to figure out how far we can get on Tuesday before we make our way home on Wednesday.

Monday morning in Durham a drizzly rain changes to a steady downpour. Farther north in Virginia it is already snowing. All we can do is hang out with Lee's friends Richard and Catherine and relax.

We watch in a coffeeshop as the rain turns to sleet and then to ice. Later that evening we make a quick run to Whole Foods to get food for dinner and breakfast. On the way back to the hotel we skid a bit. Time to hunker down.

We wake to the tv warning us about black ice. Even I take this seriously for once and run on the hotel's treadmill. We wait until 10 am to head to our next destination, Philadelphia.

The drive to Philly is uneventful, but we run into backed up traffic from an accident when we are about an hour outside the city. We try using the Beat The Traffic App on my phone to get around the trouble. Sometimes this works, but in this case something goes wrong and we end up in a different traffic jam in a small town, probably from all the people off the highway trying to do the same thing as us. Then we make a wrong turn as we enter the city and end up going over the Ben Franklin Bridge back to Camden, New Jersey. But eventually we get checked into the Hotel Monaco, another great Kimpton hotel, right by Independence Hall. Its a pleasant surprise to get to be back in Philladelphia again so soon after the marathon in November. We get to eat at Kanellas again, and it is almost as good as the first time we were there. 

We wake up knowing we have one final day of driving left and then we're home. New Hampshire is buried in old snow. Our driveway is clear but the walks are piled high with snow that will probably be there until April. Even though it is 5F when we get up in the morning it's great to be home!

In retrospect, although driving like that is a lot of work, if we split it up, its not so bad. We are debating different ways to do it next year, and are even considering trying flying at some point. But we loved having that break from winter. Florida is definitely in our future!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rain and Chilly weather Descend on Florida

For the next few days the blue skies disappear and we see clouds covering the sun. The temperatures drop into the 60s and even into the 50s at night. I know, poor us, boo hoo! Rainstorms blow through the area. We get extremely lazy; even the dogs are content to just lie around. I read, catching up on my huge backlog of unread New Yorkers. Lee even does a little work, making money and having a vacation at the same time.

One morning we walk downtown to Stella's again for breakfast. I love being able to take the dogs with us on these little expeditions, and I love being able to walk just about anywhere we want to go. I love our home in New Hampshire, but sometimes I wish it was more walkable. I like walking around our lake, or going to the rail trail for a hike, but being able to run errands or go out to eat without getting in the car is a treat. But Salem is a much larger town than Gulfport; you can't have everything!

The Gulfport Post Office and Flea Market

The rain stops one evening and we walk over to The Clam Bayou Nature Reserve. I bring my camera and we see a pink shorebird which I later discover is a roseate spoonbill. Next year I will bring my bird book to see if I can identify more birds. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Biking with the Dogs, and a Flea Infestation

Several days ago when we took the dogs on a bike ride, we discovered that the Vietnamese restaurant where we ate dinner several nights ago is near the Pinellas County trail. We really liked this restaurant, so one day we decide to go on a lunchtime biking expedition.

We put the dogs in their trailer and ride over to Asian for lunch. We have Bahn mi sandwiches and Pho, while the dogs lie politely underneath our table on the restaurant's shady patio. The dogs have fully adjusted to the trailer and are loving it. Lee has adjusted their harnesses so they don't get tangled and can look out the top without being able to jump out. We get so many smiles and comments as we cycle by.

Later that evening I see a small black bug on Cosmo's back as we cuddle on the couch. Argh, a flea! Suddenly it dawns on me, so that's why Harper has been scratching so much. They've never had fleas before. I feel like the mom whose kids get head lice at school. Considering the timing, we decide they probably were infected at the dog beach. What a shame that something so fun should have such an unfortunate consequence.

First we bathe them in a concoction consisting of 1 cup Dawn, 1 cup vinegar and 2 cups water. We massage this in for 5 minutes; they like that part. A few fleas try to escape from each dog, but we crush them. The dogs come out white and beautiful; that's a great shampoo. The next day after researching our options with our vet, Diane's vet, and a local vet, we buy some  Kanine Advantix II and apply it to the dogs. It's a week earlier than we would normally apply Frontline, but Frontline doesn't work on fleas very well anymore (they're becoming immune) and we don't want to wait. We also buy a flea-killing spray and apply it to the carpets and upholstery in the cottage. I vacuum the car thoroughly as well. Diane advises us to leave our stuff outside overnight when we get back to New Hampshire, as the cold will kill any remaining fleas. Sadly, we can't go play with Diane and the dogs in New Port Richey tomorrow. We can't risk infesting her dogs.

Once upon a time many years ago we had a cat (sweet Kitty the great huntress) that had fleas unbeknownst to us. We left on a trip and Kitty stayed with friends while we were gone. When we returned we had a house full of starving fleas that literally attacked us when we walked into the house. I don't ever want to have an experience like that again!

We think we caught it in time and our fleas are history, but Lee and I still feel itchy. We don't see any more fleas (and believe me we've looked), but Harper continues to scratch. She's such a sensitive little flower.....

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gulfport's Get Rescued Festival and Checking Out Safety Harbor

On Saturday Gulfport has it's annual dog rescue fundraiser downtown. Get Rescued attracts rescue organizations from around the state of Florida. There are all sorts of dog breeds dressed up in their finery, arts, crafts and dog treats. All proceeds go to benefit dog rescue organizations in Florida.

Lots of cute dogs parade around downtown Gulfport. Everyone is having a great time in spite of the rain that comes in stops and starts. Harper wears a flower on her collar, Cosmo wears his new tie. Everyone loves Westies; so many people stop to pet and compliment our dogs.

There are a couple of houses in Safety Harbor we think we might want to rent next year so we drive up there on Sunday afternoon. One house won't do because it doesn't have a fenced yard, but the other is perfect, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (one with a walk in shower in case my mom wants to visit), a screened porch, a non-muddy fenced yard.

Safety Harbor is very different from Gulfport. It's a lot bigger, and there happens to be some kind of Italian Festival going on down by the water so it's busy and crowded on this day. But it's another charming Floridian town with lots of shops and restaurants, a resort and spa, and a bike path along the waterfront that goes all the way to Clearwater. We decide to take the house for the entire month of March next year. We are turning into snowbirds!

Monday, March 3, 2014

On Our Own in Gulfport Florida

Mark and Mary left this morning. It was fun having them here, but now it's just me and Lee. When we are not hosting guests we can be pretty laid back. It doesn't take that much to entertain us!

While Lee took the Beckers to the airport I took the dogs on their morning walk. There is a chance of rain the next few days. Clouds have rolled in and it's humid. The dogs and I ambled over to the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve. It's only about a 10 minute walk from the house, and it's not very big, but there are lots of birds to watch and things for dogs to sniff.

I've been thinking about the pluses and minuses of our stay in Florida so far. On the plus side I've got the following:

1) The weather. It's nice to wear shorts and sun dresses and enjoy the sun.

2) The location. Gulfport is darling. A little town, with a cute downtown and a nice beach, all within walking distance. There's a good beach for dogs not far away, and St. Pete Beach is close by too. St. Petersburg is available for more of a small city experience.

3) The Tuesday market. Great crafts and good food. Fun!

4) The dogs can sit outside with us at restaurants.

5) The nearby hike and bike trail.

Then there are the minuses:

1) The weather. It doesn't take much for it to get hot, sticky and humid. I sure wouldn't want to be here in the summer. Everything feels damp, and towels never dry.

2) This house is dirty, mainly the floor. You can't go barefoot unless you want to have your feet turn black. The owners are space cadets, the garage is a trash heap, and there is only 1 bathroom. If (when) we come back next year we will find another place.

3) Although coming for a longer time would be nice in some ways, I'm a little concerned about getting bored. I'll see how I feel after two weeks.

4) Initially I thought the fenced in yard was great, but every time the dogs go outside they get filthy. It's that damp black dirt. They've already had one bath and I bet they get another before we head back north.

(We found a solution for number 4, by using the puppy playpen to block off the muddier part of the yard. Where there's a will....!)

That's really all I can think of right now, and when I write it down it doesn't really seem like that big of a deal. There are also things I would do differently next year:

1) More shorts, fewer pants.

2) More sun dresses, fewer dressy dresses.

3) More hot weather running clothes. I just can't re-wear things as much when I'm getting so hot and sweaty.

4) Download more files to Dropbox. Why not? It's better than feeling frustrated because I can't look up certain things.

And if we are really here for a month I'm going to plan an activity of some kind, some kind of class perhaps. An art or dance class, something I wouldn't normally do at home. I can't just be a tourist for an entire month!


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