Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Two "isms" of Florida

Colonialism and tourism: essentially, what makes up the vast majority of the towns in this state.

On Tuesday, we decided to take a trip to St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.  It was about a 3 hour drive from where we were and we decided to take the scenic drive through a National Forest.  It was, as they say here in the south, “real perdy”.

St. Augustine is famous for their lighthouse, a 180’ white and navy spiraled building built back in the late 1800s.  That was our first stop.

We arrived and just as most historic lighthouses are these days, it was turned into a tourist trap filled with figurines and fudge.  The great thing about this lighthouse is that you can still go up to the top.  We climbed the innumerable steps of the spiral staircase and reached the top to see a spectacular 360˚ view of the St. Augustine area.  It was pretty fantastic.

After we soaked in the landscape, we climbed back down and took a little stroll around the property and went back to the gift shop.  I let my sweet-tooth get the best of me and bought some butter pecan fudge.  Matt bought a figurine for his mom (she collects sea-faring décor).

We left the lighthouse and headed toward town where we stumbled upon an old fortress which was pretty cool.  It even had a moat and an oven specifically to heat up cannonballs to shoot at enemy ships!  My imagination went wild with the possibilities – alligators swarming and snapping in the moat, fiery canon balls firing at invaders, dramatic love stories (hey, I might not be the girliest girl, but I still have a heart!).  It was a really neat place.  The archaeologist in me got a little hot-n-heavy, too.

It was getting dark, so we decided to head to the beach.  By the time we arrived it was full-on night time, but that was ok.  We parked the car on the beach (something I still am troubled by), and walked toward the water.  The sand was fine and soft like baby powder.  The stars were out, there was a boat out on the water, but the moon was no where to be found. 

As we were standing there, we noticed a crimson red light on the horizon.  We speculated what it might be: a boat with a disco light, a space ship, a Coast Guard with an emergency light?  Matt jokingly said, “If that starts coming out of the water, I’m gonna run.”  But then it did.  It got larger and larger.  We stared at it intently trying to figure out what could be bright red and growing.  Then, I noticed a slight discoloration on it and excitedly started jumping up and down screaming, “It’s the moon!! Oh my God, it’s the moon!”

It was one of the most amazing and stunning things I’ve ever seen.  We stood there, thinking this may be the only time in our lives that we’d witness such a thing.  As it rose, its color faded slowly to white, but for that moment when it was rising above the horizon, it was blood red and beautiful.

We were beginning to get hungry, so we decided to head back to town, but stopped at this amazing little restaurant near the beach called Playa Chac-Mool.  It was a small restaurant operated by a nice Mexican couple. 

The food was amazing, authentic, the portions were humongous and the price was right.  Twenty-one dollars for an appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert.  We shared a delicious appetizer of melted refried beans and cheese on bread with pico de gallo, Matt had the sampler which included four small burrito-style wraps each with a different filling, I had the chimichanga, and we finished it off with a traditional Mexican dessert called sopapilla – it was French vanilla ice cream with deep fried triangles of what seemed like tortilla, all sprinkled with cinnamon. 

I love being a foodie with a good metabolism, because I devoured every last bite.

The rest of the night was spent strolling the streets of downtown St. Augustine.  It’s a charming little university town with a ton of history.  Cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and lots of Spanish influence makes you feel like you’ve travelled a lot farther than a few hundred miles.  The streets were littered with shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries and chocolatiers.  The people were really friendly and there were limited numbers of people who looked either homeless, crazy, or both.

After accidentally missing our turn-off on the way home, we finally arrived home again and once we had enough shut eye, we decided to head a u-pick orange grove a few miles away.  They had a cute little outdoor farmer’s market area with lots of fruits, honey, gator meat, juice, salsas and other jarred and unjarred delights.  We strolled around, didn’t pick a single piece of citrus, stood inside a giant wigwam (I don’t really know why this was on the property as the farm was clearly run by white people), bought some blueberry banana bread, pineapple salsa, and gator jerky, tried a piece of pomello, and left.

On the way back to the house we decided to stop at the Lakeridge Winery for a free tour and tasting.  I’m so glad we did. We waited around for a while, then were lead upstairs by the most hilariously amazing tour guide: Doug.  Doug was from the south, he said the word “red” like it had two syllables, and talked about himself in the third person, all the time.

Doug showed us a nice video about the winery, filled us in on everything you could possibly want to know about the Florida native muscadine grape, and took us through the steps of harvesting grapes and making wines.  We tried 12 different wines in about 20 minutes, and considering I’ve hardly had a drink since I got to Arkansas on October 6th, I was feeling it.  The wines were seriously delicious, even the red, which I don’t  like.  Maybe it was the fact that I was buzzed, but I ended up leaving the winery with four bottles of Lakeridge wine: Southern White, Southern Red, Chivas, and Sunblush.  I’m really glad alcohol is so cheap in the US.

Later that night we headed into Orlando where we were persistently accosted by people trying to scalp tickets to the Magic game.  By the 7th scalper, we started responding, “What game?” to which they'd shockingly respond, “The MAGIC game, c’mon man!”  It was a slight triumph, but a triumph nonetheless.

We walked so many streets that my blood sugar was seriously tumbling and I was beginning to get agitated, so we settled on Church Street, which is a nice little historic district, at a Cajun restaurant that just opened a month before.  We got an appetizer of deepfried gator, shrimp and these little deepfried veggies that were a little bigger than capers, but I can’t remember what they’re called.  It was my first time trying gator and it was kinda weird: it had the taste of chicken, but the texture of seafood, and it was really greasy. For an entrée, I had half a rack of ribs, some sweet sweet corn cake (aka corn bread), coleslaw, and beans.  It was pretty delicious.

For any city I’ve ever been to, LA included, Orlando has the highest percentage of hoochie mama’s.  I’ve never been so confused about women’s occupations.  I couldn’t tell if they were out for a night on the town, or if they were looking to turn tricks.  There was more lingerie being worn as outerwear than I’d ever seen on Halloween.  It was almost troubling and in my denim, cardigan, t-shirt and scarf, I was most certainly out of place.

We had gone into Orlando to check out a musician, Aloe Blacc who was performing at the Back Booth.  We decided to check out the venue and knew we were in the right place by the time we got close enough to see the details of the crowd gathered outside.  Thick framed glasses, fedoras, suspenders, men’s skinny jeans, plaid and stripes: the wardrobe of those who attend indie rock concerts.  We were at home.

The opening band was Peter Baldwin, a local group with tons of soul and great energy.  We only caught the last of their gig, but were really impressed by the crowd they drew and their talent.  Next up was Maya Jupiter, who was recently picked up by Aloe Blacc’s label and whose debut album was produced in part by Aloe amongst others.  Maya was a super-empowered half-Mexican, half-Turkish, Australian-born woman with a really meaningful message.  Politically charged and clearly feminist, she dominated the stage for her too-short 20-minute set, tackling everything from reggae to dancehall to rap, she was a force to be reckoned with and though most of the audience clearly hadn’t heard much of her stuff before, she had everyone moving.

Aloe’s band backed up Maya which lead to a perfect transition between their sets.  Aloe, of course, played his hit “I need a dollar” and proceeded to infect the crowd with his upbeat, soulful, R&B styles and inspiring, political messages.  Maya even joined Aloe on stage for one song and added her own dancehall flare – she totally rocked it for being a newbie.  If you get the chance to check out any of these artists, I would strongly recommend it.

Next up?  My first American Thanksgiving, Downtown Disney, and the madness of Black Friday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Where Dreams Come True

Picking up where I left off, I was awaiting a visitor.

It was like Christmas morning, only better.

So, I’m getting ready, checking flight arrival times, dollin’ myself up a bit, checkin’ out my butt in the mirror… you know, that kinda thing.  I’m ready to rock at 12:55 pm, since the flight arrival time is 2:15 pm, but we need to stop at Walgreens and pick up some polysporin and Band-Aids because of the giant oozing abrasions on my left arm and knee.

My wonderful chauffeur (no sarcasm, seriously) is running late – as usual – but only by a few minutes, so it’s all good.  Shoes on.  Out the door.  Off we go!

When we get to Walgreens it’s raining, for the first time since we’d gotten back to Central Florida.  Of course, the day I’m having a visitor.  Anyway, I exit the vehicle, assuring my driver that I’d be in and out and that I’d already scouted out the products online.  I got inside, grabbed the goods, showed off my battle wounds to the pharmacist, paid, and ran out to the car.

But, my driver was no where to be found, so I called his cell.  Of course, Ferrero Rocher takes precedent over being on time for airport pick-up.  I tease, of course.  But seriously, the flight was scheduled to arrive in 10 minutes and we were still 20 minutes away from the airport.  I hate being late.

I made it to the arrivals terminal, scanned the baggage area, but it appeared despite the chocolates, I was still on time or even better – early!

My usual, slightly finicky-when-anxious, self then proceeded to pace, lean against random structural objects, stare at arrivals monitors, pace more, sit in a chair, stand up, lean some more, then finally stand in one place.  Finally, down the glorious tile stairs (as opposed to the escalator) of MCO came that tall glass of water I’d been thirstin’ for.

Our visit together started out like most of our other experiences together – someone took a stab at Matt’s pride then complimented me.  Here’s the story: we went to Enterprise to pick up our rental for the visit.  The car rental clerk processed our reservation, looks at Matt hands him his card and says, “I’m sorry it says it’s been declined for insufficient funds.”  Matt, shocked, knowing this is impossible looks like his heart drops into his toes and can only muster out a “what?!” before the clerk smiles, laughs, tells us she was just joking and she’s “so bad!” and then proceeds to tell me that she loves my haircut and thinks it’s super cute on me.  

So off we go and our usual luck follows us, most of the way.  First, we got a free upgrade on our rental car.  Score.

After having some supper and discussing the weeks plan, we decide it would be best to get up early and hit up Disney World the next day.

I’m sure it was a blessing in disguise, but I accidentally set the alarm clock for pm instead of am, so we slept in – not late though. We got to Disney by 10:00 am and filed through the endless crowds to get to Magic Kingdom. 

We took the ferry across and arrived to one of the many periodic parades down Mainstreet USA, involving all of the usual suspects: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Sebastien, Lumiere and almost every other Disney character you can name. 

I immediately transformed into a five year old and felt blissfully happy.  I’d finally made it to Disney World, after all these years, and it was just as good as I’d imagined.  It’s really true what they say – Disney World is where dreams come true!

Now, if you’ve only got one day to spend at Disney, I would suggest you tackle it the same way we did to get the most bang for your buck.  If you don’t want to waste time driving between parks, you’re going to want to focus on Magic Kingdom and Epcot, which are connected by tram and you don’t need to move your vehicle to get from one park to the other.

Figure out which rides you want to do most and start at that park first thing in the morning to get “fast passes” so you don’t need to wait in line as long throughout the day. The fast passes are tricky, because you can only have one at a time, so you’ve gotta time it right.

We went straight for Splash Mountain and picked up our fast passes, then walked around checking out other rides with short stand-by times to fill our time before we could use our fast passes.  We went through the haunted mansion, strolled through a few areas of the park, and watched Mickey’s Philharmagic Orchestra 3-D movie.

After realizing the wait time for Space Mountain in Tomorrowland was significant, so we wandered back to FrontierLand to use our fast passes. When we presented our passes to the attendant, he kindly informed us that they were for Thunder Mountain Railroad, not Splash Mountain (in our defense, the rides are practically side-by-side).  So we rode the Thunder Mountain Railroad, but the wait times for both fast passes and stand-by on Splash Mountain were too long, so we headed to Epcot.

After a short ride on the monorail, we arrived to the world-famous view of the Epcot Globe.  We headed straight for the main attractions: Soarin’, Mission Space, and GM Test Track – all of which had 180+ minute stand-by wait times and sold out fast passes.

Lucky for us, as we got to Mission Space and stared hopelessly at the wait times, a lady walked up and offered us her fast-passes which were just about to expire.  They wouldn’t be using them so they thought they should find people who would – and those people were us! 
We went to the entrance of the ride where you get to choose between “green” and “orange” tickets.  The ride has a very specific disclaimer warning people that if they get motion sickness, or a variety of other motion related ailments, they should choose the green ticket.  Orange is for “true astronaut training”.

We chose orange.  I’ve never felt more afraid of voluntarily subjecting myself to something in my life.

Of course, the waiting line didn’t make it any easier.  Every minute that passed I got more anxious.  Video monitors on the walls offered constant reminders that if you changed your mind and wanted to do “green” training, you could still opt-out.

Apparently, more people throw up on this ride than any other ride at Disney World.  Isn’t that charming?

So finally, we get called into our “pod” for a briefing by one of those guys who always plays the role of a scientist or astronaut in Disney movies.  And we wait.  And we wait some more.  People begin to sit down, getting fatigued from standing in line then standing in our training vessel.

Finally a door opens.  But it’s the wrong one.  Through the door we entered from stands a ride attendant, in his astronaut gear.  Apparently no one told them that the ride they sent us into was broken.  We all got switched to the next available pod and went through the debriefing all over again.

We all entered in our space ships to prepare for a six month voyage to Mars.  Sweet.  One of the girls in our row opted out at the last minute, so we were down a commander.  We would just have to make due.

We each locked down our chest-restraints and proceeded to obey our orders to keep our heads pressed firmly to the back of our seats and stare directly through our viewing window.

Engines: check.  Fuel: check.  Mission is a go!

There was a loud and viscous rumble from below, and lift off! We were propelled through Earths’ atmosphere and into space.  The six month journey would sling-shot us around the moon and onto Mars.  Thankfully, since the voyage was so long, we were put into a hibernating state to pass the time.

Six months passed as quickly as we were told it would and upon awakening Mars was in sight.  Unfortunately, so was an asteroid storm!  We dodged and darted through the chunks of space debris successfully, but ended up off-course for our landing.  We’d need to work together to complete an emergency landing.

The captain was called on to steer us in, lights were flashing, options were ignited, and after a rough up-and-down, through ancient fjords, and past our landing site, we crash landed, albeit successfully, on the edge of a cliff.  Phew.

For the next 45 minutes after exiting Mission Space, we were disoriented, unbalanced, and slightly nauseous.  I now fully understand why there are so many warnings and disclaimers on the ride.

So we checked out a slightly more low-key ride: Ellen’s Universe of Energy with Bill Nye the Science Guy!  I learned all about fossil fuels and dinosaurs and lots of other forms of energy and laughed heartily because the Ellen who hosted was Ellen circa 1998, a slightly less fashionable, slightly more “mullet-ey” version of the Ellen we know and love today.

After that we headed to the World Pavilions, which included: England, Canada, Morocco, Germany, China, Norway, the US, France and a few others.

I was, of course, very much intrigued to see how us Canadians are represented.  And, I’ve gotta say, they did a pretty spot-on job, if we were all lumberjacks, that is.  The female Canadians had the pleasure of wearing the always flattering ¾ length, mustard-brown pleated skirts with delightful button accents down the front, construction-style boots with wool socks, and red and black plaid shirts.  The Canadian boys had a similar uniform, but got to wear pleated pants instead.  Lucky!

So I obviously have to see what else the visitors of Disney are learning about our beautiful country.  We stroll through a beautiful reproduction of Stanley Park in British Columbia, and head toward the 360˚ theatre to watch an 18-minute movie about Canada, as presented by one of Canada’s top comedic exports: Martin Short (sarcasm intended).

As I’m heading toward the theatre there are two Canadians waiting to greet us.  I begin to get closer and find myself squinting in disbelief.  I wait until I’m close enough to confirm this Canadian’s identity via her nametag and say, “Amy Irving?!  Umm, Allie Mason?  New Glasgow High??”

We were both shocked.  What are the chances?!  Turns out from my small high school of 300 (at the time when she attended before we were amalgamated), Amy Irving had made her way all the way to Disney World to work for a full year.  She was two months in, at the time.  After we chatted for a couple of minutes we went into the theater where she happened to be hosting today.  She gave me a nice little shout-out in her introduction, where she shocked audiences by telling them we don’t say “eh” all the time and we don’t live in igloos or take dogsleds to work.  One man requested she give a “Hey hoser!” to his son.  I have no idea what that means, but he seemed to enjoy it.

Anyway, the movie was a beautiful tourist-ey type of movie, showcasing all that Canada has to offer from our major cities to beautiful backcountry villages and our vast natural landscape.  I always find it odd when our strong aboriginal presence is ignored in our cultural history, but that seemed to be the case again.  Heck, even the US Pavilion had an animatronic Chief!  I guess it’s to be expected after seeing the outfits they had us in.

We checked out all of the other pavilions, took a log ride through Norway, stopped for a meal in Morocco, took another ride through Mexico, strolled the streets of Germany, France and China, and watched a completely animatronic theatrical production starring the founding fathers of America.

I don’t know about you, but I this animatronics are hysterical.  The fact that they had an animatronic Mark Twain, smoking a cigar and talking to George Washington was slightly entertaining to me.  I’m sure it’s just because it’s Disney, and Disney would never recognize negative relationships between cultures, but the US’s depiction of their history was about as ignorant and their depiction of Canada’s history.  It was so bad that Matt made sure to point out when it was over that he, “hoped I didn’t think it really happened that way.”  I had a laugh.

We hung out at Epcot to see their fireworks, which were absolutely phenomenal.  A giant light-up globe floats out into the middle of the lake and opens up to show a video inside, fireworks are going off everywhere, there are torches lit up in the middle of the lake.  It was an amazing display.

When they finished, we headed back to Magic Kingdom to see if we could catch their fireworks and hit up a few more rides before we headed home.  We arrived just in time to see Cinderella’s castle lit up from all sides with fireworks.  Mainstreet USA was packed.  We found a good place to witness the rest of the spectacle and took it all in.  The castle looked like it had been sprinkled with fairy dust.  It was beautiful.

We figured since all the parents and young kids would be heading out after the fireworks that we’d have a better chance of getting onto a few of the rides that had long wait times earlier.  We went straight to Space Mountain – an entirely indoor rollercoaster that zips and zooms through the universe!  Out of the coasters at Disney, Space Mountain was definitely my favorite.  It was fast, had lots of dips, dives, swerves and spirals, though it didn’t go upside-down at any point.  It was a lot of fun and being in the dark made the ride that much more suspenseful.

After, we went to go check out the inside of Cinderella’s castle, and go on Splash Mountain.  Splash Mountain is pretty low-key, comparatively speaking.  It’s a log ride, and for the vast majority of it you’re just floating around through this strangely erotic animatronic woodland.  I’m not gonna go into any more detail about that.

When we left Splash Mountain we were a little wet, so we decided to dry off on the Thunder Mountain Railroad.  We made our way to the top and were all settled in within 10 minutes.  Toward the end of the ride, the rollercoaster got stuck.  Slightly anti-climactic, but since it was almost back to the end it wasn’t so bad. 

We were pulled into the station where some people fiddled with whatever got jammed.  About 5 minutes later, the problem was fixed and the ride attendant yelled, “We’re all fixed… and you’re going on again!!”  The crowd cheered and off we went for one more round.

We strolled through an eerily empty, midnight Disney World, took the ferry back to the parking lot, and took the tram back to our car.

Disney World -  great success!

Monday, December 6, 2010

First of Three

So, after getting all settled in, I had about 5 days to prepare for my first and only visitor in Florida.  It would be the first friend I'd seen since October 6th (also happens to be the last person I saw on October 6th!).  Needless to say, I was pretty darn excited.

I was so excited that I’m pretty sure my nerves got the best of me.  The whole week before said guests’ arrival I had this weird feeling that I was going to get hurt.  I didn’t know how or when, but I had an eerie suspicion something was going to happen.  On the motorcycle I was paranoid.  When I went for a run I would be extra careful not to drag my feet or trip.  

The day before arrival day, not even a mile from the house, I’m casually riding my bicycle down the street and a palmetto bug lands on me.

Now, if you know anything about palmetto bugs, you know they are like giant flying cockroaches and they won’t hurt you.  If you’re me, however, and know nothing about palmetto bugs, you automatically assume the worst case scenario: it's going to bite/sting/plant its' eggs in me and I'm going to die.

It flies toward me and lands directly on my foot.  I panic.  I start shaking my foot furiously, but it’s got a grip on me as tight as a headlock from Mike Tyson.  So I attempt to drag my foot against the foot pedal, all the while still attempting to maintain my balance and continue my bike ride. 

In retrospect, I should have just stopped dead in my tracks and went and rubbed my foot in the grass, but all reason escaped me when that giant bug landed on me.

So, I manage one scrape, but the bug is still there.  At this point I can’t even tell if it’s dead or alive, but I just keep trying to get it off.  By swipe three against the pedal, the bug is undoubtedly dead, and I’m flying toward the pavement.

Instinctively, I clench my fists, so that I don’t scrape up my palms of my hands upon impact.  I land squarely on my left forearm and left knee.  I burn a hole through the knee of my pants, and into my skin, and scrape a solid four and a half inch gash into my arm.  Luckily, I didn’t hit my head, or scrape my face.  Apparently my emergency landing skills are top notch.

I’ve come close fainting only a few times in my life.  When I looked down at my arm, this was one of those times. 

I stumbled to the nearest house and rang the doorbell.  No answer.

I looked at my arm again.  I felt the blood drain from my head, my vision narrowed, my ears began ringing, and I stumbled again, like a bloody drunk, back to the grass where I proceeded to accept my demise.

All I could think, sitting there, bleeding in the grass on some elderly persons’ lawn in a gated retirement community, was, “how am I supposed to walk back to my Dad’s when I can’t even walk 10 feet to a neighbor’s door?”

Now, as much as I give nosey neighbors slack for constantly having their noses perched between their horizontal blinds, on this day, I was thankful.

Sitting in the grass, bleeding away, fearing losing consciousness, I notice a man walking toward me.  Once he gets close enough, he notices my arm and asks if I’m okay (pretty sure if you see someone sitting in the grass, bleeding and incoherent, they’re probably not “okay,” but whatever).  I tell him I feel like I’m going to faint.  He says he’s a former marine and if I ever feel like I’m going to faint I should put my head between my legs, so I do just that.

After giving him the low-down on what happened his wife joins us and said she noticed me staggering around while she was on the phone with her daughter.   So she sent her hubby over to check on me.  God bless and hug a veteran, all at once.

They drove me home.  Needless to say, I was pretty ashamed of the gash considering the circumstances, and the fact that the bike was only a one-speed.

I guess it was just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Next, I thought about how trouble always comes in threes.  Maybe I shouldn’t have thought that. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

All apologies

I've been a bad blogger.

I promise I will post something with a recent update as lots of very interesting things have taken place in the past two weeks.  It's for that reason that I haven't been keeping up with ye olde blogge - I've been on the road again.

More to come in the next few days!  I love and miss you all and promise a good entry once time permits.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Wheel, Keep on Turnin'

View from Cindy and Jim's penthouse condo
My final leg of the massaging insole journey was the Volusia County Fair in Deland, Florida.  After having spent the past month in trailer parks, sleeping in a tent, on the fairgrounds usually far outside of the nearby towns along the highway, and close to the livestock, it was a very welcome change to be staying with my Dad and Lorraine's friends in a two bedroom condo, directly on the beach in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 

NSB sunset
We arrived in Deland at the fair on November 3rd, after a hurried two days at home in Leesburg.  After we set up at the fair, we landed at the condo in New Smyrna Beach to the sound of waves crashing and the smell of ocean in the air.  That's basically all I needed to feel immediately relaxed after a long day of errands, travel, and set-up.  That evening we all relaxed, knowing it was the final stretch before we went home for the rest of the year.  I sat on the balcony, staring at the faint outline of the white tips of the breaking surf, sipping on a hot chocolate.

The next ten days were a far cry from the past 30.  New Smyrna is basically Daytona for seniors - you can drive on the beach, there are lots of little beach-side bars and attractions, and the people are happy and generally in great shape, only everyone (for the most part)  is 50-plus.  


Honestly, as much as I was aching to have someone my age to hang out with, the age-gap between myself and the residents of New Smyrna didn't bother me at all.  Our first full-day in NSB was spent getting settled and grocery shopping.  To give you an idea of the personalities I consistently came across in NSB, I'll tell you a nice little anecdotal tale.

So, we're getting groceries.  As per usual, my hair is air-dried, I'm not wearing makeup, and I'm wearing shorts and a tank-top.  Now, as we're casually strolling down one of the aisles, I hear an elderly woman yelling (yes, yelling), "Excuse me, miss! Miss! Excuse me! Miss!!".  Knowing full-well that I know no one in town, having never been here before, and also knowing that all of my belongings were securely located in my purse, so they hadn't fallen or been dropped, I assumed that this "miss" who was being called after surely couldn't be me.  I was wrong.  Finally, at the end of the aisle, after running after me, this kind little 70-something old lady caught up with me and tapped me on the shoulder. "Excuse me, miss," she said once more, "but you've got my body from 40 years ago, and I'd like you to give it back!" I, of course, laughed hysterically, blushed approximately 10 shades of red, and agreed kindly with her that I did indeed miss out on poodle skirts and saddle shoes (although the latter is making a comeback!).

This interaction boded well for the rest of my time spend in NSB: cheeky, fun, relaxed and well-aged (or aged well perhaps).  

Most days in NSB began with a run down the beach where I was greeted happily by residents, walking, running, or biking past.  This was one of my favorite times of day to be on the beach.  The pre-nine-in-the-morning folks reminded me of the all-day-folks in Nova Scotia.  So happy.  So friendly.  So unafraid of seeming like they're enjoying life - because they are.  I would usually get a comment or two from older couples passing by, from "well, you sure do make that look easy!" or, "whatever you're doing, it's working!"  Starting the day with a run in NSB was definitely one of the highlights.

The condo where we stayed also had two pools, one heated and one unheated.  I went for the odd swim, but spent most of my time near the pools, laying on a lounger, soaking up the sun.  It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

The remainder of my time, for the most part, was spent in one of my new-found favorite places: on the back of my Dad's Honda Goldwing motorcycle, the travel bike, of travel bikes.  We cruised to Daytona Beach, stopped at the Last Resort Bar (from the movie "Monster" where Aileen Wuornos seduces her victims), got harassed (half-jokingly) by Harley owners whom we parked next to near the beach,  walked the boardwalk, grabbed some pizza and Greek salad at Stavros (for which they're famous), chatted about this and that, then headed back to NSB for the night.  

On the Ormond Loop
Another day we drove the scenic Ormond Loop (or, as known by the biker community, just "the Loop") where we drove past lots of nature, drove through canopies of trees, palms, and Spanish moss, and stopped in Flagler beach for some beach-front snacks (I had the homemade crab dip, if you're wondering).  

On the last ride we took in the area we went to the Merrit Island Nature Reserve, got as close as we could to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, and went to Dixie Crossroads in Titusville where we proceeded to eat four dozen rock shrimp, french fries, and chicken flavored rice.  It's a good thing I went on those runs, let me tell you that much.

Outside Dixie Crossroads in Titusville

Part way through the week, Dad and Lorraine's friends, Cindy and Jim came and stayed at the condo, too.  They're a very hip couple of 50-somethings that are the perfect example of NSB: they're both fit, Cindy is a "sun bunny" and Jim is a surfer, they have a Harley and great spunky senses of humor.  They also brought with them their two malteses!  Simba is eight years old and is the larger of the two fluffy little white guys.  Rocky is the older boy, he is eleven, still a runt, and has a solid 3/4 inch fat roll around his mid-section and his tongue is always hanging out of his mouth.  Needless to say, I kind of liked Rocky the best.  They were great company and Rocky's little face brought me a great number of smiles and laughs.

Rocky <3
Although most of the "action" in NSB took place, for us, during the day, one night stands out in my mind.  I decided one evening to take advantage of the warm breeze, and heated pool.  I changed into my bathing suit, put on my gym clothes on top, grabbed my yoga mat and towel and headed for the pool deck.  

After completing 12 sun salutations and twisting every which way in the hopes of releasing any built-up toxins held in my spine, I peeled down to my swimsuit and hopped into the pool.  I splashed around for a while, breast-stroking and back-stroking my way around the pool. Then, I heard a noise.  I looked around, then up, to see a couple standing on their penthouse balcony, about 5 doors down from the condo where we were staying.  They were both waving frantically and yelling, though over the sound of the waves I couldn't make out a word that was said.  

Their franticness made me nervous.

Immediately I thought there was a viscous axe-murderer nearby, patiently waiting for the right moment to slash me up and turn the pool red with my blood.  

I believe I mentioned before that my imagination sometimes carries me away.

After surveying the area and confirming that there indeed was not a murderer nearby I considered the thought that they feared I had drowned, since just previous to acknowledging their cries I was floating on my back, relaxed as can be, entertaining myself with my change in buoyancy by breathing extra deeply and exhaling fully.

The woman eventually went scuttering inside, while the man continued to mind my business.  Eventually I was so troubled by the whole ordeal that I cut my swim short and headed upstairs for another hot chocolate on the balcony.  

I still can't figure out what they wanted my attention for.

On Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day), I got up, went for a run as usual, and headed up to the condo.  I was waiting until late afternoon to call my Grandmother to thank her for her service in WWII and for being a generally stand-up and awesome human being and passed the time by laying on a lounger next to the pool.  I had my phone with me, as I almost always do, and took it out from under my towel randomly to check for messages even though I had it on vibrate.  There was a message on Facebook from my mom.  My grandmother had a stroke and was on her way to the hospital by ambulance.  It's times like this that often remind us how fleeting life is and force us to possibly regret decisions we've made (usually about not having done something).  I thought, "I shouldn't have waited to call Nanny. I should have called before the ceremonies instead of after."  These situations, whether you're close by or far away, make you feel helpless.  Thankfully, after several hours of waiting for an update, I found out Nanny was doing well, eating when she could, and carrying on with family.  Phew!

That Sunday we put in our last Sunday at the booth in Deland, packed up (mostly), and headed back to the condo for our last sleep in NSB.  The next day, we got up bright and early, helped Jim and Cindy clean the condo, then headed to Deland to pick up the rest of the stuff.  I drove back to Leesburg on the bike with Dad, blaring the 70's and 80's station and singing along to my hearts' content, hoping I didn't catch a bug in my mouth on a long note.

So now we're back in Leesburg for possibly the rest of the year. The house has been brought up to speed, the laundry is done and the Suburban is unpacked.  We're still catching up, mostly Dad and Lorraine, with errands, mail, appointments, check-ups, and bookkeeping.  We should be into a normal routine by the weekend.

On Sunday I get to cash in on my foreign acquisition.  CHA-CHING!  (For those of you who know what I'm referring to).

Up next, more state-wide travels including, but not limited to: Disney World, Orlando Metro Area, Fort Lauderdale and the Keys!  Details to come.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What do you need?

No.  Not what do you want, or what would you like to have.  What do you need?

I've been learning a lot on this little adventure of mine.  One thing that's come back to me time and time again is how little we really need in life.  Aside from two boxes of seasonal (winter coat and boots and wellies) and household stuff (prints from an amazing Edmonton artist Aynsley Nisbet and my degree and some photos), everything I own fits in a 60L backpack and a laptop bag.  I lived in a tent for a full month on a twin size air mattress.

Want to know the two things I miss the most?

Friends my age and percolated coffee.

There is this phenomenon right now around hoarding - A&E and TLC, as far as I know, both have shows displaying this disastrous compulsion to collect.  Don't we all hoard, to an extent, though?

It's so easy to just hold on to things - clothes that don't quite fit, shoes that will come in handy "some day", purses, jackets, photos, broken frames, this, that, the other thing.  We keep them because all of us deep down have a desire to hoard.

When we were animals and primitive peoples, we needed to hoard materials and food for survival.  Well, it seems we still think we need to hold onto things "just in case".  But we won't die if we give up that sweater, or those shoes, or that $20 even, when it could go to good will or a charity and help someone who might actually be at risk of illness or death.

Recently, many of you may have already heard, a couple from Truro, Nova Scotia, won the lottery.  They are seniors and the wife of the couple is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.  They won $11 million. And they gave it all away (except for a small amount which they are keeping for medical and other emergencies).  They first took care of family and friends.  Then they went to regional churches, fire departments, hospitals and charities and continued to cut checks until it was all gone.

How much better would the world be if we all kept only what we needed and helped others with the rest?

I know that's an idealistic concept, but think about it.

One of the most cleansing experiences I've had took place the night I left Edmonton.  I had huge boxes and bags waiting to go into storage.  It was 6:30 pm and my flight left at midnight.  At the last minute, rather than keep all my stuff in those boxes and bags, I went through it and kept only the essentials in two small boxes (about two cubic feet each) and everything else went into a huge garbage bag to be delivered to goodwill.

The thought crossed my mind: "If I'm not going to need these things in the next 6 months, will I ever need them?"

The next thought was: "If I'm not going to get any use out of this stuff in the next 6 months, someone should."

Walking away from Edmonton, knowing I could carry everything I would need, on my own, was one of the most liberating thoughts I've ever had.  Now, that's not to say I won't need to accumulate new things in the future, or that what you own is more than what you need.  It very well could be exactly what you need.  But if you can look around your house or apartment and find things that you haven't used in 6 months, you probably don't need them.

So consider why you're holding on.  If you can't think of a good reason (not "because I like it" because obviously you don't "like it" enough to "use it"), then donate it. 

A morbidly depressing, but valid, way to look at it is this: if you were to suddenly and unexpectedly pass away, would you want your next of kin to have to go through those things and decide what to do with it all?

I lived in a tent for a full month.  Everything I need fits in a 60L backpack and a laptop bag. What would you keep if you could only own enough "stuff" to fit in a large suitcase and a backpack or briefcase?  And could you bring yourself to part with the rest?

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's easy to tell happy stories.  It's easy to make jokes and laugh and talk about the good times.  It feels good to share and motivate and inspire.

I consider myself to be a optimistic, confident, happy, strong-minded individual - but everyone falls every now and then.  Sometimes we don't know right away what's caused our recent low.  Other times it's just one thing.  More often than not, it's a build-up of things.
  1. A different country (with a surprisingly different culture). 
  2. New living conditions (mainly living beside a trailer in a tent, with parents I'm only just getting to know as an adult). 
  3. A wrench in my plans (I guess I don't qualify for dual-citizenship after all). 
  4. Putting my "No Plans" Plan on hold long enough to figure out some options or next moves (I can only stay in the US without papers for 180 days).
  5. Not having any way to blow off steam with people my age (I haven't seen a friend in four weeks and we've been too far out of town for me to experience any nightlife).
  6. Too much time to think (or maybe just enough).
I guess that's enough to drive a sane young woman a little bonkers.  So, I had a little melt-down?  So what.  It's understandable.  And just because you realize maybe you have a few issues with yourself that you didn't know were there, or maybe you're a little lonelier than let on (even to yourself), or maybe things might not be going exactly the way you had hoped... that doesn't mean that you're weak, or worthless, or that things can't still go your way.

That does, however, mean that a call to Mom might be a good idea.

One by one, talking my way through, I came to pinpoint each of my feelings and where they were coming from: insecurity, unworthiness, frustration, powerlessness, sadness.

Based on what I hear from friends, most people wouldn't associate these words with me.  But they are all spawns of fear.  Fear of so many things.  Fear of being hurt (again).  Fear of trust (if I trust, I let down the wall and open myself up to hurt).  Fear of inadequacy (when the only person I'm competing with is myself).  Fear of the unknown (what is next?).  Fear of rejection (it's not as easy to make friends now as it was in the sandbox).  Fear of being deported (ha! just kidding - I can't be entirely serious about this).

All joking aside, fear can ruin our lives - if we let it.  It can freeze us in our tracks, keep us from meeting amazing people, stop us from allowing a relationship to reach its potential, it can force us to settle for "known mediocrity" rather than "unknown anything" (we have no way of knowing how good or bad the unknown can be), and it can drive us damn near crazy!

I consider myself to be a pretty self-aware individual.  I guess that's why I was so overwhelmed when I started having these feelings.  I mean, I am only 24.  I guess I might not know myself as well and I thought.  And there it is again: fear. 

I'm reluctant to admit that I can't always be taken at face value.  I am who I am and anyone who knows me will vouch for that.  But I can put up a great front for all the right reasons - for family who worry, for friends who I think need me more than I think I need myself, for people who I don't want to get to know the "vulnerable me" quite yet.

Sometimes the realization can be just as overwhelming as the things that made you come to your realization in the first place.  It brings us back to fear.  Fear of admitting we don't have it all figured out - not even when it comes to ourselves.  Fear of shedding a few tears - because we fear that it makes us weak.  Even fear of overcoming our fears.

But, it's revelations like these that allow us to get to know ourselves better at a deeper level.  It's these moments of so-called "weakness" that make us strong.

So, I've decided I'm not going to call them "moments of weakness," but rather, "momentary lapses in judgement."  Strength is strength, and just because once in a while we crack under pressure, melt-down, breakdown, cry, sob or scream, that doesn't mean we are not still strong.  In fact, we're strong enough to realize when we should take issue with our situation, with ourselves, with others.  Tears are just our souls way of speaking to us, telling us that things aren't OK (or on the other end of the spectrum, that things are way better than OK - they're remarkably perfect). 

A quote comes to mind:

"There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief... and unspeakable love."
Washington Irving

So cry, scream, call your mom or dad or bestfriend.  Take a walk, meditate, write.  Do what ever it is that's going to help you understand yourself and your situation better.

It's true what they say in the 12-step program - that admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming it.  We all fall down.  It's your choice, however, to lay there paralyzed, or get up, brush yourself off and make your next move.

So, what'll it be?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

This is the kinda wave that I'm on

So, my next pin on the map was to be Pensacola, Florida. Technically, the Pensacola Interstate Fair, in Belleville, Florida. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the beautiful Gulf coast. The great thing about my Dad and Lorraine working this fair was that, during the week, it was only open from 4 pm to 10 pm and on weekends they split the 10 am to 10 pm shift, so there was lots of down-time to do running around and adventuring and beaching.

Hangin' ten, obviously.
Thursday and most of Friday were spent getting set up: the booth, the trailer, my tent, groceries, gas, propane, etc., but once the weekend rolled around, I started giving considerable attention to figuring out how to get to the beach sans vehicle (since Lorraine and Dad would be pre-occupied with the booth). 

I had two options. The first was looking for a folding bike on Craigslist (because without anywhere to put a bike rack, it's kinda hard to transport a full-sized bike). The second was public transit - a slightly more likely option that turned out to be just as impossible as finding a used folding bike.

Unfortunately, because it's "off-season" this time of year, the public transit from the Fairgrounds to the beach only ran twice a day. In the morning the bus came around 7:00 am and would get me to the beach by about 8:30 am. The next bus that came wasn't until 4:30 pm. I can honestly say, I love the beach, but not enough to be there for 8 hour straight with no company. Plus, the last bus of the day would get me back to the transit terminal, where I would need to catch my connection back to the trailer, a solid half an hour after the last bus of the day. And that put an end to that.

But I wasn't about to give up on enjoying the warm Florida sun, so instead I propped up a lawn chair and caught a few rays by the trailer, for all those who were riding "The Cat" to see! I have no shame.

I also have no shame in admitting that I have a new love: frozen, chocolate covered cheesecake. Fair food at its finest.

Luckily, the Pensacola Interstate Fair had a few more attractions for those who aren't into livestock, unlike the Arkansas State Fair. There were two art galleries, one for photos and one for paintings, drawings, sculptures and other pleasures. There was an antique car exhibit, a motorcycle exhibit, a model train exhibit and a rocks and minerals exhibit.

Art Exhibit
The next week was hot and humid. Inland at the fair it was almost unbearable. I couldn't even sleep in my tent at night because the cloud cover didn't allow the temperature to drop below 25 Celsius (about 80 Fahrenheit) and humidity was at 95% or above. So, I slept in the trailer. No biggie. 

I tried going for a run, since I was planning on, and almost succeeded in, going for a run every second day. I managed to only run off-and-on Tuesday, but for the last half a mile I couldn't help but walk. The humidity was suffocating. Although I hadn't over-exerted myself, and even though the sun was hidden behind clouds, when I arrived back at the trailer I was slick with humidity, my hair was dripping wet, and I'm pretty sure my earphones short-circuited. Luckily, I managed to fit in a run every other day, and I've gotta admit: I sure wouldn't have a difficult time staying in shape here. Running outside, past palm trees and plants, was motivation enough, despite the odd dead possum on the shoulder of the road.

Oddly enough though, as soon as you drove toward the coast, the humidity cleared up considerably, the cloud cover all but disappeared, and the sun was shining on down. So that's just what we did.

Giant Pensacola Beachball
It was about a half hour drive from our site to the beach. Down the freeway, across a bridge, and through a toll booth. One American dollar is a small price to pay to enjoy the beauty that is Pensacola Beach. White sand, turquoise water, sun, surfers and seashells!

The water was some of the best I've been in - even compared to Cancun! The surf was just high enough (about 6 to 10 foot waves) with almost no undertow. Both days we spent at the beach I maxed out my enjoyment playing in the waves and body surfing, strolling up and down the beach, watching the surfers, and rotating front to back, soaking up the glorious Gulf Coast rays. 

On both of my walks, I even saw a couple different jellyfish, including a Portuguese Man-of-War. I saw this other quasi-jelly looking thing. It was as if a jellyfish and a piece of coral had a love child. If anyone has any idea what it might be, I'd really appreciate the insight!

So, anyway as I was saying. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the beach until around 2:30 or 3 pm everyday, then we headed back to the Fair for the night shift. Dad and I ran some errands while Lorraine went into the booth for the first parts of the night. Then, Thursday it rained and Friday it got "cold" (read: 20 degrees Celsius or below, plus "windchill".. ha!).

Saturday Dad and I decided to go do a little sight seeing. There is an area in Pensacola called the Historic Seville District. It was designated a historic area in 1970 under the U.S. historic district legislation, but restoration and preservation began in the early 1960's by a group of local preservationists. The area is quaint (Pensacola is only a city of 50,000) and speckled with lots of patriotism, churches and local cafe's and restaurants. Although I wasn't there at night, it seems that the area is chock-full of music venues, theaters, art galleries and studios, and even boasts the areas only opera house. It's a great little stroll with lots of beautiful architecture, landscaping, and some shops as well - though, sadly, there were a lot of empty storefronts which were no doubt an indication of the current economic state of Florida overall.

By Sunday, since the fair wasn't that great business-wise, we were all ready to hit the road. I spent the afternoon in my new-found sanctuary: cuddled up on a blanket with my iPod on top of the trailer, feeling the sun and the breeze. Dad and Lorraine split up the shift throughout the day and at 9 pm we all met up at the booth to tear down and hit the road. Unfortunately, after having torn down and taken the Suburban over to pack up, someone backed into our spot by the trailer so we couldn't hitch up to leave. By the time they moved their vehicle, it was too late, my tent hadn't been taken down, and we were all too tired and frustrated to bother with it. We'd just have to wait until the morning. 

View from atop the trailer
After packing up, we realized we were a little behind schedule, so we nixed the coastal drive and hit the I-10. And we drove for the next 8 hours. Past Tallahassee. Past Gainesville. Finally into Leesburg.

A shower, a queen-sized bed, central air, and some blogging later and I was ready for dreamland. 

But wait. What was that noise? 

You'd think that after having slept in a tent for the past month, sleeping in a house would make me feel safe and secure, and maybe it does, from the things outside. But that's when my imagination and too many episodes of the Outer Limits comes into play.