Friday, January 12, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Kayaking in the Everglades

Although we love spending time with my family, in the middle of our trip it became clear we needed a break, and on December 27, Roger and I took a day trip down to the Everglades. A four-hour drive from my parents' place, it was a little far for a day, and in the future, I'd like to return for an overnight trip, but we had a wonderful time despite the long drive!

We arrived in Chokoloskee around lunch time, and had a really tasty meal at Havana Cafe. Their pork plate and rice and beans were divine, and sitting outside in their little grotto was a delight. It was great for a little people watching, and the food really couldn't be beat.

After lunch we headed into Everglades City to meet with Shurr Adventures for a sunset kayaking tour of the mangroves. Although the group was bigger than I'd hoped for (there were maybe 15 of us all together), we split into four smaller groups once we arrived at the launch site, so that there were only six of us with Alli, our guide and one of the owners of the company. Each group took its own route, so the tour ended up being really personal and intimate.

As soon as we were in the water, we saw our first alligator, which was exhilarating. They look very similar to tires sticking up out of the water, and it's a little unnerving to see how many there. Even more unnerving? Knowing how many more are hanging out under the water, which is a dark brown color from all the mangrove leaves.

Alli led us through three mangrove tunnels, which each got progressively tighter and tighter. I was glad we opted for separate kayaks (in Maine we'd done a tandem), because it was hard enough to navigate one person through them! The tunnels were really fascinating and covered in large spiders. At one point, a racoon raced through over the branches and nearly fell into Alli's kayak, which was pretty funny to see. We saw more alligators throughout, including one that was hanging out in one of those tighter tunnels, and one that was sunbathing near the shore so you could see almost all of it. It seemed to be around 10 or 12 feet long.

After a few hours, as the sun started to set, we made our way back to the boat launch. One of the most surreal moments was getting back onto the beach and seeing several alligators pop up out of the water as soon as the coast was clear. Alli had mentioned they do night tours where you wear headlamps, and that their eyes shine red in them. She said that you look around in the dark and just see red eyes everywhere.

Overall, the tour was a lot of fun, and I learned a ton about the Florida ecosystem and wildlife. A huge portion of southern Florida is covered in a national park and nature reserves, and it felt like a real privilege to travel around a small part of it in such a close and quiet way.

The following day, December 28, was our last full day in paradise, and we spent it relaxing. I finished my first James Patterson book (or, "bookshot" to be accurate), and it was terrible. We went to my cousins' house for lunch, and it was wonderful. Seeing Dave and Faithy was great, and Faithy's homemade ravioli tasted just like being back at our family reunion. As we were leaving their house, we got a call alerting us that the pipes in the ell were frozen and that we'd run out of oil in the house, so it was a fair amount of scrambling that evening to try and get things taken care of. A fun reminder that we were heading back to reality--and negative 20 degree temperatures!

The next morning, December 29, we did a bit more scrambling as our incredible friends, Courtney and Sal, filled up our tank with diesel fuel and our furnace guy got things started again, just in time for an emergency fuel delivery. (I'm hoping to write more about the house soon--it's been an adventure!) We also luckily got to see my sister for an early lunch in Disney Springs at the Polite Pig. Even though we spent a week in Florida, we only got to see her twice, so I was really glad to have had that last meal with her! We perused some of the shops (I love the dress shop) and then dropped her off as we headed to the airport to say our goodbyes.

We had such a wonderful Christmas trip to Florida, and it was so nice to spend a week in warmth. It's always a little sad to leave family behind, but I'm excited to see my parents again in May when they're back up north for a family friend's wedding!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Boxing Day on Merritt Island

The day after Christmas was very relaxing. We decided to try and use our Christmas leftovers in a new way, and made lobster rolls (Connecticut style and Maine style) with a nice side of fries for lunch.

We took my parents' boat out on the Indian River, and got very close to an island that had dozens and dozens of birds. They were magnificent to see: a whole rookery of spoonbills, and about eight turkey vultures fighting with each other on the beach.

A little further down was another island that we saw kayakers and one other pontoon boat on. My father had always wanted to dock the boat there and I guess my mother was too nervous (truth: I was also nervous about this plan!) but took advantage of us being there to try it out.

The island ended up being really cool. There were a few lizards, and it looks like people had set up fires there in the past. A big sandbar went out into the river and it was fun to explore a little.

That evening, we made pizzas in my parents' pizza oven, also using more leftovers. Who knew a shrimp scampi pizza could be so delicious?!

Next Up: Kayaking in the Everglades.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Our First Married Christmas!

We celebrated our first married Christmas in Florida with my family, a delight! It had been a tremendously good year for us, and a warm, relaxing week was the perfect way to cap it off.

My parents made their traditional seven fishes feast, and invited over Don and Bet, two of their neighbors, to celebrate with us. The meal was delicious, especially the pompano, a fish that's native to Florida and new to all of us.

Best of all, my sister, Jill, was able to take Christmas Day off, so she came by after work on Christmas Eve and the four of us were able to spend Christmas together for the first time in four years! Wonderful!

Christmas Day was very relaxed. My mother brought Liz to the airport that morning, and then the five of us opened our presents (Jill got me the prettiest dress! I got everyone personalized candles as a half joke!). We all had a nice Christmas lunch, but now I can't remember for the life of me what was served.

Afterward, we took a while to visit the manatees near NASA. We saw so many of them and they were all very close. One day, I'd love to go back and bring a kayak!

Afterward, we headed to the Merritt Island Nature Reserve, where we saw even more wildlife, including spoonbills, an alligator, and even a wild boar!

Next Up: Boxing Day in Merritt Island

Monday, January 8, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Holiday Preparations in Merritt Island

The day before Christmas Eve was pretty relaxed. We started the day at the fishmonger and did some prep for Christmas Eve dinner in the morning. Our Christmas Eve is all about the seafood, so living right near an ocean means that my parents were able to get some of the freshest fish around, including flounder and pompano.

In the afternoon, we introduced Roger to the wonder that is the Wawa lunch, which he quickly became obsessed with. Then we took out my parents' boat for a wander through the canal and out onto the Banana River. We had a lot of fun looking at the various birds around the area, though we forgot our binoculars. It was a little chilly out on the boat, so I was glad we had taken our sweaters, but still so much warmer than Vermont. I could get used to that!

That evening, we all headed out to El Tucan for margarita pitchers, tamales, and guacamole. Liz wasn't in love, but I enjoyed the food. To round out the night, we hit the hot tub and pool when we got back: a perfect ending to a relaxing day.

Next Up: Our First Christmas as a Married Couple

Friday, January 5, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Saint Augustine Day Trip

This year, Roger and I spent Christmas outside of New York for the first time in either of our lives. While we had intended to honeymoon in East Africa over the holiday, we realized it was a little tight to plan such a major trip so quickly after our wedding (between house buying and wedding planning, I refused to try and plan a honeymoon, too), so we joined my family at their new home in Florida and celebrated all together for the first time in four years.

After a few hours of driving and a few hours of flying, we arrived at MCO around 11:30pm on December 21. It was great to see my parents and Liz, who picked us up at the airport, and we made plans for the next day, which we spent in Saint Augustine.

Founded in 1565, the city is one of the United States' oldest, and I've wanted to visit for a while now. My mother mentioned that they have a lot of lights set up for Christmas, so it seemed like a perfect day trip from their house. We started with a seafood lunch at O'Steens. There was about a half hour wait, so we perused the antiques store across the street while we waited for them to call me. I found a pretty excellent hunting-print mirror for only $35, but it was moldy and also seemed impossible to carry-on, so alas, there it remains.

Lunch at O'Steens was very tasty. They have a fantastic chowder, and I was totally in love with their hush puppies, which may be some of my favorites that I've ever had. We were a little disappointed by their fried shrimp, which everyone had raved about on Yelp, but the side dishes (I got grits and their squash casserole, but we also loved the pickled cucumbers that Liz had ordered) more than made up for it.

After lunch, we headed back into town to check out the Castillo de San Marcos. We'd arrived a bit late to make going on a tour worth it, so we admired it from the outside and watched as the cannon fired for the last time that day, which was actually more fun than I'd expected, and louder!

After the fort, we took a wander around the main street of town, checking out little shops as we walked about. Most were pretty touristy and typical, but one that I was enamored by was St. Augustine Textiles, a shop of colonial garb that is made by a former re-enactor. I've always been really into historical clothing and re-enacting is something that's fascinating to me. I wish I could have spent hours really looking into things and chatting with the shop keeper. I was sorely tempted by a flat straw hat, but again, it wouldn't fit in the carry-on.

I'd like to go back and take a walking or trolley tour, because it felt like there was a lot of history we were missing, but this was such a short trip that it didn't make a ton of sense. There were plenty of little historic markers along the way, and those were fun to check out. As the evening fell, we stumbled upon the country's second best pizza, which made Roger and me double-take. Surely it couldn't be! But, when we looked at the Trip Advisor list and saw that it contained some of the spots we'd tried and loved over the years (Juliana's, Keste, John's Frank Pepe's), we knew we had to try it. And let me tell you, it really lives up to the hype! Between the five of us, we tried three slices (a grandma slice, a plain slice, and a slice with a bunch of toppings I can't remember right now) and they were all pretty close to perfect.

My mother seemed especially glad to have found a good pizza place just a mere two hours from her house!

The lights throughout the city were really lovely, and it was cool to see fairy lights in all the trees, intertwined with Spanish moss. All the buildings were outlined in white lights and it was just generally really quite a nice way to start out Christmas season in Florida. Being able to walk around in a dress and sweater while taking in all the spirit of the season was pretty idyllic, and I was surprised to find I didn't miss having a white Christmas at all.

The best part, though, was when we walked back to the parking lot and stumbled upon a full orchestra playing Christmas carols. Magic!

Next Up: Holiday Preparations in Merritt Island

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Year in Review - 2017

Happy New Year, everyone!  For me, New Year in a time to reflect on the past and make plans for the future, and this one was no exception. I've been answering this survey for more than a decade now (here's last year's, here's 2015'shere's 2014's, and here's 2013's) and I hope you enjoy reading it. If you decide to answer these same questions, leave me a link in the comments!

1. What did you do in 2017 that you'd never done before?
Bought a house! Visited Scandinavia and the Baltics! Got married! Used a lawn mower and a snowblower! Got retweeted by Town & Country! Spent Christmas somewhere other than New York! And seriously, that was more than enough for one year.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
In 2017, my only real goals were surviving wedding planning and adjusting to life in Vermont. I set the bar low but that helped me meet it! The wedding was a delight and I could not be happier that it's over and I never have to do that again. We're pretty well adjusted to live in Vermont. I've built a wonderful community of colleagues, artists, and friends, and feel really like I belong here, even if I sometimes wistfully miss New York or wonder why I never moved to Europe as an adult like I'd planned.

In 2018, I'd like to get back to setting some firmer goals, but I don't want to make myself crazy, so let's call them guidelines: start running again this spring, finish some renovations on our garage apartment, keep our head above water financially, send out some poetry submissions, read 30 books.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My cousin had a delightful baby boy over the summer, and my boss had one just after Thanksgiving.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, luckily this year we were blessed with good health for ourselves and those around us.

5. What countries did you visit?
Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, and Norway! We had such a wonderful trip with Molly and Laura, and I'm still hoping to capture it on here one. We were planning to take our honeymoon over Christmas, but it turns out that planning a major trip in 8 weeks felt basically impossible, so we traveled to Florida to visit with my parents instead. We also did a fair amount of travel around New England, visiting parts of Vermont we'd never been to before to search out wedding venues, having our bachelor party on the Connecticut shore, and taking a mini-moon in Kennebunkport.

In 2018, we're hoping to remedy the honeymoon snafu and make our way to East Africa over the Christmas holiday. We're also planning to go to Ireland and the UK with Molly, and I'm so looking forward to being back there. I can't believe it's been 11 years.

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2018?
Political stability. 2017 was a really, really great year for me personally, but politically it felt like the world was on fire. I'm thinking of ways to help mitigate this in the coming year.

7. What date from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory?
I should, of course, say it's our wedding, but the true highlight of the year was our weekend on the beach in Connecticut. I've rarely felt as happy and surrounded by love as I did then. This year has been marked by rekindling our community and that trip was the highlight of it.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
All the work we did on our house. Our fathers were both incredible helpful in teaching us the basics of renovation work, from showing us how to tile floors and replace drywall to explaining the principles of plumbing and basic woodworking. Together, we've all put a lot of sweat equity into the house already, and I think we're well prepared for the work we hope to do over the coming years. Our pipes froze and burst while we were away for Christmas, and Roger replaced all of them with pex piping in one morning. It was incredible.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I was not, unfortunately, the best at my career this year. I was essentially fired from two freelance gigs, I did not reach every goal I had hoped to at work, and I didn't submit a single poem for publication. Some years are fallow, I suppose, but I'd like to get back on track at work in 2018.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, luckily I was rather healthy in 2017, though I did take a few bad falls in the winter. New England, it seems, is more cautious about how much salt they put on their roads and sidewalks.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Gray Barns, of course! The wedding comes in at a close second, although I think we may have gotten a better deal on our house.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
The Nosy Bitches. My online group of fiery, brilliant women has been so vital to my life for over half a decade, and this year they were all mobilizing in such incredible ways. I'm so inspired by them.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
As last year, "Donald Trump and everyone who voted for him. I don't think I've ever been so devastated by a political outcome before. We get the leaders we deserve, I guess."

14. Where did most of your money go?
The house, of course. I've been saving to buy a house since I was 24, and so while purchasing it was a major milestone for me, it also took every penny of the money I'd saved for almost a decade, and then some. I'm still working to figure out the right balance on savings and spending and "investing" in the house, and I hope that 2018 will see me finally able to better figure out a budget and workable long-term goals for income and savings.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The wedding. The whole day was a tremendous mix of joy and anxiety, but everything was layered over with anticipation and excitement all year.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?
"Best Thing" by Ray LaMontagne, and, for embarrassing reasons, pretty much anything by Ed Sheeran.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you
i. happier or sadder? Much happier! Vermont life finally feels like a fit.
ii. thinner or fatter? Much happier! With Weight Watchers' help, I'm down more than 15 pounds.
iii. richer or poorer? Much richer! Because of the house, a high savings rate, and generous wedding guests, we're worth more than twice what we were last year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Honestly, there are lots of things I would have loved to do more of (reading, exercising, writing), but I'm just glad I made it through the year. I can't see where I would have fit it in.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
I watched more television this year than I generally do, but I genuinely enjoyed all of it, so I can't say I regret it. It did, however, get in the way of some of my reading time, which I'd like to remedy this year.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas 2017 was much less sad than 2016. It was the first Christmas I've spent outside of New York, and it was also the week we'd intended to take our honeymoon, so it felt a bit strange, but the warm weather was delightful and my mother's joy at having her whole family together for the first time in four years was well worth the delayed trip.

22. Did you fall in love in 2017?
Yes! It was shocking to me that marriage really did change our relationship, but so far only in positive ways. We had been together for 13 years when we were married, and we'd lived together for 6 of those years, so I didn't expect anything to change, but they did. I think we're both kinder to each other now, though I'm not sure why, since the relationship genuinely doesn't feel more permanent to me than it did before marriage. We're also getting better at handling things as a team and knowing when the other needs a break, which has been incredibly helpful as we deal with all these renovations.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
Still The Crown. I continued to enjoy Last Week Tonight, The Walking Dead, and I also started watching Silicon Valley, The Americans, Madam Secretary, and presumably a few others I can't quite remember right now, but The Crown is absolutely the best thing.

24. What was the best book you read?
Reading in 2017 was practically non-existent for me. I wanted to read 40 books and I read 14, which is, I believe, the fewest books I've read in a year since I learned to read in 1992. I'm more than a little embarrassed by this and I hope to rectify it in 2018. Homegoing and Life After Life were triumphs; I also loved Blessing for the Unborn. I tried and failed to love Lincoln in the Bardo.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
A re-discovery of Transatlanticism on NYE.

26. What did you want and get?
To get married.

27. What did you want and not get?
I'm still waiting to get myself a signet ring. Perhaps 2018 is the year.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Goodness, I'm not sure I saw a single movie in 2017.

29. What did you do on your birthday and how old did you turn?
Two weeks beforehand, we snuck off to Blue Hill for the best meal of my life. It was so good, I cried twice. From the candle-lit pathway to the entrance and the most perfect tumeric cocktail to the kitchen visit and a perfectly timed valet waiting for us at the end, every moment was spectacular. There has never been so perfect a celebration.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More reading! As I said, I was pretty disappointed in myself to have read so little this year, but things picked up a bit in the second half of the year and that helped.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?
I bought clothes like it was going out of style this year, mostly in the preppy/trad vein. In 2018, I'm planning not to buy any new clothing, because I'm so well stocked up. I've built up quite the collection of wool sweaters, Lilly dresses, and all the slacks a girl could need.

32. What kept you sane?
My mother. The woman is a rock and in this year of lots of life changes and intense emotions, she was always there to listen to me, calm me down, and tell me what to do. I'm not sure I could have done it without her.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kate Middleton, always Kate Middleton, forever Kate Middleton.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
It was a year of intense political issues stirring me, but the tax bill being pushed through so ridiculously at the last minute made me angrier than I had even expected.

35. Who did you miss?
Of course I always miss everyone, but this year we managed to see almost everyone we love, thanks to the wedding and lots of events leading up to it. What pure joy, to have most people you care about in one place!

36. Who was the best new person you met?
I didn't meet them this year, but in 2017, I got much closer to several of my coworkers, who have turned out to be delightful. I'm so grateful to have a team of interesting, smart, and fun people to work and play with!

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.
Sometimes you just have to take the risk and live with the consequences. Usually those consequences are both good and bad, and you'll be glad you went with your gut.

38. Quote a lyric that sums up your year.
"Your love was handmade for somebody like me." HAHAHAHAHA

39. What are your plans for 2018?
Go some places. Read some books. Write some poems.