Family and the Friendly Confines

My first experience at Wrigley Field involved, my family, a couple of hot dogs, and nosebleed seats.  It was wonderful.  Walking up Addison Street,  I stopped right in front of the blaring marquise that welcomed me to the “Friendly Confines” friendly for Cub’s fans that is.

My family and I made five clicks as we went through the turnstiles.  I lead the pack and stared at my ticket stub to find our seats.  Finally, I found our ramp and emerged from the concourse to be met with the beautiful Wrigley Field.

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The wind whipped my hair into my eyes as I stood facing the outfield—a good day for home run hitters I thought as I noticed the flags on the blowing straight out towards Lake Michigan.   My eyes settled on the jewel of the outfield the scoreboard—the Bible of baseball for the day.  The clock counted down the minutes until I would witness my first pitch. All twenty-eight teams were paired up to play each other divided by league.  Some of the pairs listed scores others said “nite game.”  But down at the bottom of that giant green monster listed the only thing I cared about—Mets versus Cubs.

My eyes traveled down first to the bleachers, where all the “bums” were.  In my mind, I could envision the beer and insults flying towards the right fielder for the Mets.  Farther down my eyes wandered to the ivy-covered wall where patches of brick were beginning to show through because it was September.  I saw the place where the grass meets the infield, the lip, the cause of so many bad hops and errors.  Then my eyes followed around each of the bases, lingering on first for a moment, wishing I could be down on that field.  The aroma of hot dogs met my nose as vendors floated by.  I was twelve and I was in love.

I had begged my dad to arrive two hours before the game started—to get autographs.  We had left early but traffic was bad and arrived only before the game started.  I was crushed.  Some kids wish to go to Disney World to meet Mickey Mouse, especially kids from the Midwest.  Baseball kids though wish to meet their favorite players.  I was the baseball kid.  

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Here I was 20 some odd years later.  Zach and I adamant that we get to the park two hours before game time, this time to try to get Anthony Rizzo bobbleheads.  Our five clicks have turned into eight, each of us with now bringing our respective other halves (mine was missing this day).  Even though the Cubs still haven’t won a World Series, although this year may actually be THE year, I haven’t lost that excitement I feel when I walk through those turnstiles.  Every single time I enter the Friendly Confines, I become that little girl who loved to talk about the Cubs with her dad, and teach her toddler brother to says the names of her favorite players.  I don’t think will matter if another 60 years pass, every time I walk into Wrigley Field, I will always be transported back to my childhood.     

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Conquering Sand Mountains at Warren Dunes State Park

Last summer on my Indiana trip I  had fun challenging myself on the three dunes challenge at Indiana Dunes State Park, so when I was invited by some high school friends to go to Michigan for a beach day at Warren Dunes State Park, I had an idea that more dune climbing would be in my future.

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I had checked out the park on a Friday as a sort of mini reunion with two high school friends and their kids, and I had so much fun that I enticed my family to make the trek back to Michigan on Sunday.

As I pulled into the parking lot on a Friday, it was clear that this was not going to be an ordinary beach day.  The sky was overcast, the lake had waves so big it looked liked the ocean, and there was a no swimming flag posted.  Oh yeah, and I was wearing a jacket in July.

After a round of hellos and how long has it beens, we redirected our efforts to find a place to hike. A short drive had us at a trail head.  We set off on the packed dirt trail not sure where we would be heading.     

Before long, we reached a turn off that was covered with sand.  As we approached, it rose before us  like a small mountain.  Standing at the base, I watched as people bear crawled up to the top then disappeared over the crest.  This daunting dune looked like it was at an angle of at least 60 degrees.

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My friend’s daughter wanted to climb so we followed.  I kicked off my flip flops and started the grueling trip up.  After about fifteen steps I knew that this was going to be a lot harder than it looked.  For every step forward, I slid back two in the loose sand.  The further I climbed, the more my heart was pounding.  Slowly we ascended the dune taking lots of breaks along the way.  

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Finally we rose above the treetops and  crested the top of the dune to be rewarded with spectacular views of cascading dunes leading the way to Lake Michigan. We all plopped down into the sand to rest before snapping victory photos.

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The return trip was so much easier and a whole lot more fun.  It felt like I was running down the dune as gravity pull me closer to the base.  As I leaned back and let my feet slide through the sand, I was reminded of hiking down the snow covered face of the Skyline Trail on Mt. Rainier.  

I had so much fun hiking this dune that I convinced my family to return on Sunday for another climb.  

Unlike my Friday adventure which was overcast and cool, Sunday was a perfectly sunny day.  

After the nominal entrance fee, we headed straight to the trail head.  I had warned my family that this dune was really steep, and the pictures I had taken really did it no justice.  

We ascended the giant dune again.  This time I chose to wear my running shoes which kept my ankles and feet from hurting, but it did nothing to help my pace.  Like a turtle, I made my way up the dune for the second time in three days, slow and steady.  Even my brother acknowledged that it was a difficult climb.  Finally I crested the top where everyone else was waiting.  

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Instead of turning around and descending back towards the car, we opted to go all the way to the lake.  The hike towards the lake was a nice mixture up gentle ups and downs culminating in that skiing experience I had felt on Friday.  

As we approached the beach, the picture before me had me wondering if I was in the same place.  The empty parking lot was now full of cars, RVs, tents, and people.  Beach umbrellas dotted the sand and hundreds of people splashed, kayaked, and swam in Lake Michigan.  

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We rested near the water for awhile before deciding that it was lunch time.  There were no concessions where we were, and we neglected to bring anything but water with us, so we headed back to the car.  The hike back was mostly flat with only one gentle ascent.  We followed what looked like a path into the trees which ended up being the return loop to where our car was parked.  The trail blazes are few and far between, but it did not make it that difficult to return to where we started since we knew the general direction of where the car was parked.

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Warren Dunes State Park has so much to offer from hiking to the dunes to kayaking Lake Michigan, to soaking up the Michigan sun.  For the nominal entrance fee, we had a blast.  Next time, we will come prepared with a cooler and set up at the beach after the dunes hike.  Watch out Indiana Dunes State Park, I think I have a new favorite for my beaching needs while visiting home.  

 

One Day in Downtown Indy

Our run-cation weekend in Indianapolis was only going to give us a mere 60 hours, so like any good adventurer, we were going to make the most of it.   The two hour flight from Orlando had us landing and in a rental car by 10.  Our first stop was the Indianapolis Zoo.  

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I had visited this zoo several times over the course of my life.  I remember as a child going one summer with my brother and cousins and being able to ride on both a camel and and an elephant’s back.  All four of us in a saddle type contraption riding around on an elephant is an experience I will always remember.  As the oldest, I was seated in the back of our pack, and I remember that elephant swatting me with its tail as we rode around.  Of course in today’s world there are no more elephant rides. That was just the first of the changes I would find at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Upon entrance, I was already getting the vibe that this place had changed since my last visit.  The entrance seemed shabby, the restrooms were in disarray, and the animal enclosures felt like enclosure in some places.   The windows to see the tigers were distorted with foggy fingerprints and scratches.  While I might have been able to overlook all this, it was the “new” orangutan enclosure that had my heart breaking.   For the most part, they seemed to have a lot of room, but on orangutan was in a room by itself right near the window.  His soulful eyes seemed so sad and depressed.  I could only bare to look at him for a few moments.  

In all I think we spent about two hours at the zoo, and I don’t think I will be going back anytime soon.

From there it was on to our first food stop of the day, Long’s Donuts.  Situated in a house turned bakery, again, I was left unimpressed with my sprinkle cake donut.  Maybe if we had arrived first thing in the morning, I would have been more impressed.  Then again, I’m spoiled by a local establishment called Bakery Plus that makes the most amazing doughnuts right in Orlando–my mouth is watering just thinking about them right now.

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Long’s was relatively close to the Indianapolis Speedway, where we had to take an obligatory picture.  No speed racing for us today, the track was being used for a Corvette show.

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The original Love statue created by Robert Indiana was our next pit stop.  Located in the sculpture park on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art it is not the typical red color of those found in Philadelphia or New York.

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Then it was into downtown.  There we walked around the city and ended up on the canal.  The canal is a unique feature.  There are surrey rentals and families were riding up and down both sides of the canal.  What intrigued me most were the paddle boats and kayaks floating up and down.  As we continued exploring the canal area, we stumbled upon a gondola ride.  We opted for the public tour, which ended up being a private tour since no one else joined us.  Our guide even sang opera songs in Italian to make it seem more authentic.

We ended our day with a visit to Bru Burger, full of local beers, and The Flying Cupcake.  Always the English teacher, I fount Kurt Vonnegut, of Slaughterhouse Five fame, overlooking the intersection where both of these places are located.  A beer, charcuterie plate, and couple of cupcakes were delicious after a day of walking around, and I was inspired to reread some of Vonnegut’s work.

Overall, we had a great time exploring downtown Indy.  We each were able to see everything on our list of Indy must dos. The great thing about Indianapolis is that it is a very walk able downtown.   Parking was easy to find everywhere we went, and if it wasn’t free, it was no more than $10.  Next time I’m in Indy, I am making it a priority to jump in one of those kayaks on the canal and hit up some more of the micro brews the city is becoming known for.

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Chasing Garfield Around Northeastern Indiana

I grew up in Northwest Indiana on a 33 acre corn or soybean field depending on the year.  I loved growing up where I did–a little town where you run into people you know at the grocery store every time you go.  It was this version of Indiana that I wanted Cori to see on our weekend to Indianapolis.  

The day before our race, we did not want to do a lot of walking.  We had already walked about 10 miles around Downtown Indy the day before.  In my pre-trip research, I had found something called the Garfield Trail.  I knew that Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield was from Marion, Indiana, but I had no idea that there was something called the Garfield Trail.  After our search to find all the Wizard of Oz statues last summer in Chicago’s Oz Park, I had a feeling that Cori would be on board for a Garfield scavenger hunt plus it would give me a chance to show her the Indiana where I grew up.    

 

We spent the morning sleeping in and getting breakfast at our Hampton Inn before jumping in the car.  We had downloaded the map earlier so we had an idea that we were not going to go in order of the numbers listed, but rather make a big circle through northeastern Indiana.  

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In addition to the trail map, you can listen to information on your cell about each location, but after listening to the recorded voice on one stop, we couldn’t take the sound of the recording and opted to just read the informational plaques when they were provided.

Our scavenger hunt took us through little farm towns, two lane roads, and rows upon rows of corn.  We even had a hard time finding a place to eat.  We eventually settled on hot dogs and milkshakes at a cute little inexpensive Drive In.  

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One of our stops coincided with my Diet Coke addition.  Swayzee, Indiana.

It was quite the Indiana experience.  We talked and laughed, mostly at our rental car that sounded like it was farting as we went over bumps, through the three hours it took us to drive around and find all the Garfields.  I’m sure we looked like crazy tourists as we jumped out of the car and snapped selfies in front of each tribute to Jim Davis.  Along the way, we only ran into one other couple that was doing the same thing we were, so if you are looking for something free and low key to do around Marion, Indiana, this is it.  


The day was so relaxing and a nice way to just catch up.  I was so glad Cori got to see the Indiana I know and love. 

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What’s the strangest touristy thing you’ve ever done?

Wandering Around Washington Oaks Garden State Park

Smooth sandy beaches are the usual picture conjured in one’s mind when thinking of Florida.  Craggy rocks usually draw images of California not Florida.  However, on the way to St. Augustine, there is a little hidden gem called Washington Oaks Garden State Park.  Nestled along the Matanzas River, this park is split in two by the main road.  On the river side is a beautifully maintained set of gardens with towering live oaks, lily ponds, and a rose garden.  It’s the perfect place for a picnic or just a stroll to stretch your legs after hours of driving.  The ancient looking oaks are dripping in Spanish moss and summon memories of what Old Florida must have looked like.

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Crossing the street takes you to the Atlantic beach side.  Here you will not find just any ordinary beach.  Instead, the beach is lined with coquina rocks that make for fun climbing and exploring.  I was reminded of a miniature version of the Mohegan Bluffs.   Waves crash over them unexpectedly, but the slippery rocks form tide pools at low tide where shells are sometimes lurking along with crabs and other sea life.  On the day we visited, most of the holes were empty, but it was still fun to scramble over the rocks looking for shells.  Pay the five dollars to visit, you won’t regret it.

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Seven Stops for St. Augustine Fun

Girls’ weekend took a touristy turn this year.  Despite the fact that we were only steps from Vilano Beach, we only stepped foot on the sand the evening of our last night. Instead of soaking up sun, we challenged ourselves to see all the highlights of St. Augustine.  Below are my top seven moments.

7.  Beach Sunsets

The picture below just says it all.

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6.  Old Jail

While this is totally a tourist trap, it was made less cheesy by our awesome inmate turned tour guide.  She held the group in rapt with her sassy demeanor as she showed us the workings of the jail that served St. Augustine until 1953.  Something called the birdcage punished inmates in the sweltering heat as they swung in the sun.  If that wasn’t enough, gallows sat on the backside of the property as a constant reminder that despite cozy looking outside of this building, it was in fact a brutal jail.  The one part that is seared into my mind is the cramped quarters of the third floor where I was not able to stand between the iron bunk beds comfortably.  

 

5.  Datil Pepper Challenge

Until I arrived in St. Augustine I had never heard of a datil pepper.  Apparently they are uniquely grown in St. Augustine and not in very many other places in the world.  Upon closer inspection of St. Augustine shops and restaurants, the peppers are truly found all over.  From popsicles to chocolate to sauces and jellies.  The datil pepper is a must try.  I recommend it dipped in chocolate or ground up in a popsicle.    

 

4.  Whetstone Chocolate Tour

Who doesn’t want to stop and taste chocolate straight from the production line?  For a mere $8 we were able to try about 12 different samples, from white and milk chocolate, to fudge, and specialty items.  Each bite was more delicious than the next; then again, I’ve never met a piece of chocolate that I didn’t like.  Right from the beginning, I knew that this was going to be a fun stop.  Our guide reminded me of Josh Gad both in looks and personality.  We each had to don a hairnet before entering the processing plant.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of chocolate in the production phase, but they produce as demand is called for, and as we were touring later in the day, the only live production we saw was fudge.  They did show us how the chocolate seashells are wrapped and sent down the line.  After a hot day of walking, this air conditioned tour allowed us to take a moment to cool off, and as a bonus, we left with a satisfied sweet tooth.  

 

3.  St. Augustine Distillery

I walked into this ice plant turned distillery and was in love.  The updated rustic look of the building looked just like Chip and Joanna Gaines had designed the space.  From the museum space waiting area to the tasting room, everything pulled from that original ice house feel but with an updated look.  One of the things I loved about this place’s story was how they had to petition Tallahassee to even bring this distillery to life.  Unlike beer and wine regulations regarding tours and sales to the public, spirits follow  much stricter laws.  Only after lobbying were the owners able to get the laws changed so that I could actually go on the tour of this distillery and purchase from them directly.  One concession to this is that they have to scan your driver’s license as legally you can only purchase two bottles of each label per year.  

 

2.  Paddle Boarding the Salt Run

On our last day, before the two hour drive home, we spent the morning at Anastasia State Park paddle boarding the Salt Run.  Just inside the park there is a rental place with SUP and kayaks.  We purchased a two hour block of time and made our way north along the Salt Run towards the lighthouse.  It was hot, but thankfully there was a small breeze that made the heat bearable.  Along the way I spotted a stingray, but the highlight was when I came within five feet of a Roseate Spoonbill.  I have never seen one of these birds in the wild, only in zoos.  I watched it feed in the oyster beds careful not to get too close to the bird or the beds.  The Salt Run provides two miles of sheltered water to paddle upon.  It’s the perfect place to try out SUP since the water is so calm and shallow.  I can’t wait to return with Geoff and our kayaks.      

 

1.  Hyppo Popcicles

Skip the ice cream, skip the fudge.  Instead, run do not walk to The Hyppo.  My mouth is watering as I am writing this remembering these awesome gourmet ice pops.  They are made by hand with local and organic produce.  Their three shops have flavors that change frequently.  Cori and I sampled six in the three days we spent in St. Augustine.  My first and favorite was the strawberry datil pepper, a nice blend of sweet and spicy.  My second encounter with The Hyppo was a watermelon mint which was extremely refreshing after the super hot day of sightseeing.  Last was the peach cheesecake and this one I had dipped in chocolate.  It too was yummy, but the chocolate took away from the popsicle.  I also tasted the cantaloupe pepper and pineapple cilantro that Cori chose.  I enjoyed these as well.  From now on each time I visit St. Augustine, The Hyppo will be a must stop, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they bring a location to the Orlando area.

 

Nesting Sea Turtle Walk

I am a turtle addict.  I can remember the first time my mom showed me a snapping turtle in a bucket that she had captured while she was mowing the grass.  I quickly gained an appreciation for its strong jaw as my mom warned me not to put my fingers too near its mouth.  My brother and I captured painted turtles in our backyard when we lived near a swampy retention pond for a summer.  Caring for them for a few days before releasing them back into the neighborhood.  I’ve seen these roaming reptiles on sandy trails in Central Florida, in the depths of the Caribbean during a dive, and lounging on a beach on Hawaii’s North Shore.  But my favorite turtle memory is the time I snorkeled in Barbados and gave a loggerhead a big hug.  I’m not sure what draws me to these creatures.  Perhaps I connect with their nomadic ways or they just remind me of my carefree childhood, but be it terrapin, tortoise, or sea turtle, they have special places in my heart.

When I came across the opportunity to witness a sea turtle nesting at  Canaveral National Seashore I made reservations for two and told Geoff he was on board whether he wanted to be or not.  (It’s a good thing that he likes this stuff nearly as much as I do.)  

A few days after placing my reservation, instructions with where and when to meet arrived in the mail and I began counting down the days until June 10th.  

The day arrived and it was my last day of school for the year and has actually turned out to be my last day of school forever since I will be starting a new job soon.  Geoff and I drove out to the coast and grabbed dinner in Titusville at Crackerjacks, a tiki bar on the river.  The service was non-existent, but the beer was cheap and the shrimp was good.  

Traffic and dinner took much less time that we anticipated, and we had about two and a half hours to kill, so we explored the park.

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First, we drove to the manatee overlook, but saw nothing but the running water and other disappointed onlookers.  I had little hope of seeing a manatee, the water in the ocean was a balmy 80 degrees so, they are not looking for warmer river waters at this time of year.  We did pass a little gopher tortoise as we were driving.  Hopefully that was an indication of our luck for the evening.

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Next we drove to the beach where families were packing up their cars and heading home for the evening.  We virtually had the beach to ourselves, so we walked for awhile dodging waves and looking for seashells.  

As the Turtle Walk time approached, we drove to the visitor center to meet our group.  Upon arrival a $14 per person donation was requested.  Upon payment we chose two seats in a theater where Park Ranger Ashely proceeded to inform us about the types of turtles that nest on Playalinda Beach.

We heard facts about greens, loggerheads, leatherbacks, and Kemp’s Ridley.  And out of all that information my fun fact take away was that spotting a leatherback nesting was like seeing a unicorn and out of the hundreds of eggs laid, only one in one thousand will survive to adulthood.  

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As Ashley informed us of this fact, she busted out two baby food jars holding a loggerhead and leatherback hatchling that did not make it.  Crabs, birds, raccoons, humans, you name it and it is a potential threat to sea turtle hatchlings.  It’s no wonder that they are on the endangered list.  If it’s not predators getting them, its lack of habitat or the ingesting of garbage that ends up in the ocean.  After hearing Ashley talk and show us what has been removed from rehabbed turtles’ stomachs, I will never purchase another balloon in my life.  Something like 95% of released helium balloons end up in the ocean, and since they look like jellyfish (a turtle’s main diet) they end in their bellies.  

Finally it was time to head back to the beach.  In a caravan of cars we followed the ranger and her volunteer to a spot.  By this time it was completely dark outside.  No lights of any kind are allowed on the walk, and cell phones must be turned off.  In fact, no filming or camera equipment of any kind is allowed on the walk.  

We could have waited until 11 P.M. in hopes of seeing a turtle, but luck would have it that we saw one after about 45 minutes of waiting.  We walked about a quarter mile walk near the waves to the scouted nesting site.  When we were parallel with the giant loggerhead, our group of 18 silently approached making sure that we stayed behind her shell and out of her eyesight.  

I of course knelt down in front and not 15 seconds later was watching this loggerhead drop leathery ping pong sized eggs into the nest she had just created.  One of the volunteers pointed a red light into the nest so that we could see what was happening without disturbing the turtle.  With a steady rhythm lady loggerhead released eggs in groups of two or three until she filled up her nest about a half and hour later.  I lost count around 60 something eggs, but was informed that loggerheads typically lay between 100 and 110 eggs per clutch.  During nesting season that same loggerhead can nest between two and eight times.

Most of our group tired of watching the event after about 10 minutes.  Me and another girl were fixated during the entire event, and had to be told to move down towards the water so that mama could cover her nest and lumber back to the ocean.  

In the time we waited to watch our turtle drag herself back to the ocean, my husband, Mr. National Geographic, spotted the shadow of another loggerhead pulling herself out of the ocean and up the beach.  When the moonlight hit her just right, I could see her as well.  

Our turtle walk was coming to an end.  There would be no witnessing that second turtle lay her eggs.  That was okay with me.  It was nearing midnight, and I seen what I wanted to see.  It was time to leave nature to take its course, but not before marking the nest.  I have the coordinates of the nest we witnessed and hope that we can make a trip back late July to see if the hatchlings had emerged.  And so after a lovely evening I headed home satisfied with my newest turtle fix.

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