Friday, April 24, 2015

Sunday Funday in Key West: Sweets & Sweat




After breakfast at the hotel, we headed a few blocks south to Southernmost House for the 13th Annual Michelle's Willie Wonka Chocolate Festival to benefit the Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys. For me, this was not about contributing to a noble cause, the festival flyer had me at "chocolate". A teenage guy wearing a polyester (that mess does not breathe, bless his heart) Willie Wonka costume greeted each guest, bravely smiling and directing guests to the chocolate fountains tent and baked goods as he handed out Golden Ticket stickers to wear for event entry. The chocolate festival boasted mostly baked goods and two different triple-tiered chocolate fountains. I sent a pretzel rod through the fountain. Chad opted for a banana. We shared. All was yum. From the crazy buffet of baked goods, we shared a slice of chocolate layer cake and an oreo-flecked brownie. The treats were rich for such a hot day. Chad and I quipped that we would pay "tourist money" for pints of milk to wash down the sweets. We had to settle for bottled water at $1.00 each. Note to planners of future Wonka festivals, charge $5 for a pint of milk to raise even more money for your cause. Southernmost House is a beautiful old Victorian-style mansion complete with Candyland color scheme and a fairytale turret, which provided a nice backdrop for the Willie Wonka theme.






After so much sweet stuff, we decided to move along. We rounded the street corner to an old sewer junction painted to look like a buoy that is known as Southernmost Point, meaning the southernmost point in the continental United States of America with only 90 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba. Chad and I did not stand in the long line stretching down the sidewalk to take a photo there. We're not big on selfies or on repeating postcard shots that everyone and their grandma take. It's enough that we were there and saw it.



On our walk to the next stop for the day, Hemingway House, we saw a family of chickens scratching the ground for foodstuffs. The mama hen had three, gawky teenage chicks with her.  They were a cute little family. This scene of free-roaming chicken families was to be repeated many times during our trip. *Click here* to read more about the chickens of Key West.

Hemingway is not my favorite author by a long shot. I enjoyed The Old Man and the Sea reasonably well when I had to read it for school, but didn't like For Whom the Bell Tolls. I mostly just wanted to see the polydactyl descendants of Hemingway's cats. On the information-packed tour of the Hemingway House, we were regaled with the history of the house itself, some history of Key West, juicy scandals surrounding Hemingway and his many wives, and yes, lots of extra-toed cats. Ship's crew liked to have cats with big paws aboard to combat the rodent situation. Cats with extra toes were prized, and thought to be better mousers. A boat captain gifted a polydactyl cat to Hemingway, and he loved it. Approximately forty cats live at the Hemingway House today. The tour guides know each cat's name. They are well fed and have free reign of the place. A veterinarian visits twice a week to check on the cats. Most of the cats are spayed/neutered, but a few of the polydactyl ones are allowed to keep the bloodline going. One feline fellow even allowed me to pet him. This napping cat was perfectly posed with his extra toes on display.




After our tour of the Hemingway House, we returned to the hotel to rest and try to stop sweating for a bit in the air conditioned room.

Chad and I wandered over to Blackfin Bistro just around the corner from our hotel for a late lunch. Blackfin Bistro was pleasantly dark and cool, a respite from the scorching afternoon sun. The decor drew me inside with seed glass pendant lighting, weathered-looking shiplap boards on the bar front and clean lines. Blackfin Bistro was crowded when we passed by it earlier in the day, but we were the only customers there at 3:00. I love having a place to ourselves. I had a brie, apple, avocado sandwich. Chad had a fish sandwich. We both had mimosas with fresh squeezed orange juice. (Seriously saw the bartender squeezing oranges.) So good!

After lunch, we again returned to the hotel to rest and try to stop sweating for a bit in the air conditioned room. (Along with spotting free-roaming chickens, returning to the room to cool down from the heat and humidity was another recurring motif during our trip to Key West.)

Later in the evening Chad and I walked down to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. Chad and I share an uncomfortable avoidance of street performers, so we didn't stop to watch anyone juggle flaming things, breakdance or swallow swords. I know, we're both total buzzkills. Unfortunately, there was a huge cruise ship blocking the view of the sunset from Mallory Square. We got out of the ship's shadow by walking down the boardwalk to the Westin Resort Pier, where we stood on a low retaining wall to watch the sunset. It was pretty over the water, and seemed to sink quickly into the gulf. There was no fanfare, clapping or even "ooh"s or "ahh"s from the audience. I mention this to serve as a contrast to the sunset show at The Oasis restaurant in Austin. As the sun starts to set, a bell is rung, the sunset is announced, after a moment of watching the sun sink to Lake Travis on the horizon, clapping and hooting erupt seemingly spontaneously. Toasts are made. That's how you gratefully and festively observe a sunset, people! A sunset is not properly celebrated from behind a huge cruise ship that blocks the view of the horizon.

Walking back towards our hotel from Mallory Square, we stopped for dinner at Mangoes on Duval Street, yet another outdoor seating establishment. I sometimes tire of being a vegetarian, and struggling to find meatless dishes at restaurants. It's like I'm stuck in a revolving door of: salad, veggie burger, bruschetta, caprese sandwich, when perusing menus. I had bruschetta and a salad for dinner. It was fine. Chad, however, was spoiled for choice as an omnivore who loves seafood. He had ceviche and liked it. Dessert was key lime pie (naturally) topped with a tiny shot of whipped cream to cut the tartness. This key lime pie was not too sweet and not too tart -- just right.

Gentle Readers, I am a jaded old soul. Very little is ever quiet as great as I think it will be despite constant attempts to manage my artfully high, crazy-creative expectations. I am an ambitious aesthete, always wanting more beauty, delight and surprise. It's my bedazzled albatross to bear. If sometimes my take on places and events seems overly critical and underwhelmed, I own it. This serves as my disclaimer that while not every aspect of our Key West vacation was dazzling, I really liked it overall.

Tune in tomorrow for more Key West travelogue and tales of sunset snorkeling.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Travelogue: Key West, Florida (a.k.a. The Conch Republic)

To plan our spring vacation I searched the interwebs for "best North American vacation for couples" and came up with Key West, because it offers great snorkeling, a relaxed atmosphere and might stay within budget. Chad loved the idea so much, that we booked flight and hotel within a few days of me suggesting Key West.

I did a bit of research before our trip, and learned that in 1982 U.S. border patrol roadblocks along the only road into Key West put a damper on the island's tourism. This prompted the mayor of Key West to announce secession from the United States of America to become The Conch Republic. The secession was short-lived, but successfully ended the border patrol roadblocks. Watch a video about it *here on travelchannel.com*. Happy Conch Republic Day on April 23! (Timely!)

Luckily, these days flights to Key West are abundant. The Key West airport is small compared to most tourist town airports, and the runway is short. The pilot warned us that we would feel a rapid deceleration upon landing with the implication being "don't be scared/no screaming or crying back there". Disembarking from the airplane down wobbly stairs to the tarmac, we were greeted by a retro-looking sculpture of a buoy and some families pointing at the buoy, or maybe reaching for each other's hands. Um... does anyone else find this sculpture a little creepy?



As we left the airport in a taxi bound for the hotel, I saw a big rooster sporting impressively colored plumage walking around near some picnic tables. When we arrived at our hotel another (or was it the same?!) big rooster sporting impressively colored plumage greeted us in the parking lot. There are many free roaming hens and roosters on Key West. More on that later.

Chad and I often turn to tripadvisor for help deciding where to stay, dine and play, which is how we found the Almond Tree Inn for our stay in Key West. Located near the quiet end of Duval Street on Truman Avenue, we easily walked to all the things we wanted to see on Key West. (The island is only 1.8 miles by 4 miles in area, so most things are walkable.) The rooms are thoughtfully appointed with Jonathan Adler-esque style. (Our room had cute cat ceramics on a feature shelf. It's like they knew me!) The hotel courtyard features a pool, a hot tub (no thanks, germs) and a man made waterfall with koi pond. An impressive continental style breakfast is served each morning on the lovely covered porch area. Happy Hour nibbles and drinks are served each evening.











Our first evening in Key West we walked around Duval Street a bit to get acclimated, stopping for dinner at the downtown location of Cuban Coffee Queen. I liked my black bean veggie burger from Cuban Coffee Queen served with plantain chips and a blue dumdum lollipop for dessert. Chad loves all things breakfast/egg and had Havana rice and beans with eggs. He liked it, but did not get a lollipop. I tried to convince Chad that the staff wasn't playing favorites with the unequal lollipop distribution, but I was clearly their favorite. Or possibly the lollipops only come with sandwiches.

Many of the restaurants in Key West, including the downtown location of Cuban Coffee Queen, have shaded or covered open air dining. It's hot and humid in Key West. If one holds still and there is a breeze, outdoor dining is semi-pleasant/semi-sweaty-making.

After dinner, Chad and I had a lazy swim in the hotel pool to cool ourselves before bedtime.

One of Austin's mottoes to promote local businesses "Keep Austin Weird", seems a little vanilla in comparison to bumper stickers/unofficial city mottoes I saw in Key West which read "Key West: a work free drug place" and "Key West: We do more in a week than most people do all day". Chillaxin' seems to be the name of the game down there. (Don't worry, law abiding citizens. We did not partake of any illegal drugs in Key West. We didn't even have to "just say no", because no one offered any.)

Tune in tomorrow for more Key West travel adventure tales.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Loving

Last year whilst visiting family in NC, I was my usual delightfully snarky, eye-rolling self, making fun of a "night-owl" event that lasted until *wait for it* 9:00 PM. My sister, probably tiring of my snark, asked "what do you like to do?" The truth is, I am a happy homebody and calculating observer. When I do leave the house, I like to be somewhere dark & quiet where I can fade into the lovely background. Conversely, I also like to be somewhere dark & cavy with a thumping bass where I can lose myself in trance-inducing dance music. I think I love acting, because I lose myself in portraying a character. I don't love much sun, wide open spaces or putting my true self on public display. I also don't like perusing rickety antique stores, surveying suburban shopping malls or feeling the hopeful eyes of an artist on me as I view their art: no matter if the art is good or bad. I'm far too empathetic for that kind of emotional pressure. 

People love a positive spin and easily viewed lists, so here is my love list for spring 2015.




Thursday, March 12, 2015

I Quit... Again

I gave notice at that "bad decision" job. I feel a great weight lifted from my soul. I'm trying to keep my departure amicable and professional, so no thinly-veiled details. Yet.

It doesn't help that "bad decision" employer doesn't provide parking, and that my parking contract goes from $160 a month up to $263 a month effective April 1. No foolin'. I canceled that expensive mess. My commute typically takes only ten minutes to get from my centrally located, charmingly cruddy neighborhood to downtown, then twenty minutes of navigating ever-changing lane closures downtown to enter the nine story parking structure to try and find a parking spot into which my MINI can squeeze.

Also, working retail and climbing ladders aggravates my bunionette. Also, working retail and climbing ladders does not jive with my upcoming surgery to correct said foot affliction. *shudder*

Rolling up to work last Friday morning to see the sidewalk on the opposing corner covered in blood, police and police-tape hindered my overall sense of well-being. An attempted robbery of Starbucks with two marines playing superhero left a trail of mayhem. Click here for the factual-ish story.

My last day at my current job lines up with the last day of my parking contract.

I won't miss the scent of meth-tainted urine or alcohol-fueled bad decisions of downtown Austin.

I am quitting another job.

Next!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Neither Precious Nor Darling

Ever noticed how adding the suffix -ette to a word makes it cuter, more diminutive or dare I say, darling? 

Rock+ette= those lovely leggy dancers. So much more fun to watch than a rock.

Flower+ette= something already lovely made smaller, likely more abundant and presumably cuter.

Kitchen+ette= that room from whence food comes compacted to an easier to manage & easier to clean size.

Bunion+ette= a foot deformity not near the big toe like a regular bunion, but by the little toe or metatarsophalangeal joint. 

I have a bunionette on my left foot from too many years working in retail, performing as a dinner theatre actress and wearing high heels. Also, my left leg may be a tiny bit longer than my right leg, and I have flat feet with wide toes, which certainly doesn't help my pitiable foot situation. My bunionette is neither precious, nor darling. It is not dimuniutive. My bunionette is red, inflamed, angry and seems to be growing. 

It may be time for yours truly to get a desk job. 

I wonder if I can start a crowdsourced funding campaign for my future bunionette correction surgery and physical therapy?

Most importantly, where can I buy cute and stylish orthopedic shoes?







Sunday, February 08, 2015

Laundromat Observations

Our washer broke. I know one shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but I never liked that fussy, front loading washer. Goodbye. A new top loading, still high efficiency, energy star washer will be delivered this week! Chad and I can't wait! Also one of the cats barfed on the bed, and we had a backlog of laundry, so we really couldn't wait to do laundry, and went to the laundromat today.

Our trip to the laundromat made me feel simultaneously like one of the people, proletariat, working class; and also bourgeois, snobbish, gentry class that we can afford to buy a new washer to replace our old one, and that we have a house with a laundry hookup.

The walls in the laundromat bear battle scars of rolling carts. The ceiling tiles sag with brown water stains. The smell is a combination of chemically scented detergents, disinfectant and the vague burnt odor of textiles left in the dryer too hot for too long. The fluorescent lights aren't doing anyone any favors in the beauty category. Handwritten "out of order" signs pepper the machines. Two giant TVs mounted from the ceiling are mercifully muted with subtitles and one has a grainy picture, but it's showing a cruddy movie with commercial interruptions, so who really cares.

We fold our laundry at the laundromat, not wanting wrinkles to set in. In front of the other laundromat patrons, it occurs to me that my PJs are looking rough. I need some nicer, new ones. Chad folds some of his more colorful skivvies with a hint of a sheepish grin. We team up to fold our king-size, high thread count bedding like we're royalty or something.

Later, back at home, I'm less than pleased to discover that our clean laundry does not smell like the environmentally-friendly, natural lavender and blue eucalyptus detergent and dryer sheets that I love and use loyally, but like the residue of so many strangers' Tide, Gain and Bounce.

I'm thankful that we can afford a new washer. I'm also thankful that we're not above going to the laundromat when necessity dictates it.