Jimmy, One More Time…..

It has actually been less than a year since the last Florida Jimmy Buffett concert, but that’s just fine. For those who have never attended a Jimmy Buffett concert, let me explain that it is concert only by definition – in reality it is a shared experience. Tailgate parties begin at whatever point the designated venue allows it. Many a vehicle sports decorations and I’m not just talking about a couple of slogans in washable paint. Cut outs of sharks, giant inflatable cheeseburgers, and a wide variety of tropical themed items are all to be seen. As for attendees, that can be even more creative than what you see on the vehicles. I have to admit though, that for all the men in grass skirts and coconut bras we’ve seen, last night was the first time we saw a guy dressed up as a flamingo. Very pink by the way – lawn ornament pink and it was definitely creative. The hats are terrific though and one of these days I really am going to get my husband a straw one and decorate it with parrots, sharks, and so forth – all acceptable Parrothead accoutrements. Parrothead? Yes, the most widely used term for a true Buffet fan.

Jimmy and the Coral Reefer band have now been touring to where they have two, and sometimes, three generations of fans in the audience and last night was no exception. Jimmy has cut back some on his tour dates and each time we go to a concert we understand that there might not be many more. As he says, they have the greatest job in the world and part of what makes Jimmy so memorable is the sheer affection for the fans he and the band display. For the two+ hours of each concert, it is cheering, clapping, dancing at your seat, lip syncing and/or singing out the lyrics. This year’s tour includes many of his really old songs, and as he has said in interviews, there are just certain ones that he must play. From ballads such as “Son of a Sailor” to the whimsy of, “A Pencil Thin Moustache”, we left, as always, glad that we’d had the chance to see Jimmy perform one more time. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t stop anytime soon.

Lobster Benedict and More in St Croix……

When it comes to dining, St Croix is like many of the islands in that restaurants of all types tend to be expensive, as are the grocery stores. It’s one of the realities of having to ship in so many items. With that said, most places also provide large portions (especially when it comes to pasta), so if you have the ability to take and use leftovers, you can often have a lunch-size portion to take away. Aside from the wonderful diving and other beauty of St Croix, they have some terrific beach bars, a lot of very good restaurants, and some great special occasion places. The ones I highlight in this post are just a sampling of what you can choose from. Meals will range from good to superb.

One word of caution for those who may not be familiar with the island. A lot of restaurants in St Croix have significant parts of their dining room covered, but are open-air with no full exterior walls; particularly those with water or garden views. This is wonderful except during times of driving rain when there may literally be no tables that can be kept dry. On the other hand, rain like this doesn’t usually last long, so if you can be patient and huddle in a dry spot, the odds are the rain will quickly pass, the experienced staff will hustle about wiping away the water, and everyone can resume eating. The next point is while the beach bars tend toward burgers, sandwiches, wings, nachos, etc., each one tends to also have a particular specialty and/or distinct spices they use. One might offer Mexican food, another homemade pizza, another breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. The somewhat ramshackle-looking beach bars that are our favorites for post-diving don’t blink an eye when you come with a damp swim suit on, although they do prefer you not stroll in with a dripping wet suit. However, standing at the edge of the bar and ordering a drink to have outside while in a wet suit is usually okay. My point is that watersports and other outdoor activities are at the heart of St Croix’s tourism and the beach bars and casual dining are set up to accommodate you with delicious food as part of these activities. In some cases, beach bars combine this come-as-you-are welcome with upscale choices and make it work with brunch items like Lobster Benedict. The current Eat at Cane Bay has perfected this approach and we’ve been visiting this establishment as it has passed through multiple hands. In fact we have been going to the island for so long that we often don’t have time to visit all our favorites – we had to miss Off-the-Wall during this last trip and Bogey’s, although we did make it to Coconuts on the Beach in Fredericksted. As always, places have changes hands and we weren’t able to check out any of the new ones, but will put them on the list for the next visit.

We did make it to Salud Bistro which defies all logic for having a restaurant in a tropical setting. It, too, has changed ownership since it was opened, but has maintained the same concept. It sits in a small shopping plaza, a blocky building nowhere near the water or any scenic area. If you didn’t know better,  you would likely pass it by when looking for fine dining. Ah, but step through the door to an interior with rich wall colors, fabric panels, art, and warm wood; the decor a perfect complement to the Mediterranean, Mid-Eastern fusion of flavors and dishes. Nothing is done plainly here, although I am certain the chef would accommodate any requests. My husband decided on the duck and lamb with herbed couscous and eggplant puree while I had the steak Marsala and smoky polenta. Oh yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.

On a night when we were planning to stay in and enjoy leftovers, friends invited us to Savant, one of the longtime restaurants not far from the fort in Christiansted; another special occasion type place. Also not on the water, but in an old building with a beautiful courtyard complete with flowering tropical plants. Let’s see, mine was a wonderful chicken and fettuccine in a superb basil cream sauce with roasted onions and peppers, my husband had pork in a tamarind glaze, and I can’t recall exactly what the others had. We were all too full to try dessert, although a lovely chocolate thing was delivered to a couple at a nearby table.

We also missed going to the Christiansted Brew Pub, the only microbrewery on the island, but I may find a way to do a special post about it one of these days. So when you go to St Croix, rest assured that you will not lack for places to dine.

Underwater St Croix…..

Rock Beauty on Reef in St Croix

There are more spectacular places to dive than St Croix, yet the island is a consistent and reliable enjoyable dive location. The fact that you have wall diving, shore diving, healthy reefs and half a dozen wrecks supported by multiple good dive centers/shops all combine to make this a favored spot for us. As with many islands, overfishing is an issue and so the larger fish such as big groupers and sizeable parrots have diminished during the 10+ years we have been coming to the island. Tropical fish are still plentiful and during our two days of diving this trip we saw rays, turtles, eels, and shrimp among other marine creatures and thankfully fewer of the invasive lionfish than on our previous trip. I am a sucker for the tiny garden eels and certainly get my fill when we drop into the water on the west side of the island.

I confess that we have never been diving on the East or South sides; we stay on North Shore and go west. There are also a few of the dive centers/shops we have not patronized, but that is not to say we wouldn’t – it’s just that you often establish relationships that you perpetuate. Saint Croix Blue Water Underwater Adventure (SCUBA) is fun, but Cane Bay, N2theBlue, and Anchor Dive all have aspects that divers can appreciate, and Dive Experience is a favorite of other people that we know.

It is an excellant place to first explore diving because there are plenty of shallow colorful reefs with profusion of corals, sponges, so many days when visibility underwater exceeds 70-80 feet and the temperature in winter stays in at least the high 70s. The boat rides to the dive sites (many that last 20 minutes or less) are scenic with the turquoise sky reflecting aquamarine and azure colors in the waters. You look to the mountains to see houses perched along the slopes, some at the very peaks where you can envision the panoramic views.

While this post is primarily about diving, I do want to mention Buck Island and the underwater trail. Buck Island is near the harbor of Christiansted and is a landmark of the East End. It is a protected area and both the underwater and topside tours are truly one of the “musts” of St Croix. Granted, the snorkel tours are usually crowded, but again, it is a very short boat ride and the protected status of the area means you will see some of the larger fish. Friends swear by Issacs Bay on the far side of the island between Udall Point (eastern most point in the U.S.) and Divi Casino and Resort. You can snorkel right from shore and they tell me that it is protected against rough water.

One of the most unique features of diving in St Crox is that you can, in fact, make a shore dive to the wall from a couple of spots on the North Shore of the island. Now, it is a bit of a swim, but nothing overly strenuous if you take your time. And there is something about crossing reefs, then coming to the edge of the wall that extends down more than 12,000 feet. You can navigate along at whatever depth you are rated for/comfortable with, remembering to look out into the blue every so often in case something like, say a manta ray, is swooping in. Granted, that doesn’t happen often, but you might be in the right place at the right time.

You finish your dive/dives, whether shore or by boat, and if you want to grab lunch and a cold beer (or whatever) while still clad in swimsuit and a shirt, there is likely to be a beach bar or casual waterfront restaurant either next door or within a short distance. Beach bars and other dining choices will be the subject of the next post. Happy Diving!



Time in St Croix……..

Yes, I have had a few days lapse in posting. The short time we had between the Georgia trip and heading to St Croix was jammed with planned and unanticipated obligations. With that said, I will be doing three posts about St Criox – this one as a general discussion of the island, then one devoted to the diving and the other to beach bars and other dining options.

By way of background, my husband and I first visited St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands in Nov 1999 sort of by accident. We had a time share exchange and wanted to go back to St Martin, but no units were available. I asked about other islands and the agent I was talking to said that no, but St Croix was open and the resort in the book showed on-site scuba diving. Okay, that worked for us. To make what would be an otherwise very lengthy post shorter, we quickly fell in love with the island. And yes, when most people hear “USVI”, they think St Thomas because that’s where the vast number of cruise ships stop. St Croix is actually larger than St Thomas and if you must have a Hyatt, Marriott, etc., to stay in and can only shop somewhere like Saks, then you do need to go to St Thomas. If, on the other hand, you want a beautiful island with small hotels and resorts, great scuba diving and excellant restaurants without jammed crowds, then St Croix is probably your kind of place. There are three “anchor resorts”; the famous Bucanneer on East End where celebrities tend to stay, the Divi Resort and Casino (only current casino on the island), and Carambola on North Shore at Davis Bay, a beautiful place that keeps changing hands. There are lots of condo complexes as well and villas and houses for rent, so it depends on what you need. Some of the hotels are laid back to the point that they don’t have telephones. There are essentially two towns; Christiansted with the harbor and Fredericksted on the West Side where the cruise ships dock. North Shore has a few accommodations in addition to Carmbola, several restaurants, and plenty of outdoor activity.

The island has a history of multiple owners, to include a strong Danish heritage and even a short while with the Knights of Malta. That means you have a mix of architecture and the walking tour of Christiansted is quite pleasant as is the smaller fort and refurbished waterfront of Fredericksted. The botanical garden is nicely arranged and if you are in the market for art, you have as many mediums to choose from as you are likely to want. There is no shortage of jewelry either and you won’t lack for other types of souvenirs.

Watersports and beaches dominate, although there are hikes, aerial and vehicle tours, and beautiful topography of foliage-covered moutains that sweep to the sea. There are virtually no waterfalls though and the peaks are not as towering as you find on islands in the Pacific. Direct flights from New York, Miami, Atlanta don’t take long and if you route through San Juan, those hourly flights are about 30 minutes in length.

In reality, St Croix is intended for one thing – to relax. There is not what one would call a glittering night life unless you count the wonderful view of stars as you step outside. This is a place of nice beaches, water in multiple shades of blue, palm trees and flowering tropical plants, mongoose that dart about, humingbirds that flit among  butterflies. If you want the scenes woven into short stories, pop over to my web site and read A Ghecko in an Umbrella or Running Yellow Lights.

Underwater is as lovely as topside and that will be the subject of my next post.

About All That Extra Stuff….

The manner in which the homeless situation is approached varies by state, county/parish, or perhaps even by town. In Homestead there is a wonderful organization called the Chapman Partnership. It was founded by Mr. Alvah Chapman, the former President of the Miami Herald and Chief Executive Officer of Knight Ridder. He was convinced that there was a better way to approach the homeless in Miami-Dade county and the organization that he subsequently built is a testament to what private-public partnerships should be. That, however, is not the precise point of this post. The Chapman Project works with multiple government agencies (all levels) and has an average stay of approximately sixty days before an individual or family is able to move into some type of more permanent housing.

Among numerous interesting aspects of the Chapman partnership is that they also accept a wide variety of donations. The Director of Volunteers and Community Liaison explained that they try, as much as possible, to help people with basic household goods. It was one of those things that I hadn’t really thought about, but I got it. You are homeless and now moving into an apartment or house. Doesn’t it make sense that you will need furniture, household items, etc.? While many charitable organizations accept donations and have thrift shops (which is a good thing), the Chapman partnership is able to funnel appropriate items directly to the same people that they help place in housing.

As some of you may recall from previous posts, I recently lost a very dear friend and  I have been assisting her family with moving things. Much of her clothing, unopened food, and other items were contributed to Chapman. I look around our house and know that if I would get myself energized, there are things that we could also contribute. Many people continue to struggle in today’s economy and cash contributions to charities and other non-profits are understandably down. So, have you been considering down-sizing, or at least finally tackling that storage area/garage/basement/attic? Sure, you can do a garage sale and quite frankly, you might want to seriously consider having an expert appraiser come out depending on what you have. But let’s say there’s that old set of pots and pans you haven’t touched since you got the non-stick ones, and why do you still have two extra coffeepots? There is a bookcase crammed with books you haven’t looked at in years, and you’ve never really liked that lamp very much. While charitable organizations almost always perfer cash, serviceable goods can be important, too. Do a kind deed for others and trim some of that stuff you know you need to. Check on-line or make a few calls in your area and see what groups could benefit from the items that you can easily part with. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Those Odd Slopes…

My husband was sweating profusely, as he usually does after a strenuous workout. “Strange things out there,” he said between gulps as he hydrated. “Up and then down – hills, I think they’re called.” We are in his native Georgia, visiting with his family, and while the historic town of Covington is not close to the North Georgia mountains, there are definitely hills.

We’ve lucked out on weather though; cloudy yesterday, but the rain held off until night time and we delayed my morning walk/his morning run until the sky lightened and patches of blue started to peek through. Our departure scheduled for tomorrow will be ahead of the cold front that is about to sweep in although the car may have a coating of frost as we load luggage. It’s been a short visit, one that we usually make at Thanksgiving, and the only tradition we’ve missed (well, other than the Thanksgiving feast), is to have catfish at Henderson’s. The local catfish place that has been in business for decades is not open on Mondays and we had plans for the other two evenings. For those who understand, properly prepared catfish means corneal coated, crisply fried at the correct temperature , served with hush puppies, French fries, and coleslaw. Plenty of catsup and don’t bother to bring tartar sauce around. Henderson’s happens to use a family recipe of vinegar-dressed coleslaw and that’s my preference to a mayonnaise-based dressing. They also don’t serve alcohol, but technically speaking, ice tea is the appropriate beverage for cat fish. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have catfish cooked in another manner – merely that if you say, “Let’s go have catfish”, you know this is the sort of meal you will have. On the other hand, we are taking back four quarts of frozen Brunswick stew, so it hasn’t been a regional culinary bust.

A number of things have changed in Covington over the years as more people have moved in with businesses around the town square either relocating to the shopping centers or giving way to boutique entities, and traffic congestion is driving new construction at virtually every road in and out of town.  Hollywood has left its mark too, from when the long-running television show, “In the Heat of the Night”, was filmed here to the current filming of “Vampire Diaries”.

Like most communities, the housing market boomed and the bubble burst, and signs of recovery are finally beginning to emerge. We will wave good-bye tomorrow and head back to the flat topography of South Florida with palm trees instead of hardwoods, hibiscus instead of magnolias. And next year I’ll try to make sure we keep to the timeframe that will include Henderson’s.



They Don’t Always Mean Well…..

Setting aside New Year’s resolutions that are physically health and nutrition related (admirable ones by the way), let me focus for a moment on stress-reducing resolutions. Most of our lives are bombarded with stress-inducing events, whether of our own or external origin. How one copes with stress is highly individual and notwithstanding the exaggerated expression, there are a bazillion articles, books, etc., that address this issue. I want to talk about just one of those in this post. “Don’t take it personally – he/she meant well”, or “He/she only has your best interest at heart”, or a similar statement. Uh huh. And that can be true. We can be on a path that isn’t necessarily good for us, be making poor decisions whether it’s something as mundane as trying a new hair color that really doesn’t work, or something like remaining in a dead-end, emotionally draining job because we don’t have the courage to take steps to change the situation. Those are the times when someone who genuinely cares should take a deep breath and venture hurting our feelings to offer good advice.

On the other hand, do you have friends and/or relatives who are so convinced that they know better than you what you need, what you should be, do? These are the people who breezily or perhaps passionately frequently start with the phrase, “I’m only telling you this for your own good…” Their rationale of course is that they mean well. Except that isn’t necessarily the case. There are people who are simply unable to refrain from meddling in other people’s lives. These same people are often control freaks, acknowledged or otherwise, and they can be breathtakingly oblivious as to how they come across. How do you deal with this? If you have one or more person in your life like this who causes you stress, then perhaps it is time to examine that relationship. If you can look at the person clearly (and you may need a third party to help you see it), and recognize that this is one of those individuals who simply likes to tell people what to do, then you can make a decision about that person. If this person needs to remain in your circle for whatever reason (and there can be complicated ones), then accept that as a fact, and allow their words to become “just noise”; that same kind of irritating noise that a buzzing mosquito makes. You may still need to “vent” about this person at times, and that’s okay. What I am talking about is no longer allowing their words to burrow into your mind where they can be like an emotional splinter. And yes, if you want to give a shot at trying to change one of these people, go for it, but I wouldn’t expend a great deal of emotional energy in doing so.




Paris for Valentine’s Day….

No, it isn’t as extravagent as it sounds. A number of years ago when we were early into our empty nest time, I suppose it was a notice about special winter deals to Europe that caught my eye – I don’t recall the precise circumstances. We were both still working full time then, but it had been years since we’d been to Paris and it hit me – a short trip over the President’s Day weekend that would also include Valentine’s Day. Paris in winter? Granted, the beautiful Jardin de Tuileries would be without splendid flowers, but the many museums were available. The weather was virtually the same as in the Northern Virginia area, so what would be the difference of being in a wool coat, gloves, and scarf scooting from a Metro station in D.C., and scooting from a Metro station near the Eiffel Tower? We flew out on a Thursday night and back on the following Monday for an evening arrival and had a wonderful time. We have done this twice more since then. I usually book everything on-line from the airline-hotel package to transport from the airport, to a Metro and Museum Pass. There is a combination deal that  works quite well and while I have used http://www.gotoparis.net there are other on-line services available. One time when I didn’t make arrangements far enough ahead, I used the service that had the passes delivered to our hotel. I prefer a little more breathing room than that, but it did work.

I would not recommend a short winter trip to Paris for your first time, but for those who have already experienced the beauty of the city in spring, early summer, or fall, it can be a delightful break. [I do not suggest Paris in July or August]. There are excellant package prices, the museums and galleries tend to be less crowded, many of the outdoor sections of restaurants and cafes have windbreaks they put up as well as have outside heating. So if you have a few days to spare around Valentine’s Day and are up for adventure, take a look at the offers and think about having that romantic dinner in the City of Love.

Oh yes, and pop over to my website and read the short story, Paris in Winter.

When Quitting is Okay….

It’s funny the things that we put out of our minds that stick with other people. During our recent mini family reunion in New Orleans, my sister brought up the time I decided to get my private pilot’s license. That was in the period of my single parenting days with a toddler and I was assigned in Abilene, Texas as an Army ROTC instructor. While there was no Army facility, Dyess Air Force Base was the home to a B-52 Wing that transitioned to the new B-1 bomber. I made some great friends in what we called the “Corner of the Bar Social Club”, and yes, some of the characters in my first novel, Orchids in the Snow, were inspired by that group. I digress, however.

Being around all those pilots and being in West Texas with wide open spaces led to my desire to take pilot training. It was something that had intrigued me and seemed like a logical thing to do. I did enjoy it – there is an absolutely exhilarating feeling as you lift from the runway, soar at 1,000+ feet over the countryside, and touch down correctly. That first solo flight you take is a truly great experience, although as I progressed in the training, I realized that I had a couple of weak points – like navigation and airport procedures. I talked it over with one of my Air Force friends and quietly asked if he would consider giving me a few extra tutoring sessions. Not that I couldn’t have had those with my instructor who was quite good, but this part I wanted to keep private.

I had to be gone for several weeks to Fort Riley, KS, as a member of the ROTC summer camp staff and while I was with my Army buddies, I mentioned all of this to one of the guys who was an aviator. He looked at me and put it into perspective. “Charlie, not everyone can do this. If you’re not comfortable with it, walk away.”

Ouch! You mean, quit? I wasn’t a quitter. I was an intelligent person. I had a plan. I could do this. Except he had a good point. I could do this, I could overcome the intellectual aspects with a little extra work, more focus. I could pass the tests, do better on my next cross-country flight. Then I paused and genuinely reflected on my abilities, and I knew he was right. I did not have whatever it takes to possess the level of confidence that you should have with flying. The moments of sheer pleasure when in the air were laced with other moments of concern that I had been pretending were less intense than they really were. Wasn’t I going to take a lot of kidding from my friends who not only could fly small Cessnas, but who also easily maneuvered the most sophisticated bomber in the world? Quite possibly, and in the final analysis, taking a ribbing was infinitely better than continuing down an incorrect path. And so, with only a few requirements remaining, I walked away. I assured my instructor that it wasn’t him, and actually my pilot friends weren’t the least derisive. They agreed with the guy who had told me it wasn’t for everyone.

Did my “failure” personally sting? Oh yeah, and then I chalked it up to another good life lesson. Trying new things just doesn’t always work out. I don’t regret the time and money that I spent not achieving my goal – it never hurts to stretch yourself even when the end results may not be exactly what you wanted them to be. I don’t recommend quitting at the first “speed bump”, but there are times when it is best to admit that you aren’t able to do something.