Friday, April 18, 2014

Sanibel Part IV

It's Friday already, and we're leaving for Richmond tomorrow :(. Ususally I'd be wallowing in tears right now, but I've decided not to think about our approaching check-out, and instead just live in the moment and enjoy what time we have left!
Yesterday, Thursday, we woke up to a beautifully warm and sunny morning! After a quick breakfast, we pulled our beach chairs down to the sand and got right to sunbathing. I wish I had some pictures, but we literally spent out on the beach doing absolutely nothing interesting-a lot of reading and sleeping-but hey, I'm not complaining! To me, this is a vacation. We concluded the day with some shell-hunting. The tide was just beginning to recede, leaving behind piles and piles of conch shells! We scooped up all that we could find, and laid them out on the table back at the cottage.
You could say we're "conched" out (haha get it, like conked-out? So punny)

Anyways, we made it back just as a storm started coming, and sat on our screened porch to watch

At first it looked like the storm was just going to roll over us, but then it started quickly picking up...

After only a few minutes, we were all soaked! But the storm ended just as soon as it started, leaving behind a very pretty view.
I spy a rainbow!

The last of the rain stopped just in time for us to head over to Sanibel Fish House for dinner. I ordered the seared ahi tuna (by far one of my favorite dishes ever) and it definitely lived up to my expectations! I also tried the conch chowder (too tomato-ey for me), and the conch fritters (fantastic! Like a cross between calamari and a hush puppy). We then stopped at Dairy Queen, where I got a delicious limited-time-only birthday cake blizzard. Overall, a very satisfying day! 

Sanibel Part III

4 days already??? It's Friday as I write this, and let me tell you: I am sunburnt, bug bitten, my hair's a rat's nest and my manicure is all but completely chipped off. But give it, I'm at the beach and that's all that matters! On Wednesday, we woke up to clouds and chilly temperatures. Since it definitely didn't seem like all too well of a beach day, we decided to hop in the car and drive over to one of the cute shops we'd had our eye on.
She Sells Sea Shells is an adorable little shell shop in Sanibel. We popped in, and were greeted with rows upon rows of shelves like these:
However, we'd found so many seashells on our own, we didn't really want to buy any, but luckily the store had several other crafts to look at, too.
It's Mr. Puff! (Spongebob reference)

Thankfully the sun came out that afternoon, so we spent a few hours sunbathing and enjoying the Florida weather! At one point we were visited by this guy, asking for food...

He finally got the hint that we didn't have anything to offer, and flew away. But soon afterwards, I looked out at the water and was convinced I'd spotted a fin sticking out. Sure enough, two dolphins were playing in the waves not even 20 feet from the shore! They splashed around for a little bit before swimming back out to sea-too quickly for me to get a picture. 
Eventually we decided to get up and look for shells, before going back to the cottage to survey our findings.
I feel like we robbed that poor beach! Turns out a few of them still had little critters living inside, so we quickly set those free in the water. 
Afterwards, we went out to dinner at Matzaluna, a local Italian restaurant. I had a 5-cheese artichoke pizza, and it was delicious! I definitely could go for some nice seafood though-we are in Sanibel after all!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sanibel Part II

The best thing about vacation for me is having absolutely no plans. I can't stand "vacations" where you have one activity here, another there, and everything is so go-go-go. I love being able to sit back, relax, and do whatever I want whenever I want, with no pressure to go anywhere. Here, the only thing we have to worry about is that breakfast closes at 10 (much too early for my taste), but even then we can just eat in the room if we oversleep!
The second-best thing about beach vacations is that no one cares what you look like. I love letting my hair turn into a knotty mess, wearing no makeup, and getting that freckly, semi-burnt, sun-kissed skin that most people make every effort to cover up. I love not being under pressure to look prim and proper and well-kept (a good thing, considering I didn't have any makeup or toiletries until 10pm last night). Even when going out to dinner, you can just throw on a nice shirt and you're good to go! And that's exactly what I did yesterday.
Everyone slowly rolled out of bed, making our way over to the inn's complimentary continental breakfast (hard-boiled eggs and fruit all the way!) Afterwards we spent the morning hunting for shells, but it was high-tide so there wasn't all too much to see. We did manage to collect a few pounds, though! But soon we got tired and returned to the cottage, where I did some blogging while everyone else lounged around. After a quick bite of lunch, we decided to hop in the car and explore the island a little bit. 
We stopped into an old, used bookstore called the Island Book Nook. Everyone in my family has a deep love for books and bookstores, but sadly not many people agree. It was incredibly upsetting to see a sign on the door, stating that they were going out of business soon. 
The shop was very cozy, with several shelves lining the room. It was owned by two women, and an adorably calm Jack Russell terrier named Shiloh. He sat in his chair all day, bravely guarding the door and doing some people-watching.
As we scanned the shelves, several people walked in to talk to the owners. They were all completely devastated that the shop was closing down, and it was clear that they'd all grown to love that little used bookstore. We made our purchases and left, but on the bright side we were given a coupon for free ice cream next door! That opportunity was too good to pass up, so we stopped by for a scoop before leaving. 

Now that low-tide was about to peak, we went back out to the beach to look for more shells.
Let's just say, I heard angels singing.
So. Many. Shells!

Look at that-that's a good 6 inches deep!

Absolutely incredible-that's the only way to describe it. 

After we collected our fair share of shells, we went home to review our haul from that morning

I'm tell myself I'm going to make something with them, but in all honesty I'm not very crafty and have no idea what'd I would make! 
Someone got very creative and decorated an old bush with their findings. I considered adding to it, but I'm selfish and couldn't bear to part with any of my shells! 

We stayed out shell-hunting until our legs hurt from crouching and our sunglasses were splattered with water. I headed back to shower, throw on a decent-looking blouse borrowed from my mom, and we went out to dinner at one of Sanibel's most popular restaurants, the Island Cow. It was there that I tried alligator for the first time, and it was incredibly delicious! Some people say it tastes like chicken,  but I'd compare it to popcorn shrimp. Very good! 

Sanibel Part I

So Spring Break has finally rolled around (as if we haven't gotten enough days off this year), and I really have been counting down the days! This year my mom, sister, and I took a girls trip down and escaped down to Sanibel Island, Florida. My mom had spent all of last week at her organization's annual meeting, and was in desperate need of a vacation. My sister and I were set to fly down to Miami to meet her, before renting a car and driving up to Sanibel.
This is where things went a little haywire.
You see, the plane was delayed one hour. We didn't care, because it allowed us to "sleep in" until 5:30am (a step up from 4:30!) But after we boarded the plane, we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. This is an additional 2 hours of sitting on the tarmac doing nothing. They eventually came over the intercom and informed us that the fire extinguishing mechanism in the cargo hold of the plane wasn't working, and after 2 hours they managed to decide there was nothing they could do to fix it. Ridiculous already, added to the fact that they then told us they couldn't carry any checked bags on the plane, because they might start a fire. So we finally took off, 3 hours behind schedule, with no bags. Let me tell you how aggravating that was. And now my luggage was mistakenly sent to Dallas (I have to say, it seems airports cannot do a single thing right), so it's not getting in for another day and a half.
On the bright side, I did manage to get a few pics out the window.

Anyways, we eventually landed in Miami and started the drive up to Sanibel Island. But on the way, we had to stop for some "local cuisine" ;)

Okay, I don't care where you are- a strawberry-banana smoothie will always be a strawberry-banana smoothie, and they are always delicious.
After finishing up some last-minute shopping, we pulled into Sanibel. You see, I've only been to Florida once before. We stayed at the Breaker's Hotel in Palm Beach. There, designer sundresses are the norm, and people spend the day swishing cocktails on the veranda and chatting about their yacht clubs and whatnot. I always figured that there were 2 sides of Florida-that side (rich, sophisticated, socialites), and then the party-hard college side. 
Sanibel doesn't fit either one of those descriptions. Nestled just off the coast of Ft. Meyers, it has an incredibly vintage, low-key vibe. It seems that the island didn't quite catch up to the 21st century. Here, resorts are small and family-owned, boutiques and cafes lay back behind overgrown underbrush. The speed limit is 30mph, so you barely move faster than the couples riding down the bike paths. There isn't a chain-restaurant, high-rise hotel, or mega-mart in sight. Perfect for 3 girls looking to relax! In fact, Sanibel is so retro that we passed by the one franchise on the island, Dairy Queen, and my mom cried out, "Hey! That's the Dairy Queen I went to 40 years ago! It looks exactly the same!" It seems even the most enterprised corporations haven't bothered to update since the 1960s. Why would they? 

We crossed over the bridge just before sunset

We accidentally took a wrong turn at some point and ended up in a wildlife refuge, where I found this lovely sign:
In Florida, they have to tell you not to feed the Alligators. I don't know about you guys, but if I saw a gator all I'd be thinking about is how not to become its food!
We then checked into our hotel-a small inn made up of several condos and cottages (I promise to provide a more in-depth picture eventually), and ran right outside for some shell-hunting.
In my family, we're all shell nerds. The whole reason we picked Sanibel in the first place was because it's famous for its amazing seashells. So as the sun set we walked along the surf, scouring the beach. 
We found sandcastles,

Ponderous Arks (yes, I know the exact names of most seashells)

Egg cases 

Most of the time you'd come across piles like this, and spend a while digging through to find the good stuff

A couple of pelicans going home for the night

A lovely sunset 

Some broken conch shells (the real jewels are the ones completely intact)

Every now and then you'd find a perfect shell, only to discover it's already been claimed :)
We'd then set the little critter down in the sand and watch it scuttle away. 

Stay tuned for more of my Sanibel adventures!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ski Bunnies (kinda)

Last weekend, as a finale to an incredibly crazy winter, my family took a spontaneous trip to Snowshoe, West Virginia. The next few days might just have been the most painful, yet most fun times I've ever had!
I missed part of school on Friday so we could get on the road early and wouldn't be driving up the mountain in pitch darkness. Because the upperclassmen had standardized testing in the morning, my first 2 class periods were combined, and I knew we would essentially be doing busywork the entire time so I slept in a little'll be our little secret ;). Let the record show that I didn't want to miss taking notes on World War I, my Geometry quiz, or my Biology test, so I came to school for 3 class periods because I'm just that dedicated.
After Biology we got in the car and headed west to Snowshoe for some fun on the slopes!
Snowshoe Mountain is a large, very popular ski resort in West Virginia. They're known for being incredibly fun and well-maintained, and I was incredibly excited. We got in just before 6 and checked in to our small but cozy condo. It was just a few yards from the slopes, so you could practically ski out the door!
Not 5 minutes after arriving, we came to the terrible realization that there was absolutely no cell service-not even 4G. The horror! The only time I was able to access my phone was in the village, which we only went to a few times during our stay. So we were forced to rough it, and survive off the spotty Wi-Fi only accessed by laptop.
Anyways, after a delicious dinner at a local barbecue restaurant, where I had some warm chili perfect for a cold day in the mountains, we curled up in beds and tried to sleep in the "high-altitude" (it's high in comparison to Richmond, which sits at just barely above sea level). If you've never had to sleep at a high elevation, let me be the first to tell you how difficult it is. For some reason, it makes getting to bed nearly impossible!
After a fitful night of trying to get some half-decent shut-eye, I was woken up at 7:30 in the morning. Despite my considerable lack of sleep, I was ready and eager to get rentals and start my snowboarding lesson!
At 15 years old, you'd think I'd know how to ski/snowboard by now. Even though most of my childhood weekends were spent at our vacation home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, for some reason my parents never got around to getting me lessons, despite our frequent trips to the neighboring ski resort to go tubing. Nevertheless, it's better late than never, right?

We were placed in a group with about 5 other teenagers, plus my mom. She got lots of compliments that day for being cool enough to try snowboarding with her daughters! We got in a circle as our instructor, Allan showed us the basics.

Once we understood how to clip and unclip, "keep our sandwich stacked," and one-foot skate, we headed out to the mini-halfpipe for some serious skills. 

As you can see by the 5-year-olds in the background, only advanced snowboarders like us can handle the mini-halfpipe ;). Then we made our way over to the ski-lift, which didn't exactly go over well. Getting off that thing is harder than it looks!

As you can see, I lasted approximately .00004 seconds before falling, and everyone laughed at me. But hey, embarrassing moments make great stories!

When our lessons were over, we stayed on the Bunny Slope for a little longer before heading inside and promptly falling asleep. I mean we were all out.cold. I understand now the trick to sleeping at high-altitude: wear yourself out first! Now well-rested, we stayed up late running throughout the lodge playing hide n' seek, all while a group of boys not-so-subtly tried to get our attention ;). 
The next day was slightly harder.
Reason A) There was fresh snow from the previous night, so while the first day was hard-packed and semi-slush (good for learning as it allows you to dig your board into the snow easier), on Sunday it was windy, the snow was powdery, and every move you made carved little ridges throughout the ground. When you snowboarded over these ridges, your board would catch like train tracks and send you veering off in all different directions.
Reason B) We were already incredibly sore from the day before, resorting to getting around in a serious of fits, starts, and groans, and we all moved like robots in desperate need of re-tuning. 
Reason C) I was way too confident in my board skills, thinking that I could make it off the bunny slope after only a few hours of experience. The slopes at Snowshoe are infamously steep, and even the green slopes leave people in crumpled heaps after wiping out. 

I tried what was believed to be the most benign, mellow, easy green-slope on the mountain, and it was awful! There's nothing I hate more than feeling out of control, and that's exactly how I felt going down that slope. It certainly wasn't mellow by my standards! But then again, it was my 2nd day and I had now clue how to slow down or stop, so I'd resort to purposely falling to avoid hitting people. Needless to say, this got very frustrating, very fast. I have an awful habit that, when I try something new, I expect to be really good right from the start. Whenever I start to struggle, I get frustrated that I'm not getting the hang of it fast enough. Ridiculous, I know, but it lead to me taking off my snowboard and absolutely hating that slope as I walked to the bottom. But by the time the lift took us back up to the top, I was determined to go to the bunny slope (which, to clarify, is NOT the slope I was just on. The bunny slope, also called the Skidder, is man-made and predominantly for absolute beginners like me.), and perfect my skills before re-attempting the green slope that I had such a hard time on. While I stayed on the bunny slope for the rest of the day, I am determined to ace that green-slope the next time I'm at Snowshoe! I know now that getting the hang of snowboarding is a hard process, and I need to work hard to not get too frustrated with myself when I don't pick it up immediately. 

We headed home that afternoon, but learning to snowboard was by far one of the most incredible things I've done, and I can't wait to go back!!