You can tandem kayak without any drama!

Same Life paddling kayaks

Alicia and I proved it last weekend when we took our nine-year-old girls on an hour-and-45-minute kayak trip in New Port Richey. No problems at all.

By the way, who knew New Port Richey was on the water?

I mean, I should have known since I have lived in Florida for my entire life and have had access to maps the whole time…and I guess the word “Port” in the name could have clued me in if I was paying attention…

But I never spent any time up there until Alicia moved from Ohio. And any time I’ve visited her there I’ve had nary a glimpse of the shore. I assumed we were inland, halfway to Georgia. I’ve seen lots of cows up there, not boats.

However, much to my geographically challenged delight, there is plenty of water fun to be had in New Port Richey. It’s actually right on the Gulf of Mexico, which makes it pretty convenient for kayaking.

The place we rented them from was like a food truck for kayaks on US 19. It is located on a canal that leads out to the Gulf. The canal is in a cute residential neighborhood, with calm water and plenty to look at as you paddle.

I have always loved getting to see houses from the water. It’s a different, slightly voyeuristic perspective. And, usually, the water side of the house has more personality than the front. The age-old adage, “Business in front, party in back” is alive and well in New Port Richey’s waterfront homes.

There were tiki huts and colorful adirondack chairs, decorative fishing nets, even three barrels of Captain Morgan rum tied together on one dock. Almost every house had a boat named something like “Copacetic” or “Therapy”, or at least a nameless Jet Ski.

What I really liked was that the houses, for the most part, were modest, one-story homes that looked like a regular person actually stood a chance of being able to afford one and enjoy living on the water. That’s not something you see anymore where I live. The houses did get progessively bigger as we paddled closer to the Gulf though, one of the finger canals we paddled down even had a seaplane docked out back.

Paddling girls

I have heard tandem kayaks referred to as “divorce-makers”, and have actually been on a canoe trip where a husband and wife had to be separated into 2 different boats. So I had anticipated less helpful participation and more complaining from the girls, but they both paddled like champs. Apparently the tandem-kayaking strife only affects couples, not mothers and daughters…at least when the daughters haven’t reached their teenage years yet.

So thank god for that! And for the balmy kind of day that makes you say “This is why we live in Florida.” One of those where the air is cool enough that you don’t sweat but you can still wear a tank top and flip-flops—Florida perfection.

callie steph kayak

Fun new toys and family time at the lake house

Poppi hard at work on another project

Paddleboating on the lakeThe lake house is one of my favorite places on earth. My parents bought it many, many years ago. I remember the day when we went to check it out back in the early 80’s. We were all loaded up in mom’s wood-paneled conversion fan with the awesome couch that folded down into a bed and a refrigerator! Man, if vans didn’t have such a child-molestery, gas guzzley vibe these days I could really go for one of those. But I digress (as usual).

We pulled up to the lake house on our recon mission and there was a big fence with a sign that said “Beware of Dog”. The gate was locked so my dad hopped the fence to go check out the property while we watched from the van. I waited in abject fear for my dad to be viciously mauled by a large, rabid dog. Much to my great relief, there was no actual dog, just a warning sign. I probably shouldn’t have watched Cujo at such an impressionable age. Continue reading

A fun day full of friends and coincidences

Have you ever had a day so full of unexpected coincidences that it seems almost surreal? I had one of those the other day.

I went to a paddleboard (SUP) race on Saturday with my good friend Courtney in Treasure Island. Courtney is the friend that I did paddleboard yoga with about a month ago. We’re big enthusiasts of all things involving paddleboarding. I’m not such a big fan that I actually made it there in time for the race or anything crazy like that, but I did manage to hang out on the beach afterwards.

My other friend, Jose, joined us at the beach. I had figured that Jose and Courtney would have some stuff to talk about because he was born in Guatemala and she taught English over there for a year. And they did. At least 3 full sentences worth. 😉

Courtney and I went to junior high and high school together, she’s one of my oldest friends and such a gem! I’ve known Jose for a few years but never realized until we were talking at the beach that he had gone to our high school, too. He went there the year after we graduated so our paths never crossed back then. We all had a nice time hunkering down under the beach umbrella and occasionally venturing into the water to create some warm spots.

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Stand-up paddleboard yoga class

You really can do yoga on a paddleboard. It definitely tests your balance and when the wind is blowing, like it was on Sunday, you and your fellow class members drift apart fairly often. In that case, you just pause the posing for a minute to paddle back together. There were also a plethora of anchored sailboats that we had to avoid floating into, but I looked at them as just another way of keeping us on our toes.

Urban Kai SUP yoga class on Davis Islands

That’s me back-bending on the far left!
Photo credit: Urban Kai

Even though my “yoga mat” seemed determined to carry me out to sea, I still found it relaxing and an interesting challenge. And at the end of practice, lying back on the board and being rocked by the gentle waves in savasana–or “corpse pose”–I looked up at the cobalt blue sky and clouds racing by and felt true peace for the first time in weeks.

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Fun at Tampa’s Gasparilla Music Festival

Gasparilla Music Festival
Gasparilla Music Festival

The main stage early in the day

Saturday was the second annual Gasparilla Music Festival. Such a good time! This festival is a great addition for the hip cultural relevance of Tampa. I think it really gives us some street cred. Suck it St. Pete! (Just kidding.) 😉

The day itself couldn’t have been more perfect. It was the kind of weather that makes all the northerners who come for vacation never go home.

The venue was Curtis Hixon Park, a great place to hang even without a music festival and which has itself boosted downtown Tampa’s cool factor. It’s a little green oasis on the Hillsborough River nestled in between the tall buildings and it beautifully highlights the juxtaposition of old and new between the modern Tampa Museum of Art and the University of Tampa across the river with it’s classically distinctive minarets. It just might be the most picturesque spot in all of Tampa.

Curtis Hixon Park

Curtis Hixon Park facing downtown

From Curtis Hixon Park facing the University of Tampa

Curtis Hixon Park facing the University of Tampa

A volunteer I chatted with told me excitedly that in the very spot where Curtis Hixon Park now stands used to be Curtis Hixon Hall, which I actually knew because I had been there when I was younger and because–ahem, name-dropping about to happen–I am actually related to Curtis Hixon. Growing up I always felt slightly (unfoundedly) proprietary about the Curtis Hixon name. Curtis was the mayor of Tampa at the end of World War II, but since I wasn’t even born until 20 years after he died we didn’t have an especially close relationship.

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My first hockey game in 9 years

Tampa Bay Lightning

Jeb’s friend gave us tickets to go see the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game last week and it was a surprisingly good time. Not surprising because I expected it to be awful, but because I don’t really follow sports—other than Callie’s soccer games and I barely know what’s going on there—so I thought I might be a little lost (bored) during the game.

But I figured at the very least I could get some popcorn and enjoy people-watching. Which I did.

And sitting there with Callie in my lap—which she’s quickly getting too big for because I can’t see over her head anymore—the game actually brought back nice memories of when I was pregnant with her nine years ago, when she was still inside my lap, so to speak. That was the last time I watched a hockey game.

My lap sitter is almost as big as me.

My lap sitter is almost as big as me.

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Tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza…best surprise ever!

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza

I am a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil. I’ve seen several of the different versions and they are always jaw-droppingly intense and beautiful.

So I was quietly bummed that we weren’t going to get  to see Kooza while it was in St. Petersburg because we are saving for spending all our money on Christmas presents. I even had a Kooza postcard taunting me on the fridge that I finally threw away last week because I was resigned to the fact that we were not going.

On Saturday night Jeb said that he wanted to have dinner at Cevíche Tapas Bar & Restaurant in St. Pete and then go to a movie after. We have a Cevíche in Tampa about 5 minutes from our house but I wasn’t suspicious about driving the extra 40 minutes to St. Pete because we recently had dinner there with Mooger (bff, one of my favorite people ever) and it was fantastic. Plus, we love downtown St. Pete. It is way cooler than Tampa’s nighttime ghost-town downtown.

After dinner I started walking in the direction of the movie theater but Jeb said, “Hold up just a minute” and pulled the tickets to Kooza out of his pocket. Merry Christmas to me!

Cirque du Soleil's Kooza

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Indoor rock climbing and some other stuff

Climbing the walls at Vertical Ventures

Climbing the walls at Vertical Ventures

I am a lover of all things Groupon and Living Social, so when I saw a Living Social deal for an introductory indoor rock climbing class for two for just $25, I convinced Jeb that we simply had to try it. I didn’t have to twist his arm too much.

We went on Sunday and it was good, clean, fun. I was the first one to climb up the wall and did have a moment just before I reached the top when my fear of heights took over and I got frozen in place. But the instructor said, “C’mon, you’re like six inches away from the top.” So, duly shamed, I ovaried-up and completed the climb.

After that, the fear of heights kind of just got shoved to the side while I concentrated on finding places that I could grip onto well enough to pull myself higher. It was challenging, but I didn’t sweat, which caused me to declare with false confidence that I would probably still go on a walk in the afternoon because it wasn’t that much of a workout. Smash cut to me 30 minutes later with aching arms and passed out in the car on the ride home. 

Climbing a boulder

Climbing a boulder. It’s harder than it looks.

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Horseback riding birthday party? Heck yeah!

Callie in profile on horse

I took Callie to a birthday party Saturday at a place called Horsepower for Kids. She absolutely loved it. I’m certain of this because she told me no less than twenty times on the way home that she had a good time and wanted to have her next birthday party there.

Callie on horseback

Is this the face of a girl enjoying a horseback ride, or what?!?

The twins whose birthday we were celebrating are two girls that she has known since she was a 1-year-old in preschool at Circle C Ranch, which coincidentally was a place where they also rode horses regularly. It was great to see Abby and Livvy.

Horsepower for Kids was a fun place for a birthday party. Aside from the horseback riding they had a petting zoo with a pony, goats, llama, rabbits and a pig with piglets. I felt mother’s empathy for the poor mama pig though because all of the children wanted to pet her piglets, so she was running around in circles trying to defend them while the kids tried to corner her piglets and pick them up. It seemed like an unnecessarily stressful situation for mama pig. I’m pretty sure she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and/or has P.T.S.D. if every day is like that.

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Ziplining the Canyons in Ocala, FL–awesome!

Canyons_my first zip

It was perfectly clear and mild in early November, about 80°. It seemed like a good day to launch myself out of a perfectly good tree, fly over some deep ravines and lakes, and finish it off by rappelling off a 30(ish)-foot high platform.

So I did that.

And it was full-on, giddy, stomach-butterflying, adrenaline-pumping, permagrin-producing FUN.

Zipliningg smile

Ziplining and smiling

The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours is located in Ocala, Florida. You might be thinking, “canyons?“ There aren’t any mountains in Florida so how are there canyons? Dynamite. That’s how.

The Canyons is built on an old limestone quarry. For some reason I never even realized that we had quarries in Florida and it was a bit shocking to see the width and depth of land that was blasted away years ago. But it actually formed something quite picturesque. The zip lines are a perfect reclamation of this space, you might even call them the “silver lining” to the destruction that occurred back in the day.

Canyons Zip Line highest and longest hand-brake tower in Florida

Canyons Zip Line highest and longest hand-brake tower in Florida

I have a terrible fear of heights, as anyone who read my post Sky Fail could attest to. I get shaky legs and vertigo (maybe produce a few fear tears) and all that not-so-good stuff. Despite that, I have wanted to try ziplining for as long as I can remember. I even made it an item on my “bucket list” for 2012. So I was nervous but very excited as we suited up in our safety gear and headed out for our first zip.

Our guides, Pat and José,  were super-friendly, funny, and professional. We started with a quick ground-school where we learned proper zip techniques, such as where to put your hands and legs and how to brake (fairly important!) This trial run, in addition to our guides’ clear expertise, went a long way towards easing my anxiety.

But now it was time to try it way up high in the sky.

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