Thursday, June 25, 2015

An Ode to Florida : Reflecting On Our Year in St. Pete

We bid adieu to St. Petersburg three weeks ago and I've been meaning to write some sort of reflective post for nearly as long. But how do I sum up our year in Florida? Trying to do so is a bit of an overwhelming task but ... here goes.

We had our highs and we had our lows, that's for sure. The move to St. Pete was not a smooth one, nor were G's first days and weeks at his new unit. (Similar to our current transition to Jersey.) And I wasn't sure I liked, or would grow to like, living in Florida. (Kinda how I'm feeling about Union City right now.) But once we made it through some serious financial drama (that happened through no fault of our own), unpacked and settled into our apartment, and survived the brutal summer humidity, the hubs and I began to enjoy our new life in the Sunshine State.

We celebrated our first married Thanksgiving and Christmas (with a visit to the Oakdale Christmas House!), and rang in the New Yearin our pajamas, no less.

While I didn't cross everything off my Florida fall and winter/spring bucket lists, G and I did go on many, many adventures. 

Together we...

Explored indie biz-focused fairs (Localicious and Localtopia), partook in boozy events (Oktoberfest TampaGuavaween in Ybor City, the Gasparilla pirate fest, the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival, and First Friday, with tubs of beer, in downtown St. Pete), shopped for fresh produce at the Saturday Morning Market (here and here, here) and picked up pre-loved wares at the Brocante Vintage Market.

Fell in love with the Oxford Exchange and made multiple visits, for dinnerbrunch and a book signing, and sometimes just for the delicious coffee.)

Viewed world-class art (and stunning architecture) at The Dali, the Chihuly Collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and the Mainsail Arts Festival.

Enjoyed beachy days in St. Pete (Treasure IslandFort De Soto dog beach and the boardwalk at John's Pass Village), ClearwaterDunedin, and a Miami Beach.

Attended games to watch local teamsthe BuccaneersDolphinsRays and Lightningplay G's favorite sports (football, baseball and hockey, respectively).

Took a (BIG!) bite out of the Tampa Bay culinary scene, with visits to: 
Birch & Vine and The Canopy (day and night) at The Birchwood, 
Bella Brava (with the most enormous baked pasta dish you've ever seen), 
Cassis (for a light lunch and our one-year anniversary dinner), 
theAvenue (to cheer on the Chargers), Lucky Dill (for breakfast and lunch),
the restaurant at OE (for a gourmet brunch and dinner)
and even Bob Evans.

Sipped on... craft beers at dog-friendly Green Bench Brewing Co.3 Daughters Brewing
and World of Beer (Pup CrawlFootball SundaysThe Jackass!),
various varietals of wine at Try Wine and the Locale Market bar,
classic cocktails and Moscow Mules at Mandarin Hide,
and some of the best java around at Kawha Coffee.

Our favorite "souvenir" from Florida has to be the one and only Jasper, the furbaby we welcomed into our family just months after arriving on the Gulf Coast. But the best thing about our time in St. Pete, and the reason it ended up being difficult to say goodbye, was the people. 

The friends we made in Tampa Bay 
are what made it feel like home. 
Without them, Florida would have been 
a beautiful but lonely place to be.

At the end of May, I organized a going-away pool party at our apartment complex so G and I could see everyone one more time before heading off to Jersey. It was a sun-soaked day full of good food, strong drinks, inappropriate card games and lots of laughs. The perfect way to wrap up our year in St. Pete.

Until next time, Florida! Thanks for the memories.

Monday, June 22, 2015


After 13 long days in Rhode Island, my husband called me Saturday afternoon with a surprise, of sorts: He was coming home! But just for a day. A part that the ship's crew was waiting on didn't come in, so the CO (that's commanding officer, for you non-military folk) gave the guys liberty for the rest of the weekend. 

G didn't arrive in Union City until almost 7:30 Saturday night, so after catching up and taking the dogs out for a walk, all we had time for was a late dinner of just-OK Chinese take-out. (We're slowly discovering which eateries in our neighborhood are good and not-so-good.) Knowing he had to get back to the boat Sunday night to be ready for work at dawn on Monday, we tried to make the most of our short time together. In a perfect world, I would have woken up early to do so, but G kindly let me sleep in. I'm not a morning person, never have been, but while the hubs has been away I've been waking up early every day to take the dogs out. (Jasper usually starts ruffing in my ear around 6 or 6:30, sometimes earlier.) So my loving husband, who always rises with the sun, took the pups on their morning walk and let me snooze until 9. That's love. I say that jokingly, and yet with all sincerity.

Once I was ready, we headed over to—where else?!—Target, to get a few must-have items for the apartment: a shower rod and curtain so I can get clean without splashing water all over the floor, semi-sheer white curtains for the sliding glass door in our bedroom, to offer a bit more privacy, and since our apartment was less-than-pristine upon moving in, a few cleaning supplies—including a Swiffer WetJet that I truly hope lives up to the hype because these apartment floors are dirty. After our Target run, we took the mutts to the Lincoln Harbor Dog Park, which is only a short car ride away from our apartment but, unfortunately, due to a big cliff and hilly terrain is pretty impossible for me to walk to. We then took a quite detour down Washington Street, the main drag in Hoboken, to see what's there (read: to see what we're missing) and give ourselves complete real estate envy.

Finally, with the afternoon passing into the evening, my sweet hubby said all he wanted to do was spend quality time with me, sans errands. So we went out for a nice, fancy-but-casual dinner at Chart House Weehawken. Located right on the Hudson River, it boasts incredible views of the New York City skyline, inside and outside the restaurant.

The food's not too shabby, either. We had the lobster bisque to start, followed by Mac Nut mahi for him (with warm peanut sauce, mango relish, soy glaze and mashed purple sweet potato) and a slightly spicy Chilean sea bass for me (with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and a refreshing tomato-cucumber gazpacho sauce). We then sent ourselves into a full-on food coma with the hot chocolate lava cake for dessert.

Since our leisurely dinner went longer than planned, G had to hightail it out of here the moment we got home. I didn't want to say goodbye, especially not knowing when he'd be back, and instantly missed him the second he walked out the door. The dogs did, too. I had told the hubs not to make a fuss about leaving, so Jasper kept waiting (and sometimes barking) at the door for Daddy to come back. 

Being married to a military man, you know what you signed up for. He's not going to be home all the time. He's going to get deployed every so often. Fortunately with the Coast Guard, he's not gone as long as he might be with other branches of the service. But it doesn't make it any easier, especially when you are in a new city with no friends or family (and still no furniture, TV or most of your wardrobe). Not to mention I'm still kind of new to this whole military wife thing. So here's hoping it's not another two weeks before this Rhode Island dry dock business is resolved and that my man can come back home and stay for longer than a day... before getting underway, again.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For Daddoo

Happy Father's Day to the guy who agreed to wear a lavender shirt and tie just for me! Ha! But seriously, I'm so grateful to have a father who is willing to do just about anything to make me happy. While he can come across as intimidating to somewith his big 'n' tough exterior and gruff voice—I've always known there was a teddy bear deep inside that grizzly bear front. I mean, the man made me cry hysterically during our father-daughter dance as he recalled memories from my childhood. Growing up, my dad would usually avoid having serious, deep, emotional talks with me, deferring such conversations to my mother, understandably so. But ever since I got married—and especially after I moved far, far away, across the country—our relationship has begun to change in this regard, and I'm so happy that it has. As surprising as it may be, my  65-year-old father has become quite the texter since (finally!) getting a cell phone and "Daddoo" (one of his sign-offs) consistently checks in to see how his "kiddo" is doing, and "his favorite veteran" the "Sailorman," too. Sometimes he gives sage advice or words of encouragement and other times he delivers a one-liner (or two) in his typical fashion. The warm and fuzzies are intermixed with a dry, offbeat sense of humor. That's my dad.

So today I want to say what I feel all the time: Thanks, Dad, for your constant love and support over the years, and for still considering me your "babygirl" even when I'm now "Mizzus T."

And although I'm a tear-soaked, ugly-crying mess, please find the video from our dance below, as a Father's Day surprise.

(Photos by heidi-o-photo)

Friday, June 19, 2015

I've Wanted to Be Here My Whole Life

The view from our apartment.

We arrived in our new town of Union City around 6 o’clock on June 5, exactly two weeks ago. After checking out (for the first time!) our new digs and unloading the car, we decided to take the dogs out for a much-needed long walk since they had spent the bulk of three days in a cramped backseat. Plus, we wanted to get a lay of the land and see what our new neighborhood was all about. 

We ended up running into a couple other dog owners, all friendly, who offered their knowledge of the area, including (upon my asking) exactly where to take our pups to relieve themselves in this concrete jungle. As I told one guy who called Union City the ‘burbs, this is a very urban suburbia to us native Southern Californians. No manicured sidewalks with miles of grass here. (I won’t even get into all the honking and the sirens and the general perpetual noise.) Anyway, both the couple and the man we spoke to insisted that we stroll a couple blocks thataway to JFK Boulevard East “to see what (we) moved here for.” We listened. And once we got to the Weekhawken waterfront, we were greeted with the most spectacular view of the New York City skyline, just beginning to light up the sky as the sun was setting. 

We continued walking along the path and gawking at the incredible scene just across the Hudson River, which until then I had really only seen on TV and in movies. The view seemed to get better and better as we went along, and I took another photo every couple steps. When we decided to turn back and head home—and in search of dinner—I stopped my husband first for one last look.

NYC at night, the illuminated Empire State Building taking center stage.

“Come here,” I said, motioning him to my side. “Let’s have a moment.”

I put my arm around G as we looked across the Hudson at the twinkling city lights. Moving is tough, military life can be tough, but I wanted us to have a moment where we just felt happiness and all the possibility before us.

“That’s New York City,” I said. “I’ve wanted to be here my whole life.”

And then I got all watery-eyed. I’m a sap like that. 

“My whole life” is an exaggeration to be sure, “since high school” might be more accurate, but it sure feels like I’ve waited forever. And now I’m finally here.


When I wrote this post a week or so ago, before we had internet, the next sentence was an optimistic plea: "Let's make the most of it!" Even when I typed it the first time it didn't feel quite right, but I tried to trick myself into a mood of hopefulness and positivity by tapping into the feeling I had our first night in Jersey.

The truth is, our transition has not gone smoothly, and that's putting it mildly. The hubs has been in Rhode Island for 12 days and we're both still not sure when he'll be back. Each day some new problem pops up, delaying his return. And all our stuff from Florida has yet to be delivered. All our boxes hadn't even been weighed or placed on a moving truck on Monday, the estimated move-in date. So I'm still living in a mostly-empty apartment, sitting on the hardwood floor, sleeping on an air mattress, cooking with few kitchen utensils (I bought a couple cheap items at the store the other day) and growing increasingly tired of the limited clothing options I packed when we left St. Pete.

I'm actually starting to get used to the whole set-up and having my husband gone. But that doesn't make it feel any better. Except for two crazy mutts, I'm all alone in an unfamiliar place. Nevertheless, I am trying my best to regain that excited, the-world-is-your-oyster feeling, to find joy in small things and to know that there must be a light at the end of this tunnel—even if I can't quite see it yet.

Because once we're on the other side, I'm going to want to make the most of it.

View from Hamilton Park, a frequent stop on our morning and afternoon walks.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Art & Architecture : The Dali Museum

During our last weeks in St. Pete, I felt the pressure to accomplish the remaining items on my bucket list. Fortunately, the hubs and I were able to make it out to The Dali Museum one Thursday evening (to take advantage of the discounted admission) to check out not only the surrealist art inside but the stunning architecture of the building itself.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador.

If I’m honest, I was initially more excited to tour the grounds than look at the art. I’m not much into surrealism. But I was pleasantly surprised when not only I but also G thoroughly enjoyed the Dali’s permanent exhibition. And it was all thanks to a docent-led tour. If we had simply strolled the galleries on our own, we never would have appreciated or, heck, even noticed all the nuances and optical illusions present in Salvador Dali’s work, never mind the significance of such details. My husband is most certainly not an art museum-loving kind of man, but while looking at the paintings on the tour and listening to the docent’s explanations, I was giddy each time I heard him murmur with interest: “Oh yeah. Whoa. I see it!” While I’m grateful that G will accompany me on these types of cultural excursions, it’s even better when he actually enjoys himself and we can talk about what we saw and learned together.

My second favorite part of the day? Yes, the architecture and the grounds, of course. The building’s exterior is such a curious and fantastical thing. The "enigma," a large, free-form bubble made up of 1,062 triangular pieces of glass, seems to be bursting out from the simple concrete walls. The geodesic dome reflects the beauty around it: the blue sky, the clouds, the palms, the bay and the museum garden, which is a lovely area to just sit for awhile, and let time melt away (on the melting clock bench, no less). A colorful, whimsical art installation has formed on a tree, where people hang their admission wristbands. Inside the museum, a spiral staircaseresembling the helical shape of a DNA moleculetakes on a life of its own, reaching toward the glass ceiling and the sky above. Before we left, gray storm clouds were rolling in, typical of a Florida summer evening. It’s an ever-changing scene out the Dali’s massive window; nature is painting a new canvas all the time. 

Many more photos from our evening at The Dali after the jump (click the Keep Reading button below), including a look at some of our favorite works!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Our First Anniversary : Honeymoon Island & Sea Salt

On day two of our first wedding anniversary festivities (catch up on day one here), G and I journeyed north to Dunedin to visit Honeymoon Island. I had heard it was one of the best beaches around, not to mention its romantic name seemed perfect for the occasion. 

While it was a beautiful beach,  the shoreline was a bit narrower than I had imagined and much, much rockier. The strip of sand was also surprisingly busy for a Tuesday. (Though, the beachgoers were mostly senior citizens, I'll admit. That's Florida for you!) While lounging on chairs in the shade, eating our Firehouse Subs picnic, I noticed that everyone seemed to be wearing sandals or water shoes while slowly, carefully tiptoeing into the surf. And for good reason we learned, when we finally got up to go in. The hubs and I did the eee-ahh-ooh-ouch dance as we stepped into the Gulf Coast waters. Nevertheless, we still had a good time together. Honeymoon Island is a beautiful place and absolutely fantastic for shelling. I could have stayed for hours and hours with my head down, just looking at the sand and picking up interesting shells and stones. (A favorite pastime as a child and still as an adult!) My husband basically had to drag me away.

After checking on the dogs at home and freshening up, we cruised over to downtown St. Pete for an early but long and leisurely dinner at Sea Salt, a new restaurant G and I had visited once before for appetizers (oysters!) and drinks. This time we got the whole experience, starting with a salt tasting. 

A trio of salts was served with the bread and olive oil. Our server explained each salt, including which one to only taste in small amounts because of its incredibly potent flavor, reminiscent of hardboiled egg. (Seriously.) G favored the mild pink Himalayan sea salt while I quite liked the weird egg-y one, as well as the mellow, red Alaea Hawaiian sea salt. 

Since we enjoyed the oysters we tried last time (our first time giving them a go!), we decided to be adventurous yet again and ordered a half-dozen of the sommelier’s choice. The oysters were larger this go-around, a little more imposing for us newbies, but they were still good. After mentioning my observation to our kind server, we learned the selection was from East Coast waters, whereas the smaller ones we had last time were harvested from the West Coast. 

We were presented with a complimentary farro-based amuse bouche before we enjoyed our entrees: the Black Grouper for me, with fava beans, smoked salt fingerling potato, raisin tomato and a black truffle butter sauce that I couldn’t get enough of. G had the Ora King Salmon served with black cyprus sea salt barbecue and chorizo-beluga lentil ragu. The orange-glazed fish looked stunningly beautiful set against the inky lentils.

Before we could even contemplate what to order for dessert, out came a giant cloud of cotton candy. After seeing a few other surprised guests receive a bowl of sugared air, we realized it must just be Sea Salt’s thang. Cotton candy for everyone! But, moments later, another dessert arrived at our table, just for us: a decadent orb of fudge topped with sea salt, of course, and caramel sauce, with the words “Happy Anniversary” written out in chocolate.

Yep, it was a sweet night with G for sure. And I wouldn’t want to share all these adventures (culinary or otherwise, fuzzy selfies included) with anyone else.

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