A New Olympic Sport?

You get extra points if you immediately know what this image is and what it means. Until a few weeks ago, I would have had no idea  – A new kind of container for growing tomatoes? A techno-modern jewelry holder?  An industrial-minimalist magazine organizer? Good guesses. But all wrong. The orange part depicts a basket (or “disc entrapment device”) used in playing disc golf and, since this course was in the sandy wilds of north Florida, the arrows are directing you to the next hole so that you don’t get lost and subsequently carried away/eaten by hordes of mosquitoes. Do you know anything about disc golf? I was completely clueless until I hung out with my 13-year-old nephew and his mom (my sister-in-law) and dad (my brother) during our recent family beach trip. Banish all thoughts of lazily playing Frisbee with your dog — which, by the way, is never as successful as it looks on TV — because the only thing that carefree activity has in common with competitive disc golf is you throwing something. A disc-golf family like my nephew’s travels to courses and competitions the way other families take to the road for high-level baseball or softball games. When playing a course, competitors lug around backpacks filled with a couple of dozen discs and say things such as “This mid-range one is good for a hyzer flip, or should I use an overstable disc for a low-speed right backhand fade?” Since trees are the main challenge, my nephew suggested I make my first disc-golf attempt when we reached the one hole that was in the open — although you had to throw across a 700-foot-long ravine. Luckily, my brother volunteered to climb down and retrieve my discs that barely made it … well … I’d generously say 25 feet. This is serious stuff and much, much harder than it looks. I will never smile again when the subject of disc-golf at the summer Olympics comes up.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Recently my whole family — all 15 of us — got together for a beach week on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Pensacola Beach is one of my favorite places: The sand is beautiful and it’s the perfect vacation mix of fun-things-to-do versus nothing-to-d0-but-sit-on-the-sand-in-peace-and-quiet. My daughters and I spent many summer weeks here when they were younger, and in recent years we’ve dragged coerced brought Husband JP and Older Daughter’s Husband along, too. We loved introducing “our” spot to other folks in our family — Pensacola‘s blend of history, architecture, shopping, food, music and sports (baseball, surfing, paddleboarding, disc golf)  as well as all things Blue Angels meant everybody in our group found something intriguing to explore. Of course, our three younger members — age 4, 2 and 8 months — were content to stay at Family HQ and  chase crabs, dig sand and throw shells back in the surf (okay, our 8-month-old grandson wasn’t too impressed with the surf and really only wanted to eat the sand, but still). We did all the Pensacola things — ate at Peg Leg Pete’s Oyster Bar (where our 4-year-old grandson was slightly disappointed to find out that the pirates there were good pirates), McGuire’s Irish Pub (home of the best fried potatoes anywhere. Anywhere.) and Native Cafe (which we feel paternal towards since we ate there when it first opened and have stuck with it through slow service, lackadaisical service and no service because the food is that good); visited the Naval Air Museum; watched the Blue Angels perform practically in our backyard; shopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood; wandered through Fort Pickens and browsed up and down the happening Palafox Street and Palafox Market. But, of course, as with any family vacation, the highlights involved people more than places: Taking my mom to the World War II exhibit at the Naval Air Museum to see the full-sized recreated Pacific-theater camp similar to one her Seabee father lived in during the war; making sand cities with our 4-year-old grandson;  teaching our 2-year-old nephew how to “dibble, dibble, shot,” although since his parents are skilled and accomplished soccer players, he’s much better than me; playing disc golf with-our nephew watching my 13-year-old nephew and his dad zip through a disc-golf course; learning how to-stand-up paddle board watching our two daughters conquer the surf on stand-up paddle boards; getting drenched in the rain at the outdoors Palafox Market with Younger Daughter yet still eating soggy almond croissants baked by an actual French person; and riding around in a golf cart with my husband and the king of Santa Rosa Island — Santa Rosa Island Authority executive director Buck Lee. Good times, good times.

“That’s the Biggest Cat I’ve Ever Seen!” — So Long, Shadrach

Yikes! I haven’t blogged for so long that WordPress was, like, “I’m sorry. Who are you again? Please identify.” You know, in the same way that your iPhone’s Siri (not to be confused with the unfortunate Suri, bless her heart, whom we all know will rebel against her mother at age 14 and run away to become queen of the Scientologists) gets annoyed  when you ask her stupid questions. But I have good excuses: We were vacationing in sunny Florida and then came home to a sick cat. Sadly, Shadrach — our lone male out of the four — turned out to have unfixable kidney disease and so we wished him “safe journeys” and sent him on. He was big and fat and the feline equivalent of a grumpy old man, but he’d stuck with us for almost 16 years and we miss him. My tough sports-editor husband, who yells at AP and makes photographers tremble, practically is inconsolable — he’s like that about pets. For me, Shadrach and his two sisters (we got the fourth one a couple of years after the first three) are a link to when my two 20-something daughters were younger and living at home and we had kids running in and out of the house all the time and all sorts of meetings and rehearsals and practices on our family calendar and I loved every minute of it. We got the cats sort of as a divorce present shortly after we became a single-parent family. I swear that one day in the privacy of our own kitchen, we said, “Oh, it’d be great to have a cat!” and within minutes we were deluged with offers. One of Older Daughter’s friends let us pick from a barn cat’s litter, and of course my firm commitment to ONE CAT ONLY turned into ONE CAT ONLY FOR EACH OF US and there we were. The girls rescued No. 4 from a pizza box at a local swimming pool but our hopes for one big happy cat family never materialized as the three incumbents immediately forged an alliance that’s still impenetrable, even after all these years. With Shadrach gone, we’re not sure how the new dynamic of two sisters versus one step-sister will play out. It’s clear that he enforced some sort of order — possibly by simple virtue of being twice as big as the girls — so who knows what will happen now. I’d schedule them all for a cat-therapy session but they hate car rides and strangers, so that’s not going to work. I’ll keep you posted. Tomorrow we’ll talk about all the cool places to go and things to do in Pensacola Beach, Fla., but right now I think I’m going to find those boxes of old photos and look for the ones of three little scrawny kittens, especially the orange tabby with the big green eyes.

 

Crab Cakes

We’ve made it three for three. For the past three years, my husband and I have driven down to Pensacola, Florida for the annual Crab Cake Cook-off. The food frenzy and fundraiser at Seville Quarter – a block of restaurants and bars in downtown Pensacola – benefits ARC Gateway, the local association that helps people with developmental disabilities. Our son-in-law is the one who found the cook-off three years ago during a family beach vacation, so Husband blames him for our annual addiction. But can you blame us? I mean, you get to help a worthy cause AND eat all the crab cakes you want. Let me say that again:  All. The. Crab cakes. You. Want. I mean, you get to sample crab cakes from about 20 local restaurants and caterers. I’m only sad that it’s only once a year. I absolutely love having so many different crab cake recipes and techniques all in one place. And it’s such a diverse offering. You get everything from simple crab chunks with hardly anything masking the fresh crab flavor to artfully arranged plates featuring salsas and sauces. There are spicy crab cakes, sweet crab cakes, flat and crunchy ones, thick and soft ones — anything you can dream of, crab-cake-wise, you can find at the cook-off. Before we walked in this year, we agreed to learn from past mistakes and take it slow — perhaps sharing crab cakes instead of each of us having one from each vendor. I immediately dropped that plan, however, when faced with the treasure of unlimited crab cakes. Maybe next year … You can click here for cook-off results, here for info on ARC Gateway and here for more about Pensacola’s Seville Quarter. (Also, I wanted to show off that I finally figured out how to do links the correct way. Thank you!!!)

Gulf Oil

Word that the leaking Horizon well is under control is encouraging, and that is good. But damage has been done in ways we’ll be dealing with for years. Husband and I were in Pensacola, Florida, this past week for a quick couple of days. It’s one of our favorite vacation spots and we were anxious to check out the oil-leak effects. Here’s what we found: The Emerald coast was gorgeous, as always … but, sadly, clean-up workers seemed to outnumber tourists. We didn’t mind no lines at restaurants and no crowds on beaches, but that also meant no money coming in and no jobs for the folks who live there. And that is not good. At Joe Patti’s Seafood, there were more employees behind the counter than shoppers in front of it — and no local shrimp, grouper or oysters. The Boardwalk shops in Pensacola Beach practically echoed with emptiness. A local newspaper story quoted locals as saying it was “January in July.” And even though theoretically folks who’ve lost money and jobs to the oil leak will be reimbursed, what’s going to happen next year when all the tourists who got scared off by the oil this summer decide to stick with the new places they found? We’ll be back. And you should, too. You can order from Joe Patti’s online at http://www.joepattis.com and keep up with the latest Pensacola happenings at http://www.visitpensacola.com/.

Florida Road Trip

For folks in middle Tennessee and north and central Alabama, a summer road trip to Florida means driving south on Interstate 65. And that means a stop at Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit, Alabama, at exit No. 142 about 35 miles of Montgomery. A gift shop and rest stop and restaurant, Priester’s is best known for its free-sample bowls of its famous flavored pecans. Now, I never get up in the morning dreaming about pecans — I’m not even a big fan of pecan pie — but if we’re anywhere near Priester’s, I have to stop and nibble on such taste treats as Key Lime, Peach and Honey Glazed pecans. This truly is marketing genius, because you can’t sample without thinking, “You know, the one thing that would make the rest of my vacation complete is a bag of Cinnamon Pecans.” There also are all sorts of Priester’s-made candy and even plain ol’ unflavored pecans there, plus a cooler stocked with homemade frozen casseroles to make the first night at your beach rental much more convenient and plenty of souvenirs and gifts for when you’re headed back home and you’ve forgotten to get something for the grandkids. These Priester’s folks think of everything! Go yourself and you’ll see: http://www.priesters.com/

Travel

Fellow fans have begged me to not say this, but as a journalist I’ve sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so I have to be honest and tell you all that you’ve got to to go to Apalachicola and St. George Island, Florida, for your next vacation. Here are the things these towns are not: Big. Crowded. Noisy. Full of high-rise condos. Here are the things these towns are: Small. Quiet. Peaceful. I have to admit that there can be a crowd at the Seafood Grill in downtown Apalach if you time it wrong, but you can sit outside and watch the world go by while you wait for your table, so no worries. And with only one tiny grocery store and a handful of eateries, St. George Island is even smaller than its across-two-bridges sister town. Slow-paced and easy-going, SGI offers casual beach houses with no roof-line higher than three or four stories. If you want total relaxation with the only stressful decision having to decide between shrimp and oysters for supper, then this is your place. Visit http://www.apalachicolabay.org/ and http://www.resortvacationproperties.com/ to learn more. We were there just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m ready to go back.

Travel

Every time a disaster strikes, we who are seemingly untouched by the crisis always wonder what we can do to help those who are most affected by it. This time, luckily, the solution is easy: Go to the Gulf coast and eat fresh seafood! My family just got back from a long-anticipated and much-planned week at St. George Island, near Apalachicola, Florida, and ate our way through as much fresh seafood as we could find: Shrimp, oysters, crab and scallops were the stars, along with grouper. The water was gorgeous, the beaches beautiful and the rental houses full, as always. But, sadly, due to the oil leak, there are beaches where that’s not the case and people are hurting. If you still have some vacation time this year, head down to the Gulf. You’ll be treating yourself at some of the most gorgeous spots around — and helping boost an economy and industry that desperately needs some help.

Gulf Coast

This is the Gulf Coast my family loves – serene white beaches, startlingly clear water and nature peacefully humming along, doing its thing without any interference from us. But we’ve sort of messed that up lately. Coastal communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana are in hurricanne-like crisis mode as oil gets closer from the recent BP deepwater drilling rig explosion that killed 11 people and is leaking more than 200,000 gallons of crude a day. Nobody can predict for sure what’s going to happen. But it for sure is not good. Read the Pensacola, Florida, News Journal at http://www.pnj.com/ ; the Biloxi, Mississippi, Sun Herald at http://www.sunherald.com/; and the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register at http://www.al.com/press-register/ for the latest oil-spill news and volunteer opportunities.