Monday, August 31, 2015

Outer Banks Vacation: A Life Lesson in Adventure

Have I ever told you I save five dollar bills?  Years ago, I read an article about a woman who really wanted a pair of running shoes but have the money and also had committed to not using credit cards. She came up with the idea of saving every five dollar bill she got until she had enough money to buy those shoes.  When I read it, I was in need of a new freezer, so I started saving and the next thing you know I was handing Mr. Helen $350 to get that freezer.  Five dollars seems to be just the right amount to build up without breaking you - dollars take forever and tens seem like too big of a chunk.
Anyway, I saved five dollar bills from the time we booked this vacation to have spending money. I throw that money in a box and don't count it until it's time.  Sure enough I'd saved several hundred dollars and as soon as I counted that, I knew I was going to pay for us to have an adventure doing something I've always wanted to try:  Stand Up Paddleboarding.

(Side note: I apologize in advance for no photos because we did not have a waterproof camera. The tour group should take some and sell them back - we'd have bought them!)

I booked our adventure through Kitty Hawk Kites and Thursday morning, our second to last full day of vacation, we took off for our adventure.  It so happened we were sent to the office in Manteo and we'd walked by it so we knew right where to go.

When we got there, we were greeted by Scott, a very cute 19 year old surfer looking college student who works every summer doing these tours to pay for his college education.  After signing our life away on waivers, he suited us up with life vests then took us to the dock to show us how to get on, stand up, and paddle.  Believe me when I say he made it look like a piece of cake.

You start off on your knees, then you get to your feet and push all your weight back to your heels to stand up.  My biggest fear was that I would fall in the water.  It wasn't a fear of the water but rather of embarrassing my chubby 55 year old self.  So, Scott puts Mr. Helen on his board, then comes back for me, then comes in himself.   Mr. Helen stood right up - I knew he would as he's quite athletic.  Scott of course stood up and then... they both stood there looking at me.  When I tell you my legs were shaking so hard I couldn't stand, that doesn't even describe what was going on.  I sincerely thought I was going to be sick - my stomach was revolting, my head was swimming and my legs were shaking.  It was awful!  Scott was coaching and Mr. Helen was encouraging but my ears were buzzing so much I could barely hear them.  Finally, I got the feel of putting my weight back into my heels and stood up - and promptly fell into the water!

Well, now my worst fear was out of the way.  Little did I know that fear was not the worst.  The worst was now I had to get back up on that board and I was in the middle of the water with no footing.  I am not sure I can properly describe my terror to you.  Every time I would grab the other side of the board and try to pull myself up enough to get one of my short legs onto the board, my lifejacket would catch on the grooves in the board that are there to help you with footing and I couldn't seem to drag myself up enough to get on.  (Mr. Helen said later he felt bad for me because the lifejacket kept crawling up me and covering my face all the way to my eyeballs.)  Don't even ask me how I did it but eventually I hoisted up.  I got to my knees and told them to start paddling... and the minute they weren't looking, I STOOD UP!!!

Now I have to paddle.  The idea is to control yourself enough to only have to paddle on one side but I had to do it like a canoe on both sides - too much going on what with trying to stand and not throw up and all. It didn't matter though because soon I got my "sea legs" (as Scott called them) and we were paddling out into the harbor.  Just to give you an idea, this is a aerial photo of the marina where we started.  We started from the dock all the way at the bottom of this photo and went out towards that open water (see the lighthouse sticking out at the top?)

Even though I was shaking and trying to breathe and not fall in, it was an adreneline rush and more! It was a beautiful, sunny day, and Scott was telling us some of the Roanoke Island history as we paddled and of course, social Mr. Helen was talking away and then HE FELL IN!!!  OMG, it took everything I had not to fall in from laughing just because the look on his face was so shocked.  He had an easier time getting back on than I did and we were off again.  We continued our paddle and Mr. Helen fell in again.  I was dying!  (Plus now I *might* have felt better that my super athletic husband was leading the fall in quota.)

As we went along suddenly the wind picked up and when I say picked up, I'm telling you we had waves in the harbor.  We'd had a few waves from jet skis and boats but Scott had told us how to turn our boards so that they weren't coming at us sideways.  This was different and nothing we could control.  Just as we got by the theater building on Roanake Island Festival Park,  the wind caught me and there was no stopping.  The problem is, there are very very large rocks that line the waterfront there and I could tell Scott was afraid I was going to fall in and hit my head on a rock. Sure enough, one big gust just knocked me off the board and boom I was in the rocks.  Fortunately, I didn't hit anything and the under water rock made it easy for me to get back up on the board.  This is a picture of the Festival area and you can see the rocks lining the shore and the marina in the background so you can see how far we paddled.

At that point I think Scott was so afraid I'd fall in again, he insisted on towing me away from the rocks.  I felt bad and kept apologizing but he said it wasn't my fault, it was the wind and that even an experienced paddleboarder couldn't have stopped that the way my board was positioned.  Scott attached his leash to me and Mr. Helen was saying encouraging things, and he fell in again!  As I was leisurely being towed it was finally my turn to say encouraging words to him.

Scott got me positioned to continue paddling and soon we were in a cove that led us back to the marina.  Paddleboarding in the cove was so cool!  Of course the water was a lot calmer but at this point I think every fear I had was vanquished so I really enjoyed it.

As I thanked Scott for his excellent instruction - and patience - he said it was his pleasure to do our tour. "I love people like you. You were not a cry baby, a whiner, a complainer, or a quitter, even when the wind picked up and it would have been hard for an experienced person. You were a warrior."  This was even sweeter because he had told us a story of a 27 year old "ripped abs" guy that couldn't paddleboard and he had towed him for nearly the whole tour while the guy literally broke down and cried. So yeah, go us!

We left Manteo and went back to Nags Head to beach it for the day.  The waves had calmed enough that the water was open for swimming and we were excited to get in the water.

Our rental had some beach toys available for use and I suppose that the elation of the paddleboarding made me brave as I asked Mr. Helen to get the boogie boards and bring them with us.  

Once we settled in, I grabbed the board and went straight for the water.  Yes, the boards help once you actually catch the wave, but getting there was a whole new lesson.  At one point, I thought to myself, "What on earth are you doing - you're 55 years old!"  But finally I caught that magic wave and rode in all the way to shore - woo hooooo!  It was exhilarating!

I'm the dot in the middle there.  Mr. Helen was so excited to see me doing this (not to mention the only other place he's ever seen me in the water is St. Martin) he grabbed his iPhone and took this photo. He didn't know how to zoom though lol.

As I came on shore to rest in the sun a while, I realized - once again, much like I did on our Grand Canyon trip - that you are never too old to face your fears and do the things you've dreamed of. Sometimes, you need to let yourself fly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Outer Banks Vacation: Adventures, Part 1

We had three separate times when we got off the beach and had opportunity to explore some other options on the Outer Banks.  Mind you, we really only scratched the surface of things to be done because we did spend a lot of time sucked into sand gravity.  I told Mr. Helen that just gives us things to do when we go back.

Our first adventure was going to climb the dunes at Jockeys Ridge State Park.  Those dunes, which are the tallest natural dunes on the Eastern seaboard, are visible from many places in Nags Head and surrounding areas.   After seeing the sunset from Sooey's BBQ we decided to go the following evening at sunset.  (So no beach time was sacrificed lol!).  It was a good thing I read up on the dunes before we went, otherwise we might have actually missed sunset!  They are quite deceptive - sort of like being in the desert - you see something and it looks a lot closer than it really is.  In reality it took us nearly 40 minutes of walking to get to the second dune.

As we entered the first thing we noticed is that people had left their shoes.  There were hundreds of shoes right by the entrance area.  Mr. Helen and I had thought to wear beach/sand shoes so we were all set.  I wish I'd gotten a photo of all the shoes, but again sometimes you just experience things and don't document.  I did get plenty of other photos as we experienced the walk and sunset.

Mini "oasis"

Mr. Helen reaches the second dune - he's right in the middle

Looking back at Nags Head - I used the zoom

 Another beautiful sunset

It really was fun to be up on the big dune overlooking the sound and watching the hang gliders and kite flyers.

Our second adventure was a trip we took on the one overcast day we had.  There are four famous lighthouses on the Outer Banks and in my head, I was going to see them ALL!  No, that didn't happen, again due to wanting to lay around and do nothing rather than be in a car all day (that drive in was car enough!). Honestly it never occurred to me that it might take a full day to see them all, so I settled for seeing 1 famous one and one not as well known. First, we went to see the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is right in Nags Head.  It was recently renovated and made climbable but I honestly had no desire to climb to the top, so we took some photos then took a walk on the boardwalk out to an observation deck.

This tree was growing right in the middle of the marsh

Swamp flowers

The marshes

Looking back from the observation deck - you can see the boardwalk here.

Crab in the water!

After I perused the gift shop, we took off for Manteo.  Because we were driving along part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, I wanted to stop and look at the beach to see what it was like compared to where we were in Nags Head.  Again, I wish I'd taken a photo - not of the beach, but of the warning sign about sharks!!  That was the one and only time we saw a sign. Other than that we enjoyed ourselves in the "sharks house."

Manteo was a cute, quaint town that reminded me a lot of some of the small waterfront towns in New England, like Mystic, Newport, or Hyannis.  Lots of shops and things to look at, not to mention they had a craft fair going on the day we were there (Mr. Helen was thrilled - not!).  I wanted to go there because of the waterfront boardwalk and the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse - a reconstruction of one that used to be in the Croatan Sound.

This is looking back from the boardwalk

Roanoke Island is also home to several other museums and an outdoor play about a colony of 117 English men, women and children who settled there in 1587 and disappeared three years later.  As much as I would have liked to do some more of those things, Mr. Helen got hungry and we were just running out of time - so much to do, so little time.  As I prefer happy Mr. Helen over cranky Mr. Helen, I agreed to go to lunch (I forgot about this meal out!).  It turned out to be perfect timing as no sooner than we finished lunch and got back to the car, it started raining hard.

Next up: Adventure 3 with a life lesson reinforced and mementos.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Outer Banks Vacation, The Gist of it All.

We were so excited to go on this vacation.  We went with no preconceived ideas about what we would or would not do, we were just excited to get away from it all for a week.  And it was a great one. The only slight issue was the drive.  It was just awful, there's no two ways about it: 13 hours there, 12.5 hours back.  The issue going in to the Outer Banks on Saturday is that day is the day when most all the vacation rentals turn over.  So us, and a bajillion other people were trying to get there and there is pretty much only 1 way in if you're coming from the north, unless you want to drive miles out of the way.  We were 6 miles from the bridge where you cross and 10.5 miles from the realtor where we had to pick up our keys and it took TWO HOURS.  It was agonizing.  Then coming home, there were so many accidents and slow downs on the highway we basically crawled from New Jersey to Connecticut.  A 3.5 hour drive took us nearly 5 hours.  Awful.

In any case the vacation itself was magnificent!  I think we knew it was going to be good the minute we laid eyes on our rental.  Looking at this photo, there was nothing but trees to the left.  The people in the house on the right didn't show up until Thursday so we had quite a bit of privacy.  We really enjoyed both decks - I watched the sun rise nearly every morning from that upper deck.  We also had a couple of happy hours up there too.

Front View

When we opened the front door, we were greeted with the command to relax.

This swing was on the lower deck - Mr. Helen really enjoyed it.

Panoramic View from Upper Deck

Our motto was eat, sleep, beach and we did that every single day except one when it was overcast then rained.  Other than that, the weather was perfection: 85-ish degrees with a constant sea breeze. The first two days we were there, we were not allowed to go into the water because the rip tide was so bad.  Nags Head actually has an ordinance that says if the Red Flags are flying you can't even put a toe in the water.  The second day I did drag my chair down to the water line and sit there so that the waves would occasionally wash up onto my feet.  Still, a lifeguard patrolling the beach came by and told me not to go any closer, believe it or not.  He said he was trying to be understanding but he did have to enforce the rules.  The waves were really big, but the beach was beautiful and worth sitting on so we just had to patient.

All along Route 12 aka S. Virginia Dare Trail are beach access points.  This is the one we went to most often - a wreck of the USS Huron lies off the coast here.  This was only 2 blocks from our rental but because there was no beach cart as they promised, we had to ride over with our chairs, cooler, etc. every day.

As I mentioned last week, I walked or ran nearly every single day we were there.  On the day that it was overcast and supposed to rain, I walked the beach for four miles.  So peaceful and beautiful and all sorts of things were washed up because of the impending storm, including these jellyfish.  I have no idea if they sting or hurt because once I saw them I tried hard not to step on any!

While we grocery shopped and prepped quite a bit of food at the rental, we did go out to eat three times:  once for breakfast because one of Mr. Helen's students raved about a pancake place called Stack 'Em High, once for eastern Carolina style BBQ, and once for a fancier meal.

Mr. Helen ordered pancakes and I chose the giant Biscuit Egg Sandwich, both delicious. We would go back, for sure!

He was like a kid in a candy shop with those pancakes lol!

We chose Sooey's BBQ and Rib Shack for our BBQ meal and we were not disappointed.  We both chose eastern Carolina style pulled pork and smoked brisket as our meats.  I got collard greens and mac and cheese, and Mr. Helen got potato salad and coleslaw.  The food was so good and my only regret was that we didn't go one more time for that delicious pulled pork.  No photos because we had chosen to sit on their upper deck and while waiting we got to see a beautiful sunset over Jockey's Ridge State Park, which was right across the street.  I think I got so distracted I forgot to take photos of the food.  Either that, or I was so hungrily anticipating that eastern Carolina pulled pork I couldn't wait to dig in.

Anticipating our BBQ - don't we look happy?!

Hang Gliders on one of the park ridges

While eating we decided that we would go to the park ourselves on another day - an adventure which will be in the next post.

For our "fancy" meal we chose Tale of the Whale, based on reviews we read and also based on a Wine Spectator article I read where they were named as a top restaurant in NC for inexpensive but delicious wines.  No reservations are taken here so we left our place and arrived around 6:15.  We expected to wait, and wait we did - we weren't seated until 7:30, fine since that's when we normally eat.  They have a great setup for waiting though - they give you a buzzer and send you to their outside deck and pavilion.  Out there is seating, a bar, and entertainment.  Plus you end up talking with other vacationers and the time goes by quickly!  This was a fantastic meal and really for as nice as it was, not all that expensive.  We had a bottle of wine, two appetizer, two entrees, and shared a dessert and it was $108.  The food and the ambiance were excellent.  Here's the meal I have some photos of.

 The waiting area

This mini loaf of bread was warm, crusty on the outside, soft inside.  My weakness!

Toasting a most excellent vacation!

Mr. Helen's appetizer.  He loves clams.

My lobster and shrimp bisque

My meal: broiled scallops, broiled flouder, asparagus, baked potato.
I ate exactly half of this and had the other half for dinner the next day!

Mr. Helen's fried oysters, hush puppies, crab cake, and baked potato.
He said this was one of the best crab cakes he's ever had.

I somehow managed to miss taking a photo of dessert but it was a layered chocolate ice box cake that we, again, ate the rest of the next evening.  We will definitely make this a must go to restaurant when we go back.

You'll notice I said, "when" we go back - because we will.  This is the first place we've vacationed where we liked it just as much as our Caribbean vacation home, St. Martin. So now we have a US vacation home in the Outer Banks.  Even with the terrible drives what happened in between was worth it.  I'm hoping that, like the pain of childbirth, we will forget the agony and keep the great memories. Until we meet again Nags Head!

Next post:  The things we did besides the beach.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Few and Far Between

That title best describes my blogging this year.  I know some of you read faithfully and every time I think about quitting blogging altogether, I realize that blogging is a sort of modern day pen pal, and that's how we keep in touch.  So, I apologize for the long spans of time between blogs, especially over this summer.

Truly this has been a pretty busy and pretty big spring and summer for us starting with Mr. Helen's 60th birthday, then followed by Little Helen's wedding and our vacation.  I guess I've just been busy living life instead of writing about it.  A bad pen pal these days.

I promise I am putting together a vacation post but as a preview I can tell you I had a life lesson reinforced while I was there and I lost my usual 4 vacation pounds.  It's so crazy to me that this happens every time I go on vacation!  I'm sure they will find their way back but since I'm back to not weighing myself I won't even know.

In the meantime let me share a little story with you.  As usual I went on vacation with no plans to exercise set in stone.  Yet, every single day except one I couldn't resist walking on the beach or the pathway, it was just so pretty.  I also think I was finally relaxing after the weeks of disruption from all the big events in my life this year and my body began to crave movement. I thought of you and your TX heat every single day Shelley, because I wasn't forcing myself to get up at 4 am so by the time I got out it was generally after 8 am and the sun was beating down and it was h-o-t.  Here's to early morning  pre-dawn workouts! And, since we got back last Saturday, I seem to be getting my groove back where it comes to exercise. Who knew Nags Head was where I needed to go to find it?

Sunrise, 6:15-6:20 am, August 9, 2015, Nags Head, NC

Anyway, as I was off and running (pre-dawn) yesterday morning, a truck with both windows rolled all the way down went down the street but had to stop at the stoplight.  Sometimes I am filled with dread because that's exactly when unwanted cat calls or wolf whistles or other remarks are made.

As I ran up to the vehicle and then by it, I heard:
Passenger 1:  Here comes that runner.
Passenger 2:  Damn, look at her go!
Passenger 1:  Man she's working that hill.
Passenger 2:  We are sloths.
Now that's the way to talk "to" a runner - have a conversation with your passenger. Yeah, that powered me through the rest of the run.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Finally! The Reception and After Party

Sorry for the delay in getting this posted.  I have just been inundated at work and working the part time job to the point where if I am home and could put a post together, I don't want to be anywhere near a computer!

In any case, when I last left you the happy couple was newly married and we were off to the reception.  I have to apologize for the lack of great photos because by the time we got there the cocktail hour was in full swing and people were clamoring at us the minute we walked in.  I can still tell you what the menu was though!  

There was a Tuscan Table with all sorts of thinly sliced meats, olives, cheeses and dips.  That was nearly wiped out by the time we arrived.

Then there were the butlered hors d'oeuvres:

  • Chimichurri Chicken Skewer
  • Chicken & Waffle
  • Duck Confit Tostado
  • Salmon Galette
  • Asian Beef Skewer
  • Truffle Risotto Balls
  • Pickled Yellow Beet & Goat Cheese
  • Passed Sushi 
  • Shrimp Cocktail
We both missed out on some of these as well.  I had the Risotto Ball and Shrimp Cocktail.  Mr. Helen managed both of those plus the Duck and Salmon.  Little Helen and E. didn't get a single appetizer so when we sat down to eat and the coordinator came over, she said, "I want a plate of the appetizers."  They brought everything and that's when I got to have a bite of the Chicken & Waffle which turned out to be my favorite of all of them.

Here's a look at the room before anyone got there.  I got this photo thanks to the DJ, who has practically become our family DJ what with him doing Mr. Helen's 60th as well.

Shot of Don Dada doing his thing.  He kept the party jumping!

Finally at 1:30 (!!!)after signing their Connecticut marriage license and Ketubah they came into the room to the sounds of "Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars.  I love this shot because it shows how gorgeous her dress was bustled up (it took three of us to do it lol!), plus I love the way E. is looking at her.

Then they did their dance to John Legend's "All of Me."  You know that was a song I had gotten tired of but watching them dance to it, it suddenly had completely different meaning.  Very special and sweet.

Finally we got to eat from the amazing food buffet which had 3 types of salad, 3 carving stations, grilled vegetable platter, Lobster mac and cheese, sweet potato hash, lentils, breads, etc.  The food was delicious! I'm hoping someone took photos of the setup - that will be another photo I'll share at a later time if I ever get one.

After our meal, there were toasts and cake and dancing until the very last minute!

They spent a lot of time looking at each other like this... it was sweet.

The cake was four layer white cake with vanilla butter cream.  But between the layers was raspberry, buttercream, and lemon.  So a slice had all those flavors!

At 4:30 the newlyweds Ubered back to the hotel, while we stayed behind to collect all the decorations and flowers and miscellaneous stuff.  (Hoping for photos of some of these things too!)  Then we went back to the hotel to change for the After Party.

The After Party was paid for by Mr. Helen and me, but put together and thrown at Mr. Helen's baby sister's house.  We honestly wondered how many people would show up but 90% of those at the wedding came!  I think because the wedding was small, at no point did anyone feel overwhelmed, and I know for E.'s side it had been a long time since so many of them were together.  

Mr. Helen's sister has a nice house with an above-ground pool, a patio area, and a fire pit area, all of which were used and enjoyed.  We kept the menu simple: Wine, beer, softdrinks and water, a table with cheese, crackers, chips, and dips, and then a slider bar with hamburgers, chicken burgers and pulled pork.  Potato Salad, fruit salad, a corn and black bean salsa, and leftover wedding and groom's cake for dessert.  
Little Helen and her Auntie T., the hostess

Cheese, Crackers, Chips, Dip, Fruit, Crudite

Slider Bar and Accompaniments

Kids in the Pool

Group Shots

Mr. Helen with best friend, the only non-blood "family" invited to the wedding
and his dad - can you believe he's 87!!

First photo ever taken of the brothers and their wives!

A fantastic time for all of us - two families joined and many new Facebook friends lol!  Even though it has only been 12 days, some of it is already a blur, but the happy feelings will be there every time we look at the photographic evidence.

That's a wrap on Wedding Weekend and I'll be off the grid for a bit - vacation is coming up fast!