As we reach the very end of yet another year, and the grande finale of a wild and crazy decade, we are all closing a very big and heavy and quite bulky hardcover chapter book, and we’re placing it safely onto our bookshelves. That story is now over.
And while the pages inside might be worn, or old and tired and wrinkled pieces of paper - after ten years of daily shipping and handling - those pages are also quite wonderful indeed.
The Book Of 2010:2019.
This book will now sit and rest, nestled high up on its shelf, beside all of our James Patterson novels, our John Grisham novels, our Ernest Hemingway novels. It might also rest against our journals and diaries or daily planners… planners full of possibility, and dreams yet to come true. Planners with lots of post-its in a rainbow assortment of colors sticking out the tops of its pages.
And now all the history books will be written. All that has happened between 2010 and 2019. To me, the world looks almost nothing like it did ten years ago, and yet, I can’t help but think, and hope, that it still looks very much the same. We still celebrate the end of a year, we still dream for the future, we still have optimism in our hearts. And we still wish our fellow humans well. A Happy New Year Wish is not just a heartfelt greeting, it is a way of life. Or it can be a way of life...
So to you, my dear and fellow humans, I wish you Well. I wish you Good Tidings and Cheer. I wish for you... The World:
I wish for you to notice each flower petal as it blooms.
I wish for you to fully see and appreciate every blade of green grass, every bold and bright green leaf on a tree, every flowing frond on a palm.
I wish for you to take the road less traveled…. Yes, even if it’s not straight and narrow. With lots of stops and curves and bumps along that route.
Because that road will make you who you are… Especially come another ten years.
I wish for you that your cup runneth over. With joy. And love. And mostly with good will toward your fellow human beings.
I wish for you to blend in… to live harmoniously.
And I wish for you to stand out… and be yourself in a vast sea of people.
I wish for you to be YOU. Whoever that may be. Light your fire and become hot and flaming.
Don’t let anyone extinguish it.
I wish for you to never take your freedoms for granted.
I wish for you to eat that slice of pie…and to taste the best donuts on this Earth - after all, you only live once.
I wish for YOU to be the one to forgive.
I wish for you to understand - and know - and realize - and believe - that forgiveness begins with you, and you alone.
I wish for you to treat others as you would like to be treated... That one’s simple - right?
I wish for you a better world ten years from now.
I wish for you to see all the GOOD that is in the world of TODAY.
I wish for you Peace On Earth.
I wish for you to love one another.
I wish for you to remember your past, your family members and friends departed...
I wish for you to know that their memory is alive and well, living deep inside you - Right. Now.
I wish for you to see your wonderful and unknowing future. Envision it. And then live that vision.
I wish for your to keep the holiday spirit alive and well… All the year through.
While the tree may come down…
And the snow may stop falling…
And the music might change its tune…
The spirit and the sparkle that are alive and breathing during all the many unique and wonderful and amazing holidays, can stay in your heart... all the year through - if you let it, and welcome it in.
But most of all…
I wish for you ADVENTURE…
I wish for you to Dream A Dream.
And I wish for YOU to make that dream come true.
I wish for you to visit a different state.
I wish for you to travel to a different country.
I wish for you to see the world from a different point of view.
I wish for you to stand on this Earth from a different vantage point.
I wish for you to see something in real life, that you only ever saw buried deep inside the worn pages of a book, or a magazine.
I wish for you to take a road trip. And to eat yummy and wickedly greasy food inside your four wheel drive Ford Explorer, while you’re on cruise control through various cities and states, looking out your window, passing by rows of cotton, or corn, or soybean, on the side of the road. And to drop a hot french fry under your car seat, and let it fall deep into a Black Hole, never to be seen from again. And to drink delicious and very strong espresso or coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts to help keep you awake on the road. And then to spill some hot and sticky drips onto your nice leather center console, and to not worry even once what these spills will do to your car’s interior.
I wish for you to take a plane ride. And to let it take you around the curvature of the Earth.
I wish for you to board a bus and take a ride driven by someone else. Yes, that red and white and black Disney Transport Bus does count.
I wish for you a carriage ride.
A sleigh ride.
A trolley ride.
A ride in an Airstream, traveling high up into the mountains. To stand up there and look down upon the Earth’s ground floor. And to stand at the bottom of the mountain and look up toward the top floor.
I wish for you a train ride… yes, even that ride you may not want to go on.
I wish for you to travel long and far and wide, all the way through to a vast and faraway desert, and walk toward a mirage, and head onward to the horizon if you must - to find what you are looking for.
I wish for you to challenge your soul.
I wish for you to look back on this next and upcoming decade…
The Book Of 2020:2029.
Ten more whole years of life… And to reflect on your actions. Reflect on your vision.
To really see what is right in front of you.
And to see what is beyond you. Envision what is on your future horizon line.
See what your reflection looks like when it bounces back at you from the water. What will YOU give back to the world… in all of that long time?
I wish for you to be present and aware a decade from now…
And to look back, and to think to yourself, that you did everything you possibly could to live… To Be Fully And Completely Alive. In your heart and in your soul. Over the next ten years. To look back another whole decade from now... And to send out a Tweet, post an Insta, put a Pin on your Pinterest Board… Or to do whatever it is we all will be doing ten years from now? Send out a letter, draft up an email, write a blog post, type up a whole book… Or maybe, just simply put something down on pen and paper, write a note inside your journal, or draft some scribble onto a bright yellow post-it that you then tuck inside of your daily planner, with a wish for that next decade...
Then close the book.
And Live that wish…
All the days of your life. ~
Two words to sum up this total and complete gem of a place: Go. There.
I personally have zero bad things to say about this place - ever. It’s fabulous. End of story.
Well, not end of story. But it can be that simple. Hawkers is - simply - amazing.
Hawkers was born in Florida. In 2011 their first restaurant opened in Orlando. And since its early successes, this sit-down, yet casual, eatery has now spread to a variety of other locations throughout the state. Plus a few openings in other locales within the country as well, such as North Carolina and Georgia, with both a Tennessee and Maryland location opening very soon.
And while any night of the week is a good night indeed to visit Hawkers, I had the pleasure of dining there most recently on the same evening my husband and I browsed all around Beaches Town Center to take in all the holiday goodness out on display. Walking around town, seeing the gingerbread house at One Ocean Resort, visiting the Holiday Palms where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean, all of it, after a delicious meal at Hawkers.
Walking inside Hawkers, I always immediately take notice of the Edison style lighting throughout the large dining room and bar area. I absolutely adore any Edison lighting whatsoever, and I desperately dream of it placed throughout every room in my entire apartment. To me, the lighting gives off a warm and very inviting and homey atmosphere. Not too bright, and perfect for an evening dining establishment.
And while the restaurant is a sit-down eatery, and a great place for a leisurely and peaceful meal, it never feels too formal either.
The menu at Hawkers is set up similar to tapas style. Smaller sized dishes that are meant for sharing around the table. And this works exceptionally well the larger the party one has with them. While it’s usually just my husband and I dining out, we had the opportunity to dine at Hawkers with my in-laws well over a year and a half ago now. And at that meal having a party of eight, we were able to try and share amongst us a large variety of dishes from the menu. Much more choice than our usual table for two can reasonable order.
While sometimes hubby and I do tapas and share a few things, this time I simply ordered my own entree and so did he. And I had no problem devouring my entire bowl.
To drink I had club soda with lime, which they kindly kept refilling for me. And hubby had the ‘Margari-Thai’ to start. The drinks were swell. Not watered down at all, and made just right.
We split the pork skewers as an appetizer, which comes as a set of three skewers. They were delicious. Flavorful, and yet not too over-seasoned. And the perfect amount for sharing amongst two people. Just. Perfect.
For my entree, I ordered the same dish the I ALWAYS order. The Beef Haw Fun. A noodle dish. It’s a fabulous dish for anyone who is currently counting calories or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. At 687 calories, it’s the perfect size entree for me. Anything else would have been simply too many calories, or needing a box for leftovers.
Hubby ordered from the rice bowl section of the menu - choosing the Kimchi Fried Rice. Served with steak, eggs, and onions. Both our dishes were excellent.
The atmosphere at Hawkers is very casual. Which is another reason I love it so much. It’s loud, but it’s not too loud by any means - it’s good loud. It’s family friendly, birthday-dinner-outing-loud, and kid-friendly loud. And the large indoor dining room and combined bar area are set up very open and easy-flowing, with lots of large windows letting in all that fabulous natural sunlight during the day. And with views out to Atlantic Boulevard into both Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach during the evenings, it’s a lovely location for dinner out right on the coast. Plus, when the weather is right the windows and doors are open so that you feel you are eating outside, even if you’re dining inside.
And if you do want to eat directly outside, you can do just that as well. Hawkers offers two different areas of outdoor seating. There’s an absolutely beautiful little courtyard area, tucked away from all the hustle and bustle of Atlantic Boulevard, and nestled between the Surf Shop next door. The other outdoor seating is set directly in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk area, and is a great vantage point for lots of people-watching as you dine. This time of year they also have heat lamps out on the patios, so it’s almost never really too cold to dine outside at Hawkers.
The other great thing I love about Hawkers is the menu selection. Besides tapas style dishes, they also have a variety of dishes for both vegans and vegetarians. When I try to eat vegan, this place makes it super easy for me. I order the Edamame, and/or the Spring Rolls.
And I’ve saved the best for last… even though it’s traditionally served first. The Roti Canai... I can’t even express to you how good the Roti Canai really is. The Roti Canai is on the appetizer portion of the menu - it’s a Malaysian flatbread, and is a savory break-apart-piece of heaven, a type of hot bread. Calling all dough lovers. This is the dough for you. What a treat.
And it is just that, a treat. Which is why we didn’t get it on this particular visit... But I can’t talk about Hawkers without talking about the Roti Canai. It’s a must-do, a must-try. Especially on your first visit. One bite, and you’ll be in love with Hawkers and want to come back whenever you can. On our first visit, when we were very unfamiliar with Hawkers and the menu offerings, our server recommended this dish. I’m so glad she did, because we’ve been ordering it ever since and every time it is pure perfection on a plate.
The reason we don’t order the Roti Canai all the time though is that I know for a fact this dish is a calorie-counting nightmare. Well, maybe not a nightmare, I just know it has too many calories for my tummy to process all at once. With one small piece clocking in at roughly 318 calories, that’s about half a dinner for me. All in a single slice of bread. And I’d personally rather spend my calories on protein - and anything that will keep me fuller, longer. And thus I treat this bread as the deserving treat that it is. It’s just such a TREAT that we don’t need to get it every time. So even though it’s my very favorite item on the entire menu, I resist all temptation and I don't order it every visit. But every time we do get it, it's absolutely divine.
I do highly recommend trying the Roti Canai. If you are looking for something a little bit different, a little bit out of the norm when eating the standard American diet every day. This is THE dish to try. The curry dips that are served alongside it gives one a sampling of some flavors that I personally don’t have all the time. And I love trying different things. So get the bread. You won’t be sorry.
And one more quick piece of good news at Hawkers - they have a new menu item that I am VERY excited to try on my next visit. On that next visit I can then plan the needed and many allotted calories into my day so that I can try this dish with zero guilt. It’s a dessert…. And yes, it’s DONUTS! Yummm. They sound fantastic. And fried. The Jo-He Bag of Donuts. Next Time, My Friends, Next Time.
I’m fairly certain there will be a photo of fried donuts showing up on my Instagram sometime in the near future.
Overall, Hawkers is super. Simple as that. If you have a Hawkers by you, definitely give it a try. And if you don’t have a Hawkers by you, maybe, and hopefully, one will be on its way to you soon. ~
12/23/2019 0 Comments
During the opening scene of the holiday film classic, White Christmas, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) saves Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby’s) life. It’s World War II. Bombs flying overhead. Rubble and lots of blown up, destroyed buildings half-standing all around. Davis pulls Wallace out of the path of a swaying and then falling, crumbling, and collapsing red brick building wall. He saves Wallace’s life - and injures his own arm in the process.
While in the hospital tent recovering, Wallace goes to visit Davis. To check on him. To thank him. For saving his life.
“It was a life worth saving,” Davis proudly proclaims. And simple, matter-of-fact like. He might as well of said,
“No big deal.”
“I do that sorta thing all the time!”
You see, Davis lived a happy, silly, and very innocent existence. Cheerful all the time, even on the lowest of days, he would find the bright spot, he would always be the jokester. Any scene he was in, it was a scene filled with joy and laughs.
Wallace had always been much more serious. Even in show business, the entertainment business, he was always focused on the Business side of any Show. Wallace and Davis became business partners after the War ended. Wallace - watching the finances - Davis following the dream.
Despite all cost. Money didn’t matter. He had a vision. And he was set to do it.
To convince Wallace to go along with any of his pricey and elaborate schemes, Davis simply pointed to that arm of his. A constant reminder to Wallace that he had saved Wallace’s life…
After all, it was a life worth saving.
Those constant and nagging reminders given by Davis are imperative scenes in the films plot. From that point forward of Davis saving Wallace’s life, every time Davis needed or wanted anything… anything at all, he just points to that arm of his.
So, ever and always hounded by Davis, Wallace repeatedly complied. Following Davis’s every whim, every desire, every dream. Even running to catch a train, and take a long, dreamy, and leisurely and quite lovely ride on the rails up north to Vermont. A trip he originally didn’t want to go on… and sleep in a drafty old club car - with no nice, warm bed? Wallace owed Davis. Big time.
He’d do anything to appease Davis. After all, how do you repay someone who saved your life?
It’s constant, right? For the rest of your life?
There is no amount that can suffice such a reciprocal payment for services rendered.
Wallace understood this. He knew no amount of money could repay Davis for the life he saved under the falling red brick building back during the War.
How much does it cost to save a life? How much would a person pay to be saved? How much does Wallace owe Davis for his act of selflessness and heroism? It was a near-impossible equation to solve. Unless, maybe, getting some insurance adjusters and lawyers, or mediators or other adjudicators, and judges and juries involved to finally solve the problem of Davis constantly pointing to his arm???
No, Wallace would never do that… that would cost more MONEY! Just keep on appeasing him. Just keep on humoring Davis… for the rest of his life. It was worth it. He was ALIVE after all.
In the end, they remain forever friends... And forever grateful of their drastically changed lives and all they had gone through together. War, and horror, death and destruction - to brand new post-war lives, the entertainment business, and finding the loves of their lives, together.
Their happily ever afters.
So, the question remains today in lots of people’s lives… How do you repay the person who saved you? If your life was utterly and literally saved by someone else, how can you possibly repay them? Is there is price tag on that action?
AND FURTHER - when the holidays come around each year, how do you give a gift...what do you buy… for that person on your list who saved your life?
The answer is simple.
I’ve watched White Christmas an infinite number of times. I have it memorized. I can taste the frothy and magical and very appealing drinks in the dining car scene onboard that infamous train ride up to Vermont... “Snow… Snow… Snow... Snow!” I can direct the remake if you’d like me to. I’m an expert.
But, I always used to question Bing Crosby’s character in the film. Wallace never told Davis to SHUT UP, to STOP WITH THIS LIFE SAVING BUSINESS! He never gave in or gave up on him. He never yelled - Stop pointing to your arm! Stop reminding me you saved my life! Stop bothering me!
Well, wait… maybe he did.
“Sometimes I wish the wall had fallen on me…” Wallace complains to Davis.
Awhhhh moans Davis, you don’t mean that!
Maybe Wallace did tell Davis to schedadle. Go away. But in an innocent manner. He never really meant it. That’s why they remained life-long friends. They helped each other through a dark time. That never goes away. Even as life changes in the future. He will be forever grateful that Davis saved his life.
You CANNOT put a price on a life. All life is precious. A life saved cannot be repaid. There is no amount. No check you can write. No card all-encompassing.
When stuffing the envelopes for your holiday cards and you get to the person who saved your life… do you add some extra glitter in their card? After all, they need something extra from everyone else, right?
Sure, every day, in trials and settlements, financial figures are calculated to affix and satisfy lawsuits etc. Insurance companies and attorneys calculate cost-of-life and benefits, etc. etc. etc. Money owed someone over the course of a lifetime - a calculated financial equivalent to compute what a life is worth with a dollar sign. But the money does not make a person whole. And life is not about the money. Which really explains why there is no suitable Christmas gift to give to the person who saved your life.
There is only one way to repay the person who saved you. One Christmas gift you can give them. It is by living your life. A life of gratefulness. Of service. Of thanks and gratitude. Of giving and generosity. Living the amazing and completely priceless life you were given - by that person who saved you...
By living your very best life - each and every day. Only someone who has been saved and pulled from the darkness can potentially even understand this. It just doesn’t happen all the time. That’s why there isn’t a section in the Hallmark card aisle devoted to it. We have - Merry Christmas to Mom & Dad, Happy Holiday’s To My Co-Worker, Dear Grandma, To My Dog Groomer - at Christmas… But where’s the card for - At Christmas… For Saving My LIfe??? I need that card. To give to someone I owe. But it doesn’t exist.
And that’s ok.
The person who saved you understands as much. They just want you to live your life. They don’t want a big thank you.
I know this.
I know this because my life was saved.
Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida saved my life. Both literally and figuratively... Physically and mentally. Three years ago. This will be my third Christmas since my life changed forever.
How can I possibly repay them for what they did for me?
I volunteered at the hospital for a years time. I donate. Etc. Etc. Etc. None of it adds up to how much they helped me. I could hand them the moon - because that’s what I want to do. I owe them everything. I cannot possibly repay them though.
My first holiday season post-treatment at the Clinic, I wanted to do something for them to thank them. Nothing matched my gratefulness. I wracked my brain. There was no money. There was no Hallmark card?!....
I’ve got it!
I’ll bake cookies!
Frosted Christmas Sugar Cookies - to be exact.
So during the holidays of 2017, my husband and I spent an entire weekend in the kitchen. Baking. It was wonderful. After many years of marriage, it was our first time really taking some quality time together to simply do some solid and legitimate baking. And our first real slow-down during any Christmas, ever.
And now, three years later, it is tradition. One weekend a holiday season, we stop everything. We don’t go see any Zoo Lights that weekend, we don’t go see the St. Augustine Nights of Lights that weekend, no Deck The Chairs, no Luminaria, no Christmas Pop-Up Bar, no Beaches Town Center Christmas Tree and lights, and no gingerbread house at One Ocean, we don’t shop at Rockaway Gardens or buy any Christmas greenery that weekend… we simply bake.
I light festive and dreamy scented candles. We turn on Christmas movies in the background. Our apartment becomes a pine and fir and balsam and sugar and dough scented Heaven on Earth. And we bake.
And frost… of course.
By Monday, the day of my follow-up care each December, I go off to Mayo, with a box of sugary and holiday goodness in hand. I check in to my appointment, and drop the box off at the Pain Rehab Clinic. And then go on my way, to meet with everyone else who comes to these sessions, everyone else who has had their lives changed forever by the Pain Rehabilitation Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
We meet. We attend our sessions. We listen. We learn. We talk. We snack. We dine. We say goodbye. We go on with our lives afterward.
Another two months go by.
We all meet every other month. Coming from places near and far. Driving, flying, and yes, by train ride also. In the interim, we all keep in touch via a private Facebook Group for “Graduates” of the amazing program. We are not merely just patients who have been discharged. We are graduates of a program designed to give us life again.
And we have access to the benefits of the Rehab Clinic for the rest of our lives afterward.
After two months, we do it all again...
But it’s that December session, during the holidays, when I always bring the cookies.
By the end of all the baking and frosting during that wonderful weekend, I have a delicious box of cookies, all wrapped up and ready to go. I try to ‘up my game’ every year. Maybe better-shapes. Maybe better overall presentation. This year, we tried to master the difference between border frosting and flood frosting. I certainly did not “master” it by any means, but it was a great start, and hopefully my cookies will improve even more next year. A great article about border frosting and flood frosting can be found here - one that even a lazy baker can follow.
When I drop off my cookies, I’m proud of myself for just a small milli-second. For “stopping my life” for 48 hours. For dropping everything. To give something to someone else. Something so very simple. But something to show and express my gratefulness. Gratitude goes a very long way. But cookies go even longer.
This post is utterly and sincerely dedicated to all of the staff at the Mayo Pain Rehab Clinic. The doctors. The nurses. The occupational therapists. The physical therapists. Nutritionists. Pain Psychologists. Any and all other staff. The invisible and unnamed hard workers. The ones who stuff envelopes reminding us of our appointments. The awesome woman who always answers the phone. The people who keep all the amazing facilities clean and tidy and safe so that patients and doctors and nurses and other staff can do the life-saving work they need to do to get back out and into the world. The ones who are currently working very hard on building construction to renovate and add to the facility to make room for a whole additional team of patients, who will be able to partake in the program in the near future. Everyone. Thank you.
There are no words.
There is no amount of money.
There is no Hallmark card I can buy.
I can never repay you.
I can bring you cookies. But I can never repay you.
You saved my life.
You brought me back to life.
I know I helped just a little bit. And God did too. And I do give God all the credit here.
But right now, this one’s for you. YOU deserve A LOT of the credit.
I do the hard work it takes each and every day to continue to survive after my discharge and graduation. I know that.
But y’all work so hard too. You deserve everything. You deserve the moon.
You pulled me out from the bombs flying by overheard. You dragged me away from the heavy red brick wall collapsing on top of me. You lifted me out of the rubble and mess. You saved me from war and death and all the destruction it brings with it. All your hard work. All the efforts. Oh, the broken arms all the Phil Davis’s have endured to help save us patients. It can never be repaid. I can never thank you enough.
But you know what? I think you know that.
I think you know… that graduates living our very best lives, and doing our very best work to live a healthy, productive, generous and giving life ourselves, is our way of repaying you… each and every day. And I try to do just that.
It’s a lifetime of work.
Yes, it is for the rest of my life.
As one of the most amazing humans the world has ever known always says and reminds us... this is a lifetime commitment. There is no end date. This lifestyle is a commitment we make with ourselves until we draw our very last breath upon this Earth.
I completely understand what he means in every sense of those words.
So thank you. Thank you for those words. Thank you for your help. Thank you for saving me. But it was a life worth saving. I try my best. I thank you forever. But my life and my life’s work ahead of me is my real thank you to you. I cannot repay you with money. I cannot even explain it in these words here and now.
You know that...
So Sugar Cookies will have to do in the interim.
Thank you Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.
God Bless the Pain Rehabilitation Center and staff.
This is my Christmas gift to you.
And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my very dear readers and subscribers. ~
This personal story is my Christmas gift to you (or someone you know) who can benefit from it in any way. If you, or someone you know, is in pain. If you are struggling. If you feel hopeless. If you are in chronic pain. If you are suffering severe depression. There is always light. There is always hope. I am not a doctor. I cannot save you. My hope with this blog is for you to use me simply as one example. To read about others, and their stories. Learn from them. Seek help. In this article is the physical facility I personally recommend. While everybody's experience will be different and unique to them, I am sharing my experience for others to benefit in any way. In my story, I am specifically referencing the Jacksonville, Florida branch of Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic has three branches - they are located in Rochester, MN, Jacksonville, FL, and Phoenix, AZ. In my own personal experience and my own personal opinion and not referring to anyone else’s, they are very different from one another. This article is referring specifically to the Jacksonville, Florida location. Their main phone number is 904.953.2000. Use my story and my example as a push to get you or that someone you know the help they need. YOU are your own best advocate. No one else will ever be able to advocate for you - better than you, yourself, and YOU. Don’t wait for someone else to come along and save you… save yourself… just maybe by letting someone else save you. But anywhere you are, there is help. Get out there… it’s YOUR JOB to get out there... and FIND IT.*
While I both love and live in Jacksonville Beach, FL, there’s only one other town around I love just as very much…well, two towns actually - it’s where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean - it’s Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach… its Beaches Town Center.
Beaches Town Center is all-encompassing of the downtown areas of both Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach. The two downtowns meet together for one, central, and grand downtown area on the Beaches - with Atlantic Beach to the north, and Neptune Beach to the south - and Atlantic Boulevard as the border line. It is there that the two towns touch and meet, becoming one. If you weren’t familiar with the area, you wouldn’t really even know that they are two separate towns. They really blend well aesthetically and flow and function nicely as one downton. And while the two towns share this single and lovely downtown, they share a whole lot more as well… including Christmas!
Beaches Town Center comes together for one official Christmas tree area at the center of town, and just steps off the beach. Where Atlantic Boulevard ends and the ocean begins. At the roundabout. The trees - including evergreen, and palm, of course - are lit up beautifully. Signature candy cane stripes going up the trunks of the palms, with green tip lit leaves. And this year they added another evergreen to the display, having two total, one on each side of the palms. With a large red seating area, positioned perfectly for Santa Claus to sit, there is never a dull moment in the round-a-bout. With children and families both coming up to get their photo taken sitting in the enormous chair. Sometimes even a line of people waiting.
And with the palm trees lit all up and down the sidewalks on 1st Street and beyond, in a rainbow of holiday colors, the setting is a beautiful, beachy holiday, instantly.
If you find yourself in town, and checking out all things holiday while you’re here, there’s a few other not to be missed seasonal and very festive events which I highly recommend. Check out the St. Augustine Nights of Lights if you have time for a short drive. And be sure to visit Deck The Chairs, just one town south, in my very own Jax Beach. Deck The Chairs is free, it’s walk-through, and open to the public nightly through the end of the month. And only a couple miles south of Beaches Town Center, it’s a quick hop on over if you are out exploring all the lights and all the beautiful sights around Jacksonville.
Our first Christmas living in Florida, back in 2017, we were browsing around Beaches Town Center. It was wonderful - we knew it would become an instant new tradition added to our list of holiday festivities. And while strolling through town that first Floridian holiday, we came upon One Ocean at the center of town, and decided we needed to check it out.
We walked into their grand lobby, for the first time. Fountain in the center, just inside the door. Well, the inside is just gorgeous. And it turns out that every year, for Christmas and the entire holiday season, they put a large gingerbread house on display just off to the side in the lobby area. Naturally stumbling onto this find was so exciting. And it’s those finds, that I didn’t know about in advance of a visit somewhere, completely unplanned, and spur-of-the-moment, that are sometimes the very best moments. And we’ve been back every year.
I’ve included photos of this year’s 2019 gingerbread house. And let me tell you, that lobby smelled of gingerbread - and smelled of heaven. It was fabulous to see, and to breathe in. It’s a quick stop in to check out, and puts one in the holiday spirit right away. The baked house is different every year, and all of it - the sign - the house itself, and all the details presented, reminded me immediately of my many travels to Walt Disney World at Christmastime and doing some Resort Hopping...checking out all the resort lobby gingerbread houses - each themed to that specific Disney resort. So I definitely recommend stopping in One Ocean on your Beaches Town Center holiday adventure. They’ve got a bar and restaurant on site too - it’s on the pricey side so we haven’t been there to eat just yet, but we have been to the lounge a few times and it’s just lovely. The ocean views are priceless.
And a visit to Beaches Town Center is never, ever complete without a visit to Southern Grounds Coffee Shop. I love coffee almost as much as life itself. So we strolled on down to Southern Grounds to get a hot drink on a cool Florida evening. but to our surprise it was the one night ever that I’ve come across them closed. Usually open until 9pm, we went on a Monday night, and there was a sign on the door apologizing for the closure. They were out celebrating for the staff holiday party. No, I’m not complaining… the fact that we were so very sad that they were closed is only a compliment to them - as their shop simply rocks. So no Southern Grounds for us that particular evening, but soooo very glad for their employees that they had a night out away from work to celebrate.
Beaches Town Center knows how to throw a Beachy Christmas… On a Monday night, or any night of the week. I’d highly recommend stopping by for a visit, short or long. Coffee or no coffee. It’s a wonderful sight, with a lot of wonderful lights. ~
The Beaches Green Market is a local farmer’s market in Neptune Beach, Florida. The market takes place every Saturday, year round, and is centrally located in the small beach town at Jarboe Park.
Always from 2pm-5pm, it’s a fabulous place to pull over on a Saturday while out running errands, or to grab some bakery, maybe even flowers, to bring along to a gathering. If you’re out for your weekend grocery shopping, I’d recommend stopping here for fresh, local produce, before heading to the grocer for the rest of your needs.
Some of the vendors tend to be the same each week, and yet there are always some different booths each time as well, or maybe even a food truck. There’s always a surprise or two each visit, which makes return visits likely and more enticing. Once you go to the Green Market - you tend to come back on the regular.
In the past, we’ve purchased fresh and delicious produce, gifts for family, as well as some lovely seagrass scented candles from Eden’s Leaf Naturals; all depending on what our needs are for that week. This week, while we didn’t make any purchases, we still enjoyed the visit.
And with the added bonus of the market being pet friendly, your dog can come along with you and enjoy the park afterward. With ample parking surrounding the entire large property, it’s an easy stop to add into your Saturday activities.
And I was especially excited for this Saturday’s Market because I knew it was their official holiday market! There was jewelry for sale, coastal ornaments, and lots of reusable gift bags available for purchase. There was also a holiday craft table set up for children to make their own candles. And they even had a local band playing. Wearing red and white Santa hats… THIS was most definitely my favorite part!
Beaches Green Market can be a quick stop, or a leisurely part of your weekend activities. Its location in Jarboe Park is a very popular local park in the Beaches community, and this setting allows the Market the perk of being surrounded by walking paths, a lovely maintained community garden, fountains, and tables and chairs for picnics. All under a clear blue and bright and sunny sky.
Basketball courts and full sand volleyball courts are a nice addition as well. There also is a small, old, historic house on site, and children really like wandering up to it and explore. I noticed the old home was decorated for the holidays and looking quite adorable. And then I found out that’s where Santa and Mrs. Claus sit on the porch, to greet children and ask what the want for Christmas. The little house is just across from the Jarboe Park official decorated Christmas tree.
I highly encourage an outing to the Beaches Green Market. It’s a great way to shop local - including always having a variety of local produce and other products available. I believe one of the real goals of any Farmer’s Market seems to be to help bring the local community together, and that’s exactly what this one does. So get on out to your market, look for Santa while you’re there, and be sure to bring along your list to give him. ~
On the second Tuesday of every month here in the small coastal town of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, local artists set up shop along First Street in downtown for the monthly Jax Beach Art Walk.
This monthly Walk is actually one of the very many reasons my husband and I originally fell in love with our little beach town. It’s a small event, but a wonderful one. And we’ve always enjoyed seeing the unique pieces out on display. The event takes place from 5pm to 9pm; and I LOVE the December event the very best of them all... Because - Christmas - of course.
It’s an absolutely LOVELY way to spend a Tuesday evening. We had an early dinner - well, we always eat dinner early now - not really many exceptions to that. With my very healthy lifestyle comes a very early dinner - no late night eating or snacking - ever. So after we dined and feasted upon our very healthy and delicious homemade Taco Tuesday entree, we ventured out and proceeded to slowly walk and browse through the entire length of downtown Jax Beach.
And while the Jax Beach Art Walk takes place in the darkness of the night sky during this exciting and festive time of year, this December event it was not so dark after all while walking through the streets and past all the various shops and restaurants.
During the summer months, while the artists are still out at their booths as usual until 9pm, the sun is out nearly just as late to light the way. But during these Walks occurring during the cooler winter season, a stroll through the Art Walk in the dark is met by many kinds of unique ways artists try to light up their booths and displays. Lots of rope lights, holiday lights, twinkle lights, led candles, and icicle lights, etc. And let’s not forget all the iPhone flashlights showcasing lots of art while glancing up close. With the darkness of the December Art Walk, always comes these simple yet fun lighting displays.
And as a lovely added bonus, along with the beautiful sunset this Tuesday, we also had a breathtaking moon following us above in the night sky. Keeping watch over our quaint little town and providing additional light for shoppers and diners and tourists.
I met an artist who was selling at a large table set up with all kinds of various shaped little topiaries. The topiaries themselves were each lit with tiny, miniature pixie lights set as Christmas lights. He pointed to one of the topiaries for me and I noticed it was an AT-AT holiday topiary... That’s an All Terrain Armored Transport Star Wars vehicle topiary decorated for the holiday’s… but of course. I was very amused, it was adorable. And all the various creativity on display such as this was quite inspiring.
And then at the very center of town, sitting proudly on display for all, sits the Deck The Chairs holiday lights adventure. The Chairs were definitely all decked out in their holiday finest for the occasion, and many artists and shoppers commingled amongst all the exciting holiday festivities taking place. Lots of people were out to check out both the Chairs, as well as the Art Walk, so I highly recommend the December Walk if you are short on time and want to see two things at once.
I made one purchase that evening - a rose gold hematite ring from Artist Olivia Shore, who can be found at @livshoreart online. I haven't been able to wear my wedding rings in well over a year or really actually much longer now, as since my massive weight loss the rings no longer fit - and are quite pricey to be resized down. Someday I will get around to it though. So lately, and especially desiring some rings to wear, I’ve been very inspired by all the local artists selling various types of rings for some very reasonable prices. And the price from Olivia was definitely right for me. She was offering this ring for $12.00. But she mentioned that since I was buying directly from her and not from the shops she sells her merchandise in, she brought the price down to $7.00. Always happy to support an artist, but I cannot deny, mostly quite happy for the new jewelry too.
Most of the artists on the Walk sell in lots of local shops throughout town or the greater Jacksonville area. So as an added bonus to Art Walk patrons, if you purchase directly from the artist, instead of through their shops outside of this event, they tend to offer decreased pricing. This was offered to me without my asking… they simply offer better deals at the walk and state as much. So get on out to the next Art Walk, and support your local artists directly. But - still go to the shops as well, as they are magnificent in their very own and lovely ways of course.
I saw lots and lots of beautiful homemade Christmas ornaments for sale, delicate and burnt glass, some for only $3.00 a piece, lots of holiday paintings with lovely winter scenery, and tons of other unique and fun holiday decor. I especially loved the table selling the copper shaped coastal creations and was very tempted to make a purchase. I have a spot in my kitchen absolutely perfect for one of those pieces, and I love copper. They were all pretty expensive for me though so I held back and simply admired the pieces from afar.
Any of the art being offered at the monthly Walk would make a fabulous holiday gift. If you are still doing your shopping, and missed out on the Art Walk, consider one of the few remaining local upcoming holiday markets: including the Beaches Green Market, taking place at Jarboe Park in Neptune Beach this Saturday from 2-5pm, as well as the mid-week Atlantic Beach Holiday Market next week on Wednesday, December 18th from 3pm-6pm at Bull Memorial Park. You’ll be supporting local creativity, and getting your shopping done all at once.
Overall, any day - or evening - strolling up and down through town is a fabulous outing indeed. The moonlit sky, the sound of the rough and choppy, high surf from that next windy and wild Nor’easter that we experienced this week, including the holiday lights of Deck The Chairs, the art on display of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, talking with everyone, it’s all a fabulous and peaceful way to end a day along the coast. Even if you don’t buy a thing, still get out there and check out all the beauty on display, and don't forget to look up at that moon, lighting and guiding your way through our amazing world. ~
*[Part of: Bean’s Baking Series]
Alright… It’s that time of year my dear friends! Time to get your baking on!
We spent this past lovely and very festive weekend baking away in our tiny little and very basic kitchen. It was fabulous! No stores, no shopping, no errands… well, yes, we did run a couple errands. But, in my dreams, we didn’t.
We just baked and frosted. Sugar cookies! How can the holiday season come and go without homemade cookies being brought to life in your oven? It can’t.
Here’s what we did. It’s simple. It just requires a bit of patience. After all, nothing sweet and precious can be rushed into existence. And no mixer needed. Made all by hand. With love…
And, as a bonus for those watching their calories, making the dough by hand and not using a stand mixer burns lots and lots of calories. As the dough slowly thickens, you have to work harder and harder to perfect the dough’s consistency. We just won’t talk about how many calories are in the cookies themselves… I heard Santa doesn’t mind, so we won’t either.
We allowed the full weekend to bake and frost, making no other commitments outside the home. No Deck The Chairs, no Christmas tree, wreath, or holly shopping, and no Nights of Lights. No to anything and everything - besides food and drink. We’ve done this every year since 2017, and this third year has really solidified it as a nice and peaceful little tradition during the holiday season.
We schedule the baking for a few weeks after the season has officially started and all the holiday activities are well underway, but before the actual holiday. It’s become a nice way to decompress, and stop everything for even just a little bit of time, during a very busy time. By stopping, we are focusing on ourselves, on family. On our baby Sheltie, who did an excellent job keeping the floor clean. On moments. And not rushing during those moments.
So we made the dough and baked all the 75 cookies on Saturday. And we spent many hours frosting and sprinkling on Sunday. All of this can definitely be done in one day, though, if you need or want. You will just need to make sure you allow a few hours to let the dough cool in the fridge once mixed though, as I mention in the instructions, or it will throw a fit and be too sticky and messy to work with. Give the dough the nap it needs before waking it up to go play!
So, get to that grocery store.
Buy your ingredients.
Dust off your copy of White Christmas on DVD. Or put some tunes on the iPad.
Note: We found two piping tubes at the local Dollar Tree. They obviously were not very high quality, and when I tried to squeeze the frosting through it ripped fairly quickly. But it did its job for a bit then we moved onto the second tube we had purchased just in case. Next year I’m thinking of getting actual squeeze bottles from Michaels or Hobby Lobby that are sold in their baking aisle - just a few more dollars a piece but probably well worth it for the hassle and mess of the squeeze bag.
Make one bowl each of white (no coloring added) frosting, green frosting, red frosting, and blue frosting by putting lots of powdered sugar in each bowl and slowly adding in a bit of water, and drops of food coloring, at a time.
To make the border frosting you can keep the white frosting a thicker, gel-like consistency - just add liquid very slowly and in tiny bits at a time. Aim for a thicker frosting and stop adding water once you like the consistency, or if it becomes to runny just add more powdered sugar. You can then spoon this frosting into the piping bag and can shape all the borders of your cookies with it. One of the goals of the border is to prevent the frosting from rolling off the edge, which gives the frosted cookie a neat and clean looking appearance. Obviously, mine didn’t meet that goal - I just know I need more practice. I did have the right consistency for the most part. And you can get as creative as you want with the border by adding details, such as eyes onto snowmen, or hats, or clothes, or garland on a tree, stripes on a candy cane, etc.
To make the flood frosting the colors can be just a tad more liquidy by just adding a tiny bit more water to the consistency in the bowl. The colored bowls of frosting will be used to fill in the middle of your bordered cookie tops - to flood all the gaps made with the border.
Make separate bowls of frosting per colors you choose
-Makes approximately 75 cookies (depending on the size of the cookie cutters you use.
Share & Enjoy!
We had sooo much fun doing this activity! Our cookies turned out pretty messy, but it was our first time using piping bags, and I hope to improve on that skill next year.
During this busy and fun and exciting time of year, stop what you’re doing for one weekend. Commit to nothing outside the home. Say no to all events and ticketed functions. Turn on some holiday tunes, or a holiday classic on the tv, light the yule log, and get baking… It’s good for the soul. And remember, looks don’t matter… it’s what’s on the inside that counts. ~
This December marks my third holiday season living in the South. And while I’ve already enjoyed seemingly countless new, exciting, and very different holiday traditions each winter here, there’s always something else I want to try, or add to my must-do list. Many of these events and outings are completely unique to Florida, Florida’s history, and, unlike Chicago - with the fact that bodies of water are not frozen solid, or on their way to be, down here in December - it means a whole lot of those holiday traditions involve the water in some way or manner.
St. Augustine’s 26th Annual Nights of Lights is one such event that I’ve incorporated into my holiday traditions here on the First Coast. And this year I planned my outing to be centered entirely around the coastal and inlet waters of Vilano Beach, Matanzas River, Anastasia Island, and the very historic city of St. Augustine itself.
I’ve seen the St. Augustine Lights each year here thus far. But mostly I’ve gazed at the lights just quickly touring or driving through, so this year I wanted to do things a little bit different.
Red Boat Water Tours - docked at the Vilano Beach Pier - hosts a nightly boat tour of the coastal waters which reflect the lights surrounding all the beauty in the city.
We booked our boat ride months in advance. The tour is so very popular it sells out way ahead of time for each evening they take on customers during the entire holiday season.
We had been on this exact boat tour during the day time with my family when they were in town for a visit about a year and a half ago now. We witnessed lots of dolphins swimming about during that ride, as we listened to the captain tell us many stories about the great history of St. Augustine. So I was pretty excited about gaining a different perspective of the city this year, at night, once the waters were completely dark, and with the lighthouse acting as a true beacon surrounding our entire ride, and all the magnificence of the lights display bordering the entire shore line.
Tours start at $40.00 per person, plus fees, and our original total came to over $90.00. However, since we had been customers in the past, they had offered us a repeat rider discount specifically for the Nights of Lights Tour, with fairly significant savings - it nearly halved our total cost. This repeat customer deal was better than any other sales/codes/online deals offered.
Honestly, the large discount is the only reason I booked the tour. I personally think we would never have paid this much to go back on the same boat we had already been on - as I tend to try different things each year, especially those that cost significant money. While tending to keep the traditions that cost next to nothing or are completely free. Sugar cookies, anyone?
I also planned for us to have dinner at Beaches at Vilano in advance of the tour. It makes sense to me to try a restaurant we’ve never been especially when we’re right there in the vicinity.
Our ride started at 7:15pm going through 8:30. Red Boat asks in the fine print for us to arrive about 15-20 minutes ahead of time. The restaurant is just opposite the pier and basically shares the same parking. So I planned our dinner for 5:30. That gave us enough time to work a full day, drive down, eat a leisurely meal, including time for a quick dessert, then head on over to our awaiting horse-drawn open sleigh upon the warm waters.
Dinner was just fine. I say that meaning there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, while at the same time it wasn’t the best meal of my life. It ended up being roughly half the cost as our anniversary meal at The Reef, which is located just down the street a bit… so the lesser cost was fabulous. And despite it not being the absolute best, I do recommend stopping in Beaches if you get a chance.
The atmosphere and the views are worth it alone. You will be transported instantly into vacation mode there - whether you’re on vacation, or not. And there are no complaints here about vacation mode.
At 5:30pm on a Tuesday, in December, they were quite busy. They had some very large parties already seated, mostly corporate and holiday parties going on, but each table was filled. They were busy enough that we were lucky to get seated right away, have our meal, with just enough time remaining for getting out to our boat tour immediately after. We had tried for reservations - but they do not accept. Make sure to allot for enough time if you are planning the same holiday outing.
I ordered a plain iced tea, skipped the soup, salads and appetizers, and had the flat iron steak with a side of broccoli - extra broccoli - skip the plantains, for my main course.
This is how I stay healthy or even somewhat healthy while dining out. I researched the menu in advance online. I logged into MyFitnessPal in the morning to plot out my calories for the day. And I knew exactly what I was ordering for dinner. After massive weight loss, I’m not about to go back to where I was. While I receive lots of questions asking me how I maintain the loss...it's a daily plan just like it was during the loss. Even more so afterward, I’d say, than during, sometimes.
Healthy decisions have to be part of the new and changed lifestyle. Wherever I am. Whatever options are available to me. And most especially when coming face to face with the almighty and highly coveted FRENCH FRY.
No, I never met a potato I didn’t like.
Don’t get me wrong, I still eat burgers and fries, just infrequently. The meal I selected for this outing is loaded with nutrients from the broccoli and is heavy on the protein from the steak. And nothing fried.
The protein helps the tummy feel full, and takes longer to digest, upping the metabolism. The harder the body has to work to process the food, the more calories it burns in the process. That’s why protein is a major perk to weight loss. And, the broccoli’s many and countless benefits will basically go without saying for right now and the purposes of this post, as the perks of eating it should be self-explanatory for most. Hence, the large plate of broccoli.
My only critique of this dish, at this restaurant, is that I would recommend the steak and broccoli be served on separate plates. The juices/sauces/butters/etc. from both dishes were already mixed together by the time my plate was served to me, and it didn’t take long for the entire dish to taste all the same. And when everything tastes the same, it’s becomes increasingly less appealing. Leading to less enjoyment from me, leading to my hubby’s meal becoming more and more appealing and quite tempting to me by the second.
Here is the hubby’s meal.
He ordered the burger with fries, and a side of grilled shrimp. He loved the shrimp, and everything else was exceptional. His margarita was just right.
We ordered the volcano cake with vanilla ice cream, berries, and topped with a berry sauce to split for dessert. This allowed us to still have a treat for the night, a special treat since we were out, but splitting saved on calories immensely as well as cost.
We received our volcano cake - minus the volcano. Sad face.
My husband didn’t know what a volcano cake was, so I was excited to split it open to show how the chocolate should pour out like lava, but, sadly, that did not happen. It was very, very dry. But while the cake was not as it should have been - it was still edible - it was C H O C O L A T E…. after all. No problem there - not a drop of it left by the end of the meal - we had the plate clean for them and ready to pop in the dishwasher, no pre-rinse needed.
After our dinner at Beaches was complete, we walked right on out to the very lonely looking pier.
It was dark. And desolate.
I instantly thought we had the wrong day.
I was just about to check my phone for information. But alas, we kept walking down toward the dock, and I could see red lights.Our Rudolph.
Our boat was there. Our Red Boat. It was just near empty and no one else was around - within an area that us usually fairly populated - any time of day.
Apparently, right before our arrival there was a miscommunication between tour boat companies and all the riders standing out on the dock waiting to board their respective boats.
Another tour company out of the same dock had some problems with their boat, sent everyone away, and when those people left, nearly all of the customers for our Red Boat left as well. So we were riding on a sold-out boat ride, and had most of the boat to ourselves. If you book this outing, don’t be afraid to call to verify if something’s up upon your arrival. And know there are many boating companies out in the area touring customers around. If one sends people away, confirm it’s your ride before leaving.
It was a lovely ride. A chilly ride. A dark ride.
With the sun long ago set, we were riding past all the low and tidal areas in the dark, with the lighthouse as a breathtaking backdrop in the black skies. Our boat captain told us some stories along the way. We learned of the ancient history surrounding Nights of Lights - something I had never heard before.
I knew there were many reasons floating around online of how the Lights came to be an annual tradition within the town 26 years ago. And that the story of the light in the window tradition had potentially dated back to ancient times. But I knew no real specifics.
Our boat captain told us his version… He said it all started with Jesus.
Jesus. As a refugee baby. No room at the Inn. In need of safe passage. Safe housing for the night. When the Spanish settled here on the historic First Coast hundreds of years ago, they put lights in their windows at night during the holiday season. To act as a beacon.
A beacon for weary travelers.
A light to welcome Jesus.
Jesus has room at their Inns.
A beacon of hope to the world.
Of all the stories I heard about the Lights, and why they exist, and why people still put candles in their windows to this day, I like the Jesus version. Baby Jesus… sleeping in the hay.
I’ll choose Jesus.
But regardless of why lights are put in the window displays, and which version and which stories are true, and which are legend in town… as the town itself has countless legends - the lights themselves are absolutely fabulous. You can choose which story you like. Which fits your reason as to why you light your way and what you choose to light your way with.
Just always choose the light - over the darkness - and you’ll be good to go.
They offered us heavy wool blankets onboard. They came in handy. We absolutely froze. I wore a turtleneck, the only long pair of pants I own, and one of the only closed-toe shoes I own, my new winter puffy down coat, plus ear muffs, gloves, hood, and brought two blankets of our own, as they served us hot chocolate. It was 53 degrees outside.
We both froze near to death. It had just been in the mid 80’s a second ago, this was an ice age. We laughed at ourselves as if we were delirious. 53 degrees in Chicago in December is a heat wave. Break out the ice cream and sit on the front lawn with it. Open the windows!
Now we were Floridian Fools covered in blankets. Not allowing our fingers and cheeks to feel the air if we can at all help it. I can already picture myself next year..., I’ll have the big Ugg boots to match. I already know it. How else can I get through another Florida winter? Either that, or we are moving to the Equator.
No other sensible or reasonable or sane-minded options exist.
I mentioned the cold makes us delirious now, right?
If you’re a local and booking this ride, dress appropriately. Bring blankets. Pack for summiting Mount Everest.
If you’re a tourist and here on vacation from anywhere up North, never fear, you’ll feel like you’re in the tropical paradise of your dreams as your boat captain plays ‘Pontoon’ from Little Big Town as you race off toward the lights of the night.
Know that if you are looking to obtain quality photos, they will be hard to come by. With all the movement, added into the darkness, even with my hubby’s better camera, we couldn’t really capture the moment digitally with any great detail. Our best photo remains at the top of this post. If the boat had come to a complete stop, plus a tripod, then, maybe, we’re talking. But some things can’t be caught on camera I guess. You know, like Santa Claus. I tend to never capture a great full quality image of him, but I know he’s out there.
If you are in the area, definitely check it out. It’s a holiday tradition and celebration in a beautifully historic town, for all to enjoy, regardless of background, beliefs, and a lovely addition to a family holiday tradition as well. After all, in constant learning about different beliefs and traditions and reasons why others might put candles in the window each December, we are reminded that while we are all different, we are also all the same. Everybody wants Hope. Everyone wants Light.
I’ll choose not to do the ride again as it was costly. But, next year, I plan to view the Lights on foot, in town… off from the water's edge... and on solid ground.
I’ll travel up close and personal.
I want to see the fire lamps.
I want to see the Christmas trees in the window displays. I want to walk the town and see the lights as close as possible. I want to listen for the sound of reindeer hooves on roof tops. And most importantly, I want to look for Santa Claus… I tend to believe he might be hanging around all the dreamy chocolate shops and gift shops and restaurants… blended in amongst the gorgeous and magical Lights of St. Augustine. Yes, those shops seem like a good place to start on my hunt for the big SC. But for now, I’ll enjoy my memory of a coastal Christmas holiday on the water’s edge. ~
What a most lovely of lovely and long, holiday weekends. Everywhere we went, everything we did, everything we saw, was surrounded by the feeling of Christmas in the air. And while I am one who does not partake in the Black Friday festivities that so many Amerian’s do count as part of their holiday traditions - because, as one of my friends posted on her Facebook that day with what I deem to be the utmost accurate declaration ever regarding the day that is so very Black:
“It’s too PEOPLY out there!”
In fact, besides the accuracy of that comment, it also might have been the funniest thing I read in a very long time.
My concurrence with that statement led me to be busy doing many other fun and festive things - instead of shopping.
Black Friday came and went for us, without purchase of any material goods. A most wise decision if I do say so myself. I have no interest in waiting in long lines for something that I can purchase any other day of the year, without such a line. Free snow globe included? No thank you; not worth it.
Instead - we went to Jimmy Johns.
How simple and basic and quite boring of an outing indeed. And boring was just what we were looking for. I decided that any store that would most likely have the biggest crowds and the most ridiculous lines would be all the ones we would skip… And that most restaurants would also most likely be quite busy - due to needing to feed food to hungry shoppers - so those would all be the restaurants we would skip as well. That eliminated basically everywhere on the face of the planet from my list… Where would be open - but completely and utterly EMPTY???
And guess what? I was right.
We drove our car into the parking lot. Not a car around. We walked in. We were their only customers. It was fabulous. We ate at the window counter, bar style seating, as we always do. I’m a regular there. And we watched the traffic go on by up and down Beach Boulevard. Slowly. Yes, it was crowded out there, even in our flat and sandy and salty little corner of the world.
But not so at Jimmy’s place.
In fact, it was so slow inside Jimmy Johns, as we listened to tunes blaring from their speaker with today’s best hits - i.e. music of this very own decade we are currently living in. I mention this because almost everywhere else plays music from the 80’s? Why? Universe… why?
Yes, it was so slow the staff member said something along the lines of, I knew it was going to be slow today, but jeazzzz…. I never imagined it being this slow.
Yes, we picked the most perfect place to eat a sandwich in the entire United States of America on Black Friday. I tended to be of the opinion that not many American’s have an interest in lining up outside the front doors of a sandwich shop at four in the morning, fighting to get in when the doors are opened, just to buy some deli meat?
My opinion tended to be correct, at least from where we sat. No, they were out buying expensive and fancy and enormous TVs, and iPads, and clothing, and more clothing, and appliances, and more appliances. Everything I didn’t feel like waiting in a line for on this Black day.
Yes, we made a great decision. It was a simple and pleasant and peaceful outing. Next time you’re looking for a quick - and healthy - lunch on Black Friday, stop in Jimmy Johns, and avoid the crowded everywhere else of this world.
Right next door to Jimmy Johns and across the small and narrow street, I could see from the window we were watching the world go by from… Is a place called Rockaway. A greenhouse.. A garden center... A Christmas tree lot.
We go to Jimmy John’s a lot. We see Rockaway a lot, sitting from the window of the sandwich shop. I had never ventured over there to date however.
But that blackest of clear blue sky days was different from any other. Something told me that day was the day to visit.
I tend to think my nose told me it was time.
We witnessed car after car pulling up and loading one live tree after another onto the roofs of their vehicles. I had always wanted to venture over there and check it out. They were busy, yes, but they were not busy at all compared to the big box stores everywhere else in the nation.
We finished our simple lunch and walked across the street to the greenhouse.
Instantly! - I smelled Christmas!
If you’ve never smelled yourself some Christmas before, I highly recommend finding some, and put it up to your nose, and smell it.
I could smell the scent of pine and balsam and fraser fir from the road. And the scent only intensified as we got closer and walked into the garden, feet on top of gravel, dirt, and pebbles.
I was in a dream. I had found a slice of heaven. I wanted to bottle it all up, take it home, and keep it forever. Never out of my sight - or away from my nose - again.
We walked through the entire greenhouse and its property. It’s quite a large place! From the exterior, it appears that Rockaway is just a small, single story red farmhouse. A small house, with a vast plot of land surrounding it, all surrounded with various greenery for sale.
But once you traverse inside its quarters, it’s quite larger than its tiny exterior makes it out to be.
I was immediately met with rows and rows of flowers of all kinds. Grasses of all kinds. Greenery of all kinds. Ceramic pots and wall trinkets and other such decor for sale intermixed.
But I went there for the Christmas. So the Christmas I was going to find.
Never fear, my nose led the way.
My nose led me to the far back area of the greenhouse. You know, it’s just like when you need a dozen eggs or gallon of milk or tub of chocolate ice cream from the grocer… The simplest and most basic and most necessary of items needed at the time, they always put in the back of the store.
Silly us, they think we don’t know what they’re doing… It’s all strategic? In order to get to that gallon of milk, that dozen eggs, those tubs of chocolatey and icy goodness, we all have to traverse past every other item in the store first in order to find our basic essentials in life.
To get to all the good stuff, you have to pass up anything else that might tempt your eyes. Ohh, I need that bag of chips. I really could use a loaf of bread… since I’m here. Are we out of juice at home? We better grab some bananas... while we’re at it. And toilet paper. We can’t forget that, heaven forbid.
Yes, it’s Black Friday every day at the grocer. They always know how to make a sale. Have you ever seen anyone leave a grocer empty-handed? Certainly not in my lifetime?! Just put that toilet paper display out prominently on the end cap, where it can’t be missed, slap a yellow sign over it referencing something along the lines of a sale… or even better… 12 = 36… ???... and we’re gold. Jack Pot.
Hence again, why would I ever shop on Black Friday? When I’m buying all that bread and all those eggs and all those tubs of ice cream, and carts loaded FULL of rolls upon rolls of toilet paper, on sale, every other day of the year, anyway?
So my nose led me all the way to the back of the greenhouse. I was met with the most intense fragrance of Christmas. It was naturally the most fragrant standing amongst all the various trees for sale. And I never wanted to leave.
Maybe my husband would have to drag me out of there kicking and screaming all the way?
Ha - maybe I am ready for Black Friday… Fighting for a chance - screaming to be the one. Can I stay here forever? And never part with the dreamy aroma surrounding me. Can I win the prize? Where are all the doorbusters? I’m NOT going home.
We checked out all the trees. Standing there, I immediately imagined myself in Michigan. Years and years ago. Happy memories; very happy memories. I was quite young, so the memories are somewhat fuzzy. But there I stood; on a Christmas tree farm. With all the family - moms and dads, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. We took a hay ride (don’t remember if pulled by horse, but my dreams say yes, there were horses present). The ride took us out onto the farm, to pick out our very own living tree. It was beautiful. It was farm country. It was quiet. It was peaceful. Nature everywhere. It was the best day. It was Pure Michigan.
Looking back, I’m so grateful for my family. All the things we did growing up. All those memories. It doesn’t matter if I can’t remember if it was horses who dragged me out to the tree farm or not. Maybe a tractor was pulling us? Either way, I know I was there. I know I was with my entire family. I am grateful for the time we all spent together. I am grateful for that outing. A lovely outing, that I can remember all these years later. I’m grateful that they, as adults, spent their time, with us, very young children. So that we could have these memories, as adults, today.
I’m grateful and thankful… So much so that as I stood in a small red farmhouse barn, far removed from the farm country of Michigan, three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, in sunny and hot coastal Florida, on San Pablo Island, in Jacksonville Beach, kiddy corner from Jimmy John’s and opposite the local Publix, living a completely different life, and after meeting God himself, on Black Friday, in Rockaway Gardens... roughly thirty years after that family Christmas tree outing, standing there within and amongst that dreamy scent of Christmas… which evoked such happy memories of my Christmas’s past.
Only because of that past am I standing right there, right then.
Only because of that past, am I capable of smelling Christmas in the air, right there, right then, and with that scent also evoke all those happy memories.
We toured the entire greenhouse, inside, and out. We saw various styles of holiday wreaths and swags. The swags are my favorite. Oh wait, scratch that. The wreaths shaped into candy canes are my favorite. Oh wait…
I can’t make up my mind.
If it’s green, smells of pine, balsam, fir, is reminiscent of Christmas - that one is my favorite.
What did you say? You asked if I particularly like the Hallmark Channel this time of year? Yes, I’m a fan. We still don’t have cable, or streaming, though. I can dream.
We turned a corner and were met face to face with an entire room of poinsettias. Just poinsettias. All looking very poinsettia-like. White and red. And one type I never before saw in my entire life. A white, red, and pinkish, mixed and beautifully blended color poinsettia.
I love that one the most.
I thought of my grandma right then, in that room.
Every Christmas she was alive and I knew her, she always gave everyone a poinsettia. I was given one when I still lived at home with my family growing up. I put it on my dresser in my bedroom.
I got married, and hubby and I were given a poinsettia each Christmas. We were also given more poinsettias to pass on to others for her.
She’s been gone for some years now already. Time does fly. But I can’t see a poinsettia, without seeing Grandma.
Moving on, there was an entire area of succulents. Orange trees. Lime trees. Palms. Etc. If it was alive and growing, and taking our carbon dioxide away from our lungs, it was at Rockaway.
And since we were in Florida. And since it was hot outside. Most all of these beauties were all just sitting there soaking in the outdoor sun. Some in the actual greenhouse, some under netting. But mostly, I toured and browsed and strolled through a beautiful outdoor piece of winding garden property; a garden much larger than I expected. After thirty some years of Christmas’s up in the Chicago area, my brain still has a difficult time grasping and understanding the concept that I am still outside, wearing flip flops, shorts and tank, big sunglasses, hot and sweaty, and it’s Christmas time? Where’s the snow?!
I’m not complaining though.
We were nearing the end of our tour. Our informal browsing. We came upon tables set for an upcoming event. I wondered what was going on? There were drink cups out. Many. They were expecting lots of people. At some point in the very near future? Table clothes spread and draped over the tables. Something was happening? I looked up. At the clear blue sky. At the bright and blinding hot sun. I saw the dark evergreen cloud in the sky from the corner of my eye…. Wait. There were no dark green clouds on such a clear blue sky day. My fuzzy vision faded in and out from the bright sun laser-beaming into my eyes.
I was looking up at a large Christmas tree - on the rooftop! Yes, they put a tree up on the roof. I could tell it had lights strung all about it. My memory snapped to attention. I knew what was going on! They were setting up for a party. Rockaway has their own tree lighting, each year… a tree, up on the roof!
Oh rats! We went there during the day! Not at night. We could always come back that evening to see the festivities. Oh wait. Maybe it would be too peoply out there. It was still Black Friday after all. I wasn’t supposed to be out shopping today. I was just out to grab a number sixteen with no mayo and a cup of unsweetened iced tea at Jimmy Johns...
I lost 86 pounds eating that exact sandwich - roughly once a week. It was my weekly “carb” treat. No I did not do a carb-restricted diet to lose the weight. I ate everything, in moderation. But I do tend to consider white bread a treat, so I only ate it about once a week. And somehow throughout my weight loss journey that has since turned into weight maintenance, I started going to Jimmy John’s once a week... You could say my nose led me there. Not out of routine, not out of desperation or a feeling as if because I lost the weight eating Jimmy’s sandwiches then I must keep doing it to keep the weight off? Not that at all. I just like it. That’s all. Someday I might tire of good ol’ Jimmy, but not yet. To be fair, it is kind of hard to tire of fresh white dough raised into fresh white perfect bread.
So yeah, we were out for lunch. We were NOT out to witness a tree lighting. Box shaped stores, or anything else that day. It was the dreamy scent of Christmas that led me to Rockaway. But it was also the thoughts and dreams of my own Christmas which told me to now go home. After all, it was Black Friday. Yes, it definitely was very peoply out there. I’ll go home and put an ol’ Yule Log… on the ol’ You Tube, and trim my own tree.
No, I didn’t buy anything at Rockaway that day. Pennies are tight sometimes. Pennies are watched. I do consider myself a professional shopper and there were many things I wanted to buy there, including swags and candy cane wreaths and poinsettias galore, but I resisted all temptation... I reminded myself that after losing 86 freaking pounds, my wardrobe is still a cluster of nothing that fits me because it was long ago donated to charity, and what remains are only a few quite simple repeating new and fresh outfits that do now fit. I’ll save all the pennies I can for new clothes. 86 pounds of work reminded me I’d rather buy clothes that last a long longer and will come in very handy for me, than a piece of clipped greenery that will surely die by season’s end.
So all purchasing temptations were managed! ‘Tis a rare day indeed for such a pro of a shopper!
But I didn’t leave Rockaway empty-handed. No. The scent of Christmas came home with me. It was all over my hands, inside my very light and empty and missing shopping bags, steamed into my wild hair, and mostly, it was in my nose. In fact, the scent was so strong, I still smelled it on me and on all those new clothes that I had been wearing, later that evening when I got ready for bed.
Yes, it’s very important to surround oneself with such a magnificent and dreamy scent.
Don’t let this beautiful and festive and happy and difficult and challenging and magical season go by without smelling some Christmas into your nose. Don’t waste a moment to catch a breath of fresh pine-scented air. Whether you are standing on a vast and beautiful and picturesque farm up in Michigan cutting down a green tree for your living room, or standing on a coastal barrier island in the south while eating a number sixteen with no mayo… be sure to breathe it all in. Remember all the good times and all the good people in your life that come into your brain when you inhale that special aroma. Then - bottle it up, keep it forever, store it somewhere special where you keep all your treasures, and never remember where you put it. ~
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