How I Spent My Spring Break (or the Great Florida Road Trip): Winter Homes and Alligators

After our amazing manatee snorkel trip, we drove south. We planned to end our day at a hotel in Naples. On the way, we decided to make a stop at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. We arrived with just enough time to see the property, but unfortunately, were not able to spend much time in the museum.

Thomas Edison purchased this winter retreat in the late 1890s and his friend, Henry Ford, eventually bought the property next door in the 1910s. Edison’s property had beautiful furnishings and was dotted with many of his inventions.

The properties sit on the Caloosahatchee River and the grounds host acres and acres of botanic gardens. 

The Moonlight Garden was my favorite space on the property. I can imagine what a beautiful place it would be to be at night.

The gardens are composed of thousands of varieties of plants, trees and flowers, including huge banyan trees, orchids and the biggest bougainvillea bush I’ve ever seen. 

Another cool part of the property is Edison’s botanic research laboratory. Even after he found great success with his inventions, he never stopped working. 
After a night in the worst hotel of our entire trip, we drove to Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge’s Marsh Trail, where we were able to view the landscape from an observation tower. 
While we didn’t see any alligators, we did see herons and plenty of fish. 

Next we found ourselves walking along the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Big Cypress National Preserve. Again, no gators here but there was some lovely foliage. 

We made our lunch stop at Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe. Apparently, the paper ran an article on them a day or two before because they could not stop moaning about how slammed they were and how unprepared they were for the crowds and it showed.

I tried to order the soft-shell crab sandwich, which they didn’t have. Instead, I got the crab cake sandwich. My bun was burned and partly inedible, but the crab cake and fries were outstanding.

After lunch, we finally found ourselves in gator land. Just driving along 41, you can see tons and tons of alligators, swimming, sunning and just hanging around. It was really really cool to see them in nature, doing what alligators do. 

We tried to make it all the way to the Shark Valley Visitor Center, but we had booked ourselves on to an afternoon airboat tour, which we had to get to. This is something we would soon regret.

I hated our airboat tour! If you want to go zooming around through mangrove swamp at high speeds on a loud, eco-unfriendly machine with animal harassing guides, go for it, but I really wished we hadn’t done this. Raisin Bread thought at one point I was going to start yelling at our guide. Instead of being there, I would have much rather been continuing to drive along the dirt roads, looking for alligators. By the way, the only animal we saw on the airboat tour was a single gator.

Here we are trying to pretend like we’re having fun. Again, if I didn’t make it clear, I do not recommend you go on an airboat tour.

We wound down the day with another two and a half hour drive to Homestead, Florida for the night.

To see more photos of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, click here
To see more photos of the alligators, click here

Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe
39395 Tamiami Trail E
Ochopee, FL 34141

Week in Review (April 22 to 28, 2013)

I’m entering my last week of business school and I can’t wait to be done! What will I do now that I will “only” be working?

I was able to do a couple of things to relax last week. On Monday, I took advantage of SpaWeek and got a massage and foot scrub.

The week also wound up having a few firsts for me. On Wednesday, I saw an acupuncturist for the first time and it was an interesting experience. Not sure how I feel about it yet, but I have more appointments scheduled so I should be able to form an opinion rather quickly. On Saturday, I signed up for a Yoga for Runners class that wound up being a level 2 hot yoga class tailored towards runners. I had never been to a hot yoga class before. Needless to say, it was brutal and uncomfortable but for some reason, I am tempted to attend another class. Yesterday, I volunteered at my first race, the Inaugural DC Nike Women’s Half Marathon.

I was handing out mylar blankets at the finish line from 10 am until the last runner came through.

I signed up to volunteer with a bunch of people from a Meetup running group, but this was the first time I had attended an event. We wound up finishing much early than we were expecting, and they were nice enough to invite the newcomer to lunch with them at Burger Tap and Shake in Foggy Bottom.

I had the house burger and a cookies and cream shake. Yummy.

Here’s what my workouts for the week looked like:

Monday: rest
Tuesday: ran 2.9 miles
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: rest
Friday: ran 3.0 miles
Saturday: walked 3.8 miles + 1 hour and 15 minute hot yoga class
Sunday: rest

I was seriously considering signing up for another half marathon during Memorial Day weekend but have decided against it for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I just need to chill out and stop pushing myself so hard to constantly be doing more and more. Relaxing is very difficult for me and it is something that I hope I can work on this summer. So now, I am modifying my training schedule with Dumbo as my goal. Hopefully, that will give me some time to cross train more and focus on stretching.

Have a great week!

Burger Tap and Shake
2200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007

How I Spent My Spring Break (or the Great Florida Road Trip): Manatees

Who knew that one of the best experiences of my life would take place during our impromptu trip to Florida? 
Our morning called for a pre-dawn wake up that included packing up our belongings and driving an hour and a half to the city of Crystal River for a 6:15 am snorkeling trip with the most amazing and beloved creatures this side of Giant Pandas. Yes, folks, we swam with manatees! 
I am still excited as I’m typing this. We chose River Ventures as our guides because of their terrific reviews on TripAdvisor. My travel planning relies heavily on TripAdvisor in general, but it became an even greater source of information on this trip as we were doing everything on the fly.
When we arrived at River Ventures, we had a chance to enjoy some hot coffee and breakfast pastries. We watched a video required by the Fish and Wildlife Service that detailed how to interact with the manatees. Before we knew it, we were changing into our wetsuits and boarding our boat to the springs. 
It was still dark out, but as we approached the springs, the sun was beginning to peek over the tree line. 
The anticipation was killing me. Finally, we were able to offload but we still had to wait until everyone in the group was comfortable before we could enter the springs as quiet as mice. Our patience paid off because we were treated to about a dozen manatees of all sizes. 
How can you not love this face? 
Most of them were still sleeping so we had to be extra careful not to startle them. It took me a while to realize that these gentle guys and gals weren’t going to lunge at me, so I began the excursion viewing them from a safe distance. 
The experience was so peaceful. I just wanted to hang out with them all day.  
Once I was comfortable enough, I ventured closer to them. That’s me with the red noodle. Our guide was also our trip photographer. Thanks, Captain Donovan!

Before our trip was over, I was even able to give our friends a friendly pet.

By the end of our excursion, everyone had already returned to the boat except for me, our Captain and a English woman who was going to swim with the manatees three days in a row. If that doesn’t tell you how much I enjoyed the experience, maybe this will:

That night we were laying in bed watching tv when an old episode of The Daily Show came on. It included this segment! Yes, that’s where we were and that’s even the same woman who gave us our safety briefing. So funny. Riding manatees, not so funny.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tea Party Manatee-Riding Patriots
Daily Show Full Episodes Indecision Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

Week in Review (April 15-21, 2013)

What a long, crazy week this has been. At this point, anything that I would like to say has already been said. So I’ll just say my thoughts are with the people of Boston, West, TX and Sichuan province. 

I’m at the tail end of my MBA program and I have had a hard time being motivated to run or do schoolwork. I’ve pretty much felt like this the whole week: 

Monday: rest
Tuesday: 2.46 miles
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: rest
Friday: rest
Saturday: rest
Sunday: 30 minutes at-home yoga

Total mileage this week: 2.46 miles
Total mileage this year: 117.05 miles
It’s been a while since I checked in on my annual goals.

Goals Progress
1. Finish my MBA – 25 days until graduation!

2. Finish my first 10 miler – Yes! (recap here
3. Finish my first half marathon – Yes! (recap here)
4. Exercise three times a week – I fell off the wagon most of March.  
5. Participate in Meatless Mondays regularly – A definite no. 
6. Eat out less = save money – We’ve been grocery shopping more than we ever have, so I’ve been doing pretty well on this. 
7. Run 700 miles this year – Total Mileage To Date (TMTD): 117.05 miles (583 miles to go). 
8. Try out two new workout classes – Just self-defense so far. 
9. Post once a week – Yes!

{Product Review} CORE Foods Defender Meals

A few weeks ago, I received a box with word “PERISHABLE” printed on it in huge letters. Well, then. What was inside? CORE Foods‘ line of three Defender meals. 
I don’t know about you, but when I see a food item, wrapped in packaging like this, I typically don’t immediately think “perishable.” So I was surprised to find that these bars are actually fresh and, because of that, only last up to one week on the go, one month refrigerated or six months frozen. 
Other important and interesting facts about CORE Defender Meals:
  • They are raw, organic and gluten free
  • Defender Meals are high fiber and vegan
  • They are meant to be used as meal replacements (CORE Foods describes them as “a bowl of raw oatmeal to go.”)
  • Each meal contains only five to seven ingredients 
  • Each meal has 350 to 390 calories {More nutritional facts can be found here}

Finally an ingredient list I can read and understand:  

The packaging suggests the meal be consumed with two glasses of water, providing up to 4 hours of energy. My favorite of the three meals was the Raw Walnut Banana meal, which I had as a breakfast replacement one morning. I can attest to the fact that they do not taste like cardboard and they are surprisingly filling. I typically get hungry way before noon when I’m at work but that day, I wasn’t close to being in tummy-growling state. 
I had another meal during class one night and the last one before one of my short runs. My least favorite meal was the Raw Cashew Cacao, which is weird because I thought I would love that one!

To learn more about CORE Foods, visit them online.

Disclosure: Due to my affliation with Fit Approach, I received three CORE Meal packs from CORE Foods for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own. Read my full disclosure here

How I Spent My Spring Break (or the Great Florida Road Trip): Art Interlude

Our second full day called for rain, which made it perfect for seeing some art. After breakfast at the hotel, we drove to St Petersburg to visit the Chihuly Collection
A number of years ago, we saw Chihuly’s exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Seeing his work in a museum space was incredibly different from seeing the pieces mixed in with plant life. I found this experience to be less interesting but still just as beautiful. 
Following lunch, we visited the nearby Dali Museum, who knew that the largest collection of Dali works outside of Europe was in St Petersburg. I sure didn’t. The museum is housed in a unique building with a spiral staircase as its centerpiece. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed of the art. 
The museum’s garden had a labyrinth and a tree decorated with used visitors’ wristbands, which I found to be quite pretty to look at. 

For dinner, we ventured over to the Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island, where I had a drink mix up which was made up for by the most perfectly cooked scallops ever.

We had to call it early that night because we had a very very early and exciting morning ahead of us.

Middle Grounds Grill
10925 Gulf Boulevard
Treasure Island, FL 33706

For Boston

Tonight I ran. 
Tonight I ran 26.2 minutes.
Tonight I ran 26.2 minutes in support of the runners, spectators, volunteers, organizers, first responders and everyone with loved ones at the Boston Marathon. 
I haven’t been a runner for very long but have come to love the running community. 

I wore my race shirt from the Princess Half, my first big running goal and my first half marathon.

Love to Boston.

Week in Review (April 8 to 14, 2013)

Wasn’t it winter two weeks ago? This week we had consecutive days over 90 degrees. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come. On a positive note, the flowers are blooming!
Here are a few tulips in front of the Netherlands Carillon. 

And a cherry blossom tree I came upon during my Thursday run.

I’ve been having some knee and shin issues since the 10 miler last week, so I took it easy during the beginning of the week. I’m trying to decide if I should sign up for another half this year. There is one that I am looking at that takes places over Memorial Day weekend so I have to decide pretty soon!

Monday: rest
Tuesday: rest
Wednesday: rest
Thursday: 2.02 mile run
Friday: rest
Saturday: 4.15 mile run
Sunday: 30 minute at-home yoga

This week and weekend weren’t super eventful. School is winding down so I am just trying to finish.

We did have the chance to go to brunch at Green Pig Bistro on Saturday. I found the food this time around to be unspectacular. I much preferred having dinner there. I ordered the Angry Bird (chicken, waffles and gravy).

We also shared the banana bread, which was the best thing we ordered this meal. The butter was sprinkled with salt and made a huge difference. Yum!

Have a great week!

Green Pig Bistro
1025 North Fillmore Street
Arlington, VA 22201

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run 2013 – Race Recap

On Sunday, I ran my first race in DC. I was really looking forward to this race for several reasons. The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler is such a classic DC run. Also, getting a spot in the race can be difficult. They operate on a lottery system, and I am fortunate to have gotten in on my first attempt. 
As I mentioned before, I went to the Race Expo after work on Friday to pick up my race bib and t-shirt. 

I was assigned the Green Wave, which would be the second to last wave to start.

I went to bed fairly early on Saturday night but that didn’t mean I was all bright eyed and bushy tailed by 5:30 am on Sunday morning. I laid out my outfit the night before so I wouldn’t disturb Raisin Bread too much before I headed out. He still got out of bed and took a picture of me in my race outfit.

Like my headband? I purchased it at the Expo!

Since he was up, Raisin Bread offered to drop me off at the Metro. What a nice hubby!

I exited the Smithsonian Metro by around 6:30 and was greeted with this beautiful sunrise over the Capitol Building.

Then I walked about 0.25 miles to the grounds of the Washington Monument to the staging area.

I also passed by the starting line on my walk over to the staging area. 

I headed straight to the port-o-potties because I heard the lines would be ridiculous but it turned out to not be so. Perhaps it was because I was there so early.

At that point, I didn’t have much to do. I decided not to bring a bag to check so I didn’t need to figure out that whole situation. I still had a long time to go before my wave was set to go at 7:47 am, so I stretched and tried to keep myself warm.

It seemed to take quite a while for my corral to fill up, but soon enough, we were shoulder to shoulder. Look at all of the ladies! It was awesome to see so many female runners and this wasn’t even a female-focused event. In fact, over 10,000 out of 17,500 finishers were women!

My goal time for this race was sub-2 hours and with no Aunt Flo and no runner’s trots, I knew I could do it.

I only stopped twice, once for this picture and once for the bathroom after the 8th mile marker.

The course was a lot less interesting than I had anticipated, especially around Hains Point, but it was fast and flat as promised. Unfortunately, there also weren’t a plethora of cherry blossoms yet.

I finished in 1:49:27. Goal achieved and I think that is a pretty respectable default PR for me! What a huge difference between this race and the Princess Half!

The finish line was ridiculously packed with runners and now with tourists. It was quite frustrating trying to move around that area. All I wanted to do was get some water and food and my medal and get out of there. I didn’t even think about getting my picture taken with my medal. Oh well.

From the race’s chip timing:

5 Mile Split: 53:41
10K Split: 1:06:54
Average pace: 10:57
And splits from my Nike running app:
Mile 1: 10:57
Mile 2: 10:16 (fastest mile)
Mile 3: 10:26 
Mile 4: 10:27
Mile 5: 10:50
Mile 6: 10:44
Mile 7: 10:38
Mile 8: 11:08 (bathroom break)
Mile 9: 10:46
Mile 10: 10:53 
I was super happy with this race and can’t wait for the next one! 

How I Spent My Spring Break (or the Great Florida Road Trip): Universal’s Islands of Adventure

I’ve been itching to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter ever since I heard that it was being created. I knew that it would be unlikely for me to make a trip to Orlando just to go there, so I figured now was a good time to go. Raisin Bread thought it was a good idea as well even though he isn’t a Harry Potter fan.

It’s too bad that the only real reason anyone seems to go to Islands of Adventure is to visit Harry Potter. It makes for an insanely crowded experience. I felt like I was back at home trying to get on the Metro. Not extremely pleasant. But as the crazy Harry Potter fan that I am (I would pre-order the UK versions on Amazon so I could read the books as they were intended), I loved being able to walk through Hogsmeade and wander the halls of Hogwarts.

By the time we go into the park, it was time for lunch. That meant a meal at the Three Broomsticks, which had a surprisingly short line. I ordered a glass of Butterbeer and the shepherd’s pie. The Butterbeer was magical! Now, I wish I had ordered a glass of frozen Butterbeer later on in the day.

After lunch, we made our way slowly towards Hogwarts Castle to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Such a cool ride!

We spent the rest of our time in this part of the park wandering around. We caught some of the Frog Choir.

I love signs so I couldn’t help taking a picture of every sign in Hogsmeade (and a snowman). 

We also went into a number of the boutiques like Honeydukes and the Owl Post. Again, loved being able to see these places come to life!

Then we said goodbye to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. One thing that I noticed and wanted to pass on to others who might visit was that the lines for the Butterbeer carts were insane. Butterbeer is also sold at The Hogs Head Pub. When I went inside, there was a line of about seven people while the carts were about 30 people deep. So poke your head into the Hogs Head before getting into line at a cart!

The rest of our day was spent at Seuss Landing. Neither of us feel good enough to ride roller coasters anymore so riding cute kiddy rides sounded like a great alternative. It was a nice juxtaposition: one series of books from my childhood and another set from my adulthood, both come to life. 

And while we might be old, we can still be a couple of goofballs.
We found a spot in Seuss Landing to get on our smartphones again and booked a hotel in Tampa for the next two nights. We left Orlando behind and visited a Sweet Tomatoes on the road to Tampa before hitting the sack.