Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Day Spent with Youngest Son ~ Monday 3/20/17

Youngest Son and I had originally planned on going to St Augustine last Wednesday, but when I realized that a huge cold front had been announced for Florida (they closed the water parks in Central Florida, that's how cold it got!), I checked the weather for St Augustine and they were showing 100% chance of rain for that day so we decided to postpone our trip until yesterday, since it was the last day of Spring Break.

I'm so glad we did. The weather was beautiful yesterday and we had a great time without freezing our buns off.

It's a 2.5 hour drive from our house to St Augustine, so we left at about 8:30 a.m.  I didn't want to get on the interstates (or toll roads!) at all, so I decided to drive through the Ocala National Forest and Palatka. Google Maps didn't show much of a difference in amount of time spent driving and I'd rather drive slower on smaller roads than risk our lives on the interstates!

Even though I avoided drinking coffee (well, I lie, I had half a cup before we left), my bladder bugged me all day.  We had gone only about 30 minutes out of town when I realized that I needed to stop and use the bathroom or I might have to hold it for quite a long time.  I knew that there was a Burger King that was easily accessible and, since Youngest Son had only eaten an apple before we left and I hadn't brought any snacks along, I offered to buy him a breakfast sandwich.  Service was slow (the employees were busier typing on their phones than taking care of us, the only customers in the store) but once they realized we were there, they were very friendly so that was nice. Nicer was the fact that I hadn't realized that they were running a 2 for $4 special on Croissanwiches, so despite my internal lamentation that I should have tried to battle traffic to get to the McDonald's and use my app coupon that gave me 2 egg McMuffins for $4, I saved money unexpectedly, which was really nice! I thought that was a good omen for the day.

I guess I should mention that for all the frugality that I try to practice most of the year, I'm a complete spendthrift when I'm on vacation. Seriously, I usually don't have a budget and don't really care what I spend.  I guess that's why I try to be frugal the rest of the year.

The drive was pretty, especially up in Marion, Putnam and then St. John's counties.  I was thinking we might spot a black bear while we were driving through the forest, but no such luck :(  We actually didn't see any wildlife, it was disappointing in that sense.  I drove my large SUV despite the lack of fuel economy because it's much more comfortable than the small Ford Focus. Comfort becomes important when you get older. And boy, I'm glad I did, because at the end of the day, I still felt like I had been beaten up all over with a board and I can't imagine how I would have felt driving for 5 hours in a much smaller, stick shift car.

Anyhoo, I noticed a lot of places I'd like to go visit with Greg one of these days, as we drove through the Ocala National Forest: Alexander Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Recreation Area (closer to Palatka) and another recreation area which name escapes me.  Plus the forest itself has a lot of trailheads.

When we got to St Augustine, I knew from previous trips that there is a large covered parking next to the Visitor Center (across the Castillo de San Marcos) so I made a bee-line for it.  I probably could have saved money if I had found a parking space on a surface public parking lot, but with the large SUV and not really knowing the area, I decided to play it safe. Unfortunately, that meant paying $12 for parking (a flat fee), aaaargh. Yeah, just because I said I don't pay attention to the costs when I'm on vacation, doesn't mean that I actually like paying through the roof for some things!

We walked to the Visitor Center next door, picked up a free brochure that had a detailed map of downtown St Augustine, and set about finding the stores we had come to visit. Oh, you thought we went to St Augustine, the oldest city in the US, for the history?  Visit the Castillo of San Marcos, the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the USA, and other historical and touristic attractions?  Oh no.  We've actually been to St Augustine several times and visited those places before so this wasn't the point of this trip.

The Oldest Wood Schoolhouse in the USA. First appeared on tax records in 1716.
Youngest Son has few interests.  He loves cats, video games, LEGOs, military things of all kinds including wargaming, fantasy role playing games (LARP, Dungeons & Dragons, Steampunk stuff), Ireland, and history.  He's a huge homebody, like his dad and me.  While my other kids were into artistic pursuits (all 3 of them), sports (my daughter) and their friends (mostly all 3 of them), he's content being home by himself.  So when he discovers a new interest, I like to support it.

So, earlier this year, he and I attended a small Steampunk event at Renninger's in Mount Dora. If you're not familiar with Steampunk (and I'm really not an expert!), it's basically a movement of people who are nostalgic for the 19th century and the industrial progress brought upon by the steam engine back then, but also who are into fantasy and creative. So they've recreated this fantastic universe where they all dress up in old-but-futuristic clothing that they usually make themselves, with lots of trinkets inspired by the 19th century steam era.  They have their own genre of music, conventions, etc.  I don't think that they actually have organized COSplay (costumed game) but they all enjoy dressing up that way and pretending they live in that universe. Not my cup of tea either, but they're not hurting anyone and it's actually great fun to see how creative people get with their costumes and props and we really had a good time at the event we attended (even though we weren't dressed up ourselves).

Youngest Son had shown interest in SteamPunk for the last couple of years, but I think he was leery to say he liked it a lot because... that's not really Greg's cup of tea and he probably knew he'd get a ribbing from his dad.  Orlando might be great for tourists who love to visit theme parks, but it has a great dearth of anything related to my son's interests, so we usually have to travel (or dream of traveling) to other areas to find museums or stores or festivals or activities related to what he likes and a lot of time those places aren't in Florida so we don't go. Because, again, homebodies here.

So when I read on a blog that I read once in a while called "We Are Clamco", that the blogger's husband had created some steampunk items that he sold on consignment at a store called "Aunt Matilda's Steampunk Trunk" in St Augustine, I asked Youngest Son if he'd be interested in checking out the store, and he was, so we decided to drive to St Augustine over Spring Break.  While I was trying to decide what else we could be doing there, I had found a gaming store that we might want to visit, D20. I didn't think it'd be any different than the gaming stores we have visited locally, but you never know. Youngest Son also remembered visiting a store that had a lot of military miniatures, the last time he and I were there (many years ago) so we thought we might come across that store too. Then, because I knew that probably would only take care of maybe 1 hour at the most, I mentioned that I also wanted to stop by a state park on our way home, either Anastasia State Park in St Augustine, or Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka. So that was our plan.

It wasn't very crowded when we got to St Augustine because it was 11 a.m. and most stores had just opened.

But by the time we left, after lunch, the crowds had grown quite a bit. Neither my son nor I like crowds so we were fine leaving after only a couple of hours there!  We mostly stayed on St George street, the main drag, and also explored a couple of side streets.

I don't have many pictures, really, because most stores had many warnings (SO MANY WARNINGS!) about not taking pictures inside the store, not bringing food or drinks inside the stores, not letting kids out of your sight, putting your phones away, etc, etc, etc. It was actually very annoying and offensive, IMO, but I guess that's why I'm not a storekeeper in a tourist area :)

We first found a store that I would have never thought to visit but that intrigued my son. It was called "St Augustine Textiles" and was tucked at the end of a small alley and courtyard.  That store had theatrical/reenactment costumes for sale!  Youngest Son loved it.  They had chainmail, armor stuff, dresses, coats, accessories of great quality... his dream come true. However, most of it was out of our price range (well, I'm not a complete spendthrift, I guess) so we just looked and he dreamed :)

Then we visited a store that advertised itself in the brochure that we had picked up at the Visitor Center as carrying "manly toys and hobbies", called "Bear Mountain Outfitters".  It sounded promising as their ad said they carried fantasy items, so we thought maybe they'd have Dungeons & Dragons-related merchandise, but it ended up being a store that sold mostly knives, a few swords and daggers, and other things that didn't really interest us.  As a matter of fact, Youngest Son commented on the number of stores that sold knives and swords. It seemed to us that most stores we visited had a knife display of some kind. That was very odd, indeed.

Bad picture taken while I was walking!
Speaking of such a store, we found one right on St George Street that did carry those items but also more fantasy gamer-related things, called "Shades and Blades". It was one of those that had tons of warning about not taking pictures, not playing Pokemon Go (that one made me chuckle, I should have taken a picture of the sign to bring back to Daughter!).  Inside, Youngest Son found several LARPing accessories (LARPing is Live Action Role Playing) such as the foam swords he had bought himself recently, and unpainted figurines suitable for Dungeons and Dragons.  So I offered to buy him a LARPing shield and several D&D figurines, including one that I intend to use myself when we play next but he'll have to be the one painting it because I'm terrible with that.  So I spend quite a bit in the store ($56.13 although, when I checked the price of the figurines on Amazon, they cost double on Amazon with "Prime" shipping, proof that Prime shipping isn't free shipping at all!

There is no way that Youngest Son, who is not really an artist, will paint the tiny figurine as well as this... however my attempts would probably make her look like a clown instead of a rogue!
We did find Aunt Matilda's Steampunk Trunk. It was tucked in one of those tiny shopping galleries housed in a building and the store itself was very tiny. But it was wonderful!  Clearly the owner, who was herself dressed in a Steampunk outfit, has great attention to detail. Everything seemed to be of extremely good quality. Even her drawer pulls featured the logo of her store. For a small business owner, she made it feel like she had a whole team of merchandisers at her beck and call!  Alas, we didn't purchase anything and I didn't take any pictures. I'm not sure if she was one of the shopkeepers who didn't want any pictures taken in the store or not, but by that time, I was well trained in putting my camera away so I didn't bother.

In the same gallery, there was a store specializing in jerky. Greg loves jerky and loves eating exotic meats. He and I had just discussed eating ostrich, recently, as I was telling him that the industry really took off in France after I had moved to the USA, so much so that my mom, in her small village, was telling me that she had bought ostrich steaks on several occasions.  It's a red meat, similar to beef, and quite lean.  I would have thought it was more like chicken. Anyhoo, at the jerky store I was hesitating between getting him ostrich or python jerky so I made Youngest Son choose and he picked the ostrich. It was pricey ($16.99) but now he can say he had ostrich meat.  He liked it OK, but said it tasted no different than beef jerky. Well next time I'll buy beef jerky and stick a fancy exotic label on it (for all I know, that's exactly what he ate, though!).

Since it was lunchtime and we were hungry (well, I'm always hungry, it seems!), we stopped and had lunch at The Bunnery, a bakery-café.  My son had mac'n cheese and fruit, and I had a Reuben that was served with lots of potato chips (I shared with my son) and then we split a cheesecake brownie. Yum!  It's one of those places where you order at the cash register and you get a number to go get your food at another counter once it's ready.  We had already been sitting for 5 minutes, waiting for our food, when one of the cash register clerks came to me and asked if I was "Nathalie". Color me confused, I couldn't figure out how or why they would know this since I hadn't given my name to anyone!  Turns out, they had forgotten to give me back my credit card, and I hadn't even noticed!  It's a good thing they didn't just wait for me to notice too as it was the only credit card I had brought along on the trip.  So when we left, I gave them a couple of bucks for their tip jar.  Lunch cost us $24.21 including the tip. We did drink water, but bought bottled water.

I forgot to take a picture of our food

But here was the cheesecake brownie. Yum.
After lunch, we headed to a used bookstore that I had noticed on the map.  I love used bookstores!  We didn't find anything to buy though.  Almost right next door was a Navy Army store so we ventured in there. They sold a few items for survivalists and hikers/campers, some of which might prove useful, others that left us scratching our heads (like the pack of 12 "towels" that were so compressed that they looked like very large tablets and you had to add water to turn them into towels again. I guess that's good for hikers on the Appalachian Trail who don't want to carry a lot of weight and don't mind throwing away their towels after each use?).  The only thing that I bought there were 2 postcards of St Augustine to send to my mom and great aunt.

Like these. Weird.

Youngest Son wanted to stop by St Augustine Textiles again before we left, because he wanted to buy himself a toy crossbow for $10. Boys will be boys!  So we did and he got his crossbow. It didn't cost him anything, actually, since he used the $50 bill that he had found near the lake several weeks ago to pay for it!

Our last stop was the candy shop facing the Visitor Center. I got my daughter a package of green-tea flavored Pocky. I thought she would like them (she loves Pocky) but she didn't so I ended up eating them last night.  I also got Youngest Son and I a package of candy each for our long trip home.  I spent $8.47 there.

So all in all, we spent a couple of hours downtown although, according to my Runmeter app, we only walked for 31 minutes and covered only 1.44 miles.

After another pit-stop at the Visitor Center, we drove to the D20 gaming store.  Unfortunately, it was closed on Mondays. Oh well.  We now had the choice of either going to Anastasia State Park that was just a couple of miles away, or Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, and I decided to go to Anastasia State Park because I felt that once I started driving the long drive home, I wouldn't feel like stopping in Palatka.

So we had to circle around the block again and cross the Bridge of Lions.  Only the line to turn onto the bridge was quite long because the drawbridge was about to open. I was able to snap this picture of it, but I wish I had waited a minute or so because then I realized that the boat they had opened it for was a majestic mast sailing boat coming back into the harbor, and it would have made for a prettier picture. But I had put my camera away by then...

The Anastasia State Park entrance warned that the campground was full.  This is where we had parked last year when we went to the Flight of the Conchords concert at the amphitheater next door, so I was a little familiar with the grounds.  The ranger at the entrance was an older woman who seemed a little harried and told me right away that she had ran out of maps so I could take a picture of it with my phone but she couldn't give me one. Well, OK... I asked for any hiking trails and she directed me to the Nature Trail Loop, which was only 0.7 miles long.  We had a little bit of trouble finding it, as the entrance ended up being right next to a "NO ACCESS" construction sign that was in the road, but we found another ranger to direct us.

Honestly, I was a little relieved that the trail itself was short because I was tired and Youngest Son doesn't enjoy hiking. But he was a good sport, so to speak, and hiked it just fine :)

Steps!  There were a couple of almost steep inclines and descents, woohoo!

Hiking down the ancient sand dune

We didn't see much of anything, until the very end when I heard a woodpecker and spotted a Downy Woodpecker on a tree that I was able to photograph.  Yay!

However, it was bothering me to think that the only thing to see was the very short Nature Trail, so as we drove down that small access road, I decided to go explore the larger parking lot where we had parked for the concert... well, it was along sand dunes that separated us from the Atlantic Ocean, doh!  It would have been a shame to miss this.  We're not beach people. By that I mean that my family doesn't enjoy going to the beach. If I'm honest, I'm a beach person. I mean, I like sitting there on the sand, with a magazine or a book (or nowadays my camera!), listening to the ocean, feeling the sun on my skin... but I never get to go because no one ever wants to come with me. Plus, from home, the closest beach is Cocoa Beach, and it's always packed. I like my beaches like I like my trails... without any people on them!

So it was a great delight to find the beach mostly deserted, even in the middle of the afternoon!  The surf was a little rough (yellow flag) and it was only in the low 70s, so I guess people weren't keen to just sit in the sand.

My camera battery started flashing red as soon as we walked the long boardwalk to the beach, and I had forgotten to bring my spare with me in my pocket so I rushed to take pictures before it died on me.  I actually was able to take a lot more pictures than I thought I would, and my battery still wasn't completely dead by the time we got back to the SUV. It was so peaceful and lovely, I could have stayed there for a long time!  But Youngest Son didn't have a hat or sunglasses and the glare was bothering him (he gets sunburned easily), we were in our street clothes, and we had a long drive home ahead of us, so we just stayed for a few minutes. I want to go back and bring beach attire, the kayaks (there is a canal where you can kayak or canoe), my camera with plenty of batteries...  sigh.

Herring Gull

Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls

Non-breeding Western Sandpiper fishing in the surf. I wish I had caught him catching something!

And running away from the surf when the waves came in!

I was excited to see, when I got home, that this gull had caught something. But when I enlarged the picture, I realized that it was only a piece of kelp. I guess gulls need their greens as well.

This little bird looked different from the Western Sandpiper. I think it was a Sanderling (also from the Sandpiper family), but I couldn't get a better picture.

Very regal pose from the gull, no?

Shells and rocks

Love all the birdie footprints!  The whole beach was covered in them!

The long boardwalk back to the parking lot.  I didn't run my Runmeter app for this, but maybe I should have!

In the sand dunes, I spotted this Indian Blanket

And this, which might have been Seaside Goldenrod 
As we were getting to the car, a line of bird appeared, flying over the dunes. I was very excited to realize that they were pelicans. I love pelicans and Pixel Peepers sees them all the time and I've been jealous, hahaha.

I was wayy too far and shaky to take a good picture. This is with the maximum zoom.

Before leaving the park, we stopped by their little café where I bought us a couple of ice cream bars that we ate in the car on the way home.  The drive home was uneventful and we got home, very tired, at 6 p.m., feeling very pleased with our day and purchases!

Daughter had missed us. She said she had a boring day. She hadn't been able to come along because she was still working on her school projects.

You know who wasn't bored, though?  Apparently some kittens because they had helped themselves to a half sleeve of saltines that I had negligently left on the side table near the futon and "my nest" was covered in saltines and saltine crumbs. Argh. So in my exhausted state, I got the vacuum cleaner out, vacuumed the couch, and then the living room, and then the exercise room and the breezeway.

I put rice to cook in the microwave, and then I vacuumed the Ripple rugs in the Cat Room (they don't play with those anymore, btw, they're just lounging carpets for the various cats now) and swept the rest of the room. I was truly exhausted when Greg got home at 7 p.m.

We sat down for dinner. Thankfully I had cooked a pork roast in the crockpot with a bottle of BBQ sauce so we had rice and BBQ pulled pork.  And then I organized the dirty dishes (so many of them again?!) but declared I'd do them in the morning.

Greg and I watched a few episodes of Seinfeld after dinner, and then I caught up on blogs and emails. I also ran some SB videos since I remembered that the Team Challenge had started that day. My team was in the lead, so I ran the videos to qualify for the bonus at the end of the week.  I did qualify by earning more than 400 team points, and I also met my 1st daily goal of 50 SB.

Swagbucks also confirmed that I would be getting SB for my Kohl's order.

And I worked on earning the daily Microsoft Rewards points.

I went to bed at 11 p.m.  It had been a long day but such a fun one too!  Youngest Son and I were delighted with our outing :)


  1. What a wonderful day!! I loved this post because I felt like I was right there with you as I was reading it. You took beautiful pics too! :)

    1. Aww, thanks Dawn! I'm glad you enjoy our outing as well. Is it Spring in Wisconsin yet?

    2. Well, it's sort of Spring. It seems like it is starting to kick in here but the temps are still up and down and we still have a little bit of snow in parts of our yard. But I don't think there is any more snow in the forecast so, yeah, let's just say it's Spring! :)
      By the way, did you and your son collect any of the shells and rocks from the beach? My kids would have loaded up their pockets with them! Lol. :)

    3. It does sound like Spring is on its way for you guys too! Yay!

      No, my son was never a beach person at all (you should have seen how fastidious he was brushing the sand off his feet when we left!). I would be the one collecting shells, but the ones on the Atlantic side aren't nice. They're all broken up. I do collect shells when we go to Sanibel Island on the Gulf. There are pretty shells over there :)

  2. Sounds like a near perfect day to spend with your son. I think St Augustine is a lovely place, but I could not go there without eating at The Columbia, but then I love, love, love Cuban food.

    1. Had I known this, I would have had a thought for you yesterday! We actually ate lunch right across from it. Greg and I had our 5th anniversary dinner at the Columbia Restaurant in Celebration, near Walt Disney World (they have several locations) and it was the best meal of his life according to him. He never wants to drive far but always suggests we go back there to eat whenever we're celebrating something. But nowadays, I'm the one who doesn't want to drive an hour to get to a restaurant!

    2. I have been to several of their locations and honestly my favorite is the one in Ybor City in Tampa, but I am a happy camper at any of them!

  3. Sounds like you had a lovely, if tiring, day with your Youngest Son, Nathalie. We lived in Palatka for a while, after we moved from Jacksonville. :)

    1. I think I remember you telling me this. Well, then you'll probably understand when I say that they must have changed the soldier statues at the entrance of the bridge (unless there's more than one bridge, which, upon further consideration is probably the case!) because I didn't spot the "risqué" soldier statue this time.

  4. What a great day to have just with your son. As they get older, it's harder and harder to have that one and one time. Once again, your pictures are great.

    1. Thanks so much. The difficulty with my son is not so much to be able to spend one on one time with him (he's a loner anyway), but to get him out of the house! He did love kayaking, though, so I think that this summer I'll have to plan some kayaking excursions with him.

  5. Glad you enjoyed St Augustine! I rarely go downtown except Sundays to church- it's just not something I enjoy. I'm also not a beach person so why do I live here LOL? Because I relocated after my husband died to be closer to my oldest daughter LOL. She loves the beach! My sis and I are always saying (she moved with me and lived with me about a year) we need to 'play' a tourist but alas, we don't seem to have enough time or choose another activity. Yesterday I picked up grandson from school and he requested a shamrock shake- I figured McDs would be out but they also have a chocolate mint one! Again I got nothing YAY! Lots to do today and tomorrow but Friday should be free- I need to plan my menus and get some healthy food in the house. I still have a couple boxes of the Sea Cuisine but I am so over fish....

    1. I probably wouldn't go downtown if I lived there either. It's very much a tourist destination, isn't it? But it's nice to go visit every few years.

      When I look at a map of the area where my mom lives, I have so many regrets about not having visited more when I lived back in France. Of course back then I was a teen and didn't have my own car and my mom was never someone interested in nature or history so we never went anywhere. I could have happily stayed home day after day and read books or done other activities, but since discovering this new interest for birds, flowers and photography, now I'm rearing to go as much as I can, especially while the weather is still on the cool side.

      You're doing so well with your food intake, way to go! Thanks for telling me McDonald's has a chocolate mint milkshake, I'll have to tell Greg about it. Have a great rest of your week!

  6. Love all your pictures! Now I have to go to St. Augustine!!! I can't believe we've lived almost 10 years in Florida and I haven't been yet. One of my co-workers was there recently and told us how wonderful it was, and now your pictures...

  7. For some reason, Pixel, Blogger won't let me reply to your comment! Yes, you should go spend a couple of days there. There's actually a lot to do! Go before it's too hot.


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