"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snowmageddon 2016: An Islander's Perspective

My lifetime storm belt:

two tornadoes
one category 4 hurricane
two category 3 hurricanes
two category 2 hurricanes
seven category 1 hurricanes 
12 tropical storms (winds are 39-73 mph; not on the Saffir-Simpson Scale below)

You learn this scale by heart when you live in the tropics.
And you learn to have a hefty respect for wind. Even more so than the ocean. Which is probably why I'm unmoved by any sort of precipitation alone. 24" of rain? Meh. 18" of snow? Whatever. Add winds over 40 mph to that precipitation and that will get a reaction from the islander though.

I have now added a blizzard notch to it! Winter storm Jonas was declared among one of the worst blizzards to hit this region, with historic snowfall...and we survived it!

I initially wasn't worried about Jonas because here in Maryland they like to call any type of snow accumulation a "blizzard." For me, a true blizzard involves wind combined with more than just 3" of white stuff. Schools get closed around here if there's an inch on the ground. Yeah: that's not a blizzard. Per the National Weather Service, a blizzard is:

"A storm which contains large amounts of snow OR blowing snow, with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for an extended period of time (at least 3 hours)"

And then I started seeing the wind forecasts...my part of Maryland at one point was expecting wind gusts of up to 76 mph. That is no joke, guys. Not when combined with snow. That is a category 1 hurricane. I've had to drive to work in that kind of wind and you can barely see with rain. That kind of wind combined with snow is death. It also means power outages.

The storm was forecast to hit Friday. I went to the grocery store on Wednesday to stock up on a few odds and ends I needed in case we lost power.

US storm culture leaves a lot to be desired, guys.

What does a Puerto Rican buy in preparation for a storm?
- Peanut butter - for sandwiches
- Jelly and/or honey - for sandwiches
- Canned tuna - can make lunch, dinner, or snacks
- Canned chicken - can make lunch, dinner or snacks
- Crackers - for the tuna and chicken
- Fresh fruit - keeps out of the fridge
- Boxed milk - it can keep for 24 hours out of the fridge once opened; keeps for a year or more closed. We used to be able to get powdered milk on the island too, which was even better. Can't find that in MD.
- A multi-purpose lighter - so she can still use the awesome gas stove at home for cooking
- Water
- Cereal - a breakfast you don't need to cook. Can also be eaten as a snack, lunch or dinner.
- Instant coffee
Already had at home: bread, canned soup, homemade chili ready to go, lots of snacks like protein bars, granola bars and nuts

What does the average Marylander apparently buy in preparation for a storm? (As witnessed in other shopping carts and empty shelves at the store. I adore Marylanders, but I was so confused by what I was seeing! It made no sense.)
- All the bread
- All the refrigerated milk
- All the meat

  • Problems with this: meat is awesome if you own a house and can cook it on a grill during the storm. Note: despite all the meat being gone, the charcoal section at the grocery store was fully stocked. Yes, I went and looked because I was curious. So I'm hoping a lot of people in this area have gas stoves. Because anyway, you aren't allowed to cook on a grill on your balcony if you live in an apartment complex or condo. And if you live in an apartment complex and your stove is electric...how do you plan to cook all of that meat if the power goes out?
  • People bought so much bread (there was NO BREAD left in the bread aisle 2 days before the storm!)...but there was still a wide selection of jarred goods like peanut butter, jelly and honey. So...people were going to put cheese and cold cuts on their bread? Good luck with your frozen meat and cheese if you have a power outage and have to put them outside so they don't spoil. Also, no one had thought to buy canned meat either. I had a full selection in that aisle too. What the hell?
  • Refrigerated milk...okay, so with a winter storm you can put your perishables outside in a cooler for them to keep but they are going to freeze promptly when you have high winds and wind chills in the single digits. How do you expect to defrost your milk if your power is out?

Someone explain this to me, please. Because I don't understand. We discussed this at work because none of my coworkers prepares for storms like this either, and none of them could explain it either.

I walked into the liquor store on this day to buy two 6-packs of beer and a bottle of wine and was shocked to realize that there wasn't a soul in the store and they were fully stocked. Where I come from, half the fun of having to be stuck inside during a storm is drinking. Hurricane parties are da bomb.

I walked out of the liquor store shaking my head.

A Puerto Rican's fridge before a storm.
On Friday we had a blizzard watch starting at noon, with the snow supposed to start in the afternoon. Some of my coworkers had been trying to make themselves feel better about the impending storm by downplaying it.

I knew it was no joke when I saw this dawn en route to work:

There is an old seaman's adage that says, "Red at night, sailor's delight. Red in the morning, sailor's warning." Red dawns never lie. They have preceded every major hurricane I have experienced. It's not just about the morning sky being blood-red: the rising sun will be red too. It is a sunrise that looks like the reddest sunset. You can't tell in the photos, but the red of the sky and the sun that rose behind the treeline matched the red of the brake lights on the cars in front of me. That's a true storm dawn. Talk about ominous.

I was really glad then that I had listened to my gut and taken The Beast with me. Will, our Surgery supervisor, was trying to get us all out as soon as Dr. S's appointments for the day were done, which was around noon. Except we ended up having to do an emergency C-section on a pregnant beagle! The surgery started right as the snow was starting to accumulate.

Snow accumulation right before we went into surgery. It had been snowing for an hour here. That's how fast it was coming down.
 My coworker Alexei ran anesthesia while I helped with instruments, with an entire army of people available to help resuscitate the puppies.

Yup, I spent the beginning of the storm watching puppies come into the world.


Alexei transferred mom down to our ICU unit after her surgery while I cleaned and broke down the OR, helped my other coworkers clean up the department, and hightailed it out of there as soon as I could: it was Charles's weekend to work (for newer readers: he is an ER pediatric registered nurse). He had to drive back down to Rockville to check into a hotel so he would be able to work on Saturday and I wanted him to take The Beast.

Did you guys know that ER and ICU workers are EXPECTED to show up to work, regardless of weather conditions? This applies to both the medical and veterinary fields. They are NOT allowed to call out of work because they are snowed in or the wind and rain are dangerous. Most hospitals will work with you to make sure you can make it in: my current hospital will get us rooms at the Hilton next door, Charles's current hospital will get them discounts at a nearby hotel (they still have to pay the discounted rate out of pocket though) or they can stay at the hospital itself for free. Because of this, employees that try to call out during the storm may be fired. This means that they have to spend the storm away from their families and loved ones, sometimes worried sick about them and unable to communicate with them due to power outages, lost satellite signal from the storm (no cell phones), or an insanely busy shift where you can't get away for even a minute to make a phone call. Also: in Florida you sign up in advance to be on a hurricane team and get paid double time for weathering an entire storm at your hospital. Both Charles and I were part of the hurricane teams at our respective hospitals. Not necessarily because of the pay, but because hospitals in Florida are better built than apartment complexes and have generators: we were safer at work! (And yes, I was there to help save your pet in the middle of a hurricane if it was needed. Yes, some of us in the veterinary profession are that dedicated!) Here in Maryland you don't get paid extra for working in the middle of a true honest-to-God blizzard, but you are still expected to show up if it's your scheduled day to work.

I've been on both ends of this stick, both as the family member staying at home and the ER/ICU employee. Even when you are being paid double, it is not fun and it is not rewarding and it is monumentally stressful.

So if you ever find yourself in a hospital during a storm, be it veterinary or medical, please take the time to thank the nurses, techs, and doctors that are there for you. Some of them have put their own lives at risk to be there. Be thankful you have them. And for the love of all things holy, ONLY go to the hospital during a storm if you have a TRUE life-threatening emergency! If you do choose to risk life and limb during a major storm to go to the ER for an ear infection or joint pain of 3 months' duration or a fever of 99 degrees, don't you DARE give the hospital staff attitude because you had to wait to be seen for your not-emergency.

End rant.

When I ran out of the building at 4:30 pm, it had only been snowing for three hours but the roads were already lovely. *sarcasm*

Main intersection. That gray stuff isn't the road: it's dirty slush. Lots and lots of slush coating the road.
I especially love idiots that drive in these conditions at 20 mph with their hazards on, forcing others to have to brake. My favorites though are the ones that stop their cars entirely in the middle of the FREAKING HIGHWAY for NO REASON.
I drove the truck in 4WD the entire way and switched to lower gears to slow down. Didn't touch the brakes once. (Thank you for that tip Liz!!!) It was beautifully smooth sailing.
(This Snap was sent once I was safely home.)
Will, Alexei, and Max were still at the hospital finishing up when I left: I'd been allowed to leave earlier because I had the farthest to drive and I was worried about Charles's part of the drive. I called Will when I got on the highway to let them know they needed to get out of there STAT, before things got worse. They were all already on their way out the door. He thanked me for calling with the update.

Near Frederick the roads were much better because it hadn't been snowing as long. I got behind this snow plow that broke the wind for me: I had been driving into a steady wall of wind this entire time. The snow drifted behind the plow, forming a wake very much like what you would see behind a boat in water. Snow never ceases to remind me of the ocean.  More reasons why I love it so much.
Home safe. Love our Beast truck!
Check out the snow: it had only been snowing for an hour in Frederick.
The winds had really been picking up down south, since the storm was moving from south to north, and were starting to be felt at home by the time I parked at our apartment complex. I told Charles he had to head out immediately. He already had everything packed and ready to go. He changed clothes and flew out the door.

I didn't know when I would see him again. I hadn't spent any sort of quality time with him since the previous weekend. This is the second major storm I have had to spend away from him in which he has had to drive in inclement conditions so he can make it to work.

Again, thank your emergency and critical care staff for endangering their own lives so they can take care of yours. Most of the time, they aren't there because they want to be; they are there because they HAVE to be! Be kind to them! You would not believe the crap that the nurses and doctors at Charles's hospital had to put up with from unreasonable patients during this storm!

He called when he arrived at the hotel to let me know he had made it safely. Since he wasn't working Friday night, he would be spending it at the hotel to get quality sleep and Saturday night in a room at the hospital since it was expected to be crazy anyway. (Hence why I didn't go with him.)

He was happy with the hotel but he spent the evening worrying about power outages in Frederick, which was expected to get a total of 3' of snow. Wind forecasts were better than they had originally been, but we were still expecting steady winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of up to 57 mph starting Friday night, with whiteout conditions during the day on Saturday. I had a plan for if the power went out and wasn't really worried about it myself (I spent years avidly educating myself on surviving winter: the decision to move to a place with seasons was not made lightly. I knew what I was getting into), but he was genuinely concerned about me freezing. There was nothing I could say to make him feel better about it. I know what that's like: you never know what a natural disaster is going to be like until after it has passed. You worry about what's going to happen to your loved ones experiencing it no matter how well-prepared they are.

I was worried about him dealing with the crazies: his hospital also has a psych ER and he sometimes covers in that part of it. One nurse was attacked by a psych patient and completely lost use of one arm: she is on disability. Charles has been attacked by patients before. They have had patients walk into the hospital armed with guns and knives. One man had a katana disguised as a walking cane. You heard that right. It is a known fact that big barometric pressure changes, especially combined with the full moon we had this week, make psych problems all that worse.

In the early evening, Will texted the team to make sure we had all made it home safely.

Seriously, what supervisor does that? He is amazing. And it's the reason why we all bend over backwards for him as a team: because he does the same for us.

And so I hunkered down for the storm alone. We have an awesome gas fireplace that I blasted for a while in the living room while watching Nurse Jackie.

I had chili and beer for dinner and went to bed ridiculously early.

Snow accumulation outside in the evening before I went to bed. The wind was blowing the treetops here.
I woke up at 4:00 am from the migraine induced by the barometric pressure change that accompanies this type of storm. I didn't know about this until moving here: I can pretty much predict snow because of the monumental headaches I get right before it starts. I used to get headaches before hurricanes but not like this.

I realized I could hear the wind howling outside and peeked out the windows to see this:

Snow accumulation in the morning when I woke up.
This wasn't a particularly fun storm: I spent most of the day alternating between the TV, the computer and watching the snow and wind outside. I worked out at home. I played with the cats. I worried about Charles.

Snow at 8:00 am-ish.
Yes, there is a snow drift on our second-floor balcony. That's how much the wind was blowing. You can see it in the background!
Charles called and texted photos when he woke up to go to work. I had stuck our shovel in the backseat of the truck and left it there, figuring he would need it to get out of the hotel parking lot. It was a good thing I did.

View outside Charles's hotel window. He was on the first floor. Yup, that's how high the drifts were.
After he had dug the truck out with our shovel. It took him an hour to remove the snow because the wind kept whipping it back onto the truck.
Hotel parking lot in Rockville at noon.
On his 0.9 mile drive to work from the hotel. It took him AN HOUR to drive 0.9 mile!!
This is why he had to stay at the hotel: because otherwise he would have had to drive through these conditions for 25 miles. He never would have made it.
Safely parked at work. They have a covered parking lot there. Check out the amount of snow in the truck bed!
In the afternoon the high wind gusts weren't as consistent and, seeing other people's pics on Facebook, I geared up and ventured outside to see exactly how much snow we had gotten so far.

Answer: LOTS.

Hallway outside the apartment. Remember: this is a second floor. That's how much wind we were having!
Entrance to our apartment building. Check out the drifts against the building. And on the second floor!
My car didn't look too bad from this side: the wind had whipped the snow out from the passenger side.

The other side of my car, however, was another matter.
A big gust of wind blew up between the taking of the previous photo and this one, hence all the snow over the front in this pic.
Those are snow drifts on top of people's cars!!!
The snow was waist-high in the parking lot.
I am a huge dork about snow and of course I had to play in it. It wasn't bad on the sidewalk.
Photo from a video taken with my phone, thanks to the phone tripod Liz gave me for Christmas. :)
After these explorations I returned to the apartment to continue hibernating. Charles had been talking about trying to drive home on this night after work but the Maryland governor closed all the major highways because there had been too many accidents with tractor-trailers. It was the only way to keep people off the roads while waiting for them to be cleared. I was relieved: I didn't really want him driving on roads that might have a few feet of snow on them! The Beast is awesome but it's not an Army tank!

I made roast chicken and potatoes that night for dinner and opened the bottle of wine. I realized the one spot where we had planned poorly: we only have one shovel and Charles had it with him. I needed to dig my car out before the snow froze to ice. I decided the next morning I would try hiking to Home Depot to see if I could buy a shovel...if they had any in stock. Because with this type of storm people go nuts buying shovels too.

We never did lose power at the apartment. Sunday dawned sunny and gorgeous. Our apartment parking lot had already had one lane cleared by the maintenance staff. Frederick rocks! As of right now Monday morning, some of my coworkers are still snowed in in their parts of Montgomery County (Frederick is part of Frederick County; MoCo is the Maryland county closest to DC) because the plows still haven't gone through their neighborhoods. I realize we are very fortunate up here.

It hadn't been very long but I really was starting to go stir-crazy from being indoors alone. I hate being still. So instead of hiking to Home Depot, I decided to just tackle the digging out of my car bare-handed.

That's how much snow was behind my car. There was a good 20' of it between my car and the parking lot lane!
Parking lot lane.
Driver side of my car.
The good thing was that it was still powdery. It was in the upper 20's temperature-wise but the snow was just starting to melt with being exposed to the sun and I knew it would freeze to ice rock by that night with the single-digit temps we were expecting. So I got to work digging. 

With my hands. 

It was actually easier than moving sand at the beach and I had to laugh: being good at building sand castles can be quite handy when dealing with this type of snow! The snow was light and fluffy. I was wearing water-resistant Prana Halle lined pants (got them on sale earlier this winter!), my snow boots, SSG winter gloves with toe warmers stuck inside them, and my waterproof insulated jacket over a Smartwool shirt. I ended up stripping down to my shirt: the air was dry and I did get that warm. Those Halle pants are da bomb: I stayed nice and dry underneath them despite being up to my hips in snow.

I didn't care how long it took. I was in no hurry to get anywhere and it was something to do. I was actually having a blast moving the snow out from around my car. 

I had removed about 2/3 of the snow from behind my car when a neighbor took pity on me and offered to lend me her shovel. This allowed me to scrape out the remaining snow from the ground behind my car. 


There's still quite a bit of snow that drifted under the car that I'll tackle with Charles today. My arms weren't long enough to reach all the way underneath it. I probably would have gone for a drive otherwise, but I was also afraid of losing my parking spot after going to all the trouble of digging the car out!

Honestly, I'll take two hours of digging through 3' of snow with my hands over having to hack our way out our driveway with chainsaws and axes in the sweltering heat to remove a dozen downed trees when there is no power to cool off with and no water to shower with after a category 3 hurricane. It took my family two days of major physical work to clear our driveway after Hurricane Hugo when I was a kid. And yup, I was right there working with them, a 10-year-old girl wielding an axe. Same story again after Hurricane Georges 10 years later. Both times we were without power for two months!!!

As far as I know the horses are okay. I haven't seen them since Wednesday night. BO has been messaging us: they had plenty of hay and backup water sources in case the power went out. As of Sunday morning they were trying to clear the driveway but were having a hard time just getting from point A to point B because of the sheer volume of snow, despite having all of the appropriate equipment after dealing with Snowmageddon 2010. I have no idea yet if I'll be able to see the girls today.

Charles had spent Saturday night in one of the empty GYN rooms at the hospital (private rooms with TV) but had only gotten four hours of sleep: he had gone to bed at 5:00 am Sunday morning...he worked a 15-hour shift. He clocked back in to work at 1:30 pm Sunday afternoon. One of his coworkers had been at the hospital since Friday night and collapsed Sunday night from exhaustion. As in, she had to be admitted to the hospital because of it.

Entrance to our apartment building on Sunday.
This is behind our apartment building.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon cooped up reading and again went to bed early. A good thing because I woke up at 3:00 am with a start: Charles was going to try to drive home tonight. I called him at 3:30 (he has to round his coworkers before leaving, which usually takes half an hour) and he was walking out to the truck.

He made it home in 40 minutes or so, which is about his usual time. He said the roads were covered in black ice but the truck had done great. Temp outside was 4 degrees.

It's good to have him back home safe.

And we'll be buying a second shovel as soon as they're back in stock in the stores!!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Of Beaches and Sun!

Since many of us on the East Coast are currently snowed in thanks to Jonas, have a story of warmth, sand, and ocean. :)

On Friday, January 8, 2016, we headed to South Florida to visit the in-laws. And our friends. And the beach. And stuff.

If you're my friend on Facebook, you've already seen many of the pics. Here is the story behind them.

Warning: you might want to read this with lunch or dinner next to you. There will be food porn. As in, Charles and I went out of our way to take pics of most of what we ate for blog purposes. Don't read while famished! You have been warned! ;)

Two years ago, we had returned to visit for Charles's cousin Bea's beach wedding. At the time, I highly resented the trip because:

1. We had only been gone for a year.
2. South FL = just "no" for me. Florida was the ONE state I had always said I would NEVER live in: it was too much like the island but without the parts of the island that I loved (like mountains and Caribbean beaches.) Why would I want to live in a flat, hot, humid, stinky swamp when I had it so much better back in my homeland?

Moving to Tampa initially to live with Charles had been a reasonable compromise for me because it actually got cold in the winter (enough for frost at night), I loved the Spanish moss, and I loved its location halfway up the state, which meant it was a 4-hour drive to leave Florida if you wanted to go on a real road trip. South FL had been the "hell no" of the hell no. We moved there for Charles and I cried almost every day of our first couple of months living there. I had absolutely hated that part of the state with a vengeance. And then it took 6 years for us to be able to get out of there once we were there.

I think you can understand why I still had no desire to return to Florida for our last trip there, even if only to visit for a weekend. I had this horrible fear that we would somehow get stuck there again.

This time it was different.

This was my expression for most of this trip...
mainly because I got to have that as our background for most of the trip too!
First, the trip ended up happening right after our first week of real winter weather in MD. There was much envy at work over my leaving for a warmer climate and I may have rubbed it in a bit because I could...and because I'm evil like that. ;) Also, it dawned on me that I had not seen the ocean in two years...and I was ready to experience it again. And I wanted to go dancing at a Latin music club because that's hard to find in our part of Maryland. And a vacation from speaking English didn't seem like a bad thing either. (Because in South FL it's actually a MAJOR advantage if your first language is Spanish. We didn't speak a lick of English during the 4 days of our stay!)

The occasion? Charles's brother Xavier  had been planning this huge, huuuuge Three Kings' party since way back in September. 150 people were invited to this party and the in-laws purchased our plane tickets for us so we could go too. It was a Major Event. That then got kind of cancelled at the last minute due to circumstances out of Xavier's control. "Kind of" because the party was still happening but at a much smaller, intimate scale: only 20 people or so invited now. Of course our trip was still happening. 

The party was scheduled for Saturday January 9th. There weren't huge plans for the other days (we were staying until Monday January 11th) so we coordinated with Charles's parents so we could both hang out with them and the family but also still do our own thing so we could see our friends. They were wonderfully accommodating and I became very, very excited about this trip!

The Friday we were leaving dawned foggy, cold and miserable. We drove into Rockville early in the morning, where we parked and took the Metro into DC to Ronald Reagan International Airport.

Charles called this photo, "From our vacation to Silent Hill."
The cold, foggy, misty day really did look like something straight out of Silent Hill!
First the cowboy hat and now the Carhart jacket...He was also wearing bootcut Wranglers.
He has officially converted to the dark side. ;) 
The beard looks good on him but I like this look so much better!
The Metro took a little longer than usual but we still had plenty of time to grab breakfast at our favorite airport restaurant, Cosi. Cosi is an upper East Coast Latin-inspired food chain of which there are a handful in the MD/DC/VA area, but we only go when we're at the airport. The last time my mom came to visit, her flight was delayed for FOUR HOURS...which happened after her plane was airborne, which meant I had no way of knowing it was delayed until I saw the arrival time change on the boards! So I spent FOUR HOURS wandering the aisles of Ronald Reagan...after eating lunch at Cosi, of course. That airport is now my friend because it managed to keep me entertained for what felt like an eternity!

He was on the phone with his parents.
When we were done eating, we made our way past Security and to our terminal to wait until we could board our plane.

This is my travel backpack and I absolutely love it. I've had it for 12 years! It was also my school backpack while in vet tech school. All of those patches were hand-stitched onto it by me. And yes, that is Invader Zim's Gir in the upper right-hand corner. Most of the patches and buttons on the backpack were bought at Hot Topic back in PR. (Yes we have Hot Topic. It was my brother's and my favorite store in our early 20's!) You can't see it in this photo, but the backpack is also covered in Liquid Paper and Sharpie graffiti with some of my favorite quotes.
This patch is entirely by me: I painted the lightning and mountains with acrylic paint onto a sheet of canvas cloth, sealed it, cut it out and sewed it onto the backpack. The quote underneath was painted onto the backpack with white acrylic paint: "When I heard the storm I made haste to join it, for in storms Nature has always something extra fine to show us. - John Muir." This used to be on a poster in my bedroom back in PR.
 As usual, I fought Charles for the window seat and won.

Still in DC. See how foggy it was?
I LOVE flying. LOVE. I dreamed of having wings when I was a kid.
As above, so below.
Flying both under and above clouds. Made me think of sea foam on shore.
Flying above a storm.
I eventually was lulled to sleep by the hum of the plane and zonked out for a good portion of the 2.5 hour flight.
I woke up to this! OCEAN!!!
I had somehow forgotten the swampland aspect of Florida. But never the disorienting flatness.
We arrived at the Fort Lauderdale airport at 2:30 pm, on time, and walked out into the mugginess. It was 75 degrees and HUMID.

And palm trees. I was excited about the palm trees.
Charles's parents arrived promptly to pick us up.

First stop?

The beach. For lunch.

Charles had told his parents that I wanted to go to the beach. They went above and beyond with my one major request: they made SURE that I went to the beach EVERY DAY of this visit. It was AWESOME. During this visit, we went to the beach more than during our last entire year living in South Florida. O_o

Pollo Tropical was our FAVORITE fast food and it is only found in Florida. Our meal of choice? Tropichops: a bowl of rice and black or red beans, with your choice of roasted chicken, shredded pork or carnitas. Yes, that is Cuban-style fast food for you, and it is actually good for you!
The Intracoastal. It leads to the ocean.
We were stopped on an elevated bridge, which had gone up to allow a major boat to go through. The in-laws encouraged us to run out of the car to get pics while waiting for the boat to pass.
I was maybe only a little happy to be this close to the sea again. ;)
Look behind me: see the road that looks like a hill? That's the part of the bridge that literally lifts. It was in the process of going up when this pic was taken. This is a normal sight in South FL but one that outsiders might not even know happens!
My husband is hotter than Pitbull. Sorry. ;)
This is one of my fave pics of us of the entire trip!
It's funny: I hated our time living in this place so much overall (though it gifted me with a new career, some lifelong friends, our wedding and my horse) that I failed to document on the blog all of the cool little things about daily life here that others would have found fascinating and alien, but that, being islanders from a hot climate, we took completely for granted. A big part of it was that I was trying to be vague about where we lived because I was still getting used to blogging and the whole concept of being another presence on the internet. And I didn't have much of a following then, so I had no clue about what people would find interesting, and at the time, I didn't find daily life in SoFL interesting enough to want to document it for myself. .But it would have been a lot of fun now to be able to look back and read the details about events and moments that are reserved in memory.

However, if you go back through the blog, everything I wrote from 2011 to November 2012 took place in South FL.

Las Olas Boulevard. "Las olas" literally means "the waves." It's one of the main Fort Lauderdale roads that will take you straight to the beach!
The in-laws took us to this little beachfront Mexican place called The Drunken Taco. Hilarious. I grabbed my bikini, a skirt, flip flops and a tank top from my suitcase and changed into more appropriate hot-weather clothes in the restaurant bathroom!

The beach was RIGHT THERE.
We ordered our food and I told Charles that I ABSOLUTELY NEEDED to go down to the water before I could eat. We were planning on walking along the beach after food anyway, but I could NOT hold still knowing the ocean was within sight. I needed to go say hello and touch it before I could sit down again. 

He obliged. :)

NOW I could eat lunch. :)
 Which was served promptly.

Fish tacos!! They had sliced mango in them and feta cheese. With a side of rice and beans. And Blue Moon beer. And Charles ordered a pina colada the size of my head. I told him that I would be the Best Wife Ever and drink half of it for him so he wouldn't have to drink that giant thing all by himself. ;) He may have tried to swat me away. I won.
After we had scarfed, we went for a walk on the beach. Charles's family went to get the car out of the parking lot while we wandered along the sand.

Except Charles likes to walk on walls...
This is not made of snow. ;) 
And then we sat in traffic for over an hour en route to the in-laws' house.

Rush hour Fort Lauderdale traffic. And people complain about DC traffic...
Gorgeous sunset over one of the many canals.
If you look very closely at this photo, you will see an actual hill on the horizon under the section of orange sky (you will have to embiggen the photo to see). That is not a hill. It is a landfill. For garbage. It's official name is Monarch Hill Renewable Energy Park but is better known as Mount Trashmore. It is located in Coconut Creek, the town where Charles and I used to live. This is going to sound crazy to many of you, but I actually loved Mount Trashmore. It was visible both from our barn and the townhouse we lived in. The green hill with the palm trees in the forefront reminded me of PR. Charles and I always said that it was majorly pathetic that the main reason why we liked Coconut Creek so much was because it had a dump that reminded us of mountains. That shows you how desperate our brains were for a visual relief from the flatness.

We unpacked at the in-laws' house and I got in touch with my friend Diana, who knew we were visiting and had been waiting for me to let her know when we were settled so she could kidnap me for a few hours!

Diana is my best friend from South FL. You can read a little about her here; she has her own label on the blog. :) Diana and I met at Crazy Lady's barn, where I had Cloud. She was friendship at first sight: one of those rare people that I have taken an instant liking to. As is usually the case with this type of situation, the feeling was mutual. We became instant friends, as if we had known one another all our lives. Our friendship was a continuation. I adore Diana. She arrived at that first barn 7 months pregnant and with her huge Percheron/QH cross mare Bali. We shared a tack/feed room and I worked with Bali when Diana couldn't ride anymore. Diana wasn't able to come out to the barn for 3 weeks after giving birth to her daughter and I took care of the big mare for her. (It was a self-care facility.)

I left when I lost Cloud and then begged Diana to move to the barn I had moved to...which was just down the street! We would meet up to hang out occasionally but it was hard for her as a single mom. She finally was able to get Bali out of Crazy Lady's barn and came over to my barn, where we boarded together happily ever after with our mares in neighboring stalls until Charles and I moved out of state. We shared evening chores, set up feed together, went on trail rides, stayed at the barn late into the evening talking about work and life, went to the grocery store together after our chores were done just so we could hang out a little bit longer, and stayed together through thick and thin when we had some major, major drama at the barn.

I miss her dearly and hadn't seen her in two years.

We went out to her new barn, where she has her new horse Bill, an awesome Rocky Mountain Horse gelding that looks like a longer, taller, slightly darker version of Gracie. He is blind in one eye and an absolute sweetheart. She has had him for 6 months. She sold Bali almost a year ago: the big mare was a stubborn knucklehead and Diana just wasn't having fun with her. She had had her for 6 years. Her relationship with Bill is already light years ahead of what it was with Bali! When we got out of the car, Bill whinnied from the other side of the property when he heard Diana's voice. We were the only people at the barn!

Bill with Diana's daughter earlier this year.
We then went to Chili's for dinner (this was also an old hangout of ours) and had Presidente margaritas and ate too much while laughing our heads off. We stayed until the restaurant closed!!

Diana dropped me off back at the in-laws' house and Charles and I went to bed way too late...so we could wake up early the next day to do what?

Why, go to the beach again, of course!

It was a gorgeous day. We were later told that it had rained for weeks leading up to this weekend. The sun literally came out for our visit.
But first: breakfast! Or brunch, rather, since we were all slow to head out the door and breakfast was done by the time we arrived at the Latin American Grill in Pembroke Pines.

"Mariquitas" aka fried plantain chips. The sauce is a sweet garlic sauce that is amazeballs.
A real, honest-to-God Cubano sandwich. These have "pernil" (aka pork shoulder), ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, served on French bread. BEST.SANDWICH.EVARRR...
This is a "cuatro leches" or "four milks". The typical Cuban desert is "tres leches" or "three milks". A "tres leches" is a type of sponge cake soaked in three types of milk: evaporated and condensed milk, and heavy cream. The 'fourth milk' of the "cuatro leches" is the "dulce de leche" (aka caramel) over the top. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the best dessert you will ever have in your life. It is hard to find, too: tres leches is common but if you like caramel and sweets, and you find yourself at a restaurant that offers "cuatro leches", do try it!
A guy playing guitar right outside the Latin American Grill. 
The Three Kings party wasn't until that afternoon, so Charles and I took a change of clothes for later and his dad drove us over to Hollywood Beach in Fort Lauderdale to hang out for a couple of hours.

Hollywood Beach. We had never been to this part of it.
Oceanfront shops and restaurants.
We realized here that we had forgotten to bring towels. I wanted to go swimming so badly! The water was unseasonably warm: it's usually ice cold in the wintertime.

The water was crystal clear.
We then stopped by DP's Bar, which had this sign up front:

I kept my top on...
They had some awesome live music. Charles, his dad and I had a round of beers before going back to the car so we could head to Xavier's house.

Father and son with their Coronas. :)

A lot of houses in Xavier's neighborhood still had Christmas decorations up because Latinos. (We celebrate until at least mid-January. I just took down our decorations this past weekend.) This Star Wars nativity scene won, seriously.
We changed clothes at the house and walked around greeting friends and family. Charles went to get us beer from the coolers...and realized that there was no beer. None. Not one bottle of beer in the entire house. Blasphemy! Xavier needed insect repellent for the nieces so we went to a nearby Publix with the excuse of getting Off for the girls...and beer, of course.

Charles had completely and 100% forgotten about this. I had to argue with him to NOT walk into the liquor store next door and follow me into Publix for beer. Not only is there almost half of an aisle dedicated to it, they have a decent selection.
This is the beer that made me like beer. It's very popular in Florida but nearly impossible to find in Maryland. You bet we got a 6-pack...and also one of Coronas for everybody else so no one would steal my our beer.
My preciousssss...
The wine aisle. At the grocery store. We used to take this for granted...in MD you have to walk into a liquor store to buy both wine and beer. Some gas stations in Frederick will sell beer, but in South FL you can buy it at any pharmacy, gas station, or grocery store. So easy. I used wine for cooking a lot more back in FL than I do now because I just had to swing by the aisle to grab a bottle. It didn't involve a whole extra stop.

When we returned, one of the guests had finished and served ceviche and some homemade meat pastelitos. OMG it was all incredible...and I failed at the food porn with those. Completely forgot. I think I ate four pastelitos...I may have lost count. Whoops.

Charles and our good friend Sal. Sal and his wife Janet are also Puerto Rican. They are two of my favorite people!
Eventually dinner was served: asopao!

Asopao is a kind of homemade chicken soup, made with lots of chicken, rice or noodles, thickened broth, and usually slices of corn on the cob and/or root vegetables like potato or yucca. This one was amazing. The bread next to it isn't just any bread: it is "pan sobao", which literally means "rubbed bread". It is a soft, slightly sweet bread that you used to only be able to get in Puerto Rico because you need a special type of oven to bake it in...and is now available in some South Florida Latin American bakeries!
The much smaller Three Kings party. Note the clean plates. :)
Photobombed by Eladio, another family friend. He is also Puerto Rican. :)

Charles told me he would be right back and I noticed that Eladio also disappeared. I had a feeling I knew what was going on and I was right:

The Three Kings made an appearance. :)
And brought gifts for the little ones.
Wives of the Three Kings. ;)
I just adore this photo. It summarizes the personality of this entire family!
Those are Charles's parents on the left, his brother's wife with the youngest niece on the right, and Xavier on the far right.
The Three Kings eventually made their exit and Charles returned. People started slowly trickling out as it got closer to 8:00 pm. Xavier, who does some free lance DJ and acoustic work as a side job, brought out his speaker set and started playing salsa music. Charles and I were waiting until 9:30 pm to head to a nearby club, so we decided to warm up. Barefoot. In the grass. That's how we roll.

I really love this sequence of pics of us dancing. Courtesy of Charles's mom.

With Sal. I adore him and Janet.
Janet knew we were going to be around this weekend but had kept it a secret from Sal. When we arrived at the party, Sal was serving himself finger foods at one of the tables. I walked up to him and stood there tapping his shoulder like an annoying little kid. He was so engrossed in choosing his food that it took him a minute to look up, while I continued tapping. And when he did finally look up, his expression went from, "What the.." to surprised recognition, to an elated "Oh my GOD!!!" I got lifted off my feet in a bear hug. Love him!

Janet and Sal show off their moves dancing.
These two make any place better simply by being there.

Janet is a college professor, a breast cancer survivor (she fought the battle last year and won), and an incredible human being. 
We helped the family pick up after the party, then headed over to the nearby Cafe Iguana in Pembroke Pines. The Cafe Iguana is a club that has been around for a while: when we first moved to South FL, Xavier and his wife used to like going there for Latin dancing. We had checked the place out at the time but it looked a little sketchy so Charles and I had never really gone.

The place has come a long, long way since then: they have great reviews on Yelp, which is unheard of in South FL (I'm telling you: people there are so negative that it is hard to find positive reviews on anything. You had to adjust your expectations when looking up reviews accordingly. I would love to be making this up but it is 100% true and a thing I struggled with constantly when looking for veterinary work or our next apartment complex!) and they offer 3 dance floors with 3 different kinds of music: there is one for old school rock and hip-hop, another for Latin music, and the main dance floor which plays your more typical club (electronic) music mixed with Latin beats.

The place opens at 10:00 pm but reviewers warned about long lines so we decided to be there at 10:00 pm sharp. There were a couple of people in line already but the club was still closed...so we swung by a Starbucks next door to get coffee.

And discovered this:

Apparently this is a new thing at Starbucks in South Florida. Maybe also in other states that aren't as strict about alcohol as Maryland. *sigh* 

We still ordered coffee. And discovered latte macchiatos, which are my new favorite thing. 

We drank our coffees and headed back to the club. Still early, but now there was more of a line. Everyone was talking in Spanish and we recognized the accents of the group in front of us: they were all Puerto Rican! There is something awesome about hearing the accent of your own little island here in the US. 

The club was awesome. Cover was $10 for guys, free for ladies until midnight!

Entrance towards the dance floors.
Latin dance floor.

Main dance floor, after Charles and I had broken the ice. :)
Since it was early, the few people inside the club milled about. Charles and I explored, then sat down to wait for the music to pick up. They were playing some really fun merengue on the main floor and no one was dancing. Charles and I looked at one another and said, "Fuck it." He took my hand and we walked out onto the floor, where we were the very first ones to start dancing.

We had gone there to dance after all. And that's what we did. Who cares if we were the first ones? I never would have dared as a teenager. Sometimes it's awesome to be an adult and be over all that angst and self-consciousness.

Within a few minutes a few other couples had joined us on the floor. Before long, the place was packed.

Full main dance floor!
Charles and I danced to everything that was played: merengue, salsa, house, reggaeton. I'm more shy about dancing reggaeton and that was one of the music types that the dance floor cleared out for. Charles and I did dance, but in a far corner of the floor. In case you didn't know: reggaeton was invented by Puerto Ricans. It is a spin-off of Jamaican dancehall music that started in the late 80's and has become well-known internationally. Yes, our little island created an entire music genre. There is an entire documentary on it on Netflix that is pretty awesome (and yes, it is in English) that you can watch, called "Straight Outta Puerto Rico: Reggaeton's Rough Road to Glory."

Not surprisingly, reggaeton is danced similar to a cross between lambada and dancehall. 

No one in that club was dancing it the way you're supposed to. Other than Charles and me. And apparently we're pretty good because some dude filmed us. Whoops?

The music changed and the DJ started mixing the oddest songs together. We eventually retired to the Latin dance floor...which was also empty.

We sat down to share a bottle of water, then shrugged and again were the first on the dance floor. And again, within a few minutes other couples had joined us. 

Latin dance floor, after we broke the ice. :)
In PR, if you're the first person on the dance floor, you get a free drink at the bar. Not so in South Florida, but it was pretty cool to see a full dance floor shortly after we had broken the ice!

We danced nonstop for two hours, at which time my feet were killing me. We headed back to the in-laws'. We had another big day on Sunday!

We were allowed to sleep in while the in-laws went to mass in church that morning. Charles and I rolled out of bed after 10:00 am! We met his parents in FIL's truck after mass and followed them to Deerfield Beach, which is pretty close to where we used to live.

This used to be our exit home and to the barn off of the Turnpike.
At Burger Craze by Deerfield Beach.
They had great mojitos and the burgers were awesome!

The ocean was right there!
The whole crew.
It was overcast when we arrived but cleared up by the time we were done eating. Charles and I hung out with the friends and family that had come out with us, then stayed on our own after everyone left. We had a lovely time walking up and down the Deerfield boardwalk and I was finally able to take a plunge into the ocean to swim. The waves were perfect for bodysurfing.

You could walk the length of the pier but you had to pay.
Usually the water is icy this time of year, but not so on this day.
We took a walk down the beach in both directions while I dried off. That's a Brazilian flag over the fence on the right: big Brazilian community here.
Sand pipers!!!

Beachside bar with live music.

More incoming rain. Loved the pier lights reflected on the water!
We finally packed up and headed out at sunset. We had one more thing to do!

We were meeting up with our barn family at my favorite South Florida BBQ joint: Mississippi Sweets!

Waiting outside of the Boca Raton location. There is another one in West Palm.
These are Mississippi sweets: homemade thin-cut sweet potato chips! They are AMAZING.
From right to left: Sam, Dianne, myself, Charles, Diana in front of Charles, Mark and Sam's girlfriend.
I love love LOVE these people. They made South Florida bearable for me and were there for us through thick and thin. I could count on them for anything. I wish I had documented more about my relationships with them. Mark was my trail riding buddy and "barn uncle" as I called him; Charles would sometimes borrow his QH gelding Beau. Dianne is Mark's roommate and long-time friend. She owns the wonderful Pink Slip, an OTTB mare that I had a blast training. Diana I already told you guys about. :) Sam is Mark's main coworker. He has a Mustang...the kind with 4 tires. ;) He often tagged along and was our very own personal Jim Carrey at get-togethers. We all used to go out to dinner on Saturdays after the barn. Whenever Sam and Charles were in the same room at the same time, you could count on laughing so hard the tears would stream down your face. This time was no exception! My cheeks and abs hurt from laughing so hard after this get together. 

We hung out with Diana for a bit after everyone else took off after dinner, catching up some more, but Charles and I had to wake up early the next day for the airport so we didn't linger very long. We returned to the in-laws' to pack our belongings and go to bed early. 

We were leaving through the Miami International Airport this time, which can be kind of a clusterfuck to both get to in car and get out of plane-wise. Charles's dad made omelets for us for breakfast and we left very early at 9:30 am (our flight wasn't until 2:00 pm) so we could take a drive through South Beach before heading for the airport. 

Traffic into Miami. At 10:00 am. And then people complain about DC!

Driving into Miami

Miami Beach.
This is the background in our wedding photos.

Door to someone's secret garden in South Beach.

Ocean Drive takes you straight to the beach!

It was just under 70 degrees...and all of the outdoor heaters were on. And locals were wearing sweaters. Yup, that's cold for South Florida!
Temperature and date. And you can see me running up the sidewalk: I was headed towards the ocean!
The real South Beach.

My favorite kind of ocean is a stormy one. I stood for a while here, just staring at the waves crashing on shore.

Good-bye, my friend. Until we meet again!

En route to the airport, we stopped at the Latin American Bakery & Cafe.
Talk about Cuban bakery heaven. OMG.

This is a quesito. Quesitos are sort of a large crescent roll made with puffed pastry and stuffed with cream cheese, then covered in caramelized sugar. This was freshly baked and absolutely AMAZEBALLS.

We had coffee and quesitos at the bakery, then continued on towards the airport. The in-laws dropped us off with many good-byes and we made it through the security check in record time.

I swear this place looks different every time I go through it. It is the airport I have flown through the most and I have sort of a love-hate relationship with it.

Cafe Versailles is a big Cuban restaurant in Miami. I bought coffee and another quesito here before we were supposed to board the plane. I knew I wouldn't be getting to eat another real-deal quesito until we return to visit.
This really is so Miami. *sigh* No thank you.
I was really glad I bought that quesito despite not being hungry. The airplane ended up being detained on the runway for an hour while they fixed an "Exit" light. After we had boarded. They somehow managed to arrive in D.C. only 30 minutes late. But we arrived right in the middle of rush hour: it took two hours for the Metro to take us back to Rockville for us to pick up my car, and then it was another 45 minutes of driving before we made it home. We were beyond starving by the time we made it back to Frederick.

It was 30 degrees in Maryland when we arrived. We had a spectacular Florida visit, but it was so good to be back home!

Home sweet home: my river (the Potomac) and the blue mountains far away in the horizon.