Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Long Time Gone

So much has happened in our world since my last post. Tom got a new job, we bought a home, we lost our Ethel, we’ve traveled, we adopted Penny.

Why the absence? Adjusting back to settled life and Utah was way harder than I thought it would be. Being amongst friends/family again has been wonderful, but my gypsy soul has been aching. It is hard to write when you’re not quite content with where you are at. I’ve been working on coming to grips with it all and realizing that this is where we need to be, where the Universe wants us right now, so I need to embrace it and stop fucking wallowing. Yes, I gave myself a pep talk and a come to Jesus!

Work front, Tom loves his job! He is the VP of Technology/CTO of a local ad agency and loves their vision and the projects he gets to be a part of. I walked right back into my position as the Fitness Coordinator at the Rec Center, and have the pleasure of bringing health and wellness into people’s lives again. Or torture, depending on how you look at it!

Our home is one of a kind, built by a local architect, Lester Petitt. It is round, magical, and if we are going to be in Utah, I can’t imagine living in any other home. Its quirkiness suits us and its proximity to Millcreek Canyon, Downtown and Park City is more than ideal.

Ethel, our best friend, passed away in December at the ripe age of 17. Eight months later and I still tear up at the mention of her name. That girl was pretty much our world for ten years and experienced so much life with us, needless to say I am still healing. Losing her broke my heart and it’s been a slow, slow recovery.

To cope with our loss, we’ve traveled, a lot. Palm Springs for the holidays, Page, AZ to escape the Utah winter inversion, Portugal because we haven’t been to Europe in ages, and Canada for solitude and to escape Americans blowing things up for the 4th of July. Did it help? A little, the freedom was nice, something we haven’t had in many years; having an aging critter definitely impacts the way you vacation.

However, there was still in hole in our hearts, so here enters Penny, a four-year-old dachshund, and the newest member of the Compagno family. Penny is adorably fat, and is quickly taking over our hearts. Little does she know what she is in for, poor girl.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Texas Bound

Leaving Saint Augustine was hard, but the prospects of seeing old friends along the way seemed to add a little sunshine on the horizon. We had originally planned on taking a very indirect route so that we could stop over in Nashville and add a new city and state to list of time spent, but once I knew that one of my dearest and best friends was going to be in Alabama while we were on our trek west, our route became more direct. Plus an added bonus, we would be driving through Pensacola, which meant a dinner with one of my college/sorority sisters must be included.

Loren and I
We arrived in Pensacola early Friday evening and it allowed me the opportunity to sneak away and meet up with Loren; a ZTA Sister from SUU, for a drink and reminiscing about the good ol’ days at college and all the life developments since then. It was such a great night of fun conversation and I a reminder as to why I completely adore this lady. Plus I haven’t had the chance to see her since her wedding many moons ago, but seeing her and talking, it was like no time has passed; I just love those relationships where you can get together after years apart and it’s as though no time has gone by, it’s almost as though the conversation started off just where we left it last.

Sunrise view from our hotel room
Saturday was full of surprises and unexpected gifts that all started early. First we were lucky enough to have a beautiful east facing hotel room over the bay, so all we had to do was open the drapes and let the suns painted light permeate our room all while we laid in bed in sipped on our coffee; this was a much needed start considering the early morning loading of the car the day prior. A sunrise call from Stephanie, letting us know she landed safely in Alabama the night before and her ETA to meet up with us for a full afternoon of hugs, laughs and non-stop talking. We quickly devised a plan to meet up in downtown Pensacola for lunch, giving her time to drive the coastline and for us to stop and visit the Air Force Armament Museum.

Tom and the look of joy on his face from staring at planes
The Armament Museum was great, giving Ethel the opportunity to strut her stuff by age old planes and of course my favorite, watching Tom completely geek out at all the aircrafts. His bits of history and information about each plane floored me, I knew Tom loved them, but how much and what he knew was such a pleasant surprise. His giddy reaction and fascination was well worth the stop and total man haven if you’re ever the area.

Beads, beads, beads!!!
From there we were on to Pensacola to find a dog friendly lunch haunt and to meet up with Stephanie. We had originally planned on meeting up with her downtown, but once we arrived we were immediately met with the mayhem of a Mardi Gras Day parade and celebration. We had a bit of time on our hands so we parked the car and took off to explore some of the floats and the crazy antics that were already unfolding. It is these spontaneous adventures that I just love stumbling upon and getting to be a part of, plus the people watching just takes the cake!

Fighter plane engine
Instead of trying to figure out how and where to meet amidst the Mardi Gras crowds, we found a little diner just outside of downtown to meet up at. Fortunately for us we were the only ones outside for the three short hours we occupied their tables, which was wonderful for Ethel, she was able to run amuck and not be bothered to share anything, especially her people. Sorry, y’all I have raised a dog diva!

Stephanie, Bonnie and Tom
Time flew by and before we knew it the sun was beginning to set, at some point the restaurant staff ceased to exist and all that remained was endless conversation. Although Stephanie and I would regularly text and often talk on the phone, there is just something to be said about seeing one of your favorite people in person after a long absence.  I don’t think I realized how much I missed Stephanie until she was standing in front of me and couldn’t stop hugging her; seriously, if people didn’t know us, they might have though us lesbians; especially after the boundless hugs goodbye! You’d think somebody had died!

Crossing the Mississippi as we head back west.. What an amazing year since we crossed it going east!
Next day, we were off to Texas and bound for our new home for the next six weeks. This is the first time since we set out that we have not used Airbnb for one of our extended stays, instead this time we used Execustay through Marriot. Not because of a lack of options with Airbnb, but pricing more or less; I don’t know if it because part of our stay was during spring break or what, but the housing prices were off the charts high for Airbnb. In fact I had checked out the cute little retro place we had stayed at last time we were in San Antonio (click here for that post), but that had close to doubled since our last stay over a year ago.

San Antonio apartment
Our home in Texas was a great location for Tom, less than half a mile to his client, so he could walk to and from work, making the need for the car almost obsolete other than Ethel and I’s adventures during the day. Our cute little apartment was exactly that: cute and little, although we don’t require much. Execustay managed to win us over with everything: new, clean and completely organized for our stay. This is definitely a service we would use again, the fresh new towels, bedding and dishes, pretty much won us over.  Not to forget the pool and the gym, seriously though, the pool was divine at the complex; it almost felt like we had been transported to a Vegas resort! So here it is, our perfectly located Execustay:

Friday, May 1, 2015

More Than A Beach

Our return to Saint Augustine kicked off with a bang, literally. We arrived just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the pier for Beach Blast Off. Food, drinks, live music and to top it off an amazing fireworks celebration all to say goodbye to an incredible 2014 and welcome in all the adventures that 2015 has in store for us. I know I mentioned in a previous post that St. Augustine and I are kindred spirits, the town even functions on my timeline; up with the sun and to bed with the sun. So imagine my delight when the fireworks happened at 8:00 at night! I was over the moon that I could send an epic year off at a fantastic celebration, still manage to hit the sheets early and wake up ready to take on 2015, fully rested and full of zest!

If Beach Blast Off wasn't enough to kick start an amazing 2015, Tom had concocted this unbelievable birthday celebration for me. That’s right, I turned another year wiser on January 2nd, and Tom managed to outdo himself with a magical weekend escape to the Omni’s Amelia Island Plantation. Not only did we have a great room, but I woke to breakfast in bed, a morning at the spa, lunch in town, upon our return to the hotel the concierge had set up champagne and cake in the room and if that wasn't enough, Tom had one more surprise up his sleeve. He had arranged a private bonfire on the beach for us; more champagne and the makings for s’mores. It was all so dreamy and Tom made me feel like a complete queen, granted he does that on a regular basis, but an entire weekend of it was lovely and so appreciated.

With such an epic kick off to 2015 it got me to thinking about life, our last year and all the wonder that has come with it. I know we are living in this sort of dream world, the travel, the experiences and I am never for one minute not grateful for the opportunities that life and the universe has given us; for taking the plunge and saying what the hell, let’s do it. Life has a crazy way of presenting itself and I feel beyond blessed to live in this fairy-tale that I do and the gratitude I feel for those that have been there for us; to help us make it happen and for those that we get to share it with, our readers! Thank you to you all for growing, learning and living it with us. Okay, enough of my sentimental side, I’ll get back on task and reveal more of our crazy adventures.

Miss Ethel playing on the beach
Saint Augustine takes the holidays to the extreme and then they tack on another month of it, it is the Nights of Lights, which goes from Thanksgiving to the end of January. The entire town is draped in Christmas lights and this year was a little extra special due to the city celebrating their 450th year anniversary has the oldest settlement in the United States. Of course being us we needed to add a little extra magic to an already enchanting experience, we decided to tour the lights by a private horse drawn carriage. We took to The Tasting Tours lobby, procured a bottle of wine and met with the beautiful Leo (our horse) and Laughlin (Leo’s handler) to hop on board our carriage. Seeing the city at a slower pace and a different perspective just added another level of beauty to the city; also, the sound of a horse trotting along the cobblestone streets, the click, clock and clack,  just made it that much more alluring. If you ever need a moment to feel like Cinderella, this would be the city and the mode of transportation to help you find your inner princess.

El Galeon is also parked in the docks of Saint Augustine until summer for the 450th anniversary, the full-size reconstructed Spanish sail boat is open for tours and gives a great perspective of what it would have been like for those that crossed the ocean blue all those 500 years ago. A look into what it would have been like to been part of Ponce de Leon crew and the craftsmanship of what goes into building a man-made ship of this size, all truly remarkable.

We also happened to be in town during the “Enemy at the Gates” at Castillo De San Marcos and to be honest is was probably Tom’s favorite excursion upon our return to St. Augustine; he got to watch cannons fire at night, what manly man wouldn't love that! The staff and volunteers provided a living history tour by candlelight; the fort is dark, lit only by candles and we got to watch actors reenact scenes from battles past. Completely enthralled by the history, seeing the fort without electricity and the loud booms of the cannons echoing within the fort walls all added to that otherworldly experience of what it might have been like to have been there during the battles; minus the fear or our lives of course.

Besides adventures and copious amounts of time on the beach, Saint Augustine has this magical way of drawing family to us. Tom has another long lost cousin, Jean. In fact it is Tim’s sister that you might remember from the Ontario Outings post.
Stole this shot from Jean that she took while we were out walking on the beach
Jean and Tom looking through family photos

Jean and her husband, John, live over in Tampa and took the drive to St. Augustine for the weekend to meet up, get to know each other and share history on really the unknown side of Tom’s biological father's family. Jean and her husband were such a delight and it was so wonderful to spend time with them, getting to know them and hear stories about Tom’s grandmother, aunts, uncles and of course little tidbits about a man that helped bring Tom into the world. Jean was so thoughtful that she put together a photo album of Tom’s heritage and we spent the evening browsing photos, listening to stories and learning what life was like all things Lenny.

Sandi, John, Jean, Bonnie and Tom
And if just getting to meet Jean and John wasn't enough, we found out that Tom has another cousin, Sandy, that actually lives in St. Augustine and she joined us all for brunch the following morning and chimed in her stories and memories. Getting to know family along this journey has been such a great and wonderful experience for us and these moments in time that have made Project #Gonewanderlusting worth every mile.

Gavin, Sherry, Todd and Evie
A few days after meeting Jean, John and Sandy, and just before we hit the road for Texas, Todd, Sherry and the kids flew in to Saint Augustine to show Sherry’s parents a town that captivated their hearts as well when they were here visiting us in October (Click here for that visit). Neither Tom nor I had seen Todd and Sherry’s kids, Evie and Gavin, in over two years, so we were just ecstatic about the opportunity to spend time with them and just admire the young adults that they have grown into. The passage of time is mind boggling, days go by way to fast and before we know it the years have slipped by; thank God for Florida, because I am pretty sure we have seen Todd and Sherry more times since we’ve been in Florida than we had in the last two years in Utah.

Our breakfast send off  crew
Meeting up with Todd, Sherry and the kids made for an exceptionally hard send off from Saint Augustine, every piece of my being was dying to stay, to spend more time with them and also knowing that part of my heart was being left there on the beach. This place has captivated us and we can't wait to return again. Until then we have more shots that we took while exploring Washington Oaks, the museums and of course our time spent on the beach.

Lucky shot at Washington Oaks
Washington Oaks State Park
Coquina Beach at Washington Oaks

Lightner Museum

Friday, April 3, 2015

How to be a great AirBnb Host (from a serial AirBnb guest's perspective)

If you have reached this post without knowing our blog, you can read about our individual AirBnb stays from the previous posts.

Considering my wife and I have been using AirBnb monthly for the past 15 or so months - I believe we have earned the status of experienced guests.  We have stayed in an array of places from tiny a NYC apartment to multi-room beach houses.  Our only real limits during our searches are price and the pet policy (our dog is also along for the journey).

I don't think we would call ourselves picky, but we have definitely learned what makes life a little easier while on the road for so long.  The list isn't extensive. I'll break everything into three categories. The first of course are the "Must-haves".

This category is simple, if they don't exist it makes life potentially miserable either upon arrival or at some point during the stay.  Remember we are roadies, we don't have a home base so some of these may not matter as much to a short term-er.

  • Toilet Paper - have some on the roll and some close by for backup. Sometimes we have some left over from the previous stay and pack it with us, but not always. When you come off a long haul road trip it's nice to know I don't have to completely unpack to use the restroom.
  • One medium sized non-stick frying pan- There were a few places where we didn't even attempt to turn on the oven, but usually scrabbled eggs are a morning ritual and if you don't provide at least one good pan, it really puts a damper home cooking. (we actually purchased our own and pack it to every new location)
  • Ok we need more than just a frying pan - provide enough kitchen stuff to let us cook most basic meals. We don't need a gourmet supply of pots, pans and utensils, but try to cook a decent breakfast and dinner in your provided kitchen before you rent it out as a test.  
  • Coffee Pot - enough said. (I assume I don't have to list microwave.)
  • Towels - not just one in the bathroom or hidden away in a closet, have a few and put some in the kitchen too.
  • Pest control - no one wants to see bugs of any kind. We were pretty lucky to avoid any major issues thank God! (Bonnie hates to kill spiders for me)
  • Wifi - I don't care if you have cable, we cut the cord long ago. I do need to work and occasionally watch Netflix or Hulu so please have at least a 3mb connection with a single throughout the house.

The next category I would call "Over the top". These are the things a host can do that are really above and beyond and sometimes - if you have been in the car for 10 hours with a dog that has occasional panic attacks can really make our day.

  • A welcome package - This has been provided on many occasions, it's amazing how much it makes the guest feel comfortable in the rental.  If you want to go way over the top provide some treats or booze, enjoying some wine while I unpack the car is always a pleasure. If you aren't weird, greet the guests. We have only met a couple of hosts, but they were great experiences.
  • Coded door locks - keeping track of keys is a nightmare! It is so much easier to remember a code and know you will always be able to get back in without the need to contact someone if you don't have the keys. I know it's not always possible because of property rules, but it's an awesome feature.
  • An iron and board - We have a tiny travel iron which is a pain, whenever a house had these items it was a wonderful surprise. Remember on the road, everything gets wrinkled.
  • Washer and dryer - when these are in the rental, it really saves the day. Everyone probably understands how fast laundry builds up, and without knowing an area it can be difficult to locate a worthy laundromat. We already have to yelp dry cleaners every month for dress clothes.
  • Stuff to do - you know, tell us where the best restaurants are located, what are the must dos only the locals know about, give us some history on the property, whatever, make it an experience.

Luckily we haven't had poor hosts, it's what makes AirBnb so cool, but if there were anything we wouldn't want to happen, they would fall into this final category - "Avoid these".

  • Require us to do something for you - We are nice, we will comply. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but do your best to not give us chores (see 'over the top' for ways to keep us happy if you do ask)
  • Miss anything on the"Must have" list - Duh.
  • Angry neighbors - Are you renting your place on AirBnb and your neighbors hate the idea? Resolve it! 
  • Illegally renting your place - Are you breaking building rules, HOA rules, or local laws? Guess what, your guests don't want to be caught in the middle of some battle. Do it right or don't do it at all.
So there you have it. See we aren't high maintenance, but we do know what we like.  Feel free to ask us questions. AirBnb has been great to us and I would suggest you give it a try over a hotel next time you travel. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Return to St. Auggie

“The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscape, but in having new eyes.”                                                                                           -Marcel Proust

We descended upon St. Augustine Beach again, once wasn't enough for us and we needed to get back. In fact, this is my confession: I am addicted to the ocean, this place and the energy that surrounds it; however, no intervention needed, I am fully and painfully aware of it. We had originally planned on spending another five weeks here, but when Sherry let us know that Todd and her were bringing the kids and her folks out in February, well that left us scrambling to extend; how could we not find a way to see them all? Bonus, we got to stay longer and our five weeks became seven weeks, a chaotic last couple of weeks as we transitioned from our first place to an interim hotel and then to our last home here, but nothing a walk along the beach can’t calm and completely worth the pandemonium in the end.

Our first place this visit was up on 13th Street, when we were here last October we were down on 6th, and I found myself pining for the lower streets. They have more of a local charm to them and it could be they are closer to that “Golden Mile,” and the beach living is at its finest. Or it could be that I wasn't in love with our place like I was with the little yellow cottage we stayed in last time. This place was updated and had some great conveniences, but was completely lacking in that perfect nostalgic beach home, especially that 50’s-70’s style retro home that makes Saint Augustine Beach so unique.

Like I said, our first place had some great amenities, especially only being a block from the beach, but is a place that had completely been updated and well it lacked in the beach feel. In fact the d├ęcor was more like the eighties got frisky with as Asian tchotchke shop and the outcome was our living space for six weeks. Fortunately we are movers and shakers and don’t really spend too much time indoors, and why would we, there is a beach a block away! Being down on the higher streets, put us in a more tourist area, so everything was close. Meaning, we could run across the street to grab dinner from one of the great restaurants on the island and the pier was around the corner, making my Wednesday produce haul from the farmers market much easier to get back home.

Time flew by and our once five weeks, that extended and turned into six, was gone and we found ourselves loading up the Flex again and off to Ponte Vedra Beach to crash at the Sawgrass Marriott. We had one night where we were homeless and in between spaces in Saint Augustine Beach, we needed to be out of the 13th street home and our next landing space on 5th not ready for one more day. So we leveraged Marriott points and pampered ourselves a bit, and Marriott thought we needed some extra love too and they upgraded us to a Villa. Ah, the perks of being married to a road warrior! And such a welcome surprise after all the stress and chaos of finding another home to rent; although I might have considered sleeping in the car had it meant we got to see our family!

The Sawgrass Marriott is right next door to TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass.  Home of the PGA headquarters and probably the world’s most famous golf course, how can one forget that notoriously famous 17th hole. Our villa looked right out on the 14th fairway and although I found it peaceful and relaxing, Tom might have might have been slightly tortured; being so close to such a famous course, not having his clubs and the $400 fairway fee kind of put the idea of playing a round a tad out of reach for now, but there is always next time. 

View from the patio of our Sawgrass Villa
Fully rested, we got back in the car and made our way back to St. Augustine Beach to unload the car and get moved into our last home here before moving on to our next destination. Our place on 5th was such a welcome and inviting surprise; we walked into a haven of beach chic. A home swarming with charm and I was ecstatic we got to finish out our visit here in a place that screams St. Auggie!
Image of the 17th hole, borrowed from the TPC Sawgrass web page, not my image :)
The home was idyllic and was the epitome of a true beach cottage. We were one house from the beach and back in the haven of that precious Golden Mile, where surfers run up and down the road and the locals are differentiated from the tourist by those that have shoes on versus those that don’t. The home was clean, a mix of vintage and even had bikes, surfboards and paddleboards for us to use; granted the water was freezing so the latter two weren't really options this stay. We also became cat parents while we were staying there, that's right, this home comes equipped with its very own cat, Donger. In fact the home is his and anyone that stays, are his guests. Donger spent his days at the beach and only made an appearance at night and had his own room off the back of the house; and my allergies only acted up once when I was giving the guy a little too much love for my eyes to handle. And how did Ethel handle the cat, well the old girl is so blind, I don't even think she realized he was there most of the time, besides, I think she was fully aware she would be a on the losing end of an battle with Donger; street cat vs. pampered pooch, the odds wouldn't have been in her favor. 

This being our last week in town and being in a place that cozy, that exemplified beach living was hard to leave, but here she is, our last home in St. Augustine, unless of course I convince Tom to move there! Which by the way, every home we have stayed at in St. Auggie is officially up for sale right now, I must be putting out some crazy, 'I want to move there' energy! 

Donger the Cat