Saturday, January 31, 2009

Port of Call: Tampa

Florida is the only state we can proudly say we know it like the back of our hands. We are lucky to have cruised all around the peninsula, and to have driven up and down and across the state. Of all the places we had visited, we chose the Tampa Bay area to be our home. Having family in the area played a small part in our decision. More importantly, it was the diversity of the people (age and ethnic background), the arts and culture in the tri-cities of St Petersburg/Clearwater/Tampa, the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, and an excellent international airport. Not to mention sports. This past October saw the Tampa Bay Rays playing against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. And this weekend, Tampa is hosting the biggest game of all - the Super Bowl.

Several days ago, we drove by the hot spots (downtown, Channelside, and Ybor City) of Tampa. The city has been in a frenzy trying to get things situated for the big day - Super Bowl Sunday. We learned that our favorite band, the Eagles, was playing at the St Pete Times Forum Thursday night, and Celine Dion played the night before. Lots of celebrities in town, and definitely lots happening ...
Tampa waterfront
We're no avid sports fans, but we do like to watch the Super Bowl on TV. It is the height of creativity for the advertisers. The half-time show can be quite exciting. How could anyone forget Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction in 2004? This year, Bruce Springsteen, aka the Boss, promises a high energy 12-minute party at the half-time show. Our observation is that most of the Tampa Bay area will be rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Us? We prefer the underdog, the Arizona Cardinals, a team who is playing in the Super Bowl for the first time. But hey, what do we know? Prior to an invitation to a Super Bowl party this week, we didn't even know who was playing:-) Go Cardinals!

Enjoy your stay in the Tampa Bay area!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

Today is New Year's Eve (year of the Ox). Customarily, we would spend today gathered with family for a reunion dinner. However, living in America and having family scattered all over the country, it is tough to keep this tradition alive.
Kids practising the dragon dance for the new year
When I came to America over thirty years ago, I stayed with my aunt in Philadelphia and worked part-time at her restaurant. I am forever grateful to her and her husband for their hospitality and kindness. Since then, I finished college, got married, and moved to different parts of the country. Recently, I found myself living in the same area as my aunt and her sisters. They are now in their late 60s and are retired. Every so often, we would get together and cook up a storm while reminiscing about old times, our home country Malaysia and the food we grew up with.

This is our third new year celebration together. We had our reunion dinner one day earlier than usual (guess we couldn't wait to usher out 2008!) We whipped up a lavish dinner. I made my annual new year cake (made from glutinous rice flour, and baked instead of the traditional steamed). For some mind boggling reason, the cake turned out different - more like a biscotti than the sticky chewy rice cake...Huh? I'm still baffled about what went wrong. The good news is that the "biscotti" was good and everybody loved it! That felt like an auspicious beginning of the year to me.

May the new year bring peace, health and much happiness!

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Where did the time go?

To this day, we still get this question: Since you don't work, what do you do with your time? It has been eight years since we quit work. Looking back, I don't even know where all that time went. One thing I do know is that as I get older, time goes by faster.

When we were cruising on the boat full time, there was never a dull moment. From the planning stage to the arrival of a new destination, there is always something to do. Working on the boat is an on-going process. When something breaks or malfunctions, you have to attend to it immediately, whether it is a pump (and gosh, there are so many on the boat - sump pump, fuel pump, water pump), any component of the engine or generator, the batteries, the toilet, the refrigerator, you name it. Think about your car breaking down on the road. Wouldn't you get the problem fix right away too? Then there's the excitement of exploring a new place and meeting new people at the marina.

The last three years found us spending summer on the boat in Mississippi and Tennessee, winter on terra firma in Florida. Our decision in 2006 to head up the inland waterway (going counter clockwise to the Great Loop, from Florida to Mobile, and up the Tenn-Tom Waterway) was great timing indeed. Hurricanes had ravaged Florida in 2004, and Louisiana in 2005. Boat insurance for the Gulf Coast down to the Carribean skyrocketed. Then, last summer, diesel prices spiraled out of control to over $5 a gallon, gas was up to $4/gallon! Filling up a 350-gallon tank was downright scary. So, Mai Thai stayed put at its current location at Hales Bar Marina for two years. I guess we are now officially what they called liveaboards.
View of I-24 over Lake Nickajack, near Hales Bar Marina
So what do we do all day long now that we are not cruising? Well, we are very good at slacking off these days. Apparently, ZenHabits thinks it is a good thing (now I don't feel so bad...) Click here to read "The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less." You might even learn a thing or two about goofing off.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Retirees with a zest for life

Cruising by boat is a lifestyle that has allowed us to visit many interesting places and offered tremendous opportunity to meet people. These retirees come from all walks of life, and are usually 65 and older. No doubt these are the same people who changed American culture in the sixties, and they are calling the shots again in their retirement. This new breed of retirees is amazingly adventurous. No matter their age, they are riding motorcycles, hiking the Appalachians, working on their boats, honing their crafts, be it writing, cooking or playing musical instruments. My hats off to them! They are our inspiration.

Over the Christmas/New Year's holidays, we visited Bill and Joy in Marathon, the middle Florida Keys. We had met these fun folks in May 2004, first at Carolina Beach State Park in N. Carolina, and then crossed path again at various places in the Chesapeake Bay, Florida and later, Tennessee. They were cruising on Chandelle, a 44' Endeavor Catamaran, and this particular winter, she was berthed at her dock in Coco Plum in Marathon.
Chandelle leaving Carolina Beach State Park
Hailing from New Orleans, Joy is a connoisseur when it comes to food. We always discover new exciting places to visit or eat with them. On this trip, we enjoyed feeding the tarpons at Robbie's in nearby Islamorada, and an awesome motorcycle outing with their friends (one was in his early 80s) to Big Pine Key for lunch. The less adventurous (that's Joy and yours truly) went by car.
Feeding tarpons at Robbie's
Unbeknownst to us, the National Key Deer Refuge is located right here at Big Pine Key, about half hour from their marina. So after lunch, we drove around hoping to meet some Key deer. This was our lucky day. We saw several. One even came up to hubby's hand to lick it! Even the Key deer could not resist the smell of pizza, which was what we had for lunch. A sweet encounter indeed.
Key Deer at Big Pine Key

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gone Cruisin'

After boating in the Boston area for several years in the late 1990s, we were hooked on the lifestyle and dreamt about cruising full-time. Our dream came true in December 2000.

We bought a Jefferson 37' powerboat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Then we quit our jobs and spent two blissful months traveling around Asia. When we returned, we drove to Ft Lauderdale to pick up the boat. We named her Mai Thai. We had planned to take Mai Thai back north to Newport, Rhode Island. Some people navigate this 1500-miles trip in 15-20 days, but why rush? It was early March, and it was still winter in New England. We decided to take it slow and take our time to "stop and smell the roses" along the way.
Practising anchoring near Harbortown Marina, Ft Pierce, Florida
Mai Thai docked at St Augustine City Marina, Florida
Mai Thai anchored at Cumberland Island, Georgia
Mai Thai docked at Jekyll Harbor Marina, Jekyll Island, Ga
Our timing could not have been more perfect, as spring was in the air at every port of call we stopped. In Savannah, Georgia, azaleas were in full bloom. Fragrant jasmine floated in the air as we walked by the gardens of antebellum homes in Beaufort, South Carolina. We were mesmerized by the beauty of Charleston and its architecture. And in Beaufort (pronounced Bow-fert), North Carolina, stunning sunsets took our breath away.
Antebellum home in Beaufort, S. Carolina
The majestic Avenue of Oaks at Boone Plantation, Charleston, S. Carolina
Sunset at Town Creek Marina, Beaufort, N. Carolina
Alas, we never made it to Newport. We got as far north as Baltimore, and had too much fun exploring the countless rivers and creeks in the Chesapeake Bay, and before we knew it, it was September, too cold to venture further north.

This was our first time in the south, and we discovered that traveling by boat is an excellent way to see and explore America. There is no packing and unpacking, you can sleep in your own bed, eat what you want, when you want to. No traffic, no schedule. One step outside (we're talking stepping out in pyjamas), and you are greeted with spectacular sceneries. And if you don't like what you see, you can just move on. Oh what a feeling and what freedom!

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