What a Year

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2014 has been a pretty entertaining year, both in the way of fun and challenges.

Lots of lessons learned this year. Patience. Humility. Determination. Fighting on in the face of struggle.

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We started off 2014 by calling it “The Year of Fun”. It’s certainly been that as we have had a lot of fun. But it’s also been the year of continuing to be happy when our circumstances have dictated otherwise.

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; They just make the best of everything.”

It’s been a wonderful year of shelling the beaches of Sanibel.

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We took some great trips.

We had a ball at the Florida State Fair.

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We loved Lobster Fest in Key West.

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While the Blueberry Festival in Brooksville was memorable,

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the Central Florida Barbecue Blowout in Oveido was forgettable.

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We (I, actually) enjoyed the Pepper Fest in Pinellas, mainly because of the fun we had afterwards with our friend Karen at her home beach – Stump Pass.

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And we dove. Boy, did we dive.

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We dove Sanibel.

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And I found a MONSTER Alphabet Cone too.

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We dove the Keys – the upper, middle and lower….

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HWC

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and we’ll be diving in a few other exciting spots in a few days. We had 12 festival stops planned but did not get to hit them all. That’s ok though!

We also met and got to hang out with some very sweet and kind people this year. We’re quickly approaching 500 additional friends on our Facebook page. Thank you all for coming along for the ride this year.

We have a lot to be thankful for and we definitely are.

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We’ve had fun and learned some tough lessons as well, which has made us grow as people throughout this year’s journey.

But isn’t that what growing up is all about?

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😉

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends. See you in hopefully a very exciting and fun-filled 2015.

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Fourteen Florida Fun and Festival Tour – June 2014

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For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed a good hot pepper. There was a time that I would have at least one hot pepper every single day. Many times, the Queen has been sitting next to me on the couch, has leaned over and said, “How in the world are you always so waaaaaaarm?”

Psssshhhh….Dats dem hot peppahs, baybeh.

So I was hoping that the Pinellas Pepper Festival would deliver, and for the most part, it did.

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 Beautiful day, beautiful drive (about two hours to Pinellas Park) with a beautiful chick (who doesn’t eat hot sauces or hot peppers).

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It was the 8th annual for this festival. It was still certainly small, but packed with a lot of punch in such a small area – just like I like my hot sauces.

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$3 per person to get in and a portion went to help the Elizabeth Animal Rescue Sanctuary, a no kill sanctuary in Odessa. If you’re in the giving spirit, stop on by and make a donation.

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Meat on a stick? Kinda? Not today. I had a tongue to scorch!

However…..

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We did pick up some Meat in a Bag – you know, for later.

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I had a lot of fun moving from table to table, tasting hot sauces and salsas. This was my kinda gig. I was surprised it wasn’t a gigantic event for being the 8th annual. I’d estimate somewhere between 35-40 booths.

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I shoulda bought a few of these. Dangit.

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We stopped at this booth and picked up some delicious Red Hot Pepper Jelly. Hot and sweet is my kinda combo.

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This vendor had a ton of dips for sale…and we sampled every one!

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But I’d have to say the moment of of the day was the Amateur Hot Sauce Competition.

Now let me first say that I am pretty much immune to hot. It takes a lot to stop me in my tracks, and it has only happened a couple of times. Once with a Ghost Pepper and the other with a Trinidad Scorpion.

Those two should only be used in warfare.

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There were nineteen entries. So that meant nineteen different hot sauces to taste and judge. Nothing like a gauntlet of heat. I ain’t scurred. The young lady behind the table explained the rules in her southern drawl in a continuous loop for those approaching the table.

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So I tasted Number 1. Ya know, no fear.

Now at this point, time seemed to have stopped. I felt flush and it coulda played out just like this:

“Hey shooger, you ever taysted leekwid fahr bufawr?”

“Uhhh, no.”

“Well, here, lemme stick this blowtorch on ya tuuuung real quick…that taste good shooger?”

ouch

Holy smokes, what kind of pepper is in that? Do they make a Napalm Pepper? Because you know, that tasted like Napalm. Sweet napalm, but Napalm through and through.

I made it through all nineteen. By #7, I had a runny nose and was praying for God to save me from the firepit of hell.

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Thank the Lord the Queen had a cold bottle of water for me at the end of the line. I doused the flames with water and a handful of tortilla chips. We made our way through the rest of the festival pretty quickly and had the rest of the day to burn.

So as we learned at last month’s festival, it’s always good to have a backup plan. We had our swimsuits, beach bag, cooler of drinks and all our beach gear in the trunk. We decided to head to a beach we’d not visited before – IRB – only 10 miles away.

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We hit the 16th Avenue access and made our way to the beach.

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Now remember last week’s post about sunscreen and shoes on your feet? Yeah, I didn’t listen to my own advice and neglected both. I walked on parking lot blacktop, onto a scorching hot bridge and onto screaming hot sand. The dogs got blisters on them now. I was not smart.

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But wow, is that beach beautiful.

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Clear, warm turquoise water. Begging us to get in.

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You know we couldn’t resist. Water viz was probably 10 feet. Beautiful. Didn’t find any keeper shells, but there were remnants of gold in the water. We will be back, without a doubt!

After an hour, we jumped in the Shellmobile and headed South. We had made an appointment a few days before to visit our friend Karen on our way back, and we were very excited to finally meet her.

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We met up at Stump Pass, her home beach. She was waiting for us at the entry with a parking pass for us. What a sweetheart!

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There’s a reason why Karen said it was her favorite spot. The beach is absolutely beautiful. Stunning. When we arrived at her camp, she had a gift waiting for the Queen – a shark tooth/mini shell sieve. Awesome! I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Queen will be using that every time we hit the beach. Thank you, Karen!

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You know me. I had to jump right in and snorkel for shells in the deeper waters while the ladies scoured the beaches for shark teeth (photo taken by Karen).

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We spent three hours or so talking about life and beaches; God and his goodness. Some of the best conversation we’ve had in a while. Karen is a wonderful person who exudes the love of God. She made us feel so welcome and a part of her family. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I know we made a lifelong friend on this trip.

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She sent us on our way with a gift bag of goodies and a prayer. We thank the Lord for people like Karen. We look forward to seeing her again soon.

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Stump Pass goodies

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 We got home, showered and went right to bed. What an amazing day. Although the Pepper Festival was small, it delivered in waves of pure heat. Our time at IRB was fantastic and our time with Karen was just the cherry on top.

We truly are fortunate and blessed people.