Why I’m traveling solo after a breakup

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Over the last few years, I’ve gotten pretty good at break ups.  I’m not really sure if that’s something I should be proud of—given the fact I’ve had so many. But what was once a disastrous melodrama with months of heartache and pining, is now something I look at as the start of a new chapter.

My dating life has been full of unexpected twists and turns and I wrote about some of my hang ups during “31 Dates Before 31” in which I went on 31 dates to raise money for charity before my 31st birthday.

My dating resume is a decade-long novel, and sometimes I wish I had a clear answer for why I can’t figure this whole thing out. I’ve met the right guys at the wrong times. I’ve also met the wrong guys at the right times and it just took me a while to realize it. Through it all, I’ve learned that you need to be solid with yourself before you can really be with someone else.

“I just really thought this time it was going to work out,” I lamented to a friend after my boyfriend and I broke up last month.

My friend’s response:

“When you get into a relationship you always have to believe it’s going to work out. You can’t go in expecting it to go bad.”

I think part of the disappointment we feel when a relationship fails is how wrong we were. We go back and re-examine those red flags or try to identify ones we may have missed.  How can I trust myself with the next person if I was so wrong about this one?

In order to make a relationship work, you need suspension of disbelief. The term, coined by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge means that if a writer could infuse “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement and overlook the implausibility of the narrative. (thank you, Wikipedia)

I think relationships are just like this. Divorce rates prove that more often than not, they don’t work out. But you have to have a willing suspension of disbelief to give it a chance.

Getting over a break up is about regaining my optimism. It’s about picking myself up off the ground. It’s about climbing over a mountain of disappointment to get to back to that deliriously intoxicating view at the top. It’s about making peace with the past, acknowledging what that relationship brought into my life and closing that chapter so I can start another one.

And for me, nothing expedites that process like taking an epic trip abroad.

There are a lot of reasons I shouldn’t have bought a ticket to Ecuador the day after my break up. Like that whole goal to beef up my savings and be a responsible adult before booking another trip after my car bit the dust earlier this year.

But for me, this is what I need.

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Taking a solo trip in the midst of a break up is not a way to escape reality. As I ride a mountain bike up a volcano for five days in May, I’m looking for a physical and mental challenge that will force me to dig deep into myself and find the perseverance to overcome obstacles in my life.

I want a tangible reminder that joy and self-reliance can be found when you go outside your comfort zone.

If I’ve learned anything it’s that relationships come and go, but there will always be mountains to climb. And the only way to get to the top of them is to keep climbing.

 

The price of having a travel addiction

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When my 10-year-old Chevy Cobalt came to a screeching, smoky halt on a Georgia Interstate last week, I knew I was totally screwed.

I had spent an epic five days in the Blue Ridge Mountains—hiking around waterfalls along the Appalachian Trail and taking sweet afternoon naps in a cabin where I didn’t have cell phone service. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a champagne toast next to a fire place and played board games with friends.

I knew I was pushing the limits when I decided to take my car on the nine-hour trip north. In November I had nearly given up on my car after three weeks and several trips to the repair shop for a serious oil and transmission leak. The dealership said my car was a goner but I dug my heels in. Finally, a friend was able to seal the leak. I vowed to start getting serious about saving up for a down payment on a car in the New Year.

But I was too late.

A bearded mechanic named Mike walked in the waiting area of his repair shop in Cordele, Ga., holding a metal L-shaped rod his in hand.

“Your engine is gone,” he said with words that hung in the air. My connecting rod had snapped and torn through my oil pan.

The price of fixing my car would have exceeded its value. Suddenly I was stuck in a rural town with no way home.

It was 5 p.m. and the shop was closing. Mike said if I gave him the title of my car we could call it even. Thanks to a man named Cowboy with the only cab in town—a beat up minivan piled high with fast food wrappers and a TV to watch Bernie Mac DVD’s— I was able to make it to the nearest car rental place an hour away.

To add insult to injury, I got a speeding ticket on the way home. Apparently crying doesn’t get you anywhere with Georgia State Troopers.

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For the majority of my adult life I have been fortunate enough to avoid car payments. And that’s mainly because I could care less what type of car I drove. As long as it got me from point A to B, I’d drive anything with wheels. My main objective has always been to be as untethered as possible, in the hopes that I could easily pack it up and move abroad on a whim if the mood struck me.

I never wanted the weight of something like car payments to prevent me from following my bliss.  I wanted to steer clear of the treadmill I see so many Americans on: juggling an ever growing amount of debt while doing everything they can to make an extra buck.

I was in denial that I would have to eventually get another car. It seemed so far off. After deciding that I would make travel a priority in my life, I’ve spent the last two years putting most of my disposable income into amazing adventures.

I saw every trip as an investment into what I thought would eventually become a revenue-generating blog to offset the cost of traveling once I built the audience. But that has yet to happen.

As a writer I think it’s important to be honest about traveling. If you are spending money traveling abroad, that’s money you aren’t spending on another aspect of your life. What are you willing to do without so that you can have adventures of a lifetime?

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Where the majority of my cash goes, according to mint.com

I was willing to live pretty cheaply but also without a backup plan for the unexpected.

I’ve spent the last several days asking myself if I regret any of the trips I’ve taken. If I could do it again, would I have canceled a trip so that I could have had a better safety net?

And the answer is no. But this recent event has been a bit of a wakeup call that I need to find some middle ground between nomadic idealism and adulthood.

Over the weekend I bought a slightly used car—one that I’m happy with and is within my means. Having reliable transportation is a new level of security that I haven’t had for the last couple of years and it’s kind of amazing.

But it’s not lost on me that what I’m now putting towards a car could buy me a domestic flight every month for the next five years.

This change in my life will likely mean some changes for Parachute Journalist, my weekend adventures and puts planning a trip to Ecuador this spring in limbo. I haven’t had the mental energy to sort all that out yet, but I plan to share my next steps when I get there.

For me travel will always be a priority but now I have to re-evaluate what I’m willing to give up to make it happen.

What have you sacrificed for your passion? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Where should I travel in 2016?

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The beaches of Cuba

While most of you are agonizing over New Years Resolutions, I find myself having similar feelings about my travel plans for the next year. I think of a New Year in terms of the places I’ll go and with a limited number of vacation days, I know that I have to plan strategically to feed my wanderlust.

For my next international trip in 2016, I’ve decided to head back to Latin America. There’s a few reasons for this. While my wanderlust aches to explore new continents, Central and South America have a huge hold on my heart. I’ve now traveled to Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and Cuba and I still can’t enough of the warm and vibrant culture.

Because of the proximity to Florida, flights to Latin America are cheaper than flying anywhere else internationally. And did I mention how cheap it is when you actually get there? I managed to spend two weeks in Peru in 2014 for less than $2,000 and that included a 5-day guided hike along the Salkantay trek. 

At this point in my life, Latin America makes the most sense. And I would thoroughly love to explore every country in it. With that said. I’m agonizing over which country to pick next. I’ve narrowed down to three options and I need your help deciding. I’ll be announcing which trip I’m picking on Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. via Periscope.

Here are my options:

Colombia

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Bogota

Colombia has been on my list for a while but watching “Narcos” actually made me ache to visit this country even more. Yes, I realize Narcos would probably scare a normal person. But did you see those luscious mountains? Colombia is where I want to trace to footsteps of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, explore the country’s diverse landscape and get to know the people.

Pros: Colombia has cheap flights. According to a Kayak.com search, I could snag roundtrip airfare for $191. There’s Cartagena—the coastal colonial city with cobblestone streets and Caribbean influence. There’s art, music and culture in Bogota. There’s salsa dancing and cafes in Medellin.

Cons: Colombia is mucho grande and I only have 10 days to spend. While the airfare is cheap, I’ll likely need additional airfare or have to endure long bus rides to get to all my top destinations. And while Colombia is much more secure that it was 10 years ago, there’s a good chance I’ll be on this trip alone and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with that.

Ecuador

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Photo credit: Elle Wildermuth

This lovely little gem of a country has everything I’m looking for: the Amazon jungle, amazing beaches and a volcano. It’s small enough that I can likely do all those things in 10 days and from what I’ve been able to tell, bus tickets are the cheapest here.

Pros: According to Kayak.com, I can snag roundtrip tickets here for about $500 or less. There’s a 3-day mountain biking tour I can do of the Cotopaxi Volcano. There’s the laidback coastal surfing town of Montanita and I hear the seafood dishes along the coast are amazing and only cost $4-5. Another big plus here is that a wonderful couple I met on the trek to Machu Picchu will be traveling here in the spring. As much as I like solo travel, I love having shared adventures and I really like the idea of meeting up with my travel buds.

Cons: I can’t afford Galapagos and it’s on my bucket list. It’s really hard for me to imagine going to Ecuador and skipping the Galapagos Islands but no matter how I roll the dice it looks like it would cost between $800 and $1,000 just for this excursion, plus I’d also be short on time. I can’t decide if it’s worth it to go all the way to Ecuador and skip an experience that’s so high up on my bucket list.

 

Cuba/Mexico

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Ever since I spent a week in Cuba last spring, I can’t stop thinking about going back. I’m literally obsessed with this amazing country and now that I have the lay of the land, I want to go back and see what it’s like to experience this country outside of a tour group. This time I’d skip the U.S. approved travel licenses and expensive charter flights and fly in through Cancun. As a travel blogger I think having the experience of going legally vs. illegally to Cuba would be valuable not only to myself but for my readers. Ideally I’d spend 4-5 days getting my diving certification in Tulum, Mexico and then flying into Cuba for another five days.

Pros: For this trip I’d get to knock out two countries in one trip. Right now Kayak.com tells me that flights to Cancun are about $300 from Orlando. Another ticket to Cuba would likely be between $200 and $300. Tulum has some amazing beaches, cave diving, food and Mayan ruins. Cuba has everything I love: grit, warm people, art, music and a million opportunities for off the beaten path adventures. It’s like traveling to a different planet but its only 90 miles from Florida!

Cons: I don’t really want to go back to Cuba alone. As much as I feel safe in Cuba, I am a walking target for getting taken advantage of. And as amazing as the Cubans are, I learned last year that they are very clever at finding ways to get you to fork over cash. The tourism infrastructure here is a bit unreliable—with no ATMs or easily accessible wifi. There’s also the thought that I’ve already been here and maybe I should go somewhere I’ve never been before.

See my dilemma? I need your help! I’d love all comments, suggestions and feedback on which trip I should pick! And don’t forget to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter below for exclusive weekend getaway ideas and updates on my travel plans.

 

Five ways to experience authentic Fort Lauderdale

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Fort Lauderdale is like the sleek, sophisticated sister of Miami. Last week I ventured to this beach destination located 30 minutes north of Miami and was impressed with what I found. Don’t get me wrong, I love the energy and color of Miami but it’s also an expensive city where the pace seldom slows down. So for those reasons, Fort. Lauderdale makes a great alternative to Miami or at least a detour on your way there.

I stopped in to see a dear friend who I met on the trek to Machu Picchu last year in Peru. I was really impressed with Fort Lauderdale—the affordable resort I stayed in (during the off season), the amazing dining options on Las Olas Boulevard and the mix of outdoor activities and culture.

While I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted, here are five ideas for your own visit:

Stay on the beach 

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At the B Ocean Resort, you pay for the location. Right now the resort is under renovations, which are set to be completed by spring. I booked off Hotwire.com (which doesn’t tell you the name of the hotel until after you book but you can see the location). I was able to book a room for $114, which was $52 less than a room that I’d get booking directly from the resort’s website. The hotel is a bit older and worn, which is probably why the renovations are taking place. During the renovations you can decide whether or not you want to pay the $22 resort fee, which includes 2 drinks, bike rentals and chair rentals at the beach. This is a great time of year to come, as it’s still warm enough to enjoy the infinity pool or the beach but it’s not too crowded. I ended up paying another $25 to self-park. I’d definitely stay here again for the proximity to the beach.

Ride in a Gondola

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There’s a few parts of Fort Lauderdale that look like Venice, with winding canals that are perfect for kayaking, boating and even a romantic Gondola tour. I didn’t get a chance on this trip to go on a Gondola tour but I hope to next time. There’s a few gondola operators but Riverfront Gondola Tours offers an hour and a half tour for $33 during sunset or at night. You are allowed to bring your own alcohol and food on the boat as well.

See a Mermaid Show

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The Wreck Bar, located inside the B Ocean Resort, looks like an old ship with huge glass windows behind the bar that look out into a pool. On Friday at Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m. you can get a glimpse of real, live mermaids behind the glass. I missed the free show on Friday but I will definitely be back. The bartender suggested arriving an hour early to get a seat. This iconic bar was also featured in a scene in the 1999 film “Analyze This” with Billy Crystal and Robert de Niro.

Dine on Las Olas

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The fungi misti pizza at Louie Bossi’s.

Las Olas Boulevard is the heart of Fort Lauderdale and it’s a perfect place to get dressed up and go out for a night on the town. There’s tons of boutiques (many a bit too pricey for my taste) and it’s not uncommon to see Lamborghinis parked on the street, but what really made my mouth water was the dining options. Here you’ll find dozens of upscale and trendy restaurants with innovative menus. As my friend and I walked up and down the street, a man offered us a warm Madeline cookie and suggested we dine at his French restaurant, The Boarding at 813 Las Olas. I was sold. Here, the chef made us a special off-the-menu spread with salad, cheese, bread and a smoked salmon dip that was to die for. He also brought us a complimentary dessert.

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The Boarding

And the best part was the bill. The bill, split, (which included a bottle of wine) came to $35. I was blown away not only by the quality of the food but how dedicated the chef was to ensuring that my friend and I had the best dining experience possible.

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The piazza at Louie Bossi’s

The next day, when I stumbled into the outdoor patio of Louie Bossi’s I thought I had crashed a wedding. A group was seated family-style table in the middle of a green courtyard with a bocce ball court, a fire pit and a gazebo. I asked the host if this was a private event. “No that’s just our piazza,” he replied. This carefully crafted atmosphere also carries over the menu where all the pasta and pizza dough are made from scratch as well as the sauces. I had the funghi misti pizza: wild mushroom, parmigiana reggiano and truffle oil. This is definitely the pizza of champions. My total bill here (including a Coconut IPA from Miami Brewing Company) came to $30.

Ride Bikes

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The Broward B-cycle Bike Sharing program offers more than a dozen bike rental stations from Hollywood to Pompano Beach. They are great for quick trips along the well-paved beachfront sidewalks or bike lanes. They are also a great way to avoid parking fees if you are hoping from place to place. The rental fees are $5 for half an hour and $5 for each half hour after that.

Go on a Brewery Tour

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Located about 15 minutes from downtown Fort Lauderdale, Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park offers brewery tours at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays and Thursdays at 7 and 8 p.m. The brewery is one of my favorites with its lofty selection of food-inspired brews such as the Maple Bacon Porter and French Toast Double Brown Ale. The tours are $5 and include a pint glass and four beer samplings. Our guide, Nick, was hilarious and super knowledgeable about the brewing process. For me, I loved hearing about the brewery’s success story. Stick around to play cornhole or giant Jenga in the game room or try the handrolled Yucca Tots at the brewery’s new Craft Food Counter and Kitchen, where everything is made in house and from scratch.

I’m looking forward to returning to Fort Lauderdale and picking up where I left off. This trip also inspired me to explore more of South Florida. Where’s your favorite South Florida getaway? Feel free to comment or share below!

Want more? Sign up for my e-mail newsletter where I’ll keep you up to speed on the best getaways in Florida and beyond. 

 

Looking for more ideas for a weekend getaway? Head over to #Weekendwanderlust

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Finding Christmas in the chaos at St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights


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For me, there are two versions of Christmas. There’s the season of traditions, gratitude and warm memories with those who are dear to me.

And then there’s the season of financial strain, family drama and the pressure to make each and every moment merry and bright.

It’s that latter version of Christmas that seemed to prevail in the last few years and one that I decided that I needed to make a break from once and for all. I know I’m not the only one who has mixed emotions this time of year. I decided I could focus on my holiday hang ups or I could get into the damn Christmas spirit and make the most of it.

But if you’d have told me I’d be skipping around St. Augustine like a giddy child, yelling “Merry Christmas” to strangers and singing Christmas carols this weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s exactly what happened during a trip to Nights of Lights, where the nation’s oldest city glows like a million fireflies.

St. Augustine is a beautiful city, with a historical walkable downtown filled with stone walkways, Spanish architecture and a nostalgic ambiance against the back drop of a giant fort. But in the past I’ve dismissed it as an overrated tourist destination that felt more like Disney. And Nights of Lights just seemed like a more chaotic version of that.

But there’s really something magical about St. Augustine this time of year and it’s more than just the lights. It’s the sound of trolleys rolling down the street blaring Christmas songs. It’s the bars and restaurants filled with couples and families laughing. And it’s the overall good cheer that permeates as strangers say “Merry Christmas” to each other. We are talking about a real life Dickens novel here people.

The highlight of this event was a 30-minute trolley ride through the heart of St. Augustine, and it’s something you don’t want to miss. But a trip to Nights of Lights can easily turn stressful because of the hordes of people during the weekends. When I came last Saturday, the trolley line had a two hour wait because of the crowds. I decided to go back for a second trip on a quieter week night and avoid the long wait. The best way is to make a night of it: ride the trolley, grab some dinner and walk around so you can take your time seeing the sights.

I recommend planning ahead before the lights come down on Jan. 31. Here’s some pro-tips to get the most out of your trip to see Nights of Lights:

PARK SMART

If you don’t have an idea of where you are going, you can easily spend an hour downtown stuck in traffic or waiting for the drawbridge to come down on the Bridge of Lions. On my first trip I drove up from Atlantic Avenue and parked in a restaurant parking lot about half a mile from the bridge and then walked to downtown (note, if you park on private property, park at your own risk). The walk took less than 20 minutes and I arrived at the bridge just in time to see a gorgeous sunset. There’s also a parking garage on West Castillo Drive next to the Visitor’s Center where the trolleys depart but its $12 to park. Street parking in downtown is free after 5 p.m. When I returned, I parked a few blocks away in a nearly empty parking lot of a church.

RIDE THE TROLLEY

There are two trolley operators that will take you to see the lights. I rode on the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley that departs from the Visitors Information Center, 10 W. Castillo Drive, from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly for $12 for adults and $5 for children. Our driver looked like Santa, who let out a hearty “Ho Ho Ho” on several occasions. The trolley ride also includes 3-D glasses that turn the lights into mini snowmen. The best advice is to arrive early if you are going here on the weekends as the line starts around 5:30 p.m. But on a weekday I was able to hop on the train within 10 minutes. At the end of the ride hot cider and sugar cookies were waiting for us, which was a nice touch. I recommend buying your tickets online here to save time.

EAT

St. Augustine is really becoming a foodie mecca and The Floridian is where you’ll find farm-to-table southern dishes in an eclectic, casual atmosphere. I love the creative and fresh dishes such as waffles topped with bbq pork or the lemon sage fried chicken. Seafood lovers should check out Catch 27.  If you are in the mood for Latin food, check out Casa Maya Seafood and Tequila Bar.

DRINK

Sangria’s Wine and Piano Bar is directly on the trolley route and you can watch the action from the balcony, while sipping sangria or craft beer. It’s also got a porch with cozy couches, making this the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the holiday crowds. Sangria is $8 or $20 for a pitcher and I had the Mantanza’s Sangria: cranberry, apples, peach liqueur. The bar also has a tapas menu with dishes you can share.

Located inside the Casablanca Inn, the Tini Martini bar is the most festive option for grabbing a cocktail. The outside patio glows with white lights that hang from the roof to the ground. The cocktails are a bit pricey (there’s a beer and wine menu that’s cheaper but you usually have to request it) but it’s well worth it for the atmosphere.

Nights of Lights continues nightly through Jan. 31. To see a schedule of events, visit here. 

What gets you into the Holiday spirit when all else fails? Comment below and share!

Why I’ll never be a pioneer woman and other lessons from a tree farm

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When it came to getting a Christmas tree this year, I had two options:

Pluck a tree out of the bin at Home Depot and still have time to pour a glass of wine and binge watch “Narcos.” Or I could drive 100 miles round trip. pay $20 more and cut down my own damn tree like a pioneer woman.

I went with the latter.

It’s hard getting into the Christmas spirit in the balmy 70-degree heat in Florida and I was looking for authentic tradition that would transcend this commercialized holiday. In short, I wanted a Griswold family-style adventure.

Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis touts this very sentiment on their website. Sure you are going to pay more, but you’re paying for a priceless experience. One that will be seared into your family’s Christmas memories for years to come (OK, so maybe it doesn’t say exactly that but you get the point).

I brought along my 18-year-old mentee, Zoe,  who I would be mistaken as her mother at the farm later that day.

At first I was baffled when a man on our hayride thought I could be old enough to have an 18-year-old, but it was later that I understood why: kids are an integral part of the experience at Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest.

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We arrived at the farm on Sunday afternoon to find a crowded parking lot and gaggles of tiny pint-sized humans in a sugar-induced euphoria.

This place is the Disneyland of tree farms. There’s a zipline, petting zoo, a giant moon bounce pillow,train rides, Santa Claus and pony rides. There’s even a campfire if roasting s’mores in 70-degree heat is your kind of fun.

But Zoe and I were here for more serious matters: to find the perfect tree of our Christmas dreams. We waited in line for 15 minutes to board a hayride that took us to the opposite end of the tree farm.

One of the workers handed me a saw, which came with no instructions for tree chopping.

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We walked through rows of trees, the majority of them eight feet tall. The best weekend to come is the weekend after Thanksgiving, a farm worker informed me. That’s when you’ll get the best selection of trees.

Luckily I was looking for a smaller tree but if you really want a big tree you can find giant Douglas Fir’s for sale at the farm and you won’t have to do the work to cut them down as they are imported.

The trees you’ll find growing on the farm are Florida Sand Pines, Red Cedars and Arizona Cypresses. Unfortunately these trees lack the wonderful smell that I’m accustomed to getting from the Home Depot Bin trees.

If I couldn’t have the smell I was looking for, I’d settle for a full and perky tree. After much debate, we decided to keep it local and cut down a Florida Sand Pine.

If the trunk hadn’t been the size of a door knob, I would have likely required some assistance. Sawing is a bit harder than it looks. My strategy was to saw as much as I could on both sides of the trunk and then kick it while yelling “Timber.”

After our tree was shaken (this gets out the dead needles, I’m told) we celebrated with some kettle corn and a trip to the petting zoo where I fell in love with the cutest baby goat.

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Later than night as I decorated my tree, I felt a surge of pride. I had gone on a search for my perfect Christmas tree and while it may not be the biggest or the most frequent, it was the one I had picked myself.

Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest, 35317 Huff Road, Eustis, is open weekdays and weekends through Christmas. Trees range from $40 (under 8 feet) to $200 (18 feet and over) and most additional attractions are $2 each. For hours and events, visit the farm’s website.

 

Mr. Dunderbak’s: The friendliest craft beer tasting in Daytona Beach

 

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Just past the Volusia Mall’s food court, you’ll find an oasis of craft beer in the most unlikely place.

It’s hard to describe just how wonderful Mr. Dunderbak’s is. Maybe it’s the fact that this Cheersy neighborhood bar is in the midst of a sea of commercialization. This locally-owned, authentic bar and German restaurant in Daytona Beach has one of the best craft beer menus around and don’t even get me started on the gourmet cheese selection.

 

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Mr. Dunderbak’s is an institution, owned since 1975 by Ted Teschner, who I have unofficially dubbed the beer whisperer. Ted takes the time to get to know his customers and their beer preference, steering them toward the perfect bottle each time they come in. The walls are also lined with European specialty sauces, coffee, seasonings and pancake batter.

But it’s the monthly beer tastings that you won’t want to miss here. My friends and I walked into the narrow seating area last Friday only to find all the tables occupied with parities. But we were quickly waved over by strangers who welcomed us to the empty seats at their tables.

In no time at all, we were chatting and getting to know each other while Ted made the rounds, topping off our four-ounce glasses with amazing beer. Suddenly a room full of strangers felt like friends.

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For just $12 we got to try 10 four ounce samples (that’s more than two full pints!). Local brewers are often invited to the tastings to talk about the brewing process and there’s always a lengthy description of the craft beer we are drinking. Make sure you pay attention because there’s a round of trivia at the end with prizes for those with the most beer knowledge.

I came away from the beer tasting the proud winner of a pink elephant key chain and an expanded vocabulary of craft beer knowledge. But I also came away with some new friends. There’s no doubt in my mind that good people drink good beer and you’ll find them all at Mr. Dunderbak’s.

The next beer tasting is Jan. 8 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and is $12. Seating is limited so call 386-258-1600 to reserve a spot.

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In the meantime, here’s the 10 beers we sampled and are available at Mr. Dunderbak’s:

  1. Beach Blonde Ale, 3 Daughters Brewing, St. Petersburg, Fl.: Refreshing, bright and citrusy. A great summer beach beer — or in Florida’s case, year round.
  2. Bell’s Christmas Ale, Kalamazoo, Michigan: This Scotch Ale has subtle toffee flavors and toasted notes with a slight fruity sweetness.
  3. Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale, Tadcaster, England: From Yorkshire’s oldest brewery, this ale has notes of apple, pear and spice.
  4. Accumulation, New Belgium Brewing, Colorado: This white IPA was specifically brewed to revolt against the traditional dark winter beers that are brewed this time of year. This beer has a strong hops aroma with citrus and spicy herbal notes.
  5. Winter Solstice, Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville, California: This is a smooth ale with hints of caramel, toffee and spice.
  6. Celebration Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, California: This American IPA is an amber beer with notes of citrus, chocolate and fruit. It’s a nice medium bodied beer that tastes on the milder side.
  7. La Choulette De Noel, France: A Biere de Garde with a name that is easy for Americans to butcher. This beer is heavy bodied with notes of spice, raisins, earthy flavors and fruit.
  8. Vapricot, a collaboration of Cigar City Brewing  and Terrapin Brewery Co.,, Tampa & Athens, Ga,,: This beer was overwhelmingly my favorite. This Imperial Ginger Apricot IPA has everything I love in a beer: slightly sweet and spicy with a smooth finish.
  9. Founders Breakfast Stout, Grand Rapids. Michigan: This chocolatey stout is brewed with Kona Coffee and has a roasted caramel and bitter taste that’s so good you could drink it for breakfast.
  10. Delirum Noel, Belguim: This Belgium dark ale is as holiday as it comes with strong cinnamon and nutmeg flavors that pack a punch with a sweet finish. This beer was made even better by the fact that Ted was wearing a pink elephant on his head as he poured it.