A Day at the Tower

One last blog post from our awesome trip to Florida the other month.

I grew up in the small town of Lake Wales Florida. One of Lake Wales’ biggest claims to fame is the historic Bok Tower Gardens.

the reflection pool

The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the son of the famed architect of Central Park and Biltmore Gardens, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. The Singing Tower is 205 feet tall and houses a 60 bell carillon. I played in these gardens as a young girl and listened to the bells time and time again. I can remember going to the tower with my grandmother and having wonderful family picnics. More memories are going to the Tower every Easter for the Sunrise Services. I’ve taken Andie and Lydia every time we’ve visited Lake Wales over the years. It truly is one of my favorite places on the planet.

One of the perks for graduating from Lake Wales High School is you get to go inside the tower and go to the top and see the bells. This is an honor only given to graduates, donors to the tower, and volunteers that work at least 40 hours. A very prestigious club indeed.

I graduated from LWHS but unfortunately that June they were doing renovations to the tower and all tours to the top were cancelled. I think they let the class go up later that summer but I moved to Virginia right after graduation and never got my chance.

I’ve always dreamed of going inside so this trip, I clicked on the Contact Us button on the Tower website and asked. I explained that I didn’t get to go back in 1983 and that we would be in town for our 26th wedding anniversary. I wondered if there was any way an exception could be made.

Here’s the awesome response to my email. When I got the response, I totally expected to see something like, “Sorry but we can’t help you.” I about died when I realized they were saying YES!

“Dear Melissa,

Thanks for your email.

I’m sorry to hear that you never had the opportunity to tour the Singing Tower as part of your 1983 graduating class.  That doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

So… since it’s your 26th wedding anniversary, I would be happy to make this dream a reality for you and give you a VIP tour.

How about we set a time for Tuesday, February 25…  Will that work for you and your husband?

Please let me know and I’ll schedule it.  Best wishes…. and see you soon!”

I couldn’t believe it! We were going to get to see inside the tower after all these years.

When we drove up to the gate on that Tuesday, all we had to do was mention the Marketing Director’s name, Brian Ososky, and they waved us right through. We felt like VIPs from the very beginning.

Brian met us in the visitor’s center and was the nicest person ever. He was all smiles and I could tell from the start that he loved Bok Tower as much if not way more than I did. Brian told us that it really was a fluke that he was able to grant us this awesome opportunity. Evidently, many calls are received every single day from other graduates that somehow missed their opportunity to go up in the tower. So many calls in fact, that they have to always say no and offer their apologies. However, all emails from the contact us button, get sorted. My email ended up in Brian’s in box and he had never come upon a request such as this. I guess since it was our anniversary and we caught him on a good day, Brian said yes.

Brian walked us up to the tower and when he reached in his pocket to get the key to unlock the iron gate I felt like I was in a dream. This gate had remained locked to me for 48 years and I couldn’t believe that a simple key and a regular person could unlock it. Brian held the gate open for Ron and me and we walked across the bridge over the moat. Each step I took crossing that moat felt so surreal! I’ve been by this moat thousands of times and fed the Japanese carp that live there but never did I think I could cross it.

Then, in the blink of an eye, Ron and I were standing at the Great Brass Door. This awesome door is a work of art and has 30 brass panels depicting the Biblical story of creation. It was breathtaking.

The Great Brass Door

Ron and Me at the GBD

Click here for a close up of the door and more history.

I am very sad to report that days before we arrived, a vandal somehow slipped into the gardens, crossed the moat, and carved their name into one of the panels. Can you believe that?! Here I am mesmerized by the opportunity to stand so close to the door and someone else had so little respect that they would do such a thing. Brian said they weren’t sure how they were going to repair it. This door is over 85 years old and it will be hard to find a metal worker that will have the skills to attempt the repair.

the great brass door from the inside

Once we got inside, we toured 7 of the 8 levels of the tower. We didn’t go to the tip top due to safety reasons but we got very close.

the top

One of the things that was so funny to me was when Brian let us go out on the balcony where the preacher stands when he delivers the Easter service. We walked out and right there across the moat were other visitors. They were standing where I have stood countless times and it felt so funny to be looking in this direction. I imagined that they thought we were some dignitary or famous person.

looking up from the door

I also was surprised to learn that the bells don’t swing. They stay stationary and the clappers hit up against them. The actual instrument that is used to play the music looks very similar to a piano. However, you have to use the side of your fist to play the very heavy bells.

how you play

the instrument


The smallest bell weighs 16 pounds and the largest weighs nearly 12 tons.

the largest



Click here to listen to the bells.

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When we got to the top, Brian pointed out Edward Bok’s old house in the distance. It’s the smaller one to the left and above the large home.

Bok's home


Bok Tower Gardens purchased one of the neighboring houses when it became available and now you can tour it too. It’s called the Pinewood Estate and is a beautiful example of the Mediterranean-style mansions that are similar to Bok’s home. Brian gave us free tickets to Pinewoods and we loved stepping back in time and visiting this lovely home.

My favorite thing about the mansion was that every window was framing the garden. It was almost as if the garden was the focal and the home and extension of it.

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Bok Tower was in peak bloom during our late February visit and I really got to practice with my new camera.

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My niece commented that this flower doesn’t even look real.

my favorite

Ron and I had a wonderful morning and it was the best anniversary present I could have ever received. And, to top it off, the day was not over. We had 5:00pm dinner reservations at The Chalet.

I love you honey so much and I thank you for this trip and my new camera. It really wasn’t a manly man sort of trip and I know it didn’t mean as much to you as it did to me. I love that you got into the spirit of the history and had so much fun too. Now, next year, let’s go to California and you can show me your old stomping grounds.  We could run the San Francisco Marathon, drive the Pacific Coast Highway, and see the Redwoods!

Run Happy

Tonight  I headed over to the best running store in all of Raleigh, Capital Run Walk.  It was their Thursday night social run.  The Brooks Run Happy Island Bus was there and they were giving away all sorts of prizes.


I won a t-shirt!


It’s a cotton one and I never run in cotton.  I do however love to wear them with jeans.


Superman and Batgirl were there.  I even ran along side of Superman for a while.  Smile

Brooks was offering a free gait analysis and even though I’ve had it done several times it was fun to try it out again.  I have very mild pronation and wouldn’t know it, the best shoe for me is exactly what I have.  The Brooks Ravenna!


These are the ones that I won last Christmas at the Capital Run Walk Ugly Christmas Sweater Run.  Oh and check out those new Lock Laces.  They are fabulous!  I’ll never go back to regular laces again.  Once you get them adjusted you’re all set.  So easy to slip your shoes on and off.  They stay at just the perfect tightness and you never have to worry about double knotting or worrying about your shoes coming untied.

They have the best raffles at CRW!  Tonight they gave away so many cool prizes and a whopping 4 pairs of shoes.  I wasn’t the big winner tonight but I still had a blast.

It was a lovely night and such a fun atmosphere.  So many runners.  I got to see my friend Jordan and I met some new friends, Mindy and Jessie.  Mindy gave me the name of some women who run in the mornings near where I work and I’m so excited.  I might have found some new weekday running partners.

Last night I ran up to the high school’s track and ran a mile as fast as I could.  Then I did an easy run home.  That’s 3 miles all total.  Tonight’s run was also 3 miles.  6 miles in 2 days and I feel great!  Tomorrow at lunch I’m planning on a hill workout and then Saturday I’m shooting to get in 5 or 6 miles.

Happy Running Friends!

Raw Tacos

Ron and I have tried a lot of different “foodie” things recently but tonight was our first taste of Raw.

I’ve heard about the raw food craze but I really didn’t think much about it.  In Scott Jurek’s book, Eat and Run, he mentioned that he was raw for a while but that he really found it took too long to chew all that raw food so he switched back to vegan.  So, that’s always been my outlook.  If Scott says no, then I wasn’t interested.

I was so shocked to come home to raw tacos a la’ Ron.


Boy were they delicious! 

All Ron did was put some nuts (walnuts and pecans), spices, and sun dried tomatoes in the food processor.  Then more nuts (cashews), lemon juice, salt, and water in the blender for the “sour cream”.  He used this video for the inspiration on the taco meat and this site for the “sour cream”.

I asked Ron how he got the idea of making these and he told me that he saw some raw tacos at Whole Foods and that sparked his interest.

These are keepers.  So delicious!

I’m very excited that we have leftovers for lunch for tomorrow.

12 days until my next half marathon and I’m already getting lazy again.  I haven’t run since last Thursday.  Bad, bad, bad.  I know Rock-n-Roll Raleigh is going to be super crowded and I’ve decided that I’m just going to relax and enjoy the run and stick with Ron the whole way.  However, I don’t want to lose any of that miracle swiftness I found the other week in Wilmington.  Gotta keep working.  I might check out Cross Fit again this summer.  My friend has been talking about it and it really has been calling my name.  Core Strength is what I have to get to run faster!  Nothing is going to change drastically unless I  make some drastic changes and keep at it.  

Happy Running!  Happy Eating!

A Weekend at the Beach

Lo Tide Run / Walk and Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

St. Patrick’s Day weekend we traveled to Carolina Beach for the Lo Tide Run / Walk. This is an all-volunteer race with almost 100% of the proceeds going towards helping those that are fighting cancer. I was so happy to be helping out such a worthy cause.  I decided that I wanted to walk this entire course and just enjoy spending time with friends.


It was a little chilly at the beginning but it warmed up not long into the walk. A beautiful Carolina Beach morning. We had a wonderful time.


After the walk, Ron was on a quest to find some juice. He found some at the Tidal Creek Co-op in Wilmington. It was such a cute mini “Whole Foods”. We both loved it.


Note that little shot of wheatgrass next to Ron’s mean green juice.


And, right beside Tidal Creek, I spotted Great Harvest. GH is my very favorite bread store. We got a loaf of Ezekiel and a loaf of Superfood.

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Next up was the Wrightsville Beach Marathon expo. The expo was pretty small. But as I am finding more and more, directors are getting things down like clockwork and have the bib and t-shirt pickups organized perfectly. Not a bit of waiting in line! I splurged big time and got some new Bluetooth headphones and a new arm band for my phone.



These headphones were the bomb.  They didn’t bounce around at all.  I loved them.  I didn’t wear them the entire time but even when I had them around my neck they were so comfortable.


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Great armband!  Didn’t slip one bit!  I love that it has a place for a GU or chap stick and a spot for your ID or debit card.

I broke every rule in the book about nothing new on race days! I wore my new headphones, a new running skirt, my new arm band, and a new Lifeproof case on my iPhone. I even took a new and un-tested flavor of GU. (peanut butter)


My running skirt has 2 snaps in front so you don’t have to pin your race bib to your shirt.  So cool!

Frank Shorter was at the starting line and he gave the advice of starting out slow and then backing off. This is great advice for a marathon but for this half marathon for me, I ditched his advice and started off strong and tried to speed up. I was risking it to push myself too hard in the beginning and I knew it.

My splits don’t really give the whole picture and show that miles 0-3 were around and 11:00 minute pace. It didn’t feel slow to me because this is the part that is really crowded and I was concentrating hard on weaving in and out of people. I wanted to get ahead of them but I was cautious to make sure I didn’t make any discourteous moves and endanger other runners. You cross the IntraCoastal Waterway around mile 3 and the bridge you go across is a drawbridge. The surface is uneven and we had been warned to pick-up our feet. I saw one runner that had fallen and just like at Gasparilla, a young woman was on a stretcher.

Around this time, I spotted the 4:30 marathon pacer. I wondered if the 2:15 half marathon pacer would be anywhere near him and sure enough, she was. The 2 pacers were very close together with a group of about 7 runners. My plan had been to stick with them like glue if I found them so that is what I did. Juliane was the half pacer. She had a pink hat on and I was determined to not let that pink hat out of my sites. I would stop when she stopped for water or Gatorade. Even though she stopped, by the time I grabbed my water and looked up, she had taken off and was several feet ahead. I gulped my water and took off like lightening.

Juliane was very quiet and had a sweet smile. She kept encouraging all of us. She’d announce the miles and the water stops and had the nicest personality ever.

                                                   Me again

(That’s Juliane in the pink hat behind me.  I have no idea who the guy is in the gold shirt.) 

The full pacer’s name was Frank and he was a hoot. He was a talker! He kept rattling off race tips about running the tangents and relaxing our arms. He told us to hold our fingers like we were holding a potato chip. I knew about both of these tips and realized we had a lot in common. He knew EVERYBODY along the course and kept high fiving different runners and volunteers. Frank and Juliane get all the credit for my PR!

Before I knew it, we were saying goodbye to Frank and the other marathoners and we were on the homestretch. Just under 2 miles to go. One of the other runners, Taylor, and I had stuck up a conversation and ended up getting a little ahead of Juliane.

                 Run Without Limits (Taylor is #2883.)

Juliane was careful to keep the pace perfect for the others in the group but she encouraged us to run on if we could. I took off with Taylor but couldn’t keep up with her. I kept at it though and before long, I heard Juliane encouraging me on. Just a tenth of a mile left. The clock read 2:15 when I crossed the finish line and even though 2:15 would have been a PR for me and I would have been overjoyed with that time, I knew I had come in under a 2:15. My Garmin read 2:12:30 and my official chip time was 2:12:26. Holy Cow!


3 years and 4 months after my first and also my fastest half I had done it! A new PR by 6 minutes! Woohoo!

I was on cloud nine from that moment on.

I walked back to the finish line area and started stretching my ITB all while keeping a keen eye out for Andie. I knew she would be next. She came in looking strong!


Way to go honey! I am so proud of her. This was Andie’s 2nd half marathon.

Next I walked down just a little to find a recycle bin for my water bottle. Just as I was turning around, Ron ran by on his way to his own PR.  I didn’t get a picture of Ron but I assure you he was all smiles!

All Andie was wanting was a hot shower so she left right after her finish. They had a great selection of IPAs at this race so I knew Ron would have no problem hanging around. I headed back to the food area and chowed down on 3 pieces of cheese pizza. They were offering free massages so I added my name to the list and waited my turn. It didn’t take too long for my number to be called. My masseuse was a petite young woman but she had very strong hands. They know exactly the right moves to do on us runners and she hit all the right spots. My ITB was just a little sore before but afterwards I felt great. She had to have worked on me for 20 minutes at least! Such a great perk!

Here’s my traditional shirt and medal shot after my shower.

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Loved the shirt! So soft and comfortable. A lot of races are giving out this new type of technical shirt that isn’t your normal polyester feel. These feel like the softest cotton you can imagine.

Ron and I were still in the celebration mood so we headed down to Historic Wilmington and to Ron’s favorite brewery. Front Street Brewery is a great place for beer lovers and foodies alike.

We got fried pickles for our appetizer.


Ron chose a burger and I got a salad. Delicious!

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And, no trip to here would be complete without a stop to Kilwin’s!


We both got butter pecan ice cream in a waffle cone. A perfect ending to a fantabulous weekend!

Just one shout out before I sign off.  Check out the times for all the paces.  That amazes me how they do it.  All of them finished so very close to their goal. 

Christine Rockey 3:10 group- 3:09:04
Heran Sabio 3:30 group- 3:30:12
George Redman 3:45 group- 3:45:47
Eddy Saldana 4:00 group- 3:59:31
Frank Borque 4:30 group- 4:29:51
Eric Torey 1:30 group- 1:29:18
Rick Poplaski 1:45 group- 1:44:46
Brenda Estlak 2:00 group- 1:59:58
Juliane Young 2:15 group- 2:14:08
Laura Justice 2:30 group- 2:27:41


Night Friends!  Happy Running!

The Chalet (a post dedicated to my mother, Loretta Collins Maggard)

For our 26th wedding anniversary, we booked 3 nights and the historic Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, Florida.


My mother worked here in the 1970s and I have been mesmerized by it ever since.

Here’s a recent shot of us together.

me and Mother

I can remember all the tales that she would tell about the broiled grapefruit appetizer, the famous actors and actresses that came there, the soup that went to the moon, and all the special hospitality that the Hinshaw’s bestowed upon their guests.

I cannot give this place a more glowing review.  I felt like a princess in a fairy tale.

Our room was like stepping back in time.  I loved it!

No credit card key at this place!


Blue Tree!


and Blue Tree South (our room)


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Two neat things that were provided nightly were the brandy and the homemade truffles.

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I had never had brandy before and I had to look it up on Wikipedia.  It’s called Fire Wine because it is produced by distilling wine.  You’re supposed to warm it in your hand and sip it.  Like I said, I felt like I had stepped back in time.  Open-mouthed smile

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Ron had tipped the person that brought the truffles and on the second night she brought us 4 truffles instead of the normal 2!


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And check out these neat night shots!

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Breakfast was included each morning and it was so delicious.

My teacup was precious.


But I about rolled in the floor laughing when Ron was sipping his!


While our waitress was getting our breakfast, I snapped this shot of a neighboring table.  Don’t you just love how everything is so mismatched!


If you ever go, do not order your eggs any other way than the normal scrambled.  When the waitress took our order she asked if scrambled was ok and I could tell that she was leading us in that direction.  Scrambled it was!  I swear they had to have had heavy cream in them along with chives and goodness knows what else!  They were divine!  And the pancakes!  They were very thin and crepe like.  The lingonberries on top were scrumptious.


Here are some more shots of the restaurant and tavern.




The last night that we were there was our actual anniversary so we picked that night to have dinner!

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My beverage selection was the famous Vita Claire.

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Grapefruit Vodka, Cinnamon Schnapps, Bourbon & Grapefruit Juice

Ron got a Dogfish IPA.

Next came the grapefruit

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and the soup

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This soup was out of this world delicious.  Really.  Out of this world!  (and I’m not just making a play on the fact that it was taken to the moon on several of the Apollo missions)  Probably my very favorite thing of the entire night.  I’m so excited that since it was our anniversary, they gave us a can of Moon Soup as a gift.  I cannot wait to have it!

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and the salad

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(That’s tomato aspic and orange aspic on either side.  I loved the orange aspic!)

then a little sherbet to cleanse the palate

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and Mother told me I had to get the Chicken Suzanne

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Oh my word.  This was so flavorful!

Ron got the Black Angus Steak

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He gave me a taste and it was like butter.  Totally melted in your mouth.

Next was dessert.

I got the Rum Raisin Pie and Ron got something chocolate.


They were both perfect!

Look at my cup that I had on our last morning at breakfast!

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I love you Mother and am so very proud you are my mom!  You taught me to love Jesus.  You taught me how to fold napkins and washcloths in fancy ways.  You taught me that “a host above all must be nice to his guests.”   You taught me that even though you might just be a waitress to work as if you are working for the Lord and to never look down upon anyone.  You’ve always loved me and encouraged me to do my best.  I can only pray that I can show my daughters and grandson the love that always seeps from every inch of you.  You are my hero!

mother and us kids in the 1970s

(My brother Billy, Mother, my sisters Tammy and Rosa and me on the trike around the time Mother worked at Chalet Suzanne.)

The St. Augustine Lighthouse

The morning after The Conch House, Ron and I headed out to visit the lighthouse up close.  But, we couldn’t get started until Ron found juice!  Ron has been juicing for, I don’t know, years and years I guess, and it’s all I can do to get him to not take the juicer with us on vacation. 

We ended up at Smoothie King.  It worked in a pinch but just as we were pulling away from Smoothie King, Ron spotted Smoothie Fresh!


They were the real deal and had a Ron approved Champion juicer.  He got his normal kale, apple, carrot, ginger, and I don’t’ know what else.

And he even got a shot of wheatgrass juice!


I stuck with the Chocolate Peanut butter smoothie I had gotten at Smoothie King.

Now we could head on over to the lighthouse.  I snapped and snapped away and really had a blast touring such a pretty lighthouse.

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The climb to the top was 219 steps and the perfect exercise to loosen us up for the next day’s half marathon.

Don’t miss the lighthouse when you are in the nation’s oldest city!

A Night in St. Augustine

Last month Ron and I were headed to the Gasparilla Half Marathon and we made a stop along the way at the historic Conch House in Saint Augustine, Florida.


The Conch House has been owned and operated by the Ponce family since 1946.  It’s located right on the Intercostal Waterway just down from the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

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I fell in love with this little motel, restaurant, and marina the minute we got there.

At first, Ron was in the mood to go out and explore and try to find a micro brewery but we ended up just moseying on over to the Tiki lounge.  Ron got a beer and I ended up with their famous Goombay Smash.


It had coconut rum, dark rum, 151 rum, apricot brandy and a blend of orange and pineapple juices.  Man was it good!

This was our 26th wedding anniversary trip and Ron got me a new camera.  I spent the rest of the evening playing.

Here’s Ron shot in portrait mode.


Check out this shot where I caught the pelican in flight!


And these shots of the lovely marina.

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I just kept playing and playing.  I love the shots of the pelicans!

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And check out this shot of a dove.


I’ve got a lot to learn in photography and I know I’m going to have a blast practicing.

Just when the sun was going down and they were lighting the tiki torches, we headed over to the restaurant.


We sat in a private tiki hut just like one of these.


Here was our view taken from our table.  I used the night setting.


Dinner started off with some more drinks.  Another Goombay Smash for me! Open-mouthed smile


The conch fritters!


And the crab cakes!


Since we had 2 appetizers, Ron and I shared the Florida Cracker Combo.


And you better believe I saved room for their famous Key Lime Pie!


On Yelp, you can see all kinds of reviews of this place.  A lot of people love it and a lot of people hate it.  I’m in the love it crowd!  Everything tasted delicious and the romantic tiki hut table was so cute!

The next morning I got my favorite shot of the lighthouse.  We had gone out just at dawn to try and catch the sunrise.  The lighthouse was still on and Ron helped me capture the beam of light.  (He counted so I’d know when to snap.)


If you are ever in St. Augustine, give The Conch House a try.  You might be pleasantly surprised.