Hanging out at the Texas Renaissance Festival

For the past 41 years, people have been converging in costume in the woods near Plantersville, Texas. This year the Texas Renaissance Festival spans eight weekends, all themed, with only two left. November 21 -22 will be a Highland Fling, sure to attract plenty of kilts, and Thanksgiving weekend will be a Celtic Christmas, which probably means more kilts but with Santa hats.

After many weekends of terrible weather, we finally made it for the Barbarian Invasion. However, everyone in our group already had pirate costumes, so they went as pirates, not barbarians. (It’s totally ok to mix themes. No matter what the weekend you see quite a few ninjas, bronies, wizards and an occasional Doctor.

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This was our second year to camp, which is an experience in itself. The campground opens Fridays at noon, and by Saturday morning there are cars and tents jammed into every bit of open area around, so it helps to get there early and stake your claim. The camping fee is $25 per vehicle.

This year we were lucky that our friends Daniel and Shari made it early to snag us a nice flat spot on high ground, somewhat close, but not too close, to the port-a-potties.

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Mary made her own pirate costume by altering the cut of an old jacket from Goodwill and adding some lace trim and fringe adornments to the shoulders, pockets and cuffs.

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Every morning a cannon blast marks the opening of the fairgrounds, and everyone begins the trek to the park. Tickets are $29 for adults and $14 for children at the gate, but you can buy advance tickets at Walgreens for $24 and $12 respectively. However, kids get in free on Sundays.

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This year our friends Bryan and Lorraine had a new booth for Lorraine’s jewelry called Bits and Bobs.

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They’re easy to find. Just walk down towards the Royal Carousal and then look for Gandalf.

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My friend Leo was also there running the RBN fortune-telling tent in Sherwood Forest.

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Everyday around 11 a.m., there’s big parade. It’s a great chance to see all the performers and vendors from the different areas of the park.

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I have to admit, we didn’t sit through many shows this year. The puppeteers, comedians, jugglers and whip masters don’t really do much to update their material year to year, so if you saw the Ded Bob show in 2010, you’ve probably seen it in 2015. However, we did stop by the stadium to watch the jousting.

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We were in the German section of the crowd, and while our knight did have the best hair, he didn’t win the tournament.

Our friends are huge fans of the Pride of Bedlam, a pirate band, so we did stop into the Sea Devil tavern to try some mead and catch a few tunes. Turns out, mead pretty much tastes like honey. Should have seen that one coming.

The  second floor of the Barbarian Inn is a favorite place to people watch (and they have Karbach on tap). That’s where we met this guy who walks everywhere with a goblet on his head.

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We did notice some new art installations in the enchanted forest, and we discovered this great harp player.

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But I still couldn’t get Mary to do the bungee bounce.

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After a long day of walking, eating huge turkey legs, and maybe a little bit of drinking, we made our way back to the campground, but not before stopping to chat with these llamas for a bit.

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Saturday night we never made it to the bonfire. We just circled around our own fire pit and played music until I couldn’t stay awake to play music anymore.

I’m sure there are all kinds of activities and shows we never even knew to attend, so if you want to know more, visit the official web site at www.texrenfest.com

You can see our entire album of RenFest adventures over on our Facebook page.

Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri

Small towns take their 4th of July celebrations very seriously. Keokuk, Iowa actually upgraded the electrical system in their park to be able to run the rides in the traveling carnival that was in town. And while the deathtrap rides and the 2 p.m. Zumba demonstration at the pavilion sounded intriguing, we decided to make the drive to Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, for the annual Tom Sawyer Days celebration.

We arrived just in time for the fence-painting contest. Boys dressed in their best Tom Sawyer costumes whitewashed small sections of picket fences as fast as they could while girls in bonnets judged the results. Anyone can participate — there’s even an over 30 class later in the day. Just watch out for the fire hose they use to wash down the whole area between rounds.

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After that we wandered over to the Mississippi Mud Volleyball Tournament where very dedicated athletes sloshed around in knee-deep mud pits competing for the title.

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Of course, as we strolled Main Street Hannibal a handwritten sign that read “Craft  beer tasting, 12 samples for $10,” caught my eye. We each plucked down a Hamilton and got our official tasting cup and tickets.

Two larger breweries, Abita and Sierra Nevada were there, but there were also a dozen other local breweries featuring a menagerie of different types of beers.

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My only critique of the beer tasting was that the booths were run by local volunteers, not anyone from the actual breweries. Aside from a few laminated cards touting each beers flavor notes, there were no answers to critical questions like, “Why does your brewery make four different IPAs and what’s the big difference between them?”

Even with our questions unanswered we had a very nice time chatting with all of the beer tasting volunteers and due to some very generous pours, we weren’t able to get anywhere close to using all of our tickets.

No holiday is complete without some boating, so at 6 p.m. we wandered down to the Mark Twain Riverboat for the dinner cruise.

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Dinner was a bit pricey at $40 per person, and we paid the additional $25 to stay on the boat for fireworks after dinner, but how often do you get the chance to have dinner on a riverboat while taking in the scenery described in both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn?

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Dinner was a one-trip buffet with a small desert served at the table. Beer, wine and mixed drinks in souvenir cups were available at a cash bar.

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Paying the extra to stay and watch the fireworks was definitely worth the price of admission. Chairs were set out for us on the top deck, and the captain held position right in front of Lover’s Leap, the lookout point where the fireworks were based.

Fireworks are best captured with a long exposure, which is next to impossible on a moving boat, but I snapped one shot just to prove we were there before settling in to enjoy the show.

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Hannibal was really hopping when we got back to shore with bands playing on several patios and on the roof of the Mark Twain Brewing Company. However, we had a two-hour drive back to Illinois, so we called it a night and headed home.

Incidentally, I had to brake for two different raccoons, a deer, and an owl before we made it back to Warsaw — making our small town 4th of July complete.

Out on the town in Port St. Joe

We didn’t spend all of our time in Florida on the beach. Each evening we made it back to the rental house just in time for sunset — and what spectacular sunsets they were.

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While the downside to our rental is that it wasn’t within walking distance of the beach, the upside is that it was just a few blocks from downtown Port St. Joe.

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We walked into town Friday night for dinner at Provisions, which came highly recommended by all the locals. I sampled the paella while Mary tried to seafood pasta. Both were exceptional.

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Afterwards we stopped by The Thirsty Goat, which seemed to be the center of Port St. Joe nightlife, for a cold brew and some live music.

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The Bo Spring Band played Friday night, and they were phenomenal.

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Saturday morning we tried both the Bin4Eleven coffee shop and the No Name Cafe, which are just a few doors down from each other on Reid Avenue. Both had very decent coffee, but the No Name Cafe was a bit more austere and half the price.

Then we took a stroll through all the art, decor, and antique shops. Despite all the interesting paintings, knick-knacks and dead starfish we saw, we only made one purchase all weekend. We bought Dixie Belle a new sailboat collar at Bow Wow Beach. She was quite excited to wear it when we got home.

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Saturday we picked up dinner from Joe Mama’s Wood Fired Pizza. Joe Mama’s is a chain in Florida, but we’d never heard of it. The restaurant was absolutely packed when I went in to pick up the order, but the pizza itself didn’t quite live up to expectations. The flavor wasn’t bad, but the crust was very soggy and floppy.

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Our rental was just across the street from the United Methodist Church, and Sunday morning we could hear the hymns floating over on the breeze. We made another trip into town for coffee and maybe some breakfast, only to find that aside from the gas station and fast food places, there is absolutely nothing open Sunday mornings in Port St. Joe. Since we had to drive back to Tallahassee anyway, we thought maybe we could stop in Apalachicola for breakfast, but we only found one place open there. Sunday morning breakfast was a bust. I guess when it comes to small town Florida, either be prepared to cook on Sunday mornings or head over to church for the free coffee.

4 Ways we Reduced Trash, on and off the Boat

In the general spirit of earth day, I decided to try to make 4 changes in our household that would reduce the amount of general trash that we produce. On the boat the reasons are obvious — there is limited space. Besides having a tiny trash can, it gets old to constantly haul tons of tiny bags of trash to the dumpster, and the dumpster is only an option in the marina. At sea you may have to live with that trash for weeks and weeks.

Instead of buying a bigger trashcan and increasing the percentage of our small boat that was full of trash, I decided to make some changes. Most of our trash on the boat is cans and bottles, almost 100%. There is no recycling offered at the marina. So that leads me to..

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#1. Reusable bottles. While I wish we could trust the water from our holding tanks, it tastes terrible. However, from now on we’ve committed to never buying disposable plastic water bottles. We have several reusable bottles of different colors that we refill and keep in the fridge — most of which were free at some event or another. This provides the added benefit of being able to take the big jugs of drinking water home to refill them for free.

Besides buying pony kegs of beer or one of those soda makers I couldn’t think of anymore ways to reduce waste on the boat, and neither of those options seemed highly practical for weekenders. However, I’m open to more tips or suggestions.  We can always use less waste!

Not wanting to give up, I turned to our land-lubbing abode to find my other 3 rules to inflict on my husband.

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#2. Recycling at home. I cleaned out our pantry and went to the garage to find Fred’s recycling crate. He has never once used it…ever. It was totally full of junk, as a lot of things are in our garage. After spending way more time than I expected cleaning the garage (once you start it’s hard to stop), I installed our new recycling crate right in the pantry where hopefully it will get lots of use.

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#3. Composting. To go right along with my gardening I have this delightful composter. While I don’t get a lot of dirt back out of it, it does seem to make all of my yard/kitchen waste go away.

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#4. Reusable grocery bags. I had about 100 of these bags scattered throughout my house, not doing anyone any good.  I combined them all into the biggest bag, and I moved them out into my car. I figure even if I forget to take them back out here and there, I should have enough bags for grocery shopping already in my car for about a year. No excuses.

I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. Please feel free to leave any more tips on reducing waste!