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Day 216: Tour Tallahassee’s Christmas lights

25 Dec

To continue this recent theme of Christmas-related posts, I give you: Christmas lights tour! Each year the Tallahassee Democrat compiles a list of homes that have particularly good light displays. I will warn you that this list is self-submitted so some of the homes are better than others. In addition, my neighborhood of SouthWood is known for its holiday light displays, such as this one bedazzled and patriotic house that has blinking lights timed to music and generates a long line of cars the closer it gets to Christmas. The house is so popular the owners had to bring in an off-duty police officer to direct traffic. This year my husband and I decided to tackle the Democrat’s list of light displays. We started with a few on the list and found them pretty impressive – yards overtaken with jolly red-suited Santas and reindeer and Frostys, roofs and doorways coated in twinkling lights. But there were way too many homes on the list to hit every one. Eventually we headed toward Killearn Estates, Killearn Acres, Summerbrooke and Ox Bottom and simply drove around without a list to guide us. We saw a fair number of decent light displays in these suburban ‘hoods. Fair warning that it is easy to get lost in the northeast side of town if you don’t live there. Thankfully my husband is pretty Tallahassee savvy. We packed a few holiday snacks to take along with us, making the light tour all the more festive. I will categorize this one as “free,” though you will definitely burn through gas if you do it right. (The house in the photo is on 7th Ave. in Midtown.)

Address: All over Tallahassee – look in the Democrat for more specifics.


Day 215: Shop at Market Days

5 Dec

Each year, a few weeks before Christmas, the North Florida Fairgrounds is transformed into a bustling shopping market of handmade wares, from candles and Christmas ornaments to fudge; Florida-esque art; and clothing. Called “Market Days,” this two-weekend shopping extravaganza is definitely the sort of thing worth visiting at least once. It is a little pricey – I had to pay $9 just for admission and parking. My honest impression of the wares for purchase is that they just aren’t my style or in my price range. I’m not into corny signs that hang in the kitchen, tacky Christmas sweaters or photographs/art of Florida landscapes. After wandering in and out of several “markets,” I wondered if I had just wasted $9. But then I stumbled upon a booth where sturdy wooden kitchen utensils were being sold. They were beautifully crafted and unlike anything you can buy at a Wal-Mart or Target. I bought a “mixing paddle” that I was assured would work really well with dough. Then I was lured into tasting fudge samples at another booth and bought $6 worth of different fudge flavors. I probably could have done more damage to my wallet if I had more cash with me. And that reminds me – definitely hit up the ATM and bring lots of cash. The food vendors at Market Days are also better than average. There is the typical festival food of corn dogs, french fries and kettle corn, but there was also a great smattering of local restaurants represented, including local sushi/Chinese food restaurant Azu. All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Address: North Florida Fairgrounds at 441 Paul Russell Road (entrance is off Monroe)

Day 214: Cut down your own Christmas tree

27 Nov

After writing a story in 850 Business Magazine about tree farms in Northwest Florida, I vowed to try my hand at cutting down my own Christmas tree. Luckily, there is one tree farm in Havana, a 20-minute drive from Tallahassee. My husband and I arrived on a Saturday evening about an hour before the farm closed for the day. Turning onto the farm from Highway 27, we glimpsed row upon row of Christmas trees in all shapes and sizes, a veritable factory of Christmas trees. After parking near a red Christmas store, we were encouraged to grab a golf cart, handsaw, and a long pole for measuring. We then weaved our way through the trees in search of our perfect match. We bounced around the farm eyeing Leyland Cypress trees that ranged from two feet to eight feet before settling on a Scotch Pine Tree that had been newly trimmed. I left the sawing to my husband and was surprised that it only took a minute or two to completely cut. It costs $6.50 a foot and coupled with some “tree food” we paid $55. There is also a charming Christmas store that sells ornaments and other Christmas knick-knacks. Having gotten trees from shopping center drab parking lots before, I definitely think cutting your own tree adds a little something extra to the tree-buying experience.

Address: 2867 Highway 27, Havana, Florida. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Christmas season.

Day 212: Crack open a stone crab at St. Mark’s

6 Nov

Every year in October, the small town of St. Marks hosts the Stone Crab Festival. We have noted St. Mark’s popularity before as a place to eat fresh seafood and gaze at the St. Mark’s River. The Stone Crab Festival puts on display the rustic atmosphere and country charm that you can pretty much almost always find at this tiny hamlet. Most definitely, it features all the typical North Florida festival wares – tents filled with candles, soaps, knick-knacks and FSU memorabilia. But it’s really great for some very entertaining people watching. We saw long-haired Harley riders, young moms toting babies on their hips, and some folks wearing fashions that I thought had disappeared 20 years ago. Guess we were wrong. No matter what, if you love seafood, this is the festival for you. Besides stone crab, you can get blue crab, boiled shrimp, oysters and more. It seemed that most people chose to purchase buckets or plates of stone crab, and to my surprise, they spent a good bit of time whacking at the crabs with blocks of wood to crack open the tough shell. The activities produced quite a cacophony: hammer-like bangs that sounded like a house under construction. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much more to see or do beyond the stone crab. Our travel time there and back from Tallahassee was longer than our stay. I think if you had kids to entertain, you might stay longer given that there were stands with cotton candy, sno cones and other kid-friendly entertainment, such as moon bounces.

Address: Downtown St. Mark’s

Day 210: Go pumpkin shopping at the Pumpkin Patch

16 Oct

A longtime Tallahassee tradition, each fall the yard of the Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church is transformed into a pumpkin patch on steroids. Situated at the busy corner of Mahan and Capital Circle, the church takes advantage of this prime location to transform its lot every October into a pumpkin haven. There are pumpkins of all colors, shapes and sizes splayed out on the church’s grassy yard. Naturally, it is popular with families that have young children. Kids really delight in picking out a pumpkin to take home and carve or paint. The church has wisely set up several photo-worthy spots, the most popular being sitting on some bales of hay underneath the church’s sign surrounded by pumpkins. One of the neat things about this pumpkin patch is its anti-capitalist bent. The church does not provide any sales staff and relies upon the honor system for payment. You pay by size, so the bigger the pumpkin the more money you owe. I paid $10 for my tiny mini-pumpkin and medium-sized one that I brought home to carve. Don’t let October go by without a visit to the patch.

Address: Corner of Mahan and Capital Circle

Day 208: Cheer for the Seminoles at an FSU football game

13 Sep

This is the quintessential thing to do in Tallahassee. Locals have been raised on a steady diet of Seminole battles, but I had resisted going for years. I finally buckled when Big Brothers/Big Sisters gave away free tickets for me and my lil’ sis to Florida State University’s opening game against Louisiana-Monroe. I was intimidated by the traffic and parking headaches, but it turned out to be a cinch. I paid $7 to park at the Civic Center and took the $5 Spirit Express to the stadium. (Though if I weren’t with my little sister, it was an easy four-block walk.) I liked the pre-game festivities outside the stadium, with inflatable bounce houses, face painting and food galore. I made the mistake of not bringing enough cash, so I had to use the costly ATM once inside the stadium. Definitely bring about double the money you think you will need. The food was typical stadium fare – nachos, hot dogs, popcorn and sodas. Watching my little sister’s reaction when we first walked from the bowels of the stadium to our seats was priceless. She was awed by the sight of thousands of cheering fans decked in garnet and gold. Once seated, even a diehard Longhorn fan like me got into the pageantry of the game, from the cheerleaders and band, to the Tomahawk Chop chant and Chief Osceola and Renegade prancing on the field. The Seminoles won and I left wondering why I had waited so long to partake in this Tallahassee ritual.

Address: Doak Campbell Stadium, Stadium Drive

Day 205: Watch an FSU student film

24 Aug

Florida State University has one of the best film schools in the country. It’s claim to fame is it pays for the cost of allowing each graduate film student to conceive of and direct their own 15-minute thesis film. I wrote an article about the making of a student thesis film awhile back for Tallahassee Magazine. Each spring, graduate students in their second year at the Film School embark on a four-month process of making roughly two dozen student films. The production process starts in January and ends about May and then the students spend all summer editing the film. In early August the films debut in “graduation ceremony” that is actually a free screening of the films in Ruby Diamond Auditorium. It is open to the public, though it’s not well-publicized and most of the audience knows or is related to one of the filmmakers. I went to the screening this year and was blown away by the talented films. The films were beautifully done and incredibly gripping. The actors, many of which were flown in from Los Angeles or New York just for the films, were phenomenal. Many of the films definitely are R-rated so be careful about taking kids to a screening. This year, the screening was split into two showings, one matinee edition and an evening show. One last thing – if you can snag an invite to the after-part at the actual film school, it’s well worth it. The music, delicious food and chance to mingle with filmmaker is priceless.

Address: Ruby Diamond Auditorium, 600 Copeland Street