Traveling with Tunnel Vision

A visit to the World’s Shortest Highway Tunnel, chasing waterfalls in TN

 Heading home on a recent road trip from Georgia to the D.C. Metro Area, Jon and I decided to meander off I-81 N to stretch our legs where Northeast Tennessee pokes Virginia’s underbelly.

We were in search of Backbone Falls, a forty-five-foot waterfall on a 0.3-mile long trail in Cherokee National Forest.

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Backbone Falls

In order to get to the waterfall, we had to drive on Highway 133, in Tennessee, through a hole blasted out of Backbone Rock in 1901.

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Backbone Rock

Visit the World’s Shortest Highway Tunnel is now both on and off my bucket list.

Backbone Rock itself stands seventy-five feet tall, while yellow road signs indicate the tunnel opening is just over thirteen feet tall.  Visitors are allowed to climb on top of the rock, but we chose to view the tunnel from the ground.

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Backbone Rock

We caught a glimpse of some of the fall foliage along Beaverdam Creek next to Backbone Rock.

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Beaverdam Creek

Then, we took the stairs through Backbone Falls trail.

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Backbone Falls Trail
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Backbone Falls Trail
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Backbone Falls Trail

We were definitely glad we took the time to appreciate the little things in life.

Have you ever visited Backbone Rock or Backbone Falls?  What are some unique sights you’ve stumbled upon on road trips?

You’ll be Amazed by This Fall Festival

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The air is finally cool, pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps, and any day now the leaves will start to turn.  My favorite time of year!  We celebrated the season this weekend by going to Temple Hall Fall Festival in Leesburg, VA.  We purchased evening tickets for $10 and felt we had gotten our money’s worth in the first ten minutes.  The festival is very kid-friendly, but there is plenty for adults to enjoy as well.

Activities included with the price of admission:

  • Two corn mazes (It seemed that there is a day and night version)
  • Unlimited use of the Corn Cannons (hurl corn at targets in a field)
  • 20 paintballs to shoot at targets in a field
  • Two giant jumping pillows (trampoline-like) that were surprisingly awesome
  • Practice lassoing
  • Pig Race at 1 PM and 3 PM
  • Turkeys, chickens, peahens, pigs, three-week-old piglets, and more farm animals
  • Firepits
  • Cow Train
  • Cornhole
  • Giant Inflatable Slide
  • Bounce House
  • Possibly a couple more things that I missed!

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Corn Cannons
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Paintball
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Jumping Pillows

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Activities that cost extra:

  • Pumpkin Blaster (or apples if they are out of pumpkins)- $2 per shot or $15 for 10 shots
  • Pumpkin Ring Toss for a prize- $2 per game
  • Balloon Pop with darts for a prize- $2 per game
  • Country store- prices vary for pumpkins and other take-home items
  • Concession stand- prices vary for apple cider, hot cocoa, funnel cake, etc.

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Pumpkin and Apple Blaster

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The festival is open most Fridays to Sundays now until November 6th

Most daytime tickets (Fridays-Sundays) are $14, except tickets for children ages 3-11 and adults 55+ are $11. Children ages 2 and under are FREE.  The daytime tickets can be used the entire day, including in the evening 10 AM-10 PM

If you purchase the evening tickets, like we did, they are usable from 5 PM-10 PM.  The cost for children ages 3-11 along with adults 55+ is $8, and children 2 and under are still FREE. 

We had a blast while there was still daylight and enjoyed going through the corn maze at night.  The festival is well-lit at night, but it is dark in the corn maze.  You can see the festival lights while you are walking out of the maze, but it is very dark when you are facing away from the festival.  You may want to use a phone flashlight in the maze.  Don’t forget to grab a bookmark-size map of the corn maze when you first come to the festival.     

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We completed the corn maze on the right at night.  I think you can go in the maze on the left during the day.

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You can see the festival lights when you are walking out of the maze.

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We made it to the end of the maze!

You can buy daytime and evening tickets online here.  You also may be able to purchase tickets at the festival.  Check out their Facebook page for more updates.  

Temple Hall Farm Regional Park Address: 

15855 Limestone School Road, Leesburg, VA 20176

Have you been to Temple Hall Fall Festival in Leesburg, VA?  What fall festivals do you enjoy in your area?  Are there any others I should visit this year near Virginia, D.C., or Maryland?

Take a Swim in the Wild Side of the Keys

We woke up with the roosters.  After cups of coffee, bowls of General Mills’ finest, and the first burst of Vitamin D of the day, we were ready.  It was a ten minute drive, from the Hyatt Residence Club- Windward Pointe in Key West, to the Perry Hotel on Stock Island.  I waited in the lobby, subduing butterflies.  

Captain Gary, owner of Dolphin Safari Charters, greeted us with a friendly accent that he developed growing up in Zimbabwe.  The four of us, my boyfriend, his parents, and I, followed our captain to a red and white powerboat, in pristine condition, with YEBO stenciled on the side.  Shoes off. One foot. Then the other. We stepped into the boat, hosed off our feet, and sat in the stern. We moved at a Key West pace at first in the no wake zones, then sped off through the channel.  Our wind ravaged hair in need of reprieve got its wish when we slowed down again towards our destination- the dolphin playground.   

About four miles northwest of Key West, this area is known as the dolphin playground because spectators are almost guaranteed to see dolphins.  The depth of the water is about ten feet, and the sandy ocean floor provides the perfect conditions for dolphins to do their four favorite things- eat, sleep, mate, and play.  Locals also say that certain pods of dolphins have been known to stay in the dolphin playground for long periods of time, rather than migrate to other areas. It sounds like the vibe in Margaritaville is just right for humans and animals alike.

At first, two dorsal fins crested above calm clear water.  Our camera phones captured the moment until they disappeared.  We waited while Captain Gary radioed other boats to see if they had any luck spotting more dolphins.  We were about to leave, when magic happened. A pod of at least a dozen dolphins swam our direction, including a baby that enjoyed making eye contact with us at the bow of the boat.  Our captain even recognized one of the dolphins by its dorsal fin.  It was an experience I won’t forget.

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As if the day couldn’t get any better, Captain Gary took us snorkeling next in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.  He anchored the boat, and we donned our flippers and snorkel gear.  Embracing our martian look, we jumped in the warm water. Above the water is beautiful, but underneath is surreal.  Parrotfish fluttered and barracudas bulleted past us.  A puffer fish took one look at us and swam back to safety.  Captain Gary found a sea urchin that we carefully held, then put back right where he found it.  The trip culminated with the captain showing us an octopus perfectly camouflaged and hiding under an arch of coral.

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We munched on fruit and crackers on the ride back to the Perry Hotel, finding it difficult to wipe the smiles off our faces as we soaked in the sunshine.  

Book your excursion with Captain Gary on the Dolphin Safari Charters website.  

Prices:

Adults $89.00 + tax each

Children under 10 $69.00 + tax each

(6 people max per boat)

Private Charters: $475.00 + tax

Summer Hours:

8:30 AM to 12:00 PM (We went at this time.)

12:30 PM to 4:00 PM

5:00 PM to Sunset

Check the website for winter hours.

Another Excursion I Recommend

Danger Charters (Full Day Excursion)

Highlights:

  • Snorkel in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge
  • Lunch, drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), and snacks
  • Relax on a sandbar in crystal clear water
  • Kayak around a mangrove island
  • 6.5 hours on the water

This excursion was also unbelievable.  We rode on a 65 foot schooner modeled after a Skipjack.  At the beginning of our journey, the captain and crew introduced themselves, then had each of the passengers say our names and where we were from.  The crew remembered ALL OF OUR NAMES the entire trip. It was impressive. On our way to the Key West National Wildlife Refuge again, one of the crew members gave us an informative (and humorous) talk about the history of the keys and the wildlife refuge.  It passed the time and gave us more of an appreciation for what we were about to see. The refuge was brimming with even more wildlife this time.  Stingrays the size of pickup truck tires hid in the sand and moved past us like magic carpets. Not one, but two nurse sharks swam left to right under us, and I saw my first grouper (not on a dinner plate).  

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After snorkeling, the crew provided lunch on the boat, that included an ample array of different ingredients to make our own sandwiches, along with cold salads and drinks.  Then, the crew anchored the boat at a sandbar about three to four feet deep. We relaxed for a bit, until at least ten kayaks were retrieved from the belly of the boat.  

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Danger Charters Schooner photo courtesy of Jon Maguire

We kayaked around a mangrove island, learning about the birds that inhabit it. A pair of kayakers and our guide from the crew even spotted a black tip reef shark. The wind picked up while we were heading back to the schooner, which made paddling back in the waves difficult, but a worthwhile experience.  

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Kayaking around the mangrove island photo courtesy of Jon Maguire

We enjoyed salty snacks and cookies on the ride back to shore.

Prices:

Adults: $120.00 each

Children: $95.00 each

Toddlers: FREE

Summer Hours:

10:00 AM to 4:30 PM 

Check the website for winter hours.

Best Snorkeling Without the Excursion

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

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If you are interested in snorkeling without a boat ride, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a terrific spot.  There are several fish that swim near the rocks in the water, relatively close to shore. It is a beautiful beach and park, shaded by trees in some areas.  However, be forewarned that the shore has a significant amount of sun bleached rocks you must walk across before reaching the water.  To combat this small roadblock, I saw several people wearing flip flops and taking them off once they reached the water, or wearing water shoes or flippers into the water.

Fort Taylor was built between 1845-1866, and is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily with narrated tours at 11:00 AM daily.

State Park Entrance Fee:

One person $4.50

Two people $7.00

Each additional person $0.50

*If you ride your bike or walk into the park $2.50 each

State Park Hours:

8:00 AM to Sunset (daily)

Address: 

601 Howard England Way, Key West, FL 33040

Have you been snorkeling or scuba diving before?  What is the coolest marine animal you’ve seen?  Where is the best place you’ve been to snorkel or scuba?

 

You’ll Find More Than Lemonade in Beyonce’s H-town

I recently visited Texas for the first time!  I went for a long weekend with my boyfriend for his college friend’s wedding.  We only spent our time in Houston, but the city gave us a warm welcome. It was July after all. Despite the heat, we enjoyed some outdoor sights that can’t be missed and cooled off in exceptional budget-friendly restaurants that kept us fueled for each adventure.  Did I mention they have tacos? So many of the most genius combinations of food wrapped in the sweet embrace of tortillas. Here are some of my new favorite places to see and places to eat at, in this taco mecca of the world:

Points of Interest

Best Outdoor Activity

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

Houston has several parks around the city, but this one was a treasure.  We visited a handful of the parks, and many of them were mosquitos’ paradise.  However, this one was different. It was the least buggy and the most beautiful.  Steps from the parking lot was a boardwalk that curves around trees and stands over a pond.  Many turtles swam skeptically around us, and a Great Egret greeted us as we began the trail.  As you travel further into the arboretum the landscape changes from dense with trees to open and airy with surrounding ponds coated in lily pads.  Pops of color are on full display around the arboretum too in the form of unique flowers.  The landscape will likely continue to change as years progress when young saplings and other flora mature.

Hours: Open 7 days/ week

              March-September 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM

              October-February 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Address: 4501 Woodway Drive, Houston, TX 77024-7708

Insta Worthy Murals

Pandr Murals

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Six murals in downtown Houston are a welcomed vibrant contrast to the concrete, asphalt, and brick color scheme that exists in the city.  Bright purple, turquoise, and yellow attract people, like ladies to outdoor string lights, while the cheerful sayings both motivate and instill a sense of Texas pride in viewers.  They are located at The Shops at Houston Center on McKinney St. between San Jacinto St. and Caroline St.

Greetings from Houston Mural

If you are looking for a more traditional mural, look no further than this postcard on the side of Gelazzi, a pizza, sandwich, and gelato shop in The Heights neighborhood.  It depicts images that Houston and Texas are known for and surely makes a classic keepsake photo.

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Address: 3601 White Oak Drive, Houston, TX 77007

I found these murals on the blog, it’s not Hou it’s me before my trip.  (Thank you for the suggestions Anastasia and Natalie!)

Sensational Shopping

Galleria Mall

This mall was the epitome of everything is bigger in Texas.  It was HUGE. Inside you will find high-end shops and jewelers, a Tesla Showroom, ice rink, and multiple restaurants to choose from, like this conveyor belt sushi spot that we tried.  

It is a great place to cool off for an entire hot Houston afternoon if you wanted to.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM

             Sunday 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Address: 5085 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77056

Houston Premium Outlets

A half hour from Galleria Mall are the Houston Premium Outlets.  Nike, Puma, Gap, Oakley, Coach, and Nautica, are just a handful of stores you will find here offering great sales.  

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM

             Sunday 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Address: 29300 Hempstead Rd, Cypress, TX 77433

Restaurants

As Authentic As It Gets

Sergio’s Mexican Grill

I am partial to this place because it’s where we had our first meal in Texas.  I ordered the Combo #5, not to be mistaken with Mambo No. 5, although it did have a little bit of everything.  A little bit of taco cut with a knife, a little bit of rice and beans on the side, a little bit of enchilada, that’s all I need.  All for $10.50. I digress…

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:00 AM to 9:30 PM

              Friday-Saturday 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM

              Sunday 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM

Address: 29110 U.S. 290 Frontage Rd, Cypress, TX 77433

                (Within walking distance to the Houston Premium Outlets)

Most Likely to Leave you Speechless²…Because of Taste and Price!

Tacos A Go Go

I have two words- Tater Taco.  Tater tots, black beans, queso, bacon, jalapenos, and other typical taco veggies, all for $3.29.  Heaven is indeed a place on Earth. My wallet and stomach were singing Sister Act hymns, praising the decision to eat here.  I also tried the Pollo Guisado, listed on the menu as “One of the 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die,” according to Texas Monthly.  It was $2.79. The experience left me speechless indeed…

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Hours: Monday-Thursday 6:30 AM (Breakfast tacos!) to 9:00 AM

             Friday 6:30 AM to 9:30 PM

             Saturday 8 AM to 9:30 PM

             Sunday 8 AM to 9 PM

Address: 2912 White Oak Dr, Houston, TX 77007

               See website for additional locations.   

Torchy’s Tacos

Let me start by saying that most of these tacos were also $3-$4 each! I was so mesmerized by the value and flavor that I did not take a single picture.  Let’s let my description paint a picture in your mind. For starters, the Trashy Trailer Park Taco.  Oh yes folks, that is its name.  Fried chicken, green chillies, cheeses, and what taco would be complete without more cheese in the form of creamy queso.  Simply, perfection. I went a bit more bold for my second taco and ordered the Mr. Orange.  Salmon, corn and black bean relish, avocado sauce and cheese mingled in a corn tortilla.  Whoever came up with that combination, I thank you. It was the best way I have ever eaten my Omega-3’s.  I also tried the Hillbilly Queso with ground chorizo to dip tortilla chips in and really round out the meal.  

Hours: Monday-Thursday 7:00 AM (Breakfast tacos!) to 10:00 PM

             Friday 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM

             Saturday 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM

             Sunday 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM

Address: 350 W. 19th St, Houston, Texas 77008  

                 See website for additional locations.     

Unrivaled Food and Decor

Local Foods

Corn nuts and cork barstools.  You may be wondering right away what corn nuts are.  I was too, so I had to try them.  They are enlarged pieces of corn that are crunchy like a nut with a subtle popcorn taste, flavored with chili-cheese seasoning.  They came as a side, along with potato salad, that my boyfriend and I ate with the Crunchy Chicken sandwich for $12.00.  We were at the restaurant at 4:00 PM before our flight home.  From 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM they have a happy hour menu that consists of drinks, small plates, and pizzas.  We tried the White Flatbread Pizza and added crumbled bacon on top for about $6.00.  Both entrees were delicious.  The decor was modern with a twist and provided a comfortable and chic atmosphere to cap off our trip.     

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 Hours: Monday-Sunday 10:00 AM to 8 PM

Address: 420 Main St, Houston, Texas 77002

                (Very close to the Pandr Murals)

                See website for additional locations.   

Most Texas-Sized Meal

The Hay Merchant

This is a great spot for food and drinks in The Heights.  I tried their Fighting the Bees cocktail, which was a mix of honeysuckle vodka and liqueur, lemon (Hey Beyonce!), and lavender honey.  There are also MANY beers and bar snacks to choose from. We shared the Half-Sized Chicken Fried Steak with an extra side of macaroni and cheese (it already came with mash potatoes #carbo-loading).  Holy cow in a Texas pasture, it was a big meal, served on a silver tray.  

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I can only imagine what it would have looked like if we had ordered the Giant Chicken Fried Steak listed on the menu.   

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 11:00 AM to Midnight

             Thursday-Saturday 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM

             Happy Hour daily 11:00 AM to Noon and 3:00 to 6:30 PM (Specials include 30 types of beer for $3 each or $5 beer and a shot)

Address: 1100 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006

Last but not least…

Best Gas Station (You Read That Right)

Buc-ee’s

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This gas station and convenience store should be considered an amusement park.  Locals described it as a cousin of Walmart because you can buy just about anything there.  They are also big fans of their beaver mascot. He is on everything from shirts to shot glasses, bandaids, and bumper stickers.  There is also an impressive amount of candy and jarred goods with the Buc-ee’s logo in the store. I am told at the “bigger Buc-ee’s” they also make their own fudge.

Hours: Open 24/7 (Because why wouldn’t it be?!)

Address: 11151 Shadow Creek Pkwy, Pearland, TX 77584   

               (This one is about 15 to 25 minutes from Houston’s Hobby Airport depending on traffic, but check Google for more locations.)

What are your favorite spots in Houston or the craziest thing you’ve purchased at a Buc-ee’s?

G.O.A.T. Yoga

The weather was not promising.  Rain in the forecast and a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit was a sharp contrast to the previous day’s 80 degrees.  My boyfriend and I unraveled our yoga mats in a grassy field at the Goodstone Inn in Middleburg, Virginia under cloudy skies, shivering slightly in the wind.  

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In the lull prior to the start of the event, a crowd began to form.  People scurried toward the cluster, holding their camera phones like a compass.  Then, laughter. A goat had hopped on top of a woman’s back and stood there like a stately statue, in no hurry to jump down.  The spectacle heightened my excitement and began to overshadow my worry about the weather.

Soon after, the yoga instructor, Beth A. Wolfe, began welcoming those of us participating.  Like clockwork, the sun briefly peeked through the clouds as she spoke. People cheered. Right on cue, tiny goats were taken out of a baby blue Toyota Camry and dispersed among the group.  More and more kept appearing, as if it was a clown car.

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Shanti, Penny, Freckles, and other goats from The Little Goat Farm at the Lake in Nokesville, Virginia kicked and played, frolicked and “baaaa”-ed, while we flowed through various yoga poses.  

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At the end of the session, each of us had the opportunity to hold and pet the goats.  

When my boyfriend and I were getting in the car to leave, the skies opened up.  I couldn’t believe the rain held off until we were leaving. Petting the goats must have had the same good luck effect as rubbing a Buddha’s belly.  

If you are interested in participating in Goat Yoga with Wolfe, tickets range from $30-$35 and are still available on her website for the following dates:

Goat Yoga at Westmoreland Berry Farm:

Sunday, May 6th

Goat Yoga + Live Music at The Little Goat Farm at the Lake:

Saturday, May 26th

Saturday, June 23rd

Saturday July 21st

Saturday, August 25th

Have you done goat yoga before?  Have you practiced yoga with Beth A. Wolfe?  What was your favorite part of your experience? 

Shanti,

Pauline

“I’ll Have The Dirty Hippie.”

Three restaurants you can’t miss during a visit to Virginia Beach

The Green Cat Juice Bar and Market

If you are looking for a respite from the heat this summer, The Green Cat is the closest to the ocean on my list.  Located two blocks inland, this juice bar and market is just what the doctor ordered to go with your Vitamin Sea.

Pineapples, pops of green, and a henna-like pattern on the walls caught my eye while I waited to try their soup of the day (12oz; $5.99) and The Green Cat smoothie (a blend of pineapple, mango, spinach, spirulina , coconut oil, and coconut water; $10.95).  Be still my heart. Words don’t do the deliciousness justice. I felt healthier with each spoonful and sip.

 

 

Their menu includes many plant based, raw, organic, and gluten free food options, juices, and smoothies.

Hours: Monday-Friday 7:00 am to 5:30 pm

             Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 5:00 pm

Address: 3801 Pacific Ave. Virginia Beach, VA, 23451

Three Ships Coffee Roasters

I walked about ten minutes from my hotel on Atlantic Avenue to this coffee shop.  The outside was a charming brick façade. I could tell it was a winner just moments after arriving because the line was out the door around 10 am.

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The interior has exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, greenery, and antique nautical art on the walls.  I was puzzled by the absence of a menu on the wall though. Ask for a recommendation or check out one of the small menus on clipboards on the counter by the register.

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This coffee shop roasts their own coffee, so I ordered a cup of black coffee and added my own cream and sugar ($3.00).  When I am back in the future, I will try one of their biscuits or hand pies that they advertise on their storefront windows.  On the weekend that I went, there was also a flea market and farmers market right outside that seemed to be a regular occurrence.  I sipped my coffee while I browsed the local goods.  

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Hours: Monday-Sunday 7:00 am to 6:00 pm

Address: 607 19th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

The Bee and the Biscuit

Furthest on my list, but worth the distance, The Bee and the Biscuit is about a 20 minute drive from the boardwalk.  It is located in the Pungo neighborhood of Virginia Beach, surrounded by more farmland than sand.   As a result, their menu options are made with local produce and fresh ingredients. I ordered the Dirty Hippie Breakfast Burrito ($10.50) and Salted Caramel Latte ($5.00).  You definitely get your money’s worth. The latte was UUUGEE.

 

 

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Hours: Closed Mondays

Tuesday-Sunday 7:00 am to 2:00 pm

Address: 1785 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23456

Have you ever been to one of the restaurants on my list?  What was your favorite menu item? Do you have a favorite Virginia Beach restaurant that I missed?  I’d love to hear from you!

Puppy Yoga in Arlington, VA

Yesterday, I ended the workweek in one of the most playful ways possible. Yoga is already a satisfying way to relieve stress, but when puppies are added to the mix it becomes an even more delightful experience.  Beth A. Wolfe, an Arlington based yoga instructor, leads puppy yoga classes at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington in Virginia when puppies are available at the shelter.

We began by reflecting on three principles of yoga- joy, wonder, and gratitude for the present moment. One by one, four puppies rescued from Mississippi were brought into the room with us. Instantly, the puppies’ energies were infectious. Happiness permeated the room.

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Our yoga instructor was fluid with her instructions about how to perform traditional yoga poses.  She incorporated downward dog and fire hydrant, which added even more lightheartedness. Intermittent laughter was a frequent sign that a puppy had wiggled between a participant’s arms, hopped over someone’s back, or nibbled on an enticing ponytail. It was difficult not to display a toothy grin.

Towards the end of the session, Beth turned out the lights for our mandatory shavasana. We relaxed on our backs in quiet thought. One puppy in particular mirrored how we all felt when the lights were turned back on.  He was dozing on a yoga mat displaying a look of nirvana.

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He peacefully rested without blinking an eye as we gently passed him around the room in order to capture a keepsake photo of the experience.

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The puppies that were present during our session are available for adoption in about a month, after they are spayed and neutered. Keep an eye out on the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s website if you are interested.

You can also subscribe to Beth’s mailing list in order to be notified about future puppy yoga sessions.  These events seem to sell out quickly!  Next on my list: her kitten or goat yoga sessions.

Namaste,

Pauline