What You Won’t See on the Food Network…

… is a diner I drive past every day and was the very first place I stopped to eat on my first trip here, when I was on the cusp of calling the beaches area home.  I sat inside The Sun Dog Diner with my  two toddlers, my babies who are now 13 and 12, while my husband took a conference call in our parked car, outside.  The diner’s interior is unchanged from that day, when it was so homey and unique, and my children were given a basket of crayons to color on the place mats while I contemplated the generous menu and a whole new life in a warm climate by the sea.
I probably ordered one of The Sun Dog’s juicy hamburgers, which are famously prepared in any number of ways, as I’m sure I wasn’t on a diet (judging from the pictures of me in early 2000) and no doubt, the requisite basket of fries that any good diner serves up.  I remember the afternoon sun of an early January day coming in through its western facing windows and it was probably after the actual hour for lunch because the place was relatively quiet, as it was the other day, when I stopped in to get the skinny on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, the Food Network’s program with Guy Fieri.  The Sun Dog had been chosen as a featured location, along with a couple of other Atlantic Beach restaurants, and I knew the crew had been there earlier in the week, filming.  It’s all very exciting to know that any local place will be aired on the program. It’s just that the The Sun Dog’s  an integral part of my neighborhood, so imagine my disappointment (mine? how about theirs?) when the bartender chatted with me and said that the production crew had decided against filming in the Sun Dog and moved on to another location.  The production crew had chosen certain items from the menu for the food prep portion of the show, while the Sun Dog staff thought privately that perhaps the art of preparing another of their popular menu items would provide more entertainment value. But naturally they complied with the production team, and in the end they weren’t chosen because, indeed, the menu items were just too simple (but no less delicious) for featuring on television, I suppose.  The Sun Dog offers a truly diverse selection of foods that cater to a variety of foodie preferences in casual dining but singularly cooked to perfection, and certainly not just burgers and fries. But you know how it is in television … “one day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out…” so the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives crew moved on to their next local venue (another feature for a different post), and leaving ‘atlantic beachlife’ to bring you my version of The Sun Dog: ten years of food and fun.
The Sun Dog is definitely a local favorite. You can get lunch and dinner, and stay right on into the night, when the music starts up.  I’ve taken nearly every visitor I’ve had in the past ten years for a a meal at The Sun Dog and I can’t think of a single one that we haven’t enjoyed in all that time.  
What I’ve appreciated about the place, too, is its nightlife, close to home.   Whether you’re 21 or 71, you can find your tribe there.  It’s one of my favorite bars for people watching later in the night, and even more fun?  The ladies room conversation during a weekend night, anytime after  about 10:30pm.  The sweet spot for powder room confessionals is probably 10:30pm – 12:30am because between those hours, the girls and women are still hopeful for a good outcome – if they’re looking for one.    It can be all rather poignant really, for after a bit of private, ladies’ room girl talk, I can then monitor the goings-on from my perch at the bar. Hey, I’m entertained by all the male and female posturing and flirtation, while my husband is just enjoying  the band, where the music is live, the talent is local and the kitchen stays open til late to accommodate those appetites that will inevitably crave quick, and casual food after a few drinks and the night’s worn on.

Not to worry: there are always cabs circling the block, looking for people to drive home if you  decide that the better choice is to leave your car parked until tomorrow.  What makes Atlantic and Neptune Beaches such a great place to visit – apart from the sweet sandy oceanfront and high/low choice of accommodations – is the ability to shop, dine, and stay out late to dance until closing time while visiting several local night spots on foot (to call them merely bars does them a great disservice)  and walk the one block back to  your hotel or motel.  It’s all right there, variety, in a lovely, small town environment.  When was the last time you could say that  about your vacation spot?  Just another reason why it’s so great to live here, too.

The Sun Dog Diner: the family diner with live music and a bar scene that kicks in long after your kids should be in bed anyway.  A Neptune Beach institution for over twenty years, it’s just an everyday part of our small town, and across the street from the beach.

Unfortunately, you won’t see it on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, but the next time you  come out to the beach you will.  Call me.   I’ll meet you at The Dog.

Video Blogging: Scenes from the 26.2 with Donna

Although I wasn’t a marathon participant, I still can’t shake the feeling of the day.  It was truly powerful. Breast cancer is a horrible disease and seeing more than 10,000 women and men, gathered in one place, fiercely facing their challenges… it was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.  Below are the welcoming remarks from event organizer, marathon trainer and former Olympic athlete Jeff Galloway and Donna Deegan, just moments before the starting gun. Musician Daniel App performs his original song, the theme song for this year’s race Believe in the Beat.  For those of you who didn’t see it the first time … or perhaps you’d like to relive those exciting moments when it all came down to the start, welcome to race morning, redux:

Finally, the official start of the race!  Perhaps you’ll see yourself, or a friend?  

Perhaps I’ll be in the starting gate next year?  I think I can manage being part of a relay team.  I’ve never enjoyed the sport of running much although I completed three 10ks and even snagged a medal as a top 50 finisher in the last one! (It was a while ago.) Today  I prefer swimming as my cardio fitness but after witnessing so many women of all ages, united in fitness and to raise money to wipe out the horrific disease of breast cancer, I am rethinking my own physical capabilities and goals.

In any case, I bow to the greatness of every one of you who participated in the race.  

Vignettes from the 26.2

It’s the only marathon in the country devoted solely to raising money to finishing breast cancer.  It’s called the 26.2 with Donna – The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer.
Donna Deegan (right, wrapped in pink against the cold pre-race morning) with Dr. Edith A. Perez, MD, Hematologist/Oncologist Researcher, Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic.  Both ran in today’s marathon.

Athletes from all over the world gathered, including marathoners from Kenya, pictured in the front row of the 10,000 participating, just before the start.

Donna Deegan is a home town girl who is the news anchorperson at First Coast News here in Jacksonville.  Smart, pretty, mom of two teens, she’s had a long career in television news.  Also, she’s fought breast cancer three times – since 1999. 
 She established this marathon three years ago, and today’s third annual race went off under a chilly dawn sky that quickly warmed to perfect running weather of about 58 degrees under blue skies.  The start was at  Mayo Clinic, the place where the  research happens that’ll finish this dreadful disease.  It is reported that 10,000 runners from all over the world converged this morning – many ran half a marathon, many were teams who ran the course in relay, while thousands completed the the entire 26.2.    The 26.2 mile course was closed off for seven hours: if you can do it in seven hours, come on in and run for yourself, your wife, your sister, your mom, your friend.  Think of the survivors,  and of those who did not.  Perhaps next year, more of us will train for it.
The energy, the very mood of the crowd as they jostled in the starting position was palpable, and as a journalist blogger merely covering the event, I felt very much out of it.  If you were a runner, it was your day.  Congratulations to everyone who participated – from the runners to the corps of volunteers who made it all possible. The list would go on if I included everyone of note who participated: suffice it to say there was a contingent from Africa, Olympic medalists and Olympic athletes-in-training, breast cancer survivors young and old. 
First Coast News Vice President of Programming & Community Relations Bonnie Solloway checks on last minute details before the race commenced.
The race started and ended at  Mayo Clinic, and ran through the beaches towns of Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic Beach, both on the beach and into the neighborhoods.  Supporters lined every step of the route.  It was truly a wonderful day.  Probably close to one million dollars was raised, with each dollar devoted solely to breast cancer research and treatment.  
For Donna Deegan it was one long victory lap.  She’s a true runner, but today she ran it slowly as all along the route her fans and friends wanted to catch their fleeting moment with her.  
I’ll leave you with some random photos of the day.  I tried to capture the less than typical moments.  Enjoy.
Two dogs, dressed in pink tutus, watched the runners pass by in Neptune Beach.


Every finisher received a medal.


His girlfriend crossed the finish line and became his fiance.  He’s clutching the box with the engagement ring and told us it was truly going to be a surprise for her.  It was all captured live by First Coast News.


These friends flew in from Colorado to run.  The three women on the left are survivors, and the two on the right were caregivers.  All finished the half marathon and were all smiles.


Special water bottles were available for participants.


A volunteer from the Jacksonville Zoo encourages runners with his message.


Think you’re too old to run?
Tell her that.  She’s the one in pink.


Runners left their warm coverings along the rail while they were on the course.


Officially Beachlife

beachlife  | be-ch li-fe |

a particular type or aspect of people’s existence living near a pebbly or sandy shore, esp. by the ocean.

beachlifer | be-ch li-fer |
a person who chooses to live near a pebbly or sandy shore, esp. by the ocean, for the purpose of involving one’s self in benefits of coastal life.

Oftentimes on this blog I’ve used the terms beachlife and beachlifer so regularly that I decided to formally induct them into the English language.  While at present there is no dictionary entry for them, I have created the sample listing,  and as of this moment I officially declare them  authentic words. As their originator,  I also confer the copyright of these words to me.

This distinction is important because I have been guilty of sniggering behind my hand at malapropism, grammatical errors, punctuation slaughter and the use of double negatives both in written and spoken word by other people, yet here I was, using made up words on a regular basis on atlantic beachlife

Now that beachlife and  beachlifer are actual words in the English language (according to Jeannie) let’s incorporate them into  the communal vernacular among beachlifers everywhere.  Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, the Great Lakes coast – any coastline, anywhere :  if you’ve made a purposeful decision to live in a coastal town and your body and spirit connect with the beach on a visceral level, then you are living the beachlife and may call yourself a beachlifer.

They’re real words for people like us.

Jeannie’s Eyes

Eyelash Curler
If you’ve ever asked yourself if that Shu Uemura  eyelash curler really is all that, I’m here to report that the answer is yes, yes it is.
You see, when you’re shopping with a sister you only see but once a year and you’re in a Nordstrom – one of those stores that just hasn’t made it to the Jacksonville area (along with a fair number of  independent films, now that we’re talking about it) and there’s simpatico in shopping between you … and actually, you’d read, yet again, in a magazine on the very flight to visit your sister, about the greatness of the Shu Uemura eyelash curler and suddenly you see a Shu Uemura counter?  Well, you tell me.  You buy it, don’t you?
Yes, yes, you do.  
In fact, you  both do.
Shu Uemura eyelash curler?  Where have you been all my life?

Pacific Beachlife

You’ll have to imagine the hills, green and lush from recent rains, rising from the coast and sometimes obscuring both the ocean view and interrupting cell phone connections.  The car hugs the narrow canyon roads and takes the hairpin turns and occasionally passes magnificent homes perched on the side of the mountain.  I can feel the increasing altitude in my ears.  The mountains are alluring; as we travel, the Pacific comes into view. What must it be like to live up here, high in the mountains above the Pacific coast, a private life in the canyon, perhaps with the coastal view?
As we descend to sea level, the  waning sun yields to the ocean and becomes a  pink-gold sphere. 
During those final moments it seems to resist the horizon, and  most everyone on the beach pauses to watch. And when the ocean finally absorbs the melting sun, the sky grows saturated with its color, reflecting off the water, everyone moves about again, bathed in the pinky light of the afterglow. The chill is undeniable.  It’s February after all, but that does not deter beach lovers on any coast.  A sunset wedding in Malibu on a Valentine’s Day weekend. 
 That couple was blessed with a glorious one indeed, and after making their sandy vows in front of their guests and gawkers (atlantic beachlifer) they moved inside to the Sunset Restaurant at Zuma Beach,  and the rest of us carried on with our Saturday evening.

Fleeting Moments and Small Town Charm

She was drawn to the coastline where the gunmetal sky seemed stretched like a canvas to the coral painted oceanfront motel. Unexpected sunshine bathed the scene through the gentle raindrops, shimmering. She had already photographed the bright little building, its style so kitschy and evocative of a days-gone-by era, and she hadn’t noticed the emerging rainbow at first.
She was thinking about the charming motel and its vivid facade; the scene it made at the end of the street, its low-rise from the coast made prominent by its hue. She knew of its lush lawn on its wide, private ocean-facing side, that every room faced the sea and thought that if she didn’t already live here this would be a lovely place to spend a Valetine’s weekend. What she loved most about atlantic beachlife at this moment was the sparkling of the sunshine through the rain and the colorful Sea Horse Oceanfront Inn against the dark sky and then, then the rainbow caught her eye.
She scurried to a better position nearly frantic that the rainbow would evaporate before she could capture it.
It hung suspended against the blue long enough for her to take several shots. She wondered how anyone could walk away from the beach at this moment; like a child, she exclaimed to a passing couple, “oh, did you see the rainbow?!” They murmered assent as they passed, leaving the moments for her to savor alone.
The Sea Horse Oceanfront Inn is a personal favorite for budget-minded people who want the beach, the pool and everything our small towns have to offer. Free from amenities but not hospitality, I’m fond of it because so many of my family and friends have stayed there over the years, and it offers a private lawn, swimming pool, oceanfront rooms with beach access and The Lemon Bar (for motel guests and everyone else).

This sounds like an advertisment… but I’ve been privately grateful to the people there for maintaining its old-fashioned charm amidst a changing world and offering an affordable place to stay for beach lovers who like to wander our small town, too. They take good care of their guests. We’ve had medical supplies delivered there, and called for an ambulance once. It’s the kind of place where you know the first name of the person in the front office, and the room keys are old school: an actual key attached to a plastic tag with your room number imprinted on it!


Luxury accomodations are available across the street, and that will be different post on another day.

From The Rear View Mirror

Driving in the light rain slowly home in the late morning, I glanced in my rear view mirror. Behind me were lovely images of the  neighborhood’s trees and lush landscapes. Even in the dreary winter when things are at their dullest, their greenery was uplifting.
Throughout the rest of the day I snapped these mirror images.   Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Groundhog Day scenes from Atlantic Beach neighborhoods, framed by my rear view mirror.

I guess the groundhog didn’t see her shadow ’round here.