Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cedar Key...in Retrospect

Well, we leave tomorrow morning for a few days in Crystal River and we're definitely excited about moving to new sights and new adventures, but after an entire month here I just felt like giving kudos for what a really pleasant location this has been. (That doesn't mean we wish we were staying longer, however.) Yesterday I took Brandi for one last walk in the Florida Scrubs State Preserve, which has been a nice place to let her off the leash and get in a nice run for her. Then today I took her for one last walk on our nature trail. (First I stopped and bought a quarter of clam chowder from Tony's and a pound of fudget from our camp hosts). Anway - back to the trail - we've been there many, MANY times over the past month. It's about a fifteen minute walk from the park, and the trail is just basically a one-way trail that goes along an old rail embankment and dead-ends on the edge of one of the back bayous. It's been really interesting to walk it so often and note the incredible difference that the tide makes - some days we can't even walk off the path and onto the shoreline - other times there's a very wide strip of clamshells that we can walk quite a ways on. And it's been heavenly for Brandi, our little "feral" beast, because she invariably manages to come up with some disgusting dead thing for us to fight about - most of the time I just let her eat whatever (I figure she's basically a wild dog and that's how her predecessors lived!) but today she came up with some type of weird looking skull - like a pig (no way!) or maybe a small alligator - who knows??? Anyone, this one was way too gross for me so we had to have a bit of an argument over whether or not she could keep it (...I won...eventually!). Anyway, the trail is only 6/10ths of a mile so when we get to it I let her off her leash and we go to the end (I walk -she RUNS!) and then we turn around and come back to the beginning - then we do it again - and usually then we do it again. Then we walk home. So today, on my way out there and back (and, remember, it's probably only 1/2 mile to get there) I just snapped a whole bunch of pictures of different houses and buildings along the way. I'm going to put a BUNCH of them out here - if it will let me - and what I like about them is they are a great composite overview of what it's like here. There are nice houses, there are cute houses, there are incredibly awful houses, there are fishing shacks, and somehow everything just co-exists. If you like remote, quiet locations (and if you hate the "normal" crowds in Florida), this might be just the place for you. The people here are really nice and they pride themselves on being one of the few remaining places that exemplify (did I spell that right?) the "old Florida" of the past. Cedar Key: we will definitely return to you someday!

PS - while I was writing this Dave came in and actually had a FISH! This is his very first (and obviously last) fish on the island. He's just had really bad luck so far - the water's been cold, the tides are confusing, and he struggles with the right kind of bait to use. But he's a happy camper now - and, boy, wait until our NEXT trip here!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

Hope all of you had a great Christmas. As usual, it's so weird for us to be gone over the holiday. But we did join our "orphan" neighbors here in the park for a yummy potluck. There were maybe 40 or so people there so lots of good home-made foods. The park owners did a ham, a turkey, homemade mashed potatoes and turkey gravy - Dave was in heaven. We both ate a lot and then dragged our butts back to the RV. I have been fighting a bit of an infection, so I actually went to bed for the rest of the afternoon while Dave watched a couple of basketball games. Not the BEST Christmas, but on the other hand we remember two years ago when Dave got HORRIBLE food poisoning from eating a whole can of mackerel in oil - YUCK! - and spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day absolutely sicker than sick. I'm just sort of giving up on having a good Christmas while we travel - I just miss being with family too much, so I have to accept that as part of the price to be paid for being on the road for the whole month of December.
We did go to Tony's for a great dinner on Thursday night - I think I mentioned that his clam chowder supposedly won some type of international award two years running. Well... having eaten it now - it is fabulous - SO rich and creamy and flavorful. He also sells it by the quart, the half-gallon and the gallon - plus he will ship it anyplace. I think I'm going to stop in and buy a quart for us before we leave here on Wednesday. Before we went to dinner we took a little drive around the island so Dave could show me the "pink Edsel with Christmas lights" - ok.... See attached picture :-)

On Friday, which was Christmas Eve day, it was very nice - probably mid-60's and very sunny with almost no wind - so we took the kayaks over to the island again. I think this is our third time over there - I'm guessing it's less than a half mile to get there so it's a pretty easy paddle. The last time we were there some people were on the beach and told me that I needed to take the little trail going into the middle of the island - "it's well worth it" they said. So I had already decided that if we got over there one last time, that I would definitely do it. And they were right - there is an old OLD cemetery back there dating back to the early to mid-1800's. This island used to be the original Cedar Key before it was pretty much destroyed by a storm surge. At one point there were about 400 people living there so this must be the cemetery for those people. It was strange to be walking down this completely empty nature path, all overgrown by the jungle, and suddenly enter this clearing and spot an old overgrown cemetery. I spent quite a bit of time just wandering around in there and have attached a couple of pictures. It was a beautiful afternoon for us. For Christmas Eve, we cooked shrimp on the grill and watched "The Christmas Story" (with Ralphie....??) and I called my mom and both my kids.
Today is Sunday and Christmas is now behind me, which I'm kind of glad of. It is COLD today - it topped out at 41 degrees! - so we just took a little road trip into Chiefland and did a little shopping and we also stopped in at Manatee Springs State Park and walked around a little. We camped there for a week last year, so it was kind of fun to just revisit it for a little while. We took Brandi for a walk out on the dock and the boardwalk around the springs, but BOY was it cold! It's so weird how the weather changes so much from day to day. They are predicting mid to high 70's by the weekend. Go figure.

So anyway, we're down to two full days left here on Cedar Key. Then we move down to Crystal River for three days - from the 29th through the 1st - and then we begin to hit the state parks. My next blog will probably be from Crystal River. Keep warm up there in Michigan!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Go Gators!

Gotta love basketball at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. We went to three basketball games this week - we watched the men play on Monday afternoon. They played Jacksonville, and lost by 3 points in overtime. Very good game. Then on Tuesday we watched the second round of the women's Holiday tournament. The first game was at 2:00 and didn't include the Gators; the second game was at 4:30 and was the Gators vs Robert Morris (I have NO idea where they were from, but more than 50% of their team were from outside of the United States-mostly Europe). Anyway, the Gator women pretty much killed them, which was nice of course, but the game itself was kind of boring because it was kind of a bloodbath. We ended up leaving shortly before the game was over, which we normally don't do. It's fun to go to those games and watch the Gator fans and cheerleaders and the whole "gator bait" thing. And, BOY, do they like their bumper stickers and their gator clothing and the whole nine yards. For the men's game, we sat slightly behind two FANS, and I mean FANS! Both of them were middle-aged men - one of them wore a big straw hat with all of his tickets from previous games sticking up out of the hat band - dozens and dozens - and a big alligator head sticking out over the front brim of his hat. He kept leaping to his feet and turning in circles and sweeping his arms up like he wanted EVERYONE to jump up and start yelling. He was a hoot. The other guy was similar but maybe not quite as extremem, but he did a solo dance to a Paul Simon song played by the band, using his orange towel like a slide trombone- and it was obvious this was "his" song and he does this EVERY time. And of course the whole crowd does the gator chomp with their arms extended (including me - it's kind of fun). So, anyway, we always do enjoy our gator games!
That took up most of Monday and Tuesday, and then yesterday (Wednesday) I went into Inverness for an AVA walk. What a pretty town! They have a really cool out courthouse, which was the start point for the walk, and have done a lot of rennovation downtime - very attractive "old town" area. My walk took me through the old town, then out to a really big municipal park where I followed a nice hiking trail for probably a mile or more, and that then led me to the rails-to-trails bike path and back into town. Very pretty walk - probably would be in my top 10 list so far (I think this was walk #28 - 2 more and I get to send in my book and get my next certificate and a new book - YAY! I know-kind of scary, huh?).
So those are the main things we did this week so far. It was very nice yesterday - low 70's - but other than that it's still been a bit cool. We're still waiting for a warmer, calmer day to put the kayaks back into the Gulf and paddle over to the island one last time, but no luck so far. Today it's about 60, but quite windy.
It's so weird to think that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. The park is having a potluck dinner at 2:00 on Christmas Day and we signed up for it. The people that we've met here are all really nice and, honestly, what else would we do on Christmas Day? At least this way we'll be with other people in the same situation as us (snowbirds away from their families!) and we generally love the food that people bring to potlucks!
It's also weird to think that in just a few more days we'll be leaving here and moving on to our next spot. When we came here we were a little nervous that a whole month in one place would seem like a REALLY long time, but in reality it's gone very quickly. It's been very low-key overall, not a lot going on, but that's been ok. It's been very relaxing and nice and it's given me a good intro to the whole concept of working online. It'll get a little more challenging when we move into January because we'll be moving more often, plus work will be a little more demanding due to year end. So it's been nice to have this month to kind of set up my "system" and get myself organized.
Anyway, tonight we are going to Tony's for dinner - supposedly they have the "world's best clam chowder" - what we've been told is Tony actually takes his chowder to some type of international contest up in Maine or someplace, and has won the last two years. So - we'll check it out and report back to you all.
I probably won't blog again until after Christmas, so MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of you!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Warming up...finally!

Kind of a quiet week. It's been sunny but pretty chilly - mid-40's to low'50's. (I know, I KNOW, don't even say it!) But for US it IS kind of chilly! We just kind of hung out most of the week. We did go to see the Narnia movie on Sunday, and I went back into Crystal River mid-week for the second of the AVA walks there. We went into Chiefland once and found the National wildlife preserve, but other than that we just didn't do a lot. I think one thing people don't realize is that, when you're gone for four months plus, you can't actually be "ON VACATION" all that time. You can't have an "activity" planned for 120 days. Some days, we just hang out, do laundry, watch the Morning Show, ESPN Update and Dave's soap! We do our exercises, buy groceries, go for walks, pay bills, dump the tanks, etc. Are those days exciting? Obviously not. But on the other hand, the sky is sunny, it's warm compared to Michigan (!), and we are totally relaxed and hanging out in Florida. How bad can it be?

Yesterday finally moved into a warm-up mode, so we put the kayaks into the bayou behind us and paddled around for a couple of hours. It's pretty neat, because there are all these little "islands" - they're not really islands per se but more like mounds of clamshells that have grown to the point that they have little shrubs and stuff growing on them. Some are very tiny, some are quite a bit bigger. It's fun to just paddle around them and look for any signs of life. There's actually a bit of a current running through the middle of the bayou area, plus of course the tides going in and out have a huge impact on when you can go out and when you'd better come back in! There was a little bit of breeze so I came in after two hours and just sat out on the little deck a couple sites over from us and read a book in the sunshine - it was wonderful! After Dave was done kayaking, he went for a bike ride and came back and said "let's go watch the sunset at Coconuts" so we did. Coconuts is turning into our favorate place to just go and hang out. In fact we went there this last Monday and took our pool sticks and played for a couple of hours. (Coconuts has the only two pool tables on the whole island, so that's where you HAVE to go if you want to play pool!). Anyway, we just had a couple drinks and sat out on the deck all by oursevles for an hour and a half and watched the sun go down. Another gorgeous sunset - we're getting almost immune to them because the sunset is pretty much gorgeous every single day! Coconuts is kind of "Key West" cute - it's built out over the water and is very rickety with lots of "junk" for decorations. Nothing matches - the chairs, the tables, the bar stools, etc are all just old and rickety. But it's a fun and comfortable place to hang out, and the people are always really friendly and nice. We always bump into other snowbirds who are thrilled to talk to us about being south instead of north - yesterday we met "Pittsburgh Tom" (that's what he told us to call him).

Anyway, this morning (Saturday) we're headed out on a little road trip for the day. We're going down to Crystal River and Homosassa Springs to look at a bunch of campgrounds/RV resorts. We really like this area but think we might enjoy being just a touch further south where there's just a little more to do. So I went on the internet and found about eight campgrounds for us to check out. So that's our plan for today - I'll let you know how it goes.

Love to all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Happy Anniversary (to us)

It's Sunday morning, December 12 - and it's our 5 year anniversary - and we still actually LIKE each other! Wow! It's raining right now (actually, for the first time since we left) and by the end of the day another really cold spell is expected to move in. It's supposed to drop into the 20s overnight, with a high tomorrow of only 44 but lots of sun. So we'll take it. We're going into Gainesville this afternoon to see the third of the Narnia movies, in 3-D. Then we'll grab a bite to eat, do a little shopping and then head home. Sounds like a good day to me...
Yesterday was fun! We went to the Cedar Key Christmas festivities - you have to love a small town celebration. In the morning, I went to the Methodist church and did the "cookie walk" - I paid $7 to buy a plastic box (sort of like a take-out box at a restaurant) and walked around in the church's social hall and filled my box with an assortment of homemade Christmas cookies. What fun - and homemade cookies are like an EXCELLENT treat for me! Now I just have to figure out how to hide them from Dave. After I picked out my cookies I took a quick run into Chiefland and then we took the kayaks out again. We went back to the island but this time we went in and out of some of the inlets running through the island. I just heard yesterday that this was actually the "original" Cedar Key, but it was destroyed by a hurricane years ago and the population moved to the current island. We definitely need to get to the museum while we're here - we love to learn about the history of the places we visit. Anyway, it's really pretty out at the island because there are all these little back bays and little creeks and stuff - hard to explain, but pretty! I'm attaching a picture that might show it just a little bit. Oh, and we saw a bald eagle flying around the island, too, which was pretty neat! (The other picture is just a few horseshoe crabs - they are all over the island - so strange-looking!)

After we were done kayaking we went back into town for the Christmas boat parade - the parade started just after dark and consisted of about EIGHT boats or so - it was SO cute! The boats were all decorated with Christmas lights and trees and Santas and stuff. We went to this neat little bar named the Black Dog - it calls itself a "beer, wine and cigar" bar. There's a deck off the back that literally hangs over the water, so we sat out there and chatted with people and watched the boats - it was cute because people on the deck were literally yelling at the people on the boats by name - "Hey, Carol, is that you....?" Then, after the big parade was done (which took longer than you'd think because the boats went past, then circled back and then came back again!) we went to the city park for the Christmas Potluck supper. It was in the park, set up under the gazebo - the attached picture is the sign over the entrance to the playground. So anyway, the people in town just bring a dish to pass and anyone could just come and eat! (We DID make a contribution to the food pantry fund - we didn't just go and eat their food! Geez!) It was dark in the park, so once you got your plate loaded up and went to one of the picnic tables to eat, your dinner became "mystery food" because you literally couldn't see anything (...hmmm, I THINK I taste chicken....). They also had Christmas karaoke (we all sang "Jingle Clams" together - I'm serious!) and they had Santa Clam sitting under one of the other gazebos, wearing big red rubber overalls... (Are you picking up a theme here?). People were there with their whole families, their dogs, and in one case their Christmas bunny - I've attached the picture even though it's kind of hard to make out - but, yes, it's a little white bunny in a Santa outfit! Afterwards we headed home, driving through town (which is about 3 blocks long) with all their Christmas lights up - and of course instead of Christmas bells and stuff like that, their Christmas lights hanging through town are things like clams, conch shells, starfish, sand dollars, etc. Obviously, for us it was pretty neat, because this is probably as close as we'll get to any kind of Christmas celebration. The people here are SO nice and SO friendly and it was just a really nice time for us.

When we got back to the RV we sat around a campfire with our neighbors for a while - they are Ross and Leslie, from Fort Meyers, and they are up here having a little Christmas get-together with their elderly parents who are camped next to them. Mom and Dad had gone in so we sat with the "kids" (who are our age) for a while. Ross gave Dave his card and told us to contact them when we get down in that area in January - doubt if we will, but it was nice to actually socialize a little!

Going back one more day, on Friday night we went to the Cedar Key Sharks' basketball game. We think the WHOLE school (K through 12) might have 100 to 150 students - there's only one school on the island - so obviously the high school basketball team is a little....weak? We watched the last of the girls' game (ANOTHER jump ball????- the final score was 17 to 17 so we had to go into overtime, but the Lady Sharks did win!) and then the first three quarters of the boys' game (they were playing the First Academy Eagles and getting SPANKED!). At 8:30 we had to leave to pick up the pizza we had ordered on our way in (great bargain - a 14" pizza plus 10 wings for $15- and VERY good pizza), so we bid adieu to the Sharks. I'm not thinking we'll catch another game while we're here, but it was good small-town fun! We love doing stuff like that.

Anyway - got to go - busy day today! Hope you're all staying warm and safe.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


So-although it has been very sunny and pretty the last few days, it's also been a little bit on the chilly side. In fact, the news is saying there have been some records broken for low temperatures so early in the winter. But let's get real - when we say chilly, we've still had a high of about 50 degrees each day even though it's been down into the 20's overnight. But it's amazing how different it is this year compared to last year - totally due to the sunshine! Last year we basically had rain almost continuously through the month of December, whereas this year I think we had cloudy skies just one day and no rain at all. And this weekend it's supposed to warm up again - into the 70's - with one more cold spell early next week. So - no complaints from US! It's kind of funny to see people down here, though - I went for an hour-and-a-half walk this afternoon with Brandi and I had on jeans and a fairly lighweight fleece jacket. I passed some guy out on the street who had on gloves and a hat and a heavy winter coat - come on, guys - it's not THAT cold! And Dave, of course, is still wearing shorts pretty much every day - but that's Dave!

So what have we done in the last few days...? Well, on Monday we took a drive down to Crystal River - about 45 minutes - and I did an AVA walk. I took Brandi with me and Dave brought his bike along and rode for a while, but he admitted that even for him it was pretty chilly so he ended up coming back to the car about a half hour before I was done walking. Crystal River is kind of a pretty little town, especially as you get closer to the Gulf. It's quite a bit bigger than Cedar Key but is still pretty undeveloped compared to going one hour further south and hitting the Tampa area. We would definitely consider staying in the Crystal River area for a few weeks if we could find a campground we liked. I DO love doing the AVA walks (...you will be hearing that frequently!). I get my little stamp in my little book, and I follow a map around town and I get in a nice 10K walk - some of my favorite things to do!

On Tuesday we hung out during the day - I think I worked 9 hours that day on job costing! - but that night we went into Gainesville and saw The Fiddler On The Roof at the Philips performing arts center, which is affiliated with the University of Florida. It's a really nice center (not as nice as the Devos in Grand Rapids, of course!) and the performance was very good. Probably an 8 on a scale of 10. The guy performing the role of Teyve was excellent, but some of the other performers were a little weaker. But I love the music in Fiddler and had never had a chance to see it live, so I was very happy. Dave's probably not as fond of musicals as I am, but he's a good sport and is willing to drag along with me to pretty much whatever I buy tickets for (although I'm thinking ballet might be too much to expect). For us this was a pretty late night - I think it was almost midnight when we got to bed - that's about three hours past Dave's normal bedtime!

Yesterday (Wednesday) we took Brandi and went just a couple miles off the island to a State Park Nature Preserve - it's basically a huge parcel of Florida scrub which is protected and has a fairly elaborate trail system running through it. Dave can't walk much more than a mile before his left knee (the non-replaced one!) begins to give him a lot of pain, so we just took a short walk through the area primarily to check it out. But now that I've seen, I'll definitely bring Brandi back for more walks there. I got a map of the trails and of course got out my highlighter when we got home and highlighted the portion that we walked. As I walk additional parts of the trail system, I'll highlight them on my map too - I realize this might be weird to some people, but it's how I'm wired (...thanks, Mom!).

Anyway - I'm attaching few pictures today to show some of our normal day-to-day life here. One is a picture of my little workstation. If you can't tell, what it is is an old card table from home, with the back two legs unextended and just sitting on top of the dashboard on the passenger side. The front two legs have been cut to the right size to fit on the top of the "dog house" on the left and all the way to the floor on the right. I have my nifty calendar hanging from the sun visor and my plastic box with stuff like my stapler, pens, pads of paper etc sitting next to the monitor. (Thanks, Kerkstra, for the monitor and the keyboard - they make working a lot easier than just using the laptop itself. In fact, my monitor is sitting on top of the laptop.)
It might look pretty primitive but it gets the job done! I have a curtain that goes around the winter for nighttime that I pull to block the glare of the sun as needed, and I get to sit in the passenger seat and look out over the campground while I'm working. Not too shabby!

I'm also attaching pictures of each of the pets, showing the stressful life they live on the road. No need to say anything further about THESE pictures, is there? Good lord - I should have such an easy life! (And, Brenda and Glennda, I don't need ANY comments from either of you on this whole topic!)

And finally, I'm attaching two pictures taken off the little dock that's right behind us, looking out over the bayou (I guess that's what you'd call it). We are on the "inside curve" of the isalnd, closest to the mainland, whereas the other side of the island sits right on the Gulf of Mexico. Our side is dramatically impacted by the tides, which is SUCH a weird and strange phenomenon for us. We are really struggling to understand the tides and how to interpret the tide schedule. What makes it challenging is there are two high tides and two low tides each day, and every day they get later by about an hour. So, for example, if high tide today is at 2:30PM, tomorrow it's going to be around 3:30 and the next around 4:30. The two pictures look out over the water off our dock - one was taken at low tide and shows how it's basically a mud flat at that time, the other was taken at high tide - what a difference. For us, the challenge is that we want to put the kayaks in and paddle around in this area (as opposed to just going in on the other side of the island) but we have to be VERY careful that we don't get stranded out in the water during low tide - it would be impossible to get back up to our launch site. So we're trying to get it figured out, but we're thinking next week we'll definitely try to get out there - it would be fun to go on that side and paddle around all the little islands and inlets and stuff - as long as we don't get caught!

So - that's a quick update on life on Cedar Key. So... how much snow do you guys have at home right now????

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week One at Cedar Key

Well, it's been almost a week since we arrived here and we are loving it - plus, of course, it helps that the weather has been really nice (and we know it's snowing at home!). It is very laid-back here at Cedar Key - I just noticed that there are no "franchise" establishments at all, with the exception of one Chevron gas station and one NAPA Auto Parts - other than that everything is small and local (Brenda would love that!). Mostly we've just been relaxing and doing little things - actually, we haven't even been off the island once since we went into Gainesville on Tuesday! I've been working a fair amount, what with it being month end and also getting ready for a job-cost meeting (which I will attend via telephone). I expect to put in a fair number of hours this coming week but then I think it'll taper off the last half of the month. Right now I'm definitely putting in more than the 20 hours I had estimated. But it actually isn't a problem because I do at least half of my work later at night or early in the morning.

So - I've been walking every day, with the dog - she desperately needs the exercise - she has SO much energy. Dave and I have been out to the Pier a couple times for drinks and yesterday we went kayaking all afternoon. It was in the low 70's with beautiful sunshine and almost no wind at all - a perfect day for us to paddle over to the island. (There's an island right next to Cedar Key that is a national wildlife sanctuary.) We paddled around the island and then we pulled the kayaks up on shore and Dave surf-fished for a while while I read a book - it was very peaceful and beautiful. He thought he spotted dolphins and he also thought he saw a stingray swim by him. I didn't see them because they were gone by the time I looked up, but I trust his eyesight! We also went biking around the island the other day, which was fun except BOY was I shocked at how weak my "biking" muscles are. I hardly rode this summer and I can certainly tell - I definitely need to get out for a daily ride and build those muscles back up again. What else have we done? Well, Dave rides every day and throws a line into the water most days. We did laundry at the one little laundromat on the island. We've watched a few movies and cooked a few meals on the grill. And, hmmm....

It's weird to write about the last five days because we just haven't really done that much, which is kind of unusual for us. But it's been so wonderful to just hang out and relax and do nothing! We've had a couple "cool" days - maybe 60 degrees - and supposedly next week we'll only be in the mid-50's for a couple days, but overall it's been great. It's been sunny every single day with barely a cloud anywhere - which is just HEAVEN! Next week we've got a few more things scheduled, but I think that's about it for now. But - just as an exercise - try to imagine just sitting in a chair, reading a book and looking out over the little islands and watching the tide come in and out - that about sums it up...