Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yep, we're back home!

I've had a couple people point out that I never finished my blog for this trip. Sorry about that! Anyway, we got home last week and spent a few days cleaning out the RV and getting it ready for the next trip. I did about 400 loads of laundry - all the linens, blankets, etc - and Dave tackled the vaccuuming - and with three pets in the motor home for four months, that was a BIG job. We are not TOTAL pigs - we DO vaccuum on the road - but we do a DEEP clean when we get back - and there is pet hair in every teensy little nook and cranny. But we love our pets and couldn't imagine traveling without their companionship. Anyway - we came home to shades of brown and gray - that's what you get in early April and we've made a big decision about next year. We're going to try to stay on the road until the end of April rather than the end of March. We plan to spend the month of April moving north through Georgia or Alabama and up into Tennessee. Since it was early spring when we went through this year, it would be full spring one month later. (We watched the Masters Tournament in Augusta and it sure looked like beautiful weather down there!!!!) We'll probably look for Corps of Engineer parks to stay in for the majority of April. For any of you who are thinking about doing some traveling, and if you like campgrounds, the Corps of Engineer parks are wonderful! They're always right on the water, since they are typically built on the reservoirs behind Corps of Engineer dams on major rivers. And, what's really cool for us "old folks" is that once you hit 62 you can get a senior pass that will save you 50% of your camping fees - so that means you can normally camp for $10 or so per night. So the way we look at it, for an extra $300 or so, we can stay on the road for an extra month - groceries are groceries and the route home will require the same amount of gas either way, so it's really just the extra camping fees. So - we're going to do it! Anyway, in spite of how much we love our trips, it's always nice to get back home to our friends and family. We saw my mother last week, which was really nice, and I'm heading down to see Brenda and her family in a couple weeks, which I can't WAIT for! And I'm back working at Kerkstra - it was so nice to see everyone there and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to work for them on the road and then come home and continue to do some work for them - what a blessing! So life continues to be good - and we're already looking forward to getting back on the road for the Indy 500 at the end of May. And for all of you who followed my blog and sent me so many nice emails, thank you and I'll send you all a link next year for our 7th trip! Love, Gail and Dave

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heading North!

Well, we started our trip back toward Michigan and are already kind of regretting our decision to leave Florida and head north. After my last post, we spent two more days at Stephen Foster and then decided to cut a couple days off our time there. It continued to be almost uncomfortably warm, plus we couldn't leave Brandi outside at all - she was just EATEN UP by the no-see-ums, especially in her front "armpits" (if that's what you'd call them). And it was supposed to go from 85 degrees up to 90 over the next few days, so we did one last very nice paddle on the Suwanee River. We went out for about four hours and had a nice time because there was just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs to a minimum. The river is really pretty, plus we came across another very nice gator. I'm attaching a picture of him (even though he looks an awful lot like the one I posted last week - but he's posing better!). We decided to leave the next morning and head up to Marion County park, just north of Chattanooga. This gets us almost half-way home which is always kind of nice for us - we can stay as long as we want, but we know we're only about a short two-day run from home. Plus it takes us around Atlanta, which is always another nice thing to get behind us - we HATE driving around Atlanta! So, anyway, we got up Thursday morning and got everything packed up and ready to go. I went outside for some little thing, and when I went to go back in that DAMN Dickens snuck out! He'd been whining all morning to go out and we deliberately did NOT let him because once he's out he disappears until he's ready to come back in - it's almost impossible to entice him in until he's good and ready. So, wouldn't you know it - HE'S OUT! And we are totally, completely ready to leave - NOT A GOOD SITUATION. We called him and tried to chase him out of the brush, but no luck. So then Dave decided that we should just load up and pull out of the site - he said maybe that would scare Dickens and he would come out of hiding to find us. I personally don't think cats think in exactly that way, but I agreed to give it a try. So we left the site, dumped our tanks, parked the RV out on the street and came back to the site with the car. We sat there for about 20 minutes - still no cat! So Dave went BACK out, got the motor home, brought it BACK into the site, plugged in the electricity and we just sat there and waited. About a half hour later, here comes Dickens, just strolling out of the brush like "gee, what's everybody all in an uproar about - I'm RIGHT here!!!" So we grabbed him, yelled at him, then hugged him, put him into the motor home, and we left - GOOD GRIEF!






So - after THAT little adventure, we finally got on the road and pulled over into a Walmart parking lot just south of Atlanta for overnight. The next morning we got up early, made it through Atlanta (always a relief!) and got up to Marion County shortly after noon. We love this park, but unfortunately the weather is NOT very nice. We pulled in on Friday and just kind of hung out - and then it started raining - and raining and raining and raining. It rained Friday night, absolutely ALL day Saturday and most of Saturday night. And it's pretty cool - Saturday's high was in the upper 50's and today (Sunday) it barely hit 50 - QUITE a change from 85. We MAY have made a mistake leaving when we did... But, as usual, we'll just make the best of it. It's probably a good way to get re-acclimated before we deal with Michigan!

So, anyway, yesterday we did go out for a little ride in the afternoon and then went out to dinner (the Western Sizzler, where we both stuffed ourselves mercilessly). One of the places we stopped was the Visitors' Center for the South Cumberland State Park. The park is actually ten separate areas, all under the "umbrella" of a single state park. There are some wilderness camping areas scattered throughout the areas, but the main attractions are the hiking trails through the various areas - with beautiful waterfalls, gorges, overlooks, caves, pools, etc. The trails vary from very short - just a short walk from the parking lot - up to a maximum of twelve miles. Some are rated easy, some are rated moderate, and a couple are rated difficult or strenuous (which I wouldn't tackle for anything!). I definitely wanted to try a couple of them while we're here, so today (Sunday) I took Brandi and we went to the Foster Falls area. There is a very nice overlook right off the side of the parking area, which I plan to bring Dave to tomorrow, but you really need to do a little hiking down to the base of the falls to get the best view. The hike to the bottom is a little tough, especially with a dog PULLING you the whole way, but definitely worth it. The path involves crossing over a little suspension bridge, which Brandi found to be kind of challenging. It was cute to watch her trying to figure out what the HECK was going on with this thing! The weather wasn't great - cloudy and cool - so my pictures aren't too good because there's no sunshine, but I'm attaching a couple anyway. The walk was fun to do, and the view from the base of the falls was beautiful. I really enjoy getting out on these hikes - I always feel GREAT afterward.

So - we aren't sure how long we're going to stay, but we'll probably go visit our land one of these days, and maybe hit a tourist trap or two, and if it's even halfway decent Dave will do some fishing and I'll do some more hiking. We'd love to get in a campfire or two, but we'll just have to see how the weather goes. In the meanwhile, we're keeping an eye on the Michigan weather via the weather channel and sometime within the next week or so will hit the road for the last leg of our trip. Hard to believe. But, as I mentioned last week, it won't be all bad to get home - eventually we actually DO begin to get a little homesick. And it'll be nice to see our family and friends again. But we will NOT come home if it's snowing - and that's FINAL!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park

We are now at the very last of our reserved parks - from now on we'll just be pulling in wherever we want to on the way home. It's always kind of sad for us when we get to the last of our pre-planned locations - it really means our trip is almost over. Although I have to say (and, believe me, I am NOT complaining) but it actually is REALLY pretty hot down here. It's been in the mid- to upper-80's pretty consistently and, although we really love the warm temps, it definitely saps your energy a little bit. We are actually a little bit ready to move slightly more north. We have reservations here through next Monday, but we're talking about leaving this park a little bit early and getting into Georgia at least.

But, in the meanwhile, this park is REALLY pretty. It is a state park, located in White Springs, which is about 70 miles straight north of Gainesville, and probably 30 or 40 miles south of the Florida state line. The park is a regular state park, in that it has a campground (an exceptionally pretty one, actually) and it's on the bank of the Suwanee River so we can fish and kayak, but it is also a cultural center to celebrate the Florida folk arts and the music of Stephen Foster. There is a really pretty museum dedicated to Stephen Foster and his music, his life, etc. There is also a beautiful bell tower (or carillon) that plays every quarter hour during the daytime and has a bell concert at 10:00, 12:00 and 2:00. Very pretty. There is also a "craft square" which is a group of about 5 or 6 little cottages that have various folk artists, like a blacksmith, a basket weaver, etc with local artisans displaying their work. Not every cottage is open every day, but normally two or three of them are. The park grounds are exceptionally pretty, with beautiful landscaping throughout.

On Saturday, the little town of White Springs, along with the state park, celebrated their annual "Azalea Festival". We were kind of looking forward to it - there was going to be a bunch of live music, food vendors, craft-maker displays, etc. WELL... I guess it was ok, but it was a REALLY small festival with probably only a couple hundred people total. We walked around town a little bit and then came home and watched March Madness games instead. I think we were expecting something a little closer to our Tulip Festival...wrong!

Today we put the kayaks into the Suwanee River and paddled a little bit, but (to our surprise) there were actually some little RAPIDS on the river - it was fun going DOWN the little rapids, but not so much coming back up! Yikes! Even though they were VERY little, it was a HECK of a lot of work paddling back up. We think we figured out a way to go a few miles up the road to a park, leave the car there, paddle down the river TO the state park, and then take our bicycles to get back up to the car. I know - it sounds kind of complicated but it really isn't. We're thinking about doing this little adventure on Tuesday - I'll let you know if we survive! I don't think white water rapids will EVER be in our future! Oh, and we spotted a pretty big alligator laying on the side of the river while we were paddling - I'm throwing his picture onto this post. Normally we see alligators laying on dark, muddy banks, kind of hidden from view, but this guy was laying on a bright, open stretch of white sand - kind of different!
One of the things that's really nice about this park is the flowers - they are EVERYWHERE. It is full springtime down here, so everything is blooming. I'm attaching a few pictures, but they don't begin to give an idea of how MANY flowers there are. Really beautiful. One of the things we hate about heading north is we have to watch all the green colors fade out and everything revert back to grays and browns - it's hard to leave springtime behind and move back into winter! But, I do have to admit, we are probably both beginning to get just a TEENSY bit homesick. It's kind of nice how that works out - a month ago would have been too early to go home, but in another week or two we'll be ready. But in the meanwhile, we're sure LOVING it!






Monday, March 14, 2011

LOVE Paynes Prairie

Gee, I just realized it's been almost a week since my last post. I definitely begin to wind down toward the end of the trip, and I'm fairly certain my faithful readers begin to get a little tired of our trip too! But, boy, we did good with picking this park for our next-to-the-last. For one thing, it's in a great location - we're only 10 miles south of Gainesville so have gone into town a number of times. Secondly, the park itself is just SO pretty! It has a great variety of environs - there is this huge prairie for one thing, then the pretty little 300-acre lake, and then the beautiful pine-and-oak-and maple woods. The woods are so different from the Florida scrub that we've been in for the past couple months - the trees are more spread apart and taller and just a lot prettier.

So what have we been doing this week? Gee... I don't really know! Well, that's not EXACTLY true, but it does seem like we've done a lot of just "hanging around." For one thing, the weather has been absolutely perfect - sunny, high 70's, no humidity, no bugs, no wind, no clouds - GORGEOUS! I HAVE been on about three hikes here in the park - probably some of the nicest trails I've been on during this year's trip. As I mentioned, the woods are just exceptionally beautiful, and the trail surface is great - a nice wide hiking trail with a soft pine-and-moss surface - very nice to walk on. And very smooth - not a lot of roots and things to trip you up (a BIG issue to us 60 year-olds who don't like the thought of falling!). We've also been out on the lake a few times - actually, Dave's been out a number of times - I've been out twice but plan to go out one more time tomorrow. The other day we just very. VERY slowly paddled around the outer edges of the lake - it took about three hours because we were BARELY moving - and we counted 37 (yep, 37!) alligators. The gators here are apparently pretty used to kayaks and people and stuff because we'd see one swimming - you CAN'T mistake those eyes sticking out of the water, with the spiny back just breaking the suface of the water - and he'd pretty much ignore us until we literally were within a few feet of him. Then he'd finally go below the surface, which is also kind of a weird feeling because you KNOW he's RIGHT below you someplace. But it was a gorgeous day - upper 70's, bright sunshine, no clouds, and not a hint of a wind. PERFECT day for a nice easy paddle. Besides the alligators, we saw lots and lots of birds (including two beautiful bald eagles - AGAIN!). I'm attaching a picture of a blue heron, but it might be a LITTLE tough to pick him out. We really do enjoy just being out on the water looking at things - you'd think it might get boring, but it really doesn't.

On another day I went into Gainesville with Brandi and did an AVA walk around the University of Florida campus. It's a really pretty campus with some beautiful old buildings, a very pretty bell tower, a couple of cool "bat houses" that do indeed house two of the largest colonies of a particular species of bats, a gorgeous auditorium, the huge football stadium, etc., etc., etc. I always enjoy walks around campuses - I like to see the different schools in the country. And this turned out to be the perfect week for this particular walk because the students were on their spring break so there were very few students to be seen (probably only the ones who don't have the money to go to the Bahamas or whatever!).

Today we drove into Gainesville and took Brandi to a nice dog park - I think in the future I'll "google" dog parks in every town we go to. She has a BLAST running around with the other dogs and we get a big kick out of watching her. After she got tired - which takes about two hours! - we left her in the car while we went in to dinner. We don't go out that often, so that was kind of a treat.

Tomorrow I hope to get out on the lake again and I hope to do one of the longer trails on Wednesday - and then we leave for the next park. It FEELS like these 10 days have gone really fast - probably because we're getting to the end of the trip and time begins to speed up! We definitely will put this park onto the DO-return list - I feel like this park is sort of little "hidden treasure" and that not that many of the "snowbirds" get here. There are only 50 sites, and about a dozen of those are just for tents, so not a lot of people are going to get in here. Plus a lot of people don't think of this part of Florida - kind of in the northern, central area of the state - when they are thinking about where to travel. But I would definitely recommend a few days here even if it's just a stopover on the way south to the more "glamorous" locations along the coasts.
So this is probably the last post from this park -the next one is the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, about 90 miles north of here and another new park for us. We are getting VERY close to the state line, which to us kind of signals that our trip is getting toward the end. BUT NOT YET! NOT yet!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bikes, TVs and a New State Park

Well, here we are at the next-to-the-last state park on our trip. Where did the winter go? We are now at Paynes Prairie, about 10 miles south of Gainesville - and we LOVE it! What a pretty, pretty park! After we leave here (in 10 days) we go up to Stephen Foster State Park for 10 days and then we begin to meander home. Unreal.

But let's go back to Blue Springs for a final farewell. As I mentioned, I don't think we'll make a big point to come back here again, even though we really do like the area a lot. It's nice to be kind of close to Daytona and kind of close to Orlando, so we'll definitely come back to this area again - just not this park. We didn't do an awful lot our last couple days here, although on Saturday we went into Deland (which is only about 5 miles north of Orange City, where Blue Springs is located). Saturday was the official beginning of the Daytona Bike Week. I should look it up on the internet and get a few stats about how many bikes visit the area, but all I know for sure is that it's about a jillion! Daytona Beach, of course, is absolutely crawling with bikes - thousands and thousands - but on Saturday Deland has its own one-day bike rally. There is a big stage set up for music, a few beer tents, lots and LOTS of merchandise vendors (think black panties with the Harley logo across the back and...). They close off a few blocks of the main street and divert all traffic away from downtown and they just LINE UP the bikes - I'm attaching a picture because it actually is kind of cool to see so many bikes - and this is only fraction of what you'd see in Daytona Beach. So basically, what everyone does is walk around with a beer in their hands, look at each others bikes (some of which are incredible, to tell you the truth - a couple pictures are attached), and try to look really, REALLY cool and "biker-ish". The music was good, the beer was pretty cheap and the people-watching was excellent! So we spent most of the afternoon hanging out.

On Sunday we didn't do very much - primarily got everything all packed up because we had to SET THE ALARM for Monday morning! OMG!!! We had made the big decision to put in two new TVs and have everything upgraded so we made an appointment for Monday to have everything done. We went to Sam's Club and bought the TVs on Sunday and then headed over to Sunshine RV early Monday morning. We left the rig, left the cats, left the TVs and took off in the car. We went to Bob Evans and got a little breakfast and then headed down toward Orlando (to Winter Park, actually) and took Brandi to this GREAT dog park - what a HOOT to watch her running all over with all the dogs. She had an absolute BALL! We stayed there for probably two hours just watching her and laughing at how crazy she was. She's such a good little dog - she doesn't get the least bit agressive, even with the tiny little dogs - she just wants to PLAY. After we got her back into the car (where she promptly fell sound asleep for most of the rest of the afternoon), we went to a couple other places and waited for the call that the RV was ready. They finally called around 3:00, we got there around 4:00 but didn't actually leave until close to 5:30. The new TVs are great, and Ron did a good job of eliminating one or two of the control boxes and spreading things out a little, but we STILL need to upgrade our Direct TV receiver to HD in order to receive a high-def signal (I've got someone coming tomorrow to do that), and our switcher box (which has all the buttons like SAT vs ANT vs DVD for both the front and back set) is apparently going out, so I need to replace that at the nearest Camping World. Plus I need a longer monitor cord if I want to hook my laptop directly to the TV and use it as a monitor. This is beginning to feel like one of those endless projects that just goes on and on forever! (Brenda - does this sound like your kitchen??) But we are definitely pleased with everything so far and we are sure that, when everything is finally done, we'll be set for years and years. ....RIGHT???
So we finally left the RV place and headed out to our next park. It was about a 100 mile drive, so I had called to tell them we would be late. The ranger gave us the combination to the gate (all Florida state parks have gates that are locked at night when the office closes - we really like that a lot) and we pulled in at 7:00, pretty much in the pitch dark. We do NOT like setting up that late, but we had no choice. Fortunately, we are in a nice roomy site so it was pretty easy for Dave to get backed in and for us to get all set up. Our initial impression of the park, just driving through and getting to the campground, was very positive. So this morning we jumped in the car, finished registering at the office and drove around the park to get our bearings. And, wow, what a nice place it turned out to be. The park is about 21,000 acres, with a very pretty little lake maybe a quarter-mile away from the campground. There are miles of trails, with a very nice visitors' center - I'm attaching a picture of the center from both the front and back. There is also a very short walk from the visitor's center to a nice observation tower that looks out over the prairie. The park is kind of interesting - instead of just that Florida scrub, this park has lots and lots of pine trees -it smells wonderful! - with a large, flat, grassy prairie area - very unusual down here. Apparently, the prairie was formed by a large number of sinkholes all kind of collapsing together and then filling it to form this large prairie-type of area. It's very hard to try to explain, but extremely pretty. And apparently there are all kinds of wildlife in the prairie, including bison and wild horses - I guess they are hard to spot, but visitors do occasionally see them, especially if they walk out on the longer trails. I plan to do all the trails that I can - although it's unfortunate that some of them prohibit pets - poor Brandi! Anway, Dave and I both had nice days today - he put his kayak into the lake and fished all afternoon, while I took Brandi for a nice walk, then took my bike out on a ride to the visitors' center. And tonight we are going to have a nice campfire - our first in quite a few weeks - so I'm looking forward to that. We're both thinking these ten days will be very nice - a great way to begin winding down on our trip.

PS - today is my mother's birthday - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!! 83 AND STILL GOING STRONG! ALL MY LOVE TO YOU!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is it MARCH already????

We can never believe how quickly the winter passes by (ok, I do NOT want any reactions to that statement from my friends up north, OK?). Anyway, we are down to the last few days here in Central Florida, and then we move into the upper portion of the state for our last two state parks.

We are continuing to stay busy in this area, but we probably won't put this park onto our list of "must return" locations. For one thing, the bathrooms are absolutely horrible - probably some of the worst we've seen throughout the whole state park system. We heard a rumor that this park may be on the list of campgrounds to be closed - we've heard that Florida is in such financial straits that it has chosen seven parks (or maybe just the campground in the park???) for closure - have absolutely no idea if that's true, but it might explain the complete lack of maintenance in the campground. We can't believe they would close the whole park, because the day area is extremely popular and very, very busy. It is one of the primary manatee-viewing locations in the state. There is a herd of around 400 manatees that primarily live in the St Johns river, and they come to the springs literally by the hundreds during cold weather. People sit in lines outside the park, in their cars, waiting to get in during that time. Another neat thing is that if the manatee are not in the "spring run" (the stretch where the spring water runs into the main part of the river) then people can swim in the springs, where the water is apparently at a constant 72 degrees. In fact, this is one of the parks where scuba divers can actually dive down into the aquifier itself - like WAY down into the system of springs and underground rivers. We saw a diver rescue team from the sheriff's department yesterday, apparently doing some rescue "exercises". So, because of all the things the park offers, I tend to think the park itself is secure, but there aren't that many campsites so maybe the campground doesn't pay for itself. Who knows?

On my last blog I mentioned that we went out on the river on a narrated two-hour cruise - very nice. We enjoyed seeing a new part of the river and realized that this really nice island was just south of the park, so on Tuesday we threw the kayaks in and paddled back there on our own. We saw lots and LOTS of alligators - plus it was really pretty! And just as we were getting back we spotted another bald eagle perched way at the top of a tree close to our landing spot. We sat there for a while and just watched him - they are so regal and beautiful!

We didn't get out onto the river until a little later in the afternoon, because we had originally made different plans for the day. I came up with this bright idea that we should go to the Central Florida Fair - yep, like with ferris wheels and animals and all that good stuff. So we jumped in the car around noon on Tuesday, drove down into Orlando, found the fairgrounds, pulled into the parking lot and said "gee, there aren't any cars here - that's weird". Well, it wasn't weird at all - once we found out the fair didn't open until 4:00! SOOOO - we turned around and drove all the way back - interesting way to use up two hours of the day - and decided to go out onto the river instead. But - never say die! - we went BACK to the fair on Wednesday instead. You know....I really used to LOVE the fair! But I think maybe I've gotten a little too old for it now. We don't do the rides - they don't appeal to us, plus they are TOO DARN EXPENSIVE! We don't really do the junk food very much anymore - and when we do, we feel kind of yucky and guilty. I did get a big old order of chili fries and after I ate them I felt almost nauseous - that's just not how we eat anymore. I'm posting a picture because I need to prove that I actually ordered something so AWFUL! The only thing that really was kind of fun was the animals - we visited the sheep barn and I took some pictures of the babies and am posting them for my lovely daughter - Brenda, I KNOW you're going to like these. Plus we enjoyed talking to some of the kids who were taking care of their animals and getting them ready to show. We complain SO much about "today's kids" - so it's good to remind ourselves that not ALL kids are the same. There are still wonderful, level-headed, grounded kids who shear their sheep and carry the little lambs around in their arms. Plus, of course, it reminded me of how Brenda and her girls always did the 4-H fair back when they lived in Michigan. It made me a little nostalgic for when the girls were that age! Oh, well. One of the pictures I'm posting is of a woman holding onto a little 8-day-old lamb. She was bottle feeding it because the mother rejected it for some reason - and I could tell right away that THIS little guy isn't going to the auction block! We also watched a "wild west" show (...oh, boy!) and some acrobats (oh, boy!) and also a horse show with a bunch of little miniature ponies and stuff - and THAT was really cute. We spent a few hours there in total and I told Dave afterwards that I think I got that out of my system now and perhaps we will NOT be returning to the fair in the immediate future!

And today - I WORKED! I did TEN (yes, TEN!) hours of Kerkstra work - we just closed out the 2010 books, am trying to get January 2011 closed, and have already started working on the closing of February. Every time I do something I have to stop and remind myself which MONTH I'm working on. But I'm not complaining - I continue to be very grateful for the opportunity to do some work on the road and still have this wonderful trip - and I have only put in a couple of these long days so it's no big deal.

But tomorrow - DEFINITELY time for another AVA walk. I'm still trying to decide which one because there are SO many to do in this area and this might be my last one! What to do??? I'll let you know what I decide - on my next blog!

PS - if any of you watch the national news at night, you've probably seen the story about the HUGE wildfire buring down here - like 17,000 acres at this point. The fire is probably about 40 or 50 miles from us, and when we went to the fair you could actually see the haze in the air, and even smell the smoke. Kind of creepy!

Monday, February 28, 2011

And MORE AVA Walks!

Well, I still don't have any new pictures. I usually do NOT carry a camera with me when I do an AVA walk - as it is, I have my cell phone, a little rag (for wiping the sweat out of my eyes when it's 85 degrees!), usually a power bar (in case I get hungry!), my ID and some money (also in case I get hungry - obviously that is a BIG concern of mine!). If I have Brandi with me, I have to carry some doggie treats. And of course I have to carry my directions and map. So, since I'm not a pack mule, I usually leave the camera behind. Plus, I have this weird sort of feeling that if I'm not visiting a location with Dave and actually making it a specific destination point, I can't "claim" it by taking pictures. It would be like taking pictures of a wedding that you happen to come across but you don't know the bride or groom. I know - it's really weird - but it seems like "cheating" to take pictures of places I just did a quick walk through. A lot of RVer's have those maps of the USA on their doors or slide-outs or whatever, and they put the sticker of the states they've visited onto the maps - that way you can tell how widely-traveled they are. I like those maps and want to get one, but I don't feel like you can "claim" a state if all you did was spend four hours driving through it - I told Dave we don't get to put that state onto our map unless we've actually camped in the state and visited at least a few locations there. Kind of the same logic, right? (Don't blame me - this is another of those things I think I get from my mom!).

Okay, having exposed another part of the unseen underbelly of my psyche, let's move on. So I'm REALLY proud of myself - I've done two more AVA walks within the last three days - and at 10K per walk, that gives me some minor bragging rights. On Saturday, Dave and I did go ahead and drive over to Daytona Beach. OK - I kind of get it now - that IS a pretty cool place! The beach is very nice (although personally I thought the beach at Cocoa Beach was actually prettier - and the pier was much cooler). But I think what kind of sets Daytona apart is how the whole "biker" thing is incorporated into the beach thing. There is one street, called Main Street (!), that is basically lined with biker bars - there's Boot Hill, Dirty Harry's, Froggy's, Shark's Lounge, etc. And then, over the bridge and back on the mainland, the main road running along the water (Beach Street) is lined with motorcycle dealers, bike shops (like the Trike Shop) and other biker-related stores. But it isn't "nasty" or anything - it's just a LOT about motorcycles. The bars weren't very full yet - Bike Week is still one week away - but there were still a lot of bikes parked in front of them. The beach is really nice - there's a really cool bandshell and boardwalk at one end, and at the opposite end of my walk route the beach was opened up to auto traffic (just like at New Smyrna). It wasn't very windy at all, so Dave enjoyed having his bike - he rode for miles on the beach, which he really enjoys. And I had a great walk - very nice route with lots and lots to see.

I was a little nervous before the walk because I've still been having a little trouble with a some muscle or joint discomfort - kind of in my hip or upper thighs - I can't quite pinpoint it but by the end of my New Smyrna walk I was definitely limping. So I was very happy to find out that I had no trouble at all with the Daytona Beach walk. Therefore - why not do another, right? So on Sunday I left Dave home to fish, and I took Brandi with me to do one of the walks I thought would be a little less appealing to Dave - in this case, the "Lakes" walk in Orlando. For one thing, I had to drive pretty much into the middle of Orlando on I-4 - LOTS of traffic, which right away made it one to exclude Dave from! Secondly, I could tell from the description of the walk that it was primarily in an older residential area, with probably some smaller lakes and parks - probably not Dave's favorite type of route for biking. So Brandi and I went and we did GREAT. The walk was almost exactly how I pictured it - think of walking around East Grand Rapids and coming up on Reeds Lake and sort of multiply that a few times over. Actually, I think I counted about eight little lakes that were incorporated into the route. One of the lakes was a little larger than the others and had a nice sidewalk completely circling it - and on one side there was an outdoor craft fair/marketplace/etc - so LOTS of people. At first Brandi wanted to jump on all of them, but we had a little "discussion" about that (which involved me stepping on her front paw - not hard, but enough to make her squeal a little) and I couldn't believe how much better she was the rest of the time. And then on the other side of this particular lake there was some type of music festival - Greek or Latvian or some such thing - and there were REALLY a lot of people in that area. But Brandi did really well - she kind of left the people alone, but still had a hard time ignoring the other dogs - and there were about a MILLION of them! I had to hold her really close to me, but we got through it. But then we got to another little lake which had a bridge going over to an island, and I noticed a few people were letting their dogs run free. I stopped a young couple to ask about that and the girl told me that it was sort of an unwritten thing, but most people did let their dogs loose on the island - so OFF went Brandi's leash. She fell in LOVE with this couple's dog - Louie! - and they just ran and played and went into the water and had a BALL. It was SO fun to be able to let her run loose - and (somewhat to my amazement) when they finally called their dog to leave, Brandi came right back to me - SHOCK! Fortunately we were well over three-quarters of the way through our route, because she was exhausted after that and the SECOND we got back to the car she curled up in a ball in the back seat and fell sound asleep - it was pretty cute! So - 20K in two days - not too bad!

When I got home, Dave was frustrated because he had just gotten done fishing and decided to watch a basketball game and wouldn't you know it - we have MORE TV-type problems - AGAIN! GGRRRHHH! I'm not EVEN going to talk about it! But we decided to go into town and get a drink (or two). We decided to stop at this little bar we had noticed before, called Dale's Ales. We THOUGHT it was just a small little brick-faced bar, but when we pulled in we realized two things - #1: there was a really big "courtyard" behind the bar and #2: this was definitely a biker bar. There were dozens of bikes parked out back, with a live band (who were actually VERY good). So Dave and I go waltzing in and we are literally the only ones there NOT dressed in jeans and boots and black T-shirts (or halter tops!). It's kind of funny in a way - bikers like to think of themselves as sort of non-conformists but I don't think I've ever seen a group that conforms so strictly to a dress code! But we wanted a beer and we liked the sound of the band, so we stuck around for an hour or so and had a couple of beers and "people watched". There was a couple sitting right next to us who were... how should I say it? Making out???? Like I HOPE they had a condom in there someplace! And, believe me, they were NOT young and it was NOT attractive! Yikes! But we were fine - no one bothered us or anything - but on the other hand, I DID decide that it would NOT be a good idea to get out my camera and start snapping pictures. So after we spent our allotted one hour there we came on home - it was fine but I'm not thinking we'll necessarily go back there again. We were laughing about that Marrisa Tormei line in My Cousin Vinny ("oh, yeah, like YOU blend...!") and so we decided to WATCH My Cousin Vinny - it seemed appropriate and it really IS a funny movie!

Today (Monday) was fun too - I had put our names down for the two-hour narrated boat trip that leaves the park a couple times a day. The boat holds maybe 50 or 60 people and goes up the St John's River. The guide was excellent - VERY knowledgeable about the plants and animals on the river! He was one of those guides with a really pleasant speaking voice and very easy to understand (believe me - that is not ALWAYS the case!). We saw gobs of alligators, lots of different types of birds (including TWO bald eagles - that was a treat!) and he also pointed out a lot of different plants that we didn't know about. It was a very nice trip - we would recommend it to anyone in the area.

We continue to be amazed at the weather - I really don't think we've had a day that wasn't in the 80's since Cindi and Glennda left (sorry, girls!). When we compare this to the AWFUL weather we had literally week after week last year, it's unbelievable. I talked to Henry (at Kerkstra's) today and he told me there was snow on top of a quarter inch of ice up at home. We're so thrilled to be here, especially now that we begin our countdown - only about five weeks left - gulp! But - here we are - and we'll continue to do EVERYTHING we can to enjoy every minute that we have. Love to all back home!

Friday, February 25, 2011

We're in AVA Heaven

Well, we have now been at Blue Springs State Park for four days (out of a 13 day reservation period). The park is in Orange City, which is about 50 miles or so north of Orlando and about 40 miles inland from the ocean. We were here last year so are familiar with the park and we were looking forward to it, but it's been a little bit of a letdown after being on the ocean for almost two weeks. The state parks that are inland, if they're in a "scrub" area, tend to have very similar campsites - the campsites are basically cut out of a pine/palmetto scrub so each one has a complete wall of scrub around it, which is good for privacy. But it's like you're camped inside a box, kind of. Oscar Scherer has the same type of sites. They're certainly not as nice for Brandi, because she basically can't see anybody walking by or anything, and she is such a social dog that she just loves to lay in her campsite, on her line, and jump up and run to see everyone who passes by, especially if they have a dog with them! And sometimes (oh, heaven!!!) people with dogs will stop and let their dogs play with Brandi, which makes her go slightly insane. But at a campground like this one, she's in back of a whole wall of greenery so she has no view of the road at all. But she's such a good dog, she just lays around and listens for "critters" moving in the scrub. I'll definitely have to be sure to take her on walks and for rides in the car during our stay here.
The park itself is very nice -it's one of the primary springs, and one of the primary places for seeing manatees coming in and out of the springs area to stay warm. However, that occurs mostly when the ocean and rivers are colder, which makes the warm springs a huge attraction for them. That was the case last year - it was lousy, cold most of the winter but there were dozens and dozens of manatee in the spring area. For anyone who followed last year's blog, this is the park where we kayaked in the St Johns river and had manatee swimming right with us - in fact, Dave was able to reach out and pet one while it swam alongside his kayak. Very cool. This year is much, much warmer (NO, we are NOT complaining about that!!!) so the springs are much less attractive to the manatee. We do plan to put the kayaks in today and we'll see if there are any around - and hopefully the warmer weather will be better for fising here than it was last year. Although, frankly, Dave has caught a JILLION fish and our freezer is completely packed - I think tonight is fish dinner, so we can start using some of them up.
The biking here is pretty good too - Dave can ride around in the park, and right outside of the park is a very nice, smooth, wide bike trail that runs parallel to the northbound rail track and ends at a nice county park about 3 miles north of the park. Dave enjoys riding up there and back. I'm actually thinking about buying a new bike myself - mine is a "cross bike" so it's a little heavier than a ride bike, plus it's about 20 years old and the gears are really getting bad - most of the time I can barely shift from one gear to another. Plus there's a "scratchiness" in the gears (I don't know how else to explain it) that I can't get rid of. I think, since I've been working on the road for hours and hours, I'm going to "reward" myself with a new bike - if I can find a nice bike shop around here.
But the very best thing about this location is that there are GOBS of AVA walks in the immediate vicinity. On Wednesday we went over to the ocean and did the New Smyrna Beach AVA walk. It was only about 40 miles from here and super easy to get to. When we left home to go over there, it was very calm (no wind) and in the upper 70's and humid, so I just wore shorts and a tank top. When we got to the ocean it was very, VERY windy and only in the low 60's - YIKES. I was WAY under-dressed so I ended up popping into the Beall's that was next door to my starting point and buying a little hoodie to wear. Dave, on the other hand, doesn't seem to feel that cold at all (...ever!) so he apparently was fine. As usual, he enjoyed just riding around, especially when he was southbound on the beach with the wind to his back - he said he didn't even have to peddle! The beach there is cool because you can drive onto the beach. There were a lot of cars down there in spite of the less-than-ideal weather, but they aren't scary because they have a specifically marked driving area that the cars have to stay within - it's marked with cones and they can't leave that lane. I , of course, did my 10K walk, which was very nice. It took my along the ocean for a mile or so, then up through the pier and "fun" part of the beach area, across the causeway and back to the mainland part of town, along the riverfront area with shops and parks, and then back across a different causeway back to the starting point. It was pretty cool going over the causeways - the view was incredible! This was my 35th AVA walk, so I feel like I'm beginning to actually call myself a "real" AVA walker!
But the best news is that there are probably 15 or so walks within the immediate area (to me, that means less than 50 miles or so). Since Dave really likes the beach ones, we'll probably try to do all of those (maybe 5 or so), plus I have a few others I'd like to do. I think we're going to tackle the Daytona Beach one next - we need to do that REAL soon, because Daytona Bike Week starts next weekend and we do NOT want to be there during that time! It's totally INSANE, from what we've heard!
So, as with every park we visit, we'll figure out what the most attractive and fun things are to do in the area, and we'll love every day! The weather contnues to be spectacular - 75 to 85 degrees virtually every day - unreal! We're totally in heaven! Next blog - I'll post some pictures of the park. (Each year, I notice that the longer we're away from home the less pictures I take - I think the first two months I LIVE with my camera in my hand and then I guess I just get a little tired of it. Just like the way we take a million pictures of our first baby, less of our second baby and none of our third!! Right?)

Monday, February 21, 2011

We Hate to Leave!

Tonight is our last night here at Sebastian Inlet and I think Dave and I are both having separation anxiety already. It's so funny -we've both always said we're not really "ocean" people - that we prefer inland lakes and rivers. But being right on the ocean for the past six weeks has kind of changed our minds. We spent two weeks on Pine Island, then two weeks at Jonathon Dickinson, and now two weeks here - and I have to say these six weeks have been just great! We haven't been literally ON the ocean, but within a few miles of it, and it definitely has some "pluses". There are just SUCH cool places within a few minutes drive. And we had one of our favorites on Saturday - our day at Cocoa Beach. Actually Saturday was just a GREAT day from beginning to end. We drove up to Cocoa Beach, which was a very easy run - maybe 30 or 35 miles - so I could do my AVA walk. Dave took his bike along and rode on the beach for miles and miles while I did my walk. The walk itself was really nice - about half of it was along the beach (gorgeous!) and the other half was along a combination of commercial businesses on A1A and a little bit of residential areas. But, my God, what a pretty beach! It is very wide - much wider than the beach down here (although I have NO idea why that would be!) and we deliberately went there on Saturday because we like the beaches when there are a lot of people to look at. It was a beautiful day - mid-80's - and the beaches were packed, so we both really enjoyed our individual time. When we met back at the car, Dave asked me if I had gone out onto the Cocoa Beach Pier. When I told him I had not, and he told me how much he liked it, we got my bike off the rack (we had brought my bike along this time because I've been having a little trouble with my hip and thought I'd ride if I couldn't walk) and we rode to the Pier together. What a COOL place. It's this old wooden pier with a number of bars and stuff along the length of it. It's absolutely impossible to describe, but it was just a WONDERFUL place to get a drink and sit and watch the people on the beach and then go out and watch the fishermen and the surfers. We had a GREAT time. (I'm bummed because I didn't bring my camera along, but, as with many places, pictures probably wouldn't have captured the "spirit" of the place anyway!)

After we left the beach, we headed home because there was a free concert in the park that night. The concert was right outside, under a full moon, from 7:00 to 9:00. The band was called The Night People and we got SUCH a kick out of them - there were 4 guys and a girl and (other than the girl, who actually was very good) they were kind of a bunch of burned out old hippies. The "leader" of the band hardly rose out his stupor during the first half of the "concert" (and I use that term VERY loosely!) but somehow (by magic....?!) he was totally re-charged for the second half. Dave INSISTS he partook of "something" during the break - after that he was all like-ZZTOP! In fact, at 9:00 the girl singer had to sort of force him to stop, because he was ready to "rock and roll all night". What fun - Dave and I even went out once and danced on the grass "dance floor" by ourselves. Overall, a really fun, fun day.

Sunday and Monday were just our last two sort of "goof off" days. I did some walking, made some reservations for next year, went into town, etc. Dave did some biking and fishing and then we loaded up the kayaks on top of the car and made one last run up to our favorite little bar - The Sebastian Beach Inn. I've attached a couple pictures of the SBI just for fun, although they really don't do it justice.


As I mentioned, I've already made reservations for the last two weeks of February 2012 at Long Point park, which is a GREAT county park about two miles up the road from the state park. I HOPE to make reservations back here again for the first half of February, but I can only make those eleven months in advance (as opposed to one year in advance for the county park). Hopefully it will all work out, but otherwise I'll just fill in the blanks any way I can. I was amazed when I made the reservations today - out of about 200 sites at this county park, there were only about 10 left for the timeframe that I'm looking at - and this is a FULL YEAR out into the future. This is SUCH a popular area - and the more snowbirds who decide to come this far south for the winter, the worse it's going to get! You definitely need to plan WAY in advance if you want to get into some of these areas, that's for sure.

So tomorrow we head up north about 100 miles, to Blue Springs (which is just north of Orlando). We were there last year and we know we like the park a lot, but both of would probably be very happy to stay down here for another few weeks! I'm throwing a few more pictures of the park onto this blog, but once again, none of them really can convey how nice it is down here. God - we are SO lucky to have these wonderful experiences - we are so very grateful. Next blog - Blue Springs!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

LOVE the Treasure Coast

Just a quick update - no pictures this time - I haven't downloaded my last batch and just wanted to stay up-to-date. Well, first of all - sorry, Cindi and Glennda, but from the SECOND you guys left we have had the most GORGEOUS weather. It's been in the low 80's with bright sunshine every single day this week - actually I can't believe the weather through the whole last month (other than the cooldown during the time my friends were here - wouldn't you know it!). And I'm still embarassed at my initial reaction to this park, because it is absolutely beautiful here. We have the intracoastal waterway on one side, the ocean just over a little rise to the other side, and the inlet directly in front of our door. Dave's been fishing every day and having a ball. And we have REALLY nice neighbors - Ray and MaryEllen - from Wisconsin. We actually went to dinner with them Tuesday night - and anyone who follows us knows that we do NOT do that. We went into Vero Beach, which is very nice, and ate at Sonny's Barbecue. Okay, not very "swanky" but it is one of our favorite Florida franchises. Anyway - it's amazing how the days just slip away. I went on one all-day road trip (almost 250 miles! Yikes - a LITTLE further than I had planned on). I wanted to check out Highland Hammocks State Park to see if it goes onto next year's itinery (yes, it definitely does). The park was quite a bit inland, past Okochobee, but I didn't realize quite how far it was when I took off. But I enjoy driving so Brandi and I had a nice ride - Dave was smart enough to stay home and fish!
Yesterday we made a point to visit the two museums that are part of the state park here. There's a little museum dedicated basically to the fisihing history here at the Inlet, with a nice little film about the area's past, present and future. A lot of really interesting facts about this area - incredible biodiversity - hundreds of fish and bird species, and good information about the value of the eco-system here. The Indian River Lagoon serves as a "nursery" for a lot of the larger ocean fish - they come into the lagoon to lay their eggs and their babies are nurtured in the shallow waters in the lagoon before they move out into the ocean. The number and variety of fish going in and out of the inlet is unbelievable. There isn't a day that you don't see manatee and dolphins moving in and out. And fishing boats! All day, every day, every type of boat you can imagine - from big commerical boats down to Dave's little red kayak. The museum did a nice job of providing some really interesting background information for our stay here.
The second museum is the McLarty Treasure Museum - it's about two miles down the road, south of the camping area and the inlet itslef (but still within the park boundaries) and it's primary focus is the 1715 wreck of a flotilla of Spanish "treasure ships". 700 men, women and children drowned in the wreck, but 1500 survived and came ashore and struggled to survive for a number of months until they were rescued by soldiers out of St. Augustine. In the wreck, an absolute forune in gold, silver, jewels and other precious materials went to the bottom. Although an estimated 80% of it was rescued within the following 2-3 years, a huge amount of the treasure is still in the water and continues to be retrieved to this day. There are "treasure hunters" who have found literally millions of dollars of treasure off the coast hereover the past 30 years, and after a bad storm gold coins worth $5-10 thousand EACH still can wash up on shore! And there are ships in the flotilla that haven't even been found yet. And that's the reason it's called the Treasure Coast (....so there - you learned something!). Anyway, both the museums were very interesting -and Dave and I both enjoy spending time doing this. Afterwards we went back to our favorite little bar and sat out on the deck in the beautful sunshine and watched the waves roll in from the ocean. Lovely!
Dave did have one kind of scary thing happen to him here - he was out fishing in the inlet in his kayak and was just drifting and dragging a lure behind him (which is one way he enjoys fishing), when he suddenly noticed that he was picking up a little bit of speed! Yep - he was getting WAY too close to where the inlet opens out into the ocean and, because is was going toward low tide, he was being pulled out toward the ocean. He started paddling like a MADMAN and if you know Dave, you know he is VERY strong. Well, apparently he paddled and paddled and paddled and finally began to make some headway getting back up the inlet toward the campground. When he finally got to a point where he could get over t0 the side and rest some guy in a boat told Dave he was "really impressed" by how he got out of there - he told him he'd been watching him and was getting ready to go out and rescue him with his boat if necessary. He told Dave he'd seen smaller fishing boats - with motors - that couldn't pull themselves back out of the outgoing tide! WHAT A GUY! Anyway - I think he learned a VERY valuable lesson - yikes! Good thing I wasn't there - it would have been Coast Guard time since I don't have a fraction of the upper body strength that he has.
So we've just been relaxing and doing short little runs into town, but mostly just enjoying the park, walking trails (Brandi and me), biking (Dave loves the bike trail here), sitting in the sun, watching the waves on the ocean, walking out onto the piers, etc., etc., etc.
So that's my short little update. Today we plan to go up to Cocoa Beach and I'm going to do an AVA walk while Dave rides his bike. And then we have tomorrow and Monday, and then we move again. I probably won't update my blog until the next park (which will be Blue Springs). But we have really enjoyed our time here and I'm already planning next year's trip and hope to get two solid weeks here next year - quite a change of heart from my first reaction to this area, huh? We've learned to be patient about forming our judgment of parks - oftentimes the places that we have negative reactions to initially turn out to be some of our favorite places after we get to know them better (sounds like a "life lesson", doesn't it).
Love to all - I'll be in touch!
PS - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY SON ALAN - HE'S TURNING 42 TOMORROW (sorry, Alan, couldn't resist....) Love you...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And Now They're Gone....

My friends Cindi and Glennda are now back up in Michigan - but it was SO wonderful having them visit for a few days. I think on my last blog I had spent one day with them (we did the Palm Beach AVA walk) and then the next day we moved. I very seldom feel disappointed by a park, but I have to admit that initially I was kind of bummed about Sebastian Inlet State Park. BUT.... when we arrived, it was raining and horribly windy and the fish smell was almost unbearable. Plus our front TV blew out and I had no idea why. All in all, I was just in a "funk" (which is actually not very much like me, to be honest!). But now, only a few days later, I absolutely LOVE this park. In fact we've already decided to come back for two weeks next year. But more about that later. The first thing I have to do is report on the rest of my visit with my friends!

Since Thursday was our moving day, I didn't see them at all, but I know they were shopping and having a ball. On Friday, I drove down to their hotel - a place called Homewood Suites, which is a Hilton franchise apparently. And, BOY, did they get a good deal. Their suite was really, really nice, with a very functional kitchen (full size frig, microwave, dishwasher, a real stove, and stocked cupboards - I've attached a picture). There was also a "living room" area with a couch that could pull out, and then a bedroom with two king size beds and a nice big bathroom. And they got it for $70 a night - I was amazed, to be honest! That Glennda - she's quite the little bargain hunter! Anyway, I spent all afternoon with the girls just hanging out - they gave me a "show and tell" of all their shopping from the previous day. Then we drove into downtown Stuart to find a place for dinner (but we got totally turned around, which apparently has been a recurring theme for them!). We ended up at this great restaurant called The Black Marlin - really excellent! It was so nice to spend the whole day just hanging out.

I didn't get home until about 10:00 (which is WAY late for me-it was after dark!) and I just spent Saturday in the park. The weather was still pretty cool - low 60's - and windy and it still smelled pretty fishy! Dave had a good morning, because he had the chance to go to a seminar on fishing in the Inlet - it lasted about two hours and he said it was really interesting. It's great that the park offers something like this. We did find a nice little bar about 5 miles north of the park. It's called the SBI (for Sebastian Bay Inn). We met the nicest little bartender, named Casey - I've attached a picture of her because she is now our new BFF. The bar has a cool history - it's this long, low building with lots of arches and stuff inside - Dave insisted that it must have been something else before it was a bar, and sure enough - it was actually a Coast Guard Station. Isn't that crazy? It was actually built in 1903 and by the mid 1980's it was going to be demolished, but the present owner bought it and renovated it into this funky, cozy bar. And it has the world's biggest deck looking out over the ocean. Really cool!

So on Sunday I headed back to spend one last day with the girls, and it was wonderful! We went to a State Park Preserve and went on a little hike - nothing special, but it showed the girls what a typical "Florida scrub" is like. Then we went back to the heavenly hotel and sat outside by the pool for a while, and then headed back into town for dinner. We had 6:30 reservations at this great Italian restaurant named Tutta Fresca - but we didn't get there until 7:00 because (guess what!) we got all turned around again. And this was WITH a GPS system! Anyway, we had a great time - I had a wonderful shrimp dish with a delicious tangy lemon and white wine sauce. One of the owners of the restaurant (an older Italian gentleman) came up to our table a couple of times and kind of flirted a bit - we told ourselves he must think we were "cougars" but I told the girls that I think we're really just grizzled old mountain lions, scars and all. Anyway, he told us there was a wonderful tenor in the other room, and he would personally see to it that we got seats at the bar after we were done with our meals. We, of course, were absolutely NOT interested but smiled and nodded politely. But then, when we had paid our check, he came back and had the waiter bring us a round of lemoncellos. I'm not sure that's spelled right, but I remember this STUFF from our trip to Italy - it is a BRIGHT yellow "liquor" made from lemon juice, vodka and sugar and it it tastes like drinking Lemon Pledge (according to Cindi!). We were getting scared that we were going to get trapped into going into the "other room!" so Cindi put me on alert - my job was to watch this guy and, as soon as he got out of site, we RAN for the door! Whew! We MUST be getting old! We got a good laugh out of it though.

By 9:00 we were back at the hotel for hugs and kisses and good-byes. Plus, I took the BIG UPS box that they had packed up with all of their shoes and the spoils from their many, MANY shopping trips. I told them I would mail it out for them on Monday so they could head right for the airport. (By the way, girls - the guys at the UPS Store said to tell you "thank you" for your contribution to Florida's economy!) It was so nice seeing them and I was sorry to see them leave - but we've all promised each other that we'll do it again next year! (And I'm holding you to it!)

So now - back to the park - I actually do really like the park now. The weather is much nicer, the fish smell is almost gone, and I've found some nice walking trails. Dave's been biking every day, and today I went for a ride too. The fishing has been fantastic for Dave - he's having a ball! - and every day he sees dolphins and manatees. In fact, he had a dolphin swimming around about 30 or 40 feet from him for the better part of an hour the other day. VERY cool! He's been catching a lot of fish, plus other stuff too. He "caught" a starfish the other day, plus yesterday he pulled in a couple of weird "spiny things" that he has NO idea what they are. And because it's salt water, a lot of the fish are unfamiliar to him - but he's loving it! Yesterday we went kayaking for most of the afternoon, which was fun. So overall, I've totally changed my mind about the park. It is in a beautiful location, with our campsite RIGHT on the inlet - we're probably 25 feet from the water's edge - and the ocean is right on the edge of the park. I'm attaching a few pictures, but they don't begin to show what it's like. We found the Walmart, we found a great bar, plus we got the TV problem fixed - and life is good! We're here for one more week, and it's supposed to be between 75 and 80 and sunny the whole time. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We Have VISITORS!

I'm SO happy - my dear friends Cindi and Glennda are down here on a week-long vacation. They are staying in Port St. Lucie, which is about halfway between our two state parks (we moved today from Jonathon Dickinson State Park up to Sebastian Inlet State park - about an eighty mile trip north). This is a great location because we can visit from either location. I'm so excited about the day we had yesterday that I HAVE to blog it right away (plus do a little whining about our new park) and I have PICTURES. OK - they made me promise NOT to post any pictures until they had a chance to preview them, but I'm just going to post away - so there!

Anyway, we've continued to have wonderful weather down here at J.D. (what the "locals" call Jonathon Dickinson - at least, one person that I met referred to it that way plus it's easier for me than spelling out the whole thing!). It's been in the mid-80's ever since we arrived, topping out at 87 a couple days ago. I've been very anxious, hoping that this great weather would hold while the girls were here and it did - for one day! They came in late Tuesday night and went right to their hotel - and then Wednesday morning they came down to J.D. and picked me up. It was SO great to see them! They came in and visited with Dave for a few minutes then off we went! First I took them on a very quick tour of the state park - I really do like this park (even more so now that we've moved!) and wanted to show it off a bit. Then we headed down to Jupiter Beach - it's just a county park but I wanted to give them a minute to see the ocean since I wasn't positive how much of our day would be spent by the shore. And it IS a nice little park. On the way to Jupiter Beach, we stopped and got lunch at this neat restaurant named Schooners - nice casual atmosphere with very pleasant outdoor seating, so Cindi and Glennda had a chance to eat "al fresco" for the first time in a number of months! Then we headed out to the county park for a half hour - but our main "activity" for the day was an AVA walk on Palm Beach. (The one I did last week was the West Palm walk - a totally separate but very nice walk). It was very nice weather - probably high 70's with a light breeze. It was kind of overcast most of the afternoon, but that was ok because I was worried about my red-headed friend Glennda getting toasted (which she has a tendency to do!). So we did the 10K AVA walk and it was really, REALLY beautiful. We were right on the ocean about a third of the time, in gorgeous residential areas porbably another third, and then kind of in town (around shops and stuff) the remaining third. One of favorite places was this absolutely gorgeous Episcopal church - it had a beautiful "courtyard" (which is probably not the right word - maybe a cloister????) with three separate garden areas. The flowers were beautiful and it was just so peaceful and pretty and serene. We also got a kick out of walking past The Breakers, this very cool, very large, very upscale resort hotel on the island. One more special thing on the walk was this absolutely incredible banyan tree - I've attached a picture with Glennda and I standing at the base of the tree - you'll have to doubleclick on the picture to expand it in order to even see us - we look like little tree-elves because the tree is just MONSTROUSLY huge. Amazing. We also got a kick out of walking through the shopping area - oh my God - VERY posh and upscale - Saks 5th Avenue, etc., etc. - we agreed that we probably didn't "blend" (ala My Cousin Vinnie) but we didn't actually care too much. Plus we were talking, talking, talking the whole time. What a treat - I love my husband very much, but there's something about "girl talk"! When we were done with the walk, we crossed back over to West Palm and I gave them directions on how to get into the City Center area. I really liked that area when I did my West Palm AVA walk, and I wanted to share that with the girls. They liked it a lot too and we wandered around a bit, stopped and had 50% off happy hour drinks and appetizers (and then felt like PIGS afterwards because we ate all this junk food!) and then topped it off with a smooth refreshing frozen yogurt. By now it was about 8:00 and we were all getting tired (yes, I know, but we aren't as young as we used to be!!!). What a great day we had together.

We knew in advance that Thursday was "moving day" for us, so Cindi and Glennda were on their own - I talked to them late this afternoon and it sounds like they did some fun shopping and they were just headed down to happy hour, so I'm guessing they had a good day today too. But the bad news is - this COLD front moved in - I'm just sick about it. When we left J.D. this morning it was probably 75 degrees - and by the time we got here to Sebastian Inlet it was raining, with a pounding wind straight from the north, and just barely over 60 degrees. But the really bad part about our move is the fact that there was this fish "die off" last week and there are thousands and thousands of little dead fish all along the inlet. And it STINKS - and I mean REALLY stinks!!!! It reminds me of how, years ago, the alewives in Lake Michigan would die and wash up onto the beaches and just stink to high heaven. I talked to Glennda and she said we should cancel our time here and move, but Dave's not really into that - he's pretty much here for the long haul. And the good news (...REALLY???) is that it's still raining and cool so at least we have the windows shut which keeps the majority of the smell out. I even burned one of my scented candles all afternoon. Yuck! But - to try to focus on the positive - the park itself is nice, and the weather is supposed to clear by tomorrow afternoon and begin to warm up again - by early next week it's supposed to back into the high 70's (I'm not sure what that will do to the dead fish - but I'm going to try NOT to think about it!). The only other thing about this park (and, yes, I know I'm whining!) is that we came from a pretty developed area so there were lots of bars and restaurants and stores and everything else within a few miles in each direction. There is pretty much NOTHING out here on the island. We have to drive about 12 miles just to get to the nearest Publix - and there doesn't seem to be any bars or restaurants at all. We drove around today and it's actually kind of bleak out here. So I'm thinking that, after the girls leave, we may be doing a few "day trips" - but by the time we leave we'll probably be amazed at how quickly the twelve days went - and I'm sure we'll have found some really positive things about the park and the area. (But, in all honesty, I'm sort of thinking this won't go onto our list of parks that we HAVE to return to!!!)

Anway... tomorrow I'm spending the majority of the day with Cindi and Glennda again - I'll probably head south to them since it's certainly going to be a few degrees warmer there than here. I'm sure we'll spend time together Saturday and Sunday, and then Monday they leave. I already miss them and they aren't even gone yet. It's funny - Dave and I love our trip and we are VERY happy and satisfied with spending our time with just each other, but BOY is it nice to have a little bit of company every now and then. I'm really looking forward to spending more time with my "bestest" friends over the next few days!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We LOVE this park!

Boy, what a GREAT park this is, and what a fun area to visit. Plus, of course, it helps that it's been 80 degrees every day... We've really enjoyed our stay here - the park is beautiful, our campsite it wonderful, there's TONS of stuff to do and there are lots of places to visit in the immediate area. Plus it's just so PRETTY down here.

So, lest you think only wonderful things happen to us (which, of course, IS normally the case!) we did have a minor setback the other day. On Thursday, I was planning to do the AVA walk in West Palm Beach and Dave was going to come along with his bike and do some riding. So we started out around 11:00 or so and got about 4 miles down the road when all of a sudden I heard (and felt!) kind of a "thud" on the right side of the car. It was kind of weird - almost like blowing a tire but much softer than that. I told Dave "something just happened - I'd better get off the road". We were right in front of a CVS Pharmacy so I went to turn into the parking lot and realized I had almost NO power steering. Yikes! I managed to wrestle my way into a parking spot and noticed that my battery light was on. We popped the hood and didn't see anything in particular and I was just about to call roadside assistance when Dave pointed out a Texaco station next door that appeared to have a number of actual service bays (...how weird is THAT!) So we walked over there and they had us bring the car right over - Dave muscled it out of the parking spot and across the street - and the guy looked under the hood and immediately figured out what was wrong - apparently the serpentine belt (whatever that is!) had broken and the bolts on the water pump that we just replaced this fall were all loose or even missing (we obviously will be discussing this with the garage that did the work for us!) They got to work on it but unfortunately had to order some parts, so we were there for about three hours. It was kind of funny to just sit there and watch things - this station was pretty cool because it was a family owned business, and Mom was sitting in the office (if you can call it that!) still doing the books. She HAD to be in her 70's - the family moved here 40 years ago and bought the business and, even though her husband and one son have died, she and her remaining son Brian continue to run the business together. And they are actually a FULL-SERVICE gas station. They come out and pump the gas for their customers, wash their windshields and even pop the hood and top off fluids. We got such a kick out of watching their customers come in and get serviced - almost all older people (it IS Florida, after all) with VERY nice cars (it IS Palm Beach, after all) and they appeared to know most of the customers on a first-name basis. It was actually kind of cool. So after just sitting on a curb for two hours, we asked if there was a bar anywhere within close walking distance. And, wouldn't you know it, there was a very nice little bar right next door - on the opposite side of the station from where we'd been sitting for two hours. So we went over and had a drink and got some food and by the time we were done, our car was done. $148 - not TOO bad. My main thought, of course, was thank GOD we were so close to this station and thank God Dave was with me - I would have HATED to have been alone when all this happened. So, overall, a minor "disaster" but certainly nothing to have a meltdown over.

So on Friday we decided to give it another try. And this time everything went fine. I did my AVA walk, Dave did his bike ride, and we both enjoyed our afternoon. I finally figured out the "geography" and realized that the ISLAND is Palm Beach, and West Palm Beach is the town on the mainland. It was kind of a fun walk, because the downtown area was pretty cool - very "Latin" feel with a great City Center area of shops, theaters, restaurants, etc. And of course, lots and lots of flowers and greenery everywhere - we LOVE being this far south! The walk had a good mix of downtown, residential area, and waterfront. One thing we both noticed, though, was as soon as you get even a TEENSY bit outside of the main downtown area, the neighborhoods became VERY poor. I'm posting a couple pictures of the downtown area, including one picture of a certain bank that a lot of you will recognize (...in fact, some of you even still WORK for that bank, come to think of it!). Maybe you should consider asking for a transfer... Anway, I found the walk to be pretty interesting, so I think when Cindi and Glennda come down this week I might suggest we do the walk on Palm Beach - they might enjoy the whole "ritzy" Florida thing and I know they'd love the flowers and landscaping and just the whole "visual" impact, especially after all the snow and cold and gray they're leaving behind.

One of the things we like to do when we're traveling is try new experiences. Many of them turn out to be wonderful, some turn out to be "not so much..." Well, Saturday was kind of the latter. I had noticed a flyer on the park's bulletin board announcing a reenactment of the Battle of Okeechobee. It was going to be held on both Saturday and Sunday, about 50 miles away right by Lake Okeechobee. We had never been to a reenactment and thought it might be fun to go to one. Well - it was different, I'll admit that. It was held in kind of a big open field (the site of the original battle, I guess) and there were a bunch of vendor booths and tents set up, plus a "soldiers" camp and an "Indian" camp, and a few miscellaneous "attractions" such as an alligator handling area. We walked around for a while and then sat in the stands and waited for the battle to start. Well... there were probably about 25 or so "soldiers" and maybe 10 or so Indians. There was a narrator who told us about the "columns" and the "positions" and stuff, but the whole battle lasted maybe thirty minutes. It was kind of funny, because basically the participants all just kind of walked around in the field and shot at each other and every now and then someone would fall down. We kind of agreed that maybe this isn't EXACTLY our cup of tea. On the other hand, if we were someplace that had a really big reenactment, maybe at a national park like Chickamaugua in Chattenooga, we would probably give it another try. But this one, frankly, was just too hokey and kind of weird.

When we left the "battlefield" we stopped at one of the many, many little access areas to Lake Okeechobee and I walked a little while Dave fished for a while. Now THIS we found to be kind of interesting. The lake itself covers 730 square miles and is totally surrounded by a man-made dike with many, many locks that are used to manage the water levels. There is a bike/hike trail on the top of the dike that is 110 miles in length. You can actually go around the entire lake on this trail. On the outer side of the dike is a channel with houses and RV parks, etc. on the far side - and they ALL seem to have boats that are docked in the channel. I don't know if this channel goes all the way around the lake, or is just sporadic. But overall, it's a pretty unique place and quite an impressive engineering feat! We didn't have enough time to spend more than an hour or so in the area - poor Brandi had been in the RV since 11:00 in the morning - but if we had enough time we would have loved to have driven a little further south along the shoreline and gone to the Visitor's Center. Definitely on our next trip in this area....!

So here I sit, updating my blog, as the clock counts down on the SUPER BOWL! Oh my GOD - the excitement is almost unbearable here in our rig! We're going to watch the game, have a few drinks and eat junk food - GO STEELERS!