Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yay! I Survived a Week in Michigan!

Actually, overall I had a pretty good week up there! I did indeed go up with a pretty miserable cold, so ended up dealing with that pretty much the whole time. But other than that, everything went well. It was kind of weird to be back in Michigan, to see the snow and go back into work. It was almost a bit surreal - almost felt like I hadn't ever left! I just sort of slipped back in and started working. But we got a TON of work done - Henry and I spent a lot of time on year-end processing, getting ready for the Plante Moran audit (actually, review, to be exact!) and I also had the opportunity to sit in on second interviews with two good candidates for the senior accountant position (aka, my current position). Actually, the overall plan is for Kerkstra to hire someone who has the strength to really dig into the accounting tasks at Kerkstra, but also someone who has the ability (and the time, as long as I stay onboard) to really get a good solid background in a broad range of areas within the company, such as inventory, delivery, our product line, etc. By having me available, we should have the luxury of giving the new guy (looks like it will probably be a guy!) the time to really get well grounded before he takes over the full scope of the accounting taks that I'm currently doing. We had one truly excellent candidate and I have my fingers crossed! It would be great to bring the new person into the January month end process even though I'd be doing my teaching remotely - should be interesting! Anyway, the fact that I felt pretty lousy was probably just as well in the long run. I made no effort at all to make any type of "social plans" because I just wanted to go back to my room at the Holiday Inn and crawl under the covers. And because of that, I ended up working fairly late both Tuesday and Wednesday so I ended up getting a LOT of work done. And by Thursday, my last day there, I was feeling like I was pulling out of the worst of my cold so I was able to head for home feeling pretty good overall.
I had good flights up and back - it was great to have non-stop flights both ways - but I ended up looking like sort of a novice flyer (I actually haven't flown in five years, since Dave and I flew to Vegas to get married!). So I kind of forgot some of the rules about liquids and I ended up having my shampoo, body wash, Oil of Olay (which is NOT cheap!) and face scrub all confiscated at the airport. Oh, yeah - and my hair gel. Good grief! I took a taxi from the airport to the Holiday Inn and had to have the driver take me to the Meijers in Jenison so I could buy everything new (but this time I left everything behind at Kerkstra so I have lots of toiletries waiting for me when I return in April!). I wonder if I can charge them to the company? (...JUST KIDDING, for any of my Kerkstra followers!).

It was nice to see everyone up there - I DO like my fellow Kerkstra employees (NOT kidding, this time!) but, BOY, did it feel funny to sleep all alone in a hotel room for four nights - no husband, no "kids" (that would be the dog and the cats), no one to talk to at night. Now it seems weird to me that I was single for seven years in between Tom and Dave. I'm DEFINITELY a married lady now - I MISSED MY HUSBAND! So it was great to get back home (home is where they all are!). And he missed me too, so it was a nice homecoming. Okay, moving on....

So - now I'm back in Florida, and back working at my RV desk (see the attached picture of my primary office assistant - what a cutie!). The next month will be a little hairy, because we're still closing out 2010 and by next week I'll be working on the January month-end closing, which is always a little challenging because you set a lot of "standards" in January, plus have to move over to the new budget model. Plus, (and this makes me so happy!) my friends Cindi and Glennda are coming down for the second week of February. They aren't staying with us - they're getting a room or suite or something! - but I hope to spend GOBS of time with them. So February will probably pass in a blur.

It was a beautiful day here in Florida - mid 70's with lots of sunshine - so it was good to be back getting my vitamin D. And tomorrow should be lots of fun - we're going out with Scott and Deb on their boat for the afternoon (can you say booze cruise?) and it's supposed to be a picture-perfect day. And then come Monday, it's moving day again. Our time here on Pine Island went really fast, but we'll definitely come back here again - in fact we plan to spend two weeks here next January. When we leave here on Monday, we're heading straight across the state and going over to Jonathon Dickinson State Park, on the ocean side. So my next blog will probably have some pictures of us and our friends on their boat, along with an update from the "ocean side". It's GREAT to be back home!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Back to the Cold....With a Cold!

I know I haven't been on for the past few days, but first of all we are really enjoying our stay here on Pine Island. I'll come back to that in a minute, but first I have some SERIOUS whining to do. I'm headed back to the cold, cold state of Michigan tomorrow, and I can't BELIEVE it but I came down with a nasty cold yesterday. I've been telling Dave for days now that I was dreading going home because I was so afraid I'd catch a cold from someone up there (since EVERYONE I talk to up there is sick!), but I never dreamt I'd go UP THERE with a cold. I have no idea where I picked it up - we don't solicalize with anyone! - but nevertheless I got it! Yesterday morning I noticed I had a scratchy throat and by last night I could tell it was turning into a full-blown head cold, and when I woke up this morning I could barely speak. I'm not feeling too bad at the moment - I've been doping myself with Nyquil - but I'm just sick about the fact that I'll be flying out of here tomorrow not feeling well. For one thing, I'm headed back home to WORK, and work HARD, on year-end stuff for Kerkstra - and I need to be "on my A-game". Plus I was hoping to see at least a few people in the evening, but right now I'm feeling like the best thing would be to work during the day, grab a bite of drive-through food and head back to the Holiday Inn for an early bedtime! Oh well, we'll see how I'm feeling once I get there. But I just can't get over the irony of getting sick before I even get up there. Good grief!

So - enough of that - we are very much enjoying being further south. Pine Island is right outside of Fort Myers, if you're trying to find it on the map, and it's a neat location for spending a couple weeks. It's about 15 miles long and has a nice bike path running the length of the island. We are in the KOA park at about mile 3 (so it's about three miles to the south to get into the little town of St James City, which is the southern tip of the island). We pulled onto the island on Tuesday, with no problems at all, and got set up and just kind of settled in for the evening. The park is quite nice, with a very nice swimming pool and a couple of club houses (and lots of "social activities" which is not really our thing, but is nice for people who are into that type of thing). Plus it has cable TV, which is nice after our ONE station at Oscar Scherer (...hence my tyrade on communications in my last blog). There is also a "pet" woodstork named BOB who apparently walks aroudn the park all day and has been here for literally years - picture attached! Anyway, after we got settled in on Tuesday, we did take a bike ride into town and found that there are 3 or 4 decent-looking bars in town, plus there's an American Legion (which I joined just before we left just so we could have that option available to us when we're on the road).

Wednesday was pretty quiet - we basically just drove around the island and checked it out. It's very undeveloped so it's quite low-key with relatively little traffic. It's certainly more developed than Cedar Key, but not by much! There IS a Dairy Queen and a Subway, plus a Winn-Dixie market, so right away it's a notch above Cedar Key in the development arena! Wednesday night we stopped and had a couple drinks at a cute bar named Woody's (I think almost every town has a bar named Woody's!), and on the way home we decided we should call our friends Scott and Deb who live down here in the winter. For some reason, we always thought they lived in North Fort Myers, so we expected to have to drive about a half hour or more to get to them, but we thought we'd better let them know we were here at least. But, to our embarassment, when we talked to them we realized they actually live right here ON Pine island - in fact about two blocks from Woody's! Oops. They invited us to come right over, but I had already crawled into my PJ's so we made plans to get together the next evening (Thursday).

We were looking forward to seeing them - they are both just great people and tons of fun - but I had planned on doing an AVA walk on Thursday so we headed out around noon on Thursday to do that. We were headed to Fort Myers Beach, the site of one of the 5 or 6 AVA walks in the immediate area. The walkbox was located at a Winn Dixie market, and then we had to drive 2 miles to the start point, which was a park-and-lock at the base of the bridge going over to the beach. Good grief - we sat in a line of cars for at least twenty minutes just to go that last two miles! But once we finally got to our parking spot, it turned out to be a very nice walk. I had to walk under the bridge to cross to the other side, and then up and over the bridge to the island. What a busy touristy spot - yikes! Definitely not the type of place we'd want to be camped, but it was a fun place to go for a walk. The walk route took me up to the far end of the island, then back along the beach. I'm attaching a couple of pictures - this was probably the first place we've been that's been an actual "Florida beach" scene - lots of colorful umbrellas, people packed along the beach, etc. We've absolutely decided that we want to start next year's trip way down here and spend December and January in this warmer climate! Anyway, Dave had brought his bike along and when we met back up we decided to stop at this cute waterside bar for a drink - it was called Bonita Bill's and was on the mainland, basically tucked under the bridge going over to the island.

When we got in the car, we had a call from Scott and Deb inviting us over for cocktails, so we headed home, took showers and went over to their place. What a nice spot they've got - their house is right on one of the canals (they call it one of the "shallow canals" as opposed to a "deep canal" - I think what that means is their canal is more heavily impacted by the tide going in and out, so they have to be careful if they take their boat out during low tide). Anyway, they have a beautifully laid out patio in the back of the house with a little shed, a screen house (to escape the bugs!) and a nice little firepit. They also have a nice pontoon boat mored along their seawall (so we hope to get out on the boat while we're here!). We sat outside and had a fire and talked and laughed and had a few drinks (I had brought just Diet Coke, but Deb persuaded me to throw in some pineapple-flavored rum - yummy!). We got back "home" about 11:00 and agreed that it had been a lovely day. We're looking forward to seeing them at least once or twice more while we're here - the only problem being my five days in Michigan!

On Friday we took a little road trip and checked out the Koreshan State Park, on the south side of Fort Myers. I've already made reservations at that park for next year, for the first two weeks of December, and wanted to check it out to be sure it was ok (which it was-it'll be fine!). and then we came home and had a quiet evening. I was already feeling my cold coming on so we went to bed pretty early. And today I've basically just laid around all day. The weather today has turned on us a little - it's VERY windy and it's cooled down to about 60, so it's a good day to just hunker down - Dave is watching a basketball game while I update the blog - and after I'm done with this I guess I need to pack my warmest clothes and get ready for my trip home. It's been great to be down here, with temps in the high 70's and lots of sunshine, so I'm anxious to get home, do my "thing" for Kerkstra, and then get back down here for a few more days before we head across the state to the ocean side. I'm not taking my computer home with me, so by the time I write my next update I'll have been up to the cold and back! Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Last Few Days in Sarasota Area

We're down to our last couple days in this area, and have enjoyed it immensely. It's weird, because the last time we spent any real time here was about four years ago, when we were at Horseshoe Cove for two months. So it's been fun to see some of the places that we enjoyed back then. And, with the help of my AVA walks, we even saw some new stuff!

I think I already talked about going down to Venice a couple times. After that, we spent a few days going to the north instead, into Sarasota. On our first trip up, we went to the Mote Aquarium, which is where I left off on my last post. The day after that trip, we went into downtown Sarasota for an AVA walk. As usual, this walk took us to places we wouldn't probably have gone otherwise. It's weird - we've driven "through" (or past) Sarasota many times, primarily on the way out to the keys - Lido Key, Longboat Key, the Mote Aqarium, etc. But this AVA walk actually took us into the heart of the old downtown area, which actually is very nice! Part of my walk was through the downtown, past cute shops and restaurants and parks and memorials. Part of it was along the bay and the marina (which we've biked quite a few times in the past, but it was nice to see it again after four years). And part of the walk was through some VERY upscale residential areas - these places would compete quite nicely with the Devos "castle" on South Shore Drive in Holland! (But, on the other hand, the Devos place would probably still win!). One of the nice things about walking around was just seeing FLOWERS in bloom, now that we're a little further south. One of the attractions that I walked past was the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The walk doesn't take you into the gardens itself - there's a fee for that and most of the AVA walks do not include locations that require fees. However, the gardens are truly beautiful - I went there four years with Mom when we had her come down and spend her 80th birthday with us. Seeing it again made me somewhat nostalgic for that wonderful visit - it's one of those things - you don't realize it's the last time you'll have that type of "quality" time together. Mom, I know you read my blog, and I just wanted to say that having you visit us back then still provides me with GREAT memories! I know you're just not physically capable of quite that much walking anymore, so I'm SO very glad we did it when we did!

Anyway... moving on... yesterday we went back into Sarasota, but this time we went out to Lido Beach and put the kayaks in at the kayak "trail". This is a wonderful place to kayak - you paddle through these mangrove "tunnels" (Glennda - you definitely do NOT think about any snakes or spiders that might be in there with you!!!). The tide was very low so we paddled along the beach for an hour or so first and then doubled back and went through the tunnels. The sun was shing all afternoon and it was warm and wonderful - and then all of a sudden, about 3:30 or so, the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees and BOY were we glad that we had gotten an early start. We were actually on our way back in when the weather turned so we still had a wonderful afternoon. When we got home we started a lovely campfire - it was still probably 50 degrees at least, so actually perfect weather for a nice fire. We love campfires and this is probably the only one we'll have here.

And then today (Sunday) we went north again, but this time we went up to Bradenton and went out to Coquina Beach for the afternoon. We kayaked first, but this was kind of disappointing because we went to this area that we've paddled in the past, and it was totally different than we remembered it. When we were here four years ago, the kayak waterways were full of life - little upside down jellyfish, crabs, fish, lots of greenery and it was like paddling around on top of an aquarium. Today the water was still crystal clear but there was nothng, absolutely nothing, to see in the water - it was like everything had died. We reminded ourselves that it was March when we did this before, and the water was warmer, so maybe that's the difference. We'd hate to think that anything has changed permanently in what we remembered as a lovely place to paddle around. We were out on the water for maybe an hour-and-a-half and we both agreed that was enough. So we loaded up the boats and went across the street to Coquina Beach. We love sitting out there. It was warm and there were lots of people just sitting out enjoying the sun - I've attached a picture of me sitting in my little beach chair just soaking up the sun. We actually haven't done much sitting in the sun up to this point. It really has been a little too cool, but we're hopeful that as we continue to move south and we move into February, we'll start to experience some warmer, sunnier weather. Anyway - it was wonderful to sit out on the pristine white sand and just soak up some sunshine! Dave threw a line in, more for the fun of it than anything, and we both just enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. About 4:00 we packed up and crossed back over to the mainland and had an early dinner at one of our favorite places - Cortez Kitchen is this great seafood restaurant - very VERY funky - just a big wooden deck on the edge of the water, with sheets of plastic for windows, all mismatched old wooden tables and just this great old fishing-village ambience. Plus wonderful, fresh seafood. I had the grouper, Dave had his favorite peel-and-eat shrimp. Lovely! (Plus they had a really nice band playing, just for good measure!)
Tomorrow I have to spend some time on the phone for work, and it's supposed to rain most of the day, plus it's our last day before we move down to Fort Myers, so I don't think there'll be much to report on. So next blog - Fort Myers! We've never been in that area, so we're really looking forward to it. I'll keep you posted!
Love to all...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Oscar Scherer State Park

...that is where we are now. We moved down here on Monday and will be here until next Tuesday - eight days in all. "Here", by the way, is about halfway between Sarasota and Venice. It's kind of cool - we are only six miles north of Venice, which has been one of our "destinations" - nice to NOT have to drive 45 minutes to get someplace! Anyway, this is a new park for us - we had visited it in the past but this is our first time to camp here. Not too bad, although I have to say the main attraction is probably "location, location, location" - it's close to everything in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, plus, as I mentioned, it's close to Venice. The only weird thing is we can't seem to get ANY TV coverage on our antenna, except for one channel.

OK - some side comments on TV - this continues to be a constant source of irritation. We are not huge TV people, by any means, but it's nice to have a good selection of channels for when you want to just pick something at random, or even just watch some sports or something (this is one of the things Dave does to entertain himself while I'm working, for one thing!). Anyway, we are PAYING for Direct TV satellite, but still have not been able to get a signal. I hate to pay for a service call because that's at least $50 and we move in a few days, to a KOA (which hopefully will have cable TV), so I'm going to wait until we get onto the ocean side and then, come hell or high water, I WILL get my Direct TV to work! The problem with the dish on top of the RV is that whenever you move you have to go through all this rigamarole to get a signal re-established. If you want local channels, you have to change your "service" address. And last year when we had trouble I had a service guy come and he gave us a portable dish (which we could almost never get to work properly). And then when we were in South Carolina last year I spent a lot of time on the phone with a support person who had me go into my set-up menu and make all kinds of changes to the type of equipment, the co-ordinates of the satellite I was hooking to, etc., etc., etc. Now I'm afraid I'm ALL messed up and I probably DO need to pay someone to come out and get everything in order. We LOVE it when we're someplace that has cable - we just plug in and are good to go. But other than Reed Bingham, in southern Georgia, we haven't found any state parks that have that - certainly none in Florida. So we try to get TV with our "rabbit ears" (which are now hooked to a digital conversion box) and sometimes we get 20 or more channels, but at this park we only get basically one NBC channel. What I WANT is to get something that I can get at with my broadband (does that mean 4G????) and "stream" (is that the right word?) from my computer directly to the TV. I think I will have to make this a project for 2011 - trying to figure out what kind of technology I need in order to get TV consistently - and at the same time it would be great if I could download movies instead of constantly searching for a Blockbuster (which, by the way, seems to be almost entirely out of business). Red Box is another source for movies, but they have a very limited selection, plus there's always someone waiting in line behind you so you feel like you have to hurry up and just GRAB a movie. I realize that we are light years ahead of where we were even ten years ago, but, for us RVers, we certainly aren't QUITE there yet!!!!

Anyway (my goodness-where did all THAT come from?) - we've been keeping busy here at Oscar Scherer even though once again we are in a VERY cold spell. I know - the whole country is covered with snow - I think Florida is the only state (other than Hawaii, I assume!) that does NOT have some snow on the ground - so we shouldn't complain too much, right? So - we got here on Monday and basically just set up. Then on Tuesday we went to Venice and took the kayaks - it was pretty cool and quite windy, but we paddled around for a few hours and actually had a very nice afternoon. When we're just paddling randomly, one of the things we like to do (OK, Dave likes to do it but I've kind of gotten caught up in it too) is look for fishing lures that have gotten caught in trees or bushes and been left by the fisherman. According to Dave, lures can be kind of pricey, plus of course he loses them too (just like everyone else), so it's kind of a kick to find them when we're paddling around. So we hit the mother lode on Tuesday - we found SIX lures - see attached PICTURE! OMG - they have to be worth at least $25 - YAY! After we left the park we stopped at Sharkey's which is one of the places we really like from previous trips. It's this kind of neat bar/grill/restaurant on the south side of the island of Venice - it's right next to a long fishing pier so you can sit out under the cabana-style roof, get an appetizer and a couple drinks, and watch the waves crash against the pier. It was very nice, but of course we spent more than the $25 we saved on lures!!!

On Wednesday we went back to Venice so I could do the AVA walk. Although I usually love these walks (yes, I know you already know that) this one was probably a little disappointing. Venice is a delightful island with all kinds of parks and bike trails along the intercoastal waterway and a charming downtown area. Unfortunately, the majority of the walk consisted of walking on a sidewalk along a street completely lined with resorts and condos, all the way out to a park at the tip of the island, and then reversing the route and coming back along the same street. BORING - especially since I couldn't take the beach option since I had Brandi with me (who by the way was limping again by the time we got done - no more AVA walks for her for quite a while!). I think whoever planned this particular route might need to take a step back and look at what else the island has to offer and do some re-design of the route. Probably the best part was the last half-mile or so which went along a long, meandoring path located on a narrow strip of land between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Venice Avenue. There were a lot of pretty trees, some in flower, and some absolutely beautiful banyan trees. If you're not familiar with these, they are the weirdest, strangest trees you've ever seen. They're huge, with all these long roots (?) or branches (?) that drop straight down to the ground and basically become part of the root system. I've attached a picture - blow it up and look closely - it's literally just ONE tree, but you'd never know that by looking at it. VERY COOL.

So today was the coldest day yet - although a warming trend is supposed to begin tomorrow - so we did a primarily indoor thing - we went to the Mote Aquarium, which we really like a lot. It's on Lido Key, just north of Sarasota, and it's an extremely educational aquarium. It's not the biggest aquarium but the displays are very interesting and they present a LOT of information for their guests. They actually are primarily a marine research facility and I think the aquarium is almost a by-product of their primary mission. It's a fun place to spend a few hours - I'm putting on a picture of one of the sea turtles swimming around, but they also have manatees, sharks, lots of weird and unusual fish, sting rays, octopusses (or is it octopi?) and tons more - too numerous to begin to list! We definitely recommend this to anyone visiting down here.

Oh, yes, this morning we also went to the pancake breakfast at the nature center here in the park - I swear we were WAY the youngest people there - but the proceeds go to the Friends of Oscar Scherer, and hey, where else can you get 3 pancakes, 3 sausage links, juice and coffee for only $4 - of COURSE we had to do it.

One last thing - last night Dave went outside around 9:00 or so (probably to pee!) and a few minutes later he came bursting back in, insisting that I come out and "look" - and, boy, it was definitely worth going out. There was this HUGE ring around the moon - kind of a soft halo of light - very strange and unusual and spooky. I've honestly never seen anything quite like it before. I came in and googled "ring around the moon" (you have to love the internet!) and apparently there's a very logical explanation, having to do with ice particles high in the atmosphere. WHEW - we were sure it was the end of the world - what a relief. But, WOW, whatever it was, it sure was beautiful!

So - we never know what little adventures are in store! We have another few days here and plan to do at least one more AVA walk - in Sarasota - and we hope to spend a full day up on Lido Key, doing some biking and kayaking. And we HOPE to see some warmer weather!

Love to all - until next time!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tarpon Springs

So after doing the San Antonio AVA walk yesterday, today I did one of the two Tarpon Springs walks. We really like Tarpon Springs a lot! We stopped in last year when we were staying at DeSoto County Park and definitely planned on returning this year if we had a chance. Since tomorrow is moving day, today was sort of our last chance, plus the weather forecast was very nice - high 60's and sunny - so we threw Brandi in the car and took off about 11:30. We got there about 1:00 and stopped at Danny K's Alley Cafe (what a CUTE place!) to stamp my book and get the instructions. There are actually two walks, as I mentioned, and the start information for both was at the same place. But the walk for the Sponge Docks started right there, whereas you had to drive to get to the staring point for the other one - so we're saving the second one for our next trip!
If you're not familiar with Tarpon Springs, it's on the very north side of the whole Tampa area. It's a really pretty little town with a VERY (and I mean VERY) strong Greek culture. The main thing the town is known for is the sponge diving industry. I didn't read the history, but apparently this industry is one of the oldest in the entire countries. Besides being a vibrant and strong industry, the sponge docks are also a VERY big tourist attraction. This is where the boats come in and unload the sponges and there are tons of little shops and wonderful Greek restaurants, plus you can take boat tours, there's a "spongearama" museum, an aquarium, etc. etc. It's very picturesque and touristy, but lots of fun. As I've mentioned in the past, we've worked out this great arrangement in which I do the AVA walk and Dave rides his bike around, so we both had a great afternoon.

My walk led my past this really big Greek Orthodox church - I've attached a couple pictures - and it was kind of fun to see because there has been a lot of TV coverage on the local news about the annual Epiphany ritual that takes place here. A few blocks away from the church is a very pretty park that circles around the actual springs themselves (hence the name Tarpon SPRINGS). So what happens is that every year at this time a special wooden cross - maybe a foot and a half tall - is constructed. Everyone from the church (plus the community and tourists!) gather around the springs and the cross is thrown into the middle of the springs - then all of the young men in the community LEAP into the springs to try to retrieve the cross and whoever brings it up is given special blessings for the year for him and his family. Apparently this is a tradition that goes back decades and decades. So it was fun to see the church and springs as part of my walk. After that, I was directed around the bay and passed some absolutely gorgeous, huge homes, many built in a Greek type of architectural style. I ended up crossing over two bridges and returning to the area of the sponge docks.

We had left Brandi in the car (she is SUCH a good little dog - but her paw still seems to be bothering her so we decided to give her a couple of days off!) so I brought her out and we found a nice park bench to sit on while we waited for Dave to get back. After he arrived and loaded up his bike, we put Brandi back in the car again, and then we went to this excellent Greek restaurant names "Costas". I had gotten on the internet the night before and printed off their menu so we both had a pretty good idea of what we wanted - Dave had grouper stuffed with spinach and feta cheese, over rice, and I had a dish that was small pieces of chicken, grilled onion, potatoes and green peppers in a light tomato broth and served over pasta. Both were absolutely wonderful! Plus Dave had a Greek salad that was a potato salad with basically a tossed sald on top of the potato salad. He loved it! Normally that would NOT appeal to me (I don't like my foods to touch each other!), but in this case it was great! And I had this wonderful soup that was kind of a chicken broth but with lemon in it, and I think egg for thickening, and long-grain rice (is it called "orzo" or something like that???). INCREDIBLE - in fact, I got a big cup to go! SO - are you hungry yet? We both loved our meals, but we ended up bringing well over 50% of it home so we probably have at least one more meal, maybe two - and all for about $45! Wow.

When you walk around the sponge docks, there are lots and lots of little shops and stuff - pretty much all with a Greek touch, or related to sponges! I've attached a couple of pictures, but it's impossible to imagine without actually visiting. If you're ever in the Tampa area, this is a "must see".

So - thus ends our 9 days at Hillsborough River. It's been great! And now, tomorrow we pack up and move about 80 more miles to the south - this time to Oscar Scherer State Park which is about 10 miles south of Sarasota. So my next blog will be from there. And by the way, thanks for all the nice feedback - I love getting the emails from everyone!

St. Leo

I'm going to do two separate posts for today - one to talk a little bit about yesterday, when I finished my San Antonio AVA walk, and the second one to tell you about today's trip to Tarpon Springs. I want to put some pictures in and it's easier to do two blogs and put pictures in each one. OK - so yesterday we want back to finish the AVA walk that I had started on Thursday (I think). Remember, Brandi kind of pooped out on me, but I really wanted to finish the walk and I'm glad I did! The first half was walking around the very small town of San Antonio, which was kind of cute, but nothing ALL that special. For the second half of the walk, I was supposed to go over to the village of St. Leo, which is probably not even half a mile from San Antonio. The main thing in St. Leo, as far as I can tell, is a pretty nice golf course and the St. Leo University, which is what the second half of my walk focused on. And, boy, it was really pretty. It is apparently a Catholic university with a fairly broad range of general degrees, such as business, etc. Right next to it (or part of it, I can't really tell) is the St. Leo Abbey which is a Benedictine Monastery. Cindi, you'd have to help me with the terminology and the right way to describe this, but all I know for sure is that is was a very pretty campus with some very nice buildings (all of which were named things like St. Francis Hall, St. something-else some-other-kind-of-building, you get the idea). But what was really pretty cool is that across the street from the University was this lovely grotto. The walk had me go over to it, but it kind of sits right next to the pro shop of the golf course and I couldn't find it at first, so some nice kid came out of the shop and asked if he could help me - obviously he could tell from my wandering around helplessly with this piece of paper in my hand that I was NOT there to play golf! So, anyway, this grotto was SO SO PRETTY - you had to walk down a tree-lined path and it was set in this little deep jungle-like grove. There were two little stone buildings kind of set down into the earth, rounded on the top and all grown over with greenery. One of the buildings looked like a tiny little chapel with an altar in it, and the second one had a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary inside, with litle votive candles in front of it. But what was especially striking was that there were TONS of little notes (I assume!) written on pieces of paper and then wedged into the stonework all around the statue of Mary. It was very quiet and serene and sort of other-worldly. I loved it! There were also little paths running through the grove with another statue of Christ and a row of crosses that I think (again, Cindi, you'd have to help me here) represented the "stations of the cross." I'm attaching a few pictures, but they really, really don't do it justice. But the grotto was definitely well worth the return trip. (Oh, and I just remembered, there was also a slab set into the floor of the second little building that marked the gravesite of one of the early Abbotts (right?) of the monastery. He was born in the mid 1800's and died in the very early 1900's.
I looked it up on the internet when I got home (back to the RV, I mean!) and there's a nice write-up on St. Leo University and I also found some material on the grotto by googling that term. Apparently there are still pilgrimages to the grotto up to this day - the internet said several thousand people a year travel to visit it.
Pretty cool, huh? This is why I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the AVA walks - there's no way in a thousand years I would have stumbled across this spot on my own. It's like finding treasure when an AVA wlalk leads you to such a surprising destination - and I think that's half of it, because I have absolutely no preconceived ideas about what to expect from these walks and sometimes they hold such delightful surprises!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hillsborough River State Park

We really love this park. We've had a great week - the weather has been terrific - normally in the mid-70's. Basically, we've just played this week. We've been out on the river three times - this is probably one of our very favorites rivers for kayaking. We go so slow you'd barely think we're even moving. It's like a 360 degree panorama - we can see everything in the river because the water is so very crystal clear. We love looking at everything on the banks because it's so lush and just interesting to look at - the palm trees hang over the river, the cypress trees are so bent and twisted and majestic. And everything towers over your head so you're always looking up also. And for added measure, you're always on the lookout for alligators - it's fun when you spot them - like you get two points for each one you see!
In addition to the kayaking, it's a great park for me for walking. I think I already described it a little, but between the tropical 3-mile loop and the 1.1 mile shorter trail, there are all kinds of really nice trails and boardwalks along the river. I pretty much take Brandi for a long walk everyday. However, it seems like maybe she's either over-done it a little, or somehow has hurt herself, because even though she's very anxious and jumping up and down when we start our walks, she seems to start limping after a couple miles or so. I think today (Saturday) we're just not going to walk her at all.

I think I mentioned earlier that I did the AVA walk here in the park at the beginning of the week. And then on Wednesday (I think... - the days run together!) I took Brandi and we went to an AVA walk that begins in the very VERY small town of San Antonio, Florida and goes over to the even tinier village of Leo. Since there's probably only a mile or less between the two it actually makes a good 10K walk. When we started the walk, we did about three miles around the edges of San Antonio and then we were going to head over to the second half of the walk in Leo, and that's when I noticed Brandi was limping. In fact, she actually just laid right down on the pavement and didn't want to get up (which has never happened before) so I just took her back to the car and we came home. Today, Dave and I are going to go back so I can finish the second half of the walk. The walk is about 5 miles east of Dade City and I noticed when I drove through there on Wednesday that it looked like a nice little town, so I'm going to drop Dave off there with his bike and let him explore while I go back and finish my walk. (I can't NOT finish it - I already stamped my book!!!). Plus I noticed that there was a Beef O'Brady's in Dade City, so that's where we can meet afterwards.

Tomorrow we plan to go over to Tarpon Springs for the day - there's an AVA walk there also, and it's certainly a place where Dave can entertain himself for a couple of hours - and then we're going to one of the Greek restaurants and get one of their absolutely wonderful dinners. I'll definitely have pictures from there for the next blog.

And then - Monday we leave! It seems like this 10-day visit has gone really quickly. Hillsborough River is definitely on our list of parks that we will return to again and again, and I highly recommend it for anyone who's coming to Florida for any camping. They even have canoes available for renting if you don't have your own watercraft (although we are ALWAYS so happy that we have our own kayaks when we watch everyone squabbling and arguing and bumbling along in their canoes!).

I understand from talking to people at home that there's some big-time snow headed that way. As always, we are so grateful and so fortunate that we're able to do what we do! Stay warm and safe up there!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to 2011

Hope everyone had a happy New Year's - it's hard to believe it's already 2011. Sometimes it seems like the big Y2K scare (remember that?) was just yesterday - amazing how quickly time flies. Dave and I are constantly reminding ourselves of that, and we always tell ourselves how happy (and lucky!) we are to be able to "live our dream" while we can.

One very sad thing I just found out today - my friend Connie lost her mother on Christmas Eve. I knew Margarete for more than 15 years and, as I put into the family's online condolence book, I don't think I ever saw her any other way than smiling and happy and feeding everyone around her. "Eat something..." was her mantra! My heart breaks for Connie and her entire family. This is one of the few times I wish I was home, so I could be there to offer my condolences in person.

OK-so here we are, at Hillsborough River State Park. But to back up - we left Cedar Key on December 29th and moved about 80 miles south to a nice RV park in Crystal River. The park is called Crystal Isles (we love the names of these places...!) and it was quite nice actually. The sites are all really big and we were assigned to a very nice spot on the side of their little "lake" - see attached pix. They have a very nice swimming pool, a full schedule of activities (which, frankly, doesn't really matter to us but is nice for the other guests) and you can even have a fire! (Believe me, this is not the norm!) We only stayed for three days, but it was enough to give us a good taste of what the park is like. We would certainly consider coming back here sometime, but probably not until we begin to slow down a little. For us, the best places continue to be state parks and other places where we can do a lot of the physical things we enjoy doing.

So, to continue, we left here on Sat, January 1st and moved another 80 miles or so south - to Hillsborough River State Park, just south of Zephyrhills. We were here last year for about a week, and this time we're here for 10 days. We REALLY like this park. It has terrific walking and hiking trails, for me. And Dave likes to bike here because the park road is a one-way loop with a nice bike path on the side. The loop is about 3.5 miles, so Dave rides it two or three times to get his daily workout (that's why he's still such a hunk!). But the best thing about the park is the river itself. The river is VERY clear and pretty - in most places you can see right to the bottom when you're kayaking. There are no houses at all along the part of the river where we kayak - it's like a primitive jungle and is absolutely beautiful. I've attached some pictures (including one with a nice gator in it, alhtough you might have to look a little closer to see him), but none of them do justice to how pretty it really is. We went for a paddle today and are just amazed at how gorgeous it is, and how quiet and peaceful. It's probably one of our favorite places to paddle. When we were paddling today, we both saw an alligator slip into the water ahead of us. He began swimming down the river at a nice leisurely pace and was completely out of the water (normally an alligator goes right under or just has his beady little eyes sticking out). We just followed behind him for probably 200 or 300 yards, until he finally just swam back into a little inlet. It was VERY cool!

As I mentioned earlier, the trails are also very nice. There is a combination path/boardwalk that runs along the edge of the river - I'll take some pictures tomorrow and attach them. There's a pretty little rapids at the top of the river and a couple of bridges that cross over to trails on the opposite side. There's a really pretty little 1 mile trail across the river, and also a more challenging 3.2 mile trail loop. The longer loop runs along the edge of the river for a mile or more, then circles back into the jungle (that's what I call it!) and then returns to the starting point. It's very dense and green and jungle-like, with lots of roots and bumps and stuff (so you have to be kind of careful walking - it would be very easy to trip and fall!). What's really cool is that there is an AVA walk right in the park! It incorporates the 3.2 mile trail plus the 1 mile trail plus the river walk trail all into one very pretty 10K walk! So I get another stamp in my book!

It's nice to know we have another full week here before we move on to the next park. Since it's the first of the month, I'll be putting in a few extra work hours, but I know I can schedule it all so I can still have lots and lots of time to PLAY OUTSIDE every day! What a great start to the new year!