Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A garden of eatin’

Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2010 MIAMI, FL – In a land as lush with vegetation as this, a wise and talented lady named Mary Calkins Heinlein thought it would be a good idea to plant a garden with examples of every fruit and spice that grows here and in other sub-tropical places of the world. So, after raising funds and overcoming some legal obstacles, she obtained 18 acres of land in 1943. With the design of a landscape architect, Mary began to clear it and get growing. We saw the wonderful results of her efforts today, at the Fruit and Spice Park just a few miles from our campground. Inside the park building, we bought our tickets for a tram tour, and admired the exotic jams, jellies and fruit drinks on sale. At the taste counter, a staff member cut up a whole variety of fruits we’d never seen before and let us sample them. One was bright orange with the consistency of a rather dry banana. Another was soft and white with a gentle sweet taste. A third – and my favourite – was perfectly round, shiny black and the size of a cherry. We were told to split the tough skin with our teeth and squeeze the flesh into our mouths. A white sweet pulp oozed onto my tongue, with a delicate sweetness unlike anything I’d ever tasted! The fruit was called a jaboticaba, and it comes from southern Brazil. While we waited for the tour, we strolled around the grounds, which now take up 35 acres, divided into geographical sections of Mediterranean, African, Australian and Pacific, Asian and tropical American plants. Banana plants were heavy with green bunches growing up from the fleshy purple flower each one puts forth. Coconut palms towered above, while closer to the ground were plants with huge, deeply-lobed leaves the size of a turkey platter. The long, spiraling pleats of spiky palm plants provided hiding places for tiny lizards and spiders, and other trees were hung with round gourds of pebbled green. Huge exotic flowers with slender white petals and bright purple tufts at the centre blossomed next to ripe fruits on the same branch. It was a feast for the eyes! Our senses of smell and taste were tickled as well when Curtis, our guide, plucked some spicy orange and yellow nasturtium flowers to nibble, and crushed the fragrant leaves of the lemon pepper plant. We boarded the tram and he brought us through the garden, making frequent stops to describe various fruits and pick them for us to try. He told us he’d been working in the park for 37 years and actually planted some of the trees himself. He said there were 70 varieties of bananas – and we saw tiny round ones, fat ones that looked like zucchini, and other bunches that look like hands folded in prayer. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 devastated the park, destroying irrigation beds, the nursery, tree canopies and a couple of buildings. We didn’t see any sign of it, but it brought about some redesigning and, of course, replanting. Even though we were there in what is technically “winter”, we could see ripe fruits, blossoms, humming birds, lizards and squirrels everywhere. Have you ever heard of imbe, cotopriz, or marula? How about lucma, rollinia or bilimbi? Not coming to a grocery store near you, probably, but all of them grow here. We also saw pineapple, lychee nut and nutmeg, cacoa, vanilla and sunflowers. It was a feast for the senses.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The River of Grass

Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2010 MIAMI, FL – This morning we walked the perimeter of the Miami Everglades Campground, while we waited for the RV freezer to defrost! We’re keeping a close eye on it to ensure we get the best performance out of it, especially in this warm and humid weather. The campground is really nice, with lots of grassy areas and shady trees. It looks like it used to be a KOA Kampground, complete with little cabins, and there are no permanent park models here. It’s situated in an area where there are fertile farms with mango trees and vegetables, and huge nurseries, growing palm trees, ferns and landscaping plants. We really like it. After lunch, we headed back west along Highway 41 to the Shark Valley Visitor Center for a guided tour of the Everglades. There are lots of airboat companies along that route, but we were more interested in a slow tram ride with a guide who could explain the flora and fauna. That’s exactly what we got! We first got an explanation of how the Everglades came to be by Lydia, a park ranger with muddy hands, who talked about the limestone base that was established millions of years ago, and about oceans that flooded and receded from the southern tip, building up the waterway and its ecosystems – including bogs of peat. Lydia dug up a small container of peat to show us, and didn’t take the time to wash her hands before she came to her presentation. She told us how encroaching civilization changed the flow of water across the expanse of land that had become the Everglades, and the efforts that are being made to amend some of that. One project is raising the roadbed of Highway 41 to restore the flow of water under it. There’s a mile-long stretch of construction near Miami that we passed on our way out, which is the first of five similar stretches in the works. Next, it was Bob’s turn to take us out – about 40 of us in a covered two-car trolley – through some of the terrain for a two-hour guided tour. Bob was entertaining and highly knowledgeable about the grasses, the plants, the fish, the bugs, the birds, and, of course, the alligators that we passed along the way. All of these were plentiful, and our driver, Rachel, was sharp-eyed, slowing and stopping as soon as something interesting came into view. One of the first things Bob wanted to do was amend the popular notion of what the Everglades are. So many who haven’t visited (and we were among them) think it’s a jungly swamp with spooky, dripping trees that hide the sun. In reality, it looks more like a prairie of grasses, blowing in the wind under a huge bright sky. Of course, at the base of the grass is water – acres and acres of it, flowing a quarter of a mile a day from the north into the Gulf of Mexico. In that environment, an entire food chain survives, from tiny insects burrowing into mossy plants, up to the heavily-armoured alligator, all adapted to live in a place that’s drenched in rain half the year, and scorched dry by the sun for the other half. Bob told us about the male gators’ romantic bellowing, in mating season, that draws the female for a slow, elaborate ritual that ends with her laying some 40 eggs in a nest she constructs on her own. We were fascinated from start to finish!

Gators galore!

Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 MIAMI, FL – Despite the address of the Miami Everglades Campground, our home tonight and for the next two nights, we haven’t had a glimpse of anything citified anywhere near here. In any case, we have traversed the southern tip of Florida through some amazing swamps, and are fairly close to Miami now. On our route south from Fort Myers today, we chose to remain on Highway 41 instead of the faster, parallel Interstate 75, to see a bit of Naples on the way. What we saw confirmed its reputation as a city for wealthy people. We passed mall after mall of high-end stores, plus car dealerships selling Jaguars and Porsches. Fancy condos with tiled roofs, Spanish archways and columns and well-groomed grounds whizzed past. Even the boulevards along the 41 displayed stately Royal palms and colourful flowerbeds. Then the highway veered in an easterly direction and we left civilization behind. We passed the airboat facility we’d visited last week, and traveled in a fairly straight line through “rivers of grass” as early settlers called the wetlands of southern Florida. On our left was a waterway, about ten feet wide, with mangroves and reeds on the far side, and the road’s shoulder, complete with a metal barrier, on our side. At one point, I thought I might have seen an alligator, but we passed quickly, so maybe it was just a shred of tire thrown into the bush. A few yards on, I saw another grey shape with a similar tire-tread appearance. The third time I saw something, it was clearly and unmistakably an alligator! Then I was confident the other two sightings were also alligators, just lounging on the bank in the warm sun. I was galvanized. Mile after mile, I kept looking to the left, searching among the reeds and grasses for more of these amazing creatures. In addition, there were dozens of water birds as well, herons, egrets and ibis, cormorants and vultures. At one point we saw a black cluster of vultures, on the right shoulder, and when we passed we saw they were feasting on an alligator’s carcass. Guess the critter forgot about looking both ways before crossing. Just as lunchtime approached, we came upon the Big Cypress National Preserve visitor centre, with a boardwalk full of people looking over the side at something. After we got parked, I went over to see, and there were at least six alligators below the boardwalk, basking in the mud, oblivious to their admirers. The water practically boiled with small fish, so nabbing a snack would be a cinch if the gators felt like it. Inside the visitor centre, we learned about the preserve and the neighbouring Everglades, and watched a video about all the creatures that call this place their home. The ranger there questioned recent reports that 98 per cent of small animals like rabbits and racoons had been wiped out by invading Burmese pythons. She didn’t think it was that bad, but she acknowledged that the effect of encroaching cities is being felt. We continued on our way, with more gator sightings (we stopped counting at 20). The mysterious and rare Ghost Orchid eluded us, but we did see hundreds of bromeliads, green tufts sprouting on their host plants with bright red flowers peeking out like bottle brushes. It was wonderful to be in nature again, and amazing to see the teeming life among the rivers of grass.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar night!

Sunday, February 26, 2012 Hi folks. We had a relaxing day today with no big adventures to relate, so I will share some recent photos for your viewing pleasure! Meanwhile, we're glued to our RV television watching the glitz and glamour of the Academy Awards. Oops, the popcorn's done! Bye!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Feathers and fins

Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – We heard the soft patter of raindrops on the roof when we woke up this morning, but they soon stopped and didn’t return all day. It was a bit cooler though, which suited me fine. It was a catch-up day, getting laundry done and taking some time to relax and read. As I waited for the laundry cycle to finish, I looked out the window at the pond beside the campground, and watched a flock of slender white ibis wading and dipping their long, curved orange beaks into the water. It still amazes me to see, often and everywhere, these and other really large birds flying overhead with wingspans of up to four feet. They are so common here, but back in Ontario if you spot one blue heron, it’s cause for exclamation and finger-pointing. I asked a naturalist on one of our outings where one would find flamingos, which are such a common symbol of Florida. The joking reply was “on a stick in my neighbour’s yard”! Seriously, there were flamingos here in years past, but they died out because so many were hunted by humans for their feathers. They have not, however, died out from gift shops and souvenir stands, where they grace coffee mugs, t-shirts and gaudy plates in their thousands! We did see some large pink-feathered birds on our airboat ride a few days ago – they were roseate spoonbills, with the same peach-coloured appearance as a flamingo, but with a beak that’s round and flat at the end like a spoon. They sort of look like the flamingo’s ugly cousin! We still wanted to try some seafood from the Gulf, and some of our neighbours had recommended a place nearby. When we arrived at ten minutes to five tonight, the hostess told us we’d have a 20 minute wait, so that was tolerable. We looked at the prawns, frogs’ legs, lobster and other delicacies in the glass case by the door and figured they knew how to serve seafood, based on the crowd inside and waiting outside. Plain and simple would be a kind way of describing the décor of arborite-topped tables, mismatched chrome and wood chairs, and cheap cutlery. The largest table decoration was a roll of paper towels in a spindle-style dispenser. Everything looked old and worn, including the building itself. We both ordered conch chowder as a starter, mine in a cup and Val’s in a bowl. I took one sip and my sinuses opened and tears came to my eyes! It must have been 50 per cent Tabasco, it was so spicy, and I could only find little rubbery shreds which must have been the conch meat. I gamely tried another spoonful, but simply couldn’t manage any more. Val ate his whole bowl, but even he needed to blow his nose when he was finished. My coconut shrimp was generous and tasty, although the bread accompaniment was a slice of white Wonderbread, fried! Val also got two generous fillets of grilled grouper that were tasty, but his potato was overcooked. So, all in all, in spite of the place’s apparent popularity among the locals, we felt that we probably wouldn’t go back.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Singles day?

Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – It was already quite warm when we headed for the showers this morning, so we didn’t get too ambitious with our agenda today. Just a trip to an outlet mall, an afternoon bike hike and dinner out! There are dozens of huge shopping malls in the area, and a couple of them are factory outlets. It was actually Val’s idea to go to one. After a visit last week to an outlet store, he realized what deals you can find, so he thought it would be worthwhile to see what else was out there. And, believe it or not, after a morning’s shopping, we came out with three things for Val, one purchase for the RV and nothing for Brenda! I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular, so I was content to enjoy the air conditioned coolness as the mercury rose outside. The Miromar Outlet Mall had about 145 stores, nicely laid out in little outdoor streets with fountains, benches and flowers that were beautifully maintained. The thermometer in the RV read 87 degrees when we came back for lunch, so we ate outside where there was a bit of a breeze. Then we slapped on the sunscreen, grabbed our Tilley hats, and headed off to Lakes Park, a municipal facility with playgrounds, bike paths, paddleboats and even a mini-train. There are plans to establish, in addition to a community garden, more botanical aspects such as a fragrance garden, medicinal garden and children’s garden. The park’s website advertised rentals of various types of bikes, from two-wheelers to four-seated surrey-type quadracycles, and types in between. We found the kiosk (in the ice cream store) and asked for two singles, expecting to get a pair of bicycles. We paid for an hour’s rental, but when we went outside to get our transportation, the attendant presented us with a two-seater surrey. This was, in the eyes of the rental people, a “single”! There were no regular bikes anywhere to be seen, so we shrugged and hopped on, after confirming we would get half our payment back when we returned. The pedal mechanism for this side-by-side vehicle was a simple coaster bike style, with no gears, so we had to pedal like mad to get anywhere. Off we went along the paved pathways, along the side of several large ponds where we could see pelicans, ibis, and cranes. The path also took us through a woodsy area, and along the mini-train tracks as well. Although we had to work away to keep going, there was a breeze coming off the water that made it quite pleasant. Still, we both decided to cool off with an ice cream cone when we got back. We asked for the single scoop size and watched as the same attendant dipped her scoop into the tub of ice cream, tamp the contents into a cone, and then dip it a second time, and top off the first blob! This was a “single”! After a respite on our little patio at the RV park with a cool drink and a good book, we decided to try a local seafood restaurant that several people had recommended. However, when we got there, it was so crowded that our wait time, we were told, would be an hour and a half! So we hunted out another Carrabba’s for a repeat of the fantastic Italian meal we had at Tampa International Airport a week ago. We were singularly impressed!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The rubber tree plant

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – Dependence on foreign materials, for the United States, has been a worry for much longer than some people may realize. Today we saw an early version of that concern, at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. Thomas A. Edison, best known for the invention of the light bulb, was also keenly interested in finding an American source of rubber for the tires of the fledgling auto industry. He planted a small banyan tree from India, a gift from his friend Harvey Firestone, at his summer estate in Fort Myers to see if the US could replicate that country’s rubber production. That tree is now a massive plant which covers an entire acre of the property. Unfortunately, due to Florida’s lower humidity and heat (compared to India’s), the rubber harvest was disappointing. That didn’t stop the master inventor from searching for other sources of latex, the gooey white plant liquid that rubber is made of. In the end, it was the lowly goldenrod plant that appeared to be the answer. This and other discoveries and inventions of “the Wizard”, as some have called him, are showcased at the 17-acre estate on the shore of the Caloosahatchee River which Edison acquired in 1885. He bought the property in what was then a remote part of Florida so he and his family could get away from New Jersey winters and, later on, the curious public. The property is gorgeous. Edison’s wife, Mina, was a wonderful gardener, and everywhere there are flowers of every description – bougainvillea, orchids, lilies, roses and more – plus stately Royal Palms lining pathways and the street behind the house, bamboo stands and several enormous banyan trees. Edison’s research plants are also still growing near his laboratory. Wide lawns extend to the shore of the river, and there is even a large concrete swimming pool that dates back to 1911 – one of the first ever. Learning about Edison’s prolific inventions, devotion to research, leadership among other great American thinkers, and love of the outdoors was an added bonus. It was fascinating to find out about his encouragement of Henry Ford when he was just experimenting with the motor car, and how that burgeoned into a lasting friendship in later years. Edison’s home welcomed many talented and important figures, including a couple of US presidents, and he patented more than 1,000 inventions. One of them was a talking doll. There was also the ticker machine, which transmitted stock market results across the country, and the earliest phonograph, one of which produced music for us today, after almost 100 years. He also explored motion pictures but never thought they would amount to much! It wasn’t until after Edison died in 1931 that Henry Ford purchased The Mangoes, a house next door to Edison’s estate. Now it is part of the complex, and there are a couple of restored Model T and A Fords for car buffs to admire, as well as a chuck wagon he developed when he, Edison, Firestone and others went on their camping expeditions. The museum and guided tour we enjoyed today really underlined the amazing advances in science, industry and technology that happened in the 20th century, and how many of them came from the synergy of teamwork among creative giants like Ford and Edison.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Inside-out world

Wednesday, February 22, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – It’s always good to talk to the locals in a new area. They can give you really helpful tips. This morning, in the park’s community building, we met Dennis, who has been coming here for more than 15 years. He mentioned a state park and a local park that are quite close by, so we decided to have a look. Just a few blocks south of the RV park, we found the Koreshan State Historic Site. The park used to be a religious commune in the 19th century, founded by Dr. Cyrus Teed, who moved here with his followers from New York in 1894. His elaborate philosophies and theories included the notion that the world was laid out on the inside wall of a hollow ball which enclosed the moon, sun and stars within it. Taking the name “Koresh”, a Hebrew version of Cyrus that means shepherd, the charismatic leader brought his 200 followers to Florida to get away from hostile attitudes in New York. Their new community was self-sufficient, growing their own food, setting up a printing press, cement factory, bakery and meeting hall where they staged theatre and concert performances. A major limiting factor to the sect’s continuation was the Koreshan principle of celibacy. Perhaps their belief in physical life after death was sufficient guarantee of a future to them, but time disproved that theory. In 1961, the remaining four members of the sect sold the land to the state of Florida, which established the park and historic site that we visited today. Eleven of the original buildings have been restored, and docents provide information about the Koreshan lifestyle and activities. We only went in to see the arts hall, which is still used today for concerts and plays. It has beautiful floors of rare Florida pine, a lofty ceiling, and a model of the Koreshan world view on display. The docent told us that Florida was once a major pine logging area. Since it was a beautiful day, our preference was to follow the nature trail that meandered alongside the Estero River. Nearer the community buildings there were some lovely footbridges, flower urns and curved steps down to the riverbank, but the path became more natural as we continued on our way. In addition to the scrub palm trees, dense vines and grasses, we came upon huge stands of bamboo. Their trunk sections were around four inches in diameter at the base, narrowing as they towered upward. As the wind stirred the densely packed clusters of bamboo, some stems creaked against each other eerily, while others knocked together with a hollow sound. The river flows into the Gulf of Mexico, so plants along its shores are adapted to live in a mixture of salt and fresh water. We spotted a few kayakers paddling along in the brown water. At the boat launch, we saw a “no swimming” sign that warned of the presence of alligators, although we didn’t see any, thank goodness! We ate our picnic lunch at tables provided near the campground, while a trio of curious squirrels hovered nearby, hoping for a handout. We learned that the Koreshan park is one of Florida’s parks that allows RV camping and provides electrical and water hookups. At the ranger’s hut at the entrance we picked up a detailed map and brochure indicating all the other state parks with the same amenities. We hadn’t been able to get that information in as accessible a form online, so this was a valuable bonus to our outing today – thanks to a chat with a local!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mangroves and mollusks

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – We took a nature cruise at the conservation area on the north side of Sanibel Island today. It confirmed that having a knowledgeable person explain the flora and fauna of an area sure beats exploring with an unschooled eye. We figured that after the holiday weekend, the traffic would be thinner. Wrong! As we crawled along, we dropped the idea of visiting one of the beaches before checking in for the cruise. We learned that it was best to arrive before eight and leave after seven to ensure an easy ride. Also, renting a bicycle would also be a much better way to get around than driving. The “Ding” Darling wildlife refuge bears the name of its founder, J.N. Darling, who began establishing a protected area for wildlife on Sanibel Island in the 1940s. He was first known as a controversial political cartoonist, but now his name, and nickname, lives on in the 6,400-acre preserve that teems with birds, plants and animals. Our tour began indoors where our guide Jessica described how sea creatures survive, and what species are most common in this area. At a watery “touch table” we were allowed to handle conch shells that still housed their snail-like inhabitants, and live sea stars – not starfish, because they are not fish. We then climbed aboard a large pontoon boat for our tour of Tarpon Bay on the north side of Sanibel Island. Jessica steered us toward some small islands covered with mangrove trees. They were made when people in early times left dredged-out material in the bay instead of removing it. Mangrove twigs from other plants latched on and began to grow. The trees provide an excellent habitat for birds to nest where predators can’t harm them. As we passed the islands, we saw dozens of huge pelicans and herons perched in the trees. Some were building nests and performing mating rituals. The white pelicans, Jessica said, have the second-largest wingspan of any bird in the US, after the California condor. Mangroves are uniquely adapted to growing in salt water, with finger-like roots that have special openings for absorbing oxygen. This happens only when low tide exposes the openings, so they have only a small period of time to absorb oxygen. In addition, each plant has certain “sacrificial” leaves that collect salt water absorbed during osmosis, turn yellow and drop off the plant. Amazing! As we headed back, we caught sight of something black in the water at some distance. Jessica identified it as a manatee, but it never resurfaced. We also saw what looked like two dolphins’ dorsal fins, but our excitement abated when, minutes later, two stingrays drifted past. Their wings, breaking the surface, sure looked like dorsal fins! In any case, we had learned a lot and enjoyed our outing immensely. After our tour, we made it to the beach on the other side of the island. It was great to stroll in the foaming surf and admire the thousands of shells, mostly small or in pieces, strewn on the shore. Sanibel is a shell collector’s paradise, but it takes a keen eye to locate intact ones of any size. They are much more abundant after a storm, when bigger waves carry large undamaged specimens onto shore. When I went to rinse my beach shoes in an incoming wave, I saw the wings of two stingrays just a foot or two away in the murky water! No wonder wise waders use the “stingray shuffle” to avoid stepping on such creatures.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gertie the ‘gator

Monday, February 20, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – The air was much fresher this morning – a welcome change from the muggy heat of yesterday. After breakfast, we took a little tour in our campground, along a boardwalk through a marshy area thick with jungly vegetation. Even though we could hear traffic noises close by, we could have been deep in some forgotten swamp. The only wildlife was a squirrel, a bug or two, and minnows and small fish in the boggy water. Guess the pythons and gators knew better than to get in our way. We decided to go in search of some real swamp life in the Everglades, less than an hour’s drive away. Our campground neighbours gave us a brochure of one airboat service that they had enjoyed, so we headed south on I-75 past Naples after phoning in our reservation. Airboats are a common means of transportation in the Everglades. These flat-bottomed boats have a huge propeller at the back, much like an oversized fan, that can propel the vessel at speeds up to 50 miles an hour across shallow water, marshland or even dry ground. They make such a din that passengers need to cover their ears with padded protectors. Since we arrived well ahead of time for our trip, we were invited to go and see the baby alligators in a pen near the office building. The handler let us take turns holding Gertie, the baby alligator. It was quite a different sensation feeling her little body in our hands. She was surprisingly soft, and quite content to be passed from one person to another. Gertie’s older relatives were a little less cuddly looking. A pair of them basked in the sun on the shore below the office building. One was about nine feet long and the other a smaller, five-foot specimen. Standing on a wooden platform above them, we could admire their spiky backs, long claws and toothy grins from a safe distance. They were practically motionless, snoozing in the warm mud, but when the big one yawned we got a good look at his chompers. Whew! Finally, it was time to board the airboat. Ten of us got on, in two rows of four on padded benches plus two others on either side of Dan, the driver, at the back. Moments later, the engine roared and we were careening into the marshland, spewing plumes of water behind us and traveling at a speed that mashed my face around as if I were moving at three Gs! I gripped the grab bar in front of me, but Val, in the back seat, had nothing holding him in on the water side of his spot! All he could do was grab the edge of his seat and hold on for dear life. Dan weaved his way through watery pathways, with tall grasses on either side. In more open areas, we could see wading birds moving out of the way, and a few took to flight, but they were obviously accustomed to the noisy visitors. Our boat slowed down when we got to a section of open water. That’s when we caught sight of something above the surface. An alligator! Then another one! And a third! As we glided in their direction, they made no attempt to go away. On the contrary; they approached us, undulating their spiky tails to propel them forward. One was about 11 feet long, and it came right up to the airboat and then glided underneath it. We were spellbound. Dan gave us some more high-speed thrills on the return journey, deftly doing a couple of 360s in the open water to our delight! Only a few of the front-row passengers got splashed a bit, but they weren’t complaining.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Feathered friends

Sunday, February 19, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – The mocking bird was trilling at full force this morning from its lamppost across from our site. Val looked up “mocking bird” on the internet and we learned that they can imitate hundreds of bird songs, as well as animal sounds and even machinery. He even found a video of a mocking bird mimicking a car alarm! As we stood outside listening to the bird’s virtuoso performance, our neighbour, Dick, told us it comes back every year to the same lamppost. He also gave us a good tip when we told him we were going to Sanibel Island today. He said there was an interesting collection of birds on the island that would be worth a visit, and he told us where to find it. It was a very warm and humid day, so we were glad to be heading for the water and the sea breezes. As we drove over the causeway, we saw beautiful white sandy beaches on either side, with turquoise waves lapping at the shore and seabirds soaring overhead. Lots of people were out with beach chairs, picnic lunches, and fishing rods. As we got closer to the island, there were more and more cars. After a short stop for some brochures about things to do on the island, we found the Periwinkle RV Park that our neighbour had mentioned and turned in. Just a few blocks in, we saw a row of cages with exotic birds of all kinds – parrots, cockatiels, and lovebirds – with wonderful plumage in bright greens, yellow, orange, turquoise and red. As we strolled past, admiring them, one of the birds chirped “hello!”, while others rasped and squawked. We also heard “back off!”, and a pair of birds chanting “hah!” “haw!”, “hah!” “haw!” back and forth in a most comical conversation. Beyond the cages, there was a lovely waterway with dozens of birds, natural to Florida, but some unlike any we had seen anywhere before. Beautiful caramel-coloured ducks with brown heads, and mergansers with round crests on their heads, mingled with a flock of white ibis, a pair of black swans, egrets and herons. The founders of the RV park, Dick and Jerry Meunch, had been developing this bird sanctuary for 30 years, and clearly the feathered population appreciated their efforts. So did a pair of lemurs with ringed tails, in another cage near the water. We drove out the back entrance of the RV park and found ourselves heading for a beach area, but unfortunately we couldn’t get out and have a look, because it was part of an exclusive neighbourhood that did not provide public parking. So we continued back to the main drag only to find ourselves in very heavy traffic in both directions. It turns out, since this is a holiday weekend (Presidents’ Day is Monday), everyone and their dog decided to visit Sanibel Island today! The thickest traffic was next to a huge craft fair, with tents displaying paintings, stained glass, bird and alligator lawn ornaments made of metal and other knick-knacks. We turned away from the throngs to have a look at the nature reserve on the island, but thought it would probably be better to come back on a weekday when there were fewer people! With kayaks and bicycles for rent and tour boat rides to take, it gives us plenty to choose from.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bridges to cross

Saturday, February 18, 2012 FORT MYERS, FL – “Do not feed the alligators” says the sign a couple of streets over from our site, here at the Woodsmoke RV Park just south of Fort Myers. It’s planted next to a pond that could actually be home to an alligator, although, as I said to Val, I’ll believe it when I see it. After a whole month at Dunedin RV Park, we finally pulled up stakes and got back on the road. It was hard to say goodbye to John and Fawn (and Algarve the dog), as well as to some of the other terrific residents we’d gotten to know during our stay. Our time at Dunedin gave us time to explore, time to relax, time to fine tune our comforts in the new RV, and time to appreciate the snowbird lifestyle. But at this point, we are still vagabonds, seduced by the turn in the road and the curiosity to see what’s around the next corner. We know we will have to come back to Florida, because we could never see all its sights in one short trip. Still, we are looking forward to the next leg of the journey, which today has taken us further south along the state’s east coast. After driving through Clearwater and St. Petersburg, we crossed the mouth of Tampa Bay over the Sunshine Skyway. It’s a long, tall bridge with two sets of yellow suspension cables that rise over the water like a pair of giant triangles. In today’s humidity, the bridge, from a distance, seemed almost to float on air, with the shimmering water underneath melting into the sky overhead. We stopped at a rest stop just north of the bridge to have our lunch. The rest area also had a road leading to a fishing pier, and as we left to continue the journey, we could see lots of people had parked there to try their luck in the bay waters. Sea birds had the same objective (with their livelihood at stake rather than just their luck). We caught sight of one bird of prey a little further along, flying over the roadway with a hefty-looking fish dangling from its talons. Our new campground is larger than the one we left, and more tightly packed. More than half the sites are permanent, with double-wide park model trailers surrounded by potted plants, gnomes, flags and little signs with the residents’ names and home towns on display. There are lots of tall pine trees to provide shade, and somewhere up there is a wonderful songbird with the most amazing repertoire, that sang to us all evening. When we pulled in to our site, Val had positioned the RV perfectly on the concrete pad when a couple of staff members pulled up in a golf cart. The concrete pad, they explained, was our patio. We were supposed to be on the grass! Oops. Guess the neighbours got a bit of a chuckle out of that one. In no time we were all set up again, reveling in the simplicity of motorhome camping as compared to the fifth wheel camping we’ve been doing for the past ten years. We’ll be here for a bit more than a week. From the look of all the tourist brochures we picked up at the office, we are going to have plenty of choices of things to do. It’s great to be on the road again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ice chips

Friday, February 17, 2012 DUNEDIN, FL – Few things can be as exciting as watching ice thaw. I can tell you this, because that’s what I was doing today! The tiny refrigerator in our RV, unlike the huge, frostless model we have at home in Ottawa, needs to be defrosted when the crystals build up to about 3 mm thick. That was what the manual said. Since our crystals were more like ten times that thick, it was high time for us to tackle this chore (if I followed those instructions, I’d be defrosting every other day!). I dug out three insulated bags from the trunk of the car and placed into them as many of the most easily-spoiled items as I could, leaving the bread and grapes to fend for themselves on the counter. Fortunately, it was a rainy day today, so the temperature didn’t get up all that high to threaten their freshness for an hour or two. The RV freezer compartment is part of the main fridge, but separated from it by an insulated floor, hinged to an insulated door, that can slide out if desired, leaving a fridge-only compartment. All you have to do is pull the little clip on each side on the bottom of the freezer floor, according to the manual, to slide it out. That simple step took Val and me about ten minutes, as we tried to avoid snapping the clips off entirely. The other challenge was flipping the fridge door latch so that it would keep the door slightly ajar. This is a nice feature when the RV is not in use for any length of time. It helps discourage mildew. But again, it took us several consternating minutes trying to flip the latch without breaking the plastic housing altogether. We did it, but in the end, we just left the door wide open. Of course, we were admonished not to even think about running the hair dryer to zap the ice faster. The whole project reminded me of our early married days, when, as a novice homemaker, I spent frustrating hours hacking away at a coating of thick ice in our freezer with a wooden spatula, only to generate splinters on the wood but not budging the ice! When they came out with frostless fridges, I was first in line for one! The excitement became more than Val could bear, so he pedaled off on his bicycle to visit John. He didn’t want to deprive me of the full enjoyment of the experience by distracting me with his presence. No problem; I had to get the laundry done as well, so that helped pass the time wonderfully. While I was off picking socks out of the deepest recesses of the commercial dryer (which are installed for people at least a foot taller than I am), the wee droplets of melting ice were quietly draining away. By the time I had two loads folded and loaded into the massive cotton bag to lug home again, dramatic changes had occurred in the fridge. The whole bottom half of the ice coating was gone! Even more exciting, when I touched the remaining frost, it gave easily to the gentle pressure! Then I made a wonderful discovery: if I grasped what was left and lifted gently, the top half of the ice cap on each metal fin slipped right off! Into the sink went each piece, as I went back to clear the next fin in a frenzy. Mere moments later, all the ice was gone! No hacking, no hair drying needed! I could hardly contain myself. It took quite a bit of wiping to get all the moisture out, due to the high humidity today, but then the job was done. And just think, in another two weeks, it will be time to do it all over again!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beaches and bags

Thursday, February 16, 2012 DUNEDIN, FL – It was Mum’s last day with us here in Florida, so we thought it would be a good time to take her to the seashore where she could look out on the Gulf of Mexico. We drove over the causeway to Honeymoon Island and headed for the northern tip, where the seashells are supposed to be good for collecting. It was a lovely, sunny day with a fresh breeze. There were quite a few shell gatherers on the beach, and sea gulls swooped overhead a dive-bombed the water in search of fish. It was slightly rough going for Mum with her cane (the walker, over rocks and bumps, was out of the question), but she enjoyed seeing the blue-green water stretching off to the horizon, and the mounds of tiny shells at her feet. We also caught a couple of glimpses of slim, white egrets by the roadside. Fortunately, we didn’t see any sign of another island resident, the rattlesnake. Being the consummate traveler that she is, Mum was packed and ready for her trip home as soon as she got up this morning, so there was nothing to do to get ready for the trip to the airport later in the afternoon. We had time for our beach outing, and also to drop by John and Fawn’s trailer one last time. Our plan, again, was to take Mum to the airport well ahead of time so we could enjoy a nice dinner at Carrabba’s, the wonderful Italian restaurant we discovered there when we went last week to pick Mum up. She also had time to pick up a couple of last-minute souvenirs before we ate. After another delicious meal, it was off to the check-in counter, where we were pleased to see that the airline had arranged for a wheelchair escort, as requested, to her departure gate. We said our goodbyes as she was wheeled away. It was good to hear Mum say she’d had a good time and was glad she’d come! On the way back to the RV park, we stopped at Beall’s, a Florida department store, to pick up some bargains for Val. He found a nice lightweight jacket and a couple of pairs of shorts, and with the discounts of the day plus a coupon I got on my last visit, we saved almost $90. That’s the kind of shopping we both like! Tomorrow will be our last full day at Dunedin RV Resort, after a month here, so there will be laundry to do, propane and fuel tanks on the RV to fill up, and other finishing-up activities. We don’t know what kind of internet connections we will have at the next stop (it’s always a gamble!), so if we go silent for a while, that’s a likely reason – as it always is when we’re mobile. One thing RV parks everywhere could do to make the experience more pleasant would be to make sure their wi-fi service is as up to date as possible and strong enough to service all visitors on the property, no matter how far they are from the main office. Everybody likes to keep in touch with the folks back home.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

An absorbing tour

Tues. and Wed., Feb. 14-15, 2012 DUNEDIN, FL – Valentine’s Day dawned with the promise of warm temperatures, which suited our plan to visit the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs again. We wanted to take Mum out on a boat trip where they demonstrated how the famous sponges were harvested. Our first order of business was to have a seafood lunch at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill, a famous restaurant in the heart of the sponge dock area. It was, in addition to Valentine’s Day, John and Fawn’s 30th anniversary, so we had some celebrating to do as well. The restaurant, at the end of Dodecanese Boulevard, was busy enough, but an easier prospect than it might have been at dinner time on Feb. 14. We enjoyed a meal of grouper and crab cakes and admired the décor of fish trophies and old photos of fishing activity on the walls, as well as lobster traps and other equipment on wooden shelves. After a dessert of strawberry shortcake that was light as a feather and full of ripe, sweet berries, we headed out to do some browsing in the many small shops along the street. On the south side of the street, kitschy t-shirts, back scratchers and flip flops were jumbled together with bins filled with natural sponges of all sizes, harvested within a kilometer or two of the stores, plus loofahs and beautiful shells, and some higher-end stores with jewelry and clothes. On the north side were the docks where boats large and small were moored. Some were obviously working boats, but others were brighter and cleaner, to attract tourists. Val and John scoped out a good deal on a sponge boat ride while “the girls” shopped. By the time we were done, they had been in deep conversation for some time with Theodorus, an old Greek fisherman with gnarled hands, white whiskers and a captain’s hat on his head. He had been in the business for years, and seemed pleased to have an interested audience. We climbed aboard the St. Nicholas VI and sat on benches along each side of the boat. Our captain told us about the diving suit that was traditionally used, a thick rubber outfit with a metal yoke to which the diving headgear was attached just before the diver went overboard. The diver also had to wear a necklace of metal weights which, in addition to his weighted shoes and clothing, totaled 170 pounds, and ensured he would stay at the bottom. He carried what looked like a small pitch fork which allowed him to scrape the sponges away from the rocks where they grew. The captain said divers could walk three to five miles underwater in one diving session, and they sometimes stayed out at sea for weeks at a time. We followed the trail of bubbles that came up as our diver walked along the bottom – he could move surprisingly quickly considering how encumbered he was. Then he came up with a round black blob on his fork. Once he was hauled aboard again and his diving helmet was off, we all applauded his find. The captain brought it around to each of us. The blob was sort of slimy and rubbery, but the captain said it would be transformed into the soft, woolly natural sponge we all recognize after a thorough cleaning process on shore. It was a really interesting outing, and just the right length. Today was shopping day for Mum, who wanted to find some souvenirs to bring home. We were glad that the weather warmed up enough to showcase Florida at its best before it was time for her to head back to snowy, wintry Ottawa.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catching a few rays

Sunday and Monday, Feb. 12 and 13, 2012 DUNEDIN, FL – Chilly winds and cloud cover plunged us into some pretty cold weather the last couple of days – at least by Florida standards. We kept our heat pump going overnight for the first time this trip. We didn’t unearth our parkas from the back of the car where we stashed them a few weeks ago, but Val said the thought crossed his mind. In the warmth of the car yesterday, we cruised around some neighbourhoods in the area, to show Mum (and see for ourselves) the different living styles people choose. There are plenty of parks populated with double-wide park model trailers. The aluminum-sided, one-level homes are modestly priced but comfortable enough to stay in for six months of the year, October through March. After that, the heat gets too oppressive for most snowbirds. Much larger homes for permanent residents were in other gated communities, with beautifully landscaped boulevards and secure perimeter fences around. Tall palm trees stood like sentinels on either side of one wide street, and many homes displayed beautiful gardens with colourful flowers and plants, and even lush green lawns. The sun was shining brightly this morning with the promise of slightly warmer temperatures, but it was still brisk when I went to the shower building. An indoor destination seemed appropriate for today’s outing. So we went to see the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter, the tail-deprived dolphin. This creature is the star of the film Dolphin Tale, which tells the true story of how Winter got tangled in a crab trap that cut the circulation to its tail to the point that it fell off. Scientists developed a prosthesis tail for Winter to make it possible for the dolphin to learn to swim again. The aquarium is a rescue facility for all kinds of sea creatures that have encountered boat propellers, nylon filaments or even plastic soft drink rings and need surgery or rehabilitation to survive. There are sharks, turtles, dolphins and even otters in various tanks, and there are presentations for visitors who come by the hundreds to see the popular aquatic movie star. It was fascinating to see how Winter can propel itself in the water even without the prosthesis, which is too uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. We watched the volunteer handlers play with Winter and Panama, another rescue dolphin, and encourage them to jump out of the water, to the delight of the audience. It was heartening to see how happy the animals seemed to be. The aquarium gave a feeling of hope and purpose, rather than a place full of pitiful creatures. There was a shallow tank full of stingrays, which visitors were encouraged to reach out and touch as they swam by. I waited for one of them to come near me, and then put my hand out. The rubbery wings felt like velvet as they brushed against my fingers. It was amazing to get that close to something I had only seen on TV screens or in the movies. On the way out, we picked up a copy of the DVD “Dolphin Tale”, starring Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. We’re looking forward to watching the whole story, having met the star and seen a number of the sets at the aquarium that were used during the filming. We had also been to Honeymoon Island beach where other scenes were made.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Home things

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Feb. 8-10, 2012 DUNEDIN, FL – When you are in one place for as long as we have been here, there are quite a few ordinary days for relaxing, shopping, and getting little things done. It has been great having this time to really use our motorhome to the fullest, and make refinements in our comforts. We had a mess of shoes at the door, since there are sandals, runners, and slippers for the two of us. And our clothes were really jammed in the closet (and yes, I’m guilty of hogging the most space!). In the tiny bathroom, there was little space to hang two bath towels, hand towels and face cloths, and keys were cluttering the small counter. So, a couple of fruitful shopping hours later, we addressed all the issues. Hanging shoe pockets have cleared the clutter at the door, self-adhesive hooks on the bedroom wall have relieved the congestion in the closet, and a tension rod across the width of the bathroom provides plenty of hanging space. A handsome row of key hooks on wood that matches the cabinets has tidied up the counter. We are very pleased at how much more organized we feel with a few small additions! On Thursday afternoon, we headed for the airport while it was still daylight, to make sure we were in plenty of time to meet Mum’s plane coming in from Ottawa. Our plan was to eat a leisurely dinner at one of the restaurants and then meet the plane. We lucked out at Carrabba’s, an Italian restaurant with branches across Florida and Texas. Our meal of minestrone soup, spaghetti with meatballs and sausage and seafood cannelloni was absolutely superb! Val said he hadn’t eaten such good Italian food since he was in his grandmother’s kitchen. We will definitely look for another one to repeat that experience. After a bit of browsing through some of the airport shops, it was time to wait at the baggage carrousel for Mum. We had checked to ensure she would be met with a wheelchair, since at 86 years of age, trekking long distances wasn’t very appealing. Sure enough, after a few minutes, a smiling attendant wheeled Mum out of the elevator, looking fresh as a daisy! She’d had a lovely flight and felt totally pampered the whole way. It was great to see her, and when we got back to the RV park, we brought her to her lovely little suite at the Blue Moon Inn just a short walk from our site. Mum was ready to go this morning, after breakfast in the sunny breakfast room at the Inn. We took her on a little tour of the RV park and dropped in to see John and Fawn at their new trailer. Then we drove in to Dunedin so Mum could see the Gulf and some of the old homes in town. Our afternoon tour took us to Wall Springs Park, north of Dunedin, where there were some lovely paved walkways that Mum could easily navigate with her walker. Some people were throwing bread for the fish and seagulls at a boardwalk over the spring, and we were amazed to see both species scrambling for a free snack. The fish churned up the water, and the gulls actually snatched bits of bread in mid-air as they were thrown their way! The people kindly shared their bread so we could join in the fun. Mum was delighted to see the palm trees, green spaces and even some flowers – a welcome contrast to the snowy climes that were just a few hours behind her. We finished off her first day in sunny Florida with a hamburger barbeque – not your average Canadian February fare.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Swamp people

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

DUNEDIN, FL – Even though it looked a bit grey and damp this morning, we decided to go ahead with our plan to go kayaking in a state park north of here. From my point of view, an overcast sky was much more appealing for a day on the water than one that would bake us to a crisp anyway.
We packed a lunch, camera, hats, sunscreen and a change of clothing. Fawn had been once before to this spot and saw a couple go overboard, so it seemed prudent. John decided not to come with us, as his back can’t take a long spell in a backless kayak seat.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is north of Dunedin along the Gulf coast, at Spring Hill. It took about an hour to get there, during which a fine rain misted the windshield. Happily, when we arrived at the kayak place, the rain had stopped, and we virtually had the place to ourselves.
In short order, we were assigned flotation devices and paddles and headed to the water where our kayaks awaited. Fawn took a single, and Val and I were in a tandem kayak. We set off on the Weeki Wachee, a winding stream of crystal clear water with a smooth, sandy bottom where small fish darted out of the way as we approached.
The stream flowed with a steady current that made paddling practically optional. It meandered through dense bush with vines, ferns and palm trees that grew right up to the shore. We passed tall trees that had waded into the water with exposed, long, finger-like roots, and reeds that grew up from the bottom with round leaves, looking like green lollipops clustered along the shore.
Several times we saw herons, egrets and cranes, wading in the shallows or swooping overhead with huge outspread wings. Around one bend, we came upon a tree where half a dozen vultures were brooding with their hunched shoulders and wrinkled, black faces and hooked beaks.
Fawn told us that on her last paddle they had seen a manatee. These walrus-like creatures have been designated as endangered, so we saw lots of signs asking that we protect them. We even saw a couple of concrete manatees on some peoples’ properties in the more populated areas we passed through, but unfortunately the real McCoy declined to show itself today. Likewise, the only alligators we spotted were plaster ones!
In the clear water schools of silvery fish with pale blue heads flitted past, as well as other smaller fish with vertical stripes. Fawn spotted a needle-nose fish and alerted us to a large box turtle swimming under us.
After paddling for a couple of hours, we decided to pull over on a sandy shore and eat the lunches we had brought along. That’s when we discovered how wet our backsides were! The kayaks were molded plastic, and floated like corks, but they were not designed to be water tight. In fact, Fawn’s kayak actually had holes in it as part of the design! We had fun getting back into them after our lunch, and launching them from the sand bars, but soon we were on our way again. The total length of the trip was five and a half miles, at which point we were met by the paddling company’s van, to take us back to our departure point.
We were glad to get on our feet again, although our butts were pretty soaked. That’s when the wisdom of having brought a change of clothes really became evident! It was nice to be in dry clothes again for the ride home. Our venture into Florida’s swamp land was delightful.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Florida skies

Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Feb. 4-6, 2012

DUNEDIN, FL – The days are quickly passing when we look at our calendar and realize we’ve been away from home nearly a month now, but the sense of leisure and fine weather here, on the other hand, make time for us seem to stretch lazily like a cat about to curl up for a nap.
On Saturday, the boys went off in one vehicle and the girls in another, headed for different shopping destinations. The huge number of malls and big box stores around here are a shopper’s paradise, and when you can nab bargains of 70 per cent off, it only adds to the thrill of the chase. It’s a good thing our motorhome has very limited storage space. It keeps me from overindulging! But, since John and Fawn have a lot of things to get for their enlarged living space with the new trailer, I can satisfy my cravings vicariously, with no threat to the pocketbook or our compact lifestyle, by just tagging along.
Our plan for Sunday afternoon was to figure out the route to Tampa International Airport – by daylight, because on Thursday it will be after dark when we will be heading there for real to pick up Mum, who is coming to spend a week with us. The RV park has the Blue Moon Inn, a lovely little hotel, just two minutes’ walk away from our site, where Mum will be able to stay, so the set-up is ideal.
It was Val’s idea to do a “recce” on the airport, and a very good one at that. The general approach from here is fairly straightforward, but once you’re actually there, the roads curve around and under each other with signs pointing in all directions that you have to read before you’ve passed them, and in broad daylight that’s challenging enough, but doing it after dark would be really stressful. The airport itself is quite attractive, with nice landscaping and pools with fountains outside, and wide carpeted shopping and restaurant levels inside. We were able to figure out where to park and how to get to the baggage level so on Thursday night we’ll be calm and collected.
We got back to the RV park in time for a nice barbequed pork chop supper, and shortly after that we were regaled with a spectacular sunset – at first the sky was a pinky lavender, and it melted into great streaks of orange and purple as dusk set in. We are so close to the shore that it will be worthwhile to stroll over one evening and get the full impact of a flaming sunset against a watery horizon.
Since we were not great Super Bowl fans, Val and I decided to see a movie last night. We went to see The Artist, a black-and-white movie about the silent movie era that was very well done. We had no trouble getting tickets or finding a place to sit in the theatre, let’s put it that way.
Tonight is hot dogs and Bingo night at the rec hall, so I’ll try my luck once again at the prizes. I think the big one is $250, so that would be nice! I still get a kick out of the players with their little mascots and whistles and cute bingo dabber tote bags. Wish me luck.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Thursday and Friday, February 2 and 3, 2012

DUNEDIN, FL – When the ice cream plopped into a soft heap in the bowl the other day, we knew something was fishy with our freezer. At first we thought it was because we had stopped for lunch after doing groceries, and the heat caused the ice cream to melt. But even if it had, it should have refrozen in the freezer after a while. So to test the unit further, Val filled the tiny ice cube tray with water and put it in to see what would happen. It took two days to turn into ice cubes.
So, yesterday morning we had a little visit from the RV repair van that frequents the park. Ed the repairman exposed the back of the fridge and immediately realized he was working with something he hadn’t seen before. He was right up to date with the 2011 fridge technology, but our unit is a 2012 model. After craning his neck with flashlights and prodding here and there, he decided it would be best to request the new material by e-mail and download it back at the office. So it will be a couple of days before we see Ed again. Meanwhile, the frozen stuff is frozen, so we’re not in any dire straits. We just want things to work right! Fortunately it’s all on warranty still.
It was a nice afternoon, so we decided to do some exploring north of Dunedin. We drove to the next town, Tarpon Springs, which has two claims to fame – its strong Greek heritage and its history as a sponge diving capital. We could see lots of Greek names on businesses and signs as we entered the small town. Then we turned onto Dodecanese Boulevard, where the sponge docks were located, and a sleepy little village was transformed into a seaside tourist haven, lined with little shops and boutiques where the wares spilled out onto the sidewalks and people milled about.
On the north side of the street dozens of fishing boats were moored at the docks, some festooned with sponges to attract the tourists, and others stripped down and worn from many a working voyage out to sea. The sponges are harvested at the bottom of the ocean by divers who remain at sea for several days at a time gathering them.
At several store fronts, figures of divers with heavy suits and bell-shaped headgear demonstrated the historic garb of some harvesters. The industry was founded here in 1905, according to a beautiful tiled mural we passed. Huge bins of beige and yellow sponges, ranging from grapefruit size to basketball size and even bigger, were displayed for sale at roadside stands – as well as fine, egg-sized sponges for applying makeup. We picked up a nice one from a tanned Greek saleslady, who explained how it would swell when immersed in water, and how gently it would clean our car.
At the end of the street is a popular restaurant called Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill, which we will visit in the days to come when we have more time. We were due back at the park to go to Peggy O’Neill’s pub for supper with John and Fawn.
The pub was hopping when we got there – another couple joined us from the park, and we recognized several others, also from Dunedin RV Resort. Young waitresses in tiny kilts served us baskets lined with paper and loaded with fish and chips. The saucy message at the bottom of the back of their T-shirts read “Caught You Looking!” It was two-for-one night, and the bill for six of us (not including drinks) came to $43 and change!
Today was overcast and breezy. We stayed close to home in case Ed the repairman was going to visit. He called at lunchtime to say it wouldn’t be till tomorrow or Monday. No problem. Meanwhile, we finally have a chance to try out our new gas BBQ, with a juicy sirloin steak. Life is good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Heart and home

Tuesday and Wednesday, January 31 and February 1, 2012

DUNEDIN, FL – The whole neighbourhood was out to see John and Fawn’s new trailer being delivered yesterday morning. The driver who towed it here from Lazydays in Tampa must have wished he’d sold tickets for all the audience he had. John gave him careful directions to position the trailer properly on their lot.
Once the great big Montana fifth wheel was installed, we could start to move the contents of the old trailer into it. Since the two were separated by a couple of streets, we set up a shuttle with John’s truck and our little car. Fawn had loaded dozens of bags with sheets and towels, pots and pans, and all the kitchen stuff. I unloaded the pantry and fridge while she toted out bags to the truck and car. Then we were off to the new trailer, where Val and John were fine-tuning the exterior set-up of stabilizers, power cords and hoses. We trotted in the bags and emptied them, and then headed back for more.
Algarve the dog was excited to see us whenever we came back to the old trailer, where he was housed while we made the move. After a couple of visits, though, his big brown eyes took on a perplexed expression as he tried to figure out what was going on! When it was finally time for him to go over, he trotted happily up the steps and into his new home. He was clearly thrilled as he galloped around inside and rolled on the carpet. John and Fawn gave him enough time to express himself before they reined him in and he settled down.
Val and I left the two of them to sort their way through the chaos we created for them, free of charge, and headed back to our postage-stamp-sized castle for an afternoon nap. Later on, we invited them to join us here for supper, and we watched as our two visitors began to sag visibly after their meal! They were pooped!
On the agenda this morning was the final step – moving the now empty RV into the storage lot. I headed off to get some groceries while Val helped them accomplish that chore.
The afternoon activity, for Fawn and me, was a Valentine-making craft class in the recreation hall. I can’t remember the last time I did something like this, but it felt like summer camp! We had four pre-designed cards to make, and we each got four little kits with all the bits to put together. Glue sticks, punch tools, rubber stamps, ribbon and scissors flew as we assembled our creations. It was fun to see the imaginative touches each person made to their own work.
In the same hall, Kelly was serving her weekly soup-n-sandwich meal, available from noon till five. Her invention for this week was pizza soup. We asked for take-out to eat at home later on. It was a good decision. When supper time rolled around, we joined John and Fawn in their spacious new home for pizza soup and sandwiches. It was delicious! Thick noodles, mixed with mushrooms, meatballs, pepperoni, peppers and a tasty tomato broth. With a generous shake of Parmesan cheese, the soup alone would have made a good meal, but we ate the sandwiches as well anyway. Yum!