Thursday, February 28, 2013

A pelican’s paradise

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Destin, FL – Exploring a place with Scott and Mary Jane is a treat, because they have an eye for the unique and interesting, and love to share their enthusiasm with their friends. This is the third time they’ve spent time in Destin, so they’ve scouted out a lot of neat places, and we saw some of them today.

We kept the gulf on our right the whole way out, as we headed eastward on Scenic Highway 98 and then Highway 30A. This route took us through a chain of beachside communities, each with distinctive characters and interesting things to see. We passed at least three state parks, some of which offer camping for RVers, as well as nature trails accessible by rented bicycle or waterways by kayak.

Along with lots of natural beauty, we also saw a wide range of manmade sights, equally appealing to the eye. While many beachside condos toward the western end are in highrise buildings, at the eastern end where we were today, they are in townhouses on a smaller scale. Stately palm trees line the streets, lawns are manicured and green and other landscaping is set off from the grass with skirts of bleached shells.

We stopped at a small bakery our friends had found with a specialty of buttery, fragrant cinnamon buns – and even found four of them in the day-old bin, which were still light and delicious, plus at half price. Outside the bakery were rows of pastel-coloured bicycles for rent, and next door to it was a health food store with shelves loaded with interesting soaps, herbal medicines and giant oatmeal-raisin cookies.

Still licking cinnamon from our fingers, we parked the car and headed for another beautiful stretch of beach to test our new waterproof sandals and drink in the fresh breeze, foaming surf and comical plovers scampering over the dunes. We kept a brisk walking pace to stay warm, as it was not a hot day, although the sun was shining brightly for a change.

One of the communities we passed through, Seaside, had been used as the set for the movie The Truman Show, where Jim Carey lived an ideal life in a perfect town called Seahaven. Its manicured streets and bright, trim houses still look as utopian as ever!

A cluster of high-end boutiques and restaurants in Sandestin, another town in the chain, stood next to Choctawatchee Bay, where a boardwalk pier invited us out by a marina filled with expensive-looking yachts, and a pair of pelicans sailed overhead and dive-bombed into the water after a fish dinner, over and over again! We passed several people who had been fishing and were taking home some substantial-looking catches to cook up for supper, so the pelicans were in the right neighbourhood.

By this time, we were ready for supper too, so we retraced our steps back to the condo and enjoyed another pleasant evening of good food and good conversation.

[Note to faithful readers: we will be without wi-fi connections for the next two nights, as we’re booked in at a state park in Pensacola, so it will be a couple of days before we can post the next blogs.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The soaker and the sandal

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Destin, FL – The scent of cinnamon and maple syrup greeted our nostrils this morning when we woke up. We had picked up a decadent loaf of sugar-glazed cinnamon bread at the bakery yesterday and noticed on the menu in the café part of the shop “cinnamon bread French toast”, so Scott suggested we try it at home.

Fabulous idea. Thick slabs of heavily-spiced sweet bread soaked in egg batter and fried to a golden brown were the perfect start to the day! And the sun was actually shining outside, flashing silver on the curling waves we could see from the condo patio doors.

To cancel out some of those early-morning calories, we set out for a stroll along the beach – a miles-long expanse of beautiful white sand. The waves were still quite large, as the strong winds we’d experienced the last couple of days hadn’t quite died down totally, and great tongues of white foam slid up near our feet as we walked.

One such wave caught Val by surprise, soaking his running shoes and socks. I stayed a few yards further from the surf, so my feet were spared. We must have covered a couple of miles, watching plovers and sanderlings running along the sand and gulls flying overhead. Val and Scott stopped to chat with a fisherman to find out what he was using for bait (shrimp) and if he was having any luck (not yet). We even saw three brave souls in wet suits out in the waves, surfing!

Mary Jane observed Val’s squishy wet feet and told us about her waterproof sandals, with sturdy rubber treads and arch supports, and how useful they were for the beach, rainy days and boating. We decided they’d be great for us to use with our kayaks, so after we set Val’s shoes out in the sun to dry and had some lunch, the four of us went to one of the many shopping malls in the area to find some.

One huge store we visited, dedicated to “fishers, hunters and other liars” according to the marquee, was full of every kind of fishing rod, reel, hook, line and sinker you could imagine, and was decorated with sharks, swordfish, deer and other creatures, as well as a large Plexiglas tank with great silvery fish gliding around inside. They had the brand of sandals we were looking for, but Mary Jane said we could probably find a better price at the outlet mall next door.

She was right! And our timing was perfect; the saleswoman said they were just opening a new shipment of the sandals, and found three pairs in the right sizes for me, Val and Scott. They were immediately comfortable on our feet, and we’re planning to test them on the beach tomorrow.

We got back to the condo in time to watch a spectacular sunset, orange and pink and gold reflected on the wet sand. Beautiful! As was the delicious dinner we then sat down to enjoy, enhanced by a great yacking session on all manner of interesting topics. A lovely day from start to finish.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It was a dark and stormy night

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Destin, FL – Tonight we are sleeping in a bedroom that has more square footage than our entire RV! We are the fortunate houseguests of our good friends Scott and Mary-Jane, whom we met two years ago at a campground in Sedona, Arizona. We’ve had many good times together since then, and we were delighted when they invited us to stay with them at their rented condo on our way through the panhandle (or, as Floridians call it, The Forgotten Coast).

The warmth, peace and comfort we are enjoying this evening contrasts sharply with the one that preceded it. All night long last night, fierce winds pummeled the RV and heavy rain lashed against the roof with such force we had to raise our voices to hear each other (oh, there were the earplugs too).

After managing an hour or two of sleep, we were wakened four or five times by the weather band on the satellite radio, starting with a long beep and then the announcement that a severe thunderstorm, or flash floods, or dangerously high waves had been located in the following counties (then naming all 96 of them) and people were advised to seek shelter, drive carefully or find a safe harbour immediately. The message was then repeated in its entirety, followed by three loud buzz sounds. Usually one or the other of us got to the power button to shut it off before those buzz sounds, but this involved heaving out of bed and navigating the entire length of the RV to get to the radio – not conducive to resuming sleep very rapidly.

Then, at five a.m., another beeping sound and flashing light woke us up. This time, it was the refrigerator, indicating that the power had been cut! Val gave up and got out of bed for good, but I tried to linger a bit longer without much success. Not long after, the wind died down, the rain stopped, and a watery sun peeked through the clouds! And the power came on again! What a relief!

Evidence of the storm was everywhere on the highway once we pulled out of the park. State prisoners were gathering debris of broken branches and dried palm leaves from roadsides in Apalachicola as we drove through there once again. When we caught sight of the gulf waters, the wind was lacing the waves with foam, and the water looked as dark as chocolate milk.

We followed Highway 98 all the way along the coast, and when we got to Panama City we saw a sign about the road being under water. Shortly afterward, there was a barrier across the road, and beyond it a small lake where road should have been, but no indication of a detour we could take to get around it. We had to lurch onto the soft, wet shoulder and turn around and figure out a different way to continue our journey!

A trip we thought would take two hours ended up taking three, and our arrival was even further delayed because we crossed into a new time zone and lost another hour. But our hosts graciously fed us lunch once we finally arrived, and we had a great time catching up and exploring the Destin area.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Rainfall capital of the U.S.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Carrabelle, FL – Drenching rain has been drumming on the roof of the RV all afternoon. There was enough of a break this morning to pop over to the main building for a shower and to get in the car for our outing, but we wore our slickers and rainproof shoes, and with good reason.

We are right on the gulf coast of Florida’s panhandle, and as we headed toward Apalachicola, about 20 miles west of Carrabelle, we could see the whitecaps on the water to our left. The road took us through sections of forest with tall pine trees on either side of the road, but many of them were mere silhouettes in the mist and fog of the morning.

Bear warning signs were posted along the road, and our host Dennis confirmed their presence yesterday with a photo he had snapped of a mother bear and two cubs not long ago, after he scared them into a tree near the dumpster. The dumpster’s crumpled lid also bore evidence to bear interest! However, any wildlife in the vicinity today was probably huddled in the underbrush, looking for a way to stay dry.

We enjoyed seeing some of the old Victorian homes when we drove through the historic section of Apalachicola, and the small-town main street with little shops lining the sidewalks. I was delighted to find a Piggly Wiggly grocery store (being a pig enthusiast), where we stopped to pick up a few items. If their shopping bags had had the pudgy pig’s face printed on them, I would have bought that too!

Our cashier gave us directions to a good place for lunch, called Papa Joe’s Oyster Grill. By the time we arrived, it was raining more heavily, so we were glad to get inside. Our table was in a verandah part of the restaurant, with windows all around, so we could watch the rain and, not long after we sat down, great bolts of lightning. I looked toward the end of the verandah and noticed a finger of water flowing gently across the floor. When I mentioned it to the server, she said the roof would start leaking as well if it kept up!

Moments later, the head server came out to the verandah and asked everyone to please move inside, because they had received word that there were waterspouts and tornadoes in the area. We all picked up our plates and herded into the main building, finding seats where we could. The server was speaking calmly, but we could tell she was quite concerned. She told us she had seen the damage a tornado could produce. I was just glad our seats were next to a solid wall. We stayed inside for another 20 minutes, till the warning was lifted, and then sloshed our way through the pond-sized puddles to the car.

Once we got back to the RV (which, to our relief, was still in place and in one piece), we settled in for the rest of the day. I browsed the internet to see more about the storm and discovered, on a list of extreme weather for the day across the US, the highest rainfall, 4.09 inches, was recorded today in Apalachicola, Florida! I would say that report is quite accurate. I also read that there were two-inch hailstones near the Suwannee River that we had crossed two days ago on our way here. I guess we have been dancing between the raindrops….sort of!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

On the gulf’s lapping shores

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carabelle, FL – Great cracks of thunder echoed through the RV a couple of hours ago, as a storm swept across the Ho Hum RV Park, where we are spending the next two nights. Out the kitchen window, I can see the waters of the Gulf of Mexico – or more specifically, of Apalachee Bay – and before the rain hit, Val and I had a nice stroll along the beach.

I think it was high tide, because there wasn’t a very wide swath of sand on which to walk. We saw a lot of seaweed and almost no shells at all, as well as a few blobs of black tar, probably the remains of the BP oil spill of 2010. The blobs were about the size of a walnut, so Mother Nature did a pretty good cleanup job, considering the millions of gallons that spewed into these waters over many days.

Our route along Highway 98 from Perry where we left this morning took us through a lot of jungle-like bush. The vegetation is so thick, it would take a machete to hack through it, but fortunately we didn’t have to do that! Tall trees were reflected in the standing water that covered much of the ground, and long grey wisps of Spanish moss hung from the branches, which were also tufted with green fronds of fern. Great loops of dried vines festooned from one tree to another in a messy tangle, and, nearer to the ground were short palmetto shrubs.

I looked into the underbrush to see if I could glimpse any alligators lurking in the water, but saw none. At one point, though, I spotted a wild turkey taking flight from the roadside, and before I could say “oh look – a wild turkey!”, the creature flew across the path of the RV and thumped against the windshield! We were both quite startled. Fortunately, it didn’t damage the windshield. Unfortunately, we were pretty sure that was its last flight. I guess the jungle scavengers had turkey for lunch today.

We pulled into the RV park shortly before two o’clock, and Dennis, the man at the park office, greeted us by saying “ho hum!” I have no idea how they picked that name, but it gave us a laugh. The weather held off long enough for us to get settled and take our little stroll, though we got spattered a little toward the end of it. Once we were all cosy again inside, the skies opened, the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed….and Val went for a nap. Earplugs are a marvellous invention!

Tonight is Oscar night, and our site has a cable TV connection, so all we’ll need is to zap some popcorn in the microwave and our evening’s entertainment will be set. I’ve put on my sparkliest earrings, but I forgot to pack an evening gown, so it will be a less formal event this year, though every bit as entertaining. We’ve seen quite a few of the nominated movies, so we should have a good time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A city in the middle

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013

Perry, FL –Florida’s capital city is just an hour from here, so with prospects of more cloud and rain today, we decided to drive to Tallahassee and have a look. Our route into the city took us up the long Apalachee Parkway, a four-lane avenue rising gently up a hill where, at the top, the old legislative building holds a commanding position, with the new building towering behind it.

The GPS led us to the visitor centre nearby, where we were hoping to get some advice on what to see and perhaps join a tour. No such luck; the offices aren’t open on weekends! So we parked the car and walked over to the old capital building where tourists can explore displays of Florida’s political history on a self-guided tour.

As we wandered from room to room, we learned about the early years when crews built a new railroad and others drained the swamps to claim some land for development. We learned that Tallahassee was a good half-way point between St. Augustine in the east and Pensacola in the west, so it was made the capital city. We saw artifacts from the Civil War and the war with the Seminole Indians, photos from the days of the Ku Klux Klan and segregation, and even a voting machine from the year 2000 when Florida’s votes held the fate of Bush or Gore in the balance till a proper count could be made.

We peeked into the old governor’s office with its roll-top desk, and the large rooms at either end for the state’s senate and house of representatives. The furnishings reminded me of old courtroom dramas like To Kill a Mockingbird where sweaty people fan themselves in the summer heat as they await a verdict.

Kelly, at the reception desk, recommended a restaurant for lunch called Harry’s, specializing in New Orleans cuisine. Val enjoyed jambalaya while I decided to try Kelly’s favourite, shrimp-n-grits. It was kind of spicy for me, but very flavourful! Our server told us the plates were a smaller version of what’s served at dinner, but neither of us could finish our “small” lunch serving!

After lunch, we went to see the Museum of Florida History. Admission was free (as was the parking, since it was Saturday), and the displays were very well done, bringing visitors past a pre-historic armadillo that turns its head as you go by, and on through the early years before the arrival of Europeans. There was an Indian grass hut, silver and gold dubloons from Spanish explorers, Civil War army tents, a citrus processing plant, a steamwheeler, pictures of Rosy-the-riveter factory women from the Second World War – a display with appeal for all ages.

At the end of the historic section there was a collection of paintings of Florida by a wide range of artists, depicting swamps, colonial times, birds, flowers and scenes of everyday life in all manner of painting styles. We saw several we would have liked to take home with us. Instead, we will enjoy a colourful Florida coffee mug we spotted at the legislature gift shop.

Tallahassee has a number of scenic routes where old trees form canopies overhead. If we had had more time, we might have checked them out, but we were glad to have seen what we did. Not only that, but the rain held off till we were on the road for home.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On the beach, on the road

Thursday and Friday, Feb. 21-22, 2013

Perry, FL – That’s right, Perry! We’re not in Dunedin any more; we left this morning after a wonderful month of relaxing, family time and touring. It seems longer than a month, yet over in no time. I guess that’s what happens when you’re having fun.

For our last day in Dunedin, we took John and Fawn to visit Caladesi Island, just off the coast and quite near the RV park. We drove over the causeway to Honeymoon Island State Park, where we had visited last year.

The neighbouring Caladesi Island was our destination this time, accessible only by ferry. The ride was breezy and short, and soon we were gliding through a channel lined with mangrove trees to a small dock. Armed with our picnic lunches, we followed the boardwalk (noting the warning signs about diamondback rattlesnakes common to the area) out to the beach and rented an umbrella and some beach chairs for the day.

Our assignment was to fill our grocery bags with nice shells for Fawn’s garden. She has a small hibiscus plant set in a ringed bed that she is gradually filling with bleached shells, and before our outing the bed was about one-third covered. On the beach, there were millions of tiny shells and fragments of shells deposited by the waves, and somewhat fewer more sizable shells that we were aiming for. It was lovely strolling along the sand in the breeze, listening to the lapping waves and screeching gulls, and pouncing on nice-looking shells when they came into view.

It was fun sitting under the umbrella to have our picnic, too, watching toddlers building sand castles with their mums and dads and seagulls gathering nearby to snatch up any crumbs we might toss their way. We didn’t offer them any, but one aggressive creature flew right over a little boy at the next umbrella when he waved his sandwich over his head. John recalled a previous beach picnic when a gull succeeded in grabbing his food right out of his hand! Needless to say, he wasn’t taking any chances this time.

Our outing and the supper we shared at John and Fawn’s trailer was a pleasant way to spend our last day in Dunedin, and this morning we battened down the hatches and pulled out at around 9:30, heading north. Although our route paralleled the gulf coast the whole way, we didn’t see the water at all. Aside from a few small towns, we were mostly traveling through bush on either side of the highway once we cleared the commercial areas north of Dunedin.

It took no time to get settled at our site in the KOA here in Perry, and that was a good thing, because almost as soon as we finished, dark thunderclouds gathered overhead, lightning flashed, and the rain began in earnest. But we are snug as bugs in rugs.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Culinary and other talents

Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 19-20, 2013

Dunedin, FL – It has been an intense couple of days, but the pressure is now off! Nothing dire, so fear not; tonight was the Carefree’s Got Talent Show (Carefree runs this RV park) and I was part of one of the acts! The show is an annual event here, encouraging residents of Carefree parks across the US to share their talents for some handsome prizes ($250 cash for the winner at each park and then, at the national finals, a first prize of $5,000).

Nancy, one of the longtime residents of the park, found out that I like to sing some weeks ago, and suggested we put a little something together for the show. She wrote a poem about peace that was inspired by the movie “Lincoln”, and worked up a number that included it plus a couple of patriotic songs. We chatted about it now and then, but didn’t really get serious about it till a few days ago.

When we both agreed to make a go of it, we kicked into high gear, borrowing a keyboard so I could learn the music, and meeting early in the morning to figure out how our entry would unfold. I guess we worked well under pressure, because we were first runners up at the show, which consisted of six separate numbers!

The show was preceded by a community pork roast dinner, which Nancy and I tried to enjoy as it slid past the butterflies in our stomachs. I’ve had “God Bless America” and “Let there be Peace on Earth” ringing in my brain constantly for the last 48 hours (didn’t want to flub the words!), so it was quite a relief to find we were second on the program and could enjoy the rest of the show once we were done. I don’t remember much of our actual performance, but judging from our fan club (spouses, relatives and friends) I guess we did OK!

We enjoyed talents of another type last night, when John and Fawn took us (and Algarve the pooch!) again to the guys’ cousin Linda’s place for another of her feasts! This time she made gnocchi, meat sauce and meatballs, preceded by a delicious tray of Italian cheeses and grapes and followed by homemade apple pie. Her wonderful cooking, acquired at her mother’s side, was such a treat. So was the conversation, again full of old family stories.

We arrived early enough to include a field trip to Mazzaro, the Italian food store where Linda got all the fixings for the meal. It’s a hugely popular spot, with sections of fresh vegetables, cheeses of all kinds, a huge selection of wines, olive oils, teas, pastas, gelatos, olives, spices and sweets. The eclectic décor included plaster religious statues, pictures of Italy, baskets and kitchen tools and even a row of Vespa motorbikes displayed above the cash. There’s also a café where you can taste some of the delicacies, and they hold wine tastings a couple of times a week. It was a feast for the senses – and then we got to taste some of the varied fare at Linda’s. A good time was had by all!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Food, fairs and fun

Sunday and Monday, Feb 17-18, 2013

Dunedin, FL – This morning at the weekly coffee meeting in the clubhouse, the band (made up of amateur musicians from the RV park) marked Presidents’ Day with patriotic anthems and military music. And they started, very tactfully, with O Canada for all the snowbirds of the group before playing the Star Spangled Banner and a medley of other rousing tunes!

There were still jackets, hoodies and even gloves in view at that early hour of the day, but the sun was shining and it warmed up nicely later on, though not enough for one to crave a dip in the pool. For me, however, this is perfect; I wilt when it gets into the 80s!

Fresh breezes were also blowing through the craft fair we visited in downtown Dunedin yesterday afternoon, resulting in a delightful tinkle of glass and metal in the booth where they were selling wind chimes. Jewelry, scarves, quirky lawn sculptures, handmade soaps, crushable hats, wall plaques with saucy slogans (“The only problem with the younger generation is that we’re not in it any more”) and other crafts were on display in tents all the way down Main Street, which was closed to traffic for the day. We glimpsed a Michael Jackson wannabe, in black garb and wearing a single sequined glove, going through his dance moves for an appreciative crowd as we drove past in search of a parking space. 

The scent of kettle corn – popcorn prepared in a huge steel kettle over a flame, and stirred to the point of explosion – wafted under our noses, and the coaxing rhythm of bongo drums quickened our steps as we strolled through the fair. We managed to resist funnel cakes and great slabs of homemade fudge, and even walked easily past the ice cream parlour because it was too chilly to think about frozen treats!

We rounded out our Sunday outing with a drive through some of the more upscale neighbourhoods, where we admired beautiful landscaping with palm fronds, bright pink tropical plants and lush banana palms. Some of the homes would sell for more than a million dollars, and many had water frontage where sleek boats were moored for warmer days.

What else has been going on?Well, on Friday night we heard sirens screamingon the main drag and moments later glimpsed a fire truck heading in to the park with all its lights flashing.At this morning’s meeting we learned that one of the park residents had been cleaning leaves off the roof of his RV (after 10 pm!?) and the ladder gave way. He crushed both his ankles and will be wheelchair bound for the next two months.That will make it pretty hard for him to get in and out of his RV. Just goes to show you, no one knows what’s around the next corner!So enjoy every single day!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Florida has bite

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Feb. 14-16, 2013

Dunedin, FL – The RV is rocking gently tonight as gusts of wind whip its sides every now and then. I can imagine that the seas on the gulf not far from us here must be churning with whitecaps.  Our weather band radio crackled into action a few minutes ago, not to caution residents and seafarers about the wind, but to provide a frost warning!  Yes, the mercury is supposed to bottom out in the 20s Farenheit overnight, and gardeners are encouraged to cover tender plants.

We had sunshine and blue skies with a few clouds today, but with the steady breeze, lots of folks were decked out in fleeces and hoodies.  Other creatures were decked out at Dunedin RV Resort, because today was the pet parade!  We saw some of the contestants on their way to the event, little dogs dressed in silly clothes trotting past our site.  Algarve, John and Fawn’s Portuguese waterdog, would have been a handsome addition to the competition with his white bib and curly black fur, (we thought) but he and the yappy small fry don’t get along all that well, we’re told, so it might have been a bit tense.

Valentine’s Day, on Thursday, brought a drizzling rain that came down steadily all day.  We treated John and Fawn to lunch, since it was their 31st anniversary, and then after a restful afternoon, prepared for the Valentine dance at the clubhouse.  It was a lovely event, with live music by a couple who catered perfectly to an audience of a certain age, with songs from the 50s and 60s!  The moment that gave me the biggest laugh was when a couple of people well into their sixties laid down on the dance floor for the song “Rollin’ on the River”, and rolled back and forth with every refrain of “rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river”!  

Another highlight was when Val found the heart sticker on the bottom of his chair, which meant he had won the centrepiece at our table – one of the begonia plants I had decorated the day before!  We passed it over to John and Fawn to plant on their site.

Friday was a get-things-done day, with a trip to the grocery store and the purchase of a new mouse for our laptop.  The old one gave up the ghost, which happens with these bits of technology eventually.  The new one is even better, so we’re not complaining.

Today we made the reservations for the RV parks we’ll be staying at next weekend when we finally leave Dunedin.  It’s hard to believe our month here is almost over.  More adventures are in store, however, both this coming week and after that!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Homes and hearts

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 11-13, 2013

Dunedin, FL – The high humidity that enwrapped us through the day today culminated in a drenching downpour and thunderstorm at suppertime that has left everything washed clean and refreshed. People brag about sunny Florida all the time, but there were comments today from park residents that a good rain would be most welcome!

Being in the air-conditioned clubhouse for a couple of hours this afternoon was no burden, as Fawn and I joined a team of crafty ladies to prepare the decorations for the Valentine’s Day dance tomorrow night. It was almost like kindergarten again, as we traced and cut out hearts in different sizes, swirled glue on them and dusted them with glitter. There were also coat hangers to shape into hearts and entwine with tinsel heart garlands, and small potted begonias to wrap with tissue and ribbon for table centrepieces. While some of the women stuck large hearts onto the walls, a group of men came by for guitar practice and serenaded us with Johnny Cash songs!

Meanwhile, John and Val had gone off to admire BMW cars at a nearby dealership. Val said when a salesperson asked if she could help, he replied, “Not unless you have a spare $30,000 to give me!” Looking at the latest models kept them entertained – one can always dream, right? – and then they beat the crowds at the florist to bring Fawn and me some early Valentine roses! So romantic!

Monday's activities included the weekly morning meeting and evening Bingo game.  No big wins for me this time, but it is fun to look around at all the smiling faces as park residents enjoy getting together for a good time.

We had a pleasant outing yesterday as the four of us piled into the Honda FIT and drove to Bushnell, a small town near Ocala where our Ottawa friends Carl and Roselyn have a site at an RV park. They purchased a double-wide trailer there last year, and have fixed it up beautifully, with a large patio to one side where we sat under a shady gazebo and caught up on one another’s news. We were joined by Dave and Jackie, mutual friends also from Ottawa who are staying at the same park this winter. The four of them are enjoying park activities as well as golf games nearby on a regular basis.

Roselyn prepared a couple of lovely quiches, ham and chicken, along with a fresh salad, rolls and homemade fruitcake and cookies for dessert. Yum. We whiled away a few hours, solving the problems of the world and reminiscing on good times, till it was time to head back to Dunedin – about a 90-minute drive.

By the time we got back it was supper hour, so we headed for Perkins for hot buttermilk pancakes, syrup and bacon to celebrate Shrove Tuesday in style! Our server tried to persuade us that dessert could easily go with such a meal, but we had had more than enough of a sugar rush on the first course, so we declined. That didn’t stop us from pausing at the front counter to devour the key lime, chocolate silk and lemon meringue pies in the glass case with our eyes. Quite appropriate behaviour for Fat Tuesday.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Masterpieces, mazes and movies

Saturday and Sunday, February 9-10, 2013

Dunedin, FL – A lobster telephone? Landscapes that turn into faces? Our eyes and perceptions were challenged and entertained yesterday when we went to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and viewed the eccentric and skilled artwork of this renowned Spanish artist. Anyone who has seen photographs of Dali, with his spiky waxed moustache and large, bulging eyes, could tell that, in addition to his great talent, he possessed a sprightly streak of playfulness.

John and Val’s cousin Linda came along with the four of us to visit the museum, and we were glad to have a docent to guide us through the galleries of paintings. With a small flashlight, she pointed out interesting elements of some of the more fanciful works, and recurring images, such as melting clock faces, a rose, a crutch, and the face or figure of Dali’s wife, Gala.

The collection came from A. Reynolds Morse, an Ohio businessman and his wife, Eleanor, who developed an interest in Dali’s work in the early 1940s, and eventually built a museum for it in Cleveland. When it grew too large for that venue, they decided to move it to St. Petersburg, and it found its current home in 2011 – an unusual piece of architecture with bulging glass windows overlooking the bay filled with yachts and sailboats, yet built with thick, concrete walls to withstand any hurricanes that might blow in.

After our fascinating and educational tour, we explored the museum grounds, which included a Wish Tree where people could tie the paper bracelets received on paying admission to the museum, along with a wish, and a circular maze that led visitors to a stately cypress tree at its centre – and out again! There was even a park bench with a melted clock draped over it, and one end of the bench that oozed over a crutch! It was a very interesting afternoon, which came to a pleasant conclusion at Linda’s place with another delicious supper before we headed home.

Our entertainment this afternoon was another visit to the cinema, this time to see Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and his demise. It was very well done, with some pretty suspenseful moments, and we could certainly see why it has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture, best actress and best original screenplay.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Creatures of the deep

Tuesday to Friday, Feb 6-9, 2013

Dunedin, FL – Swirling fins, razor-sharp teeth, brilliant colours, bulging eyeballs, spineless blobs – these were just some of the amazing and varied sights we enjoyed today at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. Sea creatures large and small floated past our eyes in the well-appointed tanks, and we even saw birds of the Florida wetlands in the section describing the wildlife of this region.

The drive to get to the aquarium took us about 40 minutes, and our route took us over the Courtney Campbell Causeway which we had driven across on our way here from Orlando. We were much closer to the shoreline as we traveled eastward and to my surprise I spotted the fins of several dolphins in the water quite close to shore! There are cruises around the bay offered by the aquarium, but we got our dolphin sighting for free before we even got there.

Fawn’s sharp eyes provided another bonus; she rode by on her bike this morning to give us a coupon for the admission fee that saved us over $20, since January and February are seniors’ appreciation months! Not only that, but we were treated to a free pastry and coffee or tea on our arrival, which helped us tour the facility and miss the lunch-hour crush in the cafeteria. It was great fun looking at sharks, rays, barracudas, seahorses, sea stars, eels and jellyfish – especially from benches set out in front of a huge expanse of glass that we could look through in comfort at some length. It was also fun watching the reactions of visiting children when they spotted some especially unusual specimens.

We’ve had a good week, with outings to various shopping malls and restaurants, and pleasant get-togethers with John and Fawn and other guests in the park. On Tuesday the four of us went out to Carrabbas, an Italian restaurant chain we discovered last year, for a delicious meal of minestrone soup, lasagna, ravioli and cannelloni, as well as hot crusty bread and ice cream with caramel sauce and pecans for dessert.

Fawn and I signed up for craft class this week, where we made cancer bracelets. We had kits with stretchy monofilament on which we strung Swarovski crystal beads in colours to represent the different types of cancer – teal for gynecological cancer, black for melanoma, and so on – with spacers of frosty or clear beads. We first went around the table to hear how cancer had affected our lives or those of friends, and it was amazing to hear how many people have battled the disease, including some of those present. The toughest part of the craft was putting on the final bead and crimping it with a special tool; more than once we were groveling on the floor for beads when the crimping job failed to pass muster!

Overnight last night we had some wind and rainy weather, which twice got us out of bed to turn off the Weather Band warning system on our satellite radio! We really didn’t need to know about four-foot swells on the gulf and the need to find a safe harbour when we were snug in our bed! Finally, we figured out the Mute button and got a restful sleep at last.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Parties and prizes!

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Feb. 2-4, 2013

Dunedin, FL – I won at Bingo tonight! I won $60! So there’s a shopping spree in my future, I guess! What an exciting feeling, shouting “Bingo!” before anyone else and netting a nice sum. It makes up for all the “oh, well”s I sighed last Monday for sure.

The social scene at Dunedin RV Resort has been a-buzzing lately, with a Tiki keg party from noon to three around the pool on Saturday to start with, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers and live music. Quite a few people gathered for the event, bringing their lawn chairs and, in many cases, their sweaters. It was a funny day, weatherwise; in the sun it was beautifully warm, but as soon as you got into the shade it felt quite chilly. So a lot of people were shifting from one to the other as the afternoon progressed.

Sunday, being Super Bowl Sunday, meant more celebrating; this time it was a pizza party on John and Fawn’s street for which Fawn was one of the organizers. Fawn and I were out together Sunday morning (more on that later), so we hit a couple of stores to pick up snacks at bargain prices while we were out. We had also helped find some joke prizes the day before to add to the fun.

There were 42 people in all who came, bringing desserts, relish trays and other contributions. All the picnic tables from people’s sites were lined up on the side of the street, which they closed off at both ends, and Fawn’s co-organizer Tom and John cruised in to the cheering crowd with their carload of pizzas to start the festivities. A good time was had by all, and there was no shortage of good food for everyone.

The prize for the male contestant who threw a Nerf football the furthest was a set of tiny golf clubs for tabletop play, and, for the female winner, an Old Maid card game. The unisex prize, for the person who successfully lobbed the football into a laundry basket, was a squishy ball with rubbery hairs and a blinking light inside. And the winner – after elimination rounds – was Fawn! Yay! She got the best prize of all!

When everything was tidied away and people had dispersed to go and watch the game, Fawn and I took Algarve for his evening walk and looked back over a very full day. We had gone out, the two of us, to the community “Kirk” up the street that morning to hear a speaker named Don Piper. He had been killed in a car crash in 1989, and then, 90 minutes later as a pastor friend prayed over his dead body, came back to life again. I had read his book “90 Minutes in Heaven” a couple of years ago and was glad of an opportunity to see him and hear his story first hand. The huge turnout indicated that quite a few others wanted to do the same, and his excellent presentation was well worth hearing. So was the magnificent organ that provided the musical elements of the service.

We are looking forward to some warmer temperatures as the week unfolds; we’ve been waking up to 55 degrees or so the last few mornings. Not that we’re complaining! Haven’t seen a snowflake in weeks now!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Family time and movie time

Thursday, Jan. 31 and Friday, Feb. 1, 2013

Dunedin, FL – Linda is a cousin of Val’s and John’s who has an apartment in St. Petersburg, and yesterday the four of us went to have lunch with her. We bundled Algarve into the truck with us, and he clearly felt his space had been invaded when he had to plant his head and front paws on Fawn’s lap and squeeze his tail against my side in the back seat! But Linda made his presence a condition of our visit so we couldn’t leave him behind.

It’s been several years since we last saw Linda and we were both surprised by the resemblance between her and Val’s mother Laura. We lost Laura almost eight years ago, but yesterday we looked into her eyes again and saw her lovely smile in Linda’s face! She is the daughter of Laura’s brother, so it stands ro reason, but it still seemed uncanny.

The wonderful spread she served – sausages, sweet peppers from the skillet, olives, bread, salad, cheeses, homemade salsa and pickles – was generous and delicious, and family stories began to flow with the wine. Childhood escapades, holiday gatherings, funny incidents, family history – the conversation covered all these and more as the hours flew by. Before we knew it, Linda was heating up homemade ham and pea soup and cutting more chunks of crusty bread for supper! The stars were already twinkling overhead when we headed back to Dunedin, with promises of future visits here and back in Canada to strengthen family bonds even more.

A chilly morning dawned today, but clear and sunny to usher in February (already!). Two days ago we were sweltering, but this morning we were glad of the furnace for the first half hour of the day. On the agenda today was some bargain hunting at a local outlet store and a movie in the afternoon.

Les Miserables, and its tales of slavery, poverty and injustice in the early 1800s in France is not exactly a fun experience, but the film is extremely well done, with excellent performances by Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway among others, and powerful redeeming elements. Fawn and I both remarked afterward that a hot cleansing bath seems very appealing after seeing so many grimy faces, blackened teeth and dirty fingernails! We were glad to finally get to see this movie, having heard good things about it. It’s been nominated for at least six Academy awards.

Algarve the dog was beside himself with delight to see us come home after our outing – but he’s the same way if we’re absent for any length of time! He certainly knows how to make a person feel welcome.