Monday, April 14, 2014

Last family stop before starting our slow trek westward

April 8-11, 2013
Southern Oaks RV Park
Summerfield, Florida

We had four intentions in choosing to stop at this Passport America park near The Villages: to see family friends who live across the street from the park, to say adios to my oldest brother who lives in Dunnellon—about 20 minutes away, to go kayaking in the Chassohowitzka River—about an hour away, and to dance on the square at Lake Sumter Landing during their daily happy hour and live music event. We accomplished all but one: it rained the two days we reserved for kayaking.

With stormy weather the first two days, we took the opportunity to finish our taxes and submit them on-line. I also got back into my knitting project which is quite ambitious, a linen-stitch scarf which requires casting on 450 stitches. (The scarf is knit lengthwise.).  This is what I am hoping the finished project will look like. Sure am missing Karen, my knitting teacher at Holiday Cove, and my friend Jean who could help me learn to "unknit" when I make mistakes.

Day three was sunny so we took advantage of the brighter weather by making a short trip to The Villages. We enjoyed a walk around Lake Sumter then settled in on the square for their nightly happy hour.  The music turned out to be just okay—good songs by a one-man band, but the dancing was great. We joined in on a few favorite songs, but especially enjoyed watching the line dancers and other enthusiastic couples on the square.

The couple in the photo above were quite a kick to watch—especially the man. Gotta love her boots too.  The only way to fully appreciate these two is with a short video.

Old timers in the Village Square at Lake Sumter Landing
 entertain the crowd with their moves

Our last day in the area was a full one. We had a great visit with my oldest brother, Bob, first visiting him in his element at the National Parachute Test Center that he runs and then going to lunch at the classic old Florida Blue Gator on the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon. 

He told me he never had a photo of the two of us, so this is for you Robert.

That same night we had my parents’ close friends, Will and Sharon Leino, over for dinner. They are from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but spend their winters in a Dell Webb community right across from where we were staying in the motorhome. Sharon was very close to my mom; listening to her reminisce about their special times together bring me joy. Will lost his vision quite a few years ago, but thanks to Sharon and his guide dog, Lily, from the Southeastern Guide Dog school, he gets along quite well. Not the best photo, but the only one I managed to take.

That wraps up our stop near The Villages.  Our next destination has become an annual favorite: Topsail Hill Preserve State Park near Destin in the Panhandle. We are ready for our spring travel adventures to begin.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Stopping for a short interlude in Zephyrhills

April 1-7, 2013
Zephyrhills, Florida
Majestic Oaks RV Resort

blooming amaryllis_thumb[1]

Stopping in Zephyrhills, as we start our slow trek back to the West Coast, has become an annual tradition for us. The main reason for this interlude is for me to spend time with my aunt, brother, nieces, and nephews before leaving the area. There are several RV parks in Zephyrhills, but most are geared more for long term residents who mostly live in park models vs. RVs. Majestic Oaks is no exception to this but we have come to feel quite at home here and the price is right. (Passport America rates in April of $16.00 per night.)

With a drive of only about seventy miles, we pulled into the park fairly early in the afternoon. Good thing as we ended up needing to call a tow truck for our Jeep shortly after arriving.  When Vic was unhitching the Jeep near the main office, he discovered the transmission would not come out of neutral. We had this problem once before near Niagara Falls and it ended up costing us over $1000 to replace the motor on the transfer case.  Our fingers were crossed that this problem would not require more big money to fix. 

We have towing covered with our Coach-Net policy. They were great and had someone there within an hour. Fortunately, the closest Chrysler Jeep dealership was only about ten miles away. The only challenge was we didn’t want to send the car there with the kayaks, bikes, and everything else we had packed into the back end. This is where having family close by came in handy. My brother came with his truck to help us haul everything to our site. We stayed pretty unperturbed through it all, even laughing at Vic’s idea to sit on the tailgate of my brother’s truck while “towing” the kayaks.

vic wheeling kayak2 from tailgate

The next day we learned from the dealer that there was a Chrysler recall for the computer code error that was showing on our dash: Service 4 wheel drive. The recall requires a software update (N-23) that should clear the code and allow the transmission to shift out of neutral. It took another day for them to complete the software update then Voila! The transmission was working fine once again. The best part was No Charge. The worst part though was learning from the dealer that their mechanic did not think the previous dealership did the work they charged us for as the transfer case is still all original. Bottom line: we now have a Case # with the Chrysler Complaint line. We were grateful this problem happened in a place where it was relatively easy to deal with and that the Jim Browne Jeep dealership in Dade City turned out to be a reputable place. 

The rest of our time in Zhills went by very quickly. I went to my aunt’s home every morning for coffee and good long visits. This aunt is my mom’s only living sister (of four girls) and she is my god-mother. I even found a photo of her and me at my baptism—many, many years ago!

1 pams baptism paul pinegar and terry 1956_thumb[9]pam and terry2_thumb[14]

While I was off visiting with my aunt, Vic shifted into major cleaning mode. He washed the entire exterior of the motorhome with a waterless solution, vacuumed all the filters in the ceiling vents, and cleaned all the window screens. What a guy. The temperatures this week have been the warmest we have experienced this winter, so after his cleaning sessions in the morning, we spent time each day cooling off and relaxing by the pool. Since we have been to this park for several short stays before, we enjoyed some friendly banter with many of the familiar faces we saw at the pool.

On the weekend, we had my brother over for one of his favorite dinners: grilled lamb chops (while watching Florida and Wisconsin lose in the Final Four games). I must be feeling nostalgic, as I also found one of my favorite photos of my brother and me from the 1950s. Now our dog Jetta is his baby on the couch!

1a jerry feeding pam 1956_thumb[1]
jerry and jetta1_thumb[1]

The best news from my brother was learning that his son, who was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, has responded well to aggressive radiation and chemotherapy sessions. His overall prognosis looks very good.

jerry and brian_thumb

On Sunday, my whole family in the area got together for a barbeque, a perfect way to say our goodbyes for the winter. These goodbyes were a little harder than usual since we are planning to spend next winter on the West Coast. I guess I have gotten used to seeing my Florida family much more often since I retired as I used to be lucky to see them every few years.

kim shan, bets tom and bri_thumb

We left Zhills this morning on a short drive of about seventy miles to another Passport America park where we have stayed before near The Villages: Southern Oaks RV Resort. The word resort is a stretch, but this is a comfortable park in a location that works well for us as my oldest brother and some family friends are nearby. We are also hoping to get our kayaks wet on one of the nearby rivers, but the weather will have to get better as there is a storm a comin’.  We may have to rest up a little to be ready for our ambitious spring travel itinerary.

spring itinerary 2014_thumb[1]

Friday, April 4, 2014

Adios to our favorite spot in Florida

March 26-April 1, 2014
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

All good things must come to an end. This was our first year spending three months in this area and we both agree that it ranks as our top spot to spend an extended amount of time in Florida. Sadly, however, we are seriously considering spending next winter on the West Coast to be closer to our grandkids. At least they live in Southern California and not northern Minnesota!

The last week here the weather played a big part in determining how we would spend our days. We had at least two days of heavy rainfall and thunderstorms and, when the skies cleared, the temps dipped into the 40s at night with daytime highs in the low 60s. Most days, whether rainy or clear, we had plenty of wind too. Not great for biking or kayaking—that was for sure.

On one clear but cold day, I came up with the idea of checking off one more item on my local bucket list: going to see the canopy walk at Myakka River State Park. The idea of walking above the tree line in a beautiful natural setting sounded quite appealing. I looked up the walk on the internet and it said the canopy walk was just under a mile. Our friends Mike and BJ were interested too, so off we went.

The reality of the canopy walk paled in comparison with what I envisioned it would be. The walk to the canopy and back out to the parking area is just under a mile, but the canopy bridge itself is only about 100 ft. long.  The view looks out onto a diverse array of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands. Pretty, but I had expected a view of the river with alligators and all kinds of birds to be a part of the scenery as well. Not so much.

We did enjoy climbing up the 70 ft. observation tower that they built next to the canopy, but the view was still a little disappointing in terms of wildlife.

After our short walk on the canopy trail, we drove around a seven-mile loop hoping to see something else that might catch our eye.  We walked out on a boardwalk on the river and were lucky enough to spot a sandhill crane by the river bank.

As we were leaving, I requested that we stop at the restroom facilities and boy am I glad I did.  When we get out of the car, we saw several photographers with tripods and huge lenses aimed up in the pine trees. This lucky discovery made the whole day trip worthwhile—at least to me. How adorable is this little guy?

This barred owlet was so cute I had a hard time pulling myself away. There were actually two owlets in the trees, but the other one was hard to see through the foliage. The photographers told us the parents were probably not far away. Sure enough, we found this mama or papa owl only a short distance away looking over its babies. I have been anxious to get some photos of owls all winter as I am always hearing them, but rarely seeing them. Good thing I drank a lot of coffee that morning.

With departure day drawing near, we put some plans in motion for getting together with friends. Aside from wanting to say goodbye, I managed to sneak in a little birthday celebration for Vic who is an April Fool’s baby. I made him a lemon meringue pie, our friend Diane made him a pan of brownies, and on the morning of our departure—his actual birthday, friends Jean and Dave surprised him by singing happy birthday and presenting him with two cupcakes.  (Sorry, no photos of the great BBQ ribs Mike made Vic for his birthday meal.)

Birthday boy with lemon meringue pie. . .

Birthday boy with brownies. . . (thanks, Diane)

And birthday boy with cupcakes (and the new hat daughter Mindy sent). . . . 

I don’t think Vic’s seemingly endless sweet tooth went unsatisfied.

We also had a happy hour gathering at our place the night before we left, followed by a bonfire with live music at the park next door. Aside from leaving a place that we love in terms of its location and ambience, the even more difficult challenge was saying goodbye to the extraordinary friends we have had the pleasure to spend time with here. (Diane and Steve, so sad you were not feeling well enough to join us!)

We sure will miss everyone and can only hope our paths will cross again soon in the near future. To hedge that bet, the couple featured above, Mike and BJ, are going to join us for two weeks in late April at Betty’s RV Park. How do you say yippie-ki-yay in Cajun???

Monday, March 31, 2014

Part Two: Checking off the Cortez area bucket list

March 20-26, 2014
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove Resort

When we arrived in Holiday Cove in December, we joined the Monday biking group for several trips around the area. One trip I was really looking forward to was riding to St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. At thirty miles (round-trip) that would be my longest ride to date, but the lovely route along the Gulf made it seem worth trying—not to mention the reward of a light lunch somewhere in the Circle.  Well, it looked like this item on my local bucket list wasn’t going to happen until Karen, the wife of the biking group leader, knocked on our door one morning with an invitation to ride with her there. The weather looked perfect—mid seventies and light winds—plus Vic offered to be on standby if we needed a ride back. So off we went.
The ride there was great with little traffic and a bit of a tail wind. We made it to the Circle in about an hour and fifteen minutes—pretty good time for me on my mountain bike with fat tires. (I now know that I am in the market for a much lighter road bike at some point.)  I didn’t take any photos along the way, but had some fun with the camera when we visited a hammock store.

You might think we had wine (judging by our silly faces) with our lunch at The Shore Diner, but we were happy with our lemon water and delicious salads. I ordered a roasted beet, pistachio-encrusted goat cheese and citrus salad. The food was so good (our first time there), we both vowed to go back with our husbands for dinner, but alas—I now know it will have to be another year for us.

beet salad at the shores

Before heading back to Cortez, we amped up with some espresso as we knew the ride back could be challenging as the wind was now blowing 15-20 knots with much stronger occasional gusts.  Consequently, we stopped a number of times with my excuse of needing to take some photos.

It took us about twice as long to get back fighting head winds all the way, but we never once considered calling Vic for a rescue ride. When we returned, I spent about an hour in the 85 degree pool at our park, enjoying being weightless after accomplishing my personal challenge of riding to Sarasota.

st armands bike ride

Another activity we talked about doing shortly after we first arrived here was taking a tour of the Southeastern Guide Dog school. We learned about the school and its tours from Suzi and Dave of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure. Aside from being passionate dog owners themselves, they have, over the years, raised thirteen guide dog puppies. Their sweet Sasha Maria, a black lab, was one of those puppies who did not make it to the guide dog level, but they were able to keep her. They arranged this tour for us along with Pam (of Oh the Places They Go) and Karen, my new biking pal.  The best part of the tour, as evidenced by my photos, is when they let you play with the puppies as part of their socialization.  All I can say is that it was a good thing that none of these pups was available for adoption.

After puppy play time, we were able to peek in on a mom with three-week-old pups and meet some of the two-year-old dogs who are available to be matched with visually-impaired applicants.

The older dogs were not in their harnesses, so they were off duty as evidenced by some of their antics.

A black lab named Norton stole my heart with the yearning for love look on his face. I bet he makes an incredibly loyal guide dog for some lucky soul.

After our tour, we stopped for lunch at a place on the Manatee River that I had heard was full of old Florida charm: Woody’s River Roo. I finally figured out the Roo is short for Kangaroo.


Pam and Karen’s husbands, John and David, joined us for lunch, making our time together even more festive. The food was good, but too bad we were not there for their popular live music events.

Little wooly plant droppings were landing in our drinks, so the engineer in John (he was actually a former principal) came up with a unique drink cover.

Next up: our final days in Cortez bring stormy weather and tough goodbyes.