Saturday, December 21, 2013

‘Twas the week before Christmas

December 15-21, 2013
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

With the countdown before Christmas on, we have managed to stay a little busier than usual.  I started to feel that sense of panic that seems to creep in every year about being ready for Christmas—even though it is more irrational than usual as we have cut way back on what we used to do for Christmas when we had a stick and brick home.  Our main priority are the five grandkids and our four kids—other than that we don’t exchange much anymore. We are lucky to be able to choose from a list for the three boys and all the ordering is done on-line. That’s it. The girls are at the age where gift cards seem to be the best choice, plus we always try to find something unique to include with them. Also for me, it never feels like Christmas unless I spend at least one day covered with flour. My tradition is to make Hungarian cookies (kolackys) and some type of holiday bread. Fortunately, I taught my oldest son (who will be celebrating with his dad, step-mom, and step-sister in Oregon) how to make these traditional cookies, so I am not sending them to Oregon anymore. My youngest son, however, is spending Christmas in Omaha without family, so I sent off a box of goodies to him on Monday. 


A big part of Christmas when we lived in Oregon was decorating like crazy and having a big party for about 50 people, plus other small gatherings at our house over the holidays. Here are a few photos of our Oregon abode at Christmas.


My mother would almost always fly to Oregon from Florida to be with me and her two grandsons.  It could get a little hectic trying to pull all this off while teaching up to just a few days before Christmas. I was also the high school yearbook advisor and invariably one of our biggest deadlines was right before Christmas. I lived close to the school, so I would be running back and forth to the computer lab where my four editors would be madly trying to proofread stories and edit photos which I would then have to double-check before sending. Fun times. In comparison, here I sit in 80 degree weather with plans to spend a couple hours at the pool later this afternoon. Since it’s Saturday night, we will probably go find some fresh seafood and live music at a local waterfront cafe later this evening. It’s good to remember the contrast in appreciation of retirement!

We have been lucky this past week to have had some fun social times too.  Last Friday night, we met Jeannie and Eldy (of Where’s Eldo fame) at Ocean Blues in Sarasota. We first met them briefly in Montana during our first week of full-timing, then finally had the chance to get together with them last year a couple times here in Florida. Jeannie (aka Sparky) wrote about Ocean Blues several times on her blog as she and Eldy frequented this blues and jazz bar on Monday nights to see their friend Steve Arvey play. I learned that Betty Fox, a singer I like very much, was playing there, so we made a date to meet.  Our nearby friends, Mike and BJ, also joined us for a fun evening of live music. It was great to catch up with Jeannie and Eldy and learn firsthand how they like their off the road lifestyle in their new home.  I neglected to take a photo of us, but I did get one of Betty and her band.  She was awesome and Vic and I even danced a few numbers.

betty fox at ocean blues

Other social events were having a southern-style holiday breakfast at our friends’ Diane and Steve’s outdoor patio. Diane decorated the whole table for Christmas and served her famous biscuits and gravy and tea ring—plus offered Mimosas and Bloody Marys.  Mike and BJ joined us too—the four of them will be gone for Christmas, so we had to get in a celebration breakfast. 

Vic’s sister, Sandy, was also in the area this week as she typically attends the December Eukanuba Dog Show in Orlando. She raises Portuguese Water Dogs and had one dog, Nicky, in the show (our dog Jetta’s nephew). Amazingly, a Portuguese Water Dog named Matisse earned best of show. Too bad it wasn’t “our” Nicky as the prize was $50,000!  After the show, Sandy rented a car and came to Bradenton where her daughter lives. She was also able to sneak in a few evenings with us.The night before she flew back to San Jose, I made a holiday dinner for our friends and Sandy. I decided to make a meal that I might make at Christmas: stuffed pork loin, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce with cherries and port wine, etc.  With a great salad from BJ and rich fudge brownies from Diane--we had a good gathering.  (Diane and Steve arrived a little later, so they didn’t make it into the photo.)

On the topic of social gatherings, I forgot to include that the six of us (Diane, Steve, Mike, BJ, and us) went to the Bradenton Beach Christmas Celebration and Boat Parade together. They had live music, lots of craft booths, sales in the shops on Bridge Street, all capped off with a small holiday boat parade. My boat photos did not turn out (need to read that manual someday) but here is a glimpse of the festivities.

I also spent the day in the Tampa area on Thursday as I drove my sister-in-law to the airport, picked up my brother from the airport, and joined five other family members for dinner to celebrate my aunt’s 78th birthday. It’s nice to be close enough (about 70 miles) to be able to see my family in Zephyrhills for these special occasions. We will also be joining a rather large group at my niece’s for Christmas Eve—which I am thankful for as both Vic and I really miss our own kids and grandkids at this time of year. (We have vowed to join them on the West Coast next year this time.)

The last highlight of the week was finally getting out for an invigorating bike ride. My goal is to be able to bike 20 miles easily.  Our friend Steve is really getting into biking here and he inspired us to do a loop that he recommended.  It was only 12 miles, but that’s a good start for us.

palma sola bike ride

As you can see from the map, this ride has lots of pretty scenery with all the water nearby.   We found a lovely park on the way that we used for a rest stop. Gotta take time to watch the pelicans!

pelican at palma sola park

park rest stop on bikes

When we were just a mile from “home,” we stopped for an ice cold beer at one of the local tiki bars on the Gulf. Sure is a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

beer break at tiki bar

tiki bar break

Now that you are really feeling sorry for us stranded here on the beach in Florida, I will close with wishes for HoLiDaY MaGiC to fill your hearts this Christmas season. Hold those loved ones close. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Enjoying a week of fun in the sun

December 7-14, 2013
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

With most of the nation in a deep freeze, we have been especially grateful to be enjoying temperatures here in the low 80s and high 70s. It has been a glorious week here while our hometown of Corvallis, Oregon has had record cold and snow with school cancelled five days in a row!  I do admit to missing the thrill of those early morning calls saying that school was canceled. When you retire and have every day “off,” you do lose something of the pure joy of an unexpected day of freedom. Perhaps the trick is to live each day as a “snow day” or in our case a “beach day”--the perfect trade-off.

On Saturdays though, I still like to keep the ritual of strolling through a farmer’s market.  Even in winter in Corvallis, there is an indoor farmer’s market with fall vegetables and lettuce and other organic goodies and baked goods. The best farmer's market we have found in Florida is the one in downtown Sarasota. It has many locally grown fruits and vegetables and a potpourri of other offerings including unusual entertainment.

sarasota market sculpture

didgeredoo player

java dawg bus


Sarasota is a beautiful waterfront city that reminds me in many ways of Portland with its thriving art scene, hip clubs and cafes, and great shopping (think St. Armands Circle). If we drive down Longboat Key from our park, it takes about a half hour to get there and it is well worth the visit. We are looking forward to checking out Sarasota's more notable attractions such as the Ringling Brothers Museum, Mote Aquarium, and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Yes, the local bucket list of things to do here this winter is ever growing.

We also need to keep the dogs in mind when thinking of things to do in the area. One favorite is to take the dogs to a small neighborhood park about two miles from here which is on the bay. It is not advertised as a dog park, but they allow dogs off leash. They are in heaven playing in the water and running free—something they need to do on a regular basis.

We also like to find doggie daycare places nearby when we are staying somewhere for a while. After quite a bit of internet research, we chose one that we wanted to tour, Bayside Pet Resort and Spa. It is about 15 minutes from us and is the cleanest, most inviting place we have ever seen for dogs. We haven’t left them often overnight, but would have no qualms about them staying here where they get plenty of play time outside with other dogs and lots of individual attention. We plan to take them here for a few half-day sessions in the weeks ahead just to give it a try.

Other pastimes this week included having dinner with our new friends Dave and Suzi of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure. Dave has a sixth sense for dogs (probably from raising several guide dogs) as Jetta is usually shy with new people, but she was in Dave’s lap in no time. All I managed to get was one blurry photo. I am hoping we will have more photo ops of their new relationship.

We also went with our friends who are staying at the campground next to us to try out Jose’s Real Cuban Food Restaurant, a place that has been featured on Guy Fiero’s show Diners Drive-In’s and Dives. The place is a little bit of a hole in the wall café with only a few tables and long counter, but it was spic and span with lots of good spicy smells emanating from the tiny kitchen. We tried their pulled pork and Cuban sandwiches with black beans and rice. The food was good and very reasonably priced. They also offer samples of their specialties which is quite helpful for choosing from several offerings.

joses cuban food dive

Other joys of the week were spending time at our favorite beach on Longboat Key, getting the kayaks wet for the first time since we were at Glacier National Park in September, and eating my first soft shell crab sandwich at the Starfish Café, a well-known local spot just a few blocks from us on the bay.

starfish cafe

softshell crab sandwich

We have also been enjoying our pool here at the park as the water is kept at a perfect temperature and it is large enough to be able to swim laps and get some decent exercise. Every Wednesday the park holds a happy hour by the pool where everyone brings an appetizer to share. It is a lovely way to get to know both the long-term residents and many short-term guests who flow in and out of the 97 sites available here at the park. Suffice it to say, we are enjoying this locale.

vic in holiday cove pool

Whenever we are in Florida, I become a little obsessed with taking photos of birds. Here are just a few of the shots I took this week while kayaking at Robinson Preserve. Too bad I couldn't get any photos of the jumping mullet: the salt marsh was teeming with them, but they disappeared every time I clicked the shutter.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Settling into our winter home in Cortez

December 1-6, 2013
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

After just an 80 mile drive from Zephyrhills, we pulled in to our new home for the next two months: Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, just one mile from the beaches of Anna Maria Island.  After checking out various campgrounds and locations to stay in Florida the last two years, we both agree that this area is our favorite place to spend the winter. We love that we can walk or ride our bikes to the beach, launch our kayaks right from the park into a canal that leads to Sarasota Bay, or walk across the street to enjoy happy hour at a local tiki bar.

Another big bonus in staying here is having friends nearby. Two couples we met on the road our first fall are next door at Buttonwood Inlet RV Resort. We have spent time with them the last two winters in Florida at Seminole RV Park in North Fort Meyers and have even traveled to their home towns in South Central Illinois on more than one occasion. Buttonwood is close enough to walk or ride our bike to their sites and join them around a campfire.  Yay!  We are also lucky to be here at Holiday Cove with fellow bloggers Suzi and Dave of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure and their adorable dogs Lewis and Sasha. I have been following their blog for a few months and this has been our first chance to meet them. I had high hopes that Rico would play well with Lewis their standard poodle, but the first meeting did not go well as Rico acted nervous like I was going to leave him. He has some attachment issues with me. I think we would do better to get them off leash at a park nearby where they can play more freely. We joined them later for a very pleasant happy hour on their patio (with our dogs at “home”) and look forwaruo_stacked_facebook_smalld to getting to know them better even though they sport a big green O on the back of their motorhome. We forgive them for having a son who is an alumnus from our rival school, the University of Oregon.  And—I need to forgive myself for neglecting to take photos even when I bring my camera!

The past couple days we have enjoyed setting up our place for a longer stay than usual. It reminds me of when I was young and had a pretend house in the woods by our house. My girlfriends and I would sweep the dirt, arrange old cast-off furniture, and even decorate with flowers and borrowed housewares. Setting up a motorhome, after having been on the road awhile, sure feels like playing house. I really enjoy finding ways to make our new site cozy and comfortable—especially the outdoor area. Sadly, we have not had many opportunities to set up the outdoor patio since we were in Florida last winter. With Christmas around the corner too, it is fun to add some holiday décor to our new digs as well. We have a small tree and some white lights to string up on a palm tree—haven’t gotten to that yet. With storage space at a premium, I need to keep things pretty simple in spite of the temptation to add to our holiday bling.

We weren't here long before heading out to our favorite beach about three miles away just over the bridge onto Longboat Key.  There is public access here but no facilities such as showers or bathrooms, which makes it less popular than the sometimes crowded Coquina Beach.

The beaches are sugar white sand with a gentle surf and lots of shelling possibilities. On a good day, you can expect to find some sand dollars, whelks, conches, and olive shells. My first day here we happened to catch high tide, the least favorable time for shelling, but I still came up with a few treasures on my beach walk.

Another main attraction for me is watching and photographing the shore birds. They always seem to put a smile on my face.

Our park has a lovely swimming pool, small exercise room, shuffleboard, and perhaps best of all for us, a boat launch. The park is built along a small canal so some of the sites have their own dock where they can tie up a boat. This park has lots for private ownership and rent. Some of the folks who own their own lots have quite a few outdoor amenities on their site with more permanent looking furniture and big gorgeous potted plants.

The pool is a big deal to me as I really like to swim and the Gulf is not too warm this time of year (73 degrees today). They keep the pool at 87 degrees and it feels terrific. In addition to swimming, I joined a fitness club for women that is just a few miles away. They have Zumba classes 6 days a week and a variety of other classes I intend to at least try. This area is also one of the best we have stayed at for biking (other than Hilton Head).  You could actually stay here for the whole winter and never use your car as the beach, grocery stores, great restaurants, and even Starbucks are all a short bike ride away.

You might be able to tell we are excited to be here. This will be the longest we have stayed anywhere in our travels so far. It feels good to have a home base for a while and we are feeling more than fortunate with sunny weather in the low 80s while our hometown is experiencing record lows with an abundance of snow.  That would be fun for a few days, but we’ll gladly take the beach and palm trees for our holiday in the sun. Cheers!