Friday, January 31, 2014

Catching up with January adventures

January 14- 31, 2013
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

Okay. I can’t quite believe it has been more than two weeks since my last post.  One easy explanation for this long gap relates to my new hobby of knitting.  I find it almost impossible to knit and type at the same time; so far, the knitting is winning. There is a weekly knitting group here at the park and the leader of the group is a master knitter and patient teacher.  I am a bit obsessed to learn as much as I can before leaving here. Predictably, she starts the neophytes with the “idiot’s dish cloth pattern” using peaches and cream cotton yarn. My first dish cloth required quite a few repairs of dropped stitches. The second one was much better. My goal is to start an easy scarf this week. I am finding it quite satisfying to have this creative outlet. Being in a group with women who are knitting gorgeous things makes it even more inspiring.


Vic and I have continued to participate in the weekly bike rides organized here at the park. The last two were especially enjoyable as they took us to places we had not been before: Bean Point on Anna Maria Island and Joan M. Durante Park on Longboat Key. Both of these rides were about fourteen miles long at an easy pace that included a lunch break in a scenic spot along the way. We were also blessed with perfect weather on both trips as we had very little wind and sunny days in the high 60s or low 70s—a contrast to many of the chilly and windy days we have had here in the last two weeks. (We have a sun shade with globe lights attached to our awning that we have had to take down two to three times per week!  Vic keeps threatening to leave it all packed away and then out it comes again.  Sweet man that he is as he knows I like the cozy atmosphere the sun shade adds to our patio.)

Back to the biking trip: The Bean Point trip required that we travel on several side roads to avoid the skinny bike lanes heading north on Gulf Drive to the end of Anna Maria Island. The good part is this route gives you a chance to see a lot of the homes in the area and some other offbeat places, but  I definitely prefer to be on a bike trail or sidewalk that allows bicycles.

Bean Point is a lovely secluded little beach that Vic and I would not have been likely to discover on our own.

bean point

The best part of the day was sighting these three dolphins that were cavorting around together like Flipper. Too bad I wasn’t able to catch them doing their tricks. They put on quite a show.

The Durante Park trip was probably my favorite so far as most of the route follows the shoreline of Longboat Key. They allow bicyclists to ride on the fairly wide sidewalks along Gulf Drive with one caveat: you have to have a bell to warn pedestrians.  I recently learned they can ticket you if you don’t have a bell, but Vic remedied that need. We now both sport classic chrome revolving bells in addition to new cell phone holders which are quite handy when using the Runkeeper App to track our progress.

durante park

Durante Park has a lovely pavilion where we stopped for lunch with the bike group.

Another big highlight for us was getting to spend some time with blogger friends Mr. and Mrs. Heyduke better known as John and Sharon of On the Road to Retirement fame. They have been spending the past two months down in Bonita Springs but came up this way on their way to the Tampa RV supershow. Our friends Mike and BJ hosted them overnight and we had the pleasure of having a meal together the day before the show.  We have been lucky to hang out with them in Fort Myers, Las Vegas, and Oregon and were thrilled to see them as it had been over a year since our paths crossed again.

The next day eight of us headed off to the show. The good news is none of us found a new motorhome that we couldn't live without. We picked up a few good show specials for RV stays that we hope to use and took advantage of the exercise in walking well over five miles taking in all the latest and greatest RV displays and accessories.

rv show outdoor shot

Another adventure that stands out was going to see the training of Royal Lipizzaner Stallions with Suzi and Dave of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure. Suzi and Dave used to own horses, so it was especially great to have Suzi help us understand the nuances of what we were seeing in the training ring. She wrote an engaging post about our visit there called Beautiful Day that explains some of the key distinctions that comprise this “high school” movement of classical dressage best be described as an equestrian ballet.

Vic and I loved the venue itself, a ranch out in the old Florida countryside out past Fruitville Road in Myakka City. The training sessions are open to the public every Thursday and Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. All they request for an entrance fee is a donation for those able to do so.

Aside from being quite impressed with the horses themselves, we found the matriarch, Gabriella, the emcee of the show, to be quite charming. Not only did she deliver an excellent narration of the horses’ history, her family’s legacy in owning these horses, and explanations of their training  techniques,  she expertly demonstrated several of the moves herself.

Neither Vic nor I knew much about these horses except that they were used in Austria during wartime and were coveted among the royals. We learned they might have become extinct during WWII had it not been for General Patton who helped save the some of the breed from a Russian advance. The story of Patton’s rescue of the Lipizzans was retold in a Disney movie called The Miracle of the White Stallions. Not only was the bloodline in danger of disappearing, but the horses’ performance of Airs Above the Ground was also in danger of becoming a lost art. Fortunately Colonel Hermann, who assisted Patton in saving the horses, took it upon himself to become the “world’s greatest trainer” of this breed and it is his family, the Hermanns, who carry on this tradition today on their 200 acre Florida ranch.

After our visit to the Lipizzaner Ranch, we had a delightful meal at a little restaurant in a strip mall on Holmes Beach called Eat Here. This place is the little sister of the highly acclaimed and super-pricey restaurant called the Beach Bistro. Supposedly, some of the dishes are quite similar but much less expensive at Eat Here. Vic, with sincere apologies to his mother and me, says their meat loaf was the best he ever tasted. I had a delicious seafood stew accompanied by a glass of Willamette Valley pinot noir from Lange Estates (a winery we have visited before). Suzi and Dave had been here several times before so they enjoyed hearing all of our rave reviews while they also made their meals disappear before our very eyes.

We have also been able to share some memorable meals with our friends Mike and BJ and Steve and Diane who are just a few blocks away at a nearby RV park. Mike made some amazing BBQ ribs for us one night. His secret is to cover them and cook them low and slow, then finish them with sauce on the grill. l made fresh grouper for the group one night using one of my favorite recipes from Chico Hot Springs: pine nut crusted halibut with mango salsa. If you make this, don’t skip the addition of the port wine cream sauce.  With pine nuts so expensive, I have successfully substituted pistachio nuts or almonds. The true key though is the quality of the fish. We are sure lucky here to be right across the street from two seafood markets with fish right off the boat.

cortez fresh fish market

Last weekend, we spent a lovely afternoon Saturday at the St. Armands Circle Art Festival in Sarasota with Suzi and Dave. Suzi and I enjoyed ducking in and out of booths oohing and art at some of the creative offerings while Dave and Vic mostly visited outside the booths, patiently accompanying us in our quest for something we couldn’t live without. I came dangerously close to making three or four purchases, but managed to talk myself out of it each time. Suzi, on the other hand, fell for a object d’art that I also considered: decorative birds made out of gourds, feathers, and pods each with his/her own distinct personality.  Sorry, no photos. Suzi and I both were chastised for breaking the no photos rule at one booth, so we mostly refrained from taking pictures. I did sneak in this one of a pelican with a dragonfly on his bill.

art fest pelican

On our way home, we stopped for adult refreshments at the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat Key. Suzi and I were all caught up in taking photos of shore birds and the colors of the dusky sky reflecting in the water. 

dry dock post blue and pink photo

Our table by the water was so relaxing and picturesque that we both commented on how this experience was one of those where you couldn't help but feel perfect contentment. Pretty sweet to be able to slow down enough to have that awareness and share it.

egret on post at dry dock restaurant

Last Sunday night, Vic and I drove to have dinner at my cousin Linda’s home in South Sarasota.  We hardly knew each other growing up, but have reconnected since we have been coming to Florida. Our parents’ have passed on so it seems particularly sweet to keep our family connections alive. I can always feel our mothers smiling down at us as they would be so happy we are deepening our friendship at this stage of our lives.

That brings us to the final day of the month--our last day here in Cortez until we return in March. I can’t help but feel like the past two months slipped away too quickly but it’s all good. Gotta keep that Zen feeling of staying in the moment where all is well—especially with all the rain we have been experiencing this week. Actually, the rain makes me a little homesick for Oregon; Vic, not so much! 

vic with speech bubble

But with rain comes rainbows, one of nature's blessings. I want to end with a short update on my nephew’s condition. Thank you for your kind words and prayers on my previous post.  Last week, his inoperable tumors were diagnosed as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The better news is the oncologist says it is treatable with chemo and radiation. He goes back in the hospital for more tests before beginning treatment next week. Please join me in visualizing his complete recovery from this serious health challenge. Namaste.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Greeting the new year and seizing the day

January 5-12, 2013
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

One of the things I really enjoy about this area is the easy access to outdoor activities such as beachcombing, biking, and kayaking. I also joined a local gym just three miles from here for Zumba classes. The park we are in also has a Walk Off Pounds group that meets five mornings a week in the clubhouse for a DVD workout. Even with some of the rain and cool weather we have been experiencing here, I have no excuse for not being active. A good thing. . . .

The night before last we had quite a rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning, but the morning brought sunshine and temperatures predicted to be in the low 70s. Vic and I knew we would be watching a fair amount of television yesterday with the two NFL playoff games and Golden Globes, so we decided to get in a couple hours on the bikes in the morning. Our new favorite route is to head south along the Gulf towards Longboat Key as there is a bike path along most of the way and it is full of beautiful scenery. Today seemed especially lovely and invigorating with a cool breeze the freshly washed sea air and a cool breeze.

We saw a first today—a large group of surfers!  At first I thought it was a pod of dolphins in the water, but then they started standing up.

The Gulf is not known for its waves. Perhaps the storm surge created better conditions for surfing, but the waves still seemed pretty wimpy. I guess if you are an avid surfer, any waves would be an attraction.

I wish I could say I was one of the surfers in the photos as these waves looked like they would be good for beginners.  I have always wanted to learn to surf, but only tried one time in Southern California when I was much younger. I remember wanting to be just like Gidget in all those surfer movies. Hold on to that dream.
Here are a few more photos from our scenic bike ride of about twelve miles yesterday.

We took a little side ride near the village of Longboat Key and happened upon a yard full of peacocks. Quite an unexpected surprise.

peacock feathers

I also was finally able to take a good photo of a little house on the water that captures my imagination each time we drive past it.  I would like to know the history of this place called Lands End.

Other events of our first full week in January included joining Dave and Suzi (of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) to see The Wolf of Wall Street—a Martin Scorsese film with impressive performances from Leonardo de Caprio and Jonah Hill. The film is not for the faint of heart especially in terms of sex, drug use, and profanity. It is quite intense and the most amazing thing is that it is based on a true story. The film definitely had us talking! 

Another highlight of the week was the return of our friends Mike and BJ from their holiday trip back to their hometown in South Central Illinois. Since they returned, we managed to play cards together one night (a new game called Golf and a few rounds of Hearts) and share a potluck meal another night followed by a game of Mexican Train dominoes.  Fun times.

One thing we haven’t been doing is checking off the list of touristy things we plan to do while we are in this area (Ringling Bros Museum, Mote Aquarium, Marie Selby Botanical Garden, etc.).  With our departure to the Keys for the month of February, we may end up with quite a list of things to do when we return here in March. C’est la vie.

Somehow the dawning of the new year has me looking harder at my someday list—not so much in terms of places to go, but things I have always wanted to learn how to do. Two of those are painting and knitting. I went to a knitting group here at the park on Friday and learned how to cast on and do simple stitches for making a dish cloth. I also bought some acrylic paint and small canvases to practice some simple still lifes. I also just learned there is a good bead shop on the island that offers jewelry-making classes—something else I would like to do. Never too late to keep learning. . . .

A few events this past week have influenced my new zeal for transforming somedays into now. The obvious one is the dawning of a New Year, or as one blogger (I think it was Sherry) reminded us: “New Year’s Day is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

More dramatic news was learning that my nephew is battling cancer that was determined to be inoperable. Hearing my brother tell me this news about his son shook me to the core. My niece, his sister, is looking into all possible treatments and we are holding strong for miracles and the power of medical science. I am grateful to be in Florida during this challenging time as my nephew and brother are only about 70 miles away in Zephyrhills and am on my way there just as soon as I finish this post.

I was also reminded that yesterday was the seventh anniversary of a close friend’s death. She died of a brain tumor at age 54 after a courageous eight-month battle.  A rare snowstorm occurred at the Oregon coast the day she died and her husband took this photo of their two empty cedar lounge chairs covered with snow.  

sky photo

Carpe Diem.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Celebrating the holidays Florida-style

December 23-January 2, 2014
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove RV Resort

With our five grandchildren and their parents in Southern California and my sons in Oregon and Nebraska, it is a little hard to totally embrace the Christmas spirit. We are, of course, also used to cooler weather and, when we were lucky in Oregon, even a little snowfall.  This is our third winter here in Florida since we have been living full-time in the motorhome and while we love the beach and sunny weather here, we would rather be celebrating the holidays with our kids. We are fortunate, however, to have my brother and his family, and also my aunt, nearby in Zephyrhills which softens the angst of being far away from our families a little bit. 

For Christmas Eve, we went to my niece’s home for a large holiday meal and festive gathering. My great nieces and nephews are almost all college age or older now. I even have one great-great niece who is seven, making my brother a great-grandpa already! 

xmas eve 2013 collage

Christmas morning was sure a quiet one for us. No little kids to wake us or a big Christmas morning brunch to prepare. We kept it real simple this year by only buying a couple presents for the dogs. We figure our whole lifestyle right now is the big present we are giving one another. The dogs, on the other hand, seemed to need a little extra something: Everlasting Treat Dispensers. (We did also have two presents to open from Eddie Bauer from my step-daughter and son-in-law--sweet!)

I wanted to do something different to celebrate Christmas Day, so we made a plan to have a picnic at our favorite beach with another couple whom we met last year in Fort Myers.  I made crab cakes which I tried to keep warm ‘til we arrived, and we also had salmon spread, prosciutto and melon, brie and cherries. Of course, we also brought our favorite drinks to toast to each other while watching the beautiful waves and shorebirds. Pati and her husband Murray had to wear their Christmas gifts from their daughter: a bikini t-shirt for her and a ripped muscle shirt with a nipple ring for him—funny. Too bad I didn’t get the photo of Murray in his shirt though.

When we arrived at the beach this man was feeding the shorebirds—a big no-no!  I took a deep breath and let it go rather than say anything. Don’t people know not to feed wild creatures???

We stayed long enough to watch the sunset in its varying stages. Unfortunately, at the end it went behind a big bank of clouds that seemed to come from nowhere, but before it did I managed to get some shots that captured the mood of the day.

The day after Christmas, Vic and I went to see one of several movies on our viewing list: American Hustle. The film was entertaining, well-acted and kept our interest, but it is not a great movie. We try to see all the movies that are likely to receive Oscar nominations, and that list is pretty long already—Philomena, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, August: Osage County—among others.  So, more movie-going will surely be a part of our time here.

We also took two days to do some much needed dog grooming. Fortunately, the dogs are very accustomed to this ritual.

Just four days after Christmas, we returned to Zephyrhills for my niece’s birthday. It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, almost perfect for taking a drive. Plus, Vic will go almost anywhere for Baskin Robbins ice cream cake.

kims with bday cake

We also enjoyed watching the Bears vs. Packers game at the birthday party. Even though my family is from the Chicago area, many of us are Packer fans.  Even the dog, Gracie, had her game clothes on. We left before the game ended, but listened to it in the car. The Packers ended up winning the NFC north championship when Aaron Rodgers threw a 48 yard touchdown on 4th-and-8 at the last minute!  We are looking forward to seeing the 49ers vs. Packers showdown at Lambeau field this Sunday for the NFL playoffs. Vic grew up in San Francisco, so we will have a little rivalry going on between us.

gracie in packer costume

On Monday of this week, we took a lovely bike ride in Robinson Preserve with a small group from our park. We happened to be real lucky to see a myriad of shorebirds (including spoonbills and wood storks!) feeding at low tide. I only had my cell phone for a camera which always seems to happen when the best photo ops show up.

robinson preserve bike ride collage

The day before New Year’s Eve my niece Shannon and her boyfriend came to visit us. I took them to happy hour at the Swordfish Grill  just a few blocks from us, then we went for a walk on the beach, and I fixed fresh grouper on the grill for dinner. It was fun to share our little corner of the world here in Cortez with them.

pam and shannon

New Year’s Eve for us started with a walk to our local tiki bar to have some char-broiled oysters and listen to some music. The music wasn't too good, so we took a ride to Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach (about one mile away) to check out the music scene there and discovered a great spot on the outdoor patio at the Blue Marlin Grill.   I ended up going to bed before midnight, but Vic stayed up to watch the big ball drop. 

oysters at swordfish grill

On New Year’s Day we rode our bikes a short way to the Cortez Bridge to take a look at about 30 offshore race boats passing through. Too bad they all had to slow down for the slow wake zone under the bridge as it would have been more fun to see them actually racing.  A group of guys on jet skis joined in the fun as the boats were passing through the bay.

We ended the day with a short bike ride with friends and a New Year’s toast together at our place. It feels good to be ushering in a new year full of possibilities. Let’s make it a great one!

new years wish
“What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal
 on what you bring to the New Year.” — Vern McLellan