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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Part One: Checking off the Cortez area bucket list

March 15-March 23, 2014
Cortez, Florida
Holiday Cove Resort

* I decided to make this a three part series to capture all the adventures we have had in our last weeks here and to avoid posts that are way too lengthy.

With our third month in this area more than half over, we have found ourselves a little more intentional about ticking off things on our list that we still we want to do. One of those for me was to visit the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Vic was invited to go to a St. Louis Cardinals game in Kissimmee with our Illinois friends, so the girls and I decided it would be a good day to visit the Gardens and have lunch at the Lazy Lobster on Longboat Key (another thing on my local "bucket" list.) 

We started our exploration of the gardens with a short tour that helped us more fully appreciate what we were about to see. The tour guide said something that stayed with me throughout our walk: the garden has three important dimensions: aesthetic, scientific, and spiritual.  I tend to always be on the lookout for the oohs and aahs of colorful flowers—the obvious aesthetics, but the spiritual aspect of the garden seemed most dominant to me. Buddha statues, flowing water, swaying palms, and beautifully filtered light along the pathways create a wonderful element of tranquility. The garden even has a sacred tree, called the Bodhi Tree, like the one Buddha meditated under to achieve enlightenment.

marie selby collage

The garden also had a special collection of Costa Rican Rain Forest masks on display (and for sale) during our visit. We marveled at their colorful designs and the intricacy of the carvings and painting.  The photo below shows two masks in different stages of their creation.

All of the designs had tropical motifs from the rain forest integrated with a face mask of some kind. The red dots on each of the plaques next to the masks indicate that this particular mask was already purchased with prices ranging from $200-$800. As much as we loved the various designs, none of us could imagine having the right place to display one of these beauties.

Another major highlight of this past week was getting in two great days of kayaking. Friends we met in this area two years ago, Dave and Jean from Columbus, Ohio, are staying here at Holiday Cove for three weeks. We credit them with the purchase of our kayaks as they encouraged us to go for it and answered many of our questions about kayaking when we first met them; a few weeks later, we ended up buying our Hobies.

Our first kayak trip with them was one Vic and I have been planning on doing since we got here. The better part though was that Dave suggested we include lunch in our plan by beaching our boats at the Mar-Vista, a great little beach side café.

jewfish kayak trip

We had amazingly great sunny weather with light winds on our tour around Jewfish Key (the route in black above), but the trip back (red route) after lunch was incredibly windy with strong currents. It's amazing how fast the water conditions can change! The photo below shows the relatively tranquil waters we had on the first part of the paddle.

Along the way out to Jewfish Key, I saw a big shell that I just had to check out. Luckily, it was shallow enough to just reach into the water for it. It was, of course, alive, so after taking a photo, I carefully put this large whelk back in the water. (I didn't think to get a photo of the white caps we battled on the way back.)

Jewfish Key, with its tropical vegetation and idyllic looking private homes, is quite an alluring island. As we paddled closer, we couldn't help but fantasize about owning one of these island homes, especially for me, the one with the hammock.

We were pleased to discover the east side of Jewfish Key is less developed which meant a better chance of seeing wildlife in a more natural setting.

Seeing this carved totem was a fun surprise. Someone on the island has a good sense of humor.

Our lunch stop, Mar Vista, turned out to be a popular spot even on a weekday (spring break?), but we waited for a perfect table under the trees where we enjoyed a couple of adult beverages and a delicious lunch.

Our second day of kayaking with Dave and Jean took us to a kayak launch at Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Key.

lido key kayak park

We learned this place is quite popular—especially on weekends—because of its well-known mangrove trails and Sea Life Kayak tours and rentals. In spite of the crowds, we had no problem finding parking (no cost) and getting our kayaks in the water with only a short wait.

Luckily the very narrow mangrove tunnels were fairly deserted when we explored this magical part of the area.

Outside the mangrove trails, we enjoyed watching some paddle boarders, laughing at the cormorants who paddled along beside us, and looking at the homes with yachts along the waterfront of Bird Key.

We finished our lovely day back at the park with a tasty picnic lunch of shrimp salad, fresh fruit, and chocolate all courtesy of Dave and Jean. Nothing about our day came close to resembling the sentiments of Dave's comical t-shirt.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A return to Cortez for more fun in the sun

March 3-March 13, 2014
Holiday Cove RV Resort
Cortez, Florida

Leaving the Keys was difficult, both in terms of my brother’s unexpected hospitalization and the festive and warm tropical environment. Fortunately, my brother is back home recovering quite well from pneumonia and some heart issues. Yay!  And, we returned to an area which has become our home base in Florida for two main reasons: the location of one mile from sugar sand beaches and lots of friends around to help fill our days.

As testimony to our sweet friendships in the area, we were invited to dinner and a belated birthday celebration the very evening we arrived back from the Keys. Our friends nearby at Buttonwood RV Park made scrumptious ribs, sweet potatoes, and salad and I managed to bring a homemade Italian cream cake that I baked the day before we left Marathon. Great fun to get back in the swing of things with a Monday night party.

On Tuesday morning, we decided to take one of our favorite bike rides from our park to Anna Maria Island. One of the things we like about this route is the scenery as it traverses several bodies of water.

holiday cove favorite bike ride

You might also notice from the map above, this route takes us across at least three bridges.  Neither Vic nor I have a great fondness for driving across bridges in the motorhome or on bikes, but these particular ones are all quite accommodating with a separate sidewalk area for bicyclists and pedestrians. The scenic views make biking on them worthwhile. The scenic view on this day though was dominated by the image of a big red dually truck being chased by at least three police cars as it raced across the bridge at speeds of 60+ mph weaving in and out of oncoming traffic. At one point I looked out as the truck barreled toward me on my side of the bridge before hitting the brakes and sliding back into the normal flow of traffic. Yikes! I kept pedaling as fast as I could with the single goal of getting off that bridge in fear that the maniac might swerve back around. All told, the 16 year-old runaway who stole this truck caused 23 crashes in two trips across the Cortez bridge and one on the Manatee bridge (where we were) before he was stopped and arrested on the Cortez bridge. Vic and I needed to cross this bridge to return to our park. Even though it was closed to traffic, they let bicyclists and pedestrians cross the bridge giving us a firsthand view of the smashed cars. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries as the result of this Grand Theft auto re-enactment. I did not have the presence of mind to take a photo, plus the police were scurrying us along, so I borrowed one from the local news which gives you an aerial view of the final scene.

aerial view of bridge crash

Most of our time here this past week has been less harrowing in terms of excitement: happy hours with friends, more bike rides, resort gatherings, listening to live music in various venues, and reading books at the beach with our toes in the white silky sand.

When we returned to Holiday Cove for the month of March, we were assigned a different site. This site, which is for sale by owner, includes a large outdoor grill, patio table with umbrella, firepit, and storage unit. It is just across from the boat launch and is nicely landscaped, but it is in the middle of the park near the pool and clubhouse. With a full park, at times it feels like grand central station in this site compared to our previous spot on the perimeter away from it all. It’s actually fine with me as I grew up living above my parents’ tavern as a young girl; the sound of lively talking and people having a good time has always made me feel at home--explains a lot about my social nature, doesn’t it?

We are happy to be back here for another month as there is lots to do and, conversely, doing nothing here in this lovely park is an equally good option. Actually doing very little is a challenge as the park seems to have more activities this month than usual. Every Wednesday is a happy hour potluck, but the one last week included live music performed by two women who were incredibly entertaining. Most everyone who attended ended up dancing. A good sign of a fun time.

For another good time with a live band, we went to an event called Music on Main at the Lakewood Ranch, an environmentally friendly master-planned community about a half hour from here. It was a chilly Florida night with a brisk wind, but we braved the cold and dragged our outdoor chairs to a free concert by a group called soulRcoaster. The music was great, and fortunately, there was a Starbucks nearby for coffee to help take the chill off this 50 degree night.

Our friend Steve, perhaps after imbibing too much caffeine, kept us entertained with his antics during lulls in the concert.

Yet another fun time has been getting to know Pam and John of Oh the Places They Go blog fame. I started following their blog last spring when they were hiking in Utah. Vic and I were traveling to New Mexico about this time and we were both in agreement that we wanted to get more serious about hiking. Their blog posts of their hiking adventures definitely inspired us to get after it. They continue to impress us here in Florida with their twenty+ daily bike rides. We are not there yet, but it is great to have something to aspire to. They are also responsible for introducing us to Suzi and Dave of Beluga’s Excellent Adventure, who are also here in the park. We have had the pleasure of sharing some happy hours and, this week, attended a Low Country Shrimp Boil together that was held here at the park.

Over 150 folks attended the shrimp boil. We were all duly impressed with the organization and talents of the park’s men’s coffee group who planned the event and tended to the various pots of goodies for this delicious dinner.

We also had a delightful evening here at the park with Jeannie and Eldy of Where’s Eldo, former fulltime RVers who now live in a house in Bradenton. This was the second time we managed to get together with them during our stay here. Jeannie and I still have a plan to go kayaking together while the guys go to an Orioles spring training game in nearby Sarasota. Silly me—no photos again!

Lastly, in honor of pi day (3.14), I fulfilled a long overdue promise to make a homemade cherry pie for the Buttonwood group.  When we were in Oregon, I went to a cherry orchard and bought a large bag of pitted pie cherries to stash in our freezer for a winter taste of Oregon. I actually made it a day early as the men in the group were all going to a spring training Cardinals game on pi day, but no one seemed to mind. I don’t bake pies very often, but when I do I feel very close to my mom who was famous for throwing an apple pie even late in the day for a midnight snack. Her hands were my hands as I invoked her spirit to do justice to these beautiful Oregon cherries. Love you momma.